Simply put, the original Jurassic Park was a goddamned miracle. It's… MoreSimply put, the original Jurassic Park was a goddamned miracle. It's actually hard to grasp what an earth-shattering effect it had on Hollywood and the impact it had on visual effects in the entertainment industry as a whole. The combination of practical animatronics, pioneering use of CGI, interesting and nuanced characters, quotable dialogue, one of the truly great scores by John Williams, curiously dated but interesting "Don't play God" Naturalism elements, and classic Spielberg direction made it a modern classic. This changed the lives of many Gen Y/Millennial children, including myself, and has become a sacred touchstone for that generation. (It seems to have had less impact on Gen X, who often eschew Jurassic Park in favor of equivalent experiences from the '80s, such as Aliens, Predator, or Ghostbusters.) The sequels were shit, despite the presence of Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neil. And that's a damn shame, considering the potential this franchise had at one time. Instead The Lost World and Jurassic Park III were little more than people walking around the woods, arguing with each other, and occasionally running and fighting things that wanted to eat them, essentially laying down the groundwork for The Walking Dead television series. Aside from the occasional wacky detour to San Diego or talking Velociraptors, that was pretty much it.
And thus the oft made question/accusation that I have heard many times in the last year: Did we really need Jurassic World? Another Jurassic Park sequel? Years after the last two were released, made their revenue, and were condemned. The answer? No. We didn't need it. But was it worth it? Yes. Damn this thing is fun as hell.
This movie's primary weapon is nostalgia. Jurassic World is designed to look and sound very much like the original Jurassic Park, from the design of the park, the choices of dinosaurs, pieces of the original John Williams score and other motifs Michael Giacchino uses, to visual cues and references that callback to various scenes - some famous and others less so. Some of these are almost subliminal and I dare say clever, if somewhat manipulative. The best scenes are in the park itself and it was a strange and interesting sight to see John Hammond's dream made manifest before the plot requires that chaos theory have its way. Also in its favor is the mostly light hearted tone. This movie does not take itself seriously in any capacity and neither should you. Oh sure there are brief moments of discussion and commentary on modern blockbusters (Make everything bigger! Scarier!), but they are fleeting. There is a lot of wink wink, sleight of hand tomfoolery going on here from the filmmakers and they let the audience in on the joke several times. What do you think that hipster technician wearing a vintage Jurassic Park t-shirt is about? Or what his plastic dinosaur toys on his console represent besides an obvious Firefly reference? It's a joke. It's ironic. This movie is a sandbox of 90's era JP toys and we are playing with them. This is reinforced by the tone of the action (which is decent by the way) and its exponential outlandishness as it goes on.
Jurassic World does succeed with some of its characters in a way that the other sequels utterly failed. Chris Pratt does his usual shtick as a roguish character and appears to be a synthesis of both Dr. Alan Grant and Muldoon, as he is quite knowledgeable and fearful of velociraptors, voices the opinions of the writers and the theses of the film, and had remarkable plot armor when facing impossible odds. Though the movie strained a bit too hard to present him as badass, even informing us verbally that we should think of him as such. Bryce Dallas Howard's own character may have leaned a bit too heavily on yet another broad stereotype as a businesswoman in over her head, (making incredibly stupid decisions in the first act) but she manages to hold her own both in the plot and as a relatable character with a small arc of her own. I would argue she is the true heart of the movie. In addition to being distractingly beautiful, Howard has always succeeded as a character actress, and it may have taken an indie director such as Colin Trevorrow to bring that to life. I did not find the children as irritating as many others, though I do miss Lex and Tim quite a bit. Irrfan Khan impressed me with his overly idealistic park owner and is John Hammond's successor in both profession and character, right down to his na´ve quixotic can-do attitude. The villains (B.D. Wong and Vincent D'Onofrio) are broad archetypical villains and I had little use for them.
But make no mistake. This movie is INCREDIBLY STUPID. And that stupidity lies primarily in its plot. Little to nothing makes sense about the Indominus Rex in terms of its creation and its behavior. Or how the park operators pussy foot around in dealing with him at first. (To date I have never understood why InGen doesn't keep a few Abrams tanks and/or a flight of Apache gunships on standby for shit like this. Even this creature would be blown apart in seconds.) It almost makes no sense how intelligent and resourceful it is. It bears less in common with a dinosaur and more in common with a Xenomorph. Or fucking Predator. Only the scene in which pterosaurs attack the main, crowded area of the park does this movie get truly scary, although this doesn't diminish the amount of fun had in most of it. And the subplot with InGen considering selling the concept of militarized Velociraptors is a howler that could only exist in a B-movie.
And that's what this is - a multimillion dollar B-flick. Any movie in which a woman outruns a T-Rex in high heels while holding a flare is not one to be taken too seriously. And it's this cavalier attitude in conjunction with the heavy reverence for the original film that has most critics and audiences responding favorably. A small contingency of film geeks have expressed disdain for it, but I would argue they are taking this a bit too seriously. Most summer blockbusters are nowhere near this fun. You can do far worse than Jurassic World. It's vastly superior to the other sequels and the first TRUE sequel to Jurassic Park. I'd argue that it was more enjoyable than Avengers: Age of Ultron, though Mad Max: Fury Road is still king. An easy recommendation.
An admirable misfire is still a misfire and Tomorrowland is no… MoreAn admirable misfire is still a misfire and Tomorrowland is no exception. Featuring an overly optimistic message and a pleasant retro vibe, Tomorrowland failed to make much of an impression with anybody due to a vague marketing campaign that had no real hook or reason to actually care. It actually bears much in common with another Disney-produced sci-fi action movie aimed at general audiences - Tron Legacy, in that both are visually arresting while admittedly quite shallow. But as where Legacy had impressive action sequences, Jeff Bridges, and Daft Punk, Tomorrowland has only its bright-eyed optimism and brief fleeting moments of emotional manipulation to stand on. The back-and-forth between George Clooney and Brit Robertson mostly works, as does the strange, tragic, and borderline creepy dynamic between Clooney and a cute little robot girl...he loved...and...still...does? (Yeah not touching that one, even if it did provide some emotional punch.)
The action is some of the worst I have ever seen in a modern movie, as it is cartoonishly flat and boring. The overall theme we are given is that humanity has stopped dreaming and we need to reclaim the ingenuity and enthusiasm with which we used to approach the future. Or something science-y like that. If the movie had bothered to create an interesting story, memorable villain, or anything to latch on to, I would have received this more enthusiastically. Instead we have a mediocre movie with no real plot, but merely a series of events that happen. And that's something I can only recommend to rent or download and then move on.
Easily the best headlining outing for Melissa McCarthy to date, Spy is… MoreEasily the best headlining outing for Melissa McCarthy to date, Spy is an enjoyable, diverting romp. Its true strength is that it manages to avoid the low-brow depths one could expect in such a venture and turns out to be quite clever and sharply written. McCarthy herself surprised me in with some great deadpan humor and aptly timed crass, ridiculous, and quotable dialogue. Jude Law and Rose Byrne succeed in their self-concerned "straight man" roles and Jason Statham largely plays a caricature of himself to great effect. Most of the set pieces work and the violence is satisfyingly gory. Spy is similar to another R-rated espionage spoof that came out in 2015 - Kingsman: The Secret Service. But as where Kingsman was a brilliant, dark, and cruel send up of Roger Moore-era Bond movies, Spy is more warm-hearted and cute, once you get past the F-bombs and bloody head shots. There are few, if any true villains. We are here to watch idiots fight and curse at one another, and then laugh about it later. I am sure there is some context about the protagonist defying the expectations of her gender, weight, and lack of attractiveness, but I honestly didn't care. The fact that this movie wasn't a trainwreck was quite impressive and the fact that it's actually pretty fun is a miracle.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD IS THE BEST THING TO FUCKING HAPPEN TO MOVIES IN… MoreMAD MAX: FURY ROAD IS THE BEST THING TO FUCKING HAPPEN TO MOVIES IN LIKE FUCKING YEARS. Okay. Now that I have your attention...
I actually hesitated to review this for several reasons. The primary reason is because I feel that I am completely unequal to the task of writing a critique of a film that is so far beyond me on every conceivable level that I have no clue how to proceed or give it justice without sounding trite, pandering, or somehow further expose myself as a hack, amateur Gen-Y fanboy critic bereft of original commentary. But even if that is true, I still have the obligation, nay the directive, to inform moviegoers that this is something to behold and recognize as one of the greatest movies of the past decade. And that is not a hyperbolic statement. That is codified law.
What makes this film truly exceptional, is well...fucking everything! Fury Road is an operatic masterpiece and by far the best entry in a series that had been dormant for decades. (It bears much in common with The Road Warrior, but it exceeds even that.) The cinematography is perfect. Production design and art direction are outrageously flawless. The color palette is saturated with hues and contrasting tones that narrate the story and make it memorable. Every image and shot could be framed as a beautiful and alluring oil-on-canvas painting and hung in a modern art museum. The performances and casting are without misstep. Charlize Theron gives a performance for the ages as the film's true protagonist and dominates every moment we are blessed with her viciously powerful, and yet subtly fragile Imperator Furiosa. Tom Hardy fills the shoes of our titular hero quite well, playing a less roguish and charming Max than Gibson, but more unhinged and defensive - bringing him in line with this film's erratic and hypercharged tone. Credit must be given to Nicholas Hoult as a would-be sacrificial stormtrooper who comes to realize the evil warlord he worships may not care about his efforts as much as he would care to admit. And speaking of that warlord, who knew bringing back the actor who played the main villain from the first film (Hugh Keays-Byrne) would pay off so well in the form of Immortan Joe, a deformed albino cross between Tom Hardy's Bane (hey what?) and Darth Vader. Even the super minor roles floored me, and I feel guilt ridden for not elaborating on those.
I'd also be remiss to not dwell on the film's decidedly female-centric tone and plot. What I mean by that should come off as obvious. The main character is a female warrior whose primary goal is to save a group of sex slaves from Immortan Joe and bring them to safety in the form of a small tribe run by women far from the reach of male-dominated patriarchy. (That's about as on the nose as you can get.) In fact, there are two distinct paths which the female slaves and Hoult's ex-stormtrooper are given. They can stay in a patriarchal, borderline fascist state run by Joe that brainwashes its people and warrior class through rehashed Norse Mythology and the illusion of safety. Or they can follow Furiosa toward a Matriarchal one based in what I assume is some kind of meritocracy and one defended by elderly Amazonian women with dirt bikes and big fucking guns. Then there's Max who chooses neither, but chooses to aid the side with the most merit as he represents the wandering gunman trope from the classic western genre Mad Max derives much of its imagery and soul from. A lawman who finds himself in an era in which law has no meaning or place.
Feminism and philosophical leanings aside, this film delivers on action in the same way Henry Hill delivered on cocaine in Goodfellas. You almost certainly have heard that this movie is one gigantic chase scene, but what's more important is that it was accomplished mostly by old school practical effects, stuntwork, and moving rigs. Fury Road somehow accomplishes the impossible task of being both outrageously over-the-top while being fairly dark and gritty. Every scene has consequence and every moment is entertaining. The Mad Max films were incredibly influential to post-apocalyptic fiction and had dramatic impact on many of the things we enjoy to this day (including the Fallout series, which I love). To see this come back and blow the doors off the modern film industry is truly something to behold. George Miller just came back and told contemporary action directors that they're doing it wrong. And it would behoove them to listen.
P.S. To all the critics who keep labeling Tom Hardy a "flavor-of-the-month" actor - fuck you. He is one of the most capable character actors in the business today. Eat shit and die.