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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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GHOSTBUSTERS 2016

18 Jul

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  • Director Paul Feig
  • Writers Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
  • Stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth

 

REVIEW:

Seeing any reboot these days especially one that had such a negative reaction way before it was released, is a risk considering Ghostbusters is such a beloved movie, but I ain’t afraid of no ghosts! That said, if you take four of the funniest ladies on the planet mix them with cameo’s by the original cast sans the deceased Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis, add at times belly laughs, clever visual gags and witty dialogue you have a winner, that pays homage to the original.

First off Kate McKinnon is the star of this film with the hilarious character of the nerdy, obsessed with building gadgetry, techno babbling scientist, Jillian Holtzman. Her timing her facial expressions her commitment to the role from the moment she steps on screen to her battling with ghosts is just hilarious. She is obviously SNL’s break out star and this role just proves the point. Kristin Wiig plays scientist Erin Gilbert and she being left in the dust, by having to play straight woman to the rest of the cast, does not have enough funny moments, although her getting slimed every ten minutes is funny I wish they gave her more to do. Melissa McCarthy plays paranormal specialist Abby Yates former roommate and friend to Gilbert. McCarthy’s comic timing is impeccable and when she worked with McKinnon many belly laughs ensue. Leslie Jones plays Patty Tolan and is very funny as an extension of her SNL persona, the loudmouth woman who knows she’s right even when she’s not. The chemistry between the four of them really works well with McKinnon the stand-out. Bill Murray plays Martin Heiss, a professional debunker of the paranormal and has the best cameo, Dan Ackroyd, Annie Potts, a bust of Harold Ramis and Sigourney Weaver also appear in the film. Each one having a small but funny cameo. Chris Hemsworth plays Kevin the ditzy hunk receptionist for the Ghostbusters, you can tell he had a blast playing the role and enjoyed making fun of his own screen image. Stay for the end credits because it is a follow up of events that occur after the last scene, this also where you will see Weaver’s cameo. I give the film three and a half stars for director Paul Feig’s vision although not up to the original the film is fun and worth a look-see.

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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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The Man of Steel

14 Jun

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CAST

Henry Cavill-Clark Kent/Kal-El

Amy Adams-Lois Lane

Michael Shannon-General Zod

Diane Lane-Martha Kent

Russell Crowe-Jor-El

Antje Traue-Faora-Ul

Harry Lennix-General Swanwick

Richard Schiff-Dr. Emil Hamilton

Christopher Meloni-Col. Nathan Hardy

Kevin Costner-Jonathan Kent

Ayelet Zurer-Lara Lor-Van

Laurence Fishburne-Perry White

Cooper Timberline-Clark Kent at 9

Dylan Sprayberry-Clark Kent at 13

REVIEW:  75 years ago Jerome Siegel and Jerry Schuster creatively introduced to the world, the  now legendary American icon, Superman. It has been said that Superman’s enduring popularity has do with the fact that the mythos behind the hero is the ultimate 20th century immigration story.  A stranger arrives in America’s heartland, is adopted by a farmer and his wife, and spends his young life coming to terms with his heritage vs. the culture of his new home.  Stranger makes good, becomes America’s darling and protector and vows to uphold truth, justice and the American way. Underlying Zack Snyder’s direction of this too much CGI’d Krypton, Superman’s home world, loud explosions, and over the top villain Zod, there is an inkling of the myth behind the hero.

In the telling of Superman’s origin Russell Crowe makes a fine Jor-el, Superman’s Kryptonian world, dad. That said, Zack Snyder removes the clean-cut Jor-el from the comic books and makes Crowe look like a warrior from say 300, Snyder’s CGI laden warrior film. Crowe becomes a guiding light in spirit, through-out the film and even has an encounter with Lois Lane.

Henry Cavill is perfectly cast as Kal-el/Superman/Clark Kent. He is the perfect embodiment of the character and gives Kal-el depth as he struggles with who he is. He is searching to understand his place in the world as we all do from time to time. He understands he has powers and he learns through Jonathan Kent, his earth dad played by Kevin Costner, to control his powers for the good of mankind.

Superman’s nemesis, General Zod, played perfectly by Michael Shannon, comes to earth to turn the planet into a new Krypton.  The interplay between Zod and Superman moves the story along as Kal-el must choose between saving all that he loves or sacrificing himself to save earth.

The good news is that the simple immigration tale that is at the core of the myth, though scattered in spurts throughout the film, remains somewhat intact. The bad news is the CGI effects and overuse of the hand held, stedicam , make a quarter of the film shaky and at times I felt like I was on a roller coaster.

Superman’s home planet and technology look so overcrowded with detail that I found it a distraction from the story telling. There was too much eye candy to follow and not enough human interaction.

There are many good points to recommend this film as a go-see; on the other hand it had many flaws in the visual style and some of the casting. Laurence Fishburne was poorly cast as Perry White editor of the daily planet. In Superman’s history Perry White never wore a small diamond earring in any ear, but of course the Superman story has been, told and retold, and reborn and reborn again so many times, I guess any new vision would be acceptable.  He does get cantankerous, but no “Great Cesar’s Ghosts” or Jimmy Olsen’s in site.

Amy Adams is miscast as  Lois Lane, traditionally; Lois was a lot more feminist and curvy than Amy Adams’ version of the character. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Lois Lane a little taller and dark haired. If you are trying to draw a whole new generation of young people into the Superman fold, then why not cast say, Jennifer Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), into the role?

The film does have much going for it as a reboot. I suspect this film will rival some of the recent Marvel superhero films that have preceded the Man of Steel. If you are a fan of the mythology as I have been, you will enjoy yourself. There is plenty of Superman pop-culture reference scattered throughout to please the most hardcore of fans.

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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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Star Trek

16 May

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Synopsis: In this much anticipated sequel to J.J. Abrams Star Trek 2009 reboot , the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis.

With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.

CAST

 Chris Pine – James Tiberius Kirk

Zachary Quinto – Spock

John Cho – Hikaru Sulu

Bruce Greenwood – Captain Christopher Pike

Simon Pegg – Montgomery “Scotty” Scott

Zoe Saldana – Nyota Uhura

Karl Urban – Leonard “Bones” McCoy

Anton Yelchin – Pavel Checkov

Benedict Cumberbatch – John Harrison

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=OhTpsUKHTtc

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Review:  For the uninitiated among you, there are several elements in the Star Trek Universe, created by Gene Roddenberry, that have stood the test of time, in what must be close to 50 years of its’ existence:

1) The idea the universe is multicultural and must be celebrated, the first interracial kiss in broadcast history, a multi ethnic and species crew of the Enterprise, Klingons, Vulcans, Humans, Romulans etc, etc.

2) The Prime Directive of non-interference in a species natural development.

3) Most important the triad-relationship between Captain, James T. Kirk, Science Officer, Mr. Spock and Doctor, Bones McCoy. Against all odds and adversaries the three remain close friends.

Regarding the last, this triad can be seen in mostly all the Trek Spin-offs, Voyager for example it’s the friendship between Captain, Janeway and head of security, a Vulcan named Tuvok.. In the film versions of the original series we find Kirk, Spock, McCoy have become a close knit family.

J.J. Abrams changed the Trek Universe in 2009 with his Star-Trek reboot. Although he ultimately kept the Trek core values he eradicated several core Federation planets thus starting from scratch. In the end, that film as the new one was a satisfying  reboot for old trekkies as well as a nod the younger audiences Trek must embrace to stay alive. It is accepting change and going with it that has kept Star-Trek one of the most enduring sci-fi franchises this side of Dr. Who.

Into Darkness picks-up where the last one left off and brings us on a thrill ride of in-jokes, surprise appearances from the past, humor and most of all the development of friendship between Kirk and Spock.

Without giving anything away, the film brings us full circle as Kirk battles an enemy within Starfleet  and an old adversary that Kirk in this timeline, meets for the first time.

Once again Pike’s Kirk, Quinto’s Spock, and Urban’s McCoy, are spot on. Simon Pegg’s Scotty is frenetic, hilarious and polar opposites of James Doohan’s Scotty, which was wise, ironic and a miracle worker. When Nichelle Nichols first played Uhura, it was groundbreaking television, she was the first black woman to break the color barrier, Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, is not groundbreaking,  so as a twist she has been in a romantic relationship with Spock since Abram’s 2009 Trek Reboot. Unfortunately she is not given much to do here until late in the film when she gets involved in the action. Anton Yelchin’s, Checkov, is wide eyed and enthusiastic with extreme Russian accent intact, and John Cho’s, Sulu is also spot on.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays John Harrison, a terrorist that wants to destroy the federation. He is a great villain and his story holds true to Trek-lore and history. Nuff said.

Star Trek was always a mirror of our times, the use of metaphors and other species to depict the human condition, has always been a necessary component of the Trek Universe. J.J. Abrams has a good handle on this and the film is a nod to the past and a look to the future of the franchise. In today’s world the film debates the issues of genetic engineering, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The film works on many levels and I hope it speaks to a younger audience the way the original series has spoken to me all these years. I look forward to Kirk and crew’s 5 year mission that lies ahead as we come full circle in this the second of Abram’s, Trek incarnations.

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The Great Gatsby

10 May

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Synopsis: Baz Luhrmann directs a lavish version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gasby. Leonardo DiCaprio, plays Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man who spends half a decade building a monument to the woman he loves.

Cast

Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby)

 Tobey Maguire (Nick Carraway)

 Joel Edgerton (Tom Buchanan)

 Carey Mulligan (Daisy Buchanan),

Isla Fisher (Myrtle Wilson)

Jason Clarke (George Wilson)

Elizabeth Debicki (Jordan Baker)

 Amitabh Bachchan (Meyer Wolfsheim)

Review:  Considering Baz Luhrmann’s excesses in his version of Romeo and Juliet, also starring Leonardo DiCapro and his visual excesses on his film Moulin Rouge, we are also visually overwhelmed by all the sites and sounds of this version of Gatsby. The film runs 2 hours and 40 minutes and it is a long time to be bombarded with fireworks, stunning set design and loud music. On the other hand the same can be said for a Cecil B. Demille extravaganza. What Luhrman does do, and brilliantly I  might add, is let us inside the 1920’s world of Gatsby and his obsession for one woman, the excessive parties and fireworks are just a distraction. Luhrmann also has an apparent appreciation for the source material, when the film gets more serious there are certain moments of diologue and proes right out of Fitzgerald’s novel.

The story is told in flashback from the point of view of Gatsby’s friend, Nick Carraway, played by Toby Maguire. Maguire, as an actor, plays naive young men changed by extraordinary circumstances extremely well.  He is seen as a recovering alcoholic in a psychiatric hospital telling his story to his doctor. When Carraway reaches an impass and won’t talk about his dealings with Gatsby, the doctor encourages him to write about it. This is when the story unfolds as Carraway, who is writing a journal, narrates his writings.

DiCaprio is Gatsby, a mysterious, rich, quiet man owns an estate on Long Island. He throws extravagant parties, collects art, fills his house with strangers and music, but no one has seen him. Rumors abound about his background, he killed a man, his family was prominent and he inherited their fortune, he went to Oxford etc. DiCaprio has a boyish charm and a knowing smile that perfectly encapsulates the Gatsby of the novel.

Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s love interest is played by Cary Mulligan, she is both beautiful and complicated. She love’s Gatsby but is married to a bigot and a brutish adulterer, the rich, Tom Buchanan.

Joel Edgerton plays Tom Buchanan’s menacing bigotry and unfaithfulness with a frightening edge. He loves his wife, Daisy, but his brutish ways keeps her at a distance. It is here that the conflicts in their marriage arise.

There are many secrets to Gatsby as well as to Daisy and her relationship with him.  Each piece of the puzzle fits together as new revelations about Gatsby are uncovered or shared with Carraway. The story is fascinating and holds your attention.

The use of 3D was very effective in the story telling, from the beginning titles that literally draw you into Gatsby’s world, to Carraway’s typing prose that at times fill the screen with fonts that fall like snow. The 3D enhances the majesty of Gatsby’s mansion and well as the musical numbers that are reminiscent of Buzby Berkley.

I must say that as good a movie as this is it falls short of being a great movie.  The film, which takes us to a post WWI New York during the roaring 20’s, is visually recreated with style, mood and the design of the time. When you are taken into that world a big piece of the picture is the sounds and music of the time and place. Luhrmann chose to juxtapose jazz sounds with the loud beats of Jay-Z, covers by Beyonce and Andre 3000,.and Fergie. Frankly this is a distraction when you are mentally focused on the 1920’s décor, color and costumes.  For an example of the contrasts at work here, the scene where Carraway meets Gatsby for the first time, there are cross cuts from Carraway’s face, to the fireworks at the party, to Gatsby himself looking out over the Long Island Sound, the music is Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and the moment is a brilliant use of the language of film. On the other hand as the music swells at a huge Gatsby party, the musician who is reminiscent of the Jazz Great Cab Calloway, sings a hip-hop belter that is so out of place, you are immediately removed from the time and space the film represents.  Luhrmann understands everyone will not like his use of say Fergie singing, so you have to ask is he doing justice to the story or trying to sell us a mix we can find on ITunes, or a Blu-ray DVD version of a long music video?

The movie’s cast of actors more than makes up for the flaws in the musical soundtrack and the story is a classic of modern literature. So for today’s young audience I say, you know what a DVD is, they used to call them books. On the other hand, if this is what it takes to get a young audience to appreciate a novel like Gatsby, then go for it.

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