A new theme park, built on the original site of Jurassic Park, creates a genetically modified hybrid dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, which escapes containment and goes on a killing spree. (via IMDb)
Like many others, Jurassic Park was an influential movie of my childhood. I lost track of how many times I have seen it throughout my lifetime; it’s easily up there as one of my favorite films of all time. Sequels to 20+ year old movies that attempt to cash in on their franchise’s nostalgia have been very hit or miss (primarily misses) so I was a bit cautious going into Jurassic World. To my pleasure, Jurassic World is one of the better sequels today.
Any sequel that comes out decades later has a fine line to balance between paying homage to the original while bringing something new to the franchise and standing on its own. Throughout the film, Jurassic World gives nodes or callbacks to things and events of Jurassic Park that there is plenty for eagle-eyed fans to pick up on. Most importantly, it continues the themes of its predecessor. One of the biggest through lines of Jurassic Park was the hubris of mankind and that theme continues and is built upon here. It’s a wonderful continuation and natural plot growth for the franchise.
Besides building on the themes and providing plenty of easter eggs, Jurassic World has a great cast that carries the story. Chris Pratt, coming off his spectacular appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy, commands the screen. Bryce Dallas Howard is always great in anything she is involved in and this film is no exception. Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins hold their own as the younger members of the core cast across from the older cast members like Pratt and Howard. Vincent D’Onofrio channels the same energy he brought to Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk and chews up every scene. And to top it all off is an excellent comedic supporting cast of Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus. No matter where you look in the cast, there is talent everywhere.
The film spends the first half of the film setting up the park and the characters, so it can feel slow early on. However, once the action picks up, it really picks up. There is a horror element to the last act in particular that kept me on the edge of my seat. One highlight is when Owen (Pratt) is hunting the Indominus Rex with a pack of velociraptors. And it all culminated in a showdown that any fan of the franchise is sure to love.
If I had one complaint for this movie it’s that the subplot of Zach’s (Robinson) and Gray’s (Simpkins) parents did not add anything to the overall plot. There is maybe one scene with the parents and their lawyers and it was only mentioned by the boys once or twice. It felt shoehorned in to give more emotion to the film but I don’t think it added anything at all.
I thought Jurassic World was GREAT 😀 Being a huge fan of Jurassic Park, Jurassic World is a worthy sequel. The themes from the original are continued and built upon in a way that few sequels are capable of accomplishing. There is no weak link in the cast with great actors like Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Robinson,and Ty Simpkins. Top it off with exciting action scenes and you’ve got yourself not only a great sequel but a great film.
Cast & Crew
Colin Trevorrow – Director / Screenplay
Rick Jaffa – Screenplay / Story
Amanda Silver – Screenplay / Story
Derek Connolly – Screenplay
Michael Giacchino – Composer
Chris Pratt – Owen Grady
Bryce Dallas Howard – Clair Dearing
Ty Simpkins – Gray
Nick Robinson – Zach
Jake Johnson – Lowery
Lauren Lapkus – Vivian
Omar Sy – Barry
Irrfan Khan – Masrani
Vincent D’Onofrio – Vic Hoskins
BD Wong – Dr. Henry Wu
Brian Tee – Hamada
Katie McGrath – Zara
Judy Greer – Karen
Andy Buckley – Scott
In effort to reconnect with his wife and kids, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) takes his family on a cross-country trip to Walley World like his family did thirty years ago.
Review One of Hollywood’s go-to moves lately has been revisiting franchises that have been dormant for 20 or 30 years and making sequels or remakes or reboots. Often, these attempts are not received well. Movies like Dumb and Dumber To or Total Recall fail to capture that certain something that made the original films so popular and beloved in the first place, attempting to cash in on nostalgia rather than make a film that is worth its legacy. Vacation, more of a sequel than reboot, falls into this category. And like all the others, it’s a pale comparison to the films that came before it.
I will admit that this film did make me laugh. In the same way the 1983 Vacation was a good fit for Chevy Chase’s style of humor, this Vacation highlights Ed Helms’ comedic talents. The types of jokes and gags it has are a bit juvenile at times and what I call “stupid funny” but honestly, it makes me laugh. If you’ve seen Helms’ films like Cedar Rapids or The Hangover then you’ll have a sense of what to expect from him. The dynamic between the two Griswold kids, James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins), was unexpected and created for some humorous moments. Chris Hemsworth continues to prove that he can do comedy as well as he does action. His timing and delivery are spot-on. If the Vacation franchise somehow manages to continue, he should be the Cousin Eddie of the “reboot.”
In movies like this one, there is an extra emphasize on homages that try to cash in on the nostalgia of the franchise. Sometimes the filmmakers go overboard with the callbacks that feels like they are pandering to the audience. Luckily, Vacation doesn’t fall into that trap; it has just the right amount of references to the previous films, particularly the original Vacation, that it doesn’t feel heavy-handed or too much.
I think the what I was most disappointed about was the portrayal of Rusty. I know it’s around thirty years after the original Vacation but this Rusty seems like more of a push-over than what was portrayed in the other films. As much as I like Helms, his personality doesn’t match the Rusty we’ve seen in the four previous films. Maybe it’s just me but that’s how I felt. I think it was less of how Helms portrayed Rusty and more of how the part was written.
Another problem with making a film simply to cash in on nostalgia is that often it lacks the charisma or charm of the first one and Vacation unfortunately does not buck that trend. The characters lack the appeal of Clark and Ellen, and the Griswold kids even less so. The actors also don’t have the same chemistry as the original cast. It’s not like this brand of comedy cannot be full of heart, plenty of other movies have proven that it can happen, but this film is more focused on trying to capture the magic of its inspiration that it forgets what made it memorable in the first place.
I thought Vacation was OK 😐 It’s simply another attempt to ride the nostalgia wave popular in Hollywood right now and it falls way short of capturing the magic of the original Vacation. Maybe this film might have fared better if it wasn’t attached to a franchise like the Vacation franchise. But then again, if it tried that, I imagine it probably would have been compared to the original Vacation and then still would have been looked at in a less than positive light. Moral of the story is let’s stop trying to remake or reboot beloved and popular franchises simply because it can be done. If you want to watch a great film like Vacation, simply watch Vacation.
Cast & Crew
John Francis Daley – Director / Writer
Jonathan Goldstein – Director / Writer
Mark Mothersbaugh – Composer
Ed Helms – Rusty Griswold
Christina Applegate – Debbie Griswold
Skyler Gisondo – James Griswold
Steele Stebbins – Kevin Griswold
Leslie Mann – Audrey Crandall
Chris Hemsworth – Stone Crandall
Chevy Chase – Clark Griswold
Beverly D’Angelo – Ellen Griswold
Catherine Missal – Adena
Charlie Day – Chad
Ron Livingston – Ethan
Norman Reedus – Trucker
Thirty years after the Rebel Alliance defeated the Empire, The First Order threatens the peace of the galaxy, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). One stormtrooper (John Boyega), defects from the First Order with the help of the Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and along with the scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the smugglers Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), they join the resistance against the First Order, led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).
Star Wars is in my blood. That is as true as Han shoots first. I have been anxiously awaiting the return of Luke, Han, and Leia to the silver screen since Disney bought Lucasfilm. The last time I was remotely this excited for a film was The Lego Movie, and my excitement for Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens exceeds my excitement for that (though not by much actually). Was it worth the hype? I would say yes, but not as much as everyone else seems to think so.
It is very clear that the writers wanted to return to what fans liked about the Original Trilogy. Unfortunately, that meant recycling the plot of A New Hope. The move feels too safe; It leans too much on the nostalgia factor. This type of film should want to give fan service. There are all kinds of references that are inserted into the film without feeling intrusive, which is great. However, fan service also doesn’t mean repeating the story, but with different characters and slightly different settings. Say what you want about the Prequel Trilogy, but each one was different and, for better or worse, told a unique story. When it comes to The Force Awakens, it feels like I’ve seen this story before.
When I left the theater after watching this movie the first time, it felt like there was something off but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then after my second viewing I was able to put words to what I was feeling. To me, this felt more like a middle entry of the trilogy instead of a beginning. This has more to do with Kylo Ren’s development. When we learn who he is, what he did, a certain scene over a certain bridge with a certain someone, they all felt like moments that should have been after spending time with the characters and in the new films. I want to expand on this more because but to do so would go into spoilers. If you want to discuss this more, shoot me an email.
The biggest issue I have with The Force Awakens is how many elements are introduced with very few resolutions. Again, as lauded as The Phantom Menace was, one of the things I thought it did very well was show the political state of the galaxy and exactly how different the Republic was from the Empire we met in A New Hope, although I will admit it dwelt on it too long. Regardless, we were introduced to the First Order, the Resistance, and the New Republic but not given much context how they are related. How big is the First Order? If they are a huge threat, why isn’t the New Republic fighting them directly? Or why did the Republic allow them to get so big if they came from the ashes of the Empire? Why does the resistance need to exist in the first place? I know it is meant to be only the first step in a larger journey and I expect (hope) these questions will be answered in due time but one of A New Hope‘s strong points was despite taking place across an entire galaxy, it kept its scope small and still easily set up a larger universe. The Force Awakens isn’t very self-contained and that bothers me.
I was worried that the returning cast wouldn’t be given the screen time necessary to pass the torch to the new cast. Thankfully, Han Solo has a huge, integral part to play that put those fears to bed. Harrison Ford doesn’t miss a beat returning to everyone’s favorite smuggler. Although, he does have a hard time carrying the film without his original costars, Mark Hamill and Carry Fisher, constantly by his side. This is easy to forgive because he has no problem bouncing off Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. It’s not as satisfying as his chemistry with Hamill and Fisher, but it creates some pretty funny and heartwarming moments.
Within the first few minutes, I knew The Force Awakens was going to be an exhilarating ride. As soon as the first stormtroopers rush the sands of Jakku, it barely slows down to take a breath. Every new scene either begins or ends with a big action piece. JJ Abrams and the rest of the crew are obviously fans of the Original Trilogy because they take every great action sequence from those films, throw them in here, and crank them up to ten. There are space dog fights, land battles, lightsaber duels, and even wild escapes from terrifying creatures. It has some of the best action scenes in the entire saga.
With characters like Han Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, the new characters had a lot to live up to. From the opening scene with Poe Dameron, I knew they weren’t going to have any trouble living up to the legacy left behind for them. Poe is an ace pilot for the Resistance who is criminally underused. Finn, a stromtrooper with a conscience, might be the most interesting. Any previous depictions of stormtroopers show them as mindless and heartless drones. Now we actually get a look under the helmet and realize that there might actually be some morality in there somewhere. Rey is hands down the best new character to come from this next generation of Star Wars. She’s strong, smart, and knows her way around a ship. Daisy Ridley does absolutely magnificent and may be the find of the century.
When it comes to Kylo Ren, I have mixed feelings. It is clear that he is a strong force user (some of his skills include stopping a blaster bolt midair and interrogation techniques that would make Darth Vader jealous), but it is also clear that he is still just a boy with incomplete training. He has temper tantrums and doesn’t have much self-control. He is a stark contrast to Darth Vader, who was always so calm and collected while force choking someone.
Poe’s first interaction with Kylo Ren gave a good idea on the tone for the rest of the film. It is so funny! It reminds me of The Avengers where the comedy was organic and sprang from great chemistry between the characters. Nothing ever felt forced. You could tell the cast was having a blast filming. Finn had his moments with everyone. He and Poe, he and Rey, he even had a moment or two with the adorable BB-8. There are play on words, visual gags, and everything in between. There is a little bit of humor for everybody.
2015 has been a great year for practical effects. First Mad Max: Fury Road, now The Force Awakens. It makes a huge difference when compared to CGI heavy movies. When a movie uses too much CGI, it can remove the audience. While I applaud George Lucas’ willingness to fully embrace CGI in the Original Trilogy special editions and prequels, he embraces it too much, further proving that too much of a good thing can become detrimental. Remember, the special editions and The Phantom Menace were released in the earlier days of CGI (I consider the start of CGI as it is today to be Jurassic Park), so it was good on Lucas to realize what the technology could bring to films. Now, film directors, like JJ Abrams, are moving back to primarily practical effects with CGI to fill in the gaps. It makes a huge difference and greatly enhances the experience.
Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is GOOD :-). There is so much more I want to talk about but then I would be moving into spoiler territory. This is the story Star Wars fans have been waiting for since 1983. The return to practical effects and limited use of CGI makes it feel like I’m watching the original Original Trilogy again. Daisy Ridley is the standout performance but all of the newcomers have great chemistry together and easily fill the big shoes left for them. Great action and comedy is just icing on the cake. However, the recycled plot and introduction of so many elements with few resolutions hold this movie back from being as great as I know it could be.
Cast & Crew
JJ Abrams – Director / Writer
Lawrence Kasdan – Writer
Michael Arndt – Writer
John Williams – Composer
Harrison Ford – Han Solo
Carrie Fisher – Princess Leia
Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Daisy Ridley – Rey
John Boyega – Finn
Adam Driver – Kylo Ren
Oscar Isaac – Poe Dameron
Lupita Nyong’o – Maz Kanata
Andy Serkis – Supreme Leader Snoke
Domhnall Gleeson – General Hux
Gwendoline Christie – Captain Phasma
Pip Torrens – Colonel Kaplan
Simon Pegg – Unkar Plutt
Max von Sydow – Lor San Tekka
FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is recruited by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to assist in a task force trying to take down a drug lord who operates around the border of US and Mexico.
Going into Sicario, I was expecting more of an action movie, not the crime drama that it was. I mention that because I think it skewed my expectations for the film. I thought it was going to be some action-filled, shoot-em-up fest. Instead, it is much more quiet and meticulous than that. There is action, and when the action happens, it really revs up and gets sensational. However, the film is composed mainly of the many quieter moments in between these high octane and intense scenes. A lot of time is spent with Kate Macer to get to know her and get inside her head. Emily Blunt does a great job. Although, as good as Blunt is here, Benicio Del Toro is the stand-out performance of the film. He is mysterious and you never know quite what is going through his head.
As I mentioned, the pace was slower than I was anticipating but Sicario still did a fantastic job of keeping the tension. The audience is just as in the dark as Macer is throughout the film about what her purpose on the task force is. I constantly found myself excited to see what was going to happen next, especially when it came to Alejandro, Del Toro’s character. Cinematography isn’t something I bring up very often in a review but I would remiss not to mention it. This film has some breathtaking shots. Every shot makes sure you can see everything you need to see and you are focused on what you need to focus on, whether it’s a broad shot from above or a close up. In terms of action, it does well to keep the action visible and in frame, even during the hectic moments. Sometimes it can be fun when a movie ends up being not what you predicted and still manages to be a fun ride.
Cast & Crew
Dennis Villeneuve – Director
Taylor Sheridan – Writer
Johann Johannsson – Composer
Emily Blunt – Kate Macer
Benicio Del Toro – Alejandro
Josh Brolin – Matt Graver
Victor Garber – Dave Jennings
Jon Bernthal – Ted
Daniel Kaluuya – Reggie Wayne
Jeffery Donovan – Steve Forsing
Raoul Trujillo – Rafael
Julio Cedillo – Fausto Alarcon
Hank Rogerson – Phil Coopers
Bernardo P. Saracino – Manuel Diaz
Maximiliano Hernandez – Silvio
Kevin Wiggins –Burnett
Edgar Arreola – Guillermo
I’ve started expanding Drew’s Reviews to social media (slowly but surely). First up is Google+! It’s the least used, I know, but I gotta start somewhere. So if you want to get my reviews and other posts on Google+, follow me here. Right now it’s pretty bare but I will slowly expand on it soon. I hope to see you there! 🙂