THE FOUNDER (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief Strong Language

Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Written by: Robert D. Siegel

Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern & Patrick Wilson

You might be saying: “Really? A biopic about the guy who made McDonald’s? That doesn’t sound too exciting. What’s next? A biopic about Burger King, Carl’s Jr., KFC, or Wendy’s? ” Oh, ye of little faith dear reader, because it turns out that THE FOUNDER is a deliberately ironic title. Before it was globally clogging arteries, McDonald’s was actually a small little restaurant in California. This fast food joint originally had nothing to do with the main character of this biopic. THE FOUNDER lays out the sleazy success story of Ray Kroc, a man who is often mistakenly credited as McDonald’s creator. It’s a wholly compelling ride through a “rat eat rat” world of business, a look at fast food’s revolutionary effect, and a character study of a total scumbag.

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a struggling, over-the-hill salesman. When a special sales order catches his interest, Ray finds himself in San Bernardino and eats at unconventional restaurant McDonald’s. This business’s revolutionary techniques capture Ray’s interest and he eagerly proposes to franchise the company with the McDonalds brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch). As time goes on and the burger business is booming, Ray finds himself struggling with the terms of his contract. Soon enough, Ray employs some rather shady means of trying to screw the brothers out of their own business. We get to witness Ray’s back-stabbing moves, snide comments, and borderline illegal strategies. This is all very interesting, entertaining, and mostly (about 90%) true.

Michael Keaton has been a winning streak of performances lately. After portraying a desperate artist in BIRDMAN and a motivated journalist in SPOTLIGHT, Keaton plays Ray Kroc as an all-out asshole. What’s interesting is how Keaton slowly eases the viewer into Ray’s mental state and ambitious nature. We start this film feeling for him and sympathizing with his plight. As the money flows in and his greed grows, Ray’s morals are tossed by the wayside and he becomes a pretty much irredeemable character. Keaton makes this salesman-turned-“founder” so compelling that you likely won’t notice the shift in Ray’s attitude until you’re too far gone in the story. Kroc was a fascinating real-life character and Keaton plays him to perfection.

Though their importance and screen time range, the supporting cast does an excellent job with the material as well. Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are great as the McDonalds brothers. Lynch is able to portray a softer and more vulnerable side that I haven’t seen from him before, while Offerman is great as the more strict and defensive brother of the two. Their sibling chemistry is believable and the pair provide two sympathetic antagonists in Kroc’s high-rising path. Patrick Wilson and B.J. Novak are solid as two of Kroc’s business partners. Meanwhile, Laura Dern plays Kroc’s neglected wife and receives some of Keaton’s more emotionally abusive moments.

The look of THE FOUNDER is great because it nicely captures the 1950s time period. The script slightly glamorizes Kroc’s rise to power, even at the cost of trampling on plenty of people beneath him. What’s even more impressive is how this film really shows small details in the fast food revolution. The McDonalds brothers were geniuses with their intricate serving system and strived to maintain a strong code of ethics in their kitchens. In Ray Kroc’s hands, those ethics flew right out the door. It’s fascinating to think about how many fast food restaurants today wouldn’t exist without the brothers’ brilliance and Ray’s immoral sense of constant persistence.

THE FOUNDER is sure to linger the minds of those who watch it. This film works as three things: a drama about the fast food revolution, a dark look into the back-stabbing business world, and a character study of a rather unsavory scumbag. However, the script occasionally bites off more than it can chew. There are a few events that are mentioned in passing and then rushed by for the sake of time. While two hours is probably the ideal length of time for this biopic, there are a couple of spots that seem to move a tad too quickly. These hiccups in pacing don’t detract from the film’s many positives though. This is essentially the fast food version of THERE WILL BE BLOOD. THE FOUNDER might as well have been titled THERE WILL BE BURGERS. If that sounds up your alley, THE FOUNDER will probably satisfy your appetite for a compelling biopic!

Grade: A-

JURASSIC PARK (1993)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Science Fiction Terror

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Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Michael Crichton & David Koepp

(based on the novel JURASSIC PARK by Michael Crichton)

Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Wayne Knight & Samuel L. Jackson

JURASSIC PARK holds a special place in my heart. Aside from a couple of Disney movies, this is one of the first films I have vivid memories of watching. When the movie wasn’t scarring me with its scary moments, I was taken on a cinematic adventure that I enjoyed over and over again (damn near wearing out the VHS copy that my family had). It’s been years since I had seen this 1993 dinosaur flick. I figured it was time to revisit the franchise with an approaching fourth film on the horizon. No sugar-coating in any way, the story of JURASSIC PARK basically boils down to a good, old-fashioned, science-gone-wrong monster movie. The monsters just happen to be dinosaurs and the result just happens to be one of the greatest cinematic adventures ever crafted!

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In case you’ve somehow been left in the dark about the general premise of this movie, JURASSIC PARK is about a fantastical theme park where dinosaurs literally come to life. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler are two romantically involved paleontologists invited by mad scientist Dr. Hammond to certify that his newly created island theme park is safe. Along with a handful of other specialists, the scientist couple are wowed by living, breathing clones of prehistoric animals. However, we wouldn’t have much of an exciting adventure if this movie was merely about a group of folks casually walking through a theme park looking at dinosaur exhibits. So thanks to a security glitch, electric fences shut down and dinosaurs freely roam the park…which leads to people dying. Grant, Sattler, Hammond, and the rest must fight for their lives to survive the massive amusement park turned bloody hunting ground.

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Make no qualms about it, JURASSIC PARK is a simple story. It’s an effectively crafted one as master filmmaker Steven Spielberg manages to capture the same sense of slow-building suspense that he did in JAWS. We know we will get a glimpse of all of these dinosaurs that we hear details about, but we don’t know exactly when it will happen. The viewer’s patience is constantly rewarded with multiple big reveals spread throughout the film (one of which doesn’t even hit until the final 30 minutes). Without playing all of his cards at once, Spielberg and screenwriters Crichton and Koepp maintain a solid sense of excitement all through the entire film.

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The 63 million budget (at the time, this number was huge) is brought to the screen as this film feels like a window into another world. The location of Jurassic Park looks real enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone actually stumbled across it. Little details are evident in small set design decisions. The characters populating this world feel genuine. At first, I felt like Alan was a bit of a one-dimensional protagonist at the start of the film. However, the character development given through small interactions and brief comments give all the character information needed about every single person in this story. A perfect example of this comes in Alan’s crotchety attitude towards Hammond’s grandchildren, which seems quietly annoyed upon meeting them and rapidly grows into concern as prehistoric shit hits the fan. I can’t think of a character that I actively disliked or thought was performed poorly by a cast member. A questionable exception would be the game warden’s reaction of saying “clever girl” in the face of imminent death which winds up being silly and awesome at the same time.

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On the main subject of the dinosaurs themselves, the combination of CGI and practical effects still holds up perfectly. The movie could have simply relied on the carnivores running loose, but there’s equal time devoted to the beautiful herbivore dinosaurs as well (including a great tree-top sequence with a Brachiosaurus). This decision only heightens the frightening encounters with the man-eating monsters. Though Steven Spielberg considered the impressive T-Rex as the “star of the show,” I actually find the smaller beasts to be scary. The poison-spitting Dilophosaurus is given one moment of screen time, but it’s definitely a memorable moment that will have young kids and grown adults screaming in terror. To me, the main attraction of JURASSIC PARK is the Velociraptors. A lot of dialogue and small scenes are devoted to building up these fearsome predators and they certainly don’t disappoint when unleashed at full force, becoming the main antagonists in the final act.

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JURASSIC PARK is truly one of the huge stand-out moments of film history. Besides introducing revolutionary special effects onto the screen (bringing convincing dinosaurs to life), the story is terrifically exciting and endlessly rewatchable. This is a creature feature, but it’s one of the absolute best. JURASSIC PARK holds up flawlessly as a masterful cinematic adventure to this day!

Grade: A+

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