Archive for August, 2016

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Posted in Action, Sci-Fi, Sequel with tags , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2016 by The Confused Critic

(**1/2 out of ****)

Synopsis: After traversing the vastness of the galaxy for an indeterminate period of time, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the USS Enterprise gang seek retreat and relaxation on the Yorktown space station. Upon landing, they are approached by Kalara (Lydia Wilson), an alien being requesting the crew’s help in rescuing her ship, which is currently stranded on a planet within an uncharted nebula. As would be expected at this point, the rescue mission is not as straight-forward as initially suggested and the Enterprise soon finds itself up against its newest foe, Krall (Idris Elba).

Review: Is third time a charm for the Star Trek franchise? For the most part – yes. Star Trek Beyond eschews the shamelessly familiar plot points that its predecessor, Star Trek into Darkness, insisted upon. This time around, we get a livelier script that smartly breaks the crew of the Enterprise into a handful of subgroups in the second half of the film. Such plotting allows the actors a greater opportunity to give their characters range and distinctive personalities. The film’s best moments occur between a bickering Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), while the lost in translation relationship between Scottie (actor and co-writer Simon Pegg) and series newcomer Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah provides much needed lightness and comic relief. Beyond succeeds best in its quieter, more character-driven moments that punctuate its lengthy and bombastic scenes of chaos and destruction.

As could be said about the previous two entries in this series, the likability of the cast and their comfort with one another elevates this movie above standard summer action movie fare. Their ability to embody the core qualities of their original series counterparts without completely aping them remains a strength of this franchise. Quinto’s gentle, if not slightly aloof, Spock continues to be a standout, as does Urban’s Bones, who provides a majority of the laughs in the film. As far as antagonists go, Elba does what he can in his portrayal of the vindictive Krall. Like other actors who have portrayed villains in this series (Benedict Cumberbatch and Eric Bana), his acting is undermined by his character’s convoluted plans and motivations. Ultimately, Krall is an average, mostly unmemorable threat to our heroes.

Unlike the previous two entries in the series, Justin Lin has assumed directorial duties in place of J.J. Abrams, who is now heavily involved in the new Star Wars trilogy. Lin employs the same hyperkinetic direction that he utilized to reenergize the Fast and the Furious franchise to mixed results. While it is hard to deny that he has injected some serious adrenaline into the picture, this may not have necessarily been the missing ingredient in the first two Abrams movies. The camerawork here is overactive and dizzying, making it difficult for the viewer to comprehend the visual geography of a fight scene or space battle. Furthermore, though many criticized Abrams use of lens flares, Lin’s constant barrage of Dutch angles and upside down camera shots is far more distracting. That said, both the cinematography and the decision to mix practical effects and CGI whenever possible allow for a visually pleasing experience.

It still feels as though this series wants to be a viable Star Wars alternative rather than a true Star Trek franchise. The cerebral concepts and ethical debates that made the original series and (most of) its ensuing films so memorable are nowhere to be found here. Instead, viewers are given endless action sequences that dull the senses and seriously detract from the more human aspects of the story. Although this film does an admirable job of further developing a few of its characters through its dialogue-driven scenes, it also introduces some character side-plots (e.g. Spock and Uhura) that it is unwilling to explore beyond a surface level. All in all, the studio does not seem to have much faith that audiences will buy into a character-based Star Trek film. Like its reboot predecessors, Star Trek beyond skates by on a likable characters, a passable story, and nostalgic callbacks to the legacy of the original series.

Confused Take: Have you ever sat through a movie and enjoyed it well enough, but then struggled to precisely articulate what exactly it was that you liked about it? That was what happened to me here. Although I generally liked the action of the movie and laughed at its humorous bits, the whole viewing experience felt like a bit of a blur. As the story took a serious backseat to overblown action sequences, I numbed out and, perhaps, shut down the critical process that are normally at play in my brain when watching a movie. There was nothing I particularly loved or hated about this film. Going forward, it would be great to see a Star Trek movie that is heavier on story and character development, as this is truly where the fun of the series lies. It would also be nice to switch things up and have a smaller scale threat with more-focused and comprehensible action sequences. Not every movie in this franchise needs to center around a planet-destroying, world-shattering plot device.


The Boy (2016)

Posted in Horror with tags , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2016 by The Confused Critic

(** out of ****)

Synopsis: Looking to escape an abusive relationship and start a new life, Greta (Lauren Cohan) relocates to England to become a nanny to Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire’s (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) son Brahms. Naturally, Greta is surprised when she is introduced to Brahms and is greeted by a life-sized glass doll that resembles the Heelshire’s deceased son. As the Heelshire’s depart for vacation, they leave Greta with an explicit list of rules that outlines how she is to care for the seemingly non-sentient Brahms. Both annoyed and disturbed by this unusual scenario, our protagonist ignores her assigned duties and contemplates how she landed herself in such a predicament. However, her cynical, blasé attitude quickly dissipates as unusual phenomena begin to pile up around the house.

Review:  The Boy is the fifth directorial effort from William Brent Bell. Like his filmography (Stay Alive, The Devil Inside), what we get here is a bit of a mixed bag. Although the film looks stunning at times and introduces some truly unsettling ideas, it is a pretty house with no one home. For all its sweeping camera shots and dramatic music swells, the story never picks up or takes the viewer anywhere too unexpected. Instead, the team behind this movie plays it safe and avoids going into any real unexpected territory. For instance, with such an eerie plot setup, it is unfortunate that Bell relies so heavily upon canned jump scares that manipulate the viewer into a reflexive startle. Rather than actually build tension via a suspenseful setup, the filmmakers utilize obnoxiously loud music and obvious camera misdirection to force their scares.

Cohan, fresh off a streak of successful seasons on television’s The Walking Dead, manages to do what she can with the script. Unfortunately, she never comes across as a fully developed or even likable character. Her motivations change convolutedly from scene to scene, leaving us with an inconsistent character that is either way too dismissive of her situation or all too ready to accept and embrace the strange happenings. The same applies to the rest of the serviceable cast – they perform adequately enough to progress the plot where it needs to go without transcending their stock roles.

What we are left with is neither an offensive nor interesting film. Although we are treated to handful of creepy moments and twists along the way, seasoned horror fans may be at a loss as far as novel chills are concerned. Despite adequate performances and a final act that manages to inject some life into an otherwise routine plot, The Boy comes up short and should only be reserved for a casual streaming option on a lazy rainy day.

Confused Take: Look at that! It appears as though my last review (dutifully submitted over two years ago) covered a strikingly similar movie. Not quite sure what that says about me. I suppose that I have always been creeped out by stories that involve malevolent dolls/dummies/puppets/marionettes. Chucky was quite possibly the first cinematic antagonist to interfere with my slumbers and make me regret sneaking a clandestine peek at the USA Network’s Sunday afternoon horror movie marathon. Thus, it is disappointing when a movie like this comes up short and fails to replicate the naïve terror that I (for some reason) look back on fondly. Much like last year’s The Forest, The Boy provides an intriguing setup but, ultimately, squanders its advertised potential.