Star Trek Beyond Review: Thrusters on Full


Director: Justin Lin

Writers: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana

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Release date: July 21st, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA, China

Running time: 122 minutes


4/5

Best part: The central cast.

Worst Part: The villain’s convoluted plot.

In its 50th year, Gene Roddenberry’s creation Star Trek is one of pop-culture’s most lucrative and unique franchises. Its run has been extended by TV series’, films, comic books, fan fiction and everything else in between. The Trekkies and Trekkers have helped the series become an ever-changing organism. With nerd being the new black, the franchise must bend and warp to gather as many fans as possible.

The newer Star Trek instalments have, for the most part, done a bang-up job. The 2009 reboot introduced a new timeline and cast. Fans grew to love the younger crew members, director J. J. Abrams’ love of lens flares and the USS Enterprise’s shinier aesthetic. The Sequel, Star Trek into Darkness, fumbled the ball. Star Trek Beyond, the third feature in the Kelvin timeline, sees the crew in the third year of a five-year mission to explore strange worlds, meet new beings and bring order to the galaxy. Flying peacekeeping group the Federation’s flag, Starfleet captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) feels lost in the deep, dark void of space. Key members including Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), chief medical officer Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), communications officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and main navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) also hit the wall.

Of course, a movie about the crew hanging up their skivvies 10 minutes in would be deeply unsatisfying. Receiving a distress call from the nebulous zone outside Federation base Yorktown, they are ambushed and captured/disbanded by warlord Krall(Idris Elba)’s drone/alien army. The first third balances cute comedic moments and high stakes threats. The opening scene is a blast – detailing how some missions go better than others. The aforementioned ambush sequence is electrifying, with the Enterprise and its crew torn apart with devastating velocity. The second act takes a peculiar turn, splitting the lead cast into twos. Pegg and Doug Jung’s script provides greater insight into each key member. Although the plot and momentum stall, the middle section delivers infinite character development and wit. In true sequel fashion, new characters including alien warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) create several surprises.

With Abrams off on Star Wars duties, director Justin Lin (Fast and FuriousTokyo Drift through to Six) takes control of the ship. Not to be underestimated, he balances between the original series and this franchise’s bold, blockbuster-y direction. The exhilarating filmmaker piles action sequences on top of one another in the third act. The motorcycle set-piece clicks with the movie’s tone and close-quarter scope. The finale combines a high-flying spaceship battle, clever banter and a Beastie Boys’ track with aplomb. Meanwhile, the fist-fight finale injects pathos and resonance into an otherwise light-weight story. Assisting Lin’s breezy direction, Michael Giacchino’s score is as slick and dynamic as the Enterprise herself. The talented, good-looking performers aptly bounce off each other. Pine and Quinto snuggly fit into their famous roles. Urban, Pegg and Boutella are standouts. Meanwhile, Elba is let down by the character’s befuddling backstory and master plan.

Star Trek Beyond ventures where the franchise both has and has never gone before. Credit belongs to the performers, living up to the original cast’s crackling chemistry. Lin and co. have refueled and beefed up the Enterprise for future adventures. Most importantly, Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy are given touching send offs.

Verdict: An exhilarating thrill-ride.

Goldstone Review: Bitin’ the Dust


Director: Ivan Sen

Writer: Ivan Sen

Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: Transmission Films 

Country: Australia

Running time: 110 minutes 


4/5

Best part: The strong cast.

Worst part: The pacing.

Film noir has taken on many shades and turns since its beginnings in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Of course, everyone knows the heavy hitters including The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil from way back when. However, plot, character, theme and visual elements have stuck with cinema throughout generations. The genre has also made its way to the great southern land of Oz.

Goldstone is the superior follow-up to writer/director Ivan Sen’s 2013 surprise hit Mystery Road. Mystery Road‘s electrifying noir-western fusion, cracking cast, haunting locations and genuine chills overshadowed the diluted missing-person plot. Goldstone keeps the good stuff and improves on the poorer elements. Set several years after the original, the sequel returns to the scintillating landscapes of rural Queensland. After exposing corruption within his home town, Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) is assigned to investigate the mining/pit-stop town Goldstone. After being arrested by local naïve cop Josh (Alex Russell), Jay coaxes Josh into helping him track down a missing Asian girl. Scummy mine supervisor Johnny (David Wenham) and corrupt town mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver) are soon hot on his trail.

Goldstone continues the trend of compelling Australian crime-thrillers with numerous nuances and twists. The movie expertly balances larrikin black comedy and dark, dreary epic elements. Unlike Mystery Road, it does not rely on long-drawn out pauses for dramatic effect. Every plot-point and twist is painstakingly etched into a taught, clear-cut vision. In true film noir fashion, its period setting alludes to  today’s social and political climate. Sen leaves nothing to chance – the good guys look tough and strong, the baddies are slimy and pale. Although a little too obvious, Sen’s love of classic cinema is chiseled into every detail. Like Chinatown, the crux of it boils down to a spiritual and financial battle between opposing forces. The tussle between greedy mining giants and small indigenous communities, led by strong-willed elder Jimmy (David Gulpilil), sets off a deadly chain of events.

Sen’s latest effort is a character-based, disturbingly intense noir-western with style and substance.Sen captures the outback setting with an array of visual and sensory flourishes. Every explosion, gun shot and line of dialogue rings out with whip-cracking precision. The quieter moments highlight its intellectual and emotional heft. His new-twist-on-old-tricks approach stands out during tender moments between Josh and Asian sex worker May (Michelle Lim Davidson). The contrast between Jay and Josh is vital. Jay, suffering one loss after another despite doing the right thing, is disillusioned by the endless desert void. Josh, however, is enthusiastic but afraid to make a real difference. The performances showcase Australia’s rich variety of talent. Pedersen and Russell delightfully toy with one another. Weaver and Wenham are suitably hammy, while Gulpilil provides true class.

Goldstone, although filled with elements we’ve seen 1000 times before, is a worthwhile flick from start to finish. The movie falls short of reaching the standards set by Australia’s best crime-thrillers (Animal Kingdom). However, it provides a tough, arresting look at the land down under.

Verdict: A tough-as-nails modern western.

Ghostbusters Review: Girl Power


Director: Paul Feig

Writers: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones

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Release date: July 14th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


3/5

Best part: The four leads.

Worst part: The cameos.

No movie in cinema history has faced as much anger as 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot. Prior to release, it was showered in searing hatred. Delusional fanboys attacked it for coming near the 1984 original’s lasting legacy. Misogynistic creeps resented the all-female leading cast members. With all that said, it’s best to judge Ghostbusters for what it is and not what certain factions might want.

It has to be said – Ghostbusters is much better than most of 2016’s other blockbusters. The franchise kickstarter follows a familiar structure. Dr Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a geeky professor at Columbia University just short of gaining tenure. However, a book about paranormal beings in our realm – co-written by herself and Dr Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) – gets in her way. After reuniting, Gilbert and Yates reluctantly team up with wacky engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) to tackle a reported ghost sighting. After getting fired, the trio turn into a full-time ghost-catching group looking out for New York City. Joined by streetwise MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and ditzy receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the group face an army of ghouls and naysayers.

The original delivered big laughs, unique visuals and intelligent heroes for geeks everywhere to look up to. The 2016 version follows a wholly specific formula from script to screen. This one also features an array of Saturday Night Live alumni coming together, proving everyone wrong and saving the world. Writer/director Paul Feig overcomes the barrage of hate and uncertainty with ease. This – like earlier works Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy – is a pleasant, crystal-clear experience free from anything ‘dark and gritty’. The plot itself boils down to everything you’d expect from a modern supernatural-comedy. The first and second acts revolve around the origin-story dynamic – building up and then shaking the team’s foundations. Of course, the third act is reserved for the underdeveloped villain’s master plan. Ghostbusters doesn’t change the game, but certainly gives it a little push.

Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold make their characters human and understandable in spite of the ensuing chaos. For the most part, the humour is a mix of clever references and light-hearted one-liners. The four leads, having worked together before on many projects, make the jokes, sci-fi gobbledygook and touching moments work effectively. However, Feig’s direction occasionally lets them down. Awkward editing choices and sluggish pacing keep this reboot from reaching its true potential. Sadly, the third-act action extravaganza delivers bland, CGI-laden visuals rather than unique flourishes. Worse still, cameos from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the rest of the original troupe stop the movie dead in its tracks. The score also fails to impress, partly due to Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliott’s rubbish remix of the original theme.

Ghostbusters valiantly highlights the best women in contemporary Hollywood comedy. The cast and crew deliver many laugh-out-loud moments, engaging performances and effective reminders of the franchise’s appeal. However, it can’t decide whether to stand on it own or cling to the original.

Verdict: A quaint reboot.

The Legend of Tarzan Review: Joke of the Jungle


Director: David Yates

Writers: Adam Cozard, Craig Brewer (screenplay), Edgar Rice Burroughs (novel)

Stars: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


2/5

Best part: Samuel L. Jackson.

Worst part: The inconsistent visual effects.

Dear Hollywood, no one on Earth was asking for a ‘dark and gritty’ reboot of Tarzan. In fact, everyone is sick of those words being the basis for every reboot, reimagining and rejigging from the past ten years. 2016 in film, so far, proves tinseltown is having a major identity crisis. Almost every sequel has bombed, the smaller genre flicks have gone gangbusters and we responded to Zac Efron’s comedies with a collective shrug. What an age we live in!

Like The Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Legend of Tarzan brings an old-school franchise into the 21st Century. Sadly, it resembles the former – a bloated, out-of-touch product that should have stayed hidden. Based on acclaimed author Edgar Rice Burroughs famous stories, this reboot does start promisingly. After the Berlin Conference, the United Kingdom and Belgium divided up the Congo. The Belgian government is close to bankruptcy and left with a useless railroad and other infrastructure. King Leopold of Belgium II sends Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to claim mineral deposits including the diamonds of Opar, protected by Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) and US envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convince John Clayton III/Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) to return to Africa and become Lord of the Apes once again.

Tarzan – despite leading multiple films, books, serials etc. – came from a more ‘innocent’ era in the Western world. This version attempts an elaborate balancing act between classic action-adventure and revisionist perspective. It’s a refreshing premise; throwing us into a world already aware of Tarzan’s existence. Screenwriters Adam Cozard and Craig Brewer manufacture false drama from the outset. The first act spins its wheels as the Tarzan rejects the offer, mulls it over with wife Jane (Margot Robbie), and agrees to tag along. From there, the movie leaps between plot-holes and overused plot-points. Its colonialist overtones are wholly uncomfortable, with every scene showing this impressive white man coming to native Africa’s rescue.

Despite mediocre results, director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to The Deathly Hallows Part 2) swings for the fences. The director juggles Tarzan’s backstory (his parents’ deaths, an upbringing helped by apes, reason for leaving etc.) at inopportune moments with narration and flashbacks. His vision forcefully compares the Belgian Congo and American Civil War’s atrocities. The mix of fictional aura and historical events calls Hollywood’s racial politics into question. Yates’ visual style distorts every frame with anachronisms, confusing camerawork and sepia tone, while the action sequences and CGI are shoddily handled. Worse still, bland performances by Skarsgard, Robbie and Waltz are inexcusable. Jackson, thankfully, provides some much-needed levity and charisma.

The Legend of Tarzan, like the many animals in starring roles, is a fascinating but destructive creation. Despite the cute comedic timing and aim-high attitude, this reboot/reimagining/whatever proves a worthwhile director, cast and budget can falter spectacularly.

Verdict: A limp, uninspired reimagining.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Review: The Dating Game


Director: Jake Szymanski

Writers: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien

Stars: Zac Efron, Adam DeVine, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Efron and DeVine’s chemistry.

Worst part: The characters’ sheer stupidity.

Hollywood has made multi-million dollar creations out of other movies, TV shows, video games, board games etc. and now true stories based around Craigslist ads. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates comes from a strange and concerning place in popular culture from the past few years. With that said, the movie could have actually been a lot worse. Objectively speaking, however, it definitely should have been better.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is actor/female Viagra Zac Efron’s third comedy of 2016 after Dirty Grandpa and Bad Neighbours 2. In fact, this one fuses the other two’s best and worst elements. It kicks off with Mike (Adam DeVine) and Dave Stangle (Efron) ‘winning at life’ as slimy liquor salesmen. The pair – living and working together – survive on hormones, drugs, expletives and danger. Parents Burt (Stephen Root) and Rosie (Stephanie Faracy) call for an intervention, blaming them for causing disasters at all family gatherings. Their little sister Jeanie (Stephanie Beard) asks them to bring dates to her wedding to Eric (Sam Richardson) in Hawaii. Their Craigslist ad, and appearance on morning TV, attracts attention from women everywhere, including Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick).

Anyone who’s seen the poster can beat-by-beat predict the plot. Unsurprisingly, Tatiana and Alice are more adventurous, disgusting and psychotic than Mike and Dave. Handling this many purposefully unlikable characters, the director and screenwriters are forced to create a series of increasingly unfortunate events. This scenario grinds this gross-out comedy to a screeching halt. It copies almost every plot point from Wedding Crashers without achieving the same hilarious results. It also boils down to repulsive, strung-together sequences and slapstick gags. The trailer even spoils the movie’s biggest set-pieces, landing with a thud in the final cut.

The humour is bafflingly hit and miss. Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien’s screenplay delivers many funny lines and cute moments. However, thanks to first-time director Jake Szymanski, the actors are given too much improv leeway. Mike and Dave’s dynamic is still effective. Efron and DeVine’s winning chemistry elevates the majority of their scenes. Dave, sporting potential compared to his shrewd older brother, is a sympathetic presence in amongst the screwball antics. He and Alice develop a somewhat sweet relationship – proving Efron and Kendrick deserve better material. However, the movie is hamstrung by DeVine and Plaza’s grating schtick. DeVine pulls out Kevin Hart’s arsenal of fast-taking monologues and screams. Plaza is weighed down by her over-the-top, personality-free character.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is the prime example of potential undercut by execution. Like Efron’s other 2016 comedies, the actors put 110% effort into a mediocre product. If anything, these young and charming cast members might be motivated to move on to bigger and better things.

Verdict: A mildly amusing frat-comedy.

Everybody Wants Some!! Review: Fraternity Foolishness


Director: Richard Linklater

Writer: Richard Linklater

Stars: Blake Jenner, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell

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Release date: June 23rd, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The kick-ass soundtrack.

Worst part: Some minor  supporting characters.

No matter what decade, fraternity movies are almost all the same. From Animal House (the one that defined the genre) to Bad Neighbours (the one with Zac Efron’s abs), this type of flick serves as wish-fulfillment for some and something to laugh at for others. The best frat movies break through multiple demographics and make us laugh and think in equal measure. Everybody Wants Some!! is one of those.

Everybody Wants Some!! is the ‘spiritual sequel’ to acclaimed writer/director Richard Linklater’s cult classic Dazed and Confused. This ‘installment’ sees him return to a world of few responsibilities, fewer rules, and maximum fun. Set in the 1980s, the movie follows college freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) three days before the start of semester. Once the hotshot pitcher of high school, he must contend with a frat house full of boozy, womanising Southeast Texas Cherokees baseball players. Housemates Finnegan (Glen Powell), Roper (Ryan Guzman), McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), and Dale (Quinton Johnson) grow accustomed to Jake and fellow newbies Plummer (Temple Baker), Billy (Will Brittain) and Brumley (Tanner Kalina) and transfers Jay (Juston Street) and Willoughby (Wyatt Russell).

Linklater exists in the realm between Hollywood and Austin, Texas – combining studio and independent sensibilities for projects including the Before (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight) trilogy, School of Rock, Bernie, A Scanner Darkly and Me and Orson Welles. Coming off coming-of-age drama/12-year cinematic experiment Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!! returns to the laid back feel of early career favourites Dazed and Confused and Slacker. Is he darting off in a new direction or simply taking a breather after Boyhood? Answer: a bit of both. The movie indeed follows a familiar structure; strung together by conversations, bonding moments, and set-pieces throughout a steady 116-minute run-time. Linklater painstakingly emphasises every tiny detail – including meditations on music, weed, art, philosophy etc. – throughout.

Everybody Wants Some!!, like Linklater’s other movies, awaits tragic events that never arrive. The plot ebbs and flows ever so steadily. The music blares and good vibes become infectious when our characters party or get laid. However, as the drama of college and the future kicks in, tensions slowly bubble to the surface. Its darker shades – ego, masculinity, racism, misogyny etc. – cleverly highlight identity issues. The countdown to class, shown on-screen multiple times, comes off as a blessing and a curse. Surprisingly, Jake’s dalliance with arts student Beverly (Zoey Deutch) and baseball are only small parts. Thankfully, Linklater and the cast make these characters somewhat likeable. Its period detail is flawless, providing a snapshot of the 1980s’ clash of disco, punk, and country-western cultures. The cracking soundtrack may cause rockin’, 80s-themed singalongs on the ride home.

Illuminating the divide between college life and everything else, Everybody Wants Some!! looks at the optimism, realism and cynicism of a wholly different time. Jocks, nerds, nice guys, cool girls and those in between are all likely to find something to enjoy here.

Verdict: A good ol’ time.

Central Intelligence Review: Partners in Crime


Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Writers: Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen

Stars: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul

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Release date: June 30th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Johnson’s loopy performance.

Worst part: The by-the-numbers plot.

One is an African-American stand-up comedy icon turned super-successful leading man. The other is an African-American-Samoan professional wrestler turned multimedia empire god. Both are clever, social media-savvy and 110% critic proof. Seriously, who doesn’t love Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson?! The world is in luck, with the pair teaming up to help breathe new life into the buddy-action genre.

Central Intelligence is the first in, hopefully, a never-ending series of movies starring the two. The movie’s marketing campaign was genius, complete with the self-aware line ‘Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson’. It kicks off in 1996, with Calvin Joyner (Hart) being recognized for an award at the high school’s last prep rally for the year. Calvin is the graduating class’s most talented, popular, attractive and likely to succeed. On the other side of the coin, Robbie Wheirdicht (Johnson) is an overweight kid, with no friends, prone to dancing in the boys locker room showers and suffering shocking acts of bullying. The movie jumps forward 20 years, and Calvin is stuck in a boring accounting job with only high-school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) on his side. On the flip side, Robbie – now Bob Stone – is a ripped, hunky CIA agent.

Make no mistake, there is nothing new or original about Central Intelligence. Borrowing from everything between Lethal Weapon and Spy, the movie checks almost every turn, sub-plot and archetype off the list. The plot boils down to multiple tried and true buddy-cop and spy-comedy clichés. Perfunctorily, Calvin and Robbie bond before the havoc begins. The spy stuff kicks into gear later than expected, with the introduction of fellow CIA agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) and her mission to expose Robbie’s suspected rogue operations. If anything, it cares almost too much about the plot. Even this cast, despite effortlessly delivering reams of exposition, can’t make the superfluous spy-mission speak more interesting. However, everything around the plot elevates the movie above expectations.

Central Intelligence is an explosive and hilarious thrill-ride thanks to its cast, writers, and director’s enthusiasm. Director and co-writer Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers) provides his brand of quick-witted comedy. Like his previous efforts, he balances carefully crafted material and improvisation time for his performers. Aided by writer/actor Ike Barinholtz (Bad Neighbours), he delivers a strong assortment of funny one-liners and memorable moments. Its set-pieces are also top-notch, with Hart and Johnson showing off immense action and comedy skills. Hart becomes an effective straight man to Johnson’s over-the-top character. Johnson is the runaway winner, delivering enough mannerisms to balance between enviable action hero type, sensitive victim, and kooky sociopath.

Despite the familiar feel, Central Intelligence is a spot-on action-comedy with thoughts and thrills. The funky sense of humour, fun set-pieces, clever cameos and cast and crew’s infectious energy separate it from the pack. In addition, the movie’s blooper reel is worth sticking around for.

Verdict: A fun buddy-action flick.