‘Star Trek: Beyond’ – Don’t Blink on This Ride

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Starring: Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho

Genres: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Directed By: Justin Lin

Studio: Paramount Pictures

MPAA Rating
PG-13

I saw Star Trek: Beyond last night on its second night after release. When I see Star Trek films, I usually miss some secret winks because I am not much of a “Trekkie” and therefore don’t know the labyrinth of secret passageways that many others I meet new. In fact, my wife, who is not a film critic, explains a lot to me when we go to see these films. Last night had a few parts I couldn’t figure out but I’ll avoid those.

Instead, I’ll tell you that Captain Kirk is put in a position to save the galaxy (common theme). The adventurous quest to do that is a rip-roaring ride! Directed by Justin Lin (Fast and the Furious), the spaceships are now the race cars. There is a lot of action in this film but I must disagree with some other critics who are saying it’s too fast and furious. There are moments of suspense as well and moments where the viewers is ban rest, stop, and get cerebral..

The visuals are stunning. Because this is a quick review intended to have “no spoilers,” I won’t describe them to you. I will say that in 1977 when Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, and Mark Hamill saw the death star for the first time, it had a mind-blowing effect on movie goers. There is actually some stuff in this film that will leave you in “shock and awe” in a similar way. Please note however that the plot is pretty good and special effects are secondary to that, which always makes me happy.

There is so much in this film worthy of the ticket price. There is a side story Spock is dealing with, sense that virtually fill the movie with the now departed Anton Yelchin, a Smokin’ hot Zoe Zaldana, a vaguely funny Simon Pegg (but funny all the same.) I had a blast watching this film. I anticipate Trekkies will like the new villain Krall (Idris Elba). He’s a tortured creature with a lot of hate for the federation which makes for some really juicy fight scenes. I did have some issues with the film. Instead of developing the villain they sort of catapulted him into hate mode. I wanted to know more about him and why he became who he was. It was explained a little in a very rushed fashion in the last 1/4 of the film but I think doing that earlier would have invested me more in his character. For the haziness of the villain, I took one star away. This is an amazing film, I highly recommend it.

‘The Planet of the Apes’ (1968)

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‘The Planet of the Apes’ (1968)
Cast

Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter

Directed by

Franklin J. Schaffner

Written by

Michael Wilson (screenplay), Rod Serling (screenplay)

Other Info

Adventure, Romance, Sci-Fi
Rated G
1h 52min

Writing this review now in 2016, I was shocked to find this film had a G rating. As a kid growing up 0-10 in the 70’s, I remember certain images from this film that used to creep me out. Plus, it’s so rare that you find a G rated sci fi nowadays. I didn’t understand it in those years but when I hit my twenties, this was one of those films my scooter buddies and I would rent along with other classics like The Godfather and Blade Runner to just trip out on and talk about. It’s of course a timeless classic now and there has been a resurgence of the franchise with a whole new set of CGI movies that are surprisingly good in a different way.

The concept of the franchise is pretty simple: Apes have evolved above man and use him as their slave. In the 60’s the evolution arguments were rampant of church and university grounds so this fit right in with that. Actually seeing these apes likely had a polarizing impact on the religious folk who saw man as greater tha ape. At the same time, I think it infused strength to the IMG_0626argument that man was just another animal and we shouldn’t rule over animals in the sometimes harmful ways that we do. BUt that is just the “ape level.” There is much here about science and faith. In the original film, there is talk of “scrolls” and “heresy” by the humans and apes who help them. f you know Christian subculture or have observed it, these references are accurate and quite funny.

I love the prosthetic masks in the movie. They look camp at first but you really get used to them after a while because the costumes and backgrounds are so masterfully crafted. It reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode for good reason: Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone, co-wrote the screenplay. This movie is something to look at. Most the outdoor footage was filmed at Lake Powell. It resembles Mars or some other uninhabited planet. In this film, a crew was sent into the future but something went wrong. As a result, they have to try to survive and escape from a civilization of apes that speak and are much like intelligent humans.

While there among the apes, they see the effects of man’s greed and imperfections. The apes have an opportunity to see themselves as well but they are not as interested. There is a bit of a “not-friendly” history in the scrolls and therefore humans are not to be listened to.

Charlton Heston plays the lead human, George Taylor, and he is so much fun to watch. He has interaction with a slave who cannot speak and there is some chemistry there but hardly enough to call the story a romance, as IMDB does. Roddy McDowell plays Cornelius, the scientist ape that buys in to the intelligence of humans. His partner Zira, played by Kim Hunter, is devoted to humans as much as she can be in her society. It was sort of like a Jane Goodall and the chimps kind of thing. At the end Taylor asks her for a kiss and she says shyly, “But you’re so ugly.” That is a fun scene because it’s an opposite scene. If you recall the Twilight Zone episode when the woman is in face bandages the whole episode and at the end you find out they are trying to make her ugly, she is actually beautiful. It is in the eye of the beholder. Serling loves taking structures apart and letting the audience put them back together, or not. Planet of the apes is one of the most classic examples of his style in doing that. We may not question our own systems but if we see an ape and an actor talking, maybe we cab deconstruct theirs and return smarter, changed for the better. Most of all, this movie is for the open-minded or those who are open to becoming more open-minded. *raises hand*

Speaking of being open-minded, the stunts in this film are about as real as an outdoor rodeo during the clown show. When Taylor gets sprayed with a firehose, you see every sinew in his neck flexed. I love his over acting. The movie is meant to be serious sci-fi but watching some of these stunts makes you think of the comedy of later decades like Airplane or Scary Movie. Other props and effect in the film are almost comical in their representation of seriousness. There is a cadaver in the space pod that looks just like Norman Bates’ dear fake looking mummified mother in Psycho. My point is not to jeer or belittle these poor effects but rather to praise a film that evokes such a powerful response from so many people worldwide in spite of these simple stunts and props. Once again it is proof that directors don’t need a palette of CGI to make a film popular with audiences. This film evokes a response and takes itself seriously. If you have a good story, this film proves that is just about all you need to make a hit.

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In conclusion, I had a lot of fun going to see this film recently in the theaters through Fathom events’ TCM series. I was just as entertained as I have been with any recent films I really liked. I know almost every director out there has seen this film but I hope they can start to follow its movie making wisdom more closely. We need less CGI (done badly, I don’t mind it when it’s done well) and more good story surrounded by people with passion and the desire to evoke an audience response.

Alien

It raises questions about evolution, survival, predators and prey, and the possibility of a human apocalypse. In my opinion, this first film is the best in the franchise.

Title: Alien
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
Top Billed Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
Brief Synopsis: After receiving a distress call from an unknown planet, a spacecraft lands to rescue survivors. A lifeform infects the ship and its crew have a deadly force on board with them.
My Word to the Wise: This is an example of a perfect movie, in my opinion. It’s crafted the same way one might craft an oil painting or a miniature city with a model railroad. Besides being damn scary, it raises questions about evolution, survival, predators and prey, and the possibility of a human apocalypse. By far, this is the best in the franchise. “Prometheus,” its prequel runs a close second. I’ve seen this movie 5 times and will probably see it another 5. Everytime I see it, there is something new to marvel at. “Prometheus 2” is in the works for 2017.

  

Zoombies

“I don’t want to play with the animals anymore.” -Thea

They can’t all be Oscar winners. They can’t all be big budget. Once in a while, they can be fun with the most minimal resources. Working with what it has, “Zoombies” is too much fun and who doesn’t want a movie like that?

Zoombies (2016)
Cast
Ione Butler

as Lizzy

Andrew Asper

as Gage

LaLa Nestor

as Thea

Directed by
Glenn R. Miller
Written by
Scotty Mullen
Other Info

Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
TV-14
1h 27min

This film is pure fun. It doesn’t try to be “Jurassic Park” but borrows from some of its conventions. The same might be said of it borrowing from “Pet Sematary” and “The Night of the Living Dead.” How about that scene in M Night’s “The Happening” where the lion chews the zookeepers arm off? That was dime. Excellent effects. Scenes like that are mimmicked with low-budget and mixed effects. It was done on the same sort of budget those Discovery Channel dinosaur shows have. It uses canned CGI along with mediocre camera techniques to tell the story. It was funny and exciting, though it could have been funnier.

It all takes place in a new zoo that is doing some testing before it opens to the public. It’s a good thing too because somehow a monkey has been infected with a zombie virus. What happens next is the standard action, zombie, animal film (if there is one). I don’t know but I certainly knew what was coming next. My eight year old and I had some laughs eating popcorn and watching zoo animals wreak havoc on a team of Zoo workers and volunteers. Some ideas are so silly and fun, you could entertain people with puppets.

Don’t expect much from this film, you’ll have a chance to love it that way. I thought of funnier ways to make it but I’m no director. If the idea of animal zombies sounds funny and cool to you, this film is right up your alley. I recommend it.

Luke Cage

Luke Cage is the latest output from Marvel. I just started watching the early epsiodes on Netflix. The show has it all: a tough, relatable hero, villains, a few attractive love interests, and a superpower that will be hard to beat throughout the show. It may be considered different in that Cage is black but I find the immersion in his small Harlem community entertaining and enlightening. How many seasons will it power out? Time will tell.

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Cast

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Written by

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Other Info

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Cage is a hangdog dishwasher trying to make ends meet with two jobs. He lives alone in a small apartment and gets chased down by the little old landlady. I think they are trying to show us a good-hearted guy, humble, and trying not to use his superpowers. He hangs out at a barbershop and gets to know “Pops,” the owner quite well. In fact, he is like a father figure to Cage. There is another surrogate son in the picture, he’s the mafia leader running an organized crime ring in the city. I have a feeling there will be a lot of friction between these two. It could perhaps resemble a Lex Luthor/Clark Kent rivalry.

Cage’s superpower appears to simply be indestructibility. He gets stabbed and knives break, shot and bullets fly off. It doesn’t appear he has a weakness yet, I am only on e3. I find it a highly entertaining show. I recommend it for anyone who likes Marvel superheroes or thriller tv.

The Purge (2013)

‘The Purge’ is a sci-fi horror slasher film that almost shines a light on the separation between socio-economic classes.

With 2 sequels to its name, The Purge has proven it’s a movie people want to go and see. The question is: what is it about this film that keeps viewers coming through the turnstiles? Let’s see.

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The Purge
Cast

Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder

Directed by

James DeMonaco

Written by

James DeMonaco

Other Info

Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Rated R
1h 25min
Riley’s Rating:

There is something profound about ourselves in this film but it’s more recalcitrant horror with no message about mankind. I imagine one still. Because the movie stops at horror, I can only take away stars that make it less effective horror. If it were a rational drama, for example I’d rate it much lower. Still, the metaphors hang in my consciousness.

I’m writing this review more than 3 years after the original film came out. I must admit I had not seen it until this week. This seems amazing because it is a household name in horror and sci-fi in recent years, and I have been busy at work seeing horror movies. The director James DeMonaco is known for the Purge franchise as well as The Negotiator.

It appears scary when the cover contains a masked villain and it certainly is. The part I saw in this film that not everyone may see is the fact that the villain is really you and me, our inner killer.

Watching CNN or any news channel will show you that people are barking vehemently about the economy and most assuredly welfare. To hear some wealthy folks talk, it would seem they want the poor people killed or “purged” as it were. This would, in theory, lower the unemployment rate and clean up the streets. On the other hand, you have self-proclaimed champions of the poor, like Al Sharpton for example, coming to the defense of welfare recipients. He would likely blame the ghettos and shacks where the undesirable poor live on the rich. They don’t pay their fair share. If you’re within a generation of me (born 1969) you are likely to have heard these arguments.

This film poses an idea that we as people are bloodthirsty. In the Purge, for one night a year, the people are allowed to kill the poor. That’s the crux of the plot in this film. People love the movie. I am interested in what that says about us inside. I see the movie as a metaphor. When we practice hate, we purge (kill). I’d argue further that the poor are just as guilty of this. Some people try to appear diffident but hate is all around in this film. In the same breath, neither side is represented accurately of course, I might add. Still, there is something to this class hate that rings true in our world today.

Unfortunately, this horror movie doesn’t stretch out enough as sci fi and more tenderly examine the disparate classes. That’s where The Purge loses a couple stars with me because it could have. According to the director, we’re all pigs.

Horror has less rules to follow than drama, sci fi, and even suspense but there are some rules it must follow to make it scary.

The killers in the Purge are bigger than life and they don’t seem like normal citizens. This is where the masks come in handy. They add to the scares and give the people a “John Doe” look and demeanor. Perhaps that helps my reading of the film.

Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin, a 30 something alarm and security systems area manager. The neighborhood seems to love him due to the fact that he is keeping the rich shored up with his protective wares. We find out later how some of them really feel. There is so much resentment in this film you could cut it like a knife. The most astounding thing to me is the rapid process that causes normal citizens to kill. He has a high school aged daughter (Adelaide Kane) who is in the house with her boyfriend. They have sex (in keeping with the horror tradition). He has a young son (Max Burkholder) who has health issues and a wife (Lena Headey) who is very strong and definitely a foundation for the family success. I couldn’t help but think he wouldn’t be one of the rich with a slaes job. Still, it’s relatively believable.

I see The Purge as a highly violent Twilight Zone where a commentary on human nature is being displayed. I find this exciting. If only I could believe that movie goers at large saw this message. This is a good horror film that engaged me but that I am surprised was made into 2 other sequels. I am not sure I’ll be quick to see #3, though I will see it for sure. I have watched #2 already. If you go purely for horror you will enjoy it. If you want the Purge to show you a message about democracy and humanity, you’ll need to wait for a better made sci fi film. I recommend it to you as a well-made horror film and poorly crafted sci fi with potential.

After Earth

I don’t understand why the critics tend to rate this movie down. To me it was exciting and suspenseful. It had only one flaw: in a time of amazing technology (the film was made by Sony) the creature looked awfully fake.

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After Earth (2013)
Cast

Jaden Smith as Kitai Raige
Will Smith as Cypher Raige
Sophie Okonedo as Faia Raige

Directed by

M.Night Shyamalan

Written by

Will Smith (story) M.Night Shyamalan (screenplay)

Other Info

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Rated PG-13
1h 45min

I watched a movie tonight in preparation for the podcast I’m doing with a new movie reviewing friend Darren Lucas. We’re set to discuss the movies of M. Night Shyalaman, this was one I hadn’t seen yet. There is one scene that reminded me of “Signs,” truly a masterpiece of his. When the boy is recovering from being poisoned by a pink giant roach, he summons the strength to face a large beast. It is like slow motion and reminded me of the scene when the father in “Signs” tells Merrill to “swing away. I found the vibe very similar. There is another scene like that I can think of in his psychological fun “The Village.” All three of those movies are definitely worth seeing and I recommend them.

The bare bones version of the story is that a son, trying to please his hero father, tries to do the impossible. Against all odds he is trying to save the mission. In the quest to be victorious, a best is faced. It’s a great premise for a story. Everything takes place after the earth has become uninhabited by humans.

My word to the wise: When I do a search on Google of this film, a lot of titles indicate that it is a production of “Sony Films.” I don’t know why but this liked peculiar to me. It’s as if they spent millions on the film but never got past the promotional sites it debuted with. It’s lees of M. Night “art” and more of a “wannabe” sci fi blockbuster that never made it the distance. Having said that, it was highly enjoyable as an action, suspense, sci-fi Obie. It didn’t have the signature of M. Night for me, which is a “twist” at the end. I got the feeling he was trying something new.

The Survivalist

A well-acted thriller set in post-apocalyptic foliage.

Most post-apocalyptic films focus on the water shortage (“Tank Girl”) or even gasoline (“The Road Warrior”. This film has famine as its hazard. It starts in a survivalist’s cabin that has food among starving people who don’t. As a result, conflict happens.

The Survivalist (2015)
Cast
Mia Goth

as Milja

Martin McCann

as Survivalist

Barry Ward

as Forager

Directed by
Stephen Fingleton
Written by
Stephen Fingleton
Other Info

Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Rated PG-13
1h 44min

An excellent film that captures attention with no emotion. The people we see here are shells of their former selves. Like “Mad Max” the world as we know it has been destroyed. People are scavengers making their way to survival. The “Survivalist” played by Martin McCann has fond a way to farm his own food. When I say food, I’m talking about things like leeks and radishes. It’s humble to be sure. Still, in a world that is starving, he is like a king. Furthermore, thieves would love to have their way with his produce and they are constantly trying to do so.

While the film starts out showing us nifty survival stuff, that passes. After that it is a subdued dialog between few drifters and most notably, an old woman and her daughter played by Mia Goth. Incidentally, in real life she is the fiance of Shia Lebouef. Once the girl shows up we see a lot of attempts at communication, mostly by the old woman, but we find that sex barter is the only thing that really allows them close to him.

I kept thinking about how it could get to this after an apocalypse. I mean, if we know no one can really do anything for us, do we continue being charitable? Is the Survivalist charitable? He comes close but I can’t say he ever is truly. Is this what we must become in order to survive? Is survival worth losing trust for anyone? These are the sorts of questions that came up for me.

The film has an eerie feeling to it and a surprising twist at the end. The events that precede that twist are important to recall. I’m not si sure U know what the twist really means. I have a hunch it’s more than I am relaying to you now. I will most definitely see it a second time but if you have any ideas, do tell! This kept my wife and I’s attention the whole time and for that reason I recommend it. Because it had no emotion, I felt it was somewhat lacking. Furthermore, there could have been more foreshadowing about the twist at the end. That’s why I took a star from the score.

The Purge: Election Year

Although there were quite a few masks, it seems the masked killers were showing their faces this time. It’s easier to believe people in America would purge when they wear masks.

It’s easier to believe the Purge when the masks are on. That’s when the magic of the film happens. It’s violence and fun and … yes, election year!

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The Purge: Election Year
Cast

Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson

Directed by

James DeMonaco

Written by

James DeMonaco

Other Info

1h 45min | Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Rated R

I rate a movie based on what genre it says it is. This makes horror movies tough because the genre is not cut-and-dry like the others. If horror is scares that produce a negative reaction such as fear, shock, sadness, etc. then The Purge: Election Year is more thriller than horror. Because it advertises as horror and produces few scares, it lost a star with me. Having said that though, it’s a pretty good thriller. Frank Grilli is back as Leo Barnes from the second film of the franchise. His son was killed in the Purge and now he has become the special security for a congresswoman running for President, Senator Charlie Roan played by Elizabeth Mitchell. The senator witnessed the brutal execution of her entire family in a Purge and as a result is running for President to use an executive order to end the Purge.

On the inner city front, Mykelti Williamson plays shop owner Joe Dixon who has just lost his Purge insurance along with millions in the city. The companies pulled out at the last minute offering continued coverage but only for impossible sums. The result is that many low to middle income people are vulnerable to the Purge. We saw this in the first two movies as a theme of the wealthy vs middle class. purge2The plot continues to a full on battle to keep the Senator safe. She is the hope of the middle and lower class to end the Purge. I started watching this franchise thinking what it could mean, because it’s not a movie to be taken at face value. Now, after the third installment I find the purpose and message of the film more muddied.As with the first film, I think an important message is to love your neighbor and not shoot his brains out with a shotgun, There are subtle things to take out of it too but few thrillers focus on morality and even less horror films do. It’s action packed and there is some vengeance play that’s fun to watch. This is a well made movie but the masks were under utilized. Finally, it comes up short on scares for a horror movie.

The Martian

Films made from novels are usually great in my opinion. I think screenwriting a story without a famous novel behind it may be fading by convention. “The Martian” is one of those hip cool novel-to-movie examples. I read the first few chapters before seeing the movie. The understated humor and NASA space themes drew me in right away. That and the universal praise of the critics put seeing this one at a high priority.

“Star Wars” proved a global love for space movies. “Castaway” did the same for survival films. It’s likely “The Martian” draws from both audiences along with readers of the novel. It’s already being given “Blockbuster” status in the press. In the story, a manned mission to Mars goes wrong and an astronaut, thought to be dead, is left behind. He uses his ingenuity and tenacity to survive. The movie is well over 2 hours and I wasn’t bored once. I give this one a perfect 5/5.