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Entries in vincent d'onofrio (3)

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
Oct102014

The Judge

With all the recent hoopla surrounding “The Avengers” and the “Iron Man” franchise, it might be easy to forget that Robert Downey Jr. is a damn fine actor even when outside of that iconic suit. Even when his films fail to live up to expectations (2009’s “The Soloist” being a perfect example), he shines. His latest, “The Judge,” may be his single best performance yet. Working opposite the always fantastic Robert Duvall, he gives the rawest, most emotional performance of his storied career. However, like “The Soloist,” the film he resides in is less than the sum of its parts. An occasionally sloppy script and baffling directorial decisions keep this from going very far, but if you enjoy seeing two great actors at the top of their game, you can’t go wrong here.

Downey Jr. plays Hank Palmer, a soon-to-be-divorced lawyer whose cases consist entirely of defending the guilty and getting them off for whatever crime they may have committed. Naturally, he’s not a courthouse favorite, nor has he made his father, the titular Judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall), particularly proud, despite his talents. One day, he gets a call that his mother has died, so he heads back to his hometown in Indiana. A cynical man, he has clearly outgrown the small minded nature of this otherwise friendly town, a place where everyone knows each other and drivers wave as they pass each other on the road.

He hasn’t been home in years and as soon as he arrives, the hostility that kept him away resurfaces. His brothers, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong), do their best to diffuse the situation, though the latter has a harder time dealing with it due to mental illness, but his father keeps pushing. Eventually, the judge heads out to the grocery store, for both practical reasons and to get away from his disappointing son, but arrives home with no memory of what happened. Unfortunately, there’s blood on his car and a body on a road he was spotted on, the victim a violent criminal he gave a second chance to many years ago. Did he purposely run this man down to make up for his past mistake or was this a simple accident? Regardless of the answer, Hank decides to stick around and defend his father.

“The Judge” suffers not from an uninteresting premise. Although it heads in obvious directions and the eventual answer to the above question is likely to be answered by the audience far before the characters onscreen, the foundation that the narrative is built upon is sturdy. Unfortunately, it’s the execution that cripples the film. Directed by David Dobkin, a man most known for his goofball comedies like “Wedding Crashers,” “The Change-Up” and “Fred Claus,” the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Does it want to be a lighthearted dramedy about family, a message movie about moving on and forgiving others or something else entirely? It’s never very clear, as the tone shifts from here to there and back around again.

Mixing tones is not an inherently bad thing, but Dobkin simply doesn’t have a clean grasp on any of them. As one critic friend whispered in my ear during our screening, “The Judge” occasionally plays like a Lifetime movie, complete with sappy music and cheesy dialogue, and he wasn’t wrong. The music, oddly, ramps up and down seemingly based entirely on those dialogue cues. The music doesn’t enhance what’s being said or depicted, but rather exists as a manipulative force to make it seem like what’s being said has some type of emotional impact. Its lyrical selections are heavy-handed and its other selections sound so similar to the drum heavy nature of those silly crime dramas on television that it’s laughable. Visually, “The Judge” is no better, also moving uncomfortably from tone to tone, but if there’s any consolation to be had, it’s that these moments as described above are infrequent.

The saving grace, again, are the fantastic performances from the stellar cast. Aside from some notable exceptions, like Leighton Meester in a small, inconsequential role—an actress that has starred primarily in nonsense teen dramas and B-movie quality thrillers and doesn't quite have the chops to keep up with her co-stars—everyone here is great and elevates the substandard material into something more than it would be otherwise. The dialogue isn’t great, but it’s delivered with such gusto that you buy into it. It’s easy to understand the motivations and emotions driving Hank and his father, from a basic level of conflicting morals to more serious, unresolved family issues from their pasts that are revealed as the film goes on, and it’s due almost entirely to the actors in the roles.

Stilll, at nearly two and half hours, it’s understandable if certain moviegoers decide to pass on “The Judge” given its many faults, including a wholly unnecessary and uncomfortable side story involving the mystery paternity of Meester’s character, but this is not a bad movie. It is merely an underwhelming one. What had the potential to be one of the best of the year instead ends up as a mildly entertaining diversion; inconsequential, but nevertheless memorable. There will be better movies in the coming months as the awards season ramps up, but you could do worse than “The Judge.”

The Judge receives 3/5

Friday
Oct182013

Escape Plan

For fans of 80s action movies, there’s nothing more exciting than the prospect of seeing Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger on the big screen together. We were lucky enough to see them tear it up in the finale to last year’s “The Expendables 2,” even if the movie itself was a tad bombastic when taken as a whole, but their time together was limited. In their newest, “Escape Plan,” they’re best buds. In fact, once Breslin (Stallone) finds himself locked in a seemingly inescapable high security prison, he and his muscular counterpart are practically inseparable and, naturally, they attempt to break out together. A warning to those 80s action fans: this isn’t the action extravaganza you might be hoping for and, frankly, if you want to see a breaking-out-of-prison movie, you should probably stick with 1979’s masterful “Escape from Alcatraz,” but if you find that movie to be too realistic and crave something a little bit faster, louder and dumber, this will suffice.

The set-up is fairly simple, if a bit absurd. Breslin has a unique talent. He has an uncanny ability to break out of prisons. His job, in a sense, is to incarcerate himself in high security prisons around the country, supposedly inescapable ones, and find their flaws. However, he has just taken on a job that may be too risky even for him. After being drugged and flown to a secret location, he finds himself locked up in a prison unlike anything he’s ever seen. After realizing he was set up to spend the rest of his life here, held captive by the evil warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), he gets determined to break out, but not without the help of Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger).

Other characters in the film, who serve mainly as Breslin’s consultants, are played by the likes of Vincent D’Onofrio, 50 Cent and Amy Ryan in a “what in the world is she doing in this?” role. Aside from some minor moments and a late movie twist, these characters are all throwaway and are there for nothing more than forced exposition. They’re missing for such a large chunk of the movie that by the time they pop up again near the end, you’ve nearly forgotten about them completely. Their inclusion is indicative of a movie with some neat ideas, but no real way to write them in, which is to say, the script is a mess, the dialogue simplistic and the story rote.

But “Escape Plan” is more than the sum of its parts. When it works, it fires on all cylinders, offering up some surprisingly exciting moments, including one slow motion “Arnold moment” that will have all classic action movie fans cheering. It’s with these moments that the film excels, when it throws out any notion of believability or proper storytelling (neither of which are its strong suits) and decides to ham it up—like Stallone’s “Expendables” movies, only less explosion-y.

Where “Escape Plan” falters most is in its careless handling of its two primary villains, the warden and a mystery character I’ve not named. While both actors do what they can in their roles, particularly Caviezel, who chews the scenery in a delightfully campy way, it’s the screenplay that ultimately lets them down, never really giving either much of an identity. Even worse, their send-offs are anticlimactic, amounting to nothing more than disappointing fizzles in a movie that promised more.

When all is said and done, “Escape Plan” will be one of those movies that will be enjoyed, but never watched again by the vast majority of those who see it. It’s a fun enough diversion while it lasts, but it doesn’t do enough to justify repeat viewings. It’s a welcome return for Schwarzenegger, if we can forget about the lackluster “The Last Stand” from earlier this year, and Stallone bounces back nicely after the dreadful “Bullet to the Head” from around the same time. This is not the movie a Stallone/Schwarzenegger crossover should be, but it’s worth a look nevertheless.

Escape Plan receives 3/5