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: Jurassic Park (1993)

Also known as: JP (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: June 9th, 1993 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Michael Crichton, David Koepp
Based on: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, BD Wong, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Miguel Sandoval, Whit Hertford

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, but, John, if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” – Dr. Ian Malcom

I think it might be hard for younger people to understand the hype around Jurassic Park when it came out. For me, it came out in the summer between middle school and high school but I spent most of my eighth grade year listening to my science teacher enthusiastically rave about the novel it was based on. In fact, she offered up extra credit for those of us who read the book and did a report on it, which I did. I liked the book better, FYI.

Anyway, I think that I may have been just a hair too old for this movie to have had the same effect on me as it did younger people in my life. For those born just after the Star Wars films had their theatrical releases, this was their Star Wars. And while I liked it, quite a lot, I do feel like the movie is a bit overrated.

Now I still think it’s damn solid and a fun movie but the story seems pretty basic, overly simplistic and just there to show off what Industrial Light and Magic could do with CGI effects. In that regard, this is a masterpiece of its time and without this film, we wouldn’t have gotten anymore Star Wars films, as this was the real test that George Lucas wanted in order to see if he could make more space movies in the way that he had always envisioned.

This led to the Special Edition Star Wars movies, which I thought were cool to see but I still preferred the unaltered originals. But then those movies led to the Prequel Trilogy and a bunch of other effects heavy films to follow.

Getting back to this film, though, it kind of recycles the best animal horror elements of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws but makes the monster a bunch of dinosaurs and shifts the man-eating to land.

Overall, this is less horrific than Jaws and it isn’t really categorized as “horror” even though it very much is. But I guess marketing it as such, kind of hurts trying to sell it to the public as a family adventure movie. Now if they had put (or left) some actual gore in it, I probably would’ve dug it more as a kid but then parents would’ve been outraged and this might not have become a massive franchise.

The film is really good and probably Spielberg’s best from the ’90s, after Schindler’s List, of course.

It was well cast and the main players are all pretty great, as they created iconic roles that seem to leave a void when they aren’t included in the Jurassic movies after this one. This was, in fact, the only film to feature the Jurassic Holy Trinity of Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill and Laura Dern.

This one also feels the most special, as it was the first. It’s probably the best too but I really need to watch the second and third, as it’s been years.

Top to bottom, this is just fun, energetic, doesn’t have a dull moment and you find yourself getting lost in it. It’s a good movie to turn your brain off to and it’s still one of the greatest popcorn movies of its time.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Jurassic Park/World films.

Documentary Review: Spielberg (2017)

Release Date: October 5th, 2017 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Susan Lacy
Cast: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Richard Dreyfuss, John Williams, J.J. Abrams, James Brolin, Bob Balaban, Tom Hanks, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Frank Marshall, Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Zemeckis, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tom Cruise, Eric Bana, Daniel Craig

HBO Documentary Films, Pentimento Productions, 147 Minutes

Review:

This was a pretty stellar documentary for fans of not just Steven Spielberg but filmmaking and film history in general.

It reminded me a lot of the 2001 documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures, in that this spent a lot of time breaking down most of the key movies in Spielberg’s oeuvre.

Every segment here was rich, detailed and featured interviews with some major directors, actors and producers. But the film also gets into Spielberg’s personal life and how real life experiences influenced his movies.

This was a lengthy documentary, just as the Kubrick one was and rightfully so. In fact, this could have been the length of a ten part, two hour apiece Ken Burns documentary and I still would have been fully engaged.

Spielberg’s career has been long and full of at least a dozen classic films that will be remembered forever. Each segment could’ve been it’s own documentary film and it actually kind of sucks that a few films were mentioned but not given as much detail, most notably A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the Jurassic Park sequels and some of his production work like Back to the Future.

Still, this is pretty thorough and there is so much to unpack and take away from this. It is one of the best documentaries on a filmmaker’s life and career.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on specific directors but this reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.

TV Review: The Last Man On Earth (2015-2018)

Release Date: March 1st, 2015 – May 6th, 2018 (original run)
Directed by: various
Written by: Will Forte, various
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Will Forte, Kristen Schaal, January Jones, Mel Rodriguez, Cleopatra Coleman, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Sudeikis, Boris Kodjoe, Mark Boone Junior, Kenneth Choi, Kristen Wiig, Keith L. Williams, Chris Elliot, Fred Armisen, Will Ferrell (cameo), Alexandra Daddario (cameo), Jon Hamm (cameo), Laura Dern (cameo), Jack Black (cameo), Martin Short (cameo)

The Si Fi Company, Lord Miller Productions, 20th Television, Fox, 67 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Oh, farts.” – Phil Tandy Miller

*Written in 2015.

Now that the first season is over, I can give a proper review to Fox’s The Last Man On Earth.

In short, I really like this show.

Will Forte is great as the lead character Phil Miller. Kristen Schaal is fantastic as the fairly neurotic yet very lovable Carol Pilbasian. Add in January Jones, Mel Rodriguez and as the show progresses further, Mary Steenburgen, Cleopatra Coleman and Boris Kodjoe, and you’ve got a pretty diverse and enjoyable cast.

The show starts with Phil traveling the country in search of other human beings. He paints “Alive In Tucson” on billboards throughout the United States and as the show progresses, characters start to show up every few episodes.

Due to the title, I was wondering how Fox would make an ongoing show out of a single character but I’m glad it has expanded. While it isn’t a post-apocalyptic world per se, it has similar themes as The Walking Dead. Sure, there aren’t zombies and the feeling of danger around every corner but it shows human beings trying to govern themselves and reestablish their place in the world.

Forte’s Phil Miller is mostly unlikable but there is a quality to him that has you siding with him and pulling for him, even though his dastardly deeds cause him to continually lose favor with other members of his tiny community despite the fact that he is the reason everyone has come to Tucson. Miller’s faults are easy to understand and relate to and even though he gives into them, he ultimately just wants to find his place and has a need to feel useful and loved – understandable for someone who was alone in the world without human contact for so long.

The show is entertaining, the cast is amazing and without spoiling anything, it looks like the show isn’t afraid to reinvent itself along the way. Based off of some things that happened in the finale, it will be interesting to see how things pan out in season two.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Well, it’s pretty unique. If you have any ideas, post them in the comments.

Film Review: White Lightning (1973)

Also known as: McKlusky (working title)
Release Date: August 8th, 1973
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
Written by: William W. Norton
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Bo Hopkins, Jennifer Billingsley, Diane Ladd, R.G. Armstrong, Laura Dern (uncredited)

United Artists, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I was tryin’ to save these two buddies of mine from getting knocked up by a homosexual.” – Gator McKlusky

White Lightning is a decent movie but not anything exceptional. Yet it still holds a special place in history because it’s popularity would help it to kick off a new type of film genre in the 1970s. Without this, we might not have had all those other car and trucker movies. Hell, who knows what Burt Reynolds would have done had he not carved out his place in history with this sort of role.

This took that ’70s whitesploitation shtick and made it mainstream. This was a film put out by a major studio and had some semblance of a budget compared to the similar grindhouse pictures of the time.

Burt Reynolds, himself, referred to the film as “…the beginning of a whole series of films made in the South, about the South and for the South. No one cares if the picture was ever distributed north of the Mason-Dixon Line because you could make back the cost of the negative just in Memphis alone. Anything outside of that was just gravy. It was a well done film. Joe Sargent is an excellent director. He’s very, very good with actors. And it had some marvelous people in it whom nobody had seen before. Ned Beatty for example. I had to fight like hell to get Ned in the film.”

The film had a pretty good score done by Charles Bernstein, who would make that famous A Nightmare On Elm Street theme a decade later. The score here may sound familiar to fans of Quentin Tarantino, as he reused some of it for his Kill Bill films.

Reynolds was pretty good as Gator McKlusky and he would get to return as a character in the sequel Gator, three years later.

The plot sees Gator initially try to breakout of an Arkansas prison but his attempt is foiled. He then works out a deal to bring down a crooked Sheriff, who is responsible for murdering his brother. Gator wants revenge, the system wants justice and everyone loves moonshine and fast cars.

White Lightning isn’t my favorite film in the genre it helped popularize but it is still worth revisiting from time to time due to its cultural significance and because well, Burt Reynolds is cool. Although, I prefer him alongside Jerry Reed.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

Release Date: December 9th, 2017 (Los Angeles Premiere)
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 152 Minutes

Review:

*Warning: there will be spoilers!

“When I found you, I saw raw, untamed power… and beyond that, something truly special.” – Supreme Leader Snoke

Well, it’s been two years since Episode VII – The Force Awakens and while I wasn’t a huge fan of that film, I hoped that its derivative nature was just to set things up for a new generation and that this chapter in the franchise would feel wholly original and tread new territory. So does it? And did I leave this film feeling as satisfied as I did with last year’s one off tale Rogue One?

The Last Jedi, for the most part, is pretty humdrum. There are a few things I like but let me run through it all.

To start, we have an okay movie with a shaky story but at least it’s not a rehash of stuff we’ve seen. Rian Johnson pretty much made this film the anti-The Force Awakens, as it doesn’t need to copy what’s been done already. Sure, there are some similarities with other Star Wars plots but nothing on the level of the grand plagiarism that was J.J. Abrams’ film, two years prior. I actually wrote about that at great length in my review about that film.

However, original or not, that doesn’t mean this is automatically great. In fact, it really isn’t.

So other than this story feeling new and fresh, I liked that Luke and Leia were both at the forefront and not just side characters. Being that this was Carrie Fisher’s last outing as Leia, I was happy to see her get to be more pivotal to the overall story in this chapter. Although, the bit where she is floating in space and uses the Force to float back to her damaged ship was damn bizarre. There were other bizarre uses of the Force in the film that kind of irked me too but this one really stood out. It just didn’t fit.

Luke was shit. I didn’t care for this older version of the character so much. I get his reasoning for why he checked out on the universe but the greatest Jedi ever shouldn’t have the emotional maturity of a nihilistic teenager. So what, his nephew lost his shit and Luke feels guilty about it. That doesn’t mean that Kylo Ren can’t be saved and that Luke doesn’t have the responsibility to try and bring him back.

Getting to the mysteries that people were speculating over for two years, I’m glad that they went the route they did. While most of my friends were entertaining every fan theory since The Force Awakens came out, I just assumed Rey and Snoke were both nobodies and their origins weren’t connected to anything significant to the overall narrative. I was right. Still, with Snoke, at least, I’d like some backstory, even if it’s just in a book or a casual mention of his connection to the Dark Side.

Snoke was also a red herring, in that he was just there for misdirection and to be a pseudo-Palpatine. His real purpose was just to be someone powerful for Kylo Ren to wipe out on his quest to rule the galaxy. And I’m glad to see him out of the way so Ren can toss General Hux, the First Order’s ginger Hitler, around like a dime store rag doll.

I did like Kylo Ren’s evolution and how he is still very much effected by things from his past and it’s his mission to annihilate those things while just looking forward. The dynamic between Ren and Rey was good and they have some solid chemistry, which will only add to the struggle of both characters’ growth in the next picture. Ultimately, when these two do have their final showdown, it should be interesting enough thanks to the seeds that were sown in this chapter. But really, this was just about the only real strength that this picture had.

Finn was a waste. His adventure was a waste and ultimately proved to be absolutely pointless. His section of the film could be removed entirely and the overall narrative and fluidity of the movie would have been much better. If they had nothing for Finn to do, they should have left him in his coma. If I were John Boyega, I’d be kind of pissed.

Poe is still here and at least he gets more to do than he did in The Force Awakens but he still doesn’t feel as pivotal to the plot as he could be. I like Oscar Issac a lot and hope that he essentially becomes the Resistance’s lead commander by the next film. He needs to be more like Han Solo in his General Solo role. But he’s not on a great trajectory when all the women constantly emasculate him for… reasons. If I were Oscar Issac, I’d be kind of pissed.

A lot of people also speculated on the returns of other characters but out of all the theories, only the Yoda one came true. He appears for a short bit just to remind Luke about the bigger picture. Sadly, he wasn’t sitting at a ghost table with ghost Kenobi, ghost Anakin and Ghost-Gon Jinn playing poker. I feel like the Yoda scene may have had more impact if the other three ghost Jedi were there too. But at least we get to see Yoda burn the ancient Jedi tree and cackle like a crackhead about it.

So a big part of the story’s premise has to deal with how the First Order are able to track the Resistance through hyperspace jumps, which was impossible before. So Snoke’s command ship and a massive fleet are trailing the Resistance, who are running out of fuel. I’m not super keen on this being the crux of the story’s framework, as it doesn’t work well for a lot of reasons.

However, the film sort of just ignores the already established physics of Star Wars hyperdrive travel. In this film, the travel feels way to quick and convenient. While this hasn’t been all that consistent in other movies, comics and books over the years, it just feels sloppily handled here. Also, the First Order’s device that tracks the Resistance looks like a giant Flux Capacitor.

There are two really fun showdowns here. One is when Kylo Ren takes Rey to Snoke. The other is when Luke shows up to stand between the First Order and the Resistance. Both were pretty unique confrontations and weren’t just simple lightsaber battles. Johnson did a decent job in writing those sequences in a way that made them different. And each one comes with a good curveball or two. The moment where Luke, all alone, stands before the First Order’s might is pretty friggin’ chilling. But then Luke is just a Force apparition and the coolness of that moment is like air seeping out of a balloon: deflated.

One thing that may create confusion is that half the time characters say “Resistance” and the other half they say “Rebels” or “Rebellion”. They still use the Rebellion logo, so why did they change to the Resistance in the first place and really, why the hell isn’t the First Order just called the Empire? That’s like admitting defeat. Just say, “Screw you, Rebels! We’re the Empire! We’re still here! You didn’t kill us with your teddy bear friends!”

I know that I am being nitpicky about some stuff but ultimately, the film has major problems.

Unfortunately, J.J. Abrams is returning to direct the still unnamed Episode IX, the final chapter of this trilogy. I really hope that his tendency to borrow entire movies is behind him and that he takes cues from… I don’t know… anything other than past Star Wars movies. No more superweapons! At least not for a really long time.

Update:

The more I think about and reflect on this film, the more I dislike it. It just has so many problems and really, it feels like the magic of Star Wars died a long time ago. Maybe it was gone when the prequels came out and I couldn’t accept it but at least those films had imagination. The Disney films rely too much on what has been established and are just cheap and nearly soulless attempts at trying to replicate the magic of the originals. I never thought that Star Wars would let me down as massively as the live-action Transformers movies did but Disney has made it so that Star Wars doesn’t feel special anymore. And frankly, I’m losing interest in this franchise that, at one point, was the biggest pop culture thing in my life.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The other Disney Star Wars films.

Film Review: Blue Velvet (1986)

Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (TIFF)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti
Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, George Dickerson, Dean Stockwell, Frances Bay, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance, Priscilla Pointer

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Baby wants to fuck! Baby wants to fuck Blue Velvet!” – Frank Booth

I was a pretty big David Lynch fan when I was a teenager, as well as in my twenties. His work was unique, bizarre, borderline insane and so surreal, that everything Lynch touched became otherworldly. My appreciation for his work really started with Twin Peaks. I never understood the show as an adolescent but it lured me in. Truth is, I don’t particularly understand it now. But I guess that’s Lynch’s modus operandi.

The thing is, as I get older, I expect more from my films than just beautiful surrealism and crazy madness. Lynch’s films get harder to watch with age and I’m just less accepting of incredible style over real substance. To be blunt, despite fantastic performances by the actors he casts, a lot of his work just comes off as pretentious faux-academic bullshit. You can call it art, that used to be my label for it, but his movies and his television show are weird just to be weird.

Blue Velvet, while it has a decent narrative and isn’t as confusing and baffling as Lynch’s other work, still falls victim to style over substance.

Now I don’t hate the film, I do mostly like it, but a lot of that has to do with the cast and how good they performed in this. This is Dennis Hopper at his most insane, which says a lot if you are familiar with his early work. It also features a very young Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern at their sweetest. Bit parts by Dean Stockwell, Frances Bay and Brad Dourif are all enjoyable too. I thought that Isabella Rossellini’s performance was over the top but I guess a lot of professional critics liked it.

Lynch’s films always have great cinematography, especially in regards to lighting and the angles used to capture the scenes. Blue Velvet is technically sound. Although, I am not a fan of the score. It feels disorienting and out of place at times but then again, this is Lynch and that is probably the point because why not be weird just to be weird, right?

Blue Velevet is a mid 1980s neo-noir. It is a good example of the neo-noir style, even if it is pretty far outside the box. It’s not bad, it’s just decent. It’s far from exceptional and severely overrated, in my opinion. But I can’t discredit the visual allure and the talented cast, especially Hopper.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: The Founder (2016)

Release Date: December 7th, 2016 (Arclight Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Written by: Robert D. Siegel
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern

FilmNation Entertainment, The Combine, Faliro House Productions S.A., The Weinstein Company, 115 Minutes

the_founderReview:

I finally got around to seeing The Founder. I had heard nothing but good things about it. Also, I have been a Michael Keaton fan for a long time and would like to see him eventually win an Academy Award. Unfortunately, he wasn’t nominated for this picture, which got a lot of people upset. So that added more incentive for me to check out his performance in this picture.

Having now seen it, I can say that Michael Keaton really knocks it out of the park in this film. This is up there with his performance in Birdman as one of the best of his career. But it doesn’t stop with Keaton though.

Nick Offerman gives the performance of his career and it was really nice seeing him get such a prominent role that wasn’t just comedy. He was stellar as the legendary Ron Swanson on Parks & Recreation but his role here, as one of the McDonald brothers, is truly the highlight of his already great career.

The other McDonald brother was played by John Carroll Lynch, a guy who can do just about anything. From being one of the best one episode characters ever on The Walking Dead to a psychotic serial killer clown on American Horror Story to a really lovable and gentle guy in The Founder, Lynch proves that he is one of the best and most versatile actors today. Frankly, he should be better known than he is.

Linda Cardellini, Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson and B.J. Novak round out the cast and they all give their characters a bit of gravitas. The picture was well cast and well acted all around.

The story of Ray Kroc and how he “founded” McDonald’s has been fairly known for quite some time but seeing it play out so dramatically on the big screen, is a treat. I think some people may have dismissed this as two-hour McDonald’s propaganda. It isn’t. That was already tried and it ultimately failed in 1988 with Mac & MeThe Founder can almost be seen as anti-McDonald’s in certain respects, not that it is trying to give the corporation a bad name, it is just trying to convey the story of its creation in an honest way. But ultimately, one has to feel bad for how the McDonald brothers were played by Ray Kroc.

The Founder is compelling. It is a truly American story about the rise of one of America’s biggest corporations in the most American way possible, whether that’s seen as good or bad. It had a good pace and featured solid direction and great acting from all those who appeared in the film.

I wouldn’t consider it a Picture of the Year candidate but the performances by some of the cast should probably have been looked at more carefully, especially Keaton, Offerman and Lynch.

Rating: 8.25/10