Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Star Trek (2009)

Director: J.J. Abrams    Runtime: 2 hrs. 7 mins.    Rated: PG-13

Studio: Paramount Pictures    Screenwriter: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

Based on: TV series Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Lenard Nimoy, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood

It’s always a pleasure when something classic is reimagined and doesn’t stink. It’s even more enjoyable when there’s a substantial time gap between the two. Today I’m talking about Star Trek. Yes, a few T.V. shows bear that name, but this film is rebooting the original T.V. series in a fashion. 

Paramount Pictures Trailer for ‘Star Trek’ via Classic Trailers on YouTube.

J.J. Abrams directed a star-studded cast that perfectly depicted and paid homage to the original characters and the actors that played them. If you’re familiar with the original T.V. show or films, you can appreciate it more than if you have not. Creator Gene Rodenberry crafted a reality that explores space, sure, but set the bar for how humanity should be. Peaceful, collaborative, intelligent, inclusive, and open-minded. He was decades ahead of his time. His amazingly radical notions don’t have quite the impact today as they did when Star Trek first aired, but that’s a good thing. It represents progress. 

“Space, the final frontier.” I think of these iconic words as I look out an airplane window at 40,000 feet writing this. The multiple shades of blue, nothing visible beneath me, sparse speckling of clouds smeared onto the sky like an artist at work. It’s nothing compared to seeing the entire planet from above and afar. To try and imagine that or other worlds is beyond the scope of my appreciation. So when J.J. Abrams and the production team gave birth to this remake in such a vivid, plausible, and fun manner, it just had to be good. Right?

Yelchin, Pine, Pegg, Urban, Cho, and Saldana in Paramount Pictures ‘Star Trek’ Photo via Slashfilm.com

Captain James T. Kirk (Pine), Spock (Quinto), Lt. Uhura (Saldana), Soo-Lu (Cho), Ensign Chekov (Yelchin), Doctor McCoy (Urban), and Scotty (Pegg) are all superb casting choices! Everyone has this well-blended chemistry that makes you fall for them as their respective characters. Though Zachary Quinto’s resemblance to the original Spock, Lenard Nimoy, is uncanny. It’s one thing for an actor to look like someone else, but accurately depicting them is vital, and Quinto makes an excellent Spock. R.I.P. Mr. Nimoy.

This film introduces the Star Trek universe and the cast’s journey together. However, how the story originates is brilliant. Using one of the original Trek members as the catalyst to the plot allows the story to honor the original and carve out its own path for newer generations. It’s a genuinely clever way to reset many things about the original without destroying its memory. 

Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto as Star Trek’s Spock. Credit: People.com

The freshly minted crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the flagship of Star Fleet, work together to tackle the immense challenge of stopping a rogue Romulan captain named Nero (Bana) who is out to destroy the Federation, one planet at a time. Why? And how do you stop someone that can destroy planets? The answer to that and the reason for the plot working so well was the addition of “Spock Prime” (Nimoy) as he’s credited. The concept of the plot doesn’t work without his inclusion. 

It’s not just Mr. Nimoy but the entire cast who brings depth, energy, and believability to their roles. After all, that is what anyone wants from an actor, an outstanding performance. Star Trek gets that from everyone attached to the film; to me, that is a sign of great hiring. It’s also a sign of a great script. A project can have the best actors around, which can flop from a terrible script or a bad director. 

The Romulan ship, the Narada in ‘Star Trek.’ Image: Paramount Pictures

Another attribute that makes this iteration of Star Trek so appealing to watch is the production that created believable costumes for the various aliens, the sets and props, and the technology used to complete all the CGI. Every time Star Trek is taken on anew, it automatically benefits from the newest filmmaking tools of the time. This franchise has come a long way in visual appeal since 1966. It’s come a long way in general and paved the way for many first on T.V. 

This Star Trek does a spectacular job of character development in weaving the storylines together and representing how different species manage meeting new people in life and on the job. 

Bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise in Paramount Pictures ‘Star Trek’

Fantastic acting, set design, cinematography, directing, story, and humor make this film worth the effort into creating it. All these attributes created a movie worth seeing. J.J. Abrams boldly chose to go where many have gone before and comes out of warp speed with a refreshing winner of a reboot of a beloved sci-fi franchise. This Star Trek is worthy of a place on your watchlist!

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel (2019)

Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 2 hrs. 5 mins.

Screenwriter: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet Studio: Marvel Studios  

Created by: Roy Thomas & Gene Colan Cast:  Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben

Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, Greg Clark, Djimon Hounsou, Annette Bening

Captain Marvel is a vibrant, well-told story with details, great CGI, and character development. It moves along at an enjoyable pace too.

It’s difficult to find movies sometimes that represent strong, fun, well-acted female characters in stories that haven’t been done before. So when Captain Marvel came out, nearly ten years after the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the first thing many said was, ‘about time.’ 

Marvel Studio’s Official Trailer for ‘Captain Marvel’ via YouTube

That’s not to ignore the many female characters who fit the above description within the MCU already, but Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel is the first to have a standalone film. 

Captain Marvel is technically the twenty-second MCU film. It’s sandwiched between Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). Its placement is only essential because of the scenes in the credits, which logically explains Captain Marvel’s place in Endgame, the film after this one in release date order. Chronologically, Captain Marvel takes place in the mid-90s, so it’s natural to place it after Captain America: The First Avenger

Vers/Carol/Captain Marvel is played by Bri Larson, who took a ton of flack for being cast. Some didn’t like how she looked for the role. Others objected to her cocky or unemotional depiction of the character. First, up to a certain point, women were not allowed to always fly, so when they could, being quiet and meek just wouldn’t do. Second, if male test pilots can be smug adrenaline junkies, why not women? To argue one can be but not the other is sexist. Third, Carol forgot everything about her life literally at one point. You can be told about your life, but there is little emotional resonance to be found if you don’t remember. Taking all the information provided about such a layered character and then crafting an authentic-like person from that is no small order. 

Lashana Lynch and Bri Larson in Marvel Studios ‘Captain Marvel’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios via the LA Times

Vers/Carol/Captain Marvel’s journey of discovery is the main thread of this film. Other threads are not loose ends but tie-ins to the MCU as a whole. Some of those threads make more sense in chronological order viewing than the Captain Marvel story being introduced so late into the MCU. Those threads can seem like an afterthought as initially distributed. Still, discovery and agency are the leading personal themes of the movie, on top of how this story adds to the MCU. 

Speaking of adding to the MCU, think about Djimon Hounsou, Greg Clark, and Samuel L. Jackson. Hounsou first appeared in the MCU in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 (2014) as Korath the Pursuer. An older version of the same character seen in Captain Marvel. Despite some visual issues with his facial hair and eye color between the two films, I can’t tell if de-aging technology was used on him. He ages so well; I just don’t know. It was used on Greg Clark and Samuel L. Jackson. That’s not to say any of them look bad with its use, just an observation on the technology itself. It removes the need, in certain projects, to cast a younger version of an established character. It’s ingenious! 

The MCU is known for taking licenses with established characters, minor and significant, so they fit an enormously pre-planned cinematic adventure. They did this with Lashana Lynch’s character, Maria Rambeau. And Mar-Vell, played by Annette Bening. One is a clever reimagining connected to Carol’s origin story, and the other is a letdown. I won’t elaborate because that rabbit hole leads to spoiler territory. Still, both actresses brought convincing energy to their respective characters.

Still image of Kree Starforce from Marvel Studios ‘Captain Marvel’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios via Screen Rant

Everyone performs their roles well, and many of the characters seen again in future MCU roles are fleshed out here. It’s like a window into their origins without the need for their own story. If a viewer is familiar with Agent Coulson (Clark) or Agent Fury (Jackson), it’s a nice insight. If not, they can learn and appreciate the development of certain characters from a fresher perspective than others. 

In terms of tonality, Captain Marvel is a stark departure from that of Captain America: The First Avenger, but that’s to be expected. The individual stories of Steve Rogers, Carol Danvers, Thor, Tony Stark, and every other Avenger shouldn’t be the same. They are all vastly different people or aliens. That fact means audiences will not like certain characters over others, just as all people don’t like everyone they encounter. So it’s okay to not like a character, or specifically their standalone film(s). However, the character should be given a chance of redeemed likeability when working with others in the MCU. To be fair, that point is only valid if you plan on watching all the Marvel movies to date. 

Jude Law and Ben Mendelsohn in Marvel Studio’s ‘Captain Marvel’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios via Comicbook.com

I enjoyed Captain Marvel and Bri Larson’s portrayal of her. With Disney/Marvel now owning the rights again to the X-Men franchise, my sincerest wish is that they do better by those characters. Specifically that of Rouge, because her story is tied in with Carol Danvers in such vital ways. In the comics, that is when Carol was Ms. Marvel (later becoming Captain Marvel). Still, the MCU can be decently creative when they want. So time will tell. 

Whether you want to watch the whole MCU or not, Captain Marvel is a fun, energetic superhero adventure story worth a place on your watchlist. 

—a pen lady 

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Stowaway (2021)

Stowaway (2021)

Directed by: Joe Penna     Rated: TV-MA    Runtime: 1 hr 56 mins

Studio: Netflix   Screenwriter: Joe Penna

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson, Toni Collette

A private company called Hyperion, not NASA, is behind unmanned and manned missions to Mars in Stowaway. The audience never sees anyone from there, but they are in constant contact with the commander, Marina Barnett (Collette), one of the three-person crew. Like NASA, they do seem to care and have, more or less, a competent command structure. 

After the point of no return, a stowaway is discovered on board. How does that happen? Don’t fret about it too much because the explanation is flawed. Who from the ground crew didn’t notice a person is missing? Hello, security! Okay, it becomes evident that Michael (Anderson) didn’t do it on purpose. That doesn’t take away the fact that where he was hidden has damaged a critical component of the ship. A ship designed for only three people, with no spare parts. 

Officail Trailer for ‘Stowaway’ on Netflix

Stowaway isn’t an action, horror, or thriller space film. Really, after the plot is revealed, the story isn’t about if or how the problem can be rectified (though they try); the underlying message is denial. It’s a movie with some pace with characters unwilling to accept a horrible truth. There isn’t enough oxygen for all of them to make it to Mars alive. Stowaway’s actual center is on choices. What or who is worth sacrificing? Can they live with themselves if they do what they are being told needs to be done? Denial of an unfortunate moral dilemma. 

To become an astronaut means going through rigorous training, physically and mentally. On top of that, the individual adds something extra to a potential mission based on their specific expertise. Zoe Levenson (Kendrick) is a doctor, and David Kim (Kim) is a biologist. Between them and the commander/pilot, Marina, who was trained for this two-year mission, Michael is the odd man out. Should Michael die because he can’t do anything for the mission? Should one of the others kill themselves out of guilt, despite the situation not being the fault of any one of them? Should they try their luck with some hail-Mary ideas that might solve the problem? Acceptance, denial, and hard choices are the center of Stowaway

What would you do? 

Shamier Anderson, Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, & Toni Collette in ‘Stowaway’ Image Credit: Netflix via NBC News

While the plot has legs, they collapse midway through the film. The story’s desire to stretch the limits of human companion and resilience is drowned out by the gross indecision of the crew, making the final act of the movie lackluster. 

The film’s pace and low energy lack the excitement that might otherwise be expected of the talented cast in this film. Still, for a movie that takes place in a few small rooms aboard a space taxi to Mars, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. While the cast is talented, this script didn’t allow any of them to do more than recite lines. None of them shine or stand out, but that’s not their fault.  

Stowaway is ultimately a movie that plays on the waiting room TV that you’re sort of invested in. It’s easily forgettable. There are far better space films out there that deal with similar themes that better utilize their cast and time allowance. 

Stowaway is not worth a place on your watchlist.

—a pen lady 

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus (2012)

Directed by: Ridley Scott     Runtime: 2 hr 3 min     Studio: 20th Century Fox

Screenwriters: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof, Dan O’Bannon     Rated: R

Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Benedict Wong

Ridley Scott returns to the Alien franchise he started in 1979 but with a different trajectory in mind. In the previous Alien films, the question of “where did they come from” never comes up. That’s okay, those films were designed for thrilling suspense and to scare you. They were never intended to answer big questions. Or ask them. Prometheus tackles these logical questions head-on to examine the storyline from a new lens while still connecting it to its predecessor. 

Prometheus doesn’t precisely answer any of the questions it raises, to the annoyance of many viewers. Still, life doesn’t always give answers—and neither does Scott. Strangely, I’m okay with it. While the pacing is sometimes slow, the Prometheus crew gets an answer to if man is alone in the universe. 

This quest for understanding originates from archeological findings on Earth in 2089. A “scientist” belief that mankind is being invited to go looking for their maker is all that is required. The Weyland Group privately funds a space expedition for this journey through the stars. In Alien, the Weyland Group is what the Umbrella Corporation is to the Resident Evil franchise. Though it’s not really apparent in this movie.

While the plot’s rationale for taking a journey through space is thin and scientifically absurd, as are the other scientists and professionals, the characters are still likable. There’s a biologist who acts like a kid at a zoo, a geologist who gets lost despite mapping equipment, a medical doctor, security personnel, and the bridge crew. Two archeologists (one who believes more in faith than science), a Weyland employee overlord, and an android with a creepy god complex round out the rest.

Half of the characters are barely developed. The ones that are are a mixed bag. I can’t understand the lack of rules and protocols of a crew on a spaceship. It’s like you stole your parents’ car and drove for the first time with friends, it’s aggravating chaos. Despite that, the performances are well done; not Oscar-worthy but enjoyable all the same. My two favorite characters are the ship’s Captain/pilot, Janek, played by Idris Elba. Hello, it’s Idris Elba. No other reason is required. Seriously, I like his level-headed demeanor. It’s in stark contrast to everyone else. The other is David the android, played by Micheal Fassbender. He depicts an android emulating a human without emotion with precision. 

Another depiction that is well done is the scene/set locations. There is this opening sequence that shows this harsh, beautiful landscape. You don’t know if it’s on Earth or when. The similarity to that setting and the one later in the film highlight how our planet is not unique in the universe. It indicates how small we are, and that’s not a notion we like as a species. 

In movies, there is this notion that space travel, ships, and equipment have to be either old and industrial or clean and futuristic with lots of technology. The original Alien films look very dirty and industrial, which is a sign of the times when they were made. Special effects were not what they are today. However, the vessel Prometheus itself and the land equipment are a great mix of the two. Additionally, the other technology used throughout the film isn’t so reaching as to be unbelievable. 

This movie isn’t for those who don’t want to think about it too hard. It will also not be loved by serious fans of the Alien franchise if all that is expected is low-lighting, suspense, and body cavity bursting. Prometheus is designed to show you how the body cavity bursting aliens come to be. It’s about their origins. Sometimes a good story is slow to set up, which this film is for many. However, it’s not the only movie Ridley Scott has planned as an Alien prequel. With this in mind, you should add Prometheus to your watch list.

—a pen lady