Tag Archives: Chris Pine

Wonder Woman (2017)

Expectations are a funny thing. At first, everyone got excited when it was announced that Gal Gadot, who turned out to be the best thing in the otherwise lacklustre Batman v Superman, was getting her own standalone Wonder Woman movie. Anticipation grew even higher when acclaimed filmmaker Patty Jenkins (Monster) was signed on to direct. But then there were rumours that the film wasn’t as good as executives wanted it to be, and concerns were exacerbated when reports surfaced that the film had to undergo late reshoots. Coupled with relatively low tracking numbers for its opening weekend (US$65m domestic) and a late lifting of the embargo on critic reviews, everybody wondered whether Wonder Woman would continue DC’s streak of disappointing flicks.

Well, I’m glad to report back that concerns regarding Wonder Woman were largely unfounded. This origin story about the Amazonian princess is arguably the best DC film thus far, easily besting the incoherent Batman v Superman and the messy Suicide Squad. In my view, it is also more entertaining than Man of Steel, which has become more revered in retrospect, though some will argue that the Superman movie is better crafted overall. Either way, Wonder Woman should be regarded as a success that will give DC a much-needed huge sigh of relief.

On the other hand, I must say I am quite stunned by Wonder Woman’s astounding 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the highest rated superhero movie on the critic aggregate website with the exception of The Incredibles, which is technically in the same category despite being animated. Yes, Wonder Woman has pleased a larger percentage of critics than all the Marvel superhero movies including Iron Man, The Avengers, and Captain America: Civil War, and has topped even all of the entries in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.  The rating will probably come down a little eventually, though it’s hard to imagine a precipitous drop with more than 65 reviews already logged thus far. The favourable reviews have the film set to record an opening weekend north of US$90m domestic and US$175m worldwide.

I say I am stunned because I honestly don’t think Wonder Woman is that good. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about Wonder Woman, and it’s not just because it’s one of the first times we’ve seen a female superhero get her own movie (besides, Elektra and Catwoman were so widely panned) or because Gal Gadot looks absolutely beautiful and badass in the titular role. Patty Jenkins does an excellent job of creating the mythology of Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince, starting with her youth on the mythical island of Themyscira. It’s not an easy thing to do because of it’s all about Greek gods and the creation of mankind, but Jenkins manages to explain everything in a way that’s easy to follow and allows audiences to suspend their disbelief enough to stay in the story. In some ways, the first part of Wonder Woman is similar to the first Thor film in terms of setting up another world that somehow co-exists with the more grounded reality of the overall franchise.

When Wonder Woman leaves her home to enter the world of man for the first time, the film picks up that fish-out-of-water vibe we’ve seen before in the first Captain America movie. The similarities extend beyond that because Wonder Woman is set in World War I, with the majority of the action sequences coming on the battlefield.

Speaking of action, Wonder Woman absolutely gets the job done, especially in the earlier parts of the movie when we first see the Amazonians galloping on horses and jumping, flipping and gliding effortlessly through the air while shooting arrows at enemies. I particularly liked the use of mixing in slow motion (300 style, without the blood) to accentuate Diana’s super quick movements and skilled manoeuvres. However, I didn’t love all of the action sequences. The CG of some of Diana’s “superpower” movements come across as a little clunky, especially as she looks normal all the way until a sudden burst of speed or strength that doesn’t mesh quite as smoothly as it should. A late battle sequence also disappointingly goes down the Man of Steel route.

Gal Gadot is not the greatest actress out there, but she does have her strengths—bountiful charisma, a steely gaze and a knack for striking perfect poses. She was so great in Batman v Superman because her role was limited; here, as she carries the film, you get to see more of the flaws in her acting, which doesn’t always channel the necessary emotion the character deserves. That said, it’s good enough, and she makes up for it by being fantastic in the extremely physical action scenes.

The supporting cast has plenty of big names who all deliver strong performances to prop up Gadot. You’ve got the likes of Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright as Amazonians, Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, Lucy Davis (from the British version of The Office) as Steve’s secretary, Danny Huston as German general Ludendorff, Spanish actress Elena Anaya as Doctor Poison, and David Thewlis as a British cabinet speaker.

I’ve always liked Chris Pine but never thought of him as anything special, though I must give him props here as he is a clear standout. Let’s just say he’s more than a damsel in distress but doesn’t take anything away from Wonder Woman. To the contrary, he plays a big part in defining who she becomes. Less impressive are the three other ragtag members of Steve’s team, Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). Their performances are fine—it’s just that they are not given enough to do and never end up being fully fleshed out. They feel like they’re just there for the sake of making up the numbers.

At 141 minutes, Wonder Woman is also slightly on the long side. I was never bored, but some pacing issues in middle part of the film did render things slower than I would have liked. One final complaint is the humour—ie, there is humour in the film, but pretty much all of it has already been seen in the trailers.

So on the whole, Wonder Woman does have its fair share of problems. I’m not trying to be negative about the film because I really enjoyed it and thought it was better than what I had initially thought it would be. As a superhero origins movie, it ticks a lot of boxes — great cast, fun, action-packed, character-driven, visually spectacular, and has a nice message at heart. Having said that, I would caution against putting too much stock in the 97% Rotten Tomatoes rating because you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. If anything, the score actually highlights the misleading nature of the RT metric in that the percentage of critics who give a film a favourable review isn’t reflective of how much they liked it. I personally would not put it in my top 10 superhero movies of all time. By DC standards, it’s fantastic, but in terms of storytelling, humour and the “wow” factor, Wonder Woman remains a notch below the best Marvel offerings.

3.75 stars out of 5

Hell or High Water (2016)

Even months before I even knew what it was about or who was in it, I had heard about some movie called Hell or High Water. I don’t think it even got a cinematic release where I’m based, but the praise was fairly universal.

And so, just a few days before it was named one of the 9 Best Picture nominees at the Oscars later this month, I finally got to watch it — and I absolutely concur: Hell or High Water a brilliant film, completely different to what I expected but an authentic, immersive experience fueled by high-octane performances, tense action and a surprising amount of depth and insight into today’s America.

I went into the film knowing virtually nothing about it except that it’s regarded as a “modern western”. Set in West Texas, the film tells the story of two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who turn to robbing banks. Jeff Bridges plays a Texas Ranger hot on their heels as he tries to piece together their patterns and the reasons behind their intense crime spree.

Hell or High Water is directed by David McKenzie (Young Adam, Perfect Sense) and written by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), and if you’ve seen any of their past films you’ll be able to get a decent sense of the tone and pacing. Granted, westerns are not my favourite genre, and the rhythm of the film is more contemplative than frenetic, with long segments of pure dialogue.

However, there is just something magnetic about how the film has been executed. The cinematography is stunning and the depiction of the desolate landscapes and foreclosing ranches is sobering. The troubled characters come across as genuine and the sharp dialogue they get to spew out is some of the best of the year — insightful, humorous and cutting. Actually, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Hell or High Water probably explains Donald Trump’s election victory better than any other fictional film released in 2016.

The performances are wonderful. Chris Pine isn’t known for his acting, though his turn as the more level-headed of the two brothers is perhaps the best performance of his career to date. Jeff Bridges has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor, though for me, the guy most deserving of recognition is Ben Foster (either as Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor), who plays the crazy, unpredictable brother. His presence is so intense and managed to keep me at the edge of my seat because he’s just so unpredictable.

Hell or High Water is also a film that shows you don’t need a huge budget or special effects to crank out spectacular action sequences filled with tension and impact. Despite a budget of just US$12 million, McKenzie makes the most of the landscape and creative ideas to infuse the action scenes with gripping thrills. Some moments actually reminded me of the action in the final season of Breaking Bad. It’s that good.

Some viewers might find the pace a little on the slow slide, though my only complaint is that there’s too much mumbling in the dialogue. I thought it was just be Jeff Bridges because we’ve heard it before, but both Pine and Foster do their fair share of it too. Apart from that, Hell or High Water is a sublime cinematic experience that ticks all the right boxes — an intriguing plot, well-rounded characters, great dialogue, compelling action and thought-provoking drama. Definitely check it out.

4.5 stars out of 5

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Star Trek Beyond, grammatically confusing title notwithstanding, is the solid albeit less ambitious third entry in the rebooted Star Trek franchise that began with Star Trek in 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013, both films I really enjoyed.

This time around, Fast & Furious 3-6 director Justin Lin has replaced Abrams, with Simon Pegg (Scotty) penning the script. Most of the cast is back, with Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as Bones, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, John Cho as Sulu, and the late Anton Yelchin, in his final role, as Chekov (a name that, when yelled in an American accent during times of distress, which happens numerous times in this film, sounds a lot like an insult — you figure that one out for yourself). Unfortunately, as Alive Eve had a scheduling conflict, her character Carol Marcus from Into Darkness simply disappeared from the crew USS Enterprise. Joining the cast this time are Sofia Boutella as Jayla, an alien scavenger, and Idris Elba as the unrecognisable alien Krall.

The plot of Star Trek Beyond is very simple: The Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission after receiving a distress call. Stuff happens and basically the entire movie is spent on a barren planet against a powerful alien enemy. Each member of the main cast is dealing with something personal, and there are a few twists and turns along the way, but on the whole, there’s nothing mindblowing about the story.

The same can be said for the action. Justin Lin is essentially the director responsible for turning the Fast & Furious franchise into the juggernaut it is today, so you know he’s got a great feel for action. But the action sequences in Star Trek Beyond, while visually impressive, aren’t at the same level as the Fast & Furious films in terms of innovation and adrenaline-pumping thrills. The special effects are also in the same category — they are good enough to get the job done, though there are no jaw-dropping or memorable images.

These elements combine to make Beyond feel more like a glorified season finale of a TV series than a major cinematic blockbuster. Perhaps that’s downplaying the overall quality of the production, but both of its predecessors felt a lot more like event films, whereas this one came across as more run-of-the-mill and par for the course. And it shouldn’t have been this way considering that its US$185 million budget was equal to that of Into Darkness and US$35 million higher than Star Trek.

That said, despite the seemingly lowered ambitions, I still found Beyond to be a pretty enjoyable popcorn flick. The biggest reason is not the action or the special effects, but the chemistry and interactions between the characters. I’m not a Trekkie and have never been one, but I had a lot of fun watching the back and forth banter and camaraderie between the cast members, especially Spock and Bones, and Scotty and Kirk. By the end of it all, I found myself engrossed in the story and invested in their fate. Pegg deserves a lot of credit for the dialogue and bringing out the essence of so many of these beloved characters.

My biggest disappointment with the film was the character of Jayla, who seemed to have a substantial and pivotal role in the film judging from the trailers and the posters. And while she is important, she doesn’t quite live up to the expectations or the hype of her well-designed physical appearance. On the other hand, the villain Krall turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and that speaks to the imposing screen presence Idris Elba always brings to every one of his roles.

Ultimately, Star Trek Beyond is a well-made and very watchable third entry in a franchise that appears to be heading toward an inevitable decline. It’s not spectacular but it’s also far from weak. If future entries can maintain this standard — and they’ve already said there will be more — I certainly wouldn’t mind going on more of these adventures aboard the Enterprise.

3.5 stars out of 5

Z for Zachariah (2015)

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I may have read Z for Zachariah when I was in high school. I can’t remember if I did, but it’s a great title you never forget once you’ve seen it.

Then I heard last year that they were making a film adaptation starring Australia’s own Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, and Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (let’s face it, should be Oscar-winner, bloody McConaughey), and thought it would be one of 2015’s big blockbusters. Instead, the film kind of disappeared off the radar and got a limited release late last month.

My initial reaction is that the film must have sucked balls, but as it turns out, Z for Zachariah is actually quite a compelling post-apocalyptic drama that was probably always fated to appeal to a small segment of the market.

From what I understand, the first half or so of the film follows the book quite closely. Margot Robbie plays Ann, a religious young woman who survives what appears to have been a nuclear holocaust due to the fortunate positioning of her family’s farm. Then one day a man, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), appears and changes everything.

The second half of the film is said to deviate from Robert C. O’Brien’s 1974 novel in that it introduces a new character played by Chris Pine. As a result the story takes a completely different direction and becomes dominated by a different set of themes.

It’s understandable why the film has been so low-key, as it plays out at a pace that will be challenging to a lot of audiences. It’s one of those contemplative dramas, where the interactions are more subtle and invites viewers to read between the lines and draw their own conclusions. At its core, this is a film about basic, fundamental human emotions and instincts, and how feelings can be magnified to dangerous levels in a confined setting. I’m sure everyone has a relatable experience where you spend a lot of time with a person or a small group of people and develop strong feelings toward them, but when you look back upon it later on or from a step back you wonder why it ever had such a powerful effect on you.

I found the slow speed of the film to be fine — there is a constant tension that continues to grow beneath the surface that made me uneasy and curious as to what would happen next. It’s quite impressive how director Craig Zobel — who last directed the superb 2012 film Compliance (my review here), which is also about the nature of human interactions — manages to create such an effective drama using this very simple story with so few characters.

Chiwetel Ejifor is really awesome in this, as you would expect, and he stands out among the trio of actors. Both Pine and Robbie are very good too (though I noticed Robbie’s Aussie accent leaking through a few times), which is a big reason why the film works despite its pace and occasional uneven tone.

Admittedly, Z for Zachariah is not for everyone, but people who enjoy slow-burning dramas that explore the many layers of human nature might find it a surprisingly captivating experience.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

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I didn’t think much of 2011’s Horrible Bosses despite its lovable main cast of Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day. You can read my full review here, but basically I just didn’t find it funny enough, and it’s always disappointing when a comedy fails to come to close to living up to its potential.

And so it surprises me to say that even though Horrible Bosses 2 is possibly one of the most unnecessary sequels of all time, I actually found it funnier than the original. Call me crazy, or perhaps it was the lowered expectations; maybe I was just in the right mood this time — whatever the reason, I laughed more and was generally less annoyed by the unfunny stuff this time around.

Fed up of being bitches to their horrible old bosses, Bateman, Sudeikis and Day ditch their day jobs to become inventors of a new shower appliance. Their embarrassing appearance on morning television attracts the attention of a wealthy businessman played by dual Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, and his son, played by Chris Pine. Naturally, being the idiots that they are, the trio get screwed over by father and son, and vow to take matters into their own hands.

Things don’t go according to plan, of course, and soon the movie spirals into a kidnapping farce with plenty of outrageous stupidity. Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston, who played two of the horrible bosses in the first film, manage to make their ways back into the script somehow in smaller roles, and are actually allies to our bumbling heroes.

The jokes are still mainly crass, crude and vulgar, sexually explicit, politically incorrect and (borderline) offensive. The main difference this time, at least for me, is that everyone involved seems more relaxed and less eager to impress, and as a whole, the film doesn’t as hard to be deliberately shocking. As a result, the comedy came across as more free-flowing and less scripted.

The core strength of the film still lies in the three protagonists. As a huge Arrested Development fan, I am glad to say that Bateman’s character definitely channels his inner Michael Bluth — he even says “Come on!” Jason Sudeikis also does that pervy act he does so well, and Charlie Day is basically still the moron from It’s Always Sunny that made him famous. No matter what you think of the film, at least take comfort in the fact that the three actors played to their strengths.

The newcomer, Chris Pine, is also very good here, and adds a wicked vibe and new dynamic to the film. There really aren’t any “horrible bosses” in this sequel, but I suppose he comes closest in terms of the top supporting star.

On the whole, Horrible Bosses 2 is an unnecessary but adequate sequel that might surprise some you if you expect as little of it as I did. It has it’s fair share of misses for sure, though I’m fairly sure I laughed more times watching it than I did watching its predecessor.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Into the Woods (2014)

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Sometimes you just have to go against the grain. Despite the awesome ensemble cast, the reputation of stylish director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Pirates of the Caribbean 4), the box office and critical success, there is only one thing I am certain of: Into the Woods is a shit film.

Based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name, Into the Woods cleverly builds a world combining several Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales such as Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack and the Beanstalk. At the centre of the story is a couple played by Emily Blunt and James Corden, who come in touch with all these classic fairy tale characters as they try and break a curse that has prevented them from having a child.

It sounds like a fun idea, and for the first few minutes of the film (at least) it was not difficult to see the potential of the premise. You get a bunch of big name stars — from Meryl Streep (whom I cannot believe was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for this role at the upcoming Oscars) and Anna Kendrick to Chris Pine and Johnny Depp — playing wacky characters. The tone is light and tongue-in-cheek, and the script makes good use of our knowledge (and the characters’ lack of knowledge) of the fairy tales they’re in.

And so it came as a slow and painful shock to me that Into the Woods simply didn’t work as a feature film. It may have as a Broadway musical — I don’t know because I haven’t seen it — but I found myself not caring much for the story or the characters. There are some admittedly funny moments, many of which are sarcastic or involve Billy Magnussen, who plays Rapunzel’s unfortunate prince, though the whole “turning fairy tales on their head” gimmick grew tiring in a hurry.

At 124 minutes, the film is far too long and the dark final act dragged on for what felt like an eternity. I actually thought the movie was already long when it hit its faux ending much earlier and had to be forced to endure about another 20 minutes of soulless mayhem.

Strictly speaking there’s nothing wrong with the production per se, though as a whole Into the Woods failed to engage me. I couldn’t get into the story because it was so all over the place, I didn’t get into the songs because there was nothing resembling a catchy melody or song, and I didn’t care about anything or anyone because there was no heart or genuine emotion.

Maybe it’s my bias against fairy tale “reimaginings” or my inability to get most musicals, most notably the big screen adaptation of Les Miserables from 2012. But  even had I approached it a clean slate I just don’t see how I could have come to a different conclusion — and that’s the film is strangely detached, unexciting, and far too long.  It’s a pretty movie to look at and I have the utmost respect for the talented cast on the screen, though these positives alone are insufficient to drag Into the Woods out of the shitter.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

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Alec Baldwin. Harrison Ford. Ben Affleck. And now Chris Pine. With the exception of Baldwin (who’s a bit of an outlier anyway), Jack Ryan is the Benjamin Button of spy characters in that he just keeps getting younger and younger. And less dopey-looking.

All jokes aside, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recuit is yet another rendition of Tom Clancy’s most famous character, and while there are some positives to take out of it I’m still fairly convinced this is again a one-and-done reboot. I enjoyed the concept and some of the action sequences, but it’s one of those films where the more you think about it the more ridiculous and silly it seems. It’s not bad as a standalone espionage flick but not strong enough to lay the foundations of a new series.

This time, we go right back to the beginning, when a young Captain Kirk (Pine) witnesses the horrors of 9/11 while studying in London and decides to become a US marine. It doesn’t go too well for him, but through the disaster he is discovered by a CIA operative, codename Dances With Wolves (just kidding, it’s Mr Kevin Costner). And so begins a new career for our protagonist, whose adventures take him to Russia and a tycoon played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film. There’s a conspiracy and there’s a terror plot brewing, one that could destroy the world as we known it, and Jack Ryan must find a way to stop it in time without pissing off his girlfriend, Kiera Knightley.

From that brief synopsis, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (horrible title, by the way) seems like your typical spy action flick. And while there are elements about it that intrigued me — the terrorist plot, the fact that Ryan was just starting off as an analyst as opposed to a field agent, and the always-welcome presence of Branagh in front of and behind the camera — in the end it really was just your typical spy action flick. That’s a shame, because I think there was potential for more layers and depth, in particular as they had brought in 9/11 and the whole economic terrorism angle, but instead they went traditional and opted for car chases and explosions.

Branagh, who surprised me when he did an excellent job with Thoralso comes out with a commendable effort here in terms of generating tension and at least a semi-realistic feel to the action sequences. His own performance was charismatic, and Chris Pine was rather believable as a brilliant analyst who starts out way out of his depth but eventually embraces his destiny. Kevin Costner is, well, very Kevin Costner, and Kiera Knightley puts on a decent American accent as the damsel in distress masquerading as a strong, independent woman.

So the execution is not bad, but it’s a shame that the script becomes more and more outrageous as it progresses. We are supposed to see what a brilliant mind Jack Ryan is, but if you really think about it he actually does a lot of stupid stuff that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I can’t discuss these without divulging spoilers, but let’s just say Ryan’s so-called “brilliance” relies upon giving up the easy route for the hard one (maybe so the task seems more difficult) and plenty of dumb luck. It’s not just Ryan either, as plenty of others, including the villain(s), are guilty of head-scratching behaviour. And don’t even get me started on the final climax, which goes from implausible to ridiculous to just plain silly.

At the end of the day, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is what it is: sleek albeit familiar B-grade entertainment featuring a popular character and a stellar cast. It’s serviceable as a DVD rental but it would be unfair to expect too much. There clearly is something about Jack Ryan that makes Hollywood keep wanting to make movies about him, but this one doesn’t exactly show us why.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) (2D)

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I’ve allowed a few weeks for Star Trek Into Darkness to sink in, but my opinion of it remains the same.

It’s a very good film that is extremely entertaining and features excellent action sequences, special effects and a brilliant villain, but it ultimately lacks the wow factor of its predecessor and somehow ends up feeling like a glorified big screen season finale of a TV series.

The 2009 reboot, Star Trek, also directed by JJ Abrams (who will now also take over the Star Wars franchise, yikes) was phenomenal. It was a film non-Trekkies such as myself could enjoy but it also had something for the die hard fans (or so I have been told). Apart from a slightly disappointing villain (not Eric Bana’s fault — more a problem with the character itself), it was a film that had it all — action, drama and romance; and enough space fantasies to make fan boys spray their shorts and casual fans become fan boys.

Four years later, we have the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, which hits the ground running with a spectacular opening sequence featuring the crew of the USS Enterprise headed by captain James T Kirk (Chris Pine) and first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto).

Naturally, Kirk’s maverick decision-making lands him in hot water and at odds with Spock, but then disaster strikes courtesy of a brand new villain played by the man with the best name and arguably best voice in Hollywood, Benedict Cumberbatch. It is then up to the regrouped Enterprise crew to track him down and avenge their losses.

Into Darkness has a lot going for it. The cast, of course, is fantastic. Apart from the aforementioned Pine, Quinto and Cumberbatch, there’s the old gang of John Cho (ie, Harold), Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban (who provides the dry humour), Simon Pegg (who provides the Simon Pegg humour), Anton Yelchin and Bruce Greenwood. Another newcomer is Alice Eve, who provides the obligatory eye candy. All of them have key roles to play and don’t just blend into the background, which is a reflection of Abrams’ mastery of character and character development. At its core, however, the film is still driven by the love/hate/trust/loyalty relationship between Kirk and Spock, which takes another big step forward in this sequel (it’s getting to that bizarre bromance, bizarre sexual tension level). As for Cumberbatch, all I can say is that this dude rocks. He’s terrifying, he arouses sympathy; he’s just an electrifying and magnetic screen presence. I think I love this man.

Given how fantastic Star Trek was as a reboot of a legendary franchise, it was always going to be difficult for the sequel to match it. You have to strike a balance between reintroducing the characters and not rehashing too much; you have to take the action and relationships to new heights; you have to make the faithfuls happy with references to the original series; you have to try and do something different, be it the storyline, the action or even the jokes.

For the most part, Into Darkness achieves all of these. For the Trekkies in particular, there are some special treats, especially if you have stayed away from the trailers and the gossip. As a non-Trekkie, even I had an inkling that some of the revelations in this film were HUGE. It sets things up nicely if they decide to extend the franchise, which they almost definitely will.

I have few complaints. The pace of the film moves so quickly that you rarely have time to stop and think about how illogical or improbable the things happening on screen are, which is a sign of good filmmaking. I was sort of expecting more despair given that the title of the film is, after all, Into Darkness. I thought there would be more “darkness”, more hopelessness for Kirk and the gang to crawl out of, but it wasn’t that bad, all things considered. (Speaking of which, it seems Hollywood has been using the exact same formula for these big action blockbusters for quite some time now. Hero gets defeated — absolutely smashed, really — by a seemingly unstoppable villain. Hero rises from the dead and goes on a journey of recovery. Hero returns and triumphs against all odds. Celebration!)

The more troubling thing for me was that the film, or maybe the script, didn’t feel like it was depicting an extraordinary event too big for the small screen. It’s difficult to describe the feeling, but at times it felt like I was watching an epic season finale on a big screen rather than a blockbuster made especially for the big screen. It’s a strange thing to say considering the scale of the film, the star power and the special effects were all more than sufficient, but that was just the way I felt.

Does that mean Into Darkness is an unworthy sequel? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s one of the better executed sequels in recent years. It didn’t blow me away like the first film, but it still provides 133 minutes of solid entertainment that everyone from old Trekkies, new-Trekkies and non-Trekkies to casual science-fiction and blockbuster fans can thoroughly enjoy.

4 stars out of 5

PS: You don’t need me to tell you again. Ignore the 3D version. Please. I beg you. Don’t waste your time and money.

Movie Review: Unstoppable (2010)

I had no idea what Unstoppable was about when I went to see it.  My mother told me it had Denzel Washington and the guy from Star Trek (Chris Pine) and that it was good — and I took her word for it.

Well, my mother told me the truth, because Unstoppable was awesome.

When I heard that it was called Unstoppable and that it had Denzel in it, I imagined a sequel to Man on Fire and that Denzel would be, um, “unstoppable” in it.  But when the film started and I saw that it was about trains, I almost yawned, fearing that I would get something closer to The Taking of Pelham 123 (please, no more!).

Fortunately, Unstoppable was nothing like either film.  “Unstoppable” is a reference to a runaway train, and Denzel and Chris Pine are the two ordinary railway workers who are caught up in the mayhem.  It also has a very “regular” looking Rosario Dawson and a dickish Kevin Dunn (the dad from the Transformers movies), and is directed by Tony Scott, who, coincidentally, directed both Man on Fire and The Taking of Pelham 123.

I don’t want to give away too much, but what I will say is that Unstoppable is probably the best Tony Scott film since Enemy of the State.  It’s extremely solid from a technical perspective, with a strong plot anchored by its two likable stars, seamless special effects and an unlikely sense of realism for a popcorn movie.

But what I loved most about it was the the pace, which is absolutely frenetic.  After an initial build-up, the film races along at break-neck speed right down to the very end, with one nerve-wracking event after another.  Just when you thought things would be okay, another incident comes and “derails” (pardon the pun) everything.

Of course, not everything will make perfect sense because otherwise the film won’t be quite as exciting — but I can live with that.  As far as action movies go, Unstoppable is definitely one of the better ones you can see this year.

4 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Star Trek (2009)

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Today I took some time out of my busy study schedule to go check out the new Star Trek movie.  Some call it the new JJ Abrams movie.  You know, the one everybody’s talking about.

Just a disclaimer: I’ve never been a Star Trek fan, never seen an episode of the TV show, and only saw one of the films (I can’t even remember which one – perhaps First Contact or Nemesis – and I can’t remember a single thing about it).  Like most normal people though, I have heard of some of the catchphrases and I know of Kirk, Spock (including his ears and hand gesture) and Scotty, but that’s the extent of my Star Trek knowledge.

And so, I went into the movie relatively optimistic but unsure of what to expect.  I came out of the film raving about it.  Honestly, it blew my mind!

The new Star Trek is what has been called a ‘reboot’ (kind of like the new Batman films with Christian Bale) that explores the origins of its two most famous characters, Captain James T Kirk and his pointy-eared Vulcan friend, Spock.  It’s also considered a ‘prequel’ that sets the foundation for a whole new series of films.  With the exception of one person, the film sports an all-new cast that is fresh, young and brimming with vitality.

As per my usual review code of conduct, I won’t give away the plot, and honestly, I don’t even know if I could explain it even if I wanted to.  There’s a fair bit of what I assume is ‘Trekkie’ jargon (but it could also be basic science stuff) that went right over my head and the film didn’t exactly take its time to explain everything in detail.  But it’s not hard to figure out the basic premise of the storyline and what is going on.

In any case, the story, while interesting in its own right, is not the strength of the film.  The strength lies in the way in which director JJ Abrams (the genius that created Alias, Lost and Fringe and produced Cloverfield) has reinvigorated the franchise with freshness, excitement and enthusiasm. You don’t have to be a Trekkie to enjoy this movie.  Star Trek WAS, for the most part, seen as a thing for die-hard fans and sci-fi geeks only.  One of the reasons I never got into it in the first place was because it seemed old and out-dated (despite being set in the future!), and the world it created was so extensive (with so many series, movies and novels) that I couldn’t be bothered making the effort to get to know it.  This film has provided the perfect spark to inject some much-needed life back into the franchise, and because it’s set right at the beginning, newbies to Star Trek (like me) can be eased into its world.

Abrams has inserted his unique directorial style and visual flair to the film.  Fans of his other works can probably spot the best elements of Lost and Fringe somewhere in there.  The new franchise players, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto were knockouts. Pine delivered a scruffy yet charismatic Kirk, brash and arrogant but a born leader, whereas Quinto showed he could be much more than a psychopath killer (what happened to Sylar’s eyebrows?!), inhabiting the character of Spock.  The supporting cast is also great.  John Cho managed to leave Harold (of Harold and Kumar fame) behind, and Simon Pegg stole the show as Scotty.  Guys like Karl Urban and Anton Yelchin were also solid.

The film was action-packed right from the start and didn’t let up.  It also had just the right dash of humor.  As for the special effects – I didn’t really notice it that much because I expected to see space ships and lasers flying through space – but I suppose that means they did an excellent job of it by not allowing the effects to overwhelm the film.

There were only two weaknesses I could point out.  The first was probably the antagonist played by Eric Bana  (almost unrecognisable in heavy make-up), which I felt wasn’t really terrifying or imposing enough.  It wasn’t really his fault though because the focus of the film was firmly on the young Kirk and Spock.  The second was some of the action sequences, which still relied too heavily on the rapid cut scenes.

On the whole, however, the new Star Trek was fantastic.  I’m sure old Trekkies will enjoy it, as will those who simply like to watch a fun, exciting movie.  Despite its significant running length (126 minutes), I was left wanting more by the time the credits began rolling.

I’m not going to rush out to buy the series on DVD any time soon, but I’m glad to hear that this film could be the first of many.  Bring on the sequels!

4.5 stars out of 5