Fright Club: Best of George A. Romero

Today we salute a man whose career teems with ideas that have been both universal and wildly ahead of their time. There may be no horror filmmaker who’s had more of an influence on his genre than George Romero, whose political leanings and social commentary have given his inventive monster movies the relevance to stand the test of time. A great line, an original idea, and a fantastic pair of glasses – George A. Romero has it all. Here are our five favorites:

5. Creepshow (1982)

By the early Eighties, Romero – who’d basically created the zombie genre – was ready to tackle something slightly different. For Creepshow he teamed up with another genre godfather, Stephen King, who wrote the screenplay (most of which was adapted from his own short stories) and even co-starred.

A series of shorts pulled from the pages of a disgruntled boy’s comic book, Creepshow boasts the wicked humor, juvenile preoccupations and inclination toward comeuppance that mark scary comics. Linked, short form horror had certainly been done previously, but Romero brought a visual sense of the artistry and an affection for the mean-spirited humor that most other films lacked.

He also had a hell of a cast, with appearances by genre favorites Tom Atkins and Adrienne Barbeau as well as King and heavy hitters from outside horror Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen and Hal Holbrook.

They lend a bit of class to some fairly bloodthirsty pieces that find a dim-witted farmer covered in alien foliage, a disabused husband taking advantage of a newly found monster-in-a-box, a cuckolded husband whose revenge plot takes a supernatural turn, plus bugs! Loads of them!

4. The Crazies (1973)

In ’73, Romero used a lot of the same themes from his zombie masterpiece – a genre he’d more or less just created himself – but changed the beast slightly. When military blunder leads to a chemical weapon mishap in a small Pennsylvania town, infected inhabitants go insane. You still end up with a mindless horde capable of anything as well as the fear of contamination, but the fun difference is the unpredictability.

The premise is so ripe: people infected go hopelessly mad. Every version of madness is different. How does each victim behave? Romero didn’t mine this often enough because for him, the real terror was in the government’s behavior. Still, his most provocative ideas here tend to be invested in the varying madness.

Other familiar themes arise as well. Military incompetence, the needless horror of Vietnam, and the evil that men can do when ordered to do so are all central conceits in this film. Indeed, Romero seemed more interested in social commentary than in horror this time around, but once again, his ideas were ahead of their time.

3. Martin (1977)

Martin (John Amplas) is a lonely young man who believes he’s a vampire. He may be – the film is somewhat ambivalent about it, which is one of the movie’s great strengths. He daydreams in black and white of cloaks, fangs and mobs carrying pitchforks.

Or are those memories? Does Martin’s uncle hate him because Martin, as he claims, is really in his Eighties, as his uncle would surely know? Romero has fun balancing these ideas, tugging between twisted but sympathetic serial killer and twisted by sympathetic undead.

Romero’s understated film is more of a character study than any of his other works, and Amplas is up to the task. Quietly unnerving and entirely sympathetic, you can’t help but root for Martin even as he behaves monstrously. It’s a bit like rooting for Norman Bates. Sure, he’s a bad guy, but you don’t want him to get into any trouble!

The film’s a generational culture clash wrapped in a lyrical fantasy, but quietly so. It’s touching, gory at times, often quite tense, and really well made. That, and it’s all so fabulously Seventies!

2. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Romero returned to the land of the undead in ’78 with a full-color sequel to Night. Set in Philadelphia, at a news broadcast gone crazy, the film follows a news producer, her chopper pilot boyfriend, and two Philly SWAT cops ready to abandon the organized zombie fight and find peace elsewhere. The four board a helicopter, eventually landing on the roof of a mall, which they turn into their private hideaway.

Romero, make-up legend Tom Savini, and Italian horror director Dario Argento teamed up for the sequel. You feel Argento’s presence in the score and the vivid red of the gore.

Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger as the buddies from SWAT create the most effective moments, whether character-driven tension or zombie-driven action. Romero’s politics are on his sleeve with this one, and he seems to be working to build on successes of his original. He uses the “z” word, digs at Eighties consumerism, shows full-color entrails, and reminds us again that the undead may not be our biggest enemy once the zombie-tastrophe falls.

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

From the brightly lit opening cemetery sequence to the paranoid power struggle in the house to the devastating closing montage, Night of the Living Dead teems with the racial, sexual and political tensions of its time. An unsettlingly relevant George A. Romero knew how to push societal panic buttons.

“The scene can best be described as mayhem.”

As the first film of its kind, the lasting impact of this picture on horror cinema is hard to overstate. Romero’s inventive imagination created the genre and the monster from the ground up.

They’re dead.

They’re back.

They’re hungry for human flesh.

Their bite infects the bitten.

The bitten will eventually bite.

Aim for the head.

Romero made a narrative choice that would mark the genre and certainly the filmmaker’s entire career: the mindless monsters outside are not the biggest problem. The shrill sense of confinement, the danger of one inmate turning on another, and the unthinkable transformation going on in the cellar build to a startling climax – one that utterly upends expectations – followed by the kind of absolutely genius ending that guarantees the film’s eternal position in the annals of horror cinema.

Barr and/or Bust

Roseanne for President!

by Matt Weiner

You can’t argue that Roseanne Barr has lost her timing. As we enter what political scientists call the “Holy mother of God there isn’t enough whiskey in the world” phase of the election season, Roseanne for President! looks back at the comedian’s 2012 attempt to run for president as the Green Party nominee.

Spoiler alert: Roseanne Barr did not win the 2012 presidential election. What’s frustrating though is how Barr — and the film, directed by Eric Weinrib — never really settle on what the point of it all was. She claims it’s a serious run at the presidency, which quickly turns into a half-hearted battle for the Green Party nomination, which finally becomes a successful attempt to qualify as the nominee of yet another third party. In three states. Yes, three. (The surest sign that even Barr gave up on everything has to be when she freely admits to voting for Barack Obama due to convoluted write-in rules.)

And yet all of this could have still been fertile material for a comedian as gifted as Barr. Instead, we see her literally phoning in her efforts throughout the race: Barr might be the first presidential nominee to campaign almost entirely via Skype. Be prepared for lots of awkward video conferences from a computer in her Hawaii home, peppered with anti-capitalism rants that sound genuine but disjointed.

While short on introspection, the film allows some moments of inspiration. It’s hard not to want to reach out and hug Farheen Hakeem, Barr’s campaign manager keeping things running in the Mainland. Hakeem is comically undaunted by the challenges of running a third party campaign with no staff and a candidate who doesn’t campaign in person.

Hakeem is also Exhibit A for anyone trying to argue that Barr’s run had merit. The documentary constantly undercuts its own seriousness, though, by landing way more in Christopher Guest territory than Michael Moore. (This is especially odd because director Weinrib has worked on multiple Moore films, but here deploys none of Moore’s visual diversions that could have helped add some context around the nomination process instead of more Skype rants.)

The real tragedy is that talking heads like Sandra Bernhard, Rosie O’Donnell and Tom Smothers aren’t being used for a documentary about Roseanne herself. Barr’s brother, Ben-David, also talks movingly about the family’s outsider upbringing as Jews in Salt Lake City. These all-too-brief scenes show how Barr’s subversive and genuinely radical comedy career deserves a better showcase than this.


Sister Sister

Into the Forest

by Cat McAlpine

T.S. Elliot seemed to prophecy that “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but with a whimper”. Into the Forest is that whimpering world, where the apocalypse has come, but no one knows it quite yet.

Two sisters find themselves trying to survive with dwindling resources in their decrepit family home. All the electricity has gone out, with little to no explanation, and with it internet, cell phone service, and society.

Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) seem to take the loss of power in stride, in a film much more grounded and realistic than most apocalyptic narratives of its type. Obviously, the power loss could only be temporary. How could the whole nation simply go dark?

All the girls want is to get back to their daily lives, as soon as possible. Nell has a test to study for. Eva has her last shot at a big dance audition. As the days without power mount, Nell studies and Eva dances. A metronome ticks steadily in the place of music, tic toc tic toc.

A burnt out electric grid is merely the back drop for writer/director Patricia Rozema’s true study; sisterhood. Into the Forest deals with love, loss, tragedy, trauma, and depression in very real ways, and constantly brings the bond between sisters to the forefront of each emotional landscape.

At the outset, Rozema compares the motions of bodies with the shape of the hills and mountains, intermingling shots of the two girls at their studies and the wild landscape that surrounds their home. Into the Forest is littered with beautifully staged shots. There is an ebb and flow of raw, emotional intensity that feels like a logical extension of the opening dance. There is grace even in the ugliest moments at the end of the world.

The two sisters are opposites who grow to be two halves of a whole. Nell is short, brunette, and plucky as all hell. Eva is tall, blonde, and laser focused. Page delivers her best, most unguarded performance yet as Nell. Wood is an even match, with captivating stillness and intensity.

Into the Forest is victim to its slow burn, making obvious its origins as a novel. A few things come too easily. There just happen to be field books and encyclopedias still lying around in print, in the future. Berry identifying never goes awry. Canning supplies are readily available. The girls are both over equipped and under, whichever suits the film’s purpose.

Ultimately, the film suffers most heavily from its impulsive conclusion that seems too symbolic and not quite practical enough for a survivalist tale.

Into the Forest is a well-shot film with strong themes and stronger women. Despite the bizarre end, Rozema has managed to transcend many of the original text’s faults and found the true heart of the tale; sisterhood, humanity, and the constancy of Mother Nature.




Play on Player


by Hope Madden

Unfriended meets Pokemon Go in the online thrill ride Nerve.

Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman like to reflect the evolution of society’s culture of technology. Their breakout 2010 “documentary” Catfish questioned the safety in online anonymity. Over their next few films these themes grew and merged with statements on privacy vs voyeurism, exhibitionism and thrill seeking in a digitally saturated world.

With Nerve, the filmmakers have wrapped these ideas around the universal truth that kids are stupid and framed it with your standard fare high school drama, achieving surprisingly entertaining results.

Within the film’s universe, Nerve is an online game of truth or dare, “minus the truth.” Participants choose to be players or watchers. Watchers choose dares, players complete them, gaining cash rewards and collecting watchers. The player with the most of both wins – or do they?

Emma Roberts is Vee, a high school senior who observes more than she participates. Definitely not a player. But when brash bestie and Nerve celebrity-wannabe Syd’s (Emily Meads) miscalculation leads to Vee’s public humiliation, she leaps outside her comfort zone and joins the game.

Kiss a boy (Dave Franco). Ride into Manhattan with him. Try on a swanky dress. Everything seems innocent – even dreamy – until it doesn’t.

Jessica Sharzer’s script, based on Jeanne Ryan’s 2012 novel, is sharp enough to keep you interested regardless of the holes in the plot, which devolves into utter ridiculousness by Act 3. Still, in a forgettable B-movie kind of way, it’s a fun ride.

It also boasts a savviness that’s too of-the-moment to remain relevant by the end of the summer, but right this second it’s both cheeky and insightful. The finger-wagging and lessons learned fit perfectly with the familiar teen angst of the genre in this glitzy cautionary tale.


Bourne This Way

Jason Bourne

by George Wolf

If you’ve got some asses that need kicking, Christmas comes early this year. Jason Bourne is back, with a sack full of fuzzy memories and furious fists.

Star Matt Damon and director/co-writer Paul Greengrass return to the franchise after nearly ten years, trading some of the emotional depth of the previous films for a stab at new relevancy and two of the most effective action sequences of the entire series.

Since we left him at the end of Ultimatum, Bourne has basically been wandering the Earth like a violent Caine, grabbing cash in back alley fights across the globe. Old friend Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) tracks Bourne down to deliver more clues about his past, with CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), cyber division chief Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and the agency’s favorite assassin (Vincent Cassel) close behind.

Bourne’s search for his identity gave us a connection to the character that is now largely gone, and this film is anchored instead with what it calls “the great question of our time:” personal rights vs. public safety. Dewey’s new black ops program promises total cyber surveillance of the populace, even as he’s reminded that “computer privacy is freedom – you should think about defending it.”

Timely? You bet, but this layer isn’t explored as deeply as it could be, even as Bourne catches up with a whistleblower who is “worse than Snowden.” As it moves on to the next fistfight, the film sometimes feels like its running in place, content to feed the formula without a large chunk of the human element that drove it.

Still, this director/star tandem can run pretty well.

Damon’s brooding-yet-vulnerable intensity makes Bourne an effective anti-hero who’s easy to root for, and Greengrass is still a master of shaky cam tension. An early sniper showdown delivers sharp, hold-your-breath action, and the climactic car chase through the packed streets of Vegas is over-the-top spectacular, with a well-placed sign for self-parking becoming the exhale-inducing coup de grace.

It’s repetitive in spots, a bit ridiculous in others and slightly overlong, but Jason Bourne reclaims its legacy with a keen eye toward landing one last thrill before the theme park of summer shuts down.


Mom Genes

Bad Moms

by Hope Madden

A raunchy comedy that peels away all the precious nonsense associated with motherhood and isn’t afraid to get a bit nasty – this feels like a film that’s been a long time coming. It could be a welcome change of pace if done well. Unfortunately, instead we got Bad Moms.

Mila Kunis stars as an overworked, underappreciated, harshly-judged parent. Her husband’s useless, her boss is a joke, and she’s so irredeemably responsible that her life is spiraling out of control. Either that or she is such an overtly clichéd image of every potential mom complaint that no actor could possibly make her a human.

Kunis has strong comic sensibilities, as do the performers playing her two new besties, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn. Hahn’s the unrepentant man- and booze-hound of a single parent, while Bell’s Kiki is the socially awkward stay-at-home mother of 4. Together they have great fun doing all the things no one wants to see their mom do – and thank God for it, because the rest of the film is worthless.

This is a world where not one father contributes. OK, maybe one – but he’s a hot widower, so there’s no mother to help out. Awwww….

The film is co-written and co-directed by Hangover franchise creators Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, but they could have seriously used an assist from Bad Moms co-star Annie Mumolo. Mumolo co-wrote 2011’s Bridesmaids, a film that was capable of producing female-centric comedy with dimension. Even men.

I’m confident that there are times when every parent feels incompetent, where every well-planned family vacation turns into fodder for your child’s first adult conversation with a therapist. Bad Moms brings up loads of great, universal points that will pick those scabs. Unfortunately, the resolution to those issues is always convenient and one-sided to the point of being offensive.

Bad Moms is trying to offend your sensibilities, but it succeeds in the wrong spots. The lengthy sight gag concerning sex with an uncircumcised penis – not offensive, just funny. The problem is the rest of the movie.

At no point in the film Bad Moms is the word “parent” used. Every problem, every responsibility, every joy and obstacle is the sole property of the mom. I’m sure it can feel that way at times, but good comedy rarely comes from such a one-dimensional premise. It certainly doesn’t do so here.


Double Shot of Mid-Ohio Noir to Screen at Drexel

Ohio-based filmmaker Robert Bates will bring two short slices of local film noir to the newly-renovated Drexel Theatre Wednesday night, July 27th.

The Reckoning, Bates’s latest, will see its world premiere at the event, while Recoil unveils a new “enhanced” version with an alternate ending.

Both films began as entries in competitions sponsored by the Mid Ohio Filmmakers Association (MOFA). Recoil, part of MOFA’s 72-hour speed filmmaking contest from 2012, was tailored for the contest sub-genre known as “Hard-boiled Detective,” and Bates says the new enhanced version was planned almost immediately.

“Even before the MOFA screening, I knew I wanted to create a deluxe version of Recoil with a better ending. So barely two weeks after we wrapped the competition shoot, I wrote a new ending, and the Recoil team shot a new ending, and the post-production team ‘polished’ the editing and sound design to a higher level, even before the awards had been announced for the competition.”

The Reckoning was meant to be a horror film…then quickly became something else.

“This was for a three-week MOFA competition for horror films in 2014,” Bates explains, “but I found I just couldn’t bring myself to do horror, so I went with my gut feeling and made a Twilight Zone -meets-noir kind of story.”

It is a style of film that seems to come naturally to Bates.

“I’ve only directed six short films so far — I didn’t get started in dramatic narrative filmmaking until 2010 — I’m still looking for my ‘voice’ as a writer-director. I seem to be drawn to stories involving crime, drug addiction, and moral crises. Noir seems to scratch that itch nicely. All I know is I had a blast making Recoil and The Reckoning.”

The films begin at 6pm at the Drexel, 2254 E. Main St., with a Q&A session to follow, featuring Bates along with members of his cast and crew.


Fright Club: Military Horror

War is hell, which makes it obvious fodder for horror films. It’s kind of amazing there aren’t more that really mine the carnage and insanity of battle, but those that do it well can make social commentary while getting under the audience’s skin. The films we celebrate today do both really well, plus – monsters! Hooray!

5. The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo) (2001)

The Devil’s Backbone unravels a spectral mystery during Spain’s civil war. The son of a fallen comrade finds himself in an isolated orphanage that has its own troubles to deal with, now that the war is coming to a close and the facility’s staff sympathized with the wrong side. That leaves few resources to help him with a bully, a sadistic handyman, or the ghost of a little boy he keeps seeing.

Backbone is a slow burn as interested in atmosphere and character development as it is in the tragedy of a generation of war orphans. This is ripe ground for a haunted tale, and writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s achievement is both contextually beautiful – war, ghost stories, religion and communism being equally incomprehensible to a pack of lonely boys – and elegantly filmed.

Plus the ghost looks awesome. Del Toro would go on to create some of cinema’s more memorable creatures, and much of that genius was predicted in the singular image of a drowned boy, bloody water droplets floating about him, his insides as vivid as his out.

Touching, political, brutal, savvy, and deeply spooky, Backbone separates del Toro from the pack of horror filmmakers and predicts his own potential as a director of substance.

4. The Crazies (1973, 2010)

We’re cheating here, but George Romero’s 1973 insanity plague flick offers much, as does its 2010 reboot by the otherwise useless Breck Eisner, so we’re combining.

Just three years after Night of the Living Dead, the master found himself interested in taking his zombiism concepts in a different direction. Romero is more literal in his thoughts on the Vietnam War in this film than in his previous efforts. Two combat veterans are at the center of the film, in which a chemical weapon is accidentally leaked into the water supply to a Pennsylvania town. Those infected go helplessly mad. Military incompetence, the needless horror of Vietnam, and the evil that men can do when ordered to do so are all central conceits in this film.

Romero may not have always had the biggest budget, best actors, or best eye for composition, but his ideas were so far ahead of their time that modern horror would not exist in its current form without him. His ideas were unique, not far-fetched, and they fed the imaginations of countless future filmmakers. You can see Romero’s ideas and images from this film repeated in 28 Days Later, Return of the living Dead, Signal, Cabin Fever, Super 8, even Rambo – and, obviously, in the remake.

Eisner’s version offers solid scares, inventive plotting, and far better performances than expected in a genre film. Both films begin by articulating humankind’s repulsion and fear of infection before introducing the greater threat – our own government. Eisner’s greatest strength is his cast. The eternally under-appreciated Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell, unerringly realistic as husband and wife, carry most of the grisly weight, aided by solid support work from folks who are not afraid to be full-on nuts.

3. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Jacob’s Ladder is as unsettling and creepy as any movie you’ll watch. The entire 113 minutes transpires in that momentary flash between life and death, with both light and dark trying to make a claim on Jacob Singer’s soul.

Tim Robbins plays Singer with a weary sweetness that’s almost too tender and vulnerable to bear. In a blistering supporting turn, Elizabeth Pena impresses as the passionate carnal angel Jezebel. The real star here, weirdly enough, is director Adrian Lyne.

Known more for erotic thrillers, here he beautifully articulates a dreamscape that keeps you guessing. The New York of the film crawls with unseemly creatures hiding among us. Filmed as a grimy, colorless nightmare, Jacob’s Ladder creates an atmosphere of paranoia and dread.

By 1990, the Vietnam film has run its course, but with some distance from the post-Platoon glut, the “flashback” crisis that underlines Singer’s confused nightmare feels less stale. It allows the movie to work on a number of levels: as a metaphysical mystery, a supernatural thriller, and a horror film.

2. Dog Soldiers (2002)

Wry humor, impenetrable accents, a true sense of isolation, and blood by the gallon help separate Neil Marshall’s (The DescentDog Soldiers from legions of other wolfmen tales.

Marshall creates a familiarly tense feeling, brilliantly straddling monster movie and war movie. A platoon is dropped into an enormous forest for a military exercise. There’s a surprise attack. The remaining soldiers hunker down in an isolated cabin to mend, figure out WTF, and strategize for survival.

This is like any good genre pic where a battalion is trapped behind enemy lines – just as vivid, bloody and intense. Who’s gone soft? Who will risk what to save a buddy? How to outsmart the enemy? But the enemies this time are giant, hairy, hungry monsters. Woo hoo!

Though the rubber suits – shown fairly minimally and with some flair – do lessen the film’s horrific impact, solid writing, dark humor, and a good deal of ripping and tearing energize this blast of a lycanthropic Alamo.

1. 28 Days Later (2002)

You know you’re in trouble from the genius opening sequence: vulnerability, tension, bewilderment, rage, and blood – it launches a frantic and terrifying not-zombie film. Like zombie god George Romero, though, director Danny Boyle’s real worry is not the infected, it’s the living.

Boyle uses a lot of ideas Romero introduced, pulling loads of images from The Crazies and Day of the Dead, in particular (as well as Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder).
The vision, the writing, and the performances all help him transcend genre trappings without abandoning the genre. Both Brendan Gleeson and Cillian Murphy are impeccable actors, and Naomie Harris is a truly convincing badass. Their performances, and the cinematic moments of real joy, make their ordeal that much more powerful.

It’s a tribute to the performances, Boyle’s direction, and writer Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina) vision that, even after a dozen or so terrifying set pieces, the most deeply unsettling scene is a quiet conversation between ragged survivor Jim (Murphy) and his alleged salvation, Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston).

Red Versus Blue


by Cat McAlpine

In a blue-white landscape where form follows function, director and story writer Drake Doremus must choose between head and heart. He chooses heart, every time.

I’ve seen some parallels drawn between this film and 1984 (fair) or Romeo and Juliet (a bit of a stretch). Is any story wholly original? No. Does Equals borrow? Yes. And if I were to point fingers, I’d look to Lois Lowry’s “The Giver.”

In “The Giver,” a young boy learns to feel pain and passion, to serve as his community’s vessel for the humanity that has been anesthetized. It’s not until he discovers color in a red apple that you realize, already half-way through the text, that the author has not used a single colored adjective. The world until that point has been flat, black and white.

The lesser film adaptation betrays this wonderment and horror in its added visual dimension, shooting for the most in grayscale.

In Equals, a remaining fraction of the human race lives in a community called The Collective. They have been genetically engineered to not feel emotion. Their DNA, lobotomized. However, emotion does surface in what Collective leaders warn is a dangerous disease called “Switched on Syndrome.” Those with advanced stages are encouraged to kill themselves, or are otherwise contained and dealt with at The Den.

Early scenes are shot in harsh white with moody blue undertones, but when Silas (Nicholas Holt) and Nia (Kristen Stewart) discover each other, and love, the color palate shifts. Oranges and reds appear, in flares, and in the film’s coloring as a whole. Purples emerge where the two moods meet. Paired with a beautiful lighting design, all tortured silhouettes and sets filled with glass and steel, the imagery is powerful. Not unlike black and white versus color, Doremus toys with red versus blue.

Unfortunately, Equals is so enchanted with its own aesthetic that it almost stands still. My heart ached but my mind wandered. The same white industrial sets begin to wear on the viewer in hour two, and while Holt and Stewart give powerful performances, it is hard for them to shine in some of the more drab settings.

Stewart, in particular, is fantastic as Nia. Despite Doremus’s melodramatic intentions, she is never over-the-top and always justified. If we are still making the same jokes about Stewart’s ability to emote, let them be finally laid to rest. She is raw and believable. I sincerely doubt she took this role without contemplating the image Twilight earned her, and if this is her middle finger to those critics, I salute it.

If you consider this as a film, a visual exploration of the human heart, Equals is stunning. In keeping the same white sets and pacing at a slow burn, the color theory shines. The lighting design is moving. The concept of discovering feeling in an emotionless landscape is beautiful and heart-wrenching.

If you consider this as a movie, an hour and a half journey that feels like three, you will find yourself bored. Equals is not overly cerebral, but promises adventures that never come. An unsure ending stays true to the themes of emotion and heart, but will leave viewers uncomfortable and longing. It’s hard to say if this is intentional.

Paired with the rest of the box office, gritty action packed adventures and dirty, drunk comedies, Equals may very well fade quietly into the background.


The Frontier Strikes Back

Star Trek Beyond

by George Wolf

Kirk. Spock. Bones. Wisecracks, a villain, and some heroic space swashbuckling. We’re pretty familiar with the Star Trek setup by now, and three flicks into the J.J. Abrams-fueled reboot, the latest seems the most comfortable in its journey. And though Star Trek Beyond doesn’t quite boldly go, it is a fun, satisfying ride.

Three years into a five-year mission, the crew of the Enterprise stops for some downtime at an immense new space station. Kirk (Chris Pine) in awaiting a promotion, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is mulling a return home to Vulcan, and Bones (Karl Urban), good God, man, he has some fun needling Spock about a botched romance with Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

The gang gets back in action to answer the distress call of a stranded crew, but falls into the trap of the Kahn-like Krall (Idris Elba), who’s after a very powerful artifact that Kirk just happens to be holding.

Fast and Furious vet Justin Lin takes over for Abrams in the director’s chair and, working with a snappy script co-written by Simon Pegg (“Scotty”), has the film feeling like a fun Trek TV episode beamed up to the multiplex.

Though the adventure is a little tardy getting its legs, things only get better as they go along. The banter is crisp, the derring-do daring, and the chemistry of the ensemble, so important in a franchise such as this, is undeniable.

Spectacular only in spots, what Beyond does best is honor its own heritage while planning for the future. The nods to its TV past run from cheesy to ingenious, even finding a clever way to acknowledge the effect the entire Star Trek phenomenon has had on popular culture.

After the trying-too-hard reach of Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond strikes just the right note. More of this? I’m on board.