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VIFF 2018 Review: Mega Time Squad

Mega Time Squad

Anton Tennet plays a young man who uses multiplicity to form his own gang in Mega Time Squad.

Every year I do the Vancouver Film Festival, I make the effort to end my VIFF with the very last show. Once again, it was at 11:15pm at the Rio Theatre on Friday, October 12th. This year, it was the New Zealand thriller-comedy Mega Time Squad. It wasn’t the best film to end it with, but it wasn’t one of the worst.

John has a life that’s going nowhere. His parents are deceased. He lives in a garage in a town full of aged people. The only way he can make any kind of money is for working with a crime boss named Shelton who’s hired him with a lot of other dim bulbs.

Shelton gives John and another dim bulb named Gaz a mission. He wasn’t them to intercept a money drop at a Chinese antique store being dropped off by a rival Chinese gang led by a man named Wen. This turns out to be a bad idea as Gaz says he’s tired of being Shelton’s bitch. The heist is successful as they grab the money, but John gets a lot more. From the antique store, he grabs a Chinese bracelet. The store-owner tells him not to take the bracelet, claiming it has a mysticism that could be harmful. John ignores and takes it.

The crazy thing about the heist is that it has the Chinese gang and his own gang after John. John doesn’t know what to do until he discovers a time machine that can transport him back into time and avoid whatever trouble they’re facing. The machine also duplicates the user, so John uses it to get more than one John around. Eventually all the Johns meet up. The lead John declares his group of selves the ‘Mega Time Squad.’

The good thing is that John can accomplish what he misses the first time with his duplicate selves. The bad news is none are brighter than the original John. Plus with the charm bracelet, it could mean all the Johns would die off soon, including him. The various Johns are able to accomplish the heist, win a fight win over Wen, and fool people while the real John has won over the affection of Shelton’s younger sister Kelly. Eventually the actions of the various Johns catch up to the real one as Wen’s gang is after him and Shelton has a mission involving a bomb for him to do, which he eventually fails. Kelly learns of this and is turned off John.

However John has to do right. John is able to fix the curse so that all the other Johns are in a room. He reverses the curse of the bracelet and all the other Johns die with Kelly witnessing. Also Wen is able to get the bag of money John stole. Meanwhile an infuriated Shelton wants to see him. Shelton is about to shoot him for not doing his part right, but John confronts him and tells him he gives everyone the risky business while Shelton sits back and calls orders. Shelton tries to shoot john, but the bullet is shot in the reverse direction. RIP Shelton! All the gang members are free and John is free to love Kelly. As for Wen and the bag of money, that’s for you to see.

Here we go again where we see a New Zealand film that tries to be a thriller-comedy. I’ve seen it before many times at the VIFF with Housebound and Deathgasm. Housebound was the best-done of the three I’ve seen. Deathgasm was more focused on the humor and the gore than it was on the story, but still delivered on entertainment. Mega Time Squad gave me the feeling like I was watching the same thing over again. Also it didn’t compare to the other two as a story or in humor. There were a lot of times in which I felt the story was dumb or lacking in thrills. There was a lot missing.

One thing I will not do is declare this movie to be a disappointment. This film wasn’t the disappointment Housewife was. The acting was still good, if not great. The story was consistent and made sense. Even the foolishness or ridiculousness of the story or the idiocy of the characters didn’t come across as stupid or confusing. I will admit that this is the type of film that could simply be a made-for-TV film on a sci-fi network. However the film does deliver on a consistent story line that is fun, entertaining and humorous. It may be boring or lackluster in comparison, but it still entertains and will make you laugh.

I wouldn’t say this is an accomplishment for writer/director Tim Van Dammen, who ironically was an actor in Deathgasm. However I will say that it delivers in entertainment. Sure, some of it was idiotic, but it was able to pull itself together at the end and even deliver a humorous ending. Anton Tennet was funny as the loser-turned-winner John. Even some of his acting looked idiotic, but it was on for the most part. Hetty Gaskell-Hahn was the scene-stealer as Shayna. She was solid in her character and she helped make the film too. Yoson An was also good as a humorous villain who meets a surprise at the end.

Mega Time Squad offers nothing new for the thriller genre. I’ve seen it done before and done better. Nevertheless it will entertain you and get you laughing. It is a welcome relief after watching a lot of heavy, intense fare at the VIFF. And a good way to end the VIFF, if not end it with a bang.

And there you go! That sums it up for all the films I saw at the Vancouver Film Festival. I know it took longer than I should, but I saw a lot of movies and had little time to write. But I’m finally done now. My review of the Fest will be coming very shortly within a day or two.

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VIFF 2018 Review: Dovlatov (Довлатов)

Dovlatov

Dovlatov is a focus on writer Sergei Dovlatov, played by Milan Maric (right), and what drove him to defect from the USSR.

Every now and then one sees a biographical film that not a lot of people know a lot about, but grow to understand after the film’s end. Dovlatov is the Russian film of the Soviet-American writer Sergei Dovlatov.

It is November 1, 1971. Leningrad resident Sergei Dovlatov has a talent and a yearning to write, but the Soviet government won’t accept his writings. His writings are very truthful to what is happening, but the Soviet government wants writings that glorify the nation, especially the Soviet regime of the time, and champion factory workers. With Leonid Brezhnev in power, the pressure is even harder as writers of such are either censored or unemployed. Dovlatov is denied membership into a Writers Guild and can’t get any of his poems or stories published. Dovlatov is reduced to pounding out articles for a factory magazine like many of his peers. Dovlatov is expected to help contribute to a film from the factory where workers dressed up as legendary writers commemorate Soviet achievements on the eve of the Revolution. Dovlatov can’t take that seriously and his superiors aren’t happy.

His married life is a frustration. He is on the verge of divorcing his wife Lena and he’s currently living with his supportive mother. He is allowed to see his daughter Katya. Dovlatov does find a break from it all. Each day he meets up with many other literary comrades going through similar struggles in this Communist regime. They listen to jazz, play music and tell stories of their frustrations.

Dovlatov’s life during this six-day period seems like a daily ritual. He begins the day with assignments he finds uncomfortable, tries to make the necessary connections to get his Guild status, and ends his day in a literary and artistic salon with colleagues of his own.

However there are two incidents that shake Dovlatov up. The first is when he’s sent to do a celebratory article of subway builder and poet Anton Kuznetsov. They meet in a subway dig with the intention of doing a ‘pure and prose’ article, but both are shocked to have discovered skeletons of children from a World War II bombing. The second is when he meets with a friend who’s a Black Market dealer. Often throughout the film, Dovlatov talks of looking for a German doll for his daughter. He talks with the man, but the police crack down on him and shoot him dead. The film ends after those six days.

I’ve seen a lot of biographic films. I’ve seen a lot of biographies that are frequently from birth to death. There are even some that focus on the period of a person’s life where they emerge into their greatness. They could be a short period of time but most end up being a long period of time. There have often been a lot of films that focus on that one moment in a famous person’s career that either makes or breaks them, like the Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln or the writing of In Cold Blood in Capote. It’s even possible to use a week’s period of time that could be when this famous person chances leading into the future path of greatness.

Here in Dovlatov, the focus is on six days. Usually a film maker would pick out a six-day period that could be what changed Dovlatov. Instead the film focuses on a six-day period that could be any six-day period in Dovlatov’s life before he finally defected to the United States in 1978. I think what the focus of the film maker was intended to be was to focus what it was like for Dovlatov to live in Soviet Leningrad. The filmmaker’s intention is to have Dovlatov’s feelings and mindset resemble his works of writing. We shouldn’t forget that soon after the death of the USSR, writers that defected or writers that talk of past-Soviet life became writers of high fixation. Dovlatov may have died in 1990 at the age of 48, but his writing became hugely admired in Russia.

The film doesn’t just show life in Soviet Russia at the time, but gives the viewer a good feel of it. It seems slow at first, but it is very telling. It’s about a writer seeking renown or simple publication, but won’t get credentials because he won’t conform to the writing style the Soviet government demands. During his life, he sees the troubles and the weariness of people in Soviet Leningrad. We should also remember that Leningrad was the name of St. Petersburg during the days of the USSR. What he sees is ugly and hard. Even his own personal life is a frustration. He may get a break when he’s at the parties with his artistic colleagues, but it’s only temporary. The next day, he has to go back to doing what the government wants him to do. One can see the frustration he goes through. One could even understand how trying to get a German doll for his daughter isn’t really something simple and may actually be valuable for this film.

This is the latest film from Russian director Alexei German Jr. German Jr. has had racclaim for his films in the past like 2005’s Garpastum which was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, 2008’s Paper Soldier which won the Silver Lion in Venice and 2015’s Under Electric Clouds. In this film he directed and co-wrote the script with Yuliya Tupikina, he delivers a piece that’s less of a film with a beginning, middle and end and more of a film that’s a portrait of a famed writer. It’s interesting they casted a Serbian actor, Milan Maric, to play Dovlatov. Maric has a reputation as a stage actor and this is Maric’s first film role. Maric does a very good job getting into the heart and soul of Dovlatov and he plays the part very well.

Dovlatov may not make sense to most people who see it at first. For those that are into writers and into the writing of Sergei Dovlatov, it’s a good look into the inside of the man and what made his writing.

Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

STAR TREK BEYOND

Star Trek Beyond is the third installment of the revamped Star Trek series.

I was originally planning on saving my review for Star Trek Beyond for a summer movie summary on science fiction movies outside of superhero movies. That was not to be the case as most of the top sci-fi movies were superhero movies. Nevertheless Star Trek Beyond is a movie worth reviewing by itself.

For the third of four movies of the revamped Star Trek series, the writers and director Justin Lin had to deal with making a 2-hour movie that is a continuation of the series while leading to an ending setting up for the fourth and final movie, which currently has no set year of release right now. The trick is trying to make the right choices of what to include, whether it be pieces from the original television series of the 60’s or of movies of the past, and create the right third-movie.

One thing about this installment is that the focus is more about exploring new worlds which is what Star Trek is all about. However it’s also about friction as smaller ships ambush and wreck the USS Enterprise. Even the threat of an intergalactic race in another galaxy under a tyrannous villain adds to the drama this time. This is a case of a fresh story for the Star Trek franchise while trying to maintain the same spirit of the whole Star Trek series.

I mentioned back in my review of superhero movies that despite the action scenes, morals and values are essential for a superhero movie. Morals and values are also essential for a movie like Star Trek as well. The Starship voyage continues in its quest to discover new intergalactic worlds and develop ties between the life forms. The value of doing what’s right is present in this Star Trek movie as Kirk is about to go on a rescue mission that might endanger his life. He responds by saying; “I would rather die saving lives than live knowing that I took them.”

The movie sometimes seems like it wants to be a sweet farewell to Leonard Nimoy. It’s evident in the story as Spock receives news that Lieutenant Spock has died. Reminders pop up in the story line as Spock plans to leave the Starship to carry on the Lieutenant’s duties and even a sentimental scene near the end. I don’t think it did any wrong moves in doing so. Memorializing an actor, especially if they had such a memorable role in their lifetime, is never an easy thing. There are some times in retrospect I felt there were some wrong moves in memorializing Paul Walker in Furious 7 like the farewell image of his character played by his look-alike brother. However I feel they did it right here, including the toast ‘to absent friends.’ Even at the end the movie is dedicated ‘In Loving Memory’ of Nimoy.

yelchin

The film makers of the fourth and final revamped Star Trek film decided to drop the character of Chekov in respect to the late  Anton Yelchin.

Unexpected was the death of Anton Yelchin who played Chekov in the three revamped Star Trek films. He was a gifted actor capable of doing an excellent job in each role he played. In Star Trek, he delivered a Chekov that was half the age of the original Chekov but made it work on screen. He even added some charming humor to the movie series with lines like “Nine-Five-Wictor-Wictor-Two” or “I can do zat! I can do zat!” Unfortunately he was killed an a car accident one month before the film’s premiere. He was 27. The film didn’t make any major last-minute changes in editing or storyline upon news of his death but he is memorialized after Nimoy’s dedication with ‘For Anton.’

New to directing the Star Trek series is Justin Lin. He’s best known as the director of four Fast And The Furious movies. With his first attempt at directing Star Trek, he does a very good job in maintaining the spirit of the Star Trek franchise along with delivering the right storyline and right action to the movie. For the record, J. J. Abrams is producer this time. The script written by Simon Pegg who plays Scotty and Doug Jung who’s past work is mostly writing for television is consistent with the story and the spirit of Star Trek despite it being short on the expected action. All the returning actors still maintain their respective characters well. One thing noticeable is Chekov has more of a presence and he doesn’t deliver so many humorous lines this time. Another new addition is Idris Elba doing an excellent convincing role as the villain Krall. Visual effects were still good even if they weren’t the most spectacular. Also the addition of the Beastie Boys song ‘Sabotage’ got me thinking again to how Guardians Of The Galaxy and The Martian has made it a must to include musical moments in such movies.

The big surprise is the lack of box office success that came with this film. The film currently has a North American gross of over $157 million and a total worldwide gross of over $333 million. Since it cost $180 million to make, it’s labeled a ‘flop,’ especially knowing the first two revamped Star Trek movies starting back in 2009 both made over $200 million. People are wondering why? The film has an approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes of over 80% and there was expected to be big fare since this year is the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise starting all the way back with the TV series. Some are saying Yelchin’s sudden death may have a lot to do with it, like it ‘spoiled the fun.’ It’s wrong to make such an accusation. Nobody saw his death coming. Not even Anton himself, if you’ve bothered to read the news about it. Some are saying the story lacks excitement. Possibly but it still has a lot of ingredients win crowds and Star Trek fans alike. Hard to say exactly. My assumption is that simply this is the third movie, not the first and not the last. Plus it faced competition from a wide variety of other movies this summer. I feel that the final movie can achieve more at the box office because it will be the final movie of a revamped film series that worked rather than flopped.

Star Trek Beyond may not be as action-packed as most of the other summer fare out right now or even past Star Trek films but it is a movie that delivers on the Star Trek franchise and stays true to its spirit. It even paves way to the fourth and final Star Trek movie to come.