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Star Trek Beyond – Movie Review


Star Trek Beyond – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Upon theorizing what has allowed Gene Roddenberry’s iconic series to have such longevity, some might go for the optimistic vision of the future, while others might say the space exploration. Both are valid reasons, but in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s the characters that are the most endearing aspect of the franchise. The evolution of Kirk and Spock’s friendship, the barbed responses from McCoy and the good-natured warmth of Scotty are key to the enjoyment of the original television series and the subsequent films. Even the lesser movies have a certain charm, because of the crew of the Starship Enterprise. Star Trek Beyond is, thankfully, not one of the lesser films. Director Justin Lin, stepping in for J.J. Abrams, understands these characters and their five year mission and has crafted a wondrous adventure full of danger and yet a degree of optimism, too.

Star Trek Beyond takes the dynamic of these characters and cleverly separates them into two-person teams. We’ve seen Kirk and Spock interact, so having the logical Vulcan alone with the temperamental Dr. McCoy allows for something new. Kirk having primarily Chekov by his side gives the young navigator the opportunity to have more screen time than in the prior two films. Uhura and Sulu are mainly saddled with serving as the villain’s prisoners, but are still given the screen time to be heroic. Uhura could have easily ended up as a damsel in distress during this adventure, but the filmmakers thankfully never fall into that trap. Scotty is paired up with one of the best new Star Trek characters. Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah is a memorable creation with an imaginative design and a strong back story, with both a strong punch, but also a softer side.

The villain Krall seems like a simple antagonist at first, merely bent on destruction and tyrannical rule. However, the screenplay slowly peals away at him and reveals a more complex motivation behind his actions. Idris Elba brings the necessary menace to the rule and his performance gets even stronger the more we find out about him. This is one of the many elements that credited writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung use to make Star Trek Beyond feel like an episode of the original television series. It’s a classic adventure story without the complex time travel and alternate universe rules that were a prominent part of J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek films.

Justin Lin handles the action exceptionally. The stunts are choreographed very well, utilising the props and sets to their advantage. There’s not a single lull in the action where it feels repetitive. Whether on the ground or in outer space, the film takes a lot of creative avenues and even some surprising twists. Elements introduced early on do come back in a satisfying way, showing the tightness of the screenplay and how each detail has been carefully planned. The behind-the-scenes crew deserves as much credit, if not more, for making the world of Star Trek come alive. Thomas Sanders’s production design is full of imagination, especially the new futuristic city of Yorktown with its skyscrapers and underwater docking bays. The makeup team also make each alien look distinctive with Jaylah showing off an inspiring look unlike anything previously seen in this franchise.

With the new iterations of the Original Series crew established after two films, Justin Lin is able to take them on new journeys and whisk the audience away with them. The excitement level is kept high, but there’s also a heart underneath the transporter devices and fast-paced action. Leonard Nimoy’s passing away last year is worked seamlessly into the plot that’s respectful and also results in a matter sure to make many long time Trekkers smile and get emotional. Star Trek Beyond stands as one of the best films in a series already filled with many great entries. Here is hoping this won’t be the final time Lin finds himself aboard the Enterprise.


Stefan Ellison

The Departure – Gateways – Album Review


Album Cover 7
Post-punk is often regarded as a genre that has a lot of similar sounding bands, especially when it comes to vocals. Salt Lake City’s The Departure do play to the post-punk sound pretty tightly but on their EP Gateways they also take the time to raise their music beyond the confines of that sound. How far they go beyond those confines is subjective but they do find something for everyone.

The album opens on the epic sprawl of “For The Best,” which cuts from a big beginning to fast-paced verse filled with light guitar flourishes that at times sound so flowing they could be a synth. The song’s closing solo takes the song out on a great note only partly tainted by the fourth-wall breaking recording blooper that feels out of place on a track like this. The strings on “Forget Everything” give a nice secondary riff that outdoes the guitar at times. The screamed vocals do add to the song’s energy but almost feel so underused that they could’ve been removed all together.

Gateways” has a much more mysterious opening than the earlier tracks thanks to a great echoing synth line. Unfortunately, the vocals on this track’s verses are jarringly less polished than other tracks on the album leaving a disjointed feeling to the track, and making it a lot harder to listen to along with the rest of the record. The riff and synth lines that drive “Incompetence” give it an opening well above many on the record. Unfortunately the rest of the track, even the bridge do little to match this level of excitement, but it does boast enough catchy vocal lines for its length.

The distortion vanishes and the Departure completely switch gears on “Lonely Eyes” for an acoustic folk-pop single, with all their catchy vocal lines in full effect. The guitars sound absolutely brilliant on this track and every little tone is captured. It’s a great break in the middle of the album although it may come off as out of place for some, given its complete change of sound and style.

The band continue their sonic exploration on “The Sea Part II” where they mix in electronic and voice modulation elements before bringing the heavy rock in with a fury, very much like Muse on The 2nd Law. The added vocals work at times, while being a bit over the top in certain instances. The band saved their best riff for album closer “Thoughts,” as well as their best mix of regular and screamed vocals on the album. Unfortunately the energy of the rest of the track just doesn’t match either of these except on the bridge that lead the song to its fade out close.

Gateways doesn’t change the game but it gives The Departure ground to stand on and a great example of their sound and talent. Even if you’re not a fan of post-punk you can get behind a track like “Lonely Eyes” and they play to their genre well while trying to explore other ideas within that sound.

Ice Age: Collision Course – Movie Review


Ice Age: Collision Course – Movie Review

Rating: C- (Below Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

For a series that started so strong with the first Ice Age in 2002, each installment has been a case of diminishing returns. What began as a charming and heartwarming adventure with three unlikely companions caring for a young baby has drifted into a chaotic series of gags with a thin story trying to tie it all together. On a positive note, Ice Age: Collision Course is a slight step-up from the series low point that was the fourth film, but it still falls far short of the high quality animated features we are accustomed to now. One almost wonders if the series would continue generating so many sequels if an acorn obsessed squirrel wasn’t propping it up.

The best parts of the Ice Age films have consistently involved Scrat. A showcase for the immensely talented animators at Blue Sky Studios to show off their Chuck Jones influence, Scrat’s predicaments are inventive and slapstick in the best ways. There are no limits to where they take the character. The only rule appears to be to torment him with that elusive acorn. Taking him to outer space gives them further avenues to put him in all sorts of funny situations. The other element in Collision Course to score occasional belly laughs is the wild weasel Buck. The fast paced animation and energetic vocal performance from Simon Pegg makes him an unpredictable character and the only other personality with any energy and spunk worth paying attention to.

It’s a shame the story and the rest of the ensemble is mostly flat. Manny the Mammoth’s family drama tries desperately to create an emotional response, but it never feels earned. The whole plot with him not wanting his daughter to be married to an overexcited pachyderm and subsequent attempts to connect with him never register in a meaningful way. Even the asteroid rushing towards Earth is merely there to keep the plot moving and the climax finds every excuse to extend the runtime a little more. Sid the Sloth’s subplot to find romance adds little to the proceedings and could have been cut out entirely. Diego the Saber-Tooth Tiger is so superfluous, one forgets he is there most of the time. Crash and Eddie the Possums primarily exist to make loud and annoying jokes related to bodily functions, rear ends and modern references.

A pair of bloody-thirsty dino-birds out for revenge are the latest weak villains to enter this franchise and merely exist to give the heroes another obstacle outside of the asteroid. Throwing in a cameo from Neil deGrasse Tyson feels odd as he dispenses with scientific knowledge in a series that has never sought to be accurate to the real ice age. Once they reach a crystal palace acting as a youthful serum, it’s the point where one wishes the story would wrap up. There are so many lulls in the story, forcing one to patiently wait for a return to Scrat’s outer space adventures. In a day and age when the Minions and Penguins of Madagascar have been given their own starring vehicles, it’s surprising Scrat has not been afforded the same luxury.

With the fifth Ice Age, we are a long way from the first film and its more laidback sense of humour. There is a genuine attempt to return to the original feel when David Newman’s musical score is reused in a couple of scenes. However, the rest of the film still falls into frantic humour and loud characters. The animators are clearly having a lot of fun, especially with Scrat and Buck’s scenes, but the entire movie feels like a parent company mandated product rather than a more personal project like Blue Sky’s The Peanuts Movie and Rio features. It’s difficult to predict if another Ice Age sequel will be made, but there will be few complaints if this does prove their ultimate extinction.


Stefan Ellison

East Coast Comedy Revue


Atlantic Canada. The Maritimes. The Cod Belt. Quaint Boston. Land of the Fishwife. Redneck Rhode Island. Whatever you want to call it, the East Coast has a cultural heritage that’s rich in Canadian comedy. 

From one-liner slingin’, crowd pleasin’ parodies of commercial fishermen (Jimmy Flynn)

Jimmy Flynn The Scene

To loveable fiddle playin’, pipe smokin’, jig dancin’ scamps like Gus Pike of Road to Avonlea

Gus Pike Road to Avonlea

Fun fact, a couple summers back I saw the dude who played Gus Pike doing Tai Chi on the front lawn of a Toronto library with a ginger haired fella! It was like a very Canadian version of The Hills. Spotting Cancon celebrities in the wild.

But where were we? Ah yes, East Coast comedy. From Codco to 22 Minutes. From the Trailer Park Boys to some elements (I assume) of Republic of Doyle… OK bad example. I ran out of examples, even though there are boatloads of them. Because in Atlantic Canada comedic timing is always the catch of the day!

This Friday at The Harbourfront Centre (very appropriately located beside the water), Torontonians are in for a treat. A live comedy show featuring some of the East Coast’s finest comedians. Not to mention another much needed reminder that there’s a whole bunch of Canada outside of Ontario (which also continues past Barrie, by the way. It’s true – Google it, Toronto)

Featuring Canadian Comedy Award winner and festival favorite Nikki Payne (Satisfaction, Last Comic Standing, Video on Trial). Not only is Payne one of the finest comedians to hail from the land of the midnight lobster, she also comes from a town called Sackville. Which, in itself, is already hilarious!

Nikki Payne

(Payne. Photo: Music

The East Coast Comedy Revue (oh, that’s the name of this Friday’s show by the way) also features one of my own personal favorites, writer/comedian Tim Steeves (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) with opening act Merv Hartlen. Originally hailing from Halifax, Hartlen is an infectiously sweet oddball who’s been featured on the Halifax and Montreal Pop Festivals, and recently opened for comedian Todd Glass.

Tim Steeves

(Steeves. Photo: Huffington Post)

Merv Hartlen

(Hartlen. Photo: The

And our host for the night, as if this wasn’t already enough… the disarmingly self deprecating Ryan Dillon. Featured in this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, and on his way to perform at Just for Laughs next week. Dillon has been delivering his own mild mannered brand of East Coast comedy to Toronto audiences since his arrival just a few short years ago.

Ryan Dillon

(Dillon. Photo cred: Scott Maclean)

And that, in a clamshell, is the East Coast Comedy Revue. Tired of our painfully obvious fishing puns? Go shuck yourself. Advanced tickets are available below. Just click the arrow on Nikki Payne’s cheerful face! She won’t mind, she wants you to go to the show

East Coast Comedy Revue

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie – Movie Review


Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie – Movie Review

Rating: D+ (Bad)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

The trickiest part about adapting a television series into a feature film is making sure it works for people who have never sat down to binge watch it. Many merely decide to make them with only the fans in mind. After all, why should one have to watch an entire series just to watch a 90 minute movie? Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie makes little attempt to get new viewers introduced to the zany fashion PR agent Edina and her man chasing colleague Patsy. Series creator Jennifer Saunders and director Mandie Fletcher just want to write a new comic adventure with these characters and that’s fair. Unfortunately, most of the humour falls flat as it basically turns into a vacation to Cannes. Those with little knowledge of the fashion world will be left out even more.

The biggest problem faced by newcomers is that with little back story of Edina and Patsy from their multiple television episodes, both come across as completely unlikeable. This could be a commentary on Saunders’s part on the shallowness of the fashion industry, but spending ninety minutes with these two is not pleasant. Most of the characters they surround themselves with are one-note with only one joke propelling them. The only person in the entire film the audience can have some sympathy or interest in is Edina’s daughter Saffron, with Julia Sawalha doing a more than decent job playing the straight woman. Saffron’s daughter Lola acts as the other straight woman, but she’s basically a nothing character who is brought along to Cannes for little real reason. She’s even left behind at one point, simply because the plot demands it.

The other portion of the audience that will be lost are those not in tune with the current celebrities in the fashion world. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie fills the screen with models and singers, most of which are unknown by the general public. Any joke aimed specifically at them went completely over my head. Kate Moss is the most famous of the lot and she’s primarily used as a plot point and little more. Jon Hamm appears in a pointless cameo and given nothing funny to do. Barry Humphries subsequently appears for one scene to move the story forward, rather than anything meaningful. The only cameo given anything substantial and funny to do is Rebel Wilson as an air stewardess coping with the high egos of the leads.

The story, or lack thereof, feels like little more than an excuse to take a vacation. Yet most of the time, the film doesn’t even do that properly as Edina and Patsy spend most of their time in hotels and chateaus. There’s no comedic mileage gained out of traveling to Cannes, so it could have been set on any European seaside town. The humour lies flat with most of the gags being repeated. Edina is worried about aging and her short PR list, while Patsy tries to woo a bunch of men. That’s the extent of it. The film takes a strange detour into Victor/Victoria territory when Patsy pretends to be a man. If only this subplot had the wit of that Blake Edwards comedy. Most of the storylines come across as rejected pitches for television episodes.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie might be a case of being purely for the fans, but a film adaptation of a television series should be able to stand on its own and create new viewers in the process. The comedy is tired with little wit or spark. There’s an opportunity here for a clever commentary of the fashion industry, but it never surfaces. Jennifer Saunders must enjoy writing these characters, if she feels the need to return to them again. However, that enthusiasm never materializes on screen. The direction is flat, so if the lines were funnier on the page, they get lost when translated to celluloid. The original sitcom had a laugh track. Maybe that would have helped to locate the funny parts in this Ab Drab comedy.


Stefan Ellison

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