Star Trek Beyond

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2016

Paramount Pictures/Skydance Media/Alibaba Pictures/Bad Robot Productions

Directed by Justin Lin

Produced by J.J. Abrams/Roberto Orci

Written by Simon Pegg/Doug Jung

Based on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry

They say that the third time’s the charm and in the case of STAR TREK BEYOND I’d have to say that’s a fact. Not that the first two movies were out and out awful. They weren’t. They had the burden of being reboots of the beloved franchise that has lasted for fifty years now. And the news that the reboot would be set in an alternate timeline with new actors playing the classic roles of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov didn’t send fans into the stratosphere with joy. I liked the first “Star Trek” even though I didn’t find the story engaging or particularly thrilling. But I enjoyed seeing new faces playing familiar characters and I think the infusion of new creative blood behind the camera is the best thing that could have happened to “Star Trek” overall.

I even liked “Star Trek Into Darkness” even though it made the mistake of trying to be “The Wrath of Khan” and apparently nobody took a cue from The Next Generation movie “Nemesis” or the three episode arc from Enterprise: “Borderland” “Cold Station 12” and “The Augments.” Because if they had, they’d have known that trick never works.

But thankfully STAR TREK BEYOND has a new director and an original story at last to work with. And the result is a movie and a story that feels like it could have been a movie made back when the original cast was in their prime. Much of that feeling comes from a screenplay that gives every crew member something to do and their chance to shine. The best “Star Trek” movies are the ones where all of the crew members are active in the story. And this one reinforces the concept that the reason Kirk is able to save the universe on a regular basis is that he has the best and brightest in Starfleet at his side and he knows the best way to utilize their skills and talents as a team.

The U.S.S. Enterprise is in the third year of it’s five year mission and Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling the ennui of deep space exploration. He’s increasingly wondering what he’s doing out here and if this is really what he’s supposed to be doing with his life as he only joined Starfleet on a dare. First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also having a spiritual crisis of his own. Vulcans are now an endangered species and Spock is beginning to think that he should be on New Vulcan helping his people instead of gallivanting around the galaxy.

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The Enterprise puts in for shore leave at Starbase Yorktown, a ridiculously huge city in space for some much needed R&R but that doesn’t last long. Starbase Yorktown’s commanding officer Commodore Paris (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is soon dispatching Kirk and crew on a rescue mission to the planet Altamid. Turns out that the rescue mission is a trap. The Enterprise is attacked and destroyed by a swarm of spaceships. Krall (Idris Elba) who is looking for an ancient superweapon he insists is in Kirk’s possession captures most of the crew. The bridge crew is separated: Kirk with Chekov (Anton Yelchin) Spock with Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are prisoners of Krall while Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) comes under the protection of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) a scavenger whose martial arts abilities are more than considerably dangerous.

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As Kirk puts his crew back together, Krall’s plan is gradually uncovered. Using the ancient superweapon, Krall intends to attack Starbase Yorktown and kill everybody inhabiting it. He will then use the Starbase and it’s considerable resources to attack The Federation. Can Kirk reunite his crew in time to find a way off the planet and stop Krall? Since Paramount has already announced there’s going to be a fourth movie I think that in itself answers that question.

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For the first time, Chris Pine looks comfortable playing James Kirk and I think that’s because he’s become confident enough in his own acting abilities. He’s been in a significant amount of movies other than the “Star Trek” movie where he’s distinguished himself and so I think he’s not fighting so hard to not be William Shatner. Which is what I got from his earlier performances in the previous “Star Trek” movies. In fact, a lot of the fun in watching his performance here is because he is doing Shatner in many of the scenes, especially the opening scene where he’s negotiating a peace treaty. He’s even got his hair cut in a style reminiscent of Shatner’s hair style in The Original Series.

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Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban nailed the essence of their characters right from their first scenes in the first movie and that hasn’t changed. Especially Karl Urban. I say again that I’m halfway convinced he must somehow be related to DeForest Kelly as he channels his spirit to an uncanny degree. The movie’s story wisely puts McCoy and Spock together most of the time and their scenes together are perhaps the best tribute to Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly.

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Simon Pegg’s Scotty gets a nice subplot of his own (hey, if you’re writing the screenplay then why not give yourself a juicy subplot?) as he becomes a sort of mentor/big brother to Jaylah. She herself meshes so well with the crew that I’m hoping they’ll bring her back as a permanent member in the next movie. Idris Elba adds Krall to his already impressive resume of bad guys. The only problem I have with him is his motivation. In all three of these movies revenge has been the motivation for the bad guys and it’s wearying to me. Now that we’re getting more original stories let’s have some original motivations for the bad guys to be carrying on cranky, okay?

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And Starbase Yorktown is astoundingly impressive enough to deserve it’s own movie. I read a review of this movie where the writer said that if there’s ever a “Deep Space Nine” movie then it should look like Starbase Yorktown and I agree wholeheartedly.

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So should you see STAR TREK BEYOND? Chances are you’ve already seen it, especially if you’re a rabid “Star Trek” fan like me. But if you haven’t, by all means go see it. For me this has been a pretty sad movie year and STAR TREK BEYOND is one of the bright spots that reminds me why I go to the movies. Enjoy.

122 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Sleepaway Camp

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1983

American Eagle Films

Directed and Written by Robert Hiltzik

Produced by Jerry Silva/Michele Tatosian

In a decade dominated by the slasher genre of horror movies, SLEEPAWAY CAMP managed to stand out back in the 1980s and still is being talked about today. Chances are that if you’ve seen it, you might not remember anything else about the movie (well, you might remember the scene with the curling iron. Talk about owtch) but you’ll remember that ending. And boy howdy, what an ending. It’s been compared to the ending of “Psycho” and I have to agree. I watched SLEEPAWAY CAMP yesterday for the first time in something like twenty years and still found myself having an “oh, shit!” moment when the ending came. But SLEEPAWAY CAMP comes by that ending honestly. There’s some solid storytelling and characterization going on here that elevates the movie. Don’t get me wrong. We’re not talking “Halloween” level or even “Friday The 13th” but SLEEPAWAY CAMP is most definitely more than a few notches above your average slasher slice-n-dice.

After the death of her brother and father in a boating mishap in 1975, the traumatized Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) goes to live with her aunt Dr. Martha Thomas (Desiree Gould) and her son, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) for the next eight years. Aunt Martha decides it’s time the kids got out on their own and sends them to Camp Arawak for the summer. It’s obvious that some of Aunt Martha’s fuses have long blown and not been replaced. She gives the children documents stating their physicals and admonishes them not to tell anyone they got them from her.

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Once they get to the camp Ricky fits in just fine but the painfully introverted Angela has a hard time making friends. She has no trouble making enemies in the form of her roommate Judy (Karen Fields) and camp counselor Meg (Katherine Kamhi) who delight in tormented the shy girl every chance they get. Ricky’s friend Paul (Christopher Collet) feels sorry for Angela and takes it upon himself to befriend the lonely girl. A friendship that grows into a romance that drives Judy into a jealous fit.

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And that’s when the murders start. Camp owner Mel Costic (Mike Kellin) starts to notice that anyone who picks on Angela turns up dead. And her cousin Ricky just happens to be nearby just before that person turns up dead. Is Ricky murdering the campers in defense of his cousin? Who else could it be? Who else indeed? (dun dun duuuuuuuuuun)

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To be fair, there’s not a whole lot of suspects in this one so it’s not going to be hard for you to figure out who the killer is. But it’s not that kind of a movie. It works hard at being just as much of a psychological thriller as a slasher and while it doesn’t succeed entirely, the motivations of the filmmakers are genuine and I give them credit for it.

And this is one slasher movie where you don’t mind seeing the kids get killed because they’re such obnoxious little snots. Real teenage actors were used and they’re all pretty good because they act like teenagers. They’re rude, petty, emotional, raging with hormones, cuss like sailors on liberty and downright mean to each other for no reason at all. So when they get bumped off there’s an almost subversive feeling of glee because hey, these brats had it coming. For a slasher movie, the blood and gore is surprisingly kept to a minimum. But that’s because people get killed off in more unusual ways that just being hacked to bloody bits.

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SLEEPAWAY CAMP is one of those 1980s movies that has it’s own vibe, its own peculiar charm that you either will get or you won’t. It’s just that simple. Sure the psychology that explains the killer’s motivation is screwball and some of you will find the homophobia (it’s strongly implied that Angela and her brother were emotionally/psychologically damaged as a result of their father’s homosexual relationship) distasteful. But I think that if you can accept the movie as having been made in a less enlightened time (although after having watched the Republican National Convention I wonder how enlightened we can truly claim to be) and look upon it as 90 minutes of disposable popcorn entertainment, you’ll have a good time with it. And you don’t even have to spend a dime. It’s available to watch on YouTube and I’ve provided a link below. Enjoy.

90 Minutes

Rated R

Nightbeast

Nightbeast

1982

Troma Entertainment

Written and Directed by Don Dohler

I know that it must get annoying for younger movie fans to listen to us old geezers go on and on and on about the movies of the 1980s. To hear us tell it, the 1980s was a magical, inspired decade of brilliant filmmaking that we’ll never see again. And truth to tell we did have some exceptionally kick-ass movies come out of the 1980s. “Once Upon A Time In America” “Ghostbusters” “Die Hard” “Back To the Future” “The Princess Bride” “Predator” “Airplane!” “The Shining” “The Outsiders” “The Empire Strikes Back” “Lethal Weapon” “Raiders of The Lost Ark.” And that’s just the tippity-top of a very big iceberg. No doubt about it, the 1980s was a great decade for movies.

But with bitter waters must come with the sweet and the truth is this: that for every great movie that hit the cinemas, there were at least three or four utter crappy movies that somehow crawled onto the movie screens with no warning at all. Which brings us to NIGHTBEAST.

An alien starship passing by Earth is struck by an asteroid and crash-lands on the outskirts of the small town of Perry Hall, Maryland. The pilot survives, a monstrous, hideous looking sucka sporting a snappy, pristine silver jumpsuit. And an honest-to-Buck Rogers disintegrator ray gun that it promptly uses to disintegrate a couple of hunters who were camping nearby and came to investigate the crash.

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And the alien doesn’t stop there. He promptly commits a home invasion, killing the couple within. He kills an uncle taking his niece and nephew out for a drive. And what kind of uncle just happens to be driving way the hell out the country with his niece and nephew in the middle of the night, hmm? And the alien still doesn’t stop there. He continues to disintegrate everybody he comes across. Even after his ray gun is destroyed he continues his bloody rampage, disemboweling, ripping heads off, snapping necks and in general just carrying on cranky. Why? Don’t ask me. Never once does the movie explain why the alien goes berserk. Presumably it’s intelligent since it knows how to operate a starship; it’s wearing clean clothes and packs a gat. But the alien never even tries to make contact or ask for help. It just runs around killing everything that moves.

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After an encounter with the alien that leaves more people dead, Country Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith) decides to evacuate the entire town until The National Guard can be called in to help. This doesn’t sit very well with Mayor Bert Wicker (Richard Dyszel) who apparently went to the same school of mayoring as Larry Vaughn from “Jaws.” Wicker is throwing a lavish party for the governor in order to further his own political career and he doesn’t need Cinder running around screaming that there’s an alien in town disintegrating everybody in sight. It’s up to Cinder, his loyal deputy Lisa (Karin Kardian) and Jamie (Jamie Zemarel) to stop the blood-soaked frenzy of the alien. Who’s Jamie? Don’t ask me. He’s a guy who just shows up and he’s plainly more capable than anyone else in the movie of dealing with the situation. My favorite scene in the movie is when Cinder interrupts the mayor’s party and tries to reason with him to get the governor out of town before the alien drops by for drinks. Jamie coolly takes Lisa’s gun, fires a couple of shots for attention and then tells everybody there’s a dangerous gas leak and they need to get the hell out. He then calmly steps out of the way of the stampede.

Other than the scenes with Jamie (and some welcome gratuitous nudity courtesy of Karin Kardian and Monica Neff who plays Suzie, the girlfriend of the town rapist, Drago (Don Leifert) there’s not much else I can recommend about NIGHTBEAST. It may interest you that this movie boasts the first official screen credit of J.J. Abrams (as Jeffrey Abrams) so there’s that.

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The movie was filmed on a budget of $42,000 and I’m surprised they spent that much. The special effects are painfully bad but the special effects guys do go all out on the gore when the alien attacks. But I have to give the cast credit for being professionals. They give it their best and never once wink at the camera or treat the material as anything less than serious. I only wish they had a better script to work with. And that’s really all NIGHTBEAST needed to be a better movie. While I was watching it, I was mentally rewriting the story in my head which I usually do when the movie is really bad or really stupid. But don’t get me wrong. It’s not a totally worthless movie. It’s the kind of movie that’s made for when you’re having a drinking party and you and your guests need to have something to goof on while you’re getting blitzed. NIGHTBEAST is just that kind of movie. And you don’t even have to pay to see it. It’s available on YouTube and I’ve even been so good as to provide a link if you want to see how bad it is for yourself. Enjoy.

90 Minutes

Rated R

Ghostbusters II

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1989

Columbia Pictures

Directed and Produced by Ivan Reitman

Written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd

Based on characters created by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

“On Our Own” written by L.A. Reid/Babyface/Daryl Simmons and performed by Bobby Brown

It’s five years after the events of “Ghostbusters” and they haven’t been entirely good years for our heroes. Even though they saved the world from being destroyed by Gozer, that didn’t stop everybody and their mother from suing The Ghostbusters for property damage. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they’ve been forced out of business due to a truckload of court orders. Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) runs an occult used bookstore and entertains at children’s parties along with Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson). They sing the “Ghostbusters” theme song while the kids shriek that they’d rather have He-Man singing. Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) has gotten his job back at Columbia University doing more conventional research into human emotion (a curious line of research for Egon, I would think) while Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) hosts a television show about psychics and UFO’s.

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But the boys are drawn back into paranormal investigations by their old friend Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver.) In those five years she’s gotten married, divorced and a new job at the Manhattan Museum of Art resorting ancient paintings under the supervision of Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol) who has a serious crush on her. But Dana’s primary concern is providing for her son Oscar (William T. Deutschendorf & Hank J. Deutschendorf II) Once again Dana is the focus of paranormal activity such as her baby’s carriage taking off on it’s own power and careening through rush hour Manhattan traffic. She’s also unnerved by the painting she’s working on, a portrait of the 16th century magician and tyrant Vigo The Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg/voiced by Max Von Sydow.)

The boys agree to help Dana and an illegal excavation on First Avenue where the baby carriage went wild enables them to discover a vast river of psychomagnatheric slime filling the long abandoned and experimental pneumatic transit system running the length of underground Manhattan. During their investigations the Ghostbusters cause a citywide blackout and are arrested. On the verge of being sentenced to jail, a sample of the slime reacts to Judge Wexler’s (Harris Yulin) near hysterical angry tirade directed at the boys and it conjures forth the spirits of two murderers Wexler sentenced to the electric chair. In order to save his life from the ghosts, Wexler dismisses all charges and restraining orders against The Ghostbusters who capture the ghosts and they’re back in business.

But can they stop the spirit of Vigo The Carpathian who has already possessed Janosz Poha and is using the river of slime, which feeds off the ill will of eight million New Yorkers to fuel his ever-growing power? What do you think? They’re too hot to handle, too cold to hold. They’re called The Ghostbusters and they’re in control. Try to battle these boys? That’s not legal.

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Whenever I read reviews or talk to people about GHOSTBUSTERS II, this is what I come away with: people don’t like it because it’s not “Ghostbusters.” But there’s no way it could be. “Ghostbusters” was so unique, so fresh, so unlike any movie we’d seen before. Me, I give the cast a lot of credit for giving it their best (well, most of them anyway…we’ll get to that) considering that most of them didn’t want to do a sequel and it had taken Columbia Pictures five years to persuade them to do a sequel.

But just like the first one, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis provide a story that feels like a story and not just something they tossed off during lunch. I like how the story picks up with The Ghostbusters having been sued out of business even though they saved the world (I wonder if that was intended as a homage to “Son of Kong” which found Carl Denham in a similar situation due to Kong’s rampage) and how the boys get back into business. I like how, just like in the first one, the Ghostbusters actually investigate the river of slime and Vigo’s history, putting clues together to uncover Vigo’s ultimate ambition of reincarnating himself in Dana’s baby Oscar (what, wouldn’t any baby do?)

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Unlike the first movie, Bill Murray doesn’t steal any scenes and his energy level here is way, way down. Oh, sure, he’s still the snarky, sarcastic Peter Venkman we know and love but the con-man/used car salesman hustler is gone. Thankfully Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson dial up their energy to compensate and it works. And we have Peter MacNicol who’s this movie’s MVP as Janosz Poha. I have no idea where MacNicol got that accent or that unusual way of phrasing that he uses but it leaves me limp with laughter every time he opens his mouth. Sigourney Weaver’s Dana really doesn’t have much to do except once again half-heartedly fend off Venkman’s advances and worry about her son. Annie Potts and Rick Moranis return as Janine Melnitz and Louis Tully and their characters are given a romance so that they’ll something to do while the boys are off busting ghosts.

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I’m well aware that I hold a minority opinion but I just can’t find it in me to dislike GHOSTBUSTERS II. It still has the quirky charm of the first and that goofy mixture of science fiction and the supernatural. The cast is extremely likeable and they all have great chemistry together. I watched it earlier today, damned if it still wasn’t a more entertaining and fun movie than 75% of the movies I’ve seen this year so far. No, it’s nowhere near as funny or as quotable as the first but there’s still a lot of good laughs to be had in here. Maybe it’s a sign of me getting older and more forgiving but more and more I’m judging movies on two things: was the movie fun and did it entertain me? GHOSTBUSTERS II does indeed entertain me and it’s a lot of fun.

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108 Minutes

Rated PG

Ghostbusters (1984)

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1984

Columbia Pictures

Directed and Produced by Ivan Reitman

Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Music by Elmer Bernstein

“Ghostbusters” written and performed by Ray Parker, Jr.

Parapsychologist Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting important ESP research at Columbia University (which involves tricking one of his students into believing she has psychic powers so he can get into her pants) when he’s called to the New York Public Library to investigate a genuine ghost sighting. Despite his best efforts to avoid going, he’s dragged to the library by his colleagues, Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) They encounter the spirit of a dead librarian and are thrilled that all their theories about the existence of the paranormal is validated. They dream of unlimited funding and academic success.

Unfortunately, Columbia University doesn’t see it that way as the trio are considered to be nuts. Well, Ray and Egon are. Peter is considered to be little more than a hustler and cheap con man. They’re fired from the university but that doesn’t phase Peter. In record time he’s persuaded Ray to mortgage his house (“Don’t worry about it! Everybody has three mortgages nowadays.”) in order to get the funds to develop and build equipment capable of capturing ghosts, buy a dilapidated firehouse one inspection away from being condemned and establish a ghost elimination service known as GHOSTBUSTERS. Their secretary, the sarcastic Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts), mans the office. Ray buys a broken down ambulance he works on and refurbishes to transport their equipment they name “Ecto-1.” Although they’re initially looked upon as bunkum artists, the increase of paranormal activity in New York soon proves that they are legitimate and have to hire help, Winston Zeddmore who becomes the fourth Ghostbuster.

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Turns out that they really need the extra help. Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) seeks help from the Ghostbusters because a demonic spirit has possessed her refrigerator. And not long afterwards, possesses her as well. It’s Zuul, the servant of Gozer the Gozerian (Slavitza Jovan) the Sumerian god of destruction. Being The Gatekeeper, Zuul must join with The Keymaster, which has possessed the body of her next door neighbor, nebbishy accountant Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). In the meantime, the Ghostbusters have learned that Ivo Shandor, a mad scientist designed the building Dana and Louis live in as a gateway to bridge our world with that of the dimension Gozer inhabits, granting it access to Earth and thereby causing the end of the world.

Time to strap on the proton packs, heat ‘em up, make ‘em hard and show that prehistoric bitch how things are done downtown.

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What can possibly be said about GHOSTBUSTERS that you haven’t heard or read before? Well, how about this; if Neil Simon and Don Coscarelli had ever decided to get together and make a movie, it might have turned out something like this. It’s a uniquely New York movie in attitude and tone that reminded me of Simon what with that unique New York way of looking at things and how New Yorkers talk while the blend of the supernatural with science fiction reminded me of Coscarelli’s “Phantasm” movies. The unique blending of comedy, science fiction and the supernatural shouldn’t have worked but due to the talent behind and in front of the camera and the exceptionally strong story, it does so in magnificently successful fashion.

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And that is the key to GHOSTBUSTERS; the story. Writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis didn’t think up a bunch of gags and then write a story around the gags. They wrote a story first and let the gags grow out of the situation and the characters. And make no mistake about it; the movie has terrific characters, all of them. I especially like how the Ghostbusters themselves are portrayed as blue-collar scientists. Just because they have Ph.D.’s and IQs off the charts doesn’t mean that they’re not regular guys. They smoke cigarettes. They drink beer. They like working on cars and machinery and getting their hands dirty. They eat a lot of junk food (this love of eating junk food carries over into 2016’s “Ghostbusters” where we see the all-girl team share that trait with these guys). They investigate the case of Dana’s hauntings using their particular skill sets; Ray researches the history and construction of the building, Egon consults Tobin’s Spirit Guide to find out who Zuul is while Peter…well, Peter is being Peter. And if you’ve seen GHOSTBUSTERS (and I can’t imagine anybody who hasn’t) you know what that means.

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As good as the entire cast is, it’s Bill Murray that puts the movie in his hip pocket and walks out the door with it. He gets the majority of the funniest lines in the movie. But let me say that Harold Ramis can get just as much of a laugh out of me with his facial expressions. And Dan Aykroyd is a master of technobabble that is bewilderingly comical. All four of the Ghostbusters have distinct personalities and Dana Barrett is right on the money when she says that Peter Venkman acts more like a game show host than a scientist. He’s a hustler, always on the make for a quick buck or a even quicker lay but when the chips are down, he’s the first one to make a deal with The Mayor of New York to give the Ghostbusters a chance to save the city and the world. And everybody plays the material straight. If anybody had broken character or winked at the camera it would have spoiled the movie. But the don’t and because they treat what’s happening as real, we do as well.

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Over the years, GHOSTBUSTERS has come to be hailed as a classic. It’s rightly considered one of the funniest movies ever made and the United States Library of Congress has preserved it in the National Film Registry. Like I said earlier, I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t seen GHOSTBUSTERS. And I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it. It’s rare that a movie is a perfect blend of genres married with a terrific story and solid acting. GHOSTBUSTERS is that perfect blend.

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Ernie Hudson, left, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in a scene from the 1984 motion picture “Ghostbusters.” CREDIT: Sony Pictures [Via MerlinFTP Drop]
Rated PG

105 Minutes

Ghostbusters (2016)

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2016

Sony Pictures/LStar Capital/Village Roadshow Pictures/The Montecito Picture Company/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Paul Feig

Produced by Ivan Reitman/Amy Pascal

Written by Katie Dippold/Paul Feig

Based on the 1984 motion picture “Ghostbusters” Directed by Ivan Reitman and Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Particle Physicist Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) once completely believed in the supernatural and the paranormal due to her having experienced a haunting as a child. But now as an adult, a teacher at Columbia University and anxiously awaiting word on her tenure she’s more concerned with her standing and reputation in academia.

Which explains her hysteria when she learns that a book she co-wrote years ago with her then best friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has resurfaced and is being sold on Amazon. The book threatens her tenure so she goes to visit Abby and persuade her to take the book down. Abby is still researching the paranormal along with her partner, brilliant engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) who has the IQ of a Time Lord and the eccentricity to match. Abby agrees to take the book down if Erin will assist her on an investigation. The investigation fires up Erin’s belief in the supernatural again and gets the three of them fired from their teaching positions.

However this just gives them the excuse to open up shop as “The Department of Metaphysical Examination” (don’t worry, that name doesn’t last very long) above a dilapidated Chinese restaurant along with dim-witted himbo Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) as their secretary/receptionist/Man Friday. While the three scientists get to work building equipment to study and capture ghosts, MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) has some pretty frightening encounters with subway ghosts herself which lead to her contacting the three scientists and after discovering she enjoys the excitement and camaraderie, joins the team. She brings with her not only an encyclopedic knowledge and history of New York but transportation for the team, a hearse that Holtzmann lickedy-split pimps out into a custom ride to tote their equipment they dub “Ecto-1” and The Ghostbusters are born.

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And just in time because occultist Rowan North (Neil Casey) is planting devices all over Manhattan. Arcane devices that stimulate the mystic energies of ley lines that intersect at a key point, The Mercado Hotel in Times Square, itself a building with a grisly and horrendous history of paranormal activity. North’s purpose? Nothing less than to bring about The Apocalypse and rule a world of ghosts. Time to fire up those proton packs and save the world, ladies.

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The Ghostbusters Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Patty (Leslie Jones) in Columbia Pictures’ GHOSTBUSTERS.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: it’s a waste of time arguing if the 2016 GHOSTBUSTERS is better movie or even equal to 1984’s “Ghostbusters.” It’s like arguing about who the best James Bond is. It’s not fair to any of the other guys to compare them to Sean Connery because his performance is so iconic that there’s no way you can honestly and fairly put him up against anybody that followed him because they just can’t win. No way. (And watch how much feedback I get on this from the fans of George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.) Same thing with these two movies. The 1984 “Ghostbusters” is such a landmark that it has rightfully become a classic. It’s a damn near perfect movie in terms of balancing humor with horror, acting and story with imaginative verbal and visual jokes that are still gut-bustlingly hilarious today.

But here’s the thing; 2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS doesn’t even try to go toe-to-toe with the earlier movie. We have the basic set-up and the familiar props such as the proton packs (along with new weapons based on the same technology). Ecto-1, the Ghostbusters logo and callbacks to the earlier movie such as the cold open where an innocent bystander just happens to encounter a malevolent spirit. And The Ghostbusters having their first major victory in capturing a ghost in a public place where everybody can see that ghosts are indeed real. So there’s an awful lot that’s familiar here. But everything else is brand new as far as the characters and the story is concerned and that was the best move the director and writers could have taken with the movie. These characters aren’t copies of the originals and we don’t get a rehash of a story we’ve seen before.

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I’ve got no problem with the acting. Kristen Wiig doesn’t know how to be anything but funny and she and Melissa McCarthy are a delight to watch work together. They have a number of scenes where they engage in humorous back-and-forth double-talk that I’m half-convinced they improvised. And I’m always happy when Melissa McCarthy doesn’t take the lazy way out and fall back on being The Funny Fat Girl as she’s way too funny to fall back on that. Leslie Jones is more manic than her co-stars but that’s okay because we love it when Leslie Jones is manic and gets some of the movie’s biggest laughs as a result. Chris Hemsworth is nothing less than hilarious playing a big, dumb, good-looking hunk and you can tell he had a lot of fun in this movie.

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But it’s easily Kate McKinnon that walks off with the MVP award for this movie. She effortlessly steals every scene she’s in. Like I said earlier, Holtzmann must have the IQ of a Time Lord since she comes up with the wildest and coolest gizmos, gadgets and weapons with no trouble at all. Nothing The Ghostbusters encounter phases her, freaks her out or surprises. She, however, takes a manic delight in freaking everybody else out. Holtzmann is, more than any of the other characters cut out for this life. She’d be right at home with Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers, she’s just that cool.

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So should you see GHOSTBUSTERS? Absolutely. It’s not a remake at all. Re-Imagining is the best way to describe it and it’s done with respect and admiration for the original. It loves the original so much that it doesn’t try to be that movie and instead works hard at being it’s own movie and it succeeds. GHOSTBUSTERS is a welcome two hours of fun in what has been a dismal movie year. Go see and enjoy.

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116 Minutes

PG-13

The Legend of Tarzan

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2016

Village Roadshow Pictures/RatPac Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by David Yates

Produced by Jerry Wentraub/David Barron/Mike Richardson

Written by Adam Cozad/Craig Brewer

Based on the character “Tarzan” created by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Before I get into the review of THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, a bit of personal history. Some of you have heard this story before so bear with me a bit for the benefit of those who haven’t. I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs when I was in Junior High School but it wasn’t through his Tarzan books. I devoured his John Carter of Mars books, his Pellucidar and Venus series and historical novels such as “The Rider” “The Outlaw of Torn” “The Mucker.” I read his Tarzan much later on, mainly because they were reissued with gorgeous Neal Adams covers.

Once upon a time in the 1970s, I’m riding on the ‘G’ subway train home from school, reading a Tarzan novel. To this day I can’t recall which one it was even though every other detail of what happened on that train is still as fresh as if it happened today. Three grown men I didn’t know sat down next to me and demanded to know why I was reading a Tarzan book. They described it as “white man’s bullshit” and “racist garbage.” And that’s just about the only part of their descriptions I can relate to you and still keep this review clean. Just trust me when I say they were very colorful. One of the men was particularly vexed at me and loudly expressed his view that at the next stop he and his companions should bodily escort me off the train and give me the thrashing I so richly deserved. It was actually a lot more profane than that but again; I’m trying to keep it clean. I didn’t get thrashed but I will tell you this: it was a long time before I read a Tarzan book in public again.

But I did keep on reading Tarzan. Because I loved the way Burroughs told a story. Yes, I realized the racist elements in his Tarzan stories. But I also realized that if I cut myself off from his books I would be depriving myself of some truly excellent stories and characters. So I had to make a decision about how I would approach reading material (and movies and other works of art) that were created in a supposedly less enlightened time. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.

So what has all this to do with THE LEGEND OF TARZAN? Because it’s a Tarzan movie that is rightly set in period and it’s kinda hard to do a Tarzan movie without Tarzan being The Great White Savior. It’s just that simple. The very DNA of Tarzan has racial biases and assumptions that have to be dealt with and not simply ignored. But I think that by putting Tarzan in a story where he mainly has to save Jane sidesteps the awkwardness of having him save African warriors who most certainly don’t need a Tarzan to save them. But I also do realize the image of Tarzan as such is still a polarizing one so a lot of people have no use for a Tarzan movie. Believe me, I understand.

In fact, when we meet Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard), he doesn’t even want to be called Tarzan anymore. He’s fully embraced being John Clayton III aka Lord Greystoke and living in London with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). He’s asked by The House of Lords to return to Africa on a diplomatic mission on the invitation of King Leopold of Belgium to inspect the development of The Congo. He’s got no interest until he’s informed by the U.S. envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) that there’s a strong possibility Belgian mercenaries are enslaving the Congolese. Williams persuades John to accept Leopold’s invitation and take Williams along so that Williams can find the evidence needed to stop Leopold. John agrees and of course, Jane goes along as well since unless we have her kidnapped by the bad guy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) we don’t have a plot.

Rom is working with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) leader of a savage tribe guarding the location of the fabulous diamonds of Opar. Mbonga agrees to give Rom diamonds in exchange for Tarzan since Mbonga seeks revenge on Tarzan. So once Rom kidnaps Jane, we’re off and running since the movie’s taken a considerable amount of time setting up the situation and the relationship between the characters so we can get into the jungle action, right?

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Right. There’s a considerable lot of it that comes our way. With the kinda stuff we expect to see in a Tarzan movie: Tarzan swinging through the trees, hanging out with apes. I would have liked to see Tarzan fighting a lion or leopard, though. Or riding an elephant. And it’s unforgivable that not once does he let out with the classic Tarzan yell. Oh, we do hear a version of it, but c’mon. Tarzan’s yell is like Batman’s Batsignal or Superman’s ‘S’ symbol. It’s who he is.

Alexander Skarsgard is solid as Tarzan. He does interesting things with his body language and the way he holds his arms and uses his hands that I’ve never before seen an actor in a Tarzan movie do. And I like the way that as the movie goes on, John Clayton sheds more and more of his Western garb as he reclaims more and more of his savage heritage. In fact, the movie could easily be subtitled; “How Tarzan Gets His Groove Back” since it quickly becomes obvious to John Clayton that maybe he’s allowed himself to become too civilized and he’s got to get back to what he really is in order to save his wife.

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Margot Robbie is a lot of fun to watch as Jane and she and Samuel L. Jackson strike the right note with their characters and realize they’re in a jungle adventure movie so they should be having fun while doing so. Jackson’s character is based on the real-life soldier, lawyer, adventurer and journalist George Washington Williams and is an interesting enough character to deserve his own movie. Especially when you do your homework and find out that Williams actually did expose Belgium’s exploitations and slavery of Congolese natives and resources. It’s grating indeed to see him as the comedy relief when you know the background of the real-life Williams and Jackson’s performance takes a little getting used to as he’s pretty much playing a modern day black man in the 19th century but since he’s Sam Jackson, we forgive him. And in a movie that takes itself so seriously, a laugh here or there is badly needed.

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If there’s a major disappointment here acting wise, it’s Christoph Waltz. This is his second performance as a villain that has bored me. There’s nothing particularly memorable about Rom who doesn’t seem very interested in his own plans and schemes and if the villain can’t get excited about his own villainy then why should I?

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So should you see THE LEGEND OF TARZAN? Only if you’re going to see it purely as an action-adventure movie. Because the movie works it’s money-maker off to be just that. It does it’s best to give us a Tarzan that is true to the spirit of the character Edgar Rice Burroughs created while still being sensitive to modern day audiences. It’s a noble effort for what is just supposed to be a summer action movie. I enjoyed it but I fully realize that most people can’t say: ‘It’s just a movie,” and go with it. It has amazing locations, impressive action sequences, excellent special effects and plenty of Alexander Skarsgard’s truly impressive musculature that the ladies will no doubt enjoy.

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Rated PG-13

110 Minutes