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Jurassic World (2015)
Pretty Dazzling - one small annoyance
The Jurassic Park/World legacy is a staple of modern fiction. Michael Crichton's exploration of dinosaurs resurrected - the unveiling of man versus our most revered beast is cinematic gold. Steven Spielberg did a masterful job with the original installment, Jurassic Park. This type of story was made for the master of adventure, wonderment, and spine tingling thrills. Steven stumbled on the sequel, hampered by a hokey script but still delivered more creepy little foes from the prehistoric. The third lacks any compelling characters and is largely forgettable although the unveiling of the Pterodactyl.
JURASSIC WORLD is the fourth installment from Crichton's classic legacy.
* JURRASIC WORLD is a homage to the original film sprinkled with a delicious dabble of current culture and technology. If you don't know the premise, the original Jurassic Park has now become a fully functional island resort run by a corporate conglomerate. Over 20 years later, it is now called Jurassic World. As opposed to the three previous stories, the island is filled with tourists and multiple attractions.
Dig in. JURRASIC WORLD employs the classic plot points from Jurassic Park and a myriad of timeless horror movies such as Aliens and The Birds. It's a tasty dish.
The hero played by Chris Pratt is a young Indiana Jones an adventurer living in the wild adorned with the classic brown vest (although minus the hat). Bryce Dallas Howard is a high powered corporate employee that runs operations of the island. The Howard/Pratt relationship - the clichéd rugged hero matched with the high strung upper class beauty works surprisingly well. Howard breathes life into the role of heroine. She avoids many dialogue/screenplay/character traps that could've nabbed another actress.
The new director manages to hold the pressure and weight of the Jurassic universe. I give this guy props. Outside of yelling action on the set, I can't imagine the grace it would take to deal with the studio, multiple writers, and master of cinema, Spielberg himself. This newcomer has what it takes and the studio is reaping the benefits - he re-lit a giant franchise! It's the third highest grossing film of all time, I believe.
SPOILERS *Any adventure movie requires suspension of disbelief. Spielberg has been aware of this since day one and carefully tows the line of fictional reality and fictional unreality.
Unfortunately, The Jurassic World director screwed up an obvious detail and it drove me crazy.
Would any human being survive the rampage wearing a pair of high heels? Bryce Dallas Howard drops her fancy clothes, gets dirty, and dawns a Ripley tank top yet does not remove her high heels throughout the movie!! This means she's sprinting from dinosaurs, explosions, and near death instances in a pair of high heels. This ridiculous problem could have been remedied easily. One scene of her working out at the park's fancy athletic facilities and keeping a pair of sneakers close by that she throws on before joining in the rescue mission.
Honestly, take one look at a woman walking to work through Manhattan in heels and then try picturing her escaping a velociraptor. This one details bothered me enough to give Jurassic World a B minus as opposed to a B plus.
Bridge of Spies (2015)
Turkey Without The Gravy
I am biased in my review of BRIDGE OF SPIES. The Cold War is my thing, always has been my thing. I am dazzled by that time in history: surveillance, the cars, CIA, Eisenhower, and the mystique of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
From the trailer of this film, I expected a delicious plate of Cold War atmosphere, intrigue, and commentary. Like a gleeful child, I sprinted to the movie theatre expecting a non-pretentious high octane version of Mad Men. I anticipated my favorite era in history being served up like LET ME IN (a piece of 1980s period perfection elegantly directed by Matt Reeves).
I held close the trailer as I landed my perfect middle seat in the theatre. The clips of a U2 Surveillance jet spiraling at 70,000 feet, children overflowing in tears as they watch a thermonuclear film strip, and Tom Hanks' face plastered to a subway window as we see guards firing at bystanders trying to climb over the Berlin Wall.
Then you add Steven Spielberg to the mix the master of the period piece modern cinema - the evoker of our deepest emotions. One of my favorite Spielberg films is Munich. Munich captures the violence of the Middle East 70s with revere, respect, and revelation. This is what I wanted from Bridge Of Spies. I wanted a dark, harrowing portrait of the Cold War, I wanted this tense era exposed in Spielbergian fashion, and I wanted to have 1957-1961 ruminating in my heart, mind, and belly. Bridge of Spies, however, met none of my desired expectations.
Diluted by a PG-13 rating, filled with comedic moments (clearly due to the Coen Brothers having written or participated in this script) that don't tickle my fancy, and an avoidance of Cold War atmosphere Bridge Of Spies hit me like a tennis ball on the head.
It's taught, adequately plotted, and the hero is smart, likable, and witty. It's garnered rave reviews. But, for anyone that likes substance, don't look here. Spielberg's story is a moral tale of courage and standing up for one's ideals the universal plot which Steven devours like a hungry child.
Unfortunately, there's no stakes. Hanks follows his journey and does what he does best but his universe is given little context. You'll want turkey and you'll get turkey but you're not getting any gravy.
**Possible Spoilers Things that bugged me about the film was plethora of wasted opportunities. When you have Spielberg at the helm, you know what could have been
1. The relationship between the Lawyer (Hanks) and the Soviet Captive (Mark Rylance) is an unbalanced paper weight. We get a glimpse into the Lawyer's character, the archetypal Tom Hanks - fair, honest, moral, etc. We get very little info on the Captive. He is quiet, dignified, and keeps responding to Hanks wondering if he is aware of his dire situation, "Would it help?" Rylance is the typical Spielbergian "caught in the middle guy" much like Ben Kingsley in Schindler's List. Physically weak, trapped and powerless - yet stoic and unafraid. That being said, what are his motives? He is a spy but what drives him where is the monologue where he explains his background, what formed and shaped him and what forms the basis of his lifelong goals?
2. What I love about Mad Men is its strong focus on the media and culture of the era. Except for the end of Bridge of Spies (where we get a clip of Pierre Salinger informing the news of the spy swap) and an early scene of a teenage girl watching a late night story, there's not much to nibble on Spielberg wastes a huge opportunity in a class room scene where kids are watching a nuclear bomb film strip. Lifting the film strip like a YouTube Clip and then showing a few generic shots of kids watching it and one girl crying - the master of modern cinema stumbles and falls into shallow surf. In this instance, I wanted to yell at the editor build this up, let it seep in, give us some Wonder Years or Let Me In flavor. There's none to be had
3. Not only do we get a vapid Francis Gary Powers due to lackluster character development and the miscasting (in my opinion), but the U2 Surveillance storyline is about 12 minutes. Give me at least 25, Steven!! When the U2 is shot out of the sky, we get about a minute of action give us three. In addition, because Francis Gary Powers has no character development, I don't sympathize with him or even care if he comes home.
4. The PhD student who is included in the Prisoner Swap is devoid of character another guy that I could care less if he makes it home. Both guys appeared to have a lackluster indifferent time over the in the USSR. The Soviets dowsed Powers with water and German soldiers rip up the PHD students thesis paper oh no!
5. There is no discussion of the disastrous political implications of the U2 being shot down over the Soviet Union. Reluctant to authorize the mission, Eisenhower was smeared by its failure and left office of the President on a black cloud. However, we don't hear Eisenhower's name mentioned once in the story.
All and all, Spielberg delivers a cup of vanilla ice cream with fudge most audiences are going to love Hanks and the Soviet spy.
In the final analysis, it's a buddy film with some period costumes and a somewhat poignant conclusion. That being said, those that want a stirring pot of fear, sadness, and elation I suggest you wait for this on HBO and watch Munich instead.
Ted's Personal Enjoyment: C+
Black Mass (2015)
Johnny The Wolf
It has been the Fall of disappointing movies. BLACK MASS stands at the top of this list. Take one look at Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger and you'll think his make-up artist had Tim Burton on a direct line.
Nonetheless, I understand how BLACK MASS fell into the trap of becoming yet another poorly failed Goodfellas/Donnie Brasco. The life of one of the most infamous crime bosses is hard to discern - what is even harder to discern is the world that surrounds him.
It's not truth versus fable. It's how do we explain the damn thing?
From his heinous acts of legendary proportion, the real Whitey is known as one of the most ruthless/inhumane people to ever walk this planet. He was on the 10 most wanted list for the entire world before being captured by the FBI. There's some nasty buggers on there - so we get the drift.
However, for most movies/TV shows to work, the audience has to have an affinity for the main character - it's the element that made The Sopranos such a smashing success. Do we even have the right to give Whitey Bulger the privilege?
Yes - purely on dynamics, of course. His heart is black (no spoiler here, folks). Lets see how it beats - not just look at a dude dressed up like the Joker with a leather jacket.
In my opinion, there are alternatives to create a more compelling story - but I didn't write the film or will claim to be able to pull it off myself. Although I might have had some objections with making Johnny Depp look like the Wolfman.
Give me a strong story runner from TV and we might have some gasoline. David Milch, want to hop in the batter's box? We'll surely give you a bat.
SPOILER* We're not asking for a documentary - we can't ask that of any fictional movie. But, we do want human moments that make us relate to the character - if at least for five minutes. And, where Goodfellas has Henry Hill in tears when asking his boss for money or Tony Soprano crying in therapy, Black Mass has a few mundane blasé scenes with his wife and mother - who checks out early on.
In fact, every female character in the film is the same (except for the prostitute Whitey strangles played by the sultry Juno Temple).
SPOILER* the one good scene Whitey purposely freaking out the FBI agents at dinner when discussing a homemade family receipt - this is in the trailer - which is why I wanted to see the movie. This is followed by Whitey paying a visit to Connolly's wife upstairs. He is terrorizing, horrifying, you name it - and he's actually dynamic here. Too bad this is five minutes amongst 122.
Wait for this on HBO. Do not pay for it on demand. Seriously. Don't.
Potential Hindered by Script
SICARIO has the recipe for a delicious movie. You have the director of Prisoners, Benicio, Brolin, and a kick ass score. You provide drugs and a drug war - I am there. That being said, this movie has no climax and flat lines - another beautifully made clunker. The scenes waiver like a flounder off the coast of Baja.
Instead of ending with a strong finish, Sicario does the reverse. You're gripping your seat at the beginning. By the end, you want out and/or are praying for a fix.
I might give Sicario a 6 because the director threw the right ingredients into the chicken and his direction (shots and performances) is spot on - unfortunately, it collapses under the weight of a flimsy screenplay. I think this picture is on par with TRAFFIC (a movie that has great pieces but succumbs to the misguided written word).
*SPOILER Personal opinion, I wish the Emily Blunt character was casted with a dude. The female portrayal by the writer is like a Clarice Starling on a bad batch of Tylenol PM.
Josh Brolin must have lit the script on fire when asked to memorize one line. He improvises to such an extent, I started wondering if he knew the plot of the movie. Thank God he had some semblance of an interesting character to work with - I think he's enjoyable to watch.
This is no fault of his own but due to circumstance. But, seeing Benicio in another drug flick is like seeing another Volkswagen Jetta with skis on the roof.
No Bite - Too Convenient
Entourage The Show was a diamond in the rough. It was sarcastic, biting, and hilarious. I enjoyed each of its seasons - it portrayed Hollywood as the dynamic and vibrant world that glows in our dreams. Therefore, I was dying to see Entourage The Movie. Unfortunately, the plot, writing, and tone that made the show great are absent from the movie.
SPOILERS All the rules of the Entourage The Show are disregarded and reversed for the movie.
In Entourage The Movie, we see a clip of the film that Vince directs for his debut feature. It is a nonsensical mess. If this were the show, Vince's film would have been ravaged by the critics. It would have been an opportunity for laughs and obstacles for the gang.
However, the movie's plot is so misguided and unrealistic, Vince's film becomes a Golden Globe winner. Not to mention, Johnny Drama's unsuccessful career, which lead to his insecurities has always been heartwarming and funny. In Entourage the Movie, Drama wins a Golden Globe. This would have been a dream sequence in the show - but for Entourage the Movie, it's a reality.
I could bring up other elements of the plot - such as E's all of pointless storyline's - events with Sloan that conveniently fit into place - an embarrassingly mundane scene where two of E's conquests reveals some sort of ploy.
I highly doubt I could some up with better ideas or a better script for Entourage The Movie. That being said, I expected much more from the writer/creator/director - he fell short here.
Assembly Edit from 1960
I wasn't a huge fan of PRIMARY. Being a JFK and 1960s political buff, I highly anticipated the behind the scenes campaign film. Due to my lack of interest in Hubert Humphrey, unfortunately, I spent most of the viewing time hitting the fast forward button to the Kennedy segments.
Regardless, this film does show the overwhelming and taxing manner of campaigning and how it takes a person that does not appear to be mortal to carry out such a function.
The camera gets intimately close to JFK when he enters rally halls. There's a few shots that are groundbreaking in this sequence. It almost appears that the cameraman glued his lens to the back of Kennedy's collar. It creates an eye opening feeling of proximity.
Therefore, I guess if you eliminated Humphrey from the film or showcased the Presidential Election itself, you'd have a much more interesting piece of work.
Ted Ryan www.modesthouseproductions.com
**mild spoilers although this is a movie documenting a significant historical event*
I found PARKLAND to be haunting and covering a completely different aspect of that day that sent shivers down my spine.
The scene in the hospital room of the doctors trying to save Kennedy is raw, real, and seems as accurate as one could gather from accounts. The dialogue feels so spot on.
The secret service detail of them bursting in with rifles and the amount of blood in the ER are such bone clenching details in script and costume, props, etc.
Whoever plays LBJ for that one scene - A +.
Nonetheless, what feels most real to me is the actual assassination from Zapruder's perspective. I literally could feel the honest to God horror of those three gunshots. Him screaming, "They killed him, they killed him."
There are some aspects of the film that didn't resonate quite as powerful. That being the Lee Harvey Oswald's brother/funeral/mother trio. The guy playing Oswald's fabulous - I just wish they'd followed the famous plane ride as LBJ scrambles as the new president.
This movie inspired me with even more new ideas for a film about the JFK Presidency.
BTW, whoever created the body of JFK. He made the movie. Kudos.
Ted Ryan www.modesthouseproductions.com
Impressive writing - but not great
The idea for Rod Lurie's first feature film is a good one - the President is trapped in the boonies and must deal with a nuclear crisis. And, DETERRENCE certainly has some very play-like charming elements - small setting, clash of characters, localized tension, etc - that make it a passable watch. Not to mention, it does a wonderful job of portraying news/mass media as the film's crisis unfolds.
Unfortunately, although the writing is informed, tip-top, and clever, I think the casting falls short.
Let's start with the President played by Kevin Pollak. I felt this was a bad casting choice by Lurie. In addition to his noticeably short height and Napoleonic demeanor, Pollak lacks the presidential aura of either a Martin Sheen or Michael Douglas. Therefore, no matter what interesting dramatic conflicts arise for President Emerson during the story, I can't help but wish someone was playing him.
Also, there's a few patrons/employees of the diner that are very one note - you'll notice this was you watch.
Ted's Grade: C+/B-
The Oh in Ohio (2006)
what i expected
This movie is exactly what I expected. An American Beauty type-flick with a lighter indie feel. Paul Rudd is magnificent as a burnt out, depressed 30-something high school teacher who can't sexually satisfy his wife. Parker P is her usual competent self. She gets to tap into her comedic side as a Rudd's spouse - discovering her own sexuality, understanding her own emotional needs, and having orgasms at very inappropriate times (you'll see). Mischa Barton plays the Mena Suvari role - nothing to write home about; Keith David is frickin' hilarious; and Danny Devito is Danny Devito. So, you've got an acceptable combo and a Netflix worthy rental.
Unfortunately, although you've the standard elements, great direction, and some truly poignant moments, The Oh in Ohio ends up sinking towards the end. There's no connection between the 2 leads Rudd and Posey so there's no dramatic conflict for our audience. Will they end up together?
About 75% into the film, the charm of everyone started to wear off and I hoped it would end. And it ended with a D in Disappointment.
Down to the Bone (2004)
Good performance - wrong medium
I had the opportunity to see DOWN TO THE BONE off Netflix. I was really looking forward to it. I think Vera Farmiga is a very talented performer and heard the raves. Unfortunately, the decision to shoot this story on a PD-150 really killed it for me. I saw the short SNAKE FEED and felt 16 was a much better medium. Or maybe I wished Debra Granik had taken a different visual DV approach. I'm not quite sure. But I didn't find the cinematography all that breathtaking. Some reviewers call it gritty - I call it bland. Still, even with that aside, I felt the story moves a little slow and is also mettled with structural issues. The snake motif was cliché in my books. Nonetheless, Vera is great and definitely makes this one worth watching.