Ready Player One (2018): When the Film is Better Than the Book

It has been some time since I’ve watched a Steven Spielberg film. After seeing this film, I really should change that. He really is one of the best living directors today, as this is a film that could have been a cringe-worthy mess. First, I was a fan of the book, even though this film gets away from the book in some ways it still keeps the core spirit of the book. This is a film that celebrates video games and nostalgia while doing it well, even though the main characters are flat. My non-spoiler thoughts are: if you liked the book, you will probably enjoy this film too.

The film was directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline (the author of the book).

The story takes place in the dystopian future of 2045. The world has fallen apart and everyone lives in the Oasis, a virtual reality world created by Halliday where you can be anyone and do anything. Wade Watts is the main protagonist who is trying to find the 3 Easter Eggs that Halliday put in the game as a way of passing on ownership after his death. From here Watts and his friends must find the keys and beat the game before the evil corporation, Innovative Online Industries (IOI), lead by Nolan Sorrento.

The Pros:

The Dystopian Reality – The dystopian reality of the world outside of the Oasis is a tragic place. You have debt slaves to IOI, cars and houses stacked on each other in the Stacks, a militarized police force and drones everywhere. I wanted to learn more about this world and spend more time there as the human connections we see are made primarily in the Oasis. For me, one of my favorite parts was seeing the characters outside of the game working together, having to depend on their brains rather than how awesome they were in the game. I wanted more of this and to hear more of their stories.

The Oasis – The Oasis is really cool. This is a VR world where you can make yourself into any avatar you want. You can also build robots, tanks, cars, etc. It is a huge modding community where you can do PVP (Player versus Player) and PVE (Player versus Enemies [AI]) combat. It is the endless possibilities of imagination and gaming combined. I really hope we can make something like it, someday.

i-R0K the Mercenary – i-R0K is the mercenary Sorrento, and his evil corporation IOI, uses to hunt our heroes. He is a funny guy, as he is only in it for the loot. He’s a huge threat, and also, very human as he talks about how bad his back is and needing physical therapy. He has more character than our heroes, and I would watch a movie just about him.

The Tone – The tone is one of wonder and imagination intermixed with sorrow and desperation. Spielberg owns the tone, and it pervades the film giving weight to everything that happens and the actions our characters take.

Okay:

Flat Heroes – Wade is an orphan who lives in the stacks who comes off as a bit one-dimensional, as he only lives for the game and has no real defining character traits. Samantha is the love interest who thinks she’s ugly because she has a birthmark on her face, and her dad is enslaved by IOI. The Japanese Brothers are an older and younger brother duo. The younger brother is an 11 year old who doesn’t like people thinking he’s young, as he fears they’d mock him in the Oasis. Helen is an African-American woman who plays a troll-like, tough character, called Aech. These characters aren’t bad… it’s just that there isn’t more to them beyond the descriptions I gave. They are all heroes who do the right thing, always, and have no inner conflict or aims. This was a missed opportunity. They are this way in the book, but we do get into Wade’s head which makes him more compelling. These characters work within the story, but they really deserved much better development.

Idealization versus Reality – Oasis is a giant gaming community, so where are or what happened to all the toxic trolls? The racists? The sexists? As far as we know there isn’t a moderator who kicks players out, so how did this reality become perfect? This is where the stories fantasy element really came out. The film could have critiqued itself, or shown us how to get to the ideal reality the Oasis community seems to be.

The Cons:

The Villain and Predictability – Sorrento is a cliched. corrupt businessman. one-dimensional villain. He’s just greedy and selfish, having no greater depth. He was that way in the book too, which is a shame as he knows Halliday and it could have been Halliday who brought out his worst self. He’s entertaining, but there is nothing there. He is flatter than our heroes, and their presentations aren’t great.

Overdependence on Nostalgia – The Oasis is full of references, and it is fine up to a degree, but in a game you’d expect more original content. Why is everyone so focused on creating things that already exist rather than things that don’t exist. Some moments of nostalgia are cool, like the T.Rex  and King Kong in the race at the beginning, but the old arcade game at the end felt unneeded and could have been adapted into a better trial.

This was a film that missed opportunities to critique the culture of gaming, and nostalgia found in the modern world (they could have shown how we got past toxic troll culture, etc.). The flatness of the heroes and  the villain didn’t help the film… but the world, the world carried it for me. This is a good film that could have been great if it had dared to observe and critique itself. Once more, if you loved the book or love Spielberg, you will enjoy this film.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10

 

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Jurassic Park (1993): The Power and Wonder of Nature and Finding What Matters

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       “Jurassic Park” deserves its place as a Classic. I think I was too harsh to it as a kid and enjoyed the fact that more people died in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” In this the stakes are much higher and because it is slower we get more time to know the characters, and unlike “Jurassic World” the characters feel real and everyone is active all the time, though kids of course are still the weakest part which is true of most Spielberg films. I think what helped this film was the author also writing the Screenplay, which sadly doesn’t happen all that much in Hollywood and arguably to the detriment of the scripts. Suffice to say, this film was great.

    “Jurassic Park” was directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Michael Crichton and David Koepp, produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Gerald R. Molen and based off the book of the same name by Michael Crichton.

     The story involves John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) bringing two experts being Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) to Jurassic Park in order so that they will write it off and he can get funding but things soon go wrong when an unhappy employee Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) sabotages the Park’s security and attempts to sell the Dinsosaur embryos to a rival the same time a giant storm hits, putting Hammond’s grandchildren and the people at risk.

The Pros: The Premise – The Premise is really cool. A billionare obsessed with dinosaurs uses science to create them and is willing to do anything to make his dream a reality. It coming crashing down on him is expected too, and it’s fun to watch the setup and execution.

The Soundtrack – John Williams at one of his best. The soundtrack captures wonder and terror so well and I understand why this score is used in most John Williams salutes by orchestras.

Character Moments – There are some really good character moments in this…from Ellie and Hammond talking about the wonder and fear of Hammond’s creation, the nihilism of Ian and the idealism of Alan and any interaction Alan has with the kids.

The Characters – The main and supporting characters are compelling and interesting and there are more of them in this film than the others in the Franchise. In the end this is what makes the film succeed besides the brilliant theme and message.

Dennis Nedry – Wayne Knight is wonderful as this troll IT Guy who harasses Hammond relentlessly and actually had a point that he isn’t being paid that much or helped out at all. Hammond can’t see beyond himself (and neither can Nedry) and in the end Nedry ends up dead because of it when he tries delivering the Embryos to a rival company.

Ray Arnold – Samuel L. Jackson plays the chain smoking scientist who is pretty pessimistic but does his best in a very bad situation. In the end he comes through though and he isn’t anti-Hammond the way Nedry is.

John Hammond – Richard Attenborough is fantastic as the wizened old man who began as a creator of a flea circus and became a multi-billionaire. His dreams have driven him in all that he does and are really more important than people until he realizes that his dream has killed people and his selfishness created his fall. He learns from his mistakes though and I really enjoyed his character, he was my favorite.

Dr. Ellie Satler – Laura Dern is wonderful in this role as the character who is quick to take action and is always looking out for others. She also has the sense of wonder and idealism of Grant until all that comes crashing down when the storm hits. She is the one who reminds Hammond of what matters and brings him out of himself.

Dr. Ian Malcolm – Ian is the Chaos Theory Mathematician and is a really fun character. He hits on everyone and has had a few marriages and kids, he fully lives a life of entropy and predicts the park falling apart. He still holds a sense of wonder though and he cares about the Grandchildren even going so far as risking his life and almost ending up killed by the T. Rex. He does end up injured.

Dr. Alan Grant – Sam Neill is great as the idealistic scientist who isn’t good with children who comes to show he can be a really good friend and mentor. He is the most courageous besides Ellie as he doesn’t think twice about taking action to protect others and he knows the Dinosaurs the best as he studied them as a paleontologist.

The Power of Nature – Nature’s power is front and center and the illusion of humanity’s control over it is shown when the storm makes it so the park is unsafe and Nedry turns on the Park and releases the cages. The dinosaurs reek havoc and are never really beaten in the end, they just beat one another.

The Tyrannosaurs Rex – The T. Rex is the main threat throughout the film, eating the lawyer and countless others, injuring the members who are visiting the park and in the end killing the Raptors. The T. Rex is the storm and it cannot be stopped, only avoided. None of the other films do that as well as this one.

The Raptors – Minus the introduction the Raptors are great. They are like the Aliens from “Alien” and “Aliens” and a force of nature that wherever they show up, someone will die. They also adapt to every situation and are only beat by a larger predator that surprises them.

Wonder in Science – The scientific wonder is fantastic! Even though the science doesn’t work that isn’t the point, the point is the celebration of the process of creation and wonder in discovering new things, which are important parts of science and being a scientist.

People Versus Dreams – Dreams are not more important than people and it is Hammond’s are to come to this realization as he wants the park to work up until he fears his Grandchildren dying. It is at that point he realizes people mattered all along.

Okay: The Kids – Kids are once again okay, didn’t believe the girl was a hacker or the boy had read Alan’s book, but that’s an issue I have with the kids in all these movies.

The Cons: The Introduction – The intro is so cheesy and bad. From the hunter’s mouth being really close to the Raptors having long enough arms to pull a heavy man into the cage…the only good part was the mist and trouble seeing things.

   “Jurassic Park” is truly a classic for a reason. It captures wonder, terror and respect for nature as well as giving us mostly complex characters and the characters who aren’t complex are a lot of fun. I’d recommend it for sure, this Spielberg and Crichton doing what they love with one of the best John Williams Soundtracks to date.

Final Score: 9.5 /10

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) – Humanity’s Conflict With Nature and Finding Balance

The Lost World Jurassic Park

     “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” is a great sequel. It is a good thing Spielberg was in charge of it since he is a good director at creating complex characters and giving situations where actual stakes are involved, while still managing to give the film a heart. He is one of the greats for a reason and him directing the follow-up to the original was the right decision.

  The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, written by David Koepp, produced by Gerald R. Molen and Colin Wilson and based off The Lost World by Michael Crichton.

    The story involves Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) going to Site B, the Island of Isla Sorna to rescue his girlfriend Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) who has gone there in order to record Dinosaurs in their natural state for a documentary so that humans won’t exploit them. They are too late and things get complicated when Hammond’s nephew Ludlow (Arliss Howard) arrives with a team to capture the Dinosaurs and take them to a park in San Diego as well as the arrival of Malcolm’s daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester), which complicates things further.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Janusz Kaminski did a wonderful job and as expected Spielberg has a good eye for how to cast a scene. The character scenes as well as the action scenes mean something and we get the chance to get to know the minor characters by how the action is presented.

The Soundtrack – John Williams is one of the greats for a reason and in this his soundtrack is great at creating tension and rising action. Each action scene felt big because of his soaring score.

The Action – This is one of the better action movies I have seen. There are so many moments that I remember and will remember. I’ll record the ones that stand out the most as they deserve recognition.

Hanging By a Rope – Van Owen and Harding rescue the trapped Tyrannosaurus baby and after they fix it’s leg the parents destroy the van, eventually this leads to it falling over the edge and it is only from the actions of Eddie Car releasing a rope through the van that they are able to get to rescue. Eddie dies in the process though.

The Raptor Hunt – At one point the hunters are running and the Raptors methodically take nearly every single one of them out. It is only the few that survive through luck and quick thinking showing just how dangerous they are.

The Tyrannosaurus Hunt – The T. Rex proceeds to cause chaos in the camp for the capture of it’s child. One of them is captured by Roland while the other slaughters the hunters the Raptors don’t get too.

the Tyrannosaurus in San Diego – This is quintessential Monster Movie here as we see a T. Rex escape from it’s cage and proceed to decimate San Diego. It is really well done and a lot of the destruction caused is simply from people afraid that it exists. It was very well cast and showed once again just how dangerous this creature is. I liked it.

The Characters – There are quite a few great characters in this! From Dr. Harding and Dr. Malcolm and the hunter Roland as well as the Earth First activist. Each of them are more complicated than any archetype, which leads to some great interaction and character growth over the course of the film.

Eddie Carr – This minor character dies to the T. Rex’s but not before he saves his friends. He idealizes Dr. Harding but we see he is good at his job too as it is his creativity that saves our heroes in the first place. Richard Schiff did a great job and his death meant something.

John Hammond – Hammond has changed from the industrialist to the conservationist and it is a really good arc the events at “Jurassic Park” changed him. He is wonderful as the wise wizard who has learned from his mistakes while still being wily and reckless.

Nick Van Owen – I don’t like Vince Vaughn, he tends to be a dick in real life and his characters he plays. This character wasn’t as bad and him being a dick worked as he was an extreme activist who put others at risk to rescue animals. He is never presented as the good guy but you get why he is doing it too, especially since these dinosaurs are endangered by their very existence and he wants to safeguard that.

Roland Tembo – Peter Postlewaite does an awesome job in this role! He is the hunter who lives for the thrill of it and has respect for the animals he hunts as he sees himself as fulfilling his greater purpose. When his friend is killed on the Island though he decides he is done after he captures the T. Rex and has had enough of death. I don’t think he’ll stop hunting but he won’t work with people like Ludlow anymore…folks who don’t value human life.

Dr. Sarah Harding – Julianne Moore plays the naive idealist who learns to not be reckless around dinosaurs while still fulfilling her mission of saving the ones on the Island. She saves Malcolm a few times which makes up for times he had to save her in the beginning. She is a strong character who does what she wants.

Dr. Ian Malcolm – Ian is the nervous scientist played by Jeff Goldblume who carries on the lessons of “Jurassic Park” about keeping dinosaurs away from human beings. He is the Spock to Sarah’s Kirk and his arc is learning how to feel for others better as we see him have to put himself out there to protect Sarah his girlfriend and to protect his daughter and support her beyond words. It is a great arc and it is him coming into his own as a person who can look beyond himself.

Respect for the Natural World – The message is through Hammond’s action. He was a man who wanted people to feel wonder and live the vision he created, on his death bed though he only wants the creatures he created to be respected as he realized he didn’t before by keeping them in cages. It is to this end that he sent them on a mission to protect his creations. It is a good arc since the Dinosaurs aren’t idealized, they are animals like anything else and deserve the chance to flourish. This basis of respect while still not forgetting humans creativity in development is part of what makes this film so great.

A T.Rex is still a T.Rex (even if you save it’s baby) – I really like that part of respect is respecting the space of hunters, be it humanity or the T. Rex. The heroes save the baby T. Rex but there van is destroyed by the T. Rexes. The nature of a T. Rex does not change and the saving of their baby doesn’t change the fact that T. Rexs eat smaller animals which include humans. I’m glad that in the conversation talk it was still smart. A tiger will still try and kill you, even if you return it’s cub back.

Okay: Peter Ludlow – Hammond’s nephew is all about making InGen profitable again but he does nearly have a change of heart when the T. Rex is reeking havoc, he only changes his mind when he realizes that the T. Rex baby could be his only out from facing major consequences for his stupidity. He was alright as an antagonist.

Kelly – Child actors have a difficult time and Vanessa Chester does alright as Kelly. She is a daughter ignored by both her parents so she acts out for attention while still trying to be successful to impress her folks. Her arc is finding confidence and building a relationship with her dad. I did think it was stupid she kicked a raptor using gymnastics, but besides that she wasn’t a bad character, just not a great character.

I remembered liking this more than “Jurassic Park” as the Dinosaurs felt like actual animals and T. Rex’s won’t save the day against Raptors since they want to eat you too…this is part of the reason I’m curious if it will still be the case when I get to “Jurassic Park.” Which will be better to me, the original or the sequel “The Lost World?” Well, well see when I get there.  Suffice to say I enjoyed this film greatly and would watch it again. It is definitely a favorite.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10. Solidly great film.

“Jurassic Park Franchise” Reviews

Jurassic Park Series

    Over the next few weeks I will be reviewing the “Jurassic Park Franchise.” This is series I have not watched for a long time, but as someone who has loved dinosaurs since I was a little kid and used to memorize their names…I do have fond memories of “Jurassic Park” and “The Lost World.”

      The fact that these great creatures lived millions of years ago and that we are discovering more about them through what they ate, what species existed and how many evolved into the species of the world today is fascinating. Of course the series isn’t as scientifically accurate on portraying how Dinosaurs look, but it sure does capture the wonder of these animals.

     The series was born out of the imagination of Michael Crichton who wrote the books which gave birth to the Franchise that was first spearheaded by Steven Spielberg. It was the first film that helped put Steven Spielberg on the cinema map, especially due to how he revolutionized practical special effects at the time.

    These films are also at their core monster films, where the characters may not have all that much depth as they are reacting to larger lizards (Dinosaurs) that are causing destruction and must outsmart them in order to defeat them and survive.

    For my approach to the Franchise. I’m going to be starting with “Jurassic World” and ending with “Jurassic Park” and after doing a rating of the Franchise as it exists now from the Worst to Best.

   Here goes the adventure and hopefully a recapturing of the wonder and awesomeness that are dinosaurs.

The Goonies (1985): An Over Indulgent But Good Children’s Coming of Age Tale

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“The Goonies,” is a good but not great film. I get into the reasons for this later but a huge portion is it is hard to take any of the villains seriously and product placement.

“The Goonies” is also a film I hadn’t seen for years, so seeing it again with new eyes also gave me an appreciation for everything that worked and didn’t work in the film. The story was written by Steven Spielberg, with Chris Columbus doing the screenplay while Richard Donner was one of the producers and also directed the film. The other producer was Harvey Bernhard.

The story involves a group of kids called The Goonies made up of Data (Jonathan Ke Quan) the inventor, Mouth (Corey Feldman) the bully, Chunk (Jeff Cohen) the nervous kid who likes to eat a lot and tells tall tales and Mikey (Sean Astin) the leader. They live Astoria, OR where their homes are being foreclosed on and go on a quest for One-Eyed Willie’s Pirate Treasure when they find a map in Mikey’s father’s things. Around this time the Fratellis are being chased down the cops and go out in the woods to hide. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Goonies – The Goonies are great characters. I’ll describe why below.

Data – Ke Quan is fantastic in this role! He isn’t annoying like when he played Short Round in “Temple of Doom” and is a super creative character, with lots of inventions that they put to use to stop the Fratellis and get to the treasure. We learn later his dad is an inventor too. His arc is his facing of his fears as he is the one of the ones who wants to leave when they have a chance to escape up the well.

Mouth – Mouth goes from being a prick to a nice guy. This is partially due to his attraction to Stef and in the end they both balance one another out as his laid back attitude rubs off on her and her caring attitude rubs off on him. Hated this character for the first third because of how much of a bully he was to Chunk. He acts as translator of the map since he knows Spanish.

Chunk – This is the character who becomes friends with my favorite character, Sloth Fratelli in the movie. He is anxious but uses that to his advantage when he stalls the Fratellis during his questioning. It is also his kindness that leads to Sloth breaking them out of their cell and saving the Goonies.

Sloth – The abused and deformed Fratelli who just wants to be cared for. This character is great and has been completely shaped by television since that’s all his mother and brother left him in his cell. For this reason we see him adopt the hero role when he is treated with kindness and saves all the Goonies at the end as well as being taken into Chunk’s family. He is by far the best character in the film and shows not to judge by appearances.

Stef – She started out really annoying but came around and was the one who actually had a character arc out of all the teenagers traveling with the Goonies. She finds joy in the adventure in the end and is there to add perspective to amazing places like the wishing well.

Mikey – Is the leader of the Goonies played by Sean Astin. His role is fighting to keep their homes from being foreclosed on and driving the adventure forward. When they have the chance to escape he tells them that they need to take of their parents now as they’ve been taken care of and that they should take risks and not live with regret. He is a kind character who was a good choice for the lead.

The Adventure – The Adventure to get the treasure is amazing! They go underneath the town, travel through trap filled caves and have to have a skeleton piano played to reach the treasure and the pirate ship. The adventure is the best part of the story besides The Goonies.

Okay: Andy and Brand – The generic teens along for the ride. They are attracted to each other and eventually get together. Brand is also Mikey’s older brother but not nearly enough is done with that relationship.

Momma Fratelli – The only Fratelli that felt like a threat since she threatens to cut out Mouth’s tongue at one point. Besides that she’s just as much of a joke villain as her kids.

The Cons: The Villains – Most of the villains are one dimensional jokes, which doesn’t help if they are supposed to provide tension.

The Fratelli Brothers – They brake one out of prison but they never shoot to kill, they are also constantly bickering which makes their threat level go down. They have some slap stick humor moments happen to them too which doesn’t help their case for being villains worthy of fear.

The Suits – The guys coming to foreclose on 50 houses in the neighborhood to build a country club and golf course. They have no personality traits beyond dickishness and are a waste of characters. I get they are the bad guys, doesn’t mean they have to be caricatures.

Product Placement – There are two really big product placement moments…when Sloth breaks his chains to get the Baby Ruth that he and Chunk share and at the end when someone brings Domino’s which is Chunk’s favorite pizza. It isn’t subtle at all as the camera lingers on the Baby Ruth and Domino’s label.

This film is based on a story that Spielberg wrote, but you can tell he didn’t direct as the quality of the direction isn’t super memorable. I attribute this more to Richard Donner and the problems with the villains to the screenplay by Chris Columbus. It still is a fun movie I’d recommend, but it’s problems are extremely apparent. The best parts of the film are the adventure to get the treasure and the moments with Sloth and with  The Goonies.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solidly good with problems.

Jaws (1975): Terror and Politics in a Tourist Town

Jaws

Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” is a beloved classic for a reason. It is also a film that I had not seen until quite recently. This actually applies to a lot of Spielberg’s work, so one of these weeks I will be doing a Steven Spielberg week since his style, for better and for worse, it so distinct.

“Jaws” is based off the book by the same name by Peter Benchley, who also wrote the screenplay in this instance (which is a pro for the story) along with Carl Gottlieb. The writing and the world are very solid and serve the film extremely well.

The story takes place in the small tourist town of Amity, whose income almost entirely relies on people coming to enjoy the beach. It kicks off with a bunch of kids partying and one of them going out to swim and getting killed mysteriously. Brody the Sheriff later finds her body and suspect a shark, which the mayor covers up because he doesn’t want to cause a panic or hurt the local economy. He continues to cover it up after the scientist Hooper arrives and confirms the shark they captured, did not have a big enough bite and that the shark is still out there. From here the story unfolds as the shark strikes again and Brody, Hooper and the eccentric fisherman Quint have to stop it.

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Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Soundtrack – John Williams does an excellent job scoring this film, especially with the memorable shark approaching theme in how it causes tension. The only thing I don’t like is when he goes whimsical, which I think might be more Spielberg’s fault than his since it clashes with the rest of the movies tone.

Rising Action / Tension – The Tension in this film is palpable, you never see the Shark until the very end, so it is the hidden underwater threat. This is done well in how Spielberg shows us the Shark’s point of view when it is stalking it’s human prey on a few occasions. Whenever he gives us the human point of view we are left in the dark until it is too late, even at the end this rule applies.

The Three Leads

Brody – Roy Scheider does a good job as the detective who is torn between his duty to the local government and the mayor, and to protecting his family. He pretty much goes along with the mayor with only slight protest until Hooper reminds him that they can confirm the Tiger Shark was the killer by cutting it open. They do so and that keeps him fighting again and making sure the beaches are being scoured by police to protect the visitors. Brody also gets the final kill and is the one who doesn’t give in to Quint’s machismo as Quint destroys the radio when he is calling for help as the Shark has destroyed their boat.

Quint – This guy is the fisherman and shark hunter with a major chip on his shoulder. He’s had a few marriages and thinks the only measure of a person is physical strength. He does have some great moments connecting with the guys though, especially with Hooper as they swap shark stories and he opens up about the fact that he fought in World War 2 and why he has such a depressed outlook on life. When his ship sunk he saw sharks kill most of his men which gives him a “Moby Dickish” relationship to them, and like Captain Ahab he dies fighting Jaws at the end. Robert Shaw is good in this role.

Hooper – Richard Dreyfuss is fantastic in this role. He’s the college educated guy who studies sharks for a living and loves them. He’s the outsider and his connecting with Quint over scars from the sharks is pretty fun as they are all getting drunk. He can be annoying sometimes, but you get where he is coming from as Quint doesn’t listen to anyone. He is also the one who motivates Brody to action and actually doing something about the shark. He’s my favorite character in this and one of my favorite actors.

The Mayor – The Mayor is good as the corrupt guy just going after the bottom line, until the 4th of July when the shark strikes again and he is forced to recognize he’s been wrong all along and this his child could have died. He has sleaze and charisma, making him and interesting secondary antagonist who comes around to neutral.

Okay: Brody’s Family – They are mostly there as a motivator. They don’t hurt the plot in any way, I just never felt connected to them as people. They only existed as possible victims of the Shark.

The Townspeople and Tourists – Are all pretty one note, they are doing their thing, but none of them really stand out as unique. They are more of the setting than anything else in the end.

Con: The Chase and Change of Tone – There is a seen where Brody, Quint and Hooper have attached barrels to Jaws and are chasing after him and the music gets all whimsical…there is still 30 to 40 minutes left…the victory music was declared way too early and clashes with the fact that Jaws destroys their ship later and eats Quint. The score should have just stuck with tension…cause even when they are chasing Jaws, the boat and are characters are still getting hurt by Jaws.

This film is a classic for a reason. I love how it explores the small town politics and how distinct the three leads are as characters. Hooper has to be one of my favorite characters in any films and it is awesome seeing a young Richard Dreyfuss. I would definitely recommend this film. It is a classic for a reason and has an amazing score to go with it along with the amazing direction of Steven Spielberg.

Final Score is 9 / 10.

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) – The Beginnings of Getting Transformers Right

Transformers: Age of Extinction

“Transformers: Age of Extinction,” was almost a good Transformers movie. It’s a shame that humans once again had to ruin the drama between the Transformers…though this time they weren’t completely bad and did have some good moments. Which is more than can be said for the the other two movies I’ve seen that predate this (The first “Transformers” and “Dark Side of the Moon”).

I have not watched all the “Transformers” films and it was something that I never grew up with as a kid. So for me what really brings me to these films is my love of robots and mythology. If a movie like this can pull that off than there has to be some good. I have never been a fan of Michael Bay though, he tends to capture a lot of what is wrong with Hollywood in his work…this time though he managed to limit that somewhat…so going to give him credit for that.

Now for the premise. The premise is that Autobots and Decepticons are being hunted down by a rogue government outfit called Cemetery Wind whose leader Harold Attinger is selling them to a company he hopes to get rich off of. He is being helped in his quest by Lockdown, a Transformer Mercenary who is serving the creators of the Transformers who nuke the Dinosaurs with “Seeds” at the beginning of the film. The main character Cade Yeager is brought into the drama when he discovers injured Optimus Prime in hiding and the story unfolds from there.

Now for the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Music – The music is good actions music and captures the robotic theme of the Transformers quite well. Only times it is out of place is when rock or pop songs with singers chime in.

Cade Yeager – He has some machismo issues, but those at least get addressed in the film as well as the conflict he feels over being a single dad raising a teenage daughter. He isn’t a douche like Sam from the past movies was and Mark Wahlberg’s playing him completely and overly sincere while also being a bit of a nerd makes him endearing in his own way.

Joshua Joyce – The creator of the New Decepticons (having used their corpses to create new bodies that he hoped to control) of this film and the idealistic tech. guy and CEO of KSI. He goes from antagonist, to anti-hero, to hero as he sees what he has wrought and sees the Transformers as sentient beings. Stanley Tucci does great (he is Caesar of the “Hunger Games” series).

Sue Yueming – Joshua’s assistant and leader of KSI operations in China. She protects Joyce through most of the film and is an impressive character. She has lots of agency and kicks a lot of ass. Definitely want to see Li Bingbing in more films after this.

Going International – It is nice getting past American Jingoism and seeing good people from all over the world in a Michael Bay film. I know part of it is probably to appeal to the new Chinese Market, but I’d say that is a good thing. We’ll finally get to see more talent from around the world in American films and get to see cinema used for good to break down stereotypes.

Lockdown – I would love it if this guy got his own movie about all the targets he has taken down. He like Boba Fett if Fett where the primary antagonist of a Star Wars film. He has honor though is Xenophobic in serving one of the first aliens and creator races of the galaxy. He knows so much that we never hear about but get hints at. I hope the creators find a way to resurrect him. He is better than all the human characters and most of the autobots.

Optimus Prime – The big hero really needs a movie about him alone, which we might get next time given that at the ending he is taking the “seed” back to the Creators of the Transformers in order to try and stop them. We see him at the weakest at the beginning of the film and him slowly become full strength again. We even see him talk about leaving Earth for real with his Autobots, which makes sense given how many have been killed by Cemetery Wind.

The Autobots – It is nice having memorable Autobots for once who aren’t racist or completely one dimensional. We have the working class heavy Hound (voiced by John Goodman) the calm warrior Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) the rebel Crosshairs (John DiMaggio) and Brains…and Bumblebee who I wish would either get his voice or die…such an annoying childish character. The Autobots almost go on a revenge spree against the humans…showing they aren’t perfect. This is a nice change of pace and adds character to them as a whole.

Dinobots – Transformers that change into giant Dinosaurs. Really amazing and an awesome threat on the side of Optimus. Wish they’d gotten more screen time and I hope they show up again.

Galvatron – Created by KSI and the reincarnated Megatron…Galvatron is great in his awakening his army that he used KSI the tech. company to create. He survives the film and will probably be the big bad at the end of this trilogy or series.

Lockdown Final Fight – Takes all the characters to beat him…super worth it. No character is useless in this fight. Hong Kong is pretty much destroyed in this fight too because of how deadly Lockdown’s ship is.

Okay: Attinger – He isn’t bad, but he’s not fully fleshed out either. Kelsey Grammar does alright with what he is given though. He manages to nearly kill Yeager…Wahlberg’s character, before Optimus Prime takes him out.

Tessa Yeager – She isn’t a fully 3 dimensional character but she at least gets some agency in this film…from choosing to be with an older guy and helping fight the Decepticons and Lockdown. Which is more than can be said for all female protagonists in the last 3 films.

Cons: Sexualization of Tessa – Tessa is the daughter of Cade Yeager and much of the film is emphasizing her being underage and wearing short shorts that are revealing. Her boyfriend is also 20 to her 17 and defends the relationship with Texas’s Romeo and Juliet law that makes it legal. It is really really creepy and I don’t know who thought this was a good idea.

Message – What message? There really isn’t a coherent theme to the film. Creators can mess up and that is okay…seems to be the only one, since Wahlberg says finding Optimus and fixing him was a mistake but was worth it…as well as having his daughter in High School. The problem with this is it isn’t coherent. It wants to be anti-government, pro-immigration and tons of other things but it seems like Michael Bay is just testing these ideas and doesn’t know how to coherently weave them in. He’s trying at least, which is more than can be said for the mindlessness of his past films I’ve watched.

Unlikable Humans – Most of the human characters suck…and making them pros is in comparison to past Michael Bay films. They are usually one note characters who are mean for no reason and have to get into constant contests of machismo. It is so childish and just brings down the film. I wish the Autobots and Decepticons could be in a film without humans. Cade and Tessa’s boyfriend are the best examples of this. The worst of humankind can usually be found in Michael Bay films.

The Writing – It is a “Transformers” film…this is to be expected. It is an improvement over the other ones I have seen, but still a con.

Cinematography – Way too many slow motion shots and lens flairs…thankfully you can actually see the robots fighting this time, but the the slow motion shots and the lens flair shots were really distracting.

Length – The film is super long, though I can see why. I think it would have been better to introduce Galvatron at the end though and set him up for later. Lockdown is threat enough without Galvatron added in.

I have not seen a lot of Michael Bay, but this is the best Michael Bay film I have seen so far. The creepyness goes away after the first 20 minutes thankfully and focuses on the characters and action and attempts to tell a coherent story (and luckily we have Cemetery Wind and Lockdown to get us through that horridness). I wouldn’t call it great and calling it straight up good would be dishonest. It is a fun film though and above average as an action flick. It brings the mythology with the Creators and we get to see Autobots finally be interesting (though Bumblebee is still alive and annoying with his radio voice). The reboot was needed and hopefully the next film will completely avoid the creepy sexualization and have agency for all characters.

Final Score for this film is 6.5 / 10.