Star Trek Beyond

Does it go beyond expectations..?

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I was very lucky to be invited to attend a screening of Star Trek Beyond at Picturehouse Central on Thursday. Disclaimer: I am not the world’s biggest Star Trek fan. I watched some of the Patrick Stewart starring episodes for a period (I’ve got vague memories of it being on BBC two before/after The Simpsons..?) and I’ve seen the previous two films of this reboot, thought they were quite good, but that’s about it. The following review therefore is the review of  someone who may not know everything about Star Trek but adores the Science Fiction genre. This someone also thinks that the special guest of the preview screening, the one and only Idris Elba, is pretty damn cool too…

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Independence Day: Resurgence

“Get ready for a close encounter, bitch!”

They’re back! 20 years on from the aliens first visit they are back. This time, with a bigger ship which is apparently 3,000 miles wide. Only one man can save the day – David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). Well not really, there are many other people who come into play but yet again the thinking woman’s crumpet steals the show (I acknowledge the fact he is old enough to be my Grandfather but choose to ignore/embrace it). Whilst this sequel does not desecrate the first film, or taint it in anyway, it’s neither better nor worse than its predecessor.  And, considering how dark things seem in news and politics at the moment, this may just be the escapism everyone needs.

In the twenty years since the first alien attack Earth has changed completely. All of the world’s nations are united with a level of global peace never seen before. Instead all of the world is working together, using the alien technology that was left behind, to build the Earth Space Defense (ESD) programme. Overseen by President Lanford (Sela Ward), General Adams (William Fichtner) and Director David Levinson, its figurehead is Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher playing the step-son of Will Smith’s absent character). When visiting the ESD base on the Moon, and squaring up to old friend/rival Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), an alien mothership attacks the moonbase and heads straight for Earth. It’s a call to arms for old faces – such as President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and Dr Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) – as this could just be Earth’s final stand.

This is a sequel that is full both of pretty awe-inducing spectacle and amusing cheesiness. From the above headline, a line uttered by Jessie T. Usher without any hint of irony or knowingness, to every line uttered by Judd Hirsch as Mr Levinson Sr this is a film full of enough laughs to entertain. Considering the amount of death and devastation that occurs (I gave up trying to estimate the death toll) there is still enough comic relief that you do manage to leave the cinema smiling. In case you didn’t get my oh-so-subtle hints I loved every scene featuring Jeff Goldblum – he has got the nerdy/cool thing nailed! – and his quasi-science. 

This does lead me to my main issue with this sequel. Promo material and comments from many of those involved in the film have discussed how this is Independance Day for the new generation. It’s a pointless thing to aim for for two reasons. A) I was two when the original film came out. Does that mean ‘It’s not for me’?  B) The best thing about this film is the use of the ‘old’ cast. It is their scenes that are the highlight, not just for purposes of nostalgia but also in terms of character and entertainment. Jessie T.Usher gets sidelined by Liam Hemsworth who is playing a ‘maverick’ who is so bland and vanilla. The actress playing Hemsworth’s fiancee Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), the daughter of the original film’s president, gets to some cool stuff but still needs to be rescued in the process. Travis Tope as Charlie Miller, best friend of Liam Hemsworth’s character, is a great addition in terms of comedy, although he is rather too fixated on a character who looks pretty gets about four lines (Angelababy playing Rain Lo).

Furthermore, the plot itself magpies (it’s my polite preference to steal) a lot from a wide range of other sources. From Alien, to 2001, to Close Encounters and even Deep Impact. In many ways it’s quite a distracting element to see so obviously the ‘influences’ of a film. There’s also the fact the film starts off so big – destruction of several continents big – that manages to be so large it’s almost ineffective. We are starting to see what could easily be described as a type of fatigue from audiences in terms of big explosions – it’s no longer shocking seeing a big screen explosion of a national/international landmark. Sometimes smaller works better. I think that’s why I enjoyed the second half of the film far more than the third. When the battle occurs within a slightly smaller radius, the many different sub-plots start to connect together, and the jokes are flying, that’s when this film really hits its stride.

All in all, this does the job. It’s more than entertaining enough, looks great and doesn’t require too much brain power. Perfect way to while away an evening.

stars

The Martian

‘I’ve gotta science the shit out of this!”

The Martian is better than both Interstellar and Gravity. Whilst both of the latter films tried admirably, but failed, in their ambition, Ridley Scott has succeeded in translating Andy Weir’s thrilling, tense and funny novel to the big screen. In fact, this is Ridley Scott’s best movie for years.

Disco-hating Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of Ares 3, a manned mission to Mars. On Sol 18 (solar Martian Day 18) a fierce storm hits the base so Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) tells Watney and the four other crew members to evacuate. However, on the short distance from the Hub to the ship, Watney is impaled by an antenna and separated from the group. Watney’s vital signs indicate that he is dead so the devastated crew leave without him. But Watney in fact wakes up to find himself stranded on Mars – with meagre supplies and no means of contacting anyone he must use his wits, brains and ingenuity to survive.

There are so many features of this film that make it the true success it really is. Firstly, the incredibly talented ensemble cast. Along with Damon and Chastain, there is a who’s who of exceptional skill – Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel EjioforMackenzie Davis and Donald Glover amongst the most recognisable. Unusually for a cast of this size there are no weak links. In part due to their talent, but also due to the solidity and sharpness of the source material. All of the characters are given their moment to shine and develop; possessing mannerisms and relationships that make them feel real. Of course, in this regard, it is Damon who shines brighter than the rest. He makes Watney so truly likeable it would be impossible not to root for him; this ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances.. It’s easy to imagine that there will be audiences in the States stood in their seats in either tension or cheer, pushing him on. His reactions seem so real – who wouldn’t swear in frustration at the circumstances that are thrown at him? His unflappability (A – Who knew that was even a word?!? and B- It’s an adjective that exactly describes his character) is crucial to this relatability. Unlike many other recent films that are about space or even science fiction in general we are often faced with characters who panic in moments of crisis. Watney, and the other characters, are scientists and leaders of their respective fields so it shouldn’t be surprising that they can come up with solutions (which my favourite physicist-friend advises me were utterly terrifying for him to watch!)

Secondly, there’s the soundtrack. As you, hopefully, identified from the above plot summary, Watney hates disco. And, can you guess what genre of music is the only kind left behind in the Hub..? (If you can’t guess I am judging you massively at the this point). Watney finds himself in such Dire Straits (hah, semi-accidental music pun) that he must subject himself to a disco-themed soundtrack – something he does not do willing or without bitching massively about. Every disco classic is so carefully apt to the moment it plays. So much so that it’ll be hard to listen to ‘Hot Stuff’ by Donna Summer without thinking of Watney’s haphazard handling of plutonium. Thirdly, the pace and storytelling is so skilful that the 140 minute running time doesn’t drag nearly as much as it could have done consequently creating a tone that is both epic yet playful.

The film remains as equally entertaining, appealing and refreshing from start to finish. The next space-themed movie has a lot to beat…