This image released by Sony Pictures shows a scene from "Sausage Party." (Columbia, Sony Pictures via AP)

FILM REVIEW: Sausage Party

This image released by Sony Pictures shows a scene from "Sausage Party." (Columbia, Sony Pictures via AP)

This image released by Sony Pictures shows a scene from “Sausage Party.” (Columbia, Sony Pictures via AP)

LINDSEY BAHR, AP Film Writer

 

It’s happened. Someone has outdone the “Team America” puppet sex scene and even made it look somewhat quaint in comparison. Anyone even vaguely interested in the very R-rated animated filmSausage Party ” has likely heard whispers about the food orgy. Words can’t even begin to do this sequence justice, but I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it in a mainstream studio movie. It’s jaw-dropping.

Of course it’s compliments of the minds that blew up a foreign leader in “The Interview” and reveled in the comedy of rape by demon in “This is the End.” Yes, co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have used their singular and delightfully twisted imaginations once more to concoct what is easily the year’s most audacious film. And it’s packaged in animation cutesy enough for Pixar.

In the grand tradition of “Toy Story,” ”Sausage Party” imagines the lives of the foodstuffs in the local supermarket aisle. But it doesn’t merely anthropomorphize the food. It gives them sexuality, lust, ethnicities and even religion. “Sausage Party” is just as much a sweet story about belief and faith as it is a vehicle for the filthiest jokes you’ve never dared imagine.

Frank (Seth Rogen), a non-descript hot dog, waits somewhat impatiently with his fellow mates to be selected by the gods (humans) to be taken to a paradise in The Great Beyond (purchased). Everyone in the store knows something good is out there waiting. The foods and condiments and sweets begin every day with a rousing song about The Great Beyond and the Gods, each putting their own spin on it (i.e. the German mustard has added a line about exterminating Juice).

For Frank, it’s all about paradise and the chance to match with his soul mate Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a sexy hotdog bun with Barbie legs and a desire equal to Frank’s. They’re waiting for the gods to choose them before they act on anything.

Things go awry when they are chosen. A jar of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) that was returned to the store by a customer is so traumatized by what he’s seen “out there” that he jumps out of the cart to his death. A few follow him out of their packages to try to save him and get tossed from the cart, including Brenda, Frank, Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton, affecting his best Woody Allen), Lavash (David Krumholtz) and a Douche (Nick Kroll), who becomes dead set on killing Frank for preventing him from reaching The Great Beyond.

And that group goes off exploring — some trying to get back to their spot in the store, some searching for the truth, and some (the Jewish bagel and Middle Eastern flatbread) waxing philosophical on the nature of belief. Those that made it to The Great Beyond, including Frank’s hot dog buddy Barry (Michael Cera), experience the horrors of dinner time.

As in all Rogen and Goldberg films, no matter how raunchy, there is a big heart at the center. It’s what distinguishes them from the anything goes satire of Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Anything goes here too, but it’s rooted in something deeper and infinitely more earnest.

“Sausage Party,” directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon with co-screenwriting credits for Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, might not be for everyone (especially kids drawn to the posters and perplexed that cute animation might not actually always be for them), but it’s a wild good time that will offend, shock and even delight.

There is no one out there making comedies quite like Rogen and Goldberg. They are putting their definitive stamp on the modern American comedy one decency-smashing double entendre at a time.

“Sausage Party,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “strong crude sexual content, pervasive language, and drug use.” Running time: 89 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

This image released by Disney shows Oona Laurence as Natalie, left, and Oakes Fegley as Pete, right, with Elliot the dragon, in a scene from "Pete's Dragon." (Disney via AP)

FILM REVIEW: Pete’s Dragon

This image released by Disney shows Oona Laurence as Natalie, left, and Oakes Fegley as Pete, right, with Elliot the dragon, in a scene from "Pete's Dragon." (Disney via AP)

This image released by Disney shows Oona Laurence as Natalie, left, and Oakes Fegley as Pete, right, with Elliot the dragon, in a scene from “Pete’s Dragon.” (Disney via AP)

JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer

 

NEW YORK (AP) — After an exhausting summer buffet of set pieces, superheroes and whatever s-word you might use for “Suicide Squad,” the gentle “Pete’s Dragon” is a welcome palate cleanser. Where other summer movies are chest-thumping, it’s quiet; where others are brashly cynical, it’s sweetly sincere; where others are lacking in giant cuddly dragons, “Pete’s Dragon” has one.

Few may remember the 1977 Disney original, in which a young boy’s best friend was a bubbly dragon invisible to others. As part of Disney’s continuing effort to remake its animated classics in live-action, “Pete’s Dragon” has been confidently reborn as an earnest tale of green-winged wonder.

David Lowery, a veteran of the independent film world and the director of the lyrical crime drama “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” inherits a far bigger film. But his “Pete’s Dragon” still maintains the homespun feel of an American fable. Spielberg-light, you might call it.

The film begins, in the “Bambi” tradition, in parental tragedy. Pete’s family is driving through a remote Pacific Northwest forest with Pete nestled in the backseat of the station wagon, reading a children’s book about a dog named Elliott. A deer sprints out and, in poetic slow-motion, the gravity of the car’s interior is upended. The car flips off the road and Pete staggers from the crash.

Flashing forward six years, Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a wild 10-year-old orphan living in the woods alone except for his magical companion, the dragon Elliott. As far as CGI creatures go, Elliott is an irresistible one. Furry as a fairway, he’s like an enormous emerald-green puppy. Far from the “Game of Thrones” dragon variety, he’s more adept at chasing his own tail than breathing fire.

He’s also the subject of local folklore, mostly as told by Robert Redford’s wood-carving storyteller. But it’s his forest ranger daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) that first encounters Elliott and ultimately leads to the dragon’s discovery.

Grace coaxes Elliott back into society and into the fold of her family. She has a daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence) and lumber mill-running husband Jack (Wes Bentley). It’s the push by a logging company — where Jack’s brother, Gavin (Karl Urban) is a gun-totting lumberjack — into the forest that simultaneously begins flushing out Pete and Elliott from their home in the trees.

The lush forest (New Zealand, again, subbing for North America) reigns over “Pete’s Dragon,” a tale scored with soft bluegrass and exuding an environment-friendly love for the beautiful and exotic splendors of nature. When competing interests come for Elliott, they are really fighting for the soul of the forest.

There are Spielbergian gestures here of magic and family and faith, perhaps better orchestrated than Spielberg’s own recent try at a Disney film, “The BFG.” But it’s missing a spark, a sense of danger and maybe a little humor.

The lean simplicity of “Pete’s Dragon” is its greatest attribute and its weakness. It doesn’t quite achieve liftoff until the film’s final moments. But it does at last catch flight, finally soaring beyond its humble folksiness.

“Pete’s Dragon,” a Walt Disney Co. release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “action, peril and brief language.” Running time: 103 minutes. Three stars out of four.

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows, from left, Jay Hernandez as Diablo, Jai Courtney as Boomerang, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Will Smith as Deadshot, Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag and Karen Fukuhara as Katana in a scene from "Suicide Squad." (Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

FILM REVIEW: Suicide Squad

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows, from left, Jay Hernandez as Diablo, Jai Courtney as Boomerang, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Will Smith as Deadshot, Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag and Karen Fukuhara as Katana in a scene from "Suicide Squad." (Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows, from left, Jay Hernandez as Diablo, Jai Courtney as Boomerang, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Will Smith as Deadshot, Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag and Karen Fukuhara as Katana in a scene from “Suicide Squad.” (Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer

 

The superhero movie is at a strange crossroads. It generally either takes itself too seriously (“Man of Steel,” ”Batman v Superman”) or delights in not caring a bit (“Deadpool”). The choice, dear moviegoer, is yours. Do you prefer your costumed heroes to brood or to break bad?

Right now, good is out; self-proclaimed “edginess” is in; and a cape might get you turned away from the nightclub.

Riding the trend is David Ayer’s day-glo superhero circus “Suicide Squad,” a gleefully nihilistic, abysmally messy romp that delights in upending the genre’s conventions and tries desperately to, like, totally blow your mind with its outre freak show.

It’s less of a movie than a long trailer that doesn’t provoke as much as it thinks it does. It’s stitched together by an endless jukebox of everything from “House of the Rising Sun” to K7’s “Come Baby Come,” a soundtrack gimmick taken straight from “Guardians of the Galaxy” (which more successfully gave the superhero movie new moves). It’s employed three times before the opening credits have even finished rolling, an early cue to the filmmaking talent at work.

Despite the train wreck of “Batman v Superman” (the last DC Comics challenge to Marvel’s dominance), excitement is high for “Suicide Squad” thanks to a marketing campaign that rivals the presidential ones and the promise of some punk in the poppy, PG-13 realm of the superhero movie.

But the nastiness of “Suicide Squad” is superficial, merely fetishized gestures of ultra-violence that will impress few beyond 13-year-old boys. (Sorry, that’s unkind to 13-year-old boys.) Based on the comic created by John Ostrander, the film is a cartoonish yet grim “Magnificent Seven” in which a desperate government — for the moment without the services of Superman or Batman — turns to a handful of villains, locked away in prison cells, to combat a yet greater supervillain running amok.

There’s Will Smith’s sniper-for-hire father Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s psycho-in-pigtails Harley Quinn, Jay Hernandez’s fire-breathing gang member El Diablo, and others. They’re a gruesome bunch, reluctant to fight anyone else’s battle, but forced to when the program’s leader (the imposing Viola Davis, the film’s steely backbone) implants an explosive device inside them. They bond in conversation over whether they’ve killed kids or not. Lovely stuff, really.

The standout is Robbie’s Harley Quinn, the most dynamic presence of the bunch: a clown cocktail of mental disorder and cheerleader pep. Robbie pulls it off, but Ayer spoils the movie’s breakout character by continually reducing her to mere eye candy, ogling her as she bends over.

Quinn is the demented girlfriend of the on-the-loose Joker (Jared Leto), who turns out to be a curiously small part of the film. That, however, proves to be a relief. Leto, working in the sizable wake of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, proves a massive disappointment in the role, lacking in both menace and wit despite the tall-tales of his Method extremes during shooting.

The film, as a whole, is missing the humor and spryness that was promised. Its best laughs are unintentional (all I’ll say is that there are souls trapped in swords) and the charisma of Smith and Robbie are drowned out in Ayer’s turgid tale.

Ayer’s previous film was the WWII tank drama “Fury,” an overbearingly bleak movie that similarly followed a harsh band of warriors and flipped the good-vs-bad dichotomy of Americans against Nazis into a less heroic story.

In “Suicide Squad,” Ayer questions whether a killer can be a hero and vice versa, even equating psychopaths with elite soldiers. He would like to vanquish the triumphant superhero and reorder the comic universe for more complicated times. But the only thing he may have killed is the comic-book adaption.

Watching “Suicide Squad” (which will nevertheless make hundreds of millions) is to see the superhero movie reaching rock bottom, sunk by moral rot and hollow bombast. Down, down and away!

“Suicide Squad,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language.” Running time: 123 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

This image released by STX Productions shows, from left, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn in a scene from, "Bad Moms." (Michele K. Short/STX Productions via AP)

FILM REVIEW: Bad Moms

This image released by STX Productions shows, from left, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn in a scene from, "Bad Moms." (Michele K. Short/STX Productions via AP)

This image released by STX Productions shows, from left, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn in a scene from, “Bad Moms.” (Michele K. Short/STX Productions via AP)

LINDSEY BAHR, AP Film Writer

 

The comedy “Bad Moms ” fancies itself a “Hangover” for the PTA set. And, while a wild send-up of modern parental perfection — that insidious idea that exists only in commercials and glossy magazines — is a worthy and fresh subject for a fun summer comedy, “Bad Moms” is ultimately rather conventional.

Set in an upper middle class Chicago suburb, “Bad Moms” centers on Amy (Mila Kunis), a perpetually stressed and overworked 32-year-old with a part time job and two super busy pre-teens. Lest you think Kunis is a little too young to have pre-teens, the first line in the movie has her explaining that she got pregnant at 20. The movie is on the defense before it even gets going.

Amy spends her days shuttling her kids (Oona Laurence and Emjay Anthony) from school to soccer practice to Russian lessons. She puts up with grief from her incompetent 20-something boss (Clark Duke), her loser husband Mike (David Walton) and the mean moms of the PTA (Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Annie Mumolo). She does her son’s school projects for him and apologizes profusely to her ungrateful family for being late with the beautiful homemade roast chicken she’s made for dinner while her husband sits around like a dope. And she does all of this while still maintaining perfect hair, makeup and clothes.

Her breaking point comes when she realizes her spouse is not only a lazy dope, but also cheating on her with a woman from the internet. This is revealed in an unfunny bit that goes on far too long. But, after kicking him out, Amy decides to just start saying no to things — to four-hour PTA meetings, to insane dietary restrictions at the bake sale, and to working full time when her boss only pays her for three days a week.

She teams up with some similarly disgruntled mothers, including stay-at-home-mom Kiki (Kristen Bell) and single mom Carla (Kathryn Hahn). The actresses help elevate these characters above the stereotypes — especially Bell, who brings a lot of empathy and humor to what could have easily been a train wreck of a part.

The film does have its moments. It’s kind of delightful when Amy plops down at the bake sale with a half-eaten container of doughnut holes. But for the most part, Amy’s rebellion involves partying, shopping, daytime movies and cruise rides in her husband’s fancy convertible. It feels a little bit like a frat bro’s fantasy of “Mom’s day off.”

Perhaps that’s because this film is from writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore — the screenwriters behind “The Hangover” and the party movie “21 & Over.” It makes me wish they had called on Mumulo, who co-wrote “Bridesmaids,” for an assist.

The saving grace is in the oddball friendship between Amy, Kiki and Carla. But everything goes off the rails in the third act. Amy’s big moment centers around her trying to get elected head of the PTA over Applegate’s character so that her daughter isn’t unjustly benched on the soccer team. It contradicts her original point that they work too hard for their kids.

“Bad Moms” had so many opportunities to be great, edgy and insightful, but instead settles for the most milquetoast commentary possible on modern motherhood.

“Bad Moms,” an STX Entertainment Release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sexual material, full frontal nudity, language throughout, and drug and alcohol content.” Running time: 101 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

In this image released by Universal Pictures, Matt Damon appears in a scene from "Jason Bourne." (Universal Pictures via AP)

FILM REVIEW: Jason Bourne

In this image released by Universal Pictures, Matt Damon appears in a scene from "Jason Bourne." (Universal Pictures via AP)

In this image released by Universal Pictures, Matt Damon appears in a scene from “Jason Bourne.” (Universal Pictures via AP)

JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer

 

Jason Bourne, as played by Matt Damon across four movies, is forever disappearing off the grid only to reluctantly resurface years later and again menace the CIA. He’s the spy who came in from the cold only to return to the cold, come in again, and, yet again, head back to the cold.

In the chilly and bleak “Jason Bourne,” the amnesia-ed assassin has been resurrected again, along with director Paul Greengrass, with whom Damon returns to the franchise after a nine year break. Bourne is still brooding. Greengrass’ hand-held camera is still frenetic. And the saga’s lethal precision is still sharp.

The spy game, already far from a martini-sipping affair in previous installments, is resolutely grim in “Jason Bourne.” The superspy, now a hulking mass of bullet-scarred muscle, is spending his days torturing himself in bare-knuckle brawls, haunted by his past. In shattering set-pieces and terse emotion-less dialogue, any remaining sunlight has been drained away. The amount of people brazenly killed by Vincent Casell, the “asset” in Bourne’s pursuit, may well outnumber the words spoken by Bourne in the entire film.

Though first conceived in 1980 by Robert Ludlum, Bourne is perhaps the ultimate post-9/11 hero. Especially in the hands of Greengrass (who also employed his gritty realism in the Sept. 11 drama “Flight 93”), Bourne is a wrecking ball of accountability for America’s clandestine past. He’s part fantasy (his preternatural control of out-of-control events is reassuring) and part reality (American disillusionment made visceral).

In “Jason Bourne,” the digital dragnet is tightening around Bourne. The film is self-consciously set in a post-Snowden world; the CIA is hacked by Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles, whose smarts have given all of these films a kick), who’s threatening to reveal the covert Treadstone operation.

The film, penned by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse (editor of previous “Bourne” films, and also this one), introduces a tech magnate (Riz Ahmed) whose celebrated social networking platform is secretly feeding information to CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, whose wonderful sad face at this point has everything good and bad about America written all over it).

In a way, Bourne is himself a leak. He’s a rogue weapon who can’t remember his own encryption code. Here, the mystery he’s trying to solve revolves around his father’s role in his initial recruitment.

But aside from updating to today’s surveillance state, “Jason Bourne” largely sticks to the franchise’s familiar moves, and they often don’t have the same kinetic finesse they used to. Here again are scenes of digging through old CIA documents, breathless stretches of crowded escapes and public rendezvous where Bourne fools lurking agents.

The film is essentially sandwiched between two mammoth, extended set pieces: First, a fiery riot in Athens where Bourne comes out of hiding to meet Parsons; and later, a showdown in Las Vegas that brings him back to U.S. soil. Both outstay their welcome (a vehicle plowing through traffic in Vegas has unfortunate shades of the tragedy in Nice) and the franchise’s propulsion gives way to a pummeling blunt force.

The exception is Alicia Vikander, who enters the franchise as the CIA’s cyber ops head and has her own motives of tossing aside the agency’s old guard. Whenever she’s on screen, her steely but agile presence brightens the film’s dour gaze.

Yet even when “Jason Bourne” doesn’t click with the same rhythm as its predecessors, it has a weight that outclasses nearly every other big action movie around. National identity is investigated and violence has repercussions: both astonishing things in a summer blockbuster.

But if Bourne re-emerges again, hopefully Greengrass and company can at least give him someone to talk to.

“Jason Bourne,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense sequences of violence and action and brief strong language.” Running time: 123 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

In this image released by Fox Searchlight Pictures, Jennifer Saunders, left, and Joanna Lumley appears in a scene from the film, "Absolutley Fabulous: The Movie." (David Appleby/Fox Searchlight Pictures via AP)

FILM REVIEW: Absolutely Fabulous, The Movie

In this image released by Fox Searchlight Pictures, Jennifer Saunders, left, and Joanna Lumley appears in a scene from the film, "Absolutley Fabulous: The Movie." (David Appleby/Fox Searchlight Pictures via AP)

In this image released by Fox Searchlight Pictures, Jennifer Saunders, left, and Joanna Lumley appears in a scene from the film, “Absolutley Fabulous: The Movie.” (David Appleby/Fox Searchlight Pictures via AP)

SANDY COHEN, AP Entertainment Writer

 

Pour some Champagne, light a smoke and put on something gorgeous, dahling, because the women of “Absolutely Fabulous” are back.

It’s been 24 years since Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley made their debut as hard-partying best friends Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone on the BBC sitcom, and they bring the same outrageous boozy charm to their big-screen adventure, “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.”

They’ve also brought along some familiar faces, including Eddy’s put-upon daughter, Saffron (Julia Sawalha), and long-suffering assistant, Bubble (Jane Horrocks), as well as a slew of celebrities, models and designers in delightful cameos. Jon Hamm, Rebel Wilson and Chris Colfer play small roles.

Fans of the series will be relieved to see that Eddy (Saunders, who created the show and wrote the film’s screenplay) and Patsy (Lumley) haven’t matured a bit during their time away from the screen. But no prior knowledge of the characters is needed to appreciate such overblown selfishness and superficiality in a post-Kardashian world.

An opening scene shows Patsy injecting her own face and lips with a syringe as part of her regular get-ready routine.

“You need to be using fetus blood and a little spritz of afterbirth,” she advises her friend.

Patsy is a successful magazine editor, while Eddy’s career in fashion public relations has stalled. She dreams of representing supermodel Kate Moss — who happens to be a guest at Patsy’s London fashion show — but their meeting is disastrous: Eddy accidentally pushes the supermodel into the Thames and becomes a pariah blamed for her death, which is depicted as an international tragedy.

Determined to avoid punishment, Eddy and Patsy flee to the French Riviera, where they try to keep a low profile while maintaining their drug-fueled, consumption-based lifestyle.

Directed by Mandie Fletcher and sumptuously photographed by Chris Goodger, the film languishes in the intoxicating turquoise waters and terraced hills of Cote d’Azur, a bittersweet sight in the aftermath of this month’s Bastille Day massacre in Nice.

The settings are fittingly luxe and Eddy and Patsy’s adventures have been appropriately amped-up for the big screen — witness a chase scene where they barrel down narrow cobblestone streets in a runaway rickshaw. Saunders and Lumley are every fiber their alter egos.

But this parody of a lavish life of irresponsibility and consumption doesn’t mean what it did when “Ab Fab” first hit in the early 1990s. Today, many Kardashians and “Real Housewives” live this parody as reality everyday on TV. Instead of appearing obviously ridiculous, Eddy and Patsy’s indulgent lifestyle looks almost aspirational in an atmosphere of endless selfies and instant fame. It’s hard to go over the top with what’s already over the top.

“All I ever wanted was not to be fat and old,” Eddy laments.

Maybe that’s all there is to worry about in a world gone mad.

“Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie,” a Fox Searchlight release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language including sexual references, and some drug use.” Running time: 90 minutes. Two stars out of four.

In this image released by Paramount Pictures, Zachary Quinto, left, and Karl Urban appear in a scene from "Star Trek Beyond." (Kimberley French/Paramount Pictures via AP)

FILM REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond

In this image released by Paramount Pictures, Zachary Quinto, left, and Karl Urban appear in a scene from "Star Trek Beyond." (Kimberley French/Paramount Pictures via AP)

In this image released by Paramount Pictures, Zachary Quinto, left, and Karl Urban appear in a scene from “Star Trek Beyond.” (Kimberley French/Paramount Pictures via AP)

JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer

 

In the previous “Star Trek” installment, Spock cried. In the latest, “Star Trek Beyond,” he laughs. And not just a little snicker, either, but a belly-full one. What bold explorations into the farthest reaches of the galaxy hold for Spock no one knows. A sigh? A hiccup?

“Star Trek Beyond,” like most of the rebooted properties flying around our movie theaters, delights in nostalgically resurrecting iconic characters and tweaking them anew. The balance is a delicate one, as seen in the pre-release debate around this film revealing Sulu (John Cho but formerly played by LGBT icon George Takei) as gay.

The scene in question turns out to be a mere moment, lightly handled, showing Sulu greeting his same-sex partner and their daughter after a long mission. It’s all expressed with just a few arms tenderly draped across shoulders. And it’s the kind of welcome touch that director Justin Lin, the “Fast & Furious” veteran who takes over for J.J. Abrams, has brought to this pleasingly episode-like installment.

The opening scene, fittingly, plays with a smaller scale. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), on a diplomatic mission, appeals to a snarling beast looming above him in a crowded amphitheater. Enraged at Kirk’s offer, the alien beast hurtles down upon him, only to turn out to be no more monstrous than a feisty bulldog.

The film finds a bored Enterprise finishing up a five-year tour in deep space. The (albeit brief) change of pace is immediately appreciated. The last two beefed-up “Star Trek” movies, as if overcompensating for decades of Trekkie nerd-dome, threatened to make the once brainy “Star Trek” less distinct from other mega-sized sci-fi adventures — just another clothesline of CGI set pieces strung together.

Like its recent predecessors, “Star Trek Beyond” is mostly an assortment of effects-heavy scenes with bits of talking in between. But unlike the previous film, 2013’s bloated “Star Trek Into Darkness,” not everything is quite so much of a life-and-death issue (the exhausting de facto pitch of today’s summer blockbuster).

The Starship Enterprise, led by Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, looking more natural in the role), is lured through a nebula where a would-be rescue mission turns into a trap set by the villain Krall, whose spectacular army of mechanical drones (“bees” he calls them) attack in an overwhelming swarm. In a galactic blitz, the Enterprise is torn to shreds and crashes down on a rocky planet where the ship’s scattered crew tries to gather, survive and understand Krall’s motives. A local becomes an essential guide for them: Jaylah (a nimble Sofia Boutella), a pale loner with black streaks running down her face who helps the crew discover the Federation’s history on the planet.

The backstory, though, never quite gets filled out, and the plot serves as little more than a mechanism to test the efficient camaraderie of the Enterprise crew. Among them: Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, Simon Pegg’s Scotty, Karl Urban’s Bones and Chekov, played by the late Anton Yelchin, a fine actor who’s disappointing underused here. They’re an entertaining enough bunch meandering around, and screenwriters Doug Jung and Pegg (who, as the writer of “Spaced,” knows plenty about the intersection of comedy and science fiction) have injected some humor to the proceedings.

The heart of the film, though, like the previous two, is the bromance between Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock. They’re Felix and Oscar in outer space, and still the highlight of this batch of “Star Trek” films.

It’s only late in the film that the alien mask is pulled away revealing the actor underneath Krall: Idris Elba. For those who didn’t place his baritone earlier, the reveal comes as a disappointment. It should be a crime in deep space, as it is on Earth, to shroud such a tremendous force behind mountains of extraterrestrial makeup. But I suppose had Elba been an unadorned baddie all along, the Enterprise might really have finally met its match.

“Star Trek Beyond,” a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of sci-fi action and violence.” Running time: 122 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

This image released by Disney shows the Big Friendly Giant, voiced by  Mark Rylance, in a scene from"The BFG." (Disney via AP)

FILM REVIEW: The BFG

This image released by Disney shows the Big Friendly Giant, voiced by  Mark Rylance, in a scene from"The BFG." (Disney via AP)

This image released by Disney shows the Big Friendly Giant, voiced by Mark Rylance, in a scene from”The BFG.” (Disney via AP)

LINDSEY BAHR, AP Film Writer

 

There’s a secret about children that Steven Spielberg, Melissa Mathison and Roald Dahl have always known — that no matter how innocent, kids are as capable of understanding darkness as adults, and sometimes even more so. It’s not that it’s some completely unacknowledged truth, but it is one that rarely seems to permeate what we consider “children’s entertainment” in any real way. It just makes adults too uncomfortable. It’s also the reason why the under-10 set flocks to Dahl.

A measured embrace of the deep menace in Dahl’s words is why this long-time-coming adaptation of his 1982 book “The BFG ” not only succeeds, but shines. It’s not just some pleasant romp into the world of giants. It’s an honest-to-goodness, gut punch of a journey, crackling with heart, uncertainty, and overflowing with all-out wonder.

There’s really no other way to tell a story about an orphan who is captured by a giant and taken to a land crawling with much larger giants who like the taste of human beings, or “beens” as they’re called.

The orphan, Sophie, is played by the newcomer Ruby Barnhill. Sporting a Dorothy Hamill haircut and rounded glasses, this little brunette moppet is a delightful revelation who is at turns feisty, lovable and even a little annoying (in a good way). In other words, she’s a believable kid — a result that Spielberg has been coaxing out of child actors since “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”

Thankfully, Sophie has been taken not by man-eaters, but the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance, who was just in Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”), who prefers to create dreams for the children of England, not snack on them. But Sophie, who lays awake night after night, saw him gliding through the streets of London and she can’t be trusted with the knowledge that giants really do exist, no matter how pure her intentions.

Back in Giant Country, things don’t get off to a great start between Sophie and the BFG either. It takes some trials, some scary dreams, some danger, and some skepticism before their friendship becomes real — but it’s worth the build.

Whether you’ve read “The BFG” a thousand times, or haven’t in 30 years, or even at all, Sophie and The BFG’s impossible bond is bound to break your heart.

Rylance’s BFG is an astonishing meld of real life and CG animation. It’s jarring at first but kids won’t mind, and adults will grow accustomed to it. Thankfully, it somehow stays clear of the uncanny valley. Most importantly, it fits in the context and look of this storybook world, which truly does feel like the page come to life.

There are certain limitations to the form that hinder the full range of a Rylance performance, but what’s here is sufficient, even when he’s flatulent — sorry, whizzpopping — or working his way through Dahl’s twisty language.

The only real misstep is when the humans are introduced. Sophie has had enough with the bullying of the other giants and decides, as in the book, to go convince the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) and her assistants (Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall) to help save the children of England from certain death by giant.

The pacing of this segment goes haywire and feels like too long and meandering a diversion in what is already a long movie. Not to mention the fact that a significant portion of this sequence is devoted to whizzpoppers. It just makes you long to return to Giant Country, the BFG’s gadget-filled home and the land of dreams.

There’s a melancholy hanging over the film, too — that it’s Mathison’s final screenwriting credit. It’s also a lovely exit for a woman who always knew to never write down to her audience, children or not. Mathison died last November of cancer at age 65.

“The BFG,” a Walt Disney Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor.” Running time: 117 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

___

MPAA Definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

FILE - This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Alexander Skarsgard from "The Legend of Tarzan." For films that arenít ìthe movie to see,î moviegoers are increasingly staying home. With word-of-mouth traveling at the speed of Twitter, quality has become a more vital currency.  (Jonathan Olley/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP, File)

FILM REVIEW: Tarzan

FILE - This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Alexander Skarsgard from "The Legend of Tarzan." For films that arenít ìthe movie to see,î moviegoers are increasingly staying home. With word-of-mouth traveling at the speed of Twitter, quality has become a more vital currency.  (Jonathan Olley/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP, File)

FILE – This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Alexander Skarsgard from “The Legend of Tarzan.” For films that arenít ìthe movie to see,î moviegoers are increasingly staying home. With word-of-mouth traveling at the speed of Twitter, quality has become a more vital currency. (Jonathan Olley/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP, File)

JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer

 

Tarzan has been dusted off, his abs polished and his vocabulary spruced up in David Yates’ handsome but altogether pointless “The Legend of Tarzan,” a chest-thumping resurrection of the Ape Man that fails to find any reason for the iconic character’s continued evolution.

On the one hand, it’s easy to see why Tarzan has yet again swung back into our lives: Tarzan and Hollywood were born almost simultaneously, like conjoined twins of a new pop-culture machine. The first “Tarzan” silent came just a few years after Edgar Rice Burroughs’ initial novel.

More than 50 films have followed. But as time has gone on, Tarzan has ceded his mass-market turf to a new set of brawny, questionably attired do-gooders, who swing not from vines but webs and grappling hooks. Monkey Men are out; Batmen are in.

Tarzan’s relevance has also drifted. He was originally conceived as a pulpy fable for a society feeling nostalgic for nature as it watched Model Ts roll off assembly lines. Burroughs’ tale coincided with the National Parks movement and the creation of the Boy Scouts.

So if properly outfitted for today’s back-to-the-land trends, Tarzan probably should be a thinner, bearded man who can brew a hoppy IPA and lives off-the-grid in Brooklyn coffee shops.

Can such a vestige of imperial-era imaginations — one dreamed up by a man who never set foot in Africa — be updated to today? “The Legend of Tarzan” suggests not, and the film’s main source of suspense is watching it twist and contort a century-old property into something meaningful.

Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad’s script sets the tale a decade after the discovery of Tarzan in West Africa; seen only in flashback is Tarzan’s origin story, including a more violent version of his famously loquacious introduction to Jane. Tarzan or John Clayton III (Alexander Skarsgard) is living in London with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie). The jungle is far behind him: he’s a Lord, polished and serious but still with ape-like hands that would impress even Donald Trump.

He’s coaxed back to Africa by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), an American and veteran of the Civil War who seeks to uncover what he believes is Belgium’s introduction of slavery to the Congo. The character, loosely based on a real historical figure, is the most intriguing if awkward addition. A better, more realistic movie could have been made about him.

In the Congo is Belgium’s envoy, Capt. Leon Rom, a linen-suited hunter of diamonds to fill Leopold’s coffers. For this symbol of refinement and menace, the filmmakers naturally turn to Christoph Waltz.

The simplistic historical backdrop of late 19th century Congo here is more cartoonish than even Tarzan, himself. But the atmosphere is richly exotic, full of majestic vistas and vivid close-ups. Filming largely on sound stages, Yates, veteran of later “Harry Potter” films, has firm control of the film’s lushly romantic imagery. You feel that Bogie and Bacall could drift down the river at any moment.

But the film, searching for a purpose and some drama, doesn’t deserve the grandeur Yates gives it. Tarzan, played with sufficient muscle and smarts by Skarsgard, leads an uprising through his ability to communicate with animals and the (largely faceless) natives. He’s a Jungle Jesus returned to fight colonial incursion, and among the more ridiculous white saviors you’re likely to see.

The wildlife is also comically over stimulated. The CGI gorillas appear like Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons on steroids. Effort has been made to make Jane more than a damsel in distress, which she literally denies being at one point. The scene-stealing Robbie breaks though the role’s stereotypes even while still being mired in them.

Agility is the prime trait of Tarzan, but “Legend” has little of it. The film strains to juggle the character’s baggage instead of embracing the tale’s innate silliness and spirit of adventure. (Over the years Tarzan fought dinosaurs and Roman gladiators.)

That this is merely another naked attempt to profit from a well-known property is visible even in the film’s title. There, not even hidden by a loin cloth, is a little trademark symbol next to “Tarzan”: King of the Franchise.

“The Legend of Tarzan,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of action and violence, some sensuality and brief rude dialogue.” Running time: 102 minutes. Two stars out of four.

This image released by STX Productions shows Mahershala Ali, left, and Matthew McConaughey in a scene from "The Free State of Jones." (Murray Close/STX Productions via AP)

FILM REVIEW: Free State of Jones

This image released by STX Productions shows Mahershala Ali, left, and Matthew McConaughey in a scene from "The Free State of Jones." (Murray Close/STX Productions via AP)

This image released by STX Productions shows Mahershala Ali, left, and Matthew McConaughey in a scene from “The Free State of Jones.” (Murray Close/STX Productions via AP)

LINDSEY BAHR, AP Film Writer

 

Newton Knight was a poor Mississippi farmer and Confederate soldier who deserted the Army in early 1862, waged a rebellion against the Confederacy and ended up forming a little colony of exiles, which they referred to as the Free State of Jones. Their numbers rose with deserters as the Confederate effort floundered. They even took over Jones County and raised an American flag at the courthouse. It’s a fascinating slice of forgotten history. Coming after three years after “12 Years a Slave” made sure we’d never forget the name Solomon Northup, it’s not unreasonable to expect that maybe “Free State of Jones ” could do that for Newton Knight or his fellow rebels.

The film, out Friday, might teach you the name Newton Knight (played by a scruffy, gaunt and almost feral Matthew McConaughey), but it is far too sprawling and too unfocused to be placed in the canon of forgotten Civil War-era stories alongside “12 Years a Slave.”

This tale follows Newt from his last days in the service to his near-accidental establishment of a rogue state in a swamp as the war rages on, all the way to emancipation and reconstruction. If 14 years sounds like a lot of territory to cover, it is, and the movie takes its time doing so, running nearly two and a half hours. And yet it still feels hurried.

It begins promisingly enough, with the requisite war is hell reminder — fast-cutting between horrific injuries on the battlefield and then in an overrun makeshift hospital. Newt grudgingly participates, mostly by helping the wounded, but then something happens that rattles him personally and he heads home to his wife Serena (Keri Russell, looking very concerned) and their young child. Things are bleak there, too, where Confederate soldiers regularly rampage homes and take anything they might need and want — corn, livestock, blankets — for the war effort. There’s also the deplorable “Twenty Slave Law” which allows members of the Confederacy to opt out of conscription if they provide 20 slaves. It’s a law that benefits only the rich and that is not lost on Newt or his poor friends, none of whom own slaves or support the Confederate cause either.

Being a deserter, Newt’s mere presence endangers everyone. Serena even packs up the kid and leaves. When they literally send the dogs after him, he retreats to the swamp where he meets some runaway slaves, and they begin to grow their community. It’s here where things get a little murky and rushed.

Director Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit,” ”The Hunger Games”) wants badly to present a lyrical epic, and there are some moments of grace, but mostly it’s just labored, propelled only by the passage of time, pages worth of printed exposition on the screen and the hope that Newt’s journey is a good enough engine. And yet with all of those years covered, Newt is as defined as vapor, and his supporting characters even less so.

There’s also a jarring cut early on to a trial in 1948 in Mississippi where one of Newt’s decedents is suspected of having African American ancestry, despite looking white. While you get used the back and forth, it doesn’t ever drum up the suspense of a courtroom drama or achieve its intended poignancy.

Newt does in fact take up with Rachel (a powerful, if underused Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a former house slave to a plantation owner. The question being asked in 1948 is whether or not they had any kids, thus starting a line of mixed race ancestors. It’s certainly an interesting thread, that this fight could continue so many generations after the war, but as with most things here, in execution it’s just more pasta thrown at the wall.

Rachel is one of the more compelling characters in the film, as is Moses (Mahershala Ali), who we meet with steel claws around his neck and see progress into a true protest leader by the time the war is over when, despite emancipation, little has changed for the former slaves and actually seems to be getting worse.

The Civil War and reconstruction were messy, and “Free State of Jones” wants to tackle it all. In the end, it’s too much for any one film to handle compellingly with such specificity.

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“The Free State of Jones,” a STX Entertainment release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “brutal battle scenes and disturbing graphic images.” Running time: 139 minutes. Two stars out of four.

MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.