Film Review: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Also known as: Star Trek 3, Washington, Star Trek Into Oblivion (working titles)
Release Date: July 20th, 2016 (Indonesia, Iceland, Philippines, Sweden, Thailand)
Directed by: Justin Lin
Written by: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Deep Roy, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Greg Grunberg, Danny Pudi, Doug Jung, Leonard Nimoy (photo cameos)

Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Productions, Sneaky Shark Productions, Perfect Storm Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“[to Kirk] It isn’t uncommon, you know, even for a captain, to want to leave. There is no relative direction in the vastness of space. There is only yourself, your ship, your crew. It’s easier than you think, to get lost.” – Commodore Paris

I guess they saved the best for last because even though this film did the worst at the box office out of the three J. J. Abrams Star Trek movies, it was the best movie of the lot.

Most people probably don’t agree with my assessment of this one but I like it because it feels more like Star Trek than the two films that Abrams directed. Who would’ve thought that Justin Lin, a director most known for Fast & Furious movies would turn out something so Trek-ish. And that’s not a knock against the Fast & Furious franchise, as I find those films pretty fun and enjoyable for what they are.

I believe that a lot of the credit for this film’s narrative has to go to the writers, Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty, and Doug Jung, who also had a small cameo in this. Pegg isn’t just an actor, though, as he was a creative force in several of his other projects like the classic British comedy show Spaced and the films Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz and The World’s End.

This is really action packed but it feels more like a Star Trek TV episode adventure than the two films before it. It is definitely more in tune with the films of the Original Series and Next Generation eras than the two Abrams pictures before it.

With that being said, this is also fresh and new and it does some really cool things that no other Trek film has done. The Enterprise faced a new type of threat that no ship in the entire Star Trek mythos has ever faced, small drone ships that act like a carnivorous swarm of locusts. You see the Enterprise get ripped apart and as much as any fan hates seeing the Enterprise get beat, it’s an incredible sequence and one of the absolute best in Star Trek history.

For the bulk of the picture, the crew is marooned on a planet. They must find a way off of the rock while stopping the evil plans of the madman that stranded them there. Additionally, that same madman plans to attack the Federation, so not only do Kirk and his crew need to escape their predicament but they also need to find a way to defeat the man that just destroyed the USS Enterprise.

There are some solid twists and turns in the plot and none of it feels like swerves just for the sake of swerves. The plot twists work organically and overall, this Star Trek film feels the least formulaic of this trilogy.

The final battle is a lot of fun, even if I never expected to see a final outer space showdown in Star Trek cued to the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”. Some old school fans might find this to be a bit cringeworthy but in that moment, it worked for me. Plus, if you don’t like “Sabotage” you’re probably a communist.

My only big beef with the movie is that after introducing us to Dr. Carol Marcus, who joined the crew in the previous film and was played by the stunning Alice Eve, she’s mysteriously absent from this picture. Why? And also, WTF, man?!

Anyway, Star Trek Beyond was just a lot of fun. It was great escapism, filled its two hours incredibly well and it deserves more fanfare than it received. Frankly, I’m really disappointed that the fourth film in this series was cancelled.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Kelvin timeline Star Trek films: Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness.

Film Review: Atomic Blonde (2017)

Release Date: March 12th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Kurt Johnstad
Based on: The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, Sam Hart
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Bill Skarsgård

Denver and Delilah Productions, Closed on Mondays Entertainment, 87Eleven, Focus Features, 115 Minutes

Review:

Let me preface this review by stating that this has been one of the best summers for movies in a long time and honestly, I wasn’t expecting much apart from one or two films. But the thing that has really set this year apart is the smaller films, not the massive blockbusters. This film, along with the magnificent Baby Driver are two motion pictures that I will continue to enjoy for years to come. Both will eventually make it into my permanent library.

So based off of the preceding paragraph, it is safe to assume that I really liked Atomic Blonde. While I thought that I would like it and was excited for it, the film was just a great marriage of several things I love: fantastic action, energy, style and a fantastic soundtrack. Plus, I’ve always had a soft spot for Cold War period pieces, especially those set in the 1980s.

One really cool aspect of the film, is that it takes place in Berlin – starting a week before the fall of the Berlin Wall and leading up to it actually coming down. The film shows life on both sides of the wall and the cultural differences and shifts between all the people in this 1989 Berlin bubble. There is even a casual reference to David Hasselhoff arriving in Berlin. Do I need to remind anyone of his famous Berlin Wall performance, as that concrete beast came crumbling down?

Atomic Blonde is a spy espionage thriller but starring a woman, which just doesn’t happen enough with the genre. It isn’t a groundbreaking concept or anything but after decades of James Bond movies and their male dominated clones, a stylized and high octane version of the concept starring Charlize Theron was music to my soul.

Theron does not disappoint but has she ever? She is perfect as the agent sent to Berlin to battle brutish KGB agents while engaging in a playful cat and mouse game with the always fantastic James McAvoy. In fact, the chemistry between Theron and McAvoy is uncanny and I wish that they actually had more screen time together.

Theron also has fantastic chemistry with Sofia Boutella and I’m glad to see Boutella getting meatier roles because she was exceptional in this. Also, you get to see both women naked in this. Sorry, but that’s a high point for anyone crushing on Theron for years and anyone that is currently crushing on Boutella, as she works here way up to bigger things. Both actresses are stellar in this, boobage or not.

The film employs an 80s new wave soundtrack, for the most part. The music style is fitting, as this takes place in 1989. It is the selection of songs that is most impressive, however. From David Bowie’s “Cat People” to Depeche Mode’s “Behind the Wheel” to the incredibly effective use of George Michael’s “Father Figure”, the music is just on point. Even Marilyn Manson’s cover of Ministry’s “Stigmata” works its magic with the visual smorgasbord it’s synced to.

The choice not to use any music during the climactic final brawl was a good one. Despite the stylized nature of the film, it grounds this scene back into reality and showcases the grittiness of the situation. The fights are brutal, especially the last round of fisticuffs. It is an impressive sequence that not only showcases Theron’s athleticism and toughness but it proves how hard she is willing to work to create movie magic. I already respect her but her dedication to these scenes, in particular, brings that respect to a new level.

The director, David Leitch, has a background in stunts and it shows. He’s been the stunt coordinator or stunt actor in the Bourne movies, TRON: Legacy300V for Vendetta, the Matrix series, Fight Club, Blade and several others. He is also the director of the upcoming Deadpool sequel and proves, with this film, that he will be able to handle those duties. I’m actually really enthused about what else Leitch can give us behind the camera.

Atomic Blonde is fantastic. There really isn’t anything to complain about or to dislike. It was explosive and even the slower parts kept your attention, as it doesn’t waste any time on things not integral to the plot. I hope that this becomes a series as checking in with this character every few years could be a lot of fun.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Release Date: December 13th, 2014 (Butt-Numb-A-Thon)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Based on: The Secret Service by Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons
Music by: Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson
Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sofia Boutella, Sophie Cookson, Mark Hamill

Marv Films, Cloudy Productions, Shangri-La Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 129 Minutes

Review:

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Harry Hart

I missed this when it initially came out in the theater a few years back and then it sort of got lost in the shuffle of time. However, I’ve really heard nothing but great things about it since it came out and I wanted to give it a watch now that its sequel is coming out.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed and in fact, I was really impressed with the film but I guess I can expect great things from Matthew Vaughn after he gave us Layer CakeKick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. Plus, this thing had a solid cast with Colin Firth, Sam Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Mark Hamill, Sofia Boutella and impressive newcomers Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson.

It is impossible to not compare this film to the James Bond series, as it is a gadget-filled British action spy thriller. The main difference, is this is more of a comedy and features a young spy coming into the fold. Kingsman, though, is a much hipper take on the genre.

You see, as James Bond was forced to evolve into a more serious series at the beginning of the Daniel Craig era, the jovial spirit of the franchise has been missing. It is understandable that it had to change, as films like Austin Powers were parodying it to the point of no return and the Pierce Brosnan era (no fault of Brosnan’s) had gotten too hokey and playful for its own good.

Kingsman brings us back to that classic Bond energy without being overly cheesy. It somehow found the perfect balance between serious and playful for the modern era. It is also cooler than the modern Bond movies and a lot more interesting. It fills the giant void that has been gone for a long time and it has kind of cemented itself in there. In fact, the James Bond franchise could learn a lot from this film.

Parts of the movie, however, are a bit insane and very stylized. The thing is, it works to this film’s benefit. Kingsman knows what it is and it really embraces itself, for better or for worse. That being said, its self-confidence permeates with something truly genuine and fantastically bad ass. It has gravitas that the uber serious modern Bond pictures don’t have. And don’t get me wrong, I generally like the Craig Bond films but Kingsman is the true throwback to the classic era of spy thrillers, even if it brings its own refreshing take to the table.

The entire cast is extraordinary and there really isn’t a weak link. Taron Egerton was perfect casting as the main character, Eggsy. Samuel Jackson, Michael Caine and Mark Strong each had a great presence. It was cool seeing Mark Hamill and Sofia Boutella, now most famous as the newest version of the title character in The Mummy.

It is Colin Firth that really takes the cake in the picture, though. This is a great role for him, a man who has played just about everything and won an Oscar in the process. Honestly, as much as I loved him in The King’s Speech, this is now my favorite Firth role.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a wonderful experience, especially for old school James Bond fans that have been yearning for something in that classic style. While this is a very modernized take on the genre, it truly knows its roots and it balances the new with the old pretty seamlessly. Most importantly, the film is exciting and fun.

Rating: 8/10

 

Film Review: The Mummy (2017)

Release Date: May 22nd, 2017 (State Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Written by: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman, Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Russell Crowe

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“Please meet Princess Ahmanet. She will claim what she has been denied.” – Dr. Henry Jekyll

Well, it’s here. This is the start of Universal Pictures’ attempt at resurrecting their old school Universal Monsters franchise into something more modern and unified like what Marvel has done with the Avengers series of films and like what DC is now doing with their Justice League movies that started with Man of Steel.

Universal has plans to bring back their classic monsters in what they are now officially calling Dark UniverseThe Mummy is the first of these pictures and one would hope that it would be a great start. The big problem is that it isn’t.

I’ve seen a ton of critics and fans trashing this film. While it isn’t as bad as many would have you believe, it certainly has a lot of issues that kick off this Dark Universe franchise pretty weakly.

The biggest problem is Tom Cruise. I’m not hating on Cruise per se but his inclusion in the picture is a distraction. We essentially have typical Tom Cruise making intense faces and trying to prove his manliness and coolness while two women half his age fight over him. He is just quintessential Tom Cruise and that is not what this film needs.

Going forward, a lot of huge names have been mentioned around this franchise and that’s the problem. Unlike Marvel, Universal doesn’t seem to be casting actors that fit parts the right way, they seem to be latching onto star power for the sake of star power.

Another problem is that there isn’t really a sequence that stands out from this film. Nothing is all that memorable or impressive. Its a collage of cookie cutter action sequences that tries to be something big but falls short.

The attempts at humor throughout the film also fall flat. Jake Johnson is there as Cruise’s wisecracking sidekick zombie but his wisecracks just don’t hit the right notes. Cruise tries his hand at some comic relief too but nothing really works.

While I would say that this is a better film, overall, than those atrocious Mummy films with Brendan Fraser, at least those pictures had some truly fun moments. This new Mummy flick is completely devoid of fun and while it tries to be more terrifying, it really isn’t.

There are a few highlights to the film, however.

The first being Sofia Boutella as the mummy. It was refreshing seeing a female mummy and she had a much better presence than anyone else on screen except for Russell Crowe.

Crowe plays Dr. Henry Jekyll. Yes, THAT Dr. Jekyll. He is in the film the same way Samuel Jackson was in the first Iron Man film; he is the character that is going to tie all of these Dark Universe movies together. We also get a nice peek at Mr. Hyde. Okay, more than just a peek but it sets him up nicely, going forward in this series.

As far as the other famous Universal Monsters creatures, we get a glimpse at the Gillman’s hand and a vampire’s skull. This is was done similar to the Easter eggs in the first Iron Man. But really, it just feels like Universal is trying to emulate Marvel too much and I really don’t know what the end game is? A monster Avengers team? But hopefully Universal can do better with their villains than Marvel has done cinematically.

The Mummy is not a good foundation for a franchise but it was a fair attempt that could have been better. It didn’t deter my interest in what else is coming in the future but that is also due to my love of the original Universal Monsters franchise. These monsters are beloved characters in film and literature and although they have all been reinvented more times than one can count, seeing them come together again could be a real treat if the big wigs at Universal learn from this film’s mistakes and correct those issues going forward.

Rating: 5/10