Jurassic World

tn_jurassicworldLet’s face it, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD means this is an all time great movie summer. Whatever else comes out, who gives a shit. Irrelevant. It could be nothing but THE COBBLER coming out every week until September and it would still be one for the record books. Therefore it seems weird to be praising a more normal, not world-shattering part 4 movie in this same summer, but I’m an honest man so I have to do it. JURASSIC WORLD is a solid, fun sequel and although I’m not sure I liked it quite as much as I liked LOST WORLD when I first saw that, I think this is the best of the sequels.

But Vern, you’re saying, THE LOST WORLD sucks. Hold onto your buts. I admit that my tastes in Jurassic Parks are different from most people around here. So I’m sure you will disagree with me that this is clearly, by far, for sure without even a remote question the best of the non-Spielberg-directed JP joints on every possible level forever and always amen may the force be with you and I hope they burn in hay-ell.

It’s odd that they waited 22 years to do this premise. In retrospect it seems like parts 2 and 3 were treading water trying to figure out what the hell to do in the wreckage of the actual Jurassic Park, the aftermath of the failed pre-opening in part 1. This time it’s a natural extension of that first concept. What would it be like if they actually got their shit together and opened the park, and made it work for a while and become a popular vacation destination before nature finds a way to fuck it up? Isn’t it time we actually saw Ian Malcolm’s prediction of the Pirates of the Caribbean eating the tourists? (read the rest of this shit…)

Deliver Us From Evil

"You! Guy possessed by a demon! You're comin with me, pal!"
“You! Guy possessed by a demon! You’re comin with me, pal!”

DELIVER US FROM EVIL takes place in a horror movie Bronx. It’s all gloomy cinematography of wet streets at night, filthy, decrepit apartments, an ancient Latin invocation carved into walls or flesh. A malevolent demon monster or whatever is spookifying the place, so wherever our hero goes the power cuts out or the light bulbs burn out or they flicker like a strobelight (sometimes for an entire knife fight scene).

Also I think the filmatists are trying to play off of our primal fear of animals, so the Iraq War prologue features tarantulas, a snake and a bat. Another early scene involves a zoo with the animals loose (and lights out, of course) and the heroes get chased by a bunch of lions. Later a major piece of evidence is a security camera tape of a dude talking to a lion. And you got your usual cat scares like in all movies and also a crucified kitten and if you saw the trailer you’ll remember the scene of the hero’s daughter in bed at night getting spooked by her weird hooting owl doll. Sadly that James-Wan-esque scene climaxes with a jack-in-the-box with blood on its face. The ol’ evil clown standby. Boo.

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“At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi.”

Patrolling this world we have macho NYPD Sergeant Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana). He was raised Catholic, sure, but doesn’t believe in all that mumbo jumbo, etc. He’s renowned by his colleagues for catching a child killer with the first draft name “Marvin the Molester” and punching his face to death. He works too much his wife is pregnant she never sees him when he is home it’s like he’s not even there she never knows if she’s gonna get that call in the middle of the night he missed his daughter’s birthday she cried herself to sleep, all that. But somehow every case he gets connects to this weird supernatural thing with a mysterious guy who walks around acting scary with his Darth Maul hoodie up at all times even though he’s never in the numerous scenes where it’s pouring rain.

Sarchie also has a wiseass partner with seven deadly sins themed tattoos who carries two big knives that he uses to fight suspects instead of guns which in my opinion is not regulation. He’s played by Joel McHale from Community and the local Seattle sketch show that Bill Nye the Science Guy started on, Almost Live!. I know from an interview with director/co-writer Scott Derrickson that McHale has been his best friend for years and supposedly this character is more like the real him than anything he’s ever played. Apparently he really is obsessed with knives and maybe even wears a backwards baseball hat and sleeveless shirts all the time. Still, I had a hard time accepting the funny asshole guy from TV as this David Ayer type character, even when he tried to do an accent.

But he does wear an Alice in Chains t-shirt out of hometown pride so that’s good I think. (read the rest of this shit…)

Forty Guns

tn_fortygunsIn the great opening scene of Sam Fuller’s FORTY GUNS, three brothers are coming down the trail on a wagon and collide head on with a menacing army of gunmen on horses, marching two by two in a long column, all following a woman on a white stallion (a “High ridin’ woman with a whip,” according to a song we hear later). They have no choice but to stop and just sit there watching, somewhat amused as their horses freak out. The camera follows the woman and her army and the title comes onscreen. Those must be the forty guns.

One of those brothers on the wagon is Griff Bonnell (Barry Sullivan), “a legal killer for hire” working for the Attorney General’s office. The other two brothers are his second gun Wes (Gene Barry, WAR OF THE WORLDS), and their little brother Chico (Robert Dix), who wants to help too but Griff won’t let him. I’m not sure why he brought him. Was he supposed to be babysitting? (read the rest of this shit…)

Congo

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RELEASE DATE: May 19
RELEASE DATE: June 9

Here’s a funny thing that was different back in 1995: Bruce Campbell was so worshipped as a cult star that the idea of him being in a blockbuster movie was thrilling to people. He had done the EVIL DEAD trilogy and the MANIAC COP pictures and did a couple seasons of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. but that didn’t really catch on in the mainstream. And he seemed like their secret but somehow they wanted everybody to know. He made it to the semi-big-ish time with little cameos in DARKMAN and THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, but people still wanted him to star in some big movie and be the next, I don’t know, Kurt Russell or somebody.

And then he was in the trailer for this new Michael Crichton movie CONGO. Had the misguided dreams of horror nerds come true at last? Would they be able to finally share their hero not just with the Johnny-come-latelies who saw ARMY OF DARKNESS before the other ones, but with the whole world?

Well, the fact that the camera zoomed in on his screaming face during the trailer seemed to indicate that he wasn’t gonna make it to the end. Still, word of disappointment spread fast when people saw the movie and discovered that he bites it in the opening scene. The whole movie is about a rescue mission to come find him, even though we got a pretty idea they’re gonna be rescuing a dead body. (They do manage to find John Hawkes still alive, but catatonic, and then he freaks out and dies.) Anyway, I mention this movie to people 20 years later, that’s still the first thing that comes up. The wound has not healed. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

tn_lostworldMan, this review has been in development almost as long as JURASSIC WORLD. After I typed this up I found an old version I wrote in a notebook a couple years ago, when I had mentioned liking THE LOST WORLD and readers wanted me to defend my position. I went in and stole a few phrases out of it, like I found them encased in amber.

I always thought THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK was a solid part 2 to a very enjoyable part 1. Maybe it helps that I didn’t consider the first one to be such a classic at the time. I loved it as a fun execution of a cool gimmick, but I was comparing it to JAWS and that’s a way to make it seem kinda dumb. Over the years, as it’s continued to hold up and be better than many similar movies that have come after, I respect it more. Even still, I enjoy watching part 2 and I think it’s miles better than Part three-claw-scratches. Much of the world disagrees with me, though, so here is my brilliant Perry Mason style defense. Or something.

This is the only non-INDIANA-JONES sequel that Mr. Spielberg has directed, and it opens with pure Spielberg filmatism. Ominously crashing waves intimidate the frame as a rich British couple, their young daughter (holy shit, I never realized that was 10,000 BC‘s Camilla Belle, in her movie before Seagal’s THE PATRIOT) and a pack of yacht crewmen stop for an impromptu picnic on the shore of an unsettled island. It must be nice to be rich, be able to do anything you want. But next time don’t do it on the island that Jurassic Park used to breed their dinosaurs. When Mom worries about the girl running off to play, an obvious concern would be the violent tides, but of course the real threat comes from within the island. She meets a tiny, quick-moving lizard. “What are you, a bird or something?” It’s a cute little thing, and she feeds it a piece of meat from her sandwich. But then all the sudden there are more of them, and they want some too. And next thing you know there’s a swarm, and they’re jumping onto her like piranhas on a cow, and she’s screaming…

Later in the movie Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm makes fun of the new characters being in awe of the dinosaurs. “Oh, yeah. Ooh, ahh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and, um, screaming.” But this scene zooms in on Mom’s face as she screams in terror… which dissolves into Malcolm on the subway yawning. I guess Sam Neill and Laura Dern probly turned the movie down, but it was a smart idea to turn the cynical wisecracker and chief-worrier into the lead. He wears a cool guy leather jacket, gets recognized on the subway, gets to tell off the new InGen head for covering up what happened, and Jurassic Park founder John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) when he tells him that dinosaurs have survived on one of the islands and become their own eco-system. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tomorrowland

tn_tomorrowlandWalt Disney himself is never seen or mentioned in TOMORROWLAND, but it’s a fantasy adventure based on his belief in the future as a place of infinite promise and wonder and shit. It’s a story about kids finding a secret hidden city founded by great visionaries of the past (Edison, Verne [not me, the other one], Tesla, the guy that invented the Etch-a-sketch I think) as a hope for a better world. It’s all glorious curvy buildings, flying monorails, friendly robots and floating swimming pools.

One kid named Frank (Thomas Robinson as the kid version of George Clooney) goes there to try out his home-made jetpack. Another named Casey (Britt Robertson, SCREAM 4) is intrigued by their space program. The crew she sees going on a spaceship are young enough to be dropped off by their parents. At least half of them are women and I think only one white kid. The movie’s dedication to diversity and internationalism seems very of-the-moment, but it also relates to one of Tomorrowland’s secret entrances: inside the original 1964 World’s Fair version of It’s a Small World. Wait a minute, It’s a Small World is in Fantasyland, not Tomorrowland. Get your fuckin geography straight, Hollywood. (read the rest of this shit…)

Waist Deep

tn_waistdeepBefore Tyrese found a comfortable place as a supporting player in the FAST AND FURIOUS and TRANSFORMERSES pictures he was just another model and R&B singer trying to prove himself as an actor. I remember liking him in John Singleton’s BABY BOY, which at least at the time (2001) I thought was an underrated companion piece to BOYZ N THE HOOD. In 2003 Singleton had him as the Vin Diesel replacement in 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, in 2007 he did TRANSFORMERS, and so far he’s done a total of five sequels to those two movies.

So WAIST DEEP (2006) is kind of an anomaly in the middle there because it’s pretty much the only straight up Tyrese vehicle, with elements of 2 FAST but a seriousness level leaning a little more toward BABY BOY. Like in both movies he plays a struggling Los Angeles native, like in 2 FAST he’s an ex-con and he’s trying to make a new life. His name is Otis or O2, he’s a single father out on parole and his car gets jacked with his son (H. Hunter Hall, BLACK NATIVITY) in the back seat. You’d think the thieves would want to dump the kid off immediately, but instead they bring him to Big Meat (The Game), psychotic kingpin of “the notorious gang The Outlaw Syndicate” who incorrectly believes O2 still has the money from the robbery he went down for, and demands it as ransom. Or at least that’s what his shitty brother Lucky (Larenz Tate, CRASH) claims, but it kinda seemed like he might’ve been using the situation to pay off his own debts. I’m not sure. (read the rest of this shit…)

Die Hard With a Vengeance

tn_dhwav

RELEASE DATE: May 19
RELEASE DATE: May 19

“But I thought this was a currency exchange!”

In kicking off my summer of 1995 retrospective I made the grave error of skipping a May 19th release that very likely is the movie of that summer, one that is widely loved (especially around here) but sometimes forgotten in the lists of great films of the ’90s. Of course I don’t have to remind you guys about DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, you know about it. But I neglected to remember that my reviews of the original DIE HARD trilogy were written 15 years ago when I was taking the first steps on my journey to cinematic enlightenment. In other words I was kind of a dummy. So I owe it to myself and to society to try again.

The main thing that makes WITH A VENGEANCE stand out from the other DIE HARD sequels is the strong filmatism of director John McTiernan at his peak. The opening two minutes is a perfect sample, like when the one guy in the coke deal lets the other guy dip his finger in and taste the product. We see the Brooklyn Bridge on a summer day. Then the words “DIE HARD” whoosh onto the screen. This is DIE HARD but it’s a new location, new time of year, new time of day. Then the words fly away and are replaced by a much larger” WITH A VENGEANCE,” slamming across the screen, then shooting right at us. This is a sequel that’s aware of the power of it’s title, so it’s unashamed to smash it into our eyes with a sound effect, to cockily fill the whole screen with it.

Then we get a beautiful montage of New York City set to “Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful. The sun glimmering on reflective buildings. Sidewalks filled with people walking to work. Cars and buses and delivery trucks. These look like real commuters. Documentary footage. An accurate representation of regular people starting their day. A nice day, too. But abruptly, mid-lyric, a department store explodes, sending clouds of dust and wreckage into the street, flipping over cars and trucks parked in front. (read the rest of this shit…)

Johnny Mnemonic

tn_johnnymnemonic

RELEASE DATE: May 26
RELEASE DATE: May 26

When we talk about JOHNNY MNEMONIC now it’s usually with a smirk. Rapid advances in the technology that it speculated about have made some of its vision of 2021 goofily dated. Star Keanu Reeves (BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA) was still solidifying as an action star and brought a funny surfer dude lilt to his slick underworld messenger character Johnny. And even at the time it was considered a failed moviefication of William Gibson’s “cyberpunk” style of sci-fi, which had a strong reputation as a cool, edgy type of literature as opposed to the old timey painted cover fantasies of previous eras. But they turned it into what was seen as some cheesy Hollywood bullshit.

Since the mid ’80s, tales have been told of the brave souls trying to adapt Gibson’s debut novel Neuromancer into a major motion picture (directors attached have included Chuck Russell, Chris Cunningham, Joseph Kahn and Vincenzo Natali). But this short story adaptation, directed by installation artist/occasional music video director Robert Longo and written by Gibson himself, beat it to the screen by 20 years and counting. They just had to replace the mirror-eyed “razor girl” character Molly Millions in the story with the regular-eyed Jane, because Molly was tied up with the rights for Neuromancer, since she’s in that too.

Gibson and Longo originally set out to make a $1.5 million black and white sci-fi noir, but couldn’t get the funding, so they agreed to a $20 million version with TriStar Pictures, whose other productions that year were THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, HIDEAWAY, 3 NINJAS KNUCKLE UP, JURY DUTY, MAGIC IN THE WATER, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, NEVER TALK TO STRANGERS and JUMANJI. As artistic types and Hollywood rookies they may have been out of their depth trying to make a summer blockbuster with the star of SPEED, and Longo didn’t get his cut anyway. It turned out undeniably messy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Casper

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RELEASE DATE: May 26
RELEASE DATE: May 26

I got a feeling a couple of you probly grew up liking 1995’s CASPER, the big Universal movie adaptation of the famous friendly ghost of comics and cartoons, and you’re gonna tell me it’s pretty good. But if so I will disagree. In my opinion it’s not cuttin it.

Why would I expect otherwise? Well, #1, as a positive individual I believe in the possibility of great art coming from anywhere. #2, as a striver for excellence I expect all artists to take a shot at said greatness. #3, This was produced by Steve Spielberg, with what at the time were groundbreaking effects by Industrial Light and/or Magic. Remember, this was only two years into the modern age of digital effects started by JURASSIC PARK. Computer generated imageries were still novel and scarce. This was the first movie to have an all c.g. main character. Of course, he’s deliberately cartoony, and transparent to boot, so it wasn’t gonna blow people away with its realism. But this was about half a year before TOY STORY came out, so I’m pretty sure it was the most computer animation that had been seen in one movie up to that point. So it was new.

An older generation than you CASPERheads now talks with deep nostalgia about “Amblin movies” as this beautiful type of family-friendly movies from the ’80s. They’re specifically talking about E.T., GREMLINS, GOONIES and BACK TO THE FUTURE, I believe. And then you can pad it out with HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS and *batteries not included I guess. I doubt they mean the serious Amblin productions like THE COLOR PURPLE, CAPE FEAR, SCHINDLER’S LIST or THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (read the rest of this shit…)