Star Trek Beyond

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In the third of the Star Trek reboot franchise, the  crew of the USS Enterprise explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a new ruthless enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.

Star Trek Beyond brings to the screen everything we love about Star Trek and more, even without J.J. Abrams in the director’s chair. Beyond is packed with great action, laughs, writing, cast chemistry, and editing. Justin Lin surprised me by how well he was able to direct this film without losing the energy, heart, and extraordinary style that Abrams brought to the first two films. You can’t get enough of Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and the late Anton Yelchin (who sadly passed away due to an accident last month) as the crew of the Enterprise. They are all filled with so much energy and fun. The chemistry between all of them is golden, the writing for their characters is outstanding, and they always seem to be having so much fun in front of the screen. Sofia Boutella (who you may remember as Samuel L. Jackson’s henchwoman in last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service) surprised me in her newcoming role to the series, and although her role wasn’t the most original character the writers could have come up with, I didn’t expect as much from her and enjoyed watching her onscreen. Idris Elba delivers a favorable performance as an evil alien warlord named Krall, but can’t nearly top Benedict Cumberbatch’s menacing Khan from Into Darkness. In the film’s last act, Krall is given a backstory that only complicates things and makes him less intimidating. The backstory they gave him felt too familiar and flat, and didn’t work well with the rest of the film.

Can a Star Trek movie ever disappoint me visually? Not quite. The effects in this movie are splendid, and although it lacks the glamorous touch Abrams gave the visual atmosphere and look of its predecessors, there is some marvelous cinematography and visual surrounding in the film. This experience was especially enhanced for me because I saw this in IMAX 3D, which explains why I felt so sucked into the movie’s setting, which was always animated beautifully. The action is shot and choreographed very well, and it’s all very fast-paced and fun to sit through. The action definitely holds up to the excitement and intensity in the first two films. This movie is a thrill ride packed with tons of sci-fi violence throughout, even though it doesn’t forget to provide the character development we want from a Star Trek movie. Expect plenty of nostalgia and throwbacks to the original Star Trek franchise and cast, the film doesn’t get rid of the great feeling that you’re watching Star Trek, a different kind of enjoyment than most other action films. If you’re a fan, you definitely won’t get let down by how much the original franchise is paid homage to, and by how much this saga still feels like Star Trek did decades ago. Although it’s not as great as the first two films, Beyond is still tons of fun to watch, with a stellar cast, plenty of vivid action and effects, and doesn’t forget to pay tribute to the late and great Leonard Nimoy, and of course, Anton Yelchin. Go see Beyond if you’re a fan, or if you simply want to have a great time at the movies.

The USS Enterprise flying through the universe, with the film's title "Beyond", and the film's billing below.

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Snowden

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Snowden follows American computer professional Edward Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the film), who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency to The Guardian in June 2013.

Snowden is a movie I got to see two months before its release this September, and I’m glad I took the opportunity to watch it. Director Oliver Stone delivers an interesting, complex, and well-done biopic that taught me a lot more about who Edward Snowden really was, what he did, and why he did it. The film works as both an excellent biopic and a great political thriller. I’ve seen Joseph Gordon-Levitt shine in many films over the years, but I’ve never seen such outstanding work from him like in this film. I couldn’t see Gordon-Levitt in the film, I could only see Snowden. He completely changes his appearance, behavior, and most remarkably his voice to perfectly match the figure in real life. Towards the end of the film, an interview with the real Snowden is compared to one with Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of him, and the efforts the actor made to become the character are unbelievable. Although I don’t think Shailene Woodley was the best choice to play her character, I feel like she gave the role her best and her performance didn’t turn out to be too bad. The movie also has a great supporting cast (including Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, and Nicolas Cage), and most of them deliver strong and interesting performances. Snowden works as a biography, a thriller, and an interesting drama. The movie gives us a better glimpse at the gravity of what Snowden did, and exactly why he did it. We get some depth inside the threat of our security at the time, and the controversy behind whether the NSA was doing the right or wrong thing by looking at our actions and personal information. Oliver Stone convinced me that Snowden was doing the right thing, and for the right reasons too, which wasn’t exactly what I believed before. This movie did what a great biography should do, which is change your view and opinion about the person being focused on by learning and understanding more about them. In the first twenty minutes of the film, the editing and cinematography feels off and not the way it’s supposed to be, but it’s all polished up afterwards, despite a few moments throughout where the editing feels somewhat odd. But the film’s great performances, storytelling, and effect are what matter the most. Instead of giving us all the information about the topic that happens after the film through closing cards, we get most of it through fragments of real newscasts about what happened, which isn’t something we always get in biopics, and I thought that was a different but much more effective way to deliver the audience information. Walking out after the film ended, I was left thinking a lot about the subject and what I had just watched, which proves the film succeeded at doing its job for its audiences.

Snowden is a well-done, excellently directed, and powerfully executed biopic that you should definitely watch in theaters when its released this September, and although the editing has a few moments that needed some more polishing, its performances and writing are what make it stand out from most of the other movies I’ve seen this year. I sure hope this movie gets the audience and praise it deserves once it’s released.

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Free State of Jones

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Free State of Jones tells the true story of Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a disillusioned Confederate army deserter returns to Mississippi and leads a militia of fellow deserters, runaway slaves, and women in an uprising against the corrupt local Confederate government.

Free State of Jones is definitely not as bad as critics say it is. It tells a very eye-opening tale about the Civil War that’s quite an important lesson and I’m glad it was told through a film. The story of Newton Knight leading an army of fugitives, most of which were runaway black slaves, against the Confederate government, is a very interesting story and I’m glad I learned about this through this film. There are some gerat scenes that are put to film here and it’s all done very powerfully and realistically. The movie’s trailer made it look like the film would be driven by lengthy action sequences and shootouts, but there are really only a few, as the majority of the scenes use only dialogue to carry the plot. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’m just warning you that the trailer does not transmit the movie’s tone well, so don’t buy a ticket thinking that it’s Saving Private Ryan in the Civil War, as it’s much more of a Schindler’s List type of film, and I was actually glad that was the case. Matthew McConaughey is amusing in the film’s lead role, delivering lots of great dialogue, emotional scenes, and although he doesn’t completely blend into the role, I could tell that he gave the part his best.

Although the movie’s performances and historical messages are quite effective, other aspects of this film aren’t. The runtime drags on and on at many points, and there are parts at the end of the movie where it runs out of things to talk about, and just stretches its length aimlessly. Like I said before, the movie puts some great scenery to film, but unfortunately the cinematography does not capture it all very well. The camera is too shaky and not often pointed in the right angles in order to enhance the story. Cinematography is very important to me when it comes to watching films, and this film’s camerawork felt very lousy and unfocused. The editing within scenes was occasionally disruptive, as the cuts within scenes were way too fast and sometimes unnecessary. There isn’t enough consistent substance besides the film’s historical merit that makes it worth a trip to the theaters. If you want to see this movie for an interesting history lecture, then you may want it check it out (not necessarily on the big screen), but otherwise it’s not worth the trip to the theaters unless you want to see another great leading performance from Matthew McConaughey. If you do want to watch this, I’d recommend it for teens 14-15 and up, as it may be too tough for younger viewers to take in and/or watch.

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Florence Foster Jenkins

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Florence Foster Jenkins tells the true story of a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, and never lost confidence within herself, despite having a terrible singing voice.

Florence Foster Jenkins is a delightful, charming, and very watchable film. It delivers an interesting yet poignant true story that was able to entertain and touch me throughout. Meryl Streep does not fail to carry the film excellently as the titular role. She not only delivered the charm and heart of the character, but she was able to completely transform into her role, as I was only able to see the character, and not Streep. She’s able to carry the film so well with her character’s confidence and emotion. Her character entertains but also touches, and throughout the film you often feel very sorry for her. I think it’s safe to say that Streep has earned herself another Oscar nomination for another fantastic performance. The story that’s told through this film is nothing close to an important historical lesson like most films based on true stories, but it’s an interesting biography that’s made entertaining and interesting. There’s some great humor throughout, and all of the cast does their best. The sets and costumes are all vivid and done beautifully. But what makes the story here so well told is the controversy behind the film’s titular character. Many criticised her voice and others praised it, but her husband alway encouraged her and made sure she’d always feel acknowledged. What’s so interesting is to know that all of this actually happened, and the story here really made me think. The movie feels very light-hearted and uplifting most of the time, it’s also poignant deep inside, which is what makes this film very effective at delivering its topic with great heart and emotion, as well as an empowering cast and great prestige.

Florence Foster Jenkins will not disappoint those who anticipate it, with great execution as well as a wonderful performance from Streep as the lead. It’s entertaining but also very heartfelt, and if you enjoy these kinds of movies, you should definitely go check this one out when it’s released in August.

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The Man Who Knew Infinity

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The Man Who Knew Infinity tells the fascinating story of the life and academic career of the pioneer Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan (Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel), and his friendship with his mentor, Professor G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons).

It’s amazing how films can introduce you to such amazing historical topics that were heard of by very little before. The story of the brilliant Indian mathematician Ramanujan was not known to me before I watched the film, but I was so captivated by the brilliance of an unappreciated poor man ultimately changed the knowledge of professors and universities around the world. Dev Patel is striking as the lead role, demonstrating great talent through his emotion and fantastic delivery of his lines. Patel captures the soul of his character excellently. Irons shares plenty of screentime with Patel in the film, and delivers an even more wonderful performance as the only who truly appreciated and understood Ramanujan’s marvelous intellect. Irons is strongly able to convey every one of Hardy’s emotions throughout the film, sometimes even without delivering any lines. The chemistry between the two actors is the film’s true heart and soul, and it’s what carries the movie like nothing else. Their chemistry is so touching and convincing, and you really understand how these two characters really changed each other. Although the story tends to drag at first, especially whenever these two actors aren’t on screen together, the way the film is executed is ultimately strong and effective, thanks to the amazing gravity of the topic and the groundbreaking cast and writing.

The Man Who Knew Infinity is a very underrated and unappreciated film that deserve some more attention than what it currently has. Critics in the U.S. have not liked it outside of the leading cast, and I don’t agree with what they’ve been saying about the rest of the film. Critics did not like the pacing, directing, or the way this film was shot, and I believe the reason they are criticizing it so much is because it didn’t bring them what the average Hollywood film would deliver. I’m not going as far as explosions or effects, but almost every film that we release is expected to have constant entertainment and almost no pauses. I feel like that for a film, this one was very well made. It’s a British film, so it did not feel the need to provide strong intensity throughout and cast the most popular stars around (the way films like The Social Network and Steve Jobs would do), and instead this movie only feels the need to be a great biopic and do justice to its topic. I feel like critics were let down by their expectations for the film and not the film itself. The film provided me with plenty of great dialogue and story, which is all I really needed from the film, rather than loud conversations, a fast plot, and well-known Hollywood stars filling up the cast.

The Man Who Knew Infinity has a captivating story, cast, and topic, that may not entertain you as much as it will impress you, but it’s definitely an underrated film from this year that you should watch if it’s available anywhere near you.

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Café Society

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Café SocietyWoody Allen’s new period comedy-drama, focuses on young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), who moves from Manhattan to 1930’s Hollywood, starts working for his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), and falls for his secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). This leads to a series of twists and an adventure filled with romance and crime.

Earlier this week, I saw an early screening of Woody Allen’s latest feature, Cafe Society, which Allen also wrote, and even narrated himself. Woody Allen is one of the many fantastic faces behind the cameras and screens of Hollywood. Despite how much effort and ambition he puts into every one of his films, not many of them have been recognized as well worth remembering, with the exceptions of Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine. Is Cafe Society able to hold up to what Allen can really do? From a directing standpoint, mostly. Allen does a fantastic job bringing the ’30’s back to life with the vivid sets, costume design, and striking cinematography, all of which pay homage to the way films in the ’30’s were shot and made. Although the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! from earlier this year did a much better job bringing the old days of Hollywood back to life and making me feel like I was watching a film from decades ago (and with a smaller budget than Cafe Society), Allen still tries his best to bring both the old Hollywood scenery to life, as well as the late night party terrain of New York. Allen always cares a lot about his characters, which really shows here. The cast gives it their best, with Jesse Eisenberg playing another one of those “young characters in a big world”, and once again, Kristen Stewart plays Eisenberg’s love interest. We’ve seen these two actors onscreen together many times before, but there’s always something new with their characters that we haven’t seen before. Eisenberg is quite hilarious in this film and he carries the film along very well. Steve Carell is also a standout here, with some great lines and a personality that he delivers very well. Another thing that the movie handles very well is its humor. Every instance of comedy was written superbly and made me crack up. Also, if you don’t know who the movie’s narrator is, save that surprise for after you watch the movie, if you don’t happen to recognize whose voice it is during the film.

The place where the movie really struggles and does not hold up at all is the story. The movie starts out as an entertaining dramedy set in the ’30s, which quickly turns into a romantic film. I only started to have a problem with this later, when every twist is revealed too quickly and the dramatic irony is sacrificed. Following this is just a bunch of scenes that take the film nowhere, although there is a subplot in the film that managed to work. Fortunately, the movie’s humor is consistent and never dropped, but the movie’s plot became so aimless and got to a point when it felt uncomfortable to watch, and soaked away almost everything else that made it entertaining. I never understand where the film was aiming and why. Not every movie has a message, but every movie goes a certain direction for a reason. Allen’s films usually end by either trying to teach you something, or by showing how the characters have changed throughout the film. There was absolutely none of that in this film. When I got out of the film, I was still wondering, “What was this movie trying to teach me? How did the characters change throughout the movie and how did the film’s events even affect them?” The film’s ending was probably when Allen gave up on the screenplay and decided to give the movie and abrupt ending instead of a more thoughtful one. I can imagine how much better this movie would have been of Allen wasn’t trying to leave his comfort zone with the writing. The scenery, cast and humor are all spot-on and help bring this movie a lively surrounding and feel, but the story ultimately plummets and didn’t feel like Allen put in his best work. If you’re a fan of Woody Allen’s movies, then you may want to see Cafe Society, but otherwise, I wouldn’t strongly recommend this film.

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The BFG

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In Steven Spielberg’s live-action adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, an orphan girl named Sophie is taken to Giant Country by a big, friendly giant, and together they set out to stop the man-eating giants of Giant Country from invading the human world.

The BFG reteams my favorite director, Steven Spielberg, with Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and composer John Williams, to bring Roald Dahls’ imagination to life. Spielberg stays true to the story and of the book, as well as all the hilarious and nonsensical vocabulary spoken by the titular giant. This movie is so visually ambitious that it feels like Spielberg imagined a universe the size of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth when he was working on this movie. And that’s definitely not a bad thing in this case. You can feel how much visual imagination and work Spielberg put in this movie, that you can guarantee it’s from the same person who brought you Jurassic Park, Jaws, and E.T., which is exactly what I was hoping to get from this movie, if anything. The visual effects are so vivid and very well done, even though they don’t always blend in well with the live-action setting. Janusz Kaminski, who has worked with Spielberg before a million times, provides marvelous cinematography to the film, bringing the film some memorably beautiful shots. Whenever there’s an action scene, instead of providing constant fast cuts, Kaminski lets you enjoy longer shots of his style, to John Williams’ lively score that has a Star Wars meets Harry Potter vibe to it. Whenever Kaminski is shooting a Spielberg-directed film, you can alkways guarantee you’re up for something good.

The BFG also brings the best out of its main cast. Mark Rylance delivers a heartfelt performance as the lovable BFG, who may just make you cry by the end of the film. Winning an Oscar just isn’t enough for him, as he doesn’t hold back on putting his heart into this performance. I thought at first that Rylance would be the highlight of the cast, but I was clearly wrong. Eleven-year-old Ruby Barnhill, who plays the main character Sophie, steals every one of her scenes (which is pretty much every scene in the movie). It’s often hard to rely on child actors to pull off in films, but Barnhill nails it as the adorable and wholehearted lead role. There is also a pleasant supporting cast, including Shaun of the Dead‘s Penelope Wilton as the Queen of England, and The Prestige‘s Rebecca Hall as the Queen’s maid.

One of the reasons I love Steven Spielberg as a filmmaker so much is because of the tremendous amount of passion he has when it comes to movie making. Whether he’s teaching you about friendship in E.T., a history lesson in films like Schindler’s List and Lincoln, or trying to make you afraid to go into the water in Jaws, you always feel how much passion and hard work he puts into directing his films. Every film of his feels so personal and strong without exception. Here, you feel how hard he clearly tries to teach you a lesson: No matter how different you are, don’t ever let anyone bring you down. From this, I can even infer that the character of the BFG resembles Spielberg himself. I’ve read biographies about him, and I know that he, too, never fit in, but his differences were what made him unique, which is exactly the case with the film’s titular character.

So, if you’re still wondering, is The BFG a movie worth going to see? And if so, should you see it with your family? I believe that this movie is definitely worth a watch, and it’s not a movie that you should immediately go rush to see, but at some point I advise you see it because it’s a fun experience, and it’s a large box office bomb as of right now, so you should see it to go help it make some more money. If you’re a Spielberg fan, you’ll especially like this movie like I did. At one point in the first hour of the movie, I was starting to feel concerned that it would get repetitive and start to drag, and I felt like kids would probably get bored at that point. However, it picks up later and finishes very well. There’s some pleasant humor in there that’s quite enjoyable, and feels like it came right out of a Roald Dahl book, which it really did. This doesn’t feel a lot like a 21-st century live-action Disney fantasy, but more like a film that comes from the imagination and heart of Steven Spielberg. It may let down younger kids with its different form of entertainment than most family films, but audiences 11-12 and up will probably enjoy this movie. If you’re looking for a movie you can guarantee the whole family will consistently enjoy, then Finding Dory is probably the better movie to watch, but The BFG is still a film that you can smile at and even applaud by the end.

An elderly giant man holds a little human girl in his hand, while both look at one another.