My Week in Movies – December 31st


Joy winds through the life of the titular character. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is perfect. The rest of the movie fails to support her and wastes her talents in a boring flick. There are hints of a good film here. A worthy protagonist, a compelling struggle and a winning end. But nothing shines as bright as Lawrence and that leaves this film muddling through the latter half of the run time.

No Escape

I went into No Escape expecting a story of Typhoon Haiyan. Instead I found an action thriller. I’m not a fan of Owen Wilson. But this film convinced me he can perform well outside of a comedic role. Wilson guides his family through danger as the country devolves into revolution. Challenges abound and some timely help from Pierce Brosnan keep the family alive.


How about you and I pretend I didn’t list Pan as one of my most anticipated films of 2015. Got it? Great. Thanks.

The Gift

Jason Bateman continues to deliver interesting performances in smaller films. In The Gift, Bateman plays a bully who has a chance encounter with one his schoolyard targets. Joel Edgerton, writer, director and Gordo, delivers a creepy performance. Bateman’s life starts a slow spiral as he tries to keep Gordo at bay. But everything crashes down around him as he resorts to his bullying tendencies.

War Room

War Room surprised me but I’m happy I saw it. I’m not a fan of religious films. Often their focus on miracles instead of every day living is disheartening. I’m sure miracle stories are inspiring to many. But the practicality of War Room inspires me. It offers guidance that doesn’t rely on miracles to improve one’s life. That prayer, or meditation, and a willingness to adjust one’s lifestyle and forgiveness can do a lot. War Room isn’t for everyone. But it was for me.

The Danish Girl

Eddie Redmayne is excellent as is Alicia Vikander. There are qualms to be had with the subject source. I hope there was an attempt to cast a transgender actress. But their performances and the film as a whole are award worthy. This year has been the year of Alicia Vikander. Hope we continue to see her career grow.


Yep. Minions. I am not the targeted audience and it showed.


Is Concussion the film that kills American football? Probably not. Will Smith is superb. I’m not sure if the accent matches that of the person. But his performance with it was perfection. I know I wasn’t keen on letting any future children of mine play tackle football. This picture shows the world why.

My Week in Movies – December 24th


John Francis Daley’s departure from Bones was a sad moment. He left a great acting role to be a screenwriter and director. It was my hope that Daley would go on to do awesome things behind the camera. Vacation fails to go anywhere. A comedy about the importance of family, the dynamics of the family ring true. The comedy doesn’t rise above elementary school penis and poop jokes. I wasn’t expecting much out of this film and that’s what I got. One can only hope Daley’s next screenwriting credit can graduate to some higher humor.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Normally, I’d spend a paragraph discussing a movie, but Star Wars The Force Awakens deserves so much more. So look forward to a full movie review in the near future.

My Week in Movies – December 17th

Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation

On one hand, I’m disappointed I didn’t catch Rogue Nation in theaters. On the other, I’m happy I saw Spectre first because I’m sure my review of it would have been less favorable. In the fifth installment, a US security committee determines the Impossible Missions Force to be obsolete. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is on the trail of The Syndicate, an organization modeled on the IMF but with cross purposes. The film follows Hunt as he evades Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin), with the help of Benji (Simon Pegg) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner), to root out the Syndicate.

It’s a fantastic action thriller. But if you only see one spy movie, go see The Man from U.N.C.L.E. But if you see two, watch Rogue Nation.

Terminator Genisys

Another in-universe reboot, Terminator Genisys brings the franchise back from the depths. As always, John Connor (Jason Clarke) send Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to protect his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). This time a T-1000 greets Reese at his arrival. Sarah and Pops rescue Reese and they try to adapt to the changes in the timeline. They travel forward to 2017 to stop Genisys, the proto-Skynet developed at Cyberdyne Systems in San Francisco. Genisys updates the franchise for a future of constant connectedness. The performances are good but the story is convoluted at times.


Amy Schumer stars in Trainwreck, a movie about … well, a trainwreck of a woman. There is romance, comedy and drama but this film drags on far too long. Amy struggles with the imparted views of her father on commitment. Her younger sister is a model family first mother that raises her stepson as her own. Amy is the uncommitted half of a relationship but jokes made at Steven’s sexuality fall flat. Assigned to write an article on a sports surgeon, Amy dances with Dr. Conners through a one night stand to a relationship. Amy, and Dr. Conners, messes up a good thing. After alienating her sister following the death of their father, Amy realizes that she messed up a good thing and moves to win Dr. Conners back.

Trainwreck is a mess of a movie that drags on as it meanders through the various relationships of Amy, how she messes them up, realizes that she needs them and attempts to fix them.


The supporting cast in this movie drew me to it. The headlining actress deterred me. Jude Law, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Morena Baccarin and Melissa McCarthy. I’ve struggled to enjoy McCarthy in films like Identity Thief, The Heat and Tammy. But watching her in Gilmore Girls was an enjoyable experience this summer. She continues to grow on me and Spy might be the film that has brought her to the watchable level. McCarthy plays a support agent sent into the field after Law’s character is KIA trying to recover a nuke. The jokes and physical comedy are consistent and above average. Spy won’t rank high in the grand scheme of things but it’s a solid action comedy good for some laughs. I anxiously await Ghostbusters.

My Week in Movies – December 10th

The Good Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur suffers from being a Pixar movie that debuted the same year as Inside Out. The animation is the best I’ve seen in a movie. Just like the first time I saw Incredibles and Elastagirl’s hair, the scenery in The Good Dinosaur is astounding. Unfortunately, this movie is otherwise a run of the mill Disney film. Arlo, the eponymous Good Dinosaur, is the runt of his siblings and seemingly fails at every task assigned to him. His father is killed in a very Mufasa-esque scene this time with rushing water instead of a herd of wildebeests. I’m really not sure why this movie had to take place in an alternate universe.

Watch It: If you want to see a solid animated movie.
Skip It: If you have young children, there’s no blood, but a decent amount of violence and scary moments.

My Week in Movies – December 3


A fantastic story with Rocky (Stallone) mentoring Creed’s child (Jordan). Donny fights his way through his childhood and eventually into the ring. The relationships and character growth in this movie a superb. I only wish the resolutions were cut so short to move the film into the final fight with Pretty Ricky Conlin. Otherwise a great movie even though I haven’t seen any of the other Rocky films.

Watch It: If you’re want to see an Oscar worthy performance from Stallone and a mostly fantastic screenplay.
Skip It: If you’re allergic to blood, but even then you can watch it.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Henry Cavil and Armie Hammer play American and Russian spies sent to help Alicia Vikander find her nuclear weapon scientist father. What a fun romp through Cold War Europe. The chemistry of the cast and the direction of the film are great. Not a top tier film for me but clearly a cut above.

Watch It: For a good water/oil team up action movie.
Skip It: If you’re looking for something more serious.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY (2014)

A movie I skipped in theaters last year, this turned out to be a very enjoyable family friendly film. It can be tough to adapt children stories into screenplays but this film does a good job of maintaining the message of the book. Every character in Alexander’s family gets a share of the bad day but they realize that family is what really matters.

Watch It: If you’re in the mood for a comedic family friendly film.
Skip It: If you can’t be bothered with a kid film.


Ryan Reynolds is really solid in this movie that deals with death, immortality and immorality. He plays two characters, the first has sold his body (and thus his life) to a corporation in exchange for treatment for his sick daughter. The second character is the transferred consciousness of Ben Kingsley a dying real estate mogul. The movie focuses on the cost and morality of exchanging someone else’s life for your own.

Watch It: If you want to watch a good thriller with an interesting theme.
Skip It: If you dislike Ryan Reynolds.

My Week in Movies – November 12th

Black Sea

What a movie and a great role for Jude Law. He’s such a fantastic actor. In fact, this movie is great and that is 100% based on his performance. Law plays a salvager who’s fired from his job who aims for one last dive. He gathers his crew and some resources and dives down into the depths. Law’s Captain Robinson must struggle to retain control over himself and his divided crew as they hope to take a stash of gold from under the Russian fleet.

Watch It: If you like Jude Law or a great adventure flick.
Skip It: If the depths and darkness of the ocean are too overwhelming.

Mad Max: Fury Road

So, yeah. This movie was absolutely fantastic. The only dissonance? Why isn’t this movie called Imperator Furiosa instead? Because this movie certainly wasn’t about Max at all.1 Tom Hardy was good in his limited role, but Charlize Theron was absolutely magnificent.

Watch It: If you want to see one of the best characters this year.
Skip It: You shouldn’t. But if you need a reason it’s because this movie isn’t about Max at all.


Another Bond film, another solid action flick. Craig and Mendes team up to wrap up Craig’s time as Bond. Spectre introduces the organization that opposes Bond at every turn and peels back the layers on his recent experiences tying them all together. I remember loving Casino Royale, enjoying Quantum of Solace, and raving about Skyfall. I figure Spectre will slot in above Quantum but behind the other two.

Watch It: How can I not recommend a Craig Bond film. He’s been incredible every time.
Skip It: There are plenty of Bond films to skip. This isn’t one of them.

  1. Granted, I must admit I’ve never even watched any of the other Mad Max films. 

My Week in Movies – November 5th

American Sniper (2014)

Bradley Cooper takes on the titular role of Chris Kyle, a SEAL sniper deployed during the Iraq War. Kyle is the deadliest U.S. sniper in history. We watch Kyle deploy four times to Iraq with intermittent glimpses into his past and life state-side. It felt like the script had difficulty portraying Kyle. The movie wanted to portray him as a selfless hero, and yet it focused him with a need for revenge.

Watch It: If you need a good shot of nationalism.
Skip It: If you’d prefer to avoid an overly forced narrative.


Jennifer Aniston is incredibly compelling in this film about pain and the path to recovery. A collection of great performances by Adrian Barraza, Anna Kendrick and Sam Worthington take this movie up a notch. The journey, characters and emotions on display are strong and deep. As a watcher, you are disappointed with some of the decisions that are made, but you understand the reasoning and hope that they find the light at the end of the tunnel.

Watch It: If you want to see an incredibly superb set of performances.
Skip It: If you are sensitive to the topic of suicide.


The latest story from Neill Blomkamp is easily his worst feature that I’ve seen. While I love the basic concept and exploration of consciousness, especially the comparison of artificial intelligence to humanity. Unfortunately, I found the antagonist, played by Hugh Jackman, incredibly boring. An ex-military guy who just wants to use his bigger gunned robot and has to sabotage everything to get green light. I think Blomkamp could have created a better antagonist. Otherwise, the consciousness commentary is a good look, if again, a bit unimaginative.

Watch It: If you’re interested in a somewhat thought provoking commentary on consciousness.
Skip It: If you want a strong antagonist or a fresh take on artificial intelligence.


Wow. Disney has been on an absolute roll this year. Tomorrowland. Inside Out. And now Cinderella,1 which slides into the top 20% of the movies I’ve seen this year. I was slightly concerned with the live action takes after Alice in Wonderland. It was solid but not sure it was worth the re-telling. Cinderella and Emma Watson cast as Belle give me hope for the future. Also, could The Good Dinosaur give Disney 20% of the top 20%? Crazy.

Watch It: If you want to see a great fairytale re-telling.
Skip It: If you hate yourself.


For a while, I was into Adam Sandler’s movies. Recently, it’s been tough sledding and Pixels continues this downward trend. The roles, jokes and acting are so predictable these days, you could easily re-label any recent Adam Sandler movie as another. The chemistry works a bit better here than in the last few Sandler movies. Kevin James and Peter Dinklage were great. Sandler and Josh Gad were just okay. Even for a video game fan like myself, the premise for this one was stretched a little too far.

Watch It: If you’re okay watching Sandler do the same thing again.
Skip It: If you’ve seen this script one too many times.


Rihanna and Jim Parsons lend their voices to this great movie from Dreamworks. An adventure of pairing a smart, young girl and a walking disaster as they try to find their home’s. A heart-warming animated film that hits all the positive notes. The only thing holding this movie back is that Pixar’s already hit with Inside Out.

Watch It: If you’re in need of a great, happy story.
Skip It: If you find Jim Parsons annoying.

  1. Yes, I know Cinderella came first but I didn’t catch it in theaters. 

My Week in Movies – October 29th

This week I begin my end of the year movie binge and I kick off with several thrillers of varying quality and a few book adaptations.

Breach (2007)

I watched this movie on the recommendation of Ben. It took a while to get to but it was worth the wait. Based on the takedown of Robert Hanssen played by Chris Cooper. Eric O’Neill, played by Ryan Phillipe, is assigned to investigate Hanssen for sexual deviancy. The initial investigation goes nowhere until, O’Neill’s handler, Kate Burroughs, explains that Hanssen is a traitor who has been selling secrets to the Russians for years. The lying, thrills and relationships in this movie are top notch.

Watch It: If you’re in the mood for a slow, but expertly crafted thriller.
Skip It: Don’t.

The Loft (2014)

Another thriller with a faster pace than Breach. The Loft tells the story of five married men who share a condo for discrete encounters. Led by Karl Urban’s Vincent and James Marsden’s Chris, we watch the five men deal with a dead woman in their hideaway. As the story unfolds, we flashback to the precipitating events that led to the girl’s death. Slowly, it is revealed exactly what, how, and why things transpired the way they did.

Watch It: If you’re in the mood for another thriller with some decent twists.
Skip It: It’s pretty skippable. Certainly not a top tier thriller.

Wildcard (2015)

Billed as a “crime thriller”, this was more of an action flick and poor Jason Statham vehicle. Statham plays a gambling addict who currently pays the bills by chaperoning1 rich people as they visit Las Vegas. He’s called in by a friend of his, Holly played by Dominik Garcia-Lorido, to help her get revenge against a local gangster. The movie follows Statham as he follows up on leads to locate DeMarco, played by a creepy Milo Ventimiglia.

Watch It: If you’re willing to suffer through a bad film to see some good Statham fight scenes.
Skip It: If you want something, anything, of substance.

Goosebumps (2015)

A film I caught in theaters, Goosebumps is an entry banking on timing, and boy did it work. Released in October, it’s a perfectly not-so-scary scary film catering to kids. It’s also using nostalgia for all of the now-all-grown-up 90s kids. Jack Black did well as R.L. Stine and the villain was absolutely on point. The themes were resonant. All around good film. Not so much a book adaptation but a series adaptation.

Watch It: Good humor. Fun scares. Interesting characters.
Skip It: You have an issue with puppets.

Seventh Son (2015)

A second book adaptation film, Seventh Son is based on The Spook’s Apprentice, which I haven’t read. But it doesn’t seem to matter because from what I gathered on wikipedia, it was nothing like the book. It had a few actors I like. Julianne Moore. Jeff Bridges. Alicia Vikander. But the plot was lacking anything distinguishing. All the women being evil, with one exception, didn’t help either.

Watch It: If you need to see a high-ish fantasy flick.
Skip It: If you want to save yourself from boredom and a string of tropes.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (2015)

I remember liking the original Hot Tub Time Machine while catching it on Netflix a year or two ago. But this follow-up was an unnecessary mess. The characters are the same and still haven’t grown up. And playing with the paradoxes of time travel is a little heady for this film and the ending is unsatisfying at best.

Watch It: If you absolutely must see these guys attempt to solve a murder mystery.
Skip It: If you want to retain any shred of your sanity.

The Duff (2015)

The final movie this week is the young adult comedy, The Duff. Despite Mae Whitman being ten years out of high school, she manages to pull off the age of the role pretty well. Her co-stars do a solid job opposite her and I appreciate the message of the movie, even if it’s been done so many times before. This time the magical moment of exiting her cocoon of blandess, isn’t so magical and unbelievable. The transformation is just the right amount.

Watch It: For the laughs and awkwardness of another high school rom-com.
Skip It: If you’ve seen this theme one too many times.

  1. Aka bodyguard-ing 

2015 Mid-Year Movie Awards

It’s my birthday, and as a present to myself, I’m going to imagine that Hollywood is waiting with bated breath for Culture Conquistador’s officially sanctioned, universally beloved mid-year film awards: the City of Golds!


Best Female Performance:

Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

Originally posted by do-androidsdreamof-electricsheep

Honorable Mentions: Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road; Anna Kendrick, The Last Five Years; Mae Whitman, The DUFF; Sally Hawkins, Paddington

The rest of the performances on this list, they’re playing for keeps in 2015, which is fine. What Ex Machina is doing, and what Vikander is doing in it, is showing an awareness that being recognized as the cream of the crop in 2015 is small potatoes. This is one of those movies we’ll be talking about reverently in 50 years. Kendrick and Whitman hold down the fort in movies that could easily go off the rails without them, and Hawkins, in a tiny role, is the reason Paddington possesses all the cozy warmth it needs. And as we’ll see shortly, Theron embodies a persona that has captured our imaginations (and won over cosplayers) in the here and now. But Vikander is on some Fritz Lang, Metropolis, Maria, genre redefining shit. We won’t know it for a while I suspect, but Vikander’s performance – which is really a performance hidden within a performance – is a game changer.

Best Male Performance:

Shameik Moore, Dope

Originally posted by fy-zoeisabella

Honorable Mentions: Ryan Reynolds, The Woman in Gold; Oscar Issac, Ex Machina**; Nicholas Hoult, *Mad Max: Fury Road; Jeremy Jordan, The Last Five Years; Robbie Amell, The DUFF

It’s one thing to give a great performance in a movie that’s working. Reynolds, for instance, is in a really good film after a long journey in the desert and, even though his performance is quiet and free from his trademark smarm, he really pops. Isaac and Hoult are in film’s so instantly iconic that every actor in them seems to be basking in a rare glow. I wanted to call out their performances, and performances by Jordan and Amell, because they have extra weight to pull humanizing characters that have a lot going against them. Jordan in particular does an enviable job of making Jamie work in a musical that makes it really easy to hate Jamie.

But you know what’s really impressive? Giving a remarkable lead performance that shines even when the movie around it falters and fumbles. Such is the case with Moore in Dope, a film that hops harshly from tone to tone, trying to encompass far too much in its frail frame. Through it all, Moore underplays like a champ and holds on to what makes his character special even as that character unexpectedly becomes a bitcoin-trading drug kingpin.

Most Iconic New Character:

Imperator Furiosa, Mad Max: Fury Road

Originally posted by gameraboy

Honorable Mentions: Bing Bong, Inside Out; Ava, Ex Machina; Stu, What We Do in the Shadows; Owen Grady, Jurassic World

This is a fairly easy call. You look around you and ask which new character has gone from 0 to 60 in the cultural consciousness within a few short weeks or a few months, embedded themselves in think pieces and memes and Twitter feeds. Stu and Ava both have a lot of currency among the select audiences that saw the film’s they’re in. Everyone saw Jurassic World, but I had to look up the name of that film’s most iconic character to be sure, which says something.

No, the closest we have to a challenger for Imperator Furiosa would have to be the stellar cast of Inside Out, a massive hit full of original innovations like Bing Bong the imaginary friend that has the Internet bawling. Still… it’s not even close. Imperator Furiosa isn’t just a film character; she’s the mascot for a paradigm shift. She’s what we’ll think about when we think about 2015.

Best Breakout Performance:

Raffey Cassidy, Tomorrowland

Originally posted by officergrski

Honarable Mentions: Shameik Moore, Dope; Taron Egerton, Kingsman: The Secret Service; Nadia Hilker, Spring

Here’s what no one’s telling you about Tommorowland (including the marketing for the film, which is, in retrospect, awful): Athena is the best thing about the film. She may be my favorite single thing in any film this year, and that’s largely because because little pre-teen Raffey Cassidy is astounding. Girl has to carry a strange robot romance with George Clooney, and darn if she doesn’t devastate you with her final line. Against that, what can Moore, Egerton, and Hilker do? Only Alicia Vikander (another great Artificial Intelligence performance) would have stood a chance here, but she’s had too established a career at this point (including a big part in Anna Karenina playing across her Ex Machina costar Domnhall Glesson) to really be the out-of-nowhere sensation that Cassidy is.

Worst Performance:

Hugh Jackman, Chappie

Originally posted by hughxjackman

Honorable Mentions: Ryan Guzman, The Boy Next Door; Roger Guenveur Smith, Dope; Bill Murray, Aloha

Guenvuer and Murray aren’t so much awful as completely wrong for the movies they’re in. Guzman is pretty awful, but I can’t hold too much against him considering the role he was given. So it’s gotta be Jackman, a great actor whose handed a meaty part in a supposedly complex film, and turns the whole thing into a cartoon. I stand by what I said in my Chappie review: Jackman’s character is supposed to be jealous, sure, but he seems like he’s been possessed by a Lovecraftian totem of envy, so outsized is his fury. Any chance Chappie has to succeed died in whatever meeting Jackman and director Neill Blomkamp had to talk about this villain’s motivation.

Best Performance in an otherwise subpar film:

Rachel McAdams, Aloha

Originally posted by mcadamsdaily

Honorable Mentions: Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey; Alexandra Daddario, San Andreas; Douglas Booth, Jupiter Ascending; Forest Whitaker, Taken 3

Every one of these actors is starring in a pretty good mini-movie that’s trapped in a larger movie that pretty profoundly stinks; except Johnson. Once she puts away the repressed kid routine and starts to really play Anastasia Steele, she rocks it and nearly steals the movie from its own retrograde inclinations; but the way her paramour Christian Grey is presented is so rancid, she can’t save Fifty Shades. Daddario so subverts expectations in San Andreas that she renders the half of the film starring Dwayne Johnson sort of irrelevant; Booth’s segment is so entertaining it actually makes Jupiter Ascending better (the film might have actually worked been the only Abraxas child); and Whitaker actually undermines Taken 3 completely by being such a competent, assured detective – he makes Liam Nesson look like a jerk.

But this is all about McAdams, who (in a better world) would have been the focal point of Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, and not something Bradley Cooper needs to check in on before he can woo Emma Stone.

Worst Performance in an otherwise good film:

Nicole Kidman, Paddington

Originally posted by duckodeathreturns

Honorable Mention: Hugh Laurie, Tomorrowland; Jude Law, Spy; Scoot McNairy, Black Sea

Tomorrowland has this strange, unfounded notion that Laurie’s Governor Nix is some mustache-twirling villain, a memo which Laurie apparently did not get. What he’s doing is much better, but it also doesn’t do the film any good in the long run; it hampers the film’s ending and message.

Spy has its own strange, unfounded notion that Law, playing a spoof on Bond, should be… American? And McNairy, high strung and polo shirted, is all wrong for the grimy, submarine thriller he’s stumbled into. All of this pales in comparison to Kidman though. It is because of her that Paddington falls short of perfection. It’s not her fault the part was written – it didn’t need to exist – but here she is all the same, chewing scenery in a film that would be much better if its scenery were left thoroughly unmasticated.

Best Offscreen Performance:

Phyllis Smith, Inside Out

Originally posted by kristoffbjorgman

Honorable Mention: Richard Kind, Inside Out; Amy Poehler, Inside Out; James Spader, Avengers: Age of Ultron; Ben Whishaw, Paddington; Brendan Gleeson, Song of the Sea

Even without the wonder that is Inside Out, 2015 has been a marvelous year for voice and motion capture performances (and all this with Andy Serkis’s only work this year being actually on-camera!).

The most notable instances in live action – Spader and Sharlto Copley as Chappie – have been odd choices for their AI movies, but in the end, quirky choices made those movies better, not worse. (Chappie didn’t have anywhere to go but up…)

The disaster could have been young Ben Whishaw filling in at the last minute for Colin Firth, but Whishaw lends the perfect amount of naive warmth to his Peruvian bear.

And in the animation realm, just about every film has been a gem so far, with even Strange Magic providing some fun parts to actors with robust singing voices. At the end of the day though, this has to go to someone from Inside Out. There’s not a wrong note here, but once again, I have to admire someone who has a hard job, and Phyllis Smith has a truly monumental task turning a character that is intentionally irritating for the majority of the runtime into one of Pixar’s great hero’s and the poetic encapsulation of melancholy’s benefit to humanity.


Most Magical Movie Moment:

Furiosa’s anguished collapse in a sand dune, Mad Max: Fury Road

Originally posted by headlesssamurai

Honorable Mentions: Saorsie becomes a selkie for the first time, Song of the Sea; Joy and Sadness are born, Inside Out; Procession of the Celestials, Tale of the Princess Kaguya; Final Scene, The Woman in Gold; Old vs. Young Montage, While We’re Young

What I said above ain’t a lie… This has been a landmark year for animation, and my fondest recollections of this year belong almost exclusively to that realm. This award is all about showing off the things that only cinema can do, and Song of the Sea and Kaguya are frequently transcendent, especially when they get magical – not just movie magical but fairies and aliens magical. Just as magical: the efficiency with which Pixar illustrates the ins and outs of Riley’s emotional headquarters, and Riley’s youth, in three minutes!

Live action has had some inspiring movie moments as well: While We’re Young is uneven but it has one killer montage that illustrates its conceit in five or six insightful contrasts: young hipsters do this and aging yuppies do this. And, while many may find the sight of Helen Mirren walking through her own memories sappy, I absolutely worship Woman in Gold’s climactic sequence. But nothing this year has been as powerful as the image of Imperator Furiosa, shell-shocked, walking out onto a sand dune and collapsing. It is a once-in-a-lifetime image. The colors are perfect. The framing is perfect. The performance is perfect.

Best Scene in an otherwise subpar film:

Danielle Rose Russell and Bradley Cooper reach a silent realization in Aloha

Honorable Mentions: Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan negotiate terms in Fifty Shades of Grey; Super Bowl con, Focus; B.D. Wong and Irfan Kahn debate ethics in Jurassic World

Sometimes, a scene comes along in a movie that’s not working that makes you sit up and go, “Uh…. who made this? It can’t possibly be the same people who made the rest of this, right?”

Such is the case when Johnson and Dornan spar while negotiating her submissive contract – you think, “Well this is a Fifty Shades movie that might have subverted its source material’s retrograde notions about BDSM.” And such is the case when B.D. Wong gets to dig into that one scene that you just know is the whole reason he came back for another go as Dr. Wu (and probably money). Suddenly, as he roars to life, Jurassic World is alive with ideas.

Both of these are “Aha!” moments. The centerpiece of Focus isn’t an “Aha” moment, it’s just the only time that the movie’s overriding conceit – that neither we nor the female lead have any idea what’s going on in Will Smith’s head at any given time (because he’s such a tortured genius, y’know?) – actually has enough room and pacing and verve to work.

These all pale in comparison to what happens at the end of Aloha. Suddenly, you realize you’ve been watching the wrong movie all along, and there was this wonderful, moving family drama about communication hidden inside the other two movies Cameron Crowe wanted to shove down our throats. The final scene of Aloha moved me. But it also angered me, because I felt robbed that I only saw a good movie emerge when it was already over.

Worst Scene in an otherwise good film:

Fleeing in the carriage, Cinderella

Honorable Mentions: “Oh bullocks”, Tomorrowland; Anal Sex, Kingsman: The Secret Service

As discussed previously, Hugh Laurie’s performance as Governer Nix and what we’re supposed to think of Governer Nix through the rest of Tomorrowland are very at odds, and it leads to an immense amount of dissonance. Particularly when his arc comes to a head.

Kingsman is a very cheeky film on the whole. I would characterize it as laddish. But it edges once or twice into overt crassness, and it does nobody any favors when it does.

It’s Cinderella, though, that features a scene that nearly does the greater whole in. Cinderella is an immaculately designed bauble. That is essentially why it exists. Why it suddenly turns garish, festooned in obvious CGI, when Cinderella flees at midnight, I will never know.

Best Musical Moment:

The selkie’s song, Song of the Sea

Originally posted by falldiewakefly

Honorable Mentions: The end of “Schmuel Song”, The Last Five Years; The entire short, Lava; Tripledent Gum, Inside Out

You guys, Song of the Sea moved me so much. The entire conceit is that all the magical creatures need this little selkie to sing her song or they’ll all fade into nothingness, and it happens, and it is… it is everything. This is so killer, it beat every moment in an actual musical – a really good musical – including the moment when Jeremy Jordan got me a little misty (many people think “The Schmuel Song” is the absolute pits, and it doesn’t hold together on the whole, but I love the emotional place it goes). It beat a Pixar short that got me a LOT misty. And, oh yeah, how about a shout out for Tripldent Gum, which’ll “make you smile” and “last a while!”

Best Action Moment:

Colin Firth takes down an entire church to Free Bird, Kingsman: The Secret Service

Originally posted by sokillintime

Honorable Mentions: Melissa McCarthy has a slapstick throwdown in the kitchen, Spy; Race back to the Citadel, Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is one long car chase that is intricately choreographed and perfectly calibrated for thrills, so understand that the two scenes I’m calling out over it must truly be great. I don’t know that a lot of Spy is as great as it wants to be, but something happens when Melissa McCarthy gets in hand-to-hand (and hand-to-pan) combat in a restaurant kitchen. The comedy and the fluidity of movement made me think of nothing less than Jackie Chan.

And then there’s Kingsman, which, in one scene, may have rewritten the book on how we film action scenes. After years of Zach Snyder slooooww downs, Matthew Vaughn opts to keep his pace absurdly fleet-footed. It’s not sped-up, it’s just viscerally quick, as each move transitions into another move. It’s balletic. It’s gruesome, but it’s also legitimately beautiful.


Best Screenplay:

Inside Out

Originally posted by kristoffbjorgman

Honorable Mentions: Song of the Sea; Woman in Gold; What We Do in the Shadows

Props are due to Woman in Gold for condensing a complex true story into a satisfying picture that doesn’t feel cloying or manipulative (some may disagree with me there); that’s always tough. Props to What We Do in the Shadows for the pace with which it flings out jokes. And props to Song of the Sea for being an all-out masterpiece.

But I have to bow before what Pixar did to make Inside Out work. We’ve spent a few years dogging Pixar for abandoning originals, but you know what, it’s really hard to get an original off the ground! You have a lot of foundation to lay down without the audience feeling like they’re watching a construction project. Inside Out is masterful, and it’s best trick is the way it subverts our expectation that Joy – intent on keeping Riley happy and childlike – must be our hero and must be right. She is not, and realizing that is most of what makes Inside Out so profound.

Worst Screenplay:

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

Originally posted by sanziene

Honorable Mentions: Project Almanac; Aloha; The Boy Next Door; The Wedding Ringer

The Boy Next Door would be awful enough without thinking it’s some sort of subtle modern retelling of Oedipus the King. The Wedding Ringer is similarly convinced its saying something profound – about marriage – which makes it’s overall dunderheadedness all the more infuriating. Project Almanac and Aloha both have so much more potential, but both are simply not the movies they need to be. They promise us with the kernel of something effective, but drown it in pablum

Hot Time Machine 2 has nothing redeeming about it. Let’s ignore the fact that it’s time travel paradoxes make Project Almanac’s look pedestrian… this is a comedy, let’s assume that’s all intentionally screwy. From the moment the screenwriters realized they were writing a comedy that focused primarily on Lou Dorchen, the immature douchebag (mostly because John Cusack wouldn’t come back for a sequel), they should have packed up, walked out, and said “No one can make this work.” Lou Dorchen is the worst.

Best Direction:

Ex Machina

Originally posted by neonearthtone

Honorable Mentions: Song of the Sea; Paddington; Mad Max: Fury Road

Did I mention Song of the Sea is a masterpiece? I think Paddington (minus Kidman) comes pretty close, and is laced with so much visual wit and whimsy, and that Fury Road is right there knocking on that door. But I’ve got to give this for Alex Garland for his work on the year’s other no-reservations masterpiece, Ex Machina.

Worst Direction:


Originally posted by oldirtybubba

Honorable Mentions: Taken 3; The Boy Next Door; Hot Tub Time Machine 2

As I’ve already stated, The Boy Next Door and Hot Tub Time Machine are painful. Taken 3 is worse. But none of those films stood a chance. Chappie had the ingredients to be great, but chef Neill Blomkamp was not looking at the recipe, because he grabbed handfuls of everything – every performance, every idea, every theme – threw it sloppily in a bowl, and said “Viola!”

Most Underserved Character:

Jess (Margot Robbie), Focus

Originally posted by rhodestark

Honorable Mentions: Sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), Far From the Madding Crowd; New Bellas (Hailee Steinfeld and Crissie Fit), Pitch Perfect 2; Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), Juputer Ascending

There have been a whole bunch of actors/characters who have deserved better. Kneecapping their storylines severely handicaps the films they’re in. Far From the Madding Crowd falls quickly apart (and, being actually good to this point, it falls from a high precipice, like so man sheep from a cliff) when Sergeant Troy shows up. Why? Because the film has taken shortcuts to establish him and it takes shortcuts to erase him. It doesn’t even bother with a shortcut to bring him back; his reappearance is jarring in the extreme. Pitch Perfect 2 does little for any of the Bellas, even giving star Anna Kendrick an entire storyline about being disengaged and disinterested, but it particularly hobbles its newest additions, a one-joke Latina and a next-gen optimist who got left the keys to the franchise without anyone teaching her how to drive it. In a movie called Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowski’s have astoundingly little concern for their Jupiter beyond the faintest of Hero’s Journey outlines.

Can we pour one out for Margot Robbie though? I think she’s one of the most exciting young actresses in Hollywood, and the trailers seemed to promise that the folks behind Focus got that. This seemed to be a film about Will Smith and Robbie engaged in a tango of seduction and deception. As it turns out, Robbie was hired for her pretty face; her character is as clueless as we are. In the end, she just wants to be a pickpocket and be in love. Which means we were conned into believing there was something more there.

Best Score:

Far From the Madding Crowd

Originally posted by entertainingtheidea

Honorable Mentions: Song of the Sea; Paddington

Honorary Award: The Last Five Years

Far From the Madding Crowd may not work as a story, but its score is like catnip for me. I hear those tinkling pianos and rousing strings and jaunty ballroom numbers and I just roll over on a belly and wait for more. Can we save a little bit of respect for The Last Five Years too; all of its music was written for the stage, but the filmmakers do an incredible job of transferring it to the screen. As we’ve seen over and over again, making that transition is not easy.

Best Production Design:

Mad Max: Fury Road

Originally posted by filmovieit

Honorable Mentions: Cinderella; Ex Machina; What We Do in the Shadows

I thought this would have to go to Cinderella, which excels mostly on its exquisite Production Design, but then I saw this guy. He has a flamethrower guitar. Which is the perfect encapsulation of Fury Road’s madcap, ceaseless inspiration.


Worst Movie:

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

Originally posted by daddymymouthisfullofstars

This film may actually be the branching off point for a dystopian future. We may need to send people back in time to destroy it. I’m calling it now.

Most Underrated Movie:


Originally posted by starberth

We’re going to be really upset with ourselves that we whiffed on this one so profoundly in 2015. Give it five years. We’ll wonder, “Why was that delightful film such a bomb? Isn’t this a Brad Bird film?”

Yes, yes it is. Respect.

Most Overrated Movie:

Pitch Perfect 2

Originally posted by justjaredjr

I don’t think that people really like this film all that much. But they love this franchise. I say enough. One riff-off does not a movie make, especially with jokes this sour.

Biggest Surprise:


Originally posted by gifsbyrosie

Paddington was moved back and recast. It was supposed to be troubled. It is anything but. It is a legitimate delight. Not just for a kids film. It is one of the best films of the year.

Biggest Letdown:


Originally posted by focusmovie

Focus looked so good. But that hope hinged entirely upon the film giving someone other than Will Smith something -ANYTHING – to do. Instead, this is an anti-fun romp about a tortured genius stumbling into happiness.

Funniest Movie:

What We Do in the Shadows

Originally posted by raisedbyspiders

The rare comedy that’s joke-to-guffaw ratio is high enough to keep you from realizing how hard the filmmakers are working to break down your defenses. You’re laughing too hard to notice anything. A brilliant film.

Best Documentary:

Cobain: Montage of Heck

Originally posted by soundsofmyuniverse

This has been a really strong year for high-profile influential documentaries. Going Clear and Red Army are both phenomenal. Even Monkey Kingdom is diverting. But there’s something about Montage of Heck that seems to open the door to a new way of exploring the psyche of celebrity. Some of that comes down to access. Brett Morgan got diaries, home movies, voice recordings, and a sit down with Courtney Love. Given those weapons, most filmmakers could have made something worth watching. But that’s the thing: most filmmakers would have obtained that and called it a day; Morgan’s delivery of these finds is formally dazzling, especially when a rotoscoped Cobain reenacts moments from the singer’s life.

Best Hidden Treasure:


Originally posted by pawntakesqueen

You probably haven’t heard of Spring. It did not come to theaters in Gainesville (to my knowledge). It does not have a star or a major movie studio pushing it on talk shows. It is a really interesting film you should seek out. It starts out less-than-promisingly but really comes into its own, and constantly evolves, from scene to scene, into a more interesting film. It’s not perfect, but it’s a perfect encapsulation on what’s going on on the edges of mainstream cinema, where young guns with low budgets feel free to go a little crazy and try some interesting things.

Most Deserved Windfall:

Inside Out

Originally posted by dragonlikecats

A lot of films have made a lot of money. No film has deserved diving into a vat of its own gold more than Inside Out, and the studio that made it, Pixar. Pixar needed this. It needed us to all shut up about Cars 2. It needed to prove it could still make the next Up or Finding Nemo. Watching it pull that off is a bit like watching your childhood redeemed. It’s worthy of a fist-pump.

Least Deserved Windfall:

San Andreas

Originally posted by ajipcollectorenthusiast

You’ll notice that the three highest grossing films of the year have barely appeared here. That’s because Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Furious 7 are… alright. They’re fine. I really thought about putting Jurassic World here because it has made such an ungodly amount of money so quickly, and it just is not that good, but then I remember how happy I am that people really seem to be showing their appreciation for a universe Spielberg and Crichton made so real.

So lets hop past those films, and even Fifty Shades (which, say what you will, is a fascinating cultural phenomena) and look at #6, San Andreas. What do we see in this film? Why have we made it a hit? What you see in the first thirty minutes – rumble rumble crash – is what you get for the rest of the runtime. There’s literally nothing here.

Best Movie Actually Released in 2015:

Ex Machina

Originally posted by sickfuture

Ex Machina is so startlingly good. It’s pretty much just three characters locked in a house stylish it will make you cry. Our POV character talks with one, learns some things. Our POV character talks with the other, hears some counterarguments, learns some more things. And back and forth. Whose playing who? When you find out, and when you leave the theater after a giant gut punch, you’ll wonder if it was you who got played.

A must-see.

Best Movie I’m Counting As a 2015 Movie, Official Release Years Be Damned:

Song of the Sea

Originally posted by lifeimitatesmovies

I’m not sure I’ll ever see movies the same away again after Song of the Sea. I’ve never seen a film that wasted fewer frames. Every frame is painstakingly artistic, is saying something. There’s this rock the family lives near, it looks like a man hunched over crying. (We see later on why.) When the family’s patriarch takes a ferry to the mainland to drink and mourn, he stands in profile, and we see that he is the double for the rock. It’s a subtle hint at the doubling that will take place between real-world characters and magical analogues. But that’s the thing – it’s subtle. It doesn’t announce itself too forcefully. Someone labored over that image and made sure it was just right – not too obvious or in your face. With every cell I have in my body, I will champion this film until the end of time.

(Also, I’m calling this a 2014 film even though I caught it at the beginning of 2015, but have you seen Selma yet? I implore you to see it. You have to now, because it’s my birthday wish. Birthday’d!)

Parallel Park: Jurassic World (B-)

The numbers are hyperbolic. $208.8 mil in the U.S. and $524 mil worldwide… Those are the kind of box office figures you’d dream up if you were writing a Mad Magazine article (or, uh since it’s 2015, Clickhole post) about absurd box office figures. That’s the highest domestic opening weekend of all time! The highest worldwide opening of all time!

But I’m pretty sure that Jurassic World – not the box office phenomenon that just rewrote the record books, but the actual film – is averse to all the hyperbole that we are going to want to throw at it.

I am not, in good conscience, going to be able to stand with those people who will excitedly squee that this third sequel to Jurassic Park is as good as (or shudder better than) the original.

Originally posted by onyx-the-dino-hybrid

I am also going to steadfastly refuse membership in those camps that poutily posit that this late-arriver, which comes 14 years after its nearest predecessor, is as poor a follow-up to Jurassic Park as the two films (Lost World and Jurassic Park III) that it ostensibly pretends never existed.
Originally posted by pastaforian

On most days, I can work myself into the steadfast belief that Jurassic Park is the greatest/my favorite film of all time.* It is my personal definition of a masterpiece. It’s two sequels are not particularly good films. They are paced poorly and they misunderstand this: the first film isn’t great because children are in perpetual peril, it’s great because John Hammond’s dream of a dinosaur theme park is so easy for us to glorify and abhor in equal measure.

  • The line between objective and subjective opinion is blurry, and I often wonder why I should subject myself to others definitions of greatness when no film brings me more joy than Jurassic. For the record, the competition on both counts is Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.
Originally posted by iliopsoas

There is a wide, Gulf of Mexico-sized gulf, then, between Jurassic Park and its first two sequels, a gulf that thousands upon thousands of films can fit snugly into without issue. Jurassic World is one of those countless films, nowhere near the equal of Speilberg at the top of his game (Jurassic Park, Jaws, Indiana Jones) but also, you know, a perfectly okay movie.

Really, Jurassic World is the sort of sequel that Jurassic Park always deserved all those years ago IF you are inclined to believe that, as a general rule, sequels can not surpass their forebears in quality. It is about man reaching too high, too far, too fast, and probably not for the right reasons. It is about how money, corporations, and commerce fuel that greed. But it is also fundamentally about the little magic spark, the gleam in a child’s eyes, that the dream could be at its purest and simplest. Unlike Lost World it doesn’t twist that conundrum into an obvious good vs. evil parable. Unlike JP3, it doesn’t completely ignore any pretense of theme (one poorly thought-out egg theft aside) just so it can take another tour of a dinosaur infested island. In it’s own giggling, sometimes charming, sometimes infuriating, easter egg laden way, Jurassic World is the first film since Jurassic Park to fully wrestle with John Hammond’s grand dream and society’s resultant nightmare.

Speaking of greed:

The Jurassic Park franchise soared and then had its wings melted in the very brief window when it was known that a film that had as large a cultural footprint as Jurassic Park did should be exploited and fast, but also when it was not yet known how to keep that exploitation sustainable. Like many a 90s phenomena, those dinos burned bright and, ten years later, sulked in the shadows, where franchise’s that have lost their audience’s goodwill go to sulk.

But life… uh… life finds a way.
Originally posted by lurk

In our current climate, where it is never to late to resuscitate even a franchise as moribund and long-forgotten as Mad Max, or as confounding and desiccated as the Terminator kerfuffle, it is no surprise that Jurassic World could thrive by finding the perfect gene splice of the original film and our modern blockbuster sensibilities.

What is surprising is that Jurassic World put up Avengers/Harry Potter numbers. Both those franchise’s highest grossing entries had multiple high grossers rolling out the red carpet for them, and both featured returning casts packed with stars renowned worldwide for their portrayals of some of the world’s most famous and beloved fictional characters.

But this new Jurassic behemoth was the first entry in the dino franchise in 14 years, a gap that had happened for good reason… Because, erm, Jurassic Park III was… something that happened to us. It has one returning human character, and he’s a guy who showed up for one scene in the original – essentially he was an important book character who was written out of the story and exchanged for Exposit-Bot 1994. The cast’s biggest stars would have been considered, before this coup, next-gen up-and-comers at best. As strong as the Chris Pratt charm offensive is, I’m not willing to say his turn as Star Lord secured Jurassic World the best opening weekend of all time.

More than saying anything about the film currently on offer, that opening speaks volumes about Spielberg’s initial tour of the park. It speaks volumes we didn’t even know that film had, a Library of Alexandria full of volumes that we just unearthed. The most likely driving force behind Jurassic World’s nigh unfathomable conquest: Jurassic Park has appreciated in value far more than anyone could have anticipated. It was huge when it came out for sure, but, as it has become one of the Four Horseman of Early Onset Millennial Nostalgia (here are my four nominees, all released within the same year and change: Jurassic Park, The Sandlot, The Lion King, and Mrs. Doubtfire) it has taken on an almost magical, untouchable aspect.
Originally posted by favoritedisneyclassics
So of course, the rational response to that is: how can we recapture the magic? How can we touch the untouchable? Give Jurassic World this: it is aware that it is treading upon the ground of the recently anointed.

I’m fairly certain that no piece of art this resoundingly successful has expended so much effort warning us away from it. Or at least warning us away from the Blockbuster Industrial Complex that created it.*

  • Maybe the Lego Movie. But the Lego Movie follows through on its symbolic insurrection to its last minutes, and it also made as much in its entire theatrical run as Jurassic World made in three days. It’s an inexact comparison.

Jurassic World loses some its acute metatextual awareness as its more parodic concerns are subsumed by tense dino business. Still, at its purest level, this is the story of a foolhardy entertainment corporation that focus grouped and corporate spoke its way into a bloated hybridized sequel to a beloved original product so that it could milk more money from a consumer base numbed by “old news” like, y’know, a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

That is some Grade-A shade the movie is throwing at its own weird development process. Speaking of which… This will forever be a strange footnote about one of the most successful films of all time now, but I want us to remember this: the cart leading the horse aspect of Universal desperately needing a fourth Jurassic film not because anyone had a good story for a fourth Jurassic film but because not making one was like throwing away money led to what you see below.

That’s a hybrid dino man… So as silly as I and many people think trained raptors are, and as much as I can’t take the possibility of an American military operation that involves stealth dinosaurs seriously, everything in Jurassic World is a tame version of something bananapants that came earlier in development hell.

And the cycle will repeat itself. Now, because we all went and saw Jurassic World the moment it came out, it is all but certain that one of the biggest blockbusters of this decade, if not of all time, will be about trained dinosaur soldiers, under the command of Dr. Wu, taking down terrorists while Chris Pratt squintilly glowers at the hubris of man. We did that.

In spite of all that – in spite of how ludicrous military raptors are, in spite of the cheeky self-awareness as a guarding mechanism rather than an engaged commentary on anything in particular, in spite of the consequences laid out above – I can’t hate too hard on Jurassic World. Because, ultimately, it is very often fun.

I have to keep checking myself, reminding myself how delightful a ride Jurassic World is while you’re on it, because Jurassic World is a surprisingly easy movie to get frowny-faced about once you leave the theater.

Maybe it’s not that surprising since it is trying to stand up with/pay tribute to one of the most universally beloved examples of the cinematic arts (and a personal favorite of yours truly). Comparing this kooky DNA splice of a sequel to its genetic donor is patently unfair no matter how much all those Isla Nublar easter eggs make the comparison fair game. It’s extremely easy to fall into the trap of putting Jurassic World scenes or characters up against iconic moments that have had two decades to marinate in our memory. It’s much harder to recall that I gave Pacific Rim an “A” while actively excusing its thin characters and nonsense plotting because it was such an insane thrill ride and I was tickled pink when a giant robot split a giant monster in half with a giant sword. I can’t suddenly not be that person when one Rex has another in its gaping maw. Pacific Rim was a tribute to B-movie creature features that happened to technically be an original property. Jurassic World is a tribute to B-movie creature features that happens to be a self-aware brand extension of one of the most popular film’s of all time. Aside from who they pay royalties to, they could be each others’ reflections.

So, as I dive into what makes Jurassic World tick as a film, I will of course break down why it doesn’t work quite as well as some Grade-A Speilbergia. But I will counterbalance every doomed comparison with a reasoned argument for why Jurassic World is just as good as Pacific Rim.

Originally posted by justepicmoments

Owen Grady (Chris “Call me Star-Lord” Pratt)

Why Jurassic World’s got nothing on Jurassic Park: Who is this guy? Where did InGen find him? Everyone keeps throwing around this guy’s Navy experience like its some sort of dinosaur-wrangling qualification, which begs the question: was he the Navy’s top dolphin trainer? Was he Seal Team 6′s lion tamer? If I’m looking for someone to imprint on flesh-eating lizards from birth, I’m not sure why the Navy is on my shortlist.

Even more confounding is the question of what Owen does now. He’s referred to by Masrani, the park’s owner, as “a consultant,” which implies he’s some visiting outsider who is providing valuable insight on something, but from everything we see, this guy’s been entrenched for a long time, and he’s running his own operation. He’s been with these raptors since they hatched, he’s got a loyal buddy, he’s got a cool lakeside bachelor pad, heck he’s even already had time to go on a bad date with the leading lady and then ignore her for months. When the film transitioned from Mizrani’s request to bring in the “consultant” over to the raptor pen, implying this consultant was present, I initially assumed Vincent D’Onofrio’s character was the consultant. He seemed new to the island and he seemed to be throwing around a lot of outsider’s opinions. When I’m getting characters mixed up because jobs are unclear, there’s some work that needs to be done on the screenplay level.

So if he’s not a consultant, what does Owen do? Well, he trains raptors obviously, but also: everything. He is the most competent man you are ever likely to meet. His job seems to be “always being right in every situation.” Having a character this sculpted, this chiseled, this righteous, this perfect… it actually puts a major drain on the fun we’re having. I think the filmmakers thought that by putting Chris Pratt in those tight shorts, they were making their own sexy jungle Wolverine, but they ended up writing the most self-righteous version of Cyclops into their film instead.

So let’s do the unfair thing and consider Doctors Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm for a moment. Did Speilberg have to cast then 45 year old Sam Neill as his film’s central human character? Couldn’t he have grabbed a young, smoldering hunk like Patrick Swayzee or Christian Slater? He could have, but it would rob Grant of a certain hard-won ruggedness and weariness if he does. It’s important to Jurassic Park that Grant has been out in the field digging up bones for decades. It means that when Hammond comes to him with a truckload of money, Grant has to bite. This guy’s too pragmatic and knows all too well what happens when you have no sponsor to reject that sort of interest from a walking blank check. His age also means that Grant is reasonably insecure in the face of this rowdy, young chaos theoretician with the leather and the attitude.

Speaking of the man with the stuttering monologues: Ian Malcolm is always right too, isn’t he? It’s true, but recall that we are shown the contrast between Malcolm’s high-and-mighty ideals and his less-than-stellar execution. Malcolm’s a great guy to have around if you want someone to smirk at you and condescendingly tell you you’re wrong. He is not the guy to get you safely through Killer Dinosaur Island.

See what Speilberg and Crichton have done? They’ve put all the characteristics that will save everyone right there on the island, but they’ve split ‘em up evenly between two guys. Neither one of them is flawless. Both of them are right pretty much constantly, but they’re also undercut by personality flaws. Owen Grady, by contrast is Adonis in a zookeeper’s vest. If this guy’s so righteous about the wrongs being wronged on Isla Nublar, how did he end up there working for a guy like Hoskins in the first place? We know how Alan Grant ended up in Hammond’s employ; we see it and we need to see it, to see how much he knows and how much he doesn’t. With Grady on the other hand, we pan up to this shining, glimmering figure commanding the most vicious beasts on earth with utter rectitude. There’s no room for an arc there; Owen is the same moral compass pointing due north at the end of the film as he was at the beginning. Which proves to be a problem when you compare him to his co-lead.

Here’s why this is really a problem. Owen Grady is in the wrong movie. At least until he and Claire go out on the hunt for Claire’s nephews and he transforms her into a better person (ugh), Grady is a square-jawed adventure hero trapped in the middle of a corporate satire. It’s clear from Claire’s exchanges with every other InGen employee that Jurassic World is going for Network; it’s when Owen changes the channel to Romancing the Stone and forces an unnecessary “we hate each other to mask our love for each other” dynamic on Claire’s corporate ice queen character that the nightmare really begins.

Why Jurassic World is just as good as Pacific Rim: In short, Chris Pratt. Pratt is the guy you want on the ground selling your movie right now. He will make your character work, even if that character is a poorly assembled collage of Manly Man traits. Pratt is toning his inherent smirk quotient down from a 9 to about a 2 here, but there’s still this light in his eyes that no amount of squinting can extinguish. Pacific Rim was saddled with a charm vacuum attempting a grizzled American accent. Even if Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket had something resembling an arc, Hunnam’s take on the moping action hero with a grudge was completely at odds with del Toro’s colorful kaiju romp. Pratt is nuetered of his man-boy immaturity, stuck playing a white-hat in a gray movie, but even with all that stacked against him, Pratt is first round draft pick in every producer’s Fantasy Casting League right now for good reason.

Originally posted by katicisms

Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas “Not Jessica Chastain” Howard)

Why Jurassic World’s got nothing on Jurassic Park: Okay look, the fact that Bryce Dallas Howard is playing a cold company woman who can’t compute all your human emotions is NOT anti-feminist. Initially…

Inititally! It sucks that we all hissed at Jurassic World when Joss Whedon told us to, because we hadn’t seen the film, and we had no idea what they planned on doing with that character – a totally fine character to have if she’s done right. Because if Jurassic World wants to be a ruthless corporate satire (which it is for like forty minutes), it has full license to get its Faye-Dunnaway-in-Network on.

But this movie can’t leave well enough alone. It NEEDS to redeem this woman. It needs to FIX her. And that’s where we get in big trouble. The moment Claire realizes she’s out of a job so, screw it she’s going to go off with the raptor hunk and save her nephews, Jurassic World throws it’s rather savvy satirical elements out the window. Now Claire needs to learn that the dinosaurs are not “assets,” they’re wonderful animals. And she needs to learn that there’s more to life then being really dedicated to your job – like fawning over a man who’s really dedicated to his job. And, god dammit, she needs to learn her nephews ages or she’s never going to fulfill her destiny and become a doting mother! And who’s going to teach her. Owen Upstanding Grady, that’s who. (Come on, his middle name’s got to be Upstanding, it can’t be anything else.)

This is baked right into the script in that line where Claire’s nephews are like “Naw Aunt Claire, we want to be protected by the burly badass, not you.” What did Owen do to earn that level of admiration from the boys? A bunch of people were stampeding towards them, so Owen… drove a car backwards? Couldn’t they have all just… run the same way as everyone? I’m still baffled by this. Whatever, it doesn’t matter what Owen did or didn’t do, the filmmakers want us to know he could do anything. And Claire best stick by his side.

The movie gets to write off all this hand-wringing by having Claire save Owen’s life, earning her a big ol’ surprise smooch – SEE SHE’S EMPOWERED, AND OUR GOOD GUY SEES IT!!! – but it simply isn’t enough to say these two are on equal footing now because Claire can knock a dinosaur in the noggin. This is Jurassic World trying to overwrite a whole bunch of “bitch-shaming” that’s coded into every single wardrobe choice.

Especially the choice where Owen condescends Claire into turning her crisp white suit into some weird facsimile of Ellie Sattler’s get-up. Ellie Sattler was perfect ten years before the scrutiny of the Internet had studio’s watching their backs when creating “strong female characters.” This just highlights what a step back we’ve taken.

Why Jurassic World is just as good as Pacific Rim: I’d say that Claire and Owen’s romance is the most unnecessary, most underwritten pairing in sci-fi blockbuster cinema, but look at the movie we’re comparing it to. Pacific Rim is the winner and still champeeeen and it’s not even close. Once again, I was willing to excuse that horrible last kiss because mechasuits with swords are the shit. I’m similarly willing to let certain things fly if the Indominus Rex is the shit.

And you know what else? I really enjoyed Bryce Dallas Howard’s untamed take on Claire, before Owen turns her into Ms. Nurturing. And I even occasionally like her after. She’s great in the scene where she’s watching the raptor strike from the ambulence while her nephews look on from the back. She pops. She’s really funny, especially in her scenes with Ifran Khan. I also love the way she walks through dinsoaur holograms multiple times as if she can’t even see them – its a nice visual way of illustrating her disconnect from the majesty of resurrected dinosaurs.

Like I said above, this character has every right to exist, and has every right to be a woman. It’s when we start attributing Claire’s inability to see the flaws in her park to her slavish dedication to being a working woman or to her lack of maternal instincts that we wade into hot water. And it’s when watching Chris Pratt shephard a brontosaurus from this world to the next makes Claire expel all her bad juju out of her system in a single beautiful tear that the hot water boils.

The Kids (Ty “Moptop” Simpkins and Nick “’Tude” Robinson)

Why Jurassic World’s got nothing on Jurassic Park: You know what, I don’t mind the kids that much. Tim and Lex are nobody’s favorite Park characters (even though they completely own what is arguably that film’s best scene), and I think the “visiting kids” trope actually makes more sense in a film about a fully functioning theme park. We need to see how Gray and Zach see the park differently. Zach, largely ambivalent, skulking behind his phone and his headphones, shows us that Calire is at least somewhat right: her audience is restless and she does need to go bigger to satisfy them. Gray shows us that Claire is wrong: there’s a portion of her audience that will always respect these creatures for what they are and what they represent.

That said, I’ve got to call out one utterly wasted thread: what is up with Zach checking out every lithe teenage female in the park while he’s got a girl waiting for him at home? Zach can’t say “I love you” and has wandering eyes? Fine… So, what does that do for the movie? To some extent, we’re supposed to look at that and go “Oh, he’s a TOTAL teenager,” and to some extent, we can read into Zach’s restlessness a sort of “I learned this behavior from my divorcing parents” demeanor. But, considering there’s no payoff to multiple scenes of Zach scoping out chicks, it’s also a waste of time. It’s indicative of a script with a lot of fat to trim. It has threads that go nowhere and characters that do nothing: I quite like Omar Sy’s performance as Owen’s raptor trainer bestie, for instance; but imagine the film without him for a second. It’s the exact same film, right? Barry is just Owen’s mouthpiece when Owen is elsewhere on the island. He’s one more body to worry about when the raptors turn. In Jurassic Park, if a character shows up and says something, you better believe that will pay off down the line.

(Also, Gray telling Claire to go get the T-Rex by vocally adding together the number of teeth present and saying more teeth are needed… That’s a stupid, terrible line, plain and simple. Even avowed dinosaur fanboy Tim wouldn’t stoop to that.)

Why Jurassic World is just as good as Pacific Rim: Zach has an actual arc. By that, I mean we see him transformed by things that happen in the film from a somewhat immature individual into a very mature individual. This isn’t always necessary but it’s nice when it happens, and it’s nicer when that transformation is somewhat nuanced. I like that Zach starts to bond with his brother after he sees how cool the Mosasaurus (Shamu the dinosaur) is, but he’s still a bit of a jerk. It’s not until things get dire that a more parental, protective side of Zach comes out. This is a vast improvement on the other character with a major arc in the same movie, Claire, who becomes a radically different character the minute she touches a dying brontosaurus; I mean, I’d be pretty rocked by that moment too, but I don’t know that it would fundamentally change everything about me instantaneously. Zach’s arc is also a transformation that’s better written and better performed than anything in Pacific Rim.

The InGen Team (Irfan Khan, Vincent D’Onofrio, B.D. Wong, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus)

Why Jurassic World’s got nothing on Jurassic Park: Maybe the InGen of World is more believable than the InGen of Park – we do not live in a world today where the entire power of a major corporation is represented by an old coot with a cane and a dream, and I doubt we lived in that world in 1993. There’s something to be said for the way Jurassic World presents an InGen with a corporate structure so baffling that no one really seems to no who reports to who, because, if this is a satire of corporations, that detail is spot on.

It’s also baffling.

It’s really difficult as an audience member to tell which way is up at any given moment, because the three major InGen characters – the park owner, the InGen security chief, and the lead geneticist – are doing this weird power struggle dance.

So while it may not be believable that Hammond could have really put an entire park together on will alone, it’s also efficient storytelling. It boils our feelings about the impetus behind the park down into one man. And Hammond is a freakin’ fascinating character. I said earlier that the raptors in the kitchen scene is arguably Park’s best. Fact is, Park is a film with about six or seven best scenes, and my personal favorite is its quietest. Just Ellie and Hammond eating ice cream while Hammond tells us about his flea circus. It does nothing for the plot, but it tells us everything about why this park exists and how it all could have gone so wrong. Credit where credit is due: Jurassic Park transcends its creature feature leanings riding on the back of Richard Attenborough’s tender performance as a deeply flawed, irresponsible, but ultimately sympathetic man.

Originally posted by dinosandwichpwned
Irfan Khan is essentially playing Hammond in Jurassic World. I like him. He’s got swagger to spare, and he captures some of that special magic. His character is also a contradiction in a designer suit. Khan sells Mizrani as a carefree, happy-go-lucky guy who sometimes accidentally backs himself into a situation he can’t handle – piloting helicopters, asking for cooler dinosaurs, stuff like that. But, with one line, the film undoes everything we think we know about this guy. The man who sternly puts down Owen’s request to use lethal force on the Indominus Rex because he has $26 million riding on that abomination is not the same man who was genuinely curious about the happiness of his customers AND his dinosaurs. That line could have gone to anyone else, especially Claire. That line should have gone to anyone else. This guy’s death is the most important one in the film, and he features in the film’s two best scenes (with Claire at the enclosure, and with Wu in Wu’s office); but all of that is undermined because it’s impossible to get a read on who he actually is.

At least D’Onfrio’s performance as Vic Hoskins leaves no such room for ambiguity. Hoskins is this big, swaggering military id who repeats the same message over and over again until you want to see him get eaten: basically some variation on “I want to see these raptors in uniform!” Hoskins genuinely believes, based on one display of Owen’s appeasement of the raptors that any guy could just command the raptors do his bidding (”Raptor, go kill Osama!”) and they would. It is a phenomenally stupid conceit, and it only gets stupider when Hoskins realizes that the raptors aren’t as under control as he initially suspected, so he decides miniaturizing the beast that just destroyed the whole theme park and controlled the raptors is a better military strategy. I can’t believe I’m saying this but: training raptors to perform tricks ina a Sea World-like show is one thing; training them so they can replace Seal Team 6 is pure idiocy and it renders Hoskins completely limp from the moment he speaks.

At least Jake Johnson (Nick!) gets this. When Hoskins takes over the control room and starts getting up close and personal with Johnson’s character, Lowery Cruthers, Johnson looks at this Neanderthal like the idiot he is. It’s gratifying, to say the least. Johnson and his control buddy Lauren Lapkus are great, but while we’re talking problems, one more to throw out there before we move on: Lowery and his fellow techies are never even remotely close to danger, and that’s a problem.

Jurassic World sets up these huge stakes.

Over 20,000 people!!!!!

You thought Jurassic Park was bad??? There were only like 10 people on that island when the dinosaurs got loose. We’ve got hundreds of kids and grandmas and innocents!

And for one brief moment, it capitalizes on that conceit. Flying dinosaurs swoop in and start carrying people off or pecking them, and one named character dies a horrible, gruesome death at the hands of Shamu-asaurus.

And then…

Apparently, all those people get locked up in a faraway bunker and nobody attacks the main part of the park until only the villain and the four heroes are left in it.

Look, I get it: Man of Steel got schooled on city-smashing decorum, and now films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World are taking the lesson plan to heart. As a filmmaker, you’ve got to make sure you don’t callously wipe out a populated area without thinking about the innocents. Words to live by, for sure.

But there’s a difference between Kal-El and Indominus Rex. The reason Zach Snyder was criticized was not because two superpowered beings flattened Metropolis without thinking about the little people. No, he was criticized because one of those superpowered people was Superman, and that’s just not how we expect Superman to operate. But a T-Rex/raptor/tree frog/cuttlefish genetic splice? Sure, go for it!

Because the whole point of a film where theme park attendees put down good money to endorse the remaking of man as capital-G God, resurrector of extinct Life, only to have that impulse shoved right back in their face raptor-claw style is that some innocents might die. Not just bad people. Not just flashy owners. Not just bored assistants and incompetent guards. But, like, a grandma.

In this, dinosaurs are no different than earthquakes or volcanoes. They don’t discriminate good victims from bad victims. Ask Arnold and Muldoon if they deserved having raptor claws inserted into their persons back in 1993. But, hey, their deaths are nominees number 5 and 6 for Jurassic Park’s best scene, so…

Why Jurassic World is just as good as Pacific Rim: One scene: Mizrani confronts Dr. Wu, and two great performers go toe-to-toe in a perfectly composed, perfectly writen scene. We think we know how this will go: Mizrani is an all-around good guy who can’t believe his geneticist would stoop this low, and Wu has gone full-on mad scientist. But, for once, the film expertly turns the tables and successfully makes it about something bigger than what’s on screen. Wu chews Mizrani up and spits him off, and his kiss off to Mizrani (”Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.”) seems like the result of a seance with Michael Crichton himself. I love that Jurassic World brought back Henry Wu and made him, twenty years on, the character that Michael Crichton originally wrote. This is basically an update on my favorite scene from Crichton’s book, in which Wu and Hammond have a tiff about the direction of the genetic future of the dinosaurs, and, as one might expect, it stands head-and-shoulders above any scene in Jurassic World; and any scene in the past few years of sci-fi blockbuster filmmaking, for that matter. It’s so great, it almost makes one forget that such a layered, interesting character is eventually reduced to a big bookmark that the filmmakers throw in the saga – “We’ll pick up from the scientist with all the Dino DNA who just got secreted away on that helicopter next time, so come back now y’all!”

Originally posted by pieceofartonly

The Dinosaurs (A Bunch of CGI Artists and One Brontosaurus Animatronic)

Why Jurassic World’s got nothing on Jurassic Park: Look, I hear you.

“If you’re watching a Jurassic film for the verisimilitude of the human characters, you’re doing it wrong…”

Maybe you’re right. As incredibly crafted as Arnold and Muldoon and Nedry and even Malcolm and Hammond were, none of them have had anywhere near the effect on our culture as that first glimpse of the T-Rex coming through the paddock fence did.

So let’s talk about what Speilberg does with dinosaurs. First of all, he keeps them off-screen for a long time after we first glimpse them. As our explorers venture out in their vans, the dinosaurs don’t just show up and roar on cue. They’re not entertainers; they are as ambivalent to the needs of Tim and Lex as a lion napping the day away at the zoo.

Their absence makes the heart grow fonder. When they show up… wow… Speilberg’s dinosaurs are awe-inspring and dangerous. They also have important limitations. The idea that a T-Rex can only see motion is fake-science mumbo jumbo. It’s also movie magic, pure and simple. With that rule established, we have a rubric for understanding what the T-Rex will and won’t be capable of going forward.

The raptors are full of surprises (they can open doors!), but we’re ready for them from the moment Alan explains their tactics to that terrified kids. That’s not just a character establishing his surliness and lack of affection for children; it’s tablesetting we need. And even the raptors are not infallible; they have a tendency of bickering over their prey at inopportune times and even they are powerless when they are interrupted by a dues Rex machina.

This is the difference between a cool moment (like the raptor jumping through Claire’s driver side window, or the Indominus Rex suddenly emerging from out of nowhere to take out a team of combat specialists) and a good setpiece. In Jurassic Park’s best setpieces, we understand the rules of the game at every turn, and are happy to watch tense scenarios play out minutes on end.

The Indominus Rex, on the other hand, breaks the game every chance she gets. We keep finding out surprising, impossible things about her that only really make sense after she’s pulled them out of her toolbelt and, twenty minutes later, they are tediously explained. We are playing catchup with this ridiculous monstrosity that can 1) turn off her own heat signature, 2) remember where she has had medical procedures done, 3) camoflouge herself, and 4) order raptors to turn on their masters!!! Every time, the effect is cool for ten seconds, but it’s not as cool as laying the groundwork so we can play along in the audience for seven or eight minutes.

The Indominus Rex is so tricked out that she ceases to be fun or impressive. The moments where she falters (like not being able to notice hidden people in spite of being able to READ HEAT SIGNATURES! [which is the exact opposite of Speilberg making his mythic beast functionally blind]) seem like bad screenwriting, and the moments where she succeeds begin to feel a bit old hat. She’s just here to be such a beastly collection of traits that man and raptor and T-Rex and Shamu-asaurus must form an uneasy, unnatural alliance in order to mitigate her sheer psychopathic gluttony.

Jurassic World is blaming you and me for this nonsense. Keep that in mind. It saves most of its satirical wrath for the corporation that kowtowed to the audience demand for Cooler and Meaner and Bigger, but lays it right there at the feet of the Jurassic World consumer, both in movie and out, too: you’ve done this, you asked for this thing, and now there’s no turning back.

But, you know what? I reject this movie’s easy skepticism. It sounds too much like old Speilberg and old Lucas shaking their fists at the moon, saying audience demand for bloated blockbusters will crash the film industry. I think that audience’s would have seen a much-desired follow-up to Speilberg’s dinosaur park movie if it featured a roving band of compsognathi as its big bad, so long as that gang of compys was presented with the diligence – the filmmaking acumen, the intelligence – that Speilberg presented his raptors and his T-Rex with.

Why Jurassic World is just as good as Pacific Rim: The first time I saw Jurassic World, that moment when Claire called forth the spirit of the first film, flare in hand, did not sit well with me. I couldn’t allow myself to get lost in the splendor because the movie was dramatically pointing to how cool it was that the T-Rex and velociraptor (the same two dinos who duked it out twenty years earlier) were teaming up to take down a bigger threat, and, when director Colin Trevorrow shouted FINISH HER, the Shamu-asaurus was there to do the job. This was manipulative fan service, and it was entirely too cute by half when all the victors gave each other this “I don’t like you, but for today, I’ll let you enjoy this” look.

The second time I saw it, I just gave in. It was wonderful.

I love dinosaurs. I always will. Dreams like dinosaurs walking the earth will always be one of the main reasons we need our movie screens to be so big.

This throwdown can’t hold a candle to that moment when Alan Grant first saw a dinosaur and stumbled over, but not everything needs to. If we didn’t allow anything on the screen if it couldn’t reach that level, the number of movie’s allowed in cinemas would reduce to a trickle.

This is what we’ve thirsted for since King Kong fought dinosaurs on Skull Island and batted down planes from the spire of the Empire State Building. We love reckoning with the huge and impossible, with attempting to fathom what this movie tells us: it’s not about controlling what you can’t understand, it’s about respecting it. The movie says it over and over again, “control this,” “control that, and I give it credit for ending on a shot of the T-Rex standing on top of the control room bellowing to the world “This is my house!” It’s big. It’s grand. It’s movies.

This thirst for spectacle isn’t some new phenomena.

It is as old as the movies themselves.