Friday, June 22, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: ** ½ out of 4
The T-Rex is back in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

            The dinosaurs are back in the fifth installment of the long-running Jurassic Park franchise, that Steven Spielberg (Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Ready Player One) brought to life back in 1993 and introduced groundbreaking special effects as one of the early films to utilize CGI technology alongside Terminator 2: Judgment Day. After a fourteen-year hiatus since the release of the poorly received, Jurassic Park III, Spielberg and director, Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) brought the dinosaurs back in the hugely-successful, Jurassic World, which not only gained a mostly positive reaction from both critics and audiences but would go on to become the highest-grossing Jurassic Park movie of all time.
            Naturally a Jurassic World sequel was inevitable after the huge box-office profits it got, Spielberg returns as producer, Trevorrow returns as a writer, and the directing duty goes to J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible, A Monster Calls) to bring us Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. With Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation, The Lego Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Spider-Man 3, Terminator: Salvation, The Help) reprising their roles from Jurassic World as former raptor trainer, Owen Grady and former Jurassic World operations manager, Claire Dearing along with Jeff Goldblum (The Fly, Independence Day, Thor: Ragnarok) reprising his role from the first Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park as chaos theory expert, Dr. Ian Malcolm.
            Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has a lot to live up to, would it be able to recreate its predecessor’s success, deliver a sequel on par with Aliens or The Empire Strikes Back, or would it fall victim to sequelitis where it tries to be bigger but isn’t quite made better? It’s the latter unfortunately, the film steps into a lot of familiar territory and repeats some of the same plot elements from the last movie, it isn’t exactly bad, but it feels like a step backwards from its predecessor.
            Three years after the theme park and luxury resort, Jurassic World was destroyed by dinosaurs out of containment, Isla Nublar sits abandoned by humans and the surviving dinosaurs fend for themselves in the island’s jungles. When the island’s volcano starts to erupt, Owen and Claire put together a rescue mission to save the remaining dinosaurs from extinction.
            Owen learns that the raptor he raised on Jurassic World, Blue is still alive and is apparently missing in the wild, which drives Owen to search for her. Claire has grown a new respect for the dinosaurs, became a dinosaur-rights activist, and makes it her mission to save every last surviving dinosaur on Isla Nublar.
            Arriving on this unstable island, Owen and Claire’s expedition may uncover a conspiracy that could return the entire planet to a perilous order not seen since the prehistoric times.
            The film also stars Rafe Spall (Prometheus, Life of Pi, The Big Short) as Eli Mills, Justice Smith (Paper Towns, The Get Down, Every Day) as Franklin Webb, Daniella Pineda (The Originals, American Odyssey, The Detour) as Dr. Zia Rodriguez, James Cromwell (Babe, Star Trek: First Contact, The Green Mile) as Sir Benjamin Lockwood, Toby Jones (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Frost/Nixon, Captain America: The First Avenger) as Gunnar Eversol, Ted Levine (Heat, Evolution, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) as Ken Wheatley, B.D. Wong (The Ref, Mulan, Focus) reprising his role from Jurassic Park and Jurassic World as Dr. Henry Wu, and Geraldine Chaplin (Chaplin, The Orphanage, The Impossible) as Iris.
            Overall, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is serviceable popcorn fun at best but underwhelming and disappointing at worst. While there are some legitimately exciting action and dinosaur chase scenes, there’s surprisingly not much of it and the dinosaurs don’t get much screen-time here.
            But with that said, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are still likable protagonists, Howard specifically has improved since the last movie and isn’t making constant mistakes after one another anymore, and Jeff Goldblum gets some screen-time as Ian Malcolm, though I would have liked to see more of him in the film. Everyone else however are the same cardboard cutout supporting characters we get in movies, the villains are the big bad corporation who want to get rich, the comic relief is insufferable, and a little girl gets shoehorned into the story because apparently having a kid character is mandatory in a Jurassic Park movie even if the kid isn’t established well.  
            Pacing wise, it feels like two completely different movies squished together, the first half feels like a Jurassic Park movie and everything’s big, epic, and cool. Then near the end of the second act it transitions to a monster movie in a mansion…yes, that’s where our climax is set.
            Even though I didn’t praise the first Jurassic World movie it at least delivered a wild and extremely satisfying climax. The T-Rex and raptor battling the Indominus Rex was probably the most epic sequence ever filmed for a Jurassic Park movie, whereas the climax in here came off as underwhelming and anticlimactic to me.
            I was hoping they would have done a Cabin in the Woods style climax, if we had to have a final battle in a mansion with an underground dinosaur dungeon. Wouldn’t it be epic to have either Pratt or Howard unlocked all the cells in the prison and just have all the dinosaurs run amok throughout the mansion, crushing and eating people? But no, we don’t get that, we get a same old climax on a roof with Pratt about to fall to his death and a raptor fighting a larger dinosaur with no T-Rex this time.
            In terms of visuals, Fallen Kingdom suffers from the same problem I had with the first Jurassic World, too much CGI dinosaurs and they’re not as impressive looking as the dinosaurs from the first Jurassic Park. I’m not sure if there were animatronics used in this movie, but they looked like CGI was slapped on any practical effects as a cheap way out, it’s ironic that the 1993 movie’s CG effects (and effects in general) were more impressive than the effects here.

            Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn’t as bad as The Lost World: Jurassic Park or Jurassic Park III but as a Jurassic Park or even a Jurassic World sequel it left me feeling kind of empty. Fallen Kingdom is perfectly serviceable, not bad but not great either, take it for what it’s worth.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Incredibles 2 review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: **** out of 4
Frozone, Dash, Elastigirl, Mr. Incredible, Jack-Jack, Violet, and Edna are back in action in Incredibles 2

            Pixar Animation Studios reunites with director, Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol) to bring the long-awaited follow-up to the 2004 critical and commercial smash hit, The Incredibles. The first film received praise from both critics and audiences, made it into the ten highest-grossing movies of 2004, and was groundbreaking as the first Pixar feature to focus entirely on human characters.
Kids who grew up around the time the first movie came out (Including myself) waited eagerly for fourteen years for Incredibles 2, which is one of the things I appreciate about Pixar, they take their time on sequels and it adds more to the anticipation of its release. It was probably more painful waiting for this than for Toy Story 3 or Finding Dory at least for me.
Now Incredibles 2 is a reality, it’s been released, so how does it hold up? Fourteen years of anticipation very well spent. This is a blast whether a child or adult, like its predecessor the film is filled with an adrenaline rush of super-powered action, family dilemmas, a colorful cast of characters, and clever humor without ever feeling like a rehash.
The movie does what all good sequels do, continue the story and put the characters we know and love in new situations and see how they overcome them. This is a movie that has a battle between a superpowered baby and a raccoon that’s probably more epic than ANYTHING in Infinity War, how is this not the best summer blockbuster of 2018.
Three months after Syndrome’s defeat, the film follows the Parr family, Bob/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson-Poltergeist, Blades of Glory, The Proposal), Helen/Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter-O’ Brother Where Art Thou?, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Big Sick), Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell-Six Degrees, The Daily Show with John Stewart, A.C.O.D.), Dash (voiced by newcomer, Huck Milner replacing Spencer Fox from the first film), and Jack-Jack, continuing to operate under their superhero identities, the Incredibles. After unsuccessfully preventing the villain, Underminer (voiced by John Ratzenberger-Toy Story trilogy, Monsters Inc., Cars trilogy) from robbing the Metroville bank, the city blames the Incredibles for the level of destruction caused by the incident (Yeah, and Superman gets a free pass for the destruction in Man of Steel) and go back into hiding.
Government agent, Rick Dicker (voiced by Jonathan Banks-Airplane!, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) informs the Parr family that his department is shutting down the Super Relocation program, forcing supers all over the world to permanently adhere to their secret identities. Dicker relocates them for the last time to a motel where Bob, Helen, and their family friend, Lucius Best/Frozone (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson-Jurassic Park, Pulp Fiction, Marvel Cinematic Universe) are contacted by superhero fan, owner of DEVTECH, and telecommunications tycoon, Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk-How I Met Your Mother, Breaking Bad, The Post) who proposes a publicity stunt to regain the general public’s support of superheroes.
Deavor chooses Elastigirl to undertake the stunt by openly fighting crime in New Urbrem, leaving Bob alone at home with the kids. Pretty much Bob goes from being Mr. Incredible to Mr. Mom as he helps Dash with his homework, gives Violet emotional support with her boyfriend, and taking care of Jack-Jack who may have a few surprises of his own.
However, a mysterious new villain emerges known as the Screenslaver (voiced by Bill Wise-Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie, Boyhood) with a dastardly plot to brainwash all the world’s civilians. The Incredibles suit up once again to save the world and bring supers back into the sunlight.
The film also features the voices of Bird as ecstatic superhero costume designer, Edna Mode, Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich, Capote, Get Out) as Evelyn Deavor, Sophia Bush (Phineas and Ferb, Chicago P.D., Marshall) as Voyd, Phil LaMarr (Futurama, Samurai Jack, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy) as Krushauer and Helectrix, Paul Eiding (The Transformers: The Movie, Ben 10, Superman VS The Elite) as Reflux, Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet, The Simpsons, Joy) as The Ambassador, and Barry Bostwick (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Spin City, Phineas and Ferb) as the Mayor.
Overall, Incredibles 2 is the kind of popcorn entertainment that weekend matinees are made for, it’s energized, action-packed, and funny all at the same time. I’m not sure if it surpasses the first film in my opinion, but it definitely lives up to it and allows more screen-time for the family this time around.
Don’t get me wrong I love the first Incredibles movie, but most of the movie focuses on Mr. Incredible and not much of the family until the second and third acts. Here we have more focus on the family, Elastigirl’s crime fighting, Violet having boy issues, Dash struggling in school, and Jack-Jack…having powers and causing chaos around the house.
The animation is gorgeous, and they’ve really improved since the first movie, especially on characters’ facial expressions, hair, and the action sequences. I’m going on record by saying the action in this movie is some of the best I’ve seen in ANY superhero movie, CG cartoons achieved more than the countless Marvel movies, that’s the power of animation.
Besides the animation and action, the humor in this movie is absolutely hilarious, the writing is humorous, most of the jokes hit bulls-eye, and the visual gags in this movie are absolutely brilliant. Most notably the Jack-Jack and raccoon fight, from the animation, energy, facial expressions, and execution, it’s a comedic animation milestone and had me laughing hysterically in the theater.

Oh My God, I loved this movie, Incredibles 2 is a blast for the entire family and delivers the most fun you’ll have at the movies this summer. I’m serious, I sat through Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, and this animated movie for kids is the best summer blockbuster I’ve seen so far this year, it’s an “Incredible” sequel to an “Incredible” movie.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor? review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: **** out of 4
Fred Rogers inviting us into his neighborhood in Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

            Director, Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom, Best of Enemies: Buckley VS Vidal) brings to the screen a documentary that honors the life of one of the most influential television personalities of all-time, Fred Rogers, star and creator of the beloved PBS series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I remembered watching a lot of Mister Rogers growing up, but it wasn’t something I watched on a regular basis, whenever I caught it on PBS or by watching episodes on VHS.
            Whether I was a frequent viewer of his show or not, there is no denying that Fred Rogers was a genius and was able to take stories from the bitter real world such as war, racism, and death and make them understandable to children, but he did it in an intelligent way. This film journeys into Rogers’ life, the history of the show, and where he got the show’s material and themes.
            The movie chronicles various moments in his life, from the time he spent on The Children’s Corner with Josie Carey on WQED, pitching the idea of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and revolutionizing children’s television to making public appearances and fighting for PBS funding. Rogers didn’t just create a show for children, but he created a tool that he could use to get his thoughts and emotions across while retaining his nice guy persona.
            His widow, Joanne Rogers, Francois Clemmons who portrayed Officer Clemmons on the show, cellist, Yo-Yo Ma who guest starred in a couple episodes, jazz guitarist, Joe Negri who portrayed Handyman Negri on the series, and actor, David Newell who portrayed Mr. McFeely the delivery man, are interviewed in the film and they discuss what Rogers was like as a person, how he would always listen to their problems and incorporate them into the show, and of course, acknowledge how much he really liked them. They also bring up moments of his advocacy work, how he helped his co-stars and crew members through personal issues, and his now-famous testimony to the U.S. Senate committee and advocating government funding for children’s programming.
            Overall, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Is a poignant, nostalgic, and inspirational documentary that tugs at your heartstrings. You can really see the impact Mister Rogers has had on many of our lives and how he wanted to share his kind and insightful words of wisdom to the children of America and help them in rough times, not once was it an act.
            This is a man who wanted to bring some good in our lives, set a standard for children’s programming, and was able to take these adult themes and make them understandable to kids without talking down to them. In many respects Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a show meant for children is much more adult and intelligent than it appears.
            Apparently not everyone caught on to the show’s brilliance, president Richard Nixon tried to cut funding from PBS and many people protested that he was either gay or that his morals were brainwashing children, most notably the “You are Special” message. Some angry parents even drafted their own children into protesting against Rogers, and they were extremely miserable.
            Mister Rogers wanted to share his words of wisdom and his love of children with the world and there were many rough times and controversies during the show’s broadcast run. For the kids who grew up with his show and the followers of what he stood for, it really shows that a simple act of kindness can go a long way.
            Every time footage of the show came on in the film I literally felt like a little kid again, this movie just takes you back to your childhood and you discover things about the development and history of the show that you never knew before. I don’t really see myself watching episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood today, but the lessons he taught, imagination, and advocacy for children will stay with me forever.

            Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Is a beautiful day in the neighborhood to be had filled with laughter and tears and a thoughtful tribute to a television legend. Fred Rogers was a wise, down-to-earth man who wanted to entertain and make people happy when they’re going through rough times in a smart way because he respected kids and he respected adults.