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Movies Review

Movie Review – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The first Jurassic Park is a classic. Plenty of tension, action, humor.  When we have fond memories of this franchise, that’s the movie we’re all thinking of.  As you move forward, they decline rapidly in quality.  Most of the good feelings you have for The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 are due to Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill.  The hugeness of Jurassic World’s success came as a bit of a shock, so despite the actual plot of THAT movie being pretty dumb there was no way a franchise-hungry production company wasn’t going to follow it up.  Which means we get stuck with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  Spoilers from here on out.

“No, you’re making all new ones”

Your mistakes will always come back to haunt you.  It’s been a cornerstone of this series.  Hammond and many others make tons of mistakes, mostly out of hubris.  Why not bring dinosaurs back, what could go wrong?  What happens if the computers fail?  Or the power goes out?  Every subsequent movie compounds this, because the mistakes just get worse every time.  “Let’s bring a T-Rex to San Diego!”  “You know, that ten ton engine of murder wasn’t nearly dangerous enough, let’s genetically engineer something worse!”

That Fallen Kingdom

That brings us to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  After yet another park fails catastrophically, we find Claire…wait, nobody’s in jail?  I know Masrani was killed, but were there NO CONSEQUENCES?  Hundreds of rich white people got trampled and eaten!  We’re expected to believe that Claire somehow cares deeply for dinosaurs?  Before this, she was a business woman, and seemed to regard the dinosaurs as attractions, no different than amusement park rides.  Then they very nearly eat her AND her nephews.  Yeah, not their fault but where in there did she become an animal rights advocate?  Oy.

A previously-unmentioned volcano threatens to destroy the dinos on the island, and Claire wants to rescue them.  Luckily for her, Hammond had a previously-unmentioned partner in the past who wants to save them too!

Everything goes wrong

Except they double-cross Claire (and Owen, who wants to go back and save Blue, the best character in these two movies) and take the dinosaurs to sell to what amounts to a bunch of supervillains.  Seriously, Arnim Zola from the Captain America movies is there and everything.  Owen and Claire (with the required cute kid sidekick) manage to thwart the bad guy (Eli Mills, who killed Hammond’s partner earlier in the movie and looks like an uncanny valley copy of Ryan Reynolds) but in doing so, they release a few dozen dinosaurs into the wild.  Of the United States.

That right there has the potential to be a complete ecological disaster.  It’s not clear if there are breeding pairs, but we’ve already seen nature “find a way” previously.  You only have to look at Australia to see what could happen.  Maybe the final movie in the Jurassic World trilogy will deal with that?  Not sure if that would have enough big dinosaur fighting action for the studio though.

Owen!

It’s not all bad, as Chris Pratt is still charming, and the cinematography is fine.  They show too much of the dinosaurs though, which has been an issue since the The Lost World.  Bryce Dallas Howard no longer wears high heels in the jungle.  Jeff Goldblum’s extended cameo, most of which you saw or heard in the trailers, is great, and is well-used.

If you can see it cheap (Moviepass, matinee) it would be fine.  If you need to refresh your memory on Jurassic World first, rent it at Amazon.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Kubo and the Two Strings

We saw Kubo and the Two Strings a while ago, but I’m just gathering my thoughts on it now.  It’s quite possibly my favorite Laika movie, and that’s saying something as Coraline gets a ton of play, especially this time of year.  Kubo deals with complex feelings with mind-numbingly gorgeous visuals.  It’s the sort of movie (like When Marnie Was There) where you are tearing up at the end and you’re not sure if you are happy or sad or both.

It’s funny, if I try to explain the plot, it sounds really convoluted.  I think my wife (who didn’t go see it with us) is still confused.  Watching the movie, though, everything is crystal clear, and it kept me so emotionally invested that I never saw the twists coming, even if I should have.  That’s a sign to me of a great movie.  Travis Knight is the director, having been a lead animator on many of Laika’s previous works, and does a fantastic job.  While you may scratch your head a bit at Matthew McConaughey as a beetle-Samurai, the voice cast does great work, with Art Parkinson (GoT’s Rickon Stark), Rooney Mara, George Takei, and Ralph Fiennes all pulling their weight.  There are scary parts, and creepy parts, so keep your younger/more sensitive kids close.

Really, just go see this movie.  You complain about everything being a sequel or franchise movie, nothing original?  SEE THIS.  On the biggest screen you can.  Bring a few tissues, and a child young enough that they’ll let you hug them afterwards.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Storks

We saw Storks at a preview screening, and it had some really cute parts and fun actiony bits.  However, I think they just had no idea how to start the movie to get to those bits and just decided to use the “I’m giving you the company as long as you don’t screw up this one final task” trope.  Throughout the movie characters keep asking Junior (the star that’s a stork, voiced by Andy Samberg) why he wants to be the boss, and he doesn’t know.  I don’t think the filmmakers did either.

Once they get past that part, the movie is fun.  Basically, storks used to deliver babies made in a magical device, but now people get their babies some other way.  Yeah, it’s strange.  Now storks deliver packages for an Amazon clone.  Tulip is the one human on Stork Mountain, a failed delivery after the stork assigned to her ‘fell in love’ with the cute little baby and refused to fulfill his duty.  She’s a free spirit, but doesn’t fit in despite her best efforts.  Tulip accidentally makes a new baby after getting a letter from a kid who really wants a baby brother (who has a whole subplot about busy parents reconnecting with him), and Junior and Tulip go on an adventure to get the baby to her family.

I normally wouldn’t have been that detailed about the plot but I feel like the commercials and early trailers didn’t really give you any idea what the movie was about.  I enjoyed it, all of the principal cast did a solid job with the voices, including Key and Peele as a pair of wolves that want to take the baby to raise as their own.  But there is one character so bad that it came way too close to ruining the movie – Stephen Glickman’s “Pigeon Toady”.  He speaks with an extremely annoying ‘Dude, braaaaah’ affectation that I don’t think one person found funny.  I never understand how a character that poorly made gets past everyone that sees the movie before release.

Storks has some funny bits and some heartwarming bits, but wasn’t a home run.  If your kids want to see it, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon, but it’s not required viewing.  If you do go, plug your ears whenever the pigeon is talking.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Full disclosure:  if I saw the original movie as a kid, I don’t remember it.  This version of Pete’s Dragon starts out in the most Disney manner ever, with Pete (Oakes Fegley) losing his parents but being rescued by Elliott.  Pete lives in the forest for several years with Elliott, until he’s found by Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard), a forest ranger who reminds him of his mother.

Look, I’m not going to surprise you if I tell you what happens.  Bonds will form, there’s danger, happy ending, lots of tears if that’s your thing.  It’s a well-made movie, and Elliott is beautifully animated.  It moves a bit slow on occasion, so if you have younger children who are fidgety, keep that in mind.  The cast is rounded out by Wes Bentley, Karl Urban (as the closest thing to a villain, he wants to capture Elliott), and Robert Redford.  All are very earnest, I guess is the best way I can describe it.

Pete’s Dragon is a great way to spend an afternoon with your family, and hey, sometimes you need that.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Star Trek Beyond

I’ve got a bit of a love/hate relationship with the “Kelvin-verse” Star Trek movies.  I really like the cast, and have come to grips with the fact that, since it’s not a TV show, the movies need to shade a bit more to the action side of things than the more cerebral Trek episodes.  Still, the first two movies (especially Star Trek Into Darkness) made some really painful story choices and had me looking at Star Trek Beyond with a bit of trepidation.  I’m happy to report that Star Trek Beyond was pretty darn great, and definitely my favorite of the three so far.

I think what works here more than the previous two movies is, you actually feel like these individuals have come together as a crew.  There are quiet moments of contemplation and camaraderie mixed in with the action beats and it just makes it feel more like Star Trek.  I could actually believe this crew having to deal with some of the stranger stuff from the original series, like Trelaine or Apollo or planets where everybody talks like a gangster.

Beyond follow this crew right in the middle of their 5 year mission, with Kirk handling a diplomatic exchange between two warring races.  Unlike what we’re used to with Picard, it does not go well.  “I ripped my shirt again,” Kirk laments at one point in a tongue-in-cheek moment.  He feels a bit lost, which makes sense as this version of Kirk didn’t have his Starfleet dad to watch and look up to his whole life.

It isn’t uncommon, you know? It’s easy to get lost. In the vastness of space, there’s only yourself, your ship, your crew.

This line comes from Commodore Paris, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo of The Expanse, as Kirk discusses taking a desk job with her.  This is a different spin on the original cast movies, with Admiral Kirk leaving the desk job behind to get out and make a difference in the galaxy again.  Pine’s Kirk is chafing under the monotony of a five year mission, feeling ‘episodic’ (:wink:) and having trouble with the idea that you never really reach a destination out in the vastness of space.  It also works as a counterpoint to the villain, who was sent out into space himself (remaining vague so as not to spoil things) and was broken by it.

I loved the character beats between the leads, it felt very much like the classic series Kirk/Spock/McCoy interactions.  Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah fit in fairly well, and I liked that they didn’t shoehorn in some romantic subplot just because they were adding a female lead.  If there’s one thing that bothered me about Beyond, it’s that 20-21st century music played a role again.  Yeah, it was a callback to the first movie but it felt a bit out of place then and it still does now.  Minor quibble, though, to be sure.

If you are a Trek fan but were turned off by Star Trek Into Darkness, give Star Trek Beyond a try.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Ghostbusters (2016)

I’m happy to report that I have seen the new Ghostbusters movie and did not, in fact, experience the death of my childhood.  We all enjoyed it quite a bit.  Sure, there’s a few bits that don’t land but that’s true of the original Ghostbusters if you can manage to view it without the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.

The story focuses mostly on Melissa McCarthy’s Dr. Abby Yates and Kristen Wiig’s Dr. Erin Gilbert, who used to work together and wrote a book on the paranormal.  Gilbert distanced herself from it, while Yates continues to research ghosts.  They come back together when Yates puts the book up on Amazon, threatening her tenure at Columbia.  Of course, they DO end up both finding a ghost and losing their jobs which leads to the creation of the Ghostbusters.

Abby’s new partner, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), comes along with her as the engineer who builds the ghostbusting equipment, and Leslie Jones’s Patty Tolan joins up after she encounters a ghost in the subway, bringing her knowledge of New York City (and her uncle’s hearse) to the team.  Chris Hemsworth rounds out the main cast as Kevin, the extremely dim-witted but hunky secretary.  I thought all the leads were great, especially Kate McKinnon as you no doubt have heard by now.  Holtzmann is wonderfully weird, and my daughters both loved Abby.  I even saw my son, who was totally “Why did they remake it with GIRLS?” before smiling and laughing at multiple points.

The original Ghostbusters cast (those still with us, RIP Harold Ramis) all had fun cameos, especially Bill Murray as a James Randi-esque paranormal debunker. There’s a bit of off-color humor, though not nearly as much as the original, about on par with Guardians of the Galaxy.  There’s a lot of fun to be had here, so if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth a trip to check it out.

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Movies Review

Inside Out and When Marnie Was There

I’m late posting this, but I saw both Inside Out and When Marnie Was There with the kids, and boy was THAT an emotional wringer.  But in the best way. Seeing them both that close together makes for an interesting comparison – both movies focus on a girl dealing with the emotions of adolescence.

Riley in Inside Out starts out with a great life – attentive parents, friends, her hockey team, but it all gets turned upside down when her Dad’s new job takes her away. Anna, in When Marnie Was There, starts out in that same dark place. She’s in foster care, sent to the country for the summer to help with her breathing. She feels cut off from everyone, with the final straw being when she find out Yoriko, her foster mother, gets a stipend for taking care of her and Anna believes that means no one would care for her without external benefits.

In both cases, we experience their journeys to maturity though in vastly different ways. For Riley, we see how she’s leaned on “Joy” her whole life, and how “Sadness” helps her by letting those around her know she needs support. Anna, by contrast, makes a surprising family connection from her early childhood, and makes some friends in the process. Both movies can bring the tears though Inside Out counters it with humor (hey, it’s Pixar!) whereas When Marnie Was There will leave you with a melancholy smile, if that make sense.

I highly recommend both movies, as both are gorgeous in their own ways, and emotionally affecting. We watched Marnie in Japanese with subtitles, but the English cast is superb (Hailee Steinfeld, Geena Davis, John C. Reilly, Grey DeLisle) and I can’t wait to hear their dub. Pre-order Inside Out and When Marnie Was There.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Tomorrowland

We saw Tomorrowland, and quite enjoyed it.  It felt to me like a throwback to the 80s kid adventure movies, with a modern budget.  It isn’t perfect, but the visuals and the solid kid actors make it worthwhile.

The story centers around two people – Frank Walker, seen both as a 12 year old inventor at the World’s Fair and as an old sourpuss now, and Casey Newton, a teenage dreamer with a penchant for wrecking government property (to keep Cape Canaveral open and save her dad’s job, at least for a few more weeks).  A mysterious young girl (Athena) slips Casey the pin you see in the trailers, which begins the adventure.

If there’s one problem the movie has, it’s that it takes too long to get you TO Tomorrowland.  There’s a lot of time spent establishing how Casey is one of the few dreamers left, and her family life, but her family doesn’t factor in much until the very end.  It’s also criminal that the marketing didn’t feature more of Athena, as Raffey Cassidy is a scene-stealer, though I’m sure they wanted to keep the truth of her character a surprise.

The uneven pacing kept this from being a huge hit for me, but it was a good way to pass an afternoon.  It should be popping up in second-run theaters and will be on DVD/Blu-Ray/digital copy soon.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

tale-of-princess-kaguya-1I FINALLY got to see a show at the North Park, and I was thrilled that it was this one, Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.  Isao Takahata’s latest is a beautiful and heart-rending re-telling of the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.  One day, a bamboo cutter sees a glowing stalk of bamboo in the forest.  In it, he finds a tiny girl, which he takes home to his wife.  The little ‘princess’ magically turns into a baby, one that grows extraordinarily quick, earning her the nickname ‘Little Bamboo’ from the village children.

The bamboo cutter finds more glowing stalks in the forest, filled with gold and fine silks.  He takes little bamboo away from the village and to the capital, building a fine mansion with servants and a governess to teach her the ways of nobility.  She pushes back against the strict behavior rules for girls and women, longing for the village where she could be free and happy.

As she gets older, the rumors of her beauty spread, and she and her father have to deal with suitors for her hand in marriage.  Again she balks at society’s rules for how she should look and get married, and she manages to hold off the five government ministers who came calling with some cleverness on her part.  This draws the attention of the Emperor himself.  I won’t say more about the story so as not to spoil the more fantastical parts, but it is quite melancholy at the end.

Without a doubt The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was one of the most beautifully animated movies I’ve ever seen.  The watercolor style, which shifts to rough slashing pencils and blasts of color when Kaguya is running and angry are amazing.  If you are tired of all the 3D animated stuff out there, this is a welcome change.

For those taking children, the English dub is star-studded and quite solid as is usual for Studio Ghibli – James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, and Lucy Liu are great, as is Chloë Grace Moretz as the princess.  I did not make it to see the subtitled version.  Also, the movie is quite long, though my 6 year old daughter and I barely noticed.  If you can see it on the big screen, DO IT!  Otherwise, buy a Blu-Ray and watch it – just make sure you have tissues handy for the more sensitive among you.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Big Hero 6

Took the kids to see this at an advanced screening, and had a blast.  It is technically a Marvel movie, though the book is not exactly well-known.  Consider this in the vein of How to Train Your Dragon, in that a lot of the same parts are there, but plenty was changed to work better in a movie.  Some light spoilers from here.

The movie focuses on Hiro Hamada, a 14 year old genius inventor living with his older brother and Aunt after the death of their parents (Disney, I know, right?).  He spends his time building fighting robots and hustling in the underground bot-fighting subculture in “San Fransokyo”.  That is, until he gets inspired by visiting his brother’s lab at college, where Tadashi and his nerdy friends are building all sorts of cool inventions.  He decides to finally stop brooding and go to college, and just needs to prove himself at a high-tech science fair.  However, tragedy strikes, and Hiro is again dealing with great loss.

That’s where Baymax (the soft, inflatable robot) comes in.  Tadashi built Baymax to be a healthcare bot (based on real-world research into making robots friendlier) and picking up on Hiro’s distress, Baymax does whatever he can to help Hiro.  He get’s Hiro and Tadashi’s school friends involved and allows the ‘upgrades’ so Hiro can look for the culprit behind the fire that killed his brother.

The movie is beautiful – the stylized San Francisco/Tokyo hybrid city is super-cool.  The bit where Hiro and Baymax fly for the first time takes me right back to the pure joy of Tony Stark’s first outing in the Mark II suit.  The movie slows down a bit in the middle but my kids had no problems staying with it.  There is one twist in the plot as far as who the villain is – genre savvy parents might figure it out, but the smaller ones will be surprised.  The movie definitely plays with the concept of a sympathetic villain.

We had a great time, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again (and if my kids have their way, again and again and again).  It won’t capture the world the way Frozen did, but that’s a tough act to follow.  Definitely on par with Wreck-It Ralph.  See it.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – X-Men: Days of Future Past

The X-Men movie franchise has had it’s ups and downs.  The first two movies were very good despite the myriad changes and tweaks to the characters, while X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine were on the rough side.  First Class was good, but went a long way towards making the continuity issues worse (How much older is Havok than Cyclops?  Are they even related? Xavier knew Mystique as a child?).  The Wolverine went a little sideways for the ending but I freaking love Yukio.  A lot of eyebrows were raised when the next team movie was announced as Days of Future Past, with a cast of thousands.  I only exaggerate a little there.  DoFP (see my review of the comic) is a time travel story that covers both the younger First Class version of our favorite mutants, and the dystopic future that needs to be stopped.  I was very curious to see if a time travel story could be pulled off, and am happy to report that Singer and company probably did the best you could expect.

First things first – if you read the comics, you know that Kitty Pryde is supposed to be the one that goes back in time.  Unfortunately, they change that to Wolverine (who else?) mostly so they can keep both casts involved.  I really liked Kitty in those issues of the comics, and love Ellen Page, so it’s hard to see her basically stuck holding onto Wolverine’s brain for 2 hours instead of kicking ass herself.  We do get Storm and Blink with the future mutants, and with Blink in particular, I hope we see more of her.

The story hits the major comic beats as much as possible.  Mystique’s killing of Bolivar Trask (played ably by Peter Dinklage) sets their terrible future in motion, and Wolverine has to stop her.  We meet Quicksilver, who turned out to be a ton of fun.  Uneasy alliances form, and are crushed.

I had a lot of fun in the movie, but there were a couple of oddities.  They explain Wolverine having to be the one sent back that far with his healing factor, that only his mind could handle it.  The serum that Beast and Xavier use is stupid.  Something that can suppress mutant powers?  Why would beast be surprised at the ‘cure’ when he was halfway to making one decades before?  And young Xavier being able to walk while using it is almost as bad as the 90s cartoon, which also had his legs working while his powers were suppressed in the Savage Land.  The framing of Mystique’s arc as the choice between two men was a head-scratcher.

Despite all of that, you can tell Singer was here instead of Ratner – he manages to get some real emotional moments from these characters.  The big reveals after they win are great, and the setup is there for Apocalypse to take the stage.  Definitely worth a watch, though fans of Kitty may have a tough time with it.

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Movie Review – Godzilla

Japanese kaiju (or giant monster) movies have been part of my pop culture since I was a kid, and my older brothers watched the various Godzilla and King Kong movies. Though I probably got the most enjoyment from the Gamera movies as they appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Even without Pacific Rim appearing on the scene, you knew there’d be a ‘reboot’ of Godzilla for American audiences, the question is, would it be better than the deplorable 1998 version?  For me, it’s a qualified yes.

The story focuses on the family of Joe Brody, played by Bryan Cranston.  Joe and his wife work at a Japanese nuclear plant experiencing some odd, rhythmic seismic activity.  Joe sends Sandra (criminally underused Juliette Binoche) and a team to investigate the sensors giving the reports when disaster strikes.  Joe is forced to seal his wife and her team inside to protect everyone else from an explosion.  Cranston and Binoche sell the heck out of this, and it works.

Fast-forward 15 years, and the Brodys’ son Ford is making a life for himself as a Navy man, in Explosive Ordinance Disposal.  That won’t come in handy or anything!  Unfortunately, his dad hasn’t been able to let go of what happened, getting pinched trying to sneak in to the quarantined area.  Joe convinces Ford to go back one last time to secure data he recorded that will prove his crackpot theory of what happened right…and they both get caught.  This time, they are taken into a secret facility where scientists (including Ken Watanabe, who I could listen to read the phone book) are studying a massive chrysalis.  Being movie scientists, they accidentally hatch the thing and the first MUTO lays waste to the facility (and Joe).  MUTO is an acronym, mind you, and not just something that sounds like what you’d name a monster.

The survivors at the base get taken to an American aircraft carrier which is trying to follow the beast.  But never fear, Godzilla is here!  Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) has a theory that Godzilla is nature’s way of balancing things out.  He rises from the depths to smack up anything that might wreck Mother Nature, other than us, I guess.  Maybe we’re next.  Here is where things go sideways a bit for me.  There’s two ways a movie like this can go.  One, you go full on MONSTERS WOOO mode, or two, you focus on the people surviving the crazy stuff.  This movie never made a choice.  It didn’t focus on the fights – more than once it cut away early from a fight or showed it small on a TV people were watching.  On the other hand, we didn’t feel much for our stalwart hero other than “Gee, it’s really lucky that a bomb disposal guy is just hanging out right where he’s needed”.  It did lead to one scene where Godzilla falls to the ground, and our hero Ford shares a look with him like “Ain’t this something?  Shoulda stayed in bed!”, which had me laughing out loud.

Anyway, this review is late, but I did enjoy the movie.  It certainly is a solid take on the classic Japanese version of the monster, and does well to ignore the American Godzilla of the late 90s.  Should be at your second-run theaters soon.