Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Full Review)

Few expected Jurassic World to be the worldwide box office success that it was. But thanks to the charm of Chris Pratt and some well played nostalgia, the movie managed to recapture the essence of the original Jurassic Park. But just like with the original Jurassic Park sequels, it’s tough to keep the franchise from becoming stale when the dinosaur theme park isn’t the focal point. With a weaker storyline, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom comes dangerously close to crumbling under the weight of its own outlandishness.

Jurassic_World_Fallen_KingdomA few years after the foolish decision to create a mutated dinosaur led to catastrophe and the closing of Jurassic World, the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar find themselves facing extension thanks to an active volcano. With the U.S. government refusing to get involved, a wealthy benefactor (James Cromwell) and his financial successor (Rafe Spall) launch a secret expedition to save the dinosaurs. To accomplish their mission they recruit raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Pratt), former park manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), a hacker (Justice Smith), and a dino veterinarian (Daniella Pineda). It doesn’t take long for the dino-loving group to learn that the organization has dangerous ulterior motives.

Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, clearly the best two films in the franchise, worked because they kept things simple and played on the fear of people who thought they were going to experience a fun zoological atmosphere. Like Jurassic Park 2 and 3, Fallen Kingdom falls into the same plot pitfalls that make it teeter on being ridiculous. The motivations of the antagonists are beyond stupid, but they successfully set up what you come to these movies to see: people running in terror from carnivorous dinosaurs.

Any blockbuster with a flimsy plot has to tow the line between between being stupid and being big dumb fun (just ask Michael Bay). Fallen Kingdom manages to fall into the latter thanks in large part to the cast. Pratt once again delivers a charismatic tough guy performance that keeps the tone light. The newcomers, Smith and Pineda, are surprisingly welcome additions. Pineda adds wit and Smith brings a ton of sidesplitting physical humor. Thus, when things go inevitably haywire, we enjoy seeing them run and scream on screen with Pratt playing the infectious hero.

Decisions by characters we don’t care about are beyond dumb, like a hunter entering a cage of a vicious dino-hybrid to collect a tooth as a trophy. At times it almost feels like characters should turn and wink at the camera before they get eaten. But that’s part of the fun. Even when you can see the outcome a mile away, Fallen Kingdom works its way through the suspense with chilling cinematography and lighthearted quips. So while this unnecessary sequel doesn’t reinvent the wheel or create the same fun as its better predecessors, it is still an absolutely exciting summer ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

FINAL GRADE: B

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The Impossible Task… Ranking the Pixar Films

There is no studio quite like Pixar. Not only have they been the gold standard for cutting edge animation, but they have also routinely given us heartwarming stories that are entertaining for moviegoers of all ages. With 20 films under their belt, I decided to try my hand at ranking them. Full disclosure, making this list was like splitting hairs as most of them are sensational. Nevertheless, here is my countdown of all of Disney/Pixar’s full length films.

20. CARS 2

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Easily the black sheep of the Pixar family. While it’s more boring than terrible, this unnecessary sequel is neither thematically profound nor is it clever. Making Cars sidekick, Mater the lead and shifting the plot to being a spy film rather than focusing on racing were two mistakes that made it feel like a direct to DVD Disney film rather than a Pixar masterpiece.

Best Moment: Mater experiencing a Japanese toilet for the first time warranted a chuckle, I guess.

19. CARS 3

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The only Pixar movie that actually made me doze off upon first viewing. The story, which puts the focus back on Lightning McQueen being an athlete fading from his prime, is endearing enough. But the movie itself doesn’t have nearly enough humor or exciting moments to be considered entertaining for anyone other than young children.

Best Moment: The final race where Lightning McQueen coaches up Cruz Ramirez to victory was a nice touch.

18. THE GOOD DINOSAUR

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This movie was incredibly heartwarming and carried the Pixar torch of making audience members tear up. The problem is, it isn’t nearly original enough. A studio known for its unique characters and stories managed to make a film that ended up being a mashup of a bunch of other Disney movies we’d already seen.

Best Moment: Arlo and Spot go on a pretty wild trip off some poison berries.

17. BRAVE

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Princess Merida was a great character and her triplet brothers were hilarious. But this movie wasn’t particularly memorable. There wasn’t a ton of exciting moments and even though there were some good laughs, it can’t outweigh the fact that Brave isn’t nearly as rewatchable as many of the other Pixar movies.

Best Moment: Princess Merida makes a trip to see the quirky wood carver who moonlights as a witch.

16. CARS

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Sorry to pick on the Cars franchise, but these movies aren’t as great for audiences members of all ages. The first film in the trilogy was good, but not great. The plot was sound, and of course the animation was gorgeous, but there just wasn’t enough clever humor to make it a masterpiece. Most of the humor came from car puns and it kind of got old in this movie’s lengthy run time.

Best Moment: Guido performs the most epic pit stop ever.

15. RATATOUILLE

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The characters were fun and quirky and the animated food looked incredibly appetizing. But again, great film, not particularly memorable for being funny or exciting. This was one of those movies everyone should see, but it isn’t exactly one you’d be dying to own.

Best Moment: Remy cooks up a dish so spectacular that it makes food critic and French curmudgeon Anton Ego reminisce to his childhood.

14. INCREDIBLES 2

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Pixar’s latest film is really fun and exciting. It’s arguably funnier than the first and the action scenes are some of the best in the history of animation. But as plots go, this is probably Pixar’s weakest non-Cars story.

Best Moment: Baby Jack Jack vs. the Raccoon

13. MONSTERS INC.

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Baby Boo was adorable and Sully and Mike were a fantastic onscreen duo. It’s almost crazy to me to put this movie so low on the list, but it isn’t quite as funny or thematically groundbreaking as the movies above it.

Best Moment: “Welcome to the Himalayas! Snow cone?”

12. TOY STORY 2

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One of the few animated sequels that lived up to the hype. But in hindsight, it’s the weakest of the Toy Story trilogy. Jessie and Bullseye were great additions to the franchise and there are plenty of laughs in this film. But I can’t help but feel like Buzz Lightyear and the rest of Andy’s toys took too much of a backseat to Woody in this one.

Best Moment: Buzz Lightyear #2 vs. Zerg

11. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

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I was surprised at how much I loved this movie. The collegiate theme to the movie was a great aesthetic. It made the film feel more unique than any Pixar sequel and managed to create more depth and nuance to Mike and Sully’s already wonderful chemistry.

Best Moment: The snail monster “rushing” to class.

10. INSIDE OUT

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Now we’re really starting to split hairs. I absolutely loved this movie. That it barely cracks the top 10 is a testament to Pixar’s films since it’s release. A creative story and a beautiful message about the importance of every emotion manages to outweigh the lack of laugh out loud moments in comparison to other Pixar films.

Best Moment: If Bing Bong’s epic sacrifice doesn’t get you in your feelings, you have no soul.

9. A BUG’S LIFE

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One of the most rewatchable animated movies ever. The characters are fun and quirky. The story is smart and funny. And, above all, Hopper is a sensational villain and the studios best antagonist to date.

Best Moment: Hopper demonstrates why the grasshoppers need to keep the ants in line after one of his foolish subordinates suggests taking time off.

8. WALL-E

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Sure, there isn’t a lot of dialogue. But I’ve watched and enjoyed several silent films, so that doesn’t bother me. This movie is arguably Pixar’s most endearing and manages to be smart and humorous despite its unconventional method of storytelling.

Best Moment: WALL-E adorably tries to woo Eve with dancing and a flower.

7. FINDING DORY

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This movie was as heartfelt as it was hilarious. It successfully built its narrative around the previous film’s incredible supporting character. It is a model of how you make a sequel while placing a different character at the forefront (Looking at you Cars 2).

Best Moment: Hank the octopus experiences Dory’s short term memory loss for the first time when trying to get her tag.

6. COCO

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One could make the argument that this is Pixar’s best film and I wouldn’t argue with you. It doesn’t have as many laughs and memorable characters as other movies in the gallery, but it is still an absolute masterpiece. The visuals, the tear inducing story, and the beautiful representation of Mexican culture should all be applauded.

Best Moment: Mama Coco remembers her father when Miguel plays “Remember Me”

5. TOY STORY 3

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This movie had a lot of elements from Toy Story 2, but with better execution. Transplanting Jessie’s arc to the villain was an upgrade, and the movie gave Buzz Lightyear and the rest of Andy’s toys, a fun and humorous arc. For anyone who ever had a favorite toy, the finale is still enough to bring even the toughest of personas to tears. This movie was so good that I have no desire for Toy Story 4.

Best Moment: The toys in the furnace is a gut punch of emotion.

4. UP

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No opening scene in cinema has a more gut punching intro. From there, Up set the stage for one of the most endearing stories to date. Even without the heartwarming elements, this movie would stand the test of time for being a fun, family adventure.

Best Moment: The opening montage with Carl and Ellie… duh.

3. TOY STORY

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The film that started it all. Great characters. A ton of memorable, hilarious moments. A great story with a good lesson for people of all ages. Toy Story had it all. Over two decades old and it still holds up as a cinematic masterpiece.

Best Moment: “Don’t you get it! You see the hat! I am Misses Nesbit!”

2. FINDING NEMO

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The beginning may not be quite as tear inducing as UP’s, but it isn’t too far behind. (Disney sure likes killing off parents). Finding Nemo has one of the best assortments of supporting characters of any film ever made. Despite having a ton of characters, every single one that comes on screen leaves a mark. It paces seamlessly and provides some fantastic laughs throughout making it as close to a perfect movie as one can fathom.

Best Moment: The initiation of “Sharkbate”… or anything involving Dory.

1. THE INCREDIBLES

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Maybe I’m biased because superheroes are my favorite, but no animated film is as rewatchable for me as this one. The characters are fun and unique, the laughs are plentiful, the music is sensational, and the design is flawless. Throw in a well paced story, some exhilarating action, and a fantastic villain and you have Pixar’s most fun and memorable film.

Best Moment: Dash escapes Syndrome’s henchmen is a close second… but superhero costumed designer, Edna Mode steals the show.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Concerns? Let me know what Pixar films make your Top Ten.

Tag (Full Review)

Everyone played tag growing up. It’s a fun game, but few could take it to the level of a group of friends who have played the game for over 30 years. It’s a wildly exciting true story published by the Wall Street Journal in 2013. The older we get, the more difficult it becomes to connect with your best friends. So taking this story of friends reconnecting and keeping the childlike fun alive and turning it into a comedy with an all-star cast is a recipe for a fun ride.

Tag_(2018_film)Every May since they were kids, five guys get together and play tag. It doesn’t matter that they live in different states and have careers and lives of their own, the game will still be played. But one skilled player, Jerry (Jeremy Renner), has never been tagged. With his wedding approaching, his friends Hoagie (Ed Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson), and Sable (Hannibal Burress) team up to finally tag him. With Hoagie’s super competitive wife (Isla Fisher) and a Wall Street Journalist (Annabelle Wallis) along for the ride, the guys scheme out a plan to end Jerry’s perfect streak.

Tag moves at a sometimes uneven, often unbelievable, but pleasantly quirky pace. It takes a while for the cast to find their chemistry, but once they get their footing, everything works. Each character has individual moments that will make you chuckle, especially Hannibal Burress and Isla Fisher. The movie is at its best when it isn’t cramming unnecessary subplots, like a love triangle between Hamm’s Bob, Johnson’s Chilli, and an old flame played by Rashida Jones.

The nuance of the cat and mouse nature of the movie is nice. And there are plenty of funny moments, which is one of the most important things for a comedy, but that isn’t what makes Tag memorable. Once the climax roles around, the film finally hammers home its emotional core. The final scene is a wonderfully heartfelt ode to friendship that makes every weak moment in the movie evaporate amidst the pure joy that everyone onscreen is having.

FINAL GRADE: B

Incredibles 2 (Full Review)

The wait is finally over! It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since Brad Bird directed the Disney/Pixar classic. Most of the Pixar films are brilliant, but The Incredibles is my all time favorite. But not all Pixar sequels are created equal. So despite deep excitement, Incredibles 2 had to live up to lofty expectations of being more like Finding Dory than Cars 2.

The_Incredibles_2Super strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), his super stretching wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), his speedster son Dash (Huck Milner), his force field creating daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), and his best friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) jump back into action to save the city from the evil Underminor (John Ratzenberger). But their destructive heroics are unfortunately met with more government scrutiny that forces them back into hiding. Luckily for them, Elastigirl is approached by a pair of siblings (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) who want to use their Telecommunications company to prove to the world that superheroes are still necessary. While she battles a new villain called the Screenslaver, Mr. Incredible has to handle the equally arduous tasks of helping Dash with his homework, dealing with Violet’s teenage angst, and figuring out baby Jack Jack’s unhinged new powers.

The film’s plot isn’t as concise and its biggest flaw is its villain. The “twist” can be seen a mile away by any viewer who isn’t in grade school and the horde of new characters never make their mark outside of showcasing some visually appealing superpowers. Thus, Incredibles 2 never quite comes together as well as its predecessor. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an absolute fun, family film.

The action, which is more plentiful this time around, is absolutely stellar. Elastigirl being at the forefront creates several exhilarating moments. Her powers are far more interesting than Mr. Incredible’s, so we are treated to some very creative sequences like a fantastic motorcycle chase scene. There are also plenty of laughs. Baby Jack Jack gets more screen time and absolutely steals the show. His interaction with Edna Mode (Brad Bird), the hilarious superhero fashion designer from the first film, is one of the funniest scenes in either movie.

It’s no shame not living up to a transcendent previous film, so don’t feel too disappointed if Incredibles 2 isn’t quite a homerun. Maybe a decade from now when they greenlight Incredibles 3, we’ll get a story that resonates a little more. But, if great humor and eye-popping action with endearing characters is all we get out of this long awaited sequel, we should count ourselves lucky for the experience.

FINAL GRADE: B

Ocean’s 8 (Full Review)

Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of the Rat Pack’s Ocean’s 11 is one of my all time favorite films. With charisma and a brilliantly clever heist, the film cemented itself as one of the best in the genre. Now it’s the ladies turn. With Gary Ross (Hunger Games) at the helm and a wealth of talented actresses to work with, Ocean’s 8 looks to rekindle the magic that Ocean’s 12 and 13 couldn’t quite recapture.

OceansEightPosterAfter serving 5 years in prison for fraud, Danny Ocean’s (George Clooney) sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock) is back in the family business. With her best friend and fellow con-artist, Lou (Cate Blanchett) at her side, she plans to steal a $150 million necklace from celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the annual Met Ball in New York City. To pull off the elaborate heist, she recruits a former thief turned housewife (Sarah Paulson), a down on her luck designer (Helena Bonham Carter), a jeweler (Mindy Kaling), a pickpocket (Awkwafina), and a brilliant hacker (Rihanna).

In an industry of shallow and unnecessary remakes (The Mummy), it’s a breath of fresh air that Ocean’s 8 never feels like a cheap knock off. From the style, to the humor, to the endless celebrity cameos, the film manages to feel organically similar to Ocean’s 11, but the diverse and fantastic cast creates a unique feel. Even characters like Debbie and Lou, who have identical personalities to George Clooney’s Danny and Brad Pitt’s Rusty, work well off of the strength of the chemistry and wit of Bullock and Blanchett. It only takes one, early shoplifting scene for Bullock to cement herself as a worthy successor to the franchise. As for the supporting cast, it’s surprisingly Rihanna who stands out the most. Her performance as the hacker named 9 Ball, is smart, sly, and fun making it clear she’s having a blast every minute she’s on screen.

Things aren’t completely rosy. With such a large cast, it’s easy for at least one character to slip through the cracks. Here, it’s Mindy Kaling’s Amita, who unlike her co-stars, never really gets a chance to let her personality shine. The heist itself also feels almost too easy for the ladies and somewhat undermines the suspense. So while it might not be quite as clever as Ocean’s 11, this reboot manages to properly re-establish a franchise that provides some wonderful humor and a fun cinematic experience. And it’s one of the few reboots that isn’t a waste of time and money.

FINAL GRADE: B