Jennifer Lawrence In Winter’s Bone (Star Trek Beyond review)

When you finally receive your geek badge, it’s a wondrous thing. And with it comes all the trappings of geekdom – insider knowledge, scrutiny of any associated media, and a sense of family.

Artists which are capable of tapping into that pulse usually produce the most interesting content, though not always perfect, for sure. But much closer to what that specific crowd is really after than a run of the mill director. That’s where the magic happens.

 

 

 

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin,  Sofia Boutella
Director: Justin Lin
released on blu-ray November 1, 2016
******* 7/10

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IMDB: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%, Audience Score 82%
The Guardian: ***/*****

 

Justin Lin is a Taiwanese American director who is best known for his work on The Fast and the Furious franchise (movies 3–6), Better Luck Tomorrow, and now Star Trek Beyond. He is also known for his work on television shows like Community and True Detective. But I bet you didn’t know that the character of Han was ripped right out of Better Luck Tomorrow and dropped directly into The Fast and the Furious franchise – Which means that they are in a shared universe.

Another interesting tid bit, Lin’s second feature film Annapolis, shared stars Tyrese Gibson and Jordana Brewster, who are also staples in The Fast and the Furious franchise.

I mention these things because Star Trek Beyond happens to be a continuation in another series of films, one with a rich history of both film and television iterations. In other words, while Lin had a major hand in shaping The Fast and the Furious films, Star Trek has been up and running without him for quite a while now. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Consider for a second that Beyond is written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, the thirteenth film entry. And Pegg is also currently portraying Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the rebooted series.

Pegg had mentioned on several occasions that he and Jung worked with the fans to help flesh out the story of this film and that Beyond wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t for the support of Star Trek supporters. Additionally, the film is dedicated to the memory of Anton Yelchin, who portrayed Chekov in these new films, and who died a month prior to the film’s release. As well, original cast member Leonard Nimoy, was given a dedication, as he also featured in the reboots, but unfortunately died during pre-production of this film.

This says a lot of Lin’s ability to bolster a fan base and work with the actors to foster a family environment.

So what about the movie though? Well, I’ll get right to the point, in the spirit of Beyond’s own directness. This movie is fun, straightforward, and showcases a better chemistry amongst it cast of youthful star trekkers than we saw in the previous two films. I will say this though, the plot isn’t nearly as interesting as I would have hoped.

Effectively, the film starts with the USS Enterprise taking a break at the 3 year mark of their 5 year journey. Kirk wants to be promoted to Vice Admiral and turn his captain seat over to Spock, while Spock and Uhura are on the rocks. We later find out that this is because he has recently discovered that his counter-part Ambassador Spock has died and he wants to leave for the small Romulan colony and help repopulate his species. Then a survivor from a spaceship appears and the Enterprise is assigned to bring in other survivors. It turns out to be a trap. The ship is attacked, the majority of the crew abandons ship, and the bridge crew are stranded on a planet called Altamid. It turns out a warlord named Krall is at the centre of this and he wants to destroy the Federation.

I won’t reveal the plot twist, but I will say this, it is very reminiscent of the 2009 Star Trek reboot. And for that reason, it loses some points with me.

Pros: It embraces the spirit of the original series, focusing on it’s cast of characters, costuming, and terminology to set a stage similar to how the TV show felt, albeit longer and with much better special effects.

Cons: If you take away the action sequences, fighting, and CGI, you’ll quickly notice how much this feels like a TV episode of Star Trek, and then the plot becomes more of an issue.

Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes

Points of Interest: Starbase Yorktown is a reference to the original name of the starship in Roddenberry’s first drafts of the TV show script. Alice Eve who played Dr. Carol Marcus in Star Trek: Into Darkness is surprisingly missing from this film and no mention is made of her, though she was part of the 5 year voyage. Kirk makes a toast to absent friends at the end of the film and we quickly see the shot move to  Anton Yelchin.

I really enjoyed this movie but it’s important to consider it in the scope of the Star Trek universe. For those who liked the two most recent J.J. Abrams movies, it might be harder to take this one in, and for those who enjoy older Star Trek, it might make you nostalgic for another television series. But overall, this film sits well within the canon.

Simon Pegg told this cute little anecdote about new character Jahlah (Sofia Boutella). They had originally intended to create this strong independent female character stranded on the planet of Altamid. But they couldn’t land on a name, so they just inserted Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone into the script. Over time this kept getting shortened, but a name wasn’t chosen. It finally got to the point that J-Law was being said aloud and it was agreed that Jahlah was the right name.

It’s decisions like this that Star Trek fans get a kick out of, and why the franchise is much beloved. Those easter eggs make all the difference, and the universe created a little more more nuanced. Justin Lin gets that, and I hope you do too. But that’s just a theory.

Tim!

A Little More Action Please (Joy review)

Have you ever watched a bio pic? They usually do an excellent job of both motivating you to do something with your life, and also to make you feel for the character(s) which the story is based upon.

It’s one of those great guilty pleasures of life which most people are okay with accepting as a “good” pursuit of time when watching film or reading a book.

This week we are going to look at a very recent bio pic and see if it hits the mark.

 

 

 

Joy (2015)

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramirez, Dianne Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini
Director: David O. Russell
released on blu-ray May 3, 2016
****** 6/10

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IMDB: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%, Audience Score 56%
The Guardian: ***/*****

David Owen Russell also known as David O Russell is an American director, screenwriter, and producer. He is best known for directing The Fighter, American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook.

This is the third time that Russell has worked with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, and the second time with Robert De Niro.

If you’ve seen anything J Law has been in like ever, then you’ll know she gives a strong performance, and Russell provides excellent direction. But let’s discuss the film in brief first.

Taken from Wikipedia and edited,

In 1989, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) is a divorced mother of two, working as a booking clerk. She lives with her children, mother (Virginia Madsen), grandmother Mimi (Dianne Ladd), and her ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez).

Her parents are divorced, and fight whenever her father shows up. Joy and her older half-sister, Peggy don’t get along but Peggy and father Rudy (Robert De Niro) are very close. Her mom spends all day lying in bed watching TV to escape from her life, leaving Joy to run the household.

After divorcing his third wife, Joy’s father starts dating Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), a wealthy widow with some business experience. While on Trudy’s boat, Joy drops a glass of wine, attempts to mop up, and cuts her hands on the broken glass while wringing the mop.

Joy returns home and creates blueprints for a self-wringing mop. She then convinces Trudy to invest in the product. They make a deal with a company in California to manufacture and Joy also pays $50,000 in royalties to a man in Hong Kong who supposedly has created a similar product. The company repeatedly bills Joy for faulty parts they create, but Joy refuses to pay the fees.

Joy needs a quick, easy way to advertise her product, and is able to meet with QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper). Neil tells Joy to manufacture 50,000 mops. Joy is advised by Trudy to take out a second mortgage on her home, in order to pay her costs. The first infomercial fails, but when she goes on QVC, Joy and her product become an overnight success. Things look up for the family, with the mop earning thousands of dollars on QVC.

Joy’s grandmother dies suddenly. Rudy and Trudy send Peggy to California to conduct Joy’s company business. Afterwards Peggy tells Joy that she paid the fees. Joy is angry and travels to California to meet with the manufacturer, who refuses to pay her back. Joy discovers that the manufacturer is about to fraudulently patent her design. Her lawyer reveals that there is nothing they can do to prevent this, and Joy is forced to file for bankruptcy. Joy discovers that the manufacturers have been defrauding her the entire time. She confronts the owner, and forces him to pay her back.

Several years later, Joy is wealthy and runs a successful business. She continues to take care of her father, even though he and Peggy had unsuccessfully sued for ownership. Tony remains a valued adviser, and the film ends with her helping a young mother develop a new invention.

So there you have it, even in the summary of the film, it’s clear that the frontrunner of this story is Joy Mangano, because well, the movie is called Joy after all.

But if you haven’t caught on yet, the ensemble cast is problematic and uneven. There is absolutely no question in my mind that Lawrence gives a great performance, but but we don’t get to see her play off of her natrual chemistry of Cooper, the way it’s promised, and her family is a little bit too zany without the obvious conflict.

Pros: It tells a great story of an underdog gone fierce and her ultimate rise to the top of the pile. You really feel for Joy because Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent job portraying her. Russell also has an excellent crafting which provides that title character development.

Cons: The beginning of the movie is dry and doesn’t feel realistic enough to believe in the flawed characters and how Lawrence becomes their matriarch. Also it lacks a lot of humour, and ironically enough joy.

Runtime: 2 hours 4 minutes

Points of Interest: While the title character is named Joy, she is not, in fact, a biographic version of Joy Mangano. Russell created an everywoman with Joy Mangano as the base, and interwove it with stories of other women changing their lives.

It is an interesting film because it does an excellent job to drive the growth of it’s title character, but because the story is fabricated and not handled in such a way to really develop it’s supporting cast realistically, and with the odd humour of life, it doesn’t quite reach it’s goal.

So Joy doesn’t run on all fours throughout it’s arc. But that doesn’t mean it can’t get to its destination nor does it mean that we should discount it as a great example of overcoming adversity. It just doesn’t fit a perfect mold as a film. If you’re a fan of Jennifer Lawrence I have a theory that you won’t be disappointed by her performance, but if you like the Lawrence/Cooper tag team, I can tell you it’s not really there.

Should you give Joy a chance? Yeah I think so. But there are lots of better bio pics out there. See you tomorrow with some wisdom friends.

Tim!