Star Trek: Beyond (2016) – Movie Review

star trek beyond

The third mission of the U.S.S Enterprise in the rebooted alternative timeline version of the original “Star Trek” goes a little less boldly than its two predecessors, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The most notable change is that J.J. Abrams abandoned the captain’s chair (for the other franchise starting with “Star”) and handed duties to Justin Lin of the “Fast & Furious” franchise. On scripting duties, Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) and Doug Jung take over from Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof. Orci and Abrams still retain roles as producers, but that’s a pretty significant creative shift, and “Star Trek Beyond” ends up with a much different look and feel.

Tonally, 2009’s “Star Trek” and also “Star Trek Into Darkness” were a bit darker, more dramatic and theme-driven blockbusters. This was in following with the mold of most franchise reboots at the time, which demanded more grit and maturity to elevate ‘geeky’ pop-culture source material for 21st century sensibilities. “Beyond” jettisons that notion into the vacuum of outer space.

This should come as no surprise given Lin’s proclivities with the “Fast & Furious” movies, which made their fortune on wowing audiences with outlandish action sequences and a familiar, lovable ensemble cast. The formula works for the “Star Trek” universe, because nothing seems too ridiculous in space, plus most audiences are familiar with the current crew of Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin and John Cho. They’ve earned a chance to just have some fun.

“Beyond” is definitely fun, maybe bordering on mindless. It trades in the dramatic elements and character-building conflict of the last two films for a standalone outer space adventure. In that sense, it’s more in the tradition of older “Star Trek” movies, which operated independently and felt like long “Star Trek” episodes.

After a few years of status quo space exploration, the Enterprise crew docks in a snow globe-like starbase called Yorktown. There, the Federation picks up a distress signal from an alien who says her ship and crew are in danger on the far side of a treacherous nearby nebula. The Enterprise springs into action, but after they navigate to the other end of the nebula, they’re viciously attacked by an alien force and stranded on the aliens’ planet.

This first major action set piece is a pretty exhilarating launching pad into the bulk of the story, and it comes not a moment too soon. In classic fashion, it splits the crew up into small groups, and the second act sees these teams trying to reunite and escape from the clutches of Krall (Idris Elba), who is looking for a weapon of mass destruction in the crew’s possession. A bit of a “Mission: Impossible” factor (another Paramount franchise with Simon Pegg) sneaks in here as well, though the plot isn’t quite as clever.

The movie really hearkens back to “Star Trek” episodes and memorable films that take place off-ship and bring the crew to a strange new world where the audience gets to discover a new species right along with them. No knowledge of “Trek” lore required to enjoy this one, yet it’s still immersive like any good sci-fi movie should be.

This shift away from narrative continuity between films, diving into important themes and shooting for emotional catharsis is almost a relief. No film should shy away from that challenge, but there’s something pleasant about the way “Beyond” lets go of those notions and opts for a classic form of geeky science fiction that’s more about dazzling fun, witty banter and big action.

By the same token, “Beyond” lowers the “Star Trek” franchise’s ceiling. It’s still possible to have an action-filled, funny sci-fi romp that challenges its characters and tackles universal ideas beyond merely that unity is better than divisiveness. Pegg and Jung’s script is fun, but it’s clear that they were encouraged to go simple.

So the “Star Trek” franchise has traded ambition for a little more reliability. Three films in, that’s not necessarily a bad swap. Ambitious blockbusters can fall flat, and some would argue “Into Darkness” already did. When you consider that “Star Trek” is not a series that’s ever had neatly packaged trilogies or other overarching narrative structures, switching to a more episodic format helps maximize longevity. In other words, we got a slightly lesser “Star Trek” film that’s better for the future of “Star Trek.”

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Star Trek (2009) – Movie Review

star trek

It’s a little-known fact that none other than Lucille Ball is responsible for the birth of “Star Trek”. As the titular head of Desilu Studios in the 1960’s, she green-lit former LA cop Gene Roddenberry’s idea of an intergalactic western and championed the series during its brief three-year run on NBC. It is amazing to consider how the franchise continues to thrive 43 years later, so much so that director J.J. Abrams (“Lost”) and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have been able to re-imagine the legacy of the series without sacrificing the fidelity needed to satisfy the throngs of rabid fans who pushed the grosses north of the $200 million mark in its first week of release. As someone who is not remotely a Trekker, I have to admit the creators have done a fine job of reincarnating the familiar characters into their youthful counterparts and concocted an engaging, time-traversing plot that smartly avoids heavy exposition in favor of action and pyrotechnics. The result can be sometimes mind-numbing and trivial, but the 122-minute movie is never dull.

The densely populated plot throws us forward to the year 2233 (or backwards depending on your perspective on “Star Trek” lore) as the USS Kelvin confronts a major alien vessel captained by an embittered Romulan named Nero. An alternate timeline is revealed, and inevitable tragedies ensue. Years later, we meet the familiar characters from the TV series culminating in the USS Enterprise’s maiden voyage. James Kirk is a cocksure hothead with obvious Starfleet Academy potential, but he is haunted by the father he never knew. The half-human, half-Vulcan Spock is a brilliant student-turned-control freak by his nature but sometimes unable to reconcile the two sides of his identity. Their initially hostile relationship provides much of the film’s spark, as they one-up each other in the face of a common enemy in Nero. This provides a good excuse for the CGI-enhanced action sequences with a plethora of explosions and characters zooming in and out of frame. By the time you start to feel the excess and redundancy in this approach, the story wraps the viewer up in its core ethos – that the Enterprise crew is an extended rainbow coalition of a family even as entire civilizations are destroyed.

Abrams and crew are smart enough to recognize that the movie has to capture the heart of the original series in a way that doesn’t patronize fans yet engage us non-Trekkers. Most of the casting choices are solid, although a couple of them are rather distracting. With the lightweight veneer of a tween idol, Chris Pine captures the braggadocio and roughhewn manner of a youthful Kirk in a way that tethers him to Shatner’s real-life personality without doing an outright imitation of the elder actor. Even better is Zachary Quinto who has little latitude to vary Spock from fan expectation, yet he brings subtle but palpable currents of humanity to his stoic character. The rest of the crew is painted in broader strokes with Karl Urban coming closest to caricature as “Bones” McCoy; Anton Yelchin, laying on a thick, Cold War-era Russian accent as the extremely young Chekhov; and Simon Pegg (“Hot Fuzz”) pulling out all the comedy stops as exiled engineer Scotty. Somewhat more subtle are Zoë Saldana (“Guess Who”) as linguist specialist Uhuru, who has a surprising relationship with Spock, and John Cho (“Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”) showing that he can handle action sequences with dexterity as neophyte helmsman Sulu.

Covered with latex, Eric Bana is hardly recognizable as Nero, although he makes the most of his character’s stock vengeance motives. It’s genuinely odd, however, to see Tyler Perry (“Madea Goes to Jail”) as the head of the Starfleet Academy and especially the still-doe-eyed Winona Ryder trying to look maternal as Spock’s human-side mother. Among cinema’s comic book franchises, this one is closer to “The Dark Knight” than “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” on the quality scale. Visually, it doesn’t disappoint with Daniel Mindel’s dazzling, kinetic cinematography and Scott Chambliss’ creative production design that mixes retro and futuristic elements seamlessly. At the same time, the convenient timeline jumble doesn’t really give rise to any complex moral quandaries beyond the importance of building friendships and trusting your colleagues. Nonetheless, the movie is propulsive entertainment which doesn’t tamper with its genesis and focuses squarely on the humanity of the familiar characters. For that accomplishment, we should all be grateful.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) – Movie Review

mission

It is very rare for a film series to actually get better with each subsequent installment, but that is exactly how the Mission: Impossible series rolls. Rogue Nation is the fifth installment in the film series that started all the way back in 1996 (that film in itself based off of the Sixties TV series), but Rogue Nation is really the first Mission: Impossible film to bring together every element that worked in the previous films to make the most complete Mission: Impossible to date.

Tom Cruise once again is the face of the IMF as agent Ethan Hunt, tracking down a clandestine shadow organization known as the Syndicate, who is always just one step ahead of Hunt. Making Hunt’s mission even more impossible is the fact that the US government has shuttered the IMF after their cowboy actions in Ghost Protocol that nearly saw San Francisco obliterated by a nuke because Hunt willingly gave a terrorist nuclear launch codes in order to try and catch him. Of course, Hunt has gone rogue in every single Mission: Impossible movie that has ever been made, so it’s no surprise that he continues to evade the CIA (led by Alec Baldwin) while trying to bring down the Syndicate. However, like Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation has a greater attention to the team element than most of the previous Mission films with Simon Pegg back as funny gadget guy Benji, Jeremy Renner back as analyst Brandt, and Ving Rhames back as hacker Luther. Then there is the new addition of Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious, butt- kicking Ilsa Faust, who is either a double agent helping Ethan bring down the Syndicate from within, or is actually in the Syndicate and is playing Ethan and his team.

While it may seem like there is a lot going on in this film, it all feels organic and the story clips along at a very brisk pace, always making sense (which was a problem I had with Ghost Protocol). Then there is the stronger villain presence in this film than in Ghost Protocol, with Sean Harris portraying the cold-blooded head of the Syndicate who is always outsmarting Ethan at every turn (though Philip Seymour Hoffman in M:I:III is still the series best bad guy). While I have to concede that Ghost Protocol had better gags, Rogue Nation utilizes Simon Pegg better than he has been utilized in any of his previous two Mission films and that in itself leads to some good comedic beats featuring Benji. Another thing that Rogue Nation really does better than most of its predecessors is action aiding the story. All of the action scenes are exquisitely orchestrated and are some of the franchise’s best. Of course, the thing that makes Rogue Nation the best Mission film is it really plays off of the relationships established between these characters in a way that no other Mission film has done.

Having gotten to know Simon Pegg’s Benji for three films now, we actually get to see more of a friendship between Benji and Hunt than ever before, and that idea of friendship is echoed in the characters of Brandt and Luther. Most of the Mission: Impossible films never really brought back the previous teammates, but with the past two films they have made a concentrated effort at creating this team and it finally pays off here with some nice emotional moments between all of them. There is arguing between them, but there is also a level of trust and a willingness to do anything to save one another’s lives that was never there in any of the previous films, which makes you care more. Then there is the new friendship forged between Ethan and Ilsa that is very engaging because it is so different from any of Ethan’s previous relationships with women in these movies. It also doesn’t hurt that Rebecca Ferguson is insanely awesome in this movie.

When all is said and done, you really feel like you have gone on a ride in Rogue Nation. The plot is full of twists and turns, something one should expect with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie having written The Usual Suspects, and the action is thrilling and intense, with McQuarrie really flexing his directorial muscles with only his third film as a director. You will have fun with Rogue Nation like you have with every previous Mission: Impossible, but you will also be treated to a smart story that you have think about with some emotional consequences at the core that McQuarrie really milks in one beautiful sequence near the end where all sound drops out of the film and we go into slo-mo. It’s a smart choice in a film full of smart choices.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014) – Movie Review

Hector and the Search for Happiness, raises the most simple and yet the most complex question of all, what is it that truly makes us happy? Multiple number of feel good movies have handled this topic in different ways, but what makes this movie unique is that, it doesn’t shy away from tackling the general conceptions, that one generally considers the reasons for happiness.

Wealth, Sex, Charity, Religion and Meditation all have been touched upon in a funny manner. The good thing about the movie is at no point does it get too preachy, it just shows the life of Hector a psychiatrist, who tends to listen to problem of others, when he himself isn’t satisfied with his own life, despite having what seems like a perfectly good life.

Clara (Hector’s girlfriend) played by Rosumand Pike, has a small role but despite that, she makes her character work and just adds another dimension to Hector’s seemingly yet-so-perfect, but unsatisfactory life.

Peter Chelsom (Director) has handled the concept so well, that every average person will see a bit of them in Hector, eventually the film underlines a simple yet powerful message, that you cannot manufacture happiness. Happiness is all about living in the moment and appreciating who you have and what you have in life, rather than running around and chasing a “perfect life”.

Simon Pegg is brilliant, he has so much room to explore his abilities because of the nature of the screenplay and being the fabulous actor he is, he has done that without a single hiccup. The rest of the support cast have also done a fine job, the movie moves around to different geographical sections of the world, and its the support cast, that make all those geographical shifts work.

Having said that, the movie isn’t without its flaws, the screenplay stagnates at times and takes clichéd routes to communicate certain points, the climax where Hector, gives his ex a visit, is straight out of some romantic comedy, that I don’t even what to think about anymore, but these are very little flaws in a largely great cinematic experience.

We all watch movies primarily for the entertainment they provide, but at times one comes across gems like these, that not only entertain but also leave behind a slight smile, even long after we are done watching the movie, in short its movies like these, that truly make us happy, give it a try you won’t regret it.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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The World’s End – Movie Review

After game-changer Shawn of the Dead and the riotously funny Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, the latest from writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, directed by Wright, and starring Pegg and Nick Frost, is a serious misfire, unfunny, unexciting, uninvolving and, perhaps the worst sin of all, incredibly self-indulgent to the detriment of the audience’s enjoyment.

Pegg plays Gary King, who rocked in high school – or at least managed to be a bit of a leader – but is now forty years old and a big loser. To regain some sense of himself, he reassembles four of his old school chums in an effort to complete a twelve-pub-crawl that they tried, and failed, to do in their final school year. Along the way, they encounter alien replicants bent on world domination.

Shawn of the Dead was a zombie spoof that also managed to have some zombie survival thrills; Hot Fuzz was a cop-buddy movie spoof that also had some amazing cop action sequences. The World’s End takes on the lesser “aliens amongst us” genre – think Invasion of the Body Snatchersbut then, rather than revel in the conventions of the genre as the other films did, instead devolves into a kick-socky action flick that’s repetitive and, tragically, boring.

Gary is a truly unlikeable character, which makes the first act painful to sit through; the second act, which adheres most closely to the body snatcher mold, is the most fun, with our heroes continuing towards The World’s End as the world ends. But the last act is worse than the first, lazily scripted, ludicrous, and puzzling in a bad way.

 

5 out of 10

 

 

Star Trek: Into Darkness – Movie Review

star trek into darkness

Let me preface this review by saying I am not a Trekkie, watched very few episodes from the various Star Trek series on TV and didn’t care for the movies that were made prior to the J. J. Abrams reboot in 2009. So, I have no vested interest in what came before, I really just wanted to see a sequel which was as good if not better than the first one. And this movie delivers just that. It really is an amazing film with depth of story and shades of grey throughout the various plotlines. The performances by the actors are very good, with the exception of Zachary Quinto and Benedict Cumberbatch who are absolutely brilliant. If you’ve seen the trailer then you know that there are special effects galore, so no surprises there. My only disappointment was not seeing more of the extended crew as this film focuses very closely on the developing friendship between Spock and Kirk, but meh, it’s a minor complaint considering how much I enjoyed this film. This is the kind of movie that Iron Man 3 wishes it could have been.

 

10 out of 10