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Review: Jurassic World (2) Fallen Kingdom

*** WARNING! SPOILERS! ***

Written by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow and directed by J.A. Bayona, “Jurassic World; Fallen Kingdom” is the sequel to the 2015 smash hit reboot of the “Jurassic Park” franchise that Steven Spielberg began back in 1993. I saw this film over it’s opening weekend but I’ve been letting the movie brew in my headspace for the last week because it was such a mixed bag. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more Frankenstein-like film before to be honest. The direction, visuals, special effects, and suspense of the film were all impressive- but the writing, character choices, and plot of the film were completely off the rails! It felt as if there were two or three very separated and distinct flavors of attitude controlling this bucking beast of a sequel and no one knew how to handle it- with no cooperation across the disparate groups whatsoever. The film didn’t know what kind of story it wanted to tell.

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First of all, I feel that you should be warned going into this film- there is nowhere near as much Jeff Goldblum as this movie needs, or to the extent that the marketing implied there might be. If you’ve seen the trailers, that’s essentially his whole performance. However, as welcoming as a Goldblum addition is to any film- this use of the character of Ian Malcolm directly collides with the ideology (and thus the main driving force of the plot) of the main characters Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). It’s this exact fulcrum that the film has issues with. Are the dinosaurs of Isla Nublar myth made reality, conjured from wonder and awe? Or are they vicious monsters that mindlessly consume and terrorize? Should the humans save the ill-fated creatures from Isla Nublar’s awakened volcano? Or should we let Nature take it’s course and re-extinct these de-extinct animals? Goldblum’s Malcolm restates his thesis from the first film and of it’s sequel “The Lost World” in which he argues against saving the dinosaurs. After which we cut directly to Claire’s new job running an indie-sized organization to “save the dinosaurs!” A drastic evolution from the first film where the character viewed the lab grown creatures as assets, something from which to gain profit. Here she’s a fully fledged animal rights activist. Quite the leap. We’re then informed of John Hammond’s original financial partner (Who we’ve never heard of until now, the fifth movie) for the first park in Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who’s in need of a well informed crew to make a last ditch effort to salvage his old friend’s creations.

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Beyond the philosophical and moral whiplash, the characters make stupid, convenient, and foolish choices throughout the film. Granted, the franchise has been built on the ill-fated decisions of humanity before- but they were never this outlandishly dumb about it. From the military minded Wheatley (Ted Levine AKA Buffalo Bill from “Silence of the lambs”) unclasping the Indo-Raptor cage purely to add another dino tooth to his collection, to the enormously lazy writing choice that the young Maisie (Isabella Sermon) commits to in the final scene- the writing is clunky and unfocused. The script tries to obtain specific outcomes for further franchise building- but in doing so it wastes the opportunities that the current story could have created. There are ways to get the outcome that the ending of “Fallen Kingdom” sets up- but the way they got there was painfully stupid. I won’t spoil the exact ending, but trust me, it’s bad. It’s also a weak excuse to pin the fallout of this film on a young girl when there are so many other ways they could have played it. An immediate easy fix would be to let Mills (Rafe Spall), Lockwood’s assistant with ulterior motives, make that major dooming choice as he’s dying to spite the main characters instead of just using his death as a visual callback to a death in “The Lost World”.

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That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have some value to it. The imagery and direction, along with the mood, sense of suspense, and entertaining set-pieces all combine to smooth out the film and lessen the extent of mistakes that engulfed the rest of the story. The way Bayona uses scale, lighting, and framing all collectively raise the content above the level of quality expected with these movies by now (excluding the original- obviously). In fact the second half of the film taking place inside a giant mansion was a fun diversion and there were some good ideas that they could have expanded on. An illegal dinosaur auction has its merits in theory, but the film took a cartoonish mind of villainy at this point. One shot even has Mills face being lit up by a computer screen as counters and bars load while numbers skyrocket- a necessary shot to remember that the villains are greedy and evil. There was a few good half baked ideas in this script, and it might have turned out great eventually, but there just wasn’t enough to get a score better than “Passable” from me honestly. I was entertained with this film, but the more I think about it, the less I appreciate it retroactively.

Final Score: 11 Jurassic species and a few half-baked ideas

 

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Review: Avengers 3 Infinity War

*WARNING* This review will be full of spoilers, you have been warned!

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, “Avengers: Infinity War” is the third superhero event film under the Marvel banner and the culmination of ten years of interconnected storytelling across all eighteen previous films. If you’ve been following these Marvel movies and are up to date then you will gleam the most out of the two and a half hour epic that is Infinity War. However if, by some chance, you’re just now considering a Marvel movie marathon and are curious as to which movies are most necessary for this latest Avengers movie, I believe about half of them are required viewing (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1, Dr. Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther). The rest help to build upon the structure, and character development, of the cinematic universe, but that list will get you mostly acquainted with what’s going on.

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So, we’re finally here. After hearing about and seeing several of the infinity stones throughout these films, and with a couple cameos from the mad titan himself, does the film live up to the monumental expectations that Marvel Studios has built? Yes. I can answer that wholeheartedly with a resounding yes. Infinity War is a monumental feat of crossover film-making and it makes the once grandiose events of the first Avengers seem minuscule in comparison. The film follows the wake of destruction left by Thanos and his black order as they seek out the six infinity stones and crisscross the cosmos to implement the will of the mad titan. The opening scene perfectly showcases who Thanos is and why we should be afraid for the fate of our superheroes. After laying waste to Thor and the Asgardian refugees’ ship Thanos quickly bests the Hulk in a fistfight, takes the Tesseract from Loki before killing him, and completely destroys their ship leaving Thor to drift unconsciously through space. Heimdall was able to send the Hulk off to Earth before being murdered by the Black Order and as the incredible hero smashes through Dr. Strange’s staircase in New York City, Bruce Banner comes with a dire warning, “Thanos is coming..”

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Dr. Strange quickly grasps the magnitude of the problem at hand as he grabs Tony Stark from a morning run with Pepper Potts, but it isn’t long before Thanos Black Order arrive to make a power grab for the Time stone in the doctor’s possesion. Spider-Man also gets in the mix and we’re off to the races! The movie moves at break neck speeds jumping across space and back to service all of the various storylines in play but the Russo brothers have outdone themselves with this installment as everything flows naturally with the needs of the story. Now I won’t go beat by beat and describe the whole movie, but instead give a general sense of the scale and the threat that comes with Thanos seeking to wield his infinity gauntlet. Not to mention how the movie cleverly utilized it’s massive cast by breaking the characters off into various factions in different locations to best suit the needs of the story. For example, the Guardians of the Galaxy bump into Thor when responding to their distress signal and then separate into two teams, one consisting of Thor, Rocket, and Groot in order to seek out a “Thanos killing weapon” while the rest head to ‘Knowhere’ from their first movie as it’s the last known location of the reality stone. Iron Man and Spider-Man hitch a ride on the ship that the Black Order arrived in to save Dr. Strange from Ebony Maw on his way to Titan, while Captain America, Falcon, and Black Widow stave off an attack on Vision and the Scarlet Witch thanks to a heads up by Banner and eventually head to Wakanda as a last stand to keep Vision’s Mind stone in his head and not on the gauntlet of Thanos.

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The central theme of the movie is that, when pressed by Thanos and his cosmic conquering, will you trade one life for another? Several characters have this grueling predicament pushed on them, some make choices out of love, others for the fate of the universe, but ultimately they fail when crossing that line. The moral center of the MCU, Steve Rogers (aka Captain America), never falters in his moral code. Several times throughout the movie he reiterates to others that, “We don’t trade lives”. He discards the math of the scenario in giving a life to save millions, nay billions. He saves lives, he doesn’t play that game. That right there, might be the absolute best aspect of this film. All of the characters are true to their nature as established in the previous films. There is a palpable consistency to their actions and reasoning. The Guardians all feel like themselves, still making jokes and acting on impulse. Black Panther and Captain America leap into battle first and have unwavering foundations. Thor feels the most evolved since the ramifications of ‘Ragnarok’ changed the game for his films and overall nature, a kingly warrior burdened with grief, yet still able to convey humor as a fish-out-of-water situation with the Guardians. Consistency paired with well thought out plot-points and a very clever villain, possibly the best the MCU has seen yet, add up to one hell of a Marvel movie.

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With an ending as shocking as it is, I- and many other millions, cannot wait to see how these characters rebound and ultimately save the day. This is most definitely a part one, and with only two other films between now and (the still untitled) Avengers 4 that take place before the events of this movie, we’ll have to wait a year and see how this all unfolds. I cannot praise this movie enough, it was far more emotionally mature and full of dread than I expected. There were significant deaths, high stakes and excellent action, and on top of that the film still managed to be really funny at times. They did it. They really did it. The next challenge is to outdo themselves next year, which I have to say, is a tall order. I have faith in the Russo brothers though, their movies in the MCU have been some of the best entries in the superhero genre as a whole. Now all we have to do… is wait.

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Final Score: Infinite Avengers

THE CAST:
Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange

Tom Holland (II) as Peter Parker/Spider-Man

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther

Zoe Saldana as Gamora

Karen Gillan as Nebula

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

Paul Bettany as Vision

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon

Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier

Idris Elba as Heimdall

Danai Gurira as Okoye

Benedict Wong as Wong

Pom Klementieff as Mantis

Dave Bautista as Drax

Vin Diesel as Groot

Bradley Cooper as Rocket

Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts

Benicio Del Toro as The Collector

Josh Brolin as Thanos

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord

William Hurt as Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross

Letitia Wright as Shuri

Peter Dinklage as Eitri

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury

Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill

and Ross Marquand as Red Skull

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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, or “Space Avengers.. Again!”

Written and directed by James Gunn once more, “The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” brings us back into the fold of the galaxy’s most ragtag team of cackling thieves, opportunistic miscreants, and charming rogues. Proving to be Marvel’s riskiest property yet, the sequel delves deeper into the past and motivations for more of the characters while also aiming to be as filled with comedy as it is with tragedy. After all, isn’t that the age old recipe of a good story?

Set two months after the events of the first film, we find our heroes doing a job protecting powerful batteries from the onslaught of a tentacle wielding and fanged-tooth monster of inter-dimensional origins. After the beast is slain, in one of the best opening credit sequences since “Deadpool”, we’re swiftly introduced to the people of the planet Sovereign, a golden colored species that hired the team because of their well known status after the events of the first film. The people of the Sovereign are easily offended and typically issue death penalties for transgressions against them. So of course Rocket Raccoon maligns them of being considered “douchebags” offhandedly. He also steals from them, as he is wont to do. This kicks the thrust of the film into motion and we’re off! I won’t tread into spoiler territory here, but rather instead focus on what the film did right in my opinion. This is a much more character driven film than the first. That one had its moments and particular storythreads that were serviced quite well, but the sequel dives deeper, especially into characters that you would not expect to get meaningful exposition from.

There is a great effort here to build the world of the MCU’s Cosmic side, and I think this film handles that aspect exceedingly well. Not just in a sense of there being many inhabitable star systems, but even in the size ratios of spaceships. The look of this movie is a fine example of a beautifully chaotic color palette. Neon colors and vibrant hues fill the screen one moment just before another psychedelic barrage pours onto the silver screen as characters bounce across the galaxy, fire their blasters, or leap into danger with their blades drawn. I can’t understate how impressed I was with the framing and the cinematography on display, it was a visual feast to behold.

This film delivers on all fronts for me personally. The threat of the film has increased exponentially since the initial story, and they balance it all with a style of humor that is perfect for this series. Dave Bautista’s Drax has some of the very best comedic lines and jokes throughout the film, but everyone gets their fair share of comedic timing. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon has a memorable riff on the mutinous ravager known as “Taserface”. It’s a great bit and it works on every beat. Of course Kurt Russell’s character of “Ego” is a joy to behold in his performance. If you thought it was a weird choice to have a film where two of your main characters are a wise cracking Raccoon and a Tree alien who can only communicate with a single phrase, then buckle up because this film outdoes these notions with strange but fascinating creative choices.

If you enjoyed the first Guardians, I suspect you’ll get a real kick out of the sequel. Personally, this is one of the most satisfying sequels I’ve seen from Marvel Studios and it gives me nothing but boundless hope for “Infinity War” and the rest of this universe unfolding before our eyes. Oh, and Stan Lee’s cameo for this film is a great example of the lengths the studio will go in dredging through the many many characters in their lore, I loved it, and you just may too!

Final Score: 300 songs (There’s even a Zune joke thrown in for good measure!)

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Review: The Magnificent Seven or “Welcome back Cowboy”

This autumn’s western “The Magnificent Seven” is a remake of the 1960 title of the same name, which just so happens to be a reimagining of Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” in 1954. Whew, that’s a lot to live up to. So, does our modern reimagining of this story live up to the lofty heights of its predecessors? Not quite, but it is a damn fun western movie in a time when the genre is receding out of the collective memory.

This film has an overall basic plot that allows the style choices of the creative team, and the actors, to shine through. Antoine Fuqua knew this and wisely focused on the characters and action sequences in play. Don’t get me wrong, this film won’t be an award winner by any means, but that doesn’t matter here, what matters in my opinion is that the film is competently made and good escapist fun. The movie succeeds in those merits in spades. We don’t get an even amount of focus on all of the seven titular characters, but this is expected in a one off title with such a large main cast. Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt get the most screentime, with Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio capturing enough character moments spread throughout while Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Martin Sensmeier get introductions and solid action sequences, but the least amount of character development, but enough is done with them to earn them merit within the gunslinger tale.

The story is that of a small valley town out west overtaken by a mining mogul with violent tendencies. After the town is met with an ultimatum with grisly implications from Bartholomew Bogue one freshly widowed woman, Haley Bennett’s Emma Cullen, rounds up a gang of skilled fighters to help defend the town from the mogul’s wrath. From there the film follows the gathering of the seven titular warriors and the build up to the final showdown between Bogue’s army and the seven, with help from the townsfolk and freed miners. The final showdown is worth the buildup with excellently directed and shot cinematography that gives you the action satisfaction, and justice, that the film initiates for the audience from the beginning. As a plus the film’s score does a lot to encourage the emotions required of the story throughtout, truly great stuff as this was the final score partially created by Oscar Winner James Horner. If you want great escapist fun at the movie theater, you’ll find it within The Magnificent Seven.

Final Score: 3.5/5

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Quick Thought: Chris Pratt’s Next Move

We all now know that actor Chris Pratt can play the hero, and play it well. With two mega-franchises under his belt as fan favorites dance master Peter Quill AKA Star Lord in “Guardians of The Galaxy” and raptor trainer Owen Grady  in “Jurassic World”. What we don’t know is, can he play the villain? The other side of the coin may be the sort of challenging material that the actor could go to after saving the universe, or at least a galaxy or two.

One of the biggest, and best, films of 2015 was George Miller’s ‘Mad Max’. Miller has not been subtle about wanting to make more of these films. Think about it. Chris Pratt could be quite the interesting choice for villainy in the wasteland. Pratt’s ability to motormouth through scenes with Max, or his evil underlings, would be the perfect balance to Hardy’s gruff and silent Roadwarrior. He’s got the acting chops and I would love to see what sort of performance he could bring to Max’s established world of fire and blood.

Pratt doesn’t even have to be involved in the realm of Mad Max, I would just appreciate seeing him try wildly different projects. He’s already moving in that direction with his rumored lead in ‘Cowboy Ninja Viking’ which is a graphic novel adaption being brought to the silver screen by the duo behind ‘John Wick’, Keanu Reeves’ latest surprise action hit. In  ‘Cowboy Ninja Viking’ the story follows a man who suffers from multiple personality disorder and is put into a government program to be turned into a super-soldier of sorts with the skills and abilities that come with being a cowboy, a ninja, and a viking. Sign me up, that sounds like a movie I’m willing to pay to see!