Category Archives: Contributed

Texas legislators file ‘Granny Tax’ bill to fill state budget hole

Austin,Texas — Texas legislators Senator Chuy Hinojosa and Representative J.D. Sheffield have filed legislation to tax nursing home residents paying for their own care. Known as the Granny Tax, Senate Bill 1130 and House Bill 2766 would generate state revenue by taxing elderly residents of nursing homes. Nursing home residents would each carry a tax bill of over $4,000 per year. The bill would tax 30,000 nursing home residents a total of over $120 million dollars.

“The legislation balances the state budget on the backs of elderly veterans, retired teachers, and other Texans paying for their own nursing home expenses,” said George Linial, President of LeadingAge Texas, the association representing non-profit nursing homes.

C.C. Young, a faith-based retirement community in Dallas, would see residents hit hard by the tax. Russell Crews, President & CEO, sees the legislation as an unacceptable route to generate state revenue.

“We are asking the generation that has already sacrificed so much to now pay a significant and unfair tax,” Young said. “We hope legislators make the right choice and find quality of care solutions that are paid for by all Texans, not just those that are sick and aging.”

In San Antonio, Air Force and Army veterans would be forced to pay the Granny Tax. Retired Air Force Lt. General, Chip Utterback, is now on a mission to defend retired veterans from the scope of this tax.

“This is not the way to fill a hole in the state budget,” Utterback said. “This tax will put much needed care out of reach for many of our vets.”

Many of the nation’s largest for-profit nursing home chains are pushing the tax to improve Medicaid funding. However, a recent report by AARP indicates that Texas nursing home quality is among the worst in the nation.

“This tax simply throws money at a problem without linking funding to quality. It’s unfortunate that care for those paying their own way might now be jeopardized,” Utterback said.

Rather than taxing elderly residents of nursing homes, LeadingAge Texas supports tying state funding to quality of care.

“As Texans, we pride ourselves in minimizing the number of taxes on our citizens and a granny tax seems inconsistent with that sentiment,” Linial said. The Texas Legislature is almost mid-way through its legislative session, as bills continue to wind their way through the legislative maze.

SOURCE LeadingAge Texas

“Be a First Responder” campaign tackles Dallas’ stray dog problem

Photo: DART Officer Davis-Cole and foster dog Valentina are part of the DAWG Project’s campaign. /Photo by Joe Snell

In the midst of a photo shoot that paired DART officers with stray Dallas dogs, DAWG (Dallas Animal Welfare Group) board member Lisa Faulkner-Dunne recalled a moment six months earlier when she first discovered how bad the south Dallas stray dog problem had become.

“[Our group] was at the high school on the tracks and one of the kids said, ‘I think those are dogs sleeping on the tracks,’” Faulkner-Dunne said. She disregarded the remark. A pack of dogs, she thought, couldn’t be living there.

“It was just getting light, it was six in the morning and that’s when they’re on the move. So we get closer and eight dogs stand up: big dogs, sleeping on the track. They get up, they see us and they kind of shook and walked off.”

Now, nearly six months since that first trip to the train tracks, the DAWG Project has partnered with DART Police officers to take pictures alongside stray dogs to promote the “Be a First Responder” campaign, an effort to help foster providers realize they are first responders to their own animals.

The photo shoot, which took place on March 4 at DART’s Mockingbird Station, is an effort to help curb the alarming stray dog issue that has been steadily taking over south Dallas and even prompted Mayor Mike Rawlings just last year to label the issue a crisis. 

Last summer, Faulkner-Dunne joined a small group of volunteers on a mission to quantify the stray dog problem that had been plaguing south Dallas for years. She and her team were in charge of three zip codes in south Dallas. They carefully drove down every street just once, taking a scientific approach to counting the number of unique stray and loose dogs they saw. Within just the three zip codes, her group counted 446 dogs. From that moment, Faulkner-Dunne said the DAWG project was formed.

An escalating stray dog crisis in south Dallas reached a peak last year when 52-year-old Army veteran Antoinette Brown was mauled by a pack of stray dogs. The Dallas Police Department responded by hiring The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to research the issue.

BCG released a report in August of last year that estimated there are roughly 8,700 stray dogs in South Dallas. Acting quickly, in September city manager A.C. Gonzalez announced that Deputy Chief Rob Sherwin would take over the Dallas Animal Services (DAS) and Major Barbara Hobbs would serve immediately under him.

Since then, DAS has initiated a number of changes, including creating The DAWG Project, which was formally introduced on Feb. 23. The program works across multiple city animal shelters to connect dog owners with local animal welfare services across a variety of nonprofit and city organizations.

“It’s education. It’s spay-neuter. It’s fostering. It’s working with rescue groups. There’s a whole lot of things that have to happen to solve the problem,” Faulkner-Dunne said. “There’s no easy solution. If there was, it would have been done.”

DART officers as well as firefighters and Dallas police officers, are helping to launch the “Be a First Responder” initiative. A number of officers are signed up to foster. The goal, said DAWG member Tammi Kukla, is to have 1,000 of the 3,200 Dallas police officers fostering a dog. Officers have the option of offering a temporary home to a dog in need and can apply for short or long term assignments. Kukla says having first responders initially foster the dogs for a short term helps ease the animals into another foster situation.

“It’s helping us get them used to being in a home,” Kukla said. “Then they’re easier to adopt. All of the rescue groups are working together, which is really nice too.”

DART’s involvement in helping DAWG project was a natural fit due to the location of platforms.

“Since we’re within all of the neighborhoods, the dogs will come up and somebody will feed them,” DART Officer Melanie Serrao said. “They’ll continue to come up to the station, because they know that’s where the grub is.

“A lot of dogs found on DART property [our officers] end up adopting,” Serrao said. “We have a high stray population that shows up on all of the platforms.” In one example, a DART officer adopted a kitten named “Pocket” that was abandoned on a train.

The DAWG Project admits a number of areas need to be addressed in order to make significant changes. Officer Serrao’s advice for fixing the issue involves heavier enforcement of ordinances.

“Enforcing more of the ordinances like spay-and-neuter and getting your dogs registered,” Officer Serrao said. “It’s very important to register in the first place. Getting more people helping get out to the public and letting the public know how to get their dogs fixed for free.”

Individuals interested in fostering a dog from DAS should go to www.dallaspets.org/foster.

Mistakes on your tax return could lead to an audit

By Nathaniel Sillin

You’re not alone if your heart pounds when you see a letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in your mailbox. While some lucky filers get sent a letter because they’re due a larger refund, most of us fear the worst – an audit.

Those fears may be largely unfounded for the average household. Only about one percent of taxpayers get audited, and high-income taxpayers are disproportionately targeted.

If you are audited, it might not be like you imagine. An audit could focus on a particular line entry, credit or figure, and you might only need to mail or fax a copy of the relevant paperwork, such as an insurance report or receipt.

Even so, getting audited isn’t fun. In the best case, you have to take the time to dig through your records and respond. In the worst case, you have to do all that as well as pay penalties and interest.

What can you do to help reduce your risk of audit? Audits, or examinations as they’re also referred to, could be the result of a random selection, mismatched documents, deviation from the expected “norms” for similar returns or connection to someone who’s being audited. But there are a few things you can do to help minimize your chances of being audited.

Enter all your information correctly. Take an extra few minutes to double-check the information you entered when preparing your tax return. A misspelled name or wrong number could lead to an examination.

Include information from every form with your return. When an organization sends you a tax form, it also sends a copy to the IRS. The IRS has an automated system that can flag a return when you don’t include information from one of the forms you received.

Don’t treat a hobby as a business. You might enjoy your hobby and occasionally make some money from it, but that doesn’t make it a business. Business and hobby expenses are treated differently and you can’t claim a loss from your hobby. If you try, that could be a red flag.

Know the home-office rules. Many small business owners and contractors work from home, but that doesn’t automatically mean you can claim the home-office deduction. You can’t claim a guest bedroom where you occasionally work, the room (or part of a room) must be used exclusively and regularly for business.

Only claim the EIC if you have earned income. To qualify for the Earned Income Credit (EIC), you need to have earned income, such as wages or salary, for the year. Other types of income, including alimony, child support, unemployment benefits and Social Security won’t qualify you for the EIC.

Working with a professional tax preparer, such as a certified public accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent (EA) could help you avoid making errors, but it doesn’t guarantee you won’t be audited. Similar types of support are sometimes offered with online tax preparation software for a fee. In either case, if you’re required to pay more tax, the bill may get passed on to you.

Don’t let fear cost you. Some taxpayers shy away from claiming legitimate credits and deductions because they fear an audit. That could be a costly choice. There’s only a small chance you’ll get audited, and it could be quick and relatively painless — especially if you keep good records.

Fear also leads thousands of people to fall victim to tax-related scams. Thieves may impersonate an IRS agent, but the IRS will never call or email you requesting a specific type of payment. The IRS only initiates contact with taxpayers by mail, and you can choose among several methods of payment when you owe money.

Bottom line: While there’s no way to guarantee the IRS won’t ask questions about your tax return, don’t let fear of an audit keep you from using the credits or deductions you can rightfully claim. Filing a complete and accurate return could help minimize your chances of an audit, and if you do receive a notice, you may be able to quickly resolve the issue by following the instructions.

Bark scale study reveals treatments to fight pest

By Adam Russell

The second year of survey data tracking crape myrtle bark scale has provided researchers information they believe will help mitigate the pest’s effect on trees, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Erfan Vafaie, an AgriLife Extension entomologist and integrated pest management program specialist in Overton, and other collaborators in College Station, Huntsville and Dallas, have monitored pest numbers the past two years to help determine crape myrtle bark scale’s seasonal life cycle and peak crawler activity. The data collected has helped researchers develop strategies against them.

The crape myrtle bark scale, an invasive insect species from Asia, secrete a sugary solution known as honeydew that subsequently results in black mold along the branches and tree trunk, Vafaie said. The crape myrtle bark scale has not shown to be fatal for plants, but does affect the aesthetics for the very popular ornamental tree, especially in the Southern U.S.

Observations suggest the scale could be responsible for stunted growth in plants as well as reduced flowering. Two years of data collected by Vafaie and his collaborators show bark scale crawler, or nymph, numbers peak between mid-April and the beginning of May. He suggests two treatment options – contact spray or systemic – for landscapers or residents who have identified signs of crape myrtle bark scale based on data.

Trees can be treated with a contact insecticide spray as pest numbers peak, followed by another treatment two weeks later. Insecticides with the active ingredient Bifenthrin have proved to work best during the study.

“Separate treatments in two-week intervals are good because you want to target bark scale in their immature stage,” Vafaie said. “You hit them during the peak and then two weeks later to catch those that have emerged following the first treatment.”

Vafaie said systemic treatments should be applied much earlier to allow the trees to uptake the insecticide for effectiveness. The best time to apply systemic pesticides is mid-March to the end of March, after leaves begin to bud out and trees are actively taking up nutrients from the ground.

“You want to have a systemic like imidacloprid or dinotefuran that will be taken up into the plant so that by mid-April to the beginning of May it will be present higher in the tree when the bark scale are feeding,” he said. “That way, it will target them and kill them.”

Vafaie said the data collection has netted positive results so far and more research on crape myrtle bark scale is expected to follow in order to give ornamental growers, wholesalers and the public improved strategies against them.

“We’re collecting data this year and will in subsequent years to try and better understand how different temperatures during those years affect bark scale numbers.”

ACLU of Texas launches police accountability app 

HOUSTON — The ACLU of Texas recently announced the launch of ACLU Blue, a police accountability smartphone application that allows users to join an interactive, online community committed to documenting excessive uses of force, racial profiling and over-militarized responses by law enforcement, as well as showcase and elevate examples of model policing in Texas communities. The app is available for use in Texas on the Android and iTunes app stores in English and Spanish.

Through the ACLU Blue app, users will be able to record police interactions or upload videos recorded with other video applications. Once uploaded, the videos will be reviewed by “deputies” to verify the footage does indeed document a police interaction, after which it will be reviewed by ACLU of Texas staff and released to the public via YouTube. The app also features Know Your Rights information educating users on “What to do if Stopped by Police,” “Your Right to Film Police” and “Your Rights at the Border.

“There have been far too many incidents in this country and in this state of police interactions involving misconduct, abuse and tragedy,” Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said. “The ACLU Blue app is designed to continue the national conversation about policing. It encourages model policing by allowing users to show what policing should — and shouldn’t — look like. If an officer uses overly aggressive law enforcement tactics on a civilian, Texans should know about that. And when an officer demonstrates professionalism and model policing, de-escalates a tense situation or foregoes force where diplomacy is what’s warranted, then Texans should know about that, too.”

“When properly deployed, police body cameras discourage misconduct, increase accountability and transparency, improve evidence documentation and reduce civilian complaints in some cases by as much as 90 percent,” Cheryl Newcomb, deputy director for the ACLU of Texas, said. “Unfortunately, not all law enforcement agencies use them, and those that do may not have policies to release footage to the public when the public most needs to see it. The ACLU Blue app allows Texans to document police interactions and join a community dedicated to protecting civil liberties.” 
SOURCE ACLU of Texas

Film Review: Beauty and the Beast is live action update of classic tale

Synopsis: An adaptation of the Disney fairy tale about a monstrous-looking prince and a young woman who fall in love.

Review: The story of Beauty and the Beast is classic and one that most are familiar with. Animated films, stage plays, TV shows; all mediums have adapted this tale of love. So it was only a matter of time before a live action big screen production emerged. It should be noted that if you are looking for a new twist or some sort of modernized retelling, then you will be disappointed. But if your desire is to see this beloved classic come to life on the big screen with expert costumes and exceptional performances, then you are in for a treat for sure.

All the characters and scenes are patterned after the original. Belle (Emma Watson), Gaston (Luke Evans), LeFou (Josh Gad), and Maurice (Kevin Kline) embrace their human form and take on the roles with proud vibrato. In the enchanted castle The Beast (Dan Stevens), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), Chip (Nathan Mack), Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) are each voiced and animated perfectly.

Director Bill Condon makes sure that the essence and themes are kept in tact. Each character may have a bit of the actor’s personality but they never lose the recognizable spirit we are accustomed to. From a quiet conversation between Belle and The Beast to the colorful explosion of the musical numbers; everything is captivating and engaging just as it should be.

This feels almost like a gift for diehard fans. Those who want to know what line is about to be spoken or song is to be sang. The surprise is how the actors deliver it, but the meat of it doesn’t change. That is a smart move by the filmmakers.

The look of The Beast and his powerful voice are commanding. Emma Watson as Belle is as tenacious and captivating as any Disney lass before her. This version also seems to focus even more on the love story between the two. There are several endearing shots of the two of them as they spend time in the castle. It is easier to feel sorry for The Beast here than in any other rendition of the story. You know the outcome and are even more elated when it arrives.

Viewers are also granted several new songs that give even more depth to those characters living under the castle’s curse. It is a musical, and there is a lot of singing. But it never feels laborious or over saturated. There is a healthy balance and again Condon and team made valiant efforts to pay tribute to the original.

Beauty and the Beast is rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images. Being live action some of the violence and peril feels heavier than in animation. That said it is still a perfect family film and anyone over the age of 9 should be comfortable watching. Parents may want to note that it is a tick or tock over two hours, so younger family members may get a tad fidgety. Even some of us older ones did. At the time of this writing, there is some media backlash about some content in here being non-family friendly. That is rubbish and should not even be given a second thought.

I give it 4 out of 5 book shelves. It is a beauty to watch for sure.

 

Texas Central Partners detail connecting Dallas to Houston high-speed railway

Texas Central Partners spoke about plans for a new high-speed railway connecting Dallas and Houston on Thursday, March 9th at a luncheon at the Park City Club in Dallas.

The luncheon was hosted by the North Texas CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member) Chapter. Tim Keith, president of Texas Central Partners, spoke to a group of investors and real estate professionals about the project.

The 240-mile long railway will enable passengers to travel from Dallas to Houston in under 90 minutes, utilizing a state-of-the-art bullet train that can travel up to 205 miles per hour. The trains will depart every 30 minutes, and the railway will have stations in downtown Dallas and downtown Houston, along with a third station being planned for Grimes County to service Texas A&M students.

Although the train will be considered public transportation, Keith stressed that taxpayers will not be footing the bill for the railway. Instead, the rail will be funded entirely through private capital and investors.

“As an entrepreneurial sponsor, we’re private,” Keith said. “We’re going to be an infrastructure company that pays taxes. No other road system or any other public mode of transport pays taxes.

“I like to say we’re infrastructure funding any projects the leaders of the communities collecting taxes need to fund, whether it be social services, housing, shelters for homeless families, animal shelters or new roads in other areas. It’s quite unique in that we’ll be helping generate economic impact on a permanent basis all over the place.”

Currently, about 14 million people travel from Dallas to Houston every year, and over 90% of those travel by car. With this railway, Keith said he hopes to offer those travelers a more convenient travel option, especially as cities continue to grow and highway travel becomes more and more crowded.

“One of the reasons we need that choice is because congestion will continue to increase,” Keith said. “As we grow, congestion is forecasted to impact travel speed, travel times and other factors. In fact, the average travel time forecasts an increase [over the next twenty years] from four hours driving from Houston to Dallas to six hours.”

Keith added that Texas Central aims to provide a “reliable, convenient, comfortable and productive” travel experience for all of its passengers.

At this point, the railway is anticipated to begin construction at the earliest next year. However, there are still several legislative issues the railway must first contend.

Rebecca Cowle, the outreach manager for Texas Central Partners, explained major pieces of legislation the railway needs to officially begin construction.

“The two main pieces of regulatory approval we need are…the environmental impact statement and then all of the safety and technical approvals,” Cowle said. “[We need] the environmental, obviously, to make sure it’s not environmentally invasive, and they’re examining anything and everything under that environmental umbrella. It’s not just flora and fauna, it’s the human environment: air quality, noise pollution, everything.”

Keith spoke about the environmental impacts, primarily how they affect smaller communities as well as farm and ranch lands between the two metropolises.

“We’ll enter those communities and create infrastructure and we’ll work in our design to not only accommodate existing public roads, but also future roads as they have been identified by the planners in those communities,” he said. “But also, in our design of the viaduct, the spans are wider than the average county road, so the more spans we have and the more viaducts we build, the more flexibility those communities will have.”

Of major importance, Cowle added, would be safety and technical regulations, especially since the railway is the first of its kind in the country.

“Currently in the United States, there are no trains that are capable of going 205 miles per hour,” she said. “There’s not a rulebook on how to regulate a train that goes 205 miles per hour. They’re going through and doing all of those technical regulatory approvals needed for a project like this in order to occur. You want it to be regulated by someone to make sure it’s as safe for the consumer as possible.”

Currently there are no plans to include routes to other cities such as Austin or San Antonio. However, Keith said that if the Dallas/Houston route proves successful, the railway could possibly expand to include other cities across Texas. “Our goal is to make sure, as a transportation company, not only do North Texans and Houstonians move well, but also the communities throughout the whole area continue to move well.”

Texas.gov makes it easy to for parents of children entering kindergarten

AUSTIN, Texas – With kindergarten roundup approaching for school districts across Texas, parents of children entering school for the first time can order a certified birth certificate via the Texas.gov Online Vital Records Application. This official service, offered in conjunction with the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), provides easy-to-follow instructions in English or Spanish for a secure and convenient experience.

The price of an online birth certificate is $22 per record, the same as a walk-in or mail order, and is generally less expensive than other third-party online sources. DSHS fulfills all online vital record orders, and most orders are processed within 10 to 15 business days. Marriage and divorce verifications, as well as certified death certificates, can also be ordered through this online service.

The response from those who have already used the online vital records application has been very positive with comments such as, “Just want to say thank you to DSHS for making ordering a birth certificate for my son an easy process,” and “I cannot think of a single improvement to the online birth certificate ordering process. It was simple and straightforward. Thank you for keeping the process from being cumbersome!”

For a demonstration on how to order a vital record online, visit the Texas.gov YouTube channel where you can watch a short video with step-by-step instructions.

Texas.gov is a great place to complete many other government services online, too – pay CHIP enrollment fees, renew a vehicle registration or driver license, order driver records, and much more. With 1,000+ online services, secure payment processing, and friendly 24/7 customer service, make things easier on yourself and your schedule by taking it online with Texas.gov.

Consumer Alert: To safely take care of your government business online, beware of unofficial, look-alike websites operated by private organizations that may charge unnecessary fees for services or information. Instead, make sure you are using the state’s official website, http://www.texas.gov, or an official state agency website to complete your online transaction. To access an official website, enter the URL in the address bar at the top of your Internet browser (e.g. Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, etc.) instead of entering the address in a search engine bar (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.). Also, look for the .gov or .state.tx.us extension in the URL, which will be present in the URLs of all official Texas state government websites.

 

SOURCE NIC

Rental properties can make good investments, but they come with risk

By Nathaniel Sillin

Maybe your financial house is in order. Your debt is manageable or paid off. You have an emergency fund and now you’re looking for ways to grow your wealth. Or, perhaps you’re planning ahead by learning about different investments options. Have you considered becoming a landlord?

Rent prices tend to rise over time, providing an inflation-protected income into your retirement years. You also might be able to cash in big later if the unit’s value increases. It doesn’t always work out that way, though. Some landlords wind up with a trashed property after evicting a tenant or lose their savings in a natural disaster.

In between the extremes of easy, hands-off income and total ruin are the everyday concerns, benefits and risks that most landlords face.

A few risks you could face as a landlord. Investment property mortgages tend to be a little more difficult and costly to secure than primary residence mortgages. It can also be harder to take cash out of investment properties – either with a cash-out refinance or a home equity line of credit. In other words, you might not have access to the money during an emergency.

Owning a rental property outright can be risky as well. Especially if you’re placing a significant amount of your savings in a single investment, the lack of diversification could put you in a precarious situation.

Those aren’t the only risks you could face when owning a rental.

Finding and keeping good tenants. Landlords learn from experience that it’s worth leaving their rental empty for a month or two rather than pay for an eviction or expensive repairs later. You can pay for professional tenant screening reports or credit reports and call applicants’ references before offering a lease.

Covering your expenses. Between taxes, insurance, repairs, maintenance and mortgage payments the monthly and one-off costs can quickly stack up. Some landlords lose money because their rental income doesn’t cover their expenses, but they won’t be able to attract tenants if they raise it. If the housing and rental markets drop, you could be stuck losing money each month or selling the property at a loss.

The time or cost of managing a rental property. Becoming a landlord is often far from a hands-off job. When the phone rings in the middle of the night because the roof is leaking, you’ll need to figure out how to solve the problem. You may be able to hire a property management company to take on this work for you, but they often charge about 8 to 12 percent of your rental income or a flat monthly fee.

Even with the risk involved, there are countless examples of successful landlords. Many find the experience so rewarding that they purchase additional investment properties.

Set yourself up for financial success. What separates the successful and sorrow-filled landlords? Luck certainly comes into play, but you can also take steps to get started on the right foot.

Try to determine a property’s capitalization rate, the estimated annual return, before making an offer. To calculate the capitalization rate, divide the annual net income by the property’s purchase price.

Your net income will be your rental income, which you can approximate based on rental prices for similar properties, minus your costs, such as maintenance, upgrades, vacancies and emergencies. You may need to consult an accountant to understand how your new tax situation can affect your costs.

Cap rates tend to change depending on the area and type of property. But regardless of what’s considered “good” in your area, you can use this formula to compare different investment opportunities.

Bottom line: Many people focus on the positives of owning investment property. An extra income and potential to build equity with their tenants’ money seems too good to be true, and it just might be. If you’re going to be successful, you should acknowledge the risks that come with the territory and plan accordingly.

Film Review: King Kong graces the silver screen again

Synopsis: A team of explorers and soldiers travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific unaware they are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic Kong.

Review: Hollywood loves its franchises and none is more engaging than King Kong. It has been 12 years since the release of Peter Jackson’s King Kong and a whopping 84 years since his black and white debut in 1933. Over time Kong has evolved little and still remains a very iconic and endearing super monster. In Kong: Skull Island we get even more attached to this big, furry ape, and as always, he is very impressive. This film does a whole lot of things right. Not that the past few attempts failed but something about this one just fired from all chambers.

We are introduced to a lot of characters fairly quick. Yet somehow the pacing never bogs down, and the film gets to the meat in short order. Also even though there are several faces and personalities to latch on to the audience has no problem understanding their individual drive and motivation. It is a lot of info but no fluff; just facts. Once the heavy action start, we don’t have to waste energy trying to connect to the characters. We are already buckled in for the ride.

Explorer Bill Randa (John Goodman) and scientist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) convince the U.S Government to give them a military escort to a recently discovered island. The Vietnam War has literally just ended 24 hours earlier, and a team led by Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is given the convoy task. An expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and female war photographer (Brie Larson) round out the entourage. None of them have any idea what they are getting in to. Tensions mount and personalities clash as they try to survive.

Like the book, this version gives us an island teeming with mythical creatures and far removed villagers. It is obviously a prequel to the King Kong films we are used to, so some of that had to be intact. Another smart move by the filmmakers was to not saturate every frame with some sort of animal. There are enough unique and well built creatures to ohh and ahh over but the main attraction of Kong remains forefront. The finishing touch is the inclusion of one additional monstrosity that gives Kong a predatory enemy while filling in some backstory of his reign on the island. The details of all these beasts are extravagant and glorious on the big screen.

The film is set in the 70’s, and as mentioned, right on the tail end of the Vietnam War. This is the perfect excuse to use all of the iconic music and ideals of the time period. Plus it feels like an homage to all of the war films that dealt with that conflict. Even the poster is a nod to Apocalypse Now. Songs like CCR’s Run Through the Jungle, and Black Sabbath’s Paranoid add a perfect mix tape for the adventure. That said this film has lots of humor and at times kindly pokes fun at the era and military action.

Humor and Kong seem like odd bedfellows. I would have thought the same thing before seeing it. It is not a slapstick, sophomoric comedy. Not even close. The action and thrills are intense and the peril quite realistic. But the mannerisms and some of the dialogue are quite fun to listen to. A large part of this light hearted banter comes from a stranded American (John C. Reilly) they stumble across on the island. Not to give anything away about his character but to say he is eccentric and hilarious is an understatement. But again, this never takes you out of the island moment or the danger in the trees. It just allows you time to catch your breath and laugh a little.

Kong’s name is in the title, and he has to command the screen. All of the traits and characteristics of the Kong we know are here. He is larger than life and very protective of his domain. He is smart and powerful but lacking of malice. He has earned the right to rule as King. The attention to his stature and presence make this a standout addition to the movie legacy.

Kong: Skull Island is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language. The main issue parents have will be the violent images. Unlike films of the past where you knew someone was getting eaten, but it was off camera and you heard a bone crunch or an anguished scream, this is more realistic. The violence between the creatures is not as bad, but when the humans meet their doom, it is front and center. Not much blood but no doubt the outcome. Other than that, it is certainly tame for the 13 and up crowd and doesn’t push the limits on the rating.

I give it 4 out of 5 chopper rides. It is the perfect popcorn movie. Well written, fast paced, and plenty of Kong. Can’t ask for more than that.