Pete’s Dragon Review: Flying High


Director: David Lowery

Writer: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks (screenplay), Malcolm Marmorstein (novel)

Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban

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Release date: September 15th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country:USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dragon.

Worst part: Urban’s kooky antagonist.

Disney is a cash cow, able to take serious risks without losing large sums. The company – cashing up on Marvel, Star Wars etc. – is handing remakes of 20th century animated gems to interesting, independent-minded filmmakers. Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh dived into The Jungle Book and Cinderella before. Pete’s Dragon is the heavyweight studio’s latest satisfactory experiment.

Pete’s Dragon is based on one of Disney’s most eclectic animated works. The original is a miasmic tale of a boy and his pet. It delves into strange places – leaving some viewers scratching their heads. This version is more straightforward but less interesting. It begins with Pete finding Elliot the Dragon by chance. The story jumps years ahead, and Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a child running, jumping and living alongside his magical friend. One day, Pete stumbles upon park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the forest. After finding him and taking him in, Grace – along with her partner Jack (Wes Bentley), Jack’s daughter Natalie (Oona Lauence) and Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford) – learn more about Pete’s story and way of life. Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) has dastardly ideas for Elliot.

Like J. J. Abrams-helmed Super 8, Pete’s Dragon showcases Steven Spielberg’s long-lasting legacy and overall influence. This nostalgic fantasy-family epic lives and dies on director/co-writer David Lowery(Aint Them Bodies Saints)’s love of the classics. The opening scene encapsulates his style and storytelling prowess. This three-minute sequence is worth the admission cost. It glides through multiple emotions, a tragic event, our lead’s isolation and discovery of the big, green father figure. Indeed, the epilogue depicts love and loss effortlessly. Afterwards, the movie is fairly mundane. Lowery borrows every Spielberg convention (Spielberg face, country town charm, kids connecting with creatures and magic etc.) without quit. As other central characters come into play, the movie’s story and pace slow drastically.

The characters, of course, change from simple-minded to wide-eyed and adventurous as craziness occurs. However, none of them matter. Howard continues her run of underwritten characters flip-flopping between courageous and outrageous. Even her red hair and gorgeous looks cannot save her. Bentley is given less development as the concerned nice-guy. Redford’s charm pushes him through silly dialogue. Urban is given one of 2016’s most baffling characters; woefully switching between gruff redneck, hunting champion and slightly mentally challenged. Lowery spoon feeds his love of middle America. The twangy soundtrack and gleaming cinematography clumsily convey regional bliss.

Pete’s Dragon resembles every other 2016 blockbuster – easy on the eyes but hard to connect with. This year, this Spielberg admirer performed better than Spielberg himself. The cast perform admirably despite two dimensional, wacky material. The dragon himself is the runaway winner.

Verdict: A quaint family-adventure.

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.

The Loft (Home Release) Audio Review: High-rise Hijinks


Director: Eric Van Looy

Writers: Wesley Strick, Bart De Pauw

Stars: Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet

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Release date: January 30th, 2015

Distributors: Open Road Films, Kinepolis Film Distribution 

Countries: USA, Belgium 

Running time: 103 minutes


1½/5

Review:

Dredd Review – You’ve Been Judged!


Director: Pete Travis

Writer: Alex Garland

Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris


Release date: September 7th, 2012

Distributors: Entertainment Film Distribution, Lionsgate

Countries: UK, South Africa

Running time: 95 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The hyper-stylised visuals.

Worst part: Several cheesy one liners.

Before this film, most people were unaware of the vigilante comic book character known as Judge Dredd. Despite the existence of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone version, the character desperately needed a reboot to bring him back into the spotlight. This new adaptation of the 2000 AD comics character is one of the year’s biggest surprises, providing an entertaining and visceral action flick unlike any other in recent memory. Derivative yet fun, Dredd provides a lot more than just a simple minded actioner aimed squarely at teenage boys.

Karl Urban.

Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) begins this story by describing the problems with protecting the innocent civilians of dystopian district Mega City One; a major part of the ruin of the old world. He is judge, jury and executioner in the city’s run down streets; dishing out violence unapologetically to anyone on the opposite side of the law. His cold persona conflicts with his evaluation of newcomer Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), taking her on tour around the city while testing her limits to the maximum. Their first investigation together leads to the lock down of a giant apartment complex known as ‘Peach Trees’; Ruled over by vicious gangster and drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). The assault against Dredd and Anderson leads them to cut down anyone in their path and stop the new outbreak of super drug Slo-mo; known to slow the conscious mind down to 1% its normal speed.

Olivia Thirlby.

Olivia Thirlby.

This adaptation of Judge Dredd is much like Urban’s take on the character; its lean, mean and moves as briskly as possible. Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) proves he can borrow from his influences while still creating a truly unique and enjoyable work of cinematic mayhem. The ‘Blade Runner meets Robocop‘ style of Dredd is indicative of classic 80’s era sci-fi action films, known for creating influential production designs, shocking violence and gore sequences, and memorable characters. Travis’ clear affection for the apparently disgustingly dark source material has paid off, creating an action flick so gritty and vile to watch that each murder affects you to the core. Mega City One is a rich plethora of concrete landscapes and blood and graffiti stained settings. The film also effectively captures a sickly claustrophobic feel for the city’s most prominent housing complex and gangster hideout. The city appears to be nothing but a crumbling economy and setting for gangland warfare, and so Dredd’s devotion to cleaning up the severely decaying streets proves to be one man brutally fighting a losing battle. Following a story similar to the revelatory 2012 Indonesian action flick The Raid, Dredd overcomes its unoriginal premise to create an impressively staged sci-fi action flick filled with charismatic characters. Working with a somewhat conventional screenplay by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), Travis creates several lasting images and affecting action set pieces, thankfully moving this simple story at a breakneck pace. John Woo’s explosive and gory action style is used to create one impressively staged hallway shoot out after another.

“Negotiation’s over. The sentence is death.” (Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), Dredd).

Lena Headey.

Lena Headey.

While the added incentive of exploding heads, gorgeous slow motion murders and brutal fist fights provides an action film unafraid of breaking the norms of modern ‘Hollywood’ action cinema. Paul Verhoeven(Total Recall, Robocop)’s style is also a clear influence here, providing a pulpy edge for every blood splatter and decapitation on display. The slo-mo gun fights convey a comic strip feel for each bullet ripping straight through Dredd’s victims, in the vein of Frank Miller(Sin City)’s dirty comic-book style. Despite simple dialogue and more than a few unfunny comedic moments, Karl Urban still proceeds to maintain his likeable presence on screen, becoming arguably the next Clint Eastwood. Much like Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Urban delivers a fun performance despite having his face covered throughout the entire film. His dedication to the Judge Dredd comic series has paid off, creating a threatening mix of Dirty Harry and Denzel Washington’s character Alonzo from Training Day. Acting only with his jaw and fang-like teeth, the Lord of the Rings and Star Trek actor has once again earned serious contention for A-list status. Also providing a solid turn in an unlikely role is Olivia Thirlby (Ellen Page’s best friend in Juno) as the nervous yet determined Judge Anderson. Performing the cliché rookie role with both sensitivity and naivety, her partnership with Urban works wonders for their awkward dialogue sequences together. Put through gunfire, fist fights and scary hallucinations, her character provides the human touch needed in this already tough as nails sci-fi action extravaganza.

Certainly, Dredd is packed with stylistic and story elements known to sink similar movies. However, in the midst of it all, the final product pulls everything together to creative an enjoyable blockbuster. Judge Dredd lays down the law!

Verdict: A surprisingly inventive and enjoyable action flick.