(Video on Demand, December 2016) I’ve been more upbeat than most Trekkers about the modern Star Trek reboot series, but even I have to admit that Star Trek: Beyond truly feels like the truest follow-up to the classic series so far. Structured as a standalone adventure in deep space, this third outing wisely focuses on smaller stakes, characters as developed in the first two movies, a bit of fan-service and an upbeat attitude that makes for a refreshing evolution from the first two films. In other words, it is pure classic Trek, done with today’s attitudes and special effects technology. The result may feel a bit restrained after the galaxy-spanning intrigue of In Darkness, but it’s also satisfying with fewer afterthoughts than in previous films. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and Simon Pegg (who also co-wrote the film) continue to be exceptionally good at incarnating the newest versions of their Trek characters, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Motorcycle usage aside, there’s one borderline-excessive “Sabotage” scene that harkens back to the first film, but it actually works well and is decently funny in itself. Still, the best aspect of the film has to be the look inside the Yorktown space station, a vertiginous showcase of SF dreams brought to life, visual effects and variable-gravity scene-blocking. It’s as memorable as anything is the series so far, and exactly the kind of showcase sequence to expect from a big-budget Trek film. I’m certainly ready for a fourth instalment.
(Video on Demand, April 2013) One thing is for sure: As a take on the British comic-book character Judge Dredd, this is quite a bit better than the 1995 Sylvester Stallone film. Dredd dispenses with its protagonist’s origin story, overt character development and even heroically refuses to show his entire face: the result is quite a bit closer to the intention of the original comic book material. It helps that producer Alex Garland has been able to put together a day-in-the-life action film that stands alone absent any connections to the wider Dredd mythology: Pete Travis’ direction shows occasional flourishes, and the action cleverly focuses on a single megaskyscraper taken over by criminals. It falls to Judge Dredd (Thanklessly played by Karl Urban, who never removes his eye-obscuring helmet) and trainee Cassandra Anderson (adorably chimpmunk-faced Olivia Thirlby) to clean up the mess, even as they go against a powerful drug lord (Lena Headley, faaaar from her Game of Thrones role) and entire floors of hardened criminals. Other than the dystopian setting, the film’s biggest SF device is a “Slo-Mo” drug that slows down perception to 1% of current time –visually presented with sparkly ultra-so-motion. The action set-pieces are numerous and decently handled, even often beautiful despite the substantial gore that they portray. If nothing else, Dredd is a fine action film, not flawless (the early scenes outside the apartment building betray a small budget) but stylish enough at a time when there are so many cookie-cutter films of the sort. Fans of the over-the-top comic book series may be disappointed to see that the film doesn’t have the resources to indulge in the universe’s wilder facets, nor the audience familiarity to be as cuttingly sarcastic about its own premise. But Dredd ought to please a wider audience than just the comic book fans, and that’s an honorable result given what happens to most comic-book-inspired films.
(In theaters, May 2011) It’s not a good sign when you can feel the film’s final act locking itself into position, think “Already?”, look at your watch and find out that the film’s barely past the 65-minutes mark. There may not be all that much to say about Priest, but at least it has the decency to wrap things up in less than 90 minutes. Anything more would have been wasted, mind you: Even though the film seem very loosely adapted from a presumably richer Korean graphic novel series, there just isn’t a whole lot of plot here to gnaw upon: Setup, two dramatic confrontation and we’re already on to the third act. At least there’s a bit of eye-candy to contemplate during that time: The techno-grunge atmosphere is a bit tired, but it’s reinvigorated with the somewhat less usual industrial-western feel of the film’s middle section. Paul Bettany also gets a good role as priest with quasi-supernatural ass-kicking powers: After seeing him in so many dramatic roles (including Charles Darwin in Creation), it’s entertaining to see him re-team with Legion’s director Scott Stewart for action-movie credentials. Otherwise, well, Maggie Q is fine as another renegade Priest, Karl Urban chews scenery like he enjoys it and Christopher Plummer earns a pay-check as the face of the shallow-but-oppressive Church. But it’s all flash and pretty visuals here: no depth, little originality and even less substance. That doesn’t make it a bad film as much as it makes it a very forgettable one. The future for Priest is clear: an unceremonious DVD release, and then onward to cultural oblivion.