Star Trek Beyond is the third film in the latest iteration of Star Trek. The first two films, Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, were directed by J.J. Abrams, but since he's crossed over to the Star Wars camp with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they've forced him to pick a side to keep peace on earth. Star Trek Beyond was entrusted to Justin Lin, a director who has made a name for himself directing Fast and the Furious sequels, a series with a growing ensemble and big effects. Lin has shown his ability to wield the demands of an ever-broadening franchise, which probably made him a good choice for Star Trek.
Knowing that Lin was onboard is enough to know the direction that Abrams had planned for Star Trek, leaning on the audio-visual elements without losing track of the characters or their journeys. In this sequel, we find the crew of the Enterprise stranded and scattered across a mysterious planet following a surprise attack from Krall and his battalion, who are trying to locate a powerful ancient artifact.
Chris Pine's mature take on Captain Kirk shows a man who has grown weary of his ceaseless missions and seeking to start a new chapter. Zachary Quinto explores Mr. Spock's human traits more as he develops a buddy movie dynamic with Karl Urban as Bones, who gets much more focus. Simon Pegg also gets more screen time, giving each of the key characters more space to grow without the insurgence factor of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness.
"It's HUGE... but is it a flashlight or a 'flashsword'?"
Instead of Khan, we have Krall (do they just look them up in the phone book?), a foreboding enemy played by Idris Elba. You almost can't recognise the man under all the prosthetics and make up, but his voice, size and eyes have a familiarity. He's somewhat restricted by his get up, but the dictator's mysterious and sinister plans make him intimidating in an Idi Amin sort of way. The screenplay seems to be hinting at a political undercurrent, talking about struggle and even casting Elba, who's also known for his towering performance as Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom, however this isn't fully explored.
It may have had more resonance if the film wasn't so geared towards full-speed-ahead action. Lin's experience shines through, managing to balance the performances against the visual effects and the deep space warfare against the hand-to-hand combat. After recovering from the initial flurry of outer space peril, this action-intensive sequel becomes even more relentless, only slowing down to catch jokes and then thrusting forward into the next action sequence. The visuals effects are seamless, drawing us into the futuristic world of the Enterprise and contrasting that against the wilderness of the strange planet they find themselves trapped on.
The audio is just as dynamic moving from starship collisions, force fields and hi-tech weaponry blasts to old school dance and alternative music. Star Trek Beyond has definitely been influenced by Guardians of the Galaxy, incorporating a similar blend of action, comedy, teamwork, irreverence and mix tape charm and Sofia Boutella. It remains invested in Star Trek thanks to the classic line-up of characters, but there's a fresh attitude thanks to this influence, making the sci-fi adventure more of a rollicking yarn than a pensive allegory for the War on Terrorism.
This fun-loving tone makes Star Trek Beyond all about the entertainment: disaster movie, buddy movie, heist and survival adventure... this sequel has it all. From letting Chris Pine pull off some stunts worthy of Steve McQueen in The Great Escape to culminating in a colossal action moment to the tune of The Beastie Boys, Star Trek Beyond has a fearless streak to it. The wink-wink charm of the cast and the full-blown action are probably just what Abrams was wanting when Lin replaced him and they've managed to pull it off in a similar way to the roller-coaster ride that is Jurassic World.
Anton Yelchin's haunting performance is a strange coincidence when you think about Lin's connection with Paul Walker in Fast & Furious 7. However, apart from a credit tribute, the film-makers have opted to steer clear of any heartwarming in-movie moments. It's probably what Yelchin would've wanted, being the pro he was, yet it still feels tragic. The creeping sadness is offset by some hilarious moments, especially between the odd couple of Mr. Spock and Bones.
All in all, Star Trek Beyond is a great popcorn blockbuster, designed to entertain and carry the torch without taking itself too seriously. It manages to accomplish its objectives, borrowing the tone of the Guardians of the Galaxy and formula of The Fast and Furious to create a spectacular and entertaining sequel.
Spling reviews Kubo and the Two Strings, Nerve and Miracles from Heaven as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.
(*T.C.O.B. reviews Paolo Sorrentino's latest film.)
Actually, I'm about to write a hugely laudatory review. Though I don't know if it will appear in time to persuade more people to see the film in question. It's even possible that the film is already off the circuit, no, I won't interrupt myself to check it up on internet. But I've said it before: a Craft Opinion can't be rushed. At T.C.O.B. we write about the things that interest us, when they interest us. If our readers are able to take something from our reflections, methods and principles and use it in evolving their own tastes, so much the better. Besides there's always DVD rental.
I delayed writing this review partly because of a line in the film itself. It belongs to a character called Jonny Tree, a Hollywood film star played by Paul Dano. He says, "It's up to each of us to choose whether we want to depict the senselessness of horror or the beauty of desire". He's just decided that he cannot play the part of Hitler in a forthcoming film. At the time I saw this, T.C.O.B. was intensively occupied with the theme of horror in films like Salo and Apocalypse Now (see the 12th and (13th instalments). I thought it would be useful to bring my reflections to some kind of a conclusion before turning my attention to Jonny Tree's point of view.
Well, now I can't help finding it a little trite. Horror ought not to be dismissed as senseless. At the very least it has a human sense. As for desire, is it necessarily beautiful? Jonny Tree, who comes across, rather successfully, as a philosopher-hipster, seems suddenly to be taking his lines from Miss Universe. It's a shame, too, that he wants to abjure his role as Hitler. In another part of the film he masquerades as the infamous dictator in front of fellow guests at an Alpine hotel. The messianic gaze he assumes is an intriguing interpretation: a man utterly detached from the reality of whatever (horror) he is responsible for. At breakfast he sits alone at a table set for twelve. While eating his fruit he has a fit of coughing, and in his attempt to bring his human avatar under control again he strikes the table, sending a minor shockwave through the rarefied atmosphere of the dining room. It's a moment of pure black humour.
Sorrentino does make up, however. I mentioned Miss Universe. She's played by Madalina Diana Ghenea and makes two appearances in Youth, once in an outsized woollen jumper, once completely unclothed. I know that full nudity counts for little these days. But in this case I'm not just talking about shots of breasts with dark, prominent nipples, a luscious pubic mound and fleshy buttocks. When a director knows, as Sorrentino does, how to craft beautiful pictures, he unveils the enigmatic union of languor and potency. In this way, the female body arouses the discomforting conflict between lust and admiration, or the enigma of male desire, which can only truly be resolved by love.
Miss Universe besides, Youth is a cornucopia of beautiful pictures. Following a tradition that goes back to Pasolini, Fellini and beyond to masters of the Renaissance, Sorrentino frames landscape (Swiss Alps in spring), architecture (Hotel Schatzalp, Piazza San Marco), fashion (Armani, Bulgari) and humanity (young and old) in exquisite proportions. In the humanity aspect he is supported by the wonderful performances of a wonderful cast. There's Rachel Weisz - not unclothed but stunning nonetheless. She also makes herself look childishly vulnerable when her character's husband abandons her for another woman. Later on she glows with the white-anger of an adolescent as she vents at her father for his infidelities toward her mother.
Weisz' performance is an epitome of a film that deploys many shades of emotion. Youth is trite, cynical, dramatic, wickedly humorous, lascivious. I was caught by surprise, not to mention embarrassed slightly a few times. But it's all filmed so masterfully, moving from one emotion to the other and back and forth between the perceptible world and internal realm of the characters' desires with such exquisite poise that it would be inhuman not to abandon oneself to its ebb and flow. "Emotions aren't overrated", says Mick Boyle, one of the film's characters. "They're all we've got." In a magnificent interpretation of this septuagenarian screenwriter, Harvey Keitel unites tenderness and irony, wisdom and passion, humour and despair.
Diego Maradona is also in the film. I admit I was fooled into thinking it was really him. There were the thick black curls, the tattoo of Karl Marx spread over his back, the greying beard and the weight problem. I later found out he was played by an actor going by the improbable name of Roly Serrano - at least according to Wikipedia. Anyway, he and his daughter, who would invariably be hurrying after him, with an oxygen tank, constitute another epitome. Youth, for all its emotional ebb and flow and variation of perspective, keeps reminding the viewer of the inseparability of young and old: how one clings to the other for its experience, how one supports itself on the other's vigour, how human desire sustains itself on the interdependence of experience and vigour.
Of course, there's also conflict between young and old - sometimes with tragic consequences. But Sorrentino's Youth has a happy ending so I'll not dwell on these. Rather, I'll close by describing my favourite scene. Michael Caine in the role of Fred Ballinger, a retired musician, sits on a tree stump on a hillside meadow and conducts a pastoral impromptu. The musicians are a herd of Swiss cows jangling their bells and lowing and a flock of birds that whooshes into a pristine blue sky when the maestro raises his arms to signal the conclusion. So beautiful, so uplifting. Whatever your age, it will make you want to fall in love again.
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Kubo and the Two Strings is a ridiculous movie title. Who is this Kubo and what exactly are these two strings? Are we talking about a kitten and a ball of twine or maybe this is a story about a kid who can snort noodles? Thankfully it's neither, although they've both got serious potential on YouTube.
This story is set in ancient Japan, where Kubo is an eyepatch-wearing young boy looking after his ailing mother in a village. After a spirit awakens an age-old vendetta, Kubo must find a magical suit of armour worn by his late father in order to survive. Probably better than watching a cute kitten play with string with two hours.
This animated film features a first class voice cast including: Charlize Theron, Matthew McConnaughey and Ralph Fiennes. Each of these actors brings great depth to their characters who draw you into the magic of Kubo's world. Although, it helps not knowing who they're voicing in order to slip further into the illusion. Art Parkinson plays Kubo, bouncing off the name stars quite effortlessly while there's even a credit for Star Trek's George Takei.
The mix of stop-motion animation is mesmerising, giving the film an other-worldly feel and leaving you breathless, wondering how they managed to create such a rich and detailed visual tapestry. The flow is seamless as the lovable characters interact against the backdrop of some dynamic scenes involving beautifully realised origami. The air fills with these paper creations as Kubo uses his shamisen (guitar) to draw life out of sheets of paper and leaves.
"Made it ma, top of the world!"
The filmmakers have managed to concoct an enchanting atmosphere in which anything can happen to the tune of an authentic and beautiful soundtrack. To engender mystery they don't answer all our questions, allowing us to sink further into the enigma as one veil of reality peels away after the other. Japanese culture, symbols and traditions are swathed with a sense of mysticism in a similar way to the video game, Shadow of the Colossus, as our hero is tasked with defeating a series of gods and monsters using his wit.
While it has the epic artistic grandeur of Shadow of the Colossus it remains relatable, drawing the comedy, warmth and appeal of Kung Fu Panda. Our hero learns more about his powers as his quest continues, banding with a group of allies including a monkey, beetle and paper samurai who help him along the way. It's as dark and magical as Coraline, the transcendent spirituality of Miyazaki's films and then keeps us amused by tripping into the enjoyable mix of exhilarating action and clumsy levity of Kung Fu Panda.
It's a truly captivating tale that's set to become a classic. We're whisked away on an enchanting albeit perilous quest that has been so lovingly filmed that you can't help but admire every frame. The characters are endearing: Kubo's melancholic innocence, Monkey's thick-skinned disdain, Beetle's air-headed "Buzz Lightyear" heroics and most notably the kind old woman from the village. The universal themes around the power of memory and mourning are heartwarming and deeply touching for all ages.
Kubo and the Two Strings features the best of Hollywood and Japan. Like Pixar's Up, it's one of those rare films that sees everything come together so perfectly: a top voice cast, mesmerising animation, an enchanting atmosphere, a captivating story, a beautiful soundtrack, timeless themes... making it a definite must-see if you enjoyed any of its many influences!