Movies to watch this week at the cinema: Star Trek Beyond, The BFG, more...

Out on Friday 22 July

Justin Lin boards the Star Trek franchise. Spielberg’s latest is kind of a big Dahl.

Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Star Trek Beyond, The BFG, The Killing$ of Tony Blair, K-Shop, and Ming of Harlem: Twenty One Storeys in the Air..

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STAR TREK BEYOND

Star Trek Beyond was, for a short time, a ship without a captain. J.J. Abrams left his post at the helm of the franchise he rebooted in order to take the reins on Star Wars, the sexier of the two leading space franchises. The appointment of Fast & Furious stalwart Justin Lin initially set alarm bells ringing, with concerns fans would end up with a brainless, explosion-packed actioner sporting none of the original series’ philosophical smarts.

Anyone worried that Lin was going to make Trek about petrolheads saying the word ‘family’ a lot can rest easy. Don’t fret about the motorbike sequence - Beyond feels very much like Star Trek. While it fits smoothly with the universe J.J. started, it’s lighter and funnier than Abrams’ movies, with a welcome sense of adventure after Into Darkness’, erm, darkness.

Following Trekkie backlash to the last film (which was critically well received), Beyond distances itself by jumping ahead to find the crew in the third year of a five-year mission. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and co are taking a rest stop when a distress call comes in. It’s no spoiler to say that investigating leaves the Enterprise in tatters and the crew scattered on a hostile alien planet. In establishing a standalone adventure, set largely within one sprawling location, Beyond shares more DNA with the original series than its forebears did.

This set-up is the smartest part of the script by Simon Pegg (now pulling writing duties, as well as co-starring) and Doug Jung: splitting up the characters into unexpected pairings opens up the interactions, giving some of the lesser-seen players a platform and reducing the screentime of the Kirk/Spock bromance. It’s actually  the interplay between Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) that reaps the most rewards, not only for the odd-couple comedy (Urban walks away with all of the film’s biggest laughs), but also because it contains  the closest thing the film has to an emotional moment.

Meanwhile Kirk and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin, demonstrating his light comic touch) are joined by Kalara (Lydia Wilson) – the alien behind that distress call – in search of the film’s MacGuffin. Elsewhere, Scotty (Pegg) joins forces with native survivalist Jaylah (Sofia Boutella); her ability to multiply herself holographically is just one skill she employs to protect her home. She makes for a cool addition to the line-up, and her monochrome look (think albino with a face tattoo) is striking, but she ends up getting lost in the mix when the team reconverges.

The set-up is so TV friendly, you almost can’t help wishing for weekly adventures for this lot, so individual characters would get more of a chance to shine across multiple episodes.

The sheer number of players on the field means no one gets anything close to a character arc. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (Jon Cho) barely get a look in. We might learn a little more about each of the characters, but their motivations feel arbitrary. Kirk begins the film with an interesting starlog about the struggle to feel grounded during a space mission, but there’s no time for any further introspection once the rip-roaring fun starts.

Where it does feel like a movie is in the visuals. Lin pulls out all the stops, from new ways to make Federation ships look cool in flight, to a ‘snow-globe’ space station that’s like Escher’s take on Elysium, and there’s a time-lapse shot to stir your soul. He’s no slouch with the action either – the early attack on the Enterprise is heart-stopping stuff – and finding a way to work in some ‘classical’ music invigorates a couple of the big set-pieces.

This kind of movie needs a big bad though, and Idris Elba’s Krall doesn’t cut it here. Stifling the Luther actor’s natural presence under prosthetics gives him a villain-of-the-week quality, and his motivations don’t convince. After the opening Enterprise crash there’s nothing close to genuine peril, with every obstacle overcome with the minimum of fuss.

On the strength of this encounter, Trek isn’t going to start challenging Wars as the dominant Star franchise, but there’s plenty of evidence it could still prosper. Beyond is a fun, self-contained romp that serves as a sensitive send-off for both Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy, but it never feels like it truly hits warp-speed.

THE VERDICT: Justin Lin proves a safe pair of hands at the helm of the Enterprise. Powered by a spirited sense of adventure and a nice teamwork dynamic, it’s fun, but not essential, summer viewing.

Director: Justin Lin; Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Sofia Boutella, Simon Pegg; Theatrical release: July 22, 2016

Matt Maytum

THE BFG

Steven Spielberg teams with Disney for the first time, adapting Roald Dahl’s classic children’s fable from a screenplay by Melissa E.T. Mathison? With that much pedigree, The BFG can only disappoint. Only it doesn’t, it delights, with the 69-year-old director showing that his imagination remains vast and spry as he returns to the kind of old-fashioned storytelling married to state-of-the-art-effects that made him the wunderkind of ’70s/’80s blockbuster cinema.

A couple of minutes’ worth of drunken revelry outside an olde-worlde pub aside (“I’m bladdered,” remarks one bloke as he sways on the cobbled street), The BFG, like the 1982 book it’s based on, dives straight into the story. No sooner has Sophie (11-year-old newcomer Ruby Barnhill, excellent) leaned out of an upstairs window of her orphanage to tell these drunkards to pipe down, than she spies a 24ft giant (Mark Rylance) tiptoeing up the road. Worse, he spies her too.

Reaching over her bed with a hand the size of a Mini Cooper, he plucks her cowering, quaking form and hightails it back to Giant Country to prepare a feast. Fortunately, Sophie is not the key ingredient, for unlike his 50ft brethren whose dietary preferences are made clear by names like Freshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) and Meatdripper (Paul Moniz de Sa), this half-sized ‘runt’ is a Big Friendly Giant who subsists on a vegan diet of yucky snozzcumbers washed down with yummy, fizzy frobscottle – good for brewing thunderous farts and even better for the health of children.

And so Sophie and The BFG become BFFs, though the threat to both is considerable when Fleshlumpeater and the rest of the odious ogres sniff out the presence of a human ‘bean’. Sophie’s solution? To enlist the help of Her Majesty The Queen (Penelope Wilton on scene-stealing form).

There is not, truth be told, a great deal of plot in Dahl’s classic, and it is to Spielberg and Mathison’s credit that they feel little need to pad it. For the most part this is a two-hander between lost souls getting to know and trust one another (echoes of E.T.); the director is right to call it a love story. Luckily for us, both Sophie and The BFG are chatbags, and it is a particular pleasure to hear Mark Rylance bring the same feeling to The BFG’s Gobblefunk language as he brings to Shakespearean prose.

If anything, his performance here is superior to the one that bagged him an Oscar in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, with motion-capture effects now developed to the point that it really is Rylance’s kind, sorrowful eyes twinkling up there on the screen, albeit the size of dinner plates. Each close-up is nothing short of miraculous, with every hair, crinkle and pore detected and rendered. And while long shots of The BFG striding through the countryside are not 100 per cent there yet, the heightened tone of the action excuses any fleetingly cartoonish moments.

Teaming with DOP Janusz Kaminski for the 15th time, Spielberg finds inventive visuals to match the gobbledegook verbals, most notably during an enchanting sojourn to Dream Country. Yes, there’s a hint of Avatar’s Pandora to the bioluminescence of the flora and fauna, and sure, there’s a distinctly Potter-esque vibe to the blue-lit early scenes at the picturesque orphanage: blockbuster family entertainment has modified its visual language since Spielberg moulded it, and he’s happy to take trends on board. But watching our terrific twosome net dreams like fireflies and trap them in jars ready for The BFG to puff them into children’s bedrooms through a trumpet is pure magic.

The best, though, is still to come, with The BFG going up a level the moment it reaches Buckingham Palace. There it becomes a laugh-out-loud comedy of manners, replete with The Queen and her beloved Corgis all cracking off almighty ‘whizzpoppers’ after being introduced to the delights of Frobscottle. 

The BFG is not about to join the likes of Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. among the director’s definitive work, but it is a thing of wonder, deserving  of Spielberg’s name, and Dahl’s, and Mathison’s, to whom it is dedicated following her sad passing in 2015. A beguiling, potent tale that will make snapperwhippers of even the most surly adults, it is, in a big word favoured by its even bigger-hearted hero, scrumdiddlyumptious.

THE VERDICT: Spielberg takes a break from historical dramas to deliver a technical tour de force that is all soul and imagination. And Rylance rocks.

Director: Steven Spielberg; Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader, Jemaine Clement; Theatrical release: July 22, 2016

Jamie Graham

THE KILLING$ OF TONY BLAIR

Presenter George Galloway takes us through the former PM’s three ‘killings’: that of Old Labour, those of the Iraq War, and his financial ‘killing’ post-PM as special advisor to J.P. Morgan. It’s slick and spirited but reveals nothing sensational, and is inevitably hindered by Galloway’s ego – his anecdotes and clunky one-liners only serve to weaken the polemic.

Directors: Sanne Van Den Burgh, Daniel Turi, Greg Ward; Starring: George Galloway, Stephen Fry, Clare Short; Theatrical release: July 22, 2016

Stephen Kelly

K-SHOP

This British horror sees kebabshop owner Salah (Ziad Abaza) going full Sweeney Todd as revenge for his father’s murder by drunken louts. Salah’s switch from student to serial killer is abrupt, but Abaza is fantastically unhinged, sharpening the film’s dark, comic edge. It may not be the most subtle take on ‘binge Britain’, but first-time writer/director Dan Pringle has a gift for the gruesome.

Director: Dan Pringle; Starring: Ziad Abaza, Scot Williams, Darren Morfitt, Reece Noi, Lucinda Rhodes, Ewen McIntosh; Theatrical release: July 22, 2016

Stephen Kelly

MING OF HARLEM: TWENTY ONE STOREYS IN THE AIR

A man found in 2003 to be keeping both a Bengal tiger and a 7ft alligator in his NY abode, Antoine Yates is worthy docu-fodder. Shame, then, that director Philip Warne is less interested in Yates’ story than in philosophising about man’s relationship with nature. Most frustrating of all: the 27-min silent sequence of a tiger roaming an apartment mock-up

Director: Phillip Warnell; Starring: Antoine Yates, Rajiv, Brianna; Theatrical release: July 22, 2016

Matt Looker