Movie Review: “Jurassic World”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson
Director
Colin Trevorrow

“Jurassic Park III” felt like the final nail in the coffin of Steven Spielberg’s dino franchise. It was obvious that another movie would happen one day, though not anytime soon after Joe Johnston’s atrocious 2001 sequel. Capturing the magic of Spielberg’s original film and, to a lesser extent, his underrated follow-up is no easy task, but while director Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) is unable to reproduce the sense of awe and terror found in the first movie, he does deliver an entertaining summer blockbuster with “Jurassic World.”

After years of setbacks, Jurassic Park is finally open and fully functional. People travel from all over the world to experience John Hammond’s dream, except it isn’t quite what he envisioned. Instead of a place of wonderment, the powers that be are more focused on profits. To raise public interest, the park has created a new dinosaur called Indominus Rex using the mixed DNA of other breeds. When the bloodthirsty dinosaur escapes on the same day that park operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is being visited by her two nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), she enlists the help of Owen (Chris Pratt), a former Navy man who has a bond with a pack of raptors, to track down the Indominus Rex before it reaches the center of the park.

What “Jurassic World” manages to bring back to the series is actual character arcs. In the first movie, it’s as much about Dr. Alan Grant taking on a paternal role as it is about running and screaming from dinosaurs. The two sequels that followed were more about thin, reactionary characters. The two relationships in this sequel – Claire with her nephews and Owen with his raptors – are well developed. It’s not the most compelling drama we’ll see this summer, but the relationships are effective enough not to be overwhelmed by the spectacle.

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Blu Tuesday: Kingsman: The Secret Service and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service”

WHAT: Lower-class delinquent Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) is recruited by a secret spy organization called the Kingsman to participate in their ultra-competitive training program. Meanwhile, his benefactor Harry Hart (Colin Firth) investigates a potential global threat involving a tech-genius billionaire (Samuel L. Jackson) who wants to save the Earth from the dangerous effects of climate change by wiping out most of humanity.

WHY: After subverting the superhero genre with “Kick-Ass,” the creative team behind that film has returned with an equally over-the-top homage to spy movies. Developed separately from the Mark Millar-penned comic on which it’s loosely based, Vaughn’s movie improves on that version in just about every way, delivering a smarter (but no less absurd) take on Cold War-era spy movies that embraces as many genre conventions as it breaks. Colin Firth is excellent as the badass super-spy, and newcomer Taron Egerton shines in his debut role, but it’s Samuel L. Jackson who steals the show as the megalomaniacal Valentine. Many people will be quick to compare the film to “Kick-Ass,” but while the former boasts the same punk-rock attitude, dark plot twists, and kinetic, no-holds-barred action sequences, “Kingsman” feels less like a satire of an entire genre than the product of a filmmaker who grew up loving spy movies. Though it doesn’t get too caught up in trying to make any logical sense of is preposterous conspiracy plot or colorful villains, that’s perfectly fine, because in the age of the overserious spy film, this is exactly the bold, silly kick up the ass that the genre needed.

EXTRAS: There’s a six-part behind-the-scenes featurette and a trio of photo galleries.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Project Almanac”

WHAT: After he notices his adult self in the background of an old family video, MIT student David Raskin (Jonny Weston) and his friends uncover blueprints for a time travel device in his father’s workshop. But when they build a functioning prototype and begin changing the past, it inadvertently effects their future.

WHY: On paper, “Project Almanac” sounds like a pretty cool idea for a short film, but there’s not enough story to warrant a feature-length movie. The characters don’t even make their first successful time jump until halfway through the sluggish 106-minute runtime, which means that the entire opening act is spent twiddling your thumbs while you wait for something significant to happen. None of the protagonists are even remotely interesting, and although two of them are supposedly really smart (they use a bunch of scientific terminology, so they must be), they don’t think to turn off the video camera while robbing supplies from their high school. Dumbasses. Of course, that’s the very nature of the found footage genre, but the gimmick doesn’t do anything to elevate the storytelling that validates its employment, often breaking its own rules in order to show intimate moments that the audience wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. “Project Almanac” had the potential to be a lot better, but like most time travel movies, it’s more interested in what its characters do with the ability than the gaping plot holes and inconsistent logic that follows.

EXTRAS: There’s an alternate opening and ending, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Serena”

WHAT: Set in North Carolina during the infancy of the Great Depression, timber magnate George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) impulsively marries the headstrong Serena (Jennifer Lawrence), who quickly proves her worth as a formidable business partner. But as the newlyweds meet resistance from local law enforcement, they’ll stop at nothing to protect their empire.

WHY: Susanne Bier’s period drama was filmed back in 2012, and if the director is to be believed, it was during that time between post-production and its eventual release where she lost creative control of the movie to the studio. And quite frankly, it’s easy to see how that might be the case, because while “Serena” has the makings of an interesting film, it’s marred by some sloppy editing and bad pacing, ultimately devolving into a melodramatic mess that seriously questions how anyone thought the source material (Ron Rash’s 2008 novel of the same name) was worthy of a big screen adaptation. Though Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence both deliver solid performances, their onscreen chemistry is lacking, which isn’t surprising considering that the story (and their characters’ relationship, in particular) feels so rushed. Several plotlines appear to have been trimmed down to the bare necessity, losing any emotional weight in the process, while the various plot turns are as predictable as they are poorly handled. The movie isn’t as terrible as some would lead you to believe, but that doesn’t make the disappointment sting any less.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette that focuses on the story, direction and characters, additional featurettes on production design, adapting the novel and creating the set, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Movie Review: “Spy”

Starring
Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney, Peter Serafinowicz
Director
Paul Feig

Director Paul Feig makes refreshingly nice comedies. There’s not a mean-spirited bone in his body. Not for a second does he ever poke fun at his characters. The creator behind one of the greatest and sweetest shows ever to grace television, “Freaks & Geeks,” loves all his characters – the screw-ups, the underdogs and even the bullies. That empathy has carried over to his feature film work. Although the laughs and appealing spirit of “Bridesmaids” was missing in “The Heat,” he’s quickly rebounded with “Spy,” a ferociously funny Melissa McCarthy star vehicle.

Susan Cooper (McCarthy) once dreamed of life as a CIA field agent. She imagined action, romance and intrigue. Instead of trotting the globe and saving the world, Susan performs her heroics behind a desk. The CIA analyst is super-spy Bradley Fine’s (Jude Law) eyes and ears. When the CIA’s top agents’ identities are exposed, though, Susan gets her chance to get out into the field. But putting the fate of the world into her hands doesn’t sit well with everybody – most notably, Rick Ford (Jason Statham), a spy who doesn’t believe he has any weaknesses. Ford and Cooper butt heads as she tracks down Bulgarian arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who plans on selling a miniature nuclear weapon to the highest bidder.

As expected, Feig’s script is sharp. Never does “Spy” become parody or satire. The writer/director manages to poke fun at some genre conventions – Ford is James Bond and Jason Bourne combined, with some steroids thrown in for good measure – but never to the point where they overwhelm the emotional core and broad stakes of the film. Yes, “Spy” is a comedy, but Feig makes the action scenes have a real sense of danger. The violence is surprisingly and often comically brutal. Feig not only takes advantage of the R-rating in the language department, but also with bloodshed.

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Movie Review: “Insidious: Chapter 3″

Starring
Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
Director
Leigh Whannell

James Wan stepped up his game with 2011’s “Insidious.” The filmmaker behind “Saw” and “Death Sentence” conjured up his most effective scares to date with his fourth feature film, relying far more on tension than jump scares. While the sequel to that surprise hit wasn’t on par with its predecessor, it got the job done. But with Wan unable to continue the series due to other commitments, his frequent co-writer and “Insidious” co-star, Leigh Whannell, has taken over the reins, marking his directorial debut with “Insidious: Chapter 3.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t exhibit the same eye for tension that Wan does.

Set a few years before the first film, this prequel focuses on Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), a teenage girl who hasn’t gotten over the death of her mother. Trying to communicate with the other side, she receives a response from an unwanted spirit: The Man Who Can’t Breathe (Michael Reid MacKay). The evil force almost kills the young girl at the start of the film, breaking her legs and leaving her immobile. Slowly – and rather repetitively – The Man Who Can’t Breathe tortures Quinn. Quinn’s father, Sean (Dermot Mulroney), enlists the help of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), who, as shown in the first two films of the series, can speak to the other side. Other series’ regulars, like paranormal investigators Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Whannell), also return.

In the vein of the second film, this chapter delivers some more backstory. We learn how Tucker, Specs and Elise came to work together, and every moment with those three characters speaks to how funny this franchise can be. Whannell and Sampson have a terrific rapport. Even when they get into darker material, which they did in their last fantastic collaboration, “The Mule,” they manage to find laughs. If “Insidious: Chapter 3” was a full-blown comedy, it would probably go down as one of the funniest films of the summer.

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Movie Review: “Entourage”

Starring
Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Jeremy Piven, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Haley Joel Osment, Billy Bob Thorton
Director
Doug Ellin

It’s been four years since “Entourage” ended its incredible run on HBO, and in that time, there’s been a lot of talk about a potential big screen revival from series creator Doug Ellin, producer Mark Wahlberg and the cast. But now that it’s finally a reality, does anyone still care? That seems to be the biggest question surrounding the film, although if the success of “Sex and the City” (which had a similar hiatus between its series finale and the first movie) is any indication, the studio has absolutely nothing to worry about. And why should it? “Entourage” has a built-in fanbase that’s getting bigger every day thanks to the cultural phenomenon of TV binge-watching, and while you don’t necessarily need to be a fan of the series to enjoy the film, it definitely helps.

For those who’ve never watched a single episode of the show, “Entourage” opens with a Piers Morgan-hosted puff piece on movie star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his friends that serves as a very basic cheat sheet on where the characters are in their lives to get you up to speed. The story itself picks up a few weeks after the series finale, with Vince freshly divorced following his impulsive (nine-day) marriage to Vanity Fair journalist Sophia and ready to get back to work. Recently retired super-agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) has also returned to Hollywood after accepting a position as the new studio head at Warner Brothers, and he wants former client Vince to star in his first movie: a modern day, big-budget adaptation of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The only problem is that Vince will only agree to do it if he can also direct, something he’s never done before.

Fast-forward eight months and the film is almost finished, but Vince needs more money, despite having already gone over budget several times. But before the film’s financier, Texas billionaire Larsen McCredle (Billy Bob Thorton), will release more funds, he sends his son Travis (Haley Joel Osment) out to L.A. to watch an early cut of the film. Ari isn’t concerned because he knows the movie is great, but when Travis tries to meddle with the production for unknown reasons, Ari is pushed to the breaking point as he tries to protect Vince’s vision and his job. Meanwhile, Eric (Kevin Connolly) and Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) hit another snag in their on-again-off-again relationship as the latter prepares to give birth to their child, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) tries to woo UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, and Drama (Kevin Dillon) has his livelihood threatened just as he’s about to get his big break.

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