Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

The first PG-13 movie I ever saw was the original Jurassic Park back in 1993. I've been a fan of the franchise ever since--I saw the first sequel Lost World in middle school, Jurassic Park III in high school, and Jurassic World when it came out. I reviewed it and even participated in a podcast dedicated to the film. So even though the advance buzz wasn't so hot, I definitely made plans to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

The Plot

In the aftermath of the events of Jurassic World and the massive payouts the company had to make to those harmed, Isla Nublar has been abandoned again. However, it's not a paradise where once-extinct beasts can roam around freely--at least not for much longer. The island's dormant volcano has came to life and the US government, which based on Jurassic Park III seems to have been doing the lion's share of keeping the islands quarantined, has been listening to Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and is inclined to let the volcano destroy the dinosaurs.

This doesn't sit well with Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is now running the Dinosaur Protection Group dedicated to protecting the dinosaurs like they're an ordinary endangered species. She allies with the late John Hammond's former partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) to transport the dinosaurs to a new sanctuary, with her former boyfriend Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) along for the ride to help find his velociraptor pet/surrogate child Blue.

Unfortunately they--and the timid computer geek Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and the take-no-shit "paleo-veterinarian" Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) from Claire's organization--find that the sinister plots to weaponize the dinosaurs (one of Jurassic World's weaker points) are still in play and drastic action might need to be taken to save them...

The Good

*I will give the film credit for taking creative risks. The island gets blown up halfway through the movie and the rest of it takes place in California, with the climax occurring at Lockwood's mansion way out in the woods. No more formulaic "how can we get people to these quarantined dangerous islands" films now. The film also gets pretty dark--there's deliberate murder (or attempted) murder of humans by other humans. Even when Malcolm and his crew sabotage InGen's attempt to capture Isla Sorna's dinosaurs in The Lost World, InGen's mercenaries rescue them from the falling trailers and include them in their attempts to get off the island rather than abandoning them to die or deliberately killing them.

*The visuals are stunning, including the dinosaur effects.

*The last quarter of the film, however ridiculous it often seems, comes off like a Gothic haunted-house horror movie, just with dinosaurs.

*Like before, Howard and Pratt are quite amusing together. And Claire has become quite the bad-ass since then. No more running around the jungle in heels for her. :)

*In general there's a lot of nice laugh-out-loud moments.

*There's a scene with a brachiosaurus that's legitimately sad, just like in the last movie. I think the last movie did it better in terms of eliciting an emotional reaction from me, but a whole lot of people found what happened poignant.

*A new type of dinosaur actually seems to have a personality and almost demonic cleverness.

The Bad

*How is the mosasaurus (really a kronosaurus due to its size) still alive if the park has been abandoned for three years? It doesn't seem like it's capable of climbing out of its pool. It would have long since starved to death trapped in its enclosure unless the pool was already stocked with fish, animals keep conveniently getting close enough for it to snag, or somebody's been feeding it.

*Apparently a tie-in in-world website of the Dinosaur Protection Group that provides a lot of the back-story, but I didn't know it existed. Consequently, I was wondering for much of the movie about Isla Sorna, which should be unaffected by the impending destruction of Isla Nublar. This is a problem--if it's that much of a plot hole, it should be explained in the movie. All they'd need is a throwaway line about how after "the spinosaurus incident" Isla Sorna's ecology collapsed and the surviving dinosaurs had to be relocated to Isla Nublar for the new park.

*There's some needless political commentary, like one of the mercenaries (a villain, unlike the awesome Roland Tembo from the second film) referring to Dr. Rodriguez as a "nasty woman." Where have I heard that before?

*There's a scene involving transfusing blood from one species of dinosaur to another. That's...not going to work. You can't transfuse from one human to another if the blood types are different and humans are all one species. The almighty TVTropes said this was like using rabbit blood in humans.

*Ian Malcolm is even more of an annoying pantheist than he was before. It's my understanding that his worries about chaos theory from the first movie had to do with the overconfidence of Hammond and his entourage that they could control these wild and dangerous animals so easily, but there was still the "nature SELECTED them for extinction" stuff. He's still on that kick in this one, even though he explicitly tells the Congressional committee that God isn't involved here. News-flash: In a purely naturalistic world (Malcolm is not a religious man, something made quite clear in the novel The Lost World), there is no "meant to be" or "wrong side of history. Things happen and people have to deal with them.

*It would have been better if the "rescue the dinosaurs" plot had taken up the entire movie--one last return to the park, rounding up the dinosaurs, some close encounters of the worst kind with big carnivores, etc. could have taken up quite a lot of time. One of the more creative features of The Lost World was the depiction of the carnotaurs as having chameleon-like camouflage, which they could have included in this one. The betrayals that take place halfway through could be a cliffhanger ending to set up the events of a third Jurassic World film, which would cover the events of the second half of the film and the consequences of those.

*Things got kind of draggy after they get off the island all the way to the dinosaur auction going badly.

*They hype up the possibilities of the dinosaurs getting loose as some kind of apocalyptic event when they're really not. Most if not all of the dinosaurs are female and there are so few dinosaurs period they wouldn't be able to create a viable breeding population even if they became established somewhere. And if the lysine contingency is still in the genes of the new batch (it's certainly still there with old-school dinosaurs like the T-Rex), many of them will die unless they can find the proper foods. The only ones I anticipate being a real problem are the kronosaurus, since it has the whole ocean to hide in, or the pterodactyls due to their ability to fly and the fact enough of them escaped Isla Nublar (and Isla Sorna earlier) that they could establish a viable breeding pool. The big carnosaurs in particular will be in zoos or trophy racks within a month or two.

*Weaponizing the dinosaurs is still a dumb idea. Unless they could teach raptors to use guns (or engineer them into creatures similar to the wolf-baboon-human chimera ghouloons from S.M. Stirling's Draka novels), it seems pretty pointless. They need too much food, the fixed costs of creating them are huge, etc. A "war raptor" might be able to do more damage on the battlefield than a "war dog" (more physically destructive, more intimidating) but it doesn't seem like it's worth the effort.

The Verdict

Worth seeing once. It's not a bad movie, but it could have been done better. 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: The Fifth Element (1997)

Once upon a time when I was in fifth or sixth grade, a science-fiction movie called The Fifth Element came out. My parents were rather conservative about what I was allowed to watch until probably my junior or senior year of high school, so I wasn't allowed to watch it. I pretty much forgot about the movie--looking back most of the movies I wasn't allowed to watch were pretty stupid, like the monster movie DNA that's so bad I can't even find it on Amazon Associates--until Myopia: Defend Your Childhood decided to do a podcast episode on it.

Well, here's the podcast. Now for the review...

The Plot

After a short prologue set in Egypt in 1914, we jump 300 years into the early 23rd Century. Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), a military veteran turned taxi driver, crosses paths with Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), an avatar of powerful alien forces. She's pretty important, because an ancient evil that emerges every 5,000 years has returned to threaten Earth. It can only be stopped by five artifacts, four stones representing the classical elements (earth, water, air, fire) and one "fifth element," but eccentric (to say the least) billionaire Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman) is in league with this evil and is planning to steal the stones himself.

The Good

*I liked that it was a Coptic Christian priest (he certainly doesn't look European) who was part of the ancient alien conspiracy. The Copts are the direct descendants of the original Egyptians (see this article here about their language), so they're a lot more likely to get involved with Ancient Aliens-type stuff than the more recent Arab arrivals.

*Korben's military history is shown rather than told--military commendations on his wall, a call from his old commanding officer to catch up, etc. This sets up his bad-ass exploits later on. And although exposition through dialogue is usually not done well ("as you know, Bob"), Zorg exposits the reason why the pig-orc Mangalores are willing to help an ancient evil power destroy Earth pretty neatly without wasting a lot of time.

*There's some pretty good humor in here, like how Korben defeats a mugger and, well, the Space RuPaul that is Ruby Rhod.

*Gary Oldman is clearly playing against type--rather than an obvious tough guy like Sirius Black, Commissioner Gordon, Count Dracula, etc. he's an effeminate Southern-drawling corporate bigwig who's not completely sane. I can appreciate that--roles like this show his range as an actor and he's one of the most entertaining elements in the film. That said, he's sneaky-smart and still pretty handy with a gun.

*A character's death actually caused me to have an emotional reaction, and they're only on-screen for five to ten minutes at most.

The Bad

*For starters, the movie is way, way too long. It's around 2.5 hours if I remember correctly.

*Many of the characters' actions make no sense and serve only to advance the plot. For example, Dallas flees the police with Leeloo when she starts to cry after literally falling into his cab, despite living in very precarious circumstances (i.e. he doesn't have the resources to evade the police, nor defend himself legally if arrested) and having only just met her. Yes, it's clear he's not over his wife having left him, but there's making bad decisions due to a broken heart and there's making truly nonsensical decisions based on a broken heart. The same with Zorg's various antics, especially later in the film.

*The opening is a little slow. Although the beginning in Egypt is kind of cool (including the line about the Germans), the Mondoshowans were hard to take seriously as threatening, or for that matter functioning, aliens. They came off to me as obese robotic Skeksis (from The Dark Crystal). And some of the aliens' actions don't make much sense in the beginning either.

*A modern-day priest claims that trying to fight the Ancient Evil with weapons is trying to fight evil with evil, but he proposes no actual alternative to the President even though he's part of the secret society that's been in league with the aliens for thousands of years. Now might be the time to spills the beans, Father.

*When Leeloo first materializes she's completely naked, as one might expect. Then come some "thermal bandages" that don't really insulate much. Come on, we know that's just for audience titillation while avoiding an R-rating. Just have some doctors give her a robe or something.

*So many McDonalds product placements. It's so obvious.

*The romantic relationship between Korben and Leeloo that develops doesn't seem to have any basis in, well, anything.

The Verdict

There are some parts that are actually pretty entertaining, but it's silly and generally not very good. Don't bother. 6.0 out of 10. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Under Siege (1992)

One of the movies I'd wanted to see when I was a kid but wasn't allowed to was the original Under Siege, starring noted martial artist Steven Seagal. Like most movies I wasn't allowed to see I ended up losing interest in it, but thanks to the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood and Amazon Instant Video, I had the chance to see it again.

Here's the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

The U.S.S. Missouri, the venerable battleship that accepted the surrender of Imperial Japan in 1945 and was upgraded to fight in the Gulf War, has finally been retired. It's making one last cruise from Hawaii to San Francisco to be decommissioned. Aboard the ship is cook Casey Ryback (Steven Seagal), personally chosen by Captain Adams (Patrick O'Neal) but disliked by the cranky executive officer Commander Krill (Gary Busey).

Krill throws a surprise birthday party for Adams, led by apparent musician William Strannix (Tommy Lee Jones), but it turns out it's all a scheme to seize control of the ship and sell its Tomahawk missiles (including several tipped with nuclear weapons) to the highest bidder. With most of the crew killed or welded up in the ship's forecastle, it's up to Ryback and some unlikely allies to save the day.

The Good

*The movie is entertaining and moves along at a pretty brisk clip. It's never boring, which is the major reason one sees these movies. :) In TVTropes terms, there are several Crowning Moments of Awesome, including one involving the Missouri's main guns.

*Tommy Lee Jones does a good job as the brilliant but deranged Strannix. It reminds me a lot of his later performance of the manic Two-Face in Batman Forever. And as befitting someone with military command experience (he references attending the War College, which colonels and lieutenant colonels apply to enter) he avoids, as TVTropes puts it, the infamous Villain Ball. Instead of sending out individual goons to be killed, they're to patrol in groups, not pursue Ryback into unsecured areas, check in regularly, etc.

*There's the theme throughout the movie of political-hack superiors throwing fighting-men under the bus. Although one would like to think our military is immune to CYA and other such bullshit, that's not the case. Although I'm violating the Servo Rule about invoking good movies in one's crappy movie (okay "mediocre" is more accurate), the novel Once An Eagle (later adapted into a miniseries) features a slimy politically-savvy staff officer Courtney Massengale and the battle-tested Sam Damon who has to fix or take the fall for his screw-ups.

*The opening scene in which the executive officer is the hard-ass and the captain more mellow reflects something I remember reading about how a well-run Navy ship operates. The captain is supposed to be the "good cop" and the XO the "bad cop." The XO is also more involved in the day-to-day hands-on stuff than the captain is. Commander Krill getting on Ryback's case about his uniform reflects that.

*I'm pretty sure that's really President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush in the movie.

*The terrorists' scheme to get aboard the ship actually makes a lot of sense. After all, Cher filmed the music video for "If I Could Turn Back Time" on the USS Missouri when it was docked in California.

*There's a really creative henchman death involving an I-beam.

*A first-time killer (who starts out the film as a pacifist no less) reacts with all the emotional trauma one would expect when they have to kill a terrorist.

The Bad

*The amount of skill required to hijack a U.S. Navy battleship is the kind of thing Soviet special forces or some other high-end military force would have. The terrorists seem like a bunch of mercenaries initially recruited for a CIA black-ops scheme or even a multinational criminal gang (there's a Eurotrash-looking guy, a Japanese guy, what sound like some Italians, a British guy, etc) led by what seems like a disgruntled U.S. Special Forces officer rather than a coherent unit. The recruiting effort needed to collect the people with all the necessary skill-sets from different nations, armies, etc. would raise all kinds of red flags, especially given the villain's immediate back-story, and then there's getting so many different people to actually work together.

It would make more sense if the perpetrators were some Soviet military or KGB die-hards who know they're on the way out (if this is in the fall or winter of 1991 the coup against Gorbachev has already failed and the USSR is clearly doomed) and are looking to secure their retirement if not take revenge on the Yankee capitalists. They'd be a coherent unit trained and working together for years with espirit de corps rather than a bunch of mercs who might balk at something so extreme and dangerous as taking on the U.S. Navy and simply take the money or some other goodies and run at first sign of trouble or before they even go through the mission. Mercenaries have historically not been very reliable soldiers..

Of course, given how dangerous a company or even a platoon of Spetsnaz would be, it'd be a much different and probably much shorter movie if the baddie rank-and-file were professional soldiers and not thug and merc types.

*Steven Seagal is a capable fighter, but he's not a very good actor. His delivery isn't very strong most of the time. Since he's the lead actor, this kind of presents a problem. :(

*Ryback gives a gun to a character who's an incoherent and frightened mess and expects them to be able to use it intelligently after having a couple of the gun's functions explained to them. One would think a trained soldier would know better. Of course he promptly uses this person as an ammo mule, so maybe he only intended them to actually use the weapon as a last resort.

*Do any of the terrorists have grenades? If they had grenades to use themselves, or if Ryback managed to snag a couple off the terrorists he kills, a lot of those gunfight scenes would be very difficult. Given how Strannix is a black-ops type, I would imagine his people would be carrying a bit more than small arms just in case.

*At one point Ryback basically abandons a bunch of his allies to go gallivanting around with only one other character, never mind that the terrorists still have at least half their numbers.

*A major plot point involves Tomahawk missiles having self-destruct codes the captain of the ship can trigger. I'm pretty sure those don't actually exist in real life--if an enemy got hold of them, they could use them to prevent a ship from effectively using its weapons. It'd be better if they were still relying on targeting data from the Missouri's radars or satellite inputs and could be redirected using the ship's fire control, but even that would be a problem.

*There's a love-interest plot involving Ryback, but there's no foreshadowing of it or any depth to the relationship. Some kind of weird trauma-bonding perhaps? It'd be more interesting if they avoided it completely, since a lot of action films have a token romantic plot and this would be different.

The Verdict

Fun, but more than a little bit nonsensical. See it once. 7.5 out of 10.