Tag Archives: Chris Pratt

“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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“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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“THE LEGO MOVIE” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Bricks, businessmen, and Batman.

The last thing I expected from anything titled The Lego Movie was anything good. How could I? The trailer had the reeking stench of an advertisement, barely differentiating itself from the Lego set commercials that air on children’s cartoon networks. Believe me, I went into this movie expecting an artificial, brainless experience looking only to profit itself from the name of it’s toy line. Boy, do I love it when I am proved wrong.

Based in a colorful world full of Lego bricks, buildings, and set pieces, The Lego Movie follows Emmett (Chris Pratt), an average, regular, 100% ordinary minifigure who loves coffee, people, Taco Tuesdays, cats, cars, work, television, and just about everything else under the orange Lego-bricked sun. If any of the characters in the film knew that they were in a movie, none of them would expect Emmett to be the main character: he has the personality and the appearance of a background character if anything.

One day, while working at his construction job, Emmett comes into contact with a strange red object called “The Piece of Resistance”, and passes out. When he wakes up, he is recruited by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a punky and feisty master builder who tells Emmett that he is part of a prophecy that declares that a powerful being called “The Special” will find the Piece of Resistance and use it to overthrow Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and his plans to conquer the Lego-verse. As a result, Emmett gets catapulted into a decade-long conflict between wizards, robots, businessmen, DC superheroes, crazy cats, cyborg pirates, spacemen, and Batman.

Good God, where do I start with this? The Lego Movie is by every definition, a surprise; a fun and wacky little adventure that is just as original and audacious as it is clever and funny. Written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the same guys who co-wrote and co-directed Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, these filmmakers worked to instill the same sense of energy, youth, and entertainment from that movie into this one. It’s surprising that the movie is not just good: it’s borderline great.

One of the things I love most about the movie is the animation. Like any great animated film, it reaches out to you in vivid, eye-catching detail, it’s beautiful colors and visuals striking out to you like a panel on a beautifully-crafted graphic novel. But it’s not just how the animation looks in itself: it’s also in how Lord and Miller achieved the effects they were going for. Nearly everything in the film was modeled from lego bricks and pieces, and I do mean everything. The buildings, the vehicles, the space stations: even seemingly trivial things such as the water, lava, and clouds are all made out of lego pieces, with explosions literally showing red-and-orange lego studs as they blow up. It would be so easy just to be cheap and give basic effects for the wind, the water, fire, sky, and everything else in the film, but Miller and Lord didn’t want to go that route. They wanted to make an authentic, accurate world jam-packed with lego pieces and objects. To put anything else in there would just cheapen the effects, and their persistence made for the best visual result that they could possibly have had.

Just as much though, I love the characters Lord and Miller wrote for this movie. Like the animation and lego bricks, they all have variety to them, and they all have colorful, unique personalities that make you want to relate to each character. You have Benny, a 1980’s space astronaut who is so obsessed with spaceships that he could build one from a pile of garbage bricks if you dared him to. You have UniKitty, a unicorn/kitten that has such a split sweet/violent personality that she would scare little children if they were locked in the same room with her. There’s Metal Beard, a pirate-turned-cyborg whose body literally blows up like a amalgam of lego bricks like a real lego mini figure. Also, Batman is in the movie.

The key character here, however, is Emmett, a sweet and charming little mini figure with intentions so pure, he at times can seem like a child with his quirky little antics. Emmett is the epitome of childhood in this movie: innocent, curious, creative, passionate, and at times a little too immature for his own good. His strengths and his flaws both make up for a very interesting character, a mini figure that we can all relate to because of his average nature and his desire to be greater than he already is. He may be made out of Lego pieces, but Emmett is more human than most of the live-action actors you’ve seen in motion pictures this year.

The movie does suffer from a slight drag in run time, and like it’s protagonist, the movie is at times too childish for it’s own good. That doesn’t change the fact that this movie is a clever, funny, original, and heartfelt take on childhood and what it means to be grown up, but always remain young at heart. The Lego Movie is much more than just a movie. It’s a celebration of creativity.

Post-script: Did I forget to mention that Batman is in the movie?

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“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” Review (✫✫✫)

 

A  lovable group of space idiots.

Now here’s a movie I wasn’t expecting to be any good. No matter how you phrased it to me, I went into James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy completely expecting to hate it. None of the heroes were as popular or as interesting as the other characters Marvel had to sport in its universe, it’s a sci-fi buccaneering adventure about an evil race intent on destroying/ruling the galaxy (I wonder where we’ve seen that before), and on top of all that, and it has a talking raccoon and a tree as two of it’s main characters. Believe me, I went into this movie fully expecting to dislike it on all counts. Turns out I was wrong on all of them.

Based on the Marvel comics superhero team of the same name, Guardians of the Galaxy follows a whole slew of space misfits as their futures suddenly become entangled because of one blasted macguffin: the infinity stone, an object we’ve been introduced to in earlier movies in the form of the tesseract and the aether in The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a Han Solo-ish kind of scavenger who steals items of value and sells them to buyers. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a trained assassin and adoptive daughter of a cruel omnipotent being called Thanos (Josh Brolin). Drax (Dave Bautista) is a brutish warrior who seeks vengeance against Thanos after the death of his family. And then Rocket and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively) are a bounty-hunting duo who travel together. Remember me mentioning the talking raccoon and tree? This is them, although Groot’s speech is merely limited to “I am Groot.”

Sounds like a lot of characters to deal with, I know, but don’t worry: the movie does a better job at explaining them than I did. Their fates become intertwined  with that of Ronan (Lee Pace), a vicious hunter who will stop at nothing until he has taken the infinity stone for himself and uses it to destroy his enemies. It’s up to Quill, Rocket, and the rest of the troupe to rise up and defend the galaxy from Ronan and the threat he holds with the infinity stone.

Written and directed by James Gunn, the wacko that directed the 2010 satire film Super, Guardians of the Galaxy is a wacky, oddballish film, a movie that doubles both as a sci-fi blockbuster actioneer and as a space comedy parodying… well, itself really. The biggest concern I had with this movie was how it was going to handle itself, because it really had everything working against it. Think about it: talking animals and trees, a copy-and-paste space plot, and a director whose work before this was a line of small-budget independent films. How on earth was any of this going to work?

Better than I expected, apparently. The best thing about Guardians of the Galaxy is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s so irreverent, so shameless and so unabashed that it might as well be a clown throwing pies at its own face. There were many moments in the film where it called itself out on the flaws that I was prepared to criticize it for (such as it’s hammy one-liners or it’s talking animals), then it turned around making fun of itself because of it (Drax boasting about his reflexes when figures of speech go over his head, or Rocket asking Quill what a raccoon is.)

It just loves to make fun of itself, so much so that I want to call this a comedy more than science-fiction.

To make the comedy work though, you need a cast of equal caliber to make it work. And I’ll be completely honest here: the cast was exceptional. Even the cast members who I don’t like, consisting of Bautista and Diesel, gave performances that surprised me, effectively portraying their characters in a uniquely charismatic light that made them stand out from the obvious sci-fi fanfare. (One argument someone might pose to me is that Diesel’s job was easier because he only had to say three words over and over again. Believe me, his character wasn’t that simple.)

The element that stands out the most in the film is ironically the one I was most worried about: Rocket. Oh my gosh, was this guy a big ball of laughter. Cooper was excellent in voice performance, shooting out snazzy, snarky, sarcastic one-liners like he’s a New York taxi driver.

But it’s not just his voice performance that I love so much about the character. It’s how he’s animated and modeled too, with animators giving him life through his detailed, intricate emotions and movements as a CGI character. Rocket is much more than just another Guardian. He is, in many ways, the life of the film: a living, breathing embodiment of emotion, sentiment, sarcasm, hilarity and attitude. Every attitude that the film is, at least.

There’s no way to get out of the film’s silliness, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from enjoying it. Believe me, I tried. I went in fully equipped and prepared to blast this movie with a negative review, and I came out instead feeling like a kid after he finished watching his favorite Saturday morning cartoon.

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