Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom

In any situation, the T-Rex is still (as the kids might say) the GOAT

It was a fourteen year wait we all endured (along with the third film in 2001) before 2015’s Jurassic World brought back dinosaurs to the theme park, and was probably the best since the original classic back in 1993. Three years later, we have Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Fallen indeed. It is like going to a great destination but having your GPS take you though places you never knew existed, resulting in you feeling somewhat interested, but wishing for other scenery on the route.

That is not to say that the special effects are bad. There are some cool looking shots (especially a somewhat heartbreaking one that I will get to later). The story does seem simple enough, but hardly enthralling. After the events of Jurassic World, the dinosaurs stuck on the island are in danger as the volcano is on the brink of eruption. The debate begins over whether to let nature take its course or have the animals saved. One who sides with their demise is Dr. Malcom (Jeff Goldblum, who is barely in the film more than five minutes). A group led by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is doing what they can to save the animals.

Claire is reached out to by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who helps run the company of Benjamin Lockwood (the always wonderful James Cromwell), a one time former partner of John Hammond. Mills wants Claire to help save as many animals (eleven species if I remember correctly) as possible, meaning she will need to reconnect with Owen (Chris Pratt), since he is the only one who can connect with his old pet raptor blu.

One problem I also had with the film was the generic characters we get that are to be expected in a Jurassic film. We have the main military head guy (Ted Levine), who we know will leave the island with far fewer men than he came with. There are two of Claire’s friends/assistants, Zia (Daniella Pineda) and Franklin (Justice Smith). While Zia is the tough no-nonsense one, Franklin is the (somewhat annoyingly) scared of everything one (though he did at least bring bug spray). There is also, of course, the child. This time is Lockwood’s grand-daughter Maise (a fresh new face talent named Isabella Sermon). It is standard law that any kid in the Jurassic universe is one of the smartest characters, if no the smartest. I almost forgot the great character actor Toby Jones as a villain who wishes to sell the dinosaurs to the highest bidder.

All of these actors are all talented, no doubt, but it is (some of) the characters making stupid choices that made me upset. The most bizarre moment of the film is when a certain character learn’s something of their past, which is a rather big plot twist. Remember when I said this film was like taking a trip to a great place but the journey was uncomfortable?

Parents, if your kids have seen a Jurassic Park film before, they are fine here. There is nothing sexual (one kiss), just thrills and some blood. Middle School and up is totally okay.

The ending we get to is actually one that can show some promise. Perhaps there is enough left in the tank for one more Jurassic Park film, provided they work out the script and not rush it (which is what I felt during this current film). As for the heartbreaking scene, you will know it when it happens (it involves a Brachiosaurus). Perhaps that may symbolize the end of this franchise, or maybe not.

Perhaps, life may find another way.

 

Overall: Two Stars **

Ready Player One (2018)

Ready Player One

Wade (Tye Sheridan) is one of many who daily journey into the OASIS

It is no secret that movies and video games have not mixed well in the past, be it video games based on movies (there are too many to count that are bad, but E.T. is probably the most notorious) or movies based on video games (anyone remember Mortal Kombat: Annihilation?), it is hard for these two industries to get along, with a few exceptions (Wreck It Ralph and the Goldeneye Video game come to mind). Finally, it is as if Steven Spielberg has come between the two, shouting “ENOUGH!”, and has given us a great film in Ready Player One.

Based off the book of the same name by Ernest Cline, the world is a very different place in 2045 (though not as different as the year 2049 in the Blade Runner sequel). Everyone has one place to escape, which is the OASIS, a virtual reality where gamers can basically do everything you would want in video games and/or social media. We meet our hero Wade (Tye Sheridan, who I have been a fan of since 2013’s underrated Mud), who lives in the projects of Columbus, Ohio, which is now one of the biggest cities in the world. As Parzival (his Avatar), he is on a quest to find the three keys that will win him the ultimate “Easter Egg”, and complete control of the OASIS. The contest was designed by the late creator Halliday (Mark Rylance), after he severed his partnership with Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg).

There are many unsung rules of the OASIS, such as never giving your real name, even if you fall for the gorgeous avatar Artemis (Olivia Cooke). They both are pursued by a company that calls themselves the sixers, lead by the tyrannical Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). Sorrento also needs some help from a pro gamer named I-ROk, who is voiced to perfection by T.J. Miller (who needs a hit after starring in The Emoji Movie).

I have never read the book, but I would wager the Orb of Osuvox that only Steven Spielberg (arguably one of the best film makers who ever lived) could have done this book justice. The secret of Spielberg’s success in Ready Player One is not just that he shows us countless objects from pop culture, but that he does not just rub it in our face. He trusts us enough to find them on our own. It is also not his main objective to show us special effects (which are obviously superior), but to tell a story (as it is for any director).

Parents, the movie is a strong PG-13. There is no real sexual content (though some innuendo, kissing, partial nudity, and revealing clothing). There is a good amount of swearing (including one F bomb, though it is used rather comically), though nothing the normal middle schooler has not heard these days. There is also one part of the movie that talks a bit about the horror classic The Shining (which I would hope kids have not seen at too young of an age). The scene in Room 237 is shown, though not all of the one character in the bathtub is.

Yes, the movie does over stay its welcome (especially in the second half), but there was rarely a time when I wanted the film to end. I expect a lot of parents will be getting references the kids will not, obviously meaning parents will enjoy this as well.

At one point, Halliday says something about how we need to remember to spend time in reality, to remember that is what real is.

That does not help when a movie like Ready Player One seems so life-like.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

The Post (2017)

The Post

Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) discussing the possible future of The Post

 

I went into Steven Spielberg’s The Post with one question (well a few, but one that stood above the others): Is it possible for the movie to be watchable without thinking of the politics we are bombarded with 24/7 these days? I guess it depends on where you stand politically. All I am here to do is to say if the film is entertaining or not, and my answer is a resounding yes.

Set as almost a prequel to the king of all newspaper movies All the President’s Men (1976), The Post tells the story of the leaked Pentagon Papers, and how President Nixon (as well as previous ones going back to Truman) lied about the Vietnam War. The pages are delivered to the Washington Post (as well as the New York Times), but the latter publishes it first. Still, more papers are delivered to the desk of Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who is firm on publishing the documents. Of course, it is up to the owner of the paper, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep).

It is clear that when you have a movie with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, the acting will be rock solid. Hanks does have more of the showier role, but that does not steal any thunder from Streep (to be fair, who could do that to the actress?). They and the rest of the cast (including Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, and Alison Brie) have a palpable electricity in the air for the whole run time.

It occurs to me that movies that have to do with news media have to be have more truth than most any other film genre (if not, film critics would tear the film apart). I have never worked at a paper, but there does seem to be a lot of authenticity in the movie (even when Bradlee’s daughter is selling lemonade while everyone is sorting the papers). The film may not have been exactly how it all played out (it is an original script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer), but it would not surprise me if it did play out that way.

Parents, the film is PG-13. There is about five minutes at the start of the film that shows some action in the war (nothing too graphic) and there is also some swearing (none that stood out to me). I would say any middle schooler would be fine seeing this film.

The film is not completely in the league of Spielberg classics like Jaws, E.T., or Schindler’s List. Still, the film is a wonderful thriller for those tired of mindless action CGI effects that want thought and drama at the core. On that standard alone, The Post is a treasure of a film.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

ET

The image speaks for itself…

There is a scene in E.T. when Mike (Robert MacNaughton) is describing the relationship between his younger brother Elliot (Henry Thomas) and the alien to a grown-up.

Mike: He communicates through Elliot.

Grown-up: Elliot thinks it’s thoughts?

Mike: No. Elliot feels his feelings.

The idea of feeling of feelings is what makes Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece so endearing. A good director knows how to read the minds of the audience, but a great director knows the feelings of the audience as well. In the case of E.T., the main audience is not just children, but the child in all of us.

Another key feature of the film is how Spielberg films from a point of view. Nearly every scene is filmed from the point of view of E.T. or Elliot (and sometimes his siblings). The only adults we really actually see in the film is the mother (Dee Wallace) and (for the second half) Keys (Peter Coyote). We never really see anything from their point of view. There are a few exceptions. We do see Keys looking for E.T. after his family has left him on earth. We also get that wonderful comic scene of how the mother thinks she hears a noise from Elliot’s closet, and actually does “see” E.T. hidden in the stuffed animals.

It truly baffles me whenever I meet someone who does not like this film, but I am beside myself when it is someone who has never even seen the film. The story is still well-known to them though. Elliot is the middle child (always the unsung hero is the middle child) of Mary, a single mom of three (the other is a young Drew Barrymore as Gertie). As a middle child myself, it was impossible for me not to relate to Elliot. My parents also were separated, I wished to always hang out with my older brother’s friends, and I had a younger sibling who I thought got more attention than I did. In short, life was hard to a degree.

Enter E.T., who is as shocked to meet a human as Elliot is meeting an alien (though the best reaction comes from Gertie). All of the scenes with Elliot prove that Henry Thomas gives perhaps the best (if not the most famous) performance by a young male actor in film history (his audition tape was equally compelling). It is a little bit of a shame though, because it does overshadow the fine work given by his siblings. MacNaughton does start off as the wise scheming older brother, but is still kind-hearted and more understanding (especially at the end). It is also a credit to show Barrymore (who has had acting in her family bloodline for generations) as a little girl who is far smarter than the others give her credit for.

Along with the comic moments, the movie clearly has movies of suspense. The “chase” scene is heart pounding to anyone, regardless of age or knowledge of the outcome. No small part of this is due to the other star of this film (and nearly every Spielberg film), legendary composer John Williams. Like every movie he has composed, E.T. would be a totally different (and really not at all brilliant) film without John Williams.

Then comes the moment, as the suspense becomes utmost relief and wonder. You know the scene, you know the moment. I don’t need to explain how it is etched in our minds and hearts and souls for eternity.

Parents, if you have not let your kids see this movie yet, I don’t know what you are waiting for. I would say any age. Yes, there are scary moments, but it is a movie where being scared is okay. Yes, some of the adults seem like villains, but they really aren’t actual villains. There is also some swearing.

Whether you watch the original theatrical version, the updated version (with updated special effects and two added scenes), it is clear a movie is a classic if the only bad thing about it is the video game (which I thankfully never got to play).

E.T. is just flawless entertainment for anyone.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind (1977)

Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind

The imagery speaks for itself…

The main thing I remember from my first viewing of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind as a child was that I could start playing the five notes as I started Concert Band around the age of eleven. Imagine my disappointment when, after finally revisiting the movie years later, I have been playing the notes the wrong way! Oh well…

Two years after Jaws brought Steven Spielberg into the limelight, he unleashed one of the most wonder oozing films of all time. Sci-Fi films can go one of two ways: They can go the way of action and adventure (as was the case with another 1977 classic, Star Wars), or they can show how we feel about the wonders of the universe. CEOT3K falls in the latter category.

The film does not entirely focus on a main character so much as the emotions the characters (and we in real life) feel when we see anything we don’t understand, yet are still yearning to learn more. It is clear that many things are happening and catching the attention of many people. One of them is Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), an electrician who notices something one night that he can’t explain, but will not let go by, even if his wife (Teri Garr) wants nothing to do with it. He also meets Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), a single mother trying to look out for her son Barry (Cary Guffey).

While all actors give convincing performances (Dillon was nominated for an Oscar, and Guffey is a scene stealer), the movie belongs to the people behind the camera. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (who won the film’s only Oscar), supplies each frame with the imagery and color that give each one a life of its own. As is the case with every movie he has composed, John Williams brings life to the soul and backbone of the picture. Finally, it is Spielberg who keeps us somewhat fearful until, at just the right moment, he changes our fear to awe.

Parents, there is very little here that will be bad for a kid. Some swearing, but nothing horrible. The PG rating is justified.

 

I have a friend of mine, Jimmy, who is not a big fan of “old” movies, since it is sometimes hard to feel nostalgic for movies of the past. My response to him is that while there are many movies of the past that are forgettable but (to a degree) gives the viewer a feeling of nostalgia, there are a select few that are downright timeless. They exceed the time they were made in, and speak to anyone with a pulse, regardless of the year they were born in. There is no doubt in my mind that Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind is a pure and timeless classic.

Note: I do now know how to play the five notes. G A F F (an octave lower) and C.

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Tom Hanks (right) in Bridge of Spies.

Tom Hanks (right) in Bridge of Spies.

Think of how many times in your life the color Red has been used to signify the bad guy.

In video games, red on your radar means an enemy. It signals an alert. I tend to think a lot of this may have to do with how serious the US took communism in the 1950s.

In Bridge of Spies, we learn the true story of lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who is asked to be the defense attorney of Soviet Spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Fortunatly, Donovan has shades of Atticus Finch in him: He does it because he knows how important it is to show the law of the United States at work, regardless of the situation the country may be in.

Of course, Abel’s chances are slim to nil, but the film does not just talk about his trial, or even the trade that is to be made for another captured US soldier in the Soviet Union. It is about how, sometimes, just sitting downn and talking can solve problems better than bullets and bloodshed ever could. The film is directed (by Spielberg) with plenty of style and artistry we would come to expect from him, as well as great acting from Hanks and Rylance (and an underappreciated Amy Ryan as Donovan’s wife). My issue with the film is it tends to drag on a bit, and seems really long.

Parents, the film is totally fine for anyone 13 and up (and even mature preteens). There is some swearing (two F bombs are dropped), but that is it. No sexual content of any kind. I say if your kids are studying this period of history in school, it is definetly worth while to take them.

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Jaws (1975)

Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss go after "Jaws".

Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss go after “Jaws”.

Note: This review will contain spoilers. If you have not seen the movie by now, stop reading and see it.

Sometimes, I can remember where I was when I first saw a movie. At the age of seven or so, I was watching TV, and two guys were out fishing with a big slab of meat on a chain hook. They threw it out to sea. Moments later, something big took not only the meat, but half the dock and one of the men with them. Later on, I would ask my parents to see Jaws from the beginning.

At that point in my life, I never really knew what a shark actually looked like, but I was learning what a shark could do. I watched the film, eagerly waiting until I could see the shark. Well, right after Chief Brody’s (Roy Scheider) eldest son Michael is confronted by the shark, I had to go some where, and did not get to see the shark at a later date.

Only years later would I learn how great a tactic this was. The main factor of this masterpiece of celluloid is not showing the shark in flesh, but the shark’s actions and the results of those actions.

Another key in the film is the music, supplied by the legend John Williams. This film shot him to the status of icon in movie music (he would later reach another level of excellence two years later when he composed Star Wars). The theme of Jaws is one of the most recognizable, simple, and terrifying of all movie scores (second only to that of Psycho).

The film also has some outstanding editing by Verna Fields (who won one of the film’s three Oscars; the others were Best Sound and Score). Some of the best examples are during the action scenes at sea, but also the ones of the chief looking out on the beach in search of the shark before the second shark death.

There are also moments when Spielberg plays with our minds. Consider the scene I just mentioned. It starts off with a rather overweight lady going out to the ocean. We then see (a rather skinny) Alex Kinter leaving the ocean. We may not admit it, but we think “Surely, a shark would go for an overweight person instead of a skinny little boy?” How wrong we are!

The acting in the film is, in my mind, overlooked. Everyone is perfect in their roles, but the scene stealer to me is Robert Shaw as Quint. His monologue is easily the best scene in the film. It plays in your mind as he tells it, and there is not a hint of acting so much as recalling a horrible moment in this man’s life. It is beyond chilling stuff.

Parents, it should be noted that while this film is PG, it came out before the PG-13 rating, which is probably what it would get. It is possibly the most violent PG movie ever (along with another Spielberg classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark). When I saw the film, I admit I was a tad surprised to see some young kids there, but I did not hear a lot of kids screaming wanting to go home. It is a good type of scary film (though there is a little nudity at the beginning, it is obscured from shadowing.) This a film that, if I have kids, I will be blessed to show it to them (I will probably wait till maybe age 9 or so).

Jaws is one film you can’t live life without seeing.

Overall: Five Stars *****

Jurassic World (2015)

Chris Pratt calms things down in Jurassic World.

Chris Pratt calms things down in Jurassic World.

I admit that when I heard they were doing a new film in the Jurassic series, I was hesitant. The first film came out when I was six, and it was a great entertainment. Sadly, after the unimpressive (but mildly entertaining) The Lost World and the very anti-fun Jurassic Park 3, it seemed the original was doomed to follow the same path of another Spielberg classic, Jaws.

Luckily, the new Jurassic World brings life back into the franchise (unlike the Jaws franchise, in which the fourth one was…..oh, don’t get me started). Set nearly 20 years after the events of the original, the park is now named “Jurassic World” (one character is seen wearing a “Jurassic Park” shirt, and is told not to wear it again, as it reminds them of what problems occurred there). We see two boys, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and his older brother Zach (Nick Robinson) getting ready for a trip to visit their Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who helps run Jurassic World. Of course, Zach is not wanting to be there, while Gray is over the moon.

Claire is too busy to attend to the boys, so she leaves them with her assistant. There is a new attraction to be shown, as public interest has been declining. Enter the idea of the Indominus Rex. At first, he looks like a version of the T-Rex who can use his hands to grab things (such as people. I doubt I am giving much away on that.), but there is more to it than that. This may be one of the smartest dinosaurs in film history.

After Owen (the always wonderful Chris Pratt, who is set for another good year after last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie) fails to tell Claire and Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) that it is not a good idea to keep this new creation, all that can go wrong, well does (and if it didn’t, would there really be a movie?) It also does not help when Claire’s nephews decide to escape the assistant and decide to go their own way.

Much of the action sequences are breathtaking, but I felt some of the movie did have a story line or two too many (mainly the one with Vincent D’Onofrio as Hoskins, who is good here). Still, the film brought together an action packed fight at the end that I was ashamed to say I did not know I wanted it, but I truly did (one little girl in the theater, maybe 7 or 8, said as I left the theater “That was the best dinosaur kill EVER!”)

Parents, I admit I was a little afraid to see kids in the theater, but I remember I was that age when I saw the original (though on VHS, not in theaters). Of course it may be scary for little kids, but I think 10 or above would be fine (some sexual innuendo of dialogue is in the film, but none that a kid would understand).

My favorite thing about Jurassic World was the nostalgia (which shows how much respect the film makers put into the film). I for one was excited when I saw the night vision goggles, the old jeep with the number “29” (used by Hammond in the original), a bit of the ribbon that said “When Dinosaurs ruled the earth”, a place in the park called “Winston’s” (a nod, I imagine, to the late Stan Winston, who helped make the original dinosaurs in the first films),  and BD Wong as Scientist Henry Wu. Still, the best thing by far was the original theme by the legendary John Williams. As it played, it made me think that this what John Hammond truly envisioned in the first place.

Well, minus the chaos and death.

Overall: Three and a half Stars *** 1/2

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and Edward Burns in Saving Private Ryan.

Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and Edward Burns in Saving Private Ryan.

Time has always been a better critic of films than anything else, especially the academy. While Shakespeare in Love was a good movie, most (including me) would say that it robbed Saving Private Ryan of the Oscar for Best Picture of 1998.

Still, over 15 years later, the latter is remembered much more. What makes Saving Private Ryan such a great film is not just the direction, the camera work, the acting, the action sequences, or the story. What makes it the film it has become is the respect it shows to it’s subject matter.

Most of the readers will know what happens in the film, but I will still not spoil it. I remember it was spoiled for me when I first saw it at the age of 12-13, just as it came out of VHS (ah, the good old days!). The film starts out as a veteran visits a cemetery of those lost on D Day (and the days after). It then flashes back to that eventful day, in one of the most epic action scenes ever filmed. It is brutal, gritty, and flinchingly real.

We have just met Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and he has been assigned to bring seven of his troops (including a then unknown Vin Diesel) to rescue Private James Ryan, whose three older brothers have died in combat. It is, as Miller says, “Like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles”.

Many of these soldiers will not make it back alive, which makes it all the more heart breaking, because we have gotten a glimpse of what these guys were like back at home. There is a bet going around to see who can guess what Miller did before the war. When he finally reveals the truth, Hanks gives a speech that shows why is one of the world’s greatest actors.

Parents, I mentioned above what age I was when I first saw the film. While it is Rated R, I feel it is a good movie to watch with a teenager (no younger). In an age where kids are playing first person shooters, it may be nice to show them a movie that ordinary men did this (and still do), and it is no picnic. (Note: There is one scene where a soldier talks about a sexual situation, and there is swearing, but the violence is the main reason for the R rating.)

I can’t do a review of the film without mentioning it’s director, Steven Spielberg (who won his second Oscar for this film). One of the best in the biz, he handles this film with as much grit, realism, and respect as any film he has made. The result is an American film treasure that pays as much tribute to those who have served our country (in any war) as any film ever has.

Overall: Five Stars *****