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Thu09192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Dexter Fletcher, the director who helped take a shit on Freddie Mercury’s legacy with the dumpster fire that was last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody (he finished the job after Bryan Singer was fired), fares much better with Rocketman, this celebration of Elton John.

The movie tells Elton John’s story through musical numbers and fantasy sequences; as it turns out, it’s a good approach. Elton John is played by Taron Egerton (who starred alongside Elton John in the wonderfully weird Kingsman: The Golden Circle), and there will be no lip-synching here, thank you very much: Egerton confidently sings John’s tunes, including “Tiny Dancer,” the title track and, unfortunately, “I’m Still Standing.”

Jamie Bell plays John’s writing partner, Bernie Taupin, and the movie works as a nice testament to their contributions to rock’s legacy. Egerton goes full-blown rock star, as the film features some nice, artistically exaggerated re-creations of key moments in Elton John’s history. The results are a lot of fun, even through some slight miscasting (Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton John’s mom!).

Rocketman is not a perfect movie, but it’s a bold and interesting approach to a rock biopic that has more in common with Across the Universe than Bohemian Rhapsody.

Rocketman is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a big, dummy dino joke of a movie. It’s nothing but a brainless, sloppy rehash of Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World, with a lame militaristic angle thrown in again.

Yes, the dinosaurs look cool, and things get off to an awesome start with an underwater visit to the skeleton of the genetically engineered dinosaur, Indominus rex, that died hard at the end of Jurassic World. The prologue is scary; it looks great, is well-directed, and seems to be setting the tone for a film that recalls the grim tone the excellent Michael Crichton novel that spawned the film franchise.

Sadly, things degenerate—badly—after the title credits pop up, as the film becomes an island adventure in one half, with dinosaurs rampaging on the mainland in the other half. The crazed fun that was the original Jurassic World is lost, replaced by conveyer-belt, déjà vu, stale movie-making.

When a volcanic eruption on the isle of dinosaurs threatens their genetically engineered lives, Congress holds hearings on whether or not to save them. These hearings involve the return of the one and only Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm. Rather than having Goldblum around for his trademark psycho-rambling and dark wit, his character just groans a couple of lines about how we shouldn’t have made the dinosaurs, because it goes against nature, and they have really big teeth and might bite you. Then he goes away.

Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to the island to save Blue, the adorable velociraptor who wants you to pet him. Eventually, the action winds up in a large mansion in the U.S., where a nefarious businessman is keeping dinosaurs in the basement so he can auction them off in what amounts to a dinosaur fashion show for evil countries who want to weaponize them.

Oh, come on.

A rehash of a familiar plot is fine if it’s done with skill and nuance. (See Star Wars: The Force Awakens for a fine example.) Fallen Kingdom goes the campy route … and it’s dull, dull, dull. Everybody in this film appears to be going through the motions. (“I hit my green-screen mark! Where’s craft service?”)

How many times do we have to see a T-rex inadvertently save the day? That was fine once, but the T-rex is supposed to be scary, not our accidental hero. While I’m at it, knock it off with the good-natured velociraptor, too. Velociraptors should be ripping faces off, not playing fetch.

How many times do we have to see a billionaire old guy with an amber mosquito cane presented in a sympathetic light, even though his genetic-engineering blunder has put the world in terrible peril? Sweet and cuddly James Cromwell plays the former business partner of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough in the original trilogy), and he’s just a nice guy whose goofs have sent some other nice people through dinosaur digestive systems. In the original novel, Hammond was a monster. Spielberg turned him into Santa Claus, and that trend continues with Cromwell.

Can we also please stop with the “dinosaurs as military weapons” crap? This was a bad, laughable idea when Spielberg considered it decades ago; it was a bad idea that tainted the original, somewhat fun Jurassic World; and it’s a bad idea that is at the forefront of this one.

Director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible) is usually excellent, but here, he is saddled with a dopey screenplay, co-written by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, that wants to be family-friendly with just a hint of menace. Why not go the James Cameron Aliens route with one of these sequels? In other words, get a hard R-rating, and give us a real dinosaur apocalypse! I don’t want dinosaurs that can be controlled with clickers so we can all go, “Awwww!” I want them to tear people’s faces off! Characters should be shitting pants when they see a T-rex, not breathing a sigh of relief because the T-rex just took out another, meaner dinosaur.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the second part of a trilogy. Its ending hints at something cool for the next chapter. However, if it includes a T-rex saving the world after joining the Marines, I’m done.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is now playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

You have to give Matthew McConaughey an “A” for effort for Gold, which is “loosely based on a true story.” McConaughey not only stars as wannabe gold magnate Kenny Wells; he also co-produced the movie, thinned his hair, put in some weird teeth and gained weight for the role.

Sadly, maximum effort doesn’t result in an optimized return for Gold. The movie is an uneven, confused endeavor, and McConaughey winds up looking like a guy, normally in really good shape, who messed himself up for a few months to shoot a movie. He doesn’t look real, like Robert De Niro did when he destroyed his physicality for Raging Bull. He just looks slightly out of shape and made up. Even if McConaughey looked truly messed up, Gold would still be a mess—albeit a sometimes entertaining mess.

Wells is a fictional character, and the film is based loosely upon the Bre-X gold scandal of the 1990s. The original scandal was based in Canada, while director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) brings this story to the U.S.

McConaughey goes full-throttle as Wells, owner of a prospecting business in Reno, Nev., who is looking for that one strike that will make him legendary. He comes across a renowned explorer, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), who has the ties and ingenuity to mine unsearched parts of Indonesia. Kenny pawns his watch and goes into business with Acosta.

This is where the movie gets a little sketchy. There are a lot of shots with Wells flying around to different locations like Indonesia and New York. There’s a substantial sequence in which Wells runs around the jungle with Acosta and gets ill, and another that deals with the business/stock-exchange ramifications of Kenny’s dealings. It all becomes a bit much—it’s too hard to keep track of, yet too routine to distinguish itself.

In the end, the film plays out like The Wolf of Wall Street minus most of the fun, but not minus the McConaughey. (He’s in both!) It’s the same basic plot: A headstrong guy tries to take the fast track to big riches and gets his butt kicked in the end. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t feature Kenny Wells trying to get into his car after taking a bunch of slow-release Quaaludes.

Bryce Dallas Howard, who has had a terrible year with this and that god-awful Pete’s Dragon remake, plays Kenny’s long-suffering girlfriend, a role that utilizes absolutely none of her talents. She shows up every now and then looking mildly frustrated, than disappears for large swaths of the story.

The film’s (partial) saving grace is McConaughey, who remains fully committed to the role and makes Wells an engaging character, even when the events swirling around him are confusing and unoriginal. The movie is almost worth seeing to watch a good actor giving it his all.

As for the storytelling, there’s nothing new here, and the big twist isn’t a surprise at all. The movie wants to be a jungle-adventure movie and business adventure all in one, and the two don’t meld together well. The movie winds up feeling like four or five movies mushed together.

While it’s hard to feel bad for an Oscar-winning actor, it is a bit depressing to see one of the good ones do all of this—for naught. Gold is not worth the strain he must’ve put on his cardiovascular system, although I’m sure he had some fun nights pounding milk shakes and burgers.

Gold is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A few years back, word got out that Steven Spielberg and co. were looking to reboot the Jurassic Park franchise with dinosaurs controlled by the military. Internet chat rooms went berserk—and the chatter was not positive.

Then, it appeared the idea got scrapped.

Not so fast.

Jurassic World actually incorporates evil dudes wanting to use raptors in combat. Mind you, this is a fairly small part of the plot, and it winds up being a bit of a joke. Still, I really can’t believe this idea has actually made it into a movie.

I also can’t believe that a movie in which raptors are sought as military weapons is actually pretty good.

Jurassic World takes place 22 years after the original movie (the second and third films in the franchise are not acknowledged), and John Hammond’s original idea has come to fruition—albeit in a bastardized, Six Flags kind of way. Jurassic World has been up and running for years under the guidance of Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), another rich-guy owner who just wants the world to have lots of fun with dinosaurs. How naive!

Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who has impossible hair and runs the place for Masrani, is dealing with some waning interest in the park. (People are getting bored with “normal” dinosaurs.) So she and the park’s techs hatch a plan for a genetically engineered, hybrid dinosaur that is bigger and smarter than the T. rex. The new monster is ready to be rolled out—and hopefully sponsored by Verizon.

Of course, the movie wouldn’t be any good if the new monster, Indominus rex, just hung out in its pen eating goats. Nope, this sucker gets loose—and lots of people and dinosaurs are in its path. Let it be said: This particular dinosaur is very nasty, and very entertaining.

Director Colin Trevorrow, who had a hand in writing the script, throws everything into this movie. This is one of those sequels that make fun of sequels, and it honestly couldn’t be much dumber. But sometimes, dumb is good when you are dealing with a big movie featuring rampaging dinosaurs.

“It boy” Chris Pratt plays the male lead, Owen, a sort of dino-whisperer who has a special relationship with a trio of raptors. He’s got them trained to the point where they won’t immediately tear his face off, and he can stand in a pen with them for a bit. Still, they look like they will eat his legs if given an honest chance.

Vincent D’Onofrio is the bad-guy military type who wants the raptors to fight terrorists. It’s all very kooky, but D’Onofrio has a talent for selling the ridiculous, and Trevorrow obviously isn’t being held back by reality. You have to be a good director to pull this sort of thing off, and Trevorrow—whose only other big-screen feature credit is the incredibly awesome Safety Not Guaranteed—was the right choice. He balances many plot threads (a couple of brothers lost in the park, evil military dudes, crazy dinosaurs) and delivers something that goes down easy on a summer movie night.

The finale, involving all-star dinosaurs kicking each other’s asses, is a real winner. Less emphasis on the people, and more dinosaurs, please! I was relieved that Sam Neill’s crotchety paleontologist was nowhere in sight.

In addition to the Indominus rex, who is a real keeper as far as psycho movie dinos are concerned, there’s a big water-faring beastie that eats great white sharks; plenty of flying dinosaur mayhem; and lots of raptor rampages. This one spares no expense when it comes to dinosaur screen time.

Of course, things are left open for a sequel—and there will be a sequel, for sure: $500 million worldwide in your first weekend usually grants one a sequel.

Jurassic World winks so much at the genre that it’s almost a comedy—a comedy in which lots of people get eaten by dinosaurs in totally insane ways.

Jurassic World is playing in multiple formats in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews