REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

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JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

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The latest installment of the franchise takes place three years after the disastrous opening of Jurassic World. A volcano on Isla Nublar has become dangerously active and the U.S. government declines to save the animals still there. John Hammond’s former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) asks Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to join a rescue mission to save the dinosaurs from the doomed island and to convince her ex-boyfriend Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to join them. Once on the island Claire, Owen and their team are betrayed and they discover that this “rescue mission” has a far more sinister purpose.

Fallen Kingdom is directed by J.A. Bayona, the Spanish filmmaker behind the atmospheric and spooky haunted house flick The Orphanage and the bittersweet fantasy A Monster Calls. His script is by previous installment director Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connor, who co-wrote the last one, as well. The result is a more Gothic feel to the proceedings, especially when the location switches to Lockwood’s old mansion with genetics lab and creature holding cells in the basement a la Dr. Frankenstein. From here It becomes a tale of man’s greed and trying to play god…again. The Indominous Rex taught these greedy corporate types nothing and now we have the genetically created dino-soldier the Indoraptor to serve as our predator of choice for this flick. After the escape from the burning island…which is a very entertaining set-piece in itself, the flick becomes more of a James Bond movie with dinosaurs. The second third finds Claire and Owen sneaking around the castle-like mansion with Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), trying to find a way to stop the sale of and genetic tampering with the last survivors of Isla Nublar. It’s not quite as fun as the last flick, but at least they are trying to take the series in a new direction and we actually get off the island. The last act has the skilled director Bayona going back to his haunted house roots with a cat and mouse chase through the dark and cavernous mansion between our heroes and the Indoraptor, with a very exciting and very Gothic rooftop finale. Overall it is an entertaining flick, though a bit darker, a bit more violent and somewhat less fun than Jurassic World.

The cast is fine, even if the bad guys are complete two-dimensional stereotypes. Pratt and Howard still have that chemistry as Owen and Claire and having them broken-up gives us a chance to experience their combative banter and then having them fall for each other all over again. Young Isabella Sermon is endearing as Maisie, Lockwood’s young granddaughter with some secrets of her own. Rafe Spall, Ted Levine and Toby Jones are the trio of bad guys as Lockwood’s conniving assistant, a soldier for hire and a black market dinosaur dealer respectively. While the characters are familiar and stale, the actors give it their best. Cromwell is charming as the elder Lockwood, who is having his dream corrupted right out from under him. Rounding out the main characters are Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda playing Claire’s IT tech Franklin and dinosaur veterinarian Zia, respectively and they are fun characters well portrayed. We also get a nice cameo with Jeff Goldblum reprising his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm and B.D. Wong returns as slimy Dr. Wu. A good cast though some characters are better written than others.

Jurassic World gave this series a bit of revived energy and while this installment is a bit less fun, it does take the series to some new places and Bayona gives it a darker and more Gothic tone, as well as, his trademark visual artistry. On the negative side, the whole predator du jour chasing our heroes is getting stale, as is genetically whipping up new creatures like ordering a pizza. The dinosaur auction was interesting, but one wonders where the authorities stand on black market dinosaur flea markets. Guess it’s too soon to approach that side of the story. It was fun to see Clair and Owen and company playing James Bond in this massive Victorian Mansion, as we also enjoyed the film leaving us at a point where we wonder if mankind’s meddling might get us slapped back to the stone age. Stay through the credits.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 T-Rex

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990)

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GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990)

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Sequel takes place a few years later in NYC where Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) and now fiancé, Kate (Pheobe Cates) have gone to work at the high-tech Clamp Tower owned by billionaire entrepreneur Daniel Clamp (John Glover). At the same time, Gizmo’s keeper Wing (Keye Luke) dies and Clamp seizes the Chinatown property for a development project. The Mogwai is brought to Clamp Tower’s genetics lab where they are quite unaware of the rules…which are again broken, unleashing an army of gremlins inside the skyscraper who are awaiting nightfall to spread out into the Big Apple.

Written this time by Charles S. Haas and Looney Tunes creator Chuck Jones, Gremlins 2 takes on a lighter and more cartoonish tone with the previous film’s darker and more violent elements all but gone. Director Joe Dante still gives us a good time and the new setting and expanded budget freshen things up a bit and give us creatures with far more individual personality, especially when they hit the Splice Of Life genetics lab and start experimenting on themselves. Flying gremlins, spider-gremlins and even a gremlin with a genius IQ (voiced by NYC acting legend Tony Randall). It may be a lot goofier in tone, but Dante and his writers find new ways for the gremlins to cause havoc and amuse us. There are still a lot of clever bits, even if it has lost a good deal of it’s edge  and while I prefer the darker tone of the first, there is still enough of a devious sense of humor to keep it fun. Obviously, there are a ton of movie references and in-jokes for movie fans to giggle and veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith returns to score, as does frequent Dante cinematographer John Hora return to lens.

Dante again has assembled a good cast. The returning Galligan and Cates reprise their roles complete with plenty of charm. John Glover is very funny as the goofball, eccentric billionaire Clamp. His almost oblivious reaction to everything is constantly amusing. Haviland Morris is fun, sexy and seductive as Billy’s boss who has plans for him that extend beyond the office. There are a lot of fun cameos from some Dante regulars with Dick Miller returning as Mr. Futterman and Dante regular Robert Picardo as a jerk of a security chief. There are also small parts from character actor Robert Prosky as a horror show host, a hilarious Christopher Lee as the head of the genetics lab, Dr. Catheter and wrestler/actor Hulk Hogan cameoing as himself.

Gremlins 2 may not be quite as good or unique as the first flick, but is still a lot of fun and Dante brings the chaos and anarchy with a devious smile…though with far less dark a tone. The cast are all having a blast and the FX people really take advantage of a much larger budget to deliver a horde of various versions of the title creatures. Not quite an equal, but a fun sequel that sadly underperformed at the box office and ended the series till talk of a Gremlins 3 started up again recently.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Gremlins

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GREMLINS (1984)

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GREMLINS (1984)

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Gremlins is a fun Christmas set comedy/horror about a small town that comes under siege by a group of nasty little creatures. The story finds a down on his luck inventor (Hoyt Axton) buying a strange little furry creature called a Mogwai in a back-alley Chinatown shop for his son Billy (Zach Galligan). There are three rules given to insure safe care of the critter named Gizmo…keep him away from bright light, don’t get him wet and don’t feed him after midnight. Of course all the rules are broken along the way and Gizmo reluctantly spawns a group of horrid little creatures with a diabolical…and lethal…sense of humor. Now the sleepy little town of Kingston Falls is under attack and Billy and his sweetheart Kate (Phoebe Cates) must find a way to stop the little devils.

Created by the triple threat of producer Steven Spielberg, writer Chris Columbus and director Joe Dante, this is a really entertaining movie that has become an outright classic. While it appears to be a kid friendly family film on the outside, there is a devious sense of humor bestowed upon the flick, which has always been Dante’s trademark…and it works exceptionally well here. The film has some fun moments and some cartoonish characters, like the Scrooge-like Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday), but it also has a definite mean streak as the title creatures ‘humor’ can be quite painful or deadly against it’s recipient. This keeps Gremlins from sliding into the sappy, sentimental level of Spielberg’s own E.T. and gives it a much needed and appreciated edge…though it grew criticism for some of it’s violence back in the day. The creatures themselves are well rendered with practical FX and one scene of model animation and this makes the story work all the better. Dante adds his usual movie nods…such as a doctor named “Moreau” and there are appearances from his regulars like Dick Miller and Belinda Balaski. There is also a fun score by legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith and some crisp cinematography, highlighting the holiday time of year, by John Hora.

Dante has a good cast here, too. Galligan is solid as the nerdy bank teller turned hero and he has a naive and down-to-earth charm that makes his character very likable. Cates does well playing the girl-next-door with a dark Christmas past. Cates had been know for sexier roles, but pulls off the all American girl very well. Folk singer Axton is surprisingly fun as the Billy’s inventor/dreamer father Randall Peltzer. Dante regular Dick Miller has an amusing part as one of Billy’s neighbors and Polly Holliday is perfectly Cruella Deville-like as Mrs. Deagle. A good cast that get the tone of the material perfectly.

Gremlins is a lot of fun and with the added nostalgic charm is even more endearing. It has a good cast, a director who adds just the right amount of dark humor and some very well rendered special FX to make our creatures believable. A fun movie recognized as a classic. Also stars comedian Howie Mandel as the voice of Gizmo.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Gremlins

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HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY, JAWS!

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The film classic Jaws, based on Peter Benchley’s best seller, was released on June 20th, 1975 and not only scared people right out of the water but, changed movie going forever. It was the first Summer blockbuster in what now has become a Hollywood tradition of big Summer popcorn movies. It introduced the world to Steven Spielberg and made stars out of Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss. It also spawned three sequels and countless imitations. We wouldn’t have Sharknado without it. Happy Anniversary to a horror movie classic.

On a more personal note…I saw it that Summer as a ten year old kid and it scared the heck out of me. The scene with Quint especially shocking my young mind, though it never made me afraid of the water. I actually went as Quint for Halloween that year!

-MonsterZero NJ

Source: MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD (2015)

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JURASSIC WORLD (2015)

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Jurassic World is by far the best of the sequels to Spielberg’s 1993 adaptation of Michael Crichton’s book and wisely ignores the previous two films, being a direct sequel to the first movie. The story takes place about 20 years after the Jurassic Park disaster with Isla Nublar now having been reopened as a fully functional theme park with genetically recreated dinosaurs on display for thousands of visitors. There is a new owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and a new manager of operations, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). Now that dinosaurs are a common sights at the park, though, Masrani and his investors have sanctioned geneticist Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong) to create genetic crossbreeds to keep attendance up. One of those creations is the Indominus Rex, a hybrid between a T-Rex and another species that is obvious, but, I won’t spoil. She is fierce and fiercely intelligent and makes an escape initiating a killing spree of man and beast alike as she heads toward a full-to-capacity park. Now Claire must team with ex-Navy man and raptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) to find the monster and rescue her nephews Gray and Zach (Ty Insidious Simpkins and Nick Robinson) who are visiting and have become trapped in the creature’s kill zone.

Safety Not Guaranteed director Colin Trevorrow takes over the reigns this time, armed with a script from himself and co-writers Derek Connor, Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa. The result is a fun popcorn flick, but, one that could have had a bit more intensity and excitement considering how much action there is. The film is enjoyable and sets up some fun action set-pieces but, it isn’t till the last act when Indominus Rex reaches the park and has a free-for-all with a squad of trained raptors and a very familiar face that it really delivered the thrills that should have started when the vicious lady escapes her pen. Treverrow has certainly delivered a technically sound and fast moving movie but, some of the action scenes feel a bit by-the-numbers for this series and the Indominus Rex is never quite as frightening as she should be. Treverrow needs to remember that this is the fourth time around and we basically have seen it all before. Much like with Jurassic World’s customers, this has all become very familiar. Dinosaurs loose in park, people running and screaming, yadda yadda yadda…been there done that. It’s well-orchestrated but, Treverrow really doesn’t shake things up too much outside the Jurassic Park movie formula to really glue us to our seats. I had a good time but, the wow factor has definitely been deluded. Maybe it’s not all he and his co-writers fault, but, the Indominus Rex and Pratt’s squad of trained raptors aren’t quite enough to make it totally fresh and make us feel like we did when Spielberg first revealed his critters 22 years ago. It’s the lack of wonder that really holds this back from being on more equal footing with the first film. Technically the film looks great with strong production design, great SPFX and a bunch of fun easter eggs for fans of the original. Michael Giacchino takes over on scoring duties but, incorporates elements of John Williams’ original score and John Schwartzman gives the film a nice look as cinematographer.

As for our players, the large cast do very well in helping the story along. Sure most of the characters are clichés but, they work within the context of an old-style monster movie, which this is at heart. Howard is a solid heroine as the rigid, work-obsessed Claire who learns to loosen up and care more about those around her…as she is being chased by an enormous genetically created monster. Pratt is full of charm as the tough but, kind Owen who has a crush on Claire and continually tries to melt the ice queen’s heart. He is a solid action hero, yet has a sense of humor about him and does remind me a bit of Harrison Ford, so, rumors he may be the new Indy don’t sound hard to believe. Khan plays Masrani like Attenborough did Hammond. A entrepreneur with a heart and he is likable. Vincent D’Onofrio is the genetics company InGen’s security head, Hoskins, who has is own agenda concerning the island’s inhabitants. He’s a pro and makes a good human bad guy as does Wong’s pompous and untrustworthy geneticist. Simpkins and Robinson are likable as Gray and Zach, Claire’s troublesome nephews. The two avoid annoying movie kid syndrome and that makes them OK with me. The cast of multiple CGI critters are, obviously, still the reason we see these movies and the raptors especially have some personality as do some of the new faces like the massive Mosasaurus.

This was a fun movie and certainly better than Lost World or Part 3. Trevorrow and his writers don’t stray very far from the JP formula and that keeps this from having the sense of WOW or wonder that it needs to really crank it up to 11. The action is plentiful but, doesn’t really start to impress till the last act when our villainous hybrid is finally tracked down and the really intense action begins. The Indominous Rex could have had more impact and character, but, is far more sufficient a bad guy than the bland Spinosaurus we got last time. Overall, though, it is a fun monster movie with top notch SPFX and still entertained very well despite being the fourth in a series that has yet to really expand it’s boundaries. Recommended as a good popcorn flick and a treat for JP fans who were disappointed by the last two visits.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 T-Rex

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