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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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10 Cloverfield Lane – Review

26 Mar

What kind of black magic did J.J. Abrams have to perform to bring Alfred Hitchcock back from the dead to make a sequel to the beloved monster movie, Cloverfield? Of course that’s not the case, but 10 Cloverfield Lane has all of the suspense and tension found in Hitchcock’s best films. This movie, however, is directed by Dan Trachtenberg, who has made a few short films but this is his feature film debut. While 10 Cloverfield Lane can be considered a sequel to Cloverfield in some ways, it more so builds upon a universe shrouded in mystery. I really wasn’t expecting much when this was first announced, but this was a great movie.

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After being in a major accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a bare room that she’s never seen before. It turns out that she was pulled from the wreckage by a farmer named Howard (John Goodman), who brought her into his doomsday bunker after he claims that the United States has been the victim of a mysterious and catastrophic attack. Michelle isn’t the only one down there with Howard, however. Soon she meets Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), a local guy who helped Howard build the bunker and claims to have seen the attack first hand. As time in the bunker passes and the trio get to know each other a little better, more distrust of Howard begins to build as strange evidence starts piling up that begs the question of wether he’s completely sane or not and wether it’s worth risking contamination to escape the bunker.

Take everything you know about the style and mood of the first Cloverfield and just toss it out the window. You don’t need it for 10 Cloverfield Lane. This is a completely different movie than its predecessor. In fact, this movie can be viewed as a stand alone film because the connections are so hidden, it’s easy to miss what they are. More on that later, though. What I learned about Trachtenberg from this movie is that he works really well with space. Most of this movie just takes place in Howard’s bunker, which really isn’t all that big, but there’s so much tension and suspense present that you could fill 5 bunkers. What’s also great about the suspense is that it isn’t drawn out too long or too slowly. This movie is actually very quick paced, so I felt like I was really being thrown into an intense situation before I was even prepared for it. Not only that but I had this overwhelming desire to figure out everything and know what happens. That kind of viewer engagement is a sign of a really great m10 Cloverfield Lane

One of the most entertaining things about this movie is the interaction between the three characters in the bunker. It’s really the driving force behind the entire movie, because without the interactions written exactly right (like they were) and performed with the utmost believability (which the were) this movie wouldn’t be nearly as effective. The screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle (who also wrote and directed Whiplash) is fantastic and full of memorable dialogue and suspense sequences. I also have to give the acting a lot of praise. John Goodman, in particular, steals the show and is one of the most memorable antagonists I’ve seen in recent movies. Mary Elizabeth Winstead also gives a strong performance as a protagonist determined not to give in. The only person who is a little underwhelming is John Gallagher, Jr., which has more to do with the attention given to his character in the screenplay rather than his performance in the movie.

What was great about the first Cloverfield was the mystery behind it. Sure, it’s essentially a monster movie, but the entire time it’s on you feel like you aren’t getting the whole story. This is because it doesn’t treat the audience like a child. There are clues all over Cloverfield as to what’s really going on, and there’s the same kind of clues in 10 Cloverfield Lane that are sometimes hidden in plain sight for you to find. These both give the story some more mystery and answers, but also serves to tie this movie in to the original. It’s just really nice when a movie doesn’t condescend to an audience and treat us like we can’t figure anything out for ourselves.

At first, I had very low expectations for 10 Cloverfield Lane and when I saw the praise that it was getting I was relieved. I really can’t stress it enough that this movie is nothing like the original in terms of its style, but the mood and feeling of mystery and paranoia still hold strong. J.J. Abrams really knows how to market a movie, but this wasn’t just clever marketing that makes this movie a success. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a success because it is smart, suspenseful, and superbly crafted.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Review

21 Dec

I remember exactly when I fell in love with movies. I was in the first grade when I was first exposed to Star Wars. I had just gotten home from school and was watching Return of the Jedi, and I distinctly remember the feeling of excitement watching the speeder bike chase that takes place on the forest moon of Endor. Now here we are in 2015 and I finally got to see a new Star Wars movie. The prequel trilogy didn’t really give me the intense experience that I wanted, so this film had a lot riding on it. With a lot of the cast members returning and J.J. Abrams in the director’s chair, I was confident that this was going to be the Star Wars film that I’ve been waiting for. I’m proud and excited to say that I was right.

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30 years after the Galactic Empire was destroyed by the Rebel Alliance, remnants of the Empire have joined together to create a powerful military strength called the First Order. At the forefront of the First Order is one of the last remaining Jedi, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who has make it his mission to track down Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for his own nefarious purposes. On the other side of the spectrum is the Resistance, a much smaller military with the support of the Republic. The Resistance is also hot on the trail of Skywalker and will fight back against the much larger First Order to protect the galaxy and find Luke before any great damage can be done.

There’s really no other way I can lay out this story without giving anything away. The marketing for this movie was perfect because I went into the theater without knowing what the movie was about or what anyone’s motivations were. That made the experience so much more exciting than it could have been. Let me just say that I was not disappointed. Everything about the story flowed very smoothly and felt exactly like the kind of stuff you’d come to expect with a Star Wars movie. My only complaint is that sometimes it felt a little bit too much like the older movies. The Force Awakens contains plot devices and themes from all three of the original films which is really cool in some aspects, but the fact that they took so much was a little bit off putting. Luckily, that is where my problems end and my excitement begins.

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I had a feeling that I was going to love this movie, but I didn’t know that it was going to give me a character that I was going to fall in love with. Since I’ve seen this movie, I can’t stop thinking about Kylo Ren. He is, without a doubt, one of the most complex and interesting villains that I have seen in a long time. I was just expecting him to be the stereotypical bad guy, but what I got was a deep character that is full of mystery and conflict. Luckily all of the other characters hold up really well too. As the series’ new heroes we have Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), who both have very exuberant personalities. At times their motivations do clash, but their chemistry still works great. Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron is another performance that stands out. He may be one of the most likable characters of this new trilogy, which means Disney better be planning on keeping him around. Finally, seeing Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, and Mark Hamill in their respective titles was great even if a few of them get pretty limited screen time.

Most importantly, though, The Force Awakens just felt like a Star Wars movie, and I really shouldn’t be worried about that. Unfortunately, in a world where the prequel trilogy exists, I sort of have to. If this movie turned out to be another Attack of the Clones, I would’ve just given up on film all together. This movie has plenty of action, adventure, and humor rolled up in J.J. Abrams signature style. Abrams has a great eye and it really shows here. This film really feels like a grand spectacle. There are huge set pieces, beautiful CGI, and there were also a lot of great practical effects and make up which I really appreciate. It’s nice to know that, along with his two Star Trek films, J.J. Abrams has the ability to handle major and beloved franchises with care.

There was a lot riding on The Force Awakens since it’s pretty much rebooting the Star Wars franchise. I’ve heard some different opinions, but for me, it was a huge success and I loved pretty much every minute of it. Sure, the fan service, references, and plot elements can be a little overwhelming and repetitive at times, but these are minor complaints. This is a really fun and action packed entry in a franchise that is both beloved on side and mocked on the other. It may not be as iconic as the original trilogy, but it sure is great.

Star Trek Into Darkness – Review

18 May

The Star Trek universe has been given so many movies and series throughout the years. The original Star Trek and all of the movies that went with it, the Deep Space Nine series, the Next Generation series and movies, and most recently reboots directed by sci-fi prodigy J.J. Abrams. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek was impressive and very entertaining, so I had pretty high hopes for the sequel. This time, the movie has completely exceeded my expectations in a way that I may have never seen before. I’ve seen a lot of movies in my time, and I can honesty say that this is one of the greatest films that I have ever seen.

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A year after the events of the previous film, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) of the Starship Enterprise has created quite a reputation for himself that doesn’t sit very well with his superiors. Spock (Zachary Quinto), despite his good relationship with Kirk, is constantly getting him into trouble in his reports and has more recently become more distant with his lack of feeling. All of this stops mattering once John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a former Starfleet agent, bombs a secret facility in London.  Traveling across the galaxy to reach Harrison, Kirk and his crew begin to realize that the stakes are higher than they could have imagined, and they may even find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy that could compromise Starfleet in its entirety.

The first thing that I need to mention is the incredible writing that this film has been given. There are a few monologues that tug at your heartstrings in a way that not many summer blockbusters can do. Most notably, Spock explaining his lack of emotion when it comes to death and Harrison giving a brief summary of his past sufferings. But what is this dialogue without the talent of the actors to back them up? Every single performer brings their A-game, especially Quinto’s dry line delivery which is the cause of most of the jokes in the film and Cumberbatch’s dire demeanor that makes him and easy villain to hate.

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This part may be a tad spoilerish if you haven’t seen the 2009 Star Trek film, but if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Get on the ball. Anyway, in the previous film, a main plot point is a black hole creating an alternate time line which Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy) goes through to reach the Romulans he is trying to aid. Therefore, everything that is seen in these movies takes place in an alternate dimension. Pretty cool stuff, and to be expected with Abrams. This leaves a lot of room for experimentation with new ideas and old ones. Star Trek Into Darkness makes good use of older story lines and references, but changing them in a way where it is recognizable, but still different. This should please long time fans of the universe, but also not get in the way of people who aren’t quite as familiar.

Now how can I talk about a Star Trek movie without talking about the action and the technology. This movie is a space adventure in its most respectable form. Warp speed, different planets, space jumps, and Starfleet battles are just what I need in a film with Kirk, Spock, and the crew. The effects are top notch, but what has impressed me even more with these past two Star Trek movies are the sound design. Using space as the vacuum that it is, there are many explosions and noises that you would expect to be deafening (a la Star Wars and many, many other science fiction film), but Abrams instead mutes them and makes it quite the opposite of what you would expect. There is still noise, but not as in your face or loud. This is a brilliant idea that was used more in the previous film, but still has relevance in this one too. There is a moment when two characters are out in space, and for a second all you can hear is their breathing. This reminded me very much of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Star Trek Into Darkness was a fantastic film. I could put it high up as one of my favorite films, and I’m not just saying that because it’s fresh in my mind and I really enjoyed it. Objectively speaking, it is an excellent movie. There’s brilliant dialogue, character development, action, science fiction, and effects/sound design. This has surpassed the original in every sense and completely blew my mind. This is definitely my pick for the best film of the year thus far, but that can still change. I can’t say I really expect it to, though. Do yourself a huge favor and get your ass to the theatre to see Star Trek Into Darkness as soon as you possibly can.