Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Delivers Dino-Sized Thrills & Scares

jurassic world fallen kingdom poster

The latest film in the Jurassic Park films, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, has finally been released here in North America. Many of the reviews have been downright negative and nasty, and honestly, for the most part, it’s undeserved. The fifth Jurassic Park film is an exciting and suspenseful film that adds to the film series.

Taking place three years after Jurassic World, the latest sequel follows up on the disaster that befell the live-dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World. Now abandoned, the park and the island it is on has been overtaken by dinosaurs. However, the island has an active volcano that threatens the lives of the dinosaurs. A worldwide debate opens up over whether or not to save the endangered animals. Some believe nature should take its course and drive the dinosaurs to extinction again while others have taken up the cause of the dinosaurs.

own and claire and indoraptor

An obvious homage to Jurassic Park

One of that movement’s leaders is Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former operations manager of Jurassic World. She is approached by a Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) who represents Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a former partner of Jurassic Park’s creator John Hammond. Lockwood wants to evacuate the dinosaurs to an island sanctuary and enlists Claire’s help. She in turn recruits her ex-boyfriend, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a former raptor wrangler. Once they get to the island, the volcano erupts and as shown in trailers that revealed too much of the film’s plot, they are betrayed by Mills. He only wants to evacuate the dinosaurs to sell them on the black market and has also spearheaded the creation of a new hybrid dinosaur, the indoraptor. Now it’s up to Owen, Claire, and a couple of colleagues to stop Mills’ plans.

jurassic world fallen kingdom

All hell breaks loose in Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom

For the fifth film in a film franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is surprisingly fresh and exciting. It has plenty of thrilling and suspenseful scenes, as well as some unexpected heart-breaking moments. One thing that sets it apart from the other films is that it brings up the notion of whether or not these prehistoric animals have rights. They were artificially created so are they entitled to be protected as an endangered species? The film presents both sides of the argument fairly and it leaves you conflicted. You see the majesty of these creatures, but know that they should not be alive now. Is it right to share our current world with them? Why defy nature again? Some of these messages get lost in the action and dinosaur action, but they stay with you nonetheless. Then an unusual twist comes up with Lockwood’s young granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), that adds a new wrinkle to the film series.

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Season Two Of Westworld Journeys Beyond Its Borders

Westworld season 2 poster

The second season of the HBO sci-fi series, Westworld, will conclude this coming Sunday and what a ride it has been. Based on the old Michael Crichton film that starred Yul Brynner, Westworld was a thought-provoking surprise for viewers when it premiered in 2016. Fans had to wait over a year for its second season and frankly it was worth the wait.

Maeve and company

Westworld takes place in a futuristic theme resort where visitors can act out their violent and sexual fantasies within recreated historical places. Most of the series takes place in a land that is a perfect recreation of the Old West but other locales have been introduced this season, notably one based on feudal Japan complete with shogun warriors and ninjas. Guests interact with lifelike automatons called hosts that were once androids but are now printed biologically by the resort’s engineers and programmed to cater to the guests’ desires. What happened over the course of the story is that the hosts have gained sentience and no longer want to play along.

Dolores Abernathy

Season one of Westworld ended with a literal bloody bang as the hosts rose up in unison and started their violent revolution. Season two starts with the rebellion underway as the resort’s security tries to take back the property and there are many intertwining subplots featuring returning and new characters. These storylines jump back and forth in time and you have to pay attention to what is going on but you’ll be rewarded with captivating stories and character development. Many of them are well fleshed out and nuanced. We see the growth and descent of many like the host Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), who was once a sympathetic farm girl that is now the bloodthirsty head of the uprising. Her goal is to wipe out humanity for the continued pain humans have inflicted on her. It has gotten to the point that she is on the border of becoming the show’s villain thanks to her merciless demeanor. Meanwhile, Westworld’s main human villain, the Man in Black (Ed Harris), is seen in a not quite sympathetic light but his behavior is more understandable. We see that his obsession with Westworld and desire to revel in his violent fantasy has completely warped him and is shattering his grip on reality.

Two hosts who have risen above their programming and are the show’s hearts and souls are Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and Maeve (Thandie Newton). The reveal that he was a host in the previous season was quite a shock and this season just went full out to explore the impact of that revelation as he struggles with his identity. He was always someone we could relate to and a very decent person. In this season we continue to root for him as he grapples with his memories and his choices. Meanwhile, Maeve has a compelling arc where she evolves to control other hosts mentally as she searches the vast landscape for her daughter. Along the way she inspires other hosts and humans with her humanity and intellect.

Thankfully this season took time to explore many concepts and dramas about the hosts and their inner struggle. Questions and explorations about the nature of reality, reincarnation and free choice are there for us to consider in between violent clashes between hosts and humans and even among hosts themselves. A couple of episodes were genuinely heart touching such as episode eight “Kiksuya” which is about a Ghost Nation warrior (Zahn MacClarnon) who becomes self aware and strives to spread the word about the truth of the hosts’ existence. Another one was “Akane no Mai” and “Phase Space”, which feature some terrific performances from Rinko Kikuchi and Hiroyuki Sanada as a geisha and ronin who love each other.

The second season of Westworld succeeds because of the other above reasons and the way it keeps you guessing. Plus, it lets you see both sides of the conflict and divides your loyalties. As we rejoice in all the bloody confrontations we can’t help wondering if we are cheering for the right side. Or if we should be pleading for both species to find a way to co-exist, if it is even possible. As the season concludes with “The Passenger” we’ll find out how these stories conclude and set up the third season.

Man of Steel & The Five-Year Anniversary Of The DCEU

Man of Steel
This month marks the five-year anniversary of the beginning of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU( and the film that started it all, Man of Steel. This film brought the most iconic superhero, Superman, into the modern age with incredible visuals and a very interesting take on his origins. The film starts as expected on the doomed planet of Krypton and shows Superman’s father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and the beginning of the feud between the House of El and General Zod (Michael Shannon). The planet shown is very unique and has a wonderful sci-fi aesthetic that is a radical departure from the cold, crystalline Krypton shown in older Superman films.
After Jor-El’s infant son, Kal-El, is sent to Earth, the story shifts suddenly to present day where Kal-El, now called Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), is now a grown man unsure of who he is and where he came from. His life as a child on Earth is told in flashbacks and shows how difficult it was for a boy with superhuman powers to try to lead a normal life. Lessons from his adopted father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) include trying not to draw attention to himself until he was ready, even if it meant not saving those who were in danger. This harsh lesson would haunt Clark later in the film when tragedy strikes the Kent family.
Man of Steel presents a startling depiction of the title hero as it focuses on Superman’s uncertainty about himself when he learns of his alien origin and during his battles with Zod after he arrives on Earth. This is sharp contrast to previous depictions of Supes, where he is more accepting and confident of who he was. However, in the end, Superman is able to defeat Zod and start his journey as Earth’s greatest hero. The battles between Superman and Zod and his henchmen are thrilling to watch and culminate in Superman having to kill Zod in order to save civilians from being killed. This was a divisive thing as many fans balked at seeing the Man of Steel killing someone. The large-scale collateral damage across the city Metropolis caused by the epic battle was also controversial among fans. This different take on things carries on throughout the rest of the DCEU, where Batman is shown as a bitter and cynical crime fighter of 20 years, at the end of his rope, and Wonder Woman is in hiding after dealing with a century of war and heartbreak in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Superman kills Zod
 The new depiction of these characters has been controversial and the mixed reception to some of the DCEU films has led some people to want Warner Brothers to reboot the whole thing but this would be unwise. To date there are already five DCEU films released with three more filmed and in post production (Aquaman, Shazam and Wonder Woman 2). You don’t cancel a franchise eight films into it. What WB seems to be doing now is focusing on standalone films as opposed to team up epics like Justice League. This in part due to the disappointing  box office for Justice League. Going back to basics gives DC an opportunity to recapture what Man of Steel did so well, which was to have a streamlined film with great action and a focus solely on the heroic character without having to establish a number of other characters that WB was quickly trying to introduce. Now that those introductions are out of the way, they can now take their time to fully explore these heroes. Hopefully this will begin with Aquaman, which is coming out this December. Hopes are high with a well-regarded director in James Wan and rumors of epic underwater visuals and battles that this film will kickstart the next phase of DCEU films. Although I do hope that we will eventually see another Justice League film; the post-credit scene of of the film suggests the formation of the supervillain group, the Legion of Doom. It would be great to see them battling DC’s heroes in a big mash up.
 Another positive of this shared universe is that we are finally seeing films that have DC characters which were previously ignored in films. Earlier decades were dominated by Batman and that’s about it. This can hurt a brand if it’s focused too much on one character only. In fact that is what happened with the DC films which for the most part were devoted to Batman for a couple of decades.  Broadening the scope of DC films has led to the breakthrough of Wonder Woman, probably the most popular film of the DCEU, so far. All of this will let other characters have their day in the cinematic sun like the aforementioned Aquaman, as well as other fan favorites like Nightwing, Batgirl and the Flash. 
 But the one that started it all is also the one that started DC Comics way back in 1938. Appropriately, Superman is the beginning of the DC’s shared cinematic universe and his film Man of Steel is I think, the blueprint that should be followed by the next group of DCEU films. And hopefully we will see another Man of Steel movie, as well.  It’s maddening that Warner Bros. keeps announcing new films featuring lesser-known characters while there has been no indication that Man of Steel will have a proper sequel. There are persistent rumors that Supes will be appearing not only in Shazam, but also show up in other DCEU films and be the link the link between the different movies. If this is the case, then the future of the DCEU should end up brighter after its somewhat shaky start.
C.S. Link

After Solo: Does Star Wars Recover After Its First Stumble?

solo and chewie at bar

We Star Wars fans have a right to have a bad feeling about what is going on with Star Wars.

It was not supposed to be like this. A Star Wars film comes out in theaters and dominates the box office regardless of how good it is (see the prequels). Then we’d all pour over it as anticipation builds for the next film. Instead, Solo: A Star Wars Story has turned out to be a box office disappointment and now the talk right now is how Star Wars recovers, which is unusual.

Take into account that Solo: A Star Wars Story debuted at number one and still holds that position in its second week. Also, it earned over $100 million during the Memorial Day weekend, consider that Ready Player One earned far less than that in its opening weekend, yet it is considered to be a success.  But  Solo cost much more money to make, had the coveted Memorial Day weekend slot and it’s a Star Wars film. They’re supposed to equal instant cash for Disney and Lucasfilm.

But here we are, the film is underperforming and everyone is wondering what went wrong and where does Lucasfilm go from here. It’s a shame since Solo: A Star Wars Story is actually a great film, much better than its predecessor, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The Unfortunate Perfect Storm

Actually, the previous Star Wars film and its reception are a major reason for Solo’s woes. While Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a huge hit in theaters and with critics (who gave Solo mixed reviews) it was a flawed and controversial film that deeply divided Star Wars fans. Putting aside those that loved it for its bold departure, many griped about the film’s narrative faults, uneven pacing, and poorly written characters. Unfortunately there is also a sizable amount of close-minded idiots who complain about new Star Wars films because they are more socially diverse. You know the kind, they probably voted for Trump and wish things would go back to the good ol’ days. These vocal fans have called for a boycott of  new Star Wars films and sadly took out their anger on Solo. Right now they are crowing in videos and blogs about how they alone caused Solo to fail. Talk about delusions of grandeur! They are not the only reason for Solo’s struggle, but they are a factor.

Other fans who rightfully disliked The Last Jedi for legitimate reasons felt burned by Lucasfilm and knew about all the production headaches of Solo: A Star Wars Story. These fans felt that the new film would disappoint them and opted to not rush out on opening weekend to see it.

Then there is the formidable competition out there. Avengers: Infinity War is a huge juggernaut that is still having an impact in ticket sales. Meanwhile, Deadpool 2 came out a week before Solo and mined viewers away. Originally the film was to come out in June, but given Solo’s troubled production, 20th Century Fox probably smelled blood in the water and decided to compete with Solo: A Star Wars Story and it worked.

Also, keep in mind that movie tickets are not cheap and many made hard choices over what to see. The two superhero films have strong word of mouth and this had a negative influence on the Star Wars film.

On a related note, others have stated that the film was released too soon after the last Star Wars film. However, if this is true then why is Marvel Studios releasing three films a year?

Marketing also has to share the blame. It was quite sparse for Solo with the running joke for months being the lack of trailers until a handful of months before its release. Simply put, Solo: A Star Wars Story faced a perfect storm that was worse than Han Solo’s Kessel Run.

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Just Like Its Title Hero, Solo: A Star Wars Story Scrapes By With Spunk, Heart & Luck

solo poster

The second Star Wars spinoff film, Solo: A Star Wars Story, has long been a troubled production, notably with the firing of the original directors. When Ron Howard took over the film, he wound up re-filming a majority of it to bring it more in line with what Lucasfilm expects for a Star Wars film. Some fans who are leery with Lucasfilm and its president Kathleen Kennedy eagerly hoped that this film would fail. if not in the box office, at least creatively. These haters will have to wait longer because Solo: A Star Wars Story manages to be an entertaining, fun romp of an adventure.

solo and qira

To start, let’s get this out of the way: Alden Ehrenreich does a fine job portraying a younger version of Han Solo, everyone’ favorite space pirate. Sure, he’s not Harrison Ford, who will always be the definitive Han Solo, but Ehrenreich does not try to imitate him. It’s a good thing because that would have been a mistake. Instead he captures the essence of Han Solo; he emulates the swagger, the cockiness and the spunk that we fans have loved about the smuggler.

The mannerisms are demonstrated in the opening moments of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which details how Han lived a desperate life in his homeworld Corellia. Han (and some will get annoyed by the origin of his last name, but so be it) always dreamed of a bigger life, which involved leaving the hellish Corellia. Circumstances and quick thinking on his part allow Han to escape the world and bounce around throughout many misadventures. These mishaps bring him to meeting his BFF Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and fellow rogue and friend Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Plus, we see how he came to own his famous ship, the Millennium Falcon, which is newer and cleaner looking.

Kessel Run

Solo: A Star Wars Story introduces many interesting characters that come and go at a rapid pace along with some head-turning cameos. The best of these are Qi’Ra (Emily Clarke), Han’s first love, and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who introduces Han Solo to life as a space pirate. It also dwells on the seedier, more criminal side of the Star Wars universe. The Galactic Empire, Jedi, Sith and all the traditional Star Wars trappings are shoved to the background or unmentioned. This is great since it shows that there is more to the Star Wars universe and is similar to those episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars that were devoted to the criminal underworld. This Star Wars spinoff earns extra credit just for not delivering more of the same when it comes to a Star Wars film.

At its core, Solo: A Star Wars Story is an exciting caper/heist story with adventurous dashes of the Indiana Jones films. There isn’t anything particularly deep or heavy here, but the film gives time to explore the heart and emotions of its characters. We may never know how the original version of the film would have been like, but Ron Howard does a credible, workman-like job in directing the film. It always moves along at a crisp pace and hits all the right beats. There are many thrilling set pieces such as a futuristic train robbery, an intense gambling sequence and of course, the famed Kessel Run. That last sequence, which takes place onboard the Millennium Falcon, is arguably the most nail-biting part. Also, Alden Ehrenreich deserves a lot of credit for the film since he is the main actor and is able to exude the spirit of a younger, more unpolished Han Solo. In addition to Clarke and Harrelson, Donald Glover does a great job of portraying Lando Calrissian. He does the smooth, savvy routine that Billy Dee Williams originated decades ago.

solo and lando at falcon

Some narrow-minded fans who are stuck in the past are ready to proclaim this film to be the death of Star Wars and a call to arms to replace Kathleen Kennedy. They point to some reviews and its box office performance since it underperformed in its opening weekend. However, if you watch this film with an open mind, you will find that Solo: A Star Wars Story is a genuinely fun adventure worthy of the Star Wars name.

Lewis T. Grove