JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

June 29, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. While I will never tire of seeing really cool dinosaurs on the big screen, I’ll probably never avoid frustration from a poorly written and poorly acted film. On the bright side, I got to see this at the Grand Opening of the beautiful new Alamo Drafthouse in Denton, Texas. A 66 foot curved screen with the best available sound system made the dinosaurs that much more impressive, while simultaneously exposing the acting for the disappointment it is … especially the almost impossible to watch Bryce Dallas Howard.

J.A. Bayona directs this follow up to the 2015 JURASSIC WORLD, but he’s saddled with a subpar script from the writers and director of that previous entry, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow. The creatures of the late, great Michael Crichton deserve better. In addition to the aforementioned Ms. Howard (as Claire Dearing), Chris Pratt also returns as the smirking Owen Grady, and this time he flashes some fighting skills that would make Jean-Claude Van Damme proud. Not sure how his experience training baby dinosaurs and building a cabin in the mountains prepared him to single handedly take on an army of armed mercenaries, but such things are possible in a cartoon … which is exactly what this plays like: a live action cartoon with high dollar special effects.

We have a spoof of a villain in Eli Mills, played by an over-the-top Rafe Spall, a quivering techie played by Justice Smith (PAPER TOWNS), a tough Paleo vet in Daniela Pineda (MR ROOSEVELT), a dying billionaire former partner of John Hammond played by James Cromwell, a greedy capitalist who should be twirling a mustache in Toby Jones, a big-gun toting badass by Ted Levine, and a good-hearted housekeeper played by Geraldine Chaplin. Mr. Cromwell and Ms. Chaplin add a touch of class in their all too brief scenes. BD Wong is back doing things with dino DNA, and sadly, Jeff Goldblum probably filmed his two courtroom scenes in a couple of hours. One nice addition is young Isabella Sermon, in her screen debut. She is part of the only decent twist in the story.

Despite the disappointments, it remains awe-inspiring to see the dinosaurs on screen. If only those moments weren’t ruined by such superfluous bits such as a close up of Ms. Howard’s footwear to prove that she’s not wearing high heels in the jungle this time. Director Bayona has three very fine movies under his belt: THE ORPHANAGE (2007), THE IMPOSSIBLE (2012), and A MONSTER CALLS (2016). He’s likely to make more good films during his career, and this will surely be a box office smash because people love seeing the dinosaurs, and are willing to overlook the people. As a frequent movie goer, I’m just unable to cut slack to a mega-budget film that expects us to overlook shoddy writing and laughable acting. We don’t expect to recapture the (25 years ago) magic of Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams in the stunning JURASSIC PARK, but we do expect a better effort than this.

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JURASSIC WORLD (2015)

June 21, 2015

jurassic world Greetings again from the darkness. I’m guessing that most anyone who enjoys movies and is at least 30 years old, has vivid recollections of Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park from1993 (based on the Michael Crichton novel). The iconic theme from John Williams, that initial awe-inspiring look at the dinosaurs grazing in the valley, the reminder that “objects are closer than they appear” in side mirrors, and the late Sir Richard Attenborough stating that he “spared no expense” in creating the park … all merged to became part of an incredibly moving and huge new movie theatre experience.  This latest (and fourth in the franchise) offers us “big”, but very little “new”, and unfortunately nothing very “moving” in its presentation.

Set two decades after the tragic and messy park trial run of that original movie, we find Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help) managing the financially-challenged theme park owned by Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi). Chris Pratt is training Velociraptors, while BD Wong is cooking up hybrid and genetically modified monsters such as Indominus Rex – designed to excite the audiences who have become bored with an old-fashioned T-Rex.

Even though this is technically a sequel, there are numerous similarities to the original film, and a fun parlor game consists of spotting all the homage’s and tributes sprinkled throughout. Two of my favorites are the “Winston’s” shop in the park, and the ViewMaster shot early on. These two are tips of the cap to Stan Winston and Ray Harryhausen … two giants in the world of special effects.

In what has become the Hollywood “go to” for evil-doers, the secret plan to militarize the dinosaurs is being carried out by Vincent D’Onofrio. Of course, this clashes with Pratt’s ideal life for “his” trainees. The mandatory kids-in-peril are played by Ty Simpkins (Insidious) and Nick Robinson. Much has been made of the absurdity of Ms. Howard’s numerous scenes of sprinting in high heels, and I found her overall demeanor to be every bit as exaggerated and unbelievable as her actions in heels. Jake Johnson (TV’s “New Girl) and Omar Sy (so wonderful in The Intouchables) were the most “real” characters, though neither was given much to do.

Much of what is written here is “in comparison” to the original. While this may not be fair, it is inescapable when dealing with such a respected and iconic film. Youngsters unfamiliar with the original film, are likely to find this one exciting – even terrifying at times – and that’s an important distinction to make. The Mosasaurus alone is worth the price of admission … and good for a few nightmares!  And who among us wouldn’t pay up for a Baby Triceratops ride in the Petting Zoo?

For the Jurassic Park stalwarts, the inconsistent (sometimes great, sometimes fake-looking) CGI will be as tough to overlook as Ms. Howard’s cartoon character. And yes, composer Michael Giacchino is new to the Jurassic series, and he is wise enough to work in the terrific and familiar John Williams theme in more than one scene.  However, none of the downsides will keep the true fans away, and there is an entire generation of kids who should have the chance to marvel at lifelike dinosaurs on the big screen courtesy of director Colin Trevorrow (previously known for his work on the indie gem Safety Not Guaranteed).

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SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012)

June 20, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. This one showed promise to deliver the rare, offbeat, genuine indie genius that those of us who spend entirely too much time in dark theatres live for. How many romantic-dramadies combine caustic comedy, elements of sci-fi, and are inspired by a real life newspaper ad? Not very darn many.

The set-up for the story is that Jeff (Jake Johnson), a Seattle magazine writer, suggests to his editor that the newspaper ad would make an interesting investigative report. To get a feel for the movie, reading the ad is essential:

WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll be paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.

 Jeff takes two interns on assignment with him: Darius (Aubrey Plaza, pictured left) and Arneau (Karan Soni). Darius is a sarcastic loner and recent college grad. Arneau is a virgin nerd who skates ever so close to an Indian stereotype. He is actually quite funny and easy to root for. Unknown to the interns, Jeff has ulterior motives for taking this job, and the bulk of the work will fall to them.

 Darius quickly tracks down and connects with Kenneth (Mark Duplass, pictured left). He seems quite committed to the time travel cause and is a bit skeptical of Darius. The Kenneth character can best be described as a NICE Dwight from “The Office”. He veers from the “normal” line, but has a heart of gold. Once Kenneth and Darius confess their reasons for going back in time, it’s clear to the viewers that these two share a rare DNA strand. Humor kicks in during their training sessions … of course, you need martial arts skills and the ability to shoot straight if you plan to time travel.

 The comedy and romance elements are complimented by undertones of regret, paranoia, loneliness and the desire to connect. These same tones play right into Jeff’s sub-plot. When he finds his high school crush (Jessica Bergere), she asks him about his life. His answer is limited to “Escalade and Condo”. She soon has him considering what else life can offer. Kenneth and Darius discover that trust is not a four letter word. Even Arneau finds out that human interaction can be better than a blazing fast laptop.

The results of the time travel plan aren’t really important, though it does play a role in the final act. As with the best movies, what really matters are the people. These are people we can relate to because they come across as real … not perfect, but real. As likable as the characters are, there still seemed to be something missing that prevented this film from reaching the next level. Maybe it has to do with first feature film director Colin Trevorrow or his writer Derek Connolly. The missing link is not easily identifiable, but it doesn’t prevent enjoyment.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of quirky, offbeat indies OR you want to see rising stars Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: your idea of a time travel movie is more in line with Hot Tub Time Machine than a thoughtful indie flick

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