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While Star Trek Beyond could use more soul and a more cohesive story, the film scores high on the zip factor, and introduces a creepy new villain. The latest film in the franchise’s reboot might be the weakest of the three featuring the newish cast, but it is still a lot of fun.

J.J. Abrams stepped down to direct his revamped Star Wars, relegating himself to a producer’s role. In steps Justin Lin, best known for making cars jump between skyscrapers in the Fast and Furious franchise. It’s no surprise that Lin’s take lacks a certain depth that Abrams managed to bring to his two installments. It’s also not a surprise that some of the action scenes motor along with the efficiency of a Dodge Challenger Hellcat.

The film picks up with James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew in the midst of their five-year mission. Kirk (as he was in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) is starting to get a little bored. He’s up for an admiral’s position, and might soon find himself grounded to a desk job.

The movie has barely started up when the U.S.S. Enterprise is attacked by thousands of marauding spaceships, and the crew finds itself shipwrecked on a sparse planet inhabited by few other beings. Unfortunately, one of those few would be Krall (Idris Elba), a nasty-looking alien with evil intentions involving an ancient weapon. The crew must reform to band against Krall, get off the foreboding planet, and save the Federation.

Star Trek Beyond is basically Star Trek on steroids, with crazy action sequences involving motorcycles and thousands of ships rather than just a couple of ships squaring off against one another. Some of this action is top-notch, but occasionally hard to follow, thanks to the editing style Lin employs.

One of the script’s greater aspects isolates the grumpy Doctor “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) on the planet with his spiritual nemesis, Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto). Spock is dealing with some awkward news: Spock Prime, a parallel-universe version of himself, has passed away. So he’s dealing with the realization of his own mortality in a most bizarre fashion. (The movie offers a touching tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy, as well as the rest of the classic Trek cast.)

This, of course, will be the final journey for Anton Yelchin as Chekov, who has a formidable role in this installment. It’s actually a little hard watching the movie when Yelchin is onscreen: It’s strange knowing this excellent young actor has left the planet.

There are times during all of the chaos when it’s hard to connect the dots and comprehend what exactly is going on with the story. There are many subplots at play (Kirk’s spiritual dilemma, Spock’s relationship with Uhura, Bones’ perpetual grumpiness, etc.) along with the Krall confrontation, and portions of it don’t make a lick of sense.

Those portions, however, are often wiped out by the film’s firepower, most notably during a space battle that deftly utilizes Kirk’s favorite Beastie Boys song. (Yes, Adam Yauch helps save the universe.)

This new film has a lot in common with the campy TV series, and has a throwback element to it. Your enjoyment of this chapter probably hinges upon whether you prefer the old TV show or the movies. While some of the goofier plot elements do recall old-school Trek, the action sequences definitely have a more Fast and Furious, modern feel. I was half expecting Vin Diesel on the bridge in a wifebeater.

The next chapter is reportedly in the works, and supposedly aims to bring back Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s dad. While I’m glad to see Justin Lin didn’t totally blow his chance at the Star Trek helm, I’d like to see somebody with a more nuanced touch take a stab next.

Star Trek Beyond is playing across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The late Anton Yelchin got one of the best roles of his career as Pat in Green Room, the nerve-shredding horror film from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin).

Pat is a member of a punk band on the tail end of a lousy tour playing dive bars—and, ultimately, a skinhead bar—in the hopes of making enough money to get back home. That skinhead-bar gig pays the band members enough, but as they are heading out the door, they see something they shouldn’t—and mighty bad things happen.

Confined to the green room, the band ultimately confronts Darcy (Patrick Stewart), a tired, quiet, dangerous bar owner who can’t let the band go, even though they turned in a pretty good set. The confrontation that ensues is terrifying, bloody stuff.

Yelchin is his usual great self here, a fine role near the end of his fine career. Imogen Poots, Joe Cole and Alia Shawkat are all terrific in supporting roles.

Saulnier is the real deal. He’s put together a movie in which not a single second is wasted. His career is going to be fun to watch.

Anton Yelchin … it’s fucking awful that you are gone so soon.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The package includes small behind-the-scenes featurette and a commentary from Saulnier.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

When director J.J. Abrams created the alternate timeline with his brilliant 2009 Star Trek reboot, it gave the franchise a chance to construct all new adventures for Kirk and Spock. It also gave Abrams the opportunity to mess around with variations on characters and adventures that we have already seen.

Such is the case with the exhilarating Star Trek Into Darkness, a movie that includes elements of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and “Space Seed” (a classic Trek TV episode).

The film starts with Chris Pine’s cocky Kirk getting himself into more trouble. He ignores Starfleet directives and rescues Spock (Zachary Quinto) from an erupting volcano, allowing a primitive alien species to set their eyes on a big UFO in the form of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Kirk gets demoted by Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), but keeps a relatively high rank thanks to his pal Pike pulling some strings.

Back on Earth, a bomb goes off in London courtesy of renegade Starfleet officer John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch); that same officer attacks a gathering of Starfleet commanders soon thereafter. He is pissed off, and anybody in a Starfleet uniform is his target.

Kirk and Spock find themselves en route to Klingon territory, where their homegrown terrorist has gone to hide. They have unorthodox directives from Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to target and assassinate the terrorist from the skies using torpedoes. (Echoes of drone targeting and the U.S. hunt for Osama bin Laden, right?)

So … you have Klingons, terror in London, commanders getting attacked and volcanoes erupting with Vulcans in their belly. That’s a pretty damned good start to a sequel, no?

The true identity of Cumberbatch’s character might not come as a surprise. Heck, his real character name is listed in the cast on IMDB.com. As for me, I remained in the dark until some jackass uncorked a spoiler on the Internet a few weeks ago. Damn you, Internet reviewer. Damn you! The Internet is a fun thing, but it sure does wreak havoc on those fun movie secrets.

Abrams gets a little heavy-handed with the Sept. 11/War on Terror allegory, but he still keeps his movie effective, and even moving at times. As for his use of a tribble—the furry pests the Enterprise contended with in a famous series episode—it is my least-favorite part of the movie. The way the tribble is utilized makes no sense and feels like a stretch.

Abrams also oversteps a bit with pivotal late scene between Kirk and Spock that is a mirror version of an infamous scene in Khan. I don’t mind him messing with the Trek legacy, but keep it original. Bring back some famed characters, and hint at moments from franchise past, but don’t blatantly copy them. There’s a moment when Spock yells a particular word that got unintentional laughs from me.

Cumberbatch does a great riff on an old adversary, and his deep voice is one for the ages. He’s one of those anything-can-happen movie villains who is frightening, yet oddly virtuous. Weller gets his best role in years as Marcus, a flawed man with an imperialistic agenda that might have some people viewing him as the film’s real villain.

Alice Eve is another memorable new addition as Carol Marcus, the admiral’s daughter and a stowaway on the Enterprise. Some of you might remember a scientist from a previous Star Trek film with that same name. Well, from now on, you’ll remember Eve, who has an obligatory underwear scene that is right up there with Sigourney Weaver’s out-of-nowhere strip in the original Alien.

Pine and Quinto might not have you forgetting Shatner and Nimoy, but they have established themselves in their roles and can probably own them as long as they want. Zoe Saldana has many shining moments as Uhura.

Simon Pegg’s Scotty, John Cho’s Sulu, Anton Yelchin’s Chekov and, especially, Karl Urban’s Bones all contribute to the party. The Star Trek franchise gets the award for Best Reboot Casting.

If you see Star Trek Into Darkness in 3-D, know that this is retrofitted 3-D. It looks OK, but you are probably safe to take in the 2-D version (although the Abrams lens flares do look pretty cool in 3-D; the man loves his lens flare).

For a film called Into Darkness, there are many, awesome shots of the Enterprise during the day. It’s interesting to see a ship usually cloaked in darkness sailing around in daytime skies, and even going underwater at one point.

There’s a pivotal chase scene in which Kirk and Spock pilot a ship that has a Millennium Falcon vibe to it. That had me thinking about the next Star Wars, and what Abrams—who will direct—plans to do with it. Abrams has a grasp on major geek real estate with these two franchises. He’s, like, the Godfather of Geeks, and he could destroy all of us with a bad chapter in either series. He’s a powerful man capable of great good—or insurmountable evil.

Fortunately, he used his powers for good with Star Trek Into Darkness, a solid piece of summer entertainment.

Star Trek Into Darkness is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Co-written by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and directed by relative newcomer Goro Miyazaki, this is a surprisingly straightforward piece of Japanese animation that doesn’t involve fantasy elements.

The story is about kids in Yokohama, circa 1963, who are trying to find their way and fight for a few causes. The central character is Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger in the English-dubbed version), a young girl who lost her dad in the war and finds herself liking a boy who may or may not be a good choice.

The movie looks great (as films from Studio Ghibli often do), and it tells a sweet story. Other English-dubbed vocal-cast members include Anton Yelchin, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ron Howard. 

From Up on Poppy Hill opens Friday, April 12, at the Century Theatres at the River, 71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, 760-836-1940.

Published in Reviews