Down From the Shelf ~ The Lost World: Jurassic Park

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A research team is sent to the Jurassic Park Site B island to study the dinosaurs there while another team approaches with their own agenda.

Stars: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Arliss Howard, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Vanessa Lee Chester, Peter Stormare, Richard Schiff

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 129 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: I remember December 13, 1996 very well. I was in a theater at the Mall of America for the first showing of Tim Burton’s wack-a-doo sci-fi flick Mars Attacks! and was far more excited for the coming attractions that the feature presentation. You see, our local newspaper had let us know that the Mall of America would be one of a few theaters outfitted with a special “lighting surprise” that went along with the teaser trailer for director Steven Spielberg’s much-anticipated follow-up to his 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park.

OK…before we move on, take a moment and look at the teaser trailer I included above. I’ll wait.

Did you watch it?

OK…now for some explanation.

The lights go down and the trailer begins – a fairly simple teaser over all but every time there was a lightening flash when the words Something Has Survived appeared on screen the specially installed high powered strobe lights in the theater would flash a blinding light so it felt like you were right in the middle of the action. True, the effect was fairly unique but it also showed how downright dingy the walls and ceiling of the theater were.

I tell you this story because the gimmicky nature of the preview of The Lost World: Jurassic Park wound up being the most interesting thing about the movie. Fanboys and fangirls around the world were pretty bummed out when the sequel to one of the biggest films of all times landed like a soggy thud on Memorial Day weekend. Oh the film made bank at the box office, no question, but it lacked the energy and awe of its predecessor and played like a quick cash grab.

It’s been several years since the disaster at the original Jurassic Park and the mystery around the island still remains. When a British family picnicking on an island not too far away has a close encounter with some tiny dinos and a second site of dino creationism is revealed, mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, The Grand Budapest Hotel) is called in by billionaire and Jurassic Park creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to…well…it’s never really clear why he eventually agrees to be dropped in the middle of the dinosaur action again. It’s not for any sense of loyalty, that’s for sure…in the years after the park failure Hammond’s company tarnished Malcolm’s professional reputation.

Accompanied by a team that includes Richard Schiff (Entourage) and Vince Vaughn (The Internship), Malcolm is reunited with his girlfriend Sarah (Julianne Moore, Still Alice, slumming it for a chance to work on a big budget project with a high powered director), a research conservationist sent ahead as bait for Malcolm to follow. There’s also a pitiful subplot introducing Malcolm’s child (Vanessa Lee Chester) who stows away to spend more time with daddy.

There are just so many things going on in the film that it’s hard to pick up any thread to follow. There are too many people as well, part of the beauty of the original film was that it was easy to track the half dozen characters that fought for survival…there’s hundreds of people in the sequel and the end result is that you don’t really care who gets chomped and who lives to tell the story.

While there are a few perilous edge of your seat sequences there are far too many more stretches where nothing of import happens. A reliance on extra screen time for the dinosaurs seems like a ploy to pad the story and don’t even get me started at the hare-brained finale through the streets of San Diego. The entire film reminded me of King Kong, a film that Spielberg would toy with remaking almost a decade later.

Everyone here looks exhausted (when you can see them at all, too much of the film takes place at night or deep in the jungle ) and Spielberg himself seems to have given up halfway through. Rushed into production and only loosely based on Michael Crichton’s sequel to his mega-selling novel (Spielberg was the one that goaded him into writing it), the film feels so very heavy and devoid of the magic that made Jurassic Park a landmark achievement.

The Silver Bullet ~ Mortdecai

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Synopsis: Art dealer Charles Mortdecai searches for a stolen painting that’s reportedly linked to a lost bank account filled with Nazi gold.

Release Date: January 23, 2015

Thoughts: The literary anti-hero Charles Mortdecai makes his long-awaited big screen debut in a film that seems perfectly pitched to be a Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger) vehicle. My own personal qualms with the intriguing actor taking on some less than worthy projects aside, I have to say that this might be the right balance of quirky comedy and action mayhem that Depp has long sought with frequent collaborator Tim Burton (Dark Shadows). Here he reteams with his Secret Window director David Koepp (Premium Rush) and I hope the results are as promising as they appear to be.

Movie Review ~ Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

Stars: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Peter Andersson, Kenneth Branagh, David Paymer, Colm Feore

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: The only thing Hollywood seems to love more than a remake is a reboot and we’ve certainly had our fair share of those in the last several years….some good (Batman Begins), some iffy (The Bourne Legacy) and some disappointing (Man of Steel).  Then you have reboots like The Amazing Spider-Man, which are more puzzling than anything else.  Why kickstart something new if you don’t have anything remarkable to add?

You can toss Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit to the garbage pile though because it’s a disappointing waste of time, talent, and resources.  A character that was brought to life on the pages of Tom Clancy’s bestselling novels and in four previous film outings has been reduced to a standard grade action hero that’s light on the action and questionable on the hero.

First appearing in 1990’s The Hunt For Red October (and played by Alec Baldwin), Ryan played second fiddle to Sean Connery’s defecting Russian sub commander.  When Baldwin wasn’t available for 1992’s Patriot Games, producers nabbed their original first choice Harrison Ford to take over as the CIA analyst in a film that was a slickly made bona fide commercial affair.  Returning in 1994 for Clear and Present Danger, Ford’s second outing was a more somber picture, almost the polar opposite of the tight packaging of its predecessor.  A half-hearted attempt to re-launch the franchise was made in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears with Ben Affleck not totally able to bear the weight of it all.

Instead of  remaking a previous Jack Ryan film or delving into the other five novels Clancy included him in, the studio went the Muppet Babies approach and just chose to turn back time and start over again with Ryan now injured in a post 9-11 Afghanistan rather than during a routine exercise.  Even worse is that they repurposed an existing script for a generic action film and just plugged in Ryan and a few others familiar to fans of the novels and tried to make a go at it.  What we’re left with is a script barely better than a failed NBC pilot and thrilling action sequences that are missing any sort of thrills.

I knew we were in trouble even before the title came up when the first shot of Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan involved a badly coiffed wig.  Pine has found great success in outer space (Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness) but has struggled with films of the earthy variety (though I liked it, People Like Us, was a bomb).   While Pine may have the requisite All American boy scout looks like would go well with any vision of Jack Ryan one may have, the script affords him no favors with wooden dialogue and a plot involving financial ruin that would makes sense only if you weren’t really paying attention.

As his quasi-mentor, Kevin Costner (Draft Day, who would have made a great Jack Ryan back in the day) doesn’t work up much of a sweat since I’m almost positive there are no shots of him doing anything but standing still or sitting down.  Costner seems as bored as we are and I find myself missing his early days when he could deliver a line with a sly sideways glance and make even the most cornball of situations amusing.

Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina, A Dangerous Method) doesn’t close her mouth the entire film, opting to let it just hang open whenever she doesn’t have much to do…which is the majority of the time.  Though the film tries to put her in the middle of the action late in the game her ship has sailed by then and she just gets in the way – until she suddenly becomes useful when the film needs her most.

Actually, there are several of these moments in the movie where a heretofore useless character magically becomes the expert in a field they know nothing about.  Take Ryan himself for instance; the entirety of the movie has Pine saying things like “I’m not cut out for this” and “I can’t do that”, only to gloriously rise up to astounding heights at the opportune moment.  If it was a result of the character finding some inner strength or deeper knowledge that’s one thing but it’s almost as if lines meant for someone else were accidentally spoken by a different character and no one noticed.

Someone should have noticed though and some of that falls on Kenneth Branagh who seems to gain a new mole for each movie he directs as well as stars in.  As a Russian businessman with plans to throw the economy into ruin through a seriously dated (and tremendously gauche) terror attack, he gets the accent down but follows through on little else.  Like his directorial duties in Thor, Branagh shows a strange lack of a big picture view…almost forgetting that he’s in charge of a huge movie.

I wouldn’t say that I exactly had high hopes for the film but I was at least looking forward to something entertaining.  The shortest Ryan film at less than 105 minutes, the film feels hours longer mostly because Branagh has a plethora of shots with people just staring at each other and not speaking like some Ingmar Bergman flick.  The film had my sympathy when it was bumped from its primo holiday spot by Paramount when The Wolf of Wall Street ironed out its kinks…but Paramount clearly knew that it was better to give Wolf a go and leave Jack to wallow in the shadows.

Please…leave Jack Ryan alone.

In Praise of Teasers ~ Jurassic Park (1993)

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I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately.  It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

Jurassic Park (1993)

Here’s my favorite kind of teaser: one that shows no actual footage from the movie itself.  I had all but forgotten this ad for 1993’s Jurassic Park, a clever intro to audiences not only that the movie was coming their way but in how the dinosaurs would be coming back to life in the first place. Though the movie did take ample time to explain the process, having the teaser give some info up front that there was some science behind it all couldn’t have hurt.

Now that the movie has spawned two (inferior) sequels, had an IMAX 3D re-release of its own, and is readying for an all-new adventure (Jurassic World) in 2015 it’s nice to be able to look back and see how Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking adventure first caught the eye of moviegoers.

Miss my other teaser reviews this week?

Check out my musings on Alien, Misery, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Showgirls!

The Silver Bullet ~ Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

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Synopsis: Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

Release Date:  January 17, 2014

Thoughts: Poor Jack Ryan…he can’t catch much of a break.  The star of Tom Clancy’s bestselling novels has already shown up in four screen outings and his latest screen adventure was set to open in a prime late December spot…until The Wolf of Wall Street was pushed back, taking good ‘ole Jack’s place.  Perhaps moving this reboot from the crowded Christmas season will be a good thing but I can’t imagine director Kenneth Branagh and stars Chris Pine (Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness) and Keira Knightly (Anna Karenina) were all that pleased with the last minute shuffle.  I’m not sure I love the idea of moving Jack Ryan back into his youth…he’s been played by three different actors so far (Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October, Harrison Ford in Patriot Games {my favorite} and Clear and Present Danger, and Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears) and I think I prefer the character to have a few more miles on him.   

Mid-Day Mini ~ The Paper

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Henry Hackett is the editor of a New York City tabloid. A workaholic who loves his job, the long hours and low pay are leading to discontent until a hot story soon confronts Henry with tough decisions over the course of one 24 hour period.

Stars: Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards, Jason Alexander, Lynne Thigpen

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: R

Running Length: 112 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  In between period pieces Far and Away and Apollo 13, director Ron Howard (Parenthood, Backdraft) delivered this fast-moving and involving comedy-drama that takes place over 24 hours and focuses in on the goings-on at a NYC daily newspaper.   Not a high-class publication like the New York Times but maybe just above the near tabloid nature of the New York Post, the newspaper at the center of The Paper is struggling and its editor (Keaton) is thinking about the future.  With a pregnant wife (Oscar-winner Tomei), a crazed reporter (Quaid who we all know now is crazed in real life), a jaded colleague (Close, Albert Nobbs), and a veteran boss (Duvall, Tender Mercies, Jack Reacher) to juggle on a daily basis he burns the midnight oil thanks to Coke (the drink, not the powder) and gumption.

When a murder takes place and two youths are jailed it seems like any other story…until Keaton’s character begins to do some actual reporting and begins to see that things aren’t as cut and dry as they appear to be.  With a deadline looming and Close’s character breathing down his neck, the film keeps Keaton plowing on without getting much of a breather.

This is a solid film with good, easy performances and a better than average script thanks to David Koepp (Jurassic Park) and his brother Stephen.  Howard does what he does best and lets the movie develop naturally, placing most of the responsibility on his trusted star Keaton who doesn’t disappoint.  Close, too, is very effective as a dragon lady that’s talked about a lot before we finally see her.  When she does appear, Howard presents her in such a way that the first frame tells us everything we heard about her is right on the money.  Duvall and Tomei also turn in fine performances, navigating some cliché material with ease.

Aside from our above the title leads, Howard once again shows strength in casting by filling the newsroom and outside colleagues with strong character actors.  The late great Thigpen has a small role as Keaton’s secretary but makes the most out of her scenes…this is what true renaissance man/woman acting is all about.

Though print news is clearly dying off, The Paper is no period piece when viewed from an online, tech-savvy perspective.  True, some elements are clearly dated but the pursuit of the truth in the face of the grinding engine of economics still has an impact on our society today.  If you’ve never seen this one or haven’t revisited it in a while, check it out again.  It’s no classic but it’s a nice representation of the talent of all involved.

Movie Review ~ Jurassic Park 3D

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The Facts:

Synopsis: During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.

Stars: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, BD Wong, Wayne Knight

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 127 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review:  It’s hard to believe that Jurassic Park is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this  year – I still remember like it was yesterday seeing one of the first showings at the Edina Theater and going back a few more times that weekend to see the dino action, bringing my friends along to see their reaction.  I saw the film a total of 10 times that summer and have revisited it dozens in the years since but I still was a little leery of the movie being re-released in 3D and IMAX to celebrate two decades of T-Rex and Raptor filled scares.  The film was so entertaining to begin with; did it really need 3D/IMAX to increase the entertainment value?

The answer is “no” but that doesn’t mean I didn’t greatly enjoy seeing the film digitally restored with booming sound and a carefully thought out 3D conversion overseen by its director.  You see, Jurassic Park is such an old-fashioned thrill ride of a film that it could be played backwards and still give you a big bang for your buck…though the term “popcorn film” was coined years before it’s one of the best ways to describe the experience.

Most people are probably already familiar with the plot involving a theme park in the South Pacific home to cloned dinosaurs.  What looks to be a huge advancement in science and consumer marketing turns deadly as the aggressive dinos break free during a tropical storm…much to the terror of a small group of men, women, and children that have stopped in for a visit.

What works about the film (wide-eyed wonder, excellent action sequences, state-of-the-art visuals) still works and what was once iffy (the film has a tendency to feel overwhelming in its scope) feels corrected by seeing the movie again on the big screen.  Though I still feel that the movie is less concerned with its calculated leaps in narrative than it is about dropping the jaws of their audience, there’s no denying that the movie has lost little even after countless viewings.

I was struck at how solid Neill was in his lead role as conflicted Paleontologist Dr Alan Grant.  Though the role could have gone to a real name star (Harrison Ford), Spielberg made the right choice by choosing the understated Neill to really ground the film.  While I’ve grown to like Dern (check her out in The Master and especially Smooth Talk), I do still cringe a bit at her overzealous line readings delivered with a lilt that sends a shiver up my spine.  Goldblum’s kooky theorist goes down easier than it did back in the day thanks to our exposure to similar actors like Johnny Depp who have probably would have played the role if it were made today.  Oscar winning director Attenborough (A Chorus Line) hits the right notes as the man behind the park, wisely toned down by screenwriter David Koepp from his evil genius characterization in Michal Crichton’s source novel.  Mazzalo and Richards performances have retained their mostly pleasant early 90’s feel though the efforts of both feel a bit light when surrounded by such impressive special effects.  Jackson, Wong, Peck, and Ferrero are nice supporting players while Knight’s performance feels the most stuck in the past.

The Oscar winning effects still look incredible and the various thrill sequences that had you on the edge of your seat will make you climb right over it as you witness a T-Rex attack that feels more up close and personal than ever.  The 3D is used sparingly but to great effect as the textures and depth of the park are increased, giving the film some needed strength in its slightly slower middle third.

Looking back it’s amazing to think that Spielberg directed Jurassic Park and his Oscar winning Schindler’s List in the same year…two enormously popular films for very different reasons.  It only speaks to his talents as a director that he could produce such tonally different movies yet keep the undeniable Spielberg touch intact.

Only in theaters for a few weeks, there’s every reason to get your tickets to Jurassic Park whether it’s your first or thirty-first time you’ve seen it.  The surprises are still there, the unexpected scares are present, and you may even find yourself getting that warm fuzzy feeling of retuning to something that reminds you of one great summer and one great film.