Let the past die
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018): When the island's dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event.
Let me start by saying this: I had VERY low expectations heading into the latest installment to the Jurassic Park franchise. (There are now five of these damn things.) I was not a fan of the “reboot” of this franchise, 2015’s Jurassic World, primarily because it was a mindless popcorn flick that tried so hard to be more than that. The film tried to recapture the magic of the original Jurassic Park, which is (objectively) one of the best summer blockbusters ever made, and naturally looked like a complete fool in the process. HOWEVER, much to my amazement, after 25 years of living in the shadows of Jurassic Park, Universal Studios, Collin Trevorrow (who merely co-wrote this one….J.A. Bayona sat in the chair this time around) and everyone else involved finally accepted the reality: Jurassic Park will never be topped or followed up. And, instead of trying to live in its shadow, it does what every other sequel in this franchise should've done: it leans into the over-the-top, CGI dino porn aspect of it all and embraces the fact that it's nothing more than a mindless popcorn flick. That's right, folks: I actually liked Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I'm honestly just as surprised as you are.
Now, that's not say it's a great film by any means: there are PLENTY of eye-roll worthy moments that will likely bother me more on future viewings. On quite a few occasions I found myself thinking, “That's not how any of this works!" whether it be with things like "Chris Pratt crawls away from lava" or really anything relating to science in the movie. (There's a big one involving one character that from a science perspective is a huge revelation that the film could not be less interested in.) Ya, don't expect much in the science or ethics department. Also, the motivations of the villains are really dumb and one-dimensional. “Bad guys want to sell dinos and make money for the sake of making lots of money. And will stop at nothing because of money.” Several great actors are wasted because of this. (Looking at you, Toby Jones.) SPEAKING OF cashing it in, Jeff Goldblum. The dude phones in a totally unnecessary and silly reprisal of the classic Dr. Malcolm from Jurassic Park. I don't even know why he's here! For the marketing, of course, but not much else. Finally, there's a huge moment at the very end of the film (that helps to justify the inevitable sixth installment) that had the potential to be a wonderfully complex and emotional ethical quandry. It was the only time I thought the film was really trying to tackle the ethical questions that Jurassic Park addressed so effectively, which (naturally) led to a SOLID swing-and-a-miss from writers Trevorrow (who may be the worst thing about this franchise) and Derek Connolly. Like, swing-and-look-like-Bartolo-Colon kind of swing-and-a-miss. But, it sets up a TOTALLY absurd sequel that I'm actually excited to see. Because the rest of this movie is just plain, Fast and Furious-esque fun.
Also, PSA moviegoers: I do not understand why parents think it's a good idea to take their five year old kids to this movie. These dinos are scary! Unless your kid really wants to go to this thing, don't force them to it. It's not as bad as something like Deadpool, but there are plenty of horror-esque moments to be found, and there were several crying kids that had to be escorted out by their parents in my screening. Just because you wanna see it doesn't mean your kids want to! Anyway, moving on.
The "fun" aspect is where Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom excels. It's just that: fun, (mindless fun, but fun is fun is fun is fun) and that's really all J.A. Bayona and co. are going for this time around. My enjoyment of it starts with the cinematography. Mad kudos to cinematographer Oscar Faura, who didn't hold back at all with the totally ridiculous over-the-top shots. (One good example is in the trailer and the pic I used for the banner of this review-a wideshot of a T-Rexstanding over a dead dinosaur while a giant volcano erupts in the background. Why is this T-Rex still hunting as the island he lives on is literally exploding? Who cares, honestly.) This film is full of visual overload-shots that Michael Bay dreams about but could never execute because Faura somehow manages to keep the frame chaotic but comprehensible. Oscar Faura honestly makes this film for me, and seeing it in IMAX made these absurd shots that much better. Universal also realized that they had two charming leads on their hands that they didn't let be themselves last time around, so they changed that: Bryce Dallas Howard (in her boots instead of heels, which the film made sure to remind us of) and Chris Pratt are both really solid. They bring a great blend of charisma, wit, and the wherewithal to actually get out the situations they find themselves in. Even better are franchise newcommers Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda. While Smith did occasionally have the stupid moment, he's still a far cry from Jake Johnson. (Not to mention Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins…..yikes remember when that was a thing?) Daniella Pineda, though, stole the show. Her trash-talking, fend-for-herself, no holds-barred portrayal of Zia was extraordinarily topical for the times. (Her character even called herself a “nasty woman” at one point.) She made this film that much more entertaining to watch, and that's really all that matters. This is the first thing I've ever seen Pineda in, but I suspect it won't be the last.
Finally, the biggest strength of this film is what I've been alluding to this whole time: after 25 years, the filmmakers actually decided to lean into the mindless popcorn flick aspect of it all. The film rapidly transitions from one major CGI dino setpiece to the next, only slowing the pacing to take a breath in the final act. (Primarily to set up the next one.) Unlike its predecessor, which featured a lot of eye-roll-worthy moments leading up to its final exhilarating sequence, this film effectively intersperses many fun and exciting sequences among the eye-rolling moments. Many will probably say this film is “the death of the franchise” because it's the one where the filmmakers finally gave up trying to be like Jurassic Park and embraced being a big, stupid, dino movie. I can understand where they’re coming from. I now hold this franchise in the same realm as something like The Fast and the Furious. If you read that and felt like banging your head against your desk, I get it. It takes time to go through the five stages of grief. But if you can reach that fifth stage, if you can accept the fact that this franchise will never even set foot on the volcanic mountain that 1993’s Jurassic Park stands atop of again, you'll have a good time (maybe even great time) with this latest installment. I've accepted this franchise for what it is now - well-made and executed CGI dino porn - and had a shocking amount of fun because yes, this movie is a mindless blast to watch and an over-the-top exhilarating spectacle. I'm not looking for much more out of a summer blockbuster nowadays. You may still want this franchise to deliver a follow-up worthy of the 1993 classic, but if you let the past die (kill it, if you have to) and accept this franchise for what it is today, I have very little doubt that you're gonna have a good time. Jurassic Park is dead. Welcome, to Jurassic World.
The Critique: After 25 years of trying to set foot on the mountain Jurassic Park stands atop of, the franchise has finally embraced what it was destined to become: epic, over-the-top shots of CGI dinos just being awesome. If you can accept what this franchise has become, you're gonna have a surprisingly good time.
The Recommendation: If you've hit that wonderful final stage of grief, it's well worth a watch on the biggest screen you can find. If not, stay away and complain about how bad it is in the comfort of your own home when it hits Redbox.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
My Number: 7/10 Good
It'll haunt you to your core
Hereditary (2018): When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter's family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry.
Wow. What a film. So before I even start talking about Hereditary, do yourself a favor: if you have even passing interest in horror, drop everything and go see it right now. This film is EASILY the best horror film since 2015's classic It Follows, with the same levels of fear and terror attached to it all while being significantly more daring and creative in its storytelling. It Follows made its scares on the viewer being able to see the monster methodically and deliberately walking towards its main characters, while Hereditary does basically the exact opposite. Rather, Hereditary takes a The Blair Witch Project-esque route and has its supernatural being be implied and, for the most part, off-screen. This is a significantly harder kind of scary to pull off, (the big pop scare from It Follows is still etched into my very soul) but first time director/writer Ari Aster (OSCAR! Is this seriously his first film? Well done, A24) delivers the kind of "haunt you to your bones" kind of scary that many horror fans, including yours truly, have been yearning for. So, I'll say again: if you have even a mild interest in the genre, go see it now, and deal with the consequences later. I mean, it's worth it, right?
So let's talk about Toni Collette. The veteran actress is erratic and irrational as lead character Annie Graham. She goes all-in for this role and delivers an unforgettable performance that is as meticulous as it is insane. This is by far the best performance I've seen in 2018 so far, and probably the best performance I've seen in a horror movie from a veteran actor, ever. The recognizability of the Oscar nominated actress brings with it a certain level of expectations for the role, but the raw audacity of her performance blows all those expectations out of the water. The looks on Annie Graham's face at several points in this film is etched into my very soul, and we all have Toni Collette to thank for that. (If you've seen the film, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about too.) Newcommer Milly Shapiro (another great find for A24) is haunting as daughter Charlie, (kudos to the makeup team on this one too) and Alex Wolff delivers the performance of his young career (previously seen in the massively underrated My Friend Dahmer) as son Peter. But the real hero here is first time feature director/writer Ari Aster. (Which is still impossible to comprehend for me, Oscar. I don't believe you.)
The craft here is simply masterful to watch, and the story is as daring as it is creative. This story has proved to be decisive among audiences - the film currently boasts a D+ on CinemaScore, somehow - but I believe the truly great works of cinema often are divisive when they're immediately released. (Let's not forget The Blair Witch Project, now considered a pioneer in the horror genre, was criticized upon release as well.) The scares here are not the mainstream "in-your-face pop scare!" kind. There's very little "slow pan right where a demonic creature is standing, then disappears to build tension" kind of cheap shots. You actually hardly ever see the monster, so for those of you that are skittish at the idea of jump scares, you can rest easy (somewhat) knowing that there are very few of them here. (I wrote a piece on the current norms of the horror industry centering around Unfriended - which is now getting a sequel, proving my point further - which Hereditary does everything it can to break.) No, the scares here are the thoughtful, resonating kind. The kind that keeps you up at night looking at the ceiling in a restless trance rather than staring at the door. The ones that you affiliate directly with the movie, versus just creating some demonic presence in your mind that is whatever you want it to be. These, are the best kinds of scary.
The story here is brilliant, but not necessarily designed for mainstream audiences. There were people laughing towards the end at some points in my screening, and the people sitting next to me couldn't help but comment about how much they hated the thing when it was all said and done. (Hence that D+ CinemaScore) My only complaint about it (and really about the film in general) is the fact that Ari Aster felt the need to overexplain things a few times. (I'm guessing this was a mandate from A24 when they realized they had one of the best films they've ever released on their hands and wanted to market the crap out of it to as mainstream an audience as they could.) There are a few cumbersome voiceovers that are basically just describing what you're seeing at that moment that were distracting and unnecessary, and of course we had to get the stereotypical "Character A finds a book and reads aloud the thing that's going on for the audience to understand" sequence. Also, the film has a lot of technology in it, and it's unfortunate that given how innovative this film is in other aspects that Aster didn't do much from an editing standpoint to show the technology to the audience in a creative way, but that's a rather trivial complaint. This film is absolutely brilliant - the best I've seen so far this year - and if you have even a minor soft spot for horror it's well worth the watch as.....yes. This is the best horror film I've seen in at least a decade. Move over, It Follows.
The Critique: Lead by a brilliant performance from Toni Collette, Hereditary is the best film of 2018 so far and the best horror film of the decade with its unorthodox "haunt you in your bones" style.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see for horror fans if you haven't seen it already.
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Damn Near Perfect
This is what a popcorn flick should be
Ocean's 8 (2018): Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City's yearly Met Gala.
For those of you who think I can't have fun watching a movie anymore, I present to you Ocean’s 8. This movie is a BLAST. Sleek, shiny, lighthearted and exciting. Does it have some shortcomings? Sure, but Ocean's 8 is already making a strong case for the best summer film of 2018 (it certainly is so far) because it embodies everything a summer popcorn flick should be, and it knows it too. (Which I think is the most important part.) When you're looking for some a/c to get out of the heat, you're not looking for a film trying to make a grand statement on society, or some deeper theme or meaning....you're just looking for some good ol' fashion fun. And that's exactly what Ocean's 8 is.
Now, since you know we can't have all the nice things, there were a few things that didn't work. First off, the movie does slow down a bit during the third act. During this final act, the film introduces a new element that, given everything leading up to this point in the film, should work really well. However, for some reason it feels largely wasted as the plot is wrapping itself up. This new element also takes away from the diverse and interesting core group of characters, instead taking a rather safe and predictable track from a writing standpoint. It was a good idea in practice, (obviously I'm trying not to spoil, but those who have seen it probably know what I'm talking about here) but the execution was rather lackluster, especially given how enjoyable the other core characters were. Additionally, this film lacks the... "shine" of Steven Soderbergh's classic Ocean's Eleven. I think director Gary Ross was trying to go for that Soderbergh look with the lighting and production design, as well as the witty dialogue, but here it does feel like someone trying to imitate someone else at times versus be its own thing. But I really only felt that way at a few different moments, like the fact that the opening here mimicked the opening of Ocean's Eleven, or the fact that some of the one-on-one scenes between Debbie Ocean (Bullock) and Lou (Blanchett) resembling the interactions between Danny Ocean (Clooney) and Rusty. (Pitt) Otherwise, though, I wasn't thinking all that much about this film's predecessor's. For the most part, Ocean's 8 does feel like its own thing versus walking among the shadows.
One of the strongest aspects of Ocean's 8 is the depth of its main characters. Every one of the core members of the heist have a memorable and unique personality to varying extents, and are all given adequate screen time to flesh out said personalities. My favorite was Constance, played wonderfully by the erratic and unpredictable Awkwafina. I freaking loved Constance, and Awkwafina brought an incredible amount of swagger and individuality to the role. Fortunately, Bullock was able to lived up to the pressure of having to play a relative of one of the most charismatic individuals ever seen in a film. (It's no easy thing to have to say you're film-related to George Clooney and carry that burden of responsibility.) Finally, there are a ton of cameos in this (to an almost distracting extent) but there's one from the original Ocean's trilogy that's one of the better cameos I've seen recently in film because it actually played into the plot of the film. In the final cut it's a rather subtle cameo that may be missed by casual Ocean's fans, but it was a savvy choice from screenwriters Ross/Olivia Milch. Unfortunately, after the reveal of this cameo it made me wish that the third act had instead been spent developing this cameo a bit more as opposed to the one it did develop. A real missed opportunity, yes, but it's certainly a good thing to be wishing for more screen time in any film. Also, gotta say that I loved the score here from Daniel Pemberton. He does a great job of imitating David Holmes's incredibly underrated score from Ocean's Eleven, while still bringing a good amount of originality to the betting table.
That's actually a good way to sum up Ocean's 8. For the most part, it does a good job of imitating its predecessors while still bringing a good amount of originality to the roulette table. (I'll be here all night) I had an absolute blast watching this film, and I think it's well worth the watch if you're into a good ol’ fashion popcorn flick disguised as a fun, lighthearted heist film. This summer has consisted mostly of mediocrity to this point, but Ocean's 8 is easily the best blockbuster so far, and it's one that's not to be missed.
The Critique: Featuring a strong cast that packs a ton of unique personality, Ocean's 8 is as fun and lighthearted a popcorn flick that you'll be able to see this summer.
The Recommendation: I really don't think anyone would dislike this one, and it's a light PG-13 too, so bring the whole family!
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
More of the same, but is that a bad thing?
Deadpool 2 (2018): Foul-mouthed mutant mercenary Wade Wilson (AKA. Deadpool), brings together a team of fellow mutant rogues to protect a young boy with supernatural abilities from the brutal, time-traveling cyborg, Cable.
It's tough capturing lightning in a bottle twice. The original Deadpool took the world by storm and was a box office smash, crushing all R-rated box office records and paving the way for the R-rated superhero movie. So does Deadpool 2 successfully follow up the formula of its predecessor? Well…..yes and no. It feels like something of a cop out doing the exact same thing again. But hey, if it ain't broke don't fix it right? The formula of Deadpool is light and fun with a ton of strong jokes littered through its 119 minute runtime. Personally, I think this is exactly what a superhero movie should be. (See Thor: Ragnarok)
That said, it's not without faults. The biggest of which involves the fact that TJ Miller is STILL involved with this project. Seriously?? If All the Money in the World could remove a top billed actor in 6 weeks, then Deadpool 2 could've easily removed TJ Miller in the 6+ months they had since he was caught on the wrong side of the #MeToo movement. And he was featured heavily in the marketing campaign as well! Miller's brand of stoner humor is easily replaceable, and if Silicone Valley could figure out a creative way to write him out of their show, (before the bad stuff about him even came to light, I might add) then Deadpool 2 could've easily done the same. Speaking of marketing campaigns, I was disappointed at how little the X-Force was actually utilized in the film. Yes, they get some really good jokes out of the group, but there was absolutely a lot more content there that they let slip by, and for how much they were featured in the marketing it felt a little….lazy to me. Speaking of, there is some lazy writing in this film.... to the point that Deadpool breaks the fourth wall to point that out a few times. Yes, it's funny the first time, but that crap gets real old, real fast.
There are a lot of positives here too. For starters, Cable is a rather interesting villain, and is played well by Josh Brolin. He's basically playing himself here, but that's honestly better than “Thanos without the makeup.” Which would've been easy to do with his two superhero villain portrayals coming out a mere two weeks apart. I know that sounds like damning with faint praise, but I swear it's not. I really like Josh Brolin, so I have no problem with seeing him play himself. And the writing behind his character is really strong, despite his origins being straight out of Terminator. But his character arc and relationship with Deadpool plays out in an interesting and (relatively) unique way. Also, Zazie freaking Beetz. Her breakout performance as Domino is easily the best part of this film. If the Atlanta star isn't overloaded with work after her smart, sleek, and snarky portrayal of the lucky heroine, then I don't know what will do it. If you're really into discovering new superheros, then Domino is worth the cost of admission alone.
You may have noticed that I haven't really mentioned Deadpool to this point. That's because his character is where the “more of the same” mantra really applies. Yes, Ryan Reynolds is funny, but he doesn't experience much of a character arc or really any sort of variability from his character in part 1. (Other than a major thing that happens at the start of the film that puts him on the "revenge" path.) It's just…..more of the same. Which is an easy way to summarize Deadpool 2. If you were a fan of the first one, you'll be a fan of this one. But if you're not? Or jf you're becoming cynical with the sheer volume of comic book films being released? At best, you'll shrug and move on. At worst, you'll nod your head disapprovingly. As for me? *shrugs*
My Number: 6/10
Quick Reviews, Spring 2018, Part 3: You Were Never Really Here, The Death of Stalin, RBG, Fahrenheit 451, UpgradeRead Now
You Were Never Really Here
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