Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I got an email inviting me to a Premier Event Screening of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom! I RSVP-ed so dang quickly. It promised a Fan Fest with dinosaur props and tshirts and video games and all sorts of fun stuff. And as a bonus, I’d finally get to go to Walt Disney Concert Hall. Sooooo, it turns out that the premiere was the night before, and this was just a fan screening. Still, totally cool. And it also turns out that it’s such a maze getting to the concert hall, that it took me an extra half hour to find the right road and I didn’t have much time at the fan fest. Can’t really complain though. It was a fun change of pace for watching a movie.

Isla Nublar has been abandoned in the wake of the events at Jurassic World, and the dinosaurs are running wild. A volcano on the island erupts, threatening their extinction all over again. Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt are back to try and rescue as many of these noble creatures as they can, but the people bankrolling this mission might not actually have their sights set on an honorable mission.

The first half was basically more of the usual run-from-the-dinosaurs style we’re used to, where they continually tried to up the ante from previous films. The change of scenery for the second half made for a more calm film, hoping for an unsettling slow burn suspense. While I give them points for trying something different, for me, I felt like it killed the momentum and created a less thrilling film that I was expecting. The suspense just wasn’t there.

Something else I think they did right was to further try and establish the dinos as sympathetic creatures. They were more than just monsters to be scared of, but ones that you felt genuine emotion for. Again, not sure how well it worked since it toned down the urgency, but it did increase the emotional connection of the film.

Ultimately, you go see this movie for the dinosaurs (and Chris Pratt). And these dinos wanna be seen on the big screen. Just be sure to temper your expectations and not ask for anything more than that. Jurassic Park is long gone

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – \m/ \m/ \m/

Ocean’s 8

YESSS!!! I was all about this movie from it’s initial announcement. With each addition to the cast being revealed, I got more and more excited. Sandra Bullock. Cate Blanchett. Anne Hathaway. Helena Bonham Carter. Rihanna. Mindy Kaling. Sarah Paulson. Awkwafina. All the yes!!!

So it turns out George Clooney’s Danny Ocean has a sister (Debbie) and she is just as deep in the family business. After being paroled, she wastes no time getting some cohorts together (at which point I must highlight that it takes less ladies than men to get the job done) to execute a heist at the Met Gala. Specifically they’ll be stealing the jewels off the neck of an A list actress attending the exclusive event.

I loved every second of this. I can’t remember the last time I was so absorbed in a film from start to finish. It was fast and funny and fun and slick and sexy and smart. To me, this felt more in the spirit of Ocean’s Eleven than any of the other sequels did. The twists and turns were much sharper than Twelve or Thirteen and the payoff was possibly the best in the series.

Each stellar actress was cast perfectly to her strengths. I can’t even pick a standout or favorite because it changed from scene to scene. Can we do this again please?

Ocean’s Eight – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Hereditary

Lemme preface by saying you know I’m picky about horror, yeah? At least when it comes to straight up horror, I’m very specific about what I’m into. Camp, gore, suspense, those are all well and good. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I don’t typically scare easily, and I need more from a movie than just trying to scare me. I bring this up because I know that Hereditary is getting a lot of love. I just didn’t care for it much.

Hereditary starts off as more of a family drama, which is an angle I was all about. Toni Collette is having trouble keeping herself and her family together after her mother dies. I don’t know how detailed I can get without spoiling, but let’s just say it’s not going well. In fact, it’s kinda disturbing in how badly it’s going.

For me, I felt like it dragged a bit too much in getting going. Again, I like the idea of this basically being a family drama that just happens to have horror elements, but it was too drawn out for me. Once we did start to get into full on freak out, it felt like every other occult horror ever. They’ve never scared me before, and they didn’t scare me now.

Now doing some homework later, I found out that a lot of it could be interpreted as a take on mental illness. I kinda see it in retrospect, but it was nowhere near apparent to me when watching. I feel like if I had connected better to that, I would have enjoyed the film more. Those are the types of layers I like to see. But if I hafta learn about that later instead of picking up on it as I’m watching, that just doesn’t work for me. Bummer.

Hereditary – \m/ \m/ \n

The Iron Lady

And after all these films, Meryl _Finally_ gets another win. Think about it. In my 33 years on this earth, this is the only time she’s taken one home (thus far). That’s a huge gap between victories. But I feel like the sense in the Academy was that the bar was so high for her, she had to do something truly special to win.

Honestly, I don’t care for this movie much. You know how this Oscar season I was annoyed with Darkest Hour because it’s little more than a vehicle for Gary Oldman to win an Oscar? That’s basically my feeling towards The Iron Lady.

At least Thatcher is a character that hasn’t been fully explored on screen before (unlike Churchill), and I applaud Meryl for taking on yet another revolutionary feminist role, but the movie does little for me. I barely paid attention on the rewtach

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I can count on one hand the number of documentaries I’ve seen in a theater, and still have some fingers left over. This one is special. I’m gonna start this post with a link to my Stardust reaction filmed on my way out of the theater. I was a mess. So many feels. So so many. Most of the comments I was getting on the reaction from friends on the app were about how just the trailer got them crying. If you’re gonna see this movie (and you absolutely should) then bring tissues.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a documentary about Fred Rogers (please tell me I don’t need to explain who he is? If I do, this world is already lost.) It’s less about his life and more about his career and the philosophy of kindness he spread through his work and his life. It’s absolutely beautiful.

The film revisited stories I’d heard and taught me far more than I didn’t know. Mostly, I was in awe. In awe of this beautiful man and the beautiful work that he did, but also in awe of how rare he was. Why hasn’t there been a spiritual successor to Mr Rogers on tv? Why don’t we have someone validating our needs and feelings and teaching us the true value of our self worth? I rewatched some episodes of his show a couple months ago, and my main takeaway was that this world would be such a better place if we spent a little time in the Neighborhood every day.

Getting onto the more technical aspects of this as a film, one thing I’d like to point out that I thought was clever was the way that montages of children’s programming were used to highlight the passage of time. Each era of his career was prefaced with a brief clip of the television world he was counter programming. It was so effective in showing the contrast of his style as well as framing the setting. The editing in general was great. Bear in mind, I’m still learning about that art, but the clips of the show and old interviews and new interviews were seamlessly interwoven to tell the story

If I were to get picky about this film, my one criticism is that there were a lot of thoughts (especially towards the end) that were introduced and explored for only a few minutes and then dismissed. I would have liked to dive into these things more or just left them out. But really, I can’t complain. This film was so moving and has left me with such a good feeling to know I’m alive, and such a happy feeling I’m growing inside. I woke up ready to say I think I’ll make a snappy today.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Hotel Artemis

Scored an early check in to the Hotel Artemis, including a Q&A with the cast. Plus I got a free tshirt that’s a lil big!

This particular hotel is really a hospital for baddies. Not too far removed from The Continental in the John Wick movies. Questionable characters pay a membership fee to be allowed access. If a room is available, they get to stay and recover while under the care of the Nurse (Jodie Foster) and her Orderly (Dave Bautista). On this particular night of riots in the big city, Sterling K Brown and his brother Bryan Tyree Henry take shelter after a robbery gone bad. They encounter Sofia Boutella and Charlie Day already tucked into their rooms, and are soon joined by big bad boss dude Jeff Goldblum and his angry son Zachary Quinto.

Didja catch all those names I dropped? Oh let’s also throw in Jenny Slate just because. But yeah that list of names is why you see this movie. The one liner premise is cool, but the actual details of the plot are not anything special. We’re not uncovering any new storytelling ground. But that cast? Amazing.
-Great character work from Foster who we haven’t seen on this side of the camera in a while.
-Bautista got to take a bit more spotlight without hiding under extensive Drax makeup.
-Brown is very much the anti-Randall here and was almost my favorite.
-Favorite was Boutella who was mesmorizing and deadly. She wore the attitude required for her characters profession with such grace and style. And her fight sequence towards the end was worth everything.

I feel like I mighta expected a bit more, but for being small and gritty and low budget, it delivered.

Hotel Artemis – \m/ \m/ \m/

Doubt

This movie is incredible. I’ve seen it a couple times before, and was still completely blown away. I know this focus of this post series is to talk about Meryl Streep, but I’ve got more thoughts than that, that haven’t been covered here before.

That screenplay. THAT SCREENPLAY. It’s amazing. I haven’t seen the stage play (but gosh dang do I really want to), but it translated really well. Despite the minimal settings, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic, because the dialog is so rich that it fills the screen. Again, seen it a few times, and I still have no idea what happened. Not in the sense that I don’t know what’s going on, but in the sense that I don’t know what the truth is.

Lemme back up in case you’re unfamiliar with this story. It’s set in a Catholic school that’s run by the strictest nun that ever was (Streep’s Sister Aloysius). When a priest (a never been better Philip Seymour Hoffman) takes an interest in a young African American boy, Sister Aloysius begins to believe that there might be some scandalous behavior at play. But here’s the brilliance of how it’s written. Every scene, you think you know what the real story is. And then the next scene comes in and you completely change your mind. Then comes another scene. Ooooh that’s why it’s called doubt!

The acting is phenomenal. This was mine and much of the world’s first intro to Viola Davis as the boy’s mother, scoring her first Oscar nod with minimal screentime. But this is really about Hoffman and Streep going toe to toe. Two of the greatest actors of my lifetime digging into one of the richest scripts either has ever taken on. It’s such a masterclass in acting, and these performances are utterly compelling. Oh Amy Adams is in this too, and fantastic of course, but she’s kinda dwarfed by the other greats.

I should also say, this movie is the one that made Meryl my favorite actress. Well, this in combination with Mamma Mia. The fact that both those movies came out in the same year, on completely opposite ends of the spectrum genre wise, and she freaking killed both of them. That’s epic.

This movie should be mandatory viewing for any hardcore film buffs

American Animals

Didja like the atypical storytelling structure of I Tonya? Then pay attention to American Animals.

This is the true story of four college boys in Kentucky who tried to steal some extremely rare and valuable books from the local library. After a lifetime of movies telling them how easy it can be to game the system, they’re confronted with the harsh reality that life doesn’t play out the same way.

So why did I bring up I, Tonya? Because some of the techniques used to tell the story are very similar. You’ve got four actors playing out the scenes as they happen. Woven in is narration from the four real men recounting the events. They often contradict each other, further blurring the lines between fact and fiction. It’s incredibly well put together and very effective.

The story starts out light and funny. There’s some novelty scenes trying to recreate some of the movie magic they’re hoping will come into their lives. But slowly as the film goes on, it gets darker and darker as the weight of their actions starts to weigh in on them. The humor dissipates. The silly sequences and movie magic are all gone.

This was a particularly great showcase for Evan Peters. We’ve seen him get better and better with every passing season of American Horror Story, and this was yet another step up. Really psyched to see where he goes next, and what another “American” title he’ll take on

American Animals – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

The Room

Uhh you guys, I met Tommy Wiseau! Hold on, let’s backup for a second.

I assume if you’re interested enough in movies to be reading my humble blog, you’ve heard of The Room? Just in case, quick recap. Back in the early aughts, a man had a Hollywood dream. Refusing to let that dream be quashed by the powers that be, he sought out to write, direct, produce, and star in his own film. The film would go on to be known as the best worst movie ever made, and it would attain a cult status with midnight screenings and a faithful following of those who would stare in wonder at its over the top spectacle. That film was The Room and that man was Tommy Wiseau. I got to go to one of those famed midnight screenings, and it was a glorious experience.

I don’t even know how to explain what The Room is about. That’s one of its many many issues. There’s no real through story or continuity. At its core, I suppose you could say it’s about betrayal. It focuses on a man named Johnny, who lives with the love of his life Lisa. Lisa gets bored with Johnny and starts cheating on him with his best friend Mark. There are other things that happen, but if they are never mentioned twice in the film, did they even happen?

I think to think of this as the Murphy’s Law of movies: everything that can be bad is bad. We’ve already mentioned the story, or lack thereof. There’s also things like horrible acting, terrible dialog, magically moving set pieces, atrocious music, questionable editing, and pretty much any other issue you could possibly conjur. But that’s what makes the film so charming. Watching it with a crowd who knows to expect all of those missteps is unreal.

If you’ve ever been to a midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show, it’s a very similar concept (sans shadow cast). This isn’t a sit-in-the-theater-quietly type of situation. People are yelling and throwing things and cheering and laughing and having a better time than I’ve ever seen at the movies. Some yell funny one liners that match up with expected dialog. Others yell set phrases and responses whenever something happens. We throw plastic spoons at the screen every time the framed spoon is visible. Oh yes, there’s framed spoons in the background.

As far as the callbacks go, I found this to be far superior than Rocky Horror. If you’re a virgin at Rocky (meaning you’ve never been before) there’s few that you’re able to participate in. At The Room, many are repeated throughout a film or throughout a scene that it’s easy to pick it up. Some examples:
-Every time characters throw a football, alternate between screaming “Male!” and “Bonding!”
-Yell “Water!” every time water is on screen. Most prominent in the opening, but happens at odd places throughout
-Call out to Peter to get his attention during his one scene and try to get him to look at the camera
-Join in with every “cheep cheep cheep” chicken taunt
-Scream “cancer” any time the mom touches someone
-Ask “Who are you?” whenever a new unexplanined character appears
-And for the love of God, will somebody please remember to close the door when they walk into a scene? Maybe they would if they heard how many people were trying to get their attention about it.

I cannot recommend this experience enough. If you’re in LA, the Landmark Regent does these screenings regularly. Sometimes they announce that Tommy will be at a screening. Sometimes he just shows up anyways. I hope to make this a staple suggestion when friends visit town and look for fun things to do. This was just epic.

Upgrade

You’ve heard me talk about my obsession with Stardust, the social media app centered around movies? You can thank them for bringing you this review. I had seen the trailer for this exactly once, and while it was certainly my genre, I had concerns about quality. The month was looking pretty full for movie releases, so this moved low on the priority list. AND THEN Stardust happened. People on the app were raving about this movie, giddy over its action and violence and everything that I love in a movie. Okay forget trying to nap all evening before going to a midnight of The Room (more on that in a later post). With some very specific timing I could swing a showing. And my God am I glad that I did.

The premise of this is very simple. A mugging gone bad leaves a man paralyzed and his wife dead. He’s offered a chance to get his life back by installing a chip in his spine that will allow him to walk again. Turns out, the chip is even smarter than we thought and is able to fully take control of his body on command, which can be rather handy when he decides to seek out revenge on the baddies who did this to him in the first place.

I’ve talked so much about my love of action movies, particularly the gritty down and dirty kind. I haven’t seen one this gritty or this good in a very long time. There’s no CGI and over the top effects. It’s bare knuckles brawling, hand to hand, purely physical, and it’s amazing. Amazing not only because we don’t see this stripped down style to it very often (not much since Jason Statham left the Transporter title behind), but because the story warranted some really unique physicality in the fights. It’s hard to describe (and I really suggest you experience it anyways) but the choreography of a man not in control of his body throwing very deftly placed punches is very cool. Add in a very dry and twisted humor (most of which came into play during those fights), just enough gore, and some great camera work and this movie is gonna be one to remember for the ages purely for those sequences.

I’m calling it now, this is gonna be a star making turn for Logan Marshall-Green. The way he handled the physicality plus his humorous bewildered disgressions, coupled with a tough guy with a heart of gold demeaner, this dude can really be something. Again, think Jason Statham in The Transporter. The buzz this movie is getting is gonna draw people to it, and we’re all gonna remember this guy

Another aspect that I loved that made this film unique was that there was just enough of a futuristic element. Not so much that it distraacted, but enough to enhance the story. People had some cool body mods (like guns implanted in their hands…and I mean cool for the screen, not cool that I’d wanna see IRL) that added some flair and helped keep up the illusion that the computer chip’s technology was feasible.

Sure, there are some problematic story elements (fridging anyone?), but this is one of those movies where it didn’t matter. It’s entirely built around some incredible visuals and adrenaline filled sequences, and on that front it more than delivers. It’s one of those that I really lament not being able to see with my Daddy. His Steven Segal loving self would have eaten this movie up as much as I did. Honestly, I never wanted this movie to end. I wanted more. That’s not a feeling I often leave a theater with anymore. That’s what makes it all worth it.

Upgrade – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/