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After six complete series on television and twelve (!) feature films so far, it seems a rather difficult task for the Star Trek franchise to go where no one has gone before, boldly or not. There are only so many worlds in which the crew of the USS Enterprise can venture and only so many adventures they can undertake before it all starts to bleed together into a big, sci-fi mess. That's not entirely the case with their latest excursion, though you certainly wouldn't notice on paper. It plays like a one-off, run-of-the-mill story centering on Captain James T. Kirk and his crew, but Star Trek Beyond has something of an ace up its sleeve in the form of director Justin Lin (of Fast 5 and Furious 6 most recently). He keeps the mood light and the action consistent, and, though it's nothing new, the film finds its way to boldly go towards goodhearted adventure.
We are once again at that time of year when the air is filled with excitement as well as an abundance of explosions. Sure, that could mean 4th of July fireworks and grilling with friends. It could also be referring to another, American pastime, this one a little newer and a lot more exciting. That would be the annual Purge, 12 hours when all crime, including murder, is perfectly legal and the people of this country – those who don't hide behind locked doors – are allowed to get their own, individual aggression out. It's become such a successful tradition – on film, anyway – that the third entry in the franchise, The Purge: Election Year, makes its way in front of our eyes. Once again sights of twisted violence mix with political & social themes, and once again this series turns a mirror on its audience to deliver a fully charged, eye-opening good time.
20 years to prepare. 20 years of anticipation. That's where we're starting at in 2016 with Independence Day: Resurgence, the long-awaited follow-up to the massive sci-fi hit released in 1996. Though film technology has advanced as much as the defense technology found within the movie, it's no substitute for fast-paced entertainment and human emotion. You know, the stuff that made Independence Day such a crowd-pleasing success back then. Instead we're left with overblown effects and seemingly bored actors delivering dull, meaningless dialogue. Independence Day: Resurgence isn't the worst blockbuster sequel to come down the road, but its mildly amped pace and predictability in story leaves even the most die hard of fans of the original squirming for something more. Maybe they'll get it right in another 20 years.
Nicolas Winding Refn creates iconic characters, individuals who, despite the madness in which they're usually swept up, have a mythological aura that clings to them like a bur. His latest, The Neon Demon, follows suit. The protagonist is a young woman trying to break into the cutthroat world of modeling. Though Refn instills in her the same, memorable qualities he has used to grow many characters before, the harsh world and sadistic players he builds become more so. The Neon Demon is a wicked, bloody, fairy tale that could only be delivered by Refn. Uncompromising in tone, pace, and outcome, it may be his most divisive film yet. That doesn't stop The Neon Demon from being a brutally honest look at the fashion world and the shallowness that goes with it that slowly builds to a violent finale. In other words: it's pitch-perfect Refn.
16 years and 8 films have passed since the beginning of the X-Men series. It's hard to believe director Bryan Singer is still trying his hand in this particular cinematic universe, but the X-Men series has created something of a wheelhouse for the filmmaker who has left and returned to it. You'd think his voice would be ever-present even in offshoots like The Wolverine and Deadpool. Alas, X-Men: Apocalypse, the latest entry helmed by Singer, is a mess, a hodgepodge of generic ideas, paint-by-numbers action, and a continuity that will leave anyone who has followed along with the previous 8 films slapping themselves in the forehead. Singer can't even pull convincing performances out of the staggering cast built up throughout the franchise, and X-Men: Apocalypse quickly proves itself to be a stale and blasé entry into this once-promising series.
Shane Black has had a storied career and one that becomes retold whenever the filmmaker releases a new work. The screenwriter of Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight previously has had quite the resurgence in the last 10 years, all thanks to his directing skills being as edgy and as uncompromising as his writing style. Maybe more so. As with 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and 2013's Iron Man 3, Black's latest work, The Nice Guys, tells a detective story unlike any you've seen before. Rough, endearing, hilarious, surprising, and cool, The Nice Guys is pitch perfect Black and a reminder how lucky moviegoing audiences are that this filmmaker is once again playing strong in the industry.
Let's be honest for a moment, shall we? We've all wanted to punch Tony Stark in the face from time to time. All the good Iron Man does makes up for the smarmy attitude and sarcastic tone, but only just. Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., is an idealist with unwavering beliefs, kind of like the other head of The Avengers, Captain America. It was only a matter of time before these two butted heads, and it's here where Captain America: Civil War, the latest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, picks its own punches. The 13th movie in the MCU has no issues when it comes to entertainment. Marvel's Kevin Feige and the people behind these films perfected the formula long ago, and Civil War is their first, real chance at shaking up the dynamic of the team. Nothing goes to waste in the process, and Civil War handily earns its stripes as more
There's little doubt why Disney chose their 1942 take on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book to update for 2016 audiences. The animated movie is beloved, loaded with adventure, and bringing the story's wide array of animals to photorealistic life seems like a suitable challenge for any team of digital effects magicians, especially in the modern age. The Jungle Book isn't Disney's first attempt at adapting one of their animated classics to live action, but it's the most loyal to the original film we've seen from the studio thus far. Full of wonderful adventure and superb effects, The Jungle Book is a fantastic update that will keep fans of the original completely satisfied, especially if they love Christopher Walken's singing voice.
The Pixar train has been running so fast and furiously the past couple of decades you'd almost be justified in forgetting about Disney's own animation studio. It's hard to believe we're 20 years or so removed from Disney being the strongest force when it comes to animated features. They do make themselves known every now and again, and their latest work, Zootopia, is a strong reminder of the quality in entertainment Disney can achieve when they flex their animators' skills. A consistently funny narrative littered with interesting characters and a healthy message to boot, Zootopia makes even the latest efforts from Pixar – The Good Dinosaur, at least – seem childish by comparison. It's no revelation that Disney was first when it comes to animation, but it's a nice surprise to see them reclaim such a title when they finish a project such as this.
Australian director John Hillcoat has made a name for himself with unforgiving characters committing brutal violence amid some pretty bleak environments. With The Proposition and Lawless, he brought period-set grit to the screen and made the future even less appealing in The Road. The latest from Hillcoat is Triple 9, and it's the director's first opus of violence set in modern day. This fact doesn't keep the violence from being as cold-blooded as the director can make it nor the characters from being their typical, Hillcoat shade of gray. Triple 9 is a relentless look at the lengths to which evil men and women will go, and, though it never fulfills the hope of transcending the action genre, it satisfies the hunger for adult-driven entertainment with an edge. Just don't get attached to anyone.
Deadpool isn’t like any Marvel movie before. True, if you break them down, the same could be said for all the movies that make up the current subgenre of superhero films. Though the basic structures all resemble one another, the sheer number of new entries flooding theaters allows the fimmakers behind them to play around in different, cinematic territories. Captain America has become the paranoid thriller. Guardians of the Galaxy is the space opera. Deadpool nestles its way into a subgenre taking on all the characteristics. It’s the filthy, R-rated superhero movie comedy. Though it never reaches the height of vulgarity or subversion it intends, Deadpool offers an abundance of crude humor, edgy self-referentiality, and a huge amount of fun.
If only we could resurrect writer Jane Austen and ask her zombified corpse what it thinks of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the 2009 mash-up novel put together by Seth Grahame-Smith. Using her 1813 classic about love and aristocracy as a basis, Grahame-Smith fused the romance novel with all the brain-munching aspects the modern, zombie sub-genre has to offer. Surprisingly enough, the mash-up novel was a success with both critics and audiences, and now the beloved story of engagements and the undead has made its way to the big screen. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, adapted and directed by Burr Steers, follows through on the novel's success, providing a ball of humor, romance, and an abundance of exploding heads. It's enough to satisfy anyone not beholden to either side of the mix.
Through the hazy light that seeps in via Venetian blinds and in the midst of the cold, dark hallways that make up the world in Jacob Gentry's Synchronicity, a mind-bending, sci-fi love story unfolds. Much of what plays out rests in familiar territory. The general design of the futuristic (but not quite future?) world is more than a little reminiscent of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. But that familiarity in structure only serves the love story Gentry is telling, the greater of the two mysteries with which the filmmaker presents. With focus, determined pace, and nice swaths of dry humor, Synchronicity emerges as more than the sum of its influences' parts. Gentry succeeds in creating the world, implications and subtext of the story he's telling.
Another year comes to a close, another opportunity arises to reflect back on the best in film. As with any space of time, there were ups and downs in the film world throughout 2015. Many films brought with them huge levels of anticipation only to disappoint, some had small amounts of anticipation and completely blew us away. No one ever expects to make a bad film, and the best audience members never go into a film expecting – or wanting – to hate it. We all love movies. The varying levels with which we admire certain, specific films is what makes the entire art form as exciting as it is. The passion we all have for cinema is what keeps us scouring the theaters for the best the artists whose work we're experiencing have to offer.