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“JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM” Review (✫✫)

CREDIT: Getty Images

Dinosaur activism gone awry.

The smartest guy in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom by far is Jeff Goldblum. No, I don’t mean his character Ian Malcolm. I mean Jeff Goldblum. He’s the smartest person in the movie for three reasons. One: Being a series staple since 1993, he probably got paid a lot for the small role he had in this movie. Two: He only had a couple of lines, so in total he saved time, money, and effort in accepting this part. Three: When the dinosaurs are facing an extinction-level event that could potentially wipe them all out, he says the most intelligent thing out of anyone else in the movie: just let them die. “Man tampered with nature the way it wasn’t supposed to,” he says. “This is nature correcting itself.”

If only more people had listened to him, then we could have avoided two catastrophes: one on Isla Nublar, and the other in the movie theater. In this sequel to the Jurassic Park reboot Jurassic World, Fallen Kingdom follows Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) teaming up to save all of the dinosaurs from an erupting volcano expecting to engulf the entire island. While on their venture, Owen is reunited with Blue, the raptor that Owen has trained in the park ever since she was a infant. Now racing against time and a whole slew of dinosaurs chasing after them, Claire, Owen, and Blue have to save the dinosaurs, all while avoiding being eaten by them.

Before we hop into the review, I’d like to take you through a quick recap of the Jurassic Park series. Ever since 1993, we’ve been watching these dinosaurs chomping, stomping, clawing, and ripping their way through one human body after another. We’ve seen T-Rexes, Velociraptors, Spinosauruses, Phterodactyls, Mosasauruses, and until recently Frankenstein’s dinosaurs killing people in all sorts of grisly, gruesome fashions. It’s been 25 years guys. I think the consensus is pretty clear by now: Dinosaurs are dangerous.

So when I see a screenplay where its main characters are getting weepy-eyed about man-eating monsters on the verge of going extinct, my first impulse is to take a PETA pamphlet and use it to choke myself into unconsciousness. Fallen Kingdom is bad, and not the kind of bad where it’s cheesy, over-the-top, and kind of fun in a B-movie way. More like mind numbingly half-baked and forced with such on-the-nose social justice themes that even Madonna wouldn’t want to be associated with it.

I’m not saying that the premise itself isn’t interesting. The whole question of whether dinosaurs have the same rights as animals do is an interesting concept, and a question I would at least like asked in a movie like this. The problem is that it isn’t asked: it’s beaten over your head with a dinosaur bone multiple times, whacking you over and over again while shouting at you “Do you feel sad for the dinosaurs yet? Do you feel sad now? HOW ABOUT NOW?! NOW??? NOW?!?!”

There’s zero nuance to the story. If it had simply asked the question and allowed the audience to come to their own conclusions, then I would be supportive of this premise. But instead of leaving the answer open-ended, writers Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow have to spell everything out for you, belittling the audience by thinking that all they want to see is big-budget dinosaur action while rushing through all of the development behind it. And I’ll be honest, humanitarian questions or big-budget dinosaur action, I’m fine with either one. But the movie fails to fully deliver on either front, and in doing so it leaves the audience frustrated and unfulfilled.

That’s not to say that there aren’t enjoyable moments in a picture like this. In its subtler moments, director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls) elevates the movie above mediocrity, manipulating his environments to usher in a sense of unease and paranoia similar to the first film. I find that in most movies, it’s not the threat itself that is so unsettling, but rather the anticipation behind it that makes it so riveting. Steven Spielberg understood this in the first movie when we saw the T-Rex for the first time. It wasn’t the dinosaur itself that made us so tense, but the way we heard its heavy breathing through the forest trees, its ominous footsteps pounding onto the ground, water rippling from the shockwaves of its steps. More often than not, it’s not just the creature alone that is so scary; it’s our own perceptions of it as well.

Bayona, at some level, understands that exercising his film similarly leads to the best thrills. When dinosaurs are running away from an exploding volcano in his picture, I’m yawning. When carnivorous beasts are fighting, clawing, and biting at each other, I’m looking at my watch. But when the humans are cornered in a dark, isolated mansion and are quietly evading a mutated Velociraptor hunting them? There’s your moneymaker. Now I’m on the edge of my seat.

Overall, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is not the worst Jurassic Park movie (see Jurassic Park III), but it definitely isn’t anywhere near the quality of the first film. Even the second movie The Lost World had the good sense to not take itself too seriously, something that would have drastically improved Fallen Kingdom if it had taken a similar approach. Where will the series go from here? Unfortunately to a sixth movie, which I sorely do not want but in any case am powerless to stop anyway. I know one thing for certain: if they call it anything besides Jurassic Planet, I will be extremely disappointed.

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Jeff Goldblum Returns To ‘Jurassic World’

Just like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum finds a way back onto the big screen.

The Hollywood Reporter reported earlier this week that Jeff Goldblum will be reprising his role of Dr. Ian Malcolm in the upcoming science-fiction sequel Jurassic World 2. Being a staple of the franchise ever since the first film released in 1993, this will be the third time Goldblum will be portraying the character in the Jurassic Park universe, after his last appearance in 1997’s The Lost World.

Jurassic Park purists will no doubt be excited to hear about Goldblum’s return. An actor brimming with charisma and wit, Goldblum’s dry humor has usually been the best part of most of the films he’s been involved with, and somehow finds the right moments to spit a snappy quip or make some sarcastic comment.

Yet, fans shouldn’t be too excited for this casting news just yet. Goldblum also returned in the long-awaited sequel Independence Day: Resurgence last year, and even he couldn’t save that movie from its stupid writing and mediocre production. As we’ve seen before, Goldblum is a useful element that can be used to lighten up serious moments in a picture, but he can’t make up an entire picture. No actor can.

Luckily, it looks as if this new film is heading in the right direction. With A Monster Calls director J.A. Bayona at the helm working off of a script from Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow, Jurassic World 2 has been described as a fresh return for the franchise, going back to its roots in horror and thriller. Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment is producing, and Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are also set to return.

What do you guys think? Are you excited for Goldblum’s return to the big screen, or like the dinosaurs do you wish he’d just stay in the past? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Screenrant

 

“JURASSIC WORLD” Review (✫1/2)

Never trust a velociraptor. 

If there is any reason you need convincing as to why some movie franchises need to stay extinct, let Jurassic World be your most recent example. How to I start with this? Well, let me start with a positive: Joe Johnston isn’t directing. Thank God, because I couldn’t stomach another Jurassic Park III. Maybe I already have.

The movie takes place 20 years after the events of Jurassic Park, which is just as well because it literally is more than 20 years after the original was released. The new plot re-writes the history so that The Lost World and Jurassic Park III never took place. Not a change I will be missing since those movies contributed as little to the series as World does.

The film’s cast of characters includes a dinosaur whisperer named Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who controls his own small battalion of velociraptors ready at a moment’s notice. Yes, you read that right. A velociraptor battalion. You get used to such absurdities as the movie goes on. You have Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park manager of the newly-designed Jurassic World. Then you have Zach and Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), two brothers who go to Jurassic World for a small vacation away from their parents. Oh yeah, and Claire is their aunt. You can tell their parents are really responsible by sending their kids away to an exotic park filled with man-eating beasts and reptiles with their ditzy, airhead of an estranged aunt to take care of them.

Anyhow, the upgraded, new-and-improved Jurassic World is a major step forward from Jurassic Park, the failed first attempt at a dinosaur park thanks to the hands of John Hammond. But no worries! Jurassic World is the perfected design of Jurassic Park, and nothing can possibly go wrong!

…right? RIGHT?!

Wrong. They do the smartest thing they can do and create a new carnivorous dinosaur called the Indominus that is more powerful than the T-Rex, Spinosaurus and a pack of Velociraptors combined. Hooray for dinosaur science!

As soon as the film opens up, you realize how many stupid characters are packed into the film to create the biggest idiot plot you’ve seen since Idiocracy. Idiot # 1: Whoever decided to create this park after the original one ended so disastrously. Idiot # 2: The mad scientists who decided to create a new carnivorous dinosaur, splicing together the DNA of nature’s most dangerous dinosaurs. Idiot # 3: Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, for deciding to run in high heels the entire movie. Idiot # 4: The park official who thought the dinosaurs could be reused as weapons for tactical takeover. I’m sure he was still wondering what went wrong as one was chewing off his head (Hint: They’re hungry, you moron). Idiot # 5: Mr. DNA, because curse that Clippit wannabe. Idiot # 6: Anyone who thought it was a good idea to pay money to go to this park after knowing what happened at the old one.

It’s true, I’m not a fan of this movie’s conception to begin with. The premise itself has so many logical flaws to begin with, its hard to get into the story. But I’ve been faced with worse cases before and have been happily proven wrong. I had doubts before I went into the theaters to see 22 Jump Street and Guardians of the Galaxy, and those ended up being some of the most fun movies of 2014. If done well, a movie can suspend disbeliefs and be what a summer moviegoing experience is supposed to be: entertaining.

The problem with Jurassic World is that it undermines its own intelligence, and the entertainment value doesn’t pay off despite it. The script starts off with its flaws of logic in the outset and never addresses them in the film, its characters as oblivious to their own faulty thinking as badly as the screenwriters are. The movie continues with an onslaught of cliches and inaccuracies, some of which I rolled my eyes hard at and wondering if I was watching a Roland Emmerich action picture. Some of the worst blows come in the form of dialogue that actors somehow manage to deliver with straight faces (i.e. Lines like “I was with the Navy, not the Navajo” or “Wait until I tell my mom!”). Don’t even ask me how many times characters told each other to run.

Probably the worst offense comes with the casting. I’m not denying that these are talented actors. From big roles to small ones, each of these cast members have been in roles where they had a strong presence on screen. Now, their presence includes running away from dinosaurs and looking good in sweaty clothes. Simpkins was cute and likable in movies like The Next Three Days and Iron Man 3. Now, he’s an OCD dinosaur nerd who recites species like he’s a dictionary. Robinson was solid in in the coming-of-age drama The Kings Of Summer. Here, he’s in the cliche Gothic-teen phase like those characters you’d see from “Degrassi.” Howard’s resume needs no explanation. Her acting ability is worth more than the pretty-faced ditz role she’s forced into this movie. And Pratt? Ugh. Pratt is the worst. After making as strong a debut as he did in Guardians of The Galaxy, director Colin Trevorrow did the worse thing you possibly could do to Pratt in this movie: he made him boring.

Again, the visuals are amazing. Whoop-de-do. The more I offer the visual effects and the fight sequences as the movie’s strongest points, the more irritated I get at knowing I’m writing the same criticism over, and over, and over, and over again. Yes, the visuals are amazing, but are they good enough to substantiate the movie’s flaws? The original Jurassic Park revolutionized computer imaging years ago when you saw the life-sized dinosaur for the first time in 1993. What big achievement can Jurassic World boast about? Continuing the trend that Jurassic Park started. That’s it.

Great visual effects mean nothing if a plot is not strong enough to stand on its own two legs. Is one character’s solution to outrunning a giant dinosaur seriously to release a bigger, scarier dinosaur? What was she going to do when either dinosaur was finished? And on that note, is she seriously running and doing all of this leg work in high heels???

I’m seeming pretty harsh with this movie. I know it, and I’m sticking by it. The more I thought about my experience with this movie, the more irritated I get at the movie’s ignorances of itself and its audience. This movie’s premise was not the worst thing in the world. Guardians of the Galaxy had an even more preposterous idea to its story with talking trees and raccoons, and it pulled it off with humor and with heart. This movie copied what Jurassic Park did first and better, and it’s artificial efforts show. It needed to understand how prehistoric sequels are nowadays, and how badly it needed to evolve from it.

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“DUNE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Fear is the mind-killer.

There are a few movies that come once in a generation where they don’t feel just like cinema, but rather as raw, immersive experiences that feel equally epic in their scope of storytelling as they do in their visceral visual presentation. Star Wars in the 1980s is one such example. Jurassic Park in the 90s is another. Lord Of The Rings in the 2000s. The Avengers movies in the 2010s. Now here comes the newest science-fiction epic in Dune, and if it isn’t destined to become the next decade-defining blockbuster, it definitely feels like it should be.

Based on Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction saga, Dune takes place in the far distant future where different houses fight for control over different planets in the galaxy. One of the most sought-after planets is the desert world of Arrakis, which carries an element known as spice that allows for interstellar travel, making it the most valuable asset in the universe. The House of Atreides is gifted the planet of Arrakis to harvest the spice for the good of all the houses, but in the process, they get caught up in a violent conflict between the Fremen, the native dwellers of Arrakis, and the Harkonnen, a vicious race of savages that seek the power of the spice only for themselves. Now trapped on the world of Arrakis, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) needs to find a way to adapt to the harsh environment surrounding him and harness the desert power of Arrakis.

When I heard that Denis Villeneuve was remaking Frank Herbert’s classic tale of “Dune,” I nearly fell out of my seat. For those of you that are unaware of it, “Dune” has been hailed as one of the most important science-fiction novels of all time, right alongside the likes of “Anthem”, “Ender’s Game,” and “1984.” To see a large-scale adaptation of one of the most essential books ever written would have any reader giggling in their seats, where I admittedly found myself not too long ago.

Yet despite Denis’s cinematic prowess, I found myself a little hesitant to accept a live-action “Dune” remake. For one thing, “Dune” had been visually adapted twice before, once in David Lynch’s 1984 film and once in Frank Herbert’s TV show in 2000. Neither one really reached the fascination or intrigue that the book inspired and were really kind of silly and gimmicky in retrospect, although I do find their amateurish quality slightly endearing. For another thing, “Dune” had been largely considered an unadaptable story, with its dense lore amounting to a massive 412 pages.

Granted, it wasn’t the first book to be considered “unadaptable.” Yann Martel’s “Life Of Pi” was largely considered unadaptable, as was Alan Moore’s “Watchmen.” Yet, both were made into magnificent movies by Ang Lee and Zack Snyder. Still, that doesn’t mean that it’s a sure thing. Indeed, it means that whoever does end up tackling the project has a massive, massive challenge ahead of them, one that may mean breaking up the book’s plot into multiple movies.

Thank God that Denis Villeneuve was a brave and competent enough filmmaker to take it on, because he fulfills every bit of the book’s lofty expectations and then some. The first thing you notice with Dune is how immersive it is: visually striking, audibly haunting, and emotionally stirring. The very first line of dialogue you hear in the movie isn’t even human: it’s Harkonnen, and its rich, deep voice eerily echoes the words “Dreams are messages from the deep.”

Immediately after that, we’re swept into an engrossing display of Arrakis: its beauty, its danger, its dry, devastating heat, the invaluable spice, and the people willing to fight and kill and die over it. What follows from there is an engrossing and absorbing experience that completely and fully immerses you in its characters, lore, and setting in a rare display of intrigue, excitement, and fascination.

I’m not just talking about merely watching the movie play out on screen. Sure, you see the vast landscape, the colossal spaceships, the endless void of space and its planets, the massive explosions that blow up on battlefields and mining sites. But the film is so much more than merely seeing the images on screen: you experience them. You feel the sun rays beating down on you, the dryness in the air as the desert sands of Arakkis parch your mouth, the wind from the space thrusters blowing against you, and the heat from explosions radiating off of your body as the shockwave blows you off of your feet.

See, in a rare marriage of visual and audio mastery, Dune drops you in the middle of Arakkis and forces you to feel the loneliness and isolation of its characters. Movies have a bad habit of superficially showing you what characters are going through instead of engrossing you in the moment of what they’re experiencing. Dune places you right alongside House Atreides and forces you to try and survive the dangers of the desert alongside them. Not since Avatar has a movie immersed you so vividly into its lore and setting.

The production of the film is a technical marvel, from Greg Fraser’s vast and expansive cinematography to Joe Walker’s expert editing to the eerie and striking visuals to the mesmerizing score by Hans Zimmer. Even the all-star cast is masterful in their roles, with Timothee Chalamet shining the most as a fallen prince torn between two different destinies.

Dune is a rare example of a perfect picture. Yes, a perfect picture. I literally would not change a single thing about it. Some viewers may not appreciate Denis Villeneuve’s trademark slow-burn style of storytelling, but that’s because of their personal preferences as movie watchers, not Denis’ craft or ability as a filmmaker. To think that years ago, we questioned how he would handle his first science-fiction picture with Arrival, then how he would revive Ridley Scott’s long-cherished franchise with Blade Runner 2049. Now he has made Dune, and its legacy will surpass both of those pictures. I can’t wait for the sequel.

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AMC Theatres Bans Universal Pictures

Out of all of the public spats to have surfaced in the face of the coronavirus, no one could have predicted that one of the most controversial came from two of the most prominent entertainment companies in the industry.

After movie theaters shut down worldwide last month due to the coronavirus, many movie studios had to pivot to streaming their films on demand in order to make a profit. One of the more popular studios to have found success in this format was Universal Studios. Its most recent films The Hunt and The Invisible Man were among the first releases to be made available on VUDU, while Robert Downey Jr.’s Dolittle was released later on down the road. But one of the most successful rentals is, oddly enough, Trolls World Tour, which set the record for the most streams in a weekend release, surpassing even Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s streaming numbers, according to Deadline.

“The results for ‘Trolls World Tour’ have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of [premium video on demand],” NBC Universal CEO Jeff Shell said to The Wall Street Journal. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

Well, that interview ended up being the worst possible thing Jeff could have done, because after that, AMC Theatres declared that it would no longer screen any of Universal’s movies in its 1,000 theaters across the globe. 

In a strongly-worded letter, AMC Entertainment President and CEO Adam Aron wrote to Universal conveying the company’s disappointment, expressing explicit frustration over Shell’s “release movies on both formats” comment. 

AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theatres simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies,” Adam writes. “It assumes that we will meekly accept a reshaped view of how studios and exhibitors should interact, with zero concern on Universal’s part as to how its actions affect us. It also presumes that Universal, in fact, can have its cake and eat it too, that Universal film product can be released to the home and theatres at the same time, without modification to the current economic arrangements between us. It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice.”

What does this mean for Universal? Going forward, you can expect any film with a Universal logo on it to not be playing at any AMC or Regal theater, including the upcoming Fast & Furious 9, animated Illumination movies such as Despicable Me and Minions, and future sequels to the Jurassic Park franchise. At the moment, you could still watch Universal movies from Cinemark or Harkins theaters, but that’s assuming if they don’t pull out later on like AMC or Regal Cinemas did. With AMC and Regal being the largest movie theater chains by far, you can expect Universal to be absent from over 18,000 screens across the world.

I get AMC’s frustrations with Universal. In his letter, Adam says they accepted Universal to originally stream Trolls World Tour to homes as an exception due to “unprecedented times.” He even says that they were willing to sit down with Universal and discuss different strategies and economic models that would benefit both companies, especially in the face of this pandemic.

So when Jeff completely disregards all of those conversations and investors and unilaterally decides this is the “new normal,” I can understand why AMC is more than peeved at his comments to the press. Yet, I can’t help but feel this might be a slight overreaction on AMC’s part. As part of Hollywood’s “Big Five” studios, Universal holds 11% of the market share, slightly behind Sony Pictures’ 12.1% and more than double of Paramount’s 5%. Universal’s movies have consistently placed among the year’s highest grosses, competing against Columbia Pictures, TriStar, 20th Century Fox, New Line Cinema, and even Warner Bros. Saying that a big chunk of movies would be missing from movie theaters is a severe understatement, and with that, a large chunk of the market as well.

“We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary,” Univeral wrote in a response statement to AMC. “As we stated earlier, going forward, we expect to release future films directly to theaters, as well as on [premium video on demand] when that distribution outlet makes sense. We look forward to having additional private conversations with our exhibition partners.”

What do you guys think? Do you feel this is an overreaction on AMC’s part, or do you think they’re right to shut out all future Universal releases? Comment below, let me know. I’ll see y’all when the theaters reopen. 

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Wall Street Journal, Deadline

“READY PLAYER ONE” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Easter Egg: The Movie

Ready Player One is a celebration of entertainment, a pop-culture explosion jam-packed with all of your favorite characters, icons, and memorable moments from your childhood growing up. I couldn’t tell you how many times I grinned ear-to-ear while watching this film, or how many times I jumped up and down in my seat in excitement, or how many times I was overwhelmed from recognizing all of the cameos popping up on the screen at once. This film could have been retitled as Easter Egg: The Movie, because that’s exactly what it is: one giant, gorgeous, deliciously colorful Easter Egg, and man is it fantastic to look at.

Taking place in Columbus, Ohio in 2045, Ready Player One shows us a dystopian future devastated by the effects of climate change and economic inequality. The middle class no longer exists. People live in sheds and old trailer homes instead of houses. The education system is practically non-existent. And no matter where you turn, all signs point to old American life ceasing to exist.

Enter the Oasis, a virtual reality experience where just about anything is possible. The Oasis has become people’s new reality: their place of escape. And whether they’re racing in a re-creation of 1940’s New York City, dancing in an anti-gravity night club, or literally building their own “Minecraft” world, the Oasis is a national treasure that everyone shares together.

One day, the creator of the Oasis James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away, but before he does he records a message for all of his video-gaming fans everywhere. He says that he’s hidden an Easter Egg in the Oasis, an object which hands control of the Oasis over to whoever finds it first. Now determined to find the Easter Egg before business CEO and corporate shrill Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) teams up with his friends to find the Easter Egg and save the Oasis.

The appeal in Ready Player One lies in its nostalgic value; in your ability to discern entertainment icons and characters and get excited at their unexpected appearance. This, of course, seems too simple to be taken seriously. However, Ready Player One is a simple film, and it never asked to be taken seriously. With these rules established, we’re ready to plow ahead and dive head-first into all of the pop-culture fun this movie delivers, and man does it deliver it.

How common are the Easter Eggs in Ready Player One? Very. They are so prominent in the film that they are as integral as the visual effects themselves are. Virtually every scene has at least one throwback to 80’s or 90’s culture. In one of the earliest shots, for instance, Wade can be seen driving around in the Delorean from the Back to the Future franchise. I’m telling you guys, after 28 years with its engine shut off, there’s no greater joy than seeing the Delorean revved up again and tearing the streets up, even if the Delorean and those streets are artificial.

That’s only one Easter Egg among hundreds. King Kong is back from the dead ripping buildings apart, the Iron Giant is reactivated after being shut off for several years, and there’s even a blood-soaked tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. My favorite cameo was one where the Chucky Doll was tossed into a crowd like a grenade, and he starts slicing through hoards of computer-generated enemies like a mincemeat grinder. Yes, a Chucky Doll will do that in this movie. It will do a lot of things.

The cameos, the Easter Eggs, the surprise appearances: they’re all so fun and exciting to watch, and it’s a pure joy to just glance at the screen at random moments and go “Oh look, it’s so-and-so! And also what’s-his-name!” But that’s not the core component of the movie. It’s an important one, yes, but what makes Ready Player One so cherishing is how much these characters mean to these kids playing as them. We’ve all been through those moments in our childhood where we grab our toys, trucks, and action figures and spit out silly noises as we scream and pretend like our toys are fighting each other. Ready Player One is the video-game equivalent of that. Yes, these kids and the villains they’re fighting are inhabiting a fictional world, but the love and passion they have for it is not. For them, it’s as real as any action figure, costume, and video-game controller ever could be. The Oasis is not based in reality, no. But it is their reality, and that’s the important part.

In that, Steven Spielberg finds the human part of this story; the part that turns this movie from merely an entertaining experience to an extraordinary one. When Steven Spielberg was filming the underwater scenes for his shark film Jaws, or had E.T. pointing to Elliot’s forehead, or had that magnificent T-Rex let out a loud, dominant roar in Jurassic Park, he didn’t make any of these scenes from the corporate, money-grabbing mindset of Nolan Sorrento. He created these moments like the kids in Ready Player One created theirs, thinking, dreaming, and playing like storytellers in their own worlds. In that, Spielberg speaks to something much more profound than the need to be entertained: he speaks to the much larger questions of creating ourselves.

Yes, Ready Player One’s message is a straightforward one. But then, it was meant to be straightforward. What we are given here is not an opportunity to critique, but an opportunity to place ourselves in the VR mindset of these kids, let loose, and have fun. And for all of the action, visual spectacle, humor, heart, and fun that this movie delivers, Ready Player One has only one flaw, and that is that the Super Mario Bros. didn’t make an appearance.

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“BLADE RUNNER 2049” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Nothing has changed.

Blade Runner 2049 shares the same strength and weakness as its predecessor, and that is it’s complexion. Throughout both films, there is an exploration on the human condition and what it means to be considered alive. They both observe authoritarian societies and the effects it has on those lower on the food chain. They both contort ideas such as memory and artificial intelligence and how they affect our views of personal identity. Blade Runner finds its niche in its concepts, and so too does 2049 best represent itself under the original’s banner, even though it eventually does get drowned out beneath all of its complexity.

Taking place 30 years after the events of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 picks up in a dystopian future where not much has changed. Androids known as Replicants continue to try and blend in with the rest of society, bounty hunters known as Blade Runners continue to hunt them, and they both continue to live in the same dimly-lit, smoke-filled streets and rainy gallows. Except in this future, newer replicant models are allowed to coexist in human society, under the condition that they become Blade Runners themselves to hunt down and “retire” the older models.

LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) is one of those newer replicants, hunting down his brethren under the badge of a Blade Runner. While out on an assignment one day, he uncovers a trail leading him to former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who made a discovery of his own years ago when he fled Los Angeles with his lover Rachel. As K and Deckard piece events together, they come to a conclusion that will shake the foundation of human and replicant kind for ages to come.

The best thing that can be said about Blade Runner 2049 is that it is an authentic sequel to its predecessor. In Hollywood, most sequels like to cash in on the success of their first entries without offering their own creative input for the provided material (See the Jurassic Park and Alien franchises). 2049 does not fall for this trend. Unlike Jurassic World and Alien: Covenant, which wallow in the clichés of their genres, Blade Runner 2049 fills its frames with its own life and ideas, expanding beyond the questions the original imposed and giving us a wider scope to think about. This makes sense, since screenwriter Hampton Fancher co-wrote the original Blade Runner in addition to its sequel. In 2049, he continues to elaborate on many of its familiar themes, from the existence of artificial intelligence to the barriers between different cultures. However, he also elaborates on many other concepts beyond it, such as internalized racism, love versus joy, and integrated species. This is a film that can easily stand on its own as an original feature, even though its building onto the first’s narrative does make it a stronger film overall.

And as this is a Blade Runner sequel, so too does it make sense that the visual effects would be just as mesmerizing as they were in the original. Even more than the original actually, especially because of how much technology has improved since 1982. The tall, ominous buildings. The sleek, dark vehicles. The bright holographic ads that light up the murky night sky. Everything oozes of detail and assimilation, and even the smaller examples of digital editing do not fail to astound us.

There is one computer construct in the movie portrayed by Ana de Armas, and all of her scenes stand out the most to me. In one of her first appearances, her holographic figure walks out into the rain for the first time, and even though the drops pass through her transparent figure, flickers still pixelate off of her body as if the droplets were falling onto flesh. There’s another scene where her body is mimicking the movements of another human being underlying her, and the way the two bodies moved together were so eerie and interesting that it reminded me of Alicia Vikander’s character Ava in 2015’s Ex Machina. But the image that sticks out the most to me is when an oversized pink variation of her bends down and speaks to her regular-sized lover on a bridge. Was this a metaphor for how small man’s ambition can be to that of an A.I.’s? In any case, cinematographer Roger Deakins captures every scene beautifully, encompassing both the depravity and desolation of a future ruined by mankind’s own misunderstandings.

Two performers that I have to give recognition to are Gosling and Sylvia Hoeks, who play the film’s protagonist and antagonist respectively. Gosling, whose appeal ranges depending on what role he’s given, offers a very thought-provoking performance here as a hero split between the two different worlds of man and machine. I’m not going to give much of his plot details away, but his arc challenges him, his identity, and the convictions he’s held closely to his heart for a long time now. Just to throw a separate example out there to compare the emotions that he’s displaying, imagine if you lived your whole life believing that God was real, only to find out that the Bible was written by only one author and none of the events depicted in it have ever happened. How would that change you? How would that shatter you as a person? Who would you be now after discovering that?

Gosling services that part brilliantly, and Hoeks serves as the antithesis: a woman who knows what she is, what the implications of her culture are and how they would change should one little piece be added to the constantly-shifting puzzle. In the film, I know she symbolizes at least one social idea for sure. I don’t know if she’s supposed to symbolize others beyond that one. All I know is that as a villain she’s cold, calculated, merciless, violent, and terrifying. I would not want to be in the same interrogation room with this woman.

My main concern with Blade Runner 2049 is how overstuffed it is. The film is two hours and 44 minutes long, and it has earned every bit of its screen time with all of the content that is in it. I’m just afraid that it may be too much. It’s been a week since I’ve seen the film now, and I’m still struggling to wrap my head around every character, every arc, every idea, every theme, every point iterated on, every plot twist the film takes you through, and all of the implications that the movie ends on. I know I liked what I saw in Blade Runner 2049. I just don’t know if I understand it. This is a film that definitely requires second viewings, even though the appreciation of it might not improve with each viewing.

Still, viewers such as myself asked for a faithful sequel in Blade Runner 2049. It undoubtedly fulfilled its promises, and it most impressively did it without the help of Phillip K. Dick’s characters. When I finished the original Blade Runner in 1982, I thought endlessly about the relationship between Deckard and the replicants, of the society that mankind created, and the many ways it mirrored our current world. I asked myself the same questions after watching 2049 as I did with the original Blade Runner. How sad is it that we’ve been given all this time to learn, to change, and to grow from where we were, and yet here we are 30 years later, making the same mistakes now as we did back then.

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Martin Scorsese Is Producing A ‘Joker’ Movie. Yes, Really.

Why so serious?

In addition to work on Justice League and the slate of the DC Extended Universe, Warner Bros. recently announced that they’re working on another surprise spinoff project. It is a prequel to the iconic Batman villain The Joker, and it will reportedly launch a new wave of DC movies unrelated to the DCEU.

What. Even.

The project is being produced by the masterful Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Shutter Island) and will be set in the criminal underworld of the 1980’s. The Hangover director Todd Phillips and 8 Mile scribe Scott Silver are penning the script, with Phillips also expected to direct the project as well.

So much to unpack here. First of all, Martin Scorsese working on a JOKER MOVIE?! HOLY COW. Scorsese’s filmography is as large as it is influential, with works such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas considered by many to be among the greatest films of all time. With him taking a back seat in the producer’s chair, however, we can’t get too excited as he won’t be as involved with the film as Phillips and Silver will be. Still, knowing that the producer behind Free Fire, Bleed For This, as well as the Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself is exciting in of itself. It will be interesting to see what elements Scorsese exactly contributes to The Joker, although I wish he could be more hand’s-on with the film than he already is.

As for Phillips and Silver, they are… fine, I guess. Silver is more impressive considering he also penned The Fighter in addition to 8 Mile. Phillips, however, is where I am most concerned. His work has been inconsistent at its best, abhorrent at its worst. I can’t think of the last time I laughed at one of his movies besides the meagerly funny moments in Due Date, and as far as I can tell he’s very unpolished when it comes to directing drama. That’s not to say he can’t do a good job at directing The Joker. Shoot, Jurassic Park III’s director Joe Johnston made Captain America: The First Avenger, and that still ranks among the MCU’s best. I’m just curious where Phillips is going to take it is all. He’ll definitely need a helping hand from Scorsese and Silver if this prequel is going to work.

What I’m more interested in is the fact that this is a film OUTSIDE of the DCEU. This means that aside from The Dark Knight universe and the DCEU, this is an open canvas for these filmmakers. They have complete creative freedom for how they take on and portray this character. This is both exciting and terrifying news, because as we all know, too much creative freedom can lead to some disastrous decisions (as evidenced by the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice).

Who will portray the Joker? Which comic book storylines are they going to pull from? Will it be inspired by previous on-screen iterations of the Joker, or will they be going in an entirely new direction?

Questions, questions, questions, all of which we’ll have to wait for the answers to. Hopefully we won’t be waiting too long.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: Deadline, MoviePilot

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER” Review (✫✫✫)

I pledge allegiance to the first Avenger. 

If Iron Man is the best film out of this expanding Marvel universe, let Captain America: The First Avenger be the second best. It is exciting, stylish, suspenseful, dramatic, and has a patriotic energy to boot. If Captain America were any more American, he would stop being a captain and would become a bald eagle.

Based on the Marvel comic of the same name, Captain America: The First Avenger flashes back to the 1940’s to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a frail young man who wants to enlist in the military, despite his bone-thin figure. Everyone around Steve tells him he should give up on enlisting, including his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who himself is a U.S. Sergeant. But Steve doesn’t see himself doing anything else. He loves his country and what it stands for, and is willing to throw himself onto a live grenade for it if he has to. Despite his patriotic passion, every military inspection officer denies his eligibility to enlist due to his health.

Enter Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). Erskine has created a chemical called the super soldier serum, which amplifies a person’s physical stature as well as their personality. Seeing Steve for his heart and not for his size, Erskine enlists him in the super soldier program and sees him grow: literally and figuratively. No longer the weak and passive man known as Steve Rogers, he has now become the powerful, noble super soldier known as Captain America.

Does the premise sound a little silly? Well, that’s because it is, and it’s supposed to be. Captain America: The First Avengers feels and breathes like a comic book, a fast-paced and energetic thrill ride that pops off the screen like the panels in those old pulp fiction comic books. It feels reasonably old-fashioned. It doesn’t project itself as a superhero movie as much as it does a swashbuckling action-adventure, and our main hero Captain America is its grandiose hero, not unlike Zorro or James Bond.

This tone is fitting for Captain America, and especially for director Joe Johnston, who previous directing experience included Jumanji and The Rocketeer. The fact that he was able to tap into those movies instead of Jurassic Park III and The Wolfman is a very good thing for Johnston, as it has allowed him to make a meaningful, action-packed blockbuster that has just as much fun with its characters as it does with its action. Just look at the cast’s diversity. Besides its leads, you have a supporting cast including Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Toby Jones, and of course, Stanley Tucci. All of these characters are entertaining not because of the action sequences they go through, but because of their unique personalities, with Jones’ snark being the most entertaining out of the bunch.  One of my favorite scenes of him in the film involved a cliche shot where our hero passionately kissed his love interest before sweeping into battle. Jones takes advantage of the cliche as best he can: “I’m not kissing you,” he bluntly tells the Cap.

But the shining performances surprisingly comes from Evans and his antagonist, a Nazi general named Johann Schmidt, brilliantly played up by Hugo Weaving. Evans, whose most notable role before this was as the Human Torch in the incredibly campy 2005 film Fantastic Four, demonstrates a surprising level of versatility here. He exemplifies the ultimate underdog, displaying earnest and nobility whether he’s small and skinny or strong and stoic. He never displays an obvious external sense of emotion, but consistently expresses an internal one. You get a sense of purpose and motivation with this character, a man who desperately wants to be a part of something that everyone tells him he can’t be a part of. Evans personifies the character both physically and emotionally, and Weaving is effective in the villain’s role with appropriate grandiose and theatrics, serving as an appropriate foil for the Captain America character.

All the same, I’m most disappointed with the fact that we’re once again playing up this whole Avengers cinematic universe thing. The Avengers is right around the corner, and with studio heads knowing that, I think they tried too hard to tie in both movies at the climax, which features a twist so absurd and ridiculous that I want to compare it to the Ape Lincoln twist at the end of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake. Can’t Captain America just be allowed to breathe and live in his own story, much like Iron Man did in his own movie? Apparently that’s too much to ask for. We’re at the event now that everything has to build up to The Avengers. Even if the events in this movie had to happen, did they have to happen like this? Couldn’t it have been a post-credits scene, or maybe saved for The Avengers movie altogether? The way it is now, the resolution feels too forced and hammy. It takes away from the meaning of the rest of the story, and the sacrifice that Cap gives at the end of the film.

I know that Captain America sounds like a silly and ridiculous superhero. Before I went into this movie, that’s what I thought myself. Then again though, wasn’t Iron Man working against those same perceptions when his movie was released? Here is another superhero epic that is, at it’s heart, a fun, capable, and entertaining story that makes us believe in the skinny kid from Brooklyn. Red, white, and blue never looked so good on another superhero.

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Naruto Movie Reportedly In The Works

You ninja fans out there might have to get your shuriken stars ready. A live-action Naruto film is coming.

Variety broke the news a mere hour ago. Production studio Lionsgate is in negotiations for the film rights to a Naruto movie, and they’re tapping visual effects artist Michael Gracey to direct the film.

Based on the Japanese manga written and illustrated by artist Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto tells the story of a village ninja who grew up alone and hated by all of the townspeople for reasons unbeknownst to him. Wanting to redeem himself in the eyes of the village people, Naruto trains hard, aspiring to become Hokage: the headmaster and leader of the village.

Being a fan of Naruto since high school, I couldn’t be more excited at hearing that a live action film is in the works. And yet, I have concerns about this project. First of all, Avi Arad is producing through his company Arad Productions alongside Erik Feig, Geoff Shaveitz and Kelly O’Malley. While Arad has been involved of many successful studio projects (X2, Spider-Man 2, Iron Man), he’s equally been involved with many busts as well (Bratz: The Movie, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Robosapien: Rebooted). Arad has been involved in a number of successful movies, but just because he’s on board does not guarantee the movie’s success.

There’s also the difficulty of adapting Naruto onto the big screen. To date, there has been very few successful big-screen adaptations of Manga material to date, the majority existing in the Foreign market anyway. Oldboy and Death Note were critically acclaimed films that successfully adapted their manga material, but Speed Racer and Priest were likewise movies equally panned by its same audience. The American version of Oldboy suffered even worse than those movies were.

That’s not to say that a Naruto film can’t work, and it definitely has a lot of material to work with, but it’s at a difficult time of manga-to-film adaptations. It’s starting off in a struggling market. That’s not a good indication for any production, whether it be based off of a manga or not.

And finally, there’s Gracey. He’s got his visual work cut out for him for sure. He served as digital compositor film films such as 2005’s The Magician, 2003’s Ned Kelly and 1997’s Amy. He’s also slated to direct the 2016 film The Greatest Showman On Earth, starring Hugh Jackman, so he has directing experience under his belt. But as a filmmaker who is just now breaking into the directing profession, I’m scared for him and how well he can handle a property as complex and challenging as Naruto is. Stefen Fangmeier was the visual effects supervisor for films such as Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Jurassic Park, and Saving Private Ryan before he directed 2006’s Eragon. The film was almost immediately panned from both critics and readers of the novel, and it killed his directing career almost instantly. I’m worried Gracey might end up in the same boat as Fangmeier.

What do you guys think? Are you excited that a Naruto film is on its way, or do you think the production needs its own substitution jutsu? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: Variety, ComicBook.com