JURASSIC WORLD (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Science-Fiction Violence and Peril

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Directed by: Colin Trevorrow

Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson & Judy Greer

In 1993, Steven Spielberg brought dinosaurs to life with JURASSIC PARK. That film was a smash hit, broke records, and wowed audiences everywhere. Seeing as the movie was such a huge success, it’s not surprising that the studio wanted a sequel. In 1997, we were given THE LOST WORLD. Though that movie was far darker than the original, it lost its sense of fun and adventure. The end result was a mediocre flick and in 2001, JURASSIC PARK III effectively killed whatever potential was left for a fourth film. So now, in 2015, we have been given a bit of a reboot. JURASSIC WORLD can be taken as a direct sequel to the original film, but can also fit into the series continuity for those who want it to. It doesn’t really matter, because JURASSIC WORLD feels like the sequel that LOST WORLD should have been. It’s not as perfect as Spielberg’s classic, but is a lot of fun nonetheless!

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Over two decades have passed since John Hammond’s prehistoric theme park venture failed. Thanks to the magic of science and money, Jurassic World stands in its place. A much grander version of what Hammond envisioned, this dinosaur theme park is set up with rides, cloned dino attractions, and even a Sea World-like area. Zach and Gary are two brothers visiting their aunt Claire, who happens to be the park operations manager. What they don’t know is that Claire and a group of scientists have created a secret new attraction for potential investors. Instead of simply cloning yet another extinct species, the scientists have spliced together a new dino-hybrid: Indominus Rex. This new monster is bigger, scarier, and smarter than the other dinos in the park and as a result, it breaks out of its pen. Since this is a JURASSIC PARK film, you can pretty much guess where things go from there.

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Instead of following the “small band of people stranded on an island populated by dangerous dinosaurs” formula used in the previous sequels, WORLD puts a new spin on things by placing us in the active park. We get a glimpse into how this theme park functions and are shown various attractions as well as some behind-the-scenes politics that led to the creation of Indominus Rex. A lot of the humor in this film comes from the typical theme park clichés being placed into the attractions of cloned dinosaurs. Two of my favorite bits includes a disgruntled teenage ride operator and a petting zoo of baby herbivores, but there are also various live-feedings (including a sort-of Shamu show featuring a large Mosasaur) as well. Seeing as Jurassic World is a theme park loaded with patrons, it only makes sense that when the mayhem breaks loose…things get crazy. One particular sequence is out-and-out chaos and I loved it (you’ll know it when you see it).

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Where JURASSIC WORLD falters is in its characters. The cast is full of A-list talent, but the roles they’re playing don’t seem like real people. Chris Pratt is enjoyable as a charismatic Velociraptor handler, but seems to be suffering a case of traileritis. By this I mean that he delivers a lot of his lines in a cryptic voice that seems specifically made for trailers and commercials…and indeed, most of these lines can be seen in the vast amount of promotional material for this movie. Like I said, traileritis. Meanwhile, Bryce Dallas Howard is one-dimensional as the shrewish Claire. Since she has no kids of her own and is a businesswoman, that is automatically supposed to make her into a cold and uncaring person. Yes, she eventually goes through an arc, but it still feels unconvincing. B.D. Wong reprises his role as a scientist from the original and seems to be having a lot of fun with it. Irrfan Khan is a welcome face as the park’s owner. Meanwhile, Vincent D’Onofrio is a solid antagonist who has motivations that are original to this series. In fact, I’m surprised that it took the JURASSIC franchise three films before finally including someone like D’Onofrio’s character. The best performances come from Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson as the vacationing siblings. They come off as convincing and likable brothers.

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Of course, the real stars are the dinosaurs themselves. While it seems like a combination of puppetry and CGI has been used once again, it all pretty much looked like CGI to me. It’s convincing enough for the monster movie that JURASSIC WORLD is, because that’s essentially what it all boils down to. There are lots of other dinosaurs, but the Indominus Rex is the big beast here. Frankly, I thought Indominus’s design was sort of bland, but it remains scary during a number of scenes. As with all of the JURASSIC movies, the best bits involve the Velociraptors and they are at full intimidating force here. The T-Rex even shows up for a couple of memorable moments. I can’t imagine many fans being disappointed with the finale that’s hugely satisfying and drew collective gasps and cheers from the audience in the packed theater.

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It may suffer from bland characters and boring creature design on the main monster, but JURASSIC WORLD is a blast of fun that should please even the most skeptical of fans to some extent. This is the JURASSIC PARK sequel that we should have received the first time around. It’s not nearly as perfect as Spielberg’s original, but it’s a hugely enjoyable summer blockbuster. The humor works. There are scenes of chaos that got big audience reactions. Dinosaurs chase and eat people. What more do you want or expect?

Grade: B+

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence throughout, and brief Suggestive Content

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Directed by: Shane Black

Written by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau & Ben Kingsley

IRON MAN 3 is the first major release from Marvel since THE AVENGERS reigned in May 2012. It also marks a few daring moves for the studio that seemed content to play it safe with their superheroes in the past. It’s Marvel’s darkest movie and consequently the best IRON MAN film yet! This almost doesn’t feel like a superhero film and I mean that in the best possible way. IRON MAN 3 feels like a James Bond film crossed paths with a Marvel production and this is the result.

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Following fresh off the events of THE AVENGERS, Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD. After al, he did witness other worlds, demigods and aliens (let alone fought against them with other superheroes to save the world). In order to cope with these new revelations, Stark has taken to long sleepless periods (up to three full days worth of time) creating new Iron Man suits and inventions. This puts extra stress on Pepper, his significant other, who was already putting up with his erratic narcissistic lifestyle. A new foe emerges in the Mandarin, a formidable terrorist issuing random attacks in different parts of the USA and Pakistan. After one of his friends in injured in an attack, Tony Stark finds himself being targeted by the Mandarin and it appears that there is far more at work than what appears at first.

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IRON MAN was a good origin story for this superhero. IRON MAN 2 was an okay sequel, but seemed like too much set up for THE AVENGERS and not enough Iron Man. However, IRON MAN 3 delivers the sequel that the second installment should have been. There are references to what happened in New York in THE AVENGERS, but this movie seemed almost like a self-contained story that focused on the battle between Iron Man and a cunning villain. The plot is smart and has a few twists, but also knows when and where to place the action scenes and humor. There are a good amount of laughs to be had in parts of IRON MAN 3 and the fight scenes are just plain cool.

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Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle are back in the roles they played so well before. Rebecca Hall (THE PRESTIGE, DORIAN GRAY) shows up as one of Stark’s former lovers and Guy Pearce plays a rival scientist who may be hiding more than a few skeletons in his closet very well. Meanwhile, Ben Kingsley shows up as the Mandarin. If there’s any performance to be ridiculed in this film, it belongs to Ben Kingsley. You’ll know why when you see it, but it’s not bad per se, just wasn’t what I was expecting at all from the character.

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IRON MAN 3 takes some unexpected turns along the way (one of which is clearly owed to BATMAN BEGINS). This is the most obvious twist of the bunch too and the film spent a little too much time spelling out (in case some of the audience members didn’t get it from the first two times it’s shown). Some of the logic used in this world seems a bit silly when one tries to analyze it, but the viewer should also consider that we are watching a story in a world filled with frozen patriots, demigods, and aliens. So you kind of have to erase a bit of logic from your mind when entering this film.

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With these criticisms in mind, the film is still a “superhero vs. villain” story and it marks the first time Iron Man has faced off alone against someone with actual powers. The movie never loses its speed and even though it’s the longest running IRON MAN film thus far (a bit over two hours), it felt like it went by at a perfect pace. It seems that since Marvel has gotten all of the origin stories over with for each of its main heroes, they are now willing to shake things up in their universe and take some risks. This benefits both the film and the cast greatly. The ending of IRON MAN 3 makes some bold moves and I can’t wait to see where the character of Tony Stark goes from here on. Color me officially excited for the upcoming THOR sequel, CAPTAIN AMERICA sequel and the second AVENGERS movie. It’s looking to be a brave new direction of Marvel Studios and I like what I’m seeing a lot.

Grade: B+

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Terror and Violence, and Thematic Elements

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Directed by: James Wan

Written by: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey & Steve Coulter

Warning! The review contains SPOILERS for INSIDIOUS. If you have not seen INSIDIOUS yet, do yourself a favor: go buy it, turn out the lights, crank up the sound, and prepare to witness one of the scariest horror movies of the new millennium. If you have seen INSIDIOUS, then feel free to read on!

In 2010, a little movie called INSIDIOUS premiered at TIFF and made huge waves in the critical world. In 2011, the film was put into wide release and grossed almost 100 million. This was particularly impressive when you consider that INSIDIOUS was budgeted just over 1 million. Hollywood took the money as a sign that a sequel was necessary and two years later, we have INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2. One thing that should be praised to the heavens about this sequel is that it isn’t necessarily the same thing over again. Wan and Whannell actually try to take the newly born franchise into a different direction and it works with mixed results.

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After a flashback sequence set in the 1980’s involving a young Josh (father from the first film) and a séance gone awry, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 picks right back up where the first film left off. The Lambert family just got their son back from the ghostly netherworld known as The Further, but the murder of Elise (the elderly psychic) has the family shaken up. While the police investigate their home, the Lamberts stay at Josh’s mother’s home. Turns out that the supernatural forces that began terrorizing the family aren’t done with them quite yet. Renai (Josh’s wife) begins seeing ghostly apparitions around the home and Josh isn’t acting like his usual self. For those who have seen the original film, you may already have a good idea why Josh is being so weird, but let me assure you that you don’t have the full picture. Things go from bad to worse, grim grinning ghosts come out to do more than just socialize, and some seriously freaky scenarios occur!

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To re-examine the first INSIDIOUS reveals that the ghosts were plentiful and there was the constant threat of a demonic presence throughout. By the time the third act had broken out, Josh had ventured into The Further to find his son, while all hell was breaking loose in the Lambert household. The last-minute revelation that Josh had brought back the evil spirit of an old woman, who had haunted him as a child, wound up being one of the scariest twist-endings in quite some time. So we pretty much have a good idea who’s responsible for Elise’s demise, but CHAPTER 2 does a great job of ramping up the tension in spite of that.

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This sequel is actually more focused on two spirits in particular. The creepy old woman inhabiting Josh’s body and another freaky apparition who’s appearing constantly around the house. In this sense, it’s more confined in that we don’t see many other spirits and it’s more of a straightforward possession story with a dash of haunted house thrown in. The script is still smart and has some neat twists thrown in. There are some genuine scares throughout and the atmosphere is thick with dread. CHAPTER 2 is spooky fun while it lasts, but it’s not without some major faults.

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There is some really awful dubbing in the opening flashbacks of Lin Shaye’s voice coming out of a much younger actress and it takes the viewer out of what could have been a much creepier scene. The logic behind this decision doesn’t make much sense. Our voices evolve as we grow older. It would have made just as much sense to dub an adult Patrick Wilson over the actor portraying him as a child. Then there are some of the scares that don’t work too well. Some of the typical gotcha moments that have no place in an INSIDIOUS movie. The first film made you jump because there were real scary things to the scares. In this sequel, there are shocks that feel so predictable that they’re dusty. Finally, the conclusion seems a bit half-hearted. There was massive build up to the finale and nothing much came from it. The final seconds feel phoned in as if begging for a CHAPTER 3, which I wouldn’t really welcome after seeing 2.

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The best scares do come from a new character introduced in this sequel. Elise’s former assistant, who communicates with the dead by rolling lettered dice and spelling out the words that come in those letters. This provides some really intense moments, particularly in a confrontation between him and a possessed Josh. Credit where credit is due, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 doesn’t merely retread old ground and continues the story in an interesting way. I just wish that some of the ideas turned out better on film than they probably did in script form. This is said to be Wan’s last horror movie. After viewing this and the overrated critically acclaimed THE CONJURING, I think the man needs to get away from horror, at least for a little while.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 is entertaining and spooky fun, but that’s about all it winds up being. I expected more, but this is okay. Take that for what you will.

Grade: B-

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