Tag Archives: Star Trek

“STAR TREK BEYOND” Review (✫✫1/2)

A little short of beyond, actually. 

A wash of sadness came over me as I sat down to watch Star Trek Beyond. This was the last time I was going to see Anton Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy on the big screen, who both tragically passed away earlier this year due to unfortunate circumstance. With both becoming Star Trek staples of their own generations, I knew Star Trek would never be the same with the both of them gone. My sadness grew as I kept watching Star Trek Beyond and realized their final appearances were wasted on a mediocre movie. Surely they deserved a better final outing than this.

The third film in the newly rebooted Star Trek universe, Beyond follows the U.S.S. Enterprise as it traverses on its five-year voyage through space. The crew, while going through amazing and exhilarating adventures, grow restless of their time in space. Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) isn’t sure if he wants to be a captain anymore. Spock (Zachary Quinto) isn’t sure if he still wants to be in Starfleet. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) doesn’t know if she wants to keep seeing Spock. Bones (Karl Urban) is still a sarcastic sourpuss.

One day, while investigating a distress call, the Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of vicious new aliens. Crash-landing on a strange planet, the Enterprise crew needs to navigate their way back to each other to team up against this mysterious new threat.

The first of the Star Trek reboots not to be directed by J.J. Abrams, Star Trek Beyond is instead steered by Justin Lin, who is most known for the more recent Fast & Furious movies. Watching this movie, and more specifically the action sequences, you kind of get the sense that Lin is pulling inspiration from those movies and shooting it into the veins of Star Trek’s science-fiction. The result is one that strangely works, a Star Trek movie that is an entertaining and unconventional spin on the action genre. In one of my favorite scenes from the movie, Kirk is fighting the villain in a field where gravity is pulling from three different directions. Seeing them fighting, flying, flipping around, with only a few glass frames to support their footing was one of the more exciting sequences not just from this film, but from the previous two as well.

All the same, some sequences were just too silly to fully accept and be entertained by. In one instance, Kirk is driving towards an enemy base using a motorcycle he lifted from a carrier. I’m not bothered by the fact that he’s using a motorcycle. I’m bothered that when he’s using it, dust isn’t coming out from behind the motorcycle, or that it isn’t even shaking from the rocky terrain he’s driving on. The CGI looks so ridiculous in this scene that it feels like he’s riding on a hovercraft than on a rugged vehicle.

In another scene, the Enterprise crew kills an entire armada of aliens by… playing the Beastie Boys? I’m not making this up. They literally pushed play on a stereo and blew up thousands of aliens. If that just sounds ridiculous, imagine what it looks like seeing it on screen.

The cast is fine in their roles and the movie retains its sense of visual style from the previous two movies. The problems come in with this movie’s scripting, which compared to Abrams’ earlier entries, is just a half-hearted effort at making a relevant Star Trek movie. I’m not a simpleton. I wasn’t expecting this to outdo the impact of the first Star Trek, and it didn’t. That one is in a class of its own, standing out both as a reboot and as its own exciting story.

What I do expect a movie to have is intelligence, or maybe more importantly, integrity. For years, Star Trek has pushed science-fiction writing to the limits in what it could achieve narratively. It asked questions, probed situations, presented problems, and provided answers for our Enterprise crew and their many quests across the galaxy. To its fans, Star Trek is more than science-fiction. It is science-philosophy.

You will find no thought-provoking ideas in Star Trek Beyond, and that’s fine. These movies are not automatically required to be outstanding. Even so, can you at least pretend to have some excitement at directing a Star Trek movie? There is not a cell of this movie that you can’t find in its previous movies. Even the villain is so insipid that he made Jesse Eisenberg look more interesting in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. What excuse does this movie have to be so stock?

Heath Ledger got The Dark Knight. Paul Walker got Furious 7. Yelcin and Nimoy, unfortunately, have to settle with Star Trek Beyond, a recycled action movie that fails to even be consistent. If we didn’t deserve a better movie, then at the very least, they did.

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“STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” Review (✫✫✫✫)

J.J. Abrams: the spiritual successor to George Lucas.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a sheer blast of nostalgia, meaningful and joyous from it’s opening scroll credits to when John William’s score crescendos in the last shot. We’ve seen an updated Star Wars for a modern audience before, and that was in the lopsided and disappointing prequel trilogy. Now we have The Force Awakens, and it’s so good that it’s eligible to compete with the original.

It’s 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. A new sith named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has arisen and is bent on taking over the galaxy. His pursuits lead him towards a troup of misfits who have become acquainted almost by sheer chance. A scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) lived on the desolate planet of Jakku before she got entangled into this conflict. Finn (John Boyega) was a Stormtrooper who defected for reasons unbeknown to us. BB-8 is a spherical droid who wants to get away from Kylo Ren for reasons also unknown. What is known is that these three figures have something that Kylo Ren wants, and he won’t stop at nothing until he has fulfilled his destiny.

It’s hard to talk about this movie without giving away any spoilers. One thing I will say without giving too much away is that the story is exemplary, and is reminiscent of the adventure and intrigue that made Star Wars iconic in the first place. The screenplay, written by Toy Story 3 scribe Michael Ardnt and polished up by Star Trek director J.J. Abrams and The Empire Strikes Back writer Lawrence Kasdan, is an active synergy of the old and new, incorporating elements that we are familiar with while at the same time introducing original content all their own. This is not just a strong Star Wars story. It’s a strong story, period.

For me, that was my biggest concern going into the theater, and the biggest relief coming out of it. This was the first Star Wars movie where its key subjects would not be featured. Yes, we have references to the older films, but we don’t have Darth Vader. We don’t have Yoda. We don’t have Obi-Wan. We don’t have any of the key figures that linked the whole series together, minus R2 and C-3PO. How would the movie hold up on its own?

Very well, as it turns out, and the new cast members do a great job servicing their roles and making them memorable on their own. Driver is menacing and malicious as Kylo Ren, an egotistical and maniacal presence that reflects both the chilling imposition of Darth Vader and the deepening paranoia of Episode III’s Anakin Skywalker. Boyega is both humorous and likable as Finn, a reformed spirit who is just trying to find new meaning and purpose in his life. Out of the entire cast, however, I am most impressed with newcomer Daisy Ridley. This is the first time she has acted in a feature film, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell that based off of her performance. She is both heartbreaking and intriguing as Rey, equal parts fascinating, sympathetic, and compelling as this character whom is a complete mystery to us. Even by the end of the film, we still don’t understand everything about her, and that’s the point. We’re not supposed to understand her history; we’re supposed to understand her. Ridley did an amazing job at bringing this character to life, and out of anyone else from the cast, she made me most excited for her journey in the future installments.

Do I need to go into the film’s visual and sound effects? They were the groundbreaking features of the very first movies, and they’re stronger than ever in this motion picture. Part of that is because Abrams takes a note out of George Lucas’ old playbook, reverting to practical effects and detailed costuming to bring authenticity to this universe. He still uses CGI, but he doesn’t rely on it. He only uses it when he absolutely has to, when X-wings are firing at TIE Fighters or when lightsabers are clashing against each other. Everything else is created through elaborate art direction and set design, while the CGI is used to compliment the visuals rather than serve as them. The result is the most visually authentic out of any of the films yet.

I have one gripe, and one gripe alone, and that is that there are plot elements that eerily mimic the storyline of one of the original films. I won’t spoil it by saying which one. I will say that even in the face of that criticism, The Force Awakens still manages to make itself unique and special in a series that is already unique and special by itself. We said goodbye to this universe a long time ago. Rejoice as we are once again reunited with the galaxy from far, far away.

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“STAR TREK” (2009) Review (✫✫✫✫)

To go where no Trekkie has gone before.  

When I first heard about J.J. Abrams rebooting the Star Trek series with another movie outing, my immediate reaction was rolling my eyes.  “Not ANOTHER Star Trek movie!” I remember thinking.  Indeed, wasn’t that everybody’s reaction?  Star Trek lived and had its time, and it seemed like the only people who would enjoy this new release were the Trekkies that were faithful to the series since episode one.

Nothing, however, would have prepared me for how immersive and fantastic this new movie is.  It’s more than just another Star Trek movie: its a science-fiction epic.  It’s an energetic and revamped take on a series that severely needed a new direction.  The story is original, the characters are fresh, and the vision is as bold and fearless as it possibly can be. Its success doesn’t just rely on CGI and visual effects (although believe me, it doesn’t fail in either category).  It’s one of those rare treasures where the characters and their dialogue is more appealing than the action scenes we have to go through every twenty minutes.

The plot originated from an idea that was had way back in 1968.  Back when the series was first spawning its popularity, original creator Gene Rodenberry started early writing for a prequel to his own science-fiction series.  But just like superhero movies Watchmen and Sam Rami’s Spider-man, it was stuck in development hell until finally creative writing team Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were hired to write the script for the new mysterious Star Trek prequel.

This was a smart move.  They are the same writers behind movies as successful as Mission Impossible III, Transformers, and Eagle Eye, and their proficiency as writers shines here more than ever.  They compose a story as brilliant as it is exciting, a plot that is as action-packed, captivating, explosive, humorous, and in-cheek as possibly can be.  They do more than just adapt this universe: they pay tribute to it.  They pay homage to the classic series, pulling inspiration and ideas from all corners of the galaxy in the Star Trek universe.  We can tell this through tidbits of plot and dialogue that Orci and Kurtzman insert throughout the movie that reveal intimate details of the Star Trek universe we might not have known before, such as how Kirk came to become enrolled in Star Fleet, the origins of Spock, or how James McCoy got his famous nickname “Bones”.

This isn’t just another action film where the characters are just shoved aside for the action and explosions: Orci and Kurtzman are just as careful with developing character and dialogue as they are story.

Still though, if we have Orci and Kurtzman to thank for the vision, we have director J.J. Abrams to thank for the realization of it.  To date, this is only his second time in the director’s chair (his first being Mission Impossible III), but his skills as a filmmaker shine here of blockbuster-esque proportions.  Every minute of this film is fueled by both ambition and excitement, with every minute being tense, exciting, funny, exhilerating, and action-packed all at once.  Nothing is ever dull or boring or repetitious in this film: every second is filled with character appeal and visual spectacle that hasn’t been matched since George Lucas’ Star Wars series, or recently James Cameron’s Avatar.  I cannot recall a single moment in the film where I was bored or irritated.

If we’re talking about science-fiction epics, it flat out doesn’t get much better than this.  Star Trek is a great movie for many reasons, both obvious and not obvious.  The obvious reasons would involve its visual effects, make-up, and art direction.  The film is obviously visually ambitious, and like the U.S.S. Enterprise, transports you to many worlds of visual color, dazzle, fantasy, and wonder that is ever-present in the constantly-changing genre of sci-fi.  Another obvious reason would probably involve the performances: Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto do a great job at portraying the next-generation versions of James Kirk and Spock, and their chemistry with each other reflects their rivalrous spirit with both great tension and comedy.  Eric Bana also, deserves great props as the lead antagonist.  He portrays a villain so passionate and deadly that I pray the Wrath of Khan would never have to face him.

But those reasons makes the movie succeed: what makes the movie thrive are the unexpected reasons.  And those reasons are writers Orci and Kurtzman and director J.J. Abrams.  I’m not saying their careers don’t precede them: I’ve enjoyed Mission Impossible III and Eagle Eye, and I absolutely love the first Transformers movie (although the second one made me want to gouge my eyes out with a toothpick).

But the caliber of this work goes far beyond what was expected for them.  It’s typical to expect a good product from a good team: it’s rare to see exceptional work of this caliber from that exact same team.

Take this from a guy who isn’t a Trekkie.  I’ve seen a few episodes of “Star Trek” in the past, but I never became interested enough to follow the series as a direct fan.  Watching this movie makes me wonder what I might have been missing out on.

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“STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

A.k.a, the wrath of John Harrison. 

Star Trek Into Darkness is a sequel of excellent caliber, a science-fiction movie that not only lives up to the expectations set beforehand by its fans, but in many ways, surpasses them by making a much more efficient, fluent, exciting, and overall, more well-made film.  The movie is everything a science-fiction epic should be and more: it is exciting, suspenseful, entertaining, visually spectacular, and surprisingly emotional.  Were we expecting this?  I think we were not.  

Taking place a few years after the events of the first film, Star Trek Into Darkness finds the newly-appointed Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and his first-mate Spock (Zachary Quinto) as they have just started breaking into their roles as pioneers of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  As they continue to carry out their duties, however, a new threat has arisen to challenge them and the entire Starfleet: Captain John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a sniveling criminal who has betrayed Starfleet for unknown reasons.  As Kirk and Spock begin to investigate further into Harrison’s history, however, they uncover a dark secret that will haunt their lives forever.

This is everything a great sequel is supposed to be: exciting, suspenseful, engaging, emotive, and reminiscent of the original.  The key ingredient to this recipe is its writers and director: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who are responsible for the witty and intelligent dialogue from the first movie, and J.J. Abrams, who is nearly a master at making blockbuster movies.  Abrams, whose most recent film was the intelligent and highly entertaining sci-fi Super 8 shows once again why he is one of the best filmmakers in the business: he is great at manipulating emotion.

In one scene, for instance, he shows a light-hearted, funny, rivalrous exchange between its two leads, Pine and Quinto.  In another scene, he shows an explosive, exciting, and suspensful mid-space gunfight through all of the lense flares and visual effects.  In another, he shows a sad, tragic, emotionally stirring moment between two close characters, almost bringing its audience to tears in the process.  With Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams does what every great director should: he doesn’t let the visual effects run on autopilot.  He illustrates every emotional moment of this film with alluring precision, and it only makes us all the more excited knowing that he’s going to be in the directors chair for Star Wars: Episode VII.  

Regardless of Abram’s direction, however, this movie would not have survived without Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman’s intelligent, creative, and captivating screenplay.  This movie once again reminds me why they are among my favorite writers in the industry: they highlight character motivation and emotions and embed them into gripping, fascinating, and exciting science-fiction stories.  This is prevalent in all of their work: Mission Impossible III.  Transformers.  Eagle Eye.  Even the first Star Trek was focused largely on character than it was in explosions and special effects (although, as you can guess, it didn’t disappoint in either category).  With Orci and Kurtzman, they do here with any of their screenplays that makes their writing the highlight of the film: they make the characters appealing, funny, likable, and sympathetic.  Even the bad guys have a soft spot we can root for.

Which leads me to my final point: the performances.  Specifically Benedict Cumberbatch, who gives such a rousing performance as the film’s villain that he stands out in my mind similar to The Joker from The Dark Knight, or Loki from The Avengers.  Cumberbatch, who is most known for portraying the title role in BBC’s Sherlock, plays here a villain so contrasting, so ruthless and unforgiving in nature, that one could say he’s a more driven antagonist than Nero was in the first Star Trek.  His movements are stiff in STID, his gaze cold and calculative.  But when his intent is revealed, its a secret so shocking that it shakes the entire theater like the collapsing corridors of the Enterprise when it is shot and going down.

That, and this movie has endless amounts of explosions, gunfights, spacefights and CGI, which only makes the movie all the more better.  The only thing this movie lacks is the originality of the first film, and it somehow doesn’t evoke the same sense of fascination the first one did either.  That hardly matters, because Star Trek Into Darkness is still a wonderful science-fiction story while paying homage to the earlier Star Trek film, Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan, although I dare not say precisely how.  All you need to know right now is that Star Trek Into Darkness is engaging, intelligent, touching, shocking, energetic, and fun.

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