Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Posted: February 26, 2017 in Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
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Three years into their five year mission, Kirk is questioning his position as captain of the Enterprise. Seeing an opportunity to prevent feeling lost in the depths of space, he pursues a chance to seek out a vice admiral position at the space station, Yorktown. While in port at Yorktown, an escape pod is intercepted with a distressed passenger. Kirk takes up a mission to help her save her people by traveling through an uncharted nebula. Their mission is cut short when danger appears on the other side of the nebula and threatens the lives of the entire Enterprise crew.

Finding Purpose through Challenge: One of the main themes of the film pitted Kirk and Spock in a battle of purpose. While Kirk was proud to serve his crew and would risk his life for them, he felt he was always in his father’s shadow. He doubted his purpose and motivation to serve his crew to the best of his ability. Similarly, personal challenge seemed to cause Spock to become more distant and personal tragedy had him questioning whether he should stay with the crew or return to New Vulcan to support his people.

Reboot Successful: While Star Wars has experienced significant success expanding the universe over the past few years, Star Trek was believed to still be more niche. With strong actors like Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana, the stories and themes feel more relatable and entertaining than the other recent attempts to bring back the series. It feels like there is a future for the Starship crew.

Tribute & Dedications: One of the saddest pieces of news prior to the release of this film was the loss of Leonard Nemoy. He had been a cultural icon in the sci-fi community and was truly loved by many, many people. In addition to Nemoy, Anton Yelchin passed suddenly, just as he was rising in the spotlight.

Final Verdict: Star Trek Beyond has all the elements that have aided in the growing support for the new series. The blend of current trends and classic elements makes for an entertaining experience.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

Naomi Bishop is well-known as a shark of a senior investment banker, but doubts have arisen after her most recent challenge with a major investment. When presented with a cybersecurity company to represent and launch, she has an opportunity to truly shine in response to her boss’s recent announcement of retirement. The most significant challenge she faces is her gender and the associated perception of her business and networking style. She uses her staff to run triage and help manage her client to success, but she also begins to realize that there might be corruption woven into her efforts. Between a client who appears to be getting reckless and doubt forming about the people closest to her, Naomi begins to get more desperate about her avoiding another failed launch.

Women in a Man’s Profession: Regardless of the success women have achieved in business and banking, there were still many double standards portrayed in this film. Naomi was a shark and extremely detail-oriented. To some of her co-workers and her clients, the sense was that she was standoffish or acting extra frosty. In comparison, Erin Manning used a bit of her sex appeal to soften the atmosphere around her male partners and clients. Naomi actually pushed that sense out of her as well. This was not something she did comfortably, as it became more apparent that she hit a breaking point with their client.

The scene where she met with other rising professional women felt like such a powerful moment. She admitted that money drove her focus on her career. It is not a statement that some women feel comfortable making, but she owned it clearly and completely.

Double-Crossing: While Naomi seemed to be staying on-point with her goal of launching her client’s IPO, all of the people around her seemed to be letting their personal agendas get in the way of her game plan. Erin appeared to be a team player until she saw a moment to strike for her own advancement. Michael enjoyed having a relationship with Naomi, but he was gradually looking for a way to use her for insider information. Even Samantha reconnected with her to try to pry into her company’s activities while investigating Michael.

Final Verdict: Films about successful women tend to shy away from some of the shark-like behavior that was highlighted in this story. Anna Gunn was stellar in her frosty but powerful portrayal of a woman who knew what she wanted but was getting stabbed in the back.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

 

Maggie’s Plan (2016): A Change of Heart

Posted: February 26, 2017 in Comedy, Drama, Romance
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Though she would prefer to fall in love, Maggie feels more ready to seek out parenthood more immediately. Identifying a local entrepreneur named Guy, she is completely prepared to use his material to become a mother. She did not predict finding John, a professor at The New College. She develops an infatuation with him and eventually falls in love, even though he was already married to another professor with quite the reputation. She finds her way into a new marriage, with their 3-year-old daughter fulfilling her dreams. As the relationship continues, she begins to regret her decision and believes that John may have been better off with his ex-wife.

Conflicting Personalities/Partnerships: Though John and Georgette may have seemed to be total opposites, their marriage may have worked better than outsiders believed. Maggie’s encounters with John appeared to fit with no complication, but she figured out that something was off after they got married. These conflicts are part of the unpredictability of love, as it seemed that they each changed their behaviors based on how they were paired off with each other. John, in particular, had personality changes based on the woman to which he was married. With Georgette, he took a more supportive role based on her drive as an academic. With Maggie, he became dependent and less passionate.

Plans versus Fate: One of Maggie’s biggest challenges was her need for control. While wanting a child is a natural element, seeking out science to speed up the process is less so. She set up her opportunity to conceive without a committed relationship, but started to fall in love with John and created conflicts within herself about what she wanted. When the marriage started to fail, she tried to take control again. While her plan to meddle with Georgette’s and John’s love lives may have worked out the way she wanted, she did not anticipate Guy showing back up.

Greta’s Quirky Life: Greta Gerwig seems to play a typical type of character in her films. She is extremely intelligent but also seems to play into a stereotype of being lost in what she wants out of love. This was mirrored in her other films like Frances Ha  and Mistress America. In some cases, her romance stories are flighty, quirky, and entertaining; while in others, her love stories are somewhat maddening through their extramarital themes.

Final Verdict: While her dialogue and thought process was entertaining, Maggie’s Plan is a bit of a mixed bag. The themes can be challenging since they highlight infidelity mixed with control issues. At the same time, it is intriguing to watch how the relationships develop through the process of falling in and out of love.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

Phiona, a young Ugandan girl, has a simple life working with her mother to sell crops at the market. She stumbles upon a missionary and his chess club, feeling invited to join and enjoy a little break from her simple life. Robert Katende believes she is a true champion and invests in her development as a player. She resists during her training because she feels guilty about having opportunity well beyond her family’s simpler life. When she finally gets the chance to compete, her competitiveness gets put to the test.

Confidence in Talent: It was beneficial that Robert believed in her, but Phiona quickly developed a sense of strength in her ability to see multiple steps ahead of her opponents. She quickly rose to the top of her group at the missionary, but it was not until she started to compete that she began to get inflated. Failure set her back a bit, but Robert’s belief in her pushed her back into competition.

Ugandan Slums: There are a number of films out there that depict the stark contrast of conditions between first and third world areas. Queen of Katwe felt like a realistic look at the lives of families living in the slums. There was a sense that the environment was a bit more colorful than reality, but it still exhibited the harshness of the monsoon and limited resources.

Opportunity to Achieve: While Phiona certainly was the focus of the film, the rest of the kids were entertaining to watch as well. Their personalities were bold and inspiring. The kids were at odds when Phiona first showed up, but they found support through their combined success. Her achievements were elevated by her peers and they found strength in being the outliers. Each of them went on to gain scholarships and further opportunities to advance their education.

Final Verdict: This was a truly feel-good film highlighting a young talent. Phiona was an easy girl to like, with her combination of confidence and heart.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

As a young child, Little was growing up in a broken home. Without a father and with a drug-addicted mother, he was quiet and mostly kept to himself. When discovered by the local drug dealer, Juan, he finally had someone willing to invest some emotion and energy in his happiness. As a teenager and now going by his name (Chiron), he started to explore his feelings and found himself attracted to a close friend. When left to fend for himself again, he self-destructed and found himself spiraling into a life similar to his childhood. As an adult, Black had become the drug dealer just like Juan but struggled with a sense of missing something more.

Exploring Identity: As a young child, Little ended up in a conversation with Juan and Teresa about being queer and wanting to understand if that made him a bad person. The shyness seemed to be partially related to not knowing how to connect with others. Luckily for him, he did have a budding relationship Kevin. Their friendship took an exciting and confusing new turn as teenagers, but social image put a rift between them. He avoided revisiting his queerness until he became an adult and found himself attempting to reconnect with Kevin.

Complicated Lives: Besides exploring Chiron’s complicated identity, the film also showed a different side of a drug dealer. Juan may have been the one supplying drugs to the community, including Chiron’s mother, but he also took a loving interest in a young boy who needed some support. Teresa seemed comfortable with Juan’s career, but she also took an interest in supporting Chiron. Also, Paula was clearly messed up from the drugs, but she never stopped wanting better for her son.

High School Drama: The process of coming out is different for everyone, but high school presents a whole added set of challenges. Chiron and Kevin shared a romantic evening together but could not display their affection in public. When the school bullies coerced Kevin to fight Chiron, he failed to stand by his friend and forced Chiron into a tough position. It was not until they were adults that they chose to explore their relationship again and connect with their true feelings for each other.

Final Verdict: Moonlight is a raw, emotional drama that explores so many different issues through the life of a single man. As a child, he was confronted with starting to explore his sexuality while also struggling with a drug-addicted mother. As a teenager, he finally acts on his feelings, only to be shattered by the harshness of the world around him. As an adult, he struggles to find meaning in a world where he was repeating the same mistakes he experienced as a child. This is a must see from 2016.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

An aspiring actress makes her way to Hollywood to live out every actress’s dream. Hitting up as many auditions as possible, she struggles to make a break into the industry. Wandering into a bar, she meets a pianist named Sebastian and then finally talks to him at a pool party. They start a romance, during which time he breaks it big with his music career while she continues to find an in with the movie industry. When a play catches the attention of a talent agent, the career paths for the couple starts to diverge in different directions, putting a strain on their relationship.

Dance Party: The film starts without any real focus on the main actors, giving viewers a taste of classic Hollywood dance numbers. It is a spectacle of dance and diversity on the highway. While this number was truly enjoyable, other moments in the film were a little less magical. The marquee dance between Stone and Gosling under the stars was entertaining but seemed a little less than stellar with the actors struggling not to look down at their feet. Still, this is the type of film that Hollywood eats up about itself.

Life Imagined: One of the interesting twists in this film happened near the end of the story, where the viewer gets to see a glimpse of another life. What if they had actually met and fell in love in the bar rather than through their competing careers? What if they were able to support each other through their successes?

Beautiful Transitions: Unlike The Artist, this film projected in bright colors and romantic scenes. The song City of Stars pops up throughout the film and helps to move the story and romance from one stage to the next. During Audition and Planetarium, the viewer is taken into whole new worlds of imagination.

Final Verdict: While the film is very enjoyable, the story was a little off-putting. Stone played a bit too much of a damsel while Gosling was a bit too standoffish. The acting, singing, and dancing was good but not award-worthy.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

I’ve been gone from the blog for a while but tonight is Oscar night and now time like the present to get back into the mix. I have a lot of individual movies to get reviews completed, but, for now, I will just start with the celebration of the best in movies over the past year.

This time around, the Oscars have a bit more diversity than usual. There are 4 films up for best picture that highlight stories about people of color. Similar numbers can be seen in the acting and directing categories. In particular, Moonlight highlights themes of race, sexuality, socio-economic challenges, and family makeup. Hidden Figures takes a lighter approach to focus on accomplishments previously undiscussed.

My one major cirticism, which will also be highlighted below, is that La La Land will likely walk away with at least a few awards, including some of the major categories. While it was an enjoyable film, there were some major flaws in the storytelling and acting that will get overlooked. Gosling and Stone watch their feet when they dance and their singing is good but not great.

On the snub side, there were not any major misses, with the exception of potentially Sully. Tom Hanks usually does not get overlooked, but the actor grouping was a bit crowded. Denzel Washington should have also gotten recognized for his direction of Fences. While I would have liked to see Deadpool at least grab a nomination, it was no surprise to see that the merc with the mouth got silenced.

Let’s get to the predictions (post any agreements or challenges in the comments section):

Best Picture

  • My Prediction: La La Land – As much as I want to recognize the excellence of other films, this feels like The Artist all over again, even though the quality is actually a little lacking. Still, this is Hollywood loving to praise itself.
  • My Spoiler: Moonlight – While I could also toss Fences into the mix for its classic, play-like presentation, Moonlight touches on so many different elements that its complexity is its true strength.
  • Winner: Moonlight

Actor in a Leading Role

  • My Prediction: Denzel Washington – While he would potentially have been able to sneak in with a directing win if nominated, his performance was compelling.
  • My Spoiler: Casey Affleck – I don’t believe in a win for Affleck, but he could try to steal one for his deeply internal, emotional portrayal of a man struggling with his past failures and current depression.
  • Winner: Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • My Prediction: Mahershala Ali – He was truly mesmerizing as the drug-dealer with a heart. The way he approached his role, he has proven himself to be a rising star.
  • My Spoiler: n/a
  • Winner: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight

Actress in a Leading Role

  • My Prediction: Emma Stone – While there are other nominees that could easily prove themselves worthy, Stone’s role in La La Land is almost formulaic in its setup for grabbing the win. It has emotion and switches between lightheartedness and dreaming.
  • My Spoilers: All but Meryl Streep – While Streep is always a phenomenal actress, Negga is gripping, Portman is measured, and Huppert is balanced.
  • Winner: Emma Stone for La La Land

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • My Prediction: Viola Davis – This category is truly challenging because of how strong all of the actresses were. Davis partners well with Washington to round out the emotions of Fences.
  • My Spoiler: n/a – As strong as everyone was, Davis’s performance was a cut above.
  • Winner: Viola Davis for Fences

Animated Feature Film

  • My Prediction: Zootopia
  • My Spoiler: Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Winner: Zootopia

Cinematography

  • My Prediction: La La Land
  • My Spoiler: Lion
  • Winner: La La Land

Costume Design

  • My Prediction: La La Land 
  • My Spoiler: Jackie
  • Winner: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Directing

  • My Prediction: Barry Jenkins – Moonlight may not win best picture, but this would be a chance to show support for the thought-provoking and creative film. This would also be the first win for a black director in Oscar history.
  • My Spoiler: Damien Chazelle – This would only happen if the committee believes in the La La Land sweep.
  • Winner: Damien Chazelle for La La Land

Documentary (Feature)

  • My Prediction: OJ: Made in America
  • My Spoiler: Life, Animated
  • Winner: OJ: Made in America

Documentary (Short Subject)

  • My Prediction: Joe’s Violin
  • My Spoiler: Extremis
  • Winner: The White Helmets

Film Editing

  • My Prediction: La La Land
  • My Spoiler: Moonlight
  • Winner: Hacksaw Ridge

Foreign Language

  • My Prediction: The Salesman (Iran)
  • My Spoiler: Land of Mine (Denmark)
  • Winner: The Salesman (Iran)

Makeup

  • My Prediction: Star Trek Beyond
  • My Spoiler: Suicide Squad
  • Winner: Suicide Squad

Music (Original Score)

  • My Prediction: Justin Hurwitz for La La Land
  • My Spoiler: Nicholas Britell for Moonlight
  • Winner: Justin Hurwitz for La La Land

Music (Original Song)

  • My Prediction: “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana
  • My Spoiler: “City of Stars” from La La Land
  • Winner: “City of Stars” from La La Land

Production Design

  • My Prediction: La La Land
  • My Spoiler: Arrival
  • Winner: La La Land

Short Film (Animated)

  • My Prediction: Piper
  • My Spoiler: Borrowed Time
  • Winner: Piper

Short Film (Live Action)

  • My Prediction: Ennemis Interieurs
  • My Spoiler: Sing
  • Winner: Sing

Sound Editing

  • My Prediction: Hacksaw Ridge
  • My Spoiler: La La Land
  • Winner: Arrival

Sound Mixing

  • My Prediction: Hacksaw Ridge
  • My Spoiler: La La Land
  • Winner: Hacksaw Ridge

Visual Effects

  • My Prediction: The Jungle Book
  • My Spoiler: Doctor Strange
  • Winner: The Jungle Book

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

  • My Prediction: Moonlight
  • My Spoiler: Fences
  • Winner: Moonlight

Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • My Prediction: Manchester by the Sea
  • My Spoiler: La La Land
  • Winner: Manchester by the Sea
Percentage Correct: 14/24 = 58.3%
Percentage from 2016: 15/24 = 62.5%
Biggest Winner: La La Land (5) / Moonlight (3)
Other Winners…
Manchester by the Sea (2)
Hacksaw Ridge (2)

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Fences
OJ: Made in America
Piper
Sing (Live Action)
Suicide Squad
The Jungle Book
The Salesman
The White Helmets
Zootopia