“JURASSIC WORLD” (2015) Review

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“JURASSIC WORLD” (2015) Review

Being a Southern California resident and native, I have made numerous visits to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. And for the past decade, a guide for the Backlot Tour attraction has announced to visitors about the studio’s intention to produce and release a fourth film for the JURASSIC PARK movie franchise. After five years, I stopped taking these announcements seriously.

Then lo and behold, these announcements turned out to be true. Universal finally made it official last year that a fourth movie would be made and it was to star Chris Pratt. Despite this announcement, I did not make such a big deal over the matter. One . . . I simply did not care. Mind you, I am a big fan of the other three films. But fourteen years had passed between the third film and this fourth one. For me, that was ten to eleven years too long. And two, I could not see Chris Pratt in an action film in which he would have to somewhat curtail on the jokes. But when I learned about the reactions to the film overseas, I finally began to look forward to seeing it.

Set twenty-odd years after “JURASSIC PARK” and less than a decade after “JURASSIC PARK III”, “JURASSIC WORLD” takes place on Isla Nublar, the same setting as the 1993 film. There, a fully functioning dinosaur theme park called Jurassic World has operated for ten years under the ownership of Simon Masrani, CEO of the Masrani Corporation. A pair of brothers named Zach and Gray Mitchell are sent there during the winter holidays to visit their aunt Claire Dearing, the park’s operations manager. Due to Claire’s busy schedule with recruiting corporate sponsors for a new attraction – a genetically modified dinosaur called Indominus rex, her assistant is tasked to act as the boys’ guide. Slightly leery about this new attraction, Masrani orders Claire to recruit the park’s Velociraptor trainer, a former U.S. Navy SEAL named Owen Grady, to assess the Indominus rex. Unfortunately, the dinosaur manages to escape his/her compound by tricking Grady and two staff members that it had made an earlier escape. And Masrani discovers from the dinosaur’s creator, Dr. Henry Wu, that the Indominus rex has the DNA of several predatory dinosaurs and modern-day animals. While Masrani orders Security Chief Vic Hoskins and the Asset Containment Unit to capture the dinosaur, Claire tries to organize the evacuation of the park and recruits Owen to help her find her nephews.

“JURASSIC WORLD” had a few problems. Actually, I had three problems with the movie. One, I wish the movie had taken its time to set up the reason behind the Mitchell brothers’ visit to the theme park. Audiences never really learn the reason behind their visit – namely an opportunity for their parents to organize their upcoming divorce – until a brief conversation between the two brothers in the middle of the film. Apparently, director Colin Trevorrow; who also co-wrote the film with Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly; wanted to get the brothers to Isla Nubar as soon as possible. Another aspect of the script that I found slightly troubling was the vague and confusing situation regarding Masrani Corporation, the InGen Corporation, and the Dr. Henry Wu and Vic Hoskins characters. Was there an executive or two within InGen plotting with the two men to regain the company from Masrani? What roles did the Grady trained Velociraptors play in this possible scheme? Perhaps the matter will be clear once I see the DVD version. Or perhaps it will be explained in a future movie. Also, the Owen Grady character spent most of the film reacting negatively to Hoskins’ idea of training and using Velociraptors on behalf of the U.S. military. I could understand his feelings. What I failed to understand was his reasoning for training the dinosaurs to obey his commands in the first place. Why did he engage in this profession? The movie never really explained.

Otherwise, I had no problems with “JURASSIC WORLD”. Wait . . . I take that back. My reaction to the movie was a lot more that mere tolerance. I really enjoyed the film. A lot more than I had expected. In fact, it has become one of my top favorite films for the Summer 2015 movie season. Aside from the hiccups I had mentioned above, I really enjoyed the movie’s story. The previous three movies merely gave hints – although bloody ones – that the idea of introducing the general public to genetically created dinosaurs is a major mistake. Actually, the second film, 1997’s “JURASSIC PARK: THE LOST WORLD”, was really the first time that featured a confrontation between the public (citizens of San Diego) and lethal dinosaurs (a Tyrannosaurus rex and its infant child). But that incident was nothing in compare to what happened in“JURASSIC WORLD”. When I watched Jurassic World’s guests and staff members encounter the deadly Indominus rex, flocks of flying Pteranodon and Dimorphodon, and the Mosasaurus with such disastrous results; I found myself remembering what the Ian Malcolm character had said in the first movie – “There is a problem with that island. It is an accident waiting to happen.” I could also imagine his reaction to the media reports of what happened in the theme park.

I found myself wondering about that theme park. After the incident of the first film, the John Hammond character had the good sense to ditch his plans for a theme park and realize it would be wise to keep the two islands and the dinosaurs isolated from the public. Yet, according to “JURASSIC WORLD”, Simon Masrani had been encouraged to re-institute the idea of a theme park by Hammond before the latter’s death. What made Hammond change his mind? Had Masrani managed to convince the latter that he would be able to keep that park under control? Someone had pointed out that“JURASSIC WORLD” was more about the negative effects of high finance and greed, instead of bad science. I believe it was a cautionary tale regarding both . . . along with defense contracting. I had not forgotten the clash between Owen and Hoskins over the use of the Velociraptors.

One controversy managed to spring up following the movie’s release. It had to do with the Claire Dearing character and her high-heeled shoes. There have been complaints about Claire – her uptight character and the lack of respect she seemed to generate from characters like Owen, her two nephews (who had witnessed her save Owen’s life from a Dimorphodon) and Hoskins. Only Masrani seemed to have any real respect for her. A good number of critics . . . especially male critics, seemed to have a low regard for Claire. They saw her as a regression of female characters in an action-oriented film. What was the one thing that led them to harbor this low regard for Claire? Her unwillingness to shed her high-heeled shoes once the situation on the island became dicey. Perhaps they saw her shoes as this symbol of femininity that needed to be shed, once the action started. However, actress Bryce Dallas Howard thought otherwise and insisted that she continue to wear high heels throughout the movie. This decision caused a firestorm when the movie came out and still continues to do so. Personally, I am glad Howard made this decision. I do get tired of fans, the media and the entertainment industry insisting that in order for women to be considered worthy or superior, she has to shed any outward signs of femininity other than large boobs and tight leather. Besides, she was not the only female character I have seen run for her life in high heels. Stephanie Zimbalist did it on the NBC series, “REMINGTON STEELE”.

One cannot talk about a JURASSIC PARK movie without the mention of visual effects. Personally, I found the creation of the movie’s dinosaurs – especially the Indominus rex and the Mosasaurus outstanding. I could also say the same about Ed Verreaux’s production designs for the film. I admire his creation of the theme park’s shopping area – which slightly reminded me of Universal Studios Hollywood – and the way he utilized the old sets of the 1993 movie as abandoned structures. I wish I could comment on Michael Giacchino’s score for the film. But honestly . . . I simply do not remember it. Kevin Stitt did an excellent job with his editing for the film. I was especially impressed by his handling of the Pteranodons and Dimorphodons’ attack on the park’s shopping area and the Owen-led expedition against the Indominus rex in the jungle. But I was really impressed by John Schwartzman’s cinematography – especially in the scene below:

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Amidst the crazy plot, the CGI dinosaurs and action, there is the matter of the performances featured in the movie. Personally, I had no problems with them. Perhaps I am being a bit too subtle. I really enjoyed the performances in the film.“JURASSIC WORLD” featured solid performances from Judy Greer, Omar Sy, Jake Johnson, Katie McGrath, Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins. The movie also featured a funny cameo by Jimmy Fallon as a video guide for the park’s Gyrosphere tour.

For me, the outstanding performances came from certain members of the cast. Vincent D’Onofrio gave an energetic, yet slightly sinister portrayal of the park’s head of security operations, Vic Hoskins. Irrfan Khan was equally energetic, yet very charming as the park’s owner, Simon Masrani. B.D. Wong made his second appearance in the movie franchise as Dr. Henry Wu, the geneticist behind the dinosaurs’ creations. Wong made a decent appearance in the 1993 movie. But his performance in “JURASSIC WORLD” revealed the character’s inability to question the consequences of his creations. More importantly, his performance gave Dr. Wu more depth and complexity. Chris Pratt did an excellent job as the movie’s leading man and Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady. Pratt effectively ditched his usual humor schtick to portray the no-nonsense Owen. But I believe that Bryce Dallas Howard gave the best performance in the movie as the park’s operation manager, Claire Dearing. Howard did an exceptional job in portraying Claire’s development from an emotionally reserved workaholic to a woman fiercely determined to keep her nephews safe at all costs . . . even if it meant wearing those much-discussed high heels throughout the entire movie.

What else can I say about “JURASSIC WORLD”? The movie’s producers (including Steven Spielberg), director Colin Trevorrow and the three other screenwriters who worked with him on the script did an excellent in keeping the JURASSIC PARK franchise alive. They were ably assisted by a talented cast led by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, and the behind-the-scenes crew that contributed to the movie’s visual style. And if I must be honest, I never thought they could do it.

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Ranking of Movies Seen During Summer 2015

Usually I would list my ten favorite summer movies of any particular year. However, I only watched ten new releases during the summer of 2015. Due to the limited number, I decided to rank the films that I saw:

 

 

RANKING OF MOVIES SEEN DURING SUMMER 2015

1. “Jurassic World” – In the fourth movie for the JURASSIC PARK franchise, a new dinosaur created for the Jurassic World theme park goes amok and creates havoc. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the movie starred Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

 

 

2. “Ant-Man” – Convicted thief Scott Lang is recruited to become Ant-Man for a heist in this new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Peyton Reed, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas starred.

 

 

3. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” – Guy Ritchie directed this adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series about agents for the C.I.A. and KGB working together to fight neo-Nazis in the early 1960s. Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander starred.

 

 

4. “Tomorrowland” – Brad Bird directed this imaginative tale about a a former boy-genius inventor and a scientifically inclined adolescent girl’s search for a special realm where ingenuity is encouraged. George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie starred.

 

 

5. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are forced to prevent an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner from destroying mankind. Joss Whedon wrote and directed this second AVENGERS film.

 

 

6. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” – Tom Cruise starred in this fifth entry in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” film franchise about Ethan Hunt’s efforts to find and destroy a rogue intelligence organization engaged in terrorist activities.

 

 

7. “Mr. Holmes” – Ian McKellen starred in this adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel about the aging Sherlock Holmes’ efforts to recall his last case. Directed by Bill Condon, Laura Linney and Milo Parker co-starred.

 

 

8. “Fantastic Four” – Josh Trank directed this reboot of the Marvel comics series about four young people whose physical form is altered after they teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell starred.

 

 

9. “Entourage” – Doug Ellin wrote and directed this fluffy continuation of the 2004-2011 HBO series about a movie star and his group of friends dealing with a new project. Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven starred.

 

 

10. “Terminator: Genisys” – Alan Taylor directed this fifth movie in the TERMINATOR franchise, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline when Resistance fighter Kyle Reese goes back to 1984 in order to prevent the death of leader John Connor’s mother. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke starred.

Controversy in High Heels

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CONTROVERSY IN HIGH HEELS

There has been a great deal of controversy over Bryce Dallas Howard remaining in high heels during her Claire Dering character’s adventures in “JURASSIC WORLD”.  It grew worse with the release of “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION” in which many film critics (especially male) made a big deal by approving how the Ilsa Faust character portrayed by Rebecca Ferguson removed her high heels during a particular action sequence in the film.  It was their way of making a dig at Howard’s character.

Then I remembered . . . Howard was not the first actress to keep her high heels on in the middle of an action sequence.  I still have memories of a particular scene from a “REMINGTON STEELE” episode called “Steele in the Chips”, when guest star Geena Davis asked Stephanie Zimbalist’s Laura Holt how she managed to keep her heels on, while running for her life.  Miss Holt’s reply?   “Practice”.

Enough said.

“HEREAFTER” (2010) Review

 

“HEREAFTER” (2010) Review

Clint Eastwood reunited with Matt Damon for “HEREAFTER”, a fantasy drama about three people who are affected by death in different way in parallel stories. Damon portrayed a San Francisco factory worker named George who is able to communicate with the dead. Belgian actress Cécile de France portrayed a French television journalist who barely survived a tsunami, while on vacation. And twin brothers Frankie and George McLaren portrayed Marcus and Jason, an English boy and his elder twin brother, who is killed in a car accident.

I wish I could say that I loved ”HEREAFTER”, but I would be lying. I did not hate it. I found myself mildly interested in the stories of George, Marie and Marcus. Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan provided enough pathos in their stories – especially Marcus’ story – to make me somewhat interested in their fate. ”HEREAFTER” had two outstanding scenes that knocked my socks off. One of the sequences centered on Marie’s harrowing experiences with a tsunami, which was featured in the movie’s opening scene. The other centered on the disastrous ending of a potential romance between George and a fellow cooking school student portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard, when her curiosity over his ability forced her to face a dark secret from her past. I also found myself moved by Marcus’ inability to recover from his twin brother’s death. But despite these virtues, ”HEREAFTER” did not strike me as one the year’s more interesting movies.

The major problem I had with ”HEREAFTER” centered on the film’s pacing. I found it so damn slow. Really. About seventy minutes into the film, I found myself struggling to stay awake. I thought that Eastwood had finally overcome his penchant for directing slow-moving films. Apparently, I was wrong. Another problem I had with the film was that the three storylines really had nothing to do with one another. Each of the plotlines could have easily been a single episode from an anthology television series about death and the afterlife. The movie’s conclusion at a book fair in London held the three plotlines together. And quite frankly, I was not that impressed by it. The plot device that Morgan used to connect the three main characters struck me as incredibly contrived . . . and weak.

If there is one thing I can say about ”HEREAFTER” is that it lacked bad performance. The entire cast did a solid job, with one or two outstanding performances. Although they came off as a bit stiff in one scene early in the film, the McLauren brothers did a solid job in portraying the grieving Marcus and his dead twin, Jason. Cécile de France ably conveyed Marie’s emotional journey from the successful television journalist, to a traumatized woman, whose near death experience during a tsunami led her to slowly question her existence. Matt Damon gave an excellent performance as George, the factory worker who used to be a professional psychic, thanks to ability to communicate with the dead. I thought he was very subtle as a man desperate to live a normal and not deal with the emotional impacts of his clients’ reunions with dead loved ones and the exposures of family secrets. The best performance, in my opinion, came from Bryce Dallas Howard, who portrayed a fellow cooking school student name Melanie, to whom George becomes romantically attracted. She was emotional and superb as her character first goads George into reading her memories and eventually regrets her actions, when he unexpectedly exposes the sexual abuse her father had inflicted upon her as a child.

Like Eastwood’s 1997’s opus, ”MIDNGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL””HEREAFTER” is interesting enough for someone to watch at home . . . on a rainy day. But its slow pacing, fractured storylines and utterly contrived ending made me realize that I would never consider it a masterpiece, let alone one of my favorite movies.

“ECLIPSE” (2010) Review

“ECLIPSE” (2010) Review

Three weeks ago, the third installment of the ”TWILIGHT” Saga was released in theaters. Based upon Stephanie Meyer’s 2007 novel and directed by David Slade, ”ECLIPSE” continued the story of Isabella “Bella” Swan, the Washington State teenager, her love for vampire Edward Cullen and her friendship with the werewolf shape shifter, Jacob Black. 

”ECLIPSE” began not long after the 2009 movie, ”NEW MOON” ended. In Seattle, a young college student named Riley Biers is attacked and turned by a vampire. He soon becomes the center of a plot hatched by the red-haired vampire Victoria, to turn and create more newborn vampires to be used as an army for further attacks against Bella, Edward and the Cullens. Meanwhile, Bella and Edward continue their plans for a future wedding and Bella’s eventual transformation into a vampire back in Forks. Their plans are complicated by Bella’s friendship with Jacob and the rest of a local werewolf pack – traditional enemies of the Cullen clan. Worse, Jacob still continues to harbor love for Bella and she discovers that she finds herself physically attracted to him – despite her love for Edward. The two plotlines eventually converge when Alice Cullen has a vision of the newborn army attacking Forks led by Riley Biers. Jacob, accompanied by two fellow werewolves Quil and Embry, overhear this, which leads to an alliance between the Cullens and the Wolf pack.

Before ”ECLIPSE” had been released in movie theaters, advertisements and fans of the TWILIGHT saga began claiming that this film was the best of the three movies released so far. Considering my low opinion of the first two movies, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with them. It was certainly better than the first two films in the franchise. What made it better? Quite frankly, Victoria’s plot to kill Bella and get her revenge for her lover James’ death in ”TWILIGHT” did the trick. This particular plotline was responsible for the Cullens and Jacob’s Wolf pack to finally form some kind of alliance. I found it quite interesting to watch the Cullens and the Wolf pack battle against Victoria, Riley and their minions. This plotline also allowed Edward and Jacob to somewhat cease their constantly annoying rivalry over Bella . . . finally. There were other aspects of the film that I liked. I found it interesting to learn about the origins of the Quileute tribe’s hostilities against vampires. I also found the back stories for both Rosalie Hale and Jasper Hale rather interesting. It turns out that Jasper’s background in training newborn vampires for his sire Maria allowed Bella to understand how Victoria was using Riley Biers.

Despite these positive aspects about ”ECLIPSE”, I still found it a trial to watch. Why? Simple. I still had to endure the incredibly dull and tortuous love story between Bella and Edward. Even worse was the incredibly dull and tortuous love triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob. Mind you, it seemed a bit surprising to learn that Bella was also attracted to Jacob. But it really did not help matters. Especially when I had to endure the god-awful dialogue between Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, written by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg. I fear that Ms. Rosenberg had to utilize a good deal of the dialogue from Stephanie Meyer’s novel. One scene that had me writhing in despair featured Bella’s attempt to “seduce” Edward into having sex, following a conversation she had with her father about her virginity. It went on too . . . damn . . . long. And the dialogue was simply awful. Another scene that tested my nerves and patience centered on Jacob’s attempt to convince Edward to give up Bella, in order to stop her from becoming a vampire. The only thing that made this scene remotely bearable was Lautner’s occasional witty dialogue.

”ECLIPSE” also marked the return of members of the Volturi, the vampire coven that ensured the vampires’ existence as a secret from humans. Apparently, Victoria’s plans to use an army of newborns against the Cullens attracted their attention. I wish to God that it had not. I found them unbearable in ”NEW MOON”. And they were certainly a nuisance in”ECLIPSE” – especially Dakota Fanning’s Jane, who managed to stand around, while attempting to look menacing. I wish to God that Stephanie Meyer had not created them in the first. I tend to compare the Volturi to the game of Quidditch from the HARRY POTTER saga.

I found nothing remarkable about the performances in the movie. Well, Taylor Lautner managed to be occasionally witty, despite the addition of the dreadful dialogue he had to spout in this film. Jackson Rathbone also managed to be rather witty. Nikki Reed gave a surprisingly poignant performance as Rosalie Hale – especially in the sequence in which she recalled the sordid tragedy that led to her becoming a vampire. Bryce Dallas Howard did a solid job in replacing Rachelle Lefevre as the murderous vampire, Victoria. Billy Burke was entertaining, as always, as Bella’s sardonic, yet protective father. Kristen Stewart managed to be bearable in scenes that only featured Bella and Jacob. As for the rest of the cast . . . you can keep them. Including the very popular Robert Pattinson.

I understand that there will be an adaptation of the fourth novel in the TWILIGHT saga – ”Breaking Dawn”. However, the studio had decided to break this particular story into two films. I see that they were inspired to follow the example of Warner Brothers’ decision to do the same with the last HARRY POTTER novel. And considering how popular theTWILIGHT movies are with my family, it looks as if I have more suffering to endure in my future.

“TERMINATOR SALVATION” (2009) Review

Below is my review of the fourth installment of the TERMINATOR franchise – “TERMINATOR SALVATION”:

”TERMINATOR SALVATION”  (2009) Review

For some particular reason, I have never been in the habit of anticipating a movie from the ”TERMINATOR” franchise. I never saw ”THE TERMINATOR” (1984) or ”TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY” (1991) in the theaters. Not that I really cared, since I never did make the effort to go see either movie. I had to be dragged to the theater to see ”TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” (2003). And as for the latest installment in the franchise, ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” – again, I had to be dragged to the theater. Yet, every time I have seen any of these films, I end up enjoying them. Or being intrigued by them – including this latest film.

Directed by McG, who was responsible for the two ”CHARLIE’S ANGELS” movies and “WE ARE MARSHALL”, ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” told the struggles of Resistance leader John Connor during the war between humanity and Skynet – the artificial intelligence system that became self aware and revolted against its human creators – in the year 2018. For the first time, a movie in the ”TERMINATOR” franchise did not feature the time travel of one or two of its characters. The movie not only revealed how John Connor first met his father – the teenaged and future time traveler, Kyle Reese, it also focused on how a death row inmate named Marcus Wright had signed over his body to Cyberdyne Systems and ended up being used as a model for the T-800 Model 101 Terminator and to lure Connor to Skynet. The movie starred Christian Bale as John Connor; Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright; Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams, a Resistance pilot who falls for Marcus; Anton Yelchin as the teenaged Kyle Reese; Byrce Howard Dallas as Kate Brewster Connor, John’s wife; Common as Barnes, Connor’s second-in-command; Jadagrace Berry as Star, Kyle’s nine year-old mute companion; Helena Bonham-Carter as Dr. Dr. Serena Kogan, the cancer-ridden Cyberdyne scientist who had convinced Marcus to donate his body before Judgment Day; and Linda Hamilton as the voice of Sarah Connor.

As far as I know, the movie has received mixed reviews from both the critics and moviegoers. How do I feel about ”TERMINATOR SALVATION”? Well . . . it was not perfect. First of all, singer-turned-actor Common seemed incapable of acting worth a damn in this film. Which I found surprising, considering how impressed I had been by his performances in movies like ”SMOKIN ACES” (2007) and ”STREET KINGS” (2008). It could be that McG might be one of those directors incapable of handling actors with little experience. Another problem I had with the movie was Conrad Buff’s editing. In fact, I have been complaining about the editing in a good number of movie during this past year. I am beginning to wonder if the new and cheap editing style created by Christopher Rouse for the last two ”BOURNE” movies seemed to be getting very popular in the movie industry, these day. And, quite frankly, I found Jane Alexander’s presence in the film as another Resistance leader named Virginia to be a complete waste of time. Aside from a few lines in the movie, she barely said a word. Another problem I had centered around John Connor’s inability to remember that two previous T-800 Terminators had saved his life in the past. Instead, the only thing remembered from his first meeting with Marcus Wright was that the latter reminded him of the cyborg who tried to kill his mother, Sarah, in 1984. I had posted this complaint on one of the movie’s blogs and was told that it was possible that fifteen years of fighting machines may have eroded John’s memories. Hmmm . . . perhaps. However, I am still slightly uneasy about it.

One last complaint – namely the ending. Many fans have been complaining that the filmmakers did not stick with the original ending that called for John Connor to die and for his command to have his skin grafted upon Marcus Wright’s body in order to continue the Resistance. But when the ending was leaked on the Internet, the screenwriters created a new ending. First of all, I thank God for the person who had leaked the original ending, because I hate it. If that had been the ending shown in the theaters, I would have been tempted to throw my shoe at the movie screen. Yes, I hate it that much. Now, I like the new ending. I like it a hell of a lot more than the original ending. But . . . I feel that director McG or screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris had rushed it a bit. I feel that it could have been better paced.

Okay. Despite my complaints, I discovered that I liked the movie . . . a lot. Like I did the three previous ”TERMINATOR” movies. Brancato and Ferris’ screenplay for this new installment is quite different from the three previous ones in which no one character had traveled back in time to protect a member of the Connor family. For once, Arnold “the Govenator” Schwarzenegger did not appear in the movie as a major character. And ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” revealed an interesting twist from the last two films in which a cyborg was used to form close ties with John Connor in order to arrange for his death, instead of to protect him. Another interesting thing about the story is that the aim of Skynet was not to kill John Connor before he could become a Resistance leader. Instead, it seemed determine to kill him, while he fought with the Resistance. And it also targeted Kyle Reese in order to lure Connor to Skynet and kill Kyle before his future trip back through time. However, I did notice that Skynet had targeted both son and father, before the son could become ”the top” leader of the Resistance. And when you think about it, with the character of Marcus Wright, Skynet had damn near pulled a con job on both Connor and the Resistance. The reason I found this interesting is that Skynet’s future dealings with John Connor, Sarah Connor and Kate Brewster Connor will never be this subtle again.

Another major virtue of ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” turned out to be its cast – with the exception of one or two. I have already made my complaints about Common and Jane Alexander, so I will sing the praises of the rest of the cast. Helena Bonham-Carter made a brief and memorable appearance as Dr. Serena Kogan, the Cyberdyne scientist who convinced Marcus to donate his body, following his execution in 2003. For the past two to three years, a good number of child actors have caught my attention with some pretty damn good performances – like Dakota Blue Richards in ”THE GOLDEN COMPASS”, Paulie Litt from “SPEED RACER”, Jaden Smith in ”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” and Brandon Walters in ”AUSTRALIA”. The fifth child who has managed to recently catch my eye turned out to be Jadagrace Berry, who portrayed the nine year-old mute/Resistance fighter, Star. I found it amazing that a nine year-old girl who had not only made her film debut, but managed to remain silent throughout the film, gave one of the best performances in the movie. And she did it with good old fashioned screen acting . . . by using her eyes, expressions and body language. Anton Yelchin is no longer the child actor he used to be when I first saw him in the 2002 miniseries, ”TAKEN”, but he is still a first-rate performer with a strong screen presence. Actor Michael Biehn had made the role of Kyle Reese memorable in the franchise’s first movie in 1984. And Yelchin proved that he could be just as memorable as Biehn, as the teenaged Kyle. Both Bryce Dallas Howard and Moon Bloodgood portrayed the two female leads in the movie – Kate Brewster Connor (wife of John) and Blair Williams (Resistance pilot who ends up falling in love with Marcus Wright). And both women gave first-rate performances and managed to stand out on their own, despite being surrounded in heavily male-dominated film. Howard – who had taken over the role first created by Claire Danes – had a very memorable moment in the film when her character first realized that Marcus was not as human as he had professed to be.

The director of the first two “TERMINATOR” movies, James Cameron, had recommended Australian actor Sam Worthington to director McG for the pivotal role of Marcus Wright, the death row inmate whose body ended up being used as a prototype by Cyberdyne and later used by Skynet to lure John Connor to his doom. Not only was Worthington was memorable, he almost ended up stealing the picture. He effectively portrayed Marcus as a tough and ruthless who was haunted by his past, fell in love and was determined to maintain his individuality despite what Cyberdyne and Skynet had done to him. The reason I had stated that Worthington had ”almost” stolen the film was due to Christian Bale’s presence in the film as future Resistance leader, John Connor. Like he has been in nearly every film he has appeared in, Bale was an intense performer with a strong screen presence. Hell, he was like this nearly twenty-two years ago in the 1987 film, ”EMPIRE OF THE SUN”. There were scenes in which Bale loudly and clearly expressed Connor’s emotions – whether it was anger, fear or concern. Only a very few actors and actresses can get away with openly expressing their characters’ emotions without being hammy. And consummate actor that he is, Bale happens to be one of them. Frankly, I really do not see the need to compare or choose on whether Bale or Worthington was the better actor. Both gave superb performances and both . . . performed with each other so well that I found myself wishing they had more scenes together.

Despite my dissatisfaction with the editing, there were other areas in the technical department where ”TERMINATION SALVATION” shone. Martin Laing’s production designs and Troy Sizemore’s art direction beautifully created an apocalyptic Southern California set some nine to ten years in the future. And Shane Hurlbut projected their work with some exciting photography. Aside from the franchise’s familiar theme that first appeared at the beginning of the end credits, I did not find Danny Elfman’s score that memorable.

Despite some of the movie’s flaws, I ended up enjoying ”TERMINATION SALVATION” very much – much to my utter surprise, thanks to McG’s direction, Brancato and Ferris’ screenplay, and the excellent cast led memorably by Christian Bale and Sam Worthington.

“SPIDER-MAN 3” (2007) Review

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”SPIDER-MAN 3” (2007) Review”

Over the years I have learned not to anticipate or make assumptions about new movies. About two weeks before the American debut of the third Spider-Man movie, ”SPIDER-MAN 3”, I had read mixed reviews of it. Although there were a few positive opinions, most of them seemed to be negative. After reading this, my anticipation of the movie had receded a bit. But I still maintained a ”wait-and-see” attitude. Now that I have finally seen ”SPIDER-MAN 3”, I am happy that my fears have become meaningless. Although not as well-crafted as ”SPIDER-MAN 2”, the franchise’s third film still managed to thrill me.

Before I can wax lyrical over the movie, I must address the movie’s flaws. And it had a few. One, I felt a sense of disappointment over some of the movie’s action sequences that featured Spider-Man’s web swinging around New York. They seemed to lack the crisp and detailed style shown in the two previous films and almost struck me as confusing and overblown.

Two, I had a problem or two with the Gwen Stacy character. I realize that there are differences between the movie versions and the comic book versions of the Spider-Man universe. In the comic books, the blond-haired Gwen happened to be Peter Parker’s first true love. Her death at the hands of the Green Goblin (aka Norman Osborn) eventually paved the way for Peter’s romance and marriage with Mary Jane Watson. It is quite obvious in ”SPIDER-MAN 3” that although classmates at Columbia University, Peter and Gwen were not in love. Just friends. I had no problems with this. Nor did I have any problems with a symbiote-possessed Peter using her to make Mary Jane jealous. But I did have problems with the fact that the story never followed up on the mess that Peter had created between Gwen and Mary Jane. The story never allowed us to learn whether Peter had apologized to Gwen for using her . . . or if she had forgiven him. And what was she doing at Harry’s funeral? I do not recall them being acquainted in the movieverse. In the comics, Gwen and Harry were old high school chums that dated briefly in college.

My last problem with ”SPIDER-MAN 3” involved the triangle between Peter, Mary Jane and Harry Osborn (aka Green Goblin 2). Near the beginning of the story, Harry had decided to take the opportunity to get his revenge upon Peter for his father’s death in ”SPIDER-MAN”. The opportunity resulted in a brutal fight and Harry seriously injured in the hospital. Harry woke up as a partial amnesiac – forgetting the reason behind his animosity toward Peter. And the two managed to resume their friendship, until an evening spent with Mary Jane (who was trying to forget her present unhappiness with Peter) resurrected Harry’s memories. In the end, Harry managed to coerce Mary Jane into breaking up with Peter permanently. Unfortunately, the writers never revealed what argument that Harry had used to coerce Mary Jane. Instead, they left the audience in the dark.

But what did I like about ”SPIDER-MAN 3”? For one . . . the story. It was easy for me to see that the story’s main theme seemed to be about vengeance and how – as Aunt May had put it to Peter – it can spread poison within a person until it completely consumes that person. Of all the major characters aside from Aunt May, only two were not touched or consumed by a desire for revenge – Gwen Stacy and Flint Marko. Marko’s actions stemmed from his desperate desire to acquire money to aid his ailing daughter. And poor Gwen became a victim of Peter’s desire for revenge against Mary Jane. But for the rest of the characters, revenge seemed to be the order of the day:

Peter Parker aka Spider-Man: the Webslinger becomes consumed with revenge when he learns that his Uncle Ben’s true killer – namely Flint Marko – had escaped from prison. He later seeks revenge against Mary Jane for breaking up with him, with Harry for the latter’s earlier vengeful attack against him and for initiating the break-up with Mary Jane; and against Eddie Brock for the libelous photo of Spider-Man and winning the position of staff photographer at the DAILY BUGLE. Busy boy, wasn’t he?

Harry Osborn aka New Goblin: Peter’s best friend has desired revenge against Peter (as Spider-Man) for killing his father in the first movie. He also has revenge against Mary Jane because she used him to forget her troubles with Peter.

Mary Jane Watson: a part of me is not sure whether to include her on this list. But I could not help but wonder if her bitchiness toward Peter was a result of her own professional failure on Broadway, combined with her growing distaste toward Peter’s pride over his popularity as Spider-Man. And when Peter shares a publicized kiss with Gwen Stacy that is reminiscent of that famous kiss from the first movie, Mary Jane’s jealousy eventually overwhelms her . . . and she turns to Harry for comfort. I would not be surprised if her action came from a small desire to get back at Peter.

Eddie Brock Jr. aka Venom: Even before the alien symbiote had taken over him, Eddie seemed like an unpleasant piece of goods. And when Peter rather maliciously exposed his chicanery over a faked Spider-Man photograph, it did not take Eddie long to rush to the nearest church and ask God . . . to kill Peter Parker. Like I had said, he was an unpleasant person. Eventually, Eddie’s desire for revenge would soon present itself.

Flint Marko aka Sandman: Although I had earlier stated that Marko had no desire for revenge in the movie. I now realize that I may have been mistaken. After two frustrating encounters with Spider-Man, Marko finally gave in to a desire for revenge when he allowed Venom to manipulate him into using Mary Jane to lure and kill Peter.

The one theme that had dominated the Spider-Man saga in both the comics and the movies seemed to be: ”With great power comes great responsibility.” I do not know if I fully agree with that motto. I really cannot see how Peter Parker must become a costumed crime fighter, because he accidentally got bitten by a radioactive spider. On the other hand, I do believe that one should face the responsibilities and consequences for the deliberate choices you make in life. And this, along with facing demons that include a desire for vengeance, seemed to be the drive behind the movie’s plot.

Each major character ended up facing his or her own personal demons – Peter’s pride as Spider-Man becomes a forerunner of the exposure of his own darker nature that includes a cruel desire for revenge; Mary Jane’s insecurity about her self-worth; Harry’s desire to revenge the death of his father to fulfill his own lack of self-worth; Marko’s desperation to do anything for his ill daughter; and Eddie’s own shallowness and deceptive nature. What made ”SPIDER-MAN 3”’s plot so interesting is that the characters’ flaws and decisions served as different points that converged in the emotional final sequence at the construction site in Manhattan. There, the characters make final choices in how to deal with their demons and only one emerged as the true loser – Eddie Brock

As in the previous two movies, the third one boasted some fine performances by the cast. J.K. Simmons’ J. Jonah Jameson managed to be his usual funny self. I especially enjoyed his interaction with Elizabeth Banks – secretary Betty Brandt – in a duel of nerves in which Betty seemed determined to annoy Jonah every second with some crazy alarm. If someone knows what it was, please tell me. Although in a smaller role than the previous two movies, Rosemary Harris returned to give a warm performance as Peter’s aging Aunt May. In a marvelous scene in which Peter informs his aunt of Flint Marko’s death at Spider-Man’s hands, Harris’ May delivered the movie’s theme in a foreboding line about the true nature of vengeance. Last, but not least there was Bryce Dallas Howard, who portrayed Peter’s beautiful blond classmate, Gwen Stacy. Granted, her role was not as large as it was in the comics, Howard gave a fine performance as the warm and friendly Gwen. Some critic had complained that the movie turned Gwen from Peter’s true love to some kind of temptress. I found this criticism rather ridiculous for two reasons – a) Mary Jane had been established as Peter’s true love since the first movie; and b) Gwen was not portrayed as some temptress but, a nice girl who became a victim of Peter’s vengeance against Mary Jane.

Thomas Haden Church’s portrayal of Marko Flint aka Sandman seemed like a far cry from his past performances that I have seen in which he portrayed more extroverted characters. His Marko/Sandman must be one of the most introverted villains I have ever seen on the movie screens. In fact, his character reminded me of some melancholy circus clown with a black cloud of tragedy hovering about him. Considering the circumstances of Marko’s life – a failed criminal career, a failed marriage, ill child and imprisoned for a crime that was merely an accident – it was not hard for me to imagine this. In the end, I was very impressed by Church’s subtle performance. And I was also impressed by Topher Grace as Eddie Brock, Jr. aka Venom, as well. Originally, he was not suppose to be part of the movie’s cast of characters. But former CEO Ari Arvad convinced director Sam Rami to include the character. And I am glad. Brock turned out to be a very interesting character. When first introduced, he seemed like an affable and gregarious young man, who also worked as freelance photographer for ”THE DAILY BUGLE”. With great skill and subtlety, Grace allowed the audience to gradually see the character’s dark emptiness, underneath the charm. Two scenes seemed to reflect this – the one that featured Gwen Stacy dangling from a Manhattan high-rise and Brock’s visit to a church after losing his job. In the first scene, I found it interesting that although Brock seemed mildly concerned over Gwen’s near death situation, he seemed more interested in taking photos of her and Spider-Man’s rescue . . . than doing everything in his power to ensure that she would be rescued. After losing his staff photographer job at THE BUGLE, Brock ended up at a church, where I thought he would confess to a priest or express remorse over his past behavior. Instead, he prayed to God . . . for the death of the man who caused his unemployment, Peter Parker. This is the second time I have seen Grace skillfully portray a character with one trait hidden underneath another one.

When Spidey fans last saw Harry Osborn in ”SPIDER-MAN 2”, he had learned two disquieting facts – the man he held responsible for his father’s death (namely Spider-Man), turned out to be his best friend, Peter Parker; and his father, Norman, had been the infamous Green Goblin who terrorized Manhattan in the first movie. Three years later, Harry still wants revenge for Norman’s death and he finally decided to take action as the New Goblin A failed attack upon Peter resulted in a serious injury for Harry and a temporary amnesia. The audience got to see what Harry would be without his insecurity and the ghost of his father haunting him. And he seemed like a pretty nice . . . and well-balanced young man. I tried to find something wrong with James Franco’s performance, but . . . I could not find a thing. Honestly. Franco managed to perfectly capture Harry’s emotional journey from the vengeful son to the sweet-tempered amnesiac to the cruel manipulator who broke up Peter and MJ’s relationship, to the loyal and brave man who sacrificed himself to save his friends. Franco covered it all.

I have always liked Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson in the first two movies. But I found her a lot more interesting in ”SPIDER-MAN 3”. Beneath the sweet and cheerful persona, Dunst revealed a Mary Jane still racked by an inferiority complex stemmed from her bad relationship with her verbally abusive father. This lack of self-esteem came from Mary Jane losing her job as leading lady of a Broadway musical. Even worse, Peter’s own success as not only fueled Mary Jane’s insecurity, but fueled her envy as well. Matters did not help when Peter/Spidey had agreed to exchange a public kiss with Gwen Stacy, re-creating Mary Jane’s first kiss with him in the first movie. What I liked about Dunst’s performance is that she allowed all of these negative aspects of Mary Jane’s personality to manifest without resorting to over-the-top theatrics. I have come to the conclusion that very few screen actors and actresses seem capable of avoiding scene chewing. Especially those of Dunst’s generation. Fortunately, she did just that – avoid any hammy acting, while projecting Mary Jane’s darker impulses. As for her singing voice, I got the impression that it had been dubbed during MJ’s Broadway performance. But I could detect Dunst’s voice, when Mary Jane sang at a jazz club during the movie’s final scene. She had a nice, but slightly nasal voice.

As for the man himself – Tobey Maguire – I must say that Sam Rami had not been joking when he called Maguire one of the best actors of his generation. I felt more than impressed by his performance in ”SPIDER-MAN 3”. Although Maguire was able to briefly tap into Peter Parker aka Spider-Man’s dark psyche in the first movie (when he allowed a thief to get away with money stolen from a wrestling match), he was truly allowed to explore Peter’s darker nature in this film. There are two particular scenes that verified Maguire’s extraordinary skills as an actor:

*Peter’s misguided belief in his “cool” image, while walking the streets of Manhattan. Even evil (thanks to the symbiote suit), Peter could not help being a nerd. Watching Peter wallow in the illusion of his “coolness”, while oblivious of passing females’ contempt made this sequence one of the funniest in the movie. It also showcased Maguire’s comedic skills.

*Peter’s second confrontation with Harry, inside the Osborn manor, revealed the depths of how monstrous he could be. He seemed truly dark in this scene. Maguire even managed to allow the contempt and hatred reflected in his eyes, when Peter ridiculed Harry for attempting to follow in Norman Osborn’s footsteps. In all, it was a very excellent performance on Maguire’s part.

From what I have read, ”SPIDER-MAN 3” has received mixed reviews. Hmmm. Well, I certainly cannot influence the opinions of others. I can only express my own views. Personally, I enjoyed the movie very much. It possessed an emotional depth not even seen in the first two movies. When I first heard that Spider-Man would be facing three villains – the New Goblin (Harry), the Sandman (Flint Marko) and Venom (Eddie Brock, Jr.) – I had my doubts about the movie’s success. It seemed like one or two villains too many. Oddly enough, after seeing the movie, it now seemed to work within its plot for me – despite the number of villains. Now that I think about it, the one true villain of the story – aside from the major characters’ inner darkness – seemed to Venom. Unlike Peter or Harry, Eddie Brock never could break away from his darker impulses . . . even when Peter managed to force him away from the symbiote. And unlike Marko, Eddie never felt any remorse for his actions . . . right to the end.

To my amazement, I realized that my view of this ”SPIDER-MAN” trilogy seemed to match my view of the recent ”X-MEN” trilogy. For me, the first movie of both trilogies struck me as very entertaining, but slightly mediocre (”SPIDER-MAN” is “almost” mediocre). The second movie for each trilogy was superb. Period. And the third movies for the two trilogies were excellent, but flawed. Will there be a new ”SPIDER-MAN” trilogy? I do not know. But I believe that Marvel film company should wait several years before creating a new trilogy. At least we have movies like ”SPIDER-MAN 3” to enjoy for years to come.

8/10