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Thursday
Jun112015

Jurassic World

Remember years ago when rumors were circulating that the fourth “Jurassic Park” film would feature dinosaurs with laser beams attached to their heads, as if Dr. Evil himself had written the screenplay? Pretty dumb idea, right? But at the same time, there was that little voice in the back of your head saying, “I would totally watch that.” While the idea has been tweaked and new ideas have been implemented, the same thought process exists for “Jurassic World,” the actual fourth entry in the dinosaurs-running-rampant franchise. There are certain ideas, shots and lines of dialogue that one would expect more from one of those straight-to-video “mockbuster” Asylum releases than a big budget franchise refresher, but it’s still strangely entertaining. Is “Jurassic World” dumb? Absolutely. Is it unwatchable? Absolutely not.

More than 20 years after the events on Isla Nublar, when Jurassic Park’s dinosaur inhabitants escaped from captivity and wreaked havoc on the island’s unfortunate dwellers, a new park has opened, dubbed Jurassic World. However, attendance is down because people have become desensitized to dinosaurs and are looking for something new, so the park’s scientists genetically engineer a new hybrid dinosaur called the Indominus Rex, one with a different genetic make-up than has been seen before that mixes many different creatures into one. However, the creation was almost too good, as it shows a high level of intelligence and eventually, as before, escapes from captivity. With a park full of people now in harm’s way, including young Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) who are there visiting their aunt, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), it’s up to raptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) to save the day.

You read that right. One of the park’s employees trains raptors, creatures with minimal intelligence and a primal urge to hunt and kill. To make the human-raptor relationship even more ridiculous, the film introduces Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), a man hell bent on using the raptors as a tool for war. Naturally, Owen is having none of that; that is until he does, as late in the movie (and featured prominently in the trailer) he rides along on a motorcycle with his raptor pack on a search for the Indominus, as they follow his commands and chase the beast’s scent like police dogs.

And it only gets better as the dinosaurs start talking to each other—who knew they had a discernible language?—and start to shift allegiances. It’s all so ridiculous that it’s actually kind of funny. I was rolling my eyes and laughing in equal amounts, especially when the film tries to pretend like it’s a serious, dramatic piece of work. “Jurassic World” is so utterly unaware of its own absurdity that it actually one-ups those aforementioned Asylum films by being unintentionally stupid.

One could further mention the plot holes and unexplored plot threads, like when Gray mentions that his parents are getting divorced, a line of dialogue that comes up unexpectedly and is dropped so quickly it reminds of the “breast cancer” line in Tommy Wiseau’s infamous “The Room,” or how the characters complain about dwindling revenue due to the public’s lack of interest in dinosaurs despite having a completely packed park, but such mentions are missing the point. “Jurassic World” is fun and, in fact, it’s these obvious oversights from its inane script that make it as entertaining as it is.

You see, every time the film starts to bore, it introduces another silly plot turn, further derailing it to the point of hilarity. Increasing the hilarity is the seriousness of the actors involved, who don’t seem to realize what they’re starring in, though that could be considered a detriment given how charming Pratt can be. Why not let him flex his sillier side? Still, the dinosaurs—not including the genetically modified Indominus, who isn’t as interesting as the real, historical things—make up for such shortsightedness and are a sight to behold, as they still manage to wonder and captivate just as much as they did in 1993’s “Jurassic Park.” When the Tyrannosaurus Rex inevitably makes its entrance, there won’t be a single person in the audience without a big, goofy smile on their faces.

And such a goofy smile fits pretty snugly into a movie that is little more than two-plus hours of goofy shenanigans. There are two ways to watch “Jurassic World”: not think too hard and enjoy the action or analyze it completely and tear it apart afterwards in a fun conversation with friends. If you approach it with one of those two methods in mind, you’ll surely enjoy it. But if you’re expecting it to reboot a once loved franchise with the magic we first witnessed over 20 years ago, you’ll surely be disappointed.

Jurassic World receives 2.5/5

Friday
Sep302011

50/50

Cancer is a touchy subject. Make a joke about cancer, or someone with it, and people give you a look like you just punched an elderly woman in the face. To laugh about such a terrible disease seems inappropriate, so kudos to 50/50, the new (only?) cancer comedy, that reaches for the forbidden fruit and takes a big bite out of it. This is a movie with guts that is unafraid to use cancer as a comedic tool, but what many will find surprising is how delicately it’s handled. 50/50 doesn’t make light of cancer; that would be offensive. It treats it as it is and by the end, you’ll realize the joking was the only way these characters could have dealt with it. It’s a smart turnaround that, upon reflection, changes your perception of the movie. The more you think about it, the better it seems.

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works at a Seattle public radio station. He’s a normal guy, just like anyone else. He has a girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), a best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen) and a clingy mother (Anjelica Huston). His life is fine, if uneventful, but it’s shaken up a bit when he finds out he has a very rare type of cancer. His chances of survival are 50%, which is better than most cancer sufferers get, so to fight it, he undergoes chemotherapy and attends therapy with the young Katie (Anna Kendrick), a doctor in training who, if you include Adam, has had a grand total of three patients.

Isolate that plot synopsis and 50/50 would appear to be a serious drama, but more often than not, it lets loose its silliness, including a great scene where Adam awkwardly tries to pick girls up at a bar by telling them he has cancer. Another example is when Kyle exploits Adam’s sickness to bag a date with a pretty girl at a bookstore. These things may seem wrong (especially the latter), but aside from a joke about the late Patrick Swayze, the film never crosses the line. It makes it okay to laugh about cancer, even if doing so feels kind of weird. It takes a deadly, incurable disease and knocks it down to size, treating it like something that deserves to be mocked.

In the midst of all the joking, it sometimes feels like 50/50 is forgetting to acknowledge the enormity of such a disease. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as capable of an actor as he is, doesn’t seem to be putting forth the emotion. It’s hard to tell whether his character is struggling with his diagnosis or has made peace with it. He seems more emotionally distraught when he finds out his girlfriend is cheating on him than he does with the fact that he only has a 50% chance of living. It isn’t until the third act that the feeling finally comes through, but in retrospect, it seems appropriate. Adam is undeniably scared at the news, but is optimistic at first. He passes the news along to his family and friends and he dishes out more consolation than he receives. The gravity of the situation hasn’t yet sunk in. But as time goes on, his health starts to fail, he stops responding to the treatment and one of his chemotherapy buddies, who appeared to be healthy and happy, suddenly dies. Finally, with the awareness that he’s fast approaching death, he starts to break down and lose hope. To go any further would ruin it, but now that I’ve had the time to think about the film, I can’t see these events playing out any other way.

50/50 has a big heart and even though it takes the time to poke fun at cancer, it also acknowledges how scary it is, making it the most faithful depiction of the disease I can recall seeing in the movies. It follows an emotional path that seems authentic, though it’s one that hopefully none of us will ever have to test. 50/50 is one of those rare movies that can make you laugh with a tear in your eye and if you don’t see it, you’ll be missing out.

50/50 receives 4.5/5

Wednesday
Aug102011

The Help

Most stories aren’t original. While the locations, era and characters may be different, the core of most stories never evolve beyond what has already been told. In many cases, it’s a detriment to the film because we, the movie going public, want more. But sometimes, a story is so important, so significant, so thoughtful that we don’t mind seeing and hearing it again. This week’s touching film, The Help, explores racism and hatred towards African Americans in the 60’s south and though its message is no different than many that have come before, it remains a good one and works as a reminder that we should love and respect everybody regardless of their differences.

The film takes place in Mississippi where friends Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) work for a couple of white families as their housemaids. They are bossed around and treated like lesser beings simply because of their skin color, despite the love and care they put into raising those neglectful families’ kids. In their neighborhood, whites and blacks are expected not to mix. Public places are segregated and a bill is about to pass that will require all homes to have a “colored” bathroom just for the help. It’s an unhappy place for Aibileen and Minny, until they meet Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone), who recognizes what they go through. She has just graduated from college and aspires to be a journalist, so she offers to write a story from the perspective of the help. It’s a dangerous venture for the housemaids, but they’ve put up with abuse all their lives and decide they aren’t going to stand for it anymore.

The Help, as familiar as it can be at times, is an important film to watch. It’s not always pleasant and is certain to bring tears to many who view it, but we need to keep these past events close in our thoughts. As philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” A more truthful sentiment has never been uttered, especially given the state of dogmatism we face even today. While certainly not to the same extent, the condemnation of groups in the past parallels certain cases today, especially with the rampant intolerance for homosexuals (a parallel The Help seems to recognize, taking the time to quickly mock those who ignorantly think there’s a cure for homosexuality). Though set in the 60’s, it’s relevant to our times and works as a duality: as a reminder and as a cry for change.

Still, I’d be lying if I said The Help was anything more than a piece of fluff. It’s a crowd pleaser, unconcerned with crafting a tight, smooth flowing story or any critical backlash. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t make for the most structured movie. It’s a long film, well over two hours, but real drama doesn’t begin to build until its back half. It attempts to mash it all together at one time, which isn’t an effective substitute for a thoughtful, slow build throughout. The parts that do work, however, are weakened by unnecessary (and sometimes sickening) scenes, like when one of the maids bakes her feces into a pie and watches her old boss eat it. If in a gross-out comedy, this moment would be lambasted by critics everywhere (as it should be); it’s only fair for it to happen here too. But at least in those movies, it’s a one-time affair. In The Help, numerous plot turns actually stem from the poo pie scene. While watching, you can’t help but wonder why the filmmakers couldn’t come up with something less childish to keep their story moving.

That thought comes to mind because the movie is anchored by an impressive cast; such a scene seems desperate. They do what they can, though, and what they can do is deliver performances that rank among the best of the year. While Octavia Spencer is delightful and Emma Stone skillfully breaks away from her comedic typecasting while retaining her charm and innocence, it’s Viola Davis who impresses the most. Even with a dramatically uneven screenplay, she manages to bring forth feeling with ease. Every quiver of the lip and tear that rolls down her cheek hits hard; it might make you forget how inconsequential her sadness sometimes is to the story. The movie she’s in might not be great, but she is and deserves an Oscar nomination come awards season.

The biggest problem with The Help is that its subject matter is so heavy, but its handling is a little too light. It’s peppered with humor throughout, some of which admittedly works, but it rarely feels imperative, hitting a strange middle ground opposite the drama without ever hitting a good balance. The underdeveloped romance for Stone only makes matters worse; you’ll forget she’s even in a relationship before it comes to an end.

The Help suffers from all these things and more, including what I like to call “Lord of the Rings syndrome,” coming to a seeming conclusion multiple times before moving ahead another 20 minutes. It may be an ordinary movie, but it nevertheless tells an extraordinary story. That’s why, in spite of its faults, it’s still well worth checking out.

The Help receives 3.5/5