JURASSIC PARK 3D (1993, 2013)

April 8, 2013

JP There are a few truly awe-inspiring moments in movie history. One of the most memorable occurs when Dorothy steps out of her Black & White farm house and into the full color wonderland of Oz (the original Wizard of Oz). Not far behind is our first glimpse of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Director Steven Spielberg brilliantly focused on the stunned reactions of Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Attler (Laura Dern). We smiled because we knew their reactions mirrored ours! Now, twenty years later, the film has been re-released with a very effective 3D re-mastering.

The movie has its place in Hollywood history for its revolutionary use of George Lucas’ ILM CGI and the animatronics and visual effects under the supervision of Ray Winston. This was no ordinary science fiction special-effects movie. It was a very interesting, entertaining, thrilling story that brought to life the plastic dinosaur toys of kids and dinosaur dreams of JP4curious adults. This was light years from the Ray Harryhausen stop-action dinosaurs we had seen before. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park had back-stories, childhoods, ferocious roars and a realistic look that tied right into our childhood fantasies.

Never-before-seen special effects would be enough to set this one apart, but it’s the story and characters that draw us in and elevate the movie to classic status. John Hammond is a very likable, little old rich man played by Sir Richard Attenborough. In fact, Attenborough is genuinely such a nice guy, he was cast as Kris Kringle in the 1994 re-make of Miracle on 34th Street. He is also an Oscar winning director for Gandhi (1982) and ironically beat out Spielberg (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) that year. Attenborough also directed A Bridge Too Far (1973), A Chorus Line (1985) and Chaplin (1992); plus, one of my favorite hidden gems: Magic (1978). Unfortunately, Attenborough, now almost 90 years old, has recently been moved into hospice for health reasons.

JP2 John Hammond and his team of scientists have taken “dino DNA” and brought life to dinosaurs, previously 65 million years extinct. Hammonds’ instincts as a showman lead him to develop a kind of amusement park where people can come and see his dinosaur creations in a natural habitat. Facing a lawsuit … what could go wrong?? … his investors bring in a team of specialists to inspect the park. Dr. Grant, Dr. Attler and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) take the tour with Hammond’s grandchildren (Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards) and a bean counter played by Martin Ferrero. Of course, things go terribly wrong thanks to a sub-plot involving the park’s computer guru played by Wayne Knight (Newman from “Seinfeld”). Don’t miss the photo of J Robert Oppenheimer (the atomic bomb creator) on Nedry’s computer monitor. Samuel L Jackson has a classic line of dialogue, but also seems to be prepping for his role in Deep Blue Sea (1999). The other key player is the park’s game warden played terrifically by the late Bob Peck … he mutters the “clever girl” line.

JP3 Real life Paleontoligist Jack Horner worked as an adviser on the film and was the inspiration for the Dr. Grant character. It’s also interesting to note that there was quite a bidding war for the rights …even before writer Michael Crichton had finished the manuscript. When Spielberg won the rights, he hired Crichton to write the screenplay, and David Koepp was brought in for the final version. Crichton is also known for Westworld (1973), Twister (1996) and The Andromeda Strain (1971). Mr. Koepp is known for his screenplays that include Mission Impossible (1996), Panic Room (2002) and Spider-Man (2002). And of course, the majestic score was composed by the great John Williams, a frequent Spielberg collaborator.

JP5 Jurassic Park was nominated for and won three Oscars: Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Sound. Many believe Jurassic Park should have nominated for the Best Picture, but I doubt Mr. Spielberg much cares. See, he released another movie that same year… Schindler’s List … which did win the Best Picture Oscar. Many ask about the child actors from Jurassic Park. Tim was played by Joseph Mazzello, who was most recently seen in TV’s “Justified”, as the snake-charming traveling preacher. Mr. Mazzello has also appeared in The Social Network, and the mini-series “The Pacific”. Lex was played by Ariana Richards and she won the role based on her amazing ability to show and express fear … and her believability as a teenage hacker. Ms. Richards has focused more on her work as an artist, but does act periodically.

Jurassic Park is definitely one to experience on the biggest screen possible with the clearest sound possible. This 3D re-mastering is worth the price of admission and I enjoyed seeing the look of awe in the eyes of a few youngsters in the theatre. No need to wait for Jurassic Park 4, which is scheduled for release in 2014 … go experience the original in its full big screen glory!

**NOTE: It’s always fun to see kids experience the Jurassic Park dinosaurs for the first time, but I like to warn parents that there are two very intense, terrifying sequences: the first T-Rex attack in the rain, and the kitchen scene with the Raptors chasing the kids. Young kids need to be pretty tough to make it through those scenes.

Below is the newly issued trailer for the 3D version.  I would not recommend watching it if you have not seen the movie:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hke5SxKzkbc

 

Advertisements

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

January 2, 2013

django Greetings again from the darkness. Well, after two viewings and endless analyzing, it’s time to commit thoughts to the page. Over the years, it has become very clear that a Tarantino movie generates a first reaction, and then proceeds to slither through your mind and morph into something else entirely. It would be very easy to accept this latest as an outrageous peek at slavery disguised as a spaghetti western. For most filmmakers, that would be plenty. The “whole” here is exceedingly impressive, but the real joy for cinephiles is in the bits and pieces.

One need not be a Quentin Tarantino expert to enjoy his movies, but there are a couple of things that help. First, he is at heart, a true lover of cinema and quite the film historian, showing sincere respect to the pioneers of this art form. Second, he loves to bring visibility to issues (large and small) by poking a bit of fun at the evil doers who wield unnecessary influence and control over weaker parties. Morality, vengeance, revenge and come-uppance invariably play a role in django4his story-telling … a bonus this time is the inclusion of the Brunhilde/Siegfried legend from Norse mythology and the Wagner operas.

In his two most recent films, QT has been on a kick for creative revisionist history. Inglourious Basterds made a strong statement against the Nazi’s, while this latest goes hard after slave owners. As you might expect, historical accuracy is less important to him than are the characters involved and the tales they weave. And to that point, it seems quite obvious that where in the past, Tarantino would center his attention on crackling dialogue and searing one-liners, he now offers up much more complete characterizations … these are people we understand, even if we don’t much like them.

The obvious love he has for Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Leone, the driving forces behind spaghetti westerns, is plastered on the screen. We even get the beautiful camera work through the snow as a tribute to Corbucci’s The Great Silence (1968). While this is not a remake or sequel or prequel, Franco Nero’s “I know” response to “The D is silent” generates a laugh and memories django2of a 25 year old Nero in the titular role of Django (1966). The Blaxploitation genre plays a significant role here as well since Jamie Foxx plays Django, a freed slave who buddies up with a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter, so that Django can get revenge on those responsible for the torture and mistreatment of his wife.

The details of the stories will not be exposed here, however, I would encourage you to pay close attention to the moments of film brilliance. There is a running gag with townspeople and slaves alike struggling to accept the sight of Django on a horse. You’ll laugh again when Django is offered the opportunity to pick out his own clothes and we next see Foxx in a velvet Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit straight out of The Blue Boy painting from Gainsborough. There is hilarious banter django5between Big Daddy (Don Johnson) and Betina as he tries to give guidance on how to give Django a tour of the plantation.  The phrenology sequence is not just unusual, but an incredibly tense scene and fun to watch.  Watching the final shootout reminds me of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch … only ten times as violent!

Some of the best moments occur when we recognize the actors in the vital foundation scenes. Don’t miss: bad guy Bruce Dern, Don Stroud (the drummer in The Buddy Holly Story) as the ill fated sheriff, Tom Wopat as a patient Marshal (“Dukes of Hazzard”), father and daughter Russ and Amber Tamblyn, Jonah Hill who struggles with the eye holes in his “bag”, the eyes of Zoe Bell, Ted Neeley (Jesus Christ Superstar), “Dexter” dad James Remar in two roles, Walton Goggins as a gunslinger, Michael Parks (multiple roles in Kill Bill and Grindhouse), and of course, Mr Tarantino himself (as an explosive cowpoke from down under).

django3 While each of these provide wonderful moments, the real bingo occurs courtesy of the main performances of Jamie Foxx (Django), Christoph Waltz (Dr King Schultz, bounty hunter), Leonardo DiCaprio (Calvin Candie, plantation owner), and Samuel L Jackson (Stephen, Candyland house slave). Any combination of these characters in any scene could be considered a highlight. It’s especially enjoyable to see DiCaprio cut loose after so many uptight characters recently. Samuel L Jackson has long been a Tarantino favorite, and his delivery as the diabolical Uncle Tom house slave who has some secrets of his own, will bring the house down when he first sees Django and, in a much darker way, when his suspicions are confirmed. Power is a big player in the story, and even as a slave, Stephen knows what to do with power when he has it. Mr. Waltz won an Oscar for his Inglourious Basterds performance, and his dialogue here is every bit as rich. It’s obvious how much Tarantino enjoys hearing his words spoken by Waltz. Foxx’ performance could be easily overlooked, but it’s actually the guts of the film. He is quiet when necessary and bold when required.

django - dj We must also discuss the soundtrack. Franco Migiacci‘s original “Django” theme is featured, as are classics and a new song from the great Ennio Morricone. If you doubt the originality of the soundtrack, try naming another western that utilizes a mash-up of James Brown and Tupac Shakur. How about a spot-on use of Jim Croce’s “I’ve Got a Name”? The film is beautifully shot by Robert Richardson, and Fred Riskin takes over for Tarantino’s long-time editor Sally Menke, who sadly passed away in 2010.

It should also be noted that the script puts hip-hop to shame by using the “N-word” more than 100 times. It is a bit disconcerting, and you can google Spike Lee’s comments if you care to read more on the topic. Otherwise, dig in to the latest gem from Tarantino and appreciate his approach and genius … either that, or stay away!

**NOTE: I have purposefully avoided the scandal associated with the film.  If you are interested in reactions from the African-American community, there is no shortage of published reports on those who support the film and those who are outraged.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC8VJ9aeB_g


THE AVENGERS (2012)

May 5, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. The concern coming in was that this would be like an All-Star game, which as any sports fan will tell you, is typically a massive letdown. Assembling so many super heroes and colorful characters into one movie: Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Loki … would probably lead to either mass confusion, a 4 hour movie, or short straws for a couple of characters. Somehow director/co-writer Joss Whedon has avoided the pitfalls and delivered a huge action film that is loads of fun for everyone, including the fanboys.

Whedon does a remarkable job of giving each character their fair share of screen time, and somehow manages to make the interaction between the characters the best part of the movie. There is some terrific dialogue and the number of quick-witted exchanges are too numerous to recount. While this would be expected from Robert Downey, Jr‘s Iron Man, I must admit to being pleasantly surprised at Chris Hemsworth‘s Thor and especially Mark Ruffalo‘s Dr Banner/Hulk. I found Ruffalo’s take on the role very interesting since he is the third actor to tackle this in the past nine years (Eric Bana 2003 and Edward Norton 2008). The movie contains quite a few laugh outloud moments, which is pretty impressive in a filled theatre.

 If you are going to combine six super heroes in a movie, you need a bad guy. A villain. Actually, a super villain. Tom Hiddleston as Loki (The God of Mischief from Asgard, and Thor’s brother) is up to the task. For me, he was a weak link in Thor, but here is a full-fledged, powerful evil mastermind looking to gain power by stealing the global power of Tesseract (Cosmic Cube), commanding an alien army, and ruling earth. Hiddleston is clearly having fun and it shows. For the movie to work at all, his plan and power must stand up to the impressive line up of good guys he is fighting. That is certainly the case.

 Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow has come a long way from her brief work in Iron Man2, and we really get to know more about Natasha the Russian spy … although her accent fades in and out. Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye seems a bit out of place, but Renner is so cool, we don’t really care. Chris Evans as Captain America does a wonderful job of taking control of the band of misfits and displays the leadership expected of a super-soldier. We even get a good dose of Agent Coulson (Phil to his friends) and Clark Gregg‘s deadpan deliver is a great addition. Samuel L Jackson (as Nick Fury) will be adding hundreds of millions more to his current record of being the highest-grossing actor of all-time.

Gwyneth Paltrow is back as Pepper Potts. Since last we saw her, she has evidently been shopping for short shorts and helping design the new Stark Tower. Natalie Portman makes a creative cameo, reprising her awful role in Thor. Stellan Skarsgard is back as a believable scientist. Powers Boothe appears as a member of the Council that Fury reports to. The great Harry Dean Stanton(at 85 yrs of age) has a comical scene as a security guard who stumbles onto Hulk’s mess. And of course, Stan Lee makes his well-deserved cameo appearance – a tradition in the Marvel movies.

Much of the credit for this must go to Joss Whedon. He may finally be out of his “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” shadow, as this movie is quite an accomplishment. Entertaining and funny for the masses, yet detailed enough for the comic book fan boys. I was thinking how much fun this would be for a 10-12 year old, and how my mind might have exploded if something like this existed in my childhood. Even comparing this to the Christoper Reeve Superman movies will help you realize just how far super heroes movies have come.  There are some holes in the story and a couple of things will have you scratching your head if you think too hard … but this one’s not about thinking.  Just sit back and enjoy!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see the most Academy Award nominees ever assembled for a super hero movie OR you just want to have fun watching a big old summertime blockbuster with comedy, action and colorful characters

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have already decided you’ll hate it … otherwise, you might actually like it

watch the trailer:


CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

July 24, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. If it seems to you as if the past three years have provided an overload of superhero and comic-based movies, you are absolutely correct. There have been too many. There are a few I would be willing to toss out, but Captain America is not one of them. This ranks right with the first Iron Man as the closest to a real movie … one with a story to go with the action and CGI.

It begins with the present day discovery of an exposed plane wing jutting from the frozen Arctic tundra. The search team quickly finds the Captain America shield visible beneath the ice. Flash back to WWII and we are introduced to a scrawny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans with Benjamin Button FX) who wants nothing more than to fight for his country. Unfortunately, this 90-pound weakling might as well have 4-F stamped on his forehead, as the size of his heart far exceeds the size of his biceps.

His tenacity at trying to enlist is noticed by a powerful scientist named Erskine (played with sheer smirking joy by Stanley Tucci). Erskine happens to be working with Col. Phillips (a perfectly grumpy Tommy Lee Jones) on a secret plan to develop super-soldiers with the injectable cocktail Erskine has invented. As you might guess, the plan is thwarted immediately after scrawny Steve Rogers is transformed into a super soldier yanked from the cover of “Men’s Fitness”.

 Working with Col Phillips and Erskine is Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Her main purpose seems to be adorning the brightest red lipstick and flashing her legs in front of the soldiers. She falls for Rogers and spends most of her scenes staring somewhat scarily into his eyes. Actually, their scenes together are pretty good and her character helps us remember that Captain America is still just a regular good guy … not a Norse God.  It was humorous to watch the early song and dance routines to sell war bonds.  Seeing the super soldier cast as a traveling side show could be seen as a commentary on the military.

 Personally, I thought the movie lagged just a bit in the fight scenes between good and evil. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t find Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) to be a terrific bad guy. Nazi’s still make for the perfect adversary. Although, I found myself laughing on occasion as Weaving’s German accent reminded me of Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds. I was quite impressed with the infamous Captain America shield, though I never quite figured out how he trained it to “return” to him … I am sure this is better explained in the comics.

 What makes this movie work is the fact that Captain America remains Steve Rogers. He is always a good guy wanting to do the right things. He is deeply affected when he thinks his actions may have caused the death of his best friend Bucky. But he also manages to keep his ego in check and his patriotic duty in the forefront. Also, the film is directed by Joe Johnston. If you are unfamiliar with his work, let me recommend two of his earlier films: The Rocketeer and Hidalgo. You are probably familiar with his Jumanji and October Sky. He is a director that creates a specific look and feel to his films, and the texture helps make this one work.

Since this is entitled Captain America: The First Avenger, it is obviously another step towards The Avengers movie slated for 2012. So don’t miss Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark/Iron Man). And don’t miss Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in the odd ending to this film … and the obligatory “bonus” after closing credits.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you always viewed yourself as the 90 lb weakling in those old Charles Atlas comic book ads OR you just never miss a chance to see nazi’s get thier asses kicked … especially by a guy in tights.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: a comic book flashback to WWII seems about as appealing as having your air conditioner go out during this crazy heat wave

watch the trailer:

 


THOR

May 18, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Upfront admission: I am not a Thor comic book expert. Many people are and I fully appreciate their take on this film will be much different from mine. I can only judge this movie on the basic background knowledge I have and the final product on the screen.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Chris Hemsworth makes a terrific Thor. If I had his looks and build, I would certainly consider myself a Nordic God. Heck, I might even carry around a giant hammer just for fun! Thor, son of Odin, is all set to be named King of Asgard until his quick temper and love of battle cause a break in the peace accord with the Frost Giants. His dad, Odin, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins is none too pleased with his hot-headed son. Not only does he renege on the promise to name him King, but he strips his power and casts him down to Earth … specifically New Mexico. For some reason, all alien portals lead to New Mexico. You can tell it’s a been a bad day for Thor because he lands in the middle of nowhere and is promptly run over by a science lab van driven by Natalie Portman.

 Other good stuff: Idris Elba as Heimdall, the gatekeeper, is excellent; there is a cameo by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye – a teaser for The Avengers movie next year; Jaimie Alexander shows some chops as Sif; Clark Gregg is back as Agent Coulson; some of the special effects are pretty cool … the Frost Giants are very detailed and The Destroyer looks like Iron Man on metallic steroids; and lastly, Kat Dennings has a couple of sharp lines as Portman’s assistant. Ms. Dennings was superb in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

 OK, the not so good stuff: I am beginning to despise 3-D (it adds nothing, while diminishing the brightness of colors); Jotunheim (land of the Frost Giants) is plain, gray and boring; Natalie Portman, fresh off an Oscar is just terrible as an astro-physicist with a teenager-style crush on Thor; Tom Hiddleston as Loki is one of the weakest villains I have ever seen in a super-hero/comic book movie; Rene Russo must not have read the script prior to accepting her role – she has about 3 lines and is totally wasted.

Despite the weaknesses, I found the movie to be entertaining enough thanks to the scenes with Thor and Odin. The ambitious son being shown tough love by his father is a missing element in much of society today. Guess it takes a Nordic God to show us how. The scenes with Portman are painful to watch, but I believe there is enough to keep the comic book fans, and just about anyone else, entertained.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, who is best known for his Shakespeare and stage work, the movie does have a little different look and feel from the average superhero movie. Still, I wouldn’t put it in the class of Batman, Spider-man, or Iron Man. We do get the expected Stan Lee cameo and the end-of-the-credits appearance of Samuel L Jackson. Up next, Captain America but for now, it’s Hammer time!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of Thor comic books OR you just want to see what a shirtless Nordic God would look like OR you want to see a challenge to Elisabeth Shue in The Saint as the most miscast scientist (Ms. Portman)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer the dialogue and story to make sense OR you prefer to remember Natalie Portman as the fine actress she was in Black Swan.


THE OTHER GUYS (2010)

August 8, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Much of Will Ferrell’s box office success has occurred thanks to his collaborations with writer/director Adam McKay. This includes Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, and Anchorman. McKay’s long history at Saturday Night Live is often on display in his movies, but never more than during The Other Guys. While there was some effort put towards a story, the film often has the feel of individual skits.

The first skit revolves around two supercops played by Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Of course, the kicker is that they really aren’t great cops, but masters of Public Relations. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are partners and the titular ‘other guys’. We get minimal background on each but quickly understand that Ferrell’s cop comes from accounting and is obsessed with regulations and safety. Wahlberg was a former rising star until an unfortunate accident involving Derek Jeter snuffed out his promotions.

Obviously, there needs to be a super case that these two solve and it involves a corporate financing scheme with Steve Coogan. The story itself is really unimportant (luckily) and the humor is derived from individual moments between Ferrell and Wahlberg, that same duo and Eva Mendes, or scenes with Michael Keaton.  As a baseball fan, I got a chuckle out of Keaton’s character name – Capt. Gene Mauch.

There are a couple of running gags that work (hot girls are always hitting on Ferrell, Wahlberg’s dancing, Keaton and TLC), and the best visual gag is an extended freeze frame montage set in a pub. It is pure comic genius. On the downside, I was really baffled as to the over-the-top approach taken by Mark Wahlberg. His anger and bitterness were so exaggerated that it has to be considered a spoof of his role in The Departed. However, if you try to view the film as a spoof, it just doesn’t work (outside of Samuel L Jackson).

Overall, this one has the laughs you would expect but is certainly not at the class of Anchorman. Comedy remains one of the most difficult film genres, and McKay remains one of our best hopes.