Thursday, July 28, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

                                                      Boldly Going … Again

                                                             Review by Ken Burke

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                                      Star Trek Beyond (Justin Lin)
The crew of the Starship Enterprise encounters a survivor from a ship stranded on an unknown planet in a distant nebula so they head in for a rescue, only to find that it’s a trick to capture them to retrieve a dangerous weapon inadvertently held by Capt. Kirk; massive space-battles are only the most visually-impressive aspect of this well-known continuing tale.
What Happens: This latest installment of the rebooted Star Trek series begins with Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) attempting to negotiate a truce with the warlike inhabitants of some far-distant-planet, offering them a precious object that he’s obtained from one of their enemies.  When they belligerently reject his offer and attack him we see that these seemingly-fierce-creatures are about the size of house cats but annoying, if not deadly, in large numbers so he’s beamed back onto the USS Enterprise where (in voiceover) he ruminates about being not even 3 years into a 5-year-exploratory-mission, wondering in a melancholy manner what the Federation’s really seeking with all of this deep-space-exploration.  Upon arrival at the Yorktown Starbase, a huge colony in a self-contained-sphere with generated gravity and atmosphere sustaining a large population, we learn several things about various members of the crew through short, parallel scenes: Kirk has applied for the position of Vice-Admiral, feeling that he's ready for an alternative to the Federation’s ceaseless plan of planetary-probing; Commander/First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Communications Officer Lt. Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) have called off their romance, with him (privately) deciding to soon return to his revived-planet of New Vulcan (the previous one, and most of its inhabitants, having been destroyed in Star Trek [Abrams, 2009]), even though, unbeknownst to Spock, Kirk is planning
to advocate that he be promoted to Enterprise Captain; Spock receives word that his older self (coming to this narrative’s era through a time warp in Star Trek, which alters the probable-continuity of events we’ve already seen occur in previous movies of this series) has died, generating an odd, unanticipated mix of emotions in this normally-stoic-character (although not as traumatic as when a younger hitman has to kill the older version of himself, who also time travels, in Looper [Rian Johnson, 2012; review in our October 5, 2012 posting]); and we casually learn that Third Officer/Helmsman Lt. Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) is gay, with a husband and a daughter either living at Yorktown or travelled there to see him (the decision to establish this identity for Sulu has caused a bit of a stir, with original Sulu actor George Takei, himself gay, saying that such a change shouldn’t be imposed upon an established character, that a new one should have been added, but Quinto, also gay, and co-screenwriter Simon Pegg favoring the change rather than putting in a new crew member with just the main purpose of being gay).

 Whatever other personal complications are starting to arise for these several characters are soon put aside when an escape pod, carrying survivor Kalara (Lydia Wilson under the makeup, voiced by Sara Maria Forsberg) reaches the Starbase, reporting that her ship is stranded on Altamid, a planet in a nearby uncharted nebula, so Kirk volunteers to go to the rescue.  Because of the asteroid-heavy-entrance to the nebula, communication with Starfleet is soon cut off, leaving the Enterprise an easy target for a sudden attack by a huge swarm of small ships, many of which breach the Starship’s hull after disabling its warp drive until their fierce commander, Krall (Idris Elba), boards, demanding the Abronath, the artifact that Kirk had in the movie’s opening scene.  Through chaotic firefights, leading ultimately to the crew escaping in pods down to the nearby planet, the Enterprise is abandoned, as its huge saucer-component comes to a destructive end.  Once on Altamid, most of the Enterprise crew are captured, except for Spock and McCoy, isolated from the others upon their pod’s crash-landing, with Spock seriously injured; Kirk, Kalara, and navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) near the damaged Enterprise saucer which they try (unsuccessfully) to use to send a distress signal, but when they find out Kalara’s actually working with Krall further hostilities lead to her being crushed by this briefly-mobile-machine; Lt. Commander/Second Officer and Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (Pegg) alone, about to be captured when he’s saved by Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a young escapee from Krall’s prison who saw her family killed.  Scotty and Jaylah go to her home (which she’s shrouded with cloaking devices), the crashed USS Franklin (one of the 1st Starships to use warp drive, mysteriously disappeared over 100 years ago in 2160).  Eventually, all of the wandering Enterprise crew are reunited, trying to formulate a plan to free the many prisoners by teleporting them onto the Franklin, then hoping to get the ship skyward again.  Meanwhile, Krall has acquired the Abronath, hidden with a captured Enterpriser, when Sulu’s life is threatened, then Krall reveals it’s a deadly bioweapon that he means to use in a vicious attack to destroy Yorktown.

 Basically, the escape plan is for Kirk (ridding a motorcycle he finds on the Franklin) to create a diversion, allowing others to spring the prisoners.  It works because, in some unexplained manner, 
Kirk’s in multiple places at once (not clarified how this happens that I could figure out but reminiscent of the same slick trick Superman somehow used to foil his vicious Kryptonian attackers in Superman II [Richard Donner, Richard Lester; 1981]), but even as the freed prisoners are safely on the Franklin (after Jaylah’s managed to kill evil Manas [Joe Taslim], Krall’s chief henchman, murderer of her parents) Krall and his swarm of attack vehicles are on their way to Yorktown.  After lurching attempts to get the Franklin airborne (designed for space-based-launches, not atmospheric ones), Sulu manages to get the old clunker into the sky, with enough propulsion to catch up with the killers but no hope of being able to overpower them until a plan is launched to blast heavy metal music (found on this ancient vessel) through a VHF signal into the swarm (through one of the small ships that Spock and McCoy have been beamed into), which disrupts their coordination, leaving most of them crashing into each other or falling prey to Yorktown’s defenses.  However, Krall’s ship and 2 others manage to enter Yorktown where they’ve eventually disabled by Kirk’s cunning move that forces these invaders to smash into the Franklin, although Krall survives, then heads to a central ventilation location where he intends to activate his weapon which will vaporize everyone in the city, with his larger goal of destabilizing the security-through-unity tenet of the entire Federation.

 During all of this frantic activity, Kirk and Uhura manage to find out that Krall is actually Captain Balthazar Edison of the USS Franklin, kept alive by the sophisticated-technology he found on his far-distant-planet, then drawing strength from the ravaged bodies of his captives when he needs to revive, spending years plotting an attack on the Federation in revenge for what he considers the long-ago-abandonment of his ship—and his disgust, as a former soldier, that the Federation evolved to make peace with their former enemies—even as his physical appearance morphed into that of his grim-looking-locals (although seemingly not the originators of the Abronath or related ultra-technologies), leading to a 1-on-1 fight with Kirk that ends when he manages to open the hatches to outer space that suck Krall and his weapon into the true “beyond,” even as the device vaporizes him (Kirk’s also on the verge of being lost in space until a last-second-rescue by Spock and McCoy, still racing around in their confiscated swarm-ship).  As the plot wraps up, Kirk receives his promotion but declines it in favor of continuing deep-space-explorations, Spock decides to remain in Starfleet as well (in addition to reconnecting with Uhura) where someday they may be joined by Jaylah whose vast engineering skills help to gain her joyful acceptance into the Academy (with recommendations from Scotty and Kirk), and everyone gathers to celebrate Kirk’s birthday while watching the construction of the new version of the Enterprise.

So What? You’d think that when a movie opens with a huge $59.2 million domestic (U.S., Canada) haul that the producers would be happy; well, they are, sort of, but the bigwigs at Paramount also have to contend with concerns about this latest installment of Star Trek's rebooted series (if you like, see my review of Ghostbusters [2016] for thoughts on remakes vs. reboots) because not only did it not open as well as its predecessors, Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness (Abrams, 2013; review in our May 24, 2013 posting)—it’s down respectively about 21%, 15% from those previous openings despite being in 3,928 of our upper-North American-continent-theaters for its debut—nor is it yet playing as well as those earlier (yet relatively-recent) Star Treks in overseas markets, which could be blamed on a number of global factors but series fatigue is not one that the producers want to discuss.  After a 50-year-presence in international awareness, though, it would be disappointing for me to see this franchise begin to fold up its original storyline, changed as it may be by the weird space-time-warp that occurred in the 2009 rebirth of this narrative, which propelled the elder Spock into the era of his younger-self just beginning a career with the Federation’s Starfleet, in the process altering what we’d previously encountered with the various voyages of the USS Enterprise, a masterful but convenient device of allowing the contemporary production teams to rewrite what we’ve already known of these interplanetary explorers without being bound by continuity to past events.  (I was always amazed with writers for TV’s afternoon soap operas who had to conform whatever plot ideas they came up with to decades of previous occurrences in order to satisfy long-time-viewers who’d balk at the idea of not honoring what’d been shown before; superhero-comic-book-writers, on the other hand—at least in the DC Universe [I’m not as familiar with the Marvel one]—long ago learned to construct cataclysmic events in order to reset their characters, avoiding the inconveniences of natural aging and plotlines which have now spun impossibly out of control.)  

 I can only hope that we’re not yet done with the adventures of whom we've come to know as the original inhabitants of the Enterprise, but income from China and Brazil may have more to do with that than Russia has in sowing further discord among disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters in our current election cycle, although supposedly a 4th-Abrams-produced Star Trek has been assured, with Chris Hemsworth somehow reprising his role as Kirk’s father, despite having died in a battle with Romulans before our current intrepid Capt. was born.  (Dad Kirk represents a serious sense of loss for son Jim, among other reasons being our present Enterprise leader notes his father joined Starfleet because he wanted to help make the universe a better place while Jim did it simply on a dare, as part of his cocky, non-authoritarian-personality [that is, where other authority figures are concerned, but he always likes being in command himself, although he defers to Spock at times].)

 As I’ve previously explained in excessive (but brilliant) detail in my aforementioned review of … Into Darkness (clumsy as it may be in layout; whenever I revisit these older ones I consider adding more photos, breaking up paragraphs more often, etc., but it would take forever to do that) I don’t have a solid background in any of the Star Trek TV series (I’ve seen a few episodes of the original 1966-1969 manifestation, even fewer examples of … The New Generation, absolute zero for any of the others) so I can’t even pretend to pick up the nuances that are so obvious to someone like the guy who explores the Easter Eggs in … Beyond that you’ll find in the 3rd Related Link to this current movie noted farther below, but I have been a faithful viewer of every one of the big-screen-renditions of this lively, ongoing-interstellar-exploration concept since Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Robert Wise, 1979) so at least I have a solid sense of what’s evolved in big-budget-mainstream-versions of these iconic characters, along with a reasonable basis for understanding how well this most-recent-attempt fits in with the previous installments of the Kirk-Spock-etc.-ensemble.  With that caveat in place, I think that … Beyond is quite serviceable as a continuation of this series, gives us some useful variety with a focus on scenes that link up Spock and McCoy more so than just Kirk and Spock, along with Scotty getting some individual attention (while introducing us to Jaylah), and presenting us with an unexpected twist (I assume; please enlighten me if I’m not aware of past developments that lead to this result) of this alien villain being not only an Earthling who’s undergone a physical transformation while being long isolated in deep space but also a former Starfleet officer opposed to the whole concept of the Federation making peace with its former enemies which goes totally against his prior military training to forever detest those foes rather than find some rapprochement with them.  

 Further, this situation with Krall helps remind us of something easy to forget about these Star Trek stories (unless you’re a long-time-fan who can carry on conversations in Klingon), that the Starfleet explorers may remind us of the U.S. Navy with their ranks and shipboard (rather than seemingly-more-likely-aircraft) allusions but they’re not a warfare-based-military-organization (just as the Star Wars Jedi aren’t soldiers, regardless of the conflicts always going on around them) so despite the well-orchestrated-battles we shouldn’t forget that these Federation agents are essentially search-and-rescue-operatives with peaceful, collective-intentions, even though they constantly find themselves at odds with malevolent circumstances* often as the result of angry revenge-seekers.

(Any resemblance between Kahn and Donald Trump
is purely coincidental
[apologies to Kahn anyway].)
*Sometimes the Star Trek antagonists are former allies with deep-seated-passions against Federation actions that have left them long-pining for revenge, as in … Beyond or in both versions of their clash with the scientifically-enhanced-human Kahn Noonien Singh, in … Into Darkness and the much older Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (Nicholas Meyer, 1982); other times the threat isn’t at all intentionally malevolent but simply is the result of a suddenly-appearing-enormous-power threatening to destroy Earth because of a terrible-cosmic-misunderstanding that’s not allowing a proper response from our planet toward an manifested-entity beyond lifeforms that we comprehend as in … The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Nimoy, 1986).  Either way, though, the Enterprise crew serves as either personal (as with … Kahn [notice also that we’re no longer getting Roman numerals nor colons in the titles of these Abrams-directed-or-produced-moviesa little bit with Star Wars as well, as The Force Awakens {Abrams, 2015; review in our December 31, 2015 posting} title doesn’t note that it’s Episode VII]) or planetary protectors, as their most current antagonists have been hell-bent on destruction, no negotiations allowed.

One last bit of my commentary for this section of the review focuses on how Abrams and his surrogates continue to mine the previous Star Trek movies (and, as I’ve read, the TV shows for that matter; again, I can’t really comment much on that aspect of this extended-narrative’s history due to personal unawareness) for what we see in these reboots, probably done somewhat as a means of appealing to long-time Trek fans (whether they prefer to be known as Trekkies or Trekkers), maybe also as a way of noting that the narrative timeline has been disrupted but that doesn’t mean that previously-occurred/now-erased events won’t recur in some manner, although it’s not necessarily going to proceed or end as we’ve seen in this series' cinematic-past.  As in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Nimoy, 1984) the Enterprise is destroyed, back then because Kirk set it on self-destruct to kill invading Klingons attempting to take the crew prisoner (leading to our heroes taking over the Klingon ship for their escape), now because it has to be abandoned after being so badly disabled by Krall’s swarm attack.  Similarly, in … The Voyage Home Kirk is demoted from Admiral to Captain because he’d stolen, then destroyed his Starship in the previous movie (allowing him to continue in an operational rather than an administrative mode, just as circumstances in … The Motion Picture allowed him to ditch his Earth-bound-duties in order to head out into space again) whereas in … Beyond he declines his requested-promotion to Vice-Admiral in order to stay in command of the newly-built-Enterprise (NCC-1701-A), again heading into the vast unknown of the universe as his quest for adventure compels him to do, finding that unclarified purpose he was searching for when … Beyond began.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: As I’ve already admitted, my aging brain doesn’t carry around a trove of Star Trek-informed-trivia, so there are probably lots of little references in … Beyond to some earlier manifestations of Kirk and company that fly right past my awareness, but be that as it may there are a few aspects of this current movie that consciously do leave me a bit perplexed so I’ll note them here.  First, it’s public knowledge that Nimoy, long a primary face of this franchise, died just before this latest production began filming (thus, it became viable to work the passing of the older Spock into the script—he was well over 100 when he died, so I guess that Vulcans really do “live long and prosper”—along with a nice tribute to the original cast toward the end of the present plot when younger Spock finds a photo of the older versions of the featured crew of the Enterprise [from one of the earlier Star Trek movies], given that they’ll now never be able to share a full reunion again), but then an unanticipated tragedy struck just before the release of … Beyond when Yelchin died as the result of a freak car accident at his home, yet his role in the movie was complete so there’s no indication of his now-absence in this script (although it’s been reported that his role won't be recast, so, assuming there is another sequel I guess his character will suffer the same sort of off-screen-death that claimed the lives of major figures in The Godfather series [even though those demises resulted from actors—Richard S. Castellano {Peter Clemenza}, Robert Duvall {Tom Hagan} asking for too much salary for those 2nd and 3rd follow-ups, thereby giving way to Michael V. Gazzo {Frank Pentangeli}, B.J. Harrison {George Hamilton} in the Corleone saga]).  However, early on in … Beyond I’d swear there was already a commemoration scene for departed-Yeltsin as brooding Kirk’s about to drink some alien liquor that McCoy’s sure is near-fatal, offering him instead some premium Scotch from Chekov’s locker, along with a toast to a 3rd glass of the stuff, giving a strong premonition of the navigator’s absence even though he’s featured throughout the current movie.

 I was further confused with the Enterprise crew member who had the Abronath hidden within the folds of her head, as she looked enough to me like Kalara for me to mistakenly-wonder how she’d survived being crushed by the wrecked Federation ship’s massive saucer in an earlier scene, why she was suddenly part of Krall’s prison population, and why—if she were hiding this all-important-object on Kirk’s behalf, even though she’d previously demanded it from him when her true allegiance was revealed—she hadn’t already turned it over to Krall, unless she’d had a massive change of heart to go along with her miraculous recovery from being flattened by a large section of the Enterprise.  Chalk that one up to my flawed sense of species-recognition, I guess, but at least in my case these 2 characters (the much-lesser-known of the pair, especially, after we’ve seen so much of Kalara) just look too much alike to not cause some head-scratching at a crucial plot juncture.  OK, I do have 1 more confusion to note (not that a sci-fi-adventure such as this intends to be airtight in plot, nor do I demand that it be, but when the questions remain as vividly as the memory of the pleasure of the well-crafted-battle-scenes I still find them worth mentioning): What exactly is Krall’s situation on Altamid?  He notes that he’s still alive because of the use of advanced technology of the planet’s original inhabitants (although his long existence there has apparently altered his appearance to resemble these creatures, but, if so, he sure returned to his Captain Edison looks as soon as he entered Yorktown), yet I’m not clear who his many minions are.  If they’re not from his original-Earth-crew (possibly also kept alive and transformed over time, along with a lot of reproduction to spawn enough pilots for all of those mini-ships of the swarm) and they’re not the planet’s original inhabitants (who also invented the deadly Abronath, then somehow lost it over the years so that Kirk acquired it with no knowledge of its destructive capacities), then who are all of these creatures that Krall now fiercely commands?  

 I also can’t help but wonder if the combination of the name “Krall” and his use of the superior-technologies on a remote world isn’t a reference to the long-lost-race of the Krell from Altair IV in Forbidden Planet (Fred M. Wilcox, 1956)—also set in Star Trek's 23rd century—but I’ll leave that speculation for another day.  Finally, I can’t say that I recall how Krall, on his communication-blocked-planet, knew that Kirk had the Abronath, thus needed to lure the Enterprise into his Kalara-based-trap, but let’s not quibble about what it takes to get the action started here, shall we?

 Minor confusions aside, though, Star Trek Beyond is a fun, entertaining escape into a cool movie theater on a hot summer day (or night, as most of the U.S. is now enduring a brutal heat wave; I’d be willing to pay full price for this, although I don’t know that you need the extra cost for lavish 3-D screenings), properly continuing the franchise into directions that feel quite appropriate for the already-established-legacy of this series, even as we get the added enjoyment of seeing how these younger versions of familiar characters (with Disney also now set to explore that concept in the new spinoff-Star Wars movies, when we get a chance to see young Han Solo [Alden Ehrenreich] in action, set for 2018) slowly evolve into the older adult versions of themselves that have been around for the last 5 decades in our pre-Federation-era.  We don’t get into much here in the way of philosophical quandaries about the difficulty of encountering aliens with different value systems from the humanitarian-based-star-systems we’re more familiar with—nor unique-life-forms that need hard-to-acquire-responses from ancient-NASA-scientists or whales—because once again we’re now more in Wrath of Kahn-mode where space battles (borrowing heavily from the Star Wars tradition more so than Roddenberry tales) dominate the action while clever scripting keeps the chief Enterprise cast somewhat separated so that we can more easily focus on a few of them at a time (you could say that comes from Star Wars as well, particularly Episode IV—Return of the Jedi [Richard Marquand, 1983]), but there are plenty of interpersonal-oriented-situations and (at times witty) dialogue to keep you locked into what’s happening on-screen, even if the overall impact here may not quite match up to the fully-engaging-qualities of the Star Trek reboot nor its 1st sequel, … Into Darkness.  Maybe if you’re a series fan immersed in its minutia you’ll want something even more successful here, but for those of us who just casually follow the big-screen-voyages of the Enterprise, I think you’ll find … Beyond to be quite enjoyable.

 As for my usual Musical Metaphor, to offer a final perspective on what this latest addition to the Star Trek canon has to offer, I’ll take the easy road by choosing a cut from the soundtrack, Rihanna’s new “Sledgehammer” (although the listings I’ve seen for this album, due to drop on July 29, 2016, don’t list it so I guess you’ll just have to spend $16.98 to get a copy when it’s released to hear for yourself [or you can download this song from various sites]) at https:// watch?v=BXhIT4MpRis, the official music video for the song including a brief appearance of the Enterprise both at the beginning and end, along with “space-y” images that further evoke the movie.  As is the often the case with my Metaphors—but seemingly in the same vein from this official conjunction of musical and cinematic artists—the lyrics aren’t directly connected to the movie (in fact, as has often been the case with my past choices, they’re about romance, failed in this case) but they have allusions to its content that are relevant, especially when the Enterprise crew realizes what they’re up against with Krall and his swarming-war machine that has no relation to “floating like a butterfly,” just the impact of “sting[ing] like a bee” (to paraphrase the late, great Muhammad Ali):  “I’m bracing for the pain and I am letting go I’m using all my strength to get out of this hole […] I hit a wall, I thought that I would hurt myself [but I’ve got the will to show you that] You’re just another brick and I’m a sledgehammer.”  Krall would likely have dismissed such self-confidence on the part of his Federation opponents, but as he somehow knows that Kirk has the device he desires he didn’t seem to know that anyone on this crew could easily say “I hit a wall, I hit ‘em all, watch the fall” when their unified-weapon pounds into the seemingly-unstoppable-brick of the latest-anti-Starfleet-revenge-seeker, because try as they might to use other tactics to engage with their antagonists, when these stalwart explorers come up against adversaries the constant problem has been “Oh, what could I do to change you mind? Nothing,” so the battle’s on.  My advice, though, don’t bet against Kirk and company.  

 Don’t bet against me continuing to write reviews with lengths that extend into other galaxies either, with more to come as I set my phaser for “stun” to take on whatever next crosses my cinematic path, to boldly go where no critic has gone before (at least in terms of word count).  Come with me if you dare in future weeks,* even as I end these comments by joining with the production team of … Beyond in wishing a fond farewell to Nimoy and Yelchin (noted just before the roll of final credits).

*Before ending this posting, however, I can’t help but brag about this: when I opened BlogSpot I found that I’ve hit my all-time-high for unique pageviews last month at 17,585, with Russia my biggest fan base of recent times (whatever accounting that Google chart’s based on, I’ve got 3,840 hits from there vs. 865 from France, 599 from the U.S., 406 from Mauritius, 164 from the United Arab Emirates to round out my top 5).  My thanks to all of you—along with whomever else is checking out Two Guys in the Dark; sorry, Russians, that I don’t have any additional dirt on Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders for you to further help Donald Trump’s coronation campaign, but maybe you can get Wikileaks to publish my reviews so I’ll really get some coverage (for 5 minutes anyway).
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.  Other overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

Here’s more information about Star Trek Beyond: (2 trailers for the price of 1, minimum repetition) (5:28 of Easter Eggs and deleted scenes)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Infiltrator and Ghostbusters [2016]

                                  Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

                                                             Reviews by Ken Burke

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                                 The Infiltrator (Brad Furman)
Based on a true story of the mid-1980s, a U.S. Customs undercover agent tries to worm his way into Pablo Escobar’s Colombian drug cartel, posing as a successful money launderer so that he can gather evidence, including with a hidden tape recorder; his ruse continues successfully as he gets further embedded in this mob, but the danger of discovery always lurks.
What Happens: When we first meet U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) in Tampa, FL, 1985, he’s got a scraggly mustache, wearing beat-up-clothes, finalizing the setup in a bowling alley for the arrest of his supposed-friend.  As the authorities swoop in, though, we see Mazur suddenly doubled up in pain in what looks like it might be part of his tactics but after he’s taken away we learn that it’s a deep scar on his chest from the wire he was wearing.  This injury, and his time in service, would earn him a full-benefit-disability-retirement but he prefers (against his wife, Evelyn’s [Juliet Aubrey], wishes, fearful for their lives and for their young daughter and son) to stay in for 1 more big operation that his boss, Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan), wants to orchestrate against Pablo Escobar’s huge Colombia-based-Medellín cartel which is moving billions of dollars a year in cocaine into the U.S., largely through south Florida. The main problem for Mazur, though (beyond his familial-inner-struggles where he’s asked by Evelyn to simply get out while he can vs. encouragement from his marginally-legal Aunt Vicky [Olympia Dukakis] to learn some get-rich-tricks from her), is his disgust with having to partner up with wild-ass-agent (“He’s nuts!”) Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), but he has no choice as Abreu already has a snitch contact with some lower-level-cartel-members so he’s necessary for Mazur to work his way into the confidence of these crooks as a supposed-top-flight-money-launderer from New Jersey.  Before they can start worming their way into the “family,” though, they need new identities which they get from strolling around a graveyard until they find a couple of names of the dead that fit their ages, thus Mazur becomes Bob Musella.  (I’ll call him that when I’m referring to how this undercover agent presents himself to these conned soon-to-be-cons; the real Mazur says this scene is based on fact; Cranston admits that except for the predetermined images of the chosen headstones most of the dialogue with Leguizamo was improvised, as the scene had to be shot quickly in a private cemetery where they had no permission to be filming.)

 Buoyed by his new identity, trimmed facial hair, sharper clothing, a small reel-to-reel-tape-recorder hidden in the top of his briefcase, and a fake quasi-banker-existence established (with his government's backing) by moving money through the slimy-cartel-friendly Bank of Credit and Commerce International (CBBI), a huge institution based in Luxembourg but with branches in Panama and elsewhere, Musella soon has a viable presence with local Tampa Medellín members (along with ongoing tension toward Abreu, but that’s the essence of their partnership) that leads to a meeting in a club where Bob is offered the willing services of a most-attractive-woman which he declines with the quickly-concocted-story that he’s engaged, not wanting to screw up his coming marriage like he did with the previous one; this complication brings in another partner, Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), with no previous undercover experience but an ability to smoothly present herself as the kind of material girl that would appeal to high-roller Bob (even though we’re effectively terrified she’s going to blow her cover, just as we’ve given many quick shots that show Mazur worn-down, near-desperate to be able to maintain his façade around so many people that live a daily life that he’s constantly having to fake).  With all of this faux-structure in order, Operation C-Chase (according to different sources, named either for “currency” or Tampa’s Calibre Chase apartments where the scam began in 1986) is in full swing, although we’re given further reason to worry when Mazur senses he’s being followed (later it turns out that he is, by a CIA guy, so now we’re not even sure if his own government supports this scheme, but, oddly, that’s not a plotline followed up on very far).

 Much of what transpires from here on out consists of scenes of Musella moving up the cartel ladder, impressing his new “colleagues” with his NJ home, his extravagant lifestyle, and his desire to get further embedded in their business as he wants to throw the net as close to Escobar as possible.  Along the way, though, problems keep arising including a groping run-in with gay thug Javier Ospina (Yul Vazquez)—I’m not clear what value he brings to the gang, but it must be of some importance because he’s tolerated even though no one’s interested in his carnal desires—plus a near-disaster when the false briefcase top falls open with Ospina getting a quick look at the tape machine before Musella covers it up again (but the threat he now represents to Mazur is nullified when his own guys shoot him because they’re sick of his jabbering, just as a similarly-miraculous-rescue comes to Abreu in another scene when his informer starts demanding more money, then tries to expose him only to also be shot down by his supposed-comrades when they choose to believe Abreu’s show of bravado [and his tactic of revealing that this guy has cash stuffed in his pants—his latest government payoff—which Emir convinces them is actually mob money]).  The biggest threat to Mazur’s identity, though, comes when he’s trying to bail himself out of hot water for forgetting his anniversary with Evelyn so they’re having dinner at a nice restaurant when a cartel guy, Gonzalo Mora Sr. (Simón Andreu), happens upon them, assuming the woman is Musella’s fiancée; Bob quickly counters that, no, she’s his loyal secretary, but another complication arises with the delivery of an anniversary cake.  Musella has no choice but to actually intimidate the waiter into believing he mistakenly brought this instead of a birthday cake, the scene climaxed by the frightened man being shoved into the pastry (satisfying Mora Sr., scaring the wits out of Evelyn).

 Next, Musella pushes harder for meeting higher-echelon guys but first he endures a weird voodoo ceremony where another man is also hoping to be cut in on the action; he’s shot as not being worthy while Bob’s confident bluff continues to be accepted, leading to a long-awaited-introduction to extremely-high-placed-honcho Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), who accepts Bob but is more fascinated with Kathy (who gives him a fake palm reading claiming that “destiny has marked you for success”) leading to luxurious time spent with Alcaino and wife Gloria (Elena Anaya), as Roberto speaks of loyalty while our agents are struggling to maintain their false selves, even as Mazur’s family suffers a meltdown when Escobar sends him a small package of blood as intimidation-encouragement to get $10 million in cartel cash out of Panama even though the U.S. has frozen the assets as Reagan moves against Noriega.  Further trouble arises when Tischler wants to grab a huge shipment of coke coming into Miami, against the wishes of Mazur who wants more time to get further dirt on the cartel’s higher-ups and their crooked banker collaborators, but the bust goes down anyway sending Alcaino into hiding but with Mazur’s “Musella” identity intact.  The final round-up comes later, when most of the cartel members we’ve met show up for Bob and Kathy’s lavish wedding, which ends abruptly with the arrival of Customs and Drug Enforcement Agency feds, the indictment of about 100 drug operatives and bankers (getting 12-15 years in prison each; Escobar remained freely active, though), along with the seizure of about 3,100 pounds of cocaine and the levying of $600 million in fines and forfeitures (all of this told through pre-credits graphics which also offer some quick bio-info on the major players here, including notes that the CIA continued to use BCCI for awhile to finance its support of the Taliban against Soviet Union invaders of Afghanistan while it’s estimated that about $2 trillion is still being laundered on an annual basis throughout the world).

So What? With this film based on the actual Robert Mazur’s book The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel (2009), this review marks my last 3 postings in a row that include explorations of fact-based-films, with 2 more in June 2016 (the documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words [Thorsten Schütte] plus the combo review of the docudramas The Man Who Knew Infinity [Matthew Brown] and Genius [Michael Grandage], along with Papa: Hemingway in Cuba [Bob Yari] in May) so I’ll state now, then repeat in the review below, it’s getting to be beyond time for Hollywood mainstream studios to look for some talented original screenwriters in the ranks of independent films to help us find our way back to such casually-referenced-yet-historically-set masterpieces of yesteryear as The Godfather trilogy (Francis Ford Coppola; 1972, 1974, 1990) or Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) instead of giving us so many films “based on fact,” which often play fast and loose with their events in the quest for dramatic impact.  Fortunately, though, if we’re to continue to be presented with so many “truth-inspired” dramas, at least we get ones such as those noted above which are usually quite-well-produced 
(of the ones I’ve cited here Free State of Jones has the most in the way of structural problems) and  
often fill in aspects of historical eras or events that have gone unknown for far too long.  I'd say 
The Infiltrator falls into the 1st group I’ve just noted in that it’s great drama where the tension never lets up (even though you know that Mazur survives being outed as a drug agent through advance publicity about the film—or if you didn’t, you can get a lot of info on him by consulting his web site, or a 2010 interview, or a recent interview, and/or the info in a very recent interview [this last one confirming/clarifying many details about the current screen story—including the reality that there were hundreds of agents involved in busting members of the Medeliín Cartel, not just the few focused on in this film—serving as reference for some of my further statements in this section of the review, although some specifics are also addressed at this history vs. Hollywood site]).  Still, The Infiltrator doesn’t begin with a “based on true events” statement as most of its ilk do, even though we get plenty of follow-up-info on the main players in a series of graphics-updates just after the action concludes.

 While a few on-screen-items in this film are either compressed or fictionalized (it took Mazur 18 months to establish his phony credentials with BCCI [which later collapsed, due to arrests, fines, and scandal] rather than the seeming-swiftness depicted by the script; the incident of another cartel-applicant being shot while kneeling next to Musella at the voodoo ceremony didn't occur [although it's indicative of actual atrocities]; the final arrests took place at a fake-bachelor party rather than a fake-wedding), the overall impact of what we see here is largely accurate (including the choice of an alias from a tombstone and the near-tragic-event of the briefcase-flap falling open).  For me, the chief fabrication is the age of Mazur because he was in his mid-30s in 1985 (he’s 65 now) rather than the older man we see on screen (relieving the makeup or computer experts from somehow having to make Cranston considerably younger than his current age of 60), so while Cranston does an excellent (Oscar-nomination-worthy) job in the role we either have a situation where a younger actor could have been considered (as long as one good enough could have been secured; based on images we see in this link [from just above], possibly Leguizamo or Bratt [photo here] might have been considered for the lead, but, then, they’re not that much younger than Cranston and I’m sure the producers wanted a big-name-actor at the top of his game, which is exactly what they got) or we’re given the added emotional element of a man clearly ready for traditional retirement (even without the wound) continuing on a job he didn’t have to take purely for the dedication to service that the filmmakers want us to understand about the real Mazur, as well as those like him, who daily risk the lives of themselves and their families in the ongoing, largely-unappreciated quest of undermining criminal empires (just as our various spy agencies work nonstop to thwart terrorist plots, with their equally-valuable-sacrifices largely ignored by a secure public until a destructive event finally breaks through our illusion of comfortable safety).

 However, it’s Leguizamo’s character, Abreu, who openly states that kind of ongoing-dedication to the job but as his own form of self-induced-high, so that it doesn’t seem so quietly-noble as are Mazur’s reasons.  Hopefully, we’ll someday get to see how noble Escobar himself might be when, ironically, he’s portrayed by Leguizamo in El Patron (supposedly set for release in 2017), in that he used millions of his crime-stash to aid underprivileged fellow Colombians even though he was also a ruthless drug lord responsible for countless murders against rival gangs and any authorities who wouldn’t accept his ongoing demand for taking bribes to keep his cartel in such thriving business.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: I chose the old proverb that offers us the wisdom of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” as the title for this current posting because it's a clever saying that can be interpreted in 2 ways that are applicable to what’s under review.  You could either decide that this statement is a hearty admonition to take some chances, to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to accomplish great tasks that would go unexplored if you kept within the realm of the expected, or (in a manner not as obvious but implied if you take these words to another logical conclusion) they could mean that if proper preparation isn’t put into a challenging attempt (therefore, “nothing ventured”) then no useful result will come of the effort (producing “nothing gained”).  Certainly, the 1st of these varied interpretations speaks to the life of undercover agents, especially Mazur and his associates in Operation C-Chase, because without their willingness to engage in these dangerous subterfuges the success rates of various criminal and terrorist empires would be even greater than they are now, even though these law-and-order-driven-government-run-scams require great investments of time, resources, and lives to ever have hope of accomplishing their objectives (some don’t, as detailed—with more fictional-bravado than we see in The Infiltrator—in American Hustle [David O. Russell, 2013; review in our December 27, 2013 posting]).  Then, as I’ll explore in the next review below, some would apply my 2nd interpretation of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” to the new rendition of Ghostbusters, but that’s a matter for interpretation (probably of a fierce nature, based on some rabid-male-opinions about this female-centric-remake), but let’s continue on here with The Infiltrator which succeeds in the manner thrillers need to whether based in history or fiction.  Even with after-the-fact-assurances that Mazur and his colleagues made it through this deadly-gauntlet to tell their tale for our agitated-enjoyment years down the road, we constantly feel the tension of impending doom, that a cover will be blown, that some initiation requirement will force an undercover agent to commit a heinous act that he/she’s legally/ethically/morally opposed to just to keep the fake identity intact, yet despite moments that imply immediate peril our brave protagonists continue to survive.

 What also comes across effectively here is the tension between the public and private lives of these clandestine agents, especially Mazur, where desperate attempts are made to function as a normal spouse and parent, always running the risk that someone you’re trying to isolate to your constructed life will appear unannounced in your private one, leading to situations such as we witness with Mazur suddenly transforming into Musella at his anniversary dinner, not only thinking fast to find a scenario that’ll be accepted by the intruder but acting in a manner that justifies his alias (which Cranston now admits grew into an impromptu deviation from the script when he slammed the innocent waiter’s face into the cake, leading to an after-shoot-apology for the surprise-abuse dished out to his fellow actor).  Sometimes, though, you get a sense of the script being a bit sensationalized for the purpose of building, then releasing audience tension, like when his mob associates choose to shoot Ospina because he’s so constantly annoying before he even gets a chance to reveal what he knows about Bob’s secret briefcase 
(a decision also a bit dramatically exaggerated regarding why he wouldn’t expose Bob on the spot rather than waiting until some timely opportunity, so that a lucky [but not for Javier] twist of fate saves Bob’s life that time [Mazur says the actual event resulted in the tape recorder falling into the bottom of the briefcase but it was turned away from whomever he was talking to so that his secret wasn’t exposed]), just as we’re never sure that Roberto and Gloria have fully bought into the ruse of Bob and Kathy, yet every time the pressure mounts it just results in further acceptance of these agents as true friends, including the gift of expensive pearls—a complication as well, as we clearly sense that there’s some guilt involved by both Mazur and Ertz when the arrests come, but if so it’s likely quickly expunged by the furious reactions from the captured couple, especially Gloria.

 It also comes across as extremely effective that Evelyn finally reaches a breaking point with Robert by demanding he move out, not only for protection for her and their children against reprisals (no exaggeration there; the real Mazur still maintains a low profile regarding the use of identifiable photos, unaltered recordings of his voice, etc. because while he doesn’t live in fear—in fact, he still lives in Tampa, where you’d think he’d be easy to track down—he also doesn’t want to make it too available for potential enemies to finally take revenge on him [I imagine Abreu and Ertz have similar concerns but I haven’t found much except incidental mentions in stories about Mazur.]) but also because she can’t stand the dual stress of her husband in constant danger while playing out his fake engagement so she has no idea how intimate it’s become as he’s spending so much public (and private?) time with this “fiancée.”  Her fears on that last issue are put to rest as the women have an honest talk when Kathy retrieves Mazur’s tux for the “wedding,” but Evelyn can’t shake the misery that Leonard Cohen articulates in “Everybody Knows” (on his 1988 album I’m Your Man) “that the boat is leaking … that the captain died Everybody got this broken feeling Like their father or their dog just died.”  That morbid song captures the tone of despair in this film so well that it’s part of the soundtrack, also easily functioning as my Musical Metaphor for the grim realities that The Infiltrator explores, leaving us with the sad sense that many of us may be living virtual-undercover-lives, forced by circumstances to take on personas that aren’t organic to our being yet still are necessary to cope with the challenges of the demanding worlds of work and society around us because “That’s how it goes Everybody knows,” so before exploring just below “who ya gonna call” if you’ve got trouble in New York rather than south Florida you might want a full immersion in Cohen’s troubling worldview at
                                                        Ghostbusters (Paul Feig)
This retelling of a 1984 comedy classic puts women in the 4 lead roles of saviors of NYC from an invasion of fierce ghosts even though their efforts are initially ridiculed by the media (just as this movie has been by men on the Internet), their victories kept hidden by the mayor’s team in order to prevent public panic; this movie may not be necessary but it’s still funny.
What Happens: A series of closely-related-incidents in contemporary NYC sets this plot in motion: A ferocious ghost emerges in a mansion-museum sending one of its curators to seek help from Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) because he’s read her book about the paranormal; however, that book gets her fired just before her final tenure review at lofty Columbia U., with the stuffy dean of Psychology not wanting to have such absurdities connected to his faculty; Erin angrily tracks down her co-author/former colleague and long-time-friend, 
Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), now working at some local technical college in league with a brilliantly-crazed engineer, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), to find the book was resurrected by Abby to help fund her ongoing ghost-based-research, but when she tries to get Erin hired her obscene Dean throws all of them out because he didn’t realize that Abby’s program was still in existence; after the women encounter the slime-belching-mansion-ghost they set up a ramshackle office above a Chinese restaurant (with stolen equipment from the college), hire dim-bulb Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) as a receptionist (Erin’s really smitten with him), then investigate another spook-sighting by MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) which they document on video, but when their footage goes viral they’re dismissed by famous skeptic Dr. Martin Heiss (Bill Murray).  After Holtzmann quickly improves their proton-based-hardware and tricks out their hearse (borrowed from Patty’s undertaker uncle), they capture a dragon-ghost (?) at a rock concert, release it to prove to Heiss that they’re for real (it knocks him out the window as it escapes), and are dubbed the Ghostbusters in the media, a moniker they finally embrace along with the famous logo, spray-painted by a tagger on a city wall.  They’re quietly encouraged—although publically rejected to avoid panic—by Mayor Bradley (Andy Garcia) and his assistant, Jennifer Lynch (Cecily Strong), as other ghost sightings are being reported, until they find that disgruntled bellhop Rowan North (Neil Casey) from the Mercado Hotel is planning to open a portal to the angry ghost dimension, but when they prevent his plan he electrocutes himself.

 That was part of the plan, though, as Rowan comes back as a ghost, takes over Kevin’s body, then releases his human-hating-minions with a goal of commandeering the city with only our 4 Ghostbusters able to destroy many of his army even as his awful power continues to grow as it's feeding off of the power grid (just like with the Doomsday monster in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice [see next paragraph for citations]), giving Rowan the ability to grow himself up to gigantic size (after leaving Kevin, to then appear as the personification of the famous logo "cute" spirit).  Ghosts have even taken over the hearse—now called “Ecto-1”—onto which Holtzmann has installed what’s essentially a nuclear reactor.  In a final desperation move to plug up the abyss through which these destructive ghosts are escaping into our world, the intrepid women lure the careening hearse into the portal, blast the rooftop reactor with their proton weapons setting off a chain reaction that closes the passageway while sucking all of the ghosts back into it (seemingly reversing all of the collateral damage to the city in the process, much like what happened when our Kryptonian hero reversed Earth’s orbit in Superman [Richard Donner, 1978] in order to restore Lois Lane’s life but in the process eliminated all of the physical damage to the western U.S. caused by Lex Luthor’s nefarious scheme), with Erin rescuing Abby at the last second from being sucked into this ghostly hell.  Even though the city officials continue to deny the Ghostbusters’ work (claiming nothing happened, that it was all a mass delusion) they secretly fund research to guard against ghost recurrences (so the gals get to move to an abandoned fire station they originally wanted), with a quick post-credits scene showing Patty picking up reference to Zuul (a monster from the original movie) on a tape recording.

 Along the way throughout this movie we also get cameos from other 1984 Ghostbusters cast members—Dan Aykroyd as an unhelpful cab driver, Sigourney Weaver as a new mentor for Holtzmann, Ernie Hudson as Patty’s uncle Bill Jenkins, Annie Potts as a hotel desk clerk disgusted with bellhop Rowan—along with Ozzy Osbourne, Al Roker, and NYC comic news anchor Pat Kierman appearing as themselves (with the whole thing feeling like a reunion of NBC TV’s Saturday Night Live given how many noted cast members here have appeared on or hosted that show).

So What? One potentially-interesting question about this new version of Ghostbusters is whether to call it a remake or a reboot (based on comments from angry male Internet commenters who seem to be taking a hostile, misogynistic position that it’s almost sacrilegious to recast this story primarily with females or that the men depicted are shown to be either "idiots or assholes" [seemingly regardless of the decades of cinema women shown as bimbos or sluts], I’m sure there are plenty of opponents of this movie who could come up with much-more-scatological-names)—with both terms used in various reviews that I’ve read—in that the former should imply a repackaging of previously-released-material (such as the essentially-shot-by-shot-reconstruction of Psycho [Alfred Hitchcock, 1960; remake by Gus Van Sant, 1998] with added, haunting subtleties in the soundtrack or the upcoming attempt to once again bring Ben-Hur [Timur Bekmambetov, U.S. release date August 19, 2016] to the screen [following versions by Fred Niblo, Charles Brabin in 1925, William Wyler in 1959]) whereas the latter approach is about plots that reimagine characters for the purpose of giving audiences a new series of stories that don’t have to conform to previous continuities (as we’ve seen in recent years with Spider-Man—for his 
own narratives as well as joining him with members of the Avengers [see our reviews of The Amazing Spider-Man {directed by the appropriately-named Marc Webb, 2012}, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 {Webb, 2014}, Captain America: Civil War {Joe and Anthony Russo, 2016, where Spidey’s rebooted for a 2nd time} in the Two Guys' July 12, 2012, May 8, 2014, May 13, 2016 postings]—as well as Superman and Batman [see reviews of Man of Steel {Zack Snyder, 2013}, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice {Snyder} in our June 19, 2013, April 1, 2016 postings], both of those in preparation for the long-awaited debut of the full cast of DC Comics/Warner Bros.’ Justice League [Snyder, due in 2017], plus the storylines of such series as James Bond, Planet of the Apes, Terminator, and Star Trek [see reviews of Skyfall {Sam Mendes, 2012}, Spectre {Mendes, 2015}, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes {Matt Reeves, 2014}, Terminator: Genisys {Alan Taylor, 2015}, Star Trek into Darkness {J.J. Abrams, 2013} in our November 16, 2012, November 12, 2015, July 18, 2014, July 31, 2015, May 24, 2013 postings]), all of which are to be distinguished from actual sequels, even those that come out so long after the originals that they feel like remakes/reboots (such as with Jurassic World [Colin Trevorrow; see the review in our June 17, 2015 posting]).

 With Ghostbusters that remake/reboot determination will emerge when we learn if Sony senses enough positive response (as measured in dollars, along with audience appreciation for the brief return of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man) to go forward with this female-centric-approach to the original concept or whether this is a noble, well-enough-liked (despite the Internet trolls) offering that just doesn’t justify further investment (as with Tim Burton's intended-reboot of the Planet of the Apes series in 2001, which did make a lot of money [$362.2 million worldwide] but suffered tepid critical response [Rotten Tomatoes 45% positive reviews, Metacritic 50%] and general audience confusion about its ending where the Earth astronaut [played by Mark Wahlberg] escapes the ape world only to return to the planet he left, which is now ruled by apes).  If there are more of these, they’ll need to keep the main cast together but find some way to reboot McKinnon’s character a bit.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: Last weekend I was trying to decide which of the currently-available-new-cinematic-offerings looked the best so, as always, I consulted my local San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) and East Bay Times (Tony Hicks—and, by wire-service, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune) which collectively gave me the clear impression that The Infiltrator was far and away the best bet so it got the prime Friday night choice (a good one, as you see from my remarks above), but then a bit later I saw, oddly enough, that Ghostbusters [2016]—despite all of the negative fanboy stuff I’d briefly read about on the Internet—actually got a higher score on Rotten Tomatoes (73% positive reviews vs. 66% for The Infiltrator) while being a bit lower at Metacritic (60%) but not that much in relation to Cranston’s latest work (66%),* so with hearty encouragement from my wonderful wife, Nina—anxious to see a rare female-led-cast in a big-budget-American movie—off we went on early Sunday afternoon to see how NYC was going to be saved once again from an invading hoard (with little help this time from Hemsworth, who as Thor in The Avengers [Joss Whedon, 2012; review in our May 12, 2012 posting] had a major role in warding off dangerous aliens).  While the domestic income hasn’t been spectacular for Ghostbusters yet, it’s still been substantial ($46 million for opening weekend but #2 behind the juggernaut of the family-friendly The Secret Life of Pets [Chris Renaud], $203.4 million after just 2 weeks, even as another animated feature, Finding Dory [Andrew Stanton; review in our June 23, 2016 posting] took over the all-time-domestic-income-animated-feature-crown, moving up to $445.7 million, after only 5 weeks in release), so even though we were reasonably early for our screening we still ended up in the 5th row (no need to pay extra for the 3-D effect of hurled slime when you’re that close) due to the large crowd who thoroughly enjoyed what they saw, with a good number hanging around after the credits to get the quick scene setting up the option for a sequel (no sure thing but highly likely according to one Sony exec although you can find reasonable 
counterarguments—there’s a Ghostbusters II [Reitman, 1989] already, which I think I have a vague memory of seeing but it certainly had no lasting impact compared to the broad fun of the original).

* In case your trivia-stockpile’s running low lately here are the 5 current all-time highs on Metacritic: Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014; review in our July 31, 2014 posting) 100; Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) 98; Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994) 98; 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Munglu, 2008) 97; 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013; review in our November 14, 2013 posting) 97 [only 108 of the current 9,356 entries score 90 or better].  The top 5 for 2016 so far are Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan) 91 [not released in the U.S. yet]; Only Yesterday (Isao Takahara, a 1991 Japanese movie just recently played in the U.S., review in our March 9, 2016 posting) 90 [but I gave it only 3½ stars of 5]; The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer) 90; Paths of the Soul (Yang Zhang) 90 [no access for me to these last 2 yet]Little Men (Ira Sachs) 89 [not released in the U.S. yet].  I’ll also note that these lists are based on whatever reviews are available for the involved film, not matter how few; for example Little Men has only 10 as I'm typing this.

 So, what does this remake/reboot offer for me?  Mostly, a lot of fun in watching it, a general respect for how well the female leads carried the concept (although Kate McKinnon’s character is so weird in the scripting or her interpretation that she’s not able to do a lot with it except act like an escapee from a Looney Tunes cartoon—that is, when she’s not developing marvelous cutting-edge-paranormal-controlling-technology on the spot even with the limited resources she has to work with), and an acceptance of this revived version of the 1984-poltergeist-containment-story with relatively-minor-plot-changes and gender-reversals as being an entertaining diversion, even though I’m no more enthusiastic about sequels for it than I (guess I) was about continuing the original version (apparently there was some long-delayed-interest in pushing another follow-up to the earlier movies that finally evolved into what we now have as this story-revamping), as simply continuing the got-slimed-saviors’-tale beyond the initial concept feels too much to me like the 50th visit to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride (fun enough, but once you know every twist and turn on the journey it just becomes a trivia hunt to see what’s in the far recesses you hadn’t noticed before).  If there had never been a 1984 Ghostbusters, this one would still be an enjoyable rendition of the concept; because of the previous incarnation, this one functions as a successful tribute (along with doing some useful work in correcting the balance between big-splash-openings that star mostly men vs. mostly women) with upgraded special effects, but, honestly, I’m almost as tired of reboots and sequels (except where Justice League, Star Wars, and Star Trek characters are concerned) as I am of “based on true events” films, wondering both what’s become of the Hollywood original screenplay for mainstream fare and why the big studios don’t make better use of the original-story-screenwriters who continue to bring interesting concepts to far-less-profitable-independent cinema.

I’ll finish up my comments on this comic farce with the most obvious of Musical Metaphors, the 2016 “Ghostbusters (I'm Not Afraid)" theme song by Fall Out Boy featuring Missy Elliott at com/watch?v=2AQ44nPrRTM (available on the Ghostbusters: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack); however, this is just the music with no accompanying visuals so to further enhance the experience for you here’s the 1984 movie’s theme song at watch?v=XXoQXfi_0oI (by Ray Parker Jr., from that official soundtrack) performed by Parker and the house band on the June 8, 2016 show of ABC TV’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! with guests Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones.  I’ll leave you to boogie along with that because you know that the next time you need film reviews, wondering “Who you gonna call?,” the answer’s Two Guys in the Dark, of course.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.  Other overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!
Here’s more information about The Infiltrator: (2 separate trailers with little duplication)

Interviews with some of The Infiltrator actors: Bryan Cranston (, Diane Kruger ( a featurette with director Brad Furman and actors Cranston, John Leguizamo (

Here’s more information about Ghostbusters [2016]: (Top 10 Ghostbusters [2016] facts)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.