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Gladiator Jurassic World

You can’t experience first love twice. That was my problem walking into Jurassic World. I wanted so badly to fall in love again just as I had 22 years ago when I sat in a movie theater watching Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. My ten-year-old self sat wide-eyed, with my feet pulled up onto my seat so I could wrap my arms around my knees and hold myself tight as I watched the exhilarating terror taking place on the big screen.

Jurassic Park seamlessly blends horror, adventure, humor, philosophy, and suspense into a plot about how developments in genetics and bioengineering have made it possible to create a Dinosaur Disneyland. But it’s not just a film about amazing dinosaur attractions; it’s a film that asks its audience to experience, evaluate, and care about what we are seeing alongside the characters we are rooting for. Without a strong cast of multidimensional characters with whom we share an emotional connection, none of the wide-eyed thrills would feel as compelling. It’s the strength of the characters that drives the storytelling. There is so much at stake for them. No one is safe. Every single character is in constant danger of being eaten, crushed, or electrocuted.

TimElectrocution

Every scene in Jurassic Park is brimming with emotional and visual wow, but perhaps what I value the most is how the film doesn’t patronize its audience. It doesn’t take the path most traveled by big budget blockbusters and ONLY give us stylish spectacle without any substance. Rather, it challenges us to think about the ethical controversy generated by developments in genetics and bioengineering. It brings up the issue of human weakness and fallibility in the context of man vs nature, while also asking, “Does man have the right to play God?”

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Jurassic World does the opposite. It’s an aggressive spectacle with very little substance. Set 22 years after the events in Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar (the Central American dinosaur island from Jurassic Park) has been open just long enough for park ticket sales and visitor satisfaction to decline. Apparently, over time, park visitors became increasingly bored by the commonplace dinosaur attractions and want “bigger, louder” dinosaurs with “more teeth” to wow them. The film assumes that same desire from its own audience. It creates a bigger, louder, and more violent film without any of the thoughtfulness, character development, and emotional wow of its predecessor.

Eating JAWS

The result is a hollow dinosaur movie that is too big, too fast, and keeps tripping over itself trying to be clever. It bombards us with CGI spectacle after CGI spectacle with a profound bitterness that implies a kind of disgust for its audience. It is almost as if the movie is yelling, “isn’t this what you wanted?” at us throughout its entire runtime.

Sure, the bigger, louder effects are…big and loud, but there is no sense of gravity, wonderment, wit, or suspense. We get too much of everything too fast. We see a bunch of CGI bodies getting eaten by CGI dinosaurs, but none of that seems to matter because the film never slows down to enough for any of those moments to register. There is never any real sense of danger or suspense because the film spends too much time hitting its marks and pandering to the lowest of audience expectations. Instead of compelling, character-driven storytelling, Jurassic World offers us lazy and predictable storytelling, campy acting, cheesy dialogue, one-dimensional characters, and a CGI-heavy production that would make for a better video game than a movie.

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If we look at Jurassic World as a metaphor for the modern summer blockbuster culture of “bigger and badder” reboots, of cashing in on an audience’s collective nostalgia, then the hollowness of the film makes sense. It’s a tall order to try to manufacture nostalgia and pass it off as something that is innovative instead of a sub-standard replica, but it can be done. Mad Max: Fury Road is a testament to how inventive a summer blockbuster reboot can be.

I’m sure many people will forgive the hollowness of Jurassic World and enjoy it for the sheer spectacle it is. A part of me wishes I could have lowered my expectations and overlooked the irritating aspects that littered the film, but I just couldn’t. As I said before, you can’t experience first love twice and watching Jurassic World felt like a terrible first date with a guy who couldn’t stop looking at his reflection in the window behind me as he went on and on about how much money he makes. I’d rather just stay home with my dog and watch Jurassic Park.

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Ballet

Last weekend I saw a Smuin Ballet performance of “Spring Bouquet.” While I can appreciate the artistry and painstaking skill that goes into every ballet performance, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing: a compelling story. To me, ballet can feel a bit stuffy and tedious after thirty minutes of watching men and women swirl and bounce around the stage, but what if a ballet could offer more? Much more? Say, take my favorite movie of all time and make it into a ballet: JAWS The Ballet.

JAWS The Ballet

Jaws the ballet 2

And just like that, Ballet would be AWESOME! Can’t you just hear the John Williams score now? Duuun dun duuun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun BOM BOM dun dun dun dun dun dun.

JAWS: The Ballet

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With the Oscars only a couple days away, everyone from Rodger Ebert to any random person with a YouTube account is flooding the internet with predictions on who will take home those naked golden men Sunday night. While you have probably read or watched a million different predictions already, I figured it couldn’t hurt to throw mine into the mix.

So let’s get to it already…

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING “2011 Oscar Predictions”

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“Piranha 3D” is a hyper-exaggerated satire of “blood in the water” films that depends heavily on its audience being in on the joke. Unlike the many utterly idiotic spoof movies that followed “Scary Movie,” (“Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” “Vampires Suck,” etc) “Piranha 3D” has enough humor, a fairly talented cast, and enough bite to be a thoroughly entertaining parody film. It pokes fun at “Jaws” and the original “Piranha,” while simultaneously paying tribute to them, resulting in giddy nostalgia for horror aficionados.

The movie opens with a shot of a vast body of water. A radio somewhere in the distance is playing the song “Show Me The Way To Go Home.” Slowly, the camera reveals Richard Dreyfuss, sitting in a boat on the water, wearing a grey shirt, a black beanie, a jean jacket, and glasses.Matt Hooper, anyone?

The opening is the first of many knowing winks this horror-comedy gives its audience. In its own way, “Piranha 3D” flirts with and teases us from start to finish.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING “Piranha 3D Review”

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“Dead Snow” should have been called “Zombie Nazis” because that is really all it offers. It could have been a good cult classic like “Evil Dead” with its promising zombie premise and playful undertones, but instead it got too caught up in insipid spoofing, formulaic storytelling, and bland characters.

Every good zombie movie offers a fresh take on the genre (like “Shawn of the Dead” and “28 Days Later”) but this one simply tries to mix all of the horror elements into one steaming pot of carcass soup. It has no unique flavor, but it offers obligatory blood and guts. For some, that will be enough. GRADE: D+

(Check it out for FREE on Comcast On Demand until 7/21/10)

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I feel as though I should preface this review by stating a mildly embarrassing fact. I am a geek for Greek mythology. While all my friends dressed up their Barbies in trendy 80’s fashion, I dressed mine in togas I fashioned out of toilet paper. I named them after my favorite Greek Gods and Goddesses and re-enacted their mythological tales. I had an amazing assortment of books on Greek mythology and I read them often.

That being said, I enjoy watching sword and sandal movies. They hold a special place in my heart. So when I saw the trailers for the new “Clash of the Titans” I was thrilled. That thrill simmered to curiosity the more I read about and saw clips of the film. That curiosity turned to frustration during the first hour of the film and, ultimately, disappointment by the end.

This new retelling follows Perseus’ quest to kill the Kraken, but not because he needs to save the love of his life from being sacrified, but rather, to avenge the death of his adoptive parents who were drowned by Hades. That’s right, Hades drowned them. Not Poseidon “God of the Sea,” but Hades “God of the Underworld.” Shouldn’t the God of the Sea be in charge of drowning people? I mean, it’s kind of his job.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING THIS REVIEW

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Loosely based on Lewis Caroll’s novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Disney’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland re-imagines Alice’s adventure and gives the classic tale the Tim Burton treatment: landscapes are stamped with Burton’s trademark Gothicism, the characters are quirky and often grotesquely exaggerated, and the story focuses on misunderstood outcasts and split worlds. Coupled with Danny Elfman’s sweeping, magical score, the film has both the visual and musical elements in place for an amusing and absurd dream-like adventure.

“But it’s spectacle over substance!” some have announced. And they are partly right. If you go into the film expecting some sort of nuanced human drama, you will be deeply disappointed. Alice in Wonderland is a children’s story in spite of expectations to the contrary.

Carroll’s novels about Alice are in the “literary nonsense” genre, consisting of peculiar characters and muddled storylines that construct a type of dream-logic experience for the reader. Puzzlement and absurdity practically seep through the pages, leaving so much open to interpretation.

Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton interpret Alice in Wonderland as an empowerment tale about a girl who falls down a rabbit hole and into a fantasy world where she must learn to be her own champion. It explores themes of identity, autonomy, and “muchness.” That is about as deep as the movie ever gets and, perhaps, that is as deep as it needs to get.

Alice in Wonderland is not a perfect film -the story is a little weak and the ending may have some people rolling their eyes (especially during the song played during the credits) – but the talented cast playing misfit characters create an amusing sense of nostalgia. You recognize these Wonderland characters as if they are old friends, even with their new Burtonesque appearances and enhanced eccentricities. Seeing them re-imagined on the screen reminds you why you liked the story in the first place.

Like any classic story re-imagined on screen, there will be those who are disappointed with the outcome. The hype may overshadow the experience. Expectations may interfere with fully slipping into the cinematic journey. But for those who still believe in the magic of fairytales, still enjoy flamboyant silliness for the sake of silliness, and go into the movie with an open mind, they will find it enormously entertaining. For Alice in Wonderland is, and always will be, for the dreamers.

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