Friday, September 2, 2016

Worth Mentioning - A Swimming Pool of Salted Crimes

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Horror lies beyond the final frontier.


The rebooted Star Trek franchise didn't take long to squander the good will it earned with the 2009 film, which used time travel shenanigans to keep all established Star Trek lore in canon while taking viewers back to the younger days of the original series characters, to a time before the original series began. They dropped the ball with Star Trek Into Darkness, a sequel that got so wrapped up in reverence for 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that it failed to be a satisfying story in itself. Looking back at the write-up I did for Into Darkness back when it came out in 2013, I see that I enjoyed it up to a point, but as three years have passed without a second viewing it hasn't held up well in my memories. The third installment in this new timeline carried extra weight on its shoulders, because part of what it needed to deliver was redemption.

Although Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness director J.J. Abrams remains on board as a producer, Star Trek Beyond does come from a fresh creative team - Fast & Furious three through six director Justin Lin took over the helm, working from a screenplay written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Pegg also plays USS Enterprise engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott in the films, and while it was unexpected that he would end up writing one of the sequels - that wasn't the inital plan, at first Star Trek and Into Darkness co-writer Roberto Orci was going to be directing from a script he wrote with Patrick McKay and John D. Payne - it's far from unheard of that Enterprise crew members also act as a guiding force on the shows and films. Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Jonathan Frakes, and Brent Spiner all directed and/or wrote Star Trek films while also acting in them.

Into Darkness ended with the Enterprise being sent on the five year mission the crew was on during the original series, and when Beyond begins they are 966 days into their exploration of space, their journeys into places where no one has gone before. Just under three years in, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling melancholy about the whole endeavor. The mission has been episodic and unfulfilling, he doesn't see the point in it anymore. His birthday is approaching and he's finding himself lacking in comparison to the heroic legacy of his father George Kirk, who also served in the United Federation of Planets' Starfleet (and, as the '09 Star Trek showed us, died saving lives as his son was being born).

During a stop-over at the star base Yorktown, Kirk puts in a request that he be made a Vice Admiral at the star base, suggesting that first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) replace him as captain of the Enterprise. Before this shake-up can occur, word reaches the Yorktown that a ship on a science mission inside a nebula in uncharted space has crash landed on a nearby planet. Because the Enterprise is the only ship capable of navigating the nebula and because the crew is so highly respected, our heroes are sent on a rescue mission... A mission that quickly goes terribly awry, as the Enterprise has been led into an ambush, being specifically targeted by a mysterious villain called Krall and his legion of lackeys, who are seeking an object that was on board the ship, a souvenir from a previous mission, a piece of an ancient weapon that Krall is planning to reassemble so he can attack the Federation.

Krall is played by Idris Elba, but you'll be forgiven for not recognizing him when he shows up on screen because he has been buried under monstrous prosthetics that completely hide his features. Elba is a great actor and all, his presence brings a certain level of prestige to even the worst movies he shows up in, but it was quite an odd choice to cast him as a character that required his face to be so obscured.

The Enterprise is destroyed, crash landing on the same planet the science mission ship and other ships before it have crashed on, including a Federation ship that went missing long ago. The crew is scattered across the planet's surface, some getting lost in the wilderness, others being captured by Krall. Most of them are paired off into interesting groups, which gives some characters who might otherwise get overshadowed some prominent screen time as they work through their own subplots - Kirk ends up with navigator Pavel Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin, to whom the film is dedicated); Spock is paired with Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), a character who is frequently exasperated by him; helsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and communications officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are among those who are captured; and Pegg's Scotty crosses paths with a new character, Sofia Boutella as Jaylah, a skilled fighter and survivor who has been stranded on this planet for years and is a fun addition to our band of heroes for this film.

Star Trek Beyond is really simple, and very much the sort of movie that many expected when Lin signed on to direct - fast paced and action packed. The crew being stranded on the planet and struggling to reach each other, thwart Krall, and figure out a way to escape isn't just a detour, that takes up the majority of the running time... So, while it's a fun movie, I'm also left feeling a bit underwhelmed because there's just not very much to it.

The feeling of Beyond being lacking comes despite the attempt to add some emotional depth through Kirk's ennui, Krall's motivations, and issues that arise for Spock - trouble in his relationship with Uhura, a relationship that has struck me as unnecessary and strange ever since it was introduced in the '09 film, and the news that Spock's time traveling older self has passed away, just as original Spock Leonard Nimoy passed away in 2015 (the film is dedicated to him as well). Nimoy played a great role in Star Trek '09, and was then shoe-horned into an awkward Into Darkness cameo, and it is nice and touching that his passing was acknowledged in Beyond.

Star Trek Beyond doesn't raise this new branch of the franchise back to the heights of the reboot film, but it doesn't keep it in the level of Into Darkness, either. It pulls things back up a bit simply by being an entertaining, inoffensive trifle of an entry.

BENEATH (2013)

There are too many movies with the simple, generic title Beneath, but the one chosen for the Final Girl blog's SHOCKtober event last year was a subterranean horror story directed by Ben Ketai and written by Patrick Doody and Chris Valenziano.

Jeff Fahey stars as George Marsh, a man who is retiring from his job as a coal miner. His daughter Samantha (Kelly Noonan) accompanies him and his co-workers on his last day at work, not only to mark the occasion but also to get a first hand look at the industry she disapproves of, since she works in environmental law.

George is retiring one day too late. Their time in the mine on this particular day goes disastrously wrong when he, his daughter, and other miners become trapped in the tunnels by a collapse.

They have a safe chamber down there with food and water and they're supposed to just sit tight until rescuers can extract them from the mine in 72 hours... But being trapped for three days isn't their only problem. Things start to get very strange. Characters see unsettling images, hear odd noises. They're lured out of the chamber into the tunnels, where they discover items left behind by miners killed in a cave-in in 1927. Aggression levels rise, they lash out at each other in unprovoked anger. People start turning up dead. Murdered. Oxygen lines are severed.

The question is, is there a supernatural force at work or are the miners just going out of their minds? I was intrigued to find out the answers and I enjoyed watching the cast, which also includes Joey Kern of Super Troopers and Eli Roth's Cabin Fever, but the movie does feature long sequences of characters wandering and flailing around in dark tunnels that really did not keep my attention.

With a story about people starting to turn on each other while trapped in one location and a dire situation, this could have been a movie that a Night of the Living Dead fan like myself could really get into, but I can't say I enjoyed Beneath all that much because I just didn't find the exploration of the mine to be all that interesting.

It is a well made film, though, and worth giving a chance, especially if you think you might be creeped out by the scenes of wandering through the darkness. Me, when they were wandering my mind would also start wandering.

THE VISIT (2015)

When M. Night Shyamalan first broke through, I was totally on board to keep track of his career. I saw The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs in the theatre and enjoyed each of them. I didn't make it out to see The Village on the big screen, but still think that it's a better film than its reputation would have you believe. Shyamalan and I really started drifting apart at Lady in the Water. His directorial efforts haven't been for me since that one; I haven't even seen 2013's After Earth yet. Although word of mouth was that Shyamalan had reclaimed some of his former glory with The Visit, I wasn't in a hurry to watch it - the found footage style is off-putting to me and I thought the trailer looked absolutely ridiculous. My Arrow in the Head managing editor Eric Walkuski is quoted on the front of the home video release ("What Jaws did for sharks and Psycho did for showers, The Visit will do for grandparents."), but I remained hesitant. At the request of my Remake Comparison co-writer Priscilla, we ended up watching The Visit during my most recent trip to Brazil... and I was pleasantly surprised. Word of mouth was right. Shyamalan has finally made another movie that I enjoyed.

The found footage style of The Visit is one of the least annoying examples of it that I've ever seen. The film is presented as a documentary being assembled by teenager Becca (Olivia DeJonge) as she heads out into the Pennsylvania countryside with her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) to visit the grandparents - Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie as Nana and Pop Pop - that they have never met before, since they had a falling out with their mom (Kathryn Hahn) before Becca was born. Not only does it make sense that a film-minded youth would want to document this occasion, but Becca also has a noble ulterior motive. She wants to use the documentary to resolve the issues between her mother and grandparents.

The found footage is made even easier to watch by the fact that Becca knows how to set up her cameras and cut together the footage in a professional manner.

Problem is, Nana and Pop Pop are very strange people, and the more time Becca and Tyler spend in their home, the more strange they become. Too strange to deal with. Maybe even dangerously strange... Or are they just eccentric elderly people? It's tough to tell, and Shyamalan unspools the story in a way that kept me captivated and curious throughout. When the questions are answered, it is completely satisfying.

Even if you've hated the last four or five Shyamalan movies, I would still recommend checking out The Visit. It's a really good movie and a return to form for the filmmaker.


Mongolian Death Worm is, like Sand Serpents the year before it, a Syfy premiere that basically lifted its concept from Tremors. Before branding the film a rip-off, you can cut director Steven R. Monroe and his co-writers on the screenplay, Neil Elman and Kevin Leeson, some slack due to the fact that they were basing their story on a creature of cryptid legend, but they lose some of those points by having their giant worm creatures shoot out snake-like tongue tentacles to snatch their prey with, just like the Tremors Graboids.

In the film, the subterranean death worms are stirred up by a company's search for oil in the Mongolian countryside. As the worms set out to devour anyone who crosses their paths, their presence contaminates the local water supply and makes villagers deathly ill.

An American man named Daniel (played by Sean Patrick Flanery) is seeking the source of the worms not to save lives, but because legend has it that the worms were guarding a long lost treasure. After meeting medical volunteer Alicia (The Last Heist's Victoria Pratt), Daniel starts to become a better person who takes on some heroic duties.

If you're seeking out things that are Tremors-esque, as I was when I watched this, Mongolian Death Worm won't provide you with the level of fun that a Tremors movie would, but it does have some fun moments. It takes itself too seriously at times and I didn't find it to be all that entertaining, but I also didn't think it was a bad movie. Fans of Syfy-type flicks might get some enjoyment out of it.

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