Review — Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Okay, as always with a review of a recent thing, I’ll write the spoiler free version first, then the spoiler-not free version after that. There will be a clear dileneation, don’t worry. Before I get to even the actual review though, I have a confession. I never saw the 2015 Jurassic World. These movies being what they are, though, I didn’t expect to really need that much context, and I was right. It’s not like jumping into Two Towers having never seen/read Fellowship of the Ring.

Alright: actual review. Overall conclusion is that its plot is sort of a mess, and I think a lot of things could have been handled better. For what it is, though, it does its job. It has all the suspense and action you would come to expect from the series, and I think it makes a fine addition to the series. I think it goes without saying that Jurassic Park is still by far the best one, but it often isn’t fair to compare movie sequels to their predecessors. For a lot of reasons, they simply can’t live up to the expectation.

My major gripe with the movie is actually the trailer that I saw. Now, I hate watching movie trailers, and this is the biggest reason. The movie that I expected to see from that trailer is not the movie that this was, and I’ll go into more detail on that later (with spoilers). It’s worth noting that I did not watch the “Final” Trailer until writing this now, and it does a much better job showcasing the basic plot without misdirection. That said, for that to be my biggest issue is probably a compliment.

Another thing that I wasn’t a huge fan of was the final 20 minutes. I feel like it could have been much bigger and better, but I would be willing to concede that that’s probably controversial, and I can see the merits to the version they went with. More on that later, too.

Overall, I think it was okay. The actors did a fine job, there were (as you’d expect), some awesome camera shots, and the action was approachable. I think the character motivations were often very shaky, though, and I felt a lot of the plot twists were uninspired. Solid movie, you get what you paid for, but I feel it could have been great. (Also, super bonus points for not making basically no romantic subplot whatsoever. I don’t know what happened between them in the previous movie, but I’m glad romance doesn’t get in the way of the plot here.)

And now: Spoilers!


Alright, my four issues with the movie.

  1. The trailer I saw was all about escaping the island and whatnot. I was led to believe the film would take place on the island, and the climax would be the volcano blowing up. Instead, everyone was off the island in half an hour and the rest of the movie was about the politics of trafficking dinosaurs. I mean… what? Sure, the plot made sense, but you’re going to put the actual exploding volcano practically in the exposition? Yeah, okay.
  2. We’re (literally) told that the Indoraptor is the smartest and most deadly creature to ever walk the Earth. And then when it (of course) escapes, it’s just a big, fast thing with claws and teeth. How is that any different? You tell us it’s smart, show us it’s smart. The smartest thing it does is figure out how to open a door that was made of glass to begin with. I guess you could argue that it breaking the elevator was smart, but that looked like an accident to me, when it should have totally been intentional. You also tell us it can smell things a mile away, but can’t pinpoint people hiding behind a thing ten feet away? It’s supposed to be scary because it’s smarter and stronger than other dinosaurs, and then… it really isn’t. (I also don’t get why they needed Blue alive. They already made the dinosaur before the trafficking thing happened, what was Blue even for other than to help the good guys?)
  3. Okay, I know this is stupid, but the tech guy. Franklin? His character was dumb. Why would a “germaphobe” let’s call him go to an island infested with creatures that want to eat him? The only character motivation we’re given as to why he’s there is a throwaway line about how his dad made him come. I mean, no. His character was funny and all, but nothing about his existence made sense for the plot.
  4. The ending is stupid. Why does Jeff Goldblum have a speech about dinosaurs being out in the wild when there’s like a dozen escaped dinosaurs? The amount of threat they pose to the public is laughable, and realistically, the worst damage they could do is in the form of disrupting the ecosystem through bacteria. They would all be tracked down and (probably) killed within a week. That’s not a setup for a sequel and I’m mad that the movie tried to tell me it was.

P.S. I think it’s interesting that literally nobody but the audience knows that the grandpa was murdered. Everybody knows he’s dead, sure, but the only guy that knew, the murderer, also died. Inconsequential, I know. Plus, he would 100% have died in the chain of events that took place in that house anyway, but I think it’s a thought worth considering.

Review — The Count of Monte Cristo

You know, the Review portion of this blog is pretty much meant to get me to watch, read, or play something new every week. Ideally it would be me talking about “the new thing I did this week”, but I’m really bad at that. The most recent movie I watched was a month ago for a film class, but it was a very political movie and I don’t like getting into politics.

So, instead, let’s talk about the best movie ever made: Count of Monte Cristo. (The 2002 film. There may or may not be other feature length films of the same title.)

I’ll start with the qualification that, as a rule, I don’t like re-experiencing things. Very often, it feels like a waste of time. I don’t want to reread the same story, watch the same movie, or play the same game when there’s an unquantifiable amount of things to experience. My life is one of productivity and efficiency, which is contrary to that whole idea.

Count of Monte Cristo is a rare exception in my world because I feel like I’m watching a different movie every time. I’ve probably seen it half a dozen times by now, and with every new viewing I catch things I hadn’t noticed that re-contextualize character motivations. This movie is a masterpiece in a lot of ways, though as always, I do still have a few gripes. Spoilers ahead, though, so if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a classic.

Before I get into my nitpicks, let me provide some context (if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t care about spoilers). It would be an injustice for me to attempt to explain the plot in just a paragraph or two, but I’ll try anyway. Our hero, Edmond Dantes, is a simple and poor young man is given a lucky break and promoted to Captain of the merchant ship he works on. Powerful people around him are consumed with varying levels of jealousy, contempt, and fear, and Edmond, though apparently innocent, gets thrown into a high security prison, and his family is told that he died. Years go by, he breaks out, finds riches and then the last third of the movie is basically an elaborate scheme as he exacts revenge on everyone who wronged him.

As I already touched on, this movie does an amazing job at establishing depth. Everyone who betrayed him had different reasons for doing so, and all were compelling and believable. Jealousy seems simple until you see that it comes from a rich man coveting the happiness his poor friend has. Even lesser characters have very clear and understandable wants, which is no small feat. Nobody in this movie is a plot device, not even Napoleon Bonaparte, who was basically written in to be a plot device, as he is only in the first few scenes of the movie. I will say though, this comes at a cost. With how much subtle context and layering everything has, you won’t catch everything if you only see it the one time. Points off for that, but as long as you’re not confused as to the main plot, it’s more or less fine.

But what astounds me the most about this movie is that it isn’t really structured like most stories. The entire last third of the movie is the main character just getting what he wants. There’s a climax, yes, but it isn’t really filled with conflict. When he is given everything, you are no longer watching to see if Edmond will get his revenge, you’re merely watching to see what the revenge turns out to be. It doesn’t contain nearly as much suspense, and nothing to the degree of the chase scene as he resists arrest and is betrayed by a friend, or when he hatches his plan to escape from the Chateau D’if.

I would compare it to a torture film, actually, where all the people are getting their just desserts. Only, in this movie, the torturer is our main character and is doing it in the name of justice, and it feels great. In all my years of schooling and whatnot, I myself still cannot wrap my head around the exact reason this movie works. Maybe I just need to watch more soap operas. (Not that Count of Monte Cristo is overly dramatic, it’s just… opulent.)

So, nitpicks. As I said, the amount of layers it has does sort of detract from it for me. I honestly did not love it the first time I saw it. A good film, to be sure, but it probably wasn’t my all-time favorite movie until I had seen it three or four times. I mean, Edmond has plotted his revenge meticulously for years. But when he’s going through with his plans, you won’t catch the nuances of how and why the first time, because at no point does he tell the audience “first, I’m going to kidnap his daughter and frame his uncle for murder etc etc”. No, you just know he has plans and then watch as they unfold.

Also, I didn’t realize I had this problem until writing this, but Luigi Vampa, the Captain of the pirate ship Edmond becomes a crew member of after he finds himself a free man, isn’t in the movie enough. JB Blanc does an amazing job with his character, and it’s a shame he’s only a minor part. It isn’t often I see a gentleman thief character done to my satisfaction.

Overall, the best movie. Solid period piece, even if it isn’t 100% faithful to history, awesome character development, good subtly, and a really interesting plot progression. Also Henry Cavill is in it.

(P.S. to prove how many layers of character depth this story has, here’s a character sheet, though I think it’s from the book, not the movie. So simplify it by like 15%.)

 

Me — My Dislike for Televised Media

I’m not a big fan of televised media as a whole. It’s characteristics don’t synergize well with my personality for a number of reasons, and as such I don’t watch a whole lot of things. It has led to this new problem, though, that I can’t relate to analogies people bring up in movies or TV shows, even classics, so there’s this barrier that happens between me and other writers. It’s something I need to work on, and I’ve tried forcing myself to start a weekly classic movie night, but it has never stuck.

I’ll say this much—I like movies way more than TV, and this is almost entirely because of the time investment. I really don’t want to watch the same characters dealing with the same issues over and over again for twelve one hour long episodes for ten seasons. That’s just… insane to me. One season I can get behind, but investing hundreds of hours watching one thing? What a waste of time. (And yet here I am complaining when I’ve binge watched almost 500 hours of Critical Role. Humans are nothing if not contradictory.)

I can enjoy movies without complaint because I know it’ll be over in three-ish hours. It’s not something I’ll spend the whole day getting a fraction of the way through. I’ll meet the characters, experience their story, and be done. Rarely are movies made with the intent of cliffhangers to explore in the sequel. We can’t all be the MCU.

But the biggest roadblock for me is the fact that TV shows tend to be much more character driven than plot driven. I know how to write a plot. Telling stories is my jam. The thing that my writing is lacking in is character, so I would learn a lot more from TV than movies.

Okay, I do have an explanation for the Critical Role thing. The biggest reason why I’m not just watching televised media constantly is that it demands all of my attention and focus to consume it properly, and if you know anything about me it’s my incessant need to be multitasking whenever I can. I’m not just playing games, I’m listening to podcasts. I’m not just eating I’m making a new playlist of music. You get the idea. I can’t do that with movies or TV, so I can’t help but feel like I could be spending my time more efficiently.

Also, going to the movie theater is awful. $10 for 2 or 3 hours of entertainment, are you kidding me? I would expect a video game to entertain me for at least 15 hours with that price. (You’ll notice I dislike going to see things in theaters in particular.)

I really don’t have much free time to myself. Even devoting enough time to watch one new movie a week feels like a lot, and I no longer consider that free time. In an ideal world I would have a time every week where I just sit down and watch a new movie, but my schedule doesn’t currently allow for that.

So until that day comes I’ll sit here twiddling my thumbs and grumbling about how I dislike television like an eighty year old man that doesn’t understand texting.

Review — Grizzly Man

Grizzly Man (2005) is an interesting hybrid documentary framing the life of Tim Treadwell as well as the grizzly bears he loved and spent so much time around. The hybrid being what I would describe a portrait documentary, that of its presentation of the life, personality and philosophies of a single person, as well as a nature documentary, through its description and context as it revolves around the lives, habitat, and politics of the grizzly bears of Alaska. The main feature of this film is its presentation: it features interviews, narration, and real people the way one would expect from the genre, but roughly half the content of the movie is told using the audio tapes Tim Treadwell himself recorded. It’s in these recordings that he (and by extension the director, Herzog) tells the audience who he was in a way that simply would not be achievable through explanation, interviews, and reenactment, especially since Treadwell made these audio tapes in (near) total isolation, so the audience could see his personality firsthand.

In general, the thing that I dislike most about documentaries is the staging. It’s difficult for me to reconcile constructing events for the sole purpose of recording it with a camera, even if there is validity to the method. In Grizzly Man, there is very little staging, and interestingly enough it was Treadwell himself that did it, without knowing that it would be later produced through a high profile film. He would set up the camera, intending to create a shot of him walking through the landscape to accentuate his solidarity and isolation. To me, this proves that his recordings were all meant to be filtered for his own purposes, to later weave into a narrative that he wanted—the narrative of the life of the grizzly bears in Alaska. Instead, we see the recordings through the lens of presenting Treadwell as a person with a passion, so the staging is given a very different context in this regard.

Grizzly Man seems to be a faithful construction and presentation of Tim Treadwell. It does not glorify his life or work, but neither does it seek to point out his flaws. The audience is given the story of a man who loves animals, hates the politics and policies surrounding them, and perhaps makes some poor decisions regarding how he handles those policies. Tim Treadwell undoubtedly was a selfless man who had the interests of the animals at heart, and while he may not have employed the best methods to implement change, he was certainly influential with his work. This is the Tim Treadwell Grizzly Man presents, and it is in all likelihood the most authentic version of him that we could have gotten. If he had made his own movie with his recordings, it would have presented him in a biased light.

I’ll be honest. In my opinion, this documentary presents the life of a nobody whose contribution to the world was so insignificant it is not even worth notice. That said, the documentary is very well made, and at no point was I frustrated or bored. The movie did a great job analyzing the life and personality of a unique person.

Review — La La Land (Opening Scene)

In the opening scene of La La Land (2016), hundreds of cars are parked on the freeway in a huge traffic jam. The camera pans across several open windows of varying types and genres of music playing, until one by one, people start getting out of their cars to start dancing and singing the same number.

This is the classic opening to a musical because it’s doing a number of things simultaneously, using the song to establish things like setting, premise, and characters. Musicals are interesting in that it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not the numbers are diegetic. Often I’m of the opinion that musical numbers aren’t diegetic, because it’s impossible to have so many strangers understand the same choreography, not to mention the absurdity of the situation. Obviously an entire band wouldn’t just be sitting in the back of a loading truck playing as the truck is rolling down the freeway, so these characters and situations can be seen as metaphorically expressing their thoughts and emotions. In a number like this, all the characters are expressing the same internal feeling, not just backing up and reinforcing the main character’s feelings. In fact, “Another Day of Sun” is meant to convey the struggle of staying happy in hard times, which is a core theme of the movie. The two lead roles in La La Land are also absent until after the song ends, even though they are also in this traffic jam. This helps to show that these two are no different from everyone else: nameless nobody’s just waiting for a break.

The camera panning across the freeway to feature skateboarders and dancers is iconic to the genre because musicals are all about spectacles. Watching crazy and awesome things happen in what would otherwise be totally normal situations, so the camera needs to capture every interesting thing. What’s more, most people in this dance number are wearing bright colors to help set the tone of the movie.

At the end of the number, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both shown in this traffic jam. The audience might assume that they participated in the dance number, and are thus a part of the huge crowd of people that want to make something of themselves. If not, though, they can be seen as outcasts trying to live their lives without putting on a show. Their role in this scene helps snap the world back to reality (which adds credence to the dance number being a metaphor rather than an actual thing that happened in the movie), and it also establishes drama that the first interaction the two of them have is a negative one.

Overall, it’s a great opening scene. It establishes the world the characters are in very well and immediately gives the audience a good idea of what the main characters are striving towards, and I think the fact that the two stars are not in the opening number does a better job at setting this up than the alternative, because if they were also the “stars” of the dance number, then it would imply that they are destined to be something, which is the opposite of what the takeaway of this scene should be.

Review — The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

(Sorry for the late post! Busy week!)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) is an interesting movie. It explores the lives of three men struggling to get by in America circa the 1920s. It’s a gritty film about greed and its power of corruption.

As far as genre goes, it’s very hard to place. I wouldn’t immediately classify it as a western, for example. It is set “on the frontier”, has gunfights, and features thematic elements of “civilization versus nature”. But there is no lawful sheriff-type hero, and the movie is much more about inner and intrapersonal conflict rather than about external political or territorial disputes. In fact, I would argue that this movie has no hero, as the only two “good people” are not proactive at all, merely reactive.

But at the same time, I would say this movie identifies most as a western. There is no mystery, little suspense, no easily identifiable antagonist, and an admittedly predictable plot.

To be honest, I didn’t like the film at all. It had a cool adventure element of the main characters going out into the wilderness on their quest for gold, but it proved early on that their quest was not a significant plot thread. It had a few scenes of action; a short train scene of robbers assaulting a train and later when the characters fight off the same bandits, but this was also clearly not a focus of the movie. The plot didn’t revolve around them attacking the bandits or a raid on the local town, for example. The movie had little mystery, as it was obvious that as soon as mistrust was foreshadowed, the camaraderie of the group would deteriorate by the end. At the same time, though, this specific element isn’t specific enough to tie it to a specific genre.

So it’s difficult to pin down. It clearly has strong “western” leanings, but it pulls away from that in the fact that there really is no hero. The first character established in the movie solidified in my head as “the protagonist” (even though it was more of a Three Musketeers situation), so when he was the one that was consumed by greed, I was frustrated as a viewer because I felt betrayed. I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be rooting for, because he was given so much attention it felt strange to root for anyone else.

The whole movie felt unsatisfying in that it seemed to be half-finished. Every subplot it introduced was either resolved too quickly or given so little attention it seemed out of place. What’s worse, the main plot of searching for gold, figuring out the logistics of transporting it, and the devolution of trust, was uninteresting to me, so I was actively searching for something new to grab my attention, but everything the movie brought up seemed arbitrary or half-explored.

Watching movies that are obviously classics and being extremely disappointed with what it turns out to be is always strange. I suppose it’s safe to assume that in cases like this, cliche things that happen are because that movie established the cliche, so at the time it was made it was revolutionary. I’ve found that in such cases, these things don’t tend to age well.

Review — Grand Budapest Hotel

Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is an interesting film for a number of reasons. I admit that as I was watching it, I thought it was much older than a 2014 release, which shows how little I keep up with the film industry. I also had no idea it was a comedy, so when funny things started happening it was a welcome surprise.

I think that one of the most interesting choices made in this movie is the fact that the form if its narration has several layers. This isn’t simply a guy talking about a hotel. This is (to my admittedly limited understanding) the last writings of a famous author, who spoke directly to the last owner of the hotel, who has an amazing story to tell about what it was like in its prime. This many layers of distance adds a layer of mysticism to the entire concept of what the hotel “is”, implying that any story to come of it would have to be amazing. It does somewhat retract from its accessibility, as this many flashbacks makes it hard to understand which characters/plot threads are actually important, but this is dispelled once the narrative of the busboy is introduced and the movie sticks to it.

Another amazing thing that this movie does is play with the color palette. The different scenes in this movie all play important roles in what they mean for the plot, such as the whites, pinks, and reds of the Budapest Hotel, or the dark greys and blacks of the prison. Anderson uses these sets and color palettes to mirror the mood of both the scene and the characters, and I would go so far as to say that he uses this to imply that Agatha and Zero are meant for each other, because the bakery Agatha works at is also characterized by pinks, when most of the other major sets are contrast from the setting of the Hotel.

Grand Budapest Hotel also uses lots of cutting, especially during heavy action, to keep the pacing of the scenes. This is not a heist movie, so when something akin to a heist happens, they don’t bother to explain to the audience what the plan is, they just show the plan in action with lots of cutting and edits to make this scene happen quickly. Since this is a comedy movie, it also allows ample opportunity for humor.

It’s important to note that while emotion is not the focus of this movie, Anderson does a great job at slowing the pacing when he wants the audience to feel some, such as Zero watching Gustave insult the soldiers for daring to touch his busboy, or later when Zero confides his past in Gustave. These lapses in the pacing of the scene never last long enough for the audience to breathe and think “Oh, this movie is really hitting at something here”, but instead are meant to slow us down and remind us that, while this movie is funny, these people are normal and well-rounded, not caricatures. This raises the stakes and increases the verisimilitude of the character’s actions.

I thought this movie was a load of fun, and it’s a nice movie to sit down, relax, and have fun with, though it certainly deserves its R rating.