Jurassic World

Fans of the original Jurassic Park are likely to love this one. There isn't much new in the way of a twist though. I remember the build up back when the first came out, people came out to the movie in droves. It really was like waiting in line for a ride. It was an original idea my Michael Crichton and everyone wanted to see the giant lizards. It was basically three things that made that movie popular: 1) The dinosaurs, 2) The action, and 3) the story. On all three levels I still give the first one a 5/5. This new one is good, very good. It is a rollicking rode for sure and worth the price of a ticket. At the same time it really lacks in the story department. I went in hoping to get something new and fresh that made me think about dinosaurs. In between the guttural dinosaur special effects, it just isn't there. Having said that, I doubt moviegoers really care about that. The dinosaurs and there, in full tech regalia. I've always thought dinosaurs were cool. I like to watch them but in real life they aren't there. I even think museum bones are a bit boring now thanks to this franchise. I felt the need to explain to my 8 year old that dinosaurs were extinct. It seems kids in the past 20 years have seen them so much on the silver screen, they seem real. I loved the movie, I offer no spoilers except to say you're gonna love the dinosaurs and the action. Some stories don't need to be improved upon, maybe that's what the makers of this Jurassic Park were thinking.

Ex Machina

ex_machinaI don’t know if it is my advancing age or the inclusion of several laborious scenes set to synthesized music but I nodded off twice during the film. I did like it though, it certainly took an original spin on an age old robot theme. This film dispenses with the question of whether we can create AI. Instead it looks at what AI may think of us after having been created. Then yet another question arises: will AI agree to the station we assign it? Ex Machina is a very slow movie but it is clever and interesting if you are rested, at least I am sure it would be. It raises ethical questions about the manufacture of model-figured women who are not human but created to serve. I couldn’t help but recall the Stepford Wives.

There isn’t an original theme but the directorial choices are peppered with new stuff. The special effects are captivating. There are some jabs at Google and the collection of information. The maker says he was able to secure millions of cell phone data banks because the providers steal it and he threatened to expose them unless they shared. This was far fetched in my opinion but an interesting wake up call that Google and cell phone companies probably have far too much on us. Google execs and programmers are the new Howard Hugheses (plural sp?). In this film they are very scary, almost to smart for their own good. What’s more, they’re making female robots, often fully naked on screen, that are devoid of morals. This could be interesting for some. For laborious scenes and general lack of original theme, it lost 2 stars from me.

The One I Love

This movie was on every banner before my eyes every time I’d log on to IMDB, Netflix, Rotten Tomatoes, or movie phone. Clearly the gods of matching meta data were in its favor. Every time I clicked on it I just saw a boring, wanna be romance that said in the synopsis it was about a couple at the end of their marriage trying to rekindle things. It just didn’t excite me but I kept it on my list just in case nothing else was on. I highly recommend not giving up on movies because this one ended up being the opposite of boring. It is indeed about a failing relationship but the steps they take to make it better are partly science fiction. That’s right, I said that genre. It’s sort of a Twilight Zone meets a couple in therapy. I know my wife and I related with some of the humor and the sci fi. More than anything, it got me thinking about the many sides to our partner and how we can fall in love with one and not the other. In the end, which will we choose to live with? More importantly, which will we not.

I like Mark Duplass a lot. He has that “older guy” feeling to him in this. Ironically, he is 8 years younger than me. I won’t get too into it but you see a lot of aspects of his character. He was a bit over the top for my taste in My Sister’s Sister. In this one he has calmed down a lot and delivers a more mature, soulful performance. Elizabeth Moss was a perfect casting choice as the wife. I’ve respected and enjoyed her work since Girl Interrupted and she continues to please in this. One more character I enjoyed seeing, though it’s a small role, was Ted Danson as the therapist. Great to see him in a movie! If you’re in a relationship and you’re looking for a date movie, this would be an excellent choice. Couples who are more long term may enjoy it more as it covers some of the issues that tend to appear only after the honeymoon phase has passed. This was a breath of fresh air combing romantic comedy with sci fi. I’m reminded of The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Adjustment Bureau, and About Time so it’s not a new seasoning. In this case, it’s more subtle than the ones I mentioned but it really made the message of the film more attractive and easily heard. The end is another twist after the main twist. I loved it.

Gave So Much to This Wonderful Life

I’ve been thinking in recent years about what people say when someone dies. When Dr. Seuss died I heard many people say, “He gave so much to the world.” I never thought of art as giving. In a way, for me, it’s more like taking. When I write a song or write a blog post I feel like I am getting something. When you think about it however, art by its very nature involves a receiver and therefore is a giving act. When you give, you make a splash in the lake of existence. I imagine all my art as a pebble thrown into a still lake. As it ripples out I hope it touches someone and they are moved to do something artistic as well. I don’t get many comments on my blog lately but I have received thankful ones in the past saying the post really helped them in some way. There go the ripples.

It’s Christmas eve and we tried something new this year. We saw the local Cinemark was playing It’s a Wonderful Life so we took our three kids to the afternoon showing. Seeing those vintage actors playing in such an amazing film was inspiring to me. I thought about how all the actors gave so much to the world in that movie. The producer, director and everyone involved with the film gave their all. I think of the amazing acting from the actor who paid Mr. Potter and the “special effects” crew that threw soap shavings in the scenes where there was snow. The movie gives to this day while the humans involved in it are all but dead now. Jimmy Stewart indeed left so much behind for us. Sometimes I look at the way I spend my time and I think it doesn’t matter what I leave behind, because I’ll be gone. Other times I think about the next generations and what my life’s work will mean to them. Christmas, I think, is a great time to meditate on that.

Interstellar

I wasn’t pleased with this one but it didn’t suck either. It might be argued the director’s goals were too interstellar. Let me say that my review here is short and does not include much that would spoil the movie plot. I tried to not give anything big away, but I digress. Like many people I was duped by the advertising into thinking it was the next “Gravity.” I guess that’s because they show space and space-suits in the commercials. It’s more akin to Contact, another space movie that also starred Matthew McConaughey. Contact, however, was based more in spirituality and emotion than space and realism. I liked Gravity for its realism so I was a bit disappointed.

My wife made a great point early on in the film when she said it reminded her of the M. Night Shyamalan film Signs. It is a lot like Signs with the effects of Gravity and the odd surrealism of Contact. Having said that, I must make it clear it is FAR too long. The best part is the relationship with the daughter and her father. He leaves her to go to space and find a new habitation for earthlings and regrets it. I won’t say anymore than that. I give it 3/5 stars. It is a great story, though again too long, with amazing effects and some quantum physics hypotheticals thrown in there in such a way as suggests “just cuz.” I think it tries to do too much but many audiences will like it because of the touching story between the daughter and father. It had me choked up more than once. Ok. That’s more than I knew going into into it so I’ll stop now. Go see it, it’s a fun intellectual ride, though not the Gravity type of space movie some may hope to see. You may see it differently, let me know in the comments won’t you?

Mr. Peabody & Sherman – 4/5 stars

Anyone from Generation X (my generation I should add) is likely to remember Rocky and Bullwinkle on television where you’d hear Bullwinkle open by saying “Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.” That was the show we watched when our homework was done or after soccer games on Saturday. In the deeper recesses of our pop cultural memory, you find the sub-show inside that was the original Mr. Peabody & Sherman. It was sarcastic yet subdued. Perhaps the time gave it an air of university, peace, and love. Rod Serling? Beatniks? I don’t relly know how to explain it. The era was indefinable. In the show, the ingenious Mr. Peabody has “a boy,” the inverse of a boy having a dog. Yes, Mr. Peabody is a dog but he’s also a history buff, a professor, and a time traveler. This dog got it goin’ on! Still, you never get the impression that Mr. Peabody “loves” Sherman as his son. Trust me, I watched a bunch of old episodes on Youtube this morning and you don’t. Then there’s the new film. A somewhat different animal.

The film Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014) creates the duo well and we are given much adventure in the process. Unfortunately, for this viewer who came with high hopes, it fails to recreate the cult feel of the 1959 animated shorts. It’s sort of like that but set to Jimmy Neutron styled animation. They also make a huge deal out of Sherman being his “son.” This gets odd, even for me an adoptive father. I think they took that “new” slant on the time traveling story and made it the bedrock of the movie, It should never have been added. The feel of the old cartoons was enough to build without additions. Still, the animation is incredible. The kids of today will also get some historical references they may have not heard in their short lives. I took all three of my kids and they seemed to enjoy it beginning to end. For me as their dad, that says a lot about how I will rate a family movie. 4/5 Stars.

Riddick

I saw Riddick today with my son and I must say: it rocked! It had all the fun elements of the first movie, Pitch Black, with less of the boring things that slowed The Chronicles of Riddick down last time (the second in the series). When the second film didn’t fare well in movies, many people probably thought that was the end for Vin Diesel’s Riddick character. To their surprise, it set records on DVD viewing and a third movie happened as a result.

The first half of the movie is full of cgi creatures and Riddick kicking ass. He is in survival mode and as a viewer you don’t just watch him, you feel you are among the action. He develops a friendship with a hyena-like pup that is truly touching, especially in the end when the pup is grown. We learn how smart Riddick is in this half. Some might argue this survival segment is too long but I was entertained the whole way through. Fans of special effects and action suspense will love this segment even if Riddick is the only actor we encounter here.

The second half brings us back to what we are familiar with: Riddick being pursued (unsuccessfully) by a group of people. Riddick of course evades the bounty hunter (who is killed in an especially grotesque yet original way) and the military hunters who prove no match for the survivalist Riddick. There are some scenes that lag in the second half which is why I didn’t give it a perfect Riddick 5/5. Some character development could have been better and the villain wasn’t a very good actor. Ironically, the less characters there were in the story, the stronger it was for me.

This movie is full of gadgets, weaponry, and creatures. In addition, we get Riddick at his best kicking ass and taking no prisoners. I wouldn’t blame the franchise if they made another. I’m a solid Riddick fan after this third installment.

George Lucas: Star Wars Creator

George Lucas struggled for years to make people believe in his vision. He is an amazing filmmaker and an example to all of us who have visions that are outside the norm.

Lucas started his career with an odd futuristic movie that not many people “got” only to follow that with “American Graffitti,” a 50’s nostalgia flick that also got mixed reviews. You would think at this point, since he is in a career that relies upon public approval, that Lucas would have adopted the most popular genre and tried to gain fans through addressing that. But he didn’t.

Instead he spent years working on a high budget space movie unlike anything the public had seen or approved of throughout history. It was Star Wars, released in 1977. I was 8 years old when I saw Star Wars the first time, and my mind was blown, along with the minds of every other kid about my age. I saw Star Wars 17 times as a kid. The movie was part of my psyche. I remember playing the soundtrack record and reciting lines from the movie as I did.

Since then, Lucas has been able to do whatever he chooses with film. His story is truly an amazing thing. Oh, and one other tidbit that brings his story home to me is the fact that he was born close to me in Modesto, California . . . not on Mount Zion or other place like that.

There are countless kids (including adult kids) that Star Wars has amazed. Thanks for believing in your vision George.

Below are 30 pieces of little-known trivia about Star Wars that fans of George Lucas might enjoy: (source)

THE MAKING OF STAR WARS

1. The first trailer for the film hit cinemas six months before it was to open – with tag lines such as “the story of a boy, a girl and a universe” and “a billion years in the making” – as executives hoped to drum up some interest in a film they had little faith in.

2. Made on a budget of $11m (5.5m) it made $215m (108m) in the US during its original release, and $337m (170m) overseas. The final film in the franchise – Revenge of the Sith – cost about $113m (57m) to make.

3. It was originally called The Star Wars, but “the” was dropped fairly early on in the creative process.

4. The full title Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope first appeared when the film was re-released in 1981.

5. Director George Lucas originally had a contract with Fox for $150,000 (75,941) for writing and directing Star Wars. But he cannily insisted on total control and 40% of merchandising – something the studio agreed to because they had no idea of what a phenomenon Star Wars would become.

6. The famous – and often imitated – opening crawl for Star Wars was co-written by Brian De Palma, the director of Scarface. It begins “It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.”

7. Sir Alec Guinness made a ton of money from the film having recognised its potential success and negotiating a deal for two per cent of box office takings. He also refused to do any promotional work for the film.

8. Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2, are the only actors credited with being in all six Star Wars films.

9. Harrison Ford was far from George Lucas’ first choice to play Han Solo as the director had wanted completely new faces for Star Wars. Ford had already starred in Lucas’ American Graffiti.

10. The original release date was set for Christmas 1976 but major delays in filming saw it pushed back. The Fox studio had threatened to close down production when filming over-ran by more than two weeks.

11. Ralph McQuarrie created the paintings which were used to illustrate how the Star Wars universe could look. He started out as a technical illustrator for Boeing.

12. The Wookiee Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’ beloved dog Indiana – an Alaskan malamute.

13. Lucas once said that the shape of the Millennium Falcon was based on a hamburger.

14. George Lucas based the character of Han Solo on his friend Francis Ford Coppola.

15. The droids R2-D2 and C-3PO are said to be based on the 1958 Akira Kourosawa film Kakushi toride no san akunin (The Hidden Fortress). Other characters in Star Wars were also drawn from the film including Han Solo and Ben Kenobi.

MARKETING AND MERCHANDISING

16. Cinemas in the US were press-ganged into buying the film after few took up the option, with the threat that they wouldn’t get The Other Side of Midnight – a widely-anticipated adaptation of a Sidney Sheldon novel. The Other Side of Midnight, starring Susan Sarandon, was a box office flop.

17. Publicity supervisor Charles Lippincott was aware of the power of the sci-fi fan, going along to conventions to talk about Star Wars and what audiences could expect. He was largely credited with bringing in huge opening day audiences.

18. The merchandise for the film was not in place to accommodate the demand for the first Christmas rush after the film’s release. Lucas and merchandise company Kenner Toys hit upon a novel idea with the introduction of early bird certificate boxes. These were basically empty boxes that promised the receiver they would get the figures once they had been made. They sold for $16 at the time and the actual figures arrived two months later. Limited edition packs were re-released in 2005.

19. More than 250 million small action figures were shipped in the eight years after the first film, going to countries across the world. In the first year alone 42m were sold.

AWARDS

20. Composer John Williams won an Oscar for his score for Star Wars. The music was later named by the American Film Institute as the greatest film score of all time.

21. A New Hope was the only one of the six films in the franchise to be nominated in the Academy Awards best picture category. It lost out to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.

MISHAPS AND MISCELLANEOUS

22. Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, was involved in a car accident following primary shooting. His face was damaged making reshoots impossible. Hamill later said he only broke his nose and reports that his face was reconstructed were wide of the mark.

23. Anthony Daniels was injured during his first outing as C-3PO when a leg piece fell off his gold-coloured costume and shattered – stabbing him in the foot.

24. On the first day of filming in the deserts of Tunisia, the country experienced its first major rainstorm in 50 years and a rest day had to be called.

25. When filming moved to Elstree it was hoped the earlier problems encountered in the desert would be finished. But a new problem arose in the shape of the strict British working conditions adhered to on set. Lucas says that filming had to close at 5.30pm on the dot, unless he was in the middle of a shot – when he could ask workers to stay for an extra 15 minutes.

Darth Vader costume
Darth Vader was played by British actor Dave Prowse

26. One of the most famous bloopers from the film is when stormtroopers burst into a room and one of them hits his head on the door frame. Fans of Star Wars and the blooper have spotted hundreds of “mistakes” throughout the Star Wars franchise but many can only be spotted by the most eagle-eyed viewer.

27. Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca, worked as a hospital orderly in London before being cast as the Wookiee. He was said to have got into character by copying the mannerisms of animals he visited at the zoo.

28. David Prowse, the 6ft 7ins actor who plays Darth Vader, had problems filming lightsaber scenes as he kept breaking the poles that were used as stand-ins for the weapons. In the sequels, fight co-ordinator Bob Anderson stepped into the costume to film the lightsaber scenes.

29. George Lucas wanted his sets to look worn and scuffed but the studio cleaning service continually cleaned and tidied up after a day’s filming – much to the director’s dismay.

30. Lucas’ stress levels reached such a height that he thought he was having a heart attack. He was diagnosed with hypertension and exhaustion and told to rest – something the punishing schedule would not allow. One can only imagine his life insurance quotes now.

wow.

Grown Ups 2

The four-square poster reads: Sandler, James, Rock, Spade. This is probably because they are the biggest names. After them however you have a cast of thousands and everyone is funny. That sounds like the recipe for any Adam Sandler movie. Grown Ups 2 whips it out of the oven like a pie once again and I sure enjoyed my piece. It lags story-wise middle to the end but the event as a whole is enjoyable.  Besides, you don’t compare Sandler films to normal films. This one is somewhere toward the middle of Sandler’s stuff. One of the best performances comes from Shaq who plays a cop, the “little brother” of Tim Meadows’ character. His comic relief is genius. Taylor Lautner as the rival frat boy leader does some sidesplitting stuff.

You really can’t miss when your promise to the audience is simple and has been played out as far back as Happy Gilmore. This franchise has a lot more fart and puke stuff going on but we know that going in so we can laugh heartily. There’s some sexual stuff going on here as well that I know the males of the world will not complain about. Between the cheerleader car wash and the gay pilates leader, there is something for both straight and … well, you know what I’m talking about. 80’s music, fart jokes, drinking beer, and checking out large busted women are the hallmark of this movie franchise. I think they could produce another one and make a lot of money whether the critics liked it or not. You know how Hollywood is, they probably will. I had a blast watching this film, I recommend it for about age 13 and up (though all ages will like the farts).

Life of Pi

Life of Pi is a fantasy film that is dramatic and also philosophical in nature. The film covers a lot of ground. It begins as a chronicle of one boy’s life and how he grows into a man that decides to believe in God. The God part of this film makes it somewhat predictable. It certainly wasn’t written by Ernest Hemingway who seemed to hint at an atheist reality. Instead, this film, which began as a bestseller book, takes us through the fantasy story of a man who survives a shipwreck and over 200 days at sea with a Bengal tiger. We are given two stories and offered the choice which to believe. In that way, minus Pi’s God theme, it reminded me a lot of K-Pax, which wasn’t a “God” themed film but also a fantasy film with 2 options to believe. K-Pax led you closer to the truth of the dual story In my opinion. In K-Pax, the fantasy option is a lot more easily swallowed (pardon the tiger pun). We are actually told by Pi in the end that if the fantasy story is preferable to the real story by a listener, then that listener is choosing to believe in God. Hmmm.

There is a touching and romantic scene where “Pi” asks a girl what her dance symbol meant. She tells him it was meant to show a Lotus flower in the jungle. When there is an allusion that God will enter the story, that would have been a perfect chance to include a Lotus flower. Sadly, we get an explanation more suited to Tim Burton’s Big Fish: Nonsensical albeit human. Believing in God is such a personal activity I certainly don’t think a fantasy film can help me perform it. If one is looking for emotion and fantasy to believe in, church and the Life of Pi will fill that desire well. On the other hand, if one wishes to look at things as they are, neither church nor the Life of Pi will open any heavens.

While it started out intriguing and the middle scenes were nothing short of cinematic beauty, Life of Pi failed to address the real question which is: “How can a man have faith when he is alone against nature?” I would have liked to see that study continue throughout the film. As it is, it stops half-way through. Those who believe in God will find a warmth in this film that may strengthen their beliefs. At the same time, despite the amazing cinematography, atheists and shades in between will enjoy only that: a big screen version of Nat Geo HDTV. All will be entertained but no philosophies will be turned.