JURASSIC WORLD FALLEN KINGDOM

Fallen Kingdom 1 There was some fear that after all these years, just about every aspect of returned-to-life dinosaurs had been exhausted, but thankfully I was wrong. In the last movie, we got the idea that the brains behind the Park, at least in the movies, had given up on the concept, yet we know that  Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) has escaped Jurassic World with some DNA samples. Turns out he’s still going through with his project and that’s where this film opens.

Some three years after the last film’s story, a group of mercenaries is on Isla Nublar to collect further DNA samples. The crew honestly believes most, if not all, of the animals are dead as they carry on the search. One team is in a mini sub and enters the old mosasaur lagoon to get a bone fragment of the Indominus Rex, which was killed by the mosasaur in the last film. They get the bone and send it up on a floating buoy, then back up, unaware that they are doing so right down the marine reptile’s gullet. When the land-based team loses contact with the sub, they opt to clear out when the T-Rex shows up and starts chasing them. They attempt to escape by helicopter, but the monster grabs a hold of the ladder and starts dragging the copter down. The tense scene eventually switches to an office, where Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is working with her Dinosaur Protection Group to counter the Senate hearings going on to debate whether the dinosaurs should be killed en masse.

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM Turns out that Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is the featured speaker at the hearings, and he favours letting an upcoming volcanic eruption on Isla Nublar do the dirty work for them. Meanwhile, Claire is contacted by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), John Hammond’s original Park partner, who lets his aide Eli Mills, explain to her that they have a plan to save at least 11 species on a remote island to continue their existence. Mills says he needs to activate the old tracking system to capture them, so he’ll need her knowledge. He also explains that he wants to save Blue, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt)’s old personal raptor friend, so Claire tracks Owen down to do this, to which he reluctantly agrees. Unknown to all, Mills is in Cahoots with Dr. Wu and intends to sell the dinos to raise tons of money.

Fallen Kingdom 10 The story takes a few side trips that allow us to find out what happened after the Jurassic World disaster as well as giving us a glimpse of how Owen and Blue bonded as the dinosaur grew up. Claire and Owen fly to Isla Nublar with IT Technician Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and paleoveterinarian Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pinada). They find out that an advance team led by mercenary Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine) is already there but they are unaware of how much work they have done so far.

They succeed in re-establishing the tracking system and Owen sets out to connect with Blue, only to have Wheatley jump the gun and tranquillise Blue, as well as Owen, and Wheatley’s true motives are revealed. A series of hair-raising incidents allows Claire, Owen, Franklin, and Zia to get aboard the “rescue” ship.  After the ship docks in California, they find out that the dinos are headed for Lockwood’s estate, where they are to be caged, then auctioned off by auctioneer Gunnar Everson (Toby Jones). The auction goes as planned until Everson reveals the Indominus Rex.  Dr. Wu says this is not for sale, yet even he is swayed by an opening bid of $20 million that escalates rapidly.

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM Owen, who is locked up in the cellar, finds out that in the next cell is a dome-headed dino that he goads into knocking down a wall and breaking the cell door, allowing him and Claire to escape and connect with Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon). From here, the movie falls into action mode as the Indominus Rex chases Maisie all over the estate, and Owen chases the dino. Blue becomes heavily involved in the chase, and a “side track” develops that involves the dinos being threatened with death by poison gas and Claire having to choose whether they live or die. Most of the bad guys wind up getting killed, and a post-credit scene shows a group of pterosaurs circling the replica Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas. Jurassic World was set as a trilogy, so there’s still at least one more film coming. With more dino DNA loose upon the world, I’m betting the next one will feature dinos enhanced with human DNA and becoming these “ultimate military weapons”.  And don’t forget—the mosasaur is now free to roam the world’s oceans, so………

Fallen Kingdom 8 That one scene near the end, with the T-Rex confronting a lion, and the scene where Blue stops on a hill overlooking a city, tells us the worst is yet to come……..

 

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A Quiet Place Is Confoundingly Worthy

A Quiet Place 2 All the important things first—this is NOT the film I was planning to see, but occasionally you sacrifice for the sake of your movie companion. Secondly, this monster film was not what my companion wanted to see either, but this being Friday, you sometimes have to make quick adjustments. Suffice it to say, A Quiet Place questions more answers than it answers questions.

It opens up in a small New York town, and the set and characters remind you of an episode from The Walking Dead as a small family rummages for supplies in the  depopulated town. They converse by sign language, and we get the story in bits and pieces. Seems a quasi-apocalypse hit, and we catch glimpses of newspapers lying around that reveal strange creatures that are blind but focused on sounds to decimate the population.

A Quiet Place 6 Film director John Krasinski is the father, Lee, and his wife is played by Emily Blunt as Evelyn. There are three children at the film’s opening, but one of them unwisely runs a noisy toy and is gobbled up by one of the monsters on the edge of a small bridge. The remaining two children are Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe). The family is holed up in a farmhouse, and they are using sign language so the roaming monsters won’t hear them and attack.

A Quiet Place 5 In effect, this begins as a silent movie, and we are put on notice that films without dialogue can still be powerfully effective as what the characters are trying to convey is put on screen as captions. There are fleeting glimpses of the creatures as we mosey along and find out how many days this has been going on. We find out Evelyn is pregnant, and we have to wonder what these people were thinking, having a baby in a world where a crying infant would bring death to them—not to mention the painful, noisy act of birthing itself.

A Quiet Place 1 Further complications arise when Lee takes Marcus with him to go check on fish traps he has laid out in a creek to provide the food they’ve been eating. Regan follows them and leaves Evelyn alone to unknowingly deal with one of the monsters. Turns out Lee is a bit of an electrical engineer and has been working with sound waves with various hearing aids, and this features prominently in the film’s climax. Evelyn gets away, and so do the kids, but Lee is not so lucky.

A Quiet Place 7In this final reel, we get a good look at the creature, and are faced with a pertinent question—this is New York, so does this thing relate to the Cloverfield movies? Adding to the confusion is that the creatures’ origin is never discussed, but news is already out that a sequel is planned—and we would be pissed if there wasn’t. This was a captivating, engrossing film, but it left too many unfilled holes you can drive an SUV through—and the questions MUST be answered.

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RAMPAGE—Video Game Translates Well As Movie

Rampage poster 2  The mainstream critics are savaging this movie because of “inferior writing and faithlessness to the source material”. Really? Rampage was a video game. Was anybody expecting Shakespeare from “Mario Brothers the movie”? I thought it was great overall, with an easy-to-follow script/story and dazzling special effects. Next time somebody tells you America no longer knows how to make big monster movies, tell them to go watch this one.

The action opens up with a female astronaut going into a space station to recoup some scientific samples. She finds the station (looking suspiciously like the defunct Skylab) in disarray, its crew dead. turns out the damage was done by a lab rat (just wait till you see it to pass judgement). The astronaut recovers the samples (which are biological genetic experiments) and escapes, but the escape pod is damaged during the escape and explodes, scattering the biological samples to several Earth locations.

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As this unfolds we meet Primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) a former special forces member and anti-poaching agent who has developed a close bond with albino gorilla George. George gets exposed to one of the space samples and starts growing. This brings in Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who worked on the original CRISPR (an actual scientific project) designed to alter an organism’s genetic makeup, but was railroaded into creating genetic weapons and falsely jailed for that.

Rampage 8 Also in on the fun is agent Harvey Russell of the OGA (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, on loan from “Walking Dead”) who initially rubs Okoye the wrong way, but winds up helping him greatly. He reveals there is also a wolf affected by the samples in the Midwest, as well as an alligator in Florida. The two lead figures for Energyne Industries, Claire Wyden (Malin Ackerman) and her brother Brett (Jake Lacy) are using an antenna on top of a Chicago skyscraper to attract the animals, where they’ll be hopefully killed while they recover DNA samples to sell at usurious prices to the highest bidders.

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The wolf and gator have not only grown big like George, but also mutated. The gator has horns and the wolf has flying membranes. Okoye and Kate manage to get the antidote to George, who then proceeds to help defeat the other two monsters. Here is the only spot I found to stretch belief a bit as the gator and wolf climb up the side of buildings the way George does. Throughout the film, Johnson gets to deadpan some cliche lines, such as “We assholes have to stick together” and “of course, the wolf can fly”, but in total, this is a crisp, tight film that rivets your attention. When you can get my friend Kathy to say she enjoyed a monster sci-fi movie, you really got something. George himself winds up being the comic relief at the end in a scene that sums up this romp perfectly.

 

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When Will We Get This Time Thing Right?

Clock 2 Well, we’re doing it again! Why do we do this every year when we know how harmful it is to us? Probably for the same reason people smoke. We are once again faced with this idiotic Daylight Saving Time debacle, and just like I used to do every year on my radio show, I am speaking out against it.

Some people claim this is “anchored in history”. Let me set you straight on that. Near the time of the French Revolution, France faced a shortage of wax, and candles were the primary source of light for most of the population. Candle makers and the aristocrasy got together and decided that one way to save on wax would be to adjust clocks so there would be daylight at a later time, and the idea became popular.

When our resident crackpot, Benjamin Franklin, was ambassador to France, he saw the idea in practice and got an idea. Much of America’s economy centered on the cotton industry, so he tendered the idea that America also adopt the French policy. Since we were at the time so Friendly with the French, and the idea was popular with cotton producers, who could get extra, literally, slave-driving for their workers, the project went through.

Clock 7 Many tears later, DST once again gained favour from the military standpoint when there was fear our factories would be targeted by foreign bombing raids if the lights were turned on earlier, so DST was used to allow factory workers to have longer amounts of daylight. History buffs will recall how many factories of the time had, in fact, glass ceilings.

The last big push came during the Nixon administration, when the President was forever trying to please the “little people” and required the country to go to “year-round” DST. Fortunately, sanity regained its ground and that idea was negated. Chief Jack has lobbied to have DST voided for over 50 years, but so far only Hawai’i, most of Arizona, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S.Virgin Islands have followed his advice. There are rumours that at least seven states are considering opting out of this useless waste of time. All I can say is—you want to enjoy an extra hour of sunlight at night? Get up an hour earlier in the morning.

It has also been proven scientifically that altering the natural timing of daylight as we do is medically offensive. It affects our biological clocks, leading to accidents, higher blood pressure, loss of sleep and attention span, and increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Take it from me—strokes are NOT fun…….

 

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Annihilation Confusing, Disturbing

Annihilation poster The critics and I vastly disagree on this film. Most of them praise this film highly, whereas I think it’s much like a bunch of writers threw their scripts in a blender to see what would come out. Unfortunately, it’s this. Basically, this movie falls in the “let’s remake something with an all-female cast”, which, as 47 Metres Down and the recent Ghostbusters rehash pointed out, rarely works.

The first scene shows us a meteorite breaching our atmosphere and crashing into a lighthouse. For some reason, the lighthouse is NOT totally destroyed by the strike. From there we switch to a school where former soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) is teaching biology. We are forced to endure meaningless dialogue that reveals her husband is MIA during an assignment for the government at Area X, which is being affected by something called The Shimmer, and is where the meteorite crashed. Lena is as surprised as we are when her husband reappears. He becomes violently ill and gets whisked away by an ambulance.

Annihilation 3 This is where things start to unravel alarmingly. The ambulance gets stopped by military troops and Lena is drugged, eventually waking up at Area X and meeting Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is in charge of an upcoming mission to The Shimmer with an all-female crew because previous all-male crews never made it back, except for Lena’s husband Kane (Oscar Issaac). Lena wants answers so she joins the mission too.

Annihilation 2 The Shimmer seems to be, or at least looks like, a 1960s drug-induced psychedelic nightmare, where everything is made up of similar matter that is not quite plant life, yet not quite animal. The ladies encounter a huge alligator, then some nebulous carnivore that winds up being able to use the voice of the woman it killed before being itself dispatched. Along the way, the women find a videotape from Kane’s expedition that shows a gruesome operation. The women decide to reach the lighthouse, but only Lena makes it there. As the confusing story unfolds we get bits of Lena’s post-mission debriefing mixed with shots of her mission as well as unnecessary asides into Lena’s affair with one of her fellow teachers.

Annihilation 1 When Lena finally reaches the coast, a lot of the scenery is crystallised (why, we are never told). and inside the lighthouse she finds a body that turns out to be her husband, along with a video camera that reveals how he died. Voices lead her to a tunnel below the lighthouse where she runs into an alien that takes the form of the dead Dr. Ventress. Lena shoots the alien, but when she makes it out of the tunnel she is met by yet another alien, whom she dispatches with an explosive similar to what her husband used on himself.

In the end, Lena is told her husband recovered when the lighthouse was destroyed and they embrace as she asks “you’re not really Kane, are you?”, and this stirs the pot one final time. What purpose did all this serve? Could it be the prelude to an alien invasion, or just a reaffirmance that women can screw up a sci-fi plot just as well as men? The answers are NOT forthcoming, and I don’t think this movie will last more than two weeks in theatres—it’s THAT bad.

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Black Panther Action-packed

Black Panther poster 1 Marvel’s quality seems to be getting better with every new film they release. The Black Panther has set a new zenith that will probably not be eclipsed until “Infinity War” hits theaters in a few months. This film was well written, visually stunning, and acting was top-notch. It took a few liberties with the comic book character but was handled so cleverly that we hardly noticed. I may go see it again, in 3D, to get the full effect.

T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) must take over as king of Wakanda when his father dies in an explosion at U.N. headquarters (as seen in Captain America: Civil War). T’Challa is heir to a centuries old birthright to become The Black Panther following his father in a ritual that involves consuming a drink from a heart-shaped plant affected by the massive deposit of a metal called vibranium when a meteor crashed into Africa long ago. The Wakandans have used the vibranium to develop incredible technology and weapons, all the while remaining invisibly shielded from the outside world as they present the fascia of being a poor third world country.

Black Panther 3 A subplot is introduced early as in 1992, Prince N’Jobu’s son, N’Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan) wants to supplant T’Challa as king and use Wakanda’s weaponry to stage an African-American empire under his command. This man is a black ops soldier who goes by the name of Killmonger. If the plotline was followed verbatim, Killmonger would probably be a genetically enhanced warrior created by Hydra, but this angle is never fully explored. The movie deviates a bit here by stating N’Jobu, Zuri (as an adult played by Forest Whitaker), and N’Jobu’s son Erik (Jordan plays the adult version) get involved in a skirmish that interacts heavily with the rest of the story.

Black Panther 9 From there, yet another subplot carries things along as a black market arms dealer , Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) is identified as the man who stole some vibranium from Wakanda. He is wanted by the Wakandans for that theft, so T’Challa tracks him to a South Korean underground casino with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) his former lover, and special forces warrior Okoye (Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira), and a fierce fight ensues, resulting in Klaue getting away, even after a heart-pounding chase.

Black Panther 8 Another character who figures prominently is T’Challa’s 16-year old sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), whose primary duty is developing new technology for Wakanda. At one point, she refers to wounded CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) as “another broken white boy to fix”. This refers back to the post-credit scene in “Civil War” where Bucky Barnes is shown to have been taken to Wakanda to repair his battered body and mind.

The fight scenes are smartly choreographed and well-spaced in the film to allow plot and action to flow continuously. The cast includes Angela Bassett as Ramonda, T’Challa’s mother and Queen, Sebastian Stan appearing as Bucky Barnes in a post-credit scene, and Marvel boss Stan Lee, whose mandated cameo as a gambler in the casino evokes the necessary comedy angle. One post-credit scene obviously hints that Wakandan technology will be used in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. This, I repeat, may be the best Marvel movie ever.

 

 

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STAR WARS—THE LAST JEDI

Last Jedi 1 Early reports on this film (which opened tonight [Dec. 15] nationwide was glowing in its praises. I came, I saw, I concur. Yes, the novice Star Wars fan will be lost if he hasn’t seen at least the last three films in the series (not counting last year’s “Rogue One”), but that’s the beauty of these films—fans have seen them all, probably several times (I own the first 6 on tape), and know what’s going on. There are some out there who think that since Lucasfilm sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney, only young people will be interested. At tonight’s showing, I can safely say the average age must have been around 45.

When we last saw the gang, there were some new rumblings going on as Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) took over from the Emperor and is grooming Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to take over Darth Vader’s spot . Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) are the two main new characters around which this tale evolves.

Last Jedi 3 Rey has gone to the highly isolated planet Ahch-To, where Luke has gone into seclusion on an island, hoping to convey Leia’s (Carrie Fisher, in her last appearance) wish for Luke to rejoin in the fight. At first, Luke refuses, but as he senses she is indeed “one with The Force”, he relents and agrees to train her. As the two get closer, their powers co-mingle as Rey makes mental contact with Kylo, which sends crossed signals and leads to a brief exchange between Luke and Rey.

Last Jedi 2 Meanwhile, the First Order (which has taken over for the Empire) has the rebellion just about finished as they force the Resistance fighters, led by Leia, off their base world and chase them through space, decimating the Resistance fleet in the process. Rey is now in charge of the Millenium Falcon, Han Solo’s old ship, with Chewbacca still the co-pilot. Finn is en route with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) to the casino on Canto Bight to find a hacker DJ (Benicio del Toro) who can disable the First Order tracking device use to trail the Resistance. Del Toro is not the only “big name” appearing as a secondary character. Laura Dern plays Vice Admiral Holdo, a part that creates friction but ultimately redemption.

Last Jedi 4 Near the end, the Resistance lands on an old base world called Crait and braces for a final assault being led by Kylo Ren, who has taken over as Supreme Leader after killing Snoke. Just when things look darkest, Luke arrives on Crait to confront Kylo alone, after giving him the same warning Obi-Wan gave Darth Vader back in Episode 4—“If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can imagine, and will be with you always”. Of course, Kylo ignores the warning, and puts Luke down.

The film makes impressive use of CGI, and despite cutting back and forth between scenes and plot lines, the action remains easy to follow (for the true fans). We still have one film to go in the current trilogy, and one wonders how Leia’s character will be handled since Miss Fisher’s untimely death. Tom Hardy, British Princes William and Harry all had cameos as Storm Troopers in Last Jedi, which runs two and a half hours.

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