Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jurassic World review

     You knew this was coming.  After 14 years since the last Jurassic Park film and 18 years since the last good Jurassic Park film, the franchise finally was able to return to the theatres with original content in the Steven Spielberg produced and Colin Trevorrow directed Jurassic World.  My son and I caught a 3D showing last night, seeing as how we weren't going to be able to make it to the theatre in time for the 2D showing.  I know I said I wanted to watch the movie twice before giving a verdict but outside circumstances have axed those plans so one viewing will have to do.  Now that I've slept on it, let's answer the question: was it worth the wait?

     Taking place 22 years after the original groundbreaking film, Jurassic World sees John Hammond's dream come true.  Tourists from all over the world can come to Isla Nublar and visit Jurassic World, the fully functional theme park where the past comes alive for the wonder and amusement of the people.  Except there's just one little thing: the people aren't in wonder from these animals anymore.  Or at least the park's focus groups say so, despite there's a total of 22,216 people in attendance in the film.  Taking into consideration that less interest equals less profit, the park's team of geneticists take it upon themselves to create a new badass dinosaur from scratch.  Naturally, since this is a Jurassic Park film, it doesn't quite pan out the way they want it to.

"'Create a new dinosaur,' they said.  'Up the wow factor,' they said.  'We got this,' they said."

     I'm going to come right out and say it: Jurassic World is not what I would consider a terrible movie.  However, as a whole, there are things that prevent it from being a great movie like Jurassic Park or even a really good movie like The Lost World: Jurassic Park (haters be damned).  In case you were wondering, yes, this one is better than Jurassic Park III, even if that's not a terribly difficult claim to make.

     Let's discuss the positive bits first.  At a run time of approximately 124 minutes, Jurassic World does take some time to show off the now open park a bit and allows us to spend some time with the characters so that we at the very least give a little bit of a shit about them before throwing them into the fray.  Maybe not enough but more on that later.
     One thing that kind of surprised me was that there was a nice injection of humor into the film, I think even more so than any previous Jurassic entry.  A lot of this comes from Irrfan Kahn as new owner of the park Simon Masrani and Jake Johnson (alumni of Trevorrow's previous effort Safety Not Guaranteed) as cynical control room operator Lowery.  Not to say that the rest of the cast doesn't get a moment or two to add some levity but I found that Masrani and Lowery did provide the majority of it.
     I made it no secret that I was not entirely sold on the idea of a genetically modified dinosaur.  I understand why they went this route though because if they just brought in a different dinosaur from the fossil record with a selling point of "bigger than a T-Rex," it'd just be Jurassic Park III with an operational resort and uh, yeah, no.  Thankfully, the Indominus Rex not only looks great in motion but works as a character in her own right and I was able to set my skepticism aside and have fun with her, particularly the scene where she hands the Asset Containment Unit team's (basically Animal Control) asses to them.

 Honestly, I think this guy got off pretty easy.

     Now, we all know there's two sides to every coin so let's head on over to the more negative side of things.  First off, the 3D isn't overwhelming by any means but it doesn't really add anything to the movie either.  When a dinosaur charges, it's not projecting enough that it feels like it is charging at you.  I know the movie was shot for 3D but it honestly just feels like its there to add an extra $3 per ticket to up its box office numbers.
    For the record, I like the cast of this movie.  I do not feel that Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio or anyone else phoned it in.  After sleeping on it, I do however think that some of the dialogue and story structure needed work.  Not that Jurassic World rushes into things but we only get just enough time with the main characters to know basically whether to root for them or not.  The film could've used more time developing why Claire (Howard) is so obsessed with work and profits that she can't remember how old her nephews are or why Vic Hoskins (D'Onofrio, who while may not be playing the most original character is having so much fun) is so gun-ho in his own agendas (I won't spoil it here unlike other reviews) instead of just, "'MURICA," or why Dr. Wu seems so much more mad-scientist than before just as a few immediate examples.  The problem isn't the actors but rather what they had to work with.
     If anyone is hoping for mass park casualties amongst the patrons, you might want to calm your expectations.  If you ever looked at the Jurassic World website, you can see the various rides and attractions as well as what animals are in the park so you can start spinning your imagination as to what kind of mishaps could ensue with these creatures in these sections.  Sadly, what you see in the trailers is more or less what you get: the Pteranodons and Dimorphodons swooping down on a packed Main Street.  For example, wanna see a Suchomimus flip a kayak in the Cretaceous Cruise?  Too bad, as that creature is not in the movie (people would've probably just thought it was the Spinosaurus anyway) and that ride is only featured in the film in the same shot that was in the trailer.  Just seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity in this department.
     Earlier I had spoke highly of the Indominus Rex but there was something that happened with her about 100 minutes in that was just dumb.  Like, really dumb.  For pretty much the whole film up until this point, I had a smile on my face like it was June 1993 again and would've made this movie as good as The Lost World but then this little twist comes up and almost ruined the movie for me.  I know that it sounds silly to write off an entire film on one little scene (just as silly as giving a movie a pass based on one little scene) but this particular bit really nose-dived the quality of the film for me.  Thankfully, what came a few minutes afterwards mostly made up for it but the scars were still there.

My sentiments exactly at that moment.

      Okay, it wouldn't be a Jurassic Park movie review if we didn't talk about the special effects.  After all, that's the key element of Jurassic's legacy.  I had said in my post from last year that I wanted to see more animatronics and less CGI.  Well, that's not the case here.  I don't have a problem with CGI or even a lot of CGI (the recent Planet Of The Apes films immediately spring to mind) but if there's going to be this much CGI, it all has to be the same level of quality.  To be fair, a lot of shots in Jurassic World feature full-body in-motion dinosaurs, something that animatronics have not been able to fully replicate.  Sure, the suits from the Walking With Dinosaurs Live Arena Spectacular are good but they aren't good enough for Jurassic Park.  That being said, there are some shots here (not just with dinosaurs) that could have been very easily done with practical effects instead of adding in the creatures in post-production.  I counted a grand total of three, seriously, fucking three animatronic shots.  Maybe.  I'm sorry, I know that's just how movies are made now because the studios want them made as quickly and as cheaply as possible but this franchise has built its reputation on being able to balance in-camera puppeteering with mostly high-quality CGI, which upon reflection this film is seriously lacking in parts, particularly in the end scene.  You know, the scene where it probably counts the most.  Even though the theatre and I were still going "OOOHHH," I couldn't help but think, "God, that CG better be refined for the Blu-Ray."  This is probably the one and only thing that Jurassic Park III has over Jurassic World (yeah, I said it).

This scene is the only one I can say with complete certainty that used animatronics.  Regardless of how well it turned out, that still feels criminal when talking about a Jurassic Park movie.

     Alright, time to wrap this up.  Was it worth the 14 year wait?  Eh, kinda?  Not really?  Hard to say.  I can't tell you that I'm 100% satisfied with the end result but I did clap with the rest of the audience once the credits rolled because Jurassic World does have an element of fun to it and while I don't really know if I like the fact that this one completely ignores the events of the previous sequels, I did feel it washed the putrid Jurassic Park III out of my mouth.  However, with how long this movie was in developmental Hell and the fact it has a $150 million price tag on it, you'd think something truly pants-shittingly awesome would be in theatres right now instead of, well, this.  It will be interesting to see how well (or not well) the film holds up upon repeat viewings but time will tell.  I will say that if Universal Studios was smart, they would know that the seeds planted here for future installments should be cast aside and end the series here on as close to a high note as they can.  It's a pipe dream, I know.  Given the franchise driven state of Hollywood, the generally positive feedback that the film has received and that ticket sale projections are putting this film's opening weekend intake somewhere near the $155 million mark, we can expect Jurassic 5 (no, not the hip-hop group) in theatres somewhere between 2019 and 2029.  Yay.

     -The Cynic

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Good, The Bad and The...Meh: Cynic's Films Of 2014 In Review

     Well, another year has come and gone, so you know what that means!  Ya ha, retrospect lists!  I didn't do one of these last year because I only saw two 2013 releases in the theatre (Jurassic Park 3D trumped Thor: The Dark World, although I did really like that one too) and I didn't really keep track of any home releases I may have seen.  Well, this year I did much better on that front so we're gonna start at the bottom and work our way up through the nine releases I managed to catch this year.  Just as a safety disclaimer, possible spoiler warnings to the films featured here.  Also, if you're just here to see where Insterstellar or Gone Girl ranked, I never got around to seeing them, so...yeah...

     Without further adieu, let's get started with the bad...
     9.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
     I try not to count my chickens before they hatch, but I knew that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not going to be a terribly great film.  What I DIDN'T know was just how terrible of a film it would turn out to be.  I already tore this film a new poop-shoot when I torrented it in September after curiosity got the better of me (no way I was paying to see this one) so I'll skip the reasons why I hated it.  However, what I neglected to mention in that review was that all of those points against the film culminated into one thing that I just cannot forgive it for: the producers took the excuse of "It's just a kid's movie, so we can slap whatever stupid thing we want together and the little shits will eat it up because we tell them to."  Well, how about we just try to make a good movie, regardless of how old the intended audience is?  Kids are smarter than a lot of people give them credit for and considering how much crap they have to put up with from other aspects of their lives, they don't need escapism like movies to insult their intelligence.  By far the worst Turtles movie to date and easily the worst of the year.  Next.

     The 'meh...'
     8.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2
     Okay, for the record, I liked the first Amazing Spider-Man and I still do, probably my favorite web-slinger movie thus far so when the sequel was announced, I was all for it.  Never got to see it theatrically so I pre-ordered it on Blu-Ray and immediately watched it once it arrived in the mail.  All I could say was, "Wow...that was pretty disappointing."  Don't get me wrong, I still really dig leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone and there were some neat ideas within the movie.  However, for everything I liked about this movie, there was at least another thing or two that I didn't like about it.  At first, I felt like Sony was making the same mistakes that they had with Spider-Man 3 whereas they had too much going on within the story for it to flow smoothly.  However, upon further reflection, I realized that the case with Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasn't so much that there was too much going on within the story but, in fact, there wasn't enough story to go around and the stretched veils of the plot were filled in with hints and setups for further sequels.  Needless to say, there's a lot of hints and setups for what's for dessert (quote unquote) when they should've focused more on what's currently on our plates.  Not awful, not Amazing as its namesake would let you believe, just kind of a "middle of the road" type of movie.

     Alright, now that we've gotten the stinkers out of the way, how about we start talking about the enjoyable films, eh?

     7.  Hercules
     Okay, I can hear the collective, "Whaaaa," coming from the readers but just because I like to review movies as a hobby doesn't necessarily mean that I'm looking for something that's gonna trigger thought-provoking conversation about the film or whatever it may be trying to do.  Sometimes, you just need a good way to kill an hour and a half and that's exactly what Brett Ratner's Hercules is: harmless entertainment to kill a slow night.  The trailers reminded me of Dwayne Johnson's first headlining film The Scorpion King and that's more or less what I expected.  To be fair, Hercules takes its premise more seriously than Scorpion King and it actually delves into ideas of whether Hercules actually accomplished his amazing feats on his own and at one point debates whether or not he is truly the son of Zeus (although when he pushes over the giant statue with his bare hands and turns John Hurt into a bowling pin with it, I'm pretty sure that answers that question).  To tell the truth, had it not been for the involvement of Dwayne Johnson and Ian McShane, this film would've found it's way into the 'Meh' category with Amazing Spider-Man 2, so if you're stuck on a slow night with nothing to watch, give this one a chance.  At best, you'll have an entertaining action movie.  At worst, hey, at least you're not watching Ninja Turtles.

     6.  X-Men: Days Of Future Past
     I'm kinda surprised that this one is as low as it isI loved the first two X-Men movies, I even didn't mind the third film and I think First Class is the best of the franchise.  I didn't get a chance to catch this one in the theatres so we rented the Blu-Ray the first chance we had and this one is probably the third best of the series, in my eyes.  It was a really good blend of the original series cast with the First Class cast and while I was a little disappointed that Ian McKellen's Magneto and Michael Fassbender's Magneto didn't share screen time the way that James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart's Professor Xavier did, this one kept me glued to the screen and I am looking forward to what the series has in store for us down the road.

     5.  Guardians Of The Galaxy
     I can hear you sharpening your pitchforks and lighting your torches now, "How is Guardians Of The Goddamn Galaxy only number five, Cynic?!"  Well, apparently this year was really good for good movies and just because this only ranks at number five doesn't take anything away from it.  I'll admit, when I first heard that this one was greenlit, I was a tad confused as to who the Guardians Of The Galaxy were but more importantly, was grumbling why Guardians was greenlit and not Deadpool.  However, in case you couldn't figure it out before, Marvel knows what they're doing and this movie probably wasn't greenlit on a whim.  The plot of this film sounds so insane on paper but in context, by God, it just works.  The real wildchild of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that's just loads of fun any way you look at it.

     4.  Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
     Ho.  Lee.  Shit.  I never did see Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes in theatres because I figured, "Yeah, Apes prequel.  Whatever."  It wasn't until all of the feedback for Dawn started spreading like wildfire that I bought Rise on Blu-Ray.  Best $10 I've spent in the Wal-Mart Blu-Ray bin in some time, so naturally that got me more curious and a tad eager for DawnYou liked RiseDawn destroys Rise in terms of quality, and that by no means is a small feat.  The story is better and more emotionally gripping, the set pieces and motion capture is absolutely astounding, there's plenty of drama on both the human and ape sides and the whole tension between Caeser and Koba gets me just thinking about it.  When the next Planet Of The Apes film hits, I'll be checking it out in the theatres, as I hope you all will too.

     3.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier
     Confession time: I did not particularly care for Captain America: The First Avenger.  I had a hard time buying Chris Evans in the role, it didn't do much for me in the way of action scenes, it just seemed subpar in comparison to the rest of the Marvel films, it wasn't my favorite.  Suffice to say, The Winter Soldier had some fair obstacles to overcome and oh boy, did it do so.  As much as I liked Guardians Of The Galaxy, I liked this one just a little bit more.  Evans is far more believable as Steve Rogers, the action sequences are some of the best I've seen in a while and this movie hits both the audience and the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Hydra within S.H.I.E.L.D. angle that makes everyone go, "Oh what's gonna happen?  How's this going to effect the next few movies?"  I didn't think I'd see a Captain America movie that I could firmly stand behind, let alone see two sequels that surpassed their predecessors in the same year.

     2.  The Lego Movie
     My son and I were in town the night this one opened so I figured, "Meh, while we're here, let's catch a movie."  I honestly didn't have high expectations for this one and just figured that it'd be a fun little movie for the kids that while entertaining, still exists mostly as a toy commercial.  Boy, was I wrong.  So very, very wrong.  The Lego Movie isn't so much a movie about Lego but it is its own story merely being told using Lego.  Big difference.  I haven't laughed this hard at an animated feature in a long time and The Lego Movie is a nice reminder that just because your movie is marketed more towards kids doesn't mean it can't be clever.  I've even gone so far as to say that The Lego Movie will probably be appreciated more by adults than it will be by its intended audience and as someone who collects memorabilia from their childhood, the last twenty minutes or so really hit hard.  This was by far the most surprising movie of the year and if you're one of those people who won't give it a chance just because, "It's animated," or, "It's just for kids," then I outright feel sorry for you.

     Alright, some of you might see this coming but my number one movie of 2014 is...

     1.  Godzilla
     I know I'm going to (and already have) caught a lot of crap for having this at the top of the list but I had very high expectations going into this movie, not to mention having riding the hype train for two years, and you know what?  Those expectations were met, as I explained in my review.  Story focused more on the people?  Check.  Characters that felt like ordinary people instead of action movie tropes?  Check.  Creatures held back until later in?  Check.  Godzilla not appearing until an hour in?  Check.  Having everything come together for a spectacular third act finale?  Check and mate.  Okay, I didn't expect Bryan Cranston to die in the movie but frankly, in this day and age where movies can be spoiled at a few taps of a keyboard, heaven forbid something comes along and surprises us.  Had this movie not delivered, I doubt I'd have it in me to get excited for another movie ever again.  Hell, my wife even said that if Godzilla had disappointed, she would've written a letter to Gareth Edwards telling him to fix her broken husband.  One thing that I noticed upon a repeat viewing was that even though the film is two hours long, Godzilla is paced in a way that it doesn't overstay its welcome and feels like 90 or 100 minutes long at most.  Are there objectively better films on this list?  Totally, but in the end of the day, Godzilla was the one to beat in my eyes and none of the other films on this list were able to do so.

     I love looking at "Best & Worst Movies Of The Year" lists, even if I don't agree with them.  I've shared mine, now how about yours?  What were your favorite films of 2014?  Which ones were just kinda there and which ones downright pissed you off?  Leave a comment, I do read them.  Happy New Year!

-The Cynic