Star Trek Beyond



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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

Star Trek Into Darkness



Paramount Pictures

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Produced by Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci

Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof

Based on “STAR TREK” created by Gene Roddenberry

It was in the theaters 30 years ago and there have been ten Star Trek movies that came after it but none of them have matched the popularity and success of “The Wrath of Khan.” Ask any Star Trek fan what his favorite Star Trek movie is and 9 out of 10 times you’ll probably get “The Wrath of Khan” as an answer. Which kinda explains why Paramount Pictures has been trying their best to remake that particular Star Trek movie. They tried with “Nemesis” which I consider to be the worst Star Trek movie of all. Yes, even worse than “The Final Frontier” which is at least goofy nonsense that plays like the first cousin of “Spock’s Brain” on steroids. And the last Star Trek TV series to date; “Enterprise” tried to pull a “Wrath of Khan” in a three-part episode that guest-starred Brent Spiner as a Khan Lite bad guy.

Almost from the time when 2009’s “Star Trek” reboot hit theaters, fans have been asking if the new Star Trek team was going to remake “The Wrath of Khan.”  J.J. Abrams, the director of that movie and the sequel, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS continually insisted that they were not going to remake “The Wrath of Khan.” And you know what? He’s right. Oh, there are characters in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS named Khan and Carol Marcus but they bear only a superficial resemblance to the characters in that earlier film. And yes, that scene is recreated and somebody gets to scream “Khaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnn!” but for me, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS isn’t a remake of “Wrath of Khan” at all. That doesn’t mean I’m as giddy about this movie as I was with the first one but my reasons for that have nothing to do with the nods to “The Wrath of Khan”


A secret Section 31 installation in London is bombed and the bomber is a rogue Starfleet Intelligence agent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) Turns out that the bombing was a ruse to get as many starship captains and first officers to attend an emergency meeting at Starfleet HQ so that Harrison can attack them with a gunship and eliminate as many as he can. Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) the mentor and surrogate father of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is killed in the attack.

Kirk gets permission from Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to pursue Harrison to his hideout on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos. Armed with 72 prototype photon torpedoes, Kirk gets the band back together; Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) Dr.‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) Chief Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg) Lt. Sulu (John Cho) and Ensign Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and takes the starship Enterprise into forbidden Klingon territory to bring Harrison back to Earth to pay for his crimes. The mission is quickly complicated by the revelation that Harrison is actually Khan, a genetically enhanced superhuman who has been in frozen cryosleep for 300 years. The photon torpedoes actually contain cryogenic pods holding more genetic supermen. Turns out that Marcus had been holding them hostage to get Khan to develop advanced weaponry for him. Beats me why Admiral Marcus is so hell-bent on starting a war with The Klingon Empire. Or how he thinks that a 300 year old man could help develop advanced weapons but STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS isn’t the kind of movie that slows down enough to let you engage your brain long enough to ask pesky questions like that.

Marcus has constructed a sort of super-Enterprise, the USS Vengeance and he goes after the Enterprise himself, determined to eliminate Khan once and for all. And if that means destroying Kirk, his loyal crew and the Enterprise as well, so be it. Strangely enough for a movie that aims to be as loud and

star-trek-into-darkness-cro as punchy punchy run run as it possibly can, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS contains plenty of good, solid performances and some really nice scenes between the principal characters. I got a big chuckle out of a moment on the bridge when Sulu is in command and has to run a really big bluff.  Karl Urban and Simon Pegg I enjoyed the most as they do an amazing job of evoking the essence of DeForest Kelley and James Doohan without imitating them. I’m half convinced that Urban must somehow have been related to Kelley.


Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison/Khan makes for a formidable bad guy and maybe I’m a little off in my thinking here but for me, Cumberbatch was much more interesting as John Harrison. Once the big reveal that he’s Khan is made, I was actually disappointed. I wanted to know more about Harrison and his deal and when he proclaims that he’s Khan my first thought was; “That’s the best they could come up with?” But it’s just such a pleasure to listen to Cumberbatch and see what fun he’s having double and triple-crossing everybody in sight.


Peter Weller follows admirably in the tradition of previous Starfleet Admirals who have gone batshit crazy (seriously, doesn’t Starfleet do annual psych evaluations on these guys?) with gusto and it’s always a pleasure to see him on screen. As Dr. Carol Marcus, Alice Eve appears to be on the ship for two reasons and one of them is her already infamous scene where she strips down to her underwear for no apparent reason at all. It didn’t bother me at all but what does bother me is that guys are complaining about it. Really? Since when do guys complain about gratuitous scenes of hot chicks in their underwear in a movie?


So should you see STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS? It’s a solid action-adventure space opera, full of explosions, chases, fist fights and yelling; “Fire all phasers!” If you’re a long-time Star Trek fan like myself I think that in order to watch it you have to come to terms that this is a Star Trek that is made for the movie audience of today. It’s the overblown spectacle, shouty rapid-fire dialog and CGI extravaganza audiences demand in their science fiction summer blockbusters. Star Trek TV shows are the way to go for allegorical explorations of contemporary culture and to delve into character.

No, it’s not the Star Trek I grew up with but it’s heart is in the right place and that goes a long way with me. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is an acceptable sequel but now that the five-year mission is underway I’m going to be looking for more from the next one than just a Warp Nine thrill ride.


132 minutes

Star Trek



Paramount Pictures

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Produced by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof

Written Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman

Based on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek ever since I can remember. It was a nightly ritual for me that I couldn’t go to bed until I had watched Star Trek on WPIX here in New York where they reran it for years at 11:00PM. And I’ve seen all the movies in the theaters the day they opened. I’ve watched every episode of every Star Trek TV series. Even “Voyager” and “Enterprise” I estimate I’ve read somewhere between fifty and seventy Star Trek books.

I relate all this not to impress upon you how much of a Star Trek geek I am but to let you know that I consider myself pretty well versed in things Trek. So when I tell you that the new STAR TREK movie is 80% on point you’ll have some faith that I know what I’m talking about.

The selling points of the movie are twofold: One: it’s directed by J.J. Abrams who has mostly had success in TV with shows such as “Felicity””Alias””Lost” and “Fringe”. But his motion picture track record hasn’t been too bad either what with his work on “Mission Impossible III” and “Cloverfield” Two: STAR TREK is Paramount’s attempt to reboot/relaunch its primary moneymaking franchise with an all new, younger cast playing the beloved characters of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov as well as giving the Star Trek universe an updated look and feel.

For a long time I’ve felt that Star Trek needed new blood. “Voyager” and “Enterprise” suffered from creative burnout as the producers of those shows had been with the franchise since “The Next Generation” and it showed. Star Trek badly needed someone new to come aboard and bring freshness to the material.

Thankfully, J.J. Abrams and company have done exactly that. STAR TREK isn’t a perfect movie and there are a couple of things that made me groan but there were also plenty of things that made me grin as well.
star-trek-6The movie tells us the story that The Original Series never did: how did the crew of the starship USS Enterprise first meet each other? Well, first of all, through some imaginative time travel futzing involving Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and his pursuit/being pursued by a revenge crazed Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) we’re informed fairly early on that this is an alternate reality/timeline where things aren’t exactly the same as us old heads remember. Most notable is that without the guiding influence of his father, this James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) is a rebellious, risk-taking malcontent. But Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) the current captain of the Enterprise sees something in the young man and challenges him to join Starfleet. Kirk accepts the challenge and signs up, meeting Nyota Uhura (Zoë Saldana) and Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban)

Three years later, the planet Vulcan is attacked by Nero and his ginormous mining ship. Starfleet heads out to stop him but the ships they send are all destroyed. Except the Enterprise, of course, which is left in the command of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) a Human/Vulcan hybrid of frightening brilliance and severely disciplined logic who immediately clashes with the hot-headed Cadet Kirk as to the best way to deal with Nero. It soon becomes apparent that the two men have to learn to put aside their differences and work together because Nero also has plans to destroy Earth. All while meeting Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) who along with Uhura and McCoy will become their lifelong companions in adventure and exploration.

Star Trek (2008) Directed by: J.J. Abrams

The plot in STAR TREK really isn’t all that important or even interesting, to be honest. This is either the third or fourth STAR TREK movie that has had some huge cosmic whatchamacallit heading toward Earth to destroy it and the Enterprise is the only ship able to stop it. Makes you wonder why The Federation even bothers maintaining a Starfleet when it’s the Enterprise that’s always the only ship available all the time.

No, the real reason this STAR TREK exists is to introduce us to the new cast, the new Enterprise and set up this alternate universe/timeline so that we can go on to other movies that will hopefully have more engaging stories. The special effects are appropriately dazzling and at times even inspired. I’d have liked to have seen more of the interior of the new Enterprise but what we do see is glitzy to the max.

The acting is better than I thought it would be. The new cast wisely doesn’t try to imitate the mannerisms or speech patterns of the original cast. With the exception of Anton Yelchin who deliberately does the Classic Chekov accent. Instead, they channel the essence of what makes those characters work and they pull it off quite well. Especially Karl Urban as Bones McCoy and Zachary Quinto as Spock. Karl Urban has the added fun of throwing off a few of McCoy’s famous lines and he does them excellently. Zoë Saldana doesn’t have as much to do as her co-stars (and dammit, would it have killed them to have her say “hailing frequencies open, Captain” at least once?) A lot of Classic Star Trek fans were upset and confused by the romantic relationship between Spock and Uhura but it didn’t throw me at all. It certainly makes more sense than the revelation in “The Undiscovered Country” that Scotty and Uhura had been having a secret romance for years. Even in The Original Series there were hints that Spock and Uhura were closer than anybody else knew about. There were several episodes where it was shown that in their off hours Spock and Uhura liked singing together, often entertaining other members of the crew.

Eric Bana is one of my favorite actors and he disappointed me as Nero. In fact, Nero’s a pretty poor villain. There’s a reason we remember Ricardo Montalban as Khan and Christopher Plummer as Chang: they were magnificently realized villains of Shakespearian stature. Nobody’s going to remember Nero. Neither are they going to remember Ben Cross as Sarek, Spock’s father. Cross is so bland and dull it’s downright sad.


The movie is chock full of Easter eggs and winks to the original series and films. I got a big chuckle out of the nod to “The Wrath of Khan” during the scene where Kirk is taking the Kobayashi Maru test. And there’s even a tribble thrown in. Can’t ever have too many tribbles.

That’s not to say I loved everything about the movie. There are way too many scenes where Kirk is hanging off a cliff or on a ledge and if you took coincidence out of this movie then you just wouldn’t have a movie. Too many characters just happen to be in the right place at the right time and there’s a coincidence involving Kirk and Spock Prime (as Leonard Nimoy is billed) that made me want to throw something at the screen. And I never got the sense that anybody was in any real danger. Even though Spock’s mother (Winona Ryder) is killed in the destruction of Vulcan I really didn’t feel any sense of loss since I never got to know this version of the character at all.

And speaking of Nimoy, he meshes so well with Pine, Quinto and Pegg in the scenes he has with them I wished he had had scenes with the other members of the cast. It’s a nice lump in the throat moment when young Kirk and the aged Spock meet and there’s a wonderful nod to “The Voyage Home” involving Spock and Scotty.


So should you see STAR TREK? If you’re a fan then you’ve no doubt seen it already and have probably seen it a second or even a third time. But this is a movie that accessible to non-fans who just may want to check it out to see what all the fuss is about or who just want a slam-bang space opera. I know, I know…there’s been a lot of debate and argument that this new incarnation of STAR TREK is way too much punchy punchy run run and not enough of the philosophical core at the heart of STAR TREK. And I can see that. But that was tried once in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and even though I enjoyed it a lot there were Trek fans who didn’t, claiming it was too slow moving. Let’s face it, the STAR TREK movies that have garnered the most box office and the favor of fans and critics have been the more action oriented ones.

Hopefully with the next movie we’ll get more into the exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations that is really the meat of what STAR TREK is about. But as a launching point for a new series of STAR TREK movies, this is terrific stuff.

127 minutes

Rated PG-13




Entertainment Film Distributors/Lionsgate

Directed by Pete Travis

Produced by Alex Garland and Andrew MacDonald

Written by Alex Garland

Based on the character “Judge Dredd” created by John Wagner and Carols Ezquerra

I miss the huge eagle shoulder emblem and that honkin’ huge chain. Really. I can understand why that shoulder emblem is impractical for police work but I still miss it. It’s the only thing I miss from 1995’s “Judge Dredd.” Well, I miss Diane Lane. And as good as he is (and he is very good) Karl Urban can’t say “I am the law!” like Sylvester Stallone (or Kelen Conley) But outside of that, fifteen minutes into DREDD I couldn’t remember anything else about that earlier movie. That’s how good a job DREDD does of giving us a version of the classic British comic book character that is far closer in spirit to the Judge Dredd we know and love.

Mega-City One is an impossibly huge city covering the East Coast of what used to be the United States with over 800 million citizens living in it. The number of violent crimes is staggering. In order to combat the crime wave, Mega-City One is policed by The Judges who fulfill the functions of both police officers and judges. Having caught a criminal, Judges are authorized to try and sentence criminals right on the spot. Cuts down on the paperwork.

It’s new Judge recruit Cassandra Anderson’s (Olivia Thirlby) first day on the job. Even though she failed several of her aptitude tests to become a Judge, she’s given a chance to prove herself due to her being an extremely powerful psychic. If she can pass her Assessment, she’ll get her badge. That’s the good news. The bad news is that she’s partnered with Judge Dredd, the toughest and most feared Judge in Mega-City One and it’s him who will have the final say if she becomes a Judge or not.

And then comes the worst news. While investigating three murders in Peach Trees, a 200 story slum tower, Dredd and Anderson arrest Kay (Wood Harris) one of the lieutenants of The Ma-Ma Clan. Run by former prostitute and now drug kingpin, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) takes control of the tower’s control room and seals off the building from the outside, trapping Dredd and Anderson inside. Ma-Ma can’t afford to let Dredd and Anderson escape as since during their investigation they found out that Peach Tree is the center of production and distribution for Slo-Mo, a highly addictive drug that slows down the user’s perception of time. On their own and cut off from back-up, Dredd and Anderson fight their way up, floor by floor to get to Ma-Ma.


DREDD is just about a perfect B-Movie. If this had been made back during the heyday of grindhouses in the 70’s and 80’s it would have run on 42end Street for a solid year. It’s gloriously violent and wallows in the violence because it’s a movie that knows full well what it is: it’s a grindhouse/exploitation B-Action Movie  and it has no desire or aspirations to be anything but the best grindhouse/exploitation B-Action Movie it can be.

But there are plenty of touches here that elevate it to the top rung of B-Movies. First off, it’s a lot smarter than it has to be. It doesn’t have the satirical edge the comic strip does but it makes up for it with sharp characterization and plausible motivation. None of the characters are dumbed down so that they’ll play by the numbers. These are smart, dangerous people on both sides and they behave like it. The production is also highly unique looking. Mega-City One and Peach Tree has a look both realistic and functionally futuristic at the same time. It’s a good movie to look at just for the production design.


The movie doesn’t flinch away when it comes to the violence. Especially during gunfights which are shown from the point of view of those who have inhaled the Slo-Mo drug. Everything is then shown in slow motion. The idea is to capture the hallucinogenic feel of the drug user and the movie pulls it off in a way that I’ve really never seen before. People are getting taken out with head shots or having their guts blown into hamburger and the way it’s filmed is actually beautiful in a way.

The acting is wonderful with Karl Urban leading the way. He’s become one of my favorite actors in recent years and he gets another gold star from me for his commitment to the role. Just like the comic book character, Karl Urban’s Dredd never removes his helmet and we never see his face. Urban does all his work with his chin and his voice. He talks in a terrific pseudo-Clint Eastwood voice that isn’t exactly an imitation or impersonation but is just short of that. Urban manages to get in quite a bit of humor in a character that is essentially humorless. It cracked me up how no matter what Ma-Ma throws at them or how dire the situation got, Dredd never forgets that he’s supposed to be training Anderson and from time to time will ask her questions as if they’re in a classroom and not standing knee deep in dead bodies.


Since by his very nature we can’t get into Dredd’s head as he has no friends, no family and lives only to uphold the law we have to turn to Anderson for the movie’s emotional center and Olivia Thrilby does a better than average job of that. Anderson doesn’t wear a helmet because it would interfere with her psychic abilities so we get to see her face and the emotions at play in her as she tries her best to survive this hellish day. I really liked the adversarial relationship that develops between her and Kay as they play mind games with each other, trying to get the upper hand. Since Anderson is a psychic and can tell what others are thinking and feeling, she has to reconcile that gift with the duties a Judge must perform. Thrilby does a great job at portraying and balancing that conflict

And as one of the best bad guys I’ve seen in recent movies, Lena Headey doesn’t just take the cake. She steals the entire damn bakery. Ma-Ma is smarter, tougher and more sadistic than any man that works for her and Headey dives into the role with manic glee. Out of everybody in the wonderful cast she looks like she’s having the most fun.


So should you see DREDD? If you haven’t yet then you absolutely should set aside time for DREDD. It’s a perfect Saturday afternoon movie, with impeccable casting and told in a direct, straightforward, pedal-to-the-metal manner. I had a great time watching it and I think you will as well. Just one little warning: the language in this movie is not for those of you with soft ears or gentle sensibilities and the violence is not for kids or those of you who don’t like violent movies. It grinds my grits when people watch R rated movies and spend the whole time complaining about the language, sex and/or violence. The movie rating is there for a reason and DREDD more than earns it’s R rating so don’t say you weren’t told.

Rated R

95 minutes

And Soon The Darkness (2010)


Studio Canal/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Directed by Marcos Efron

Produced by Chris Clark, Lizzie Friedman, Karen Lauder and Deborah Marcus

Screenplay by Jennifer Derwingson and Marcos Efron

Based on the 1970 motion picture “And Soon The Darkness”

In the first thirty seconds of the 2010 remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS we see a bound, near naked woman doused with water and then whipped with a live electrical wire until she collapses into unconsciousness.  That told me right there that the writers and the director of this remake were going to throw out everything that the writers and director of the original had done to make their movie unusual, unique and suspenseful.

This version of AND SOON THE DARKNESS follows the basic plot of the original, transferring the setting from rural France to rural Argentina and making the girls American instead of English..  Stephanie (Amber Heard) and Elle (Odette Yustman) are part of a bike tour of that country.  They decide to split off from the group and go their own way for a bit, intending to catch a bus the next day and rejoin the group. They stay the night at a hotel where Elle persuades Stephanie to come with her to hang out at the local bar.  Stephanie’s promiscuous behavior gets her the wrong kind of attention and she’s rescued by Michael (Karl Urban) another American staying at the hotel.

The next day, while biking, Elle wants to stop by a riverbank and sunbathe.  Stephanie reluctantly agrees.  After a couple of hours, she’s ready to go but Elle still wants to hang out there.  This leads to an argument and Stephanie angrily rides off, leaving Elle alone. After she cools off a bit, she returns to the riverbank to find Elle gone, only her cell phone still on the ground where she had been sunbathing.

Now, unlike the original where we never learn the fate of the kidnapped girl until the last ten minutes of the movie, the remake has no problem letting us know that Elle has been kidnapped by the guy she was foolin’ around with in the bar last night.  He’s the muscle of a gang who snatches girls and sells them across the river to a white slavery ring in Paraguay.

Stephanie frantically tries to get help from the local police chief, Calvo (Cesar Vianco) who poo-poohs away Stephanie’s urgent pleas for him to form a search party.  “A search party?” Calvo says with a chuckle.  “Where do you think you are? America?”

Stephanie finally gets help from (surprise, surprise, surprise) Michael who has been in Argentina for six months looking for his girlfriend who also disappeared. Together they decide to track down Elle themselves and maybe find Michael’s girlfriend as well.

Like I said earlier, everything that made the first movie unique has been ruthlessly stripped away to leave only a standard middle of the road thriller than doesn’t thrill at all. The way this movie unfolds and the way the story is told in such a blatant fashion I can easily imagine a group of suburban white families pooling their money together to finance this movie for the sole purpose of showing it to their daughters: “See? See? This is what happens when you go to foreign countries, get drunk and fool around with boys who don’t speak English!”

That nasty subtext is very strong in the movie and I also didn’t like how the script goes out of its way to depict Elle’s carefree indulgence in drinking and promiscuity as justification for what happens to her.  And unlike the original, many of the locals speak English.  Part of what added to the feeling of paranoia and isolation in the original was that none of the locals spoke any English.

Karl Urban does his best with what he’s given and like the professional he is, he comes out of this movie with the acting honors.  Karl Urban is on my list of actors who even if they’re trapped in a really shitty movie more than pulls his weight and delivers a good performance and he does so here.  And I’m glad that I saw Amber Heard in “Drive Angry” before seeing this movie as I might well have passed up watching that highly superior movie if I had watched AND SOON THE DARKNESS first.  If you want to see Amber Heard in a really good movie, go watch “Drive Angry” and leave the remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS alone.  It’s a totally unnecessary remake that does not entertain one little bit. Go watch the 1970 original if you want to see a really good thriller.

Rated R

91 minutes





Screen Gems

Directed by Scott Stewart

Produced by Michael DeLuca

Written by Cory Goodman

Based on the comic book series created by Min-Woo Hyung

I have no idea why a movie like PRIEST didn’t click with audiences.  It almost got by me as I tried to watch it twice and both times fell asleep maybe about twenty minutes in.  It could be because I tried watching it late at night after a long and activity filled day.  But I was advised to give the movie another chance.  So I did and I’m happy to say I’m glad I did.  There’s something utterly freewheeling about the way PRIEST takes three genres: The Western, Horror, Science Fiction and gleefully mashes them up into one big gloopy ball and throws it at you.

Thanks to a marvelously gory animated opening sequence we’re educated into the history of the Great War between humans and vampires.  And make no mistake, these aren’t your emo vampires who look for love and wistfully meander through eternal life longing to be human.  Hell, no.  These are frightening monsters that will rip your mollyfoggin’ head off and joyfully bathe in the fountain of blood spurting out of the stump.  In this movie, vampires are truly a separate species, creatures without eyes that enthrall humans to act as their familiars.

In this alternate universe, apparently the Catholic Church has taken over control of much of the world and has created a special order known as The Priests.  Basically they’re Jedi Knights without lightsabers.  Although they do have some pretty cool weapons such as throwing stars shaped like crosses.  Thanks to The Priests, the vampires are defeated and placed on reservations while humanity retreats to the safety of high walled cities where The Church rules with totalitarian control.  All those who do not wish to live under The Church are free to make a living the best way they can in the wastelands between cities.

And The Priests?  Not having any more use for them, The Church disbands them.  Much like Vietnam veterans when they came home from that war, Priests are shunned and avoided.

All this changes for one Priest (Paul Bettany) when he is approached by Hicks (Cam Gigandet) the sheriff of the town where Priest’s brother (Stephen Moyer) lives with his wife (Madchen Amick) and his daughter Lucy (Lily Collins).  Vampires attacked the town and took Lucy.  Hicks, who is in love with Lucy wants Priest to help get her back.  Against the explicit order of Monsignor Orelas (Christopher Plummer) Priest leaves the city to go find his niece.  He finds a lot more once he discovers that his best friend and former fellow priest (Karl Urban) has been transformed into a human/vampire hybrid and has organized the vampires into an army.  Using a train to transport the vampire army by daylight, the plan is to raid the walled cities one by one and renew the war between humans and vampires.

Now, that’s not much, but considering the movie is a quick 87 minutes, how much do you really need?  The movie makes no secret that it lifts its plot from the classic John Ford western “The Searchers”.  Especially when Priest explains to Hicks his intention to kill his niece if she has been assimilated by the vampires in a scene that could have been swiped word for word and shot for shot from that movie.  But there’s also a lot of other stuff taken from other movies and you can have a field day just looking for those.  There’s some of the “Mad Max” movies thrown in here as well as some Kung Fu once Maggie Q joins the quest as a Priestess whose original mission was to find the rogue Priest and bring him back home.

The scenes set inside Cathedral City reminded me a lot of “Blade Runner” in the level of detail and sheer griminess.  This is one of those movies where everybody wears black, looks like they haven’t bathed in days and nobody has any fun whatsoever.  It’s a pleasure when Priest gets on his badass motorcycle that is little more than a jet engine with handlebars and tires and goes tearing out into the wasteland. At least then we get some sun.

Karl Urban walks away with the acting honors in this one.  He relishes playing a bad guy and in his broad brimmed black hat and flapping black duster, he could have walked right out of a Sergio Leone western.  Brad Dourif shows up as a hustler selling vampire bite oil.

So should you see PRIEST?  Yeah.  It’s by no means a must see or classic but it does have a solid story working for it and these days, any action movie that doesn’t use shaky-cam is alright by me.  Scott Stewart knows how to direct exciting action/fight scenes and he knows how to keep the story moving.  This movie is a major step up from his previous disappointment “Legion”.  And as I said earlier, PRIEST is a lean 87 minutes so there’s absolutely no fat or padding on it.  No, there’s not much characterization or Oscar-level acting but let’s face it, that’s not what you look for in a movie like PRIEST.  You look for action, cool fight scenes, impressive visuals, big scary monsters, wicked villains and heroes to root for and that’s exactly what PRIEST delivers.  Enjoy.

Rated PG-13

87 minutes