Thursday, July 21, 2016

Movie Review: "Star Trek Beyond"

Many would argue that "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" is the high point of the "Star Trek" film franchise and certainly there is a case to be made for it. It is in fact the lofty heights reached by "Wrath of Khan" that caused the second film in the reinvigorated franchise, "Star Trek Into Darkness" to be less successful than its immediate predecessor, the 2009 reboot. J.J. Abrams' second "Trek" film was never able to escape the long shadow of "Khan" and matters weren't helped by choosing to steer into the skid.

Justin Lin's first effort in the franchise, the third in the new iteration, "Star Trek Beyond," definitely has some homages to the third in the original franchise, "The Search for Spock," but the less iconic nature of that film, as well as Lin offering little more than nods to it, helps the "Fast & Furious" director here. With a script written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung, "Beyond" silences the naysayers, sets the franchise right, and gets the audience stoked to head to the final frontier over and over and over again (which is great because another film has already been announced). It isn't perfect, but "Star Trek Beyond" is funny, action-packed, and should please many filmgoers, be they franchise fans or not.

This time out, the story finds the crew of the starship Enterprise on a mission into a nebula to help rescue the members of another ship that has been lost there. Unsurprisingly, it's a trap, and Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), and the rest of the crew find themselves jailed on a planet by the evil Krall (Idris Elba). Fortunately, Scotty (Pegg) makes friends with a former captive of Krall's, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), and they start working to save the day.

One of the best things "Beyond" does is to separate the crew from one another. Kirk ends up with Chekov (Anton Yelchin); Bones and Spock are together; while Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are with many of the captured crew. Bones and Spock are a classic pairing, that combined with Urban and Quinto being stupendous in the parts offers more than just fan service to those in attendance – it leads to some great, heartfelt moments. The two actors manage just the right pitch and will have the audience laughing one minute and stoic the next. Scotty and Jaylah are an intriguing pairing as they both are mechanically inclined. Together, they make something of a dynamic duo; one imagines that they could get a toaster to fly at warp speed given enough time and the right sort of enticement. Kirk and Chekov are enjoyable as well, but it is impossible to watch their scenes so close to the loss of Yelchin without inserting real world events into them.

The biggest disappointment with "Beyond" is Krall. For too long the film offers little of his background. He may be the big bad, but his motivations are hidden and the character is given little depth. When Krall is explored, it's not until quite late in the film and while it becomes clear exactly why Lin and company hide their cards as long as they do, the result is not a surprise nor a shock as much as it's just another in a long list of weak villains for the franchise.

Additionally, the climactic fight sequence, as with "Into Darkness," is somewhat drawn out, with a "more is more" approach. What makes it more upsetting is that while a lot of lip service is given to how members of Starfleet are not soldiers, Kirk and company spend a lot of their fighting, particularly at the film's close. The earlier sequence with (SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THE TRAILERS) destruction of the Enterprise is far better than the climactic battle, as is another fight in the middle of the film.

In fact though, the bit that works least well is Kirk still brooding over his father and how he never new the man. Whether that portion is here because when it was written the franchise was well aware that they would be bringing back Chris Hemsworth as George Kirk for the next film isn't something on which I can speculate, but hopefully that film will close the book on James T. Kirk's brooding over the loss once and for all.

For all its faults, "Star Trek Beyond" is more than good enough to silence the naysayers, be it the group who was disappointed by "Into Darkness," those who think Pegg shouldn't have written the film, or those who think that Lin ought not have directed it. When we are further removed from its release and the dust has settled, "Beyond" is almost certain to find itself listed among the better of the films in the "Star Trek" franchise.

photo credit: Paramount Pictures

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"Lass is More" Reminisces About "Return of the Living Dead" and USA's "Up All Night"

It is in our very nature for us to want things from bygone days. It would take a wiser mind than mine to know precisely where that sort of desire comes from, but I am smart enough to recognize it.

Today's example is my wishing for the return of USA's "Up All Night," which were a bunch of interstitial bits that they tossed between three movies the network would show on Friday and Saturday nights. Were it back on the air, I undoubtedly wouldn't watch "Up All Night" on anything resembling a regular basis. But, I miss it nonetheless. "Up All Night" introduced me to great (and terrible) B-movies, movies that I would have never otherwise seen, movies which spurred me on to watch still more things.

I don't know that we live in an era when that sort of interstitial is possible anymore, but I do think it would be great to have someone, somewhere show moves uncut and interrupted only for ludicrous jokes or other weird things. Wouldn't it?

photo credit: Scream Factory

Monday, July 18, 2016

Movie Review: "Ghostbusters" (2016) and a Tangled Web of Thoughts

I take my daughter to a decent number of movies. Some are press screenings and some are regular showings, but we see a lot of movies together. She actually has a running list of what she wants to see for the next three (or more) years. The movie she has been most excited for this summer—maybe this year—is "Ghostbusters."

I don't know if her enthusiasm has been due to the fact that the new movie offers four female leads or if it's just the sort of special effects-driven action-horror-comedy thing that's up her alley. Whatever the case, she's wanted to see it. Due to conflicts in her schedule, she wasn't able to attend the press screening (and out of solidarity, I didn't go either), but we saw it opening weekend and she loved it.

As with just about everyone who has been following the film's production, I have a more complicated set of feelings surrounding the movie. I want all movies to be good (why would I ever want to sit through a bad film?), but I really wanted "Ghostbusters" to knock it out of the park. "Ghostbusters" I wanted to be good so my daughter could have the same joy watching it in the theater that I had watching the original. I wanted it to be good so that she wouldn't find herself in a world full of people saying, "See, making this movie with women was a dumb idea. Why did anyone ever think women could lead this film?"

I don't believe that all the hate surrounding the new movie is about the women leads. I think that no small part of it is a general dissatisfaction in some corners that Hollywood would dare touch something sacred from their childhood. That is a less offensive sentiment, but still silly. Hollywood is going to remake a movie if they think there's a benefit to dong so. There are remakes of "The Magnificent Seven" and "Ben-Hur" coming out later this year and while many view the 1960 "Magnificent Seven" and 1959 "Ben-Hur" as legendary films which shouldn't be touched, both those stories had already been told on film.

That background seems necessary before I continue. Below is a brief review of the film, but it's a review that requires the preface.

The new "Ghostbusters," in the end, isn't perfect, but it really is a whole lot of fun. Kate McKinnon absolutely steals the movie as Jillian Holtzmann. Every time she's on screen, she's doing or saying something ludicrous and it's great. The problem with it is that while she's funny, she's also playing it differently than every other member of the cast. Leslie Jones' Patty Tolan nearly gets to the comedic pitch of Holtzmann, but Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy as Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, respectively, are much more sedate. I don't mean "not good" by that, just much more sedate. Chris Hemsworth, who plays receptionist Kevin, is utterly hysterical, but still not quite Holtzmann hysterical.

Frankly, the cast is great. There are cameos and bit parts and everyone is good, but the four women are definitely in charge. I would love to see another "Ghostbusters" with them wearing the suits.

I would also hope that it offers a better story. Neil Casey isn't given very much to do as bad guy, Rowan. He has some plans that he's thought out but which never seem all that intricate or involved. We may learn what he wants to do, but there's less on what that will accomplish. The whole thing involves ley lines, but they're brought in almost after the fact, not gone into in depth, and quickly dismissed.

Put another way, this "Ghostbusters" feels like an origin story; the first tale in larger saga. It spends a lot of time with the forming of the group and them learning how to fight ghosts rather than building up the end game.

Certainly, "Ghostbusters" goes effects heavy in the climactic battle and I could have done with about a minute less at the end of it, but it was still fun. I really think that's the biggest takeaway from Paul Feig's film – it's fun. It may not go down as being as iconic a film the 1984 one, but from start to finish it's a good time.

I will leave you with this thought – "Ghostbusters" made me cry. At the end of the movie, when the team is celebrating their win, I cried. My daughter was overjoyed with it, perhaps more so than she was with "Captain America: Civil War." I don't know if it struck her that in the lead-up to the film so many people spewed such venom towards something that they hadn't seen, that a percentage of those people thought that the film shouldn't be made due to the female cast, or if she has really experienced that sort of hate (I hope not).

What I do know is that as these Ghostbusters stood there being celebrated by the city of New York, she saw these four people as heroes. They were women and they were heroes and there was absolutely no sense that being one could possibly diminish their ability to be the other.

photo credit: Sony Pictures

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"Lass is More" on Everybody Wants Some!!," "Elvis & Nixon," and Music

Who doesn't like to listen to some good music?  We all do, and Richard Linklater's "Everybody Wants Some!!" is full of it.  Well, maybe full of it in more ways than one.  "Elvis & Nixon," on the other hand, perhaps never quite pokes through its shell to give us a good look at the men in the film's title.

Are these good movies?  Are they intriguing?  Do they maybe offer something slightly outside the norm?

"Everybody Wants Some!!" arrives on Blu-ray this week and "Elvis & Nixon" lands next week.  Click below for our thoughts on both films.

photo credit: Paramount Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Friday, July 01, 2016

"The Purge: Election Year" - I Vote Yes

Yesterday, I wrote about a movie that's really not good which you should probably avoid this weekend.

Today, I'm linking to an entire different movie that opens this weekend and is good.  Of course, it is less of a movie for all people than "Legend of Tarzan."  Yup, "The Purge: Election Year" is opening and I say it's good.  Not great, but good.

photo credit: Universal Studios

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Movie Review: "The Legend of Tarzan"

"Me, Tarzan. You, Jane." It may not be the snappiest bit of dialogue ever, but it's iconic. It is in fact so iconic that even though David Yates' new movie, "The Legend of Tarzan," features a Tarzan who has been in England for years, who speaks perfect English, it can't resist offering up a spin on the dialogue where people point out to John Clayton III aka Tarzan ( Alexander Skarsgard) that he's Tarzan and she (Margot Robbie) is Jane and he will always come for her.

In fact, these moments are some of the most interesting things the movie has to offer, but also manage to prove a disappointment. We start off with Tarzan as a legend. There have been books written about his African adventures. Children visit Greystoke in order to hear tales of him and to find out if the rumors they have heard are true. Naturally, some of the stories they have been told—that his mother was an ape—are false, but it is all there to show us just how mythic a figure he is already when the film opens.

There is a way to spin this somehow, to show the truth behind the legends, to deconstruct the character, to get at what makes him tick, but the movie opts to do none of these things. We are told he is a legend to make it clear that all the amazing stuff that he does with utter ease later is, for Tarzan, possible.

His status is what brings him back to Africa, leading a diplomatic mission to the Congo to meet representatives of the King of Belgium. His return is seen as a big win for the British government, a PR coup. Little do any of them know that it's all a trap being masterminded by the Belgian envoy, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz). Rom wants to turn Tarzan over to a local chief, Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who has a grudge against Tarzan and who will turn over diamonds to Rom in exchange for the legendary hero. Rom needs the diamonds so that he can pay for troops so that he can enslave all the locals and thereby—presumably—get more diamonds.

Convoluted? Yes, more than a little. But it all falls by the wayside quite quickly. In "Legend of Tarzan" there are no problems that Tarzan can't fix with just a little bit of time and effort. And so, when Jane is kidnapped there is absolutely no fear that our hero won't rescue the damsel in distress before the credits roll.

This is the film's great shortcoming – there is never a moment when the audience believes that Tarzan might not succeed in total and complete fashion. He is never unsure of himself, never unsure of how to proceed; never without a full and complete plan. Threats, be they Rom, Mbonga, animals, or thousands of soldiers, are all momentary obstacles and easily dismissed. After all, what are soldiers when you have nearly all the animals in the jungle instantly at your beck and call.

Not quite as bad as the simplistic plot—but in no way good—are the computer graphics. Tarzan may command the animals (except for those with whom he is momentarily in a spat), but none of them look real. They all look like computer creations and their interactions with Tarzan or his friend, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), or anyone else are never quite right. The same is true of Tarzan's vine-swinging – the quick cuts, constantly moving camera, and computer assists make it look like mediocre Hollywood magic and it is jarring enough so as to pull one out of the already lacking tale.

It isn't only our hero who isn't used to his fullest either. Waltz is playing a generic European baddie with no motivation other than some vague sense of power. Robbie is given little to do other than the basic damsel in distress stuff. Jackson offers little in the way of help or advice to our hero, he's just another person Tarzan has to get through the adventure. And it goes on like that all the way down the cast list.

Perhaps this is all the point. What we are getting with "Legend of Tarzan" is not some sort of nitty-gritty very involved truth, but the smoothed out history, the story that comes 100+ years later. We are getting the legend—the myth—not the reality.

That is an interesting notion and if the movie explored the concept it could be fascinating, but it doesn't. The smoothed-over movie we do get is uninteresting both in the story and presentation.

photo credit: Jonathan Olley/Warner Bros.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Lass is More" Ruminates on "Precious Cargo" and the Art of the Bad Movie

Is there an art to making a bad movie; a movie that is "so bad it's good?"  At what point does silly dialogue, a ludicrous plot, and comical line readings turn a film from being a disaster into something... special?

I don't know that there's a solid answer to that question, but it's something worth exploring and this week's case in point is the new to Blu-ray "Precious Cargo," starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Bruce Willis.  It is a highly watchable film despite--or perhaps because of--all of it's issues.

Where does it go wrong and why does it going wrong seem so right?  Listen and find out...

photo credit: Lionsgate Premiere

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Lass is More" Examines "Hello, My Name is Doris" and "10 Cloverfield Lane"

On the surface it may appear like the intense thrilled "10 Cloverfield Lane" and the comedy "Hello, My Name is Doris" have little in common.  I believe nothing is further from the truth.  Here are two films which very much trade on the questions of what is reality and what is fantasy.  They are both concerned with how one becomes the other and whether this transition is good or bad.

It is, in fact rather amazing just how concerned both movies are with the exact same sort of questions even if they go about exploring them in different fashion or via a different story.  But, as always, rather than my writing about it here, why not just click play and have me speak my thoughts directly into your ears.  I promise, my words are more clear than the Once-ler's.

photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Paramount Pictures

Monday, June 20, 2016

"Game of Thrones" Offers up a Seriously Disappointing Battle

It has been a while since I've ranted here about the problems on a television show, but here goes a short little thing where I do just that – last night's "Game of Thrones" was insanely disappointing. Listen, the Mereen stuff was fine, but the Battle of the Bastards was really not very good.


Glad you asked, I'll tell you… but there are definite spoilers coming. You're not going to get a second warning about this is, they start in the next paragraph and just keep going.

Sansa tells Jon (and therefore us) before the battle ever starts that Ramsay is going to try to throw off Jon's game by doing something like killing Rickon. So, right up front during the battle, Ramsay throws off Jon's game by… killing Rickon. And, because apparently he's learned nothing from all his time at the Wall, Jon bites on this stupidity despite having been told the night before that this is exactly what was going to occur.

Beyond it not being a surprise that it's going to occur, it doesn't work terribly well for us in the audience because Rickon hasn't been a character in the show since… well, maybe he was in season one? Maybe not even then? For us it has no emotional impact which makes it more difficult for us to accept Jon's biting. We have the appropriate distance to recognize Jon's foolishness for what it is.

Then there's the battle itself. "Game of Thrones" already killed Jon Snow once, so they weren't going to do it again last night – that quiver is empty. No excitement could be garnered from the question of whether or not Jon would live through the battle, he had to live because he was just brought back to life. Killing him over and over wouldn't work dramatically.

Looking at the basic numbers of the battle, the Stark army is far smaller than Ramsay's band. That means that we all know going in that it is going to take something special for the Starks to win. But, things go exactly as one would expect. There are no surprises, things go badly for the Stark army and then get worse for them. They are being beaten just as we knew they would be.

Where is the drama there?

Right, there isn't any and the lack of drama means that the producers are going to try to impress us with something big that we don't know about. But, by the only possible solution to this dilemma being a surprise, there is no surprise.

I kept figuring it was going to be Gandalf who would rescue the Starks. Come on, what did he say about the morning of the fifth day? What is the bit in "Lord of the Rings" about help unlooked for? It was like "Game of Thrones" was just wholly borrowing from Tolkien last night.

Watching the battle the question is not how Jon is going to win, but rather who is going to show up to help him. It had to be someone we've seen this season but not in the past few episodes. So… Dorne or the Vale. No surprise then there either.

There was only one way this fight was ever going to end and there was not a single surprise along the way… how is that exciting? How is that gratifying?

I can't even root for Sansa when she ends Ramsay's life at the end of the episode. The Starks ought to be idealistic, they ought to be doing the right thing and fighting the good fight and concerned with loftier things. Sansa gives in to her baser instincts at the end of the episode and we are meant to be excited that she does. I am not. I can't be.

I'm sorry, I've loved this season as a whole, but not this episode.

photo credit: HBO

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"Lass is More" on Animation, "Zootopia," and "Anomalisa."

I know that I've talked before about animation and how the best animation is work that is for both kids and adults, that gets everyone in the audience excited.  Well, I'm back at it today, but this time with two very different films -- "Zootopia" and "Anomalisa."

"Zootopia" is clever in a way that I don't think many animated movies are.  The more I watch it, the less I love the story, but I'm ever more entranced by the world and the way it's constructed.  The amount of time that had to go into working out just how such a place could possibly function is something I food outstanding.  And, "Anomalisa," well... there's an example of animation that is out definitely not for children -- it is an R-rated bit of brilliance that I find stupendously interesting.

But, rather than my writing about all of it, why don't you take a listen to the podcast and hear me wax pseudo-eloquent.

photo credit: Paramount/Walt Disney Studios Animation