‘Wrong Turn’ Reboot Has More On Its Mind Than Easy Jump Scares

With this latest installment of “Wrong Turn,” I come into this long-running franchise a complete virgin. I have not seen the original which came out in 2003 and stars Eliza Dushku and Jeremy Sisto, nor have I viewed the sequels, several of which went straight to video. As a result, this puts me at an advantage as I won’t be comparing this one to its predecessors. Instead, I may be comparing to so many other horror and slasher flicks which continue to overcrowd this at times underappreciated genre, and those comparisons are usually inescapable.

This “Wrong Turn,” directed by Mike P. Nelson, is actually a franchise reboot which does not connect to any of the previous films, but instead features a new set of characters who end up taking exactly what the title implies, but while it contains many archetypes and cliches horror movies often have to offer, this one surprised me by giving us characters who were not all they appear to be and grounding its terror in a reality we are all familiar with. Whether or not I had expectations before screening this film, I certainly was not expecting this as filmmakers often go for the jugular, but these ones have more on their mind than a few jump scares.

“Wrong Turn” starts off with Scott Shaw (the always reliable Matthew Modine) driving into a small town in Virginia to search for his missing daughter, Jen (Charlotte Vega), and her boyfriend, Darius (Adain Bradley). It turns out these two were with their college friends on vacation which included hiking the Appalachian Trail. Scott is met with indifference by the town’s sheriff who, when he sees Darius with Jen in a photo, replies, “Who’s the black fella?” Then he goes to the motel where the group stayed, and the manager tells him, “The quieter the town is, the more the sheriff gets to fish.” But of course, he finds the most resistance from a local resident named Nate Roades (Tim DeZarn) who informs him, “Out there, nature eats everything it catches, right down to the bone.” So, the setting has been set, and Scott now looks to be lucky to find any body which can be identified through dental records,

Following this prologue, the film then jumps to six months earlier. Now if there is another horror film which has done this recently, I have not seen it. But anyway, we are introduced to Jen and her friends who are reveling in their time off and taking selfies. From the outset, they look like your average college kids who have yet to graduate and have the whole world ahead of them and, of course, they think they are invincible. Then we see them in a bar where they are berated by Nate who believes they have yet to work a real job in their lives. It is then that Jen says the following:

“Your wrong. My boyfriend Darius runs a sustainable energy non-profit, Mila is an oncologist, Adam is in app development, and Gary and Louis are a couple of New York bistros. I don’t know but I call those real jobs.”

In this moment, Jen helps to render herself and her friends as more than your average horror movie characters as they prove to be more intelligent than I could have given them credit for upon first sight. There is even an LGBT couple here in Gary and Louis, and I would like to think this is more of a regular thing than I have seen in this genre. With movies like this, “Love, Simon” and “Booksmart,” I am led to believe audiences in general are largely comfortable with LGBT characters just as they always should have been. As for those who still have complaints about these people, take a good long look in the mirror. That’s where you will see what the real problem is.

But as expected, these young adults do indeed take a wrong turn and end up in the clutches of a group of people who have lived in the mountains for countless years, and it is no surprise to discover how indifferent they are to strangers or outsiders. From there, “Wrong Turn” becomes a picture which delves into the divisions which separate people from one another, and it is these same divisions which have pulled us apart over the past four years. This makes the tension all the more palpable as we have long since realized we have long lived in a country which is not as united as we would like to believe.

Now some horror films are content to follow familiar conventions as the filmmakers and studios feel the fans want them more than anything else. Perhaps they do, but I really liked how “Wrong Turn” went out of its way to challenge those conventions as it provides us with characters and scenarios which feel very close to real life than many would anticipate. This is not a motion picture in which we wait and root for these characters’ demise, but one in which we fear it because we know it will be painful and not the least bit pretty. Just look at one character who gets his smashed by a large tree. Now that’s a sight which will not leave my mind for a very long time.

The screenwriter for this reboot, Alan B. McElroy, also wrote the screenplay for the 2003 original “Wrong Turn” as well as the one for “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.” This is a writer who has worked in the horror genre for quite some time and knows how to revive a franchise which finds itself running on fumes. Like I said, I have not seen the original, but I have read it dealt with cannibalistic inbred mountain men. With this reboot, McElroy has made the antagonists much more earthbound and this makes the horror all the more impactful. They even have their own court system, and it is one which deals out very definitive punishments and has no use for appeals. Whether or not there is inbreeding is another story, but they prove to be as human as us even as they waste to trespassers. Survival can be such a brutal thing.

My hat also goes off to the cast of young actors which include Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, Emma Dumont, Dylan McTee, Vardaan Arora and Adrian Favela who get to do more than portray the average archetypes. Each of them gets to invest deeply in their characters to where they can be seen as multi-dimensional, and this continues throughout the film even as it ventures into familiar genre territory. And yes, it is always nice to have Matthew Modine around as he gives the proceedings of any movie he appears an integrity it might not always have.

“Wrong Turn” is not a great movie, and while it does try some fresh things with its well-trodden story, it’s not quite as scary as it wants to be. And yes, I did find myself rolling my eyes when the young adults did go off the trail as they were just asking for trouble like many characters ask for this in the average slasher film, Still, I was very much taken in by this reboot which held my attention throughout all the way to its unnerving ending which involves a haunting version of the song “This Land Is Your Land” which I was convinced was sung by Nana Vernon (it was actually sung by Ruby Modine).

I do have one major criticism though, and it’s how these characters lose their cell phones while sleeping one evening. No one loses their cell phone this easily, ever. We all live in a time where we can no longer imagine living without our mobile devices, and if I ever lose mine, I go ballistic. You don’t even want to be around me when this happens. Calm me down all you want, it infuriates me when I don’t know where my cell phone is, and I expected the characters to be as angry as me when they lost theirs.

Anyway, I at least have to forgive the filmmakers for using the old cliché of how cell phones don’t get reception in the wilderness. That still makes a significant amount of sense.

* * * out of * * * *

“Wrong Turn” is now available to watch On Demand, Digital, Blu-ray and DVD.

Exclusive Interview with Dylan McTee About ‘Wrong Turn’

The latest “Wrong Turn” installment is now available for all to watch, but while some of the filmmakers remain the same, almost everything else has changed. Directed by Mike P. Nelson, this film acts as a reboot of the “Wrong Turn” franchise as we follow a bunch of young adults who are going on a hiking trip up in Virginia. But instead of running into bloodthirsty cannibals, they run into a clan of self-sufficient people who have lived in the mountains for years and do not take kindly to outsiders. What results may seem like another horror slasher extravaganza, but unlike its predecessors, it is grounded in a reality we all know and understand, and this makes this particular reboot stand out in the overcrowded horror genre.

Among the young adults in the cast is Dylan McTee who portrays Adam Lucas, the loudmouth jerk of the group who never knows when to shut his mouth. But while Adam may sound like the typical clichéd you find in the average horror film, McTee invest this character with intelligence, thoughtfulness and a physicality which is on full display throughout. Born in Los Angeles, California and a graduate of USC, he played Wyatt Long in the CW show “Roswell: New Mexico,” and he also co-starred in “The Wind,” a horror film which belongs on my “Underseen Movies” list.

I spoke with Dylan about the making of “Wrong Turn” and how it differs from the average film, and we also discussed other things like training at USC and why he is so inspired by Daniel Day Lewis’ acting.  

Ben Kenber: How familiar were you with the “Wrong Turn” franchise before you got cast in this reboot?

Dylan McTee: I was, and part of the reason why I wanted to do it was because it (the first “Wrong Turn” film) was one of the first horror movies I ever saw. As a kid, I remember watching it with my older brother who had, obviously without my parents knowing, had turned it on. It scared the shit out of me for months and probably messed up my brain for maybe the good, right? Because I’m in the new one (laughs).

BK: I had talked to Adrian Favela recently and he said he also saw it when he was a kid and it messed him up pretty good.

DM: Yeah. I think a lot of us were the same age as kids when the first film came out, so we were given a too early exposure to it.

BK: Well, its better seeing the original “Wrong Turn” at a young age than the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

DM: Oh yeah, that was on too. I saw all of them. I watched “The Exorcist” when I was way too young. Way too young.

BK: As the movie goes on, we learn Adam and the other young adults are not all they appear to be and prove to be more intelligent than they appear on the surface. They are more complex than I expected. Did this aspect appeal to you?

DM: Yeah, of course. Certainly, there are archetypes. This isn’t like a character drama or anything. This is still a pretty classic horror slasher film, but you are very right. I play Adam who is definitely the difficult one and why I wanted to play him was because of the fact that he is the guy who, whether or not it is socially right to do so, says the truth or at least what he believes to be the truth, and he’s not afraid to fight about it. That’s sort of what the film is about. At its heart it’s a fun, fun slasher just for you to have fun while watching, but it is also sort of about social issues that we have today like division. I think that we’re all quick to judge, and in the universe of this film that is exactly what gets you killed. I think that was really fun to explore.

BK: In other interviews, you have said you are attracted to very challenging roles which explore the darker side of humanity, and we definitely get to see Adam’s dark side when he is forced to defend himself in the worst way possible. What was it like portraying that?

DM: That’s so true. I love playing the darker side of humanity for sure, just like playing the joy and all that. Adam was a particularly interesting character because he is so erratic. You don’t really quite know what’s going to happen next to him. He is deeply selfish and violent, and then he is caring and comforting, and then he lies and then he tells the truth, and to me that’s exciting when you don’t know what’s going to happen next with someone. But at the end of the day, obviously it can be argued that he is not the best person. I love to think there is a part in all of us that is deeply just mental and is willing to fight and violently fight for those assumptions we have of others. That’s, in my opinion, the lesson. It’s the weaker route to take. It’s harder to take a step back and say, well where are these people actually coming from? Where am I coming from? It’s much easier to just assume something about someone, and then that’s the job, right? At least my job in this film was to show this aspect of humanity which unfortunately we all have.

BK: Yes, we do make assumptions about people even when we shouldn’t, and this is what gets the characters in trouble.

DM: Yeah, so I really like that (Alan B.) McElroy added that. He is also the screenwriter of the original film, and I am glad that he brought that in.

BK: McElroy also was the screenwriter of “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.”

DM: That’s right! Oh my god, I forgot about that.

BK: It must be nice to work with writers and filmmakers like McElroy who are working to freshen up the genre if only by a little bit.

DM: Yeah. This is my third film ever, so I am not going to pretend like I’m some sort of veteran. In many ways I’m starting out, but this was definitely a different experience and definitely my first experience where I realized the horror genre has really changed. I find the audiences are more sophisticated than ever before. If you are going to go about rebooting something that people like, you need to push the envelope. Sure, there’s gonna be people who are upset that maybe Three Finger is not in this iteration, but I just really respect the fact that we just did something no one is expecting really. I think that’s fun to watch, and to me that’s worth it.

BK: Another movie you were in which I really liked was “The Wind.”

DM: That was a cool movie.

BK: That’s kind of a wilderness movie as well. Were there any similarities for you in filming “The Wind” and “Wrong Turn?”

DM: Oh god, they were so different. I had a fairly small part in “The Wind,” but the characters are just opposites. In “The Wind” I was a very subdued and quiet, late 1800’s city boy. In this one, I was, well, a very violent, fighting city boy, so there you go. They were both city boys (laughs). “The Wind” was very quiet, eerily so. This one is more running and trying to solve problems and action and movement and then just fighting for survival. So (they are) very different films even though they are in the same genre. But I love Emma (Tammi) and Caitlin (Gerard). They were just genius.

BK: Speaking of running and jumping, you and the rest of the cast did a lot of that in “Wrong Turn.” How physically demanding was shooting this movie for you?

DM: Incredibly. In any film, it’s how ever much you want to put in it, and for me, at least in my experience, I put in a lot. I want it to be authentic as possible, and really at the end of the day the only way to do that is just to do it. Obviously, we followed all of the safety protocols, but I was really dragged by a chain and I really fell down a hill. I am fairly equipped just from my own experience. I am a black belt in karate, I like fight choreography, I love all that stuff. It was actually something I looked for. So, for me at least, it was a huge part of the attraction to this role and this film really.

BK: I read that you studied martial arts. Which of them would you say you are proficient?

DM: Just Kenpo, a Japanese karate, and then I also do boxing and obviously some stage combat which is very like, I’m a thespian! (Laughs) But that’s not real fighting. And then at school I got in fights, but I’m not like an MMA guy. That would be cool. Maybe I will do that for the next role.

BK: You have said you are very inspired by the acting of Daniel Day Lewis. Is there any specific performance of his which you really like?

DM: One that really hit me was “In the Name of the Father.” There’s a scene where he’s talking to his dad in a jail cell, and just the way in which he lets it rip… He’s not afraid to look ugly. That’s just something I look up to. He just gives his heart and soul, and that’s what we want to watch. That’s so inspiring to me.

BK: Yes. There are many actors out there who just want to look cool onscreen, and then there are those who are more than prepared to dirty themselves up if the role calls for it.

DM: Yeah, totally. I think most of the actors that reach the top or the ones I look up to are aware of the fact that they are servants. It’s not about me. We are here to serve the story and to represent something that someone maybe is actually watching and saying, that’s me. There is a huge responsibility to acting in my opinion.

BK: You trained at University of Sothern California (USC). What classes did you benefit most from as an actor there?

DM: My favorite class was dialects. The fact that you could find movement and bring that to the voice and how you can watch videos of people and all the research involved of finding a certain specific southern accent or Northern Irish or Southern Irish or New York or Bronx and all these different things and just how you can bring it into your body. That was huge for me and so much fun. I definitely want to do more of that character stuff. I love that element of acting.

“Wrong Turn” is now available on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray. You horror fans be sure to check it out!

Exclusive Interview with Adrian Favela about ‘Wrong Turn’

He received national attention for playing the starring role of Pepe in the award-winning film “Requiescat,” and he co-starred opposite Laurence Fishburne in the upcoming theatrical release of “Under the Stadium Lights.” And now, you catch Adrian Favela in the horror film “Wrong Turn” which is debuting on digital and physical media and serves as a reboot of the long-running franchise. In it he plays Luis, a member of the LGBT community who is vacationing with his friends in Virginia where they go hiking around the Appalachian Trail. But as the title implies, they go in the wrong direction and find themselves at the mercy of a community of villagers who are not the least bit happy to deal with outsiders.

I got to speak with Adrian over the phone while he was in Los Angeles, and we talked about how this “Wrong Turn” reboot proves to be a lot more grounded in reality than its predecessors ever were. We also talked about his character and the others are a bit different from others the horror genre typically has to offer.  

Ben Kenber: This “Wrong Turn” film was not at all what I expected. It feels a lot more grounded in reality, and the characters including yours are not your typical horror movie cliches. Your character of Luis Ortiz is part of the LGBT community and has a boyfriend, and this is something we do not always see in a film like this. How do you feel about that?

Adrian Favela: I think it’s really amazing. We don’t always get to see other LGBT characters represented in a non-stereotypical way. The way Alan B. McElroy wrote the script, he made the characters very normalized and I think that’s really special. I have tons and tons of fans reaching out saying how represented they felt, and I really truly feel special for that.

BK: I love the scene where the characters including yours are in the bar and this redneck-like character comes up to insult them. In the process, we come to discover how educated you and the others are.

AF: Yeah, I loved the idea behind it. Instead of the typical dumb kids in the woods doing dumb things, it was really smart everyday people in a terrible situation which I really appreciate.

BK: I expect most actors in horror films to overact or emote to a ridiculous extent. How did you and the filmmakers work at keeping your character so grounded?

AF: Originally what he (director Mike P. Nelson) did to make us all really blend into the characters is he made all of the cast hang out and become really good friends before we even started shooting, so that really grounded us in the space. So, when got to the points of huge emotions, we run into a big ravine scene with Gary and Luis, when you actually know the person next to you personally, it really opens you up to new emotions. It’s not like the fake emotions that you want to put on for show, but it is also your own personal emotions that you are able to attach to the character and magnify the extent of what Luis is going through. So, it was really cool and special. Mike also is huge on horror with heart, so he wanted us to dig within ourselves so it’s not just like, oh somebody died, let’s run away. It’s like, somebody died, let’s feel what happened.

BK: I read that when you auditioned for this film, you had to act in a blank space and pretend things were there when they were not. How did you go about doing that?

AF: Through the audition there was traps, there was the character Adam getting sucked into the hole by chains, and snakes, etc. It was one of the craziest auditions I had ever seen. So, the way I really approached it was I wanted just to take to my imagination. I really have to sell the idea these things are happening to me, but if you do it in a way which is too structured, you get lost and you’re trying to play something compared to seeing somebody living in this imaginary world. I think that’s what ultimately helped me book the role, just taking to my imagination and playing in the space.

BK: Were you at all familiar with the “Wrong Turn” franchise before you were cast in this reboot?

AF: The first one came out when I was around 10 (years old) and I remembered watching bits of it with my dad and just being absolutely horrified. It was burned into my mind. I don’t know if you’ve seen the first one where they are chopping up the person on the table. I was just remember being mind blown and horrified and had nightmares for months and months. So, when I got the audition I was like, oh my god, is that the movie which just horrified me my entire childhood? (Laughs.) It was like a full circle.

BK: This film was shot in the wilderness. What challenges did this present to you and the other actors?

AF: It was definitely really tough. I will say the terrain was really brutal. There are some real falls which made the final cut. We were out in the place called Hocking Hills. It is a state park, and it is full of caves and caverns. The trails were really, really thin, so we’re filming with tons and tons of crew and we’re just trying to act and not fall down the hill at the same time (laughs). The night shots, especially the outer foundation area, it was in the middle of the night and there were no lights. I remember being carted to set and you couldn’t see anything in front of you. It was just the headlights, and it was insane. It was brutal, but it really kept us in character for what these characters were actually going through.

BK: It really shows up onscreen. You really can’t fake that.

AF: Yeah (laughs).

BK: What I liked about the screenplay is how it does not reveal its secrets right away. When you first read it, did you get all the information you needed, or was it a situation where the filmmakers revealed things to you as production went on?

AF: The original script is a little bit different than the final cut of the film, but we still got the same idea. In the original script we found a reveal at the very end that a ton of time has passed and Jen has been in the Foundation for months. This is why she is so incredible at her kills and survival skills. I was very surprised at how they approached it. I think the approach that Michael did was absolutely perfect. It explains to the audience that there is a time lapse happening. It says right at the top that this is six weeks prior (to what we just saw in the prologue). That way we were just led in, and it all leads up to when Matthew Modine’s character finds Jen.

BK: Did you have a small role in Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart?”

AF: Yeah, there was this casting for a bunch of party guys. The original script of “Booksmart” was supposed to be something along the lines of a female version of “Superbad.” It was a crazy (party) scene, and they ended up cutting all that out. It was definitely a bummer, but it was really cool to see everybody working and that kind of giant cast ensemble feeling and how to work in that space.

BK: “Booksmart” was one of my favorite movies of 2019, and it’s the kind of teen movie I like best as it takes the problems adolescents go through more seriously as opposed to joking about them endlessly.

AF:  Yeah, ”Booksmart” was incredible. When I saw the final cut of it, I was like wow, this movie is amazing.

BK: Did you get to work with Olivia Wilde at all?

AF: Yeah, just a bit. I met her. She was super, super kind and loving and sweet. You don’t always get that with directors, so it was really cool to see her giving her everything.

BK: How do you feel about the response this “Wrong Turn” has received thus far?

AF: Of course, we are going to get mixed reviews. Horror always has mixed reviews (laughs).

BK: Yes, I tend to moderate my expectations when I watch any movie these days. There have been many horror movie reboots over the years, but this is really one of the better ones.

AF: Oh, thank you!

BK: This film has the same screenwriter as the original “Wrong Turn” film, Alan B. McElroy, and this is the same man who wrote “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.” This is a guy who clearly knows how to put a fresh spin on a long running horror franchise.

AF: I think the thing with “Wrong Turn” was it was moving in a single direction for so long. We had the standard of the flesh-eating cannibals and the classic tire pop as they are moving toward West Virginia. I think what Alan B. McElroy did was he flipped it on its head. Instead of giving you the same path, he flipped it in a new direction. At the end of the day, horror fans are really, really, really smart fans. They know everything. We pulled a lot of the flesh-eating cannibals and we traded it for food for thought which I think was really smart and an interesting move and something you don’t always see in horror. If you go into this film with an open mind and an open heart for something new and something fresh, I think you will find it in this film. But if you are looking for something along the lines of, I want to see a flesh-eating cannibal, you might not like it (laughs).

“Wrong Turn” will be available to own and rent on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray starting on February 23, 2021.

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ is a Better than Expected Reboot

The Amazing Spiderman poster

When “The Amazing Spider-Man” was finally released in movie theaters everywhere, we finally got to answer the question nagging at us: isn’t it far too soon for a franchise reboot or remake or whatever the hell you want to call this? Well, the answer ends up going both ways here as Marc Webb’s film does tread familiar ground, but it gets better as it goes on. This time, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has a lot more edge to him and is a little more complex than he was in the Sam Raimi-directed movies.

This version starts off with a very young Peter Parker being left in the company of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) by his parents, Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), who are forced to leave town under mysterious circumstances. Forward several years later, and Peter is now a sullen teenager played by Andrew Garfield, one of several actors who should have gotten an Oscar nomination for “The Social Network.”

Like before, Peter is a social outcast who is not exactly the most popular person on the high school campus. But unlike Tobey Maguire’s interpretation, Peter here is sullener this time around; sensitive and shy while dealing with anger at the life he has been dealt which is anything but normal. In essence, he is more of a real-life teenager than he was in previous incarnations; confused about his place in life and unsure of himself. “The Amazing Spider-Man” hence becomes the story of a young man on a journey to find himself, and this helps ground the superhero in a reality we all know and understand.

The first part of “The Amazing Spider-Man” made me a bit impatient as it travels through all the things leading up to Peter adopting his alter-ego. Sam Raimi’s first “Spider-Man” movie may have come out ten years ago, but its images are still fresh in our minds. I’m not just talking about Kirsten Dunst kissing Maguire while he hangs upside down. Still, Webb and company do their best to make the material their own. The moments where Garfield develops his power to swing from place to place is exhilarating to watch, and whereas Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movies were like a comic book brought to life, Webb deals with Peter Parker in a more realistic fashion.

Speaking of Garfield, he has repeatedly said how happy he was to get this role, and the thrill he gets from playing this iconic comic book character is clearly on display. Throughout “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the actor looks to be having the time of his life, and he certainly has earned the right to enjoy himself based on his excellent performance here as he makes this role his own. I also really liked was how he wasn’t afraid to make Parker unlikable at times. Clearly this is a young man with issues, having lost his parents in a way no child should, and the actor makes Parker’s confusion over what is expected of him all the more palpable.

Matching Garfield scene for scene is the wonderful Emma Stone who plays his highly intelligent love interest, Gwen Stacy. Stone shares a strong chemistry with Garfield, and she gives the role a feisty kick which makes her so much fun to watch. She also infuses her Gwen with a strong humanity which keeps her from being just another love interest, and her performance goes way beyond what we could have expected.

Rhys Ifans portrays Dr. Curt Connors, once a friend of Parker’s father, who is developing ways to regrow limbs and human tissue. But something ends up going terribly wrong, as it always does, with an experiment, and he is soon turned into The Lizard. The dilemmas this character faces are not too different from what Norman Osborn/Green Goblin character dealt with, but Ifans makes the character a fascinatingly complex one as his intent to test his experimental serum on himself is not about proving oneself to a whole bunch of doubters as it is about taking responsibility for one’s creation when others are more interested in results and profit.

While I miss seeing the late Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, both Martin Sheen and Sally Field fill the roles wonderfully. I also really liked Denis Leary as Gwen Stacy’s father, NYPD Captain George Stacy, who gets into an argument with Peter as to why he considers Spider-Man a vigilante. After watching him on “Rescue Me” and as an endlessly cynical standup comedian all these years, Leary once again reminds us of just how effective an actor he can be in playing an upstanding citizen and a strong family man.

Previously, Webb was best known for directing music videos, and the only other movie he made was “(500) Days of Summer.” You can’t help but wonder what the studio executives were thinking when they hired him after he made a $7.5 million indie movie to helm a summer blockbuster with a reported budget of over $220 million. Maybe all the other big name directors were busy or something. Then again, when you look at both “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” they have strong similarities. Both feature main characters in the process of figuring themselves out while moving on to the next stage of their lives, and they also have them romancing a female who is as intelligent as she is attractive. Each movie succeeds in giving us relationships which were not the usual dopey romantic kind, and they are all the better as a result.

With “(500) Days of Summer,” Webb also showed a keen understanding of how important it is for the audience to be emotionally involved with the characters in a movie. This ended up making him an ideal choice to direct “The Amazing Spider-Man” as we need to care about these characters in order for the movie’s story and its special effects to work effectively. Webb succeeds in getting us emotionally involved in what goes on, and it makes this reboot stand out from the typical summer blockbuster which invades our local movie theaters more often than not.

Another thing I have to point out is the film score by James Horner. Danny Elfman had done such a brilliant job defining the sound of Spider-Man in Raimi’s movies, and this gave Horner a hard act to follow. But Horner succeeds in giving us music which is as adventurous and invigorating to listen to as Elfman’s was. Of course, this doesn’t keep him from stealing from himself as there is a musical cue from “Star Trek II” in here, and it is instantly recognizable to those who have listened to that soundtrack over and over again.

It would have been nice if Raimi and Maguire got to make a “Spider-Man 4,” if for no other reason than to make up for the huge disappointment that was “Spider-Man 3.” But in retrospect they must have seen the writing was on the wall as there was nowhere else for them to take the character. While a reboot still feels way too soon for this franchise, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a very entertaining movie which looks to get this series back on track. Now that we got the origin story out of the way once again, we can get to an even more exciting chapter in Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy’s lives.

* * * out of * * * *

Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek 2009 movie poster

I have been into “Star Trek” since I started watching the original series when I was five years old. I reveled in Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew hurtling through space and exploring new worlds. I still remember watching the episode “The Return of the Archons” where the Enterprise crew was being held prisoner, and there was this overwhelmingly loud noise which rendered them unconscious. As they fell to the floor, I mimicked what I saw on that ancient Zenith television my parents bought, pretending I was part of this great crew. Back then, I envisioned myself as a character on that show and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as its adventures made up for the dullness of reality.

As “Star Trek” expanded from its original incarnation later became a never ending movie franchise, I stayed with it as much as I could. My dad had to carry me out of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” after I burst into tears at the end. The fact that I kept saying he would come back to life was truly an utter coincidence when “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” came out, and I was in tears after that one as well. I later became determined to be the first person in Thousand Oaks, California to own a copy of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” on VHS. When my family moved from Thousand Oaks to the Bay Area, I found myself wanting those transporters to be real so that I could beam down south to hang out with the friends I was forced to leave behind.

But somewhere along the line, I found myself losing interest in all things Trek as I started to miss out on the last couple of seasons of “Star Trek: TNG.” Then there were other spinoffs like “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” among others, and I became increasingly less excited about the franchise as it came to resemble “Law & Order” and its various other incarnations. You knew what you were going to get, so the level of excitement I had for the franchise kept fading away year after year. Still, I believed that the franchise could be resurrected because, as Spock would say, there are always possibilities.

That resurrection has now arrived, seven years after “Star Trek: Nemesis,” thanks to J.J. Abrams. His “Star Trek” movie is the most exciting film this series has seen since “First Contact,” and I fucking loved it! This origin story of the Starship Enterprise and its cast gives the franchise a much needed kick in the ass. By taking the series in new directions, Abrams has succeeded in opening up the world of Trek to an audience that never fully embraced it before.

We get to see a young James Tiberius Kirk driving a hot rod while blasting the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” on the car’s stereo, and this is the first sign that this “Star Trek” is not going to be the same old shit. We see a young Spock getting taunted by his classmates which makes him use methods other than that famous Vulcan nerve pinch to subdue his enemies. Seeing Spock beat the crap out of others might have been hilarious in any other movie, but Abrams takes the character in fresh new directions we have not seen him go to before. This plays much more intensely on the fact that Spock has always been half-human and half-Vulcan.

The plot of “Star Trek” revolves around the device of time travel which has played a part in the most entertaining and successful films in the series (“The Voyage Home” and “First Contact”). It involves a large mining ship of Romulans commanded by Nero (Eric Bana) who is as thirsty for revenge as Khan was in “Star Trek II.” It doesn’t matter how much you know about Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi universe because anything and everything you remembered about it previously will seem very different, and that makes this movie all the more entertaining and unpredictable.

One of the key successes Abrams has with “Star Trek” is the actors he has chosen as none of them try to do imitate what the actors who originated these roles did before them. Among the most impressive is Chris Pine who plays Kirk as a hotshot who gets himself in trouble constantly and lacks a father figure in his life. Pine really succeeds in capturing the same cockiness and over confidence that William Shatner brought to the role before him.

But even better is Zachary Quinto who plays Spock at his most emotionally unhinged. Of all the actors here, he has the biggest obstacle to overcome since the original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is in this film as well. I admired how Quinto strongly displayed Spock’s inner turmoil and of the fact that he is a child of two worlds. One of his best moments comes when he essentially flips off the Vulcan High Command after he is accepted into their prestigious science academy. By describing Spock as having done well despite the “disadvantage” of having a human mother (played by Winona Ryder of all people), we get a huge thrill out Quinto making “live long and prosper” sound like he’s saying fuck you to the.

Another inspired casting choice in “Star Trek” is Simon Pegg as Engineer Montgomery Scott. As the movie heads to its exciting climax, it is frightening to see just how much Pegg resembles Scotty from the original series, and that’s even more so when we hear him say, “I’m giving her all she’s got Captain!” Pegg gives us a Scotty that is a perfect comic foil, and it will be great fun to see where he will take Scotty in future installments.

As Nero, Eric Bana gives us the strongest and most lethal villain this series has had since Khan. Whereas the previous antagonists seemed more refined in how they acted among their prey, Nero’s fury is so personal and uncontainable, and the fact that he is named after the Roman Emperor whose rule was marked by tyranny, and that he ordered the execution of his mother and adopted brother, should give you an idea of how screwed up he is.

The rest of the cast includes Bruce Greenwood who is perfectly cast as Christopher Pike, and it reminded me a lot of his underrated portrayal of John F. Kennedy in “Thirteen Days.” John Cho of “Harold & Kumar” fame plays Sulu, and he has a great moment where he gets to put his fencing skills to the test. Zoe Saldana plays Uhura with a calm sexiness and an intelligence that is foolishly underestimated by others until she makes you see the big picture. Karl Urban gives us a pitch perfect Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy and captures the character’s infinite crankiness we all know him to have. Anton Yelchin plays Pavel Chekov, and while the character feels underused here, he is still well cast and has a flawless Russian accent. And of course, we have Winona Ryder playing Spock’s mother, and her performance is all the more impressive when you take into account that she is only two years older than Quinto.

What impressed me even more about this particular “Star Trek” is that it was given a budget of over $100 million. There is no doubt that the money is there on the screen, and the effects are remarkable. This is an especially good point to make as special effects have never really been the strong point of the “Star Trek” series, but here they are the best they have ever been. The Enterprise bridge looks so much different than it ever before, and it has a sleek style to it that makes being there all the more inviting.

I’ll be very interested to hear what die hard Trekkers think of this latest adventure of the Enterprise crew. This one does not dwell on big ideas the way “Star Trek” has done for the most part throughout its various incarnations. The main power of Roddenberry’s series was how it dealt with social issues of the day in the realm of science fiction. This one is meant to be more like “Star Wars,” and it allows Abrams to give this aging franchise an invigorated feeling that it desperately needed. While it may not be a “Trek” rooted in philosophy, I think this one leaves the door open for writers to explore present day themes in a future installment.

But I cannot go on without mentioning the welcome return of Leonard Nimoy as Spock (. This could have been a gimmicky cameo that lasted just a few seconds, but Nimoy’s Spock does play a very pivotal role in this movie. Furthermore, he also helps give it a sense of legitimacy that it would not have had without his appearance. Keep in mind, his character was the only one who survived the rejected first pilot of the original series.

Seeing this “Star Trek” brought a lot of happiness to me. My mood seems to get inadvertently sidetracked depending on the health of the franchise. I can honestly say that I am not all surprised at its longevity or constant rebirth. Roddenberry’s message of hope always finds a way to win out, and it is fitting that the movie is getting released around the beginning of the President Barrack Obama’s first term. Granted, this is really a coincidence since the movie was being developed before he made his decision to run for President, but it’s a wonderful coincidence all the same.

All those kids who gave me crap about liking this great series can suck it now, because “Star Trek” is here to stay. Even those who picked on me for being a Trekker, and ironically did much better in science classes than me, won’t be able to pass this one up. “Star Trek” can be seen as the first truly great odd-numbered movie in the long running series, and it is proof that this series will never die.

Live long and prosper? OH HELL YES!!!

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Copyright Ben Kenber 2009.