Kong: Skull Island

GONCUks

2017

Legendary Pictures/Tencent Pictures/Warner Bros.

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Produced by Thomas Tull/Jon Jashni/Mary Parent/Alex Garcia

Screenplay by Dan Gilroy/Max Borenstein/Derek Connolly

Story by John Gatins

Based on “King Kong” by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace

I’ll say this for KONG: SKULL ISLAND: It wastes no time in getting down to business. The movie knows good and damn well we’ve come to see King Kong and we do see him in all his towering glory in the first few minutes. But that’s only because we won’t see him again for a while because we’ve got to get the introductions of the human characters and necessary plot exposition out of the way. But that’s okay because thanks to the talented cast and energetic direction, you won’t be bored, trust me.

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Although KONG: SKULL ISLAND is designated as being a sequel to the 2014 “Godzilla” it starts off with newsreel footage that reminded me more of the beginning of the infamous 1998 “Godzilla.” And that’s not the only thing it’ll remind you of as you watch it. Pay attention and you’ll see numerous shout-outs, call-backs and homages to the 1933, 1976 and 2005 versions of “King Kong” because this is a reboot of the character and you need to take it on that basis because there’s no explanation of how Kong survived falling off the Empire State Building or how he got back to Skull Island. To steal from Marvel Comics, consider this to be Ultimate King Kong, combining elements from all the previous versions of Kong to create something new and surprisingly fresh.

It’s 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) work for a secret government organization named Monarch that investigates monstrous creatures that used to roam the Earth and Randa believes they still exist but hide in remote places like Skull Island. He secures a military escort to take him and a scientific expedition to Skull Island to prove his theory. The military escort is a wildass helicopter squadron known as the Sky Devils commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Packard jumps at the chance for the mission to snap him out of his depression about America pulling out of the Vietnam War.

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Also along for the trip is former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and award winning photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larsen) who has suspicions that the so-called scientific expedition is merely a cover for some sort of illegal and unethical secret military operation and she intends to uncover it. She uncovers something but it sure as hell wasn’t she thought it would be.

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Skull Island makes The Land That Time Forgot look like Coney Island. In the words of Seth McFarlane ; “everything that is not you wants to kill you.” Although not as totally and utterly frightening as Peter Jackson’s Skull Island (which gave me bad dreams for two or three nights after I saw his “King Kong”) there’s still enough beasties on this Skull Island to make our desperate band of heroes realize that they have absolutely no business being here. After a devastating battle with Kong that is apocalyptic in it’s savage carnage, our heroes are separated into two groups. They have to make their way to the north end of the island in two days where they hope to be picked up by pre-arranged transport. Of, course, the trick is to stay alive until then.

Did I say apocalyptic? I did. And I did not use that word by accident because much of KONG: SKULL ISLAND is going to remind you of “Apocalypse Now” believe it or not. John C. Reilly shows up as a character that owes much to Dennis Hopper’s crazed photographer from that movie and like Hopper, Reilly’s character lives with a tribe that worships Kong much in the same way that Hopper’s tribe worshipped Colonel Kurtz.

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The cast is first rate with John C. Reilly easily walking off with the movie’s MVP award. I wouldn’t dream of telling you the background of his character as it’s one of the most fun elements of the movie, which has all the excitement, feel, style and downright snap, crackle and pop of classic 1930’s and 1940s adventure movies. Samuel L. Jackson surprised me in this one and for an actor whose career I’ve been following as long as I’ve been following his, that’s not easy to do. Jackson manages to get in some social commentary about the military view of The Vietnam War without being heavy-handed or slowing down the plot the least little bit. John Goodman looks and sounds better here than he has in quite a while and appears to be having a ball. His first line in his very first scene got a big laugh from the audience I saw the movie with as he obviously means for it to have a double meaning as he looks directly at us and does everything except wink to make sure we get the joke.

Corey Hawkins I know from “Straight Outta Compton” and “24: Legacy” and he shows a definite gift for disappearing into different characters as there’s nothing of his other roles in this one. As for Tom Hiddleston…if the guy ever decides to go for being a straight-up action hero I would say that based on this movie, he can pull it off with no problem. If some smart studio ever gets their act together and makes a decent Modesty Blaise movie he’d be a perfect Willie Garvin.

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As for the star of the show himself, Kong is portrayed as what he should be, frighteningly majestic with a air of savage, yet sad nobility. I always like it when Kong is hinted at being more than just an animal and we get that here. Although this Kong doesn’t have a fight here that I would say tops the one in Peter Jackson’s where his Kong took on three T-Rexs, his final showdown with the gruesome Alpha Skullcrawler is deliriously satisfying in it’s sheer destructive spectacle.

I saw KONG: SKULL ISLAND on a day where it was cold and snowing like mad but for 118 minutes inside the theater I felt like it was summertime. Because that’s exactly what KONG: SKULL ISLAND is: a fun, goofy, pulp-inspired summer blockbuster that’s not afraid to be what it is; an adventure ride designed to do nothing but thrill and entertain and it does that the full 100%. Go see and enjoy.

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PG-13

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And P.S…DO NOT LEAVE WHILE THE END CREDITS ARE ROLLING. Just like the Marvel movies there’s a scene after the credits are done that promises more to come.

 

 

Doctor Strange

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2017

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Produced by Kevin Feige

Written by Jon Spaihts/Scott Derrickson/C, Robert Cargill

Based on “Doctor Strange” by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Fourteen movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and for me the question is not if/when Marvel Studios will make a bad movie. It’s if they are even capable of doing so. Oh, know that 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” has its detractors and I can hear Van Allen Plexico over there in the fourth row yelling; “What about Iron Man 3, you nitwit?”  But far as I’m concerned, Marvel Studios have consistently knocked it out of the park which each and every one of their movies.

Why do I love the Marvel movies so much as opposed to the dreadfully depressing and dreary DC Extended Universe movies? First of all, they’re quite simply fun. They’ve got characters that enjoy being superheroes and having fantastic adventures. Unlike the superheroes in DC movies that are morose, miserable and appear to be embarrassed and ashamed to be superheroes. It also helps that Marvel has a definite plan for their Cinematic Universe, a structure that allows for the solo movies to develop character and the individual superheroes to work, live and breathe in their own respective corners of the MCU before coming together in an “Avengers” movie.

And the various MCU superheroes do have their own arenas of interest so that their solo movies are reflective of who they are. So the Iron Man movies are technological thrillers. Captain America movies are political/espionage adventures. Thor movies are high fantasy/sword-and super-science epics. And with DOCTOR STRANGE we get to explore an all new dimension of the MCU in more ways than one: magic.

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world famous neurosurgeon who has the genius and skill to back up his ego. Until he gets involved in a car accident that leaves him with nerve damage so severe that he can’t even hold a scalpel. Even though he could continue to be a healer by working strictly as a consultant that isn’t good enough for him and he spends his fortune on experimental treatments trying to heal his hands. When that fails, his quest leads him to the mystic land of Kamar-Taj and The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who is the current Sorcerer Supreme. Despite Strange being an arrogant ass, The Ancient One is persuaded by her chief disciple and a master sorcerer in his own right, Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to take on Strange as a student.

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With the teaching of The Ancient One and assisted by Mordo and Wong (Benedict Wong) a Master of The Mystic Arts who is also the guardian of Kamar-Taj’s magical relics and books, Strange shows an astonishing aptitude for magic, quickly becoming adept at astral projection and creating magical portals to travel great distances and even between dimensions. He’s going to need these newfound abilities to combat the rogue master sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen)

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Kaecilius has stolen a forbidden spell from The Book of The Vishanti capable of opening up a portal to the Dark Dimension, domain of the dread Dormammu. Within the Dark Dimension, time does not exist and one can live forever. It’s very simple: Kaecilius brings Dormammu to Earth so he can add it to his domain and Kaecilius gets to live forever. It’s up to Stephen Strange, barely in control of his powers to defeat Kaecilius and Dormammu and save the world.

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Okay, that’s like the barest plot synopsis and on the surface it seems as if it’s not that much different from your typical origin story but such is not the case. Since we’re dealing with magic here there’s an entirely different vibe at work here. I liked how martial arts were integrated into the use of offensive and defensive magical shields and weapons so that there’s truly a distinctive look to the fight scenes.

And even the look of the magical energies depicted in DOCTOR STRANGE is refreshingly different. I was afraid we’d get scene after scene of two sorcerers standing ten feet from each other, throwing bolts of energy while grimacing as if trying to pass a kidney stone. Thank Odin, no. Magic here is used to change and warp reality, to disorient your opponent and use the very landscape to attack him. When I say that the fight scenes in DOCTOR STRANGE are trippy, I shit you not. By now you’ve probably heard that they’re a lot like scenes from “Inception.” True. If you’re watching “Inception” while on acid. There’s a fight scene between Strange, Mordo and Kaecilius in New York that’s like M.C. Escher on industrial strength crack. And there’s one deliriously deranged scene where The Ancient One shows Strange the nature of the multiverse that comes awfully close to reproducing some the bizarre imaginings of classic Doctor Strange artist Steve Ditko on screen.

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Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton and Benedict Wong didn’t have to be as good as they are in their roles. But I certainly appreciate that they are. They walk that fine line with giving performances that have respect, seriousness and gravitas but at the same time you can see they’re having fun as well. Especially Mr. Cumberbatch. While watching him work I was reminded of that Joss Whedon quote: “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” Cumberbatch and Swinton give Stephen Strange and The Ancient One their dark moments and Mordo really gets his soul chewed up in the third act and even Wong has his trials and tribulations but thank Umar we don’t have to suffer through two hours of depressing characters torturing us with their manufactured angst. The actors know their characters can’t have dark without light and play them accordingly.

That doesn’t mean I loved every part of DOCTOR STRANGE. Rachel McAdams has a slight role that seems little more than a set-up for a bigger role in later movies or even the Netflix Marvel series (go Google “Night Nurse” and you’ll see what I mean) Stephen Strange finds Kamar-Taj way too easily. And while I can go with Strange having an aptitude for magic (after all, he does eventually inherit the title of Sorcerer Supreme) it’s really a stretch that he’s able to hold his own with guys who have been studying the mystic arts far longer than he has.

Still, I’m a forgiving sort when a movie is entertaining me and providing as much fun and enjoyment as DOCTOR STRANGE does. It’s a fine addition to the MCU and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing him return.

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115 minutes

Rated PG-13

 

 

Enter The Ninja

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1981

Cannon Films/MGM/UA

Directed by Menahem Golan

Produced by Yoram Globus & Menahem Golan

Written by Dick Desmond/Story by Mike Stone

I can hear some wise ass in the back saying; “If this is the first movie in the Ninja Trilogy then why are you reviewing it last, Ferguson?” Because even though this is indeed the first of Cannon’s so called “Ninja Trilogy” which includes “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination” it really doesn’t matter in which order you watch them. The only thing they have in common is that they’re about ninjas and Sho Kosugi is in all of them. But he plays very different characters in all three and “Revenge of The Ninja” is the only one where he has a starring role. He’s pretty much regulated to supporting roles in the other two. Such as here in ENTER THE NINJA where we see him at the beginning of the movie just long enough to establish that he doesn’t like Our Hero. He then disappears until near the end when the movie’s real Big Bad hires him to kill the hero.

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We meet Cole (Franco Nero) in Japan when he has completed his training to become a ninja. We also meet Hasegawa (Sho Kosugi) who has also studied ninjutsu alongside Cole but bitterly resents Cole being given full ninja status. It’s never really clarified as to why Hasegawa doesn’t like Cole. We get some gobbledygook from Cole’s teacher that Hasegawa is just cranky because he wasn’t born during the golden age of the samurai but since we only see Hasegawa for the first five minutes of the movie I guess the writer didn’t want to waste the time on the characterization.

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Cole goes to visit his old war buddy Frank Landers (Alex Courtney) who owns a large farm in The Philippines. Along with his wife Mary-Ann (Susan George) and the native workers, Frank is struggling to keep his land. The enormously wealthy Charles Venarius (Christopher George…no relation to Susan) wants to buy it for reasons unbeknownst to them. Once Cole starts thwarting the army of hired goons Venarius hires to run the Landers off he does some snooping. He discovers that there a vast oil deposit under Frank’s land. Cole attempts to help the Landers keep their land is complicated by his increasing affection for Mary-Ann. An affection that is reciprocated due to Mary-Ann’s dissatisfaction with Frank’s heavy drinking and Cole discovering that his old war chum is no longer the man he once fought alongside. And if that wasn’t enough, Venarius hires Hasegawa to kill Cole and the Landers. We’re not talking a deep, heavy movie with a lot of plot here but it’s enough to get things moving and keep it moving.

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In fact, once the whole thing about the Landers having oil on their land was introduced, it hit me what ENTER THE NINJA was. It’s a modern day Western set in The Philippines instead of The Wild West. Sure it is. If the writer had included the Landers having a kid who worships Cole, the movie would have practically been a remake of “Shane.” Instead of six shooters and Winchesters we’ve got martial arts and ninja swords. There’s even a Walter Brennan type of cantankerous old geezer who throws in with the Landers and Cole and helps them out.

Franco Nero wasn’t the original choice to play Cole. He knew nothing about martial arts and his Italian accept was too pronounced for him to convincingly play an American. His voice was dubbed and Mike Stone, a martial artist and stuntman who wrote the initial story and screenplay as a starring vehicle for himself, performed his stunts and fight scenes. Due to his lack of experience, he didn’t get to play Cole. I’m sure that Franco Nero’s previous film success had a lot to do with that as well. It probably was a lot easier to sell a movie called ENTER THE NINJA with Franco Nero as the star than Mike Stone (You can just hear the distributors asking “Mike Who?”)

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That’s not to say that Nero doesn’t acquit himself well. He’s an extraordinarily likeable actor who knows what he’s doing in front of the camera. While he and Sho Kosugi never have enough screen time to come across as legitimate enemies, his scenes with Susan George and Alex Courtney have enough weight that we buy into it. I really like how the screenplays allows for time for Cole to show how he’s truly upset and saddened at the state his friend is in emotionally and psychologically. But he’s got no other way to help him other than by going out and beating the piss outta the goons trying to steal his land.

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Susan George makes for some nice eye candy and I liked how her character isn’t afraid to grab a shotgun and start blasting away at whoever comes to threaten her man or her land. While I prefer Christopher George as a good guy (remember him from “The Rat Patrol”?) he’s obviously having a great time playing a villain for a change. He swings for the fences to make Venarius a minor league Bond-style villain and I think he pulls it off very well, giving Venarius enough eccentricities and ambiguous sexuality that I wanted to know more about this guy. I like how he and all of his henchmen wear white suits all of the time. Half the budget for this flick must have been spent on white suits, in fact. That’s how many of them there are.

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I only wish the fight/action scenes had some more…well, action to them. Oh, they’re satisfying, don’t get me wrong. But after watching the outrageous fight scenes in “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination” the fights here come off as slower and more pedestrian. It doesn’t help that you can tell when it’s Nero and not Stone in the fight scenes as Nero fights like a barroom brawler and not a martial artist.

Still, it makes for an entertaining time waster. My suggestion is that you sandwich ENTER THE NINJA in between “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination” ENTER THE NINJA doesn’t have the over-the-top fight scenes or downright goofiness of those other two but I recommend it for the acting, the modern day Western plot and the characterizations.

109 Minutes

Rated R

 

 

Suicide Squad

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2017

DC Entertainment/Warner Bros./RatPac-Dune Entertainment/Atlas Entertainment

Written and Directed by David Ayer

Produced by Charles Roven/Richard Suckle

Based on characters from DC Comics

Ask me what my favorite comic book of the 1980s was and there’s a better than 90% chance I’ll say “Suicide Squad.” As envisioned by writer John Ostrander, the best and simplest way to describe the concept of the team is “The Dirty Dozen with superpowers.” Created by the ruthless, brilliant and intimidating Amanda Waller, a high ranking government official, Task Force X a.k.a The Suicide Squad members are imprisoned supervillains given a choice. Work for the government by going on missions so dangerous that it’s almost a certainty they’ll be killed. Survive the mission and they get their sentences reduced or even commuted and they walk away free.

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As you can guess by the name of the team, a lot of team members did indeed get killed. The comic book was memorable for it’s characterization and that nobody in the book was safe. You never know who would get killed on a mission. And even if they didn’t get killed on a mission, there was an excellent chance that Amanda Waller herself would kill them if they got the slightest bit out of line or just throw them back into jail to rot.

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That’s the basic set up of the movie version of SUICIDE SQUAD as well. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) meets with The Joint Chiefs of Staff at The Pentagon to get approval for Task Force X. She presents them with her team: the world’s deadliest hit man, Deadshot (Will Smith) pyrokenetic gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez). Half-man/half-reptile Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) ancient sorceress The Enchantress who lives in and occasionally possesses the body of archeologist Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne). Master climber Slipknot (Adam Beach) Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) a thief who uses technologically customized boomerangs in his work and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) who used to be the respected psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel who mistakenly believed she could cure The Joker (Jared Leto) and instead became infected with his madness. She fell in love with him and helped him to escape. Big mistake.

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Once she gets her approval, Waller implants Nano bombs in their necks which can blow their heads off at the push of a button and gives the button to Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) the Army’s most decorated Special Forces officer. He’ll lead the team in the field and his friend/bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara) an expert martial artist and swordswoman will watch his back.

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Although the team’s reason for existing is to take on enemies to American national security, their first mission is to take down one of their own: The Enchantress. She’s taken control of her host body and released the spirit of her brother, The Incubus (Alain Chanoine). Her intention? To build a machine capable of destroying humanity. Why would a magic user, supposedly ages old and possessing near infinite power would want to build a machine? It’s best if you don’t ask. There’s a lot in this movie that will go down a lot smoother if you don’t stop to ask pesky questions like that. But when you think about it, it really doesn’t say much for Amanda’s project if the first mission her team has to go on is to kill their most powerful member, right? Oops, that’s another question. Sorry. I’ll stop bringing logic into this review.

And it’s a good thing that we’re going to stop talking logically because now we have The Joker who really has no logical reason for being in this movie. Oh, he runs around in the background trying to find out where Harley is being kept after Batman (Ben Affleck) captured her and then hijacking a military helicopter to rush to Midway City to rescue her but in truth, what he’s doing here is no more than a glorified cameo. Leto’s pimped-out Joker is not funny, not scary, not intelligent and at best is sleazy. I’m not a fan of Heath Ledger’s Joker but compared to what we have here, it’s Laurence Olivier on his best day. Jai Courtney brings nothing to the role of Captain Boomerang and it’s a continuing source of mystery to me how he continues to get work in such high profile movies. And Adam Beach is way too good an actor to be thrown away in a nothing role like Slipknot. I just hope he got paid really well for it.

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Now before you start to think I didn’t like SUICIDE SQUAD, here are the things I did like: the more I see of Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne, the more I want to see him. The chemistry between the team members is quite good, especially between Deadshot and Harley Quinn. But she gets along with everybody when the voices in her head aren’t telling her to kill everybody. Margot Robbie is flat out terrific as Harley and steals the movie every chance she gets. It helps that she gets most of the funny lines and knows how to deliver them so that we never forget that Harley is batshit insane even while we’re laughing with her. I totally loved Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. This is without a doubt the Amanda Waller straight outta the comic book. You want a clue as to how much I love Amanda Waller? This is how much: she’s a permanent guest on my desk where her intimidating stare reminds me everyday that I better write or else:

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Much has been made of the soundtrack but they’re made up of songs that we’ve heard way too much in movies the past twenty years. I get the impression somebody was going for a “Guardians of The Galaxy” vibe with the music and with the humor. Which for me worked. The problem with “Man of Steel” and “Batman V Superman” was the unrelenting grimness, the doom and gloom pervading both movies from start to finish. Here, the characters are allowed to smile and crack a joke once in awhile.

So should you see SUICIDE SQUAD? Chances are you already have if you’re a DC fan. And that’s a problem with the movie. This is one that’s definitely made for the fans. There’s a lot of characters that are introduced very quickly and with the barest of descriptions. Except for Deadshot and Harley. We get to know quite a bit about them, actually and the scenes with Deadshot and his daughter provide some welcome sweetness before we get into the mayhem and madness.

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I liked David Ayer’s movies a lot and he didn’t disappoint me with SUICIDE SQUAD. It’s the first DC movie they’ve produced that I can honestly say I enjoyed from start to finish. The one thing I insist on in my movie adaptations of my favorite comic books is that the spirit of the comic book be there. And it certainly is in SUICIDE SQUAD. If you read the comic book and loved the series as much as I did, you’ll enjoy the movie. If you’ve never read the comic, you may want to spend some time with Google to get the full background on the characters before going to see the movie. Enjoy.

123 Minutes

Rated PG-13

 

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

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