Tag Archives: Zoe Saldana

“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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“THE BOOK OF LIFE” Review (✫✫✫)

book of life

Ay caramba, tu joven amantes.

As children, we were told many fairy tales that filled our young minds with wonder and imagination. We looked at the pictures in our tiny children’s books as our parents narrated the words to us, but did we ever stop to think about where these fairy tales came from? The Three Little Pigs came from England. The Little Red Riding Hood, London. The Fountain of Youth, Japan. The Little Mermaid, Denmark. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Germany. So many stories have come from so many places all around the world that by the time they reach us, we have “cleansed” it of it’s culture and Americanized it for our own comfort.

Here, we have Jorge Gutierrez’s own fairy tale called The Book Of Life, and for the sake of the movie I’m glad it didn’t succumb to mainstream appeal by having it take place in Colonial America. The Book Of Life is splendid, a wonderful, uplifting, joyous, and immensely entertaining animation engulfed and inspired by the culture Gutierrez came from. Think about how quickly you are swept away when you read the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, and you can imagine how this film sweeps you up in that exact same way.

Told as a story within a story similar to Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, The Book Of Life follows a group of schoolchildren through a museum as they are told the tale of Manolo (Diego Luna), a Mexican bull fighter who is fighting for the heart of his childhood friend Maria (Zoe Saldana). His closest friend and rival, Joaquin (Channing Tatum) is also fighting for her love, and when they finally see each other after many years apart, they begin their pursuit for Maria’s love.

Unbeknownst to any of them, however, a heavy secret hides behind their innocent intentions. The spirits of the afterlife La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), who rules the world of the remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), the one who rules the world of the forgotten, have placed a bet on these three friends. If Manolo ends up marrying Maria, La Muerte wins and gets to rule both the land of the remembered and the forgotten. If Joaquin marries Maria, Xibalba wins and he gets to rule the land of the remembered. The world of the undead is at stake here, and it’s up to Manolo, Maria, and Joaquin to set things right.

What do I say about an animated children’s film that’s based around Mexican fables and customs? The Book Of Life is a wonderful animation: bright, vibrant, colorful, and lively all at once. Writer/director/animator Jorge Gutierrez has a careful eye for detail, and does well in visually adapting to different scenes, settings, and moods.

In one scene, after one of the supporting characters die, the setting suddenly becomes dark. The sun drops. The candles burn out. A cloudy fog envelops in the sky as rain drops pellet onto the ground. In the very next scene, however, we see the world of the remembered from this deceased person’s perspective, and it is lively colors light up with shiny, gold-brick pathways illuminating everywhere and with Churros and balloons floating as far as the eye can see.

This is what I mean when I say the animation is versatile: it’s attentive, eye-catching, and delightful, demanding your attention the minute you lay your eyes on it. But it’s not just the animation that works so well with this movie. The Book of Life is entrenched and inspired in its own culture, living and breathing the Mexican customs though every frame of its run time.  There is one work that Gutierrez did this with before The Book Of Life, and that is the Annie award-winning Nickelodeon cartoon series “El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera.” Now we have The Book of Life, and I feel it will spur on many Mexican children and families to pick up their heritage and be proud to represent it. In a day and age where Hollywood feels they need to Americanize everything, The Book of Life is a Godsend.

Everything else in this film functions exactly as it is supposed to. The story is mostly formula in that there has to be a good guy, a bad guy, a forbidden love, a big fight scene at the end, and a happy ending. The voice cast is solid, and Channing Tatum didn’t annoy the living daylights out of me for a change. And the music by Gustavo Santaolallo is pristine and authentic, with the plucking of the Mexican guitar strings filling your ears with wonderfully harmonic sound.

But make no mistake. The best thing about this film is the inspiration Gutierrez instills in it, the inspiration that his parents most likely instilled in him when he was still just a little boy. I hope there will be a children’s novelization of this film in the future and that it too will inspire children of all ages, regardless of their heritage.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” Review (✫✫✫)

 

A  lovable group of space idiots.

Now here’s a movie I wasn’t expecting to be any good. No matter how you phrased it to me, I went into James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy completely expecting to hate it. None of the heroes were as popular or as interesting as the other characters Marvel had to sport in its universe, it’s a sci-fi buccaneering adventure about an evil race intent on destroying/ruling the galaxy (I wonder where we’ve seen that before), and on top of all that, and it has a talking raccoon and a tree as two of it’s main characters. Believe me, I went into this movie fully expecting to dislike it on all counts. Turns out I was wrong on all of them.

Based on the Marvel comics superhero team of the same name, Guardians of the Galaxy follows a whole slew of space misfits as their futures suddenly become entangled because of one blasted macguffin: the infinity stone, an object we’ve been introduced to in earlier movies in the form of the tesseract and the aether in The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a Han Solo-ish kind of scavenger who steals items of value and sells them to buyers. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a trained assassin and adoptive daughter of a cruel omnipotent being called Thanos (Josh Brolin). Drax (Dave Bautista) is a brutish warrior who seeks vengeance against Thanos after the death of his family. And then Rocket and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively) are a bounty-hunting duo who travel together. Remember me mentioning the talking raccoon and tree? This is them, although Groot’s speech is merely limited to “I am Groot.”

Sounds like a lot of characters to deal with, I know, but don’t worry: the movie does a better job at explaining them than I did. Their fates become intertwined  with that of Ronan (Lee Pace), a vicious hunter who will stop at nothing until he has taken the infinity stone for himself and uses it to destroy his enemies. It’s up to Quill, Rocket, and the rest of the troupe to rise up and defend the galaxy from Ronan and the threat he holds with the infinity stone.

Written and directed by James Gunn, the wacko that directed the 2010 satire film Super, Guardians of the Galaxy is a wacky, oddballish film, a movie that doubles both as a sci-fi blockbuster actioneer and as a space comedy parodying… well, itself really. The biggest concern I had with this movie was how it was going to handle itself, because it really had everything working against it. Think about it: talking animals and trees, a copy-and-paste space plot, and a director whose work before this was a line of small-budget independent films. How on earth was any of this going to work?

Better than I expected, apparently. The best thing about Guardians of the Galaxy is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s so irreverent, so shameless and so unabashed that it might as well be a clown throwing pies at its own face. There were many moments in the film where it called itself out on the flaws that I was prepared to criticize it for (such as it’s hammy one-liners or it’s talking animals), then it turned around making fun of itself because of it (Drax boasting about his reflexes when figures of speech go over his head, or Rocket asking Quill what a raccoon is.)

It just loves to make fun of itself, so much so that I want to call this a comedy more than science-fiction.

To make the comedy work though, you need a cast of equal caliber to make it work. And I’ll be completely honest here: the cast was exceptional. Even the cast members who I don’t like, consisting of Bautista and Diesel, gave performances that surprised me, effectively portraying their characters in a uniquely charismatic light that made them stand out from the obvious sci-fi fanfare. (One argument someone might pose to me is that Diesel’s job was easier because he only had to say three words over and over again. Believe me, his character wasn’t that simple.)

The element that stands out the most in the film is ironically the one I was most worried about: Rocket. Oh my gosh, was this guy a big ball of laughter. Cooper was excellent in voice performance, shooting out snazzy, snarky, sarcastic one-liners like he’s a New York taxi driver.

But it’s not just his voice performance that I love so much about the character. It’s how he’s animated and modeled too, with animators giving him life through his detailed, intricate emotions and movements as a CGI character. Rocket is much more than just another Guardian. He is, in many ways, the life of the film: a living, breathing embodiment of emotion, sentiment, sarcasm, hilarity and attitude. Every attitude that the film is, at least.

There’s no way to get out of the film’s silliness, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from enjoying it. Believe me, I tried. I went in fully equipped and prepared to blast this movie with a negative review, and I came out instead feeling like a kid after he finished watching his favorite Saturday morning cartoon.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,