Thursday, July 28, 2016

Star Trek: Beyond! and "Light's Out!"

Star Trek:

A clever script and intense action sequences allow the crew of the Enterprise to deliver one of the best films in the franchise. As a partial “trekkie” (I enjoyed the original series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, half of Voyager, and some of the largely panned “Enterprise” series), there was plenty about the new reboots to love despite a few annoyances. Fans were willing to embrace the inconsistencies of the first film from JJ Abrams, but man felt the second film went to the “Khan Well” far too soon in the series and that it was done very poorly. For me, it was largely entertaining (though I did feel bad about Pike’s “unhappy ending”), but mostly just popcorn entertainment and not so much the “science fiction epic” that I was hoping for.

Justin Lin (Fast and Furious sequels) takes the director chair with a script co-aughtored by Doug Jung and genre favorite Simon Pegg. The story takes place three years into the Enterprise’s five year mission- they’re weary, frustrated, and daily life aboard the ship has become monotonous with an occasional spark here and there. Of special note is that the original series had run three seasons- so the crew is likely to have had many of the same missions of that series during the space between the past film and this one. So we are moving past the known universe and we are telling a new story- and this one calls to question the very purpose of Starfleet.

A renegade alien has been watching from a distance. Resentment has grown, anger with the Federation itself, and we finally question the nobility of Gene Roddenmerry’s future Utopia and whether it’s our conflict or our unity that offers humanity it’s growth and strength. And while there’s no subtlety to the question being asked, the film doesn’t spend much time running their moral question to the ground- they have a world to save, an enemy to confront, and near-death experiences to avoid.

I’m not going to bore you with the praise I have for this film: I just loved it. It is easily the best of the new series, easily better than many of the films in The Next Generation and Original series, and well worth the time in catching the movie on the big screen. This is Chris Pine’s defining moment as Kirk and the other characters are all well-represented, not only for their moments as characters but their moments as officers of Starfleet.

9 out of 10.

Lights Out

Based on the original viral video of the same night, this full length adaptation attempts to take an atmospheric and haunting film that leads up to a single jump scare and expand it well beyond the two minutes or so of the original run time. When the lights go out we can see “her”… Diana. A ghost? An apparition? A creature of pure darkness? Whatever she is, she is a creature of darkness and she is unable to exist in the light.

First: let me talk about the “good”- as an allegory, Lights Out is an effective exploration of mental illness and the effect it has on the family of those affected by it. The story follows a pair of siblings, one a young boy and the other an older sister who has already moved out and has been avoiding her mother for some time. After the death of the mother’s second husband, the boy continually sees her talking to her friend, “Diana”. The older sister remembers a time when “Diana” paid visits to her mom as a young girl and the mysterious things that would happen. And we learn fairly quickly that “Diana” has no intention of sharing the mother’s affection with others- even with children.

Second: The “Bad” is that the film actually lacks some of the tension of the short. Creaking noises, pounding feet, and little silhouettes framed against a slightly lit backdrop tend to grow more annoying and less scary the longer they go on. There are a few moments where the film goes where it’s strongest and plays with the idea of the light switches being turned off- but it never really goes very far. There was one moment where I did, literally, jump in my seat- but the film never really goes far enough in just building the tension.

This is a very standard type of film and it won’t be the “best new thing”, but it a largely satisfying enough piece of “light horror”. It’s a film that truly deserves the PG 13 rating without having to really reach for it- there are few things that could have elevated the film to an “R” rating and it didn’t truly deserve it. Basically, if you have time to kill and you want to see something a little tense and spooky, this is the film for you.  

6 out of 10.

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