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Entries in steven spielberg (4)

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
Dec232011

War Horse

Steven Spielberg is one of the most prolific directors to ever step behind the camera. His movies are mesmerizing, exciting and sometimes even profound. Those adjectives are perhaps most characteristic of his earlier efforts like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but that doesn’t mean his newer films, like Minority Report and War of the Worlds, don’t entertain, even if they are thematically less interesting. He’s a living legend with a filmography as impressive as anyone to have ever been involved in the movies, so even though his latest, War Horse, is still a technically good movie, it manages to disappoint because it doesn’t live up to his other efforts. You should still see it, but only if you’ve already seen the others.

The story takes place during World War I. A poor family has just bought a new horse to plow their farm. However, the horse proves to be a poor worker and he is just as quickly sold to the soldiers going off to fight the war, much to the chagrin of Albert, played by Jeremy Irvine, who has developed a bond and fallen in love with it. Tracing the path of the horse and the boy, the movie explores the bond between human and animal, even when they are worlds apart.

Or so it tries. Narratively, War Horse is bland. It moves along at an inconsistent pace, at times forgetting about the boy and other times forgetting about the horse. At times, this movie could simply be called War because the horse has little impact on what’s happening. And emotionally, the film is empty. Only the scene where they are torn apart manages to evoke any type of sadness because the bond between man and beast is barely even created, much less explored. You never feel like the boy is that upset about their departure because it is never shown. By the time they reunite via a major plot contrivance (which are preceded by a number of other major plot contrivances), only the most emotionally fragile of viewers will feel anything but coldness.

What really drags down War Horse is its sentimentality. Spielberg has had success in the past with what some might consider overemotional plots, but War Horse takes the cake. The dramatics in the film aren’t just obvious; they seem intentional. Spielberg could have just as easily filmed himself for two and a half hours begging for an Oscar and you’d get the same effect. Still, the film is a technical accomplishment. He may overdo it in regards to emotionality, but this is nevertheless a terrific looking movie. The gorgeous landscape shots really give a sense of time and place to the film, when folks didn’t have television or video games and spent most of their days plowing large stretches of field, and the war scenes are (unsurprisingly, given his success with Saving Private Ryan) intense and exciting. Spielberg directs with style and it shows.

The actors are phenomenal as well, even though they are forced to trudge through soap opera melodramatics. They are never thrown off by the unpredictableness of the horse and manage to make all of the film’s problems at least somewhat tolerable. Lots of lines are eye-rollers, but they’re delivered with confidence, which negates some of their negative effects. On the whole, however, War Horse is two and a half hours of mediocrity. It tries real hard, but in this case, that’s a bad thing. Its efforts come off as desperate, surely an unintended side effect. Don’t let my negativity fool you, though. This is still a good movie; it’s just not Spielberg good.

War Horse receives 3/5

Wednesday
Dec212011

The Adventures of Tintin

Motion capture animation is a tough thing to pull off. Even when it’s done well, the result in the past has been weird and even kind of frightening. From The Polar Express to Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol, people have complained that the animation creates an eerie effect, at that odd stage where you can tell it’s fake, but it’s close to looking real. Well, never has this method been put to better use than Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin. It’s the most realistic (and least creepy) use of the technology yet. Its visuals are stunning and they only compliment an already imaginative and very fun story. War Horse may be Spielberg’s attempt at Oscar glory, but this is the one worth seeing.

The story follows a young investigative journalist named Tintin (Jamie Bell) who one days buys a sculpture of a boat for cheap. As it turns out, that boat has a hidden scroll in it with directions to a hidden treasure. However, that scroll is only one of three and the evil Ivanovich (Daniel Craig) is planning on getting them all. Although he’s not searching for a story, Tintin has just been thrust into one and he’s the main subject.

The Adventures of Tintin is certainly not a great movie, but it’s a great experience. It’s something that you’ll have lots of fun watching even though you’ll still acknowledge its flaws. There’s a kindred spirit to the film, one that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults alike. If even a smidgen of your childhood is still left in your body, you’ll feel a joyful exuberance, that tiny puerile part of your sensibilities blossoming. It’s not an easy feeling to explain, but it’s one I wish I could share with those around me. Of course, if you’re being critical, the film’s imagination only goes so far. Its story and the various locales it visits along the way are more akin to a video game with a very loose narrative, which is probably appropriate given its look, but it’s a fun watch nonetheless.

In a sense, it’s an animated Indiana Jones, unsurprising given the director. Its story is over-the-top and most certainly not plausible, but its humor is affecting and its action is unbelievable. The characters aren’t always tied to Earthbound physics, which allows for high flying fun, the type of action that wouldn’t be possible in a similar, more traditional movie. It takes its film noir-ish premise and escalates it to fit its video game-esque world, but it’s never violent or scary. It’s perfect for families.

That is if you can disregard the way alcohol is treated. In the film, it’s used as a joke, which is a dangerous thing considering its PG rating, Nickelodeon affiliation and target audience. But more offensive than that, however, is the obligatory, and once again useless, use of 3D. Very few people can make the format work (Martin Scorsese being the only recent example with Hugo) and Spielberg simply fails here. There’s no sense of space to make the 3D pop and, as is to be expected at this point, much of the movie can be watched even without the glasses, the effect not even utilized in many of its shots.

Still, in 3D or not, The Adventures of Tintin is worth seeing. As is often the case, the B story, this time involving a pickpocket and two bumbling cops, isn’t as interesting as the main adventure and most of the time spent with it is little more than mildly pleasant filler, but even that mildly pleasant side story manages to do more than many full length movies this year. Though not an amazing film and probably not worthy of any awards, The Adventures of Tintin is pretty darn fantastic all the same.

The Adventures of Tintin receives 4/5

Thursday
Jun092011

Super 8

For many people, Super 8 is one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, the same man behind 2009’s most exciting film, Star Trek, and produced by none other than cinema legend Steven Spielberg, Super 8 was bound for greatness. But, like most other movies this year, it hits some sour notes along the way. It’s incredibly entertaining, full of heart and whimsy, but when all is said and done, it’s not much different from any other sci-fi creature feature you’ve ever seen.

The film takes place in the 70’s and follows a group of kids as they set out to make their own little movie for an upcoming film festival. Charles (Riley Griffiths) is directing while one of his best friends, Joe (Joel Courtney) does make-up. It’s a zombie movie and they already have their lead and zombie(s) in the form of Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Cary (Ryan Lee). What they need now is a romantic interest, so they employ Joe’s crush, Alice (Elle Fanning) and set out to make their movie. While filming one night on a seemingly abandoned train station platform, an Air Force train passes by, derails and its cargo escapes. The problem is that the cargo is alive and is now wreaking havoc in their small Ohio town.

Super 8 is a filmmaker’s love letter to filmmaking. Because the central story involves a group of kids shooting their own movie, Abrams gives himself an opportunity to mock certain aspects of the filmmaking process. He pokes fun at rewrites, pushy directors, cost cutting and even distracting background extras. Throughout the film, the kids keep shooting, despite the creature running around, and even use the recent destruction as backgrounds for their shots. In a way, Abrams is giving a cinematic hug to film. He loves it and does his best to push that love onto us. When you finally get to see the kids’ final product during the credits, which include the scenes they shot within the scenes of the bigger movie you just finished watching, you’ll realize he succeeded.

Given the marketing of Super 8, which makes it out to be a serious tale, many will find the film to be more charming and funny than they expected. Unfortunately, also due to the marketing, which, like many movies Abrams is involved in, kept the plot details in a shroud of secrets, many will also find themselves disappointed by the time those credits roll around. To put it simply (and to avoid inadvertent spoilers), the set-up is better than the payoff. It begins with a bang (quite literally), setting up a mystery that begs to be solved, but once it is, it’s nearly impossible not to feel underwhelmed. You’ve seen this type of movie before, especially if you’re familiar with Spielberg’s body of work. It’s a shame because the film is so well done, but when a mystery is played up as much as it is in Super 8, the solution should be unique, not ripped from other films. Call it homage if you want; that doesn’t make it any less redundant.

Still, even with that massive problem, the film is endlessly enjoyable thanks to terrific performances from its mostly child cast (some of which have never acted before), Abrams fine eye for detail and his keen understanding of human emotion. You’ll laugh a lot during Super 8, but you might be surprised to find yourself tearing up too. Abrams begins the movie with the death of Joe’s mother and then milks it for the next hour and 45 minutes, but it’s never excessive or manipulative. He handles it delicately and you’ll never feel like you’re crying simply because you’re supposed to.

Abrams nails the comedy and the drama, but in his attempt to hit the emotional trifecta with fear, he fails. Super 8 is not scary, but it tries real hard with a large number of “Boo!” scares, which any filmgoer knows are merely startling (and that’s not the same as scary). It also goes a little overboard with its time period jokes. It’s cute for a while, but making fun of portable audio cassette players is a bit obvious and not particularly inspired.

Super 8 isn’t as frenetic as Star Trek and it’s not as novel as Cloverfield (which Abrams produced), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It exists separately from Abrams’ other cinematic endeavors, though not from other cinematic endeavors in general. Super 8 is a good movie, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s not the mind-blowing spectacle it wants to be and, perhaps pretentiously, thinks it is.

Super 8 receives 3.5/5