Brian’s Review – A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

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A Good Day to Die Hard

Directed by John Moore

2 out of 10

John McClane travels to Russia to help out his seemingly wayward son, Jack, only to discover that Jack is a CIA operative working to prevent a nuclear-weapons heist, causing the father and son to team up against underworld forces.

Bruce Willis ought to be ashamed of himself for having the audacity of inflicting this piece of shit on the public and then having the nerve to call it a Die Hard film. This is as bad a cash grab I’ve seen from an actor in recent memory. All of the charm and fun from the earlier entries in the series feesl like a distant memory and they’re replaced with an experience here that feels cold, boring, distant, incomprehensible, and ugly. Why in the hell did Bruce Willis make this? He’s certainly not hard up for cash after being one of the top paid actors for the last quarter century.

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So, why do a sequel to a beloved series that isn’t of very high quality? I’m not here to try to convince anyone that Die Hard is high art or anything but they were slam band action films that were fun and contained a realistic hero in unrealistic situations. The John McClane character is among the most loved off all time in the action genre and easily Bruce Willis’s most iconic screen role. This film shows a complete disrespect for the earlier work and Willis himself is largely to blame. My criticism are as follows:

  1. There’s no discernable story here. If there’s no story then the audience has zero reason to care.
  2. As with #1, there’s no characters that are remotely interesting…including John McClane!!! If you don’t care about the characters, you don’t care when they’re in danger and therefore there’s no suspense.
  3. This film is photographed horribly. The entire thing is way too dark and smothered in dark blues and smeary reds. It creates problems as a viewer because when you mix that with the shaky cam effect, it makes an already impossible film to follow even murkier.
  4. Bruce Willis acts old and tired. He puts no effort in to create any dramatic weight and looks utterly bored.
  5. John Moore is a schlock director. Did anyone see Max Payne? I rest my case.
  6. You won’t have any clue what’s going on from one scene to the next. There’s no flow. I was confused and yet too bored to put in any effort to figure it out.
  7. The villian sucks. He has no backstory and very few lines.
  8. There’s double crosses by characters who have almost no screen time. If I don’t even know who these people are, why would I care if someone betrayed someone else?

I could go on and on but I’ll end with this. This isn’t just the worst Die Hard film but my pick as the worst film so far of 2013.

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Vic’s Review – Step 9 (2012)

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Vic’s Note: I recently had the distinct pleasure of watching a screening of “Step 9″ here in Rochester, New York.  I was graciously invited by local D.J. and Film-maker Scott W. Fitzgerald of http://fairportpictures.com , to attend the showing at the beautiful Memorial Art Gallery here in the Arts district. I would like to personally thank Scott, his lovely wife Kelly, Fair Port Pictures and D-Train Media for the invitation. It was a wonderful and revelatory evening. Thanks, guys!

A former drug addict attempts to make amends with his ex-wife by telling her a secret he’s been keeping to himself for years.

“Step 9″

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others”

Directed by Scott W. Fitzgerald

8 out of 10

“Step 9″ is a powerful and somber short film which is an amazing character study efficiently told with sobering detail and an almost funereal reverence. Co-writer and director Scott W. Fitzgerald, of Fairport Pictures, handles the material with respect and a like-able craftsmanship that leaves the viewer completely immersed. Then eventually exhausted by the deep testimonial that is the result of a 20 minute journey into a man’s attempt to put his life back in order at any cost. Fitzgerald’s story, which he co-wrote with “Step 9″ actress Kelly Austin, is an acute observation that tempers the soul of those who particularly understand the tribulations of the lead character, Ray, played brilliantly by Danny Hoskins. (Better Than Wine) Ray is a recovering drug addict who wants to clear the air about his troubles with substance abuse to his estranged wife, Addison (Kelly Austin of the upcoming “Bury My Heart with Tonawanda”).

Fitzgerald’s film begins bleakly with Addison (Austin) getting into her vehicle in order to follow her husband, Ray. DP Derrick Petrush, from http://dtrainmedia.com/ ( Mason Darby, He’s Our Man!) keeps his camera tight on all the prologue proceedings.  When Addison gets in her car and we see close ups of her starting the ignition and clicking in her seat belt. Fitzgerald automatically gives the short a claustrophobic feel as Addison drives, the shot lingering of her eyes in the rear view mirror, after Ray one snowy and rainy day. She eventually catches up with Ray at what appears to be warehouse/ storage facility. Addison pulls her car into frame and she watches as Ray and another man, a stranger, are in the middle of what looks to be a transaction of sorts.

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Addison jumps out after moving closer and confronts Ray as the other man turns and runs. Ray tries to calm Addison down as she yells and attacks him. She turns to get back into her car as Ray attempts to explain what is transpiring. But it is too late. Addison gets into the car and Fitzgerald quietly reveals the film’s title as we continue to hear Addison’s crying. The film flashes slowly white then we come to Ray contemplating better and jovial days with his beloved wife as he sits eating a meal. Confined to a compact dwelling, Ray sits somberly and eventually Addison arrives to speak with Ray. Things are frosty and as Addison tries to be immediate and hurried, Ray comes off as a bit standoffish as he makes a biting comment about Addison’s prosperity. It doesn’t sit well with her and almost leaves Ray alone to wallow. Ray tells Addison about some bad news and he realizes that he is not getting any support or sympathy from her. In the course of the conversation she asks Ray about his prior drug use already making a judgement. Fitzgerald and Austin make their characters hot headed and prone to arguing. They continue this discourse for a while as the movie slowly boils in the incommodious environment.

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Ray begs to have the “old Addy back” as he tries desperately to get her to understand that this disclosure is not easy for him. Meanwhile, Fitzgerald adds the occasional flashback in black and white of Ray being sneaky and devious all the while with a devilish grin on his face. Ray tries to take a trip down memory lane but Addison decides otherwise. Ray, then, proceeds to tell her what he was going through and how he felt during his use as the steely Addison rubs her hands with antibacterial lotion in a very symbolic gesture. Fitzgerald’s characters are people under a microscope in “Step 9.” They are being slowly picked apart by their movements, dialog and emotions. The short incorporates layers of dynamic drama and it is fueled by slow and deliberate conversation. The  film peels back layers upon layers exposing issues, trauma and deep rooted despondency. Self image, addiction and insecurities come to surface. Especially when Ray finds out something salient about Addison’s past. All of this is on display and it works because of Austin and Hoskins. They play the conflict and then resolution well off of each other.

It isn’t all done with an easy flow though. Hoskins’ somewhat maniacal outbursts towards Austin seems a bit forced and heavy handed but it is fleeting. The script, too, clunks around a bit in the beginning but it finds it’s footing and never trips again. By the end of the short after all things are said and done between Ray and Addison, things are very different and the climax is both appropriate, crushing and eye opening. “Step 9″ is about forgiveness, despair, re-creation and sometimes futility. There is hope in this short though. In spades.  My hat’s off to Fitzgerald, Austin, Hoskins and Fair Port Pictures for putting together a beautifully shot and wonderful short that is well acted, relevant and engaging. “Step 9″ is indeed about what the 9th step is all about. Making amends. That in itself is a conviction that Fitzgerald and company express brilliantly in this short. Highly recommend.

“This is not right, Ray. You are a good man. You SAVED us.” – Addison

“The slate is clean.” – Ray

“Step 9″ was shot and filmed in Rochester, New York

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You can watch the Festival Cut of “Step 9″ from Fair Port Pictures and D-Train Media here:

Vic’s Review – Slither (2006)

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A small town is taken over by an alien plague, turning residents into zombies and all forms of mutant monsters.

“Slither”

Directed by James Gunn

8 out of 10

“What the fuck was that?”

Jeez, I don’t know where to begin here. “Slither” is just so much damn fun that I have to try and get my thoughts in order to write this review. There is so much to get into and rant gleefully about like a nerdy schoolgirl with this movie. It’s slimy, gory, reverential, hilarious, campy, nasty, smart and did I mention that it’s gory? Oh yeah, I did. It is an outrageous blend of hysterical sci fi and horror that is easily one of the most quote-able genre flicks to come along in a long time. It’s replay value is through the roof and it is written with a fan of these types of films in mind. It goes right for the jugular and never lets go because Gunn and company keep the movie consistently fresh. “Slither” hops genres too. It is a horror story wrapped in a science fiction film. Gunn incorporates humor and reverence into “Slither” and he does it knowing what  fans of these types of film want. Dark humor, intensity, heart and riotous mayhem.

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James Gunn is a “Troma” alum and he injects “Slither” with an affection for low budget tropes. Except it doesn’t look like a b movie but revels in  feeling like one. Gunn just about references every sci fi/horror classic known to man. Everything from Cronenbergs “Shiver” to “The Blob” to Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” to my favorite: R.J. MacReady’s Funeral Home which references  John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” Gunn gets the movie going with a classic sci fi adage.

A meteorite from space. It lands, not completely burned up, in Wheelsy, South Carolina. It transports an alien parasite/life form that is malevolent, vicious and cunning. Gunn cast Michael Rooker as Grant, who while screwing around in the woods outside his home gets attacked, assimilated and has his memories absorbed. Suffice it to say Gunn adds layer upon layer of  bawdy and lewd madness. Grant exhibits very strange behavior that involves eating raw meat and small animals plus what gives him away are those funky tentacles that protrude from his chest. Yuck.

The beautiful Elizabeth Banks (30 Rock) plays Grant’s wife, Starla (great name huh?) and she contacts Mal Reynolds, oops, I mean Nathan Fillion (Firefly, One Life to Live, Serenity) as Starla’s childhood crush, Sheriff Bill Pardy. Grant moves on to Brenda and impregnates her with the alien parasite and nasty little vermin offspring. Gunn in no slight way shows us how vile and impure all of this stuff really is. There is just about every conceivable grotesquerie there is in this freak-show. Men and women eat raw meat, explode, turn into zombies, get larger and larger with alien worm puss and not to mention Grant’s body absorbing townspeople and morphing into some large abomination worthy of Rob Bottin himself.

Actor Gregg Henry ( Body Double, Payback) plays the Mayor of  Wheelsy named…MacReady. Ha! I love it! Henry steals every scene he’s in as a foul mouthed, boozing and oafish politician. Henry gets to say some incredibly amazing lines from Gunn like: “Look up cocksucker!” or when told that martians are from mars he responds: “Or it’s a general term meaning ‘outer-space fucker.” Gunn just allocates such great material to all his actors and they excel in providing a fun ringside seat of alien/human decimation. Gunn also delivers some great action set pieces like when a teen named Kylie is assaulted by the alien slugs in her bathroom and she has to use her wits to survive not only the slugs trying to connect with her (she is also able to “see” what they really are and where they come from) but from assimilating her entire family.

The attack sequences also move from Pardy, Starla and Mac being chased in a pick up truck to the deputies being turned and killed to Brenda in the barn about to burst from all of the nasty and gooey aliens inside of her. Starla also is taken and brought back to the Grant-Monster who is nesting in the living room in her home. Starla tries to appeal to Grant who is in telepathic control of the rest of the infected deputies ( like a hive mind ) and townspeople. Grant’s memories come back but not before he discovers what he’s become. Gunn kicks up the atrocities and mayhem in fantastic fashion by giving “Slither’ a like-able and respectful air of tongue in cheek ridiculousness. There are gags abound too. The ending shall I say is indeed quite explosive and every bit as fitting as we have come to expect in this wild and hellacious movie.

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Gunn’s “Slither” is a joy to watch because of the respect and love that is put into the production. All the references aside the movie does have it’s own identity and it never fails to impress with the craftsmanship it displays. Great music, an endearing and capable cast and a very reminiscent but showy story makes the film all the more tantalizing to watch. It will at times remind some viewers of other cult films like “The Deadly Spawn” and even “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” but it never COPIES them or tries to be them. What Gunn does is akin to a love letter to these awesome drive in horror/sci fi stories about aliens taking over the earth not in spaceships but by invading our bodies and minds. It is a perfect homage without being a rip off.  

It remains vivid, eye opening and vulgar in every way and even if you are not a gore hound you will find that you can never take your eyes off the movie. Fillion (who intentionally chews the scenery in parts) is hilariously astounded by everything going on and Banks is spunky and deft in having to adapt to killing the creatures and fending off the Grant-Monster.That leaves Rooker who is perfect as Grant. Serious as a heart attack and completely brutal and bestial in the role. “Slither” is a wonderful watch and if you want to escape into an absolutely fucked up universe of monsters and alien slugs you need to watch this movie and try not to turn away in disgust because if you do you may miss a reference or a great sight gag.  Highly recommended!!!

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“Slither” is currently available on Netflix Instant Streaming.

Here are other movies that “Slither” references. See if you can catch them!

Predator

Evil Dead

Videodrome

From Beyond

Night of the Creeps

Deadly Blessing

Brian’s Review – Man Of Steel (2013)

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Man of Steel

Directed by Zack Snyder

4 out of 10

A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race:

I blame annoying ass comic book fanboys for this film. After the release of Bryan Singer’s 2006 resurrection of the franchise with Superman Returns, fanboys bitched and moaned up and down with quotes like:

“There’s not enough action.”

“Why is the film all about the romantic element?”

“Why isn’t the film darker?”

“Why can’t it be more like Batman?”

Well asshole fanboys, you got what you wanted. And guess what? Your dream version of Superman isn’t very good. It’s not a complete catastrophe but it’s way too long for such a thin story and it literally sucks the joy out of the Superman experience.

The film opens with a long stretch similar to the far superior 1978 version that shows the end of the planet Krypton. What are the differences? Instead of showing an imaginative ice world filled with overly confident scientists whose own arrogance proves to be the destruction of their planet, we get a rock world filled with too much CGI and fisticuffs between Superman’s Dad and Zod. Despite the obvious advances in special effects, it doesn’t draw the viewer in. It’s cold and boring. The unfortunate part of that is that it permeates through the entire 2 1/2 hour running time.

After the obvious jettison of baby Superman to Earth in his ship that is curiously shaped like a penis, baby Supes goes through growing up bullied, alienated, and rejected. Does he discover new powers? Does he realize he’s capable of abilities that make him God-like? No! He mopes, he whines about how he’s different, and he makes himself the victim all the time. It’s again a far cry from the 1978 version that showed a young Clark Kent laughing and smiling while out running a train. Also, unlike the original film, this version does everything in flashback. Clark is roaming place to place in search of where he comes from and once in a while, he finds people to save. There’s no characters even brought into the experience that we relate to.

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I’ll run down the list of things this films gets wrong:

1. It’s not fun. Superman hates being Superman almost the entire film.

2. Lois feels crowbarred into the story. She’s in it a lot and you’ll scratch your head as to how she got there in the first place.

3. Clark doesn’t work at the Daily Planet. He’s a fisherman or something else for almost the whole film.

4. There’s no chemistry between Superman and Lois. This was the entire backbone of the original film.

5. Zod is terribly boring. He’s single-minded and 2 dimensional.

6. Perry White is in the film but doesn’t have any bearing on the story.

7. Kevin Costner dies trying to save a dog. Yes, a dog…. Remember the original Johnathon Kent. He had a heart attack and Clark couldn’t save him? It added extra meaning because it reminded him that as powerful as was, he couldn’t save everyone. It was poignant. This is not.

8. Action scenes go on and on without purpose, or suspense, or involvement from the viewer.

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What did I like? Henry Cavill could be a terrific Superman in a better film. There’s a few decent moments between Clark and his adopted parents. The problem is that these scenes are few and far between because we keep getting thrown into action scenes that aren’t interesting. It’s a city under destruction that was done better in the Avengers. That films had character development within the action. This does not.

I have always been a fan of the Superman character. He is a representation of the American myth that we are all capable of amazing things. We may not fly, or have super strength, or X-ray vision. But, he represented the inner good and possibility o the human spirit to help his fellow man without the need for reward. It was a character and story-line that was fun, romantic, and made you believe a man could fly. The “Man of Steel” felt like he never left the ground.

Vic’s Review – Crush (2013)

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“Crush”

Directed by Malik Bader

7 out of 10

“Crush” from director Malik Bader (Street Thief) and writer / producer Sonny Mallhi is an efficient and practical little thriller that is peppered throughout with a touch of Hitchcockian flair. It uses the daunting theme of the sexual stalker as it’s story and this time, much to my surprise and delight, Bader’s film is both involving and eloquent. Much of it is standard fare as with all movies about someone being stalked and followed. What Bader does here though is establish the characters and has us feel for each and everyone of them . He also consequentially delivers the creeps and displays that in this day and age some directors can still produce a twist and shock the viewers. When that happens and happens successfully, “Crush” becomes a film with some cred. It doesn’t happen until late in the film but what comes before it is interesting and smart. Bader manages to lift the movie beyond it’s “Teen Obsession” flick. It’s crafty and tricky and it is able to pull the wool over your eyes more than once. The movie opens with a disturbing sequence involving a boy and an innocent looking girl on top of a modest home’s rooftop and after shocking us in it’s brutality, Bader continues to build his story in a relevant and worthwhile way.

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 Bader cast Crystal Reed (Teen Wolf) as Bess. A teen loner who is quiet, meek and a bit lonesome. She works at a local music store and apparently has a secret crush on a local school athlete named Scott, played by Lucas Till (X Men First Class). Scott is recovering from a knee injury he suffered and is in the middle of his therapy and trying to get back into shape to continue playing sports in school. He lives with his Dad, Mike, played by Holt McCallany (Fight Club). As he tries hard to get better he deals with a love affair with his on and off again girlfriend named Jules (Sarah Bolger). Meanwhile it seems that Bess herself may have a secret admirer as well in Jeffrey played by Reid Ewing (Fright Night). He dotes over her and continues to make excuses for spending more and more time with her. She takes no notice of him at first since she is obviously concerned with what seems like a torrid obsession with Scott. There are weird e-mails, pictures and occurrences surrounding Scott and his girlfriend Jules that gradually increases to the boiling point. Scott knows he is being followed and being watched that he eventually becomes very paranoid and even gets blamed for posting lewd pictures of Jess. It seems that Bess, while ignoring Jeffrey, has been up to no good and making her crush on Scott literally unbearable. His life begins to unravel and his Father ( being out of town )  is not around to help him with Bess. He confronts her several times and is even told by Bess’s co-worker, Andie (Caitriona Balfe) to back off and Scott’s teammates also picks up on Scott’s odd behavior. Bader weaves all of these characters and a few more into an intricate web of deceit, confrontations and frightening suspense. It’s all very old school and as we are kept guessing as to all of the motives and actions of all these characters, Bader continues to tighten his grip. He and his writers add some gravity and depth to the movie with a very capable cast and well placed suspense.

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 There is much more than meets the eye when it comes to “Crush” It has a suspenseful peculiarity to it and it relishes in keeping us guessing. It is hard to review the film without spoilers because there are some twists and turns that are not telegraphed way ahead of it’s resolution. The cast are all young and compelling even though the actors all seem like they really couldn’t be high school students but I digress. What’s important is that Malik Bader’s “Crush” is an intriguing slow burn ( I just keep using that damn phrase, don’t I?) that explores the themes of every angst ridden teen regarding  jealousy, obsession, fringe behavior and the handsome and refreshing production values make “Crush” a magnetic stalker flick. It is no “Play Misty For Me” or “Fatal Attraction” only because those films came first and this entry can be very reminiscent of earlier movies of it’s ilk.  It’s touching, exciting and riveting especially in it’s third act and the twist is completely well timed. My only gripe is it’s procedural and derivative flashback sequence. Why do we have to sit thru flashbacks of things we could pretty much have figured out without the visual flow chart. It does not spoil the film but I did roll my eyes a bit. I hope you guys get a chance to check out “Crush.”  It is a mature effort that can appeal to teens and adults. It was a pretty pleasant surprise. Recommended!

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Brian’s Review – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

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Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

3 out of 10

I saw the title for this movie and immediately went “Huh?” It sounds  ridiculous and yet strangely intriguing. I tried not to judge a book by its cover and just watch the film for what it was. Unfortunately, the title is the most interesting part of this mess. AL:VH is a joyless experience. It tries to reinvent our 16th president as a younger man out for blood because a vampire decided to feed on his mother after his Father failed to pay a debt. In response, he lashes out and wants revenge. If you’re still awake after that boring description, try to imagine a film with as silly a title as this and has no humor in it whatsoever. Sam Raimi had the right idea with the Evil Dead series. He took a non-existent plot filled with demons and ghouls and added large doses of humor to engage the audience and give them a bloody good time.

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I suppose my greatest hope was that AL:VH would be in the same vein(no pun intended) and create a roller coaster ride in the “Zombieland”-style where horror and comedy have been successfully fused. Instead, we have an angst ridden hero doing Samurai moves with an ax. Why did he have to be Abraham Lincoln? There’s no real reason to make the protagonist a historical figure. It didn’t add anything to the experience or give the plot any added oomph. Also, I have a real beef with these Vampire films coming out where the bloodsuckers walk around during the day. I am well read enough to know that Bram Stoker’s original story had Dracula walking around during the day albeit with diminished power. But, the idea that Vampires are only awake at night gives the story more potency and allows the humans to regroup and develop. Twilight is another example of this. Of course, that hunk of shit makes them sparkle (Stephanie Meyer should be prosecuted for that).

Anyway, with the Vampire films making a comeback for all the wrong reasons, I keep waiting for a great one to come along and have found myself disappointed each and every time. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is unfortunately not the exception.

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Brian’s Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

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After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.

Directed by J.J. Abrams

9 out of 10

It’s a great relief to me to see that J.J. Abrams has taken over the Star Wars series starting with Episode 7 and a great sadness that he will no longer be making any Star Trek films. This is every bit as good as the previous entry where Abrams reinvented the series by creating an alternate timeline that separates it from the original television and movie series with William Shatter and company. That was brilliant masterstroke of sci-fi writing because it opened the floodgates to possibilities of what could happen to these classic characters that differed from the original stories.

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Star Trek:Into Darkness is action packed and loaded with first rate stunts and special effects. However, I’m glad to say that they never come at the expense of storytelling or character interaction. All of the Enterprise crew have a likeability in their own way and you find yourself rooting for them. The main differences between this film and the last is a first rate villain played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch who is far more interesting than Eric Bana’s villain in the last and an even more frenetic pacing because we no longer need introductions to the main players. I won’t give away plot details because there are several easy things to spoil. However, I will tell you that this is first rate popcorn entertainment. It may not be the brainy sci-fi that some Trekkies live for but it sure is fun.

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Brian’s Note: I saw this in IMAX 3-D and recommend it. It’s done much more tastefully than other three dimensional efforts. I still prefer 2-D but it’s acceptable.