Film Review – Star Trek Beyond

Before I begin the review, can I just say I love this poster! As an homage to the poster for Star Trek: The Motion Picture it’s minimalist and at the same time captures the essence of Star Trek.

Star Trek Beyond is the 13th feature film in the series and the 3rd in the rebooted series which is now known as the Kelvin timeline. It’s directed by Justin Lin of the Fast and Furious franchise and he takes over for J.J. Abrams who helmed 2009’s Star Trek and 2013’s Into Darkness. Now for this entry, I wasn’t all that eager to see it. The first trailer was very action focused. Now I’m not someone who feels that action has ruined Star Trek. I love the action in these new films. However the trailer gave it a feel like one of Lin’s Fast and Furious movies of which I am not a major fan of. Fortunately later trailers presented a more Trek-like affair and my tune changed.

My favorite Star Trek film is the 2009 reboot because it presents the crew at the earliest stages and not where they are during the run of the original series. I loved watching Kirk and Spock’s development to their eventual partnership and friendship. Star Trek Beyond gives us some more development for these two. The Enterprise is about halfway through its 5-year mission and Kirk has developed a sort of malaise. He has become bored with the routine of commanding a starship. He’s also questioning who he is as a captain because he realizes he’s older than his father ever was. He knows his father joined Starfleet for a purpose and he joined on a dare. So who is James T. Kirk? Spock on the other hand is wondering if he is a better served to help the Vulcans to continue to rebuild or stay with the crew. This dilemma strains his relationship with Uhura.

One thing that is positive about this new film is that all members of the crew get ample screen time. Considering that they spend most of the film separated this makes that easier to pull off. Also getting some screen presence is the character of Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella. A character who really makes her presence known and I hope makes future appearances in the the series.

Another thing I enjoyed was the fan service that wasn’t obvious unless you know Star Trek references. It wasn’t like The Force Awakens (I didn’t have issues with that either), but I could pick up the elements that were sprinkled throughout.

My favorite element of the film was the one I was most frustrated with as well. That would be the antagonist Krall, played by Idris Elba. As the film goes on you realize there is more to Krall than just a destroy the universe. His mission is personal. This is great to have an enemy with purpose. However, the film spends so much time shrouding him in mystery that it isn’t revealed until the third act. The problem is that if we had that information sooner it really would have added some depth to the character and the story, but it was played too close for too long. Even though I felt that was a major misstep, Krall to me is easily the best villain of the new Kelvin Timeline.

The action is what you’ve come to expect from this series since 2009 and still fun as can be. There is an early Enterprise battle that is one of the best in this franchise. And our core cast is still doing a bang up job in there roles. I don’t want to compare Chris Pine to William Shatner but one thing is clear, these men are James Kirk.

Star Trek Beyond doesn’t disappoint in the arena of sci-fi action cinema. Yes it’s more of what you got in 2009 and 2013 from the rebooted series, but some character drama, new characters and an intriguing antagonist make this another solid entry in Star Trek lore.

Final Rating (4/5) Star Trek Beyond gives us some fantastic sci-fi action and character drama. Only letdown is playing the villain too close to the chest until the end. It would have lent more depth to the overall story.

DeaconsDen 5 Favorite Episodes of Star Trek – The Original Series

So after having fun curating my Twilight Zone list, and with the looming release of Star Trek Beyond, I’ve decided to make another list. This time I’m devoting it to Star Trek: The Original Series. So here is the Top 5 Favorite episodes of Star Trek presented by DeaconsDen

5) Where No Man Has Gone Before

The second pilot episode introduces us to Captain James Kirk. After the Enterprise passes through a sort of electrical storm, crew member Gary Mitchell (Played by 2001’s Gary Lockwood) becomes a powerful adversary with telekinetic powers that threaten the entire crew. A great example of putting Kirk in the position where he can’t immediately help a member of his crew and is forced to make a tough decision regarding the safety of the ship.

4) The Changeling

The Enterprise picks up what appears to be a sentient probe called Nomad which mistakes Kirk as its creator. The probe has one mission and that is to sterilize all imperfections, including all biological beings it comes in contact with. Although it was never made official, one could connect the events of this episode with the story of the 1979 film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

3) The Doomsday Machine

Kirk and crew encounter an alien machine that destroys planets. They rescue Starfleet Commodore Decker whose ship was damaged and assumes command of the Enterprise from Kirk. He orders the Enterprise to go back and attack the planet eater in what is a clear suicide mission. A great episode where we get to see Kirk have to handle with maintaining command of his ship and crew when dealing with a superior officer who clearly doesn’t have the best interest of the crew at hand while also figuring out how to deal with the planet killing machine.

2) Balance of Terror

Inspired by the war film “The Enemy Below,” Kirk and crew cross paths with a Romulan ship who attack a Starfleet outpost. The episode is part submarine drama as Kirk and the Romulan commander (Mark Lenard in his first Trek appearance.) play a tense game of cat and mouse. It is also part social commentary as Kirk has to deal with a crewman who is distrustful of Spocl due to the physical similarities of Vulcans and Romulans. Some bonus trivia, Mark Lenard has played a Romulan, a Vulcan (Spock’s father Sarek), and a Klingon (in Star Trek: The Motion Picture). 

1) Space Seed

The ship Botany Bay holds a secret cargo from Earth’s past. Part of that cargo is a man who would become James Kirk’s nemesis. Ricardo Montalban stars as the charismatic and deadly superhuman Khan Noonien Singh. After he is revived, Kirk welcomes Khan aboard the Enterprise, but soon Khan is plotting his takeover to begin his new reign of the superhuman. The seed Kirk plants at the end of this episode will certainly have consequences in the future.

There you have it! The DeaconsDen five favorite Star Trek episodes. Do you have any? Feel free to comment with your favorites.

Also if you love the original series, here are some links to an episode of The Essentials, where Jake Almond of Waxing Cinematic and myself are going through the original Star Trek series and giving our thoughts on it.

The Essentials: The Corbomite Maneuver & Mudd’s Women Link 1

The Essentials: The Corbomite Maneuver & Mudd’s Women Link 2

Film Review: Ghostbusters

Who would have thought that after the division that occurred between fans and critics after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, that Ghostbusters would be the most talked about film of 2016? The chatter about this film has gone all the way back to its announcement. The fact that fans would not be getting a proper Ghostbusters III but rather a reboot really riled fans of the 1984 original. There were also some who took umbrage with the casting of four women in the lead roles. Then there was the first trailer which I’ll be honest, didn’t do the film and favors. Also the new theme song by Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliot is pretty awful. So with its release on the horizon people did not expect anything out of this film. I approached it no differently than any other reboot in this day and age. To my surprise I had quite a good time with this movie and really had some fun.

The story begins when Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) reaches out to her old collegue Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) following the release of a book they wrote on the supernatural years prior. Together with fellow scientist Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and former MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) the four women take on the role of cleaning up the city of New York from the paranormal as the Ghostbusters. 

It’s undeniable that this 2016 interpretation uses the original film as a framework. Is it the best decision? Maybe not. I do feel if it tried to do so much to establish its own identity that wouldn’t resonate with people already irritated that this film even exists. So I commend director Paul Feig for just doing what he can. There’s a bit of fan service which includes cameos from the principles of the original cast minus Rick Moranis and the late Harold Ramis who passed away in 2014.

I love the original Ghostbusters film, but maybe since that doesn’t have quite the impact for me as it does for others, the similarities between it and this reboot do not bother me. It actually helped me enjoy it more because I had something familiar in front of me.

I loved the humor in this film. Each actress has their moments to make the crowd laugh and not all the funny moments were in the trailer as is the case with a lot of comedy films. The standouts of the cast are Kate McKinnon’s eccentric inventor Holtzmann and Chris Hemsworth’s ditzy receptionist Kevin (Hemsworth really should consider doing more comedy. He has the timing for it).

The film’s climax is typical blockbuster fare. Lots of action. Lots of CGI. At this point the mere presence of CGI at the end of a film doesn’t count as a negative for me unless it sort of changes the tone of what the film was (an example being the 3rd act of The Shallows). And since this film isn’t going for any sense of realism, I can let it go and just enjoy the ride.

Ghostbusters is not an abominable sin upon cinema as the sentiment leading up to its release would have you think. Does it reach the highs of the original film? Not at all. Did I enjoy it more than the sequel? Maybe. As far as sci-fi comedies go, it’s harmless summer fun and I laughed and I had a great time. I hope these ladies get another shot. 

Final Rating (3.5/5) Good laughs, good action. Not a very strong story on its own. Fun times.

Film Revew – The Purge: Election Year

The third entry in director James DeMonaco’s Purge series focuses on the presidential election that may determine the future of the annual Purge and the future of the United States. 

Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes having helped a group of people survive the events of The Purge: Anarchy. That film (SPOILER ALERT) explained that the Purge is a form of population control to remove the less fortunate people so there is less to take care of. This revelation has become the mission of Senator Charlie Roan who is played by Elizabeth Mitchell. Roan has taken a position against the Purge having witnessed her family killed as a result of it 18 years prior. Her goal is simple, eradicate the annual night of murder and mayhem. Grillo’s character is  Roan’s head of security and vows to keep her alive through the night.

I’ve quite enjoyed the Purge series. The concept of it is what has drawn me in. The problem that the series has had is that it has this intriguing concept, but it ultimately steps around that concept to focus on the carnage that it represents. And honestly I don’t mind that because it is some pretty decently filmed action. This film is no different. There are some nice visual flourishes that highlight the action. Because this is a world where anything goes, it’s fun seeing how the characters react and adapt to the horror that’s going on around them for the 12 hour duration of the Purge. 

A definite negative would be the dialogue in this film. It’s just not good all. Every word seems awkward coming out of the characters lips. There are certainly a few lines that had me cringe. It may have been like this in the other 2 films, but it doesn’t seem as obvious as it does here.

The Purge: Election Year is more of the same and that is fine with me. This film and overall this series is not as deep as it should be, but thankfully not as shallow as it could be. For a horror/action film it works well for me.

Final Rating (3.5/5) Nothing we haven’t seen before, but it would be great if this series really could go deeper in exploring its really cool concept.

Game Review – Severed

Severed is a first-person dungeon crawler with RPG elements developed by Drinkbox Studios for the PlayStation Vita system. In the game you play a young woman named Sasha. Sasha has awoken in a strange world with one of her arm’s missing and her family nowhere to be found. She must navigate this world in order to survive and find out what happened to her family. 

The main form of input for the game is touch based. You use the joystick to move around, but you are using the Vita’s touch screen for combat. You attack by swiping at the enemies. It’s not quite as simple as you think. The enemies do have patterns and as the game goes into its later stages they may have certain buffs that you will have to understand in order to manage a fight. There are skill trees and an upgrade system for you to manage as well as items you can search for to help out, especially at the final battle.The game has a nice aesthetic, similar to Guacamelee. I really enjoyed the music as an added effect to the eeriness the world presents. 

It’s also not very long. I imagine I put about 10 hours in, but don’t let that be an issue. The game is as long as it needs to be. If it was longer I don’t think I could handle it. If you are a trophy Hunter like me then you should have no trouble with any of them and achieving that platinum.

I enjoyed my time with Severed. It’s a game I didn’t think I would try and yet I did and ended up really having fun with. I know this may not scratch every gamer’s itch, but if you are willing to try something different, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Final Score (4/5)

Film Review: The Shallows

Don’t worry. Jaws still has its place as the king of shark movies. 

The Shallows is a survival thriller from director Jaume Collet-Serera (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night). The film stars Blake Lively as Nancy Adams, a young woman who after the death of her mother is seeking out the beach where he mom once visited. While out surfing Nancy is attacked by a great white shark and subsequently stranded on a rock in he middle of the water. Between her injuries, the shark constantly circling and the rising tide threatening her sanctuary, Nancy must use all her knowledge to survive this encounter.

Blake Lively is front and center here as Nancy. She does a pretty good good as her character is put through the ringer. Now her performance isn’t going to garner awards accolations like Sandra Bullock in Gravity,  but she certainly does an admirable job of conveying a wide range of emotions throughout the film. Not once during the film does she seem unbelievable in her performance or appear to be phoning it in.

Unlike a classic in Jaws, The Shallows isn’t attempting to showcase the magic of movies, but it does do a fine job in presenting the dangers of a shark attack. When Nancy is injured we see the damage done and it certainly isn’t pretty. For a PG-13 film, it does not shy away from the brutality of these type of events. It certainly could have. There are some truly harrowing moments in this film and I found myself holding my breath or getting anxious quite a few times. The limited setting also adds to the suspense.

The film is pretty adequately directed. There is a page taken from Jaws in that the most suspenseful moments with the shark are best served when the animal is not seen. The threat alone puts he audience on edge. There is some gorgeous photography of the surfing scenes however the beginning of the film features a decent amount of slow motion during these scenes that began to annoy me just a tad. The only other issue I had was with the film’s final act. After 2/3 of the film being pretty intense, the final third plays out like a standard Hollywood thriller. It’s still well filmed, but it just slightly betrays the quality that was built up before. At 1 hour 27 minutes, it move at a great pace and never outstays it welcome.

The Shallows is a solid survival thriller with some genuine tension and great thrills. Blake Lively does a good job in her performance and with the exception of the kind of standard 3rd act, it is certainly an entertaining thrill ride for the summer season in the midst of all the blockbusters. This one is a gem.

Final Rating (4/5) Thrills from start to finish, yet a typical Hollywood third act takes just a little bit away from what was built up.