Star Trek Beyond is directed by the man who made Fast and Furious must-see fan-fare, with lots of humor and a story that would have worked in Gene Roddenbury’s original TV shows. This lizard-guy attacks the USS Enterprise to reacquire the so-called “death machine” and leaves the away team stranded on a uninhabited planet with a landscape similar to Mono Lake. There’s a domed city straight out of Logan’s Run (if created by M.C. Escher), a motorcycle race between Kirks from different timelines that’s reminiscent of the race in the Tron reboot, and, with a nod to 2016 sensibilities, a brief interlude where Sulu and his husband bond with their adopted girl. Despite the one-liners and visual jokes, the film is a somber reminder that well-loved actors Leonard Nimoy (who appears briefly as Spock) and Anton Yelchin (who plays Chekov) have recently passed away. 3 pieces of entertaining in a retro sort of way toast
Those who enter the hallowed movie theater should Ignore all the mean-spirited, online commentaries and revel in the “Sisterhood is Powerful” vibes of the four funny and very talented women (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones,and Kate McKinnon), who don the fabled Ghostbusters jump suits, acquire a well-used hearse for transportation and do battle with copious amounts of slimy ectoplasm. Since the rent on the original firehouse has shot through the roof. the quartet moves into an empty upstairs office in NYC’s Chinatown. Each of the new Ghostbusters has a specific set of skills and include: a physics professor; her long-time pal; a mad-scientist inventor; and a subway worker. There’s cameos from the original film’s surviving stars, familiar music themes, an overabundance of CGI effects and to complete the gender-shift, some hunky office eye-candy in the form of Chris Hemsworth.
The people who continue to bring us The Minions (in a short cartoon before the feature), continue with The Secret Life of Pets, a dog’s tale (or tail?) where a Jack Russell Terrier rules his NYC apartment building. The position of “top dog” is up for grabs when a fluff-covered mutt appears. The rivalry eventually leads them to dog-walking at cross purposes, capture by animal control, and a stint among the “flushed pets” abandoned by their owners. Similarities with Disney’s Lady and the Tramp will only occur to those old enough to fondly recall the Siamese cat duet, dog pound quartet and a romantic meal of spaghetti and meatballs. No Peggy Lee songs in this one, but Alexander Desplat’s jazz music brightens an animated film perfect for pet owners of all ages
Roald Dahl’s classic tale of the Big Friendly Giant (BFG) is given a Spielbergian treatment of low key wonderment and whimsy. The sections in the fabled land of giants (where the BFG is the runt of the litter) are the most magical, while the last third (set in a “real world” featuring Buckingham Palace), depends more on the humor derived from the giant trying to blend in with humans. In our household, this book was traded back and forth among fourth and fifth graders because of the BFG’s magical whiz-pops (aka farts). Fans should be pleased that the passed gas is green-tinged in the film.
I can just imagine the pitch session: “Bikini-girl battles sharks.” And that pretty much sums Shallows up except for the fact that the girl is a med school dropout who can fashion things out of a wetsuit and jewelry that would make MacGyver envious. Since she’s a blond, she has to be pretty dense at times (for example, surfing without a buddy, and swimming towards a bloody whale carcass when sharks are after you). But even a blonde human is smarter than a shark—right?
Pixar’s astoundingly touching and beautiful animated film Finding Nemo is a tough act to follow, and Finding Dory is just a bit to derivative to be as fresh and exciting. Dory (Ellen Degeneres) the blue tang with short-term memory loss problems was inspired in the first film, but the “What was I doing?” bits grow tiresome when the entire movie is built on that schtick. Which isn’t to say the movie isn’t fun—it just depends too much on the “lets do it again” concept. Once again, an adorable little fish heads on a quest across thousands of miles of ocean to track down parents. There are plenty of side-trips plenty of unusual sea creatures to interact with in funny ways and unsubtle sequences comparing and contrasting what it’s like to “be free and potentially somebody’s next dinner,” to “being safe and protected and taken care of (in a dentist’s office fish tank or multi-habitat sea-quarium). With all the new faces, it’s easy to find a character you love. I pick Hank the grouchy octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neil) as my favorite. What’s your choice?
Maggie's Plan, Rebecca Miller’s modern day screwball comedy includes all of the fixtures needed for this genre—a parody of a rom-com that veers off into unexpected directions and becomes a farcical battle-of-the sexes where the world is constantly on the brink of chaos. The titular heroine, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a 30-something woman who “dresses like a Quaker” and decides to become a mother. She sets her eyes on the “ficto-critical anthropologist” who is unhappily married to a successful author who quashes any attempts her husband makes at becoming a writer. We think we know what will happen next, until Maggie decides to become a “kiss and make-up matchmaker” for the couple. Delightful chaos follows (including an on-cue snowstorm).
Down and Out is a racehorse appropriately named for a racehorse bred and raised by a barmaid in a destitute Welsh mining village. In true “it takes a village” style, Janet Vokes knew she couldn’t do this alone, so she formed a syndicate made up of twenty three bar patrons who ponied up 10 pounds a week. They used the money to buy a mare and stallion and in the course of time there was a foal—a long-legged, gangly beast with tall, white stockings on all four legs who loves to race. The ugly duckling tale of a “barmaid’s horse” competing against upper crust thoroughbreds is a wonderful one, and Louise Osmond's documentary lets the people (and animals) who lived it share their stories as a Welshman is born to do.
Famous anthropologists have built their careers studying the complex mating rituals of various tribal groups, and in his Love & Friendship, auteur director Whit Stillman shares similar techniques dissecting the intricacies of courtship in 1790‘s upper-crust England. Using Jane Austen’s novel as an outline, Stillman manages to go beyond a Masterpiece Theater costume drama to delight us with the scheming-for-a-husband mechinations in a time and place where mothers and daughters of a certain class were beholding to their relatives for costs-of-living—until they can find a financially sufficient spouse. It’s all fun and farce, and the scene where a suitor raised on Britain’s culinary staple called, “mushy peas,” comes face to face with the “jolly...little green balls” that are fresh peas, is worth the price of admission by itself.
The Nice Guys plot is simple: in the early 70‘s, an LA private eye reluctantly teams up with an enforcer-for-hire to find a missing girl and solve the suspicious death of a porn star. Almost everything you learned about this genre from Starsky & Hutch, Hawaii 5-0, and The Rockford Files is thrown on the screen, but with a knowing wink to the audience, (and under Shane Black’s deft direction), Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling make the scripted screw-ups sing.