Friday, June 19, 2015

Jurassic World [A Fat Jesus Film Review]

Let's face it. If you were a kid growing up, which I think we all were, you went through a dinosaur phase. You drew pictures of them, you had your favorites -- velociraptors and ankylosaurus for me -- watched 'The Land Before Time' and pretended to be T-Rex's (walking around with your arms tucked in roaring). Unfortunately, when you get older it's harder to be as enthusiastic about dinosaurs. This is why we have the Jurassic Park series. Even though "The Lost World" and "Jurassic Park III" exist. 'Jurassic World' is the fourth installment in this series and stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and The Kingpin, err, I mean, Vincent D'Onofrio. While lacking the pure wonder that the original film gave us, it more than makes up for its one-note characters with dazzling dinosaurs that are more than just the backdrop to the story.

'Jurassic World' is set 22 years after the events of 'Jurassic Park.' InGen, the company that cloned the first dinosaurs, has successfully opened a theme park called "Jurassic World." One day, operations manager Clare Mitchell (Dallas Howard), has two of her nephews, brothers, Zach and Grey Mitchell (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), visiting the park. Though she is too busy to be with them during the day, they plan to meet up later in the evening. In order to drum up attendance, InGen created a genetically modified dinosaur with the genes of a bunch of different predatory dinosaurs as well as present day animals, Indominus. Meanwhile, at a different part of the park, Owen Grady (Pratt), a former Marine, has just finished a successful training session with his velociraptors. After the session, InGen's head of security, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio), tries to convince Owen that the raptors would be perfect for military use. The park owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) orders Owens to go check out the Indominus' enclosure, to make sure it's ready for visitors. Clare and Owen head to the exhibit, only to find that they weren't getting a heat signature from Indominus and that there are giant claw marks on one of the walls. While Owen and two guards are checking out the claw marks, it is discovered that Indominus is still in the enclosure and that she is masking her heat signature. Owen and one of the guards escape, but in doing so, so does Indominus. Now the park must find a way to stop Indominus, because it's putting not only the lives of the other dinosaurs in danger, but the people in the theme park as well.

I'm going to start right out and say it, I wasn't a fan of the first 20 minutes or so of this film. I understand you have to set up characters, but almost nothing of values happens during this time frame. I don't need to see a family take their kids to the airport or them riding on a boat across the ocean to the island. This could've been plausible if there was any meaningful dialogue, but there's not. Once they get to the island, Claire is introduced and finally Owens and Hoskins start getting screen time, the film sets into a good, albeit one note, pace. The characters are almost lifeless and that's not a good thing. Chris Pratt is a charismatic and hilarious actor (see 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and 'Parks and Recreation'). Bryce Dallas Howard has shown she has acting chops ('The Help' and '50/50'). Vincent D'Onofrio has a stupendous role in 'Marvel's Daredevil.' Even Ty Simpkins has had great roles in the 'Insidious' series and 'Iron Man 3.' So the lack of good writing really hurts this pretty well rounded cast. Even so, the characters, though dull, do serve a purpose throughout the film. The brothers get into jungle hi-jinx, causing their aunt to enlist her "will he, won't he" boy toy to go save them (and the rest of the park, I guess). All this is while the evil corporation is plotting a take over, well, more preservation, of the dinosaur's DNA when all the poo hits the whirling fan blades. The story is tired, but you didn't come to this for story, I didn't come to this for story -- but at least it wasn't completely terrible -- we came for dinosaurs, and boy did we get dinosaurs. Side note, Claire was running around through a jungle all day and a theme park all night, all while wearing high heels. Like full on sprinting, running, ducking, hiding, etc. Come on man. Come on.

The CGI in this film, the action and the use of dinosaurs themselves in the film really did save it for me. I love theme parks and the idea of one revolving around actual dinosaurs is an awesome idea, vision, dream, whatever you wanna call it. 'Jurassic Park' did this, but not to the kind of "theme park" I always picture, like Six Flags or Universal Studios. So seeing it actually come to life in this film is freaking awesome! I want a Jurassic Park or World t-shirt that I paid $40 for, while I walk around in my triceratops hat, personalized with my name on it. I want to go see Free Willy aka The Mosasaurus pop out of the water to engulf a shark. I want to be a kid again (somehow) and go into a petting zoo and ride a baby triceratops or pet a baby apatosaurus. The idea an execution of the theme park side of this film is actually awesome. I was entranced once the brothers reached the island and actually started going around the park. The flip side of things is the awesome CGI that was used for the dinosaurs. I recently re-watched 'Jurassic Park' and the CGI and models used in 1993 weren't half bad. But the CGI in this film is done pretty well. It felt like Chris Pratt was besties with his raptors. It felt like a fight when Indominus was tearing through the jungle killing it's prey. You even got a little sad when one of the apatosaurus dies in Owen and Claire's hands. On the flip side, the brutality is in full force. For a PG-13 film, I wasn't expecting to see as much dino on human violence. Humans were being picked up by pterodactyl, eaten whole and stomped on by the Indominus and torn to shreds by raptors. Boy, did I love every second of it too! I'm glad they didn't shy away from the fact that these are dinosaurs whose first instinct is to kill and hunt prey. Not to mention the final act of 'Jurassic World' is a pleasure to watch and is well worth sitting through the first half hour of so. I was enthralled.

'Jurassic World' isn't going to win over any fans. Unless you're there for Chris Pratt. Chris Pratt isn't going to make any new 'Jurassic World' fans, but this is a great effort for what is a reboot, sequel, a requel! The story is only okay, the acting, despite the awesome cast, is one-dimensional. But the dinosaurs, kicking ass and taking names is a beauty to watch. It's a pretty long film, at just over two hours, but if you can get past the first part of the film, everything gets better. The music is on point throughout, and I had to hold back yelling "Dododododo-Dododododo!" when they first panned to the island. If they can get the writing better, I have high hopes for the next 'Jurassic' film. As long as it's not some weird romantic comedy involving Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and talking dinosaurs. 'Jurassic World' is still, I think, well worth the watch.

Inside Out [A Fat Jesus Film Review]

When I saw the first teaser trailer for 'Inside Out' I was already in love with the film. Pixar, the voice actors, the premise, everything screamed "Pixar is back!" The more trailers that came out, the more I was intrigued how Pixar would actually pull off this concept of watching a girl's emotions grow with her. How Pixar would replicate the feeling you or I had as a child effectively. Finally how a story, set inside of a mind and the real world, would come across to an audience. Pixar is at it's finest with 'Inside Out.' Bottom line. So when I popped on my 3D glasses (Hey, they upgraded us for free so I went with it), I embraced the joy of sadness, anger, fear and disgust. 

'Inside Out' follows the story of 11-year-old Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) and her emotions Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust (Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling). Riley's emotions control her memories and are charged with reacting to her circumstances. Her memories are housed in spheres, with her most important ones, "core memories," running the five biggest aspects of Riley's personality. Riley and her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) have just moved to San Francisco from Minnesota, where Riley had lived her whole life. Joy tries to keep Riley happy and positive, but one day Sadness touches an orb and turns a happy memory into a sad one. Later, on the first day at her new school, Sadness makes a core memory of Riley crying. When Joy tries to dispose of it, the other five cores get knocked out of their container. Before Joy can put them back in, Joy, Sadness and the memory cores are sucked up into a memory tube and they land in the vastness of Riley's mind. It's now up to Joy and Sadness to return the memory cores, while Anger, Fear and Disgust try to hold down the fort, as Riley is going through one of the toughest times in her life.

It's hard to review a film like this because we're all going to interpret everything going on in a different way. Much like memories, there's always bigger picture than just an isolated moment of joy, sadness or anger. That's what I think the real appeal to Pixar's 'Inside Out' is, the wide range of everything we feel while we're watching it. The story is one of Pixar's best, and proves once again, that an animated film, targeted at kids can be enjoyed and related to by people of all ages. Yes, this film's target audience in kids, but its story and message is for everyone. We all have these emotions, we all struggle, or have struggled, with getting them under control in our lives, whether we're 10 or we're 40. This is the story of Riley truly getting her emotions in order for the first time after a hard move and an even rougher settling in. While the story of a little girl moving from Minnesota to San Francisco may sound dull, we are given a joy-ride, so to speak, as we watch her emotions try to keep her going. Emotions are a hard thing to nail down in a story, especially in a "kid's film," but Pixar does well. Chalk full of moments of genuine laughter, happiness and sadness, 'Inside Out' will hit you in all the right places, while making you smile or tear up at a moment's notice.

Don't give all the credit to the incredible story, the voice acting and animation are the two other points that help 'Inside Out' stand out from other animated features. This film is beautiful, I set out to see it in 2D, but the theater upgraded our tickets to 3D for free. The 3D is done well and doesn't detract from anything and is quite fine if you're into that sort of thing. The real world is animated in a way that really reflects how Riley sees the world. During the more happy parts, the world outside is bright and full of life. During the more emotional scenes, the world around her is more grey and dreary. I love this touch, because we get to see how emotions can affect how we feel about the world (as a whole) around us. When we get inside of Riley's head, the brain is made up of memory spheres, where everything from Riley's life stored. Her dominant personalities have five pronounced area that are controlled by core memories. At the center is the control room of Riley's brain, where Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust live and work. There is also a large pit below all this, where memories deemed "obsolete" are thrown to disappear. As well as places that regulate her imagination, dreams, subconscious, etc. I love that not only are her emotions in a tangible place, but all the things we deem as thought process (like dreams or forgetfulness) are made into a seemingly giant theme park that all resides in out minds. It makes everything more accessible for children, while giving older people a glimpse into how a younger person may actually see their minds working. I loved the design of everything, from the french fry trees in Imagination Land, to the awesome absurdness of traveling through your own Abstract Thoughts. 'Inside Out' is a wonder to behold. The character design is also flawless. Right from the get go you get the fire out of Anger's head, the jitters constantly coming off of Fear and the glow that radiates from Joy at all times. It really does help overall that the character design (for everyone) had that personal, genuine feel to it. 

Not only does the look and story mesh well, the voice acting is top notch from start to finish. It helps an animated film to have a set of voices people know. This is one of those films where the lead is someone we're probably all familiar with in Amy Poehler ('Parks and Recreation') with great support from people who aren't big name stars, but stars nonetheless. Phyllis Smith, from 'The Office,' is one of the biggest surprises, not only character-wise, but on the voice acting end as well. Poehler and Smith mesh so well as Joy and Sadness. The exuberance that Poehler brings as Joy is counter-measured, during almost every exchange of dialogue, with Smith's Sadness. The two begin to work together as a team to save Riley. They get some help from Bing-Bong, Riley's old imaginary friend who is a cotton candy, cat, elephant, dolphin who happens to cry tears made of candy (voiced by Richard Kind). Poehler, Smith and Kind form a trio out in the far reaches of Riley's mind and make for a great sounding trio that conveys each of their personalities well. Anger, Fear and Disgust are hardly the focal point of the emotions, but have their share of the film as they struggle to help Riley get through the days with Joy and Sadness gone. Bill Hader is pretty good as Fear. He really does make Riley fear things, albeit it in a highly exaggerated way that some might find over-done. Mindy Kaling is okay as Disgust, but her character is really the fifth wheel of the five. Kaling, also of 'The Office' and 'The Mindy Project' fame, doesn't get to show off how funny she can really be. Finally, the last of the emotions left to try and keep Riley afloat, Anger. Anger is voiced beautifully by one of the loudest and angriest comedians of the last decade, Lewis Black. Black was made for this role and his angrily delivered lines, one liners and motivation -- for one of the bigger points of the final act -- and is a really great fit for this film.

This is one of the best films of the year and I'm positive it will stay in my top five of 2015 come the end of the year. 'Inside Out' is a wonderfully designed Pixar film that you could argue is as good, if not better, than the likes of 'Up' and 'Toy Story 3.' The film runs about a hour and thirty-five minutes, but you're not going to be checking the time if you watch this film. The music is wonderfully Pixar, hitting all the right notes to make you laugh or cry in a given moment. Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith headline this group or tremendous voice actors in a story we've seen elements of before, but never in this context. Kids will see it as a great film, with lots of laughs and fun, colorful characters in a vibrant world. Adults will see this and it will make them nostalgic and misty eyed toward the memories in their own lives. 'Inside Out' is a highly emotional ride with Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, that will make you laugh as much as it makes you feel.