22 June 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Trousers

I really like that name for a porn parody. We used to always comment on Porn Parody names around here, the apex of that, as well as all human life on earth being Hairy Pothead and the Breastly Swallows: Fart Poo (2011). Anyway, let's preview Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018).

Now, we already got Revenge of the Fallen (2009), but still, I'm just amazed we didn't get Dark Kingdom or something. That's only been taken by Thor: The Dark World (2013), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), Dark Shadows (2012), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), The Dark Knight (2008), Zero Dark Thirty (2012) (and its parody, Zero Dark Flirty - you know where I'm going with that one!), Monsters: Dark Continent (2015), so much more. This is a diversion, but I'm curious if "Fallen" replaces "Dark."

"Welcome to my Hall of Boners" lol
At this moment I'd really like to get into a complete cultural history of Jurassic Park (1993). It's easy to forget that Jurassic Park was a game changer on every possible level of cinema. It exhibited a monumental leap forward in special effects, had a startlingly innovative plot structure for an adventure film, made a ton of money, and became the perfect Summer Blockbuster movie. It also really made strides towards Spielberg's Legacy, and perhaps most significantly, actually shifted public perception of Dinosaurs quite a bit. Let's break all this down.

Jurassic Park still looks good. This is is actually a fallacy. The CGI seems better because it's so mixed in against practical effects that our brains sort of gloss it all together. It also works because the beasts generally obey some pretty strict physics. The craziest thing anything does is probably a raptor jumping on a table. There's no huge explosions, floppiness, blurriness, or frankly, interaction with the human actors that seems impossible. Ahem. We see reactions more than interactions, and this puts us in the moment, altogether tricking us into thinking this this is all real. Somehow in the past 25 years Spielberg went from being a master of this to Ready Player One (2018)'s CGI regurgitation overload, which he can kind of get away with since it's all a computer game, but that's a cop out to disguise a crummy experience.

Most importantly, though, Jurassic Park proved this shit was possible. We had had some pretty cool little CGI moments before this, from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) to The Abyss (1989), Death Becomes Her (1992), and perhaps most notably, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), but this was the first fully textured rendering of living, breathing, fleshy creatures. Everything done since owes a debt to Jurassic Park.

For a blockbuster action movie it's bizarre that its main protagonist is a child-hating nerd in the most platonic relationship with a woman in cinematic history. Yes, there is no boning in Jurassic Park. I mean, we'd all pay for a deleted Malcolm / Sattler hook-up scene, but instead Laura Dern played Ellie as one of the strongest independent women in any movie like this before or frankly, since. In addition to gender politics, the plot is constantly surprising, with different levels of systems failing, all matter of chaos unfolding, from tropical storms to Sam Jackson's arm, it's wild. More importantly, though, it all connects to a greater theme of Man vs. Nature, Man's attempt at bringing order to a chaotic realm, which is simultaneously embodied in each character's personal struggle. It's a supreme feat.

This came out really at a perfect time, the mega-event blockbuster wasn't quite a thing yet, at least not a weekly thing. Sleepless in Seattle (1993) came out two weeks after Jurassic Park and was fifth for the year. To be fair, Last Action Hero (1993) came out the week after and really really tried. The point is that Jurassic Park felt like a really big thing. To some extent Jurassic World (2015) hit that, although half of the point of Jurassic World is saying "We're never going to see these days again, but this is the best we got."

Let's get to Steven. While he had E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) and the Indiana Jones movies in the 1980s, he really spent most of his time in this decade spinning somber contemplative drama films. Hell, Schindler's List (1993) came out the same year as Jurassic Park. I already covered a lot of Spielberg when I rambled about Ready Player One, but this film really cemented his Legacy, as if it needed cementing. Hook (1991) made okay money, but was kind of forgotten in its year of release, and also slaughtered by critics. Spielberg needed a win, and Jurassic Park could easily be the second coming of JAWS (1975), and for my money, it is.

Finally, let's talk about what Jurassic Park actually did for us as a nation. Now, the first instance of really cool cinematic dinosaurs may very well be a little Sharptooth action from The Land Before Time (1988), but in the realm of live action cinema, Dinosaurs were more regulated to campy B-Movies. They largely still are, as a matter of fact. No movie outside of the Jurassic series has really gotten dinosaurs right. And by right I mean, not as a total joke or novelty. Maybe King Kong (2005). We still tend towards Triassic Attack (2010) and Raptor Ranch (2012). See, you don't know these movies. Even in 1993 the very year Jurassic Park came out we also got Carnosaur, which looked stunning.

The additional point is that Jurassic Park put a lot of ideas into our heads. Just as the discovery of Deinonychus first gave paleontologists the idea that these animals must have been fast and scary rather than slow and dumb, Jurassic Park really livened up Dinosaurs for a mainstream audience. It popularized the idea that Dinosaurs evolved into birds (there is even some debate now whether or not T-Rex had feathers). It also paved way for a lot more of that corny crap, some featuring Whoopi Goldberg and others just...how was this ever a mainstream show? Being a kid in this 90s era was incredible. So many Dinosaurs to gaze in awe at. Anyone have these Dinosaurs Attack! cards? Now that deserves its own blog post.

For some reason or another Dinosaurs were always in the realm of juvenile campy ridiculousness. Jurassic Park brought them into grounded, intelligent adult cinema. Okay, well, sort of, but it's better than Planet of the Dinosaurs (1977). It's an incredible feat to achieve.

So yeah, then we hat The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), which actually has a lot of decent moments, but like all sequels, more feels like adding to the zeitgeist rather than driving it. By that time we had had a lot of Jurassic-ness and the Dino fad was more cresting than beefing up. It is notable for featuring Vince Vaughn, along with a fairly underrecognized cast. They barely returned anyone from the first film, although Hammond and his grandkids show up looking slightly older, which always freaked me out because I watched the first one 40,000 times and the second only once or twice. Of course Goldblum's back as Ian Malcolm, but I thought he always worked better as a bit of a selfish side character rather than an action hero. Shirtlessness aside, he never really fits that role as the anchor of this film.

Still, that caravan ledge scene, the T-Rex stomping through San Diego, and the High Grass are all pretty incredible. I always think of Velociraptors when I venture into High Grass. Every. Single. Time.

The less said about Jurassic Park III (2001) the better. I saw this in theaters while still forming my critical eye and I remember it being a strange feeling...I was excited going in...but very disappointed coming out. What's most notable is that at age 14 I actively recognized this as a bad movie - not a campy jokey of course it's bad movie, but a terribly written film that wanted to be good so damn bad. Every character sucks. The ending is a horrible deus ex machina (worse than the...original film's also deus ex machina), and the Raptor scenes are just so damn weird. At least we got this meme out of it. Then this. Even LEGO knows this is moronic.

So we cool for a while then flash forward to 2015 and Jurassic World trades on nostalgia and admiration for spectacle and sets a new standard for the mega-blockbuster of the current age. It's amazing that it would eventually appear as a template for other fan course corrections like The Force Awakens (2015) which just re-make the original with enough shiny new shit to make it seem new. This is a bit different than the gritty reboot era, and definitely past the late 90s / early 2000s turn everything into a sequel era. I have of course talked about this film at length already.

As you can read, I actually really liked this when it came out. I think that appreciation has decreased over time as I've reflected how at best a lot of it is dumb and at worst pretty problematic when it comes to those Ellie Sattler gender roles Laura Dern nailed so well 25 years ago. It at least seems self-aware of all its bluster sating a fan's appetite that will never full or get over nostalgia, which elevates it thematically, but it still never quite innovates.

Why would you do this again? That's like buidling
another Death Star. No one's THAT dumb!
What's more amazing is that Fallen Kingdom is actually only the fifth film in this series. That sounds like an insane thing to say, but we've had five Pirates of the Caribbean films and five Transformers films in half the time. Somehow Jurassic Park as a franchise just nosedived with the third installment, fell into that B-movie zone and never recovered. These films are all about spectacle and deserve being events. Jurassic World has even taken somewhat of a step behind Star Wars, the Avengers, and other franchise that have since greatly outshined it. It may not even finish as Chris Pratt's most successful movie this year.

And if you're looking at the marketing material for Fallen Kingdom, I certainly feel a great deal of who cares. Like, why are they back on the island? And it's exploding?! Volcanoes are certainly very Dinosaur-y and it's amazing it took them this long to insert one, but that also pushes that concept into the novelty zone and outside of the genuine discussion about universal themes through a familial lens that Spielberg did so well. Evidently this movie is half volcano adventure and half haunted house movie, which does sound interesting, but that's again camp and novelty over story and character. I'm wary. We're away from a beautiful Furious 7 (2015) world and into a shitty Fast 8 (2017) world. Also, there's been eight Fast & Furious movies since Jurassic Park III. What happened, guys?

Reviews are...good? It seems we can't quite tell. Better than Jurassic World but still shit? Well, what if I liked it the first time? I think it's important to remember that even if cinephiles and hardcore fans are disappointed there are plenty of casual fans who dig this shit. Name recognition alone will earn a lot of dollars, but I highly doubt it'll reach the heights Jurassic World did. It kind of just feels like any other movie sequel, and that's always something that doesn't work with this franchise.

What do you think? Did you prefer the Mars Attacks trading cards?

18 June 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 6: Enter Ye

We've reached the apex of June! It's crazy to think about. There are a whole random slew of tracks this week, from the bright and shiny new to the old and decrepit. We're on the breach of reunion and wedding season, people. Which songs will be the soundtrack to your lives?! Read on and find out!

Hot Jam of the Week: "I'm Upset" by Drake

I've been trying to both cover this Drake / Pusha-T feud and also wanting to stay out of it. This more a song and introspective reconciliation with Drake's past than a direct attack on Pusha, but it's also a solid reminder that, yeah, our most popular current rap artist starred on Degrassi. I really just wanted to talk about this video that features Jay and Silent Bob for some reason (Kevin Smith is a huge self-admitted Degrassi fan). The world is weird.

"Girls Like You" by Maroon 5

This hasn't quite caught on yet, but it trended well on YouTube and got some fairly choice radio plays. It's also such a smooth hip zeitgeist-y girl power song. I rambled about this before, but I wish we could have had a girl group get this many girls together for the girl power song. The vagina power on display here is amazing. It might yet take a few weeks to really be a hit.

"Sit Next to Me" by Foster the People

This has been around for a minute but was played enough this week to earn a drop here. Foster the People hasn't quite hit "Pumped Up Kicks" ubiquity, but hey, any alternative rock that's not Imagine Dragons is worthwhile. It's a kind of uplifting song, but better for a chill night than a true summer rager.

"Yikes" by Kanye

You can say what you want about Kanye's mental health (if you listen to Ye, he says plenty himself) - some of these tracks feel a little inconsequential or at least not as thought out and clever as his earlier work (almost nothing is equal), but despite all that bitching, "Yikes" might be the best of the crop and holy damn this is a song for our moment right now. No real radio play, but do we even need radio play anymore? I mean, we clearly haven't for years. I still do for some reason. I really should just starting basing this list off of Spotify.

"Meant to Be" by Bebe Rexha ft. Florida Georgia Line

Perhaps not as everywhere as last week, "Meant to Be" is still going strong. Now THIS is a summer driving long highway song that's oh so joyous. I'd say it is about cresting, though, almost reaching that point where I don't totally get pumped up to listen to it. Totally done. Past the hotness threshold. NEVER TO RETURN.

"Never Be the Same" by Camila Cabello

Surging this week while Ariana dropped is the first indication that "Never Be the Same" could make the first run at legit Summer Queen status. It's very very early to call anything, having only covered a little over a third of the season, but right now she's in the lead. We'll of course see how things shake out, but I'd be okay with this.

"Nice for What" by Drake

Drake Song #2 of the week and yeah, "Nice for What" jumped up mad high this week. For some reason I heard this track excessively this week and that beat is just good enough to fill the background of whatever you might be doing with your lives at any given moment. That mid-song complete breakdown gets me every time - I always think the 107.9 DJ is stopping the song and calling out some studio jerks. But somehow it works.

"Psycho" by Post Malone

I know, I know. We might as well have "Stegosaurus" this week this song is so old. But it was somehow everywhere this week AND shot back up to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. It's a remarkably good song, but I'll be the first to admit that I have no idea how a dirtbag-looking dude like Post Malone rose to the top of 2018. I suppose it's is general down-to-earth demeanor, accessibility, solid raspy sing-songy flow and righteous chill vibes. I also really like that "Lil mama wanna have my babies" line. For some reason he makes it sound like such an adorable love story.

Next week...

The Carters. Listen, this is no "Bonnie & Clyde" by a large motion, and it's certainly also a lesser work than either of them have done together, but it could be pretty popular. We'll see. Not much more substantial new tunes this week. A little Clean Bandit / Demi Lovato. Who cares.

15 June 2018

Tag! You're Incredible!

As summer marches on we've got two more releases this week. One is a big mainstream comedy hoping to make a dent in a grossly under-served market this year. The other is a Pixar sequel that's all but guaranteed to be the cash grab that it is.

Now, one thing you may notice is that I don't actually get out to the theater all that often. I am both blessed and cursed by an innate ability for supreme cultural osmosis and rarely feel like I actually need to watch a big release unless it really catches my eye. A few years ago I'd go to the theater for anything. If you hadn't guessed, this competition for attention is something plaguing everyone around the country. It's probably worth exploring in a longer post but now is not the time for that.

This is all to say that these kinds of preview posts simultaneously act as a forecast and a review. I've gotten to the point where I can kind of tell how a film is going to do without seeing it. For instance, TAG (2018)'s cocky attitude doesn't really gel with its idiotic premise and it stars a lot of actors who are niche at best and unlikable at worst. My guess is that it does alright, probably around Blockers (2018) level, but how many of us are still loving Blockers a few months out? I did watch Blockers in theaters, although that was mostly because a human female woman wanted to see it with me.

I can also tell you that The Incredibles 2 (2018) will win this weekend, based on having virtually no competition either in its genre band or frankly, at all right now. It's got enough goodwill riding off of The Incredibles (2004) that it really doesn't even matter what the quality or content is. Since its 2004 debut the Incredibles brand has arguably grown even more than something like Finding Nemo (2003), and we just saw the result of putting that back in theaters with Finding Dory (2016). So, let's get into both of these.

Hawkeye is also good with towels.
TAG is about a thirty-year game of tag played between five friends once a year. It stars Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Burress, and Jon Hamm. That's a crew with an intermittent comedy range over the past ten years as well as an age discrepancy of twelve years between 35-year old Burress and 47-year old Hamm. And Jake Johnson is 40 somehow? How is that possible? Anyway, that should be a small thing, but it does bother me when they're all supposed to be kids growing up together. I couldn't believe that Girls Trip (2017) actually largely gets this right, with all actresses almost the same age (Tiff Haddish being slightly younger). Anyway, this is ultimately semantics.

Did Jeremy Renner give up Infinity War (2018) for this? Definitely not, but I kind of hope so. That'd be amazing. You can kind of see through the veil here as the infamous Tag game may end with Jerry getting married and quitting. There will probably be some man-child growth, friendship acceptance, all that crap. Standard comedy stuff. What matters is the juice in between, which the trailer doesn't really show that much. The intensity and no limits nature of the game is clearly communicated, as well as the real importance, which is friends finding ways to stay in each other's lives long after they run out of other excuses to do so. That's an important thing that I identify with as a dude in his 30s who doesn't really see friends much anymore. This thing could shoot for "okay" and perhaps that's just fine.

Isla Fisher and Rashida Jones round out the cast as wives and girlfriends and I can see wanting to just see a buddy comedy with these two. Anwyay, this ought to do okay. It's R-rated, which hasn't done especially great lately, but it could just take one great film to turn that tide. I see a Horrible Bosses (2011) level of cultural influence here.

Now the real meat of this weekend - The Incredibles 2. This is going to be heresy, but I actually never thought the original was that great. It just comes across as really corny to me, with all kinds of cheeky "aw shucks" cute moments that aren't quite my sensibility. This is of course some of the very reason it achieved mass popularity, particularly with parents and children. Yeah, I suppose that's the demographic, right?

This isn't to say it doesn't have some great moments. From the nebulous time period to the stunning and varied design to the true earning of a familial bond, there's a lot of greatness going on here. The real key to understanding this film is understanding the last few not-so-great years of Pixar. And to be fair, not-so-great for Pixar is comparing their recent output to one of the greatest commercial and critical hit streaks of movie history.

So, first, with director Brad Bird returning, I can't help but think again of Finding Dory, which brought back Andrew Stanton after he totally whiffed with John Carter (2012). Bird had a similar experience with Tomorrowland (2015). It's as if after both accomplished directors struck out to live action have recoiled to the safe and comfortable environments where they made their name. And for the record, I actually liked both Carter and Tomorrowland.

I'd like the idea of Elastigirl in a gritty superhero parody.
That sense of return to comfort has plagued Pixar in the past few years. They made the decision at some point, likely after the success of Toy Story 3 (2010) to just re-hash all their old crap instead of continually creating new worlds. And so we've gotten a lot of Cars movies, new Monsters movies, the aforementioned Dory, and now Incredibles. More importantly, none of these movies have been very good. How have we not also gotten A Bug's Life (1998) sequel? Is it because all these bugs are definitely dead? The handy thing with long-range animation sequels is that we don't see how painfully awful all the cast has aged. Thanks to the DVD age where kids continuous crave films to watch every day of their lives, they also largely know all these characters, even though the original film was put out years before these bastards were born. An Incredibles sequel also appeals to both last 90s / early 2000s-born kids for their own nostalgia along with everyone's parents who saw this and identified with the parent characters in this film. A true four quarters family film is rare, and this nails it.

Now, I can't totally be a bitch here because since 2010 Pixar has released three original films that count among the greatest that they've ever done. I often feel like I'm the only one who loved Brave (2012), but that movie was so different and sticky that I'll watch it forever. Inside Out (2015) had a more traditional Pixar structure, but hit its stakes so damn well. And just last week I saw COCO (2017) for the first time, which I was skeptical about since it didn't quite have a really splashy opening, but it's also flat-out amazing. They also made The Good Dinosaur (2015), which I admittedly haven't seen (no one else has). Does anyone know if The Good Dinosaur is good?

The very existence of this doubt is kind of revolutionary for Pixar. They actually made a movie that no one saw and could have sucked? That's unreal. The point is, that Pixar have proved themselves fallible in the past few years, which raises my suspicions about The Incredibles 2 more than is probably justified. I largely don't care too much about this flick and feel like it's in that Dory mode where it'll make a ton of cash but not really be driving much conversation two years later.

Maybe we can talk about the actual movie for a second. It looks like it could present some twists on gender roles, which I'm wondering if its 1950s twinge could make problematic or if we'll see some growth. Jokes about common core are the kind of lazy writing to appeal to hapless reactionary parents. It's all corny. Again, I'm not too into it. But people probably are, and that's fine.

What do you think? Will you see either of these crappy movies this weekend? Is Black Panther (2018) still int theaters crossing the $700 million mark this weekend? Leave a comment below!
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