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Star Trek Beyond – Review

26 Jul

Let me just say this right off the bat. I love Star Trek, and by “love it,” I mean to say it’s one of my favorite things in the entire United Federation of Planets. That being said, I’m completely fine with admitting that it is certainly not a perfect franchise. A perfect case and point would be the 1989 stinker, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. But that was a long time ago, and now we have movies in this continuing series made with a much bigger budget and newer, younger actors playing the iconic roles. The reboot of Star Trek was pretty good and Star Trek Into Darkness was great. So where does that leave Star Trek Beyond? To put it simply, this is not a perfect movie, but it’s a more than adequate summer blockbuster and a nice fit with the previous lore that was established in the original series.

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After passing the two and a half year mark of their five year mission, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is starting to lose sight of this mission’s purpose. While the USS Enterprise is docked at the Federation’s most technologically advanced starbase, Yorktown, a distress transmission and escape pod is received which prompts Kirk, Spock (Zacahry Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban) and the rest of the team to travel to the source of the distress call. While en route, the Enterprise is attacked and destroyed by Krall (Idris Elba), a vengeful being looking for something of high importance on board Kirk’s ship. Now stranded on the planet’s surface and on the run from Krall and his army, the crew of the now destroyed Enterprise must band back together after being separated and stop Krall from unleashing his master plan upon the Federation.

The first thing I noticed after the movie was over and I began thinking about it was that it felt like a really long Star Trek episode, and isn’t that really what it’s all about? If the formula of something is so good and malleable that it has lasted 50 years, why change it now? There have been countless episodes with people stuck on a planet with some sort of antagonist, and it usually ends up with their clashing and Kirk’s shirt ripping. This takes that premise and ups the ante by a lot. The budget for Star Trek Beyond was obviously huge and it shows in some of the more impressive action set pieces. One scene in particular involving a Beastie Boys song on full blast kind of stole the show for me. This is a very exciting movie, and might be the most action packed of the rebooted movies thus far. That being said, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Star Trek Into Darkness because of some key reasons that bothered me a little.

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Right from the trailer, I knew that most of this movie would not take place on the Enterprise, and it turns out that I was correct. This is a little disappointing for me because a lot of the joy I get from Star Trek is watching these incredibly skilled characters work and operate as a team on their starship. The team work is still there in this movie, of course, but most of it happens on the planet’s surface instead of on the bridge of a ship. This is quickly rectified in the last third of the movie, which is stunning to say the least, but I would’ve like to see more on the Enterprise. Also, I feel like some of the characters were underutilized. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) are pretty much held hostage for a large chunk of the movie while McCoy and Spock are just walking around trying to find people. The characters that get to see most of the action are Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), who really seem to be at the center of the action for most of the film, and Scotty (Simon Pegg) who meets a really cool character named Jayla (Sofia Boutella) and helps her repair her ship. Krall doesn’t even have much to do until the very end, but like I said, that third act is a real wild ride.

It’s surprising that it wasn’t very widespread that year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and that this film was pushed back so it could be kind of a celebration for the franchise. Star Trek Beyond, and really all of the movies in the rebooted series, pay a lot of respect to the original television show and movies. For one thing, Leonard Nimoy has been in them, and even is given plenty of recognition in this film, which was great to see since Nimoy passed away early last year. I already mentioned that this film felt like a long episode of the original series, and in a way that’s the perfect homage to a show that changed t.v. and get people talking. There’s one scene in particular near the end that recognizes the original show and pays tribute so well, it plastered a great big smile on my face.

Despite some mild disappointment with certain aspects of the story and characters, it’s impossible for me to say that Star Trek Beyond was a bad movie. In fact, it was a very good movie, and I liked it way more than I thought I would. All of the actors really know who their characters are and play them really well, while also interacting with each other very well. The passing of both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin does add some sadness to the experience, but nothing is lost because of it. Star Trek Beyond provides fans and newcomers alike with some great action, entertainment, and drama while the franchise keeps succeeding at its mission of boldly taking audiences where no one has gone before.

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The Jungle Book – Review

23 Apr

My childhood, along with most I would assume, was spent watching classic Disney movies on VHS. I’m sure you can remember the ones that opened like a book and had the white lining. Ahhh, the sweet smell of nostalgia. I’m all for a good, heaping dose of nostalgia from time to time, but I feel like we’ve become a generation where a large percent of the box office leans on that very same idea of hearkening back to our childhood. That’s why I was skeptical of Disney’s live action remake of The Jungle Book. It may be one of the most beloved children’s cartoons of all time, which made me think this was just another cash grab. When I say I couldn’t have been more wrong, I mean that it may be the wrongest I’ve ever been in my life. So far, I’m considering The Jungle Book one of the best movies of 2016.

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Deep in the jungle, a young boy named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is raised by a pack of noble wolves while also being trained in the ways of the jungle by the wise black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). During a time of peace, the vengeful tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) discovers Mowgli living with the wolves and vows that when the time of peace is over he will kill the young man cub in retaliation for the burns he received to his face by man. This forces the wolves, Bagheera, and Mowgli to decide it would be safest for Mowgli to leave the jungle and return to the human village. While on their journey Mowgli meets a lovable, but scheming bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), who joins the quest to bring Mowgli to the village. Dangers lurk around every corner though as Mowgli is threatened by elements such as the snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the megalomaniacal King Louie (Christopher Walken), and the ever lurking presence of Shere Khan.

While The Jungle Book tells a classic story that has been told time and time again, this version, directed by the great Jon Favreau, focuses mainly on retelling the 1967 animated Disney film. That makes sense, really, since this is also made by Disney. This version of the film, however, immerses you into the story, the characters, and the environment like no other telling. The CGI in this movie is mind blowing which makes it hard for me to say that this isn’t a live action movie. It feels so much like watching a completely live action film, even though 95% of it was shot over a green screen and edited into the movie. The jungle in this movie lives and breathes and becomes an essential character all its own. Meanwhile, characters we’ve known since our childhood come to life like they never have before.

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While the CGI is fantastic and the characters all look great, they wouldn’t be nearly as life like if it wasn’t for the excellent voice work. Ben Kingsley as Bagheera and Bill Murray as Baloo are so accurately casted and work very well together as two opposites working very hard towards the same goal. They have great banter and read the lines very well. The scene stealer, unsurprisingly, is Idris Elba as the terrifying Shere Khan. There were a few kids in my theater who didn’t last ten minutes once Shere Khan went onscreen, and I can’t really blame them. Elba is just fantastic. Neel Sethi is a great find to play Mowgli, and Christopher Walken sounds like he’s having the time of his life playing King Louie. The only person who I feel was underutilized was Scarlett Johansson as Kaa. She only had one scene to really do anything, and while she played the part very well she just wasn’t in it enough.

What really drives The Jungle Book into the realm of greatness is the feeling of adventure that’s present throughout the entire film. This is a story of growth and learning, heroes and villains, and most importantly it’s a whole lot of fun. There wasn’t a frame in this movie that bored me. Even if the story was slowing down a little bit, there was always something gorgeous to look at onscreen. It’s important to note that while this is a festival of CGI, the film uses the effects to tell the story instead of making the movie about the effects.

The Jungle Book is the first movie of 2016 that made me just feel really excited. This is one of those movies that reminded me why I love film so much in the first place. The effects are out of this world, and speaking of out of this world, so is the cast of voice actors. I never thought in a million years I would love this movie as much as I did, but as of right now it’s my favorite movie of 2016. Do not miss this one.

Ghost Rider & Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – Review

3 Sep

I remember way back in 2007 going to see the movie Ghost Rider when it first came out. I didn’t know anything about the character, but the fact that it was a Marvel movie and featured a hero with a flaming skull riding a motorcycle seemed pretty cool. The fact is is that the character of Ghost Rider is really cool, but the movie was all around unmemorable. Since I first saw it 8 years ago, I’ve finally gone back and given it another go having not remembered any of it. I also decided to check out the sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance directed by Neveldine/Taylor, who directed the two Crank films and Gamer. My conclusion is that these two Ghost Rider movies should come with directions that say, “Turn off your brain, and add alcohol.”

Let’s take a trip back to 2007 with the first Ghost Rider.

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When Johnny Blaze was a teenager, he sold his soul to the devil, or Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda), in order to save his father dying from lung cancer. The devil cured his father, but he still ended up dying by the devil’s will. Now and adult, Johnny (Nicolas Cage) works as the world’s most renowned stunt rider. Even with all of the fame and fortune, Johnny can’t get the pact he made with the devil out of his mind, and isn’t surprised when he shows up once again commanding Johnny to hunt down his son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley) and send him back to hell. Now given the powers of the Ghost Rider, Johnny begins his hunt. When Blackheart makes it personal by kidnapping Johnny’s childhood love Roxanne (Eva Mendez) and threatens to unleash thousands of demonic souls on the world, the Ghost Rider is forced to ride like hell to complete his mission.

Let me just get a very unpleasant fact out of the way. Ghost Rider was written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson who was also the writer and director the Marvel flop that was Daredevil. Now that’s pretty bad news, and Johnson didn’t seem to really get it together for Ghost Rider. I’d even go so far as to say Daredevil is more memorable, which is an odd thought. Watching the movie again reminded me why it was so unmemorable. There’s not really a whole lot of action, and the down time which seems to stretch on and on isn’t anything interesting. The screenplay seemed desperate to make Johnny Blaze into a relatable character, but he’s really not very deep at all. This probably adds to why all of the dialogue sounds either forced or said without much feeling, and that goes for everyone in the movie.

Like I said before though, the Ghost Rider is a really cool character which gives the action scenes a good kick. One particularly cool scene has the Rider using his chain to latch onto a building and ride right down the side of it. Unfortunately, Blackheart as a villain isn’t that exciting at all and Wes Bentley’s version of hamming things up doesn’t really work. The bottom line is that this movie really isn’t good, and I can’t even say it’s so bad that it’s good. All I saw was a cool anti-hero thrown into a movie with a lot of useless talk, bland characters, and a few action scenes spaced too far apart. A movie based on a comic book character really just shouldn’t be this boring.

Five years later in 2012 a sequel was put out called Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. It’s a sequel that we really didn’t need, nor did people seem to want it. Nevertheless, being directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor made me curious to see how they could inject their hyperactive style to this character.

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Some years after the events of the first film, Johnny Blaze is hiding out in a secluded area of Eastern Europe. This is the only way he knows how to control the monster inside him that turns him into the Ghost Rider. His seclusion is disturbed when he is found by a priest named Moreau (Idris Elba) who pleads with him to find a young boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan), and his mother Nadya (Violante Placido). The two are being hunted by Nadya’s ex-boyfriend Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), who was hired by the devil (now played by Ciarán Hinds) to deliver the boy for a prophesied ritual. In return, Moreau promises to rid Johnny of his curse, which is all the motivation he needs to find the mother and son before they fall into evil’s grip.

This movie has been panned by critics and audiences alike in an overwhelming way, which, despite my curiosity, made me hesitant to watch it. Now, I may be committing some kind of sin against movie criticism by saying this, and I apologize in advance, but Spirit of Vengeance is far superior to the original. In fact… I sorta…kinda…liked this one. I’ve heard numerous complaints about the story, the effects, and the acting so I’ll just address them one by one. The story is very straightforward and most certainly unoriginal, but it’s at least functional (unlike a certain Marvel film that came out this year). The effects are what I expected from Neveldine/Taylor. They’re way over the top and almost cartoonish, which is the kind of effects and editing I saw in the Crank movies and Gamer. Finally, the acting is also serviceable, and there’s even a few great scenes of Nicolas Cage going absolutely nuts.

I understand that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance may not be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s one thing, but I don’t really understand why it’s hated so much. There’s more action sequences in this movie, and all of them play out like their fueled by an insane combination of cocaine, LSD, and rage. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s anarchic and almost nonsensical editing style also give the movie a jolt that moves it along much faster than the original, which in turn makes the movie much more entertaining. Being released by the Marvel Knights production company, the same company that did The Punisher: War Zone, the budget is relatively small and the material is darker than most Marvel films. That being said, this movie is just so much damn fun.

Even though the Ghost Rider is a unique and unusually awesome Marvel character, he hasn’t really gotten the big budget treatment that he deserves. The first movie is stuck in the mud, and the second movie is pretty much ignored. Personally, I could do without the first one, but I embrace Spirit of Vengeance, and I’m not ashamed of who knows it… Maybe just a little.

Pacific Rim – Review

2 Aug

Giant monsters. Equally giant robots. Guillermo del Toro. Ok, now we’re talkin’. From the trailer, you really know exactly what to expect with Pacific Rim, a movie that brings to mind Toho’s Godzilla movies of the past. Giant robots are really nothing new to movies. Just look at Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise (ok, on second thought maybe you shouldn’t). But, and this is important, del Toro takes this concept and makes it totally new. Instead of robots, they’re giant mech suits with people inside controlling it. I’m getting ahead of myself here. I’m just really excited about how excellent this movie was.

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In the not too distant future, an inter dimensional portal opens up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in which giant monsters, called Kaiju, are climbing out of and wreaking havoc on cities across the globe. In response to this, the superpowers of the world come together and create a program where giant mech suits, called Jaegers, complete with two pilots who have merged their minds can walk into the path of the Kaiju and stop them. For years, this seems to work just fine, but it appears that the Kaiju are evolving and adapting to earth and its defenses, making the jobs of the Jaeger pilots more demanding and much more dangerous. As the pilots begin failing at an alarming rate, Commander Pentecost (Idris Elba) hatches an idea that may very well be the key to closing the portal and saving the earth.

Now, this movie is absolutely outstanding. It’s certainly not much of a captivating drama, but it sure is a lot of fun. The main protagonist isn’t anything interesting and his partner, played by Rinko Kikuchi, is pretty good, but still nothing too great. Idris Elba on the other hand has a really cool character who is very interesting. He has to be since his main job is “canceling the apocalypse.” Finally, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are exactly the kind of comic relief that this movie needs, as the two scientists who are obsessed with unlocking the secrets of the Kaiju.

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I guess that wasn’t the first talking point you would expect me to start with. The question of the hour is: How were the Jaeger vs Kaiju fights? Excellent question, and the answer is that they were mind blowing. Like the whole movie itself, these fights had the potential to be garbage, but the way they are executed makes all the difference. First of all, the sound design and visual effects make it very easy to believe that these behemoths are actually throwing down right in front of you. That, and camera angles that are interesting and make the action easy to follow. Everything feels really big about this movie, and that’s important given the subject matter. Some camera angles are shown from the ground level while others are from the view of distant buildings. Let’s just say that these fights look about as epic as anything I’ve ever seen.

I will say that there are slow parts to the movie where the lack of strong characters and dialogue really shows. The way these scenes play out are entirely too predictable and the characters are pretty stock for the most part. Like I said, most of the main characters are nothing special, even as sort of “everyman” characters. A lot of the disagreements and drama seems a little underplayed, and don’t amount to anything too special. Kikuchi’s character at least has a nice back story that helps her dramatic scenes feel a bit more interesting.

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While the human drama doesn’t really feel all that spectacular, it is adequate. On the flip side, the colossal battles between machine and beast in the oceans and cities of the world are some of the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year. Like I said, Pacific Rim had the potential to be generic drivel and nothing too special save for some pretty scenes. Instead, Guillermo del Toro has created an awesome thrill ride that, in my opinion, gives Star Trek Into Darkness some competition for my favorite film of the year.