Tag: jeff goldblum

The Lost World: Jurassic Park


The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
★★ / ★★★★

It doesn’t take much brain power to imagine Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” stripped off its sense of wonder because the product is “The Lost World,” a sequel so constantly on autopilot that not even one of the best characters in the predecessor, chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), is able to outshine its generic screenplay and execution. Notice that when the noise and movement die down and characters are required to speak and connect with one another, boredom numbs the mind. At least it is proud to be a mindless monster movie, I guess.

If one signed up for action, the picture does not disappoint—to a degree. There are two highlights. The first is the Tyrannosaurus rex attack of a trailer that contains an infant T. rex. Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), a behavioral paleontologist who just so happens to be Dr. Malcolm’s girlfriend, intends to treat the infant’s broken leg. For some reason, it does not occur to her, despite being a professional who studies behavior, that the animal wailing about may attract its parents. Two angry T. rex attacking a trailer, the shelter of those whom the dinosaurs believe to have kidnapped their offspring, is worthy of the attacks found in first film. There is a defined setup, special and visual effects are employed to service and enhance the storytelling, and it forces viewers to undergo a rollercoaster of emotions. Just when you think it is over, it is far from it. I always love it when a character falls on glass… and then it starts to crack. Cue instructions being yelled at the screen.

Another terrific scene involves a desperate sprint through a field of long grass… which is also a Velociraptor nest. It works because this sequence is not always in-your-face violence and horror. Because it is near impossible to see what’s around the characters, it is more suspenseful compared to the garden variety shocks. I enjoyed how at times all that is required to show is a long, muscular tail grabbing its prey. Whack! Accompanying screams for help and squelching noises are enough to paint a vivid picture in minds. This sequel needed more of this.

There are some concepts worthy of exploration in “The Lost World” which is based on the novel by Michael Crichton and written for the screen by David Koepp. A few examples: how large, private companies exercise their power—even going as far as to squash the reputation of dissenters—to ensure prevention of a single cent being taken off their profits; how we, as a species, sometimes tend to exercise cruelty and dominion over creatures that we fear or do not yet understand; and how we can set aside our differences to attain a common goal.

The last bit is especially critical to dig into because there are two groups that have been sent to Isla Sorna: Dr. Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) team composed of our protagonists who respect nature (Goldblum, Moore, Vince Vaughn, Richard Schiff) and InGen’s team, a bioengineering company formerly led by Dr. Hammond and has since been under the leadership of Dr. Hammond’s nephew, Ludlow (Arliss Howard), made up of men with big guns and latest technology. For some reason, the work fails to mine the drama between these factions. When they finally cross paths, their differences are dropped at a… drop of a hat and they travel together with minimal tension. The stench of laziness emanating from the screenplay cannot be ignored.

This is a shame because one of the members of the InGen team is worthy of getting to know. Roland, played by Pete Postlethwaite, is a hunter who chose to be there not for the money or fame but for the thrill of hunting the apex predator. Postlethwaite injects the character with enigma, charm, and specific perspective of seeing the world. His Roland is no ordinary stern villain. Observing the way he approaches problems, he is pragmatic, methodical, extremely focused. Roland could have been a terrific foil for Dr. Malcolm. And yet the material simply brushes aside this potential source of conflict. Yes, for another tired chase scene.

Jurassic Park


Jurassic Park (1993)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” is one of the movies that inspired me to become a scientist. Most viewers tend to remember the picture for its more overt images: A Tyrannosaurus rex swallowing a goat whole, a herd of Gallimimus creating a stampede as one of them becomes prey, a Velociraptor learning how to open doors. But I remember it most for its informative and entertaining presentation—using animation—of how businessman John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) and his scientific team manage to clone creatures from Jurassic and Cretaceous periods: extracting DNA from fossilized mosquitoes coupled with the staggering power of genetic manipulation. Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, who co-writes with David Koepp, the film continues to stand the test of time because it is first and foremost about ideas. It just so happens to work in synergy among elements of high octane summer blockbuster entertainment.

Notice how the first half focuses on enveloping us with a sense of wonder rather than flooding our eyes with one-dimensional thrills, like chases or gore. When we see a dinosaur, yes, they are visually spectacular, but look at how the camera tends to fixate on the faces of our characters. No words are exchanged among them. Instead, we attempt to read what they are thinking and feeling by looking into their eyes. The experience of seeing live Brachiosaurus must mean differently for paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), even though they work together in the same archeological dig site, because we have met them earlier and got a sense of what’s important to them: as individuals, as a couple, and as scientists who must learn how to adapt to and utilize technology to further their careers. The screenplay is wonderfully efficient: it assumes we are intelligent and more than capable of wanting to get to know the colorful personalities on offer.

Speaking of personality, aside from Dr. Grant, chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is also invited by Hammond to take a tour of Isla Nublar. By the end of the tour, the businessman hopes to get their approval so the park can finally be open to the public. Naturally, things go horribly awry. In a sea of curious characters, with two adorable and energetic kids among them (Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello), Goldblum’s Malcolm manages to stand out in two ways: the character’s memorable lines which reflect what the audience might be thinking in terms of the danger of wanting to control what cannot be controlled (life, essentially) and the performer’s unpredictable (and joyous) line deliveries. Goldblum’s performance is as big as the dinosaurs. And he has the star presence to match.

The CGI dinosaurs are terrific for its time. Couple showing them in their natural habitats—walking in herds, eating leaves off trees, drinking from a lake—alongside John Williams’ musical score, the whole enchilada is magic. But I prose an alternative: the animatronic dinosaurs are more impressive and have aged better than the CGI dinosaurs. The sick Triceratops quickly comes to mind. One of the most unforgettable scenes involves Dr. Grant leaning his entire body against the Triceratops’ abdominal area as the creature breathes in and out. Who doesn’t want to do exactly that when coming across a massive and gentle dinosaur? Another: Dr. Sattler putting her whole arm in a pile of excrement in order to determine what, if any, the Triceratops has eaten that made it so ill. I wanted to put my arm in there, too. It made me imagine how it must be like to be that close to a hill of feces: the stench, the warmth, living things that may be feasting in there.

“Jurassic Park” is a movie remembered fondly for its action sequences—which are well-made and executed well, often propelled by a high level of craft and bravado. But it is also a movie that inspires us to consider what’s not on the screen. You are looking at the screen, but images and sounds emanating from it are so powerful, so inviting, we imagine being on that island and yearning to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is for children, for the elderly, and everyone in between. Spielberg is able to tap on human curiosity through the guise of popcorn entertainment. Isn’t that one of the reasons why movies are made?

The Mountain


The Mountain (2018)
★ / ★★★★

The defiantly obtuse “The Mountain” could have been a humanistic story centering a young man (Tye Sheridan) who is recently hired by a doctor (Jeff Goldblum) to take pictures of lobotomy procedures and patients as they travel across the country. Instead, this simple plot is shoved into an experimental route: a minefield of characters staring into space as the irksome score wriggles like a worm in the eardrums; clichéd illusions, daydreams, fantasies; and blinding chalk-white interiors that look and feel like a movie set. Not one element is convincing—the acting, how people actually spoke in the 1950s, the clinically sanitized atmosphere—and especially the ill-paced and ill-placed histrionics of a French-speaking drunkard (Denis Lavant) who wishes for his daughter to be lobotomized. When he is front and center, one could feel the remaining curiosity of the picture shriveling into itself. Who is the movie for? Just as it is reluctant to look deeply into what makes its characters interesting and thus worth following, it, too, is afraid to stare at lobotomy in the face, particularly the long-term side effects that patients experience: incontinence, seizures, apathy. The work fails to take on a specific perspective and so a potentially worthy subject is reduced to an opaque exercise designed to test the patience. Directed by Rick Alverson—giving the impression he was half-asleep while helming the film.

Thor: Ragnarok


Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

There is a gag in this third installment of “Thor” involving the title character being thoroughly convinced that he is the “strongest Avenger.” Up until this film, however, I held the opinion that hammer-wielding God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was the “most boring Avenger,” all superpower and good looks but severely lacking in the personality department. It is to my great surprise then that “Thor: Ragnarok” is able to change my mind. It is the funniest and most entertaining entry of the series thus far—not a surprise because it is directed by Taika Waititi, one of the two masterminds of “What We Do in the Shadows,” the most enjoyable mockumentary horror-comedy of the decade.

For a series that has taken itself too seriously in the past, its new approach is a much-needed breath of fresh air. The first half offers a joyous experience. Arguably, its attitude is punk-rock in that it is willing to throw everything against the wall just to see what would stick. But the strategy is not lazy because just about every scene, at times coming across as comic strips due to their ability to reach the punchline in a matter of mere seconds, is executed with infectious energy and glee. Sure, the special and visual effects are seldom cheesy but the Marvel spirit is consistently present, alive, and willing to experiment. I enjoyed that I did not know where the story is heading—nor did I care so long as it is able to maintain such a high level of entertainment.

One can feel that the performers are having fun. Cate Blanchett, playing Hela the Goddess of Death who wishes to rule Asgard, chews the scenery as if she were in some high fashion photoshoot. Whenever the camera is focused on her, she is posing and selling every bit of clothing and accessory on her body. It amusing to watch because the performance is an exaggeration—which, oddly enough, matches the over-the-top universe that these characters inhabit. Jeff Goldblum, who plays the flamboyant ruler of planet Sakaar, is the runner-up when it comes to scene-stealing performances. His extemporaneous dialogue added more color to an already pavonine display of alien personalities.

Perhaps the picture’s weakness is, as expected, the action sequences involving groups of people either fighting one another or one group attempting to flee the fray. Although well-choreographed and there is a technical believability among the chaos, self-seriousness kicks in during these scenes. One tends to notice the dramatic score more often. Strong personalities are muffled for the sake of delivering kinetic energy. The fighting and the repercussions of violence are supposed to tug at the heartstrings. But it is strange because we never get the impression that war is hell since there is minimal depiction of blood, severedl limbs, and gruesome deaths.

Regardless, “Thor: Ragnarok” provides the excitement, bona fide sense of humor, and high energy that viewers expect from a Marvel film. Here’s to hoping that future installments that have Thor in it would not forget that Hemsworth can do physical comedy and understands the importance of timing instead of simply putting him up as golden-haired decoration.

Independence Day: Resurgence


Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
★ / ★★★★

Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day: Resurgence” is a limp sequel to a mediocre predecessor that just so happens to offer a few memorable lines. Heavy on visual effects but light on creativity in terms of story, characterization, and action sequences, there is not much to experience here other than to waste one’s money, energy, and time.

The exposition shows some promise. I enjoyed that twenty years after the extraterrestrial attack which reduced major cities across the world into ashes, humans have found a way to weaponize alien technology. There is intrigue because the 2016 shown here is far more advanced than our reality; I looked forward to possible nifty surprises in terms of how the previous attack changed the course of humanity’s trajectory. In a way, one can make a solid case that the sequel is more of a science fiction picture than its antecedent.

While it is fun to encounter familiar faces such as Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, and Brent Spiner, the younger generation introduced do not hold a candle against or alongside these effortlessly charming and inviting performers. For example, Liam Hemsworth who plays a UN space pilot often comes across as very flat. The jokes that the script requires him to say do not land on a consistent basis partly because of his limited range. Sound of crickets after a joke is deafening. Travis Tope, portraying the co-pilot, is the best of the young cast but he is not given enough to do.

Barely any excitement or tension is generated during the alien invasion. This can be attributed to the images looking too much like they are generated using a computer. (Which they were.) Numerous times we recognize laws of physics broken. When a person or an object makes violent contact against another, there is no convincing impact—whether it is through the utilization of images or sounds. Many of those who die are only extras or tertiary characters. There is no element of wonderment or surprise.

Only one marginally effective action sequence is created but this is only due to the fact that it is a direct reference to the first film. The reason why it works is it manages to turn our expectations inside out. We wonder if luck would be able to strike again from using a similar strategy to defeat an intergalactic enemy. However, a viewer who has not seen the predecessor—or doesn’t remember much of it—will likely miss the nod and therefore will not be receptive of what the scene seeks to accomplish in terms of entertainment value.

As I sat in my chair feeling desperate to be intrigued or entertained on any level, I tried to grasp at all the possible more interesting avenues the screenplay could have gone. There are five writers who helmed the screenplay but I got the impression that each of them had only a tenth of a brain—thus producing a movie with only half a brain.

They could have explored the American mentality of militarization and implications for fusing man-made and alien technology. They could have delved deeper into international relations and the complex politics that come into play when beings outside of earth come in and do not abide by any of the rules. They could have compared and contrasted two generations’ approach to war and warfare.

Instead, creators of “Independence Day: Resurgence” chooses to traverse the path of least resistance instead of making the effort to provide an engaging mainstream summer blockbuster. It is pessimistic filmmaking and I found the work to be distasteful, completely unnecessary, and its title should be cemented underneath the term “cash grab.”

The Switch


The Switch (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) decided she was going to have a kid even though she had not yet found the man of her dreams. She told Wally (Jason Bateman), her best friend, her plans but he thought it was crazy idea. She went with it anyway and found a guy named Roland (Patrick Wilson) who was willing to donate his sperm for money. During Kassie’s artificial insemination party, drunk Wally accidentally spilled Roland’s sperm down the sink. His intoxicated mind thought he could get away with it by replacing the lost sample with his own. The next day, he didn’t remember a thing. “The Switch,” based on Jeffrey Eugenides’ short story called “Baster,” was a bit of a surprise because it had a surprising amount of humanity. It could easily have been about the gags–like sperm and the hardship of being pregnant and giving birth–but it made a smart decision to pay attention to the characters’ motivations. Even though some of the lines delivered felt disingenuous, especially when the characters felt like they needed to deliver a speech in order to get their point across, I enjoyed it because I extracted bits of meaning, accidental as they may be, in their attempt. Aniston and Bateman had an awkward chemistry that worked. I thought that specific type of chemistry was vital because their characters conceived a child named Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) who was adorable, equipped with sad eyes, pouty lips, and eccentricities like collecting picture frames and putting strangers’ photos in them. The movie did a good job highlighting the similarities between Wally and Sebastian, but I wish it had spent more time exploring the bond between the mother and son. I wanted to see their similarities, too. After all, it was Kassie’s idea to bring a child to the world. Her trepidation of her dwindling biological clock was not a good enough reason for me to like her. With her specific circumstance, what made her a good mother? She was good with her son when he had to go to bed, but the feminist message embedded in making the decision to raise a child without a man was somewhat lost. Nevertheless, the emotional payoff toward the end was effective because we knew that Sebastian had learned, without being too obvious, to depend on his father and vice-versa. I also wished Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis, Wally and Kassie’s best friends, respectively, had more scenes. They delivered a different sense of humor, Goldblum with his dry and deadpan delivery and Lewis with her baffled expressions and snide remarks, which was a nice balance to more pedestrian comical situations. Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, “The Switch” was a bona fide comedy that lacked complexity but it wasn’t one-dimensional. It was enjoyable because our expectations were met and sometimes that’s more than enough.