Sunday, July 24, 2016

Trek the Third: “Star Trek Beyond” Maintains the Energetic Fun of Its Predecessors

I’m now at my all-time record of most Star Trek films seen by me. I count 4, which includes all three of the rebooted series, and one “Wrath of Kahn” (thought by many as the original series’ highpoint). For the record, I couldn't quite make it through "The Motion Picture, "The Voyage Home," or "Generations." It’s actually possible that the latest entry “Star Trek Beyond” could actually be the best of the bunch. The first movie did an amazing job of making a somewhat unappealing thing very appealing to a lot of people. The second movie was just as fun (if not more so) but still angered a lot of those avid “Trekkies.” This third film, while seemingly upping the ante on action and spectacle according to the trailers, is actually a really fun rescue mission movie. The plot is simple enough which gives plenty of time to devote to the characters who we’ve gotten to know over the past few films. This Justin Lin-directed “Star Trek Beyond” is engaging and purely fun, escapist entertainment. And best of all you don’t even need to be a Trekkie to decipher any of it.

Things haven’t been too prosperous for the crew of the USS Enterprise since the events of the last film. The film opens as Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) laments about taking an Admiral position on the space station known as Yorktown, with intentions to promote Spock (Zachary Quinto) to captain of the Enterprise. Spock is stressed about learning about his older self having passed away (and he and Urhura (Zoe Saldana) have amicably split up). the Enterprise is soon back off to work, this time on a rescue mission to help a survivor from a rescue pod. Not to anger too many nerds out there: not surprisingly, “IT’S A TRAP!” The Enterprise is completely ambushed and left nonfunctional in a truly nail-biting action sequence. The crew is left mostly stranded and separated from each other and they must attempt to rescue a majority of the Enterprise crew from the evil clutches of the villainous Krall (Idris Elba). The MVP of “Star Trek Beyond” is also a new addition, her name is Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) and this black and white streaked lady is a really great addition to an already enjoyable romp.

“Star Trek Beyond” promises all of the action, fun, and spectacle promised by the relaunch of this series way back in 2009. There’s not much exploration here for the real fans but it’s probably for the best because this is an exciting movie that hardly lets up. Fast & Furious director Justin Lin has taken the reigns from JJ Abrams, who was too busy directing another nerdfest known as “The Force Awakens.” At first Lin seems like a strange choice until you realize what a visual delight “Beyond” truly is. There’s a real sense of camaraderie amongst the Enterprise crew with plenty of enjoyable family/workplace dynamics which makes sense since he did the same with the “crew” from the Fast & Furious films.

The script also feels refreshing and on point which is probably because it was co-written by Scotty himself Simon Pegg and Doug Jung (who also plays Sulu’s husband). And even if the plot remains slightly dark, there’s plenty of humor to be had here. The banter between Spock and McCoy (Karl Urban) is of particular delight.  As always, the film features state of the art visual effects and production design, not to mention a fun soundtrack as well. I’m not sure how much fans of the original show and movie series will enjoy this latest entry, but I certainly found it to be a trek worth taking.  GRADE: A-

Feature Trailer for Star Trek Beyond on TrailerAddict.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Dark Shadows: “Lights Out” is a Surprisingly Effective Thriller

Most people are scared of the dark. It’s a reason why so many scary movies are set at night. The new movie “Lights Out” truly understands this concept and plays it for all its worth. After all, there’s nothing scarier than being attacked in your own home by an entity that exists in the darkness. Sure it seems easy to just turn on the lights, but the movie finds fun and creative ways to keep those lights off and scare the bejesus out its audience who probably expected yet another dumb PG-13 horror crapfest. A crapfest this is not: it’s a truly effective scary movie that has a lot to say about serious subject matters like fragmented families and mental illness. The film features a truly clever and well-executed concept and winning performances. And it has plenty of scares up both sleeves.

I should have suspected that when I found out Maria Bello was in “Lights Out” that it was a good sign. The actress has had her fair share of duds but she’s talented and severely underrated. She plays grief extremely well (just see “Prisoners”) and her take on mental illness is on full display here. She’s Sophie and her young son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) lives with her. Sophie is estranged from her oldest daughter Rebecca (Theresa Palmer) who herself is hesitant to make her relationship official with Bret (Alexander DiPersia) a guy she’s been seeing for several months. After a fairly recent family tragedy, Martin’s been having trouble in school; he keeps falling asleep in class and doesn’t seem to be getting much sleep at home. He has his reasons: a creepy silhouetted woman keeps showing up at night in his bedroom when the lights turn off. Even Rebecca begins seeing the disturbing apparition. And it turns out that Sophie has some of her own, not so crazy, secrets which are affecting her children.

“Lights Out” is practically brilliant when compared to most modern studio horror movies. Like “The Conjuring” films, “Lights Out” offers up much more than just fun scares. There is dramatic weight to the story and fully realized characters that only help make the movie scarier. After all a movie can only be truly scary when you actually care about the people you’re watching. Many horror aficionados might rightfully see some comparisons to the recent Australian thriller “The Babadook;” both films deal with subjects of mental instability, grief, the relationship between mother and child, and both feature creepy shadowy figures who wreak havoc on the main characters. 

Even removing the scare factor, the storyline is actually pretty fascinating and well-developed. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer, whose writing credits also include the remakes of “A Nightmare onElm Street” and “The Thing,” and “Final Destination 5,” finally gets to make something that feels like his own; though it’s based on first time feature director David F. Sandberg’s short film of the same name. What a delightful debut it is. He gets terrific performances from his actors; Bateman gives an almost flawless child performance while veteran Bello has truly brought her A-game. Palmer is incredible likable here and her onscreen romance with DiPersia is realistic and palpable. These are all people you want to root for.

Here’s the bottom line: “Lights Out” is an impeccably crafted, written, and acted supernatural horror film. It feels like something we haven’t really seen before while at the same time feels comfortingly familiar. And best of all, it’s actually scary. It’s a perfectly refreshing antidote to the sequelitis that’s been going around this summer. Don’t forget to hit the lights on your way out.  GRADE: A-

Trailer for Lights Out on TrailerAddict.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Golden Ghouls: The Hilarious New “Ghostbusters” Most Definitely Isn't a Bust

Remember back in the day when the most controversial movies were about Jesus or shoving sticks of butter in odd places? Now it's about comedies involving characters busting ghosts. Oh the horrors of someone's childhood memories being reworked for a quick buck. 1984's “Ghostbusters” was, and remains, a popular movie choice for a lot of the movie-loving public. The franchise was already technically ruined by the much-maligned sequel. And people are being thrown a completely new version featuring some of the funniest ladies in Hollywood. So what's the problem? Sure this remake doesn't really NEED to exist but neither does Ben-Hur, The Fly, The Thing, Ocean's Eleven, or The Departed – and they turned out just fine (We can conveniently ignore the fact that Ben-Hur is getting remade yet again this August). So how is this new “Ghostbusters?” It's a comic delight from start to finish, with a completely game and hilarious cast, fantastic visual effects, and some of the most fun 3D work I've ever seen. Ever. In other words, it's a blast.”

We can all drop the term reboot when it comes to the new “Ghostbusters.” If this isn't a sheer remake then I don't know what one is. This new entry follows best friends and scientists Abby (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin (Kristen Wiig) as they hesitantly team up with fellow scientist colleague Jillian Holtzmann (Saturday Night Live's current MVP Kate McKinnon) and MTA worker Patty (Leslie Jones, also of SNL) to form a group of paranormal experts to help rid New York City of recent ghostsly apparitions. It turns out ghosts are in fact real and there seems to be a human responsible for the uptick in paranormal activity. The ladies rent out the space about a Chinese takeout place and hire Kevin, a hunky but dumb as dirt male receptionist whose only qualifications are his Ken doll good looks. He's played to the hilt by Thor himself Chris Hemsworth, who is unsurprisingly good at playing stupid. The guy is certainly an underrated comedic talent.

The film is directed by Paul Feig who is mostly known for his comedies starting Melissa McCarthy. For the record, the original film was directed by Ivan Reitman who was at the time mostly known for his comedies starring Bill Murray. Is this new version as good as or better than the original? That is besides the point. On it's own terms, it's often hilarious and has a nice visual style. Anyone who found the pacing of “Bridesmaids” to be a tad slow should have no complaints here. Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold seem to know exactly what they're doing and what they hope to accomplish from a female-driven fantasy comedy. The smart script addresses the real-life controversies surrounding the film in clever ways and smartly addresses the silliness that is a team of people who bust ghosts for a living. Let's not forget that hilarious “Jaws” reference.

The films visusal's are true treat. The special effects are flashy and colorful. Sure it may not be as scary as the 1984 film but I always wasn't an adult when I saw it. The emphasis here is more on the comedy elements which makes sense because these four women are absolutely hilarious. But even if this is more of a comedy, the film's visuals are a real delight, including some of the most impressive 3D work I've ever seen on the big screen. In the IMAX 3D version things fly right out of the frame itself and over the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen giving the whole thing an extra dimension that is extremely cool.

“Ghostbusters” is a real treat in what many have considered a lukewarm summer movie season. It's a film that proves that just because it's a remake doesn't mean it can't be a blast anyways. If you're a fan of any of these ladies or this series you'd be doing yourself a favor to check out “Ghostbusters.” See it out of sheer curiosity, and stay because along with “Captain America Civil War,” it's the most fun movie of the summer.  GRADE: A-

Feature Trailer for Ghostbusters on TrailerAddict.

Monday, July 04, 2016

The Apes of Wrath: “The Legend of Tarzan” is an Abs-olutely Fun Adventure

It turns out “The Legend of Tarzan” is more than just not-very-subtle marketing featuring a ripped Alexander Skarsgård. This new adventure is yet another adaptation of the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs (and it certainly won't be the last) character who's raised by gorillas in the jungles of Africa. This new adventure, of the hundreds of adaptations since the early 1900s, is the first big profile release since Disney's 1999 animated hit. “The Legend of Tarzan” is traditionally told and ends up being a rousing adventure story in the vein of “The Mummy” or “King Kong.” Is it altogether “necessary?” Probably not, but at least the spirit of the character and the sense of adventure are alive and well in this big budget extravaganza.

This new Tarzan adventure saves the origin story to flashbacks and instead takes place after Tarzan (Skarsgård) has already assimilated back into regular society. He goes by his birth name John Clayton III, drinks tea and is married to his beloved Jane (Margot Robbie). The film's main plot revolves around the evil Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), on behalf of the king of Belgium, trying to exchange the jungle man known as Tarzan to an African tribe in exchange for valuable diamonds. John agrees to visit is African home and those he remembers from his past, reluctantly letting Jane tag along until the homecoming becomes an unexpected rescue mission. Soon John must become the vine-swinging Tarzan once again and restore order to the jungle.

Is “The Legend of Tarzan” silly? Of course it is; it's about a man raised by gorillas who swings from vines. There's a reason why that scene from “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was so negatively received; people swinging from vines is a silly concept in the modern film age. That doesn't mean that this new Tarzan is a heck of a lot of fun. It's like a fun safari adventure that reminded me a lot of Peter Jackson's “King Kong” remake. Sure the visual affects aren't all that amazing but they get the job done. This isn't up to the level of “The Jungle Book” which had Oscar-worthy CGI animals.

The actors here were pretty decent. Skarsgård is fine in the title role and he certainly looks the part. His Tarzan is a man of few words (of which are written by co-writers Adam Cozad and Hustle & Flow's Craig Brewer) and I believed him and Jane were in love. Robbie is set to become a household name any day now. Waltz choose the scenery as another over-the-top, but entertaining villain. And Samuel L. Jackson feels predictably out-of-place as George Washington Williams but he's certainly adds the requisite comic relief. Director David Yates, who spent half a decade directing the latter Harry Potter movies, feels right at home here. The movie's African accented music score from Rupert Gregson-Williams is a standout here. The film flows nicely, I'd be lying if I didn't get caught up in the story as predicable as most of it is.

“The Legend of Tarzan” is just a fun throwback adventure. It sort of reminds me of a fun 90s adventure with modern effects. The actors are good, the direction is fine, and the story movies along and isn't overly complicated. I can't account for how much the story aligns with the original source material but it feels like a proper modern live action version of the character. Sure there aren't any fun songs here like the Disney classic but it all goes down smoothly; for a fun diverting adventure you could do a lot worse.  GRADE: B  

Feature Trailer for The Legend of Tarzan on TrailerAddict.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

A Night to Dismember: “The Purge: Election Year” is Another Serviceable Purge Entry

Is it just me or is “The Purge” film series basically just the action horror version of “The Hunger Games?” Both series are about corrupt future societies in which people murder each other once a year. Anywho, “The Purge: Election Year” continues the tradition of presenting a new night of the annual Purge, a night in which all crime, including murder, is legal. This third entry, however, is more overtly political, literally. The corrupt New Founding Fathers of America have now also made it legal to murder political leaders of all levels which doesn't bode well for a Presidential candidate who vows to end the annual night of murder if she's elected president. It's not a coincidence that this film is being released just months before our own Presidential election (or on the 4th of July weekend). The horror genre has never been known for being exactly subtle when it comes to social and political commentary.

The third entry in this wildly interesting, if sometimes flawed, series is probably equal to the second entry in terms of quality. It's certainly much more like the previous entry, than the home invasion thriller concept employed in the first film. “Anarchy” felt much more like an 80s John Carpenter action thriller than a stander horror film, while this third entry takes a foray into the political thriller genre.

The movie initially sets up two stories that eventually converge. We're introduced to presidential hopeful Senator Charlie Roan (Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell) who wants to end the Purge. Her entire family was murdered eighteen years earlier and has dedicated her life to making sure the annual night of murder ends for good. These films have always shown that while the American government claims this night has made the economy better and the yearly murder rate drop significantly (as people can “purge” their bad thoughts legally every year), the annual night of chaos is actually a way to cleanse the country of low income people who tend to be the targets each year. The film also focuses on a convenience store owner named Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), his employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and friend and EMT worker Laney (Betty Gabriel). Joe has decided to haul up in his store and protect it as his Purge insurance rates have inexplicably skyrocketed.

Things turn bad for Senator Roan (and her head of security Leo – Frank Grillo from the last film) when the NFFA announce that politicians are no longer immune from the horrors of the Purge. And let's not forget the borderline psychotic and Roan's political rival Minster Owens (Kyle Secor) who continues to support the Purge. The film then turns into a political thriller as allies becomes enemies and Roan is forced to run for her life on the deadliest night of the year.

“The Purge: Election Year” is a perfectly serviceable edition to this fascinating film series. I'm constantly impressed with the places writer and director James DeMonaco is taking this series, even if nothing in this third entry is outright frightening or particularly scary. It's atmospheric and creepy for sure with no shortage of crazy people in scary masks doing truly messed up things. You pretty much know what you're getting into when you see a Purge movie and it meets expectations while saying something about society. I certainly admire it more than I actually love it but the sheer amount of creativity going on here is definitely admirable.  GRADE: B  

Trailer for The Purge: Election Year on TrailerAddict.