Friday, June 22

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Dir: J.A. Batons

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Ted Levine, Toby Jones, BD Wong, and Jeff Goldblum

“Jurassic Park” was released 25 years ago and paved the way for advancements in special effects and helped establish the formula for the summer popcorn movie. Revisiting this film today and it’s impressive to watch how effectively everything still works in the film. The dinosaurs are awe-inducing while also being fairly intimidating and threatening throughout the film; the velociraptors are simply perfect villains. Add the struggles associated with humanity’s decision to play God and the film continues to position itself as a highlight of the summer blockbuster category of films that do more than offer big explosions and destruction.

The sequels in the “Jurassic Park” saga have moved from an innovative exercise in filmmaking, to a simplistic demonstration of a business model put to good work. That doesn’t mean that it can’t still be fun, and even as the franchise grew there seemed to be enough spectacle to keep everything entertaining from film to film. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” makes some bold if altogether peculiar moves, taking the action off the island and onto the mainland. 

The dinosaurs are in danger. Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) are invited back to Jurassic Park, however the circumstances for their return is a rescue mission to save the dinosaurs left on the island which has now become an active volcano. However, there is more to worry about since this rescue mission is less about good intentions and more about leveraging the dinosaurs for money.

There is still something completely mesmerizing and captivating when the dinosaurs rumble onto the screen in Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park”, a sensation that was reignited in small ways in the flawed reboot “Jurassic World” from a few years ago. That grandeur and spectacle of design along with the essence of nature and history inherent in the ancient animals is lost in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”. 

These elements are replaced with nonsensical storylines that resemble plots found in bad science fiction B-movies. At this point, 5 films into a seemingly unstoppable franchise, it wouldn’t be a bad choice to completely embrace the B-movie sensibilities and go full throttle in a new direction. Surprisingly in the few moments when the film does embrace these characteristics, it flows with all the fun of an amusement park ride. In one of the most amusing scenes in the film a volcano erupts, the dinosaurs charge away from flowing lava, and the humans are left to dodge, duck, dip, and dive from all variety of dinosaur fare. It’s one of the few scenes that completely embraces the presence of dinosaurs in the environment.

The most unfortunate misstep however is the misuse of the real stars of the film, the dinosaurs! The intimidation factor associated with the shear magnitude of these animals is lost as the film progresses into a rescue mission that finds the team invading a Northern California mansion/castle where the dinosaurs are locked in cages that don’t seem big enough to hold them. In the final 30 minutes the film digresses into complete chaos, with a chase scene that involves a newly designed dinosaur, a curious young girl (Isabella Sermon) who lives in the mansion, and more bad guys than the dinosaurs have opportunity to torment. 

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” doesn’t make much sense which is the main problem here. When the awe factor of technology fades, which it has since the release of the original film 25 years ago, it’s really important that the script connects. Still, it seems like director J.A. Bayona is having all kinds of fun playing with the dinosaurs, whether manipulating the tone to resemble the beats of a horror film, unleashing a stealthy T-Rex to disrupt moments of tension, or simply using them as obvious vessels for plot movement, it’s aiming for fun with not much filler. That may be the perfect 2 hour time waster for some movie fans. 

Monte’s Rating

2.25 out of 5.00

Friday, June 15

Incredibles 2 Review

Incredibles 2

Dir: Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Catherine Keener, Sophia Bush, and Samuel L. Jackson

In the age of superhero overload it’s interesting to remember that 14 years ago one of the best superhero films was the animated Disney Pixar film “The Incredibles”. Before Marvel’s venture into the comic book franchise, the superfamily lead by husband and wife partners Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl was the best version of The Fantastic Four cinema had seen, in fact they still are.

Director Brad Bird, who made his foray into Pixar’s animation fold with “The Incredibles”, returns to continue the saga with the sequel. Picking up almost immediately following the events in the first film, Mr. Bird easily loops the 14 year gap between the films with beautiful designs and fantastic action in the first few minutes. It’s clear that “Incredibles 2” wants to be entertaining but also follow the flow of the contemporary action designs audiences are more than accustomed with.

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) are in hot destructive pursuit of one of the many bad guys in the fantasy 1960’s city they live in. Once the smoke settles, the team is interrogated by the police because of the destruction; the age of superhero is made illegal by the government, forcing the crime fighting family into hiding. It doesn't take long for a nostalgia driven businessman to make room on his roster for the husband and wife team to put their masks and tights back on to promote a changing of the tide for the supers. However, only one is needed and Elastigirl is given the spotlight while Mr. Incredible is forced to stay home and take care of the family.

14 years of time hasn’t stopped the advancement of technology, which is evident from the first frame of this film. The design is impeccable; the shiny suits, the close-up textures of characters faces, and the action set pieces are amazing to look at. You’d almost want the movie to move a little slower just so that your eyes can draw in the rich details.

Director and writer Brad Bird fashions “Incredibles 2” in the vein of other superhero films with a balance of the necessary amount of exposition and amusing action sequences that break everything up. The revisit to these characters is still quite interesting to watch; Mr. Incredible is begrudgingly tasked with being the family man while Elastigirl is provided room to shine as the lead superhero, and the kids continue to encounter the growth that comes with adolescence. Young Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) steals the show as a growing infant who displays numerous humorous abilities, Dash (Huck Milner) and Violet (Sarah Vowell) are each going through the growing pains as well. The chemistry of the kids is very fun.

Still, the narrative suffers a little bit from wanting to introduce too much into the details. At 2 hours long, the film moves swiftly in some ways but stalls to a crawl in other ways. When details about feminism, family, and empowerment make an appearance, the film glows with character but when issues concerning the government’s involvement and the spousal miscommunications that happen between the couple, the film loses traction. While it’s all good stuff to discuss, some of the topics become lost in the mix of it all, overshadowed by stronger emotions and the continuous push for action.

“Incredibles 2”, after being gone for some time, feels a little late to the superhero party in some ways. Still, the action and characters are top tier, making it fun to go on the adventure. And even amidst some minor hiccups, the film has lots of heart and displays a great message about the superhero strength found within the family dynamic.

Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

Monday, June 11

Won’t You Be My Neighbor Review

Won’t You Be My Neighbor 

Dir: Morgan Neville

Contrary to popular belief Fred Rogers, the sweater wearing voice of positivity behind the beloved public broadcasting system show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, was not an Army sniper or drill instructor who hid tattoos under his long sleeve cardigans. Mr. Rogers was instead an ordained minister and strong advocate for media as a vessel for learning and understanding for young children. It was job suited for a specific individual, someone who could find the sun on a cloudy day. Fred Rogers was exactly that and so much more.

Director Morgan Neville takes an in-depth look at the man, the myth, and ultimately the legend known as Fred Rogers in the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”. The filmmaker talks to nearly everyone still alive that knew Mr. Rogers; whether cast members who share insight into the process behind the children’s television show, the crew who discuss the few occasions Rogers was cranky on set, and his family who tell stories of a man who cared deeply about children and the influence society had on their development. It brings about the melancholy but also some truly touching moments of humanity at its very best. 

It’s difficult trying to portray a man who, no matter how much extensive digging the director provides, functions with all the best intentions and rarely engages in actions that would be detrimental to his character. It’s a fantastic character analysis that displays how and why Rogers was so passionate about building a television show for children. Even more intriguing are the behind the scenes moments when we see Mr. Rogers struggle with the changing social climate in America, whether the issue of race relationships, violence against public officials that impacted the U.S. significantly, or the general negativity that exists with the passage of time. In one of the many affecting scenes in the film Rogers discusses assassination through one of the puppet characters from the show. It’s a heartwarming scene that handles a difficult and tragic issue with innocence and empathy. 

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” does a great job of providing the viewer with an analysis of a man who simply cared deeply about media education for children. Fred Rogers was deliberate in his process, slowing the often fast paced nature of television aimed at children to recognize the power of silence, self reflection, and the ability to process information without stringent time restraints. It’s quite beautiful watching the many moments over the course of Mr. Rogers’ life on screen take place, regardless of what was going on in the world the goal was always to provide an educational program for kids. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” did just that. For those that grew up with Fred Rogers helping make sense of the world, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” will be your new feel good movie.

Monte’s Rating

4.00 out of 5.00