Going Beyond For Everybody

Despite their warring fanbases and differing approaches to science-fiction, Star Wars and Star Trek actually suffer from a similar problem: they’re incredibly overhyped. Both George Lucas’ intergalactic western and Gene Roddenberry’s space explorers TV show have become so ingrained onto pop culture that fans have glorified both properties as these deep epics of poetry and symbolism. It’s great to see such passion in these properties, but both franchises are mostly just fun space adventures with likeable characters. Like most memorable forms of television and movies, the characters are what people remember and cherish the most (the proof is in how many action figures both properties have sold). Taking those properties and trying to make them overly complex and self-serious has proven to be a bad step for both franchises. Star Wars has the prequels, and Star Trek has The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier, Insurrection and Into Darkness. When both properties know what they are and focus on their characters while keeping the fun, they both thrive. Star Wars has its original trilogy and The Force Awakens while Star Trek has The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, The Undiscovered Country and the 2009 reboot. And now, Trekkies and casual fans alike can add one more to that list.

Star Trek Beyond brings audiences back with the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise about three years into their five-year voyage, and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling a little lost (IIIINNNN SPAAAAACE….sorry, had to do it). He has to clear his head fast when a lone alien is rescued by the Federation and asks for the Enterprise to travel to an unknown planet and save her people. Kirk and co. run into the monstrous Krall (Idris Elba) and his swarm of spaceships that strand the crew on the unknown planet. Dr. Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are fighting hurt, Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) try to find out what Krall is after, Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) are taken captive with the rest of the crew, and Scotty (Simon Pegg) meets a mysterious inventor (Sofia Boutella) with a way to help. Though they crash land apart, the Enterprise crew must find each other to stop Krall’s evil plan.

Full disclosure: I love J.J. Abrams’ reboot films, but I’m not a Trekkie and Abrams made those movies almost exclusively for non-Trek fans, which explains my love for them and why they’re so successful. This may have actually been Paramount’s plan all along: Now that Star Trek has once again immersed itself into pop culture and established its brand amongst typical moviegoers, it can finally be what longtime fans have wanted all along and offer casual viewers more of the same. The trick? Have a longtime fan who just so happens to be a huge fan (Pegg) co-write the script and have a blockbuster action director (Justin Lin of Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6) keep the whole thing moving.

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(Left to right) Chris Pine and director Justin Lin on set of “Star Trek Beyond”

Pegg’s script is simple and has more interest in character interaction than general plot. Beyond may be the simplest Star Trek movie to date, so small in scale and so uninterested in its stakes that Krall doesn’t feel all that threatening. Beyond feels more like an extended TV episode than a major motion-picture, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. While Abrams is great at setting up movies, he has trouble creating an entirely satisfying ending (perhaps Star Trek ‘09 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are the exceptions). Lin knows exactly how to keep a steady pace and fun atmosphere throughout the movie while sliding in some solid (if not brief) character moments, like how Spock handles the death of his future self (R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy). Beyond is more about watching the crew of the Enterprise come together in a pinch than a grand plot to save the entire universe, sacrificing what could’ve been a great villain in exchange for continuously developing good characters, which works.  Lin knows exactly what Star Trek is through and through, building colorful sets and weaving cool space gadgets into the film. He also gets to have super fun with special effects and CGI, creating an impressive inner-space Federation base that should be seen to be believed. But it’s about seeing the crew interact with each other and how bonded they are with each other. 

 

Beyond thrives the same way all Star Trek movies thrive: with a great, connected cast. Pine and Quinto remain on-point as Kirk and Spock, but Quinto gets out just a bit farther ahead than Pine. Quinto gets the deeper moments for Spock while Pine remains in stern hero mode. Kirk is advertised as “lost in space” and unsure if wants to remain off planet anymore, but it all gets lost in the action and quickly resolves itself before the credits. Pine is still a fine lead, but that’s only because his bland confidence is spaced between the supporting acts like Quinto and the ever-lovable Urban. It makes sense that Scotty gets a lot more dialogue this time around since his actor wrote the script, but Pegg is no comedic slouch thanks to his frantic energy. Sadly, Beyond also commits an intergalactic offense by wasting Elba in the villain role. Not only does he feel restricted behind some (admittedly impressive) alien makeup, but he may be the most expendable villain since the faux-God in The Final Frontier despite a plot-twist reveal on his backstory. Again, the sacrifice is for the good of the main cast, but it feels like something that could’ve used a touch more development especially from such a great actor.

 

Beyond is the movie that meets Trekkies and casual fans halfway, with random science techno-babble and motorcycle stunts going hand-in-hand. It’s a tad ridiculous, but that comes with the territory and, like Lin’s Fast & Furious films, doesn’t mean to insult the audience’s intelligence. How can you hate a movie that takes place thousands of years into the future yet still manages to throw in Beastie Boys and Public Enemy as plot devices?

 

Final Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars

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DOA

After a year of whining fanboys and controversy, the remake of Ghostbusters beats the odds and makes it to the big-screen…too bad it’s dead on arrival. Listen below to hear why.

Ain’t Love Grand?

Finding love is like finding an apartment: it’s expensive, time consuming, there are a million options and most of them are probably out of your range. Boiling love down to the bare essentials is something people focus on more often than not: have similar interests, be honest with each other, and enjoy each other’s company. But what about that x factor? The passion and inexplicable emotion that drives people to want to spend the rest of their lives together at any expense? How does one explain that? What if that goal became so difficult and complex that the world just threw its collective hands up and said, “Screw it, just give me a name and I’ll work with it?” A complex question indeed, one requiring a complex answer.

 

The Lobster is a manifestation of that answer. Set in the dystopian future (because even art films are dystopian future tales these days), the world has decided that all single people are better off contributing to society as animals so any person that is alone in his or her life is transferred to The Hotel. There, these outcasts of modern society are given 45 days to find a partner (not true love or a soul mate, just a partner) or they will be turned into an animal of their choice. David (Colin Farrell) is new to the single life after his wife leaves him for another man. He goes to The Hotel and chooses to become a lobster if he fails to find a companion. Though making friends with a kind-hearted lisping man (John C. Reilly) and a rather standoffish limping man (Ben Whishaw), he falls for a short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) who is a member of a group of single drifters refusing to go to The Hotel. David tempts fate and persecution from society to pursue this mystery woman.

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(Left to right) John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, and Colin Farrell in “The Lobster.”

“Conventional” is not a word used in any way, shape, or form in The Lobster. Co-written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, Alps), the film is drenched in irony, subtle jabs at modern society, and deadpan humor. It’s like if Wes Anderson went to Ireland during rain season and took a handful of downers every morning before filming. That’s not a knock against the movie, as there are a big number of funny moments in the movie, especially if you’re an introverted pessimist who looks down on the sunny fantasy of falling in love (like Lanthimos, and the writer of this review). Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou make David’s story one of misery that he causes. He’s an awkward man looking for a mate out of desperation, like the rest of the people at The Hotel. He and the other guests are examples of what single people are treated like in the constantly-connected world of the day: prisoners from their own life choices, segregated from the world without consideration and deemed lower than humanity if they don’t conform. The movie doesn’t let single people off the hook either, as they’re painted as their own off-beat, odd subculture of society. The movie’s point seems to be that the hardest thing in the world is to find that awkward middle ground between desperate for companionship and rebellion through solitude. It’s basically between constant cutesy couple photos on Instagram or posts about being “single and happy, dammit” on Facebook.

 

It would be a much sharper dig at modern society if the movie didn’t love itself so much. At 119 minutes, The Lobster is a near slog that feels like 3 hours. The movie strokes its own ego by long shots or extended looks at the dour universe it sets up. There are some dark and genuinely disturbing imagery in The Lobster that would’ve been much more effective if they were shown in brief cuts, like jabs to the audience, instead of holding on them or expanding on them, almost bludgeoning the audience. The movie doesn’t know how to set up its own ending, providing three scenes that could be great climaxes, only to go with a rather subdued (if not also dark) closing moment. The movie can’t quit while it’s ahead and when it finally does, the hit of the humor has worn off.

 

What’s impressive about the entire endeavor is that the cast is 100% game for it. Farrell has always used dark comedy as a sort-of hidden talent (see In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths for evidence), and he’s never been so restrained and humane in his career. This may be the most tender character he’s done in a while and Farrell pulls it off wonderfully. Weisz is equally effective as a messy mockery of the manic pixie dream girl. She’s quirky but barely considers the thought of being with David until a graphic turn of events. Reilly and Whishaw are actually two versions of the same character, the man desperate for companionship and will worry about love later. Reilly is the soft version of it, hoping his kindness will get him sympathy, and Whishaw is the sneaky predator lying to get ahead. The standing examples of the two extremes of this universe are Olivia Coleman as The Hotel’s manager and Lèa Seydoux as the leader of the single drifters. Both are daft in their own right, but Coleman’s uptight persona is a much funnier caricature.

The Lobster is not the easiest pill to swallow and it may love itself a bit too much. That being said, it’s a striking diversion from a love story. Maybe too extreme to make its message stick, it’s meant for star-crossed lovers in the self-obsessed culture of 2016. There may have been a better way to do a movie like this with a sharper, leaner script and lighter atmosphere would help make it more effective. For now, The Lobster stands as a funny, if not overstuffed, satire of what society sees as falling in love. If it weren’t for all the deadpan humor, this might as well have been a horror movie.

 

Final Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars