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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Originally planned for an April theatrical release, the third Cloverfield movie got a surprise release on Netflix immediately following the Super Bowl. While I’m a big fan of the first two installments in the Cloverfield series, J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company are kidding themselves by referring to The Cloverfield Paradox as a legitimate chapter in the Cloverfield universe.

The Cloverfield Paradox was originally a project called God Particle, a standalone science fiction film directed by Julius Onah. Somewhere during production, Bad Robot decided to make it a Cloverfield film. How is it a Cloverfield film? A few short, badly constructed scenes are shoehorned into the narrative, including a 10-second final shot that feels like a total cheat. They did this sort of last-minute tinkering when they made 10 Cloverfield Lane, and that resulted in a good movie. This one results in a muddled mess.

The plot involves a space station trying to create a free power source to revitalize a struggling Earth. The crew members (played by Daniel Bruhl, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ziyi Zhang and David Oyelowo) accidentally zap themselves into another dimension. While they struggle in the other dimension to find their way home, the dimension they left behind is dealing with a new problem.

The events happening back on Earth might’ve made for a better movie, because the one we get is an Event Horizon rip-off.

It’s no mystery why Bad Robot avoided a theatrical run for this: It stinks.

The Cloverfield Paradox is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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

Just as he did with the first Cloverfield, producer J.J. Abrams has again managed to sneak a movie into multiplexes under a shroud of secrecy and mystery: With a little more than a couple of months’ notice, a film shot under the code name Valencia became 10 Cloverfield Lane.

What’s the significance of the word “Cloverfield” in that movie title? Abrams is calling this film a blood relative to the original found-footage monster movie. This new film is not a found footage film, thank god, but after seeing it, I can tell you the title is not misleading—although you shouldn’t go to this thinking you will see the monster from Cloverfield laying waste to middle America. It’s a much different kind of movie.

The film starts with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on an urgent phone call with somebody. She grabs her keys, hits the road and drives for what appears to be many miles out of the big city and into the cornfields. After stopping for some gas, her car crashes for mysterious reasons. She wakes up from said crash with an IV drip—and her leg cuffed to a bar.

Shortly thereafter, she meets Howard (John Goodman). Howard seems a little bit anxious and tells her that she needs to hydrate and practice using crutches. And, oh yeah, the end of the world is nigh. No one really knows why, but the air is now contaminated, and they must reside in his emergency bunker for what could be years.

There’s another inhabitant of the bunker: Howard’s soft-spoken neighbor Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Emmett allegedly helped Howard put the bunker together, and he’s not really sure why the world is ending, either. All of this leads the beautiful Michelle, in the captive hands of two questionable strangers, to be suspicious. She wants to be outside, even if the world is dying.

Is the world really ending? Howard seems to think so, citing nuclear war and alien invasion as possibilities. Emmett, meanwhile, does not necessarily seem all that worried about it. He just seems happy to be around Michelle all day, putting puzzles together. Is it just a grand plan for two creepy guys to imprison a beautiful woman for their perverted means?

First-time feature director Dan Trachtenberg does a nice job of keeping the audience guessing. I went into 10 Cloverfield Lane with my own guesses, based on the trailers, regarding how everything would play out, and how the film would tie into the “Cloverfield Universe.” My guesses were, for the most part, confirmed—although there were a few deviations.

Winstead is an acting treasure who doesn’t get enough opportunities to shine; see her performance in Smashed (2012) for proof. She’s equally good here, playing a strong-minded hostage justifiably brimming with paranoia. She’s very easy to root for, even when the screenplay tries to tilt sympathies toward Howard and Emmett.

In his meatiest role in years, Goodman is golden as the “maybe he’s a monster; maybe he’s a savior” survivalist. There are nuances in his work that will keep you guessing every second he’s onscreen. As for Emmett … this is no knock on Gallagher, but his character seems tacked on.

The film is a slick thriller with a few plot holes that might nag you afterward. For me, it offered few major surprises—although that has much to do with me seeing so many movies, and being savvy to many directorial tricks. When the movie did “get” me on occasion, it did so competently.

Above all, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an impressive acting exhibition for Winstead and Goodman, who play really well off of each other. As more mysteries about Howard and the outside world are revealed, the tension ratchets up, and Trachtenberg proves himself a fine handler of all the elements.

I’m guessing 10 Cloverfield Lane is not the last movie we will see with “Cloverfield” in the title. Think of the Cloverfield movies as an anthology series with a few plot machinations tying things together. Two movies in, it’s proving to be a fine endeavor.

10 Cloverfield Laneis playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The new Star Wars doesn’t suck! The new Star Wars doesn’t suck!

What a relief, right? Ever since Disney absorbed the Lucasfilm empire, some fans and cynics have speculated that the Mouse plus George could equate to shite. Then the Mouse handed the reins of the Star Wars universe to that bespectacled guy who reinvigorated the Star Trek universe.

Fret not, for director J.J. Abrams and crew have done exactly what they did with Star Trek: They created a fun movie that not only respects the blessed canon of a beloved franchise, but stands on its own as a piece of supreme entertainment. It is 2015’s most entertaining film, and a movie that stands up proudly in the realm of Star Wars movies.

In many ways, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the best movie in the franchise. I won’t say it’s my personal favorite. (I think The Empire Strikes Back still holds that post; a little more time will tell.) Its storytelling is solid; its special effects are first-rate; and the performances are easily the best the franchise has ever seen.

That’s due in part to Daisy Ridley, an incredible talent who is now an instant star as Rey, a scrappy scavenger on a Tattooine-like desert planet. She delivers the best all-around dramatic performance in the Star Wars universe. She does some of the year’s best “face acting”; you’ll have to see the movie to find out what I’m talking about. With this new star at its center, the revitalized Star Wars universe takes life around her with a bevy of new characters and, of course, returning oldies.

Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, who happens to be the guy who wrote Empire, combined on a screenplay that follows a lot of the familiar beats from past Star Wars films. They took over writing duties after Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) took a failed stab at the task. (Arndt still gets a credit.)

The universe is being tormented by the First Order, an offshoot of the former Empire. Rey, after rummaging around in a fallen Star Destroyer, discovers a lost droid (BB-8, who is adorable), and eventually finds herself on a space adventure with familiar and new faces.

That’s it. That’s all I’m saying about the plot.

Harrison Ford, cryptic and snarky about his Star Wars pedigree in the past, returns as Han Solo, and his newfound enthusiasm for the part is infectious. Ford slips back into that laid-back, charmingly sarcastic smuggler role with ease, while his old buddy Chewbacca has become some sort of comedian in the last 30 or so years: The old Wookiee scores some of the film’s biggest laughs. Seeing the pair together again is an invaluable movie gift to be treasured.

As the movie’s central villain, Adam Driver is multi-layered and appropriately disturbing as Kylo Ren, a masked, obvious riff on Darth Vader who is a bit of a fanboy of the long deceased Sith Lord. I’m a Star Wars fan, and I have a few nice toys in my possession—but Kylo Ren has the Holy Grail for Star Wars collectors in his chambers!

John Boyega brings a new, welcomed dimension to the Stormtroopers. (Hey, there are actual people under those helmets!) Oscar Isaac a brings funny charisma to Poe, the best pilot in the galaxy.

I think I got through this review with no major spoilers, so no Star Wars geeks will kill me. My life force will not be extinguished, and I will make it to next year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Episode VIII, which is due in the summer of 2017.

Gone are the days when we waited decades for new Star Wars chapters. Oh, the spoils of Disney.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

J.J. Abrams continues the great thing he started with his 2009 reboot of this beloved franchise. In Star Trek Into Darkness, he gives us more familiar characters from Trek history—but thanks to that ingeniously created alternate timeline, the people aren’t quite the same.

Benedict Cumberbatch is scary as a renegade Starfleet officer looking to kill as many commanders as possible while Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) chase him all over the universe. Peter Weller enters the fray as a power-hungry admiral, and Alice Eve is a welcome addition as his daughter, an Enterprise stowaway.

There are moments when Abrams goes a little overboard with his homage (I hate that tribble!) but it’s not enough to damage another worthy chapter in the franchise. In a year when the summer movie blockbusters were pretty weak, this, alongside Iron Man 3, was king.

For those of you who still don’t know the true name of Cumberbatch’s character, congratulations on making it this far. Get this sucker into your Blu-ray player before the big secret is blown—and don’t go checking out cast listings for the movie, either, because the secret will be revealed. It’s best to let this one surprise you.

J.J. Abrams will be directing the next Star Wars, which means his days of directing Spock and Kirk are probably over. He certainly made his mark on the franchise; in fact, his first effort is the best Star Trek movie ever made. I’ll put this one in a tie for second with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Special Features: A bunch of short featurettes are included on the Blu-ray. To get an exclusive director’s commentary track, you have to purchase this via digital download on iTunes.

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