Star Trek Beyond Review: Thrusters on Full


Director: Justin Lin

Writers: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung

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

STAR-TREK-BEYOND-5


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.

Finding Dory Review: Beyond the Sea


Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane

Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse

Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill

FINDING_DORY_-_Key_Art


Release date: June 16th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Ellen DeGeneres.

Worst part: The familiar story.

Disney is one of the world’s most powerful companies, capable of ruling over the box office from here to eternity. Along with Star Wars and Marvel, the company also owns Pixar Animation Studios. Setting the bar for animated cinema, the studio makes us laugh, cry, and question our place in the universe. Finding Dory, although not quite up there with Pixar’s best, continues the studio’s penchant for unique voices (in front of the microphone and behind the scenes).

Finding Dory is the much-anticipated sequel to 2003’s smash-hit Finding Nemo. The original’s fun visuals and sense of humour helped it become one of the past decade’s most memorable movies. As illustrated by the title, the sequel focuses on sidekick turned fan favourite Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). Set one year after the events of the original, the movie explores the Blue Tang’s struggle with short-term memory loss. Despite growing close to Clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory begins having fragmented dreams and flashbacks to life with her parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy). After regaining some of her memories, she feels a sudden urge to find them. In true Pixar fashion, our heroes head off on a literal and figurative journey over hundreds of miles.

There are two versions of Pixar: one creates game-changing and thought-provoking adventures appealing to all four quadrants. The key examples – the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters inc., The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille, and Inside Out – exceed all expectations. The other side of the coin includes polarising/cash-grab entries including the Cars movies, A Bug’s Life, Brave, and The Good Dinosaur. Like Monsters University, Finding Dory lands somewhere in the middle. Don’t get me wrong, I would take Dory over the Minions any day. This time around, the crew – heading from the Great Barrier Reef to straight to the Jewel of Morro Bay, California – meets a school of new and eclectic characters stuck in a marine park. Although a new setting is always welcome, the plot largely resembles that of the original. Despite the overall familiarity, however, the stellar visuals and rollicking pace are worth every second.

Whereas the original laughed at Dory’s short-term memory loss, Finding Dory hangs its emotional and psychological weight on it. The movie’s twists and turns revolve entirely around her, continually switching from wacky comic relief to sympathetic lead character here. Along with Dory, several supporting characters carry varying physical, psychological, or neurological conditions. Sidekicks including near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and nervous beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) are cute and concerning simultaneously. Although kooky seal Gerald and batty bird Becky are borderline offensive, ill-tempered Octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) and sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West) are hilarious.

Emotionally resonant fish (?), Sigourney Weaver (?!), Car chases (?!!) – Finding Dory delivers some of Pixar’s many wacky ideas. Yet again, Pixar respectfully provides a light-hearted look at life’s darker shades. However, is familiar feel makes it more appropriate for easy, care-free home viewing.

Verdict: A fun, pleasant sequel.

Bastille Day Review: The French Connection


Director: James Watkins

Writer: Andrew Baldwin

Stars: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte le Bon, Kelly Reilly

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Release date: April 22nd, 2016

Distributor: Focus Features

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


3/5

Best part: Idris Elba.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Action-thriller Bastille Day follows formula to the letter. Indeed, the process of watching the movie provides a strong sense of deja vu. However, in coming out on the heels of overbearing superhero flicks and fantasy-adventures, it stands out as a good chunk of ol’ fashioned thrills.

Bastille Day, set on the eve of the titular French commemoration/public holiday, follows grizzly CIA operative Briar(Idris Elba)’s dealings in Paris. Briar – kicking down doors/punching/shooting/grimacing first, asking questions later – seeks to redeem himself after botching a previous mission. Meanwhile, a group of euro terrorists/undercover SWAT officers plan to blow up a political landmark to ignite tensions between the police, activists, and Muslim community. The scheme backfires when pickpocket Mason (Richard Madden) inadvertently steals the bomb bag from Zoe (Charlotte le Bon) and dumps it in a public area seconds before detonation.

The movie, predictably, then turns into a simplistic cross between your average man-on-the-run thriller and somewhat light-hearted buddy-actioner. The plot is certainly cliched, jumping between clues and suspects before the goodies and baddies violently cross paths. With Briar and Mason forced to work together, every twist and turns relies on the former’s brute strength and the latter’s guile and skillset. The movie only briefly touches on the duo’s backstories, intent on sticking with their energetic dynamic. Despite its blissful simplicity, the third act delivers several ludicrous plot twists.

Like similar Luc Besson-helmed/euro-american flicks, Bastille Day‘s tone lurches awkwardly between blissful thrills and confronting sociopolitical discussion. Release mere months after the Paris terror attacks, the movie brazenly depicts the police force, Muslim community, and youthful revolutionary groups as angry hornets nests quick to cause all-out rebellion. Siding with the American lead characters over everyone else, its political edge may rub viewers the wrong way. Elba makes a strong case for being the next James Bond – handling the action sequences, dramatic moments, and humour with aplomb. Madden, known as Game of Thrones‘ protagonist Robb Stark, provides an charismatic yin to Elba’s yang.

Director James Watkins (Eden Lake, The Woman in Black) and writer Andrew Baldwin create an entertaining 90-minute distraction. Fit for a lazy Saturday, Bastille Day skates by on Elba’s charm, bruising action, and solid pacing.

Verdict: A serviceable action flick.

The Jungle Book Review: Bill’s Necessities


Director: Jon Favreau

Writers: Justin Marks (screenplay), Rudyard Kipling (novel)

Stars: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba

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Release date: April 7th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 105 minutes


3½/5

Review: The Jungle Book

 

 

 

Zootopia Review: Born to be Mild


Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore

Writers: Jared Bush, Phil Johnson

Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons

zootopia-movie-poster


Release date: March 17th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

4/5

Review: Zootopia

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Review – The Elba Enigma


Director: Justin Chadwick

Writer: William Nicholson (screenplay), Nelson Mandela (autobiography)

Stars: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa


Release date: January 3rd, 2014

Distributors: 20th Century Fox, The Weinstein Company

Countries: UK, South Africa

Running time: 146 minutes


 

 

2½/5

Best part: Elba and Harris.

Worst part: The confused narrative.

Throughout the 20th century, certain political figures and celebrities reached for the stars. They ignored backlash and threats to conquer their dreams and make the world a better place. This may seem sappy, but humanity’s more positive aspects can reshape the world’s structures. One such person was Nelson Mandela. Mandela comes to mind at opportune moments. Mandela proved that one person really could make a difference. With his death shattering the world last year, he was an inspirational public figure and determined human being. Inevitably, biopics about this spectacular man, over the past decade, have come thick and fast.

Idris Elba.

Idris Elba.

The most recent entry in this blissfully specific genre, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, wholeheartedly strives to blanket his immense life story. This broad and aimless docudrama travels down a familiar road. Covering typical biopic trappings, the movie becomes a vacuously unsuccessful Oscar-hungry monster. Looking back on Mandela’s significant life story, the movie’s wavering and untrustworthy reach exceeds its weak grasp. However, despite the wasted potential, it still features several overwhelmingly commendable qualities. Despite this enthralling tale, the movie explores and comments on too much at once. Despite my harsh words, these criticisms are warranted. To take on a project of this magnitude, studios must step back, hire commendable writers and directors, and let certain biopics follow specific paths. Sadly, this production’s producers and studios sugarcoat this fascinating narrative. Long Walk to Freedom begins with a teenage Mandela embracing South Africa’s rich tribal culture. Becoming one with the four elements, Mandela convinces himself he’s ready for a purposeful and daunting life. The movie then jumps forward, and a 30-something Mandela (Idris Elba) is presented as the black community’s spirited saviour. Standing up for innocent civilians in court, he becomes a prolific symbol of black power and freedom. Protesting legislation changes as part of the African National Congress, Mandela promotes equality whilst speaking out against apartheid.

 

Naomie Harris.

Naomie Harris.

Biopics usually go one of two ways: either focusing on specific parts of a person’s life (Lincoln) or depicting timelines covering everything from humble beginnings to untimely deaths (Ghandi). Despite this story’s commendable aspects, Long Walk to Freedom doesn’t deliver new information. Everyone with some knowledge of global affairs is aware of Mandela’s immense power and courage. Relying intensely on well-known facts and archival footage, the movie delivers a broad and underwhelming account of Mandela’s journey. The movie’s tagline reads: “Revolutionary. Prisoner. President”. Sadly, the movie provides precious little depth beyond these three significant words. Here, Mandela’s actions, motivations, and internal conflicts are under-utilised. The movie never examines Mandela’s ethical, spiritual, and moral codes. Presenting this strong-willed man as an all-encompassing symbol, the movie resembles a statue. Admittedly, this is a strange statement. However, like a statue, the movie presents a towering presence without utilising emotional weight or humanistic qualities. In addition, Long Walk to Freedom is just as static. Despite its inspirational narrative, this cumbersome biopic is inflicted with clumsy pacing and jarring tonal shifts. Screenwriter William Nicholson (Gladiator) inconsistently juggles this story’s cognitive and note-worthy qualities. Awkwardly lurching from one important event to the next, Mandela’s life is summed up in brief sequences. Throughout the first third, this biopic shifts from one incident, momentous moment, and ideal to another without warning. Confusingly, Mandela himself hurriedly transitions from womanising lawyer, to sensitive family man, to proud revolutionary. Despite the speeches and exposition, the movie doesn’t deliberate on his story’s most informative and miraculous qualities. Unfortunately, Long Walk to Freedom becomes The Butler’s slightly more interesting counterpart. Sharing similar structural, thematic, and dramatic issues, these movies delve only skin deep into all-important narratives.

“It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba), Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom).

Idris Elba & Naomie Harris.

Idris Elba & Naomie Harris.

Obviously, Mandela’s journey is a significant part of black history. Recently, Hollywood has explored this overarching topic to uncover relevant stories whilst developing inspired creations. From big-budget fare (Django Unchained) to enrapturing docudramas (12 Years a Slave), cinema has placed an effecting stranglehold on this conquering issue. With minorities receiving harsh treatment across the globe, historically impactful stories defy prejudice and social anxiety. Despite its narrative shifts, Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, by depicting one specific period of Mandela’s life story, captured his ideologies and motivations. Despite its social, political, and cultural value, Long Walk to Freedom inadvertently presents itself as ‘yet another’ Mandela biopic. Unfortunately, like J. EdgarLong Walk to Freedom stumbles before reaching its subject’s most remarkable conflicts. Thankfully, the stellar production design provides several stimulating intricacies for this tedious biopic. Director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) revels in this time period’s distinct colours, moods, and flavours. Presenting remarkable scenic vistas and tangible city settings, Chadwick’s attention to detail delivers an unconscionable portrait of apartheid-stricken South Africa. Each setting and costume efficiently bolsters this uncompromising and accurate depiction of Mandela’s journey. In particular, the prison sequences are painful reminders of man’s overwhelming inhumanity throughout history. Thankfully, this shapeless biopic is salvaged by two invigorating performances. Elba, known for conquering TV series’ (LutherThe Wire) and entertaining action flicks (Pacific RimThor), boosts this dreary and conventional biopic. Despite lacking Mandela’s distinctive appearance, Elba overcomes previous roles whilst immersing himself in this breathtaking journey. Exploring Mandela’s native language and distinctive accent, Elba’s towering portrayal unconscionably elevates this confused Oscar contender. Elba – thanks to his impressive physique – presents Mandela as a fighter and fearsome leader. Naomie Harris also delivers a charismatic performance. As Mandela’s determined wife Winnie, Harris embodies her character’s searing pain and overwhelming courage.

Sporting two impressive performances, stark production values, and an impactful marketing campaign, Long Walk to Freedom hurriedly immerses its mass audience into this sprawling tale. Unfortunately, the movie lacks the intelligence, sturdy structure, and efficient screenplay needed for this intriguing premise. Despite the writer, director, and Weinstein Company’s commendable intentions, this biopic is obliterated by hasty studio decisions, gigantic preconceptions, and tedious biopic cliches.

Verdict: A meandering and insipid biopic. 

Pacific Rim Review – Rock ’em, Sock ’em, Love ’em


Director: Guillermo del Toro

Writer: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro

Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day


Release date: July 12th, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 132 minutes


4/5

Best part: The Jaeger vs. Kaiju fights.

Worst part: The stereotypical Aussie accents.

Pacific Rim‘s tagline ‘Go Big, Or Go Extinct’ can easily be applied to every blockbuster released in 2013. This year, Hollywood has laid waste to cities, countries, and the box office. People turn out in droves to see these horrific events and refuse to take these images seriously. Thankfully, they will always be allowed to. In recent months, Hollywood has gone apocalypse crazy. Movies like Oblivion, World War Z, and Pacific Rim are visually splendid films that deal with mass destruction and the end of time.

Charlie Hunnam & Rinko Kikuchi.

Unlike the other apocalyptic actioners released this year, Pacific Rim never falls into melodrama or overblown seriousness. It’s a fun, kooky, and occasionally laughable (intentionally and unintentionally) sci-fi movie. The plot may be filled with silly elements, but it’s still solid. In the not too distant future, according to this movie, a portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean will open up and allow gigantic monsters, named ‘Kaiju’ (Japanese for ‘giant beast’ as described in the introduction), into our world. After decades of fighting a losing battle, the world’s governments and military forces pool their resources to create monsters of their own. Their creations, automatons called ‘Jaegers’ (German for ‘hunter’), match the Kaiju in speed and brute force. Jaeger pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) seeks a new life after his brother is killed in action before his eyes. Five years later, Raleigh’s former boss Marshall Stacker Pentecoast (Idris Elba) talks him into one last mission to save mankind. Joined by aspiring Jaeger pilot Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), and scientists Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), Raleigh will need to prove himself worthy of completing this terrifying assignment.

Idris Elba.

This film’s surprisingly high quality is due to its visionary director. Guillermo del Toro (Pans Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies) is one of the most prolific and unique filmmakers working today. Similarly to Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, del Toro creates movies that contain exciting blockbuster tropes and many elements of a signature style. Pacific Rim is a guilty pleasure that’s much better than it has any right to be (it’s also Cloverfield x1000!). Pleasantly, the first half contains dramatic weight and many cute interactions. We are gently introduced to this cartoonish world so the audience can adjust to its many intricacies. Del Toro gleefully lends a balance of drama, action, and kineticism to every one of his films. However, his direction is far superior to his screenwriting. Judging by the silly dialogue, it’s entirely obvious that English is del Toro’s second language (Pans Labyrinth is by far his best work). As you can tell from my plot synopsis, the story is very straightforward. In fact, the movie somehow contains more cliches than destroyed buildings. This is yet another del Toro movie to feature a lead character joining a secret organisation to fight fantastical enemies (Blade 2). Some plot points are telegraphed too far ahead of time and others are silly and completely unnecessary. I would normally feel disdain for the fact that these problems can still occur in a multi-million dollar production. However, the film vastly excels when and where it needs to.

Charlie Day & Ron Pearlman.

Del Toro is clearly in touch with his inner 10-year-old. His toy-box has been flung open and every elaborate toy is now flying onto the big screen. This may sound cool, but his zany ideas and ambitiousness have caused major production issues over the past few years e.g. dropping out of directing duties for the Hobbit trilogy. Like his previous movies, Pacific Rim is breathtaking from beginning to end. Del Toro’s wonderfully quirky style is applied in an effective and imaginative manner. Like in the Hellboy movies, the characters and story are eclipsed by everything on screen. Clearly influenced by classic Japanese Kaiju movies (1954’s Godzilla in particular) and the original King Kong, del Toro has provided a nostalgic romp and intelligent modern blockbuster. Del Toro knows how to deliver truly original visual effects. The production design has to be applauded. Every setting, costume, and contraption is elaborate, inventive yet slightly familiar. This sensory experience is heightened by del Toro’s visceral, tangible, and gooey creations (especially the Kaiju body parts). This cartoon/anime/blockbuster excels in the gigantic set pieces that surpass anything seen in the Transformers trilogy. Shot, edited, and choreographed with flawless technical precision, every action sequence, ironically, packs a punch! The camera is pulled back far enough to capture every stab, punch, and grapple inside these video game-esque smack-downs. The Jaegers and Kaiju even interact seamlessly with the waves and skyscrapers in their path. Thankfully, the cargo ship/baseball bat scene doesn’t disappoint.

“Today, we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them. Today, be are cancelling the apocalypse!” (Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), Pacific Rim).

Gipsy Danger.

Commendably, the film’s epic sense of scale allows other countries, cultures, and ethnicities to get in on the action. The film’s ethnically diverse cast is unique and indicates just how important del Toro is to Blockbuster cinema. Despite being overshadowed by the awe-inspiring visuals, the cast does an acceptable job bringing these broad characters to life. Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) is acceptable in the lead role but fails to distract from his character’s many generic traits. With his excellent fighting skills and swagger, Raleigh is little more than a typical action hero. However, Hunnam has a nice rapport with Kikuchi. Kikuchi delivers a sweet performance as the emotionally disturbed yet ambitious Mako (it’s refreshing to see an Asian actress in a Hollywood leading role). Her doe-eyed expressiveness brings levity to this damaged character. Hunnam and Kikuchi’s best scenes involve ‘The Drift’ (a system linking two minds so the Jaegers can be successfully operated). Mako’s flashbacks are hauntingly beautiful and terrifying. Day is a fun comic relief. Finding the link between humans and Kaiju, his character is much more interesting than the two attractive leads. Day’s chemistry with Ron Pearlman (playing a black market Kaiju organ dealer) makes his sub-plot exciting and pacy. Elba delivers Pacific Rim‘s best performance. His charismatic screen presence elevates his archetypal role.

Despite the hammy dialogue, simplistic characters, and its slightly tedious length, Pacific Rim is an engaging and inventive sci-fi romp. Del Toro has applied his creative side to this ‘been there, done that’ premise. The result is a blockbuster that eclipses 2013’s other epic sci-fi action flicks.

Verdict: A big, broad, and creative sci-fi action flick.