Star Trek Beyond – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

In Star Trek Beyond, the follow up to the J. J. Abrams reboot Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness, Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise are three years into their five-year mission, and we get to catch up with the goings on the ship, their interpersonal connections and struggles, and their general daily lives. Kirk in particular struggles to find the meaning and purpose in their mission, and what role he truly wishes to play in Starfleet.

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He is not the only one among his crew pondering their place and role on the Enterprise, but before any of them find resolution, an escape pod emerges from a Nebula close to the star base Yorktown, with an inhabitant calling for help in rescuing her stranded ship.

Having the necessary technology to withstand the Nebula’s harsh environment, the Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission. However things are not as they seem, and the Enterprise and her crew are flying in to danger. What awaits for them in the Nebula? Will they be cunning, able, and united enough to face that danger?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

Of course fans of the J.J. Abrams reboot will find a lot to love here. This film has the same charismatic cast, the same energy, the same humor, and they all live up to the standard of the previous films very well. This film has a great deal of action, both in space and on the ground. It has great interpersonal drama, character building, and character interaction. It will appeal to fans of the genre, of the franchise, and of action films in general.

Interestingly, I feel that this film will also appeal to fans of the classic Star Trek series perhaps more than the first two did. This film does not have the same wonky elements like red matter from the first film, ridiculously close planets, or magic blood. But more importantly, this film strives to include broader themes and philosophical underpinnings that felt largely absent from the previous films, even though they get a bit of a bad rap in that regard.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

Star Trek Beyond manages to both avoid the weaknesses of the previous films and continue the good elements that made those two a blast to watch. It is clever, with an excellent script, witty dialogue, and a strong plot that has its own identity and purpose. The same excellent cast returns with some great new additions, and their acting is fantastic across the board, even when particular characters are not given much to do.

The action is thrilling and interesting, both conceptually and visually, and it feels impact full and meaningful. The humor is fun and never detracts from the plot, though, to be fair, one moment goes so over-the-top ridiculous and epic that I could see some killjoys feeling it ruined the seriousness of the scene. Some people just need to learn to have fun.

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What struck me most while watching this film were the intellectual elements that felt missing or muted in the previous two films. That is, this film has themes that apply to our current world situation, even if they are a bit simplistic in their examination. It was a pleasure to think about the ways in which the villain embodies a number of the problems in our current social landscape, and how his problems with the Federation and his conflict with Kirk speak to the rifts in our society. That wasn’t a line of thought that I’d felt compelled into after watching the other two films. It is refreshing.

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While no single moment met the heights of the first Abrams film, and while the villain isn’t as intimidating and powerful as Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Khan from the second, Star Trek Beyond has the most consistently good quality across the whole run time, and beyond that, it is the most “Star Trek” of all three. As of right now, Star Trek Beyond is my favorite of the trilogy, and there is no doubt that it is…

4.5-5 Rating - Awesome!

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Ghostbusters (2016) – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

This 2016 reboot of the beloved franchise, “Ghostbusters,” sees the successful Dr. Erin Gilbert, played by Kristen Wiig, haunted by a paranormal studies book she had written years ago with her one-time friend, Dr. Abby Yates, played by Melissa McCarthy. The book, which she had thought was never released, threatens to undermine her serious career and reputation, so she searches out Dr. Yates to force her to cease its publication.

Instead, when she is reunited with Yates and her wonderfully weird assistant Dr. Jillian Holtzman, played by Kate McKinnon, they are all sucked into an investigation of a paranormal event. When footage of their investigation hits the internet, Gilbert’s career is over, so she joins Yates and Holtzman in forming a paranormal investigation group, the “Department of the Metaphysical Examination,” based out of an upper room above a bad chinese restaurant.

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From there, the “Ghostbusters,” as they come to be known, develop technology for dealing with the spirits they meet. They recruit the amazingly unintelligent receptionist Kevin Beckman, played by Chris Hemsworth, as well as a fourth Ghostbuster, Leslie Jones. They go about their work while struggling for recognition from a disbelieving public. All the while, a terrible danger arises that threatens the entire city with destruction. Only the Ghostbusters are equipped to handle this threat, yet they do not fully understand the scope of the villain’s plans. Can they figure out what is going on in time to stop the oncoming ghostly apocalypse?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

This movie was directed by Paul Feig, and it is a movie that I believes falls very much in line with his skills and sensibilities. That is to say, if you enjoy the humor of his movies, you will probably enjoy this film. If you are not a Feig fan, you will probably not like this movie. It is a comedy first and foremost. If you are going into this movie looking for supernatural thrills, it’s not really for you. If you’re looking for intense, well conceived and choreographed action set pieces, this film is not for you. This film is a Feig show, through and through.

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Also, do not be confused by the title. This film is not aimed at the diehard fans of the original “Ghostbusters” movie. It doesn’t have the same style, the same humor, and it avoids most of the same aesthetics except for the basic outfits and the look of the car. There is certainly some “Ghostbusters” flavoring in the mix, and the plot is very similar to both of the previous films, but this movie has a very distinct and different feel and chemistry. If you go in expecting a tonal successor to the original, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

This film is at its best when the characters are talking and interacting with one another. Importantly, the characters are unique to themselves – they are not stand-ins for the original 80s group. There is great chemistry between the leads, and their personalities and senses of humor riff well off of one another.

The film is really quite funny. The jokes are mostly hits, even though there are definite misses too. At least it isn’t full of fart and vomit jokes, like the trailers implied. It isn’t exactly high-brow, but I didn’t have to roll my eyes more than once, and I found myself chuckling quite a bit. I think I even laughed out loud once or twice.

However, there are plenty of serious flaws. While the designs of the ghosts aren’t bad (in fact in some places it is as strong as the original), the CGI-heavy nature of the final battle goes over the top and the film suffers for it. The plot follows most of the same beats as the original two, and the villain is the cheesiest out of all three films. I will say that while the bad guy is pretty lame in the first half of the film, he does get much better in the second half.

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The worst offenders, however, were the terrible pacing, editing, and cinematography. The editing is choppy, the framing is plain and uninteresting, and the pacing is lethargic when it needed to be active and too quick when it needed to slow down, with poor transitions between the two. Combine this all with the fact that the action scenes in the film were poorly staged and it just robs the story of the energy and intensity it needed in the climax of the movie.

If you insist on judging this film strictly against the ‘84 original, this film can’t be anything but a massive disappointment. It doesn’t match that film’s originality or humor, and I doubt any movie could – the original is one of the great comedies of all time. When judged on its own merits, however, this film is very fun. It is a basic popcorn-munching summer blockbuster worth seeing at matinee price. Don’t get me wrong, “Ghostbusters” (2016) is not great, but neither is it a train wreck. In fact, I might even pick it up if I found it in…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

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Independence Day: Resurgence – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Twenty years after the events of the previous film, in which humanity defeated an alien invasion against enormous odds, people have begun to work together across the globe. Earth prepares itself to fend off any more attacks. They have rebuilt – stronger and more unified than ever before.

Everyone is mostly at peace, and involved in their regular lives. Old and new characters alike are going about their days, either continuing to study the aliens, like David Levinson, piloting a fighter jet and captaining a squad like Dylan Dubrow-Hiller, or working as a space tug boat pilot like Jake Morrison, etc.  

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On the moon, a new defense emplacement is being deployed, and humanity prepares to celebrate the anniversary of their victory over the aliens on July 4.

That peace and confidence is shattered with the arrival of an alien ship over the moon. As it turns out, humanity was not ready enough. Can the people of earth come through against incredible odds to once again defeat an imperial alien power that far surpasses their own?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

“Independence Day: Resurgence” is a popcorn-munching sci-fi blockbuster, full of spectacle, destruction, action, and very basic characters. People expecting more from their film going experience than an exciting and visuals-heavy bit of summer fun should look elsewhere.

This is a Roland Emmerich film. It carries all of the hallmarks of his films, and however you feel about those tropes will define your ability to enjoy this film. He loves destruction and big epic action sequences. He loves plots stuffed with characters that are thin and melodramatic. He loves spectacle, and will throw logic and realism right out of the window if it doesn’t serve his vision. This film is a very Roland Emmerich film.

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I don’t believe it is absolutely necessary to have seen the first film to get into this one. “Independence Day,” as a franchise, has never been particularly lore heavy. The aliens are enigmatic and the characters from the first movie were never very deep to begin with, however fun they might have been. Some of the most memorable characters are dead, such as Will-Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller, and I think only one character from the previous film has more screen time in this follow up than their original appearance. Because of all that, while it would be beneficial to see the first film(as is true of almost all sequels), it is not necessary.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“Independence Day” is not a great film. The plot is basic and has flaws. The aliens’ motivations make no sense. The characters are thin and archetypal at best, cliched at worst. Forget logic or realism. There is no greater message or theme. There is nothing about this movie that would elevate it to the status of a great film.

However, this film never pretends to do anything else. It was always meant to be a “B” movie with a big budget. It follows in its predecessor’s footprints, which was also all about spectacle and action over depth and logic. This is the franchise where a 90s era Mac computer virus took down an alien mother ship, after all.  

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While it doesn’t live up to the first film, as the script lacks its charismatic one-liners and rah-rah speeches, this movie is still a rollicking good time. It’s got classic disaster pic tropes. It has wacky characters, cheesy moments, melodramatic characters. It has a top-notch visual effects team that makes for a visually interesting, if very familiar world, with wonderful action set pieces. It’s flashy, and most importantly, it’s fun.

If you go into the theater expecting something artistically powerful… then I don’t know why you’re going to this movie, really. It’s not for you. Did you even see the first one? But if, like me, you went in knowing what you were in for, and craving a little bit of light-hearted brainless entertainment, then I think you’ll leave with a smile on your face. I may not be able to call this movie “Great,” but for me there is no doubt about it, “Independence Day: Resurgence” is a…

Guilty Pleasure

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Some time has passed since the turtles last fought Shredder. Vern Fenwick has taken all of the credit for their victory, as they had agreed, in order to preserve the anonymity of the turtles. Shredder remains in custody, and things have largely settled down.

That peace doesn’t last long, however, as the Foot Clan, under the direction of the goofy scientist Baxter Stockman, puts a plan into motion to break Shredder loose. As bad as that is, another force just as sinister but  even more powerful, has intentions of world-domination. This film follows the turtles as they fight to put an end to the machinations of all of these villains, even while coming to terms with conflict between the brothers themselves.

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

You might think that this film is aimed at children because of the whole “mutant turtles” thing. It’s not, really. The characters, dialogue and plot are straight out of a kid’s cartoon. However, the action, while bloodless, is a bit much for little kids. Meagan Fox is highly sexulized in at least one scene. Some of the character designs are meant to be scary in appearance on a level that little kids might find too much. Depending on how any given set of parents decides to raise their child, the language is also more adult than they would expect to see in a kids movie.

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This film is aimed primarily at adults. A very particular kind of adult – one who grew up loving the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That means adults who love the characters and their relationships and the cool action scenes, but it also means adults who might put up with stereotypes, cliches, cheesy dialogue, and over-the-top plots that barely cling together. This is the only group who will let the rest of the film’s sizeable flaws slide at all.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” is a vast improvement on the first film, and it does it mostly by embracing the franchise’s roots as a cartoon. Unfortunately, that same tactic is also a source of the film’s many flaws.

The filmmakers mostly nail characterization, and they put the focus where it should be all along: The turtles. Each of our half-shelled heroes are given time and dialogue to be who fans expect them to be. The new addition, Stephen Amell, has the most non-turtle screen-time as Casey Jones, but Megan Fox and Will Arnett’s characters are mercifully turned into bit-players this time around. Unfortunately, the script didn’t give Amell much to work with, and he just doesn’t come across as the Casey Jones fans remember.

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The best thing about the movie is the action sequences. The early convoy escape and chase was fun and delightfully cartoony with the turtle van sporting some crazy weapon-systems. The fight that begins with the planes in the sky and continues all the way down a raging river is just about perfect and had me grinning the whole way through.  

However, in between the action sequences, the film bogs down. The action resembles the cartoons, but the plot and dialogue both resemble cartoons as well. The script writers didn’t do a good job with the interpersonal relationships, and plot points jump from one to the next haphazardly, making little sense along the way. Exposition is everywhere, and motivations are thin. For every moment I enjoyed, there was a moment of eye-rolling stupidity and childishness.

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The worst thing is, many of the conflicts built throughout the film, like the siblings’ conflict and the ambitions of Shredder, are tossed aside with poor resolutions. Instead we are given a showy but shallow fight in the sky that carries no weight or emotional connection outside of fanboy nostalgia for seeing a villain that has never been on the big screen before. The whole last act is unsatisfying.

If you can completely turn off your brain, there is some enjoyment to be found. However, while this sequel is much better in many regards than it’s predecessor, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” just goes…

2.5-3 Rating - In and Out

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X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, a being of vast power called En Sabah Nur is betrayed in a moment of weakness by his followers and lies buried, sleeping, underneath the sands and rock.

Fast-forward to the early 80s where we find the familiar faces of the previous x-men films. Mystique quietly helps mutants who are persecuted around the globe. Xavier continues to expand his school, bringing up and guiding a generation of young mutants. Magneto is doing his best to live a quiet life with a wife and daughter in Poland. The world may not be a settled place, but things are looking up for mutants after the events of Washington D.C., where Mystique saved the president from Magneto.

Things don’t stay quiet for long, however, as Moira McTaggert stumbles across Nur, sonn to be known as Apocalypse. Unbeknownst to her, she accidentally wakes him.

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Apocalypse rises to find a new strange world in which the weak have dominated the strong. Humans rule over the mutants. Apocalypse believes he must save his “children” and so begins a campaign of recruitment and control aimed at domination of the human race, which brings him into conflict with Xavier and his students. Which side will Magneto choose? Will the X-Men overcome their greatest challenge yet?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

X-Men fans, especially those who have watched the previous entries, are the primary audience for this film. The plot and characters are drenched in backstory and inter-connectivity that makes no sense at all to anyone who hasn’t been invested up to this point. I imagine that to the uninitiated it will only come across as so much noise. This film will find the most love in the hearts of fans who have been watching since the first X-Men film back in 2000.

Cutting the familiarity factor out of the equation, the film will appeal to people who like superhero themes and world-spanning spectacle. That said, the film doesn’t have a lot of kinetic action until near the very end. Instead we have powerful beings choosing to use their powers and influence in dramatic ways. It’s about characters and philosophies and how far they are willing to go to defend or enforce them, rather than pure “pow!” bam!” antics. The film certainly has explosions, punches, and eye-beams, but that’s not the focus of this movie.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I don’t know if it was the negative reviews I have read, the trailers that have underwhelmed me, or the unflattering set photos, but I was not expecting to really like this movie. Perhaps because of those lowered expectations, I came out of X-Men: Apocalypse having thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in the theater.

The characters are the same as they have been in the last several films, and generally as well portrayed, though I think Jennifer Lawrence was a bit lacking as Mystique. The plot is interesting and the writers made some cool choices, even though there are some weird holes and leaps of logic in places. The villain is intimidating and interesting. Magneto’s story line is especially well done and acted. Everything comes together to make a thoroughly solid film that entertains consistently for the whole run time.

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It’s certainly not perfect, however. Along with the aforementioned plot holes, and the unfortunate emphasis on Mystique’s story line and role, there were other flaws that brought the film down a few pegs. While the villain is interesting and dangerous to the heroes, the viewer rarely feels the reality of the threat he poses. The film falls into familiar tropes of crumbling landmarks and cityscapes without making any of it feel like it has weight. Apocalypse seems to have the ability to just kill people with a thought, but never uses it on the heroes. There are weird tone shifts and the new characters feel like they were mostly sidelined.   

Despite it’s shortcomings, I was generally able to overlook these problems and just enjoy my time back in the X-Men universe, with characters I loved being well-acted, and seeing a classic villain from the comics portrayed well for the first time in live action. It has its flaws, certainly, but I’ll be picking up “X-Men: Apocalypse” as soon as it hits…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

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10 Cloverfield Lane – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

TRAILER HERE

In this “sequel”-not-a-sequel of the 2008 monster film “Cloverfield,” Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is a woman running from her upcoming marriage. This apparently happens after an argument with her fiance that has given her second thoughts. Driving alone on cross-country roads, she is sideswiped in a car accident. When she wakes up, she finds herself trapped in a bunker along with a man named Emmet DeWitt. They are kept there by the armed and physically imposing Howard Stambler, who insists that the outside world is no longer safe. What follows is a tension-filled dramatic mystery as Michelle tries to find out if Howard is telling the truth, and if not, how she and Emmet can escape.

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

I would not call this film a pure “horror” film. Instead it is prima a grim drama with some horror elements mixed in. It’s about how much trust, or rather how little, they have in each other and their intentions. The tension is thick and cerebral, coming mostly from the interactions of the cast and the threat of violence, rather than actual violence, though there is some of that, too. Normally, sequels are aimed at the audience of the previous film, but that strategy doesn’t really apply here. While “10 Cloverfield Lane” shares some thematic elements with its predecessor, there are few direct ties. Still, people who enjoy claustrophobic and nail-biting dramas will find a lot to like here while people only expecting another giant monster-filled story may leave disappointed.  

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is great at what it does, which is create tension between its main characters. There were several twists to the plot that I wasn’t expecting which served to pull me along on a rollercoaster of suspense. I was on the edge of my seat from the moment Michelle woke up in the bunker until the end. The script is well written, and the actors all play their parts well, with a particularly imposing performance by John Goodman.

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The ending, while enjoyable, changes the tone a bit, and in some ways it also changes the genre of the film. I think the ending might disenchant some viewers, but it worked for me.

There’s no question in my mind. “10 Cloverfield Lane” is worth bringing home as soon as it comes out on Blu-ray.

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Following the events of “Man of Steel,” the United States government sets out to determine to what degree Superman should be held accountable for the destruction and loss of life in Metropolis during the invasion of General Zod. Lex Luthor Jr. doesn’t need an investigation, however, as he already made up his mind and firmly believes that Superman is a menace. Batman similarly believes Superman is a threat and begins planning for how to deal with him. The tension between Superman and Batman, as amplified through the machinations of Luthor, leads to direct conflict between the two legendary heroes. Who will come out on top – the Man of Steel or the Dark Knight?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

You would think saying that this is a comic book action film would make it fairly clear who this film is aimed at, but that doesn’t really work this time around. I’m torn over deciding who this movie is for.

Comic Book fanboys will probably not be pleased with some of the character modifications in this film. They will say it betrays the characters in the exact same manner they said “Man of Steel” betrayed them. Casual comic film fans, meanwhile, might find the very grim and dark tone to be off-putting, especially if they bring their children. Regular film-goers might find the lack of background for some characters confusing, and there are plot issues and obscure comic-book references that would further cloud their experience.

I think this film is for people who can accept that this is Zack Snyder’s unique vision, which includes some variation on classic characters and a gritty tone, who want action and spectacle, but have no burning desire for humor or deep characterization in a comic book film. I think these people will be relatively few. Almost everyone else will find something to dislike, and, if I know the internet, there will be some who actively hate it.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I liked this movie. I think this will be a controversial statement. Those that hated it will think I’m stupid for not seeing how bad it is. For a lot of people in the middle, they will just be slightly disappointed, but not offended. They will forget it shortly afterward. For the few people who truly loved this movie, they will think I’m way too picky. In the end, though, for me, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is good.

The film has excellent actors doing a great job with the parts they are given. I completely buy into these actors as these characters. Henry Cavill is a great Superman. Gal Gadot is a convincing Wonder Woman. Ben Affleck, whom everyone was worried about beforehand, is a scene-stealer as Batman. While I don’t agree with Snyder’s choice for Luthor’s characterization (I can’t stand it, actually), Jesse Eisenberg still does justice to that choice.

There are cool action scenes that are impacting and enthralling to watch, even when some turn into a CGI fest. The motivations, while thin, make sense. The music works well. The costumes are cool. Batman has just the best toys, you guys. There is plenty to like.

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There is plenty to dislike as well. While the main characters are good, they are thinly portrayed. What they are given is a script that is overstuffed, slim on character building, and poorly stitched together. In fact, some plot elements are poorly explained to the point that they feel like plot holes, even if they aren’t. Some of the side characters are pathetically written. There is a lot of wasted potential.

Still, in the end, I feel that “Batman v Superman” had enough good to outweigh the bad. It was flawed, and it didn’t live up to what it could have been, but there was still plenty to enjoy. In fact, when it comes out on blu-ray, I think…

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

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