Where the Bad Guys Go (Hotel Artemis, 2018)

hotel_artemis_posterIn some vague near future, slightly more advanced than where we are now in a society that is collapsing in on itself, two brothers are trying to complete a heist.  Wounded, they seek the Hotel Artemis.  It is a private hospital created specifically for the criminal element.  It is run by the Nurse and her assistant Everest (he is fixit man, security and policy reminder).  If you do not have membership, you cannot get in.

Things get tough for the brothers when a wounded Gangster they just stole from shows up needing medical intervention.  Will anyone get out alive? Is there a setup that was able to bypass the security of the Hotel Artemis?

First time director Drew Pearce delivers a simple and straight forward action film.  It almost feels like a John Wick spin-off. It is full of crazy action scenes, unique characters and a lead you root for in Sterling K. Brown.

Foster gives a great “world weary” performance, a woman who took the pieces of her shattered life and put them back together as best she could. Dave Bautista as Everest is remarkably engaging. Jeff Goldblum, well, this is Jeff Goldblum.

Hotel Artemis does not reinvent the wheel. But it is a whole lot of fun.

Rules of Survival (The Lost World: Jurassic Park, 1997)

Jurassic_Park_Lost_World_posterThe Success of Jurassic Park made a sequel pretty inevitable, but Spielberg took time to craft a new adventure, rather than rush out something that just met the obligatory requirements of a sequel.

This film focuses on a second island…the real labs of InGen. When the park went out of business, so did site B.  And the dinosaurs thrived. Hammond fought to leave the island alone and let the dinosaurs live in piece. To help his agenda, he has sent a team to simply observe and report about life on the island.

He requests the help of Ian Malcolm, who refuses, until he finds out his girlfriend Sarah is already on the island. His hope is to bring her right back. In the meantime, his daughter Kelly is upset by Ian dumping her off with a family friend. She stows away to follow her dad to the island.

Team Ian soon discover they are not the only ones on the island. The company wants to push Hammond out and capitalize on the dinosaurs. They bring a crew to capture dinosaurs to be returned to the States for a small scale version of the Park in San Diego.

The general idea of there being no park is a somewhat interesting change. Goldblum is highly entertaining here. Pete Postlethwaite plays a variation on the first film’s Muldoon. He is a big Game hunter who is there for very mercenary reasons, but is providing professional guidance. The effects are excellent, with some exciting new dinosaurs not seen in the prior film. The primary villain is more in the vein of the original book. A Corporate raider looking to exploit, Peter Ludlow is the example of corporate hubris believing it can control what others could not.

The film’s big finish is a T-Rex chase through San Diego. It is a bit of a shame that they squander such a great notion as “dinosaurs loose in a city” in a brief twenty minute sequence. I also really found the whole “daughter” subplot more annoying. The inclusion of kids in the first film actually made sense, here it seems forced and unneeded.

But when you get down to it, Spielberg can make most anything work, and the Lost World is a lot of fun.

Parks and Wreck (Jurassic Park, 1993)

Jurassic_Park_PosterJohn Hammond has built an amazing and elaborate theme park. One like no other, and he has spared no expense.  But as they prepare to go a live, there is a deadly accident. His investors demand professionals endorse the safety of the park.

Hammond enlists Paleontologist Alan Grant and Paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, while the corporate lawyer brings in the “Chaotician” Ian Malcolm. At first, they are not fully sure what their presence is required for…until they discover that Jurassic Park is no ordinary vacation place.  Hammond’s company has perfected cloning to the point that they are able to use DNA to create new dinosaurs.

While at first awed by what they see, the three scientists start to question the decision to bring dinosaurs back into our world. The lawyer, meanwhile, is seduced by visions of money (“And we can charge anything we want, $2,000 a day, $10,000 a day…and people will pay it”).

Along with his grandchildren (Hammond’s target audience), Hammond sends everyone on the tour.  The crew has left for the weekend, leaving a very small staff.  Pretty much just Hammond, Ray Arnold (who runs the control room), Dennis Nedry (His IT guy) and Muldoon. Muldoon is a groundskeeper of sorts. An experienced big game hunter, he is also security in regards to things dinosaur related.

However, as one would expect…most anything that can go wrong does and our characters find themselves trying to regroup and get off the island without getting eaten.

As you would expect from a Spielberg adventure film, Jurassic Park is an exciting film full of great performances.  Jeff Goldblum’s Malcolm is especially entertaining in his over the top personality.

The film walks the line of challenging capitalism and corporate greed, without going all out for it. The lawyer represents the villainous corporate world, not Hammond. Hammond is the kindly grandfather with grand dreams of sharing his creation with the world. This is a change from the book, where Hammond is a much darker character who has a rather gruesome fate.

The film’s effects were groundbreaking for the time…and while it is a bit clearer now to see where the dinosaurs switch from digital to practical effects, the visuals in the film are still good enough to not be all that distracting today. It is easy to get lost in the excitement and danger of Jurassic Park.

 

Clearing House (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, 2018)

Jurassic_World_Fallen_Kingdom_PosterWell, after the debacle at the end of the last film, the Jurassic World Park was closed down. Now, the island is about to explode, because it is actually a dormant volcano.

There is controversy about people who want to save the dinosaurs on the island and those who think we should let them die.  But of course, there are those with darker plans.

Claire, the icy business woman from the previous film who learned the importance of getting a guy and having kids over a career from her nephews is now campaigning to save the dinosaurs. She is no longer involved with Owen, the cool sexist seventies throwback from the first film. She is hired by an estranged associate of the late John Hammond to go and save as many dinosaurs as possible to set them loose on a private island reserve. They bring Owen so they can save Blue (the good velociraptor from the last film). Things go awry, because this is a film in the Jurassic Park series.

The dinosaurs look great and I find both Owen and Claire far more likable in this adventure. The mystery behind the one kid in the film is kind of an interesting twist on the film’s themes, though it seems like it was played up as being a much…bigger deal than it really is.

The film continues the ideas began in the last film of militarized dinosaurs. And this film pretty much takes the perspective that the dinosaurs are the heroes now. But I am actually very intrigued by the way the chose to end the film.  Other films in the franchise hinted at this…but the next film could be quite interesting.

While the film is violent, it tends to be about as gory as any of the entries. Most of the kills are either offscreen or obscured. For the most part, I enjoyed Fallen Kingdom and felt that, for the most part, the story works and the film is pretty entertaining. And honestly? That is really all I want from a movie about genetically created dinosaurs.

And Starring Jeff Goldblum as Jeff Goldblum (Thor: Ragnarok, 2017)

Thor_Ragnarok_PosterThor has been a fun character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is cheerful, boisterous and powerful.  He is also boastful and over confident. This drove his first film, while the second film seemed a bit aimless.

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor had a vision of the end of Asgard.  He left to get answers and was missing for Civil War.  After Thor and Loki locate Odin, they are warned of the coming of Hela…their sister and the goddess of death Almost immediately Hela arrives and destroys Thor’s hammer. In their fight, Thor and Loki are separated and tossed into space.  While Hela conquers Asgard, Thor finds himself on the planet Sakaar. Captured by the Grandmaster Thor must fight in the Contest of Champions..and the champion he must defeat? His pal Hulk.

Marvel has done pretty well in tapping directors with limited experience in big budget films and having it work out in their favor.  Here they brought on New Zealander Taika Waititi, who is known for his unique comedies.  Check out the films Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in Shadows and while laughing, you will likely not think “a Super Hero movie is next!”. But it pays off.

Thor is full of great action and humor.  Unlike the previous two films, which were very earth centric, Earth has a brief cameo in the beginning.  Otherwise the film is heavily focused on Asgard.  To be frank, the previous films really failed to let Jane Foster shine and the relationship never had the strength of either Tony and Pepper or Steve and Peggy.  So, the film quickly addresses that “they broke up”.

The film works to give most of the leads “something to come back from”. Thor must figure out who he is without his hammer, Hulk must get back to Banner, Valkyrie must reclaim her glorious standing as an Asgardian Warrior.  There is not a lot to these arcs, of course, but the performances and interplay of the characters make it almost easy to miss.

The cast really makes the film.  Hemsworth and Hiddleston have a solid chemistry together, where you buy right into their weird sibling relationship in which Loki will betray Thor over and over and Thor is still going to give him a chance.  Tessa Thompson gives a real spark to Valkyrie, who could have been a pretty one note character.  Cate Blanchett’s Hela is actually not any deeper than previous Marvel Cinematic villains, but Blanchett seems to have had a lot of fun in the role and the result is that I enjoyed her as a villain. It was great to see Mark Ruffalo back as Bruce Banner.  The character is a bit shell shocked, which makes sense, as he has been “hulked out” for about two years, ever since the rampage in Age of Ultron.

And of course, there is Jeff Goldblum.  The actor you hire when you want a Jeff Goldblum-esque performance. But seriously, Goldblum always delivers, and his Grandmaster is the Jeff Goldblumiest thing you will see all year.  Unless Jeff Goldblum is Jeff Goldblum in another film before December 31st, 2017.

Thor: Ragnarok is a real blast of a film.  It is light hearted, exciting and quite funny.

Father-Son Bonding (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, 2017)

guardians_vol_2_posterGuardians of the Galaxy was a bit of a risk for Marvel Studios.  It was really their first film that had little name recognition.  It also was their first film not closely tied to the Avengers.  And yet, under the guidance of James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy succeeded with a healthy dose of humor and action.  Towards the end of the film, Yondu mentions knowing who Starlord’s father is.  In this sequel, we meet dear old dad.

While fighting an inter-dimensional beast, Rocket steals some batteries from the Sovereign.  This results in a chase through space that culminates in Starlord meeting his father Ego. Ego is a “living” planet.  He has a human avatar who sired Starlord.  In the meantime, they are being hunted by Yondu and the Ravagers to collect a bounty for the Guardian set by the Sovereign.

Volume 2 carries forward with the same tone and attitude of the first film, making it a lot of fun to watch.  The opening credits are a blast to watch.  Easily one of the best opening sequences for a comic book film.  The cast has really come together and it shows in their performances.

The new cast adds to the fun, with Kurt Russell being a high point for…well being Kurt Russell.  He is one of those actors you hire because you want a “type” that is specific to a particular actor.  Call it the Goldblum Effect if you will.  You hire Jeff Goldblum for a movie because you want a “Jeff Goldblum Type”.

In addition, Sylvester Stallone, Ving Rhames and Michelle Yoeh have small but pivotal roles (obviously setting up Volume 3).  The film is full of blink and you might miss it fan service, but with James Gunn, it is not distracting (for the most part) and for people unfamiliar with the comics will be unnoticed.

Of course, the soundtrack is integral to this film, each song clearly chosen carefully by Gunn.  Marvel was wise to stick with Gunn for the Guardians brand because he has a very specific vision that allows these films to stand out from the Marvel Pack.

A lot of the humor this time around is coming from Drax (Dave Bautista) and Baby Groot. Some of the more surprising emotion comes from Michael Rooker’s Yondu.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 can be pretty intense and it is not really for young kids.  But teens and adults alike will find a lot to enjoy here.  Personally, I found Volume 2 to be a very fun film-going experience and find myself anticipating the next outing.

Oh, and by the way…there are five mid to post credit scenes.  So do not get up and head for the door right away.

Theeeeeeey’re Back (Independence Day: Resurgence, 2016)

independence_day_resurgence_posterTwenty Years between sequels is a long time.  There has been longer, but twenty years is nothing to sneeze at.  The reviews that proceed me have been harsh, many suggesting that this is the worst film of the summer.  But honestly?  It’s an OK film.  There are some decent quips.  The effects are good.  Goldblum slips into his role pretty seamlessly.  Spiner pops back up and gets a beefed up role.  Bill Pullman is the tortured Ex-President.  Sela Ward is thr tough current president.  Replacing Will Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller is his son Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher).  He is apparently annoyed with Jake (Liam Hemsworth) for almost killing him (accidentally) a few years before.  Jake is the hotshot risk taker who saves the moon base (but getting no thanks for it).  He is also engaged to President Whitmore’s now grown daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe), who works for the current President and is a former pilot.  Then there is Floyd (Nicholas Wright, also one of the writers).  He is in love with Rain Lao (Angelababy) the top Chinese pilot.  Towards the beginning of the film, we are also introduced to Warlord Dikembi Umbutu (Deobia Oparei) and the standard sparring love interest for Goldblum, Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg).  If this seems like a long introductory paragraph?  It is a lot longer in the film.

One of the big problems this film has?  So much of the personal conflict feels entirely unnecessary.  The conflict between Dylan and Jake could be removed entirely and not impact the film at all.  Their relationship would not be lessened without it.    What makes it worse is that really, the new character lack charisma and have terrible lines.  The quips in the film are largely duds.

The movie follows the first film’s formula pretty closely.  We spend an hour being introduced, or re-introduced to the leads (or at least, it feels like a long slow hour).  We get a lot of destruction as the ship arrives.  An “exciting” battle that fails, heroes stuck in the alien ship, heroes flying alien ship.  A road trip with Judd Hirsch.  Sure, some it is a bit jumbled around and it is all amped up a bit, because, well, it is a sequel.

The creature design is surprisingly pedestrian.  The Alien Queen is suspiciously like the Alien Queen from Aliens, especially in her movements. The world building is a bit lazy.  Yeah, they have alien technology, but it seems to be mostly applied to weapons and vehicles.  How does it change other things?  Communication technology seems to basically be smart phones, laptops and tablets.  The world has been united since 1996, and I guess there might be some plausibility there, but the world is basically America, except for the continent of Africa, still run by Warlords.

The film also just ends very weirdly.  No big speech, Spiner just runs into frame to set up the next film.  And the screen goes black.  So, no, this is not the worst movie of the summer (surely we cannot make such a claim seven days into summer).  It is not the best either.  It is an okay and underwhelming sequel.

Taking Our Planet Back (Independence Day, 1996)

independence_day_poster24 Year old Me Reviews Independence Day: OMG!  That was awesome!  Cool Effects, funny quips.  Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum was great!  Bill Pullman plays the Version of a Democratic President Dean Devlina and Roland Emmerich wish Clinton was!  Cool movie!  Everyone should see it.

20 Years Later Me Reviews Independence Day:  Ehhhhhhh…this is a pretty dumb flick.  But in a weird way?  That is part of it’s charm.  Will Smith plays his standard Cocky Hero Guy, Jeff Goldblum is his standard nervous idealist guy, Bill Pullman is THE PRESIDENT, Randy Quaid is a version of his Uncle Eddie character (a version more deeply consumed by alcoholism), Mary McDonnell is the woman who must die to give Bill Pullman resolve (er, the First Lady) and Judd Hirsch plays Old Jewish Stereotype.

Visually, this film holds up pretty well.  Considering it relies on practical effects as digital (as Digital Effects were still in their infancy) the destruction still looks convincing.  The dogfights hold up and the aliens look quite good.

The writing is broad in the film.  Folks speak in quips and dramatic phrases.    Sometimes, as with Goldblum and Smith, this is effective.  They carry the burden of most of the humor, Though Brent Spiner (Star Trek’s Data) shows up briefly to play an amusing and socially awkward Area 51 Scientist.  Pullman plays earnest and plays it well.  There is a speech in the film that could have gone off the rails, but his delivery makes it seem better than it is.

Of course, the “Rah Rah America” gets overbearingly embarrassing.  The whole world was apparently sitting around waiting on America to come up with a plan to fight back against the aliens.  There is a moment where a British guy tells another soldier that the Americans have a plan and he pretty much says “It’s about time”.  The inspirational message to the world in the film? We are all America.

The overall cheesiness and goofy nature of the film does work to the film’s favor and it is the times when it takes itself to seriously that it feels like it will fall apart.  And even 20 years later it can be fun to watch, especially for the visual effects and the main performances.  And no matter who is in office, there are always going to be people happy to see the White House blown to bits.

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