Inception (2010) Review

Director: Christopher Nolan

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

Runtime: 148 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Inception is a wildly intricate and imaginative film, but, as entertaining as it is, I can’t help but dwell on its lost potential in some regards. The story follows a team of mercenaries, led by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who have the ability to infiltrate people’s dreams to steal or implant ideas. For what it is, I think this is an exceptionally engaging motion picture, but I think it could’ve been something more.

In Inception, dreams are easily interpreted or explained away, almost to the point that the characters in the movie find them somewhat predictable. The scenes in the subconscious aren’t particularly surreal and there’s a noticeable lack of dream logic. This runs in the face of the dreams (or nightmares) people have in the real world, which are bizarre, unpredictable, scary, and unnerving. Maybe I’m asking for too much by wishing this was Un Chien Andalou: The Action Movie, but I think the filmmakers should’ve gone for something weirder, darker, and more unexpected.

Despite that flaw, this is still classy movie-making. The special effects are a sight to see, and the cast is all-star. A flick like this could’ve easily become hard to follow, but I think the script did a good job of communicating the complexities of dream heists and whatnot (even though I don’t think I caught every last detail). The feature has enough human drama to keep the audience’s attention in between big set pieces. Speaking of that, there are several action sequences and they’re mostly okay. They feel a little low-impact at times, but that hallway fist fight is a real knockout.

Blending sci-fi actioner with psychological thriller, Inception isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fun time at the movies. I do sort of wish it went off in a slightly different direction than what it did, but I try not to hold that against the picture too much. If you do choose to watch it, be prepared to pay close attention to its details, though.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Venom (2018) Review

Director: Ruben Fleischer

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

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Was this…was this supposed to be a comedy? I ask because I was laughing or on the verge of laughing for a significant part of the film’s runtime. In this origin story to one of Spider-Man’s most famous baddies, investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is infected by an extraterrestrial organism (named Venom, I guess) that gives him superhuman powers. As far as comic book villain backstories go, it isn’t Joker (2019), but it has a certain appeal.

Most of that appeal comes from its, uh, humor. The semi-parasitic alien Venom (voiced by Tom Hardy) provides many of the guffaws with his awkward, sudden lines of dialogue that only Brock can hear. Some of what he says sound like the filmmakers were trying to be funny…but, at other times, I wasn’t quite so sure. Nonetheless, laughing, in my book, is always a good reaction to a movie, whether it was provoked intentionally or not. Hardy commendably commits to the ridiculous material he’s given.

On the action front, things are generally well-done. Well, the fight scenes between computer-generated blob monsters weren’t really my cup of tea, but the other physicality-oriented sequences were satisfactorily explosive. The violence is fairly graphic at times for a PG-13-rated picture, but I guess the MPAA let them get away with certain images because of how far-fetched and absurd the whole thing is.

Do you like your comic book films nice and cheesy? Well, Venom is a flick you might want to look into. It’s never dull and works a fine balance between high-octane action and bizarre comedy. I’m sure it’s great for parties, if you want to play a game of Was-That-Intentionally-Or-Unintentionally-Funny? I would really like to know what the filmmakers were thinking for certain scenes of this movie.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) Review

Director: J.A. Bayona

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

Runtime: 128 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Jurassic World (2015) brought new life to the series, but, by 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it feels like the franchise is, once again, treading water. Fallen Kingdom is fine as cinematic junk food, but, if you’ve been expecting more than that, you might be disappointed. The plot is about a rescue effort to save cloned dinosaurs from the remains of the Jurassic World amusement park before a volcano on the island can go off. This is a flick that has me saying “It’s good, but…”

Okay, this is a pretty ridiculous movie, but, hey, it’s a summer blockbuster. What do you expect? The high-stakes action scenes are flashy, as we’ve come to expect, and there seems to be a bit more human-versus-human combat than in previous installments. Physical mayhem and special effects are the film’s specialties, and the attempts at infusing emotion into the story are generally effective.

This is not a simple retread of the events shown in Jurassic Park (1993) and Jurassic World. The plot has some similarities with The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), but I’d say that this one has its own identity (although there’s still a moment of déjà vu or two). Returning from previous pictures in the series are Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm, but his appearance is little more than a cameo, and the musical theme from John Williams (although the score is done by Michael Giacchino), which is used quite sparingly here.

Fallen Kingdom has a couple of thought-provoking scenes, but it feels like the Jurassic Park franchise is out of gas, at least for the moment. This film is entertaining to watch, with its likeable characters and bad-guy-chomping dinosaurs, yet it doesn’t offer a whole lot more than that. I suppose that that’s okay (it’s just a movie, after all), so I’ll give it a passing score. Don’t expect greatness and you just might like it.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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.

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.