Pete’s Dragon

August 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley
Directed by: David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Body Saints”)
Written by: David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Body Saints”) and Toby Halbrooks (debut)

It might not be as magical as a couple of Disney’s other animated-turned-live-action films that have recently hit theaters (last year’s “Cinderella” was delightful as was this year’s “The Jungle Book”), but a revisit to 1977 for a remake of “Pete’s Dragon” is a charming enough way to prove to audiences that the studio’s decision to update its fairy tales is going in the right direction.

Although it’s evident “Pete’s Dragon” desperately wants to be the next generation’s “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial,” it feels more like an restructured version of the cheesy 1987 family film “Harry and the Hendersons” where a sasquatch is removed from his home only to be tracked down by a hunter who doesn’t recognize the creature is gentle by nature. It all leads up to a race back to the forest to release him before he is harmed. Replace the Bigfoot monster with a dog-like dragon and that’s basically what you get from director/writer David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Body Saints”), who does a fair job building the relationship between the fire-breathing dragon named Elliott (the same name as the kid in “E.T.”) and Pete (Oakes Fegley), the young boy he has protected ever since the child wandered into the woods after a car accident years prior (by the way, did that search party even try?).

It’s a tough assignment to write a believable relationship between a child and a “make-believe” character. “The Jungle Book” did a satisfying job of it with the character Mowgli and his best friend Baloo, a CGI bear. Other more emotionally complex films like “Where the Wild Things Are” made a phenomenal case that their two main characters Max and Carol inhabited the same world without any doubt. With “Pete’s Dragon,” Lowery is able to explain that Elliott cares for Pete, but there’s not a complete sense of devotion one might hope to feel during the film’s build-up.

Aside from the boy and his dragon, not much of anything comes from the rest of the narrative, which wastes a perfectly good opportunity to flesh out a tangible father daughter relationship between actors Robert Redford and Bryce Dallas Howard. Without it, much of the story falls to Elliott and Pete to keep it afloat. For the most part, the effort feels genuine albeit slightly generic. What we’re left with is a story about a boy and his dragon, which might be enough for some, but not for audiences looking for something a little deeper.

Jurassic World

June 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”)
Written by:  Rick Jaffa (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), Amanda Silver (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) and Derek Connolly (“Safety Not Guaranteed”)

There’s some reasonably sharp meta humor bubbling under the surface during certain scenes in “Jurassic World” referencing the notion that, 20 or so years after the world in the film became aware that dinosaurs had been genetically-engineered back to life, the public has grown bored with T. rex and company. “No one’s impressed with dinosaurs.”  The titular theme park- envisioned by John Hammond in the ‘90s – has now become a destination resort filled with kitschy souvenirs, Margaritavilles and families wanting more than the thunder lizards they’ve been seeing for the better part of two decades now. This not-so-subtle commentary alludes to the real-life trajectory of 1993’s “Jurassic Park,” the movie that not only started this franchise but is also nearly entirely responsible for the CGI special effects revolution that has dominated the summer movie season and beyond ever since. With knowing winks at the past and some fresher spins on the formula, “Jurassic Work” finally offers fans of the series a truly worthy sequel to the modern Spielberg classic.

Finally a fully-operational theme park to rival anything Disney has to offer, Jurassic World boasts 20,000 visitors a day, but executive Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) recognizes the park needs to evolve to survive financially, and that calls for and exciting (and dangerous) new dinosaur. After the on-site lab cooks up an unstoppable killing machine, the Indominous Rex, billionaire park CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) insists on bringing in an expert to check the safety of the paddock. Thankfully, there’s one on site in Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a wiseass dino trainer with his own pack of semi-loyal velociraptors. When I-rex inevitably uses its genetic modifications to escape its enclosure, Claire and Masrani are determined to capture the valuable beast without evacuating the park. Of course this doesn’t go as planned, and it’s up to Owen and his dinosaur pals to stop the I-rex before InGen mercenary Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) can use it in his plan to militarize dinosaurs.

Messy and over-written, “Jurassic World” nonetheless overcomes whatever misdeeds it may commit in its overstuffed screenplay by giving us some thrilling dinosaur action. With no less than six different plots going on—four of them not interesting at all—the movie thrives when focusing on the banality of modern society in the mall-like atmosphere of an over-engineered theme park, filled with tourists staring at their phones, and cramming it up against the very real danger of unleashing murderous monsters into that ecosystem. The climax of the film, offering up a bronto-sized shout out to longtime fans of the series, is just the right kind of goofy craziness to leave you cheering and laughing at the same time. Finally, we have a reason to return to Jurassic Park.

The Help

August 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Tate Taylor (“Pretty Ugly People”)
Written by: Tate Taylor (“Pretty Ugly People”)

Not since the late Isabel Sanford put a shirtless Sidney Poitier in his place in the 1967 Academy Award-winning film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” has a maid had so much to say than the domesticated ladies of “The Help,” a moving and somewhat frustrating dramedy set in the midst of the simmering ’60s Civil Rights Era.

Adapted from Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 bestselling and controversial novel of the same name, “The Help” is set in Jackson, Miss., at the height of segregation during which many African-American women would make their living working as maids for the well-to-do white families of the town by cleaning their homes, cooking their meals, and raising their babies. It’s a bold, but short-sighted perspective given to director/screenwriter Tate Taylor by Stockett, who herself was raised by her family’s black housekeeper as a child during the same era.

As personal of a narrative as it may be for Stockett, Taylor doesn’t let any of the deep-seated emotion become unmanageable on screen. Like the novel, Taylor frames the film into three distinct perspectives and allows each of these characters to define themselves as their own strong-spirited women. It is these multidimensional personalities, emphasized with audaciousness and a much-needed sense of humor, that elevate “The Help” beyond the standard race-relations story.

Emma Stone (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”) plays Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, an independent college graduate with aspirations to become a journalist who writes about real issues. She finds her muse in her friend’s kindhearted maid Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), who she chooses to feature in an in-depth piece about the lives of “the help” in Jackson. Although initially scared about the ramifications of the anonymous writing project if anyone were to find out, other maids, including Aibileen’s outspoken best friend Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), join in during storytime as Skeeter anthologizes their personal experiences working for employers who won’t even allow them to use the indoor bathroom. Cruelty is personified in town socialite Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), a devil in a sundress whose position as President of the Junior League gives her a podium to spout off hate speech and peddle racist policies.

With very little insight given about the changing social structure outside ofJackson, it’s difficult to get the full dynamic of the injustices taking place. At times, the gap between social classes seems like it will cave in at any moment. But there are also scenes in the film that share the same type of tension amongst the queen bees as in “Mean Girls.” Taylor also dodges issues that would’ve served him better to take head on with more self-confidence. Why is Skeeter’s exploitation of these maids only skimmed over? It almost feels like she is doing them a favor by putting them in harm’s way.

Still, the performances prevail in “The Help” as Stone shows her range as a serious actress and Davis epitomizes courage through her somber eyes. Who needs delicate Southern charm when you have this much passion surging through your veins?

Hereafter

October 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Ceclie de France, Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (“Invictus”)
Written by: Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon”)

Filmmaker Clint Eastwood (“Unforgiven”) has such a gentle way of telling a story, even when the narrative experiments with darker themes Eastwood rarely strays from his comfort zone. But in his new film “Hereafter,” the two-time Academy Award-winning director shows he can’t always create affecting scenes through subtle storytelling. Beneath its restrained tone, the supernatural drama actually becomes lethargic.

In “Hereafter,” Oscar-winning screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Queen”) collaborates with Eastwood to tell the story of George, a former psychic who can communicate with the dead but no longer practices because of the emotional toll it has taken on his life.

“It’s not a gift, it’s a curse,” George repeats as if he were some kind of comic book superhero questioning his newfound abilities to spin webs or become hulky and green when he gets angry.

George is drawn back into his work as a psychic when he meets a French TV reporter (Ceclie de France) whose near-death experience in a tsunami has changed her overall outlook on things. George is also moved by a young British schoolboy who is persistent about contacting his twin brother in the afterlife. The question on everyone’s mind: what happens after we die?

It’s a familiar theme we’ve all seen before on the big screen, but the way Eastwood confronts it is unoriginal and hokey. The same grim style Eastwood used in past films like “Gran Torino” and “Million Dollar Baby” has become his calling card, but without providing a true connection to the characters involved, we’re left with profound questions lingering in a screenplay that merely skims the surface.

What we know midway through “Hereafter” is that these separate stories will intersect and somehow make a type of philosophical statement about life and death. Nothing, however, comes as close to being as powerful as the impressive computer-generated tsunami that hits a village in the film’s opening scene. You know you’re in trouble when the best parts of an Eastwood movie are the special effects.

Terminator Salvation

May 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin
Directed by: McG (“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”)
Written by: John D. Brancato (“Catwoman”) and Michael Ferris (“Primeval”)

What should have been a war for the ages quickly turns into an exercise in mechanics as director McG and team are somehow able to disconnect 25 years of apocalyptic mythology and groundbreaking cinematic moments with “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth installment of the sci-fi franchise.

Although director Jonathan Mostow helped spur the downward spiral with “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” in 2003, he at least left the final scene of the film wide open for someone else to take the reigns and drive the story to the inevitable war between man and machine. We’ve all anticipated it ever since Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) met face to face with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killer cyborg in the 1984 classic. Instead, McG and unproven screenwriters John D. Brancato (“T3”) and Michael Ferris (“T3”) seem to feel that just because the foundation is there they can throw it into cruise control. Sadly, no one bothered to tell them that fans deserved more than a few loud explosions and artificial nostalgic moments.

The film starts with an introduction to Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate who signs his body away to science before he is executed for murder. Marcus unknowingly returns as a cyborg years after Judgment Day has occurred. With no memory of his past life, he roams the smoldering ruins until he meets Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who fans will know as the human sent back in time in the original film to protect Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and sow the seed that would later become John Connor (Edward Furlong in “T2,” Nick Stahl in “T3,” and Christian Bale in “Salvation”).

As the “prophesized leader of the Resistance” against the machines, John knows his future and the future of mankind lies with two things: the destruction of Skynet, the artificial intelligence network behind the nuclear holocaust, and the survival of his teenage father, a member of the Resistance. Marcus and John’s paths cross after Kyle is snatched up by a machine and taken back to Skynet. John is left to decide whether or not to place his trust in Marcus not knowing if he is the type of terminator that has been sent to destroy him.

The rescue mission, however, doesn’t happen until after a series of impressive special effects and some terrible choices in dialogue, narrative, and female characterization (Moon Bloodgood, Jadagrace, Helena Bonham Carter, and Bryce Dallas Howard do absolutely nothing to progress the story). In “Salvation,” the machines are the stars of the show – and well they should be – but not to the detriment of anything that resembles human emotion (Bale blasting off on viral audio doesn’t count). What McG and writers replace it with instead is 11th-hour metaphorical wish-wash that centers on the strength and resiliency of the human heart. Where that heart was for the rest of the film is anyone’s guess.