“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.

“LIFE OF PI” (2012) Review

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“LIFE OF PI” (2012) Review

It has been a while since Hollywood went into a tizzy over a movie directed by Ang Lee. His latest opus turned out to be“LIFE OF PI”, an adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 fantasy-adventure novel. The movie earned at least eleven nominations and won at least four, including a second Best Director Academy Award for Lee. 

“LIFE OF PI” begins in early 21st century Canada; when a local writer is advised to interview a middle-aged immigrant from Puducherry with a very interesting story to tell. Pi Patel then proceeds to tell the writer about his family and childhood in Puducherry. According to Patel, his father owned a zoo and it was there he first met the zoo’s new Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. When Patel was 16 years old, his father announces his intention to move the family to Winnipeg, Canada. There, he plans to sell the zoo animals and live. Pi, saddened by the idea of leaving his family and his new love, does not tell the news very well.

The family books passage aboard a Japanese freighter called the Tzimtzum. During the voyage, the Tzimtzum begins to founder during a heavy storm, while Pi is on deck. Before he can find his family, a crew member throws him into a lifeboat. As the ship begins to sink, a zebra leaps into the lifeboat and injures himself. The rest of Pi’s family along with other passengers and crewmen die as the Tzimtzum sinks. Once the storm is over, Pi discovers that other animals had made their way into the lifeboat – an orangutan and a hyena. The hyena angers Pi by killing the zebra and then the orangutan. Before he can do anything about it, the tiger Richard Parker suddenly emerges from under the lifeboat’s tarp and kills the hyena. Pi is left alone with Richard Parker, in which the two continue the journey as wary adversaries. By the time their journey ends on the Mexican coastline, they have become friends before Richard Parker disappears into the jungle.

When I first saw the trailer for “LIFE OF PI”, I did not want to see it. Period. Despite my knowledge that the movie had been directed by Ang Lee – of whom I am a fan – I did not want to see it. I did not want to see a movie about a boy surviving God knows how many days in a lifeboat with a tiger. End of story. When the movie was finally released in theaters, I went out of my way to avoid it . . . despite the positive press from the film critics. And even when it accumulated so many Golden Globe and Academy Awards nominations, I still refused to see it. I finally came around and saw “LIFE OF PI” when it was finally released on DVD. Did I regret missing it while it was in the theaters? Hmmmmm . . . not really. But I must admit that it was a pretty damn good film.

One . . . it had a good story. Lee, along with screenwriter David Magee did an excellent job in setting up Martel’s story on screen. The movie devoted at least a good half hour into Pi’s family background and his childhood. They especially took care in revealing his parents’ philosophies – something that would profoundly affect his harsh ocean journey from Puducherry to Mexico. They also did an excellent job in utilizing the literary device of the flashback, using middle-age Pi’s interview with a journalist. In fact, I believe that this device, along with Pi’s first-person (whether he was the 16 year-old boy or the middle-aged man) narration help keep the story alive for me.

There were other aspects of “LIFE OF PI” that impressed me. Mychael Danna won a much deserved Academy Award for writing the movie’s score. Mind you, I could not remember it for the likes of me. But I do recall how perfectly it meshed with the film’s narration. I also have to commend the beautiful visual effects created by the now bankrupt Rhythm & Hues Studios. Their visuals – especially of the animals featured in this movie – struck me as breathtaking. Although some of the animals, like those featured in Pi’s lifeboat, seemed real; while others like the meerkats on the floating island seemed more artistic than real. I especially enjoyed the sequence in which Pi’s lifeboat encountered a breaching Humpback whale and the school of dolphins.

I can see many shaking their heads over my review so far. How could I have enjoyed this movie so much, if I did not regret missing it in the theaters? Remember my reason why I originally avoided the film in the first place? I did not want to see a movie about a boy and a tiger in a lifeboat. While watching the movie, I found myself wishing that the entire sequence featuring Pi and “Richard Parker” could be shorter. It almost seemed to go on . . . forever. This sequence also brought back some not-so-pleasant memories of Tom Hanks and a volleyball named Wilson in the 2000 film, “CASTAWAY”. I felt relieved when Hanks’ character was finally rescued by a freighter in that movie. While watching “LIFE OF PI”, I eventually fell asleep before Pi and “Richard Parker” reached the floating island of the meerkats and Mexico. I woke up just in time to witness the escape from the meerkats island. Why did it have to take so long? I realize that the movie was about Pi’s emotional and spiritual journey. But did it have to take so long? Oh well. It was still a damn good movie that ended on a very satisfying note.

From what I had read, Ang Lee personally selected 17 year-old Suraj Sharma to portray the 16 year-old Pi. And I must say that Sharma gave a stupendous performance. Along with Lee’s direction and the visual effects, Sharma really made that movie. He did an excellent job in conveying Pi’s journey from innocence to heartbreak to spiritual maturity. And I am astounded that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to nominate him for a Best Actor award. What in the hell were they thinking? I realize that the competition was pretty tough for 2012, but still . . . he should have been considered among the top three nominees.

The cast also benefited from excellent supporting performances from Irrfan Khan, who was excellent as the mature Pi. Rafe Spall was charming as the Canadian writer who interviewed Pi. Tabu gave an emotionally satisfying performance as Pi’s mother Gita Pitel. And I was certainly impressed by Adil Hussain’s commanding portrayal of Pi’s father, Santosh Patel. Gérard Depardieu was certain memorable as the Tzimtzum’s unpleasant cook. And James Saito added a great deal of intensity to the heartbreaking scene featuring an interview between Pi and the older Japanese insurance investigator. It was good to see him again.

What else can I say about “LIFE OF PI”? It was a beautiful and heartbreaking adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel. Once again, Ang Lee proved to the world that when he puts his heart and soul into a film, he can create something beautiful. And he was ably supported by an excellent cast led by the very talented Suraj Sharma, Rhythm & Hues Studio’s visual effects and Mychael Danna’s score. I do not think I would ever love this movie. I am sorry, but I could not deal with so many minutes devoted to a boy and a tiger in a boat. But I must say that I enjoyed it very much.

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” (2012) Review

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“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” (2012) Review

Five years after the release of 2007’s “SPIDER-MAN 3”, Sony Pictures and Marvel Films decided to release a newSPIDER-MAN movie. The latter proved not to be a third sequel to the 2002 movie, “SPIDER-MAN”. Instead, it turned out to be a franchise re-boot featuring a new actor in the lead and the first film of a new trilogy. 

With Andrew Garfield now portraying Peter Parker aka Spider-Man and Marc Webb directing, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” commenced upon an entirely new saga about the web slinger. In this film, Peter is a geeky high school student and science major who lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May in a suburb of Queens, New York. At least a decade earlier, he had witnessed the mysterious disappearance of his father and mother, scientist Richard Parker and his wife, Mary. After discovering his father’s old briefcase, Peter makes the acquaintance of the latter’s former lab partner, Dr. Curt Connors, who is now working as a geneticist at Oscorp. Dr. Connors is working on cross-breeding experiments in order to discover a formula based on lizard DNA in order to regenerate missing limbs. During his first trip to Oscorp’s Manhattan offices, he discovers that the fellow Midtown High School student that he loves, Gwen Stacy, is working there as the chief intern. Peter is also bitten by a genetically engineered spider.

During the subway ride home, Peter becomes aware of his new abilities. He also continues his visits to Dr. Connors at Oscorp. His new powers and visits to Oscorp lead to his growing neglect of his household duties. Peter also manages to help Dr. Connors by giving the latter Richard Parker’s “decay rate algorithm”, the missing piece in the scientist’s experiments. After a quarrel with Uncle Ben, Peter storms out of the house and the latter hit the streets looking for him. Unfortunately for Uncle Ben, he encounters a thief who had just robbed a convenience store and is shot dead. Determined to find his uncle’s murderer, Peter decides to assume the identity of the costumed vigilante, Spider-Man. When Oscorp executive Dr. Rajit Ratha decides to fire Dr. Connors and use the latter’s formula at a VA hospital under the guise of a flue shot, Connors tries the formula on himself and becomes the human/lizard hybrid, the Lizard.

Many Marvel and Spider-Man fans had complained about the lack of need for a Spider-Man re-boot so soon after the last Sam Rami film. What many did not know was that Sony Pictures had signed a deal, guaranteeing major control over the Spider-Man franchise as long as the studio releases a movie every five years or less. Sony originally had plans for a fourth Spider-Man movie with both Rami and actor Tobey Maguire. But the plans fell through and the studio decided to re-boot the franchise with a new actor, a new director and a new trilogy.

Some fans and critics claimed that “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” was a lot closer to the original comics tale than the Rami films. I found this claim ironic, considering that the movie proved to be no more faithful to the comics than the films made in the last decade. Comic book fans know that Peter Parker’s first love was Betty Brandt, whom he dated in high school and who eventually became J. Jonah Jamerson’s secretary at The Daily Bugle. Peter met both Gwen Stacy (of this movie) and Mary Jane Watson (from the 2002-2007 films) in college, not high school. He was a lot younger when his parents died. But hey . . . I managed to enjoy both the Rami/Maguire trilogy and this film.

That is correct. I enjoyed “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN”. It had plenty of well choreographed action. The special effects team from the Pixomundo company did an excellent job with the action sequences featuring Spider-Man’s battles with the Lizard. The company’s efforts were ably supported by Marc Webb’s direction and the three cinematographers – Alan Edward Bell, Michael McCusker and Pietro Scalia. One of my few complaints about“SPIDER-MAN” was that the film almost seemed like two separate stories. I could never accuse “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” of that flaw. Screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves made sure that Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man and Dr. Connors’ transformation into the Lizard were connected plot-wise. After all, Peter’s visit to Connor at the Oscorp labs led to his painful encounter with a genetically altered spider. And the visit, along with Peter’s discovery of his father’s notes, led to the creation of the formula that enabled Connors to become the Lizard.

The movie also boasted some excellent performances by the cast. Andrew Garfield was outstanding as Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. He did an excellent job of portraying a fatherless boy in search of a father figure, who is forced to grow up on his own. Emma Stone portrayed Gwen Stacy, the girl whom Peter dated during his early years in college. Stone’s Gwen was a smart, witty and earthy young woman who found herself torn between Peter and her father’s opinion of Spider-Man and vigilantism. Another excellent performance came from Rhys Ifan, who did an excellent job in revealing the complex man whose disappointments in life led him to utilize the formula that transformed him into the Lizard. He also managed to convey Connor’s darker personality through the CGI figure of the Lizard.

Other first-rate performances came from Denis Leary, who portrayed Gwen’s father – NYPD Captain George Stacy. The latter role seemed a slight cry from Leary’s usual roles. Although he managed to utilize his usual rapid fire wit, Leary also conveyed the image of a stern and responsible man, who harbored concerns not only for his daughter, but also the citizens of New York City. Martin Sheen and Sally Field created excellent chemistry as Ben and May Parker, the couple left to raise Peter after his parents’ death. It is a crime that the pair never worked together before, because I thought they really crackled with chemistry. I could say that both had great chemistry with Garfield, as well. But I feel that Sheen had more interesting scenes with the young actor than Field. Irrfan Khan had to be convinced by his children to take the role of Oscorp executive, Dr. Rajit Ratha (a character created for the movie). I am glad they did, for he proved to be very effective as a shadowy representative for the corporation’s reclusive CEO, Norman Oscorp. The movie also boasted solid performances from Chris Zylka as Flash Thompson; and from Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz as Richard and Mary Parker, Peter’s parents.

I will not deny that “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” was a very entertaining movie for me. But it had its flaws. One, there seemed to be a minor lack of originality in the script. A good deal of the story seemed to be borrowed from the previous SPIDER-MAN movies. As with Maguire’s Peter, Garfield’s Peter started out with an unrequited crush with the leading female character. And Dr. Connors’ career faced extinction, just as Dr. Otto Octavius did in“SPIDER-MAN 2”. However, the movie also borrowed a subplot from the 2000 movie, “X-MEN”. Just as Erik Lensherr plotted to transform the world’s population into mutants via a machine, the Lizard in this movie, plotted to transform New York City’s population into reptilian/human hybrids. In fact, his scheme struck me as lame. The problem for me laid in the fact that Connors did not transform into the Lizard, until the second half of the movie.

Speaking of the Lizard, as much as I had admired Ifans’ performance, I was not that impressed by the villain’s role as Spider-Man’s foe. I mean, honestly . . . the idea of Spider-Man facing a giant lizard rampaging all over Manhattan did not do anything for me. Frankly, I saw dealing with the problem of the Lizard as a job for the Men in Black, not Spider-Man. Everyone seemed to be filled with praise for Emma Stone’s portrayal of Gwen Stacy . . . including me. However, I had a problem with the screenwriters’ portrayal of Gwen in this movie. Frankly, she seemed too perfect . . . too ideal. She lacked any real personal demons that could have made her interesting to me. I could never say the same about the comic book Gwen – even if she had a tendency to be a crybaby.

Could someone explain why Peter suddenly decided to end his search for the thief who had killed his Uncle Ben? It seemed as if the entire subplot had been dropped. And what happened to Dr. Ratha after Peter saved him on the Williamsburg Bridge? I have one last complaint . . . and it has to do with C. Thomas Howell’s character, a construction worker named Ray. In the Williamsburg Bridge sequence, Spider-Man saved Ray’s son from falling into the East River. Ray reciprocated Spider-Man’s actions during the latter’s final battle with the Lizard by using several cranes to help convey the web slinger (who had been shot in the leg by the NYPD) to Oscorp’s tower, in order to stop the Lizard from using the formula on New Yorkers. I found that minor scene so incredibly cheesy that I practically cringed with embarrassment. It seemed as if the screenwriters were trying to re-create those moments from two of Sam Rami’s films in which New Yorkers came to Spider-Man’s aid. Only in this movie, I found Ray’s actions embarrassing, not inspirational.

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” had much for me to admire. It had excellent performances from the cast led by Andrew Garfield. Marc Webb’s direction in the action sequences and intimate scenes was first-rate. And the screenwriters managed to avoid the mistake from the Sam Rami 2002 film of creating a fragmented plot. Unfortunately, I believe that “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” had other flaws – including a lack of originality – that made it difficult for me to embrace the idea that it was the best SPIDER-MAN movie ever made.

“SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” (2008) Review

“SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” (2008) Review

After finally seeing the 2008 Academy Award winning Best Picture,”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE”, I am beginning to suspect that this film had garnered a great deal of unnecessarily extreme reactions. Moviegoers either loved it with every fiber of their being or considered it as either vastly overrated or insulting to the citizens of India. My reaction to the movie has been neither.

Directed by Danny Boyle, co-directed by Loveleen Tandan and written by Simon Beaufoy, ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” is about a young man from the slums of Mumbai who appears on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” (Kaun Banega Crorepati, mentioned in the Hindi version) and exceeds people’s expectations, arousing the suspicions of the game show host and of law enforcement officials. Beaufoy based his script upon the Boeke Prize-winning and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize-nominated novel, ”Q & A” (2005), written by Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup.

The question is – do I believe that ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” had deserved its Best Picture Oscar? Honestly? No, I do not. In fact, the movie did not even make my list of Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2008. In some ways, I do feel that it is slightly overrated. No movie is perfect, but the flaws in this movie – or aspects of the movie I saw as flaws – made me wonder how it managed to win Oscars in the Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay categories. I realize that this movie is based upon Swarup’s novel, in which the plot is centered around a popular game show. But I really could have done without this particular plot device. I found the scenes that featured Jamal Malik’s moments during the question-and-answer sessions of the game show unnecessarily dramatic. This plot device also provided a ridiculously over-the-top ‘happy ending’ that provided a sharp contrast to most of the story. And the idea that the game show questions provided triggers to Jamal’s reminisces about his childhood and his feelings about Latika, a girl he first fell in love with following the deaths of their parents in a mob attack did not exactly work for me. It seemed . . . off. There were times when director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy made it difficult to keep track on what Jamal was reminiscing in regard to the question he was being asked on the game show. By biggest complaints centered around the movie’s second half, the characterization of Latika and Chris Dickens’ editing.

At least two-thirds of ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” are focused around the boyhoods of Jamal’s recollections of his childhood in the slums of Mumbai with his older brother, Salim. In my opinion, this was the movie’s strongest part. It was not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than the second half. There have been complaints that Boyle’s savage look into Mumbai’s slums is not the real India. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not. I would not know. I have never seen the real India. I must admit that the series of incidents presented in the movie’s first half left me feeling that I was watching an Anglo-Indian version of a Charles Dickens novel. Especially ”Oliver Twist”. And I found it fascinating, despite the squalor presented on the screen. But once the movie’s setting shifted to 2006 Mumbai, I found myself mired in a contrived story in which the rescue of Jamal’s love, Latika, from a wealthy gangster depended upon his success on the ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” show. As it turned out, Latika ended up being rescued by Jamal’s gangster brother, Salim.

Speaking of Latika, she proved to be another problem. Quite frankly, I found her character rather one-dimensional and frustrating. She seemed to be the ultimate example of the damsel-in-distress archetype. Jamal saw her as his”destiny”. I saw her as this rather uninteresting character that became nothing more than a trophy for various character – including Jamal. There was one scene in which Salim decided to claim Latika as a sex partner after he had saved her and Jamal by killing some minor gangster whom she worked for. Jamal naturally tried to prevent Salim from claiming Latika. Latika did nothing . . . until she agreed to sleep with Salim to prevent him from hurting Latika. And I . . . was disgusted. She could have easily helped Jamal overcome Salim. Instead, she stood there like an idiot before offering herself to the older brother. The only time Latika ever really did something for herself was when she unsuccessfully tried to flee from the wealthy gangster. She was a very frustrating character and I felt sorry for the actresses – especially Freida Pinto – forced to portray such an uninteresting character. One last problem I had with this movie was Chris Dickens’ editing. It seemed like it was more appropriate for a MTV music video clip, instead of a two hour movie. Worse, it interfered with my enjoyment of Anthony Dod Mantle’s colorful cinematography. What makes this nauseating is that Dickens managed to win an Oscar for his work.

On the whole, ”SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” is pretty good movie that tries to give Westerners a peek into late 20th century and early 21st century India. The movie can boast some first rate performances by the movie’s lead actor, Dev Petel, who portrayed the 18 year-old Jamal, Tanay Chheda as the pre-adolescent Jamal, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail as the young Salim and Tanay Chheda as the early adolescent Salim. I was also impressed by Irrfan Khan’s performance as the police inspector who interrogated Jamal throughout most of the movie. He and Petel created a very interesting screen team. As I had stated earlier, I was also impressed by Mantle’s cinematography in the movie. Despite the squalor that permeated the scenes featuring Jamal and Salim’s childhood, he infused the photography with color, energy and sweep. And what can I say about the exciting music featured in this film? I loved it. A. R. Rahman definitely deserved his Oscar for one of the most exciting and original film scores I have heard in years . . . and that includes ”Jai Ho”, the song he wrote for the film. By the way, he earned a well deserved Oscar for that as well.

Considering the eight (8) Academy Awards that it had earned, I wish I could say that it deserved all of its awards. But I do not think it did. Despite the movie’s first-rate cast, Mantle’s excellent photography and Rahman’s superb score, I cannot say that it was the best movie I had seen in 2008. In fact, it failed to make my list of 10 favorite movies for that year. Frankly, I found Simon Beaufoy’s script rather uneven and his characterization of the Latika character one-dimensional. And Danny Boyle failed to rise above these flaws with his direction. But . . . despite the movie’s flaws, I could honestly say that it would have made my list of the top 20 movies of 2008.