Monthly Archives: July 2016

“Star Trek Beyond”fueled with action despite some technical flaws

startrekbeyondposterThis crop of summer blockbusters has been played out almost like a baseball game. One movie after another has stood up to the plate and rarely make a home run. The only exceptions have been Disney and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Others have been either less successful or barley made a big splash. Let me tell you, this has been a very dull summer with the choices we have been given. But with “Star Trek Beyond” up at bat, is it good enough to get itself a home run? No, but I’d say good enough to third base.

Justin Lin takes the director’s chair while Simon Pegg and Doug Jung helm the script. The tones tend to clash from time to time as one can tell when one style is being injected. Pegg places the usual Trek banter of different worlds and character development when needed. Lin, on the other hand, fuzzes his style more prominently during the action scenes. While these two are obvious to point out, it doesn’t deviate from each other delivering a good entry.

The only downfall is that you got to sit through a lot of mediocre stuff in order to see the best parts. Highlights include an opening meant to be humorous where Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) offers peace to a race of tiny creatures to an explanation over old Spock’s departure from the franchise. The opening scene alone is a good example of how hit and miss the comedy is. Sometimes, it can be good when characters like Spock and McCoy banter while certain corny lines border on eye roll-worthy.

Once you get through the slush, “Beyond” kicks into gear when the Enterprise crew is sent out to save a crew wrecked on a desolate planet. However, the affair turns out to be an ambush as the ship gets attacked by an alien race that acts like a hive of bees. The scene where the Enterprise ship itself getting bombarded is surprisingly well-done. While its not effective like the crash scene in “Star Trek: Generations,” it still packs plenty of punch and intensity as the ships latch on and swarm around the doomed vessel.

Idris Elba plays the new alien villain named Krall who plans to fire back at the Federation with a device that eats away living matter. I admit, I felt practically bored at times seeing how good of an actor Elba is. I was fooled at first thinking this baddie had a one track motivation. But the third act gives us an interesting reveal that immediately has us realize why Krall would want to go after the Federation. It becomes something much deeper matching the villainous Khan, but I do wonder what it would have been like if this reveal came earlier in the film. On the plus side, it’s a great twist that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

However, midway the story sort of meanders. The crew is split up a bit as Spock and McCoy try to survive, Kirk and Chekov wander around for answers and Scotty is teamed with a cool alien inhabitant. While these plot threads don’t stray too much and serve purpose, it makes me wonder if these were developed better to hold more interest. I felt like it was used at times to show off how unique the planet looks and it does look good. But then, we have to cut from “Group Kirk” to “Group McCoy” and remember which party is doing what.

On the bright side, Scotty makes a new friend in the form of Jaylah, a bright white alien played by Sofia Boutella. I loved the personality of this character as she adds on something new to the franchise. The make-up alone is a step above those seen at Comic Con conventions and I like the idea that she has been stuck on this planet long enough to know its dangers very well. Somehow, I’m a sucker for characters like that who are stranded on a desolate place but know how to make it their home. Sort of like Swiss Family Robinson but with lasers. There’s just a cool sense to this character that never outstays her welcome.

While “Star Trek Beyond” seeks to be respectful to the original source, there are a couple of things that sort of bugged me. Like I said, the whole movie builds to a grand finale, but in order to get there, you have to sit through some weak comedy and sluggish pacing in spots. The action scenes, for the most part, do get better as we go along. And yet, I wish the whole “handycam” feel was ditched. This is a cliche that has been kept on for too long as during a big fist fight, we get tons of close-ups and shaky frame movements. Its distracting and takes away from the tension. And as stated earlier, the departure of Leonard Nemoy’s Spock could have been handled better. To the movie’s credit, we do get a nice tribute near the end, but I feel it would have been stronger if the explanation for his absence was either cut out or just handled better.

Never the less, I dug the creature designs, the sets and a spaceship base that has cities on the rims to make it look like a unique utopia. I felt it was nice to see the new Star Trek crew back together and create a fun experience. The first third can be easily forgiven by how better the last two thirds get. As the action scenes keep coming, they get better and better trumping one after another. While “Star Trek Beyond” is not the strongest entry of the batch, its a welcome one that is worth recommending to see in theaters.

New “Ghostbusters” underwhelms with unfunny humor and dull spirits

ghostbusters2016Prior to seeing Paul Feig’s new film, I read an article from the daughter of Harold Ramis. I enjoyed with delight seeing Violet share moments with her father and how much she appreciated the cult phenomenon he created. There were two parts in that piece that got my attention. One where she goes on to say how disappointing it was to see her dad’s likeness not used for “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon. To which Harold replied, “It’s fine. …The cartoon is its own thing.The same way you used to ask if the fans knew I wasn’t really Egon? Well, I’m not. It’s a character. There was a different Superman when I was a kid. Things change. ”

The second part that got my attention was near the end when she mentions the backlash of the new Ghostbusters movie with the principal characters gender swapped. At first she was mad, until the negativity came in. In a response, Violet pleaded to stop using the death of her father as a reason to hate the movie. To which I agree. Because a creator is gone and unable to make his vision, doesn’t give reason to use it as a purpose to hate another’s interpretation. Consider this a public service that just because someone decides to make their version, doesn’t mean it must be shunned. Call this contradicting considering my thoughts of the movie to come later, but if you don’t want to see or bother with this movie, then don’t. But when you criticize and claim you saw something before you have seen it, doesn’t give it the satisfaction it deserves. And while I admit this is not a good movie, its not one to really hate over. Because right now, right across from the laptop I am typing at are two copies of the first movie. One on Blu-ray and the other on DVD. They are on my shelf unharmed and untouched. And even if this new movie tries to erase the continuity of the original, it still exists in the minds of those who love it. Now that I am off my soapbox, let’s break into this.

Even as I type this, I feel really bad for saying that I didn’t find myself enjoying Paul Feig’s take. And personally, there’s a lot of factors to blame here. I could point my finger at Sony for how they tried to make another franchise after losing Spider-Man to Marvel Studios. Its quite clear in the advertising and marketing that they want this to be a big thing. But the problem is that the original 1984 film wasn’t destined to be a huge cultural hit. There was no planned franchise at the time. It was like lightening in a bottle. Once it comes it, it makes a strike on the big screen that can’t be duplicated. They sure tried here, but it falls pale in comparison. Even on its own, I can’t help but pick apart certain plot points and things that really bugged me which I talk about later in.

Another problem I could say is the casting, but even that’s not it. These are all really funny and talented people. I’ve seen Melissa McCarthy in movies like The Heat and she can be really funny. Even thought I wasn’t a fan of Bridesmaids, I admit she was the funniest thing in that movie from her twisted attitude and loud personality. But even here, I felt like she was struggling a bit considering the PG-13 tone this movie is mean to have and the relationships with the characters. The only break out was Kate McKinnon who had this mad scientist personality which was delightful to watch. Kate felt way more animated and seemed like she having way more fun. When Kristen Wigg and Melissa are together, there is more banter than playing off each other. Almost like arguing and that’s in part to what the characters do to each other early on. Nothing said to me, “oh, these two are close friends and I can see them getting along.” The performances were sort of dull and not very interesting. To which I personally blame more the script as opposed to the effort going into it.

The big take away is that the cast and crew really wanted to make a good movie, but it feels like they knew nothing worked because how weak the story was. Basically, it does feel like a rehash of the first movie with similar beats. There are differences here and there to keep it far apart from the original, but nothing stands out. For example, in the first movie, the original crew captures their first ghost and immediately they find the business they created booming greatly. Instead here, once they capture their first ghost, our heroines  get an immediate scolding for no reason. We want to root for these underdogs and see them succeed. That’s what made the first film work, because you felt success was on their side. In this new film, reality intervenes and prevents you from enjoying their success. Now they are being told to keep this supernatural stuff under warps and avoid public panic, when clearly its not even sending a panic. That never made any sense to me.

Another thing that bothered me was the constant use of negative male stereotypes. When watching this new take, I barley remember a point when I recall a male character that actually did some good justice for the girls. In a way, I felt more sorry for them to be surrounded by a cavalcade of jerks, morons and (without giving too much away) delirious fanboys. A prime example is Chris Hemsworth who joins in as their secretary and all he does is just act dumb to them. He doesn’t provide any help and just goes about like a buffoon.  It kept aggravating me because I felt like some better use could have been made out of this character and it didn’t. It was a one note joke that went on for way too long.

Without giving too much away, the villain is certainly the most weakest part of the movie. Neil Casey plays this creepy janitor that plans to bring an end to the world and they try to make it fit into this whole message about bullying. But it doesn’t feel blended in right. I feel its due to how there is no justification for the Ghostbusters crew and how unfairly they get treated. All Neil’s character does is go about and try to motivate the plot, but his moments are so little they could have been cut and replaced with something different. The motivation is not big enough to care for as he mucks his way to the big finale which tries way too hard to please.

The finale in particular tries to be overblown with much effects and spooks, but it goes on for too long. Its like they throw one thing after another just to please viewers of old and new with new monsters and appearances by old faces. However, there is no build up to this big climax. Ghosts come out and start to tear up New York like a giant cookie. Even the choice in ghost designs are uninteresting. In the original, they had these abstract and deformed designs that looked other worldly. In the new version, they feel like floating pedestrians crossed with rejected designs from The Haunted Mansion ride.

This new movie really tries to win fans of the old with Easter eggs and even cameos from characters who were in the original film. But it tries way too hard. Its trapped between trying to do something new for a different generation and appease fans of the old. And a good example are these cameos by the stars from the first film. Some I did find a little cute like Annie Potts and maybe Ernie Hudson. But others suffer either from feeling forced or going against what their original characters represented. One in particular plays this scientists that tries to debunk the girls, but the person who plays him doesn’t fit it. It completely goes against what the original role intended from the first film for someone who believes in paranormal activity.

I’m certain this movie might have it fans and I know really well, this will be an easy movie to hate on. But at the end of day, all these cast and crew members wanted to do was make a good movie. However, a troubled script can’t save the day. I feel really bad for not liking this because I wanted to give this new incarnation a chance. I wanted to walk out of the theater and admit I was wrong about the whole affair. Sadly, that is not that day. Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” is so flawed that I found myself being emotionally taken out of the movie a lot. I wanted to accept what was on screen, but nothing clicked. The jokes were unfunny, the effects were not memorable and the overall experience was just dull and boring. I literally sat there in my seat trying to find a good joke throughout the whole affair. In the end, I only laughed three times. So far, this has been a dull crop of summer blockbusters and I keep hoping something will come along to break the dullness. To which I am sad to say “Ghostbusters” didn’t answer the call very well here.

 

P. S. If you are curious about Violet Ramis’ article, click the link below. I really recommend it. It helped me out.

http://splitsider.com/2016/07/on-my-dad-harold-ramis-and-passing-the-ghostbusters-torch-to-a-new-generation-of-fans/

“BFG” disappoints despite good production

maxresdefault (1)I had high hopes going into “The BFG.” It was created by one of my favorite directors, Steven Spielberg, and looked very promising. I remember reading the novel by Roald Dahl as a kid and thoroughly enjoying it. The idea of a giant roaming around while delivering dreams was a noble concept. As you can imagine, the hype was immerse with each trailer and TV spot that came my way. It looked good, had a unique cast and seemed to stick close to the source. And by the time I finally saw it, I found myself torn. For something that looks good and held such promise, how did I end up feeling so disappointed by the end?

Mark Rylance starts as the title character who snatches an orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) after she sees him. The two hit it off like a grandfather and grandchild relationship which is cute at first. The early parts follow the tone close to the book as Sophie learns of the BFG’s world and its dangers. When these two have a conversation, it lingers between exposition and character development heavy as we learn how similar are two leads are. They both live in dark environments and feel like the only bright spot to their lives.

Even the BFG (“Big Friendly Giant”) is interesting himself with a slang vocabulary and secret passion to deliver dreams to sleeping patrons. There’s a hidden tragedy to all seeing how alone he is, despite being surrounded by nine other giants who not as kind as he acts. There is a sense of sadness to the character who is stuck with a disgusting vegetarian diet of snozzcumbers and his house which is full of knick knacks and other trinkets. Even the girl they got to play Sophie is not too bad. Despite having her react with awe most of the time, there is a nice spunk to her attitude that meshes with the big and sublime giant friend.

Sadly, it all goes downhill when the changes to the source material kick in. The mean and cruel giants in Giant Country only come off as feeling threatening instead of frightening. At first, the idea of these big homeless creatures dressed in garbage like rags and rubber tires is a touch creative. But when we see them in action, there’s not much tension or menace. They all come off like big bullies instead of brutal beasts we dare not mess with. The leader Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) really tries to be villainous, but there’s not much to feel about his threats to the BFG.

And I completely blame that on how much the source material has been watered down. In Dahl’s tale, these giants were brutal and deadly creatures while looking deformed and gruesome. There were talks of how much they like the munching of bones and how each country they went to tasted so differently (“Swedes taste of sweet and sour.”) And that was something I always loved of Roald Dahl’s work. He knew how to balance the dark and light side of his stories without pushing any limits.

In Spielberg’s case, the lightness and fantasy elements are played up way too much. While the design of the dreams and nightmares are interesting, like floating fairy lights breezing about, we spend way too much time on these bright things that it undermines the darker elements. Or at least what is left of the dark stuff. We don’t see the giants on their crusade to eat people (or in some cases, barley gets a mention), there is no feeling of danger or peril at all and even the big climax only happens for a mere 90 seconds. Heck, there’s even a scene when the evil giants tear through the BFG’s home to find Sophie. All the camera does is focus on Sohpie running about while the giants rip up the place and smash stuff in the background. Even the score during this sequence feels more whimsical and less intimidating.

If I had to compare this version of “The BFG” it would be to the “Nutcracker Suite” segment from Disney’s “Fantasia” and Spielberg’s “Hook.” Both are light and look bright, yet there is a problem. In “Hook,” you felt there were risks going on and felt the danger of Neverland. In the world of “The BFG,” if you took out the scenes with the bad giants, you wouldn’t miss much. Without proper antagonists or even a will of darkness, you will just end up with a movie that has pretty lights and an overload of whimsy. I feel bad because I can tell there is effort behind this and there are points when it does adapt the source well enough. But alas, not enough justice was done to make this a pure classic. The right beats are there but nothing felt engaging or unique. I’m sure little kids will enjoy it, but older viewers might be bored very quick with its podding pace.

In a case of “watch this, not that,” I actually recommend the 1989 animated adaptation by Cosgrove Hall. A Roald Dahl adaptation that even Dahl himself applauded over after seeing it. The animation is good for its technical effects,  the designs for the giants are memorable, the stuff it uses from the source is appropriately put to good use and even the synthesizer score is edgy and fun. I’m certain this will be reissued to DVD at some point and when it does, I say give this one a better look. Because at the end of the day, when an animated adaptation is more emotionally engaging than one done by Steven Speilberg, you know something is clearly wrong.

“Independence Day: Resurgence” bigger yet dumber

Independence-Day-2-posterSequels appear to be all the rage these days. Even ones that exist to films that were released eons ago. So when Roland Emmerich announced he was crafting a sequel to the 1996 sci-fi hit, I was a little skeptical. The first film was fine alone and stands for being an explosive popcorn flick. Not a masterpiece but at least entertaining none the less. Emmerich to me is more like a modern day Jack Arnold. He knows how to deliver on the concept, but unlike Arnold (who is known for Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man), Emmerich is weak on story and character. And much of that is obvious here.

The general story here is that the aliens are back, but literally bigger. They seek to get revenge on Earth after the War of 1996 by parking its massive craft on the tip of the planet. Old characters are back like David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) who seek a way to defeat them. While newbies like Liam Helmsworth and Jessie Usher sadly can’t hold a candle or try to match the goofy spirit of the original. And that’s in part to how much time has passed with Independence Day. The first movie, on its own terms, never had a building franchise. No sequels, no spin offs (aside from the occasional novels but who reads them or even considers them cannon) or anything to show a follow up was needed.

In a nutshell, its practically the first movie but with CGI, more subplots, more destruction and little to care for. There are so many storylines, that even I found it hard to keep track of what was going on most of the time. One minute, we are with Jeff Goldblum examining spaceships in Africa, and then the next minute, we are with Bill Pullman trying to convince Earth that there is an impending invasion. To be fair, its nice to see some characters return and at least try to be essential to the story line. And that’s because we knew what to expect from this kind of movie. Its basically a 1950s invasion movie but with updated stuff and a bigger budget. But even some characters have no point or purpose to be there. Judd Hirsch is a prime example as he trudges on through the apocalypse with little to nothing to do.

Everything that made Independence Day unique is rehashed and yet used unfairly. There’s tons of worldwide destruction in one scene when the mothership parks itself on the top of Earth, and yet it happens like a casual thing. In the original, there was build up and tension to the big explosions akin to a ticking clock. Now, everything is akin to “stuff happens” and that’s it. Certain characters die and even whole countries get torn apart. But we don’t feel an impact because nothing is literally there to drive this emotion.

Thought if I had to be fair, it was nice to see some characters come back and the destruction is good as always. But I feel “Resurgence” was trying to do what “Jurassic World” did. With “Jurassic World,” it took an old concept and did some new things with it. It didn’t rehash anything from the first movie and knew when to be bigger while maintaining proper build up. Here, its a different case. While I don’t think “Resurgence” is the worst of the summer, its not a very good flick. Just because the spaceships are bigger and just because the aliens are the size of Godzilla, doesn’t make it a worthy summer flick.