Mad Max: Fury Road (****): Same glorious road, different driver

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Director George Miller
Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Zoë Kravitz
Written by Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris

The critical love bestowed upon George Miller’s Mad Max series has always been somewhat puzzling. His style is visually remarkable and has improved each time out. Beautiful, frantic and grotesque at once, no one has ever come close to duplicating him. The thing is, story-wise, he’s now made the same movie three times in a row. There is often some deeper meaning ascribed to the film, sometimes deserved, sometimes a stretch. Ultimately, the story is about how Max and a few stragglers survive and a lot of bad guys don’t.

The film starts with Max (Hardy) getting chased down by another group of terrorizers. They bring down his car, pick him up, inscribe some vitals on his back via tattoo, then, after a brief attempt to escape, use him as a “blood bag” due to his type-O universal blood type.

Elsewhere in the group, Imperator Furiosa (Theron), is readying a big rig for a trip to the nearby gas depot. Only she really is plotting her escape with The Five Wives of the leader Immortan Joe. Once Joe discovers that Furiosa is driving off route, he rallies the troops to chase her down.

Among the troops is the War Boy Nux (Hoult) who is ill and is connected to Max for his blood. Off he goes with Max prominently displayed in the front of his car to join the pursuit. If everyone had been caught in the first big chase, the movie would have been pretty short. Needless to say, Max ends up on the side of the pursued and they get some distance, but not much, from their pursuer.

All of this is caught within the framework of some of the most gorgeous imagery ever presented in a desert action film. And yes, I am including Lawrence of Arabia in this group. There is an abundance and depth to the color, explosions, slashes and even the sounds within the chase presented in the film. The variety of nut jobs pursuing is quite impressive as well. This time, though, there is more to one of them than drug fueled rage. Hoult’s character receives an act of grace from one of the wives and is converted to the cause. It’s a quick turnaround for a guy who was getting a transfusion and following it up with spray paint to the face. Very little of the Mad Max series is done with a long build up, though.madmax-guitarist

One of the most brilliantly insane images of the film has to be the vehicle consisting of rows of drums on one side and then the other with a Pete Townshend-worthy stacks of speakers behind a masked man in red playing a double necked guitar with an extra spout for a flamethrower. Yes. It’s just that. It’s the best thing since Tim Cappello grunted his way through the sax solos in Tina Turner’s videos for the last movie.


Sax guyIt’s when we reach this point that we realize the George Miller Mad Max experience is not necessarily for telling stories with a moral. Sure, we are all against humans being held in bondage, female and male. We don’t like terror in any way shape or form. Monsters are created in these films as a backdrop for the rest of these wild events to occur. The one film in which compassion tipped the scales, Beyond Thunderdome, is the one for which fans have the least affection. More compassion is represented by those tilting head looks where people are learning, and learning just slows everything down. Not that it’s ever a mis-step to inject some of the better qualities of humanity in the midst of the carnage. Thunderdome is still my favorite due to the time Miller took to show how stories are passed from generation to generation. Miller had a connection with Gibson that made compassion amidst chaos a believable concept.

This aspect has translated successfully into the capable hands of Tom Hardy. His Max fits comfortably along side Gibson. He shows the fevered want to survive at almost any cost. He also can re-evaluate on the fly with the same perplexed look that his predecessor had mastered. There never has been much more to Max than this in any of the films, aside from the original that showed him to be the father and husband that we see flashbacks of now. I thought that his kid was a boy originally, but now flashbacks keep harkening back to a little girl, but he is tortured either way. There is something to the fact that their collective character is so limited, but it fits so well in the environment, fans of the series will find little about which to complain.

Theron’s character, even more than Hardy’s, is limited in scope. She seeks redemption for these beautiful women being held as breeders against their will. Theron committed, letting her delicate visage appear more beaten and gaunt than ever as she personifies the rage of the violated.

Immortan / Toecutter...the same actor, but the same guy?

Immortan / Toecutter…the same actor, but the same guy?

As Immortan Joe, Keays-Bearne makes his first appearance in the series since his performance as Toecutter in the original. Toecutter is presumably killed in the first movie, but Immortan Joe is so disfigured in Fury Road, one can’t help but wonder if the casting means Joe and Toecutter are the same. He’s much less a cook and more menacing this time around, as much for the mystery surrounding his character as anything.

The five wives have a presence that stands out in the film. That we are able to distinguish one from another five times over is in itself a feat of no small proportion. Curiously, there were also many other, larger and older women left in equally destitute conditions, but apparently there is no room for them in the escape semi. None of this is the fault of the women they do show heroically, but if anyone is looking to make this story some sort of equal rights statement, they ought to have sympathy for the “milkers” too.

The product of Fury Road is polished, for something presenting such a ragged cross-section of the dregs of the post-apocalyptic world. All of the folks involved in the chase, aside from Hardy and Theron, look like they spent a lot of time getting their makeup right. Such is the case when one is making pop art, however. This is not so much a complaint as it is an observation. It’s enjoyable all the same.

Of the films, this is the one I enjoyed more than any, outside of Thunderdome. For a series that is such complete and all out high-octane, they keep going down the same road over and over. Unlike George Romero’s zombie films, or Scorsese’s real crime repeats, the craft is getting more refined with each trip. And unlike Spielberg tinkering with E.T. or Lucas messing around with the original Star Wars movies, these films feel more organic, instead of messed with. It’s like a painting that grows in one’s esteem as it ages. Don’t be fooled, though. This painting is closer to Dogs Playing Poker than it is to The Last Supper.

(**** out of *****)

Chappie (***) So the guy that invents A.I. lives in track housing…

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Chappie – 2015

Director Neill Blomkamp
Starring Sharlto Copley (voice and stop motion), Dev Patel, Watkin Tudor Jones, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman
Screenplay by Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell

It’s beginning to feel like Neill Blomkamp may be the next M, Night Shyamalan. He has several distinctive qualities that are unlike other filmmakers. He also has the emotional and political range of a daisy air rifle. District 9 was a great start in demonstrating his effects prowess. If the message of the film – an indictment of apartheid – is about a decade behind in relevance, it could be forgiven as a young auteur telling us about that with which he was familiar. The second time, Elysium had effects that were just as good, but the politics – a rallying cry for socialized medicine – is naïve and the plot is labored.

Now we have an ode to artificial intelligence. I wonder what we will learn about humanity…

The story begins with a team of four small time crooks that we’ll call The Thompson Twins. They are assaulted by a bad guy that soon enough turns them into a trio. This is okay, though, because they are better as a trio. Or maybe not. Their party is interrupted by the new breed of police attack robots. One of these robots, #22, is damaged in the assault and afterwards assigned to the scrap-heap.

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The creator of the robots, Deon (Patel), wants to upgrade his creations. After developing a program for A.I., he steals #22 and for purposes of testing the program. For reasons that make no sense at all, Deon lives in track housing, with little or no security. One would figure the safety of the creator of the police force might be important to someone.

Before you can say “plug and play” he is kidnapped by the Thompson Twins, who want to use Deon to get the bounty “owed” the big bad guy, Hippo.

In a sequence too convoluted to be true, he is allowed to initialize his creation, but almost immediately placed into peril by the leader of the Thompson Twins. Meanwhile, Vincent Moore (Jackman) gets wind of Deon’s plans and puts another crimp in the design. Moore’s goal is his own project, called Moose,  into the good graces of the head of the company, Michelle Bradley (Weaver).

But the problem is, #22 is but a child and everything is new to him and more than a little frightening. The blonde chick Thompson Twin names him Chappie, mainly to bug the crap out of the few people who’ve hung on thus far. Chappie experiences everything with a remarkable naiveté that is as hard to believe as it is conveniently applied,

Chappie invariably ends up out of the hands of the “creator” and wondering throughout the country performing a variety of felonies. This is before things get really out of hand.

If the film feels familiar, it should. The story is essentially Robocop with Transcendence mixed in. It is entertaining in a limited way. Everything depends on how much of the Johannesburg gangster dialect one can tolerate. Once more, the effects are exceptional. It is worth watching just to see the fluidity of the motion in the droids, other than the ED-209 clone, Moose. And if, thankfully, the preaching is kept to a minimum, so too is the amount of common sense applied in the last act. Nice last scene, though.

The acting is spotty, and not at all helped by the plot. Dev Patel is okay, even though he is thrown into overdrive by the plot. Speaking of hyperdrive, Copely is hyper-kinetic. At times his robotic / ethnic jive is impossible to decipher, but other times it works. Jackman’s character, in fact his whole plot line, is idiotic. It’s enough to make one forget the movies in which he does act. The Thompson Twins are annoying through and through. Weaver is wasted.

Blomkamp’s next film is covering a topic near to my cinematic heart. the fifth film in the Sigourney Weaver Alien franchise. It will no doubt be a visual spectacle. I worry about his ability to give as compelling a script. For better or worse, here we go. I just hope he makes it more sensibly than this story.

(*** out of *****)

Project Almanac (**1/2) back to Darko’s future

projectalmanac

Project Almanac – 2015

Director Dean Israelite
Starring Jonny Weston, Sofia Black D’Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Virginia Gardner, Amy Landecker
Written by Jason Harry Pagan, Andrew Deutschman

It takes a movie like Project Almanac to realize there are better movies out there that you have not watched in a while. It reminds one of films like Into the Storm or Battle Los Angeles, only those films have some people of whom we have heard. There is nothing completely wrong with the film, so much as there is nothing really compelling about it. We get it. Time travel is hard, even if you record everything.

Yep, it’s another first person camera shooter. Instead of having the goofball kid hold the camera, we get to lose the cute-ish younger sister. At least she doesn’t gab a lot, like the goofball.

The premise of the story is David, the son of an inventor who disappears during David’s 7th Birthday, is trying to get into MIT. Of course he is…almost there. So he starts rummaging through Dad’s stuff to look for ideas. His sister comes across a video camera Dad was filming said birthday party with and – who should show up in the background but present day David. This leads David and his friends to go through Dad’s good stuff.

What they find, through a bunch of verbal chaos thrown back and forth, is the makings for a time machine. The team films every step of the building process, eventually co-opting the battery of David’s crush’s hybrid along with its owner. Then they form a band of time travelling buddies, going back and making things good for a while.

David’s ultimate goal is going back and saving his Dad. Before this happens, but after a surprising amount of jumps, things go sideways. At this point, David begins to obsess with making things right, of course he never quite gets there, until the film runs out of ideas and goes right into Donnie Darko territory, if only the happy version.

Of the actors in this film, I have never noticed any of them in other movies that I have seen and even liked. In this way, it is like Cloverfield. Just as that film did not make any stars, I am pretty sure this one won’t either.

The script is a lot of noise, shouting about things that should be theoretical. Then there’s talk about batteries, revenge, getting better grades and making romance work. There are some really good segments, like when they have to try more than one time to get things like the lottery picks right. There are even more moments that will not be remembered and are hard to conjure up even hours after viewing.

My wife liked this film. But I doubt she’ll remember even as much as I do. In the end, it gets the curse of being bland, loud and frantic: just a bunch of stuff that happened written, acted and directed by a bunch of folks I won’t recognize if they work in something I see in the future. Or the past.

(** 1/2 out of *****)

Ex Machina (***) – Where there’s a will…

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Ex Machina – 2015

Written and Directed by Alex Garland
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno

Ex Machina scratched an itch I’ve had since seeing that Gleeson and Isaac were added to the ever-expanding list of new actors entering the Star Wars universe. There has been a pretty good track record of actors added to the burgeoning series. Gleeson was spectacular co-starring with Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy in the classic, About Time. Isaac was most impressive in 2014’s A Most Violent Year. Adding talent like theirs to any film’s roster is a sign of good things to come, right? That’s what I thought heading into Episode I with, McGregor, Portman, Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson. Let’s hope lightening doesn’t strike twice.

For now, let’s talk about artificial intelligence, the Turing test and mouse traps, as presented by the author of 28 Days Later. Gleeson plays Caleb, a computer programmer for Bluebook, which is essentially Google. As the opening credits fade, we discover that Caleb has won the lottery he never bought a ticket for: a week-long visit with the company’s CEO, founder and genius, Nathan (Isaac). Then, after a very long helicopter ride (2 hours over his estate) the young employee is dropped off in a secluded woody area with a river. He is instructed to walk along the bank until he arrives at the house, literally built within the environment.

Once there, he meets Nathan, in the most awkward and ill at ease way possible. He is instructed to get past the formalities, and go right into “beer me” mode. Uh, okay. Now let’s talk about the artificial chick that you are supposed to run a modified test on, to, you know, verify that she can pass for a human. Um, okay.

There is no effort to hide the fact that Ava (Vikander) is a machine. We’re past that, says Nathan, for reasons that he really doesn’t prove. He also does not want to go into how he created Ava. Is this because Gleeson could not comprehend this? No, Nathan says. He just wants to see if she can present successfully as a being that is self-aware.

Conversations between Caleb and Ava than they do with his creator. It’s a natural ebb and flow for the test subjects. Nathan is often in varying states of drunkenness and more often confrontational than informative. Then there are the power outages, seemingly random and unable to be resolved by the person who designed the house. As for the people who put the design together? Nathan says he had them killed. Then he barely cracks a smile…sort of.

It is during one of these outages that Ava confides in Caleb that she does not trust Nathan. Caleb shouldn’t either, she says. Of course not. Why should he, when everything so far has pointed to him being a bad guy. One of the things I worried about while watching the trailer for this film is that this would be the case. There were other things that become obvious in watching the film. Thankfully, not all of these paths are followed in the telling of the story.

Enough of them happen, though, that it’s hard to become fully invested in its telling. The characters seem more like placeholders for points to be made in the plot, rather than real self-aware beings. Gleeson and Vikander offer a good ebb and flow. Isaac’s Nathan is so obviously tethered to the script, it’s makes one want to reach through the screen and give him a slap and scream:

“Hey pal, you are about to get the business end of your creation.”

One would figure that any scientist brilliant enough to create artificial life pretty much on his own would have the presence of mind to stay sober when it’s going through its final test.

The fault lies with the story, as well the execution. Talk as much or as little as you want about how something happened. If you don’t have an interesting path to get to the climax, most people will stray by the time they get there. It’s a competent film, and the effects are beautiful. Seeing the lithe form, as well the intricate insides of Ava creates many questions that the script itself does not bother to follow. A little more querying and a little less Westworld would do this story great instead of just good.

(*** out of *****)

It Follows (*****): A tribute but not a ripoff

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It Follows – 2015

Written and Directed by David Robert Mitchell
Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe

We’re well past the era of slasher movies. Kind of beyond torture porn. The neat thing about horror and suspense is that after the trends, and often during them, someone will come along with a movie that just plain scares you with nothing more than imagination. David Robert Mitchell has discovered the key to making a movie that makes one fear for their life is by simply being about life.

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Jay (Monroe) is a college girl with a crush. She values her sexuality like any being who is on the edge of – if slightly over – seventeen. After a few cute dates, she surrenders herself to another teen (Weary) who then informs her of the magnitude of her choice in him as a partner. The gist of it is that she will be followed. By what or whom, we cannot know. It changes and is only visible to those with the curse. The distinguishing characteristic is that it is slow, but deliberate. If it catches her and kills her, the curse reverts back to the one that gave it to her. He proves it to her and she is a horrified.

She is then dropped off in the street at her house. Half-naked and dazed, she recounts her experiences to people who believe that something happened to her and the one she was with made crazy insinuations.

Trying to get back to life, she goes to her classes again, only to see an old woman (above) walking across the campus right towards her. This droves her to share this information with her friends. They do the thing that teenagers would do, which leads eventually to the proverbial cabin on the lake out-of-town. It follows. Thank goodness the film doesn’t stop there with tons of dead teens and bad decisions.

Mitchell has taken the best part of the horror classic Halloween and the works of George Romero turned them into something original. He has an eye for visual stanzas that are at once ordinary and curious. The best thing about his style is that he makes everything plain for the viewer to see, but does not bother to explain the motivation of the entity in pursuit. The result is added tension and a heightened realism.

The acting is excellent for such a small film. Each character is real and seems powerless to adulthood, much less this thing that follows them. They get bored. They eat the wrong things. They have unrequited love. They look awkward and beautiful all at once.

The reveals for the entity are inventive for those not part of the curse. It is fun to see how fear transcends plain old eyesight. The blank countenance of the pursuers and their varying states of disrepair open the mind to all sorts of possibilities. The work is a tribute but it manages to transcend. See this film if you want to know fear that opens the mind.

The Hustler (****) / The Color Of Money (*****): Who owns this place?

The Hustler

The Hustler – 1961

Director Robert Rossen
Starring Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick, Murray Hamilton, Jake LaMotta, Michael Constantine
Screenplay Sidney Carroll & Rossen based on The Hustler by Walter Tevis

In an era where film was often an extension of the stage, The Hustler plays as exactly that. It is an exceptional meditation of the challenge of a man to overcome himself as his biggest obstacle. Paul Newman is “Fast” Eddie Felson, a young, hot-headed pool shark who is working a series of short cons with his partner Charlie (McCormick) across the country from Oakland to challenge the legendary champion “Minnesota Fats” (Gleason). After running up $18,000 over Fats, his hubris, ego and alcohol all get the best of him, eventually losing it all except for $200.

He leaves Charlie behind, heading to the local bus terminal, where he comes across Sarah (Laurie), a lame young drunkard, with whom he ends up staying. During his stay, he comes across Fats’ bankroller Bert Gordon (Scott), who tells him he is someone who looks for a way to lose, but he could come out ahead if he works for Gordon for a 25% stake. Eddie opts to go his own way at first. Events occur to change his mind, but that is only the beginning of his regret.

Fast Eddie: Maybe I’m not such a high-class piece of property right now. And a 25% slice of something big is better than a 100% slice of nothing.

Newman and Gleason are spectacular in their respective roles opposing one another at the pool table. It’s an amazing transition to see where Newman starts and ends. Contrast this with the somber sobriety on Gleason’s countenance, where essentially he has the same worn out look, but we understand it completely differently. Laurie is truly a wounded soul. It’s no accident that Sarah and Eddie end up with one another. Where it ends up is heartbreaking, but it, too, seems inevitable.

George C. Scott creates a unique twist on his intimidating self through the story’s evolution. He is a dangerous man, but the change in the last act is something that many actors would not feel comfortable portraying.

Rossen allows the first half of the film to build slowly, seeming somewhat conventional and perhaps even bordering on contrivance at times. Laurie’s character is a tough sell, though, given the limitations placed on female characters in the 60’s. Eddie’s counterpart Janelle shows as much depth in 10 minutes 25 years later. She prevails in a powerful third act, however, leaving an indelible impression on each character. His work with Oscar nominated (and future winner) editor Dede Allen is artful and daring, leaving the viewer with a rich landscape that is dark, isolated and seething with doubt.

Fast Eddie: Fat man, you shoot a great game of pool.
Minnesota Fats: So do you, Fast Eddie.

This is Newman and Gleason’s show, however. Strange thing is, they go about it in different ways. Newman grabs the screen in an almost Shatnerian manner. I know Shatner hadn’t hit it big at that time, but his was a stage acting style quite prevalent in the 50’s and 60’s for the flair of emotive responses to seemingly calm situations. Newman pulls it off, though, particularly in the strength of Eddie’s last matchup versus Fats.

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It would not have worked, however, were it not for the simmering soul of Fats provided by one of the biggest stars in the world at the time, Jackie Gleason. When watching Gleason work, get worked and working over Newman at first, he seems like a secret weapon. By the end of the story, once he somberly informs Felson that he better pay up, it’s clear he is a beaten man on more than just the table. He is a dog on a leash. It is really two sides of the mirror and a remarkable performance. It’s a spare performance that has a universe of depth just under the surface.

One wonders what might have happened had Scorsese opted to make The Color of Money closer to the story that Tevis had written for it. It is pretty certain that the ailing Gleason would not have been up for the role as written in the novel, what with going back on tour and all. The minimal role he presented was rejected by Gleason as “an afterthought.” In watching The Hustler, it’s clear that Gleason left Tevis’ best representation of the fictional pool legend on walking away from the table in the last frame.

Tevis’ work is finely represented here, and even if he has little overall influence on the follow-up, the framework for his wonderful central character is thoroughly improved upon in the Scorsese film.

(**** out of *****)

Color of Money

The Color of Money – 1986

Director Martin Scorsese
Starring Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver, Forest Whitaker, John Turturro
Screenplay Richard Price

Everything that is good about The Hustler is made great in The Color of Money. The story continues 25 years later with Felson as a liquor distributor bankrolling a pool player (Turturro) on the side. After Vincent (Cruise) and Carmen (Mastrantonio) shut down his player, and Felson takes Vincent on as his stable horse. Things get off to a rocky start, and inevitably, he starts to feel the urge to try hustling for himself again.  His efforts to teach Carmen and Vincent the concept of the long con is agonizing for all parties. The addiction is so strong for Eddie, he treats every painful drawback as inspiration to go forward.

For a movie with so many bodies moving through it, the cast is remarkably concise. In many ways, The Color of Money plays more like a stage performance than the original. Gretchen Rennell brings in several actors at the top of their form. Helen Shaver plays Janelle, Eddie’s beautiful (and age appropriate) lover. She runs one of the bars he sells to, but sees a world beyond booze and billiards. Something with which her man struggles. Her eyes drink in the dreams that his words create, but her feet are solidly on the ground.

Eddie: You’re some piece of work… You’re also a natural character.
Vincent: [to Carmen] I been tellin’ her that. You know? I got natural character.
Eddie: That’s not what I said, kid. I said you *are* a natural character; you’re an incredible flake.

Tom Cruise, coming off the biggest film of his young career in Top Gun, is expanding his repertoire. In allowing himself to play the fool, he also is allowed the furthest room to grow. His performance would be easily dismissed if one does not absorb the conclusion. This film began a long string of movies in which his fame colored critical reception of his ability.

Eddie: Do you smell that?
Vincent: What, smoke?
Carmen: No, Money…

Mastrantonio is one of the great actresses of her generation. There has been a void in the film industry since she made her last film in 2004. Carmen is one of her signature characters. She is at once too much for Vincent and not enough for Eddie. Or is she? Only revealing the cards that she wants us to see, we see more in her depth in her character than any of the others. She is the closest correlation to Bert Gordon in this story. Eddie and Vincent concern one another with a game, and she plays them both while taking on the role of quiet woman in the background. There is no way she will ever reveal more than she must to either of them.

Eddie: Human moves, kid. You study the watch… while I study you.

In a career of incredible performances, this is Paul Newman’s finest. As little as Mastrantonio gives of Carmen’s true character, the opposite happens with Eddie. Newman lays it all out. As the story begins, it looks like he’s in charge. The story is a series of events that show how little he grasps any situation. By the end, he’s at ground level, but fully comprehends the gravity of his position in life. And he’s grateful for it. The show Newman puts on is brave and fully realized. It takes someone with the utmost confidence in who they are to give Eddie the depth required to fully connect with who he was in The Hustler. He’s not the same desperate and over-emotive young man he was before. You can tell that man is where he came from.

Even though 25 years is a long time, Newman, Scorsese and screenwriter Richard Price understand the concept that he is still the same basic person. He may be wise, but he’s still vulnerable. He’s not stuck either. That this didn’t amount to a series of straight betrayals and showdowns gives Newman the grist to show real development.

Eddie: It’s even, but it ain’t settled. Let’s settle it.

Scorsese moved from a career of personal projects into the mainstream with The Color of Money. His work with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and editor Thelma Schoonmaker is invigorating and as tense as the original, even if it has an entirely different feel. It’s mixture of staccato jumps and drawn out torturous shots is a combination that is intentionally nerve-wracking. We’re never supposed to feel comfortable in this world.

The soundtrack, compiled and produced by Robbie Robertson, is an integral piece of the film. Robertson is a fine musician who had a stellar career scoring soundtracks (aside from his marvelous work with The Band). Only his work on Phenomenon approached anything this remarkable. Everyone remember’s Clapton’s It’s In The Way That You Use It. The first meetup with Grady Seasons (Robert Palmer’s Let Yourself In For It) is a great example, but the movie is filled with remarkable mood setters. Don Henley, Willie Dixon, Mark Knopfler, Warren Zevon and B.B. King all have exceptional tunes on the album. Even if Zevon’s Werewolves of London is from an earlier work, it totally fits with the work. Best of all is Robertson’s own compositions, Modern Blues and even more, The Main Title. The latter shows at once the depth, desperation and yearning of Eddie on his journey.

Scorsese has made better films, but this one is near the top. It’s as personal as it is professional. It has style, flash, intensity and depth. The decision to forgo the original Tevis material seems the only possibility, given Gleeson’s failing health, but the story pushes forward the character of Eddie Felson by making him even more human than he was in the original.

This is the movie and performance that Fast Eddie deserves even if it takes until the end for him to get back.

(***** out of *****)

Cobain: Montage of Heck (***1/2): The long short of it

Montage

Cobain: Montage of Heck – 2015

Written and Directed by Brett Morgen
Starring Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Frances Bean Cobain, Kurt Novoselic
Animation by Stefan Nadelman and Hisko Hulsing

In the history of musicians given too much importance after an untimely death, Kurt Cobain ranks somewhere between John Lennon and Jim Morrison. His disaffected youth angle added to the narrative written about the kids referred to as Generation X by the press of the early 90’s. That he took his own life was about as surprising as the end of a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game. That he’s become such an icon in the time since has much to do with how seriously teenagers take their lives before they take responsibility for it. That’s to say too seriously when it comes to drama, and not seriously enough when it comes to how to make their own happiness.

To this point, there has been no more complete collage of imagery about his whirlwind of a life and career. This is undoubtedly due to the endorsement and support of his wife Courtney. She is littered throughout the documentary, trying to seem like she is dispensing wisdom when her words show that the hard years have given her little of it.

“His fantasy was to get to three million dollars and then become a junkie.”

Before we get to her, we get to meet his parents. His mother, who looks a lot like a younger version of Love, reminisces about how happy he was when they were younger, and how it all turned to shit once his mother took the song Is That All There Is? literally and divorced his father.

Then when we get to his father, it is interesting to see how he grips the arm of his sofa as his second wife describes how Kurt tortured and hurt his step siblings and half-brother. For all of those who say Kurt was misunderstood, those two seem to have a pretty good grip on what he was like.

It’s at this time we hear Kurt’s rendition of his group of friends that he hated, but nonetheless stayed with because they were a source of drugs and alcohol. The latter came from a variety of sources, including the home of a mentally slow, fat girl whom they took turns distracting while the others would go downstairs, steal a bottle of hard liquor and then escape out the back door.

Later, when Kurt decided he wasn’t going to die (even then he was drawn to suicide) without having sex, he went to visit the girl alone. He didn’t like the smell and could not figure out what to do, so he took off and saved that special moment for another willing woman with low self-esteem.

It’s at this point we meet that woman in Tracy Marander, whom he lived with up to the point of hitting it big with Nirvana. She talks lovingly about their time together, insisting that while she was out working, he would often stay home and get high. But he was also being creative at that time, according to Marander. One guesses he would have to have been, considering the music that came next. According to Cobain, though, he wrote the entire album Nevermind while driving to the studio to record it.

Up to this point, there are several scenes involving the animation of Nadalman and Hulsing which are meant to show Cobain in his simpler, drug-addled period. As hard as they try to make him sympathetic in times like when he is in the kitchen, watching but not actually seeing his “friends” work over the mentally slow girl, his actions later belie that image. Still, the animation is effective when matched with moments of the real “Montage of Heck” recordings he made before hitting it big.

Throughout the film, Novoselic makes many appearances looking confused, as if searching for words to make it all seem more meaningful as he sits in his comfortable manse supplied by the gravy train he lucked into. It’s interesting to see these moments contrast with the younger version of the bassist, hammering his way through interviews saying whatever came to his seemingly vacant expanse of a mind when asked to explain the success of the group. As he jabbers incessant non-sense with occasional and equally meaningless input from a younger Dave Grohl, we see the truest self of Cobain. He had nothing to say to the media.

One could even conclude he had little to say period beyond his meager musical output. After all, if one takes Love’s line about the 3 million dollar goal into account, it seems pretty consistent with the goals of an addict. Not a lot of explaining to do. Just roll another number.

kurt-cobain-crying

Then he met Love, and the world hated her as much as he was infatuated with her. That she is a tough sell is obvious to anyone who listens to her speak. She is that person at the party who has mastered everything you’ve ever done and brags she did it while she was high. But of course she’s sober now. Roll another number.

We get to see a few images of the youngish couple rolling around in varying states of sobriety. She likes to show her unspectacular breasts a lot, and he likes to slouch more than a bit. Maybe it’s because he’s not alright.

There is a concerted effort to show that he was suffering from medical issues, including stomach ailments. While the movie inundates with images internal stomach organs plowing away, they seem to pile on the sympathy without working too hard to figure out that it could be all the drugs, or maybe the things one snacks on while consuming them that may lead to his discomfort.

But this discomfort made him creative, they say, as if they are using that word to defend some truth about their hero that cannot be overlooked. However creative he was, it did not seem to be more than the noodling done by any of a variety of half-sober teenagers one comes across in life. One could even surmise that Swastika that showed up there for a second was just a phase of a half-sober mind. Nothing in the rest of his life showed that he ever agreed with older white men at all.

It’s easy to picture his father as the recipient of all of his homicidal pictures and “comics.” A particular favorite is the one where the baby kicks through not only his mother’s womb, but the racist, bigoted and angry father who insists the kid not be a worthless girl.

Somewhere after Nevermind and its subsequent tour, he took time off to marry Love, get high and decide to have a baby. Much is made about a seemingly fictitious article in Vanity Fair about Love and Cobain continuing their heroin habit into the pregnancy. Though we see many angry words and writings about it, the images we see and even Love herself don’t deny this.

kurt-cobain-courtney-love

Instead, we move right on into young Frances Bean’s babyhood. This should be the most beautiful time of the movie. And it is not without its heartfelt moments. Sadness pervades though, because it becomes clear that Cobain is a much different person sober than he is on drugs. The latter person disappears for a short time. Soon enough that monster comes back with full force, right about the time the followup album is released and they begin to support it.

For those who have read Cobain’s suicide note, it’s pretty clear that he had hated touring, interviewing and basically pretending to like humans for a while. Where the real person represented and the drugs overtook him is tough to tell, but it’s pretty clear in watching Montage of Heck that Cobain was a toxic mess who really did not value life as much as others did. Whether it was the money he made them that they valued or the person himself is not made clear here. It’s really not the point, though. The film does a good job of selling the image of the tortured artist except for when you see the interviewed stammer for words to describe him beyond “creative.” It should be easier after all of this time. Maybe they could have had Kurt Loder do it for them.

Cobainashamed

There is plenty here that goes some distance to show at least visually that Cobain’s was a wasted heroic figure. Others will buy into a myth that is hard imagining that Cobain would believe himself. His sacrifice explains their current lack of life goals. From the cheerleader with the anarchy “A” on her shirt, to the idiots protesting literally nothing in Seattle yesterday, Cobain has given many of the people he grew ashamed of being part of reasons to keep being stupid.

There is one moment of clarity, however, near the end, that resonates. He’s either high or “tired” and holding on to Frances for her first hair cut. It’s not even clear that he understands what is happening, but he is holding her gently as he struggles to keep his head up. Doing so, we hear him start to hum to her Manah Manah by The Muppets. This brings to mind Courtney Love’s attempt to sue the makers of The Muppets for their remake of Smells Like Teen Spirit. Something tells me if Kurt were alive he would have been okay with their version, and by now would prefer it to his own. I know I do. “Mee Mee Mee Moo Moo” indeed.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Yesterday...

Yesterday…

...and today

…and today

Kingsman: The Secret Service (****) – Kicking ass when appropriate

kingsman-the-secret-service-images-hd

Kingsman: The Secret Service – 2015

Director Matthew Vaughn
Starring Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Sofia Boutella, Mark Hamill, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson
Screenplay Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn

It’s getting to the point where it’s no fun to watch Mark Strong in movies. He’s only ever been a bad guy in so many of his films, but not even a memorable one. It was puzzling to see him in that commercial with Tom Hiddleston and Ben Kingsley about being an effective villain. He’s British. He does sound right. Never really thought about whether he had style. He always lost his power by the end of the movie, though. Seeing him in the first act makes one depressed about what can be expected in the third act.

The beauty about Kingsman: The Secret Service is that we get to see people outside of where we are used to seeing them. Strong, as Merlin, is a trainer of agents that work for a secret order. He’s callous and effective, but he’s not a villain. And thank the Lord, there’s no telling what will happen to him by the end of the story.

He’s not the only one playing against type either. Colin Firth is Harry Hart, also known as Galahad. He is an agent who made a mistake in 1997 that should have killed his whole team, were it not for the actions of Lee Unwin, who sacrificed himself to save the team. Years later, his son, “Eggsy” (Egerton) is heading nowhere fast when Firth comes to his aid, offering him the opportunity to, well, you can guess.

While he is training, he runs afoul of the other candidates, save one, Roxy (Cookson). It doesn’t take a genius to guess who graduates the class. While he is training, Harry discovers a nefarious plot to save the world from the scam known as climate change, global warming or whatever they are calling it this year.

Richmond Valentine (Jackson) is a billionaire philanthropist who has his own ideas on what it means to “help” out his fellow men. His plan is nothing you haven’t seen before, but Obama’s on board, so that is enough to make it a bad idea. His main henchwoman, Gazelle (Boutella) is as memorable a bad chick as I have seen since Xena Onatopp. Her skill is precision cutting and excellent dance moves.

Jackson, who always seems to know the right drink to go with the meal, is exceptional as the bad guy. He adopts a lisp for no particular reason and has a different color New York Yankee hat for each outfit. He embraces his peculiarity without seeming like a parody. It’s a tough balancing act, but Jackson plays it like he was born for it.

What would this film be, though, without Colin Firth. He’s had the debonair part down for a while now, but rarely has he played one so deadly as Galahad. Vaughn puts Harry in some wonderful scenarios to take advantage of the former while lending credence to the latter. For once we get to see him completely unhinged when taking on a church of Westboro Baptist types. It’s hard to tell if the scene is offensive or funny and exciting as hell.

I never knew Firth's hair could move this way.

I never knew Firth’s hair could move this way.

Harry Hart: (Quoting Hemingway) There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.

Egerton is a somewhat mild presence as Eggsy. He is not the kind of action presence that screams to be noticed, but he gets off a cheeky line now and again. His training time with Harry is rather shorter than one would hope, but the time is well spent. A fair amount of this time is spent with Merlin at the school (and out). Roxy gets a lot of his attention, too, but not necessarily in the customary romantic way. Count that as one cliche not used. Hooray for the good guys.

Back to Clark, who is the best thing in the film. For once, his understated approach works well with the plot of the film. He is allowed to bloom quietly while others in the cast, particularly Jackson and in the end, Egerton, are exploding onscreen. This fine attention to detail makes an average story a good film.

Of Vaughn, it’s obvious the talent he has for character development, if not altogether original plot development. Starting at such a place of humility for Eggsy serves if they plan on expounding on his character in future films. The shift of focus away from an easy spy school romance is a good move, too, as it allows for better moments of mock-Bond humor later in the film, among other things.

Some of Vaughn’s best moves involve Valentine’s imaginings of a perfect world, including his selection of music with which to end the world (see below). The end really couldn’t come with a better sound. There are an equal number of jabs at liberal and conservative leanings, but it really is a nice touch to see the climate change movement get the kind of plot it deserves. To have such an obvious political scam being taken to such an insane extent belies the cynicism of a movement meant to keep money flowing to those who never stop making the emperor’s new clothes.

God save the Queen and long live the Kingsmen.

(**** out of *****)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (****1/2) too much good to be bad

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Avengers: Age of Ultron – 2015

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson

Tony Stark / Iron Man (facing fire of the enemy) Guys, wait. We gotta talk this through. (after incapacitating all of them with leg shots) It was a good talk.

Random bad guy writhing on the floor No it wasn’t!

It’s nice to know that after 3 years, Whedon hasn’t lost his sense of humor. After the stern Twitter lecture he gave about sexism the other day about a Jurassic World clip, that was no guarantee. With so much riding on the sequel to one of the biggest movies of all time, it’s easy to bet that he might take the thing too seriously this time. Thank God he didn’t script this film like he judges other people’s work.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a remarkable and assured piece of work. Once more, Whedon has taken many threads and woven them into a cohesive work that moves characters forward without sacrificing story and moves the story forward without sacrificing characters. Well, all of them except for War Machine. He always gets the short end of the hero stick, though.

This time around, Tony Stark has stumbled across some Artificial Intelligence tech that he can’t wait to work on with Bruce Banner. It’s nice to see them work. Together, with J.A.R.V.I.S (Stark’s almost living computer program), they decipher the code they come across and move toward Stark’s dream of being able to create a force of living Iron Men that can allow the Avengers to retire.

Ultron, their creation, decides to help them on their quest to retire, but not with a $50 watch and a spot on the beach. After incapacitating J.A.R.V.I.S., Ultron disrupts The Avenger’s after-party and starts on his own mission, with the help of two mutants (Can we call them that? No? Oh, well…), Wanda and Pietro Maximoff.

Wanda has the ability to mess with people’s minds and create red plumes of chaos. Pietro is really fast and creates a friction that tears stuff apart. That these are not exactly the “gifts” they have in the comics is of little consequence. It’s close enough for Avengers work.

The messing with the minds part provides a lot of the challenges in the story. Everyone sees their doubts exploited except for one of them. That one’s a nice, sensible surprise, just like much of the film.There are very few moments that don’t surprise or satisfy those who have invested much in this universe.

Tony Stark has been in a free fall since the end of the Avengers Assemble, and that continues here. His work has always been fueled by his perceived weakness. This imprint works itself into the prototype. He keeps trying through the end. It’s been this continually evolving spark that has been expertly applied since the first Iron Man film by Downey, Jr. We see a continuation of what we thought was an endpoint in Iron Man 3 that is not entirely explained. Since it is in the same direction, it works.

Ruffalo’s Hulk has been the most interesting take on a tough character to find compelling. His forward progression shows in the form of a relationship with Black Widow (Johansson). The tenderness shown between the two is an expression of the vitality of both and definitely neat to watch. What happened to the guy who’s angry all the time? He’s trying real hard to work through his feelings again. It feels like a backward step.

Thor has more effective lines in this film than he did in his second solo film. Hemsworth is clearly comfortable working with Whedon’s dialogue and situations. His quest for answers is intriguing and I like the role he has in creating a solution to the problem. Ragnarok could be the Thor film for which we’ve waited.

Black Widow, as usual, plays a Jackknife of all trades. She acts as a salve to every part of the Marvel Universe that needs one. Johansson is complex without being wordy or emotional and is probably the most fully developed character Whedon has produced. Given what he has invested in her, one can understand why he might be sensitive to how Chris Pratt’s character talks to Bryce Dallas Howard’s character. Doesn’t make him right for that, but it makes him right for Black Widow.

The other major woman character, Wanda, aka The Scarlet Witch is a bit more limited, which is understandable given her role in the story. Johnson’s job is to be pissed at the good guys, work for the bad guys, find out that they are bad and then work with the good guys. Then she gets all confused and emotional. One shouldn’t have to wonder if she’ll snap out of it.

Pietro, aka Quicksilver is even more emotionally isolated. Taylor-Johnson gives a good read on the arrogance of one waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with him, but the accent is considerably weaker than his uncanny strength,

Captain America was my favorite character from the first film. Evans had the best film of Phase II and he’s rolled right into the third film with the authority of one who owns the team. He has several of the best action scenes, simply for Whedon’s remarkable ability to make his strength’s and weaknesses believable. His morality is as entertaining as it is true to the spirit of the straight-laced character. The fight scene with Ultron in Korea is one of the highlights of the film.

Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is given tremendous depth and he nearly steals the show. As one of the more fragile Avengers, we discover he has even more to lose than his own life. It adds a nice resonance and makes the stakes something more identifiable. Whedon’s true gift is his ability to find a way to make the ones who might be easier to ignore impossible to forget.

Sam Jackson’s Fury acts as another sort of moral arbiter with the few scenes he shares with the rest of the cast. Nonetheless, Whedon gives him some great lines and allows him to fit inside his conspicuous existence, It’s hard to say where Fury goes in this Universe, but his character remains interesting.

As villainous voices go, they couldn’t have found one more delicious than Spader for Ultron. His lines are Spaderish to the point where he lays waste to cliche as easily as he does protagonists.His magnetism is lost a bit with the lack of expression afforded to a robot, but since when did Spader over emote?

Let me take the time to explain my plan...

Let me take the time to explain my plan…

Just when it seems like we’ve covered all the characters, we see an incredible new one. Bettany, who for several films has been the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. is allowed to evolve into an amalgam of Tony’s creations, along with some key assistance from other resources. Vision, always an enigmatic personage, is no less a mystery here. He is a creation – drawing strong allusions to Frankenstein – that will have huge implications beyond this film. Bettany has a complete grasp of the character and its role in the plot. His entrance begins the most intense part of the story and it doesn’t let up.

To say Whedon nailed it is an understatement. He inhabits this world as much a participant as creator. It is obvious that he cared as much for the enterprise as anyone this side of Kevin Feige. That he is not going to be here at the next duo of films would be more of a concern if the guys that are taking the helm from him hadn’t created the best Marvel film in Captain America: Winter Soldier. Anthony and Joe Russo are also directing the next Captain America film called Civil War. Judging by the cast, they might as well call that Avengers 3.

If he wants to leave, best to do it now, when the mistakes are far outweighed by the things he’s gotten right. As for those mistakes, it is a little long. There is a little too much walking away from destruction with a stern warning. And, really, how do they keep the body count so low? I’m talking heroes, too. At least they don’t have Coulson die again.

Perhaps the best thing for me, though is seeing War Machine in action without making him embarrass himself.

(****1/2 out of *****)

Cool Papa E Reviews the Jurassic Park Series

JWBanner

As the third sequel gets ready to roll off the assembly line, lets take a look back and try to figure out if they’ve made anything close to that first classic film.

Jurassic Park -1993

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, B.D. Wong, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello
Screenplay by Michael Crichton, David Koepp

Jurassic Park One Big Pile

Review: Even if time has revealed how sanitized Spielberg was during this period (within a decade, he decided to take all of the guns out of E.T. to fit his world view) there is no denying that Jurassic Park is one of the top 5 achievements in his career. Yes, that is saying something. At the point in history when new concepts in dinosaur research converged with new concepts in filmmaking technology, Spielberg combined with Crichton to create a cautionary tale for the ages.

There are so many moments that stand out in this tale that it is impossible to watch without the mind reflexively filling in lines of dialogue, lines of thought and lines of vision. The pacing is perfect. The effects being brought into the industry by James Cameron (The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgement Day) are perfected by Spielberg. The result is a feeling of complete immersion from the first moment we see the Brachiosaurus until the T-Rex stands supreme over the museum lobby at the films’ end.

The cast is perfect. As Dr. Alan Grant, Sam Neill took his gifted opportunity and makes the most of it. His presence is measured, contemplative and heroic all at once. Laura Dern (Dr. Ellie Sattler) is at her most beautiful, and although Spielberg alternates her motives between scientific tenacity and one with a biological clock that makes her insist on pushing the topic of kids onto Grant every few minutes. Jeff Goldblum finds the perfect vehicle for his quirky acting style in Dr. Iain Malcolm. He has all the best lines and he doesn’t waste any of them. Sir Richard Attenborough gives a balanced approach of heart and ambition as the misguided park entrepreneur John Hammond.

Just as good are the supporting performances. Wayne Knight’s Dennis Nedry is one of the great antagonists for the 1990’s. He epitomizes greed, gluttony and arrogance, from his chastising computer animation, his delightful squeal to his can of Jolt cola. Sam Jackson counters this with his hard smoking and coldly realistic fellow programmer, Ray Arnold. Bob Peck rounds out the cast as the no-nonsense game warden who knows full well of what these newly unleashed animals are capable.

This movie is a landmark, whose reach far exceeds the limits of its grasp.

Best moments:

Very simply put, the first time we meet the T-Rex is one of the most riveting moments in cinematic history. The building of the tension from the first time we see the water shake in the glass until the giant screams into the abyss as the SUV flies off of the cliff is excruciatingly scary and breathtakingly beautiful. Spielberg incorporates conventional and computer animated effects seamlessly.

The Velociraptor chase through the kitchen is so well choreographed it would have been the best scene in the film were it not for the T-Rex scene. The blend of sight and sound  is incorporated to a chilling effect. We’ve already seen examples of how effectively they hunt in the wild. Now we get to see examples of how they can adapt to an unfamiliar circumstances. As they learn, we get the thrill of anticipation and the hope that their knowledge doesn’t come at the expense of the kids. The tip tapping of the talons linger in the mind’s eye to this day.

So many other fantastic moments build on one another it would be hard to singles out many more, but the entire sequence at the fence really works, alternating back and forth between Grant with the kids and Ellie at the switch. This is the kind of thing that George Lucas tried at the end of Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Worst moments:

Just when we need a computer hacker, we get one of the plucky kids (Richards) who just happens to be an expert at Unix. This is a Spielberg special, I like to call The “Little Jimmy” complex. Whenever the plot needs an expert at something, there never fails to be a kid in the vicinity who is an expert at whatever they need. Spielberg hardly originated the concept. Indeed, it was something Crichton wrote into the original novel. Spielberg sure perfected the cliche from the variety of family “adventures” he produced or directed. The worst example of this was The Goonies, but lets not go any farther down that road.

Best quotes:

John Hammond: All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!

Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.

Muldoon: Clever girl.

Dr. Alan Grant: You’re married?
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Occaissionally. Yeah, I’m always on the lookout for a future ex-Mrs. Malcolm.

John Hammond: We spared no expense.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: That is one big pile of shit.

Rating: (***** out of *****)

The Lost World: Jurassic Park -1997

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Vince Vaughn, Arliss Howard, Richard Schiff, Richard Attenborough, Peter Stormare, Vanessa Lee Chester
Screenplay by David Koepp

Review: As good, as fresh and inspired as the first film was, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, is…not.Even though the source material of Crichton’s 2nd book is better than we have for the first film. Spielberg cannibalized it and somehow left the best parts out.

The first problem, though, is casting. Julianne Moore just feels wrong as a naturalist. Her severe countenance can’t portray a believable smile and it’s hard to picture her out of the comforts of the liberal stronghold of a major city. In hiring Vince Vaughn and bringing back Jeff Goldblum they have just 2 of the same type of smartass. They copy each other more than once to the detriment of the detriment of each and a net negative. The script tries to compensate by turning Malcolm into more of a grouch. This just doesn’t help at all.

The second and really much more important problem is in the decision to mess with the plot of the book. Instead of keeping it on the island, Spielberg and Koepp bring dinosaurs back to San Diego, breaking the 4th wall. It takes away any possibility that this fantasy could be possible and then just makes it a pale imitation of King Kong. This requires the introduction a legion of “hunters” that try to give the feeling of Aliens. There are too many of them to care about, even if Postlethwaite offers a little complexity.

If romance was a bit cheesy in the first film, it’s altogether a foreign concept here. What is going on between Moore and Goldblum?  With Vaughn and Moore? With Peter Stromare and all of those little Compsognathus creatures?

It is nice to see that one of the ex-Mrs. Malcolms was a black woman, and Chester is great as his daughter, if for no other reason than Spielberg doesn’t make her a genius that saves everyone due to a brilliance only she can provide. Well, there is that one scene where she turns into a gymnastics hero and kicks a raptor off of a high place to its death.

Another source of grief is how they portray the raptors in this story. The brilliant door opening menace displayed in the first film has been replaced with Stormtrooper level incompetence whenever convenient.

Best moment:

The most effective, and really the most heart-wrenching scene is the moment is the parents of the baby T-Rex taking out their rage on the two trailers. As if it weren’t enough to have the people trying to keep from falling down the cliffside, we have the arduous journey of Shiff’s Eddie Carr, who singlehandedly leads the effort to save them from above and gets torn apart  for his troubles. If ever there was one character who did not deserve to die…

Eddie, you poor, valiant bastard. At least you didn't have to see the rest of the movie.

Eddie, you poor, valiant bastard. At least you didn’t have to see the rest of the movie.

Worst moments:

  1. San Diego.
  2. Trying to pass northern California as an island of Costa Rica.
  3. The rest of the film.

Best quote:

John Hammond: Don’t worry, I’m not making the same mistakes again.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: No, you’re making all new ones.

Rating: (*1/2 out of *****)

Jurassic Park III -2001

Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter
Screenplay by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor

Review: The third effort feels as much like a money grab as the second, but at least it actually looks like it takes place near the equator. This time out we have parents (Macy and Leoni) who are seeking their child who went missing after a tragic parasailing adventure. After Dr. Grant emphasises that he would not ever go back to the island, he is too easily tricked by Mr. and Mrs. Kirby into joining them on their search. Along for the ride this time is Grant’s assistant Billy (Nivola) who dotes on his boss in a very creepy way.

The guys with the guns that shoot big bullets all die first, leaving the seemingly less likely to survive alone to wander through the jungle looking for their son. Inexplicably, Eric Kirby (Morgan) has become an expert at survival, in the best “Little Jimmy” tradition. He’s screaming with the rest of them minutes after rescue, however, so all is good.

Along the way we see something new, called a Spinosaurus. He’s bigger and tougher than the T-Rex and can swim when necessary. We also see more of the Pteranodons that were flying free at the end of the previous movie, but in accordance to one of the best scenes in the second book, are contained in a giant cage. The Compy’s are back

Oh, and there are more Velociraptors. Lots of them. And they’ve picked up plenty of new attributes that just so happen to match whatever aspects they want to add to the plot. At least they aren’t acting like keystone cops this time.

Still, there is plenty in this film to satiate those with a thirst for seeing monsters chase around one dimensional characters. There is no way on this planet Macy would ever end up with Leoni. Then it’s also more unlikely that Leoni or Macy would last 5 minutes in a jungle environment, much less with giant monsters in pursuit. And as for little Eric Kirby, it’s a mental block, I am sure, but to me he’ll always be Tommy Tammisimo, pretending he has emotions for that advertisement in The Sixth Sense.

As an irrelevant aside, someone should get an award if they can guess what parts of the script were contributed by Alexander Payne. My guess is it had something to do with divorce.

Best moments:

Discovering what happened to that satellite phone.I will give you a hint: it takes quite a journey.

The Spinosaurus battle with the T-Rex, even if it seems a little short.

Yes, they actually made life size models

Yes, they actually made life-size models

 

The barely living body of Mr. Noodle (Jeter) sitting out there, limply awaiting rescue. Resist the temptation to help.

Worst moments:

What is all this crap about Raptors worrying about their eggs. Tell me one bird that knows where the hell their egg is when it is taken from the nest. Even less likely is that any bird would track down their eggs while leaving the others behind.

The 3 dimensional creation of the Raptor’s voice box. No way in hell they fall for that crap.

Seeing the cast run through herds of various dinosaurs show how far the series has fallen when it comes to getting effects right.

Best quote:

Dr. Grant: With the best intentions? Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.

Rating: (*** out of *****)