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“Fallen Kingdom” packs action, lacks in science


25 years ago, audiences entered Jurassic Park. A wonderful summer blockbuster that pushed the boundaries of special effects and made dinosaur movies worth while. Since then, the park has eroded into Jurassic World, a new attraction that met its end at the guise of not a runaway dinosaur, but mixed reception. For me personally, I didn’t mind Jurassic World considering the amount of destruction and chaos I paid my movie ticket for. This time, the park is completely gone in Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom and all we are left with is the promise of what’s to come. But is it enough to sustain for popcorn entertainment? Many are going to disagree, but I think it does in some way.

On Isla Nublar, it is revealed the park was built on an active volcano that will cause imminent extinction to all of the dinosaurs on the island (for those questioning Site B, apparently they moved a bunch of them over to Nublar. I question if that was a good idea…) Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) return to the island to rescue a bunch of the prehistoric beasts, despite U.S. Senate ruling in favor of letting the creatures perish. They are grouped with a batch of people set to get the dinosaurs off the island, but things take a turn when our leads find something sinister is at play.

Fallen Kingdom is structured with the park’s demise in the first half while the other half focuses on the fate of the dinosaurs. Viewers going into this might be letdown by the constant claustrophobic feel of the final hour, but oddly, I thought it was fine. It was a nice change of pace from the previous movies where these creatures roam free and cause mayhem. Now, they are out of their primitive habitat where one simple action could unleash them to the entire world to run around in. There is some relevance to Pandora’s Box as these prehistoric monsters are contained in one place with the knowing tension that one loose dinosaur could set forth Ian Malcom’s chaos theory.

Replacing Colin Trevorrow for the director’s chair is J. A. Bayona (A Monster Calls and The Orphanage). Reasonably, he does a good job here as we go from one action set piece to the next. There is a slick pace that never feels slowed down or even too fast. One minute, the island is destroyed in a fury of lava and ash and then we get a dinosaur version of M*A*S*H* as our heroes need to perform a blood transfusion on one of the creatures.  It’s clear Bayona really likes to soak us in the horror with some intense scenes that will keep viewers on the edge. He really knows how to raise the stakes in the visual department, especially during the scenes in a lock-tight mansion.

Those bummed out by the CGI in the first film will be pleased to know there is some use of practical effects at play here. However, it is only when they are usable for certain scenes like when a character needs to interact. The CGI in those scenes are thankfully minimal, save for some extra eye movement and some small color touch-ups. There is better coordination between effect and actor here as the two blend rather well at times.

However, despite Bayona’s directing, there are aspects of Fallen Kingdom that feel weaken and that is mainly in the science. First off, there seems to be a never-ending interest in making more genetic raptors. This leads me to question exactly why chose this species time and time again. Are there any other creatures you could use at all?

Second, and I will be light on this as it is a spoiler, just how far can the cloning techniques really go in this universe? I won’t say too much, but there is a certain twist near the end that shows the science in this movie seems unlimited, or hints at it. Honestly, I felt it was a pointless tidbit that could have been easily removed from the picture and nothing would be lost.

The only element were Fallen Kingdom stands for me is in the entertainment. There are some really cool set-pieces and scary images that will certain leave a bit of an impact. The volcano explosion is clearly the centerpiece of the whole feature and is every second intense as well as fun. The final moments in the mansion are well-done and are packed with a lot of suspense. Then again, I am a sucker for movies like Congo or Waterworld where the enjoyment is in the silly yet action-packed moments.

Not everyone is going to like this one, but I’d say it was worth the admission alone, at least for me. Is it a perfect movie? No. Is it a good sequel? Well, its better than Jurassic World in certain areas. Does it make the power and beauty of Jurassic Park? Not so. Jurassic Park was lightening in a bottle. It can never be duplicated no matter what you. Fallen Kingdom goes in a completely different direction that has its share of good moments and some flaws that almost ruin the fun. However, I feel the thrills and creatures are enough to keep my summer blockbuster thirst full for a little while. Not a perfect movie all around, but certainly NOT the worst. And believe me, I’ve seen Alien: Covenant and Terminator Genisys. I know what true disappointment is like…

“The Last Jedi” Review – Spoiler Free


As I walked out of the movie theater, I kept thinking back to the many things that happened in the latest “Star Wars” entry. For those keeping score at home, I felt “Force Awakens” was ok, but it was too embedded in servicing the old fans. However, “Rogue One” felt like a true “Star Wars” movie, amidst the grim war tone. Where does “Last Jedi” fall at my judgement you ask? Well, fans will be pleased to know I walked out during the end credits with a decent smile on my face. There was much to enjoy to give it a recommendation for the holiday, but at the same time, I still felt there was much improvement needed here.

To avoid mobs of fans and enthusiasts from wanting to Vader choke my neck, let me first talk about what stood out to me the most. There is a lot more character development at play here as new faces from “Force Awakens” get a chance to do more. X-Wing fighter Poe (Oscar Isaac) gets a lot of screen time, Finn (John Boyega) gets a chance to show he’s more than a mindless solider and old faces get a nice scene or two.

For those who recall where “Force Awakens” ended, we pick up with Rey (Daisy Ridley) discovering Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts and trying to learn about her past. Mark Hamill returns as the famed Jedi warrior whose character is taken in direction different and darker from the original trilogy.  Luke starts to question if he’s fallen into the same despair his old mentors did or just under self doubt. The scenes on Luke’s island are easily the best part of the whole movie showing not only how Luke is able to live, but also why he’s changed so much. Even Daisy Ridley is given more to do with her character as we explore deeper into her personal fears and hopeful desires of seeking the truth behind her existence.

I’m also happy to report that I loved more of Adam Driver’s performance as Kylo Ren this time around than before. In “Force Awakens,” he felt to me like a whinny teenager trying to be Darth Vader and it wasn’t interesting. Here, the stakes are raised so much, that I really started to enjoy how conflicted Driver’s character was. Confused between his good and bad nature, there is a sense of a really complex character here that is more unique than what was done before. When Ren was menacing, you could really feel that presence as he’s stuck between choosing to support the Dark Side or maybe turn over a new leaf.

There’s all sorts of good moments in “Last Jedi” that give it an operatic scale and weight to it. There’s so much talent and effort going into it, that you feel like your watching a really big and epic story. There’s a lot of great powerhouse moments to choose from while each sequence tries not to overdo what the originals have done before.

But it also leads into what I didn’t like about this entry. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a good time watching this one, but not every movie is going to be 100% perfect. When you do find out what the main story is, you sort of realize how paper thin it feels. In comparison to another sci-fi blockbuster, that came out this year, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” felt like there was more going on with Star Lord meeting his father and the team trying to figure out how to deal with their personal issues. In “Last Jedi,” there are so many plot lines going on that you sort of wonder what the real story is. It’s kind of a shame when Rey’s plotline is the more interesting between (without spoiling too much) a never-ending space battle that is very much the car chase in “The Sugarland Express”, but in space.

And that leads into another problem I have with “Last Jedi,” it’s too bloody long. Clocking in at 150 minutes, this movie feels like it goes on for ages. There are plenty of cool moments and really great scenes, but there’s only so much you can put in. How much grander of an adventure does it need to be? There’s obvious spots of comedy that could have been so easily cut down or things changed for the sake of plot.

For example, in the middle of the movie, a couple of characters have to find this hacker at a gambling planet. And when our main characters go there, it lingers on it for way too long. In between all this, Rey is learning the Force and the Resistance is trying to get away from the First Order. When we cut back to the gambling planet, it feels like a big screeching halt and just stops the movie for us to look at weird aliens gambling. On top of that, there’s nothing really interesting about this concept. Even “Futurama” did this idea better because the concept of a casino on the planet Mars could fit within the TV show’s comedic and satirical tone.

The biggest problem I have with “Last Jedi” is that it doesn’t know when to end. After it gives us on great powerhouse moment, it just keeps going and going and going tossing one scene after another. As much as I admit, it does try to rehash moments from “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” but reshuffles them around. I can at least look past a tiny bit of that, because these moments don’t feel as “fan service” like in “Force Awakens.” But when it keeps tossing out one climax after another, it gets tedious. There’s no reason for this to be 150 minutes long. By the time it got to the final battle, I was thinking to myself, “why does it need to top itself five minutes ago? Didn’t we already have a really cool climax?” And just when you think it ends, it doesn’t. Even when you feel like there is a good place for the movie to conclude, “Last Jedi” doesn’t know what kind of final image to rest itself upon. At that point I was getting very restless and close to yelling, “END! END!” right at the big screen.

Does that mean I really disliked this one and deserve the wrath of many Star Wars fans? No and this is in part to one crucial scene that won me over. Without spoiling it, it’s a very crucial character moment where Luke comes to terms with who he is. It makes you realize there was a character arch with Luke Skywalker all along after “Return of the Jedi.” There is this feeling of satisfaction when THIS CERTAIN SCENE happens. It’s so well-written and executed so perfectly, that it felt like a genuine Star Wars moment. No dialogue explaining things or going into political jargon. It made certain things come full circle in a sense. I will remember this scene as my favorite moment in this new Star Wars trilogy and admit to being moved to tears over it.

Do I wish more things could have been handled better like the baddies Emporer Snoke or Captain Phasma? Yes. Do I believe the pacing of the story could have been handled better? Yes. But, did it improve upon things I really disliked in “Force Awakens?” Yes. “Last Jedi” contains plenty of powerhouse moments that will certain leave your rump well glued in the seat. It’s well-acted, well-shot and well-written. I’m not going to praise one person and say they are the soul reason for making a new Star Wars entry that I enjoyed. I think EVERYONE here, regardless of the new director, is the main reason this movie is really enjoyable. Do I feel there could have been some adjustments here and there? Yes, but I can’t argue when it uses Porgs for the right moments for those who love them and hate them. If your going to see one movie this holiday season, for now, I say make it this one before it leaves theaters. It’s a much better early Christmas gift than what J.J. Abrams attempted in 2015.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2” bigger, better and emotional



Some say lightening rarely strikes twice when it comes to sequels. But even with a concept like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” you would think there wouldn’t be that big of a fanbase. Considering how much love there was towards the first one, especially making it, another adventure with the ragtag of anti-heroes was inevitable and I couldn’t be happier to say it comes close to being better than the original.

So what quest lies for our heroes? Well, without giving too much away, each member finally comes to terms with the term family and the meaning behind it. If the first film was about how they met and why they relate to each other, this one goes deeper. The characters and even us understand just crucial they are to one another.

Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) has to deal with the realization of who is father truly is. An entity named Ego (Kurt Russell) finally meets up and we get a sense these two have a bonding father and son relationship. I like how we get an idea of how Peter’s father means to him, but there is a sense of something questionable here. Peter  has lived a long time without a father figure, so how would he take to heart someone whose never been there for him? The basic thought of emotions play until Ego’s true persona that is shocking and unique at the same time. While they both share similar qualities, they are far different from each other in many ways.

Also on the sideline, Yondu (Michael Rooker) is having a hard time coming to terms with where he stands. His crew of scavengers feel he’s not gritty as he once was while the Captain himself wonders if he can change his ways. A crucial highlight is when the blue skinned blighter has to reluctantly team up with the “equally heartless” Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradly Cooper) as the two come to terms with themselves.  Both of them can’t stand each other, but find they are the same person from the inside out and have to know what matters to them the most.

Elsewhere, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) have their own troubles. The green warrior has sibling rivalry issues to handle while the big muscle head himself is still trying to find a way to belong. While Gamora has to come to terms with her broken sisterhood, Drax finds companionship in the strangest way in understanding his poor ways in socialization even when he tires. And of course, I can’t forget Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) who is a new reincarnation of everyone’s favorite walking tree. This time around, he starts life anew and has to understand its harness along with it. Thankfully, this toddler variation doesn’t outstay its welcome and knows when to chime in at the right spots.

A big surprise to the table is the addition of a new character named Mantis (French actress Pom Klementieff). This bug-like creature has the ability to feel and manipulate emotions while also trying to understand how complex human beings really are. There is a level of comedy and drama to this character which make her a nice addition and clear scene sealer. Then again, her scenes with the misunderstood Drax make for the best moments in this sequel.

I’d go into deeper details of the story, but I feel its best for you to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” yourself. James Gunn returns in the writing and director’s chair giving us a world that is unlike ours and yet similar in many ways. From hot topics like creation to lost fatherhood, Gunn really channels how complex the human race can be with these characters. And for someone to take on such a difficult issue and tell it through these anti-heroes we love so dearly, I congratulate him for doing so. There’s much humor, action and plenty of color to behold. Dare I’d say, its literally more colorful than the first film when we see the multitude of planets and how their different races run. All I have left to say is that “Vol. 2” will certainly give a run for its money how much it tops not just the first, but other classics like “Wrath of Khan” and “Empire Strikes Back.” I maybe overdoing it, but I personally feel it deserves to be up there with those sequel classics.

“Star Trek Beyond”fueled with action despite some technical flaws

startrekbeyondposterThis crop of summer blockbusters has been played out almost like a baseball game. One movie after another has stood up to the plate and rarely make a home run. The only exceptions have been Disney and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Others have been either less successful or barley made a big splash. Let me tell you, this has been a very dull summer with the choices we have been given. But with “Star Trek Beyond” up at bat, is it good enough to get itself a home run? No, but I’d say good enough to third base.

Justin Lin takes the director’s chair while Simon Pegg and Doug Jung helm the script. The tones tend to clash from time to time as one can tell when one style is being injected. Pegg places the usual Trek banter of different worlds and character development when needed. Lin, on the other hand, fuzzes his style more prominently during the action scenes. While these two are obvious to point out, it doesn’t deviate from each other delivering a good entry.

The only downfall is that you got to sit through a lot of mediocre stuff in order to see the best parts. Highlights include an opening meant to be humorous where Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) offers peace to a race of tiny creatures to an explanation over old Spock’s departure from the franchise. The opening scene alone is a good example of how hit and miss the comedy is. Sometimes, it can be good when characters like Spock and McCoy banter while certain corny lines border on eye roll-worthy.

Once you get through the slush, “Beyond” kicks into gear when the Enterprise crew is sent out to save a crew wrecked on a desolate planet. However, the affair turns out to be an ambush as the ship gets attacked by an alien race that acts like a hive of bees. The scene where the Enterprise ship itself getting bombarded is surprisingly well-done. While its not effective like the crash scene in “Star Trek: Generations,” it still packs plenty of punch and intensity as the ships latch on and swarm around the doomed vessel.

Idris Elba plays the new alien villain named Krall who plans to fire back at the Federation with a device that eats away living matter. I admit, I felt practically bored at times seeing how good of an actor Elba is. I was fooled at first thinking this baddie had a one track motivation. But the third act gives us an interesting reveal that immediately has us realize why Krall would want to go after the Federation. It becomes something much deeper matching the villainous Khan, but I do wonder what it would have been like if this reveal came earlier in the film. On the plus side, it’s a great twist that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

However, midway the story sort of meanders. The crew is split up a bit as Spock and McCoy try to survive, Kirk and Chekov wander around for answers and Scotty is teamed with a cool alien inhabitant. While these plot threads don’t stray too much and serve purpose, it makes me wonder if these were developed better to hold more interest. I felt like it was used at times to show off how unique the planet looks and it does look good. But then, we have to cut from “Group Kirk” to “Group McCoy” and remember which party is doing what.

On the bright side, Scotty makes a new friend in the form of Jaylah, a bright white alien played by Sofia Boutella. I loved the personality of this character as she adds on something new to the franchise. The make-up alone is a step above those seen at Comic Con conventions and I like the idea that she has been stuck on this planet long enough to know its dangers very well. Somehow, I’m a sucker for characters like that who are stranded on a desolate place but know how to make it their home. Sort of like Swiss Family Robinson but with lasers. There’s just a cool sense to this character that never outstays her welcome.

While “Star Trek Beyond” seeks to be respectful to the original source, there are a couple of things that sort of bugged me. Like I said, the whole movie builds to a grand finale, but in order to get there, you have to sit through some weak comedy and sluggish pacing in spots. The action scenes, for the most part, do get better as we go along. And yet, I wish the whole “handycam” feel was ditched. This is a cliche that has been kept on for too long as during a big fist fight, we get tons of close-ups and shaky frame movements. Its distracting and takes away from the tension. And as stated earlier, the departure of Leonard Nemoy’s Spock could have been handled better. To the movie’s credit, we do get a nice tribute near the end, but I feel it would have been stronger if the explanation for his absence was either cut out or just handled better.

Never the less, I dug the creature designs, the sets and a spaceship base that has cities on the rims to make it look like a unique utopia. I felt it was nice to see the new Star Trek crew back together and create a fun experience. The first third can be easily forgiven by how better the last two thirds get. As the action scenes keep coming, they get better and better trumping one after another. While “Star Trek Beyond” is not the strongest entry of the batch, its a welcome one that is worth recommending to see in theaters.

Rental Corner: An unfortunate visit to “Tomorrowland”

How misleading the advertising can be...poster and movie name

How misleading the advertising can be…poster and movie name

When dealing with themes of the future, movies have a two-sided coin to present. One says make it bright and hopeful like Hill Valley in Back to the Future Part II while the other says make it darker and grimm like Blade Runner. To present an optimistic view of the future while showing conflict is an even heavier attempt has a movie has to balance between showing the upside to a higher lifestyle while presenting there are conflicts like the society of wealthy vs. poverty in Metropolis. To make these elements into a thought provoking blockbuster is not a bad idea but it depends on how the mixture of these elements get handled. Or else one will end up with such a clunky and off-tone picture as Tomorrowland. As I am sad to say, one of the biggest domestic box-office flops of this year seeing so much effort and talent were thrown in yet little pays off or comes as entertaining.

The premise deals with a hidden utopia on Earth, how it is hidden remains unclear, with a promise of peace and harmony but comes off looking like a giant spa resort of gizmos and gadgets taken from The Jetsons and many other future films. Perhaps I should be more precise and bring up the fact this is based on Disney’s Epcot and Tomorrowland theme park attractions. Which is no surprise seeing certain elements like Space Mountain do appear as Easter Eggs here and there. But as expansive as the giant city is, we don’t spend much time in it. The main focus is the story and characters surrounded by this massive place which I wouldn’t have much of a problem if these elements were at the very least interesting.

Britt Robertson plays a tech-savvy teen that always believes in optimism but it nearly contradicts with her character by means of vandalism to a NASA launch pad being dismantled so her father can remain an engineer. I guess her actions account for something seeing she gets a magic pin that shows her this amazing city but only as a holographic illusion. Even more questioning is the ability of the pin as once one touches it, they see this great world but stuck in the real one as they lumber around like some kind of virtual reality helmet strapped on. Even in one scene, we see her move to the city in a corn field but also falling down the stairs when doing so in real life. If this pin makes an illusion, wouldn’t it be safer to confine it to one room as opposed to having said person meander in real life? What if one touches it and walks around in day time traffic? So much for the future of that poor soul.

George Clooney tries to find a solution to save the Earth and the crumbling utopia...but can't find one for the movie

George Clooney tries to find a solution to save the Earth and the crumbling utopia…but can’t find one for the movie

Either way, this pin creates such curiosity, that she seeks out the origin of it. All traces lead to a cranky inventor named Frank Walker (George Clooney) who wishes to be left alone then return to the fabled city he was banned from. Apparently, he somehow manages to keep track of the world’s lifespan as an impending doom is set against the Earth. He thinks the young teen has the ability to save it as in much stories where the young hero or heroine is chosen to save the day thanks to her kindness.

In a sense, the film tonally tries to be something along the lines of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where the good kid gets picked due to their ingenuity and despite hardships has a kind heart but I didn’t really get a sense of care for out characters.  The performances are fine but just something about the writing feels off in narrative and character wise. The narrative flow gets distracted by Clooney’s flashing back as the structure of the movie is held by first person narrative as we cut back to the character Frank telling viewers what we are watching. An element cleary unneeded as the film can unfold without it.

Outside of Britt’s character having an open mind and Clooney being the man who lost hope, there wasn’t much else I found that really showed a care or motive to hang on to. Maybe its the jumbled narrative or how little we see of the city, but most of the plot feels very spotty that when one character decides to go on a search or move to the next story beat, there isn’t much risk or purpose behind it. She find a pin, goes to see the source, finds out the villains, saved by a sidekick/henchman type character, comes across a grizzled guy, go to futuristic place, find something is wrong and try to fix it. The story is so basic and paper thin that it shouldn’t feel this complex when its being told. And with not much connection to these story beats and directions it takes, why should we care as viewers?

Your a mean one...Mr. House!

Your a mean one…Mr. House!

The bigger problem comes in the second half when our heroes make it to Tomorrowland to find it in shambles. Apparently, a last minute conflict comes in the form of Hugh Laurie who plays a pessimistic Governor of the place who knows the secret link between Tomorrowland and the real world as well as why things are crumbling as they are. With the fear of an apocalypse on the way in people’s minds, it feels this is the direction things are heading into. So right off the fly, the message is a no-brainier. Be happy, keep being positive, work toward a bright future and don’t be negative. My problem is how heavy handed this message is and obvious they hammer it through the majority of the movie to the point it becomes more of the focus and less on the story.

To compare, The Peanuts Movie has a similar theme but not as obvious. As Charlie Brown tires to show he can do great things and fails, the more the viewer wants to see him succeed. The message of hope is more well-preserved here because that is not the focus. The focus is the characters and the story so later on, we can look back and remark the trails the protagonist had to endure as we compare them to our lives. Even themes of optimism and pessimism are explored better in Inside Out as we see how one can’t live without positive and negative things. They have to co-exist and co-operate. Tomorrowland takes these elements and instead cooks them into a good vs. evil manner at the last minute that has been done to death.

Without giving too much away, Laurie’s character reveals how people’s positive and negative thinking are essential to the world of Tomorrowland in a reveal so preachy that it undermines the entire message of the movie. With images of doom and gloom plaguing the real world, it has the future seeking to go in that direction unless convinced otherwise seems to be the logical solution. Instead, the final 20 minutes opts for a big action climax instead of a much smarter route like maybe a talk or a way to convince Hugh’s character that convincing people to be positive is a means to make a brighter future. That doesn’t happen. We get a feast of explosions, destruction and a villain’s downfall that is so cliche it makes my blood boil to see what could have been a nice story about building to a better tomorrow turn into a cliche blockbuster romp.

Sure it looks nice...but I wouldn't want to visit

Sure it looks nice…but I wouldn’t want to visit

The screenplay was written by Damon Lindelof who credits include Lost and 2012’s Prometheus while Brad Bird co-writes. With this knowledge, it feels like two different movies are mixed in as the ideology of Brad Bird is clashing with the “whizz,” “bang,” and “pow” of an edgy sci-fi movie. Instead of taking a break for character development or perhaps even heart felt moments which are standard of Brad’s work, we find ourselves watching and counting out the story beats as hero goes from point A to B with little interest knowing what will happen next. Times that could have been used for exploring character relationships are traded up for big action set pieces and CGI wonder as a  monument turns into rocket ship and people get obliterated by lasers held by evil androids. There is something very tonally off here between the future talk and the action.

And for those who think I’m being “negative” over Brad Bird, I like the guy. I do. I recall The Iron Giant when the metal monster is told how souls can’t die. Or how about the “Krusty Gets Busted” episode from The Simpsons when Bart is trying to convincing himself his hero is not a crook under shades of blue and Krusty merchandise. And need we not forget Mr. Incredible’s dilemma of trying to be a secret superhero and a family man. If Tomorrowland had more charm much like these small scenes that carry so much weight, perhaps I wouldn’t be so harsh. The city might have an interesting design, but under the retro rubble is a clunky and uneven story that crumbles and pods without pay off or impact. If you want a movie about the optimism and pessimism of the future play against itself, I recommend watching the Back to the Future trilogy more seeing themes of controlling one’s future and the negative benefits of a positive change are far better explored. Even movies like Explorers and The NeverEnding Story had a better handle with certain aspects like building to the unknown or trying to maintain hope. Fraggle Rock’s themes of universal peace was better explored without the aspect of violence being involved to solve a problem. Unfortunately, Tomorrowland didn’t do much for me. Aside from the performances being ok, it just came off as dull, preachy and just really a waste of good talent. I feel bad for saying this but the future of this movie looks rather grim as it stands at #4 at my worst of 2015 list.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: It Came From Outer Space

Horror-wood 2


It Came To Theaters....In 3-D!!!!!

It Came To Theaters….In 3-D!!!!!

In the 1950s, it was common practice that invaders from other worlds would be the ultimate enemy. While many were over the fear of war with another nation, movies reflected that with films about aliens trying to take over our world. There are so many to count and so few that reflect outer space monsters are good people. And here is where our good friend Jack Arnold comes in. You can give him any script and he would know how to work with the idea. And next to The Incredible Shrinking Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon, I feel It Came From Outer Space ranks very high among one his best to date.

The premise is very simple. An alien spacecraft crash lands in the Arizonan desert and the inhabitants inside have to make some repairs. While that goes on, an author named John Putname (Richard Carlson) is the only one who knows about it and tries to warn the town that strange beings are among us. And rightfully so, some people get kidnapped and the creatures disguise themselves as duplicates to avoid any suspicion. But once John catches on, he at first thinks the creatures are pure evil but later sympathizes when he finds their true purpose.

Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush watch the skies...

Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush watch the skies…

Here is where things get clever. Like movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still, the fear of beings from another world is kept but not hit over the head. We understand that humans have a fear for aliens while the other worldly creatures know this too. Its a great commentary on xenophobia and how afraid we were of other nations at the time. The scene that will always stick out in my mind is when John meets one of the creatures disguised as a human in a mine shaft and have a basic conversation at where they stand. It all concludes when the alien reveals his true self reluctantly making for a chilling yet powerful scene.

Credit goes to Ray Bradburry for the story even though the screenplay was written by Harry Essex. Some say Harry took a lot of Bradbury’s material from his screen treatment but changed the dialogue. Regardless, one can tell it has that subtle and poetic touch that normally is a crucial part of Ray Bradbury’s writing style. Even Bradbury himself stated he wanted to treat the alien creatures as beings that were not dangerous which was unusual at the time. Supposedly, he offered two different story outlines; one with the aliens as being malicious and another when the aliens acting benign. Apparently, Universal went with the right decision.

Take notes Hollywood! THIS is an alien!

Take notes Hollywood! THIS is an alien!

The alien design is also very different from the others at the time. We don’t see their true form that often. Most of the time, we get a point-of-view shot that was achieved by blowing a bubble onto the lens which is very creative. And when we do, its a very brief shot which I feel adds to the mystery.  And Its described as a giant floating eye with a bizarre mass of furry bits that almost look like tentacles. We don’t see legs or arms. Just a giant mass floating around and that to me is pure imagination right there. We get something so bizarre that we’ve never seen before and yet question how it can be peaceful. For something that looks so menacing, its a wonder how it can be seen as gentle and that’s how clever this movie is. Originally, another monster design was made but it was eventually used as the Mutants in This Island Earth and certainly it was for the best.

Well, if its bigger on the outside....

Well, if its bigger on the outside….

Another notable highlight was that this was Universal’s first foray into 3-D movies which were all the rave. Sadly, I was only able to see this move in 2-D seeing there has yet to be an official release. Its a shame seeing I am curious to see how certain scenes would work like the falling rocks and the “bubble-vision” shots of the alien. Either way, its still stunning to watch no matter what version. The last thing to address is that there are other humans in this movie that think otherwise about our outer space visitors as a sheriff (Charles Drake) grows paranoid over the creature’s ambiguous nature and plans to hunt them down. Instead of the cliche “man hate alien” motif, we understand why. There is no good or bad side. Just basic paranoia. And for a B-movie to address those heavy themes while still being fun and enjoyable is a wonder to me. Don’t let this one gather dust on the shelf. Check out this underrated sci-fi classic for what its worth.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Island of Terror

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This is no ordinary B-movie

This is no ordinary B-movie

Island of Terror sets a couple of “landmarks” in place despite being small on horror history. Despite being a British production, it was the first science fiction horror film Universal distributed in a long time by as a double feature with another British sci-fi called The Projected Man. Released in 1966 (but distributed to US soil nearly a year after), it was one of the last films to have a terror made by science but to be resolved by “scientific” measures. I do hope I’m not spoiling anything there but this was part of a long run of 1950s B-movies where a scientist would create something and try to destroy with a “cure” in the lab motif. Despite being cheap looking by today’s standards, surprisingly its one of the few movies where its cheesy gets really effected depending on the viewer. But I should warn right now that if you are eating or feel easy stomached, turn away now because this one is a doozy to discuss.

On a remote island off the east coast of Ireland, a group of scientists try to find a cute for cancer. A heavy idea for the time and even then still deep for today’s standards. Most scientists in movies at that age would try things like trying to read a book with their mind but here, its a bit realistic and welcome. Well, something goes wrong and all sorts of horror is unleashed as bodies are discovered but with their bones sucked out leaving behind skin, blood and flesh. A creepy concept enough and keeps you guessing up until the monster(s) show up. Even the make-up job on the squishy corpses are enough to send chills. It looks hokey but effective.

Peter Cushing in action!

Peter Cushing in action!

Peter Cushing plays a pathologist named Dr. Brian Stanley, he’s the typical scientist that looks at the clues and tries to piece them together. Upon arriving to the island to investigate, he takes things to a detective level examining the strange bodies and trying to make sense of the situation. I find it strange how Cushing is playing another doctor after his potrayle of The Doctor in 1965’s Doctor Who and the Daleks. In a sense, this does feel like a Doctor Who episode considering the amount of build up and where it leads. And to see Peter Cushing in a doctor role is ironic and interesting. On the other hand, he was with Hammer Films playing Dr. Frankenstein and Van Helsing so its no coincidence or guess to how good of a performance he gives.

Now let’s talk about the monsters in this movie. And right now if you do have a weak stomach, turn back now because there is no way I can talk about the movie without this. Do you really want to know what’s been making those boneless bodies? Are you really sure? Get a barf bag now because this gets heavy and spoiler-filled. Ready? Here we go.

The deadly Sillicant in all its glory

The deadly Sillicant in all its glory

It gets revealed that what the scientists created on accident was a strange set of creature called Sillicates. Giant blobs that suck the bones out of human being dry. To describe the appearance, picture a mutated ravioli with a single tentacle wagging about. It doesn’t get anymore simple or cheesy than that. Silly as that description sounds on paper, its executed very creepy. The sounds of the bones getting sucked out is really horrifying to listen to. But it pushes the gross factor more when we see these giant amoebas can multiply by mitosis. You heard me right! Monsters that can reproduce by the rate of a scientific germ. But they don’t just separate by any common way. When they split apart, they leave being a mass of strange goo that has stuff like looks like a mix of chicken noodle soup and maggots. Its really nasty.

The infamous hand amputation scene...less said, the better...

The infamous hand amputation scene…less said, the better…

As stated before, the creatures may look and sound goofy but the added sound effects really amps the fear. This is thanks to Barry Gray who did a lot of sound work for Gerry Anderson’s puppet shows like Stingray. When you hear that strange humming sound the sillicates make, you know trouble is coming. It’s very reminiscent of the sounds the spaceships make in George Pal’s War of the Worlds adaption. For a cheaply made movie, it knows when to be frightening and build terror in the right spots. Sometimes it can be questionable goofy but for 1966 this was really shocking. A good example is a really horrifying scene when one of the characters as a sillicant’s tentacle wrapped around his left hand. And in order to save his life, his partner has to lob off the poor guy’s hand at the wrist. Its a gruesome idea and surprisingly we the gory impact as blood spurts out. Even more shocking is how this movie aired on Svengoolie and showed this scene intact minus the blood spurt. And its not like they do a cutaway or anything. We actually see the ax come down on the hand and cut it off. And again, I do apologize for describing this scene in deep detail as I can. But this very much sums up the whole movie.

No bones about it! This one is a screamer

No bones about it! This one is a screamer

In fact, for most of the horror films of the time, I’m surprised to see Island of Terror never got that fame or infamy it deserves. Its a suspenseful feature that relies on sound and visuals to achieve its horror. Maybe it did seeing it does have a small cult following but I feel its not very big. Or perhaps it doesn’t much talk because of the horrific material despite how small it is in does. Or gets shrugged off seeing it came form a time when B-movies of the 1960s would craft this kind of schlock. I plead in defense that is a very different movie than what would one would expect. It doesn’t sugar coat anything which I’m glad it does and seems to be very bold for the time. The only drawback is that it falls into the category of “science gone wrong” which was a popular story trope of the time making it a tad predicable. But it can be clever with its choice of monster and the performances are very good, so my recommendation is very high for this one. Again for sensitive viewers, if you made it past this point and curious enough to see this movie, I won’t stop you. Just make sure your very close to the bathroom for this one or else you will see something far more gross on your living room rug by the end of the movie…know what I mean?


Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Monster on the Campus

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Universal's Sci-Fi didn't go out on a high note...but a tolerable one

Universal’s Sci-Fi didn’t go out on a high note…but a tolerable one

During the 1950s run of B-movies at Universal Pictures, Jack Arnold was a very big name back then in science fiction. Well known for titles like The Incredible Shrinking Man, Tarantula, It Came from Outer Space and the famous Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jack could take any outlandish premise and just turn it into gold. Unlike today’s directors of pure crappy schlock, hew the concepts to his movies were not meant to be taken serious. And yet somehow he approached them like big budgeted A-list movies treating them with such care in story and believably. So its very fitting this film he directed would make the last time Universal would ever work on a science fiction monster film, at least till 1966. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Monster on the Campus is truly a step up from The Land Unknown because there is a lot of promise and imagination for such a simple story. Again, Jack Arnold could take any idea and make it pure entertainment. Not to mention the script was written by David Duncan who would be best remembered for his screenplay work on The Time Machine and Fantastic Voyage. These two talents are a true match made in heaven who know what kind of material they are deal with. And it was very coincidental for their sci-fi talents to cross here and bring something fun and entertaining to the table.

Arthur Franz with his catch of the day! As long as he doesn't throw it back, I think we'll be fine

Arthur Franz with his catch of the day! As long as he doesn’t throw it back, I think we’ll be fine

Arthur Franz is a college professor that acquires a frozen prehistoric fish for pure study. But as it turns out, the blood was infected with radiation as anything it comes into contact becomes de-evolved. This includes a dog that gets ridiculous saber tooth jaws, a giant dragonfly and our lead who turns into a Neanderthal monster with tons of hair. And very much the whole movie deals with him trying to understand the workings of the fish as the police try to investigate some small murders that might have a link with the campus teacher.

Right off the bat, we have no idea what to expect on first watch. The idea already feels like something taken from an EC Comic but obviously executed in less gory fashion. I do like the premise and how they play around with what happens when things like bugs or other animals get in contact with the fish’s blood. It leaves the door open for many possibilities even if we don’t see every creature get infected. Unfortunately, there are ground rules here as any creature that gets infected with the irradiated blood has the prehistoric effects for only a short time. But still, when we see a dragonfly become big as a falcon, we still believe. In fact, the special effects for the scene when the de-evolved dragonfly runs about the classroom are not half bad. Again, Jack Arnold always paid attention to detail even when the special effects get cheesy.

I've heard of fly fishing but this is ridiculous!

I’ve heard of fly fishing but this is ridiculous!

If there is one problem (nitpick) I do have with the movie, its a certain plot element. Apparently, the effects of the fish’s blood work for a short time. And after the effects wear off, the being returns to its civilized self. Yet the professor keeps claiming the monster within him won’t go away even when he’s already back to normal with the blood possibly out of his system. If he keeps whining about how he doesn’t want to be a killer creature, then why does he keep injecting himself with the irradiated blood? I know for one point its for study but there really isn’t too much of a inner struggle. If he just stopped altogether and starting having temptations, it would make sense. Then again, this movie is already a revamp of the Jekyll and Hyde story but even in that story, Jekyll wasn’t constantly taking the potion. If I remember correctly, the potion was so deeply embedded that Jekyll could transform without the use of the serum. I could be wrong but if the potion is the case, then why keep having it around when its poisonous to your moral ethnics.

The Monster is ready for his close-up, Mr. Arnold!

The Monster is ready for his close-up, Mr. Arnold!

Aside from that, the rest of the movie holds up fine. I can’t remember a performance that was terrible or a special effect that was too goofy to take seriously. The make-up job on the monster when the professor transforms is actually not bad. Sort of a primate version of the Wolf Man in a sense. Then again, some might be put off by the Jekyll and Hide parallels of the story while others might look at this with an open mind. I still say its harmless fun either way. While its not a grand outing (in fact, the ending very much just ends without a big finale), it was still nice to see some effort placed in. I can only imagine what it would have been like if Monster on the Campus was placed in different hands. It would have been cheaper and done in a very schlocky manner. But thanks to a good writer and a director that knows his footing, we get a movie that is not half bad and at least brings some entertainment that knows not to take itself too seriously. Overall, its a decent flick that’s worth checking out.

“Fantastic” dud, I didn't hit anything on accident. That is how I feel about this one.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…, I didn’t hit anything on accident. That is how I feel about this one.

I recall last year seeing a high school performance of the “Beauty and the Beast” musical with a friend of mine. It was a study for play performances and this was a last minute choice. Let me tell you, everything looked like an Ed Wood movie. 75% of the cast wore wigs, 75% of the cast was mostly female and the beast costume looked like the Cowardly Lion’s twice removed cousin. But you know what, it was entertaining. Something about seeing the cast trying to perform under all the bad make-up and cheap sets was far more entertaining then the junk I had to see today.

The plot (that is if you can call it one) involves a science prodigy named Reed Richards (Miles Teller) who creates a machine in his garage that transports matter to another dimension. A scientist named Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) notices this at a science fair Reed attends and uses not just the machine but Reed’s skills to perfect his similar creation. The craft in general looks like a bunch of radioactive barrels with two solar panels hovering above it. This is only a sample of how “fantastic” the look of this movie gets.

Upon learning some government executives plan to send other scientists in, one of the creators Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) convinces Reed and two other colleges to be the first to try it out. As one would expect, mayhem ensues with them gaining bizarre abilities after their disastrous visit. Again, its hard to say if there is a real story here as the rest of the movie has our main characters cooped up in an army bunker as Reed and the survivors of the accident are coaxed into working for the government.

The story as a whole meanders so much it makes me wonder how can you not deliver a single storyline with something like this. Then again, the Fantastic Four adaptions do have a strange history of their travels to the big screen ranging from Roger Corman’s produced and (as of this review) infamously unreleased affair to Tim Story’s two films. It appears the idea of taking a team of people getting superpowers and using something with them could make for an interesting film. But only this latest reboot proves that executives and writers make it hard for themselves thinking there is no material to work with when their could be.

Last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” worked by having no origin story and only focusing on how the team members got together while delivering a fun and unique ride thanks to James Gunn. “Fantastic” seems to focus on the main characters and where they stand but it doesn’t go anywhere until the last 30 minutes when an actual plot happens but its far too soon. Most of time, the team is being manipulated by an evil government agent (or a possible scientist. either way, he’s dressed like an evil government agent so why not? Also he is played by Tim Blake Nelson) or trying to pick around for something to do. It appears there are ideas for spin-off films here and there as Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) is off fighting in other nations in news reports, Reed Richards is playing “Borne Identity” in Panama while trying to find a cure and Victor is very much forgotten in the other dimension until the last half-hour. The amount of space is at a waste.

The biggest crime of all has to be the acting performances. Not a single human being in this movie emotes or even acts interested. Most of the time, everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) talks in a robotic manner while keeping a hush tone. I barley remember a moment when one solitary person gave a smile or cared for another when in danger. Even the romantic chemistry between Reed and Sue Storm (Kate Mara) is interesting as toast as they try to share some interest of science but have odd John Hughes quirks. Some like Jamie Bell try but it feels like they know there is nothing to work with in a story that is so next to nothing. Reg E. Cathey gets a much deserved examination for how that actor never breaks his dull performance. I guess he’s trying to be Samuel Jackson-ish by being serious and dead pan. But when he carries this trait throughout the whole movie, it makes me want to cut every scene he is in to avoid such an annoying delivery. When words came out his mouth, I wanted to sleep.

Even more bizarre is the tone as the opening of the movie is reminiscent to Joe Dante’s “Explorers” as young Reed and Ben try out the homemade dimension jump device but then things keep changing throughout. First, it tries to be a serious science fiction movie then cranks up the intensity in spots that look more brutal than passable for viewers when its not needed.

Sure enough, it all ends in a climax that looks vaguely similar to “Man of Steel” as Doom shows up and plans to somehow destroy both Earth and the new planet in the dimension. How can such a travesty be averted? They have a fight scene on the uninteresting, CGI laden set while throwing debris and junk at Doom. Its formulaic and doesn’t have flair. Again, “Guardians” had risk with Star Lord, Drax and Groot making their way to stop the villain who was floating his way down to the planet to obliterate it. For support, you had Rocket and a team trying to prevent the ship from touching the planet and Gamora trying to shut down the security system while dealing with her sister. Sounds complex on paper but those two sentences described an energetic, engaging, on the edge climax that build and builds. Once the big fight happens, it evaporates like celluloid dust in hopes the film will end sooner.

Even prior to the release, “Fantastic Four” has been slammed by fans for being inaccurate to the source by changing certain things like the Human Torch being portrayed by an African American and certain character relationships. Most strange is how Sue Storm is adoptive but is never fully discussed. Something that wasn’t elaborated on that lead me to believe Doom and Sue were siblings when they weren’t. It was just information that wasn’t heavily addressed. Still, that didn’t bother me as much but what really did was the workings of the script, the performances and the overall movie in general. Why bank on Doctor Who and Rick and Morty with dimension jumping? Is outer space not interesting enough? Because that is how our leads got those powers in the process with the exception of Doom getting his from a lab accident. I went in with an open mind thinking this movie would be ok but it turned out to be worse than I imagined.

This is not an adaptation that reflects the source while giving viewers of new something to appreciate. It does the opposite by giving nothing to both parties in return. Even the character motives are standard and dull as an expedition to the new world is crafted from Doom’s drunk escapade as the evil government agent exploits the team for every other reason why this kind of guy would. Because this team has ultimate powers and as always in these kind of scenarios, the government wants control of that power. Yawn, yawn, yawn, double-yawn and deep sleep. I hope viewers who read this review are smart enough to see a more “fantastic” movie in the theater next door. At least “Howard the Duck” was far more inventive, creative and unique in comparison.

“Terminator Genisys” underwhelms despite its upgrades

NEgSueP3RCEYkk_1_bOn October 26, 1984, James Cameron gave us “The Terminator.” A unique “technoir” about man vs. machine and the fight for the control to the future. While a critical and box office success, no one could underestimate the possibilities in making a franchise out of it while also being the vehicle in making Arnold Schwarzenegger an action star. The sequels came and while one proved to be the best of the batch (Terminator 2: Judgement Day), the others failed to live up to the promise and thrills of the first film.

On November 22, 1989, Robert Zemeckis gave us “Back to the Future: Part II.” A different kind of sequel that gave us the ability to revisit the first film in different ways. Considering the concept of time travel, viewers got the advantage to literally see key moments from the original but from different perspectives. It was a fresh idea at the time and proved to be a commercial success. What does this have to do with “Terminator Genisys” you ask? Stick with me and you will find out.

It seems the Terminator franchise was dead in the water after “Judgement Day” pushed the limits of what could be done for a sequel. But even after wrapping up and destroying all traces of Skynet, someone had to sneak in and unravel the loose ends that were tighten. “Genisys,” on the other hand, tries to be two movies in one. It attempts to be a fresh new start while also visiting moments from the first film. While it does fine recreating certain scenes from the first two movies, the fault is in the new story it tries to craft.

Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) gets sent back to 1984 but this time, he find to be placed in an alternate timeline. How? Its never clearly explained. We just except that the film tries to give some form of explanation but none is given. Once plopped in scenes from the first film, the recreations end once Emilia Clarke as Sarah Conner literally crashes in. Apparently, another Terminator was sent back to when she was a kid and programmed to protect her. Dubbed “Popps,” this machine is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger who is 67 years old and tries to prove he can still fire a gun and perform stunts.

The first half of the movie begins as a recreation of events which are done fine but not effective to the point we marvel at them. When the film tries to have a story, its not only rehashing elements from the previous films but even goes as far to bring in more plot holes as we go along. Without giving too much away, let’s just say our heroes somehow have a way to travel further into the future and try to attempt in destroying Skynet. The element of Skynet is done in a manner that tries to be a commentary on social media like Facebook and network apps but it doesn’t pay off.

I feel bad this entry didn’t leave much of an impression because it feels like it wanted to. I was ok with the idea of rewriting the past events of the first film and it almost felt like it was going in that direction. Moments like Lee Byung-hun playing a T-1000 liquid terminator in the 1980s are fine even if they feel stale in execution. But when it tries to do a new story, it gets caught in holes within the story that it ignores them like a crack on the street. Exactly how many terminators do they need to send back in order to secure the future? And furthermore, why does Skynet want to wipe out human existence when it creates something that is robotic yet close to the point of being human? Its a problem I had with “Terminator Salvation” that gets carried over and sticks like a smeared bar of chocolate at the windshield.

There are some good things to recollect. J. K. Simmons is given a fun role and its nice to see Arnold back cracking one liners. The action scenes are fine but I feel there are times when it exists to outdo the ones from the original. From a helicopter dog fight in the Los Angeles city to demolishing a hospital, they are well staged but I can’t say they leave much of an impact. “Terminator Genisys” attempts to provide “a new path” but in a sense doesn’t work. It feels more caught up in doing new things the other sequels never attempted to make it fresh then rather give a new story. Then again, how much more can you do when there’s so much air that can’t be used. Earlier in the summer, “Jurassic World” was proof a sequel can be fresh and unique by taking an element  from the first film and working off it. This one decides to take already used elements and reheats them while giving a different action. The result is an entry that screams rental than it something to see in theaters. And if they make a sequel to this one, chances are I won’t be back to see it in theaters.