Max Cloud


A Max Cloud family Christmas portrait.

(2020) Science Fiction (Well Go USAIsabelle Allen, Scott Adkins, John Hannah, Lashana Lynch, Eliot James Langridge, Franz Drameh, Sally Collett, Jason Maza, Tommy Flanagan, Sam Hazeldine, Andi Osho, Shirin Daryale, Martyn Ford, Finley Pearson, Geraldine Sharrock, Craig Lambert, Nigel Black, Ruth Horrocks, Lois-Amber Toole.  Directed by Martin Owen

 

There is something innocent about old-time 16-bit videogames. Maybe because we were so much younger when we played them; or perhaps it was because the games themselves were simple, good versus evil types of things, uncomplicated and perfect escape from whatever was troubling us, be it school, parents, girlfriends, jobs, or lack thereof.

Sarah (Allen) is an obsessive gamer. Her favorite game du jour is The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud, featuring the titular character (Adkins), a cocky lantern-jawed space hero saving the galaxy from nefarious master criminals with his trusty sidekick Jake (Langridge), the ship’s cook. However, Sarah’s dad (Hazeldine) thinks Sarah shouldn’t be playing videogames quite so much and it is a source of conflict between them.

As Sarah plays the game, she finds a hidden character, the Space Witch (Maza) – who is more accurately a space wizard, but to each his own – who somehow zaps Sarah from the real world into the game – into the body of Jake. Sarah’s best friend Cowboy (Drameh) – who is most assuredly not a competent gamer – stumbles onto the girl-within-a-game scenario and the two of them figure that the way to get Sarah back into reality is to win the game. That’s not as easy as it sounds, since Cowboy pretty much sucks at gaming and has to take frequent pee breaks. Coming after Max and Jake/Sarah is the Revenger (Hannah), a ruthless villain trying to escape from the prison world that Max crash landed on, and his right-hand flunky Shee (Lynch) who has plans of her own. Together, the two of them could end Sarah’s game permanently if she’s not careful – and if Cowboy doesn’t come through.

\There is just enough chutzpah here to carry the movie through, for the most part. Adkins has been a talented, underrated action star for the latter half of the last decade, and he proves to have some pretty solid comedy chops. Overall, with it’s primary color palette and sly shout-outs to the games of our misspent youths (or those of our parents), the movie retains a kind of goofy charm that is truly insidious. You might find yourself liking the movie in spite of its flaws.

The production values aren’t too bad when you consider that they are deliberately going for a certain retro-videogame look. The cast is strong and I’m not just talking about Adkins; Drameh and Hannah both have solid genre pedigrees and many of the rest of the cast cut their teeth on some impressive projects. There is a good deal of scenery chewing going on here, but the situation kind of calls for it, you know?

And there are flaws galore. The movie is overburdened with subplots, and underutilizes Adkins who has a physical presence that the movie could have used. There are also a few too many cliches and the cheese factor here is off-the-scale. Still in all, the movie is mindless, harmless good fun, just like the video games of yore – you Millennial whippersnappers have no idea what you missed.

REASONS TO SEE: Possessed of its own offbeat charm.
REASONS TO AVOID: You may end up overdosing on the cheese.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ike White’s father played keyboards for Ella Fitzgerald.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and sci-fi video game violence.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/23/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Girl Lost: A Hollywood Story

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Star Trek


Star Trek

Eric Bana gives Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto some hair care tips.

(Paramount) Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, Jennifer Morrison, Rachel Nichols, Faran Tahir. Directed by J.J. Abrams

Even icons from time to time must reinvent themselves, if for no other reason to remain relevant in changing times. That is even more true for those having to do with the future.

The Federation starship U.S.S. Kelvin is investigating strange readings at a black hole. To the surprise of the ship’s captain (Tahir), a gigantic spacecraft of unknown design emerges from the singularity and without any provocation at all, opens fire on the starship, crippling it. The captain is forced to come aboard the unknown ship and is escorted to its captain, a Romulan named Nero (Bana),  who proceeds to ask the Federation representative some rather odd questions, the strangest being what stardate is it. The answer drives Nero berserk and he murders the captain and once again opens fire on the Kelvin.

The second-in-command (Hemsworth) orders an evacuation of the doomed Kelvin, paying special attention to his wife (Morrison) who is in labor. He intends to join her, but the ship’s automated functions are out of commission, and they are needed to gain critical time for the crew of the Kelvin to make their escapes. He realizes with sickening horror that he must remain aboard to run the ship manually. The young lieutenant saves his crew by ramming the dying starship into the unknown spaceship, crippling its weapon systems and propulsion. The name of the young hero? George Kirk.

Years later, his son James (Pine), born the day of his death, is adrift in Iowa, drinking in dive bars, picking up every woman he can and generally just lashing out at the world. While attempting to pick up a pretty Starfleet cadet named Uhura (Saldana), he gets jumped by a number of cadets, holding his own for awhile before getting his tush handed to him until Captain Christopher Pike (Greenwood) stops the fracas and clears the bar. He talks to the young Kirk about his father, and the difference he made to the 800 lives that were saved by his sacrifice and invites Kirk to join the Academy.

At first Kirk is reluctant to join Starfleet but eventually relents. On the shuttle ride to San Francisco, he meets an irascible divorced physician who is joining Starfleet to rebuild a career that had been essentially stymied in his divorce. The medico’s name is Leonard McCoy (Urban).

Already at the academy is a young half-Vulcan named Spock (Quinto). Tormented by young Vulcans for his half-human ancestry, Spock elects to follow the Vulcan disciplines of logic and dispassion of his father Sarek (Cross) with the blessing of his compassionate mother Amanda (Ryder). Despite this, Spock elects to decline admission to the Vulcan Science Academy (the first Vulcan ever to do so) and join Starfleet. After graduating from the Academy, he devises the notorious Kobiyashi Maru test, the infamous “no-win” scenario.

In the meantime, a brash young Ensign Kirk is blowing through the academy in a mere three years, still picking up women wherever he goes including a beautiful young Orion ensign (Nichols) who has come up with a rather ingenious solution to Spock’s test, landing him in hot water with the Academy dons. Unfortunately, an emergency comes up that relates directly to Kirk’s past, one that will bring all the disparate elements and characters together and forge together a crew that is destined to become a legend, while a man from the future (Nimoy) holds the key to the lives of Spock and Kirk.

The Star Trek franchise has been in decline for several years now, with an over-saturation of product that eventually seemed somewhat formulaic in many ways. Star Trek reboots the franchise with the original characters as seen through fresh new eyes. Director J.J. Abrams balances a delicate line of maintaining the spirit of the original series while adding additional elements of action and epic scope. Thus his new re-imagining of Star Trek will please not only hardcore Trek fans but also more general audiences.

Electing to go with a cast of young actors while steering clear of big name actors (Bana as Nero is the most recognizable face in the show other than Nimoy, and Bana is nearly unrecognizable in any case), and they come through in spades. All of the major crew members (Cho as Sulu, Pegg as Scotty and Yelchin as Chekov, as well as Urban and Saldana) have extremely pivotal scenes and establish their characters nicely.

Much of the success of Star Trek rests on the shoulders of the two leads, and they pull through splendidly. Pine captures the essence of James Tiberius Kirk without the quirks and mannerisms of William Shatner. He nails the bravado, the charisma, the independence and the compassion of Kirk but at the same time manages to render him human and fallible. Like Shatner’s Kirk, he is rash and sometimes prone to egotism, but at the heart of him is his brilliant intuition and willingness to risk. Pine takes an epic character and makes him accessible.

Quinto, best known as Sylar on the hit TV show “Heroes” makes a marvelous Spock. He radiates icy calm that masks the boiling inferno below the surface. Spock is heavily conflicted but chooses not to come to terms with his conflicting natures; instead he subverts his more human aspects in favor of the Vulcan stoicism. Quinto also has an uncanny resemblance to Nimoy as a young Spock, and fills the boots more than adequately.

There are plenty of breathtaking special effects, not to mention some intense action sequences, the best of which is a parachute jump onto a drilling platform high in the atmosphere of Vulcan. Visually, this is a movie that will rock your world.

But is it Star Trek? That’s the question most Trek fans were hoping to have answered. I have to say, yes and no. The original television series in many ways was less action-oriented than this is. Yes, there were plenty of fistfights, phasers set on stun and epic space battles in the original, but the themes had to do with things that were important to series creator Gene Roddenberry; man’s inhumanity to man, racial tension, drug abuse, gender inequality and the supreme waste and ultimate uselessness that is war. Here, we are being re-introduced to the characters that the producers hope to rebuild the franchise with and the movie is more about that than taking on issues.

However, the foundation has been laid and hopefully in the future we’ll see stories more in tune with the high bar that Roddenberry set. Given the outstanding box office returns the movie had, it is inevitable that there will be at least one or two more installments in the movie series if not more. The action and special effects will get the bodies in the door; the characters will bring those bodies back for more. Abrams has hit a home run with the new Star Trek. Now, the question becomes can he do it again?

WHY RENT THIS: Breathtaking special effects and heart-pounding action sequences drive the movie. Young actors bring established characters back to life with fresh perspectives. Pine makes a fabulous Captain Kirk and could be a future star.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The overall tone that Trek-haters despised is still present here.

FAMILY VALUES: Some scenes of brief sexuality and some violence; also there is a nightmare-inducing creature during the Delta Vega sequence. Otherwise, fit for most young audiences (but not for the very teeny tiny).

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The seven years gap between this movie and Star Trek: Nemesis is the longest in the franchise history.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are three different home viewing versions of this so far: a single-disc DVD which is essentially just the film, a 2-disc Special Edition DVD which contains some deleted scenes including Abrams’ take on the Klingons, and a 3-Disc Blu-Ray which contains a humongous number of featurettes, as well as a 360 degree view of various Enterprise and Romulan sets. There is also a feature on Gene Roddenberry’s legacy.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Disney’s A Christmas Carol