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STAR TREK BEYOND

22 Jul

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Synopsis: A surprise attack in outer space forces the Enterprise to crash-land on a mysterious world. The assault came from Krall (Idris Elba), a lizard-like dictator who derives his energy by sucking the life out of his victims. Krall needs an ancient and valuable artifact that’s aboard the badly damaged starship. Left stranded in a rugged wilderness, Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew must now battle a deadly alien race while trying to find a way off their hostile planet.

Cast

Chris Pine………………………James T. Kirk

Zachary Quinto…………………………Spock

Karl Urban…………………Dr. Bones McCoy

Zoe Salanda…………………………Lt. Uhura

Simon Pegg…..Montgomery (Scotty) Scott

John Cho……………………………………Sulu

Anton Yelchin…………………………Checkov

Idris Elba……………………………………Krall

Sofia Boutella……………………………….Jaylah

Review:  The Star Trek franchise always had a series of elements that made it specifically Trek, among them the sense of hope, humor and adventure for mankind’s future, an over the top enemy combatant and most importantly the familial bond between Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  This the third adventure in the reboot series, written by Simon (Scotty) Pegg, Doug Jung and under the direction of Justin Lin, not only accomplishes all the elements with a great story and script it also pays homage to Leonard Nimoy and dedicates the film to the late Nimoy and Anton Yelchin.

The real crux of this, the third and best outing yet is that, finally the Kirk, Spock, McCoy trio really connect in the way you always knew, one can not be without the other. In a side plot we learn that Ambassador Spock (Nimoy) has died and Quinto’s Spock must now come to terms with his destiny, should he leave the federation and live on New Vulcan or stay with his friends. This seems to be a theme in other incarnations of Trek and feels right at home here as well.

Sofia Boutella plays Jaylah who befriends Scotty and helps the Enterprise crew against a common enemy Krall who is hell bent on destroying the Federation and all it stands for. Jaylah is a stand-out in the film in the sense that she is a strong independent woman who looks just as good in the command chair as Kirk. She keeps calling Scotty by his full name Montgomery Scotty, confusing his last name Scott with his nick name. This really endears you to her character.

The film is a real pleasure to watch for trek fans and the pacing of the script keeps you engrossed in the story. To appease modern summer blockbuster audiences there are battle sequences, an exciting climax to the story line and great visuals. Like the original trek the cerebral aspect and metaphor here is what can happen to a human being totally consumed by hate and revenge. If this third film is any indication may the franchise live long and prosper.

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Disney’s The Jungle Book

17 Apr

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Disney’s The Jungle Book.  First off it is safe to say this movie is less about Disney’s Jungle Book the animated version (1967) as much as it pays more attention to Rudyard Kiplings book.

The new version is live action with amazing CGI that brings you right in to the Jungle world of man-cub Mowgli, played well by new comer, Neel Sethi. The film has a PG rating and some scenes might be a bit too realistic for the very young. The casting is superb, Ben Kingsly as Bagheera the panther who found Mowgli as an infant and gave him to the wolves to raise as their own, Lupito Nyong’o plays the Raksha Mowgli’s wolf mother, Idris Elba as Shere Khan the tiger who wants Mowgli dead, Scarlette Johansson as the snake Kaa, Christopher Walken as King Louis the King of the apes, and the wonderful Bill Murray as Baloo the bear.
The only resemblance to the animated version is three songs lifted from that film:
1: Bill Murray as Baloo in an effort to befreind Mowgli after enlisting him into retreaving honey for him from live bees nests, sings the song Bear Neccesities with Mowgli. Rather than a disconnected musical number, Murray plays it as way to understand Baloo’s character and give dimension to his relationship with Mowgli. Not only is it pure Murray but it is a joy to watch, like a peacful float down a river.
2. When we first meet Christopher Walken as King Louis sitting on a throne in an ancient jungle temple, he comes across as The Godfather with a hidden agenda. He sings I Want To Be Like You so incidiously ,telling of his plot to get the red flower (FIRE), from the man-cub so he can take power and control the jungle, you can only think what a perfect choice he was to play the part. He sings it in a way that let’s you see inside him and understand just how power hungry and crazy he is. Not unlike any dictator he uses his underlings to capture the man-cub so they can negotiate face to face.
3. Lastly stay for the end credits, because there is a lot going on, a reprise of I want To Be Like You and the third song, Trust In Me sung by Kaa.
The film is a winner all around and incidently it is also Gary Shandlings last film he plays a minor character Ikki the Porcupine. (Very well too I might add.)
I saw it in 3D and the world you are drawn into like Avatar before it is complete and all consuming. Go and enjoy.

Captain America the Winter Soldier

7 Apr

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Synopsis: Captain America, Steve Rodgers, returns to fight a new world order, in a modern world. When a S.H.E.I.L.D. colleague is attacked, Rodgers joins forces with Natasha, The Black Widow and Sam Wilson, The Falcon, as H.Y.D.R.A., once again tries to dominate the planet.

 

CAST:

Chris Evans as Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow, Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce

 

Review: In the much anticipated return of Captain America, MARVEL has made one of the best movies so far, in their superhero war chest. The movie is non-stop action from beginning to end, the story is a tightly scripted action thriller, and there are enough laughs and back-story references to please any fan. In this sense the movie succeeds at bringing the old Captain America into relevance in today’s world.

The fun begins with a murder mystery, when Nick Fury is presumably assassinated; Captain America follows a trail with fellow agent The Black Widow. Along the way are many surprises and twists. His old friend Bucky Barnes returns as a ruthless assassin working for H.Y.D.R.A, with a mission to kill the good Captain. Steve Rodgers befriends a young soldier Sam Wilson, whom he trusts, and who admires him and his American values.

Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce represents S.H.E.I.L.D and is the money man who funds the operation through influencing a tight knit consortium of world leaders. Can he be trusted….? Is Nick Fury, really dead, will Bucky remember his friendship with Rodgers, will Stan Lee have a cameo?

In the bigger picture, Fury has built a secret arsenal underneath S.H.E.I.L.D headquarters. H.Y.D.R.A has been secretly funding the project through Pierce. When Fury figures this out, he confides in Rodgers and hands him a UBS storage disk that contains all of S.H.E.I.L.D’s secrets and in his presumably dying breath tells Rodgers not to trust anyone. The story continues along this line, as Rogers forms a team with Natasha and Sam.

There are cameo appearances by Gary Shandling, (comedian, The Gary Shandling Show) as a corrupt senator working for H.Y.D.R.A as well as the obligatory Stan Lee moment.

MARVEL stories always have a human touch and the relationships between the characters ring true. When The Black Widow flirts with the Captain, you can see what she is thinking inside. Rodgers is all about Truth, Justice and the American way and obviously thrives on trust and loyalty, Fury is all about distrust, protecting freedom and always ready to fight. The newbie to this scenario is Sam Wilson, The Falcon, whose loyalty to the Captain’s cause makes him a trusted and valuable friend.

This is a story loaded with intrigue; in fact some of the gadgets and technology are slightly reminiscent of James Bond films. The film has left enough loose ends to make a sequel, as with all good movie franchises, it also ties up the some unanswered questions from the first movie.

I must say, watching Robert Redford play the heavy, with his charm and understatement, makes him more insidious as opposed to over the top as most Bond villains are. He was perfectly cast and just how insidious he is, surprises you at various tense moments throughout the story.

I saw the 3D version of this movie and felt the effect never distracted, that said, the movie would be just as enjoyable with or without the 3D.

I hope MARVEL can keep up the good works and future movies in the franchise, such as the AVENGERS sequel, will live up to the bar as raised by this one.

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The Monuments Men

17 Feb

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Synopsis:  Directed by George Clooney and based on the true story of the greatest treasure hunt in history, The Monuments Men is an action drama focusing on an unlikely World War II platoon, tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It would be an impossible mission: with the art trapped behind enemy lines, and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, how could these guys – seven museum directors, curators, and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than the M-1 – possibly hope to succeed? But as the Monuments Men, as they were called, found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, they would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements.

 CAST

George Clooney (Frank Stokes)

 Matt Damon (James Granger)

 Bill Murray (Richard Campbell)

 John Goodman (Walter Garfield)

 Jean Dujardin (Jean Claude Clermont)

 Bob Balaban (Preston Savitz)

 Hugh Bonneville (Donald Jeffries)

 Dimitri Leonidas (Sam Epstein),

 Cate Blanchett (Claire Simone)

 Holger Handtke (Colonel Wegner)

REVIEW: George Clooney has directed a likeable film, in the old school, familiar style reminiscent say of a Guns of Navorone. George, (Frank Stokes),  leads his band of men through Europe during the last days of World War II. His job, as assigned by President Franklin Roosevelt, was to find and return the world’s art and cultural treasures, stolen by the Nazis under Hitler’s orders. It reminds us that Hitler didn’t just want to kill the Jews but destroy their culture and any knowledge of their existence off the face of the Earth. Most of the art was owned by private Jewish collectors, and Jewish families, past down generation to generation, the art priceless, the cost of lives, infamous, heinous and we must never forget the result of the Nazi holocaust.

In the telling of the tale, Clooney treaded the fine line of heavy handedness and lightheartedness. Given the implications of the subject matter these are hard issues to navigate and in this regard the movie becomes uneven. The film remains buoyant by the all star cast, Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone a Parisian who is forced to document every art piece taken by the Germans, also works for the French Resistance. Her performance transcends the material she is given and you understand her as she trusts no one, even Matt Damon, (James Granger), who tries to enlist her help for the Monuments men. Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Jean Dujardin add to the light heartedness of the characters, their mission is clear and they are all experts in their creative fields. Each one has an ironic sense of duty vs. reality.  Murray and Balaban are experts at playing irony and are a joy to watch. John Goodman is always winning and teaming him with Jean Dujardin works on so many levels.

Hugh Bonneville, (Donald Jeffries) is the British counterpart who works with the Monuments Men, and is a friend of Clooney’s. Clooney enlists him as a way of saving him from a fall from grace he has had with bouts of alcoholism. Bonneville, who is so wonderful in Downton Abbey, adds certain class to the film as he tries to recover Michelangelo’s,  Madonna and Child statue.

The story becomes a race against time as the Monuments Men  must recover the last of the art before the Russian Army takes claim to it for war reparations caused by the lives lost by the war. The story could have been more involving, the pace perhaps a little quicker as the sense of urgency, however, the Monuments Men is a good story and deserves a look-see just to be reminded of what could have been, if not for brave men and freedom fighters, like these.

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GRAVITY

31 Jan

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Director – Alfonso Cuaron, Screenplay – Jonas Cuaron , Screenplay – Alfonso Cuaron

  Synopsis:  Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in a heart-pounding thriller that pulls you into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney). But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone – tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space. — (C) Warner Bros.

CAST

Sandra Bullock – Ryan Stone

George Clooney – Matt Kowalsky

Ed Harris – Mission Control

Orto Ignatiussen – Aningaaq

Amy Warren – Explorer Captain

 

Review: Gravity is a pulse pounding, thrill ride of a film that is less cerebral than say Kubrick’ s, 2001 A Space Odyssey , less fantasy visually  than Cuaron’s Pan’s Labrynth, and certainly not based in the Star Trek/Star Wars style mythology. Gravity is a visually stunning “what if” adventure concerning itself with survival, if faced with abandonment, in a routine space walk  and disaster strikes.  Sandra Bullock as Medical Engineer Ryan Stone, on her first venture into space with George Clooney as veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky are busy working outside their space shuttle when they get an urgent message from NASA, the Russians by demolishing one of their obsolete satellites, causing fragments of debris, metal parts, and various other satellite parts to fly at enormous speeds in the path of the shuttle. All hell breaks loose causing Clooney and Bullock to spin out of control. Clooney manages to stop his spin, Bullock, who is now spinning away from the shuttle is alone and out of touch with NASA.  The silence, horror and panic in the vastness of space is as terrifying and real a moment, in brilliant use of 3D yet, that propels the events that ensue.   In Bullock’s character we learn her back story and come to realize this is a woman who lost a child and is about to confront her maker, and the changes that take place as she manages to save herself. The movements of Clooney and Bullock are tense as they clock the time the debris will orbit back and hit them again. Bullock’s face beneath the helmet she wears shows the desperation as she listens for Clooney’s voice to talk her through it. With their colleagues dead, you can only hope that these two manage to save themselves.   Using a thruster pack Clooney and Bullock make their way to the nearby International Space Station (ISS) only to find it damaged and unusable. En route to the ISS, the two discuss Stone’s life back home and the death of her young daughter. As they approach the substantially damaged but still operational ISS, they see its crew has evacuated in one of its two Soyuz modules and that the parachute of the other capsule has accidentally been deployed, rendering it useless for returning to Earth. Kowalski suggests the remaining Soyuz be used to travel to the nearby Chinese space station Tiangong, 100 mi (160 km) away, and board one of its modules to return safely to Earth. Out of air and maneuvering power, the two try to grab onto the ISS as they fly by. Stone’s leg gets entangled in Soyuz’s parachute cords and she is able to grab a strap on Kowalski’s suit. Despite Stone’s protests, Kowalski detaches himself from the tether to save her from drifting away with him, and she is pulled back towards the ISS. As Kowalski floats away, he radios her additional instructions and encouragement. The rest of the story is about Bullock’s rebirth and survival as she confronts her own demons and past. Cuaron uses imagery to depict Bullock as baby in a womb as Bullock floats through the Soyuz.

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This is a first class adventure movie; the use of 3D enhances the story in a way I have never seen before. You feel the sense of insignificance as alone and floating in the silence of space can be. The film is up for 2013 Best Picture Academy Award and Bullock is up for Best Actress.

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The Lone Ranger

7 Jul

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Cast

Johnny Depp-Tonto

Armie Hammer-John Reid, a k a the Lone Ranger

Tom Wilkinson-Latham Cole

William Fichtner-Butch Cavendish

Barry Pepper-Capt. Fuller

James Badge Dale-Dan Reid

Ruth Wilson-Rebecca Reid

Helena Bonham Carter-Red Harrington

Saginaw Grant-Chief Big Bear

Review: Being a confirmed baby boomer I remember the legend of The Lone Ranger and Tonto, with a mighty hi-ho silver away and the William Tell overture bringing nostalgic memories of television shows past. Before the The Lone Ranger was part of the television landscape his stories came on the heels of the great depression, and at the time was a popular adventure radio broadcast. The series in both cases were rife with cowboy and Indian stereotypes, despicable villains and reflected a time that many people today would consider politically incorrect. The question then remains how do you bring the archaic to modern audiences in a way that can be appreciated by today’s young demographic and please those of us who grew up with the legend? Perhaps the answer comes in the form of one Johnny Depp, in his role of Tonto, an aging Indian, with a dead crow on his head, telling a child at a western carnival side show the true origin of The Lone Ranger. The carnival is in San Francisco in the year 1933, not coincidently I presume, the year the radio show was first broadcast.

As the boy wonders into the tent to see western history come alive, he wanders passed the stuffed bears and animals and comes to a statue of a native American, the plaque on the front of the window reads The Noble Savage in his native habitat. Underneath the wrinkly prosthetics is Johnny Depp as Tonto, not unlike Dustin Hoffman’s old man in the film, Little Big Man. The boy hangs on Tonto’s every word as the story begins in flashback.

The story centers around the building of the Trans-Continental railway through the old west. There are corrupt officials, Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole, bad guys such as the Butch Cavendish gang, warring Indian tribes, Cavalry officers, explosions, love interest, Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid, golden hearted prostitutes on the side of good, Helen Bohnham Carter as Red Harrington, Tonto as a crazy Indian excommunicated from his tribe who becomes a crazy mentor to John Reid a.k.a. he Lone Ranger.

Gore Verbinski directed from a script by, Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. The film mixes witty verbiage, cliché’ bashing, the William Tell Overture beautifully interpolated into the score at appropriate times, spot gags and plenty of eye candy. The film pays homage to such directors as John Ford in its use of Monument Valley for location shooting, Buster Keaton’s the General and of course to the mythos behind The Ranger’s physics defying horse Silver.

The film comes across as extremely entertaining but is in truth a mixed bag. With all the attempt to give the past versions of the myth a modern twist neither is really served. There were times that the film’s homage worked so well you can’t help but smile and say yes, but alas those moments are brief and the amount of well edited bloodshed mixed with witty banter distracts rather than invites.

In the end the film is a worthy attempt, and with all the Pirates Of the Caribbean movie sequels it is nice to watch Depp having the time of his life playing yet another eccentric outcast. So if the old question was “Who was that masked man?” the new question as written into the script is, “What’s with the mask?”

FYI: There is a scene of a child being hit across the face, it is well edited but still may be intense for younger children, be warned

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AFTER EARTH

2 Jun

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Directed by M. Night Shyamalan; written by Gary Whitta and Mr. Shyamalan, based on a story by Will Smith

SYNOPSIS: In After Earth, one thousand years after cataclysmic events forced humanity’s escape from Earth, Nova Prime has become mankind’s new home. Legendary General Cypher Raige (played by Will Smith) returns from an extended tour of duty to his estranged family, ready to be a father to his 13-year-old son, Kitai (played by Jaden Smith). When an asteroid storm damages Cypher and Kitai’s craft, they crash-land on a now unfamiliar and dangerous Earth. As his father lies dying in the cockpit, Kitai must trek across the hostile terrain to recover their rescue beacon. His whole life, Kitai has wanted nothing more than to be a soldier like his father. Today, he gets his chance.

Cast

Jaden Smith-Kitai Raige

Will Smith-Cypher Raige

Zoë Isabella Kravitz -Senshi Raige

Sophie Okonedo-Faia Raige

Glenn Morshower-Commander Velan

Kristofer Hivju-Security Chief

Review:  This movie has its moments but should be entitled “Much ado about nothing” or a review headline should read Will Smith’s vanity gift to his son Jaden. Sadly the once promising young film director M. Knight Shyamalan co-wrote and directed this cliché, paint by the numbers sci-fi tale of a father and son’s journey to rediscover and renew their relationship.

The simple plot is about a post apocalyptic earth that has been invaded by aliens. Humans to survive relocated to another planet. The aliens can sense human fear by the release of pheromones and thus can hunt them down. When General Cypher (Will Smith) takes his son Cadet Kitai on a training mission their starship, carrying an enemy alien in a cocoon, gets caught up in an asteroid field and their only escape route, a wormhole, takes them to the off limits planet earth where they crash land. Needless to say only Kitai and Cypher survive. The problem is the ship broke in two pieces when it landed. The first section has  Kitai, Cypher and a working tracking system, the only working homing beacon is in the tail of the ship which fell 100 kilometers away. Since Cypher has a broken leg, he sends his son, Kitai on his first ranger mission.

The rest of the story is about Kitai’s survival in the wild as he tries to hike to the other half of the ship and launch the homing beacon. Many adventures and cheesy special CGI effects later the ultimate confrontation takes place. Will Kitai fight off the alien, find the beacon, and save his dad?  What do you think? The plot is shallow and predictable. To make matters worse Will Smith speaks in slow monotone syllables in every sentence he utters, so you know what he is saying must be important. He has a pseudo-Carribbean/Bostonian hint in his speech.

I will say there are some tender moments and some disconnected literary references, such as Moby Dick and “The Wreck of the Hesperus”. Their ship is called the “Hesper” and General Cypher chases aliens with no fear as Ahab chased the whale. Overall the film falls flat, the sentiment seems fake and the story disingenuous.

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