Jurassic World

June 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

In 1993 we were treated to one of the most spectacular action adventure stories ever put to screen in “Jurassic Park”. While the plots involving the human characters were a bit thin, and Spielberg’s trademark “family” storylines were a bit skewed, it seemed OK to forgive all that due to the absolutely astonishing dinosaurs he and Stan Winston & Co. brought to life. The film was based on Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel of the same name, although there were some major differences between what transpired in the novel and what happened in the film (the most obvious was the fate of Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum). The film did have a certain charm about it, even though it was about people being chased by dinosaurs. It was a bit like “Jaws”.

The film has now been classified as a classic, and for good reason. It did spawn a few sequels that I found unworthy of the first film’s greatness. “Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World” had a great premise, but the execution wasn’t satisfying. “Jurassic Park 3″…let’s move on.

Now, 22 years later, we have “Jurassic World”, which seems to want to forget about the sequels like we do, and remain the true spiritual sequel to the first film. The film stars Chris Pratt as Owen Grady, a friendly trainer of a new breed of Velociraptors, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing, the aunt of two boys who have been shipped to the amusement park (now called Jurassic World) to hang out with her while checking out the island. The boys, Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins respectively), are at two different times of their life. Zach is a teenager, saying good-bye to his clingy girlfriend in the beginning of the film; Gray is elementary school age, and both are disturbed by their parents seemingly impending divorce. We come to find later that the trip that the boys take was initially supposed to be a family trip–but now they just want the kids to enjoy the park (how many parents have done this to their kids for Disney World I wonder?).

We also have the always appealing Irrfan Khan as Simon Masrani, the head of Masrani Corporation who owns Jurassic World. In his vision, he sees a dangerous ancient world that is also about having fun. He is much like Hammond, except executives at Jurassic World (including Dearing) believe Masrani’s dinos are going to be a much bigger success. I was asking myself–you know they never officially opened Jurassic Park to the public, how do they know World would succeed where Park failed?

But of course, Jurassic World has opened, and just like Hammond’s Park, this “spares no expense”. The tourists get to travel around in little hamster bubbles (guided by…well, you’ll see–it’s a very amusing cameo for a few different reasons) and really experience the World whereas Jurassic Park would just show you dinosaurs behind guarded fences while being in a jeep. And how fun would that be? Well like I said, no one ever really got to find out. But it seems as though the Park would’ve been safer.

Of course, problems arise when the latest dinosaur, a genetically altered (heh heh) beast of a thing called the Indominus rex supposedly escapes from its cage. Owen is brought in, after arguing with a militaristic security official at the company that dinosaurs can’t be used as a weapon for the US military, to see if he can talk some sense in Indominus. But he soon realizes this dinosaur has a high intellect, and fools everyone until it can legitimately escape, leading to a potential disaster with a dinosaur on the run.

Meanwhile, the kids take a detour in their hamster bubble until they come face to face with the dinosaur, and Claire teams up with Owen to go and rescue them.

From the point that Indominus escapes, we are just watching “Jurassic Park” again. However, the stakes are definitely higher since the park is open, and there is potential for some eye popping dinosaur fodder. The film really makes the most of its budget, although I can’t help but think there would be far more fatalities in real life. But this isn’t real life, this is the movies–and this movie delivers completely as a monster movie, as an action film, and a breathtaking adventure. Chris Pratt shines as the lead, always charismatic and doesn’t necessarily let the dinosaurs steal the entire show here. His pack of Velociraptors become integral parts of the film’s climax and are even, in a way, kind of cute. Bryce Dallas Howard is impressive as well, and even the kids are interesting instead of annoying (which is so typical of teenage/kid characters in these kinds of movies).

Though Spielberg did not direct this film, some of his trademarks are all over this too, and there are some nice homages to the original film. For a summer blockbuster, this will certainly satiate your appetite like a T-Rex in a crowded gift shop.

My rating:  :-)

Lincoln

November 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

The passage of the 13th amendment, which freed all slaves, is pretty much the first passage of Civil Rights in this country. Abraham Lincoln was the man behind it, and he’s always been seen as one of the greatest presidents of all time because of it. It’s a great story, because it was far from easy. The country was locked in a Civil War that in a large part was due to the issue of slavery, and even in the North, Lincoln had his detractors. Even in his own party, Lincoln was not considered a great leader. This is the story that Steven Spielberg intends to tell in his latest film, “Lincoln”.

Unfortunately, the film is so cloying, so pandering, so preachy, that what should be a riveting drama about how one of the most important bills ever passed in this nation, is really just a two and a half hour long sermon with the effectiveness of a loud dog barking in the middle of the night. There is no drama here, no real conflict. There are only a bunch of scruffy, rat-faced, or whiny old white men against the noble, do-no-wrong Messiah, Honest Abe (played by Daniel Day-Lewis).

The film begins with a scene between Lincoln visiting troops and is approached by two black men from different regiments. One black man is practically bowing at the feet of Lincoln, while the other piles on exposition to berates Lincoln on not being sincere. From that moment, I sensed trouble. Kushner’s script is so afraid of being misconstrued or taking the risk to be the least bit fair minded, and instead makes sure we all know how wrong slavery was, and how great it was that this bill was to be passed. Well, the whole audience this film is made for is well aware at how wrong it was, and how great the bill was. So, tell a story. But neither Kushner, nor Spielberg, are interested in doing this. They seem more interested in beating us over the head with nobility and sentimentality that, by the last shot, is beyond nauseating.

There is no conviction in the storytelling of this film–it’s more cartoonish than it is historical. The facts are all there, but they’re delivered so simply that it’s hard to believe this is how it really went down. And, with something as urgent as this time was, it’s disingenuous. Lincoln needs votes to secure the bill’s passage–he doesn’t want to wait for the war to end in fear of the South not voting for it. Even as it stands, he won’t get it passed; but he thinks he has a better chance. And the time is “Now, now now!” So 3 men are ordered to “bribe” delegates that are either on the fence, or completely against it. This could’ve been an effective way of showing the power of conviction that Lincoln and his supporters had for the bill–instead, it’s treated as some kind of fun little adventure complete with banter between characters played by James Spader and Tim Blake Nelson, and accompanied by a plucky soundtrack by John Williams.

In contrast, any time we see the people against the bill, they’re in dark light, such as the scene with the Vice President of the Confederate States (played by Jackie Earle Haley). His scenes make him look like some kind of dark serpent, or evil creature. He’s lit so we only see one eye, one evil looking eye. Scary. Yes, we get it Spielberg. These are the bad guys. But is that really fair to history? Were they all bad guys? Was everyone for the bill good guys? Isn’t this kind of simplifying of sides what got us into the war in the first place? The reality was that there were no good or bad guys; there was a lot of ignorance, and a lot of intolerance. Lincoln’s intentions initially were to keep the country together, no matter what. Whatever his personal views on slavery were, he did have some in the White House.

But Spielberg doesn’t respect the fact that this was how it was done at this time. Sure, we’re 150 years removed and we know how wrong it is. But we’re going back in time here, and there is not one credible character on the other side of the fence. There’s a scene where one of the weak-minded senators says he’s against slavery but he can’t tolerate this bill because it will lead to women voting. Now, I’m sure that mind-set was a lot more prominent than only coming from this one meek individual. But the scene comes across as easily trying to point out how wrong this character was. Well, no kidding! But why trivialize this event by trying to make it so easy to be on one side or the other? What was at stake for the entire nation if the bill was passed or not? None of that is really explored, leaving everything to easy conclusions that couldn’t possibly be accurate at this time.

There are other problems with the script, too. Robert Lincoln (dutifully played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants to join the Union, but his parents are against it because Mary (Sally Field, in her most Oscar-wringing role yet), doesn’t want to lose another son, after their middle son had died due to illness. She comes off as a raving lunatic, while Lincoln is stoic, and strong. This subplot goes absolutely nowhere and doesn’t have anything to do with the main story, nor does it strengthen the theme of the film either.

Lincoln spends a lot of his time in this film making speeches. He comes in a room, he makes a speech. Everyone who is a good guy loves it, everyone who is a bad guy hates it. It goes on like this for the entire duration of the film. His speeches are all the same. He wants what’s best for the country. Yes, we get that. Everyone against him, even at times his friend and his Secretary of State (played by David Strathairn), tries to convince him with horribly unconvincing arguments. I’m not actually even sure why this film is called “Lincoln”. In early drafts of the script it was going to be more of a biopic of Lincoln’s life. But by its final revision, it was narrowed down to passing this amendment. So why isn’t it just called “The Amendment”?

The last scene that shows Lincoln “alive” is the most aggravating. One of his servants looks on as the Great Man in his Top Hat walks down a corridor, admiring how great this man is. Not only do we not ever need to see this shot, but if you haven’t been bludgeoned enough by this time at how Christlike Lincoln is in this film, this scene leaves no doubt.

The simplemindedness of the script is what is most disappointing, though. Is this how far we’ve come intellectually after 150 years that we still can’t bear to look at what the conflict was really about? To be able to look at the other side and be challenged at what they believed as well? I look at the current situation with gay rights. Do you look at everyone who’s against gay marriage and gay rights and say they’re evil? And vice versa, do you look at anyone who is for gay rights and gay marriage as unforgivably bad, or unmistakenly good? Can you tell me every person that’s represented in this film reflects what’s ongoing nowadays? People can be just as ignorant as they were 150 years ago, we have plenty of evidence of that. But we also have come a long way at tolerance. On both sides of the country, you had good and bad, ignorant and educated. If this film was released in the 50’s or early 60’s, the worst I could say about it is that it’s dated. But at least, at that time, we still as a nation were not comfortable with race relations. Sure, racism still exists and always will; but even in films like “American History X”, we get a much more real, cunning, and educated look at how it affects us as a society. That was a powerful, adult film about racism. This film’s almost aimed at children with its simple message that “racism is wrong”.

And if that’s the case, why have all the strong language then? This film is littered with profanity that neither enhances the characters nor gives any scene more flair. In fact, hearing Lincoln use the “s” word almost makes him sound dumber and vulgar. There are scenes that show too much blood and guts for kids to comprehend and handle; and yet, as I said, I can’t see anyone beyond the 5th grade needing to see something like this to shed light on racism.

On top of that, no 5th grader is going to want to spend 2 and a half hours watching old men yell at each other. They have Thanksgiving dinners for that.

My rating: :?

My Top 10 Favorite Movies of the Past 10 Years

August 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Entertainment, Home Video

*DISCLAIMER*

This isn’t about the BEST 10 movies of the past 10 years. I probably haven’t seen the best 10 movies of the last 10 years. I’m sure I’ve missed out on some great obscure foreign film I’ve never heard of, or some documentary that I skipped over or something…this is just my list of 10 movies that I could watch over and over again and that I adore personally. Your lists will differ, I’m sure. But mine’s clearly the best.

#10: The Descent (2005) 

Written & directed by Neil Marshall

I start off with a horror movie, and I think it’s one of the finest horror films of this age. It’s not as well known as movies like “The Strangers” or “The Ring” but it’s far better than either of those because it’s not only a creature feature–it’s also a psychological horror film where you’re not really sure if what’s going on is real or not. That might sound cliché and stupid; but Marshall handles the balance exceedingly well and you never feel cheated either way. It’s an all female cast of spelunkers who find that there are these nightmarish “Silent Hill” looking things that only compound the problem they have of being lost in a large cave that they don’t know how to get out of. But there’s also a subplot of the main character who lost her husband and child in a single car accident; and one of her friends may have had an affair with the husband. The thing I like about this subplot, too, is that it never overshadows the main story with melodrama. It’s very nicely put together by Marshall and is by far his greatest achievement in filmmaking so far.

 
#9: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
 
 

 

Written & directed by: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s career has been a little more up and down than I thought, especially around this time when he already had “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore” under his belt. And this movie was even better than both. Combining family drama with offbeat comedy, “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a very strong film. It never goes too far in either direction, although some of its quirkiness may turn some people off. But I think it’s Anderson’s most accessible film. And the soundtrack, once again, is outstanding. Nick Drake, John Lennon, Elliott Smith, this one captures the feel of the movie so well. I think it’s Anderson’s last great film; he’s made a few good ones since…but I still haven’t forgotten “The Life Aquatic” and boy do I long for a lobotomy for that one. Very strong performances by Ben Stiller and Gene Hackman especially, who contributes a lot of humor to this story of pathos. It’s Anderson at his best.

 
#8: Inglourious Basterds (2009)
 
 

 

Written & directed by: Quentin Tarantino

I wasn’t sure to expect with this movie, because all we saw from the previews were the scenes about the Basterds, a rag-tag group of Nazi hunters that are all Jewish. It was a plan of vengeance, that was obvious. What I got, though, was probably my favorite Tarantino film of all time. While I thought “Pulp Fiction” was fantastic, and probably one of the most important films ever made, there’s something about this movie that I just can’t get enough of. I love that he doesn’t make his foreign actors speak English. For an American made film, almost half of it looks like a foreign language film. I also like that for a movie that’s as bloody and war-related as it is, it begins extremely quietly and slow-paced. But I love what Tarantino does with the quiet conversation scenes. There’s always tension in the room, and you know something is going to happen, you just don’t know when. It’s incredibly suspenseful. The opening scene, for instance, has a Nazi commander searching a French farm house that has been known to harbor Jews. Instead of interrogating the man of the house, however, they simply talk. Meanwhile, the Jewish family he’s harboring is underneath the floor. The camera dips once and shows us them hiding, and then it pans back to the room. And the talking goes on, and on. But you’re clinging to your chair, waiting to see if he knows. My favorite sequence takes place in an underground bar where a game is being played, and there are Nazi imposters in the bar that could be figured out to be infiltrating. You’re just waiting for a moment where things break out. The use of suspense is outstanding, and the theme of vengeance being all-for-naught is also refreshing. You’d think this is just an anti-Nazi fun filled movie. But the lesson to be learned is far more poignant.

?

#7: The Dark Knight (2008)
 
 
 

 

Directed by: Christopher Nolan / Written by: Christopher Nolan/Jonathan Nolan

This movie will be on a lot of people All-time Overrated List I think in the coming years rather than All-time Best Films list. But I really think if you step away from the hype, it is still a very solid film. It’s dark, it’s sleek, it’s intelligent–yes, pretentious too. I forgive it in this case because the plot moves quickly enough that I never felt bored. Obviously the strongest thing about the movie is Heath Ledger as the Joker; but there are some other things about the movie that I liked–I still like that Batman is a more tortured soul, and that he makes decisions in this film that he ultimately regrets and has to live with the tragic results. I like that a heroic character becomes a villain–even if it was rushed a bit. Two-Face certainly could have been given his own film. But I didn’t think it was a total waste. Besides the Batvision subplot, I think most of the film works extremely well. As a superhero flick, it’s epic. But even more, as a character drama it’s very complex and endearing. It’s my second favorite Batman movie, besides “Batman & Robin”. Just kidding. “Batman & Robin” was better.

 
#6: AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
 
 

 

Written & directed by Stephen Spielberg

Here’s another one that gets a lot of bad word of mouth; it got mixed reviews, and Spielberg was accused of destroying a possible Kubrick project and wasting it. I can’t disagree enough with the detractors of this imperfect masterpiece. I think it’s one of Spielberg’s most personal films, along with it being a love letter to Kubrick himself. Most of the negative comments are directed at the ending; they all thought it should’ve ended with the boy finding the Blue Fairy at the bottom of the ocean that at one point had been Coney Island. While that would have been dark, and cool–it would not have been an ending. The film’s theme is about getting what you want too late, and not being able to move on. Finding the Blue Fairy as something that was just a symbol of the past was not a true resolution to the plot. The boy still had to find his parents. The movie is two halves: the first half is about a set of parents that want to covet a relationship with a child, and yet something’s always missing because the child is synthetic; and there‘s something to be said about the fact that their biological kid is a sniveling brat. The second half is about a synthetic child that wants to covet a relationship with his mother, who is real. At the end, they are long gone, as well as all of humanity. It’s the complete opposite of the first half of the film. And in the end, the day he spends with his mother IS synthetic, which turns him into a real boy–and he finally dies. Now that, to me, is far more beautiful, far more bittersweet and even tragic in a way; and it’s far more POWERFUL than if the film ends with the boy finding the Blue Fairy. So that’s my defense. Is it perfect? No. It probably could have been a bit shorter. It probably could have had a stronger handle on its theme. But it holds true to everything that Spielberg is all about as a storyteller, and adds an element of Kubrick that makes it dark enough to be less conventional than the typical Spielberg film. It’s all about loss and grieving and broken families, and that’s where Spielberg thrives.

 
#5: Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
 
 

 

Directed by: Peter Jackson / Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens

I have to include all three films and treat them as one here, although I’d probably watch “Fellowship” over “Towers” and “King”; but all three are part of the same story and to me is one of the strongest adaptation of a book in the history of film. It breathes new life into the “Lord of the Rings” and does so with such a command by Peter Jackson, it will have to go down as his greatest accomplishment. His career was delightfully progressing from his bloodspattered early days of “Bad Taste” and “Braindead” to the more mature but still off-the-wall “Heavenly Creatures” and then the fun, weird “The Frighteners”. All of these seemed to lead up to a perfect storm of creativity, expression, imagination, and…fun. The look of this film is magnificent. The performances by Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, and Vigo Mortensen are fantastic–but one I really thought was special was Sean Astin’s. While there was all the homoerotic talk between Frodo and Sam–the story really is about a friendship that is very deep. This film is epic fantasy but it is also a story about relationships. All of it is well handled by Peter Jackson. He took all of his best elements and put them forth in this trilogy that I think will go down as the best film trilogy besides the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

 
#4: Sin City (2005)
 
 

 

Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino / Written by: Frank Miller

If you ever wanted to see a comic book truly put to film in its total essence, I don’t think there’s a better example than “Sin City”. It combines the talents of two gifted filmmakers along with Frank Miller, whom you could tell had a lot of fun with his own material, adapting it to the screen. This collection of talent on one film is as great as the Romero/King/Savini holy trinity that made “Creepshow” in ‘85. The movie is just a bunch of vignettes, but all of them are woven together so well that it feels like one big story. There are some sickening things going on in this film, but it all looks so good it’s hard to be reviled. It’s more than just an exercise in style; it’s got nice, fleshed out storylines and some really strong performances by Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis. And who can forget a Jessica Alba pole dance? This movie, again, takes joy in its excess violence and nudity, and because it revels in it…we can’t help to follow its lead.

 
#3: Children of Men (2006)
 
 

 

Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron / Written by: Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby

I think what I liked most about this movie is how bleak it is, and how much it really builds this dystopian world in which no children exist. For some people, maybe this is the best world you could ever live in. But it is utterly depressing to think about, with no future, nothing to look forward to. In the film, there’s even a suicide drug that’s so popular, there are ads littered everywhere on streets and on TV. Clive Owen stars in a very strong role as a man who joins a group of rebels that actually have a woman who is pregnant. They have to protect her, but there are many bloody realistic battle scenes that have you on the edge of your seat, hoping she can get to safety. This movie pulls no punches, and even kills off one of its big stars early, and still somehow ends in a satisfying manner. It’s very taut at times, and it’s very engrossing. I like that it’s a kind of nativity story, too; about the protecting of life, whether you’ve conceived it or not. It was one my favorite films of 2006.

 
#2: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
 
 

 

Written & directed by: Guillermo Del Toro

If you haven’t seen this movie, and are a fan of fantasy/horror/storytelling…stop whatever you’re doing and see this movie. And PLEASE see it in its native language, subtitled, and NOT dubbed. Not because the dubbing job is bad; but because dubbing itself is lame. And it would take away from a great dramatic story. Del Toro is Mexican but he has a fascination it seems with Spain, and more precisely, the Spanish Civil War. So that’s the underlying theme and backdrop to this otherwise fairy tale of a girl who is brought to meet her stepfather, who is a captain of the Spanish army, trying to quell a rebellion. Her real father is dead, and her mother is a dutiful wife to the captain. The girl, though, embarks on a fantasy journey that can be as dark and deadly as the real life war that’s going on. The way Del Toro uses visual horror is amazing. Every one of his creatures comes to life and while some are more terrifying than beautiful, they are all wonderful to look at. It’s a sad story for the most part, because we know it’s not real. We want to believe in the fantasy, as little Ofelia does, but reality comes crashing down as it always does. It’s a very sweet story as well as it is tragic, and it’s terrifying at times, too. Just a brilliant film, and one of the best of the decade.

And now…my number one movie…is something a bit different. But I couldn’t think of anything that makes me smile more than…

 
#1: Team America: World Police (2004)
 
 

 

Directed by Trey Parker / Written by: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Pam Brady

Maybe this film suffered from bad timing (Roger Ebert didn’t find it amusing at all) but as time grows on, this movie becomes more and more dear to me. During the reign of W, America always seemed to be butting into foreign affairs that were revolving around terrorism, as it was called the War on Terrorism. Well, because there’s no known true villain (besides Osama Bin Laden), we started a few wars just to sort it all out. Parker and Stone are at their best when they’re angry and anarchic, and this is their best execution of their satire that I’ve ever seen. Not just because it satirizes American foreign policy and its flag-waving jingoism; but because it savagely satirizes every single thing about America that is oversaturated and over the top. What makes it fun is that it uses the typical Hollywood Action Movie as its conduit. A beautiful overproduced score is a great contrast to the shoddy production values of the sets, and of course, the marionettes. Everything is done cheaply, but loudly. And everything is done on purpose. All of the songs mock all the sugary sweet top 40 Billboard genres that we’re forced to listen to on the radio (including an hilarious one about film montages), and all of the dramatic dialog is so stupid, you can’t help but laugh because you KNOW it’s been in a Michael Bay film sometime (“Maybe feelings are feelings because we can’t control them.”). This movie had me howling with laughter; but meanwhile, also nodding my head to how stupid this country can be when it’s so simple minded. It ridicules the so-called patriots in this country who don’t understand our true enemy, and who are more of a detriment to our society than even the enemy that we’re attacking. The point of this film is that WE are the true terrorists. And at this time in our history, it couldn’t be more spot on. I call this the “Dr. Strangelove” of our generation. At the time, that movie perfectly satirized the present day America that was also insecure about the Cold War and communism and so in love with war. This movie does the same, but adds the sweet touch of making fun of Hollywood as well. And the most brilliant thing is that this could have been a movie that Hollywood would’ve taken seriously had it not been for the puppetry. In fact, it already has. It was called “Armageddon”. As much as I love “South Park”, and most of what Parker & Stone do–this is their greatest accomplishment, and this film belongs in the discussion of greatest comedies of all time.

That’s my list! Fuck yeah

Super 8

June 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

J.J. Abrams has recently become a mini-Spielberg, a guy he unabashedly worships as a hero and influence for his own films. But there’s something that Spielberg has had for a long time that Abrams lacks, and that’s vision. Nothing is more apparent in that criticism of Abrams than his new film in which he wrote and directed, called “Super 8′. He can basically thank screenwriters like Chris Columbus for a lot of the film’s first act, as he took most of it from movies like “The Goonies” or “Explorers” or any kids movie from the 80’s. The film centers around a group of kids led by Joe Lamb (played very well by newcomer Joel Courtney) who are trying to make a movie for an amateur film festival. There are some nice set ups for this premise as the director, Charles (Riley Griffiths) barks orders to everyone and takes immense joy in reading about film and storytelling, and wants to flesh out his characters and scenes, and loves saying the word “mint” and “production value”. Joe is the make-up artist and he’s overjoyed to know that they’ve cast a girl, Alice (Elle Fanning), that he likes. She starts to like him as well, and the two form a bond. All of this sounds like it’s going to be a fun little summer movie about kids wanting to make a movie. But there’s a caveat.

While they’re shooting a scene in front of a train, a pick up truck suddenly runs right into the train, and causes a massive wreck. The kids are okay, but the train and the pick up truck are dismantled. Surprisingly (and I use the word derisively) the driver of the truck is still alive, and is one of their teachers, who warns them about things to come. They find some strange little objects from the train, and then the military comes in and takes over. Then, the whole town begins to experience strange happenings as their power goes out, the sherrif goes missing, and other wild things occur while the ubiquitous military starts to impose their presence more and more. Meanwhile, the kids are still trying to make their movie, but they’re scared about what they know and what the military knows they know. Not to mention, they’re scared about whatever the military is supposed to be protecting them from.

There’s a subplot that’s supposed to bring a human element to the film in which Joe has lost his mother. We have no idea what kind of relationship he had with her or why that’s important to the “reveal” about what they have discovered as a result of the train wreck, and it seems very clunky and slows down the pace of the film in scenes where he’s watching old home movies of him as a baby and her taking care of him. While I know this is supposed to be poignant–and the performances during these scenes, especially by Elle Fanning are very nicely handled–the drama seems out of place in that it really doesn’t enhance anything about the direction of the plot nor does it really flesh out the characters. We never really understand the family element of the film because they don’t give the story enough life or time to develop anything. Joe’s father is an estranged man, but we’re not really sure why, nor do we understand why he can’t relate to his son. There’s a scene where he wants to send Joe to a baseball camp but that’s never mentioned again. Alice’s father is an alcoholic who is the bane of Joe’s dad’s existence because he was the guy who was supposed to be on the shift that his wife took that ultimately got her killed (she died in an accident at a warehouse). We’re not even sure how she died. All of these hinted-at elements just aren’t enough for the arc to stand on its own legs, and we’re bogged down so much toward the end with special effects and a climax that is so routine and predictable, you could easily get up and leave and know exactly how it ends, so it just seems disjointed.

The kids are very charismatic but their story arc of making their movie doesn’t really go anywhere either, and their characterizations don’t have any uniqueness in the way that “The Goonies” did. There’s a kid who likes to light firecrackers, but that’s never really explored. It’s offered as comic relief and then a cheap payoff in the film’s third act. The director, Charles, admits he wanted to cast Alice because he liked her and he was jealous of Joe liking her, but there’s no payoff in that storyline either. Even them capturing something they’re not supposed to doesn’t really have a huge impact on them because the military never really seeks them out. They really don’t have much at stake at all, except knowing something that’s eventually going to be revealed to everyone in town anyway.

The biggest problem I have with this film, though, is that it’s so by-the-book and standard, it just feels like you’re being taken through a re-run of older, better movies. It’s part “Close Encounters”, part “Jaws”, part “Goonies”, part “Stand By Me”, part “E.T.” and because it’s this Frankenstein monster cut up of all of them, it comes off as just shoddy. Whereas movies like “The Goonies” and “Stand By Me” actually explore the characters and have them relate to each other, this movie just uses the kids ultimately as props and throw in some standard talking scenes–but nothing is really revealed about them as people.

There’s nothing special about this movie and I guess that’s what’s let me down the most. Much like “Cloverfield”, this movie had promise and it seemed to want to be a little different. But in the end it’s nothing but an average summer action flick that has nice moments, but not enough to make it a good movie. Instead of a work of art, it’s pre-packaged leftovers.

My rating: :(

The Goonies – 25 Years Later

June 7, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, Entertainment

“Ye…intruders beware…crushing death and grief…soaked with blood…of the trespassing thief.”

How many times have you said this, in that totally awesome Fakey British Accent just like Corey Feldman as “Mouth” in “The Goonies”? If you grew up between the years 1985-1990, you know these words by heart. You probably know half the movie, if not all of it, by heart. It was a defining “kids” movie of the mid 80’s that still lives on as one of my favorites of all time.

What sets it apart for me as a great film compared to a lot of other “kid gang adventure” movies is that this one has a lot of heart; and not only doesn’t spend its running time showing off kids talking in their lingo and being against their parents but the whole plot revolves around a group of foul-mouthed kids who want nothing more than to help their parents. They want to save the Goon Docks, a little neighborhood tucked away in the rainy, gray skies of coastal Astoria, Oregon.

My friends and I wanted to be The Goonies. Of course, we didn’t have to save our neighborhood. None of us had a Spanish speaking cleaning lady who had to beware of cockroaches and live without food or water if she didn’t comply with orders. Also, none of us, unfortunately, lived near a legendary pirate ship carrying thousands of “rich stuff”.

the-goonies
This was the kind of adventure every boy dreams of, hopefully before they get to 16. In the wide-eyed days of 1985, when we were younger, it was still possible to dream that something like this could happen. This movie was incredibly fun, even with the lame typical mafia-is-after-us subplot. I mean, I guess kids movies always have to have a bumbling group of darkly dressed “burglars” or whatever chasing them. At least this one had a young Joey Pants, and the fight over Pepperoni Pizza was funny. And of course, no one can forget Ma Fratelli who utters the famous line, “Kids suck”. But still, I don’t think there’s a kid’s story out there like this one that doesn’t involve some bumbling mafia guys or some lame government plot that only kids can bust wide open.

I like that the Fratellis never steal the spotlight from the Goonies themselves. Their story is even amusing sometimes, and endearing because of Ma’s deformed progeny, named “Sloth”. Plus, the Fratellis are actually dangerous, unlike most other bumbling villains in kids’ movies. We’re introduced to them breaking out of a prison and murdering someone, stuffing the corpse in a freezer at a seasonal restaurant that’s closed. Well, that’s not totally true–the restaurant is somewhat open. But all they serve is pinkish colored water and tongue.

The Goonies realize that what’s important about the restaurant is that underneath is a cave that does, indeed, lead to the pirate’s treasure. The infamous One-Eyed Willie. But along the way, Sloth joins the group, the Fratellis follow them through the tunnels and the booty traps (that’s Booby traps!), and of course there’s a climax where they’re all on the pirate ship itself.

HEY YOU GUYS!!!!

HEY YOU GUYS!!!!

I was first introduced to this movie through a family friend who was talking to my twin sister about it when we were visiting them down in Slidell, Louisiana. She told us about this movie about a pirate and a bunch of kids, and the pirate was named One-Eyed Willie and he had a patch over his eye. It sounded scary to me, and I didn’t really hear much more about it after that. That was because at the time my family and I were living in one of the most remote towns in the country…Lyon’s Falls in Upstate New York. I was surprised that in my second grade class, the student body was invited to a screening of “The Karate Kid”. But nothing about “The Goonies”.

It wasn’t until 1986, a year after it being released, that I finally got to see the movie. Living in Atlanta, Georgia, and surrounded by neighbors who all had kids me and my sister’s age whom had all seen the movie, it was only a matter of time before I finally got to myself. My next door neighbor, whose hobbies including setting fire to things and copying movies he rented onto blank VHS tapes, let me borrow a copy of it. I was hooked from the first viewing. I identified with its main protagonist, Mikey, and some of my friends around the neighborhood resembled the kids in the movie. I wasn’t nearly as brave or cunning as Mikey, and I didn’t have asthma or braces; but I had a bowl hair cut and I was about his height, I think. I liked quoting Mikey.

“Down here it’s our time… it’s our time down here.”

My friends and I had little adventures of our own. There was an abandoned barn down at the end of a street in our neighborhood that was spooky and old. Naturally, we explored it. There was also a field and a forest behind it. I always wanted to imagine what was beyond…I found out later that it was a Seven Eleven. But at age 8, that’s still pretty cool.

Pizza...? Shhh! Pepperoni...? Shhh!

Pizza…? Shhh! Pepperoni…? Shhh!

The movie shaped my childhood, along with other adventure movies like “Explorers”, “The NeverEnding Story”, “The Dark Crystal”, “Labyrinth”, and “The Goonies” famous rip-off, “The Monster Squad”. Throughout my teenage years I didn’t watch it much. I was over all of that, and I had to give it a break. I think I had watched it 20-30 times during the years of ‘86 and ‘91.

But probably about 8 years ago, around the time when it started to be “cool” to think back on the 80’s (VH1 really went to town with all of that…they sure Loved the 80’s…), I really missed this movie. I still had a clamshell VHS tape (those always made me feel weird, because it just seemed baby proofed or something) and I popped it in and watched it. It really made me ache for my childhood again. I couldn’t watch it for years after that.

For whatever reason, “The Goonies” is still a little painful for me because it’s such a reminder of a wonderful time in my life that’s long over. Sounds strange, but it’s like revisiting the grave of my youth. I don’t know if kids nowadays are introduced to “The Goonies”, but even if they are, it’s not the same. “The Goonies” came out in the middle of the 80’s, when it started to define itself as a decade and date itself. There are elements of the movie that are incredibly dated. The clothing (Mouth’s Member’s Only jacket), Stef’s insanely large glasses, Chunk’s Hawaiian shirt and plaid pants (when was that ever popular?) and of course…the music. Some of the songs they listen to are just brutally 80’s teen rock ditties I’m sure were sellers back in ‘85. But now, they just sound bad. Fun bad, but bad.

This past weekend marked the 25th Anniversary of “The Goonies”. AMC was showing it throughout the weekend. Twenty-five years. It’s pretty hard to think about that. When I was growing up I still remember thinking the 25th Anniversary of “Psycho” meant “it’s old”. Now “The Goonies” is in that class. It’s old. It’s a by-gone era. The Silver Anniversary. It’s just not fair. It should never be considered an old movie–but it is. I just listed reasons why, too. But I don’t want to accept it! I don’t want to accept that I’m old!

OK, I had to get that out of the way.

The DVD release, while not providing a true widescreen presentation (ahem), was a real treat. The commentary track featuring the cast and director was so nice to watch along with revisiting the movie. It was like catching up with old friends. OK yeah, we weren’t really friends. But I made so many connections with these characters, that’s what they felt like. And apparently, these kids formed friendships on the set as well, so it was a real reunion for them as well. It was cute to see, and it’s a cute movie.

Everything from Data’s Pinches of Power to his father telling him in his native Chinese “You are my greatest invention”; Chunk getting his favorite pizza (Domino’s?!?) from his mom and telling Sloth that he loves him; Mouth and Stef sharing a moment; and, the hottie cheerleader Andy telling Mikey he’s a good kisser.

Ah, the Truffle Shuffle!

Ah, the Truffle Shuffle!

With more viewings of the movie, more things just become so darn cute about it. Data’s rant when he falls down the stairs is really hilarious. Mouth’s “I’m taking them all back” soliloquy moves me. And I just think it’s funny that Jake Fratelli makes up a story (presumably?) about going to the Bronx Zoo; and then tells Sloth a story (most definitely true) that they spent money meant to fix his broken teeth on brother Francis’ toupee. There are a lot of little things that just come out of nowhere that add to how great this movie is.

Sure, there’s vulgarity that caused some tidal waves from parent groups back when it came out; but even Ebert said these kids sounded “like real kids”. Of course that meant to him that he couldn’t follow what they were talking about. But we, of course, followed it perfectly. Even when they contracted themselves. Contra…contradicted themselves. We just didn’t want to dictate…or delude ourselves.

Happy Twenty-Fifth, “The Goonies”. You’re still good enough.