Monthly Archives: June 2018

Rip Roaring

Dinosaurs Return in Frighteningly Fun ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ 

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard & Rafe Spall
Directed by J.A. Bayona
PG-13

Dinosaurs became extinct some 66 million years ago—just not in Hollywood.

Pop culture’s favorite prehistoric reptiles come rip-roaring back to life once again in this frighteningly fun fifth installment of the Jurassic Park movie series, the dino-mite franchise launched by director Steven Spielberg back in 1993.

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Chris Pratt

Director J.A. Bayona reunites costars Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt from Jurassic World (2015) as the genetically engineered dinos on the isolated Pacific island of Isla Nublar face a cataclysmic extinction event. A heaving volcano is about to explode, killing off all the dinosaurs—unless they are somehow rescued.

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Bryce Dallas Howard

Which is exactly what the dino park’s former manager, Claire (Howard), and animal behavior expert, Owen (Pratt), are asked to do—by the estate of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the ailing silent partner of John Hammond, who created Jurassic Park.

The plan: Claire and Owen will join an expedition to evacuate the creatures, load them onto a boat and resettle them on a new island haven, where they can roam free, undisturbed by people or volcanoes.

So off they go, and so do we—and that’s just the setup. There’s action, explosions, double crosses, chases, races, dirty tricks, bad guys, a big surprise, and lots and lots of dinos!

Little dinos, big dinos, sad dinos, scary dinos, angry dinos, rampaging dinos, even a crying dino. If you come for the creatures, you’ll definitely leave with a paleo pallet-full.

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

And you’ll likely end up rooting for the reptiles—especially Blue, the hyper-intelligent, super-sensitive Velociraptor that Owen raised and trained from infancy in Jurassic World. As in a lot of monster movies, this one creates a huge amount of sympathy for its beleaguered beasties, the Stygimoloch and Triceratops and Pteranodon and Brachiosaurus and even the ferocious T. rex. After all, they never chose their fates—created, mutated and now chained, caged, carted, tased, sedated and shipped off.

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen KingdomThe movie takes an even darker, more ominous turn once the dino boat hits the mainland, and it becomes clear that human greed can be as much of a threat as hot lava.

When a bad guy gets gobbled, you’ll want to clap or cheer.

There are plenty of candidates you hope might become dinosaur chum. Ted Levine (he plays Thomas Byrne on TV’s The Alienist—but everyone remembers him as serial killer Jame Gumb in The Silence of the Lambs) is a sleazy animal trafficker (boo!). Prolific British actor Toby Jones (Marvel fans will recognize him as Dr. Zola from the Captain America franchise) plays a rogue capitalist who wants to pocket a cool billion or two on black-market dinos (hiss!).

And watch out for Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), Benjamin Lockwood’s slick young associate. He spends a lot of time on hushed phone calls and slinking around in the lab, yelling at paleo-geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong).

Claire and Owen’s dino rescue squad is rounded out by spunky paleo vet Zia (Daniella Pineda, who plays Vanessa on TV’s The Detour, and she was Sophie on The Vampire Diaries and its spinoff, The Originals); and Franklin (Justice Smith, Ezekiel on TV’s The Get Down), a high-strung computer nerd who provides much of the comic relief.

Jeff Goldblum, who appeared in the original Jurassic Park, briefly reprises his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm, who sagely cautions—again—that man was never meant to monkey with nature.

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen KingdomBut much of the plot hinges on young Maisie (Isabella Sermon, making her movie debut),  Sherwood’s granddaughter, who becomes a key and a bridge to the story in more ways than one. Director Bayona loves putting kids in the thick of trouble and trauma, like he did in the horror thriller The Orphanage (2007), the true-story tsunami drama The Impossible (2012) and the nightmarish fairy tale A Monster Calls (2016). As the escalating action moves off dino island to Sherwood’s sprawling Gothic manor, the movie builds to a haunted-house-worthy finale—thunder and lightning and rain and a shadowy bedroom with Maisie cowering underneath her covers, her big bay window open and a huge dinosaur claw slowly, slowly, slowly creeping toward her trembling, terrified face.

“Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” Claire asks at one point. For most moviegoers, that’s a hard question to answer. Do we count Barney? Dino from The Flintstones? Godzilla? But one thing’s for sure: We haven’t seen the last. Fallen Kingdom ends with a setup for its sequel, and a coda promising an even wider, wilder Jurassic World out there, waiting—in summer 2021.

Dinosaurs extinct? Don’t be roar-diculous!

In theaters June 22, 2018

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You’re It

A Crazy, Preposterously True Tale of Fun & Friendship

Tag-poster-crop-fill-(72)

Tag
Starring Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson & Hannibal Buress
Directed by Jeff Tomsic
R
In theaters June 15, 2018

If you sometimes feel like Hollywood just makes the same movie over and over, well, here’s one for you.

Tag is so unusual, so unique, so stupidly crazy, it’s practically a guarantee that you’ve never seen anything like it.

Unless, perhaps, you’re one of the people it’s about—or you remember the newspaper piece, a few years ago, that inspired it.

As wild and nutty and preposterous as it seems, Tag is based on a group of friends from Washington state who bonded over the childhood chase game in the 1980s and kept playing it, three decades after they graduated high school.

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Jon Hamm

The movie takes shape around a business interview by a Wall Street Journal reporter (British actress Annabelle Wallis) of Fortune 500 CEO Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), just before he gets “tagged” by Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy (Ed Helms). The reporter becomes so intrigued, she scraps her original piece and decides to do her story instead on these grown men and their all-consuming obsession with the game, which kicks into “play” every year during the month of May.

(The movie is based on the actual story in the Wall Street Journal, “It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It,” by Russell Adams, published in 2013. Stick around for the credits to meet the real people and see just how closely the movie captures their experiences.)

Callahan and Hoagie assemble their fellow players, the doper “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson, from TV’s New Girl) and laid-back Sable (comedian-actor Hannibal Buress), to go after the elusive Jerry (Jeremy Renner), a master of the game who has never been tagged “it.”

Jerry is getting married, and rumor has it he’s retiring from the game after this “season,” going out in a blaze of glory. His fellow players can’t let that happen—not without tagging him at least once.

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Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Ed Helms, Jon Hamm & Isla Fisher

They have a plan: ambush Jerry at his wedding. But first they have to locate him…

Director Jeff Tomsic, a TV veteran whose resume includes several stand-up comedy specials and episodes of Broad City, Idiotsitter and The Detour, keeps things lively with frisky banter and comedic-action scenes that show the extremes to which the characters go to get the jump on each other—costumes and disguises; breaking and entering; interrupting business sessions, funerals, medical procedures and AA meetings.

One especially funny sequence, with Thomas Middleditch (from TV’s Silicon Valley) as an employee of Jerry’s, reveals a line they won’t cross, however. “We’re not doing that,” says Callahan. “That’s a war crime.”

The group, we learn, even has a customized, handwritten book of rules and bylaws. (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the book we see in the movie is the real book from the real-life group.)

A sly bit of meta-casting features the venerable Brian Dennehy, whose resume includes more than 175 roles, including his recent stints on TV’s The Blacklist and in the film The Seagull with Saoirse Ronan. In Tag, he has a brief scene as Chili’s pot-smoking, philosophizing father. It may seem like a lark, a throwaway role—until you realize that the actor shares his name with one of the real characters on which the film is based.

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Rashida Jones

Isla Fisher plays Hoagie’s excitable wife, Anna, itching to get in on the action, but prohibited by the game’s boys-only rule. Rashida Jones is Cheryl Deakins, a childhood crush who reappears as a grownup, wowing Chilli and Callahan—and questioning why in the world they’re still playing a silly game from adolescence.

Jones’ character is eventually charmed by their antics. And you probably will be, too, especially as the movie races to a heartwarming finale, wrapped up in a bigger theme of friendship, comradery and fun without an expiration date. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old,” says Hoagie. “We grow old because we stop playing.”

It’s a cheery message we all need to hear: Long may we run—and oh, by the way, you’re it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Fam

Everyone’s Favorite Superhero Family Returns, as Incredible as Ever 

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The Incredibles 2
Starring the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell & Huck Miner
Directed by Brad Bird
PG

As family reunions go, this one took a while—14 years!

It was worth the wait—and the Incredibles haven’t aged a bit. The superhero family we first met back in 2004, in the original double-Oscar-winning, Disney-Pixar smash, returns for another animated adventure, picking up exactly where they left off.

In the opening sequence, they scramble to deal with threat—a subterranean supervillain called the Underminer—who surfaced at the cliffhanger end of the previous film. It’s a setup that might seem like it could easily have come from any one of dozens of other superhero flicks. But right off the bat, the movie finds its unique, family-centric mojo: You’d never see the Avengers or the Justice League bickering about who’s going to mind the baby while the others sprint into the fray.

RGB(The rodent-like Underminer is voiced by John Ratzenberger, the former TV Cheers star who’s been a character in every movie to come off the Disney-Pixar assembly line, beginning with Toy Story in 1995.)

It’s great to hear the familiar sounds again of Craig T. Nelson (Mr. Incredible, gifted with super strength); Holly Hunter (his wife, the super-stretchy Elastigirl); and Sarah Vowell (teenage daughter Violet, who can project force fields and make herself invisible). Newcomer Huck Miner is the voice of Violet’s younger, rascally brother Dash, who has speed to match his name.

But hang on for baby Jack-Jack (voiced by Eli Fucile, also returning from the first film, and the son of Pixar animator Tony Fucile). The family’s little bundle of joy steals the show as his surprise superhero powers come poppin’ out all over.

Samuel L. Jackson returns as Incredibles’ pal Frozone, whose supercool power is zapping things into to ice.

Things really click into gear when the plug gets pulled on the local undercover superhero program, largely due to the high levels of collateral damage whenever the Incredibles swing into action. The public, fed up with buildings getting smashed and bad guys slipping through the cracks, finally make superheroes illegal. The family’s contact, government agent Dicker (Jonathan Banks), wearily informs them it’s time to pack up the spandex.

But a global telecom tycoon and fan, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk of TV’s Better Call Saul) and his inventor sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), offer them a lifeline: They want to use the Incredibles as the cornerstone of an ambitious media campaign to “rebrand” all superheroes and make them superstars again. But Winston only wants Elastigirl, not all the Incredibles.

RGBThat means it’s off to work—on her zippy new Elasticycle—for Mrs. E, while Mr. Incredible heads to the sidelines as a stay-at-home dad.

Returning writer-director Brad Bird (who also voices Edna Mode, the Incredibles’ quirky fashion designer) once again creates a deliciously detailed, multilayered, multitextured, multigenerational tale brimming with espionage satire, cinema savvy and pop-culture wit, while digging into some broader themes that resonate deep, wide and true—family, marriage, gender roles, kids.

But the movie doesn’t shortchange the super-charged, superhero action. (Bird also directed Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, the fourth film in the Tom Cruise spy-flick franchise, and his kinetic knack for action shows.) There’s plenty of drive as the plot takes a diabolical turn you might (or might not) see coming, with a motley, colorful host of supporting-cast superheroes (my favorite was Reflux, who belches up fiery streams of yuck) and a devious ploy involving mass-media mass hypnosis.

RGBThere’s a depth, a richness and a pathos to the story and characters that make Incredibles 2 one of the most superior superhero movies of the year, animated or otherwise. It’s that good. The movie’s mod, retro-hipster look—futuristic ’50s settings spiced up and spliced with slick, contemporary gadgetry and gizmos—is enriched by the jazzy, snazzy, cool-cat musical overlays of Michael Giacchino (who also scored the first movie, as well as dozens of other TV shows and films). The whole thing glides, grooves and makes you grin from start to finish.

“I just wanted to be a good dad,” says Mr. Incredible to Violet one night, after a particularly exasperating day—one in which he admits he made a parenting glitch, one that ultimately brings him closer to his daughter. “You’re not good,” she assures him. “You’re super.”

Clever, comedic, all but alive with masterful animation and bursting with brisk, frisky creativity, Incredibles 2 is a rollicking romp that reunites us with our favorite superhero family—and reminds us why they were so super all along.

In theaters June 15, 2018

Jeepers Creepers

Masterfully disturbing horror flick gets under your skin and into your head

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Hereditary
Starring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabrielle Bryne & Anne Dowd
Directed by Ari Aster
R

Lots of things can get passed on, generation to generation—homesteads, hairlines, heirlooms.

In Hereditary, first-time feature filmmaker Ari Aster makes a stunning big-screen debut with this terrifying tale of a family haunted—possibly—by something awful and unholy wrapped around the roots of a family tree. Maybe It’s something sinister and supernatural that won’t let go, as years go by.

And maybe it’s something else… something scarier still.

The movie begins with an ending—a funeral. The mother of Annie Graham (Toni Collette) has just died, and soon troubling clues begin to pile up, for Annie and for us, that somehow things just aren’t right.

Annie notices strange words scrawled on the walls of her home, and unusual patterns woven into welcome mats. She finds old scrapbooks, about spiritualism and the occult, that belonged to her mother, and cryptic notes. (“Our sacrifice will pale next to the rewards,” reads one of them.) Annie knew her mom—who lived with Annie and her family during her final years—was stubborn, secretive and given to “private rituals.” But this starts to really unnerve her.

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Milly Shapiro

Annie’s withdrawn youngest child, her oddball tomboy daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro, who received a Tony Honor for her role in Matilda the Musical on Broadway), begins acting even stranger. Annie’s husband (Gabrielle Byrne) becomes even more concerned. Teenage slacker son Peter (Alex Wolff), already alarmed by his mom’s bizarre sleepwalking episodes, escapes even further into the smoke and bubbles of his bong.

Anne lies about her whereabouts to sneak off to support-group grief therapy sessions, where she pours out her poisoned feelings about her mother and her family. In her confessions of grief, guilt and a lifetime built on brokenness, it becomes clear that her psychological scars are raw, deep—and possibly dangerous.

Then a horrific incident—an accident?—sends things spinning further out of control, into even darker, more deeply disturbing places.

There’s a lot going on in Hereditary, a lot to absorb and unpack as the movie slowly tightens its screws and masterfully layers on the creepiness. The Grahams are surely super-troubled, headed off the rails and hyper-dysfunctional. But is Annie haunted, cursed or crazy? The film wants to keep us, and her family, off-balance and guessing. Director Aster, who also wrote the screenplay, fills every scene with an atmosphere of almost suffocating dread and creates some truly unsettling sights that get under your skin, into your head and stay there, festering, long after they’ve left the screen.

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Alex Wolff

Charlie decapitates a bird. Prompted by a new friend (Anne Dowd, who plays Aunt Lydia on the hit Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale), Anne conducts a living-room séance, which goes badly. Peter, seized by a grotesque contortion in class, bashes his head bloody on his desk, to the shock of his classmates and teacher.

Toni Collette, the prolific Australian actress whose resume includes more than 75 roles, is still best known for her movie appearances in the comedy Little Miss Sunshine and the mystery-drama The Sixth Sense. She’s amazing here, going full gonzo as a woman who becomes the vessel of malevolent forces she can’t understand or contain.

RAC_6922.NEFIt’s fitting that her character, Annie, works as a gallery artist creating intricate miniature models of people, rooms and scenes. Her art becomes a direct reflection of her reality, in ominous detail. The tiny, delicate figures of her dioramas—shaped by her tools and hands—come to represent the frail, feeble, vulnerable characters of the film, manipulated, placed and positioned (and sometimes destroyed) by powers beyond their control or comprehension.

Director Aster borrows from other horror movies, but at least he borrows from some of the best, including Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. And as it barrels into the wild, crazy-train, freak-out finale, Hereditary—with its rotting core of ancestry gone to hell and family dysfunction terribly, horrifically twisted, toxic, wicked, warped and wrong—ultimately finds a horror path all its own.

Can families be haunted? Hereditary suggests they certainly, surely can, in more ways than one—and that evil may be lurking, watching and waiting, in our house, our neighborhood and just beneath the surface of our gene pool.

In theaters June 8, 2018

Sail Away

Shailene Woodley sails into trouble in seafaring survival tale

Shailene Woodley stars in ADRIFT
Courtesy of STXfilms

Adrift
Starring Shailene Woodley & Sam Claflin
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur
PG-13

Why would anyone launch a two-person sailboat, head into the ocean and embark on a journey of more than 6,000 miles?

I wouldn’t, and perhaps you wouldn’t, but the young couple in this movie do exactly that, and their voyage leads them smack into the maw of a monstrous hurricane.

Maybe you remember the true story on which Adrift is based. It’s a pretty incredible survival tale, from 1983, and Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur brings it to dramatic life with a bracing blast of salty sea spray and a deep-dive, committed performance from his female star, who was also one of the film’s producers.

Adrift_poster (72)Shailene Woodley plays Tami Oldham, a 24-year-old California dreamer blown by the winds of wanderlust to Tahiti, where she meets the dashing English sailor Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin). He’s slightly older, he’s built his own boat from scrap, and he wants to sail around the world.

Tami is charmed by Richard, and though she’s been on lots of vessels, she admits she’s no sailor. What’s it like, she asks him, to be out there, on the ocean, all alone? “It’s intense,” he tells her. “After a few days, I feel reborn.” But Richard also shoots straight: It’s no paradise. “You’re either sunburned, sleep-deprived or seasick.” And there’s always hallucinations, dehydration and other potential hazards.

But soon enough, Tami and Richard have fallen in love in the tropical island paradise, and they’re making plans to sail away—taking a British couple’s luxury vessel on a one-way trip from the South Pacific to San Diego, Tami’s hometown.

They expect a month of romantic sea travel. But they certainly don’t expect a tropical storm to turn into Hurricane Raymond, which nearly destroys their craft and pushes them irrevocably off-course, with a broken mainmast, busted engine and other debilitating damages.

Shailene Woodley stars in ADRIFT
Courtesy of STXfilmsRather than a “linear” approach, director Kormákur lays out the story by toggling back and forth after the hurricane and before it happened. The movie opens, for instance, with a bravo sequence (the cinematographer is three-time Oscar-winner Robert Richardson) that begins underneath the water, then inside the hull of the capsized boat, with the camera following Tami in what must be the aftermath of an enormous, devastating wave. She sloshes and splashes in waist-deep muck and debris, looking for Richard, before finally emerging topside—at which point the camera pulls away high into the air, revealing her, and the boat, all alone in the vast, empty ocean.

Then the title of the movie comes up, we meet our characters and begin learning about them. Knowing and seeing “in advance” what is going to happen, and checking in at various times later, adds depth to more tranquil scenes as Tami and Richard discuss their dreams, their future and the decisions and choices they’re making.

Shailene Woodley stars in ADRIFT
Courtesy of STXfilmsWoodley, who found fame in The Spectacular Now, the Divergent franchise and now HBO’s Big Little Lies, anchors the movie with resourcefulness and resolve, especially as her character is baked to a crisp and worn down by 41 days of exposure to the elements.

Through Tami’s plight, the movie poses the practical question: What would you do, if you suddenly found yourself in such dire straits? Could you catch and gut a fish? Figure out how to use a sextant? Repair a hole in a leaky boat? Stitch up a gash on your forehead with a fishhook and line? Keep from going crazy?

Claflin, who starred in The Hunger Games and its sequels, has a bit less to do. Richard is seriously injured in the storm, and he spends the rest of the film on the sidelines, which spurs the much-less-experienced Tami into full stay-alive mode.

Director Kormákur seems to like it when things go horribly wrong. His 2015 disaster flick Everest depicted climbers of the world’s tallest mountain peak when engulfed by a massive blizzard. In the end, not everyone makes it off the mountain alive.

Who makes it to the end of Adrift is a bit more certain, especially if you happen to know the true events that inspired the film. But if you don’t (there’s a pretty big surprise close to the end), I suggest you just go see the movie and ride out the waves. This sea-saga blend of love story, fem-strong survival tale and ocean-yarn adventure makes a decent young-adult, date-night flick.

It still doesn’t, however, make me want to get on a sailboat.

In theaters June 1, 2018