Jurassic World (2015) Review

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 124 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

In 2015, a “soft reboot” of the Jurassic Park series was released, titled Jurassic World. Does it recapture the magic of the first one? Well, not quite, but it comes commendably close at times. The plot may sound familiar. On the ruins of the original dinosaur habitat from Jurassic Park (1993) a new amusement park is created, also built around cloned prehistoric creatures. However, trouble starts to brew when the scientists behind the wizardry create a brand-new, custom-built hybrid dinosaur called the indominus rex. Very few figurative points will be awarded for originality here, but the end result is still an engaging action-adventure picture.

In case you can’t tell from the plot description, this one is basically a souped-up remake of 1993’s Jurassic Park. It doesn’t have the timeless charm of that flick, but it does try to up the ante at every corner. In the end, it’s one big orgy of dinosaur-related violence that occasionally borders on the mean-spirited. Jurassic World is, at times, preposterous and not exactly unpredictable, yet it’s a slick, fast-paced corporate product that held my attention with ease.

I suppose the secret ingredient is the human element, which this film retains from the previous three movies in the franchise. Many have commented on the characters here being rather thin, but I found them satisfactorily fleshed out. Dinosaur carnage is always more involving when there are relatable human beings thrown into the mix. Also, more than any installment since the first, Jurassic World highlights mankind’s hubris, as he tries to control nature and play God. Michael Giacchino’s musical score frequently “quotes” the John Williams-written themes that have become famous.

There are a couple of new things here (I love the petting zoo with the baby herbivore dinos), but, overall, Jurassic World is just trying to top the first movie at its own game. More dinosaurs, more action, more characters, more special effects, etc. Still, it’s a swell popcorn-muncher, if that’s what you’re looking for. It has enough hard-hitting chaos and human drama to make it worth watching for fans of this sort of picture. I had a good time.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Jurassic Park III (2001) Review

Director: Joe Johnston

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Here we go again. In 2001, a third installment in the Jurassic Park series was released, but it feels like little more than a cash-grab. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t feel necessary either. This time, one of the characters from the amazing original, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), is recruited by a wealthy couple, Paul (William H. Macy) and Amanda Kirby (Téa Leoni), to serve as a tour guide for them on their less-than-legal journey to a dinosaur-inhabited island off the coast of Costa Rica. They’re really starting to milk this franchise dry, aren’t they?

This far-fetched sequel brings just enough new ideas to the table to justify its existence. There are a few new creatures the audience hasn’t seen before and, with them, comes new ideas for action scenes. In fact, Jurassic Park III isn’t a whole lot more than a series of reasonably engaging set-pieces, one after another. There’s less drama this time around, but, if all you’re looking for is dino-action, you might have a good time.

John Williams does not return as composer here, with Don Davis filling his shoes. Don’t worry, though, the great musical themes from the first two entries in the series make bombastic appearances. The special effects may be a bit of a step up from the previous two pictures, but does it really matter that much? The characters are generally pretty well defined, which is a plus. It’s also the shortest Jurassic Park flick so far.

Okay, I felt some déjà vu watching this movie. It doesn’t quite do enough to separate it from the first two installments. That being said, I’m going to give it a passing grade, as it’s an agreeable watch. Jurassic Park III‘s not boring and it’s nice to see Sam Neill’s character return to the series, which feels exhausted at this point. Still, I can honestly say that I’ve seen much, much worse, so a lack of originality isn’t enough to sink the entire picture.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Gabriel Over the White House (1933) Review

Director: Gregory La Cava

Genre(s): Drama, Fantasy

Runtime: 86 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The depths of the Great Depression were desperate times, and many looked to political radicalism for salvation. This sentiment is reflected in the 1933 film Gabriel Over the White House, which tells the tale of a hack politician named Judson Hammond (Walter Huston) who becomes President of the United States. After an automobile accident, he becomes possessed by an angel and transforms into a dictator to solve the country’s problems. The movie is cheering for him every step of the way. Yes, this is a motion picture that actually exists.

This is a flick that celebrates strongman tactics, yet I hesitate to call it “fascist” like many reviewers do. The film’s ideology lacks the violence-for-the-sake-of-violence, Social Darwinistic, xenophobic palingenetic ultra-nationalism that real fascism revolves around. I don’t agree with Gabriel Over the White House‘s politics, but its beliefs seem to be closer to general authoritarianism than the fascistic or communistic strains of totalitarianism that were threatening to take over the planet at the time of its release (not that that makes it okay). It really goes nuts when the United States decides to get foreign governments to repay their debts.

This piece of propaganda is described as a “must-see curio” by the DVD case, and I agree. Released the same month that Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as the President of the United States, American faith in democracy was perhaps at its nadir due to the devastation caused by the Great Depression. Fortunately, Roosevelt would restore the nation’s faith in its institutions without resorting to dictatorial methods, proving that the regime envisioned by Gabriel Over the White House was unnecessary.

This political drama, released during the Pre-Code era in the early 1930s before the enforcement of the Production Code, is a doozie. Sure, its ideas are wrong, but it’s very entertaining, with lofty dialogue and the occasional moment of action. It needs to be seen by more people to show just how close many of the countries of the Free World came to succumbing to dictatorship during the 1930s. This is an important historical document.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Rambo: Last Blood (2019) Review

Director: Adrian Grunberg

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 89 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

John Rambo is an interesting character. He’s a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-ridden Vietnam War veteran who shows tremendous compassion…and kills people with hammers. It makes sense if you’ve seen the movies. Anyway, the fifth entry into the series sees Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) traveling to Mexico to rescue a girl under his protection (Yvette Monreal) who’s been abducted by human traffickers. Even if it’s the weakest of the films in the franchise so far, it’s still a savagely efficient revenge picture.

Rambo: Last Blood is a pretty predictable movie, but that’s not really the point. It was never a series that featured wild plot twists. Instead, this flick is an audience manipulation piece that wallows in the horrors of human trafficking before delivering a thrilling, gory catharsis. I should emphasize the word “gory,” because this movie doesn’t shy away from showing bad guys being blown to bits or splattered all over the place. Most of the action is saved for the grand finale, which the film does a solid job of building up to.

As I mentioned earlier in the review, I currently consider this to be the least best of the Rambo franchise. One of the reasons for this is that it feels like the series has become a follower, rather than a leader, in the action genre. The plot is remarkably similar to Taken (2008), with a final action sequence that brings to mind Skyfall (2012) or, Hell, even Home Alone (1990). Okay, so Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) borrowed a lot from Uncommon Valor (1983) and Missing in Action (1984), but it still felt like it had its own, distinct identity.

Rambo: Last Blood is a satisfying shoot-’em-up (or fry-’em-up or bash-’em-up) for fans of the action genre. It’s not exactly original, but it’s largely true to the Rambo character and is ruthlessly straightforward and lacking in convoluted storytelling. It’s pretty short at 89 minutes, displaying a well-told action-crime-thriller story that stays on target just like the titular character stalking his prey. With all these fancy superhero movies filled to the brim with content being released in the past decade or so, it’s nice to see an actioner that keeps things simple.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 129 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The second installment in the Jurassic Park series isn’t as good as the original, which is expected, but it’s still a better-than competent action-adventure flick. The plot, which is nothing more than a fairly contrived premise for a sequel, is about a team of experts being sent to the original Jurassic Park’s Site B, a separate island where dinosaurs roam free, to document the creatures there. However, things are complicated by the fact that they may not be the only humans headed for the area.

This is a sillier ride than the first one, occasionally focusing more on dinosaur-related antics than storytelling. Oh, well, it’s a blockbuster sequel…what do you expect? Director Steven Spielberg’s sadistic streak shows up here, with critic Rob Gonsalves’ Rotten Tomatoes blurb on the film saying that he’s in “his ruthless cat-playing-with-a-mouse mode” here. There’s almost a slasher movie-style quality to the proceedings. Of course, the villains are truly hissable, so watching them getting their comeuppance is part of the fun.

Jeff Goldblum’s performance as Dr. Ian Malcolm was a highlight of Jurassic Park (1993), so he’s brought back here and made the main character, giving him plenty of screen time to act like himself. There aren’t as many “character moments” as there were in the first picture, with the emphasis being on mayhem and carnage. The special effects are generally convincing, and John Williams returns to do another majestic musical score.

I don’t think The Lost World: Jurassic Park is essential viewing for everybody who enjoyed the original. This one’s a bit more heavy on the action and whatnot, with the awe of seeing real, living dinosaurs being put on the back burner for much of the runtime. For some audience members, the 1993 entry will be enough to satisfy them and this one might just be overkill. Action-adventure aficionados will probably enjoy it, though.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Jurassic Park (1993) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 127 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

When the original film in the Jurassic Park series was released in 1993, it floored audiences with its state-of-the-art special effects that seemingly brought dinosaurs to life. However, there’s more to this movie than just fancy computer-generated imagery. The compelling story is about an amusement park inhabited by cloned dinosaurs being given a trial run by several experts and the grandchildren, Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) of the park owner, Hammond (Richard Attenborough). Rightfully regarded as a modern classic, Jurassic Park still manages to leave viewers on the edge of their seats.

This picture is famous for ushering in the modern era of computer-generated special effects. However, one of this flick’s secret weapons is how it balances the digital stuff with extensive practical effects. The two styles are blended almost seamlessly, resulting in dinosaurs that the audience doesn’t really question the realism of. The action scenes are ferocious and surprisingly well-staged.

Of course, Jurassic Park isn’t just a bunch of dinosaur scenes stringed together. It has human characters that we actually get to learn and care about. The cast is just the right size for this kind of flick. It’s large enough to make its world feel populated, yet intimate enough for the audience to not lose track of who’s who. There’s a great sense of wonder, awe, and discovery that permeates the movie. The masterful musical score from John Williams amplifies these feelings.

Jurassic Park is not just your average action-adventure blockbuster. Director Steven Spielberg carefully crafted an excellent sci-fi yarn. With moments of action, drama, suspense, horror, and even comedy, it has something to appeal to most filmgoers. Like many (most?) of the director’s works, it has a quality that makes it still feel fresh and immediate after the passage of many years. Even if you’re not a dinosaur fanatic, this one deserves to be watched.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Onion Movie (2008) Review

Directors: Tom Kuntz and Mike Maguire

Genre(s): Comedy

Runtime: 86 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The Onion Movie was filmed in 2003, but wasn’t released until 2008 (direct to video). That’s not a good sign, but how does the film hold up? Loosely based around the story of an upright television news anchor, Norm Archer (Len Cariou), who’s facing pressure to include more corporate tie-ins in his broadcast, The Onion Movie is actually more of a collection of oft-hilarious sketches that show off the Onion franchise’s razor-sharp sense of humor. This picture’s reception was mixed (at best), but I find it to be consistently laugh-out-loud funny.

The humor here is frequently intentionally low-brow, reveling in the cultural idiocracy that we live in. Stupidity sells, I suppose, and The Onion Movie is happy to oblige. The satire in this movie is savage (and occasionally “politically incorrect”), putting the pedal to the metal as it mocks humanity. All people want is a ridiculous, violent action film or two, some money, etc. Integrity be damned.

It would be a mistake to say that every sketch in the film hits the bullseye. While almost every one is good for a chuckle or two, a minority overstay their welcome or are just duds. This isn’t really unexpected in a comedy of this nature, so the movie is generally quick to throw another scene at the audience if the one they’re currently watching isn’t working. The Onion Movie was shelved for five years, so some of the jokes in it were a bit stale or dated by the time of actual release. I’m kind of surprised they didn’t do a sketch on prescription drug side-effects or something.

So, will you find The Onion Movie funny? Its raunchy, tasteless, hyperbolic style isn’t for everybody, and some will scoff at its loose, sketch-oriented structure, but, if you’re a fan of the Onion franchise in general or subversively low-brow humor, there’s a good chance that its off-the-wall charm will resonate with you. Personally, I think it’s a laugh riot. Make sure you view it on home video, so you can watch the deleted scenes and outtakes.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Days of Glory (1944) Review

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Genre(s): Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 86 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

What was it like for democracies, like the United States, to be allied with a totalitarian state, the Soviet Union, during World War II? Days of Glory, made during that war, shows what the Free World’s propagandists had to work with. On the Eastern Front of World War II, a band of Soviet partisans wage guerrilla warfare against the invading Nazis. This melodrama is satisfactory entertainment, but works best as a window into the nature of the Western Allies’ relationship with the Soviet Union during those desperate days.

To put it bluntly, Days of Glory is pro-Soviet propaganda, albeit a piece of propaganda from a time when that communist country was perhaps the world’s best hope for taking down Nazi Germany. The opening narration even goes as far as to describe the millions suffering under Stalinist rule as a “free people.” Okay, this isn’t exactly a realistic movie, with its singing Soviets and whatnot, but I can forgive this, considering its wartime origins.

Although it’s a war film, this picture goes pretty light on the action. If you’re thinking of watching this flick just to see some Eastern Front partisan-related carnage, I’d recommend you look elsewhere. However, on the basic level of investing the audience in its characters, Days of Glory works fine enough. It’s romance-heavy, but the story is interesting enough to keep viewers engaged. Much time is spent in the guerrillas’ underground bunker, occasionally giving the movie a stagey feel.

Days of Glory is notable to two things. The first is that it’s the film debut of Gregory Peck, who plays the leader of the Soviet partisan cell. He would, of course, go on to become of one the silver screen’s greatest actors. The second is that it’s one of the few American productions to cast an explicitly positive light on the vile Soviet Union. To be fair, the common foot soldier of that communist empire deserves a lot of the credit for rolling back and defeating fascism during World War II. All in all, this is a watchable drama picture with some very badly dated politics that make it intriguing.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Oklahoma Kid (1939) Review

Director: Lloyd Bacon

Genre(s): Action, Western

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

While he’s most famous for playing gangsters, James Cagney dabbled in the western genre with the underrated The Oklahoma Kid. In the aftermath of a land rush in Oklahoma, the shady Whip McCord (Humphrey Bogart) establishes an empire of sin and vice in the newly established town of Tulsa, with the benevolent bandit only known as “the Oklahoma Kid” (James Cagney) being the only one who can take him down. It’s not a masterpiece, but this is one of my favorite westerns of the 1930s.

It’s perhaps not an epic, but this motion picture may be larger in scale than you might expect. The movie does a good job capturing the anticipation leading up to the land rush and the thrill of building a civilization out of what the film tries to persuade the audience was nothing (the concerns of the Native Americans are completely dismissed here). Action, in the forms of gunfire, charging horses and wagons, and thrown fists, is pretty common here, meaning that The Oklahoma Kid has just enough mayhem to qualify as an actioner.

It’s a decidedly old-fashioned flick, with Bogart’s character wearing all-black, because, well, he’s the bad guy. The picture almost tries to make it seem like it’s the white man’s duty to remove indigenous peoples from their lands for the sake of “empire-building.” Cagney’s character is referred to as “anti-social” by one person for his skepticism of the system of creating fancy civilizations on stolen property. In the end, though, the film’s sympathies primarily lie with the rule of law, so make of the movie’s politics what you will.

If you can get past the flick’s portrayal of Native Americans, The Oklahoma Kid is good, clean fun. The story isn’t always perfectly presented, but, if all you want to see is Cagney and Bogart duking it out in the Wild West, here’s your opportunity. Many have raised issue with those two actors starring in a western, since they’re so associated with modern, urban environments, but it’s not really something that I’m concerned with. It’s a quality action-western.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Joshua Tree (1993) Review

Director: Vic Armstrong

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Joshua Tree, sometimes known as “Army of One,” is often regarded as one of Dolph Lundgren’s best solo vehicles…and it’s not hard to see why. It’s basically for action film buffs only, but, if you fit that demographic, you’ll most likely find it an enjoyable experience. The plot? Criminal Wellman Santee (Dolph Lundgren) breaks out of police custody and takes everybody on a wild, The Getaway (1972)-esque chase across the Western United States’ desert landscape. I know that’s a pretty bare-bones story description, but there’s a little bit more to it than that.

While the first half, or so, of the picture has a fair amount of action, this part of the movie is largely in thriller mode. It really makes you ask “What’s this all building up to?” in a good sort of way. Okay, okay, it’s not the most unpredictable flick ever made, but there’s an effective sense of mystery to these opening scenes that keeps the audience engaged when people aren’t getting beaten up or shot.

The second half of Joshua Tree is really when the action sequences really kick in. This film was directed by Vic Armstrong, who made a name for himself through his career as a stuntman and second unit director, and this experience must’ve really helped him. The centerpiece here is a spectacular shootout in a warehouse that works almost too well. By this, I mean that the scenes that take place after it in the runtime feel restrained in comparison. It’s an unexpected joy to see ol’ Dolph wielding a vintage Thompson submachine gun.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this movie sometimes resembles the Steve McQueen classic The Getaway. No, it’s not as good as that picture, but Joshua Tree is still a very watchable film. If all you’re looking for is an excellent gunfight, a rock-solid car chase or two, and a satisfactory, quasi-noirish plot, you could do a whole lot worse than this one. Lundgren fanatics will need to see Joshua Tree.

My rating is 7 outta 10.