Archive for the Sci-Fi Category

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.

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Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

Posted in Horror, Sci-Fi, Sequel on July 10, 2014 by The Confused Critic

( ** out of ****)

Resident-evil-extinction-poster

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 9/24/2007)

Movies based on video games have a long history of bombing at the box-office. Super Mario Bros., House of the Dead, and Street Fighter were all disasters among critics and fans alike. Therefore, it is surprising to find the Resident Evil series on its third entry. Although none of the movies are masterpieces or critic favorites, viewers have not yet tired of watching Milla Jovovich go to battle with hoards of flesh-eating zombies.

Resident Evil: Extinction find’s Jovovich’s Alice at an interesting point in her life. The world she once knew has been overrun by the T-Virus, a contamination that turns humans into zombies and erodes all the plants and bodies of water that it touches. Alice has escaped from the Umbrella Corporation, the culprits who created the T-Virus. Wandering a post-apocalyptic desert straight out of a Mad Max film, she faces the dual threat of the living dead and Umbrella scientists (the evil British type who have that maniacal grin down perfectly), who want to experiment with her DNA, which may or may not hold the secret to the T-Virus. Along the way she meets up with a convoy of survivors and helps them look for a safe location where they can set up a new society.

RE: Extinction pales in comparison to its two predecessors. The plot is significantly thinner and the pace is annoyingly uneven. The desert location dominates a majority of the film’s running time, setting a bleak, static tone for the events that unfold.

Nevertheless, there are a few great scenes of zombie rampages, which, although heavy on cheap jump scares, manage to create an effectively frightening environment. The special effects are impressive, perhaps due to the fact that the filmmakers did not rely too heavily on CGI. Besides, any movie that has zombie birds can’t be all that bad, right?

Although the acting in the movie is passable, the script does very little in terms of fleshing out sympathetic characters. Jovovich more or less goes through the motions here, playing the same robotic, science-fiction butt-kicker that she did in The Fifth Element and Ultraviolet. She has very little dialogue throughout the film and when she decides to speak up, it is usually just to deliver a predictable one-liner. Ali Larter’s Claire is stiff and lets her sunglasses do the talking, constantly reminding us that she’s not just some piece of eye candy. Thankfully, Oded Fehr adds humor to the otherwise bland script, much like he did a few years ago for the Mummy franchise. With his character, it feels like there’s someone worth rooting for.

Director Russell Mulcahy struggles to determine how he wants the audience to view the female protagonists. Much like Paul WS. Anderson, who helmed the first two installments, Mulcahy initially portrays the women as empowered fighters but then goes on to objectify them with skimpy outfits and compromising camera angles that will appeal to the male audience. After a while, it gets a bit tiring – we get it, you have very attractive women in your movie!

RE: Extinction’s biggest fault is dipping into a vat of endless clichés, the worst being the character L.J. (Mike Epps), who returns from the previous film. Epps shamelessly indulges in his tired, socially insultingly stereotype routine, complete with the phrase, “Aww,hell naw!” In terms of genre cliches, there is the guy who gets bitten by a zombie, yet decides not to tell anyone because he believes he is somehow above being infected. None of the characters never seem to figure out that you can only kill the zombies with head shots. All the scientists have ambiguous motives, in this case a desire to domesticate the zombies. This would have been a clever idea if it hadn’t originally been done in George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead. Is it a homage or rip-off? That’s for you to decide.

There’s nothing to be lost or gained by seeing Resident Evil: Extinction. It is a middle-of-the-road popcorn flick that should be viewed by someone looking purely for a thrill ride or a fan of the series. Unless this film bombs, it is safe to say that the Resident Evil franchise will be seeing at least one more chapter.