Movie Review ~ Jurassic World Dominion

The Facts:

Synopsis: Dinosaurs now live—and hunt—alongside humans all over the world. This fragile balance will reshape the future and determine, once and for all, whether human beings are to remain the apex predators on a planet they now share with history’s most fearsome creatures.
Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, DeWanda Wise, Isabella Sermon,  Mamoudou Athie, Campbell Scott, BD Wong, Omar Sy, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Scott Haze, Dichen Lachman
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 146 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review:  Recently, I was asked to list a handful of my most memorable summer movie experiences. Seeing Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park in June of 1993 easily came in at #1. There was something so special about that time, a pre-internet era where all you had to go on before a movie was released were clips shown on entertainment news programs or movie magazines tailored to your interests. For this movie in particular, so much was kept under wraps beforehand that audiences truly had no little idea about what was in store for them. I miss having those unspoiled viewing pleasures, and in the decades since Jurassic Park opened its doors, the odds of walking blindly into a film have decreased every time society introduced a new social media platform.

When Universal Studios revitalized the Jurassic franchise in 2015 with the super-blockbuster Jurassic World, many of those same early feelings of excitement came back to me. New director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed), personally selected by Spielberg, took the reins with that same sense of fun and adventure. Even if nothing would match the spirit of the original visit to the park (including The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997 and Jurassic Park III in 2001), I was thrilled with what the creative team had worked up. Trevorrow wasn’t on hand for 2018’s Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, which suffered as previous sequels did with being set in a climate that didn’t feel contained enough to create appropriate tension. I liked it better than my colleagues, but it didn’t move the dial like it should (or could) have. 

For the supposed final film (at least in this trilogy), Trevorrow has returned and brought back the trio of original co-stars from Spielberg’s first outing. That alone is worth booking passage to Jurassic World Dominion, but audiences will have to wade through a fair share of thorny underbrush in this 146-minute finale ultimo. Boasting surprisingly less than cutting edge special effects, some downright silly contrivances, and performances from dinosaurs that often best the humans they are acting alongside, you’ll want to see it with a packed audience to get your maximum enjoyment. They’ll help smooth out the rocky ride between the star attractions if they’re anything like my enthusiastic crowd.

In the four years following the events of Fallen Kingdom, when the dinosaurs escaped their island and integrated into the ecosystem around the world, most of the population has grown accustomed to seeing these bio-engineered creatures roaming the globe. Exploited to varying degrees for their exotic appeal, they’ve gone beyond park attractions to curiosities you can own as a status symbol or wield as a tool against an enemy. That’s what a growing horde of pre-historic locusts is doing, decimating crops not planted with a synthetic seed from seemingly benign company Biosyn Genetics led by a character that will be familiar to trivia buffs of the first film. While Campbell Scott (The Amazing Spider-Man) didn’t play this part back then, it’s a wise choice to have an actor of his stature (and oddity) take over.

Researching the raging locusts is Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, Little Women), who has been tipped off by old friend Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, The Grand Budapest Hotel) that Biosyn is behind the revived insects and gets her access to their private labs in the Dolomite Mountains. She needs an experienced witness to vouch for her findings and turns to former flame Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill, Dead Calm) to fly with her and provide a second set of trained eyes. Little do they know it, but Biosyn is also a sanctuary for many of the dinosaurs that have been rounded up from around the world, and they’re about to welcome another set of visitors to the facility under very different circumstances.

After escaping with the first human clone, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), Clare (Bryce Dallas Howard, Rocketman), and Owen (Chris Pratt, The Tomorrow War) are trying to keep her hidden in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Not only did she release the dinos into the wild to begin with, but her very existence is valuable to scientists seeking to do good and evil. Staying close by is Velociraptor Blue, still ornery but keeping an eye on a new baby raptor Maisie nicknamed Beta. When both Maisie and Blue are captured by Biosyn cronies, Clare and Owen team up with a non-nonsense former Air Force Pilot (DeWanda Wise, The Harder They Fall) to break into Biosyn and retrieve both precious assets.

Much of Jurassic World Dominion is spent with the two stories working separately from one another, and only one holds much interest. That would be the thread that follows Dern and Neill (and sometimes Goldblum) as they travel to Biosyn and get a lay of the mysterious lab/land. Meeting up with Scott and his team (including franchise stalwart B.D. Wong, The Space Between Us, still causing nefarious trouble and then feeling guilty after), one can’t help but be reminded of their trip to Jurassic Park…and Treverrow doesn’t let you forget it thanks to several Easter Egg callbacks to the original. These are fun, audience-pleasing moments that land with welcome warmth. 

On the other side, Howard and Pratt are heading up the more action-heavy side of things, globe-trotting from the Sierra Nevadas to Malta before heading to Biosyn.  All of this added movement does little to stir up much in the way of tension, despite some decent attempts from Howard to get into the action and shockingly little effort from Pratt to do anything more than the minimum required to move from one scene to the next. It’s like Pratt forgot what he liked about being in movies in the first place. He’s never been close to a movie star, but now he’s not even working to prove it anymore. His process is starting to show, never changing up his look or approach, and it’s never more evident here. Wise can get a few good moments out of him, but even her material is so weak that you can sometimes feel her wanting to roll her eyes and the tired dialogue she has to say. 

Frustratingly non-committal in certain areas (count how many people get snacked on in comparison to how many dinosaurs get finished off) and tossing whatever light science was present early on right out the door (T-Rex suddenly loses all sense of smell here), Jurassic World Dominion has a handful of thrill-park esque sequences that are effective but double the number of slogs that could have been so much more. It feels like two partial movies that never got finished smashed into one…I wish more time were spent fleshing out the revisit with our old friends rather than trying to make time for the newbies. Then you’d have a movie worth waiting in line all day for.

The Silver Bullet ~ Jurassic World: Dominion


Synopsis: The epic conclusion of the Jurassic era.
Release Date:  June 10, 2022
Thoughts:  I have friendly neighbors who never would have called the police on me today when I screamed watching this new trailer for Jurassic World: Dominion.  If the police had arrived, I would have invited them in and brought them to the part of the first full look at the sixth film in the long-running franchise when original stars Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum appeared.  Actually, more like when Dern shows up and reunites with Neill in a setting that feels familiar to those that remember how the first movie began. 

This lightning bolt of nostalgia is just one of many thrills to be had in this maxed-out ride through the adventure awaiting audiences in the final chapter of a trilogy that began with 2015’s Jurassic World.  Though 2018’s sequel Fallen Kingdom didn’t meet the expectations of many, I appreciated its gentle attempt at pivoting.  Under the guidance of the first chapter’s director Colin Trevorrow and backed by a humungous production, the series has clearly course-corrected in a significant way.  Did I tear up a bit during this trailer?  Unashamedly I nod my head yes.  Already high on my list of anticipated films of 2022, Jurassic World: Dominion is now in the #1 slot.

31 Days to Scare ~ Welcome to the Blumhouse – The Lie & Black Box

2

 

You’ve got to hand it to über-producer Jason Blum and his Blumhouse production company for creating a mini horror empire that is able to take a lot of lickings and keep on ticking.  Not unlike Michael Meyers, whom Blum had a hand in resurrecting in 2018 for a wildly popular and critically applauded continuation of Halloween, Blumhouse has taken its fair share of beatings by angry mobs but gets in a few nice stabs every now and then.  For every Fantasy Island there’s a The Invisible Man and while I thought a a female-helmed remake of Black Christmas was agreeably different, a bunch of horror fans (i.e. middle-aged men) disagreed.

With their planned sequel for Halloween as well as an intriguing new take on Candyman getting pushed out a whole year, other theatrically intended projects have either been delayed or moved to streaming like You Should Have Left (I’m also looking forward to Run Sweetheart Run, acquired by Amazon for a TBD release).  So Blumhouse has gotten creative with our at-home trappings and found an interesting way to ring in the chilly weather October brings.  Partnering with Amazon to premiere four new streaming films via Prime Video as part of their Welcome to the Blumhouse project, the first two movies showed up this week and fans were treated to a virtual premiere which could be enhanced by a mystery to solve after the film was over, depending on your level of desired interaction.

I thought the design of the premiere was fun and the puzzle to solve seemed to create engagement but I was here for the movies and was so curious to see if these titles were going to be also-rans Blumhouse was cleverly trying to get rid of or if they were quality that fit the theme.  With two down and two to go, I’d say Blumhouse has nicely curated their content for this platform and the audience which has come to watch – I don’t think either title would play particular well in the theaters but for a evening of entertainment, both films deliver.

 


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Suburban parents fall into a web of lies and deceit when they try to cover up their teenage daughter’s horrific crime.

Stars: Mireille Enos, Peter Sarsgaard, Joey King, Patti Kim, Cas Anvar, Devery Jacobs, Nicholas Lea

Director: Veena Sud

Rated: R

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  The first movie in my line-up is actually the oldest one of the group.  Premiering a full two years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Lie has sat on the virtual shelf until now and while it isn’t exactly the kind of tone or temperament that comes to mind when you think of Blumhouse, it has a chill to it that makes it a nice addition to this group of films.   Based on a 2015 German film and adapted by director Veena Sud, it treads similar territory to Sud’s other translation of a foreign property for American audiences, the the popular crime drama The Killing.  Featuring the star of that show, Mireille Enos (World War Z), and Peter Sarsgaard (The Sound of Silence) as parents of a teenage girl (Joey King, The Conjuring) who commits an unexpected crime, there’s a high sophistication from all involved which helps elevate The Lie from being the NBC Movie of the Week-esqe parental drama it is at the core.

Most of the time, it’s a detriment to have characters that you don’t much care for but it works wonders for keeping The Lie afloat for as long as it does.  King is such a willful, spoiled brat (something her parents are all too aware of) that even after she does what she does and fully admits to it, you are begging for her to get caught.  Each time her act is covered up, first from Enos by Sarsgaard and eventually from neighbors, friends, and the police by both parents, you wonder why they’re actively protecting someone that is so awful.  She must get it from her dad’s side of the family, though, because Sarsgaard’s character seems to have some moral quandaries of his own going on.  Taking the stance of “It’s our daughter, we must protect her” against his ex-wife’s protests of turning her over to the police and letting them sort it out, he only makes things worse at every juncture and his lies force the family into increasingly dangerous situations.

The strongest reason to see the film is for the razor sharp performance of Enos.  Beginning the film an icy parental figure used to daily routine and mothering by enforcement of rules (she’s a former cop turned lawyer, after all), her gradual breakdown into a person that could betray the law she’s sworn to uphold startles her and us at the same time.  For all his bluster, Sarsgaard is a good match for Enos as well and you can tell why they work better as divorcees than as a couple.  King is two years older now than she was when she filmed this and she’s improved in that time, considering as well it’s a tough character play because you aren’t rooting for her in the slightest.  Of the small supporting cast, I greatly enjoyed Patti Kim as a former police colleague of Enos that she first turns to for help…until she realizes she’s gone to the one person that really is looking to solve the mystery that surrounds them all.

The final fifteen minutes of The Lie have some turns that I didn’t see coming and kudos to everyone for distracting me long enough to let my guard down.  This is a small film but it has an impact that resonates more than I had originally thought it would.  The performances are strong and while the plot may seem simple at first, it sits on top of something a lot more thorny.

 

The Facts:

Synopsis: After losing his wife and his memory in a car accident, a single father undergoes an agonizing experimental treatment that causes him to question who he really is.

Stars: Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine, Tosin Morohunfola, Charmaine Bingwa, Donald Watkins, Troy James

Director: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour

Rated: NR

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: We all can agree that 2020 has bit the big one, right?  Well, I think we can also try to find the positives along the way and one thing I’ve noticed is that this year has been a great one for horror/suspense films to find exciting new (or new-ish) voices that are getting some nice exposure because their smaller films are able to be noticed.  If we were only talking about big blockbusters and focused solely on the money makers, we’d be neglecting to give accolades to so many worthy films. Let’s remember Natalie Erika James for the creepy multi-layers found in Relic, the keen ear for creating character amidst nail-gnawing gore from Egor Abramenko in Sputnik, or the way Lane and Ruckus Skye make the retro themes in The Devil to Pay feel fresh.

You can add writer/director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour to that list of names to watch out for because if his first feature Black Box is any indication, this is a filmmaker who has hit the ground running.  You can easily see why Blumhouse Television snapped this one up and featured it in the inaugural slate of Welcome to the Blumhouse pictures; it’s a perfect blend of spooky horror and mind-bending mystery wrapped up in a surprisingly emotional family drama.  I was expecting it to get my pulse racing but wasn’t thinking it would make me get all misty-eyed, either.

Months after a terrible car accident robbed him of his wife and left him with amnesia, Nolan Wright (Mamoudou Athie, Underwater) still needs help remembering the name of his former boss and the way to his daughter’s school, not to mention the proper way to do their secret handshake.  Though still a small child, Ava (Amanda Christine, Miss Virginia) has taken on a lot of the household responsibilities for her father who often forgets to pick her up and cook dinner.  He’s convinced by his physician best friend (Tosin Morohunfola) to take part in an experimental study offered by Dr. Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad, Creed) who specializes in memory loss for patients with brain trauma.

Pioneering a new technology with her “black box”, she works with Nolan in one on one sessions to bring him back to previous memories as a way to restore the part of his mind that was damaged in the crash.  At first, the treatment seems to yield positive results, with Nolan remembering his wedding day and seeing his newborn daughter.  Yet there is an unpleasant quality to these visions: everyone he sees has a blurred face so he can’t identify anyone.  Worse, each time their faces begin to come into focus, another figure enters the remembrance…a quadruple jointed, backwards-walking, bone crunching, evil entity that is coming after him.  Dr. Brooks dismisses this as the part of his mind that feels threatened but as the presence grows more intense, Nolan grows more convinced the treatment may be doing more harm than good…and that these memories may not be his after all.

Osei-Kuffour and his co-writer Stephen Herman have worked out a fairly clever plot that keeps viewers engaged for most of the run time.  What’s really happening to Nolan and how it is related to the treatment is something experienced viewers may guess at but it’s not as simple an explanation as you may think.  I was impressed that for a film relying on high-tech medical gadgetry to sell us on the premise, it acquits itself easily by keeping things as unpretentious as possible.  It also helps immensely to have Rashad explaining things because when she’s selling it, you buy it.

That’s true for all of the performances actually; everyone is so convincing that even when things start to go slightly awry in the latter half it doesn’t feel like the movie has lost any points overall because everyone has been cast so well.  Athie is excellent in the lead, totally convincing as a man who lost everything trying to put his life back together and hold down what he has left for his daughter.  It’s so wonderful to see Rashad in this type of role that has more than just one-note to play and Charmaine Bingwa and Morohunfola are strong in their supporting roles.  The real star is Christine as Nolan’s daughter – what a strong performance by such a young actress!  There’s a scene close to the end that almost breaks your heart and it’s her convincing acting that makes it so believable.

I found Black Box to be an exciting watch, one that kept me comfortably leaning forward in my seat and wanting to know more.  It only dips in energy as it reveals more of its secrets but bounces back with an well-earned resolution and nicely done finale that isn’t your standard “gotcha” moment.  Check this one out and don’t be surprised to see a number of these actors and the director show up in more projects on the horizon.

Movie Review ~ Underwater


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Mysterious creatures terrorize crew members aboard a research station located seven miles below the surface of the ocean.

Stars: Kristen Stewart, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, Vincent Cassel, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie

Director: William Eubank

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 95 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I write these reviews as if the reader has read every other post I’ve written these past nine years so I feel I should probably start out my review for Underwater to say for all you first-timers out there that I. LOVE. MONSTER. MOVIES.  Also.  I. LOVE. UNDERWATER. MONSTER. MOVIES.  There.  It’s out there again, I can be free to go on with my reflection of Underwater, and you can understand why I was both excited and a little bit nervous going into this 2020 release because I really wanted it to be good.  I wanted it to be so good, in fact, that I even spoke the words out loud in the theater beforehand to my partner so it would be clear that, no matter what happened, I was always rooting for the film to succeed.  It has been so long since we had a good creature feature that I felt it was high time for something new to try to break through but I never thought it would come from 20th Century Fox starring indie-darling Kristen Stewart.

Filmed all the way back in early 2017 (we’re talking March-May), Underwater was made when 20th Century Fox was still its own studio and not owned by the Disney corporation.  Once Disney shelled out big bucks for Fox they acquired all of their movies set to be released and have been gradually rolling them out to strategically not interfere with the release dates of their own in-house movies.  Ad Astra was given a bit of a short shrift earlier this summer and, while it did decent business and received good notices, it wasn’t nearly the blockbuster it might have been had it been solely under the Fox banner.  Then again, that movie had its own share of challenging advertising issues…not really being an action movie but being marketed as one.

Back to Underwater, this is another case of Disney burning up a Fox release in that no man’s land of January and hoping that something will come of it.  Thankfully, this is one title they blessed with an advance screening so others could get the word out, but with the studio releasing it against the Oscar hopeful 1917 and the comedy Like a Boss, there wasn’t a huge audience left over for Underwater. That’s likely why the movie didn’t make much a dent during its opening weekend, despite costing upwards of $80 million to produce.  Ouch.  Let’s put that aside for the moment and focus on the movie, though.

It’s good!  Like, really good!

Actually, let me take a step back and I’ll temper my enthusiasm with a caveat that I was pre-destined to like this film based on my above mentioned penchant for this particular brand of horror movie.  Even if it was kinda bad, I probably sorta would have liked it.  That it was competently made, admirably performed, and skillfully executed only added to the enjoyment level of it and I have to say that it exceeded any expectations I had going in.  Knowing next to nothing about it thanks to a buzz machine that barely got started, it was fun to go in fairly blind and I think you should do your best to know as little going in as possible.  So I’ll keep this brief.

The set-up sounds familiar.  In an isolated area miles below the surface, an accident decimates a drilling station that is exploring the depths of the Mariana Trench, stranding a handful of crew members that were lucky enough to survive the initial incident but unlucky to live to face a perilous fate.  Mechanical engineer Norah (Kristen Stewart, Charlie’s Angels) is plucky and resourceful, rarely fazed by the obstacles that lay before them.  This comes in handy when the survivors realize they have to exit their doomed vessel and walk a stretch of exposed ocean floor in suits that may not stand the pressure to another station that might be in a similar wrecked state.  Oh…and there’s a rash of sea monsters released from the depths of the ocean by their drill trying to eat them.

Writers Brian Duffield (Insurgent) and Adam Cozad (The Legend of Tarzan) devise some nifty set-ups and nasty ends for the workers and it helps that most of the supporting cast is played by familiar but not too familiar faces.  You never know quite who is famous enough to make it to the end, and even that isn’t a guarantee.  There are some surprising twists I wasn’t expecting but they all make sense in the overall story Duffield and Cozard set out to tell.  Along with William Eubank’s tight direction, there isn’t a moment wasted in Underwater and even some late-breaking attempts at giving greater depths to certain characters don’t feel completely out of nowhere if you consider the life or death situation they are all in.

I find it so intriguing the choices of roles Stewart is drifting toward lately.  Though filmed several years ago, taking on a studio monster movie must have been a leap for her but I can see why this more introspective character appealed to her.  There are shades of Alien’s Ellen Ripley in Norah and while she doesn’t have the opportunity to go full Ripley mode, the final twenty minutes of the movie are an exciting ride with Stewart in the drivers seat.  When T.J. Miller (Office Christmas Party) pops up I groaned, fearing the weary comedian’s way of sucking the life out of anything he appears in but aside from a bumpy start he actually becomes quite endearing.  I get the impression the Captain character played by Vincent Cassel (Trance) may have been trimmed in editing to save time but what’s been left behind is good enough to make it a memorable showing.  Rounding out the small group of survivors are Jessica Henwick (Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens) and John Gallagher, Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane), with Henwick nicely going from naif-y to taking charge after being pushed into service.

From a production standpoint, Underwater is incredibly successful and highly effective; the sets and visual effects are solid even if you can’t always make out what you are seeing.  This adds to some, if not all, of the tension Eubank creates and there are several true edge-of-your-seat-hold-your-breath sequences that were quite enjoyable to sit through with a packed audience.  Even better, these passages lead to a pay-off of value, not some cheap scare that vanishes into the ether.  All in all, a handsome effort in front of and behind the camera.

The performance of Underwater, 2018’s The Meg, and 2019’s Crawl, not to mention their better than average reviews, indicates audiences are open to the next wave of monster movies and they don’t have to be franchise pictures either.  I don’t need a Godzilla: King of the Monsters to fill my bucket when a simple story about nature run amok will suit me just fine.  Here’s hoping more of these are produced over the next few years – if they are as well made as the three I just mentioned above, this creature feature fan would be in seventh heaven!

The Silver Bullet ~ Underwater



Synopsis
: A crew of underwater researchers must scramble to safety after an earthquake devastates their subterranean laboratory.

Release Date:  January 10, 2020

Thoughts: Watching the preview for Underwater, I kept wanting to shout out “This trailer knows me, it really, really knows ME!”  Horror movie? Check. Underwater horror movie? Check check. Underwater horror movie with creatures from the deep picking off the crew of a felled sea lab? Check check check!  As excited as I was to see this, I can’t help but feeling a little nervous at the same time.  I just finished reading an exhaustive profile of star Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper) and though it talked about several of her upcoming projects, there was not a peep about this one – strange, right?  Also, its January release date is either a smart move of counter-programming to clear out the post-holiday stuffiness or a keen way for Disney to quietly burn off a 20th Century Fox film that came with the studio when they purchased it.  I did a quick check online and until today there had been next to no news this movie even existed…much less that it had already received a PG-13 rating and a locked in release date.  Yet, nerves aside, I’m pulling for this one…if only to help me relive some 1989 nostalgia and resurrect some interest in titles like  DeepStar Six and Leviathan.