Tag Archives: J.J. Abrams

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.

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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.

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Movie Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a lot to offer fans of the Star Wars series including new characters like BB-8 and Rey (played by Daisy Ridley).

It never fails with me. I have the habit of ‘waiting until the crowds die down’ to see a blockbuster movie. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do when it involves a Star Wars movie, especially not Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I saw it three weeks after its release. I’m glad I finally saw it.

I won’t explain the story line like I do in most reviews, especially since most of you have already seen it by now, unless of course you’ve been under a rock. One thing about this movie is that it wasn’t just simply bringing another volume of the Star Wars series to the screen. The film’s job was also to bring back the magic of Star Wars people have come to know and love. No kidding the first three Star Wars movies from 1977 to 1983, those that are now referred to as episodes 4 to 6, captivated the world. Watch any one of them nowadays and you’ll see why.

However when George Lucas did the three prequels from 1999 to 2005, many fans felt something was missing. No doubt The Phantom Menace had huge expectations but they missed them and disappointed a lot of fans. Attack Of The Clones tried to be better but still something was noticeably missing. The scene of the fighting Yoda added excitement but it was one small added element. Revenge Of The Sith was the best of the prequels but the feel of Star Wars was still not there. I think it was best summed up by my sister who’s a huge Star Wars fan: “George Lucas knows how to direct sci-fi but he doesn’t know how to direct actors.” Good point because it’s been proven in other action movies or sci-fi movies in the past that special effects no matter how dazzling cannot overtake a lousy story or lousy acting.

Now we should remember that The Force Awakens or Episode Seven was actually thought up by George Lucas way back in the 1970’s as he was dreaming out and writing out the whole Star Wars series. Lucas made it clear after Revenge Of The Sith he will no longer direct Star Wars movies. In fact he sold LucasFilm to the Walt Disney Company in 2012. The first thing Disney did was bring The Force Awakens on screen. The director they hired was J.J. Abrams who has an extensive resume in writing and directing thrillers and sci-fi like Armageddon, Mission Impossible III (his directorial debut), Super 8 and the last two Star Trek movies. Hired to adapt the story to screenplay was Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan who co-wrote the scripts for Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi but didn’t help co-write any of the prequels, and rising writer Michael Arndt.

The mix turned out to be the right chemistry as it was able to bring the magic of the story back to life. The recreation of the two worlds also worked excellently. There was however one challenge I feel it didn’t overcome. That was when they brought back Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. There were a few times that I felt that instead of adding to the latest Star Wars story, it almost made it seem like a ‘Star Wars reunion.’ Even adding C3P0, Chew and R2D2 in there also added to that feeling this was like a ‘reunion” I don’t know if the huge following of Star Wars had a lot to do with why I felt that it seemed like a ‘Star Wars reunion’ but that’s how I felt.

One thing I have to say is the best thing about this Star Wars story are the new elements and the new characters of the story. One thing you hope to get with each Star Wars film are new characters that are able to charm us whether it be the philosopher Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back or even villains like Jabba The Hutt in Return Of The Jedi. Here was get appealing characters like Rey and Poe Dameron and even villains like Kylo Ren. I don’t know if they will deliver the same craze Luke, Leia and Han first did but moviegoers have welcomed them to the Star Wars saga. In addition we have a plot twist in this film as Storm Trooper Finn deserts his duty to fight against the Dark Side. That’s a key element leading into Episode Eight in anticipation in what will happen next.

In addition, adding BB-8 to the Star Wars saga was a plus. Usually adding in something cutesy to the Star Wars Saga is a risk. C3P0 and R2D2 had a big part in making the first Star Wars‘ greatness. The Ewoks of Return Of The Jedi helped make the story. However Jar Jar Binks of The Phantom Menace was too irritating and had a lot to do with that episode’s constant panning. BB-8 was cute but he was more the cute one would welcome and be entertained by rather than easily get irritated with. BB-8 actually added to the quality of The Force Awakens. Even the scenes where R2D2 meets BB-8 for the first time come across as funny instead of ridiculous.

It’s not to say the older elements weren’t good. They may not have stood out like the newer elements but they still fit the movie excellently. I know I talked about bringing Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill back made it feel like a ‘Star wars reunion’ but they were intended to be in the story from the start and intended to age 30 years. I can’t think of anyone else who could play their characters. The Dark Side and its darkness still maintained its mystery and villainous feel. The battles were also excellent to watch. Oh yes, the light saber battles. You can’t have a Star Wars episode without light saber battles. There weren’t as many this time around but they still dazzled.

I will have to say J.J. Abrams succeeds with flying colors in directing and co-writing the latest in the Star Wars saga. He’s proven in the past he can direct sci-fi and direct actors and he was the right man to take over the Star Wars series right after George Lucas let it go. The acting was not stellar but it was very good. The best acting came from those performing the ‘new roles’ like Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega and Oscar Isaacs. Driver especially delivered an unpredictable villain. The set designs fit the movie perfectly and were able to replicate the ships, planets and lands of the story perfectly. The visual effects were top notch again and worked the movie excellently. And of course they had to bring back John Williams as the score’s composer. Even at 83, Williams is still at it. It seems as though there’s no other composer who can do it for Star Wars and he delivers again.

Without a doubt the biggest news about Star Wars 7 is all the box-office records it’s breaking. It already broke the opening weekend record with $247.9 million: almost breaking the quarter-billion barrier. It would go on to break the North American total box office record held by Avatar on January 5th: the very day I saw it! It now stands at $879.3 million and currently sits at #2 at the box office. Worldwide it sits at $1.94 billion currently and appears poised to break Avatar’s record of $2.788 billion. Only time will decide that.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a very good addition to the Star Wars series. Not only that but it brings back a lot of the Star Wars magic that appeared missing from the prequels. What can I say? Star Wars mania is back and rightly so.

Move Review: Super 8

DISCLAIMER: Okay, I know I’m behind in my writing and my movie reviewing. This has been a summer where I’ve tried to relax as possible so please excuse while I play catch-up here.

It’s the summer: the time when Hollywood producers, directors and film companies compete for the #1 grossing movie and the top moneymaking film company. It’s always at the box office where they decide the tried-and-true from the tried-and-tired. Despite the intense competition, there’s always a movie that comes with modest expectations that surprises everyone and steals their attention in the end. Super 8 is a movie that came with no top billed cast, Steven Spielberg acting only as a producer, and directed by little-known J.J. Abrams. Nevertheless it surprised everyone who saw it and gave them more than their money’s worth.

The movie starts as Joe Lamb’s mother had died on the job at the steel mill in an Ohio town. His father, the town deputy, is not taking it that well and even arrests Louis Dainard, the town bad apple. Four months later, school’s out. Joe’s father wants to send him off to a baseball camp in Pennsylvania but Joe’s more interested in making a zombie movie with his friends. This is a film director Charles Kaznyk wants to make to win a Super 8 film competition. He convinces Alice Dainard, Louis’ daughter, to play the protagonist’s wife in the movie. Alice steals her father’s car and takes the group to a train station to film the scene. During the shoot, a train passes by which the crew hopes will add more to the story. During the passing, Joe notices a truck driving towards the train, colliding, and derailing the whole train. In the aftermath, the kids come across a lot of explosions from the train cars and unique white cubes amongst the debris. They also find out the man who hit the train was their biology teacher Mr. Woodward who instructs them never to talk of what they saw or they and their parents will be killed. Just before the children flee, they learn that the Super 8 camera was untouched during the crash. Later the U.S. Air Force arrives to take over the crash scene.

Over the next two days, strange paranormal phenomena occur like people and dogs disappearing, power lines vanishing, missing electronics and even a gas station destroyed by something unknown. Woodward, recovering from the accident, refuses to answer the Air Force any questions and he is poisoned by a soldier. The Air Force has complete control of the town and its people, even deliberately starting a wildfire to evacuate the whole town. The town relies on Joe’s father to assure them of their security and answer their questions.

In the meantime the kids try to use some of the events as catharsis for Charles’ film, including using one evacuation scene for shooting. They also try to look for clues to this whole mystery. The first clue comes in the developed film used at the train station shoot. They notice something bizarre, like bugs. Later after Alice is amongst the missing, they break into their school and search for any of Mr. Woodward’s items that may have clues to this creature. What they find is a film and audio recordings about a creature that crashed to Earth in 1958. The alien only wanted to rebuild its ship but the Force tortured and imprisoned it to take its technology. One film even showed Woodward attacked by the alien only to form a bond. Woodward crashed into the train to free the alien.

The Air Force capture the boys and place them on an Air Force bus heading back to the base only to be attacked by the alien. The alien kills the men from the Air Force bus with allows Joe and the boys to escape and return back to the town. The boys return to town which is under heavy fire from the malfunctioning military equipment. They find a subterranean lair near the cemetery where Joe’s mother is buried. They come across many missing people still alive, including Alice, in which the alien was planning to have for food. They also learn the town’s electronics are underneath the base of the water tower formed together in which the alien is hoping to build a machine to return him back to his planet. Joe rescues Alice but in the escape, Joe is caught by the alien. Joe tells the alien that he can still live on after the painful events. The alien understands him telepathically and allows Joe and his friends to escape.

Soon after, all the loose metal, including the cubes that break free from the Air Force transport truck, are attracted to the town’s water tower. The cubes align and a ship forms allowing the alien to enter and finally leave earth. During the end credits, we see the film in which Charles, Joe and his friends created. A fun zombie movie filled with simple effects and gory make-up.

The movie is not just about an alien breaking free from the Air Force captivity. It also has a lot of human elements and themes. One theme featured is about parent-child relations. The town sees Deputy Lamb as a hero but Joe sees him as someone who has alienated him ever since his mother’s death. Alice Dainard thinks her father’s a monster. Things turn for the worse as she befriends Joe and her father forbids him. Another theme is about trying to heal from the past. Deputy Lamb blames Louis Dainard for his wife’s death since he didn’t show up for his shift that day. Joe also keeps the locket of him as a baby in which his mother wore until her death. Another theme is about the growing pains of adolescence. Charles hoped using Alice in his film would attract her to him. Instead she develops a bond with Joe. That puts a hot spot in the friendship between Joe and Charles with Charles feeling like the misfit again because he’s overweight. This was one sci-fi film that had a lot of depth in its script that worked well with the movie.

One of the best things about this movie is that it will remind many people of Steven Spielberg’s thrillers of the past. I’m sure most of you have a favorite one: Jaws, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Poltergeist, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Gremlins, The Goonies. They captured people’s imaginations and dazzled viewers looking for an escapist thrill. Here in Super 8, we can see a lot of the Spielberg magic captured with the storyline, the special effects and the thrilling sequence of events. That’s what makes for a winning story. Many people can already see many hints of Spielberg’s past movie’s in Super 8. I’m sure if you see it or have seen it, you might too.

The best thing about the movie has to be the lack of star-billing in this movie. Here the main characters are the children. The adults are in minor roles. They are all great individually but its their unselfish performances together where the acting shines best as a whole. J.J. Abrams’ direction is also excellent. He was very good at taking the story he wrote and turning it into a thrilling movie that is as generous with its storyline as it is with its thrilling effects. With Spielberg acting as producer, I’m sure that J.J. Abrams could rightfully label himself the heir apparent to Spielberg. The visual effects definitely could pass as some of the best of the year. The mix of music with 70’s hits and the original score of Michael Giacchino was also excellent. Overall this was an excellent movie.

In terms of its business, Super 8 cost surprisingly over $50 million to make and even had a video game released with it. As of now, the film has grossed $125 million in North America and just over $200 million worldwide; not enough to rank it even in the annual Top 10 list of highest grossing movies. I really enjoyed it. I feel sorry for those who missed out on it. It’s also surprising to see that something like this about an alien invasion of such would draw and captivate moviegoers in the late 70’s but doesn’t seem to do so now.

Super 8 is an excellent summer movie that the viewer would expect little of but would leave the theatre amazed. This definitely has to be one of the best summer movies you could see. It may not look like your type of movie but if you give it a chance, you might be surprised.