Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Retro Movie Review: Much Ado About Nothing (PG13 – 109 minutes – 2012)

Much Ado About Nothing has always been my favorite play by Shakespeare, mainly because of Kenneth Branagh.  As with all Shakespeare – if you want to see the best version, see the Kenneth Branagh version (His Henry V has an entire act in French, I think just so he could show off).  His version of Much Ado About Nothing was released in 1993.  It starred Richard Briers as Leonato, Kate Beckinsdale as Hero, Robert Sean Leonard as Claudio, Imelda Staunton as Margaret, Denzel Washington as Don Pedro, Keanu Reeves as Don John, the scene-stealing Michael Keaton as Dogberry, and since they were still together at that time, Emma Thompson as Beatrice and Branagh himself as Benedick.  It’s my favorite of Branagh’s films (next to Dead Again) and easily my favorite of his Shakespeare.

In 2011, Joss Whedon was working on the Avengers, and decided to recover by shooting a version of the Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing at his house in Santa Monica with his friends.    Since this was basically a bunch of pals hanging out, it provides for a relaxed, natural feel to the performances, which is necessary – since it’s still Shakespeare’s words which are formal and can be off-putting for those not used to them.

The story of Much Ado is fairly ridiculous, as with all Shakespeare “comedies”.  In this particular story, Leonato is a wealthy man living in Messina, Italy.  He has a daughter, Hero, and a niece, Beatrice.  He and his family and staff are living in their large home when the prince, Don Pedro, announces he’s stopping by on the way back from some battle to somewhere else.  He’s old friends with Leonato and has stopped at his place before.  In Don Pedro’s company are his two friends, Benedick and Claudio, as well as his brother Don John – who is in custody for some villainous deed. 

Upon the arrival at the house, Leonato decides they will have a huge party.  Claudio catches a glimpse of Hero and decides he’s in love with her and wants to marry her (yes, just that quickly).  The prince, Don Pedro, agrees to pretend to be Claudio at the party and woo Hero for Claudio and make a deal with her father for her hand, since Claudio is a little shy.  Meanwhile, Beatrice and Benedick have a previous relationship in which they verbally spar and do a lot of name-calling towards the other, but both claim to never want love or marriage.  At the party, Don Pedro’s plan goes off without a hitch, however, Don John, having gotten wind of the plan, tells Claudio that the prince was wooing Hero for himself – for no reason other than to cause mischief.  Why Claudio believes this known troublemaker is befuddling.

Well, Claudio gets a bit of an attitude, but that is quickly fixed.  The wedding is set for the next day, and the prince tells everyone they will pass the time trying to get Benedick and Beatrice to fall in love and get married by secretly letting each know that the other is in love with them.  It’s convoluted, but of course it works.  In the meantime, Don John devises another plan to break up the wedding by having one of his sidekicks screw Margaret while calling her Hero where Claudio and the Prince can see – so that they think Hero is cheating on Claudio the night before the wedding.  This goes exactly as you think it will – Claudio calls Hero out for “not being a maid” at the wedding in front of everyone with the Prince backing him up, and Don John smirking in the background.  

Hero claims this is all lies that she is still a virgin, but Claudio gets really mean, so she passes out.  Beatrice pronounces her dead (dead, really?) and Claudio and the prince take off.  She recovers just in time for her father Leonato to yell at her for a bit – then the friar comes up with a plan, since he believes Hero is telling the truth, to let Claudio think she’s dead, and make him feel guilty. Benedick and Beatrice profess their love to each other, and she asks him to kill Claudio as revenge for her cousin during a breakdown of sorts.

Meanwhile, Don John’s sidekick, Borachio, is bragging to Conrade, when they are arrested by the hilariously inept local watch.  The head of the watch, Dogberry, who is just this side of incompetent, takes his confession, which Borachio gives once he learns Hero died.  Dogberry takes this information to Claudio and Don Pedro. 

Claudio begins to fall apart and asks what he can do to make it up to Leonato – Leonato makes him promise to go mourn at Hero’s grave that night, and come back to the house in the morning to marry his brother’s daughter.  Don John tries to flee, but is caught.  Claudio and the prince come back to the house – and Claudio gets married to the niece, who is actually Hero in disguise, and Beatrice and Benedick – after being called out by notes they had each written, agree that they each love the other and should get married.  Ta da!  Happy ending. 

Like I said, a completely ridiculous story – with some really outdated notions about love and marriage (it was originally written in 1599), but completely loony and can be very funny depending on the performances.  In the Branagh version, Michael Keaton steals the movie, and Thompson and Branagh as Beatrice and Benedick are fabulous.   

In the Joss Whedon version, peopled with Whedon regulars, everyone is certainly capable.

  • Clark Gregg plays Leonato (his Whedon connections are Avengers 2011, and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD 2013).  Originally, this was going to be Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy), however, he had scheduling conflicts and was unable to do it.  Gregg was a great choice to fill in, and is wonderful as the head of this insane household.

  • Amy Acker plays Beatrice (Angel 1999, Dollhouse 2009, Cabin in the Woods 2012).  She doesn’t have quite the fire that Thompson gave the role, but she’s certainly believably opposed to the whole situation.  Her reaction to Hero’s slander is more pouty than angry.

  • Alexis Denisof plays Benedick (Buffy 1997, Angel 1999, Dollhouse 2009, Avengers 2012), and it was a good idea to team him with Acker, since they spent a few years of Angel wooing each other.  This movie gives them a chance to trade some witty barbs, which they do well.  His improvised push-ups while trying to impress her really cracked me up. The best parts of the play are Benedick talking to himself and Denisof does pull that off really well.

  • Reed Diamond plays Don Pedro (Dollhouse 2009, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD 2014).  He does a really good job of portraying the prince as genuinely wanting to make everybody else happy and helping them fall in love, with just a touch of sadness when he’s left all alone. 

  • Fran Kranz plays Claudio (Dollhouse 2009, Cabin in the Woods 2012), and since he’s really annoyed me in both Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about him as Claudio, but he was actually better than I expected.  He was a little more toned-down than I had seen him in the past.

  • Jillian Morgese plays Hero (she was an extra in the Avengers, which caused Joss to ask her to audition for this).  She’s quite good, and plays Hero as young, innocent, and smitten with Claudio. 

  • Sean Maher plays Don John (Firefly 2002), and Whedon gave him this role after hearing that he had never played a ‘bad guy’.  He’s very evil in this role, which is always a bit weird, because it’s never explained why Don John is so evil – He just states that he is a “plain dealing villain”. 

  • Spencer Treat Clarke plays Borachio, who has a quick attack of conscious after helping Don John with his villainy, but then realizing that Hero is said to be dead…quickly confesses.
  • Riki Lindhome plays Conrade (Buffy 1997), who is usually a man in other versions, but honestly, it doesn’t matter – and Lindhome is pleasantly terrible in this role.  I particularly enjoy her calling Dogberry an ‘ass’.

  • Ashley Johnson plays Margaret (Dollhouse 2009, Avengers 2012), the maid who helps with bad plot, without really knowing what she was doing.
  • Tom Lenk as Verges (Buff 1997, Angel  1999, Cabin in the Woods 2012) – he’s really there to play Fillion’s sidekick and allow him to be even more hilarious.

  • Nathan Fillion plays Dogberry (Buffy 1997, Firefly 2002, Dr. Horrible 2008) which again is the role that  steals the movie.  So if you put someone brilliant in that role, chances are that they will be the most memorable part of the movie.  He has no problem playing stupid and relishes the chance to ‘look the fool’ and made me want more of him in this movie.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but, not nearly as much as I enjoyed the Branagh version.  While it was really neat to see it in modern times, and in black and white, since some of the themes are really outdated (marriage in one night? Brokering for the daughter with the father? Death by slander?!) – it’s difficult to reconcile that with the modern setting.  It can be a little distancing.  Still, it’s always fun to see a group of friends play together.  I do wish that Whedon had taken the next step, and updated the language to modern as well – I would have loved to have seen his take on that, but since this was basically done in two weeks at his house, there wasn’t really time for that!  It’s certainly well crafted, and if you haven’t seen it, you should check it out.  You can Netflix it now.
7 out of 10 (the Branagh version gets 9 out of 10).  Gained points for the quick shoot and the single location.  Lost points for the black and white.  Gained points for the comfortable and casual interactions, and Fillion and Lenk improvising the “keys locked in the car” bit.

Bonus Video 1: Branagh’s Othello

Bonus Video 2: Branagh’s Dead Again – see this if you haven’t.

Bonus Video 3: Cast interviews

Monday, June 22, 2015

Movie Review: Hunger Games MockingJay part 1 (PG13 – 123 minutes)

As you know, I go see all the tween movies with my friends way after they are released, so that we can talk during them without disturbing the hardcore fans (we're considerate like that).  We tried to see this movie three times in the theater – starting a month after it had been released - and it was sold out each time.  So clearly, the fans were thrilled with this one.  I didn’t care for it – but not because it wasn’t done as well as the others, simply because at this point in the story, Katniss becomes really annoying.  To be fair – I felt that way about the books too, so the movies are staying right in line!

In case you are not familiar with the Hunger Games series – let me see if I can catch you up.  The movies are based on the YR novels by Suzanne Collins: Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009) and MockingJay (2010).  Collins was inspired by the recent obsession with reality TV and ancient gladiator fighting.  The stories are set in a dystopia near future where what was the U.S. is now called Panem, and is a country split into 12 districts (there used to be 13 – more on that later) ruled by a wealthy Capitol.  Each district sends resources to the capital.  Once a year, the capitol holds the “Hunger Games”.  Basically, every child from ages 12 to 18 put their names into a lottery (the ‘reaping’) and one boy and one girl from each district are chosen as ‘tributes’ to go into the arena and fight to the death which is televised across all the districts.  The winner is rewarded.  This serves to remind the districts of their failure in a past rebellion against the capitol when district 13 was destroyed.  And this is a book series for tweens.  Yikes.  In any case, the books were hugely popular, so inevitably they became movies. 

The Hunger Games was released in 2012, and follows our young hero Katniss Everdeen.  She’s from district 12, and spends her free time hunting (illegally) with her friend Gale.  During the reaping, her younger sister Primrose is chosen, so Katniss volunteers as a tribute to save her.  She survives the games by defying the capitol in threatening to kill herself along with Peeta Mellark, the male tribute from 12, instead of one of them killing the other.  Since the public has fallen in love with their ‘fake’ love story, they are both allowed to win.

Catching Fire was released in 2013, and followed Katniss and Peeta on their ‘victory tour’.  But, as they seem to be inspiring rebellion in some of the districts, the villainous President Snow decides that the ‘Quarter Quell’, the special Hunger Games that happen once every 25 years will pull tributes from all the former victors.  Well, none of the victors are happy about that, and Katniss, being the only female victor from 12, heads back to the arena, and does some more defying – ending the movie being rescued by the rebellion she has unknowingly helped start.

MockingJay part 1 was released late last year, and part 2 will be late this year.  In this one, we pick up with Katniss as she is still super emotionally traumatized from the games and hiding out in district 13 – which we thought was destroyed, but really has just moved underground.  Here she begins to learn that they have been planning rebellion for quite some time, they just needed a symbol to unite the districts against the capitol.  She is introduced to President Alma Coin (what exactly is she president of? Just 13? Okay.)  Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee – the former game maker who created the arena for the last Hunger Games – want to film a series of anti-Capitol propaganda films starring Katniss as ‘the MockingJay', a symbol that they can use to unite the districts and inspire them to rise together against the Capitol.  Katniss is not really paying attention and instead demands to know where Peeta is.  They let her know Peeta has been captured, and is still in the Capitol.  She agrees to help them if they promise to rescue him.  Once again, I am befuddled by her devotion to Peeta, but I was in the books too.  Eventually, despite finally getting to spend time with Gale, Katniss realizes the love she’s been pretending to show for Peeta may, in fact, be real love – so there’s the explanation. 

Katniss is given a team of filmmakers and they learn that she’s horrible at trying to film the bits on a stage in front of a green screen.  Haymitch helps them realize that she’s more lovable when she’s natural the crew heads to the recently bombed out district 8 – okay, not lovable, but more relatable? Inspirational?  They film Katniss as she observes thousands of wounded in a makeshift hospital, just before the capitol comes to bomb the hospital.  Enraged, Katniss promises revenge, which the crew films, and it gets sent out.  In response, the Capitol releases a series of videos featuring Peeta, where he implores the districts to stop rebelling, and suggesting that Katniss doesn’t know what she’s doing, although, he’s looking frail and you know, beaten.  This goes back and forth for a while, Katniss does some quality moping – only to be pulled out of it by Prim, who is really getting her stuff together and being promoted to doctor training, all while being the only sane member of her family.  Gale gets angrier, Coin and Evensby insist that Katniss do what they want, Finnick pines over the loss of his love Annie, who is being kept with Peeta, Effie struggles with no longer living in the capitol, and Haymitch is forced to get sober, which he has some issues with.  Finally, after a failed bombing attempt of 13, Beetee is able to hack the Capitol’s defense systems, and Coin approves a rescue mission for Peeta, Annie, and Joanna, the tribute who helped them in the last games.  As the mission is going on, Katniss tries to assist the diversion by communicating with Snow.  Snow starts talking to her, but only to say he’s aware of the rescue mission, and to warn Katniss that the things we love are often the most dangerous to us.  They successfully rescue all three:  Joanna is fired up and ready to fight back, Annie is happy to see Finnick, but Peeta has been brainwashed to think that Katniss is his enemy, and he nearly chokes her to death which really surprises her, despite Snow having just said that.  The movie ends with Katniss watching Peeta flail about in bed, and presumably, thinking that she needs to put an arrow through Snow’s head.

This one is directed by Francis Lawrence, who also did the previous movie – Catching Fire, as well as I Am Legend and Constantine.  The action is great, everyone does a great job, but it still left me feeling just a bit disinterested.  This is not due to anyone in the movie or making the movie, just my general reaction to the story.  The reason I liked both the first movie and book was that Katniss was this strong-willed hero who volunteered to sacrifice herself to save her sister.  She was smart and capable.  As the stories go on, she becomes more and more a pawn.  In this one, Coin is completely using her to fire the rebellion, and she agrees to it, because she’s desperate to save Peeta.  I just felt that seemed like a character shift, but in reality, she volunteers in the first one only to save her sister – so it makes sense that she would have the same singular focus in this story, it's a 'good of the one versus good of the many issue.  Katniss is all about the good of the one, and her own righteous anger.  So, my issues are with the character of Katniss – not with any of the performances in the movie, which were all very good.

  • Jennifer Lawrence spends most of this movie looking haunted, disturbed, or distraught.  She does a great job, and continues to prove that she will be around for a long time.  She’s best in action scenes, and this movie has a little too much non-action. 

  • Josh Hutcherson has more to do in this movie than he has in the previous two.  Instead of just being a huge burden for Katniss, here he really has to look run-down as he is giving his forced messages from the capitol.  The one where he realizes that Katniss is watching him, and he tries to get a message through is particularly good.  And I have to say – his final scene as he is brainwashed and trying to kill Katniss is really amazing.

  • Liam Hemsworth still has almost nothing to do as Gale.  He continues to pine after Katniss, which does him no good, since she’s now all about Peeta.  So – he volunteers for the rescue mission.  He starts to show a shift here in that he is truly throwing in with the rebellion.  He tries to explain what it was like when 12 was bombed, and you start to see that maybe Gale has more depth than anyone else in the story.  But, since he’s not the focus – don’t think about that.

  • Woody Harrelson is in this one less than the previous movies.  He steps in to help Katniss, who is overwhelmed by trying to be what everyone else wants her to be.  He helps remind her how angry she is, and to just use that.

  • Donald Sutherland continues to be horribly villainous as President Snow.  He’s so overtly evil that you wonder why the capitol can’t pick up on the fact that this dude is a jerk and keeping them under his thumb. 

  • The late Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Plutarch Heavensbee, the former game-maker who is now making games for the rebellion.  He gives an interesting performance of someone who is committed, but perhaps not prepared for when the rebellions gets real, and close.

  • Julianne Moore is great as President Coin, because you’re just not sure you can trust her, which is pretty dead on for a president.  I’m still not sure why there is a president of this one rebellious district, but let’s assume she was elected because she had the better platform of rebellion tactics?

  • Willow Shields, who was just on Dancing with the Stars, plays Prim, and as in the books, she is really growing in terms of realizing she’s now the only sane person in her family, and she’s trying to keep them all together.

  • Sam Clafin plays Finnick Odair, who shows some depth in his few scenes in this movie as he pines for Annie, then gets determined to state all his secrets about president Snow on-air, then finally gets reunited with Annie.

  • Elizabeth Banks gets to play a more stripped down version of Effie in this movie, since all her fancy clothes and makeup have been removed (there’s no clothes/makeup budget in 13 – everyone is in plain gray jumpsuits).  Even without her outfits, she’s determined to help Katniss become the symbol she can be.  She also lets us know that Lenny Kravitz’s Cinna was killed between the last movie and this movie, but that he did leave a binder of ‘MockingJay’ outfit designs for Katniss once she decides on her own to become the symbol of the rebellion.

  • Mahershala Ali plays the head of security, Boggs.  He’s there to make sure that Katniss gets from one place to another without wandering off, having a breakdown, or attacking someone.

  • Jena Malone just barely shows up as Johanna – she’ll be around more in the next one.

  • Jeffrey Wright plays Beetee, who comes up with the security ins and outs as they attempt their rescue mission.  He also starts to function as Katniss’s “Q” as he creates a bunch of new fancy arrows for her.

  • Stanley Tucci again plays Caesar Flickerman – and he’s really only around to do the staged interviews with Peeta.

  • Natalie Dormer plays Cressida, the director of Katniss’s ‘spots’.  She maintains a cool head despite crazy surroundings, befitting someone who abandoned the capitol after being inspired by the ‘MockingJay’s’ actions in the arena.

  • Cressida’s crew includes Elgen Henson and Wes Chatham as Castor and Pollox.  Elgen is now magnificent as Foggy Nelson on Daredevil, and if you haven’t Netflixed that yet – do it.

As I said, it’s well put together, and certainly continues the story well.  I just have mentally checked out on the character at this point.  Certainly my issue, and not theirs.  This one is gloomy and depressing, although, really – they all have been.  The previous two just had more action to break up the doom and gloom.  I do look forward to the next one, this suffered the same thing that many ‘part 1’s of finales have, which is that it mainly felt like a lot of set-up for the conclusion.  Everyone does a decent job, and it will be exciting to see the rebellion finally grow into war.

6 out of 10 – that’s just my opinion.  Craftwise, it’s probably 8 out of 10.  Gained points for Katniss collecting her sister’s cat.  Lost points for Snow bombing district 13, including a rose-bomb.  Gained points for Gale trying to step it up, but lost points for Katniss being obsessed with Peeta.  Gained points for Elizabeth Banks – she tried to bring some lightness in. 

Bonus Video 1:  The Running Man – another movie with the themes of reality TV and fights to the death – just like Hunger Games, but with less child murder and more Schwarzeneggar, and way more 80s over-the-topness.

Bonus Video 2:  Everything wrong with the previous movie:

Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Movie Review: Jurassic World (PG13 – 124 minutes)

I'll apologize up front - this one is long, but I really want to rave about how much I loved this movie - also, spoiler alert!
There are just a handful of movies over the course of my life that I can remember being truly ‘blown-away’ by.  The first Jurassic Park was one of those.  Remember the first time you saw it?  Back when CGI was new, and you’d never before seen dinosaurs look quite that real on screen? 

The book Jurassic Park was written by Michael Crichton in 1990, and was really about 75% science, explanations, and figures.  By the time he wrote The Lost World in 1995 – he had realized that his books make great movies and had started to write more visually.  The plot was simple:  billionaire funds research to clone dinosaurs and build amusement/zoological park to display them.  Things go wrong, people get eaten.  That’s it, but that was more than enough to capture the imagination. 
The first movie was released in 1993 (yes, 22 years ago if you can believe that) and was directed by Steven Spielberg with digi-dinosaurs by ILM and practical dinosaurs by Stan Winston.  It was magnificent, and if you re-watch it now, it still holds up as brilliant and terrifying.

Lost World: Jurassic Park was also directed by Spielberg and released in 1997 – it started where the book did, but diverged in several ways.  In this one, InGen decides to recoup some of their financial losses from the first story by snatching some dinos from Site B (where the dinos were bred and raised before moving over to Isla Nublar where the park was) and taking them to a park in San Diego – things go wrong, people get eaten.

Jurassic Park III was directed by Joe Johnston and had almost nothing to do with the other two – a couple loses their son on Site B, and cons Dr. Alan Grant to help them find him – it has almost no plot, and is basically people getting chased by dinosaurs – which is still really fun to watch.  Things go wrong, and people get eaten. 

Jurassic World takes place 22 years after the original (hooray for accurate timing!), and InGen has finally gotten the park on Isla Nublar up and running.  For details on the park, be sure to visit their website, which features a map and descriptions of all the attractions – http://www.JurassicWorld.Com – seriously.  They are making tons of money, but their costs are still through the roof.  The park gets 200,000 visitors a day, but they see a big bump every time they have a new attraction, so the scientists (lead by good old Dr. Henry Wu – who survived the first movie) have decided to Frankenstein themselves a brand new dinosaur by splicing together a whole bunch of different DNA (seriously, who thought that was a good idea?).  

Billionaire Simon Masrani is the owner and stops by to check on the progress of said FrankenDino.  Claire Dearing, the park’s operations manager, lets him know that the Idominous Rex is doing just fine…except she’s attacking the glass of her enclosure, and has killed her sibling.  Masrani is not convinced about the enclosure, and requests that velociraptor trainer/expert Owen Grady come take a look at it.  Currently Owen is busy with his buddy Barry, attempting to train the velociraptors (Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Blue) to follow commands.  InGen operative Hoskins stops by to convince the ex-Marine Owen that they should be using the raptors as military weapons.  Owen and Barry have the same reaction as the audience, “Are you out of your mind?”   

Meanwhile, Claire’s two nephews, Zach and Gray, have come by to spend the weekend with her because their parents are getting a divorce (important character development backstory to get you to care about the kids and not just cheer for dinosaurs!).  She doesn’t really have the time, so she passes them off onto her assistant Zara.  The kids wander through the park, seeing all the big time attractions – the Mosasaurus pool, the T-Rex feeding, and the tiny Triceratops rides.  Seriously – the main level of the park looks just like Universal Studios, just with dino-stuff everywhere instead of just in the Jurassic Park ride gift shop.

Claire heads over to Owen’s trailer (he lives on the island in a trailer?) to request that he come look at the enclosure.  There we learn that they went on one date, but it didn’t go well (more character development!). Owen heads up with Claire to see the enclosure, and they use the thermal scans to check the enclosure for the I-Rex.  She doesn’t appear to be in there, and Owen notices claw marks up the side of one of the walls.  Since it appears she got out – Owen and two guys wearing Star Trek red shirts head in to check it out.  Turns out she was in there; she just evaded the heat scans (one of her superpowers thanks to DNA splicing), eats one dude, chases Owen out, and eats the other guy.  Owen evades her by covering himself in motor oil so she can’t smell him.  She takes off into the woods.

Masrani argues with Hoskins about whether or not to use the raptors to hunt her, Masrani to his credit, refuses to allow raptors loose in the park, and instead sends out a heavily weaponed team.  Well, that doesn’t work, because the I-Rex has clawed out her tracking device and camouflages into the trees (another DNA splicing super-power!).  She wipes out the whole team so Masrani heads out in his helicopter with another big gun.  As panics sets in, the good Dr. Henry Wu is revealed to be working with Hoskins, snatches a suitcase full of embryos and heads off the island via helicopter, once again escaping with little to no repercussions for his actions.

Zach and Gray are out in a gyrosphere, exploring – they ignore the evacuation command (What?!) and take off into the woods, where they get involved in the middle of an awesome I-Rex/Ankylosaurus battle.  They barely escape and take refuge in the original Jurassic Park welcome center to have blatant callbacks to the original picture.  There they find a jeep to head back to the park.  Owen and Claire are looking for the kids, and find that the I-Rex seems to be killing apatosaurs, probably because she preferred when they used to be called brontosaurs. 

Masrani and his two copter-mates find the I-Rex, and attempt to take it out with the big gun.  She decides the best way to evade them is to crash into the ‘aviary’, which releases all the pterosaurs, and they in turn cause the helicopter to crash.  The pterosaurs, finally out in the open, immediately head down to the park to terrorize the guests just as Owen and Claire find Gray and Zach.  Zara unfortunately gets picked up by a Pterosaur, which then gets eaten by the Mosasaurus.  I suppose if you’re going to go out…that’s the way to do it.

Hoskins finally decides to use the raptors with or without Owen’s assistance, so Owen decides to help – which results in the scene you couldn’t get your mind around from all the trailers, Owen apparently riding with a pack of raptors.  They find the I-Rex, but then there is the big reveal of her last superpower - communicating with raptors, thanks to raptor DNA spliced in there. Instead of thinking of Owen as their ‘alpha’, suddenly they think of the I-Rex as their alpha, and the attack team immediately becomes the hunted.  

After a whole mess of running, screaming and eating, Owen, Claire, and the boys end up back in the main part of the park, cornered by the I-Rex and the raptors.  Owen tries communicating with Blue, who seems reluctant to attack him, especially when he removes her camera headpiece.  Then the I-Rex shows up and tries to get the raptors to attack the humans, but Blue refuses, causing the I-Rex to attack Blue. The other raptors attack her, and the humans scramble away.  The raptors are no match for the I-Rex, and Gray states offhandedly to Claire that they “need more teeth”.  Claire calls up to the control room to unlock the T-Rex paddock and uses a flare to lure the T-Rex out of its pen and toward the I-Rex.  You then get one of the coolest battles ever, but the T-Rex and her useless forearms are still no match for the I-Rex and her very useful forearms.  Just at that moment, Blue comes back – gets a slow-motion entrance, and helps the T-Rex overwhelm the I-Rex, pushing her back towards the pool, where the Mosasaurus has apparently been just biding her time and waiting for an opportunity to jump up and grab a larger bite to eat.  As she drags the I-Rex into the pool, the T-Rex takes off, Blue has a moment with Owen, then heads off into the forest.  Owen and Claire get the boys off the island to where they reconnect with their parents, and the final shot is of the freed T-Rex, overlooking the island and roaring her approval.

Since I was not familiar with Colin Trevorrow as a director (previous to this, he had only done Safety Not Guaranteed), I was a little concerned with how this movie would look.  But Spielberg was on hand as producer, and the movie turned out fantastic.  By now, you’ve already heard how well it did, and I have to say, those numbers are completely justified.  It’s incredible.  I did end up caring more about the animal characters than the humans.  The front act of the movie tries really hard to get us to care about these people, and that part is really clichéd and uninteresting.  The last act is fantastic dino-action and amazing dino-performances, and really saves the whole movie.
  • Chris Pratt and his safari vest give the best Indiana Jones audition ever as Owen.  Listen, I’m not saying we need an Indy reboot – we don’t.  But if they insist on doing it, it needs to be Pratt.  Owen is one-note, adventure guy, but Pratt pulls that off with the same likability he gives everything.  He is capable of more layered and interesting, but it’s not needed here.  And even with seeing it all over the trailers, watching Pratt motorcycle ride with that raptor pack is thrilling.

  • Bryce Dallas Howard plays the uptight businesswoman cliché that is Claire.  She’s all about the business, so much that she doesn’t think of the dinos as animals, just as assets, and has no time to spend with her family.  Also – the subplot of her sister, played by Judy Greer, calling her and insisting she needs to settle down and have kids of her own was insulting.  Claire becomes more interesting as the movie goes on, not because she grows as a character, but because she runs to and from dinosaurs wearing white high heel pumps, which we can all attest is impossible. 

  • Irrfan Khan plays the slick billionaire-owner Simon Masrani, and he, while a cliché, does a good job making his cliché interesting.  He seems to have a pretty good sense that danger is imminent, but is also confident in the systems in place to protect the island, the visitors, and the animals.  Once that confidence rolls into cockiness at his own helicopter-piloting, he’s pretty much doomed.

  • I was very happy with the return of BD Wong as Dr. Henry Wu.  He’s still thrilled with his own genius and DNA manipulating-ability.  He’s super confident that he’s responsible for creating all these animals, and that they have no rights because they were already extinct.  And once again, he escapes just in time, and with embryos, so I would love to see him as the god-complex having villain of the next one.

  • Vincent D’Onofrio, so excellent as Wilson Fisk on Netflix’s Daredevil, plays the most one-note of one-note villains in this who again – is only interesting due to the skill of D’Onofrio.  He’s so convinced that the raptor squad will be a great military weapon that it makes you wonder if he had no clue what had happened previously on the island.  He witnesses Owen stop the raptors once time and is absolutely convinced he can control them, which even Owen states he can’t do.  You will cheer when he gets his.

  • Ty Simpkins as Gray and Nick Robinson as Zach are as useless as any of the kids in these movies.  I know we get the backstory of the parents’ divorce to make them more human to us so that we care about what happens to them, but I still didn’t.  Also – Zach is given this weird trait that he’s super into girls, but only stares at them, and Gray is really precocious and into dinosaurs.  Also, I don’t care how old you are – if you are on a dinosaur island, and you ignore the order to evacuate, you deserve to get eaten.

  • French actor Omar Sy, who was last seen as Bishop in X-Men Days of Future Past, plays Owen’s right hand man, Barry.  Barry also has a relationship with the raptors, but even more than Owen, he’s convinced that they are wild animals, and they have no control over them.  He keeps trying to persuade Hoskins that he is wrong, to no avail. 

  • Lauren Kapkus and Jake Johnson play Vivian and Lowery, two tech support folks who spend the movie in the control room, trying to get things back where they need to be.  Lowery gets called out by Claire in the beginning for wearing one of the original Jurassic Park shirts, which she states is in poor taste, because people died there.  Vivian and Lowery also have one of the funniest moments in the movie as she goes to board an escape chopper, and he stays behind to help.

  • That’s it for the humans, but in terms of the non-human characters – the Mosasaurus is pretty great, but her main driving character trait is hunger, and that’s driven by how close edible things are to her pool, so she’s not that interesting.

  • The Idominous Rex is a compelling character, and she’s wonderful – even though she’s pretty one-note.  From the first discussion in her pen stating her traits, and the fact that she killed her sibling, as well as the revelation that she is white, she’s evil for the sake of evil…or perhaps because she was genetically engineered that way.  Once released, and she starts killing for sport, she’s sealed her role as the lead villain in the movie.  As we start to see her use each of her various skills in the open, we cannot wait for her final fight, and perhaps are rooting for her just a little bit – hey, everybody loves a good bad guy.

  • The Tyrannosaurus Rex had been pretty much the headline dino in the first two movies, and was outshone by the Spinosaurus Egypticus in the third.  She is barely in the first half of this movie, as Zach and Gray just catch the slightest glimpse of her through her display window.  When Claire finally goes to her for help at the end, she gets an amazing hero-shot reveal.  As the door to her pen opens, she slowly steps forward, so we only see her eyes at first.  It’s brilliant and so exciting – and actually really reminded me of the Universal Studios Jurassic Park River Ride, where the full body T-Rex attacks just before you head down the final waterfall.

  • I read an article prior to seeing the movie that posited that Blue was the most compelling character in the movie, and after seeing it, I have to agree (you can read it here: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/06/12/the_best_female_character_in_jurassic_world_is_a_velociraptor.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_fb_bot ).  Blue continues the trend of this summer of great female action leads after Spy, Mad Max Fury Road, and the 15 minutes Scarlet Witch gets in the end of Avengers…this one just happens to not be human.  Blue starts out as aware of her situation; coordinating her group, and dealing with Owen as her alpha.  Once released, and used as a weapon – she is more than happy to take the I-Rex as her new alpha against the humans who manipulated her.  However, once Owen gets threatened, and she realizes his respect for her was very real, she turns on the I-Rex to protect him, and chooses her own role as the movie closes.  She’s beautiful, she’s spectacular, and the slow-motion hero entrance she gets just before the finale fight is fantastic.  She’s my favorite character in the movie.

The movie is wonderful – it homages the first movie perfectly, without trying to out-do it.  I would have loved some Jeff Goldblum in this, but the truth is that Ian Malcom would not set foot anywhere near that island, and is probably campaigning somewhere for it to be shut down. It starts slow, just to get the story going, but once it picks up – it really picks up.  It is interesting that several paleontologists have pointed out that we now know velociraptors had feathers, so why don’t the ones in this movie have feathers?  Well, as pointed out by Jack Horner, the paleontologist who was the reference for the Alan Grant character in the book and served as a consultant on the first movie – that’s for the sake of movie continuity, after all – real velociraptors are about 3 feet tall – and the ones in the movies are Utahraptors, which were bigger.  But, Utahraptor does not sound nearly as cool as velociraptor.  Go see it – see it in 3D, and prepare to cheer for the dinosaurs.

9 out of 10 – exceptional summer entertainment!  Gained points for Pratt, gained points for the raptors.  Lost points for Howard’s heels, but they held up, so maybe that’s a gained point?  Lost points for the ‘petting zoo’ and ‘riding area’ shown as part of the park.  I had a visceral, gut reaction to that scene.  Children are shown riding on Triceratopses that have little saddles and aggressively hugging little apatosaurs, it made me so upset for those little dinos!  Gained points for scenes of raptors full-out running, which we really had not seen in any of the movies up to this point. Also - gained big time bonus points for the return of Mr. DNA who comes, "From your blood!"

Bonus Video 1:  Raptor Training?

Bonus Video 2:  Jurassic Park Honest Trailer

Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews!