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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The Marvel universe gets its most grandiose chapter with Avengers: Endgame, a fitting successor to last year’s Infinity War—and a generous gift to those of us who like our movies with superheroes in them.

When we last saw Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), he was a survivor of the dreaded Thanos (Josh Brolin) finger snap, a universe-altering occurrence that took out half its living creatures and provided that tear-jerking moment when Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and many others turned to dust.

Endgame picks up where that action left off, with Stark floating in space and keeping a video journal of his inevitable demise, as he’s run out of food and water. Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Rocket (the voice of Bradley Cooper) are among the other survivors, dealing with the repercussions of so much death on Earth.

There are tons of questions this movie needs to answer in its three-hour running time. Where’s Thanos? Where’s Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)? Is Tony permanently marooned in space? What’s been going on with Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) during all of this Thanos hullabaloo? Is everybody really dead? Does Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) still have his Walkman in the Great Beyond?

Good news: The movie answers many of these questions and more thanks to another well-balanced screenplay and a crack directorial job from the team of Anthony and Joe Russo. When you leave Endgame, you’ll feel satisfied.

How do I really talk about any of this without becoming the Spoiler King? I can tell you that the movie is the second one this year that borrows a lot from Back to the Future Part II (after Happy Death Day 2U). I can tell you that the Hulk undergoes a fantastic wardrobe change. I can tell you that the New York Mets, my favorite baseball team, has been decimated by the Thanos snap, not unlike when Fred Wilpon took over sole ownership of the franchise in 2002. I could tell you that Rocky Raccoon comes face to face with his creator, Paul McCartney, and eats his foot, but that would be a lie.

I can also tell you, no lie, that it all zips by in a spectacularly entertaining way—and that very little of it misses the mark. There are a few moments when it’s evident that all of the stars weren’t physically together, with their presence pasted together through the power of special effects, just like that lackluster season of Arrested Development during which all of the cast schedules didn’t align. This is a forgivable offense; there’s no chance you are going to get a cast this size all in one room at the same time. Help us, CGI.

In the middle of all the action and plot developments, Downey delivers another soulful, endearing performance, well beyond anything you would’ve expected from a Marvel movie before he started showing up in them. Chris Evans continues to rock, something that truly began with Captain America: Civil War. Hemsworth and Ruffalo continue to explore more-humorous variations of their characters, and both are a total crack-ups.

Are the Marvel movies anywhere near finished with Endgame? Don’t be silly. James Gunn just got his job back as the director/commander of the Guardians of the Galaxy; Captain Marvel is just getting started; and Spider-Man’s next adventure will enter your face before the summer is done.

Have some of the more-popular story arcs within the Universe reached their conclusions? Maybe. I’m not telling. Set aside three hours, and get some answers yourself.

Avengers: Endgame is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Oh … Legos. My mom asked me for Legos this past Christmas, and I thought, sure, why not? That’s kind of cute, buying Legos for your mommy on Christmas.

So I grabbed a Star Wars X-Wing Fighter Lego set at a well-known department store (OK, since we are already advertising Legos here, I’ll name it: JCPenney), and figured my Christmas shopping was off to a good start. No, I did not look at the price.

After the lady at the cash register announced my total, I stood aghast and realized Mom had her big gift already. Damn … Legos are expensive!

Incidentally, earlier today, Mom sent me a photo of the fully operational X-Wing built and ready for play. It’s pretty glorious. It might even be worth the money.

Why did I tell you this story? First, to let you know how commercially out of touch I am when it comes to gift-giving, and second, as a sort of preamble to my thoughts on The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.

Taking some cues from Mad Max, the Book of Revelations and, yes, Radiohead, The Second Part is another healthy dose of family-friendly fun, with plenty of laughs. One of my favorite things to hear at a movie theater is an adult laughing, with his or her kid following suit. Either the kid is, indeed, in on the joke, or he/she just wants to be like his or her parent. Either way, it’s a lot of fun and really cute when a movie produces these reactions for its entire running time.

It’s five years after the end of the first movie, and our hero, Emmet (the voice of Chris Pratt), is happily buying coffee in Apocalypseburg, a devastated Lego land with sullen tones and broken dreams. Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) has taken to dramatic narrating at all times, and things are getting knocked down as soon as they are built up. Invading aliens called Duplos are mostly to blame—forces that are undeniably adorable, yet unabashedly destructive.

It’s a crazed world in which Batman (Will Arnett) winds up engaged to Queen Waterva Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), leader of the Duplo, and Emmett winds up running with a Kurt Russell-type antihero who is suspiciously like Emmett. The reasons for all this craziness will not be revealed here; find out for yourself.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller do not return as directors, but they did contribute to the screenplay. Directing chores go to Mike Mitchell, whose illustrious career has included Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. While this is easily Mitchell’s best directorial effort, some of the charm and zest of the original is lost in the transfer. The movie feels a bit repetitive at times, and some of the action is too fast to be taken in properly.

Flaws aside, the movie is still a lot of fun, especially when Arnett’s cranky Batman is at the forefront. There’s also a slightly dark underbelly here; it’s fun to see a kids’ flick that doesn’t totally play it safe. As I mentioned before, there’s plenty here for adults to appreciate, too. There are some great gags involving raptors (which is funnier considering Pratt’s Jurassic World participation), and a terrific small role for an iconic action hero who spends a lot of time in air ducts.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part has a feeling of finality, as if these characters are being closed out. But, let’s face it … money talks, and with Toy Story 4 on the way (Chapter 3 was supposed to be the last), it’s clear that animated movies can keep on trucking as long as adults and kids line up. I’d be surprised if they didn’t find a way to keep the Lego movie ball rolling after this.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part opens Thursday, Feb. 7, at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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

The Avengers team takes a swift kick to their (remarkably muscular) collective ass from a super-baddie named Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, the best blockbuster you will see at the movies this year.

While Marvel has been on a nice roll lately (Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Captain America: Civil War), the last “Avengers” movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, was a misguided, boring dud. This third installment (the first of a two-parter, with the second being released next summer) lets it all hang out with a massive collection of characters and a true, scary sense of impending doom.

There are many, many storylines at play servicing so many superheroes and villains. Infinity War feels like the Magnolia of Marvel movies in that it takes all of those storylines and balances them in a cohesive, entertaining manner. The film is 2 1/2 hours long, but it’s never close to boring.

The balancing act is performed by directors Anthony and Joe Russo, the team that made Civil War such a winner. The magic of that film carries over into this one, which picks up directly after the end of Thor: Ragnarok. That film ended with Thor and his fellow Asgardians feeling somewhat triumphant despite losing their planet while defeating emo Cate Blanchett. A mid-credits scene saw their ship coming into direct contact with one owned by the mighty Thanos (Josh Brolin).

In one of the great motion-capture achievements, Brolin is the best of monsters—one who manages just enough of a sensitive side that he falls well short of stereotype. At one turn, he’s obliterating planets and torturing horrified people under his large feet. Then he’ll shed a tear that shows there’s a big, obviously misguided heart pumping in his Infinity Stone-seeking chest. He’s much more complicated than your average CGI character.

I won’t go into the whole Infinity Stone thing, other than to say they’ve played a part in many past Marvel films—and they all come together and show their purpose in this movie as Thanos adds them, one by one, to his Infinity Gauntlet. Each time he gets another, a palpable sense of dread builds.

The gang is pretty much all here, so it’s easier to tell you who doesn’t show up in this installment: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Ant Man (Paul Rudd) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) are nowhere to be seen, but Hawkeye, Ant Man and a newish Marvel superhero will play into the next chapter.

Robert Downey Jr. continues his magnificent trek as Tony Stark/Iron Man, who is trying to arrange a wedding and babies with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) when yet another apocalypse begins. Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) continue their streak of weird humor after Ragnarok while Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) continues to smolder after the events of Civil War. Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) provides the sensible-guy arc, and has some of the movie’s best scenes with Stark.

Tom Holland continues his joyful portrayal of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy join the fray with a welcomed—and quite substantial—contribution, especially from Zoe Saldana (Gamora) and Karen Gillan (Nebula), estranged daughters of Thanos. Some of the best banter in the film happens whenever Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) encounters an Avenger trying to out-cool him.

There’s a lot at stake in this movie—perhaps too much for one film. That’s not necessarily a complaint, but a slight sense of overload and an abundance loose ends keep Avengers: Infinity War from being a masterpiece. Hey, maybe it’ll get an upgrade to “part of a masterpiece” next summer, when the next chapter plays out.

For now, get thee to a big screen, and be prepared to have your face melted with superhero/bad guy greatness. It’s dark; it’s funny; it’s thrilling; it’s action packed; it’s fantastically performed ... and it’s just Part 1.

Avengers: Infinity War is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Trippy Marvel fun continues with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a big, nutty, spiraling sequel that brings the fun—along with a lot of daddy issues.

Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), had him some major mommy issues in the first movie; this time out, dad takes a turn at messing with his head. Dad comes in the form of Ego (Kurt Russell … yes!), who we see hanging out with Quill’s mom in the 1970s during the film’s prologue. (Both CGI and practical makeup were reportedly used to de-age Kurt Russell, and it looks great.)

After a killer opening-credits sequence that features a battle with a giant slug thing while Baby Groot dances to Electric Light Orchestra, the Guardians—Quill, Baby Groot (the voice of Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (David Bautista) and Rocket (the voice of Bradley Cooper)—find themselves on another quest. They are quickly diverted to Ego’s planet, where Quill finds out more about his celestial origins.

Russell proves to be perfectly cast as Quill’s bombastic father, as Pratt possesses many of the legendary action film star’s alluring traits. Seeing them onscreen together—at one point playing catch with an energy ball Quill conjures with newfound powers—is one of the film’s great joys.

That scene also proves to be misleading, as writer-director James Gunn isn’t going to settle for an easy story about a wayward son reuniting with a dream dad. As it turns out, Ego makes Darth Vader look like Mike Brady as a father: Vol. 2 is as dark and nasty as it is silly and action-packed.

Quill’s daddy issues don’t end with Ego. Oh, no, that would be too easy. Gunn and his cast have come up with a story that is far more complicated than that of your average comic-book movie. Of course, there’s also the whole sibling-rivalry thing between Gamora and her twisted sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). When these two fight, it goes way beyond kicking each other in the shins.

Another subplot—the film has quite a few—involves Michael Rooker’s disgraced Yondu looking for redemption. This storyline results in one of the greater surprises offered by the franchise so far. Rooker, an underrated actor, makes Yondu’s journey compelling.

All the story threads hold together well as the film ratchets up the action at a frantic pace that Gunn always manages to keep under control. The director has a way of going crazy with his visuals and pacing—yet making it all comprehensible and coherent.

Bautista, good in the first film, graduates to greatness here, providing most of the film’s big laughs. His newly minted relationship with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Ego’s travelling companion, and his frankness about her physical appearance make for one of the film’s great running gags.

Sylvester Stallone makes a brief appearance as a renegade thief; while he doesn’t share screen time with Russell, we’ll just go ahead and call this a Tango and Cash reunion.

A couple of years back, Yes album cover illustrator Roger Dean took James Cameron to court, claiming Avatar’s production designs looked a lot like his work. He might want to fire up the lawyer brigade again, because Ego’s planet looks like it was completely inspired by Dean’s paintings. Whenever there was a pan of the planet’s landscape, I had Yes’ “Starship Trooper” playing in my head.

While Yes doesn’t make the classic-rock soundtrack, songs like Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” do. Like its predecessor, Vol. 2 works as an ode to classic vinyl rock.

The Guardians will be back in another sequel, along with an appearance in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War, so the fun is just beginning. As always, stick around for the credits; there are scenes still to be had after the main movie is over.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Two of Hollywood’s biggest and most lovable stars labor away in Passengers, a pretty but dumb movie that doesn’t have the guts to be as ugly as it should be.

Chris Pratt plays Jim Preston, a mechanic dedicated to starting a life on a distant planet. He and 5,000 other passengers are in suspended animation aboard a ship taking a 125-year journey. That ship has an unfortunate encounter with a meteor shower, and Jim’s sleeping pod awakens him … with 90 years to go on the trip.

What to do? Jim soon realizes his plight. He’s fortunate in that the ship is a cruise ship, so it has a nice gym, OK food and pretty suites. The novelty runs out after a year, and a lonely, Robinson Crusoe-looking Jim (with a terrible fake beard) gets it into his head to do a very bad thing.

I’m delivering a spoiler of sorts here, but if you’ve seen commercials for this movie, you know that Jennifer Lawrence is in it, and her character has to enter the plot at some point, right? Besides, you can’t really spoil what stinks already.

Jim, after exhausting all conversation possibilities with the ship’s android bartender (Michael Sheen), opts to wake up Aurora (Lawrence). What’s more, he doesn’t tell her why. He also doesn’t tell her that he studied her for a good long while, and woke her up because he thought she was really smart and, yes, super hot. In one year of isolation, he’s become a freaky creep.

Where does director Morten Tyldum go wrong, besides having a really hard name to spell? He’s working off a Jon Spaihts (also hard to spell) script that insists upon being happy and triumphant, while it would probably work better as some sort of horror movie.

These characters are essentially lost in space and given a lonely death sentence, yet the film fights for ways to make it a sappy love story between Jim and Aurora. Oh, sure, Aurora gets a little pissed about the whole waking-her-up-to-die thing, but the script calls for Jim to be some sort of hero rather than her captor.

The movie shows Aurora getting angry, but she eventually comes around, because, you know, it’s Chris Pratt, and he’s really cute. Had some portly weirdo with snot coming out of his nose woken her up, this would’ve been an altogether different movie. Passengers seems to say that if you are really good-looking, you can do unspeakably awful things and get away with it.

Hmm. Actually, the movie might be onto something here.

Still, even if there’s a shred of truth to the whole good-looking-folks-get-the-best-of-it premise, this would’ve been a better movie had Aurora taken a beeline to the weapons room and went on a Jim hunt. To be a love story, Aurora’s awakening needed to be an accident as well. By allowing Jim to do this horrible thing and essentially get away with it, the movie blows an opportunity be something other than a pretty picture.

The movie is good-looking for sure, and I really liked the design of the ship. That’s one of this film’s few redeeming qualities—that, and the fact that Jennifer Lawrence really can act, even when she’s in a junk movie. She can almost salvage the most-mundane dialogue and make it sound good. Almost.

It’s very appropriate that the year is ending with a big, vapid, underwhelming blockbuster, for this was the year when there were many of those. Passengers won’t frustrate you so much for what it is, but what it could have been.

Imagine if somebody like Stanley Kubrick got hold of this premise. Oh man, that would’ve been a movie to be reckoned with. Instead, we get a pretty space opera with a happy ending.

Passengers is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Director Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven (which itself was a remake of Seven Samurai) has enough in common with the Yul Brynner/Steve McQueen original to make it feel like a re-telling of the classic story. It also contains enough departures from the original to make it feel like a fresh take.

The Mexican bandits led by Eli Wallach in the original are replaced by an evil, land-stealing company led by a man named Bartholomew Bogue. As played by Peter Sarsgaard, Bogue is a memorable villain who makes skin crawl. He rolls into a mining town; kills a bunch of good, hard working people; and winds up getting the grouping in the movie’s title opposing his ass. Let the spectacular gunfights commence!

Fuqua pal Denzel Washington (they also worked together on The Equalizer and Training Day) is first-rate as Chisolm, basically Brynner’s role from the 1960 classic. When the wife of one of the deceased (Haley Bennett) comes looking for help and mentions Bogue’s name, Chisolm flies into calm, collected and valiant action. He enlists six other men to visit the town and prepare the townspeople for the fight of their lives.

The Magnificent Seven include Chisolm, scheming alcoholic gunslinger Faraday (Chris Pratt), the knife-wielding Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Vasquez the “Texican” (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).

Each member of the cast does a nice job of building a character in the 133-minute film. Hawke (who also frequents many Fuqua films) is especially good as the once-heartless sharpshooter who now has a case of the Jon Voight-in-Deliverance shakes when he tries to kill a living thing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it here again: Hawke is the most improved actor I’ve witnessed in my years of reviewing movies. This guy used to be the worst thing on a movie screen, and now he is one of the best.

Pratt scores laughs as the slightly racist, Archie Bunker-with-a-pistol member of the crew. D’Onofrio is equally funny, sometimes employing a high-pitched voice, as a man of honorable means who will crush your face with his boot if you steal from him.

Fuqua most certainly knows how to stage an action scene, and the action scenes in this one are absolutely thrilling. Every gunfight is expertly staged and beautifully tense, especially the final standoff. I was reminded watching this movie that if it weren’t for that final battle in the original The Magnificent Seven, we wouldn’t have had those final battles in Blazing Saddles and The Three Amigos.

While the film somehow scored a PG-13 rating, it’s worth noting that it is still very violent. There are not only a lot of gun deaths in this movie; there is some serious stabbing and slashing with knives and forks and things. I was actually surprised by how brutal the film was. I guess the MPAA has some sort of blood-volume criterion, and a movie can stab and shoot as much as it wants as long as no more than two quarts or so of fake blood is spilled. By my eye, this sucker is an R-rated movie.

If anything takes the film down a notch, it’s the all-too-clean production values. The sets often look like something out of Disney’s Frontierland, and the costuming is a little too clean and spiffy. I prefer Westerns that are a little grittier (Eastwood’s Unforgiven being the high watermark).

The Magnificent Seven gets the fall movie season off to a good start. It’s actually the sort of well-cast, thrilling blockbuster we often would see in the summer, and it gives the old time Western genre a decent addition.

The Magnificent Seven 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

Guardians of the Galaxy is a goofy, dazzling and often hilarious convergence of inspired nuttiness.

You’ll probably hear comparisons to the original Star Wars, The Fifth Element and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension; all of those comparisons are plausible. Guardians marks a blessedly new and crazy direction for the Marvel universe, and director James Gunn (Super, Slither) has taken a huge step toward the A-list.

Also taking a giant leap toward the upper echelon of Hollywood royalty is Chris Pratt, who mixes great charm, action-hero bravado and premium comic timing as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord. After a prologue that shows the Earthly origins of his character, Pratt sets the tone for the movie during the opening credits, grooving to his cassette-playing Sony Walkman on an alien planet and using squirrelly little critters as stand-in microphones.

After unknowingly stealing a relic that could have the power to take down the entire universe, Quill finds himself in serious trouble. Events lead to his joining forces with a genetically enhanced raccoon named Rocket (the voice of Bradley Cooper), a gigantic tree-person thing named Groot (the voice of Vin Diesel), a muscle-bound angry alien named Drax (Dave Bautista) and an ass-kicking green woman named Gamora (Zoe Saldana).

Together, they become the Guardians of the Galaxy, an unlikely troupe of mischievous outcasts that plays like the Avengers met the Marx Brothers—if the Marx Brothers had a green sister. It’s a decent comparison. Quill is Groucho; Rocket is Chico; and Groot is Harpo. (He only has one line, “I am Groot!” while Harpo only had the honking horn.) I’d say Gamora is Zeppo, but that would be insulting to Gamora.

The cast, buoyed by a spirited script co-written by Gunn, keeps things zippy and always funny. Visually, the movie is a tremendous feat. If you see it in 3-D, you will be happy with the results, because every shot seems meticulously constructed to benefit the medium. As for the makeup, just as much energy has been put into the practical effects as the digital work.

Michael Rooker, playing bad-guy Yondu, looks especially cool with his blue skin and ragged yellow teeth. Josh Brolin shows up briefly as Thanos, a major villain in the Marvel universe, while John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro are along for the ride.

With her presence here, and her work Star Trek and Avatar, Saldana has officially inherited the Queen of Science Fiction mantle from Sigourney Weaver (and she’s incredibly hot when she’s blue or green). Pratt establishes his leading-man status here, something that could be fully cemented with his turn in the Jurassic Park sequel next year.

While Guardians is a terrific visual spectacle, it also packs an emotional punch. Rocket delivers a speech about alienation that is far more moving than anything you’d expect to see in a movie like this, while Quill’s mommy issues fuel some surprising emotional moments. The cast does some real acting; Cooper’s feat is especially impressive, since we only hear his voice. Heck, even Vin Diesel packs a sentimental punch in the many ways he delivers his “I am Groot!” line.

The use of classic rock on the soundtrack is a brilliant touch. Quill’s old-school Walkman, still working decades after he left Earth, churns out the hits like “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Moonage Daydream” and “Cherry Bomb.” Like Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese, Gunn is quite adept at using great music in unexpected places.

Guardians of the Galaxy rivals Edge of Tomorrow and Godzilla as this summer’s best blockbusters. As for its place in the Marvel universe, I’ll put it right alongside The Avengers as the franchise’s best.

Good news:  A sequel has already been green-lit for 2017, so this blissfully bizarre story shall continue.

Guardians of the Galaxy opens Thursday night, July 31, at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Director Spike Jonze gives us a beautiful yet odd love story about a man smitten with his computer’s operating system (voiced by a lovely Scarlett Johansson).

Johansson does mesmerizing voice work as Samantha, a Siri-like voice operating system that is so charming, her new owner (Joaquin Phoenix) finds her far more interesting than actual humans. She makes you believe a man could fall in love with his computer. That’s a sad reality, perhaps, and Jonze (who won a screenwriting Oscar here) does a good job of dealing with the awkward circumstance.

Jonze has made a movie that looks and feels realistic, creating a future land in which it’s perfectly OK to date your computer. He approaches the topic seriously—and somehow manages to make it all work. While the premise sounds nutty, the approach is purely dramatic. There are few directors who could make a film like this come together.

The movie not only looks spectacular, as Jonze’s films often do; it also sounds great, thanks to a soundtrack from Arcade Fire. Meanwhile, Phoenix turns in some of the finest acting of his career. His nerdy character is somebody to root for, even though he’s basically pleasuring himself with Samantha for a good chunk of the film. Chris Pratt, soon to be a megastar with Guardians of the Galaxy, gives a good supporting performance as one of Phoenix’s co-workers.

Johansson deserved an Oscar nomination for her voice work. She created a fleshed-out character without ever being seen in the flesh—and that’s no easy feat.

Special Features: There’s a short making-of film and some interviews about modern relationships.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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