Film Review: Jurassic Park III (2001)

Also known as: Return to the Island: Jurassic Park 3, Jurassic Park 3: The Extinction, Jurassic Park: Breakout (working titles), JP3 (abbreviated title)
Release Date: July 16th, 2001 (premiere)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Based on: characters by Michael Crichton
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, Laura Dern, John Diehl, Mark Harelik

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I read both of your books. I liked the first one more. Before you were on the island. You liked dinosaurs back then.” – Erik, “Back then, they hadn’t tried to eat me yet.” – Dr. Grant

Well, this is the film that killed off the franchise. Well, at least for more than a dozen years until the Jurassic World series of films started in 2015.

I should preface this by saying that on its own, this isn’t a bad movie. However, when compared to the two before it, it’s a pretty big disappointment. 

The story, given the circumstances of this movie’s universe, seems plausible and I can buy into people returning to the island for the third time.

Granted, this isn’t the same island, it’s a neighboring island. I have to assume that they did that because recreating the Jurassic Park sets, once again, would’ve been really costly. So most of this actually takes place outside, in a dense jungle with only a few scenes on the island actually going indoors.

Narrative setup aside, this has okay action and a new dinosaur threat that is sold to the audience as being more threatening than a T-Rex. Was it really more threatening? Probably not but by the time you get to the third film in a series, you need to up the ante. They could’ve just added a third T-Rex like the previous movie added a second but whatever. Most people know what a T-Rex is; most people don’t know what the hell a spinosaurus is and if they do, they probably never thought, “Oh, I bet that fella can take a T-Rex!”

The only really cool dino addition to the film franchise is the inclusion of the pteranodons. While we got a glimpse of them in The Lost World, we didn’t get to see them in action, fighting with humans. The sequence that features them is the highlight of the film for me and much better than anything with that doofus spinosaurus.

Sam Neill returns and is in the whole movie, Laura Dern shows up for two scenes but Jeff Goldblum was nowhere to be found because I honestly can’t believe that he’d go back to dino-land a third time. But what do I know, I guess, as he’s actually going to be fully involved in the third Jurassic World movie, which I believe comes out in 2021 but who knows with all the COVID bullshit.

Anyway, Neill is good as Dr. Grant, once again. Unfortunately, he’s surrounded by imbeciles that make you want to throw an Amazon Echo at the TV screen. I generally like William H. Macy and Tea Leoni but they were absolute idiots in this. It’s not their fault, it’s just the characters they played.

Ultimately, this is just more of the same with half the passion and enthusiasm of the two films before it.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Jurassic Park/World films.

Film Review: The Rocketeer (1991)

Also known as: The Adventures of the Rocketeer (Australia)
Release Date: June 19th, 1991 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, William Dear
Based on: The Rocketeer by Dave Stevens
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Billy Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton, Paul Sorvino, Terry O’Quinn, Ed Lauter, James Handy, Jon Polito, William Sanderson, Margo Martindale, Clint Howard, Melora Hardin, Tiny Ron Taylor

Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, 108 Minutes

Review:

“That son of a bitch will fly!” – Howard Hughes

It’s been close to three decades since I’ve seen The Rocketeer, as I saw it in the theater in 1991 and once on VHS just after that. I hadn’t seen it since but I have always had pretty fond memories of the film. Now that it’s on Disney+, I figured I’d revisit it.

The film is actually much better than I remembered and I’m surprised that it didn’t leave a big enough mark on me to inspire me to buy it over the last 29 or so years. But I feel like the things I appreciate about it now are mainly due to my age and the lack of imaginative filmmaking that closed out the 2010s.

It feels very much like a 1990ish live action Disney movie but it reminds me a lot of Dick Tracy because of the period it takes place in, as well as the Indiana Jones films due to the involvement of Nazis, as well as being full of adventure, action and very ’30s-’40s pulpy elements.

The film is actually based off of a comic book character and that character was created as an homage to the rocket-backpack heroes of the old serials like Commando Cody.

The Rocketeer greatly benefits from having a large, great cast. Many of these people I didn’t even realize were in this, as I saw this in a time where I probably wouldn’t have recognized many of them. The bulk of the acting duties, however, fall on Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly and Timothy Dalton. All four are pretty good in this and Connelly, who’s never not been beautiful, looks like an old school Hollywood starlet from the silver screen era.

I loved Dalton in this, as the villain who is one-part Nazi stooge and one-part Basil Rathbone. His role as the actor within the film was really neat and a cool idea for a bad guy. He’s slimy and vile but you also kind of feel for him, as he’s being forced into evil by the Nazis. But don’t get me wrong, he’s still a total bastard and a great one at that.

The special effects, for the most part, hold up well. The only shots that looked odd were kind of unavoidable, as this was made in a time where you could hide things on celluloid film. This wasn’t made for the digital HD era, so there are a few bits that look wonky in a way that they probably didn’t in 1991.

From memory, this film was kind of a dud, financially. It should have been the start of a franchise for Disney but it didn’t connect with a large enough audience and we only ever got this one film. When I was a kid, I was really looking forward to more of these, as well as more Dick Tracy. Part of me kind of hoped that they could’ve crossed over but none of my dreams for these films materialized.

If you’re going to cancel Disney+ because The Mandalorian is over, you might want to give this a watch first.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other early ’90s family action movies, most notably Dick Tracy.

Documentary Review: Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe (2014)

Release Date: March 18th, 2014
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Hayley Atwell, Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, Dominic Cooper, Vin Diesel, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Jon Favreau, Kevin Feige, Clark Gregg, James Gunn, Chris Hardwick, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Joe Johnston, Louis Leterrier, Jeph Loeb, Anthony Mackie, George R.R. Martin, Tom Morello, Bobby Moynihan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Pratt, Joe Quesada, Robert Redford, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Ming-Na Wen, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright (uncredited)

ABC Studios, Disney, Marvel, 42 Minutes

Review:

After watching the beefy but solid Star Wars documentary Empire of Dreams, I noticed that Disney+ also featured a similar made-for-TV documentary about the making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I figured I’d check it out, as it originally aired in 2014, on the cusp of the MCU reaching its peak.

Unfortunately, this isn’t as compelling as Empire of Dreams and it plays more like a Marvel produced production used mainly to pimp themselves out and market Captain America: Winter Solider and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. But I get it, this played on ABC, which like Marvel, is owned by Disney.

It’s still an informative piece with a lot of insight into the making of the first Iron Man movie, which opened the floodgates for the rest of the MCU.

It also expands beyond that and delves a little bit into each movie up to the then still in-production Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, I think that this was the first real peek into the Guardians of the Galaxy production.

The best part about this short feature is the interviews with the stars and filmmakers who helped bring this universe to life. I especially liked hearing the enthusiasm that Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau had with the early Iron Man pictures.

Overall, this isn’t a must watch but it’s worth your time if you are a big MCU fan.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other filmmaking documentaries about blockbusters. Empire of Dreams, immediately comes to mind.

Documentary Review: Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy (2004)

Also known as: Empire of Dreams (shortened title)
Release Date: September 12th, 2004
Directed by: Kevin Burns, Edith Becker
Written by: Ed Singer
Music by: John Williams
Cast: George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Warwick Davis, Frank Oz, Lawrence Kasdan, John Williams, Joe Johnston, Ralph McQuarrie, Alan Ladd Jr., Irvin Kershner, Steven Spielberg, Walter Cronkite

Prometheus Entertainment, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, A&E, 151 Minutes, 120 Minutes (TV Edit)

Review:

“I think George likes people, I think George is a warm-hearted person, but… he’s a little impatient with the process of acting, of finding something. He thinks that something’s there. “It’s right there, I wrote it down. Do that”. You know, sometimes you can’t just “do that” and make it work.” – Harrison Ford

I can’t believe that it’s been fifteen years since this documentary came out. It was the selling point of getting me to buy the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD though, as I had already owned the movies several times over, in all their incarnations, but wanted to have this documentary to keep and rewatch over the years.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen it but it’s available on Prime Video, as well as Disney+ now.

Seeing this again sparked something in me that I hadn’t felt since Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005. It was that feeling of wonder, excitement and childlike awe. Disney is incapable of generating that sensation in me since they took over the Star Wars franchise and honestly, it’s mostly dead to me.

Empire of Dreams brought me back to where I was though from my childhood and into my twenties when I had a deep love for everything Star Wars. But most importantly, this showed me how much better the original movies were compared to Disney’s schlock and the shoddy prequels.

If Disney tried to make an Empire of Dreams followup about their new trilogy, would anyone care? Well, anyone with actual taste that was alive when the original Star Wars phenomenon was still alive and strong? I mean, how interesting would that documentary even be? And do you really even care about seeing any of the modern Star Wars actors and filmmakers talking about these new movies?

Empire of Dreams does a stupendous job of delving deep into the creation of one of the greatest film franchises of all-time. But seeing it with 2019 eyes, it more importantly shows you just how magical the Star Wars brand once was before Disney retrofitted it for an audience of wine moms and broke social justice warriors who can’t afford to buy the merch in the first place.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original Star Wars trilogy and other Star Wars documentaries.

Film Review: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

Also known as: Grounded, Teenie Weenies, The Big Backyard (working titles)
Release Date: June 23rd, 1989
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Ed Naha, Tom Schulman, Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Rick Moranis, Matt Frewer, Marcia Strassman, Kristine Sutherland, Thomas Wilson Brown, Jared Rushton, Amy O’Neill, Robert Oliveri, Mark L. Taylor, Kimmy Robertson, Frank Welker (voice)

Walt Disney Pictures, Silver Screen Partners III, Buena Vista Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Nick, I’ve got six hours to get home, get big and get to the mall. Now get moving.” – Amy Szalinski

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that one of the writers of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is Brian Yuzna, the guy behind Re-Animator and its sequels, as well as From Beyond and Society. In fact, this film came out in the same year as the over the top and insane Society. Talk about two extremes.

Anyway, this family classic was one of many reasons as to why the summer of ’89 is probably the best summer for movies of all-time. I loved this as a kid and it has held up pretty well.

Some of the effects look a bit dated, as this came out just before the CGI boom that came with Jurassic Park in 1993, but the use of green screen and stop motion effects pretty much comes off without a hitch and these special effects are top of the line for 1989. Disney crafted an incredible world for this movie and all the physical sets still look fabulous by 2019 standards.

The movie is also kind of timeless and the humor still works. This isn’t a film that’s chock full of ’80s cliches. Okay, maybe the clothes the kids wear are very ’80s but this is written in a way that the jokes and humor aren’t as dated as other films from the time.

Additionally, all the kid actors are pretty solid, as are the parents. The parents of course get top billing in this movie but the bulk of the film is focused on the children and their adventure, trying to get home from the other side of their backyard. Of course there are several challenges that stand in the kids way, which just makes this adventure a lot of fun and actually provides a good amount of real tension.

Rick Moranis is as good as he always is but the real scene stealer was Matt Frewer, who owned the character of Russ Sr. Frewer can do drama and comedy well but here he was so committed to the bit that he was the biggest bright spot in the film.

I’m glad that I revisited this and I’ve just realized that it’s approaching its thirtieth anniversary. Man, I can’t believe it’s been that long since the epic summer of ’89.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the sequels but each one gets worse and worse, as well as other late ’80s family sci-fi movies like *batteries not included and Cocoon.

Film Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Release Date: July 19th, 2011 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: Captain America by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Kenneth Choi, Toby Jones, Natalie Dormer, Richard Armitage, Jenna Coleman, Samuel L. Jackson

Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” – Abraham Erskine

It was nice going back and revisiting this chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To be honest, I really hadn’t seen this since about 2012 or so. They pump out Marvel movies so fast that sometimes you get caught up in all the new stuff that the older films get neglected. At the time that this came out, it wasn’t my favorite of the Phase One set of films. I think that’s changed, however.

Captain America: The First Avenger is, first and foremost, an origin story. The first half really has to deal with how Captain America comes to be. The second half has to deal with Cap saving the world from the evil Hydra commander and Nazi officer, Red Skull.

This also introduces us to the Tesseract, which would evolve into the first Infinity Stone to be seen in a Marvel movie. This MacGuffin would be center stage in this film, as well as in the first Avengers movie where its ownership would shift to Loki. This mystical item would carry a lot of narrative weight, as it still exists in the current crop of films and still hasn’t had its power fully unleashed. I’m assuming we’ll see all the Infinity Stones in all their glory when Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters in late April.

But back to this movie.

It is a solid World War II action film that just happens to have a superhero and some crazy sci-fi elements thrown in. Shift some things around and this almost feels like a live-action version of a Wolfenstein game.

The relationship between Captain America and Peggy Carter has helped to define both characters after this film. Both had to move on without the other and under very different circumstances. It was nice coming back to this movie and seeing how it all started. Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell and incredible chemistry and the weight of the scene where Cap crashes Red Skull’s ship is so much heavier now knowing the pain that both of these characters felt after losing one another.

I also liked going back and seeing the relationship between Steve and Bucky before they went to war. This is something else that didn’t have quite the weight that it has now, knowing where their journeys would go in future films.

One complaint however, is that I feel like the villains Red Skull and Zola were wasted. Red Skull could have offered so much more to the franchise and really, he should have come back by this point or another person should have taken over the mantle. Zola, who was a formidable Captain America villain would only return as a computer program.

I actually forgot that Tommy Lee Jones was even in this. It was cool seeing him though. It was also a delight to see the Howling Commandos in all their glory and to be honest, they deserve their own movie or at least a short season television show like Peggy Carter had.

This is the one Marvel film that is a true period piece. The different world this exists in was refreshing and did a lot to enrich the mythos and to expand the universe beyond the films before it.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a solid piece of tent pole, blockbuster filmmaking. It’s a popcorn flick that’s more fun than most and it just feels truer to the title character than even Iron Man did.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Captain America: The Winter SoldierCaptain America: Civil War and The Avengers.