Tag Archives: Chris Pratt

With Teeth

Jurassic World: Dominion

by Hope Madden

Trite. Insipid. Derivative. Safe.

Oh, that’s harsh. I may still be mad that the Jurassic franchise ruined J.A. Bayona for me. But no matter the hot garbage that was Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I vowed to keep my hopes high for Jurassic World: Dominion.

I mean, Laura Dern’s back. And Sam Neill. And Jeff Goldblum! What’s not to love?

Too much. There is unquestionably too much not to love.

Colin Trevorrow returns to helm the franchise he rebooted with the surprisingly popular 4th installment, 2015’s Jurassic World. It was fun. It had problems (it really embraced outdated ideas of gender roles and romance, for instance), but it was a decent slice of nostalgia wrapped in excellent FX.

Then came the abomination of Fallen Kingdom. So, now Trevorrow is back to rein in the franchise with the one thing that can save it: the cast we loved from Spielberg’s ’93 original.

Dern, Neill and Goldblum – as Ellie, Grant and Malcolm — are more interested in these giant hybrid locusts than in dinosaurs, though. Whereas Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) want to save their daughter.

Essentially, no one gives a shit about dinosaurs in this one.

See, that’s how zombie franchises derail. Filmmakers think we pay money to see their people on a big screen. People we can see in any movie. Hell, we can see people by turning our heads away from the screen.

Dinosaurs, please!

They’re here, and they look cool, but they’re filler. Trevorrow, co-writing with Emily Carmichael and Derek Connolly, stuffs the script with so much needless human backstory and drama that the dinosaur danger offers little more than set dressing.

In its place, loads and loads of traditional family values, Spielberg nods and nostalgia. The tone is insincere at best. Rather than feeling inspired by Spielberg, Jurassic World Dominion comes off as a hollow, cynical facsimile. It’s as authentic as a theme park ride.

Magic the Birthday Gathering

Onward

by Hope Madden

Dan Scanlon’s been kicking around Pixar for a while. He’s been part of the “Senior Creative Team” for some of the greatest animated films of the last decade: Toy Story 4, Coco, Inside Out.

He also wrote and directed Monsters University—his only w/d credits with the animation giant—and that movie is one of Pixar’s rare missteps. Can he right his footing with a fraternal quest, a hero’s journey, a nerdy road trip?

Not quite.

Onward, Scanlon’s first directing effort since that monstrous 2013 Revenge of the Nerds riff, opens where many a hero’s journey begins: a birthday. Shy elf Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) is turning 16. He’s a little awkward, and maybe even slightly embarrassed by his magic and folklore obsessed older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt).

Ian never met his dad, but his mom’s been saving a gift for just this occasion. It will set a series of actions in motion that will show the town how cool (and destructive) magic can be. But will it turn meek Ian into a hero?

Scanlon sets up a funny if slight near-satire of the mythical hero’s quest, and the most enjoyable sight gags in the film come from his eye for other (better) films in this vein: all things Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones. There’s even a bit of Guardians of the Galaxy (which feels a little too on-the-nose) and maybe just a touch of Weekend at Bernie’s.

Plus feral unicorns.

I will be honest, he had me at feral unicorns. And it is these little flourishes that Onward gets right, but that’s just not enough to carry the film.

Pratt and especially Holland – who continues a run of solid voice work (even if no one saw Dolittle or Spies in Disguise) – both find a rapport that feels honest enough to give the emotional climax a little punch.

But there’s just nothing particularly magical about this movie. The core story is paint by numbers obvious and the nods to other epic adventures become so frequent and so brazen that it’s hard to find a single inspired or original thought in the entire film.

It’s nice. It garners an amused chuckle or too, maybe even a sniffle, but you’ll be hard pressed to remember anything about it besides those unicorns, and there was no real point to those.

Brick by Brick

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

by Hope Madden

Everything is not awesome.

Don’t tell Emmet (Chris Pratt), though. Try as he might (mainly to please the ever-brooding Lucy/Wildstyle {Elizabeth Banks}), he can’t seem to take on the bleak attitudes of those populating Apocalypseburg.

Wait, didn’t that used to be called Bricksburg? It did, but that was before Dad invited kid sister to share in the Lego fun. Since that day, Emmett and his buds live Fury Road-esque in a smoldering wasteland, forever on the lookout for cute but dangerous aliens from the Sistar System.

When said aliens abscond with all the Master Builders (Lucy, Batman {Will Arnett}, Unkitty {Alison Brie}, MetalBeard {Nick Offerman}, and Benny {Charlie Day}), Emmet will have to find some grit to save his friends.

Returning writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller update their 2014 tale, this time directed by Mike Mitchell (Trolls), with some pre-adolescent angst that surprisingly mirrors the post-Trump revelation that everything really isn’t awesome.

Out there in the Sistar System, Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish, a hoot) sings in Disney Villain tones that she is definitely not at all evil. Definitely. Not at all. Meanwhile, she manipulates Batman’s inner narcissist to convince him to marry her in a ceremony Emmet is convinced will bring about Ourmomageddon.

Yes, much of the charm of the original has worn thin. To make up for it, the sequel relies too heavily on pop culture references (a good chunk of the film is about funny, chubby Chris Pratt versus chiseled, hot Chris Pratt and his spaceship full of velociraptors). An abundance of live action plus a clumsy Back to the Future gag fail to entertain as much as they do force the story forward.

Still, Lord and Miller nimbly use the “don’t lose your inner child” theme so popular in family films to cast a side glance at the current bleakening of society. Emmet tries harder and harder to lose his sweetness and optimism in favor of the more masculine stylings of his new friend Rex Dangervest (also Pratt, channeling his Guardians co-star Kurt Russell).

Of course, we all pull for the childlike Emmet to survive, just as the film seems to hope that our own positivity can survive our own Apocalypseville.





Dinosaur Poetry

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

by Hope Madden

If you don’t know director J.A. Bayona, that’s unfortunate. His first three feature films—The Orphanage, The Impossible and A Monster Calls—emphasized storytelling skills that were equal parts visceral and poetic.

He picks up the Jurassic mantle with the latest in the franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The visceral part seems likely, but dinosaur poetry? Sadly, no.

It’s been a few years since toothy, carnivorous hell broke loose on the island theme park Jurassic World. Though the un-Jurassic world has left those dinosaurs alone on their island—mostly—the island itself seems to be self-selecting extinction for the beasts, its now-active volcano an immediate threat to their very survival.

Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) wants to save them. But how? I mean, dinosaurs are really big. Many of them bite. Interacting with them has proven dangerous and silly four different times. What’s a girl to do?

Well, put on some sensible shoes, for once, and take a deal from a dying old billionaire with a Hogwarts-style estate and a guilt complex. Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), one-time partner of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough from the original film), wants to bring as many beasties as possible to a secluded island he owns where they’ll be safe.

Or is this just another example of idealistic lefties falling prey to greedy capitalists and scientists with their cadre of guns-for-hire?

It’s basically The Lost World with more volcano and less Vince Vaughn.

Howard’s Dearing—point of such contention in the previous installment with her severe hair, white pumps and icy demeanor just waiting to be melted by a real man—is simultaneously softer and stronger this time around. Howard, though, is mainly just dewy-skinned and earnest.

Chris Pratt returns as the real man in question, and he is as charmingly Chris Pratt as ever.

The real problem, besides the hackneyed and derivative story penned by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (who both penned Jurassic World, which Trevorrow directed), is Bayona’s tired direction.

Though he does not shy away from showing human carnage, there is not a fresh or compelling set piece in the film. What doesn’t feel directly lifted from earlier works plods along blandly, the only tension coming from the real curiosity about why the character hasn’t yet a) closed the door, b) climbed the ladder, c) run.

Yes, the sight of a volcano exploding on Hawaii (location for the filming) does generate some anxiety, and the sound of a child crying out near images of anything being caged against its will is even more horrific. It’s hard to credit Bayona for having his finger on the pulse of current events, though, given that he’d have completed shooting at least a year before our latest American shame.

Hell, dinosaurs would be a welcome change of pace at this point.





We Won’t Tell You Who Dies

Avengers: Infinity War

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Let’s say you recently penned Captain America: Civil War, an exceedingly successful comic book franchise effort weighed down by the mushrooming of heroes. So. Many. Heroes.

And let’s say it went so well that you are now tasked with the new Avengers movie—the film that takes very nearly every hero from your last effort and tacks on, say, 7 or 8 more. You would almost have to immediately think about thinning the herd, right?

Yes.

Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who’ve penned all three Captain America films) weave a Marvel Universe-spanning tale that asks whether or not things would work out better if we had about half as many people to deal with. That seems like writerly self-reflection right there.

Thanos (Josh Brolin, who villains it up for Deadpool 2 next) believes in balance. He’s been collecting Infinity Stones across all the different Marvel movies so he can create this Justice Friends adventure and rid the universe of half its inhabitants.

Wait, Thanos is a Guardians of the Galaxy villain, right? Does that mean Starlord’s entire rag-tag crew will join the Avengers (and Dr. Strange and Black Panther and Spiderman and on and on)? So, Chris Pratt, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth?

Correct.

All we need to defeat Thanos is Chris Pine. No way six Infinity Stones can outshine the wattage of all the Chrisses!

The screenplay offers smart comic moments that suit individual characters (Drax! Teenaged Groot!) and never undermine the drama, of which there is plenty. And balance is clearly on the minds of the writers as well as directors Anthony and Joe Russo (who helmed the last two Captain American films and love Cleveland). The storyline divides up nicely to allow the plethora of personalities to shine, each in their own way.

Though the film runs a full 2 ½ hours with the end-of-credits stinger, it never drags. Plenty happens, all of it rooted in character and held together by Brolin, who gives the film a layered epicenter through his memorable CGI/voice performance.

The Thanos facial effects rank somewhere between Planet of the Apes and Superman’s mustache, while the outlying worlds and creatures sport satisfactory shine.

But we cannot get behind what they’re doing with Hulk. Not digging it.

The very best films in the Marvel universe excel in nuanced big thinking (Black Panther, Winter Soldier) or bullseye tonality (Spider-Man: Homecoming). Infinity War gets close on both battlegrounds, but lays up to bet on its own long game.

True, that sounds like cliched word salad, but we’re steering clear of planet spoiler.

Infinity War tackles some big ideas and makes some brave choices that may cause you to reassess the entire Marvel franchise.

Not everyone will be pleased.

But props to Markus, McFeely and the Russos, for being unmoved by the Last Jedi fanboy uproar and following an ambitious vision. And their film does entertain. There’s not a minute of bloat and there is plenty of thought-provoking story likely to make this a movie earning more respect through time and space.





Awesome Mixtape: Side 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Three years ago, James Gunn and Marvel became superfriends, making use of inspired casting, crisp writing and some classic 70s jams to make Guardians of the Galaxy the most fun to be had at the movies in 2014.

But is that second mixtape ever quite as awesome as the first? Rarely, and that’s the Catch-22 of the original film’s surprising blast of space zaniness. While we never saw that one coming, this new one arrives with weighty expectations.

No, Volume 2 can’t match the ruffian charm of the first, and there are some stretches of not-much-happening-here. But Gunn’s sequel shares a lot of heart, swashbuckling visuals and more than a few solid belly laughs.

But please, stop trying to make Howard the Duck happen.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, rugged everyman dufus) and his band of misfits-for-hire run into some troubles here and there across the galaxy. Yondu (Michael Rooker – hooray!) and his crew of Ravagers are still on their tail, and some pompous gold people from Sovereign (so they’re “Sovereign citizens” – well played) want Rocket dead.

But all might be well when Quill finally meets his father, Ego (who else but Kurt Russell?) and learns the surprising news of his lineage.

What – a comic book movie inspired by daddy issues? Stop it!

It may be a logical character arc for Quill, but when one too many tragic backstories build at the expense of fun, the running time starts feeling a bit bloated. Good thing Gunn has a fine instinct for when enough is about to become too much, pivoting from the dramatics with dazzling derring-do or exactly the right gag.

He also knows we’re already invested in these characters, and doesn’t mind spending some of the capital he earned last time out.

Bradley Cooper again offers ripe sarcasm as the voice of Rocket, but Dave Bautista is the breakout comedy anchor of GOTGV2. As the hulking Drax, Bautista’s booming guffaws or deadpan one-liners are a consistent treat. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora seems the odd Guardian out, too often given little more to do than deny Quill’s claim that they’ve got a “Sam and Diane unspoken thing” goin’ on.

And then there’s Groot (Vin Diesel).

As a baby.

Baby Groot.

For the win.

There are more great classic hits to re-discover (or, for you kids, get to know), including a fantastic piece of action set against the backdrop of…wait for it…Jay and the Americans’ “Come a Little Bit Closer.” Stingers? Oh, yes, during and after the credits, so just plan on staying around til the staff sweeps you out with the candy wrappers.

Does Guardians 2 seem like a rehash? Sure, at times, and there’s never any doubt whoever’s shooting at our heroes is bound to have horrible aim. But when a rehash serves up this much wit, eye candy and escapist fun, you know what they say….

“I am Groot.”

Verdict-3-5-Stars





Lost In Space

Passengers

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from romantic comedies, it’s this: as long as two people are attractive enough and have no entanglements – no jobs, no family, no social obligations to speak of – then only the most ludicrously contrived and easily surmountable of obstacles can keep them apart.

What if we applied this concept to SciFi? Well, if you can cast the two most bankable actors in Hollywood, you might be onto something.

That something is Passengers.

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are the pair of stupidly good looking actors playing Aurora and Jim, two of the 5,000 some odd hibernating passengers on a flight to Homestead II – a colony planet about 120 years from Earth. One convenience leads to another and they both wake up a lifetime too early.

To writer Jon Spaihts’s credit, his screenplay opens up many a moral conundrum. Between his existential questions and the film’s needed action sequences, Passengers feels like a good fit for director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters, The Imitation Game).

And yet, there is no easy out these two won’t take.

Big fans of Kubrick (clearly), Tyldum and Spaihts borrow not only from the obvious source of 2001, but even more liberally from The Shining – as well as one certain foreign film that will go unnamed for fear of spoiling the early plot twist.

Intriguing? Not for long.

Passengers also nabs bits and pieces from Gravity, Titanic and Alien (none of the good parts from Alien – although since Spaihts wrote Prometheus, maybe some of this should have been expected).

So it looks good. And the characters are likeable – troublingly likeable, which ends up becoming the anchor this film can’t escape. Potentially fascinating questions are raised, then abandoned, as if it’s too dangerous to risk upsetting some focus group who came to see love at light speed.

Pratt has no problem with likability, but he again finds it hard to veer from his comfort zone of Chris Pratt. This is even more evident next to Lawrence, who can always find small ways to craft a new character, even when hamstrung by a less than challenging script such as this.

You’ll get some how-do-you-do’s to sustainability and corporate greed, but by then the course for Passengers has long been set.

Look at these two! Don’t you like them together?

Verdict-2-5-Stars





Suicide Posse

The Magnificent Seven

by Hope Madden

What if women, traumatized veterans, blacks, Asian Americans, American Indians, Mexican Americans and whatever white men we have left with a conscience exerted their inalienable right to govern a country that belongs as much to them as to anyone?

Or, what if Hollywood injected these themes into an old Western and hired fewer white guys playing Mexicans?

I give you, Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven.

Denzel Washington anchors the septet as Sam Chisolm, bounty hunter. Newly widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) approaches him with a proposition: Rid Rose Creek of its evil despot (Peter Sarsgaard, wearily evil) in return for everything they have to give.

He’s been paid a lot before, but never everything.

So, Chisolm gathers a group of amiable rogues and heads to near-certain doom in the name of justice – like a Suicide Squad that doesn’t suck.

Based on John Sturges’s 1960 adaptation of Kurasawa’s 1954 classic Seven Samurai, Fuqua’s attempt is already three steps removed from originality. More than that, it’s tough to reignite the spark that made a 50+ year old story fun in the first place.

Not that Fuqua doesn’t take some liberties. Riding alongside Chisolm is as diverse an array of gunslingers as you’re likely to find.

Byung-hun Lee’s efficient knife expert, the solitary Comanche (Martin Sensmeier), and Mexican lawbreaker Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) join haunted Confederate Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawk, voted coolest name), Chris Pratt (playing Chris Pratt) and Vincent D’Onofrio as something else entirely. As Pratt’s Faraday describes him, “That bear was wearing people clothes.”

The film’s multicultural, multi-gendered slant, while appealing, is also jarringly anachronistic. Aside from a handful of good-natured barbs from inside the posse and a bit of stink eye from some of the dodgier locals, there’s nary a racist whisper. In America, circa 1867.

Let’s not even talk about Bennett’s cleavage.

Obvious flaws aside, you can’t argue the cast. D’Onofrio’s a freak (I mean that in the best way), Lee is quietly fascinating, and Denzel has the inarguable gravitas and wicked charm to pull the plan together.

For those of you afraid that Hollywood was about to turn your favorite old Western into an action flick with one liners – I give you…

Seriously, though, Sturgis’s film is more charmingly nostalgic than it is classic – like a toothless Wild Bunch. Fuqua respects the film that inspired his, and works in affection for many of the Westerns that define the genre.

He proves again his capacity to stage action, and the film’s final hour is a mixture of genre odes and glorious choreography as explosions crash, bullets fly and projectiles project.

Which would be great – given the cast, it might even be enough – if Fuqua understood the element that separates Westerns from other genres. It’s not a gatling gun, a saloon or a lonesome street itching for a shoot-out. It’s the haunted heartbeat of the damaged gunslinger. The Magnificent Seven, though fun, is too slick and superficial to find that rhythm.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





Roar

Jurassic World

by Hope Madden

Three years ago, director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly teamed up to breathe new life into a tired SciFi concept with the almost miraculous bit of time travel fun, Safety Not Guaranteed. They re-team this year, with a host of other writers, to see what they can do with dinosaurs.

The often clever script for Jurassic World laments their position as the creators of the 4th installment of a franchise that jumped the temnodontosaurus back in ’97. The park – a successful, viable island resort some 22 years after the initial disaster – needs to constantly evolve to maintain public interest. Having learned nothing, they’re cooking up more dinosaur DNA stew and they’ve concocted something a little scary.

What follows is a mish mash of fine, viable genre tropes: militarization meets mad science and greed with lessons to be learned all around. What is at the heart of every creature feature worth its screen time? The arrogance of believing that we are in control.

Uptight control freak Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose nephews are unaccompanied in the park because she decided to work, needs to take charge when the new Frankensteinosaur breaks free and rampages the island.

She’ll need the help of beefcake Navy Seal/velociraptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) to save her nephews, the park, and the world. He will first need to remove that stick from her ass.

Pratt’s easy going charm brings a little Indiana Jones swagger to the role, but the chemistry between him and Howard is nonexistent. Perhaps that’s because of their wildly stereotyped odd couple role – something so outdated by this point it is itself a dinosaur.

Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson offer fine turns as the youngsters in peril while Jake Johnson delivers enjoyable meta-commentary as the requisite computer nerd back in the control room.

Like it’s the acting you’re looking for.

The dinosaurs still look very cool, and Trevorrow shows real skill in balancing concrete with computer generated effects. He wastes little time getting us into the action and ensuing carnage and finds fresh ways to embrace and ridicule theme parks, blockbuster franchises and creature features simultaneously.

For a filmmaker who made his name by utterly retooling genre tropes from the ground up, it’s interesting the way his next feature celebrates them. From the original Jurassic Park to Aliens to Godzilla and every major action/SciFi/creature feature in between, Jurassic World benefits. It doesn’t bring anything new, but sometimes summer calls for some mindless monster munching.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





A Movie Worthy of the Awesomeness of Legos

The Lego Movie

by Hope Madden

Legos! Has there ever been a cooler toy? It’s ideal for unbridled creativity as well as meticulous attention to directions and every tendency in between, so basically, it’s perfect. And it’s a weirdly apt building block for a movie.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – writers and directors behind the surprise hit Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs as well as the even more surprising 21 Jump Street – return to animation with this artistic gem that pleases on all fronts.

Regular guy Emmett, construction worker and follow-the-directions type, falls into an adventure with wild idea creatives who are fighting to keep evil Lord Business from ending the Lego world as they know it.

It’s a solid, even familiar premise, and it offers these talented filmmakers a lot of opportunities. The tone is fresh and irreverent, the direction endlessly clever, and the voice talent spot-on.

Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell and Morgan Freeman anchor the tale, with great cameos (Jonah Hill and Billy Dee Williams are the biggest hoot) and talented supporting turns helping to keep every scene interesting.

A clear love of Legos infects the entire proceedings, with hilarious Lego pieces and familiar characters and creations popping up everywhere. But the core ideas are even stronger and more thoughtful, the satire bright and evident, and the final themes appropriate for the kids you took with you as your excuse to see this movie.

Lord and Miller manage to entertain every possible audience here, poking fun at modern blockbusters and reveling in youthful creativity. They are aided immeasurably by animators who offer vivid, imaginative action sequences that embrace the themes of the film and mirror the energetic fantasy world of childhood.

The result is a joyous voyage, a perfect match between content and presentation, and a super cool movie.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars