With Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban and Idris Elba
Fast and Furious director Justin Lin takes the Captain’s chair for Star Trek Beyond, the third installment in the rebooted timeline of Kirk, Spock and co, during which the USS Enterprise is sent on a dangerous search and rescue mission. Co-written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, the film is a hollow, shop-fitted Star Trek experience for a theme park crowd, complete with all the proper ingredients and nothing new in-between.
While Beyond is every bit as slick and action-packed as J.J. Abrams’s incarnations, it’s also locked in their cycle, seeking little originality and worse, insists on telegraphed plot points that are explained with eye-rolling exposition, moments before they occur. While much of the character interplay is fun (Karl Urban being the pick of the bunch), the writing does nothing to make the Trek universe a more interesting place, rather, what should have been a bold leap into the unknown is more akin to jogging on the spot for two forgettable hours in the company of expensive CGI.
After an intriguing opening and a thrilling first act set-piece involving the Enterprise, the film hits a huge middle act slump that it never quite recovers from, as the story increasingly behaves like a bland rehash of a recycled Star Trek TV show. With a one-note baddie in tow, Lin is working with a story that is widely bereft of genuine peril (even when perilous stuff happens) – join-the-dots cinema, playing all the right beats and cues in a way that never challenges and seldom excites. It’s Star Trek by-the-numbers – safe and tidy in its determination to not stray from a certain path. While the idea of Trek playing it safe might be enough to satisfy some, it does nothing for the its future, and ultimately puts a question mark next to the overall health of the series.
If you like your sci-fi fantasy loud and inflated, Star Trek Beyond is a snack that might temporarily fill a hole. Many of the latter action sequences are boring and repetitive as character development is kept to a bare minimum in favour of stuff blowing up and all the things you knew were going to happen…happening. A par for a much loved sci-fi series that has always thrived most on the small screen…and should boldly go there again to find new life.
Directed by Richard Linklater • Written by Richard Linklater
With Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Ryan Guzman, Wyatt Russell and Glen Powell.
Everybody Wants Some!! introduces us to Jake (Blake Jenner), a carefree college baseball freshman in 1980 sharing lodgings with his team-mates in the days leading up to the beginning of term training and studies. From writer-director Richard Linklater, the film is an unapologetic ode to good times, establishing a raw energy with a scene-setting dose of immature camaraderie as we meet a mad-house over-spilling with testosterone and lust for life.
Linklater’s films often have a formless quality that defy the structure of set plot points. It makes him one of the more interesting American film-makers of his generation, as he seeks to create a homely sense amid an easy-flowing 1970’s indie approach, while dipping his toe into the mainstream by playing us a mix-tape of his favourite records. Everybody Wants Some!! is exactly that film.
There’s an easy simplicity to the structure, which flows organically between scenes, maintaining good vibes as the characters embrace their time. While Blake Jenner’s role (and his blindingly white teeth) is most central, he’s surrounded by a host of enjoyable performances; Glen Powell as the cocksure ladies man, Will Brittain as the unfashionable out-of-towner, Wyatt Russell as the obligatory pot-smoking philosopher…to name but a few.
In some way, Linklater has made an 80’s film that precedes the petulant brat-packs and synth-based power pop of the decade. There’s a diluted boy/girl romance that sits on top of the interchanging bromance that simmers under the surface of the entire piece. Everybody Wants Some!! is a comedy-drama that isn’t front-loaded with jokes or pivotal dramatic moments, nor does it pretend to be anything other than a depiction of young(ish) people having the best time of their lives. Your enjoyment fully rests on how much you’re willing to let it be.
With Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll and Blake Lively
Woody Allen’s 47th film (his first shot on digital) is a dreamy trip back to grand old Hollywood, which centres on a love triangle between Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Steve Carell. Taking place between competing L.A and New York, Café Society is the sort of experience that can remind us why we love the enduring mythical glamour of the silver screen.
While Allen pokes fun at the kiss-ass business that circles movie star culture, he’s also keen to amplify its larger-than-life appeal. More than most, he can be kicked around in critic circles – often for not living up to his former glories or repeating them. But here, he gets a good balance, as his actors slip effectively into their roles as the story gains traction.
Working with Allen for the first time, the legendary Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography is a thing of beauty, evoking a sumptuous, luxurious feel in capturing the dreamlike nature of Hollywood high-life in the 1930’s. Indeed, there at least a dozen shot compositions worthy of framing and hanging.
As the film’s lead character, it’s as if Jesse Eisenberg’s body is being used as a host to channel Woody Allen in his prime, which is established early, in a funny scene he shares with Anna Camp – the latter playing an inexperienced prostitute on her first day. As it occurs, Eisenberg is an excellent fit for Allen’s wittering rhetoric – his sweet-natured nervousness and intelligence giving way to the occasional neurotic outburst. The symbiosis between actor and director is reinforced by Allen’s admittedly wobbly narration.
In their third onscreen pairing, Kristen Stewart’s unorthodox charm continues to lock well with Jesse Eisenberg’s. Add to that another fine performance by Steve Carrel and the film achieves a rounded sense of what it wants to be, as toe-tapping jazz music is piped through almost every scene.
Rather than saying Café Society isn’t Woody Allen’s best work, it’s fairer to point out that it finds him on form and with purpose. There’s a half-baked mafia subplot fizzling away in the background, but the central love triangle keeps our interest while the dipped-in-elegance photography makes it easily worth the ticket.
Directed by Antonio Campos • Written by Craig Shilowich
With Rebecca Hall, Tracy Letts and Michael C. Hall
The true story of 1970’s TV reporter, Christine Chubbuck, Antonio Campos’s biopic chronicles her life in the days leading up to her shocking suicide, which she carried out in front of a live television audience.
There’s an interesting blend of tones and textures, as a battleground of two warring mentalities between Christine’s idealistic optimism and suffocating anxiety is played out through soundtrack choices and an affectionate eye for the period.
In the title role, Rebecca Hall’s performance is utterly fascinating in its complexity – Christine’s inner torment giving way to frantic outbursts in the competitive world of TV news, where appearances come first and weakness is disease. Indeed, it’s a stark reminder of the change in general awareness toward depression. As the story unfolds, Christine’s demeanor fluctuates with increasing regularity, revving into a cycle of fatal inconsistency. Hall is astonishingly good, capturing endless amounts nuance as her downward spiral accelerates. It’s one of those performances that has you questioning how ‘Oscar‘ never came calling.
Hall is supported by a good cast, most notably Michael C. Hall as a supportive colleague and Tracy Letts as the frustrated station chief desperately scouting for the next big story as the Watergate scandal subliminally unfolds in the background. There’s a good sense of irony to that aspect of the narrative, which lends a duality to the layers on which the film operates. In no small sense, as much as Christine is about the tragedy of one woman’s personal demise, it’s also a glance at the dawn of modern media reporting, and the way in which reality television emerged and gained relevance.
Directed by Brian Koppelman & David Levien • Written by Brian Koppelman
With Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Jesse Eisenberg, Mary-Louise Parker, Imogen Poots, Jenna Fischer and Danny DeVito
Halfway into his sixth decade, the sight of Michael Douglas returning to the role of a lothario feels like some kind of comeback. In his most prominent parts, he’s played self-consumed characters in love with money and sex; Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Wall Street – all strongly flavoured films centering on themes of addiction to danger and excess. Indeed, Douglas’s real life woes of sex addiction add a dark credence to this role of Ben Kalmen, a man who when we meet him, is battling to be his younger self in a world that refuses to accommodate his ways.
Co-directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Koppelman wrote the script) – the film provokes dividing thoughts on our outlook on ageing and maturity. It is an intimate story that questions our idea of how a man in his 60’s should behave – on one hand, we’re willing Douglas’s character to defy age and live his life to the fullest, yet his selfish ways have distracted him to the point of damaging his most meaningful relationships… not to mention his career.
The framing of his character is established in a six years earlier scene, as Douglas consults with a doctor about a health irregularity. It’s this event that flicks a switch in his attitude, sparking an anxiety that births both denial and excess. Douglas is excellent, playing the conflict of his character with a degree of understanding worn across his famous face. In crucial scenes, a simmering Imogen Poots is a tantalising bait for Douglas’s ill-discipline, while Jenna Fischer emits warmth through a curtain of tough love in the role of his disappointed daughter.
Despite strong writing by Brian Koppelman and a notable supporting cast, Solitary Man is largely considered as incidental. It can’t help but meander, at times, yet it remains a solid drama with some real world connotations and Douglas is perfectly placed in a role that evokes ghosts of his past.
Directed by Pablo Larraín • Written by Noah Oppenheim
With Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup and John Hurt
Told largely from the perspective of the person closest to one of the most shocking events in post-war American history, Chilean director Pablo Larraín directs Natalie Portman in the title role of Jackie Kennedy, covering occurrences directly before, during and after JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Texas.
In taking the challenge of depicting a world-famous public figure, Portman demonstrates what a gusty actress she is. Undeterred by the inevitable scrutiny, she captures a combination of vulnerability and strength in the way she movingly expresses the mood and essence of a woman whose entire world is violently uprooted. While Portman’s face is more sculpted than that of the real Jackie, the style, elegance, bravery and soul of a woman surrounded by extremities are laid bare for us to see.
The reactions of those immediately surrounding her are often surprising – the political scurrying to realign office teeters precariously on the brink of disrespect. With Jackie Kennedy present, shocked to her core and still covered in the blood of her assassinated husband, hands shake and half-smiles of congratulation are exchanged, as aboard Air Force One, Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as the new President of the United States. It makes for a surreal scene, demonstrating the unparalleled nature of high political life – for a brief moment, an unfeeling peek behind the curtain at a position where human sentiment is a secondary priority to the imperatives of the political system.
The non-linear approach to the storytelling takes its foundations from the first interview Jackie did with a ‘Life’ magazine journalist (Billy Crudup), mere days after the assassination. The tragedy is juxtaposed with a TV broadcast of Jackie’s famous White House tour – the privilidge of her glamorous surroundings, so empty in the face of personal loss, highlighting the meaninglessness of possesions.
In Mica Levi’s hypnotic musical accompaniment, we feel the sound of a mournful awakening – something almost alien as the turmoil of Jackie is emphasised by a grey cloud of sadness etched on the face of each person she encounters.
Supported by accurate production and art design, Pablo Larraín’s film captures the essential flavour of the time, with Portman’s striking performance given further credence by Peter Sarsgaard’s fine portral of Bobby Kennedy and a warm-hearted Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman, a senior figure in the Kennedy administration.
A study on raw grief and a reflection on one’s purpose in the world in the aftermath of tragedy, the film seeks to show hope in shared scenes between Portman and John Hurt, whose own recent passing imbues a feeling of poignancy which deepens the meaning and resonance of their screen time – glimmers of light through a thick encompassing fog of despair.
Directed by David Mackenzie • Written by Taylor Sheridan
With Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham
A collaboration between Starred Up director David Mackenze and Sicario writer, Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water is a riveting heist thriller centering on two bank-robbing brothers (Ben Foster & Chris Pine), who after the death of their mother, turn to crime in a bid to save their family ranch, all the while pursued by a retiring Texas ranger (Jeff Bridges) and his good-humoured partner (Gil Birmingham).
With two Oscar-worthy performances to its name, Mackenzie creates a genuine moment in cinema – a modern-day western that aches for the glory days of yesteryear, bloody-minded in its determination to stamp an old school sensibility on present times. The days when outlaws and thieves had a 50/50 chance of escaping the law, before security cameras and traceable banknotes. The romance of the Old West, still visible in the skies and across the beauty of the landscape, forever tarnished by technology, globalisation and banks.
Tonally akin to the Coen’s No Country for Old Men, with a bit of True Grit for good measure, the film is home to two career-best performances from Ben Foster and Chris Pine, playing desperate men fighting a financial system designed to make them poor. In no small way, the overarching villains of Hell of High Water are the financial institutions, hardwired to systematically rob the people of their livelihoods. It’s part of what makes this enthralling thriller an emotionally complex study on brotherhood and family obligations.
As the one-last-job lawman, Jeff Bridges is captivating to watch, as he teases on the borders of racial banter with Gil Birmingham, who gives every bit as good as he gets. It’s a beautiful script that bolsters a memorable screen partnership of unspoken respect, deep beneath the surface of their playful lack of it.
While the busy soundtrack could be considered distracting, an intermittent smattering of whiskey-stained rock songs befit a modern western rebirth – a world in which cars and casinos have replaced horses and saloons. Hailed by many as a revitalisation, Hell or High Water strongly makes its mark, boasting all the genre character of a classic western while offering resonant observations on past and present. An absolute must-see.