Tag: trevor morgan

Jurassic Park III

Jurassic Park III (2001)
★★ / ★★★★

Joe Johnston’s “Jurassic Park III” suffers from similar problems as Steven Spielberg’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” only it is even less ambitious. This time, the plot revolves around a straightforward rescue mission of a pre-teen (Trevor Morgan) whose parasail crashed in Isla Sorna, the island we came to know quite well in the predecessor, where bioengineering company InGen bred various creatures that roamed the planet during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Although exciting in parts, the picture is a product of diminishing returns: there is a lack of freshness in the majority of chases: setup, initial jolt, a whole lot of running, followed by last-minute saves. To claim there is minimal drama would be an understatement.

There are only two sequences worth sitting through: when we first come to meet a Spinosaurus and the Pteranodon attack amidst a heavy fog. With the former, the screenplay does a solid job in communicating that a Spinosaurus is equal to if not a greater threat than a Tyrannosaurus rex. Although silly, I was entertained by the duel between the two creatures especially because it gives us time to observe how they attempt to render their prey helpless. For instance, the T. rex. tries to overpower its enemy using its size and body weight. But when it comes to the Spinosaurus, it is more reliant upon its agility and jaws. Look how it twists its neck at every opportunity in order to get the upper hand. I got the impression, too, that perhaps it is more intelligent than the T. rex. (But we all know that when it comes to intelligence, Velociraptor is king.)

As for the Pteranodon scene, it is unlike any of the dinosaur attacks we’ve encountered throughout the “Park” series. While there is running, there is a whole lot more jumping and gliding. Aerial shots are terrific, especially when the Pteranodon, while grabbing hold of a human, is required to maneuver among cliffs and other obstacles. Its astounding speed in combination with the thick fog, there is tension that a character may be in real danger should we lose sight of him or her. Bonus points for injecting personalities to the infant Pteranodon, not just in the way they sound but also in terms of movement. Because they are not quite so adept in using their wings, they jump—adorable but also terrifying. I wish the picture consistently functioned on this high level of creativity.

Like “The Lost World,” when the action dies down, the work reverts to a state of comatose. The couple (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni) who hires Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) as a “tour guide” is not only boring but bad caricatures. I felt they were stripped right out of generic suspense-thrillers in which their offspring has been kidnapped and in dire need of rescue. Cue slight bickering for comedic effect. And, of course, they are required to get a little closer or learn to appreciate each other more before the end credits. All that’s missing is a renewal of their vows.

It is so disappointing because there are a few characters worth getting to know. First, there is the technology-averse Dr. Alan Grant. Neill infuses him with big personality, but the screenplay by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, and Jim Taylor fails to get him to say anything remotely new or interesting. Laura Dern, as Dr. Ellie Sattler, makes a quick appearance but she, too, is not used in a way that elevates the material. An argument can be made that the best scene involves no dinosaur at all, just Alan and Ellie—former colleagues and former lovers—spending time with one another, looking in each other’s eyes, talking about science. So why aren’t these two in the middle of this film?

Another potentially curious character is Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola), Dr. Grant’s graduate assistant. Instead of functioning as an awkward appendage for the majority of the picture, why not write this character, for instance, into Dr. Grant’s likeness? Never mind the surprising moments of blind heroism; that’s an easy similarity. But actually write a character with whom we feel to be Dr. Grant’s equal—but young, ambitious, and especially driven. As we observed in “Jurassic Park,” the Dr. Grant character becomes a more curious specimen to study the more often he is surrounded by minds and personalities that challenge him. So why not apply a similar approach to this project?

The answer to both questions is that it requires more effort to create memorable characters that feels exactly right for the story being told, not to mention the themes being tackled, compared to creating superficial and expected thrills. Laziness is what prevents “Jurassic Park III” from truly taking off. There is nothing wrong with a standard rescue mission plot. But the details must be specific and emotions behind them must ring true when the occasion calls for it. Otherwise, it is just another romp in the forest with CGI dinosaurs—watchable but not impressive.

Mean Creek

Mean Creek (2004)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Jacob Aaron Estes’ “Mean Creek” does something in special in that not once does it look down on its subjects: young people who must make a choice after something that cannot be taken back has occurred. The moral calamity these characters veer themselves through commands a seriousness that many movies about responsibility hope to delve into but ultimately only graze.

The only way to tell the story of what happens to these kids is with directness and simplicity. By stripping away potentially distracting elements like quirkiness in the dialogue, teleportation between perspectives, and turning on a soundtrack that gives a hint on how we should feel or what we should think, it makes room for introspection. We understand each of them–where they come from, their dominant personalities, what it is that hurts them most–and so we are given a chance to be honest with ourselves. We relate with them–even to the ones who appear to be the most despicable.

Sam (Rory Culkin) is attacked by George (Josh Peck) at school. Believing that fifteen minutes of detention for a week is not a good enough punishment for the wounds on Sam’s face, not to mention the social embarrassment, Rocky (Trevor Morgan), Sam’s older brother, is convinced that something else has to be done. But he is smart. Rocky tells Sam that they need to hurt fat George without really hurting him, at least not a kind of punishment that leaves a mark. So, a plan about a boating trip is made and George is invited. Since George does not have many friends, he happily accepts. He figures that maybe this time is a true opportunity for him to belong in a group.

There is a portentous aura that brews during the car ride to the river and when the boat is making its way downstream. Silence between dialogue is utilized when it counts. The water gently sloshing against the boat might as well be the kids’ guilt banging on drums. We wonder if they will ultimately go through with the plan. Sometimes the conversation is friendly. For a while, the game of truth or dare is full of laughs–as it should be. But there are other times when conversations turn ugly. George expresses his disgust about Clyde (Ryan Kelley) having two fathers at home. And then there is Marty (Scott Mechlowicz), the eldest of the group, whose life at home has been difficult since his father’s death. George has a knack for pushing everybody’s button. Something’s gotta give.

When the picture takes a dark turn, it is dealt with honesty. The kids who return home from the trip are changed somehow but the accompanying scenes are not predictable. There is no hyperbolic crying or screaming, just a feeling of exhaustion, disbelief, and wanting to hide from the world and oneself. The shame takes root and yet, surprisingly, I think it is what gives them a chance to recognize what should be done even if there is pressure to pretend like nothing important happened that day.

“Mean Creek” shares a similar consciousness with pictures like Larry Clark’s “Bully” and Tim Hunter’s “River’s Edge” because the story revolves around complicated choices before and after an irrevocable thing. In some situations, there is right and wrong. While choosing the wrong thing can be perceived as a moral tragedy, so is allowing oneself to become unaware of the fact that there is always an alternative.

Munger Road

Munger Road (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Despite complaints from their girlfriends (Brooke Peoples, Lauren Storm), the guys (Trevor Morgan, Hallock Beals) thought it would be an excellent idea to go to Munger Road before midnight and document a paranormal activity so they could sell the footage and be on television. According to the local legend, a bus full of kids was once hit by a train. Since then, the tracks were haunted by the children’s restless spirits. Meanwhile, Chief Kirkhoven (Bruce Davison) and Deputy Hendricks (Randall Batinkoff) had a problem on their hands: a serial killer, Shea Gunther, escaped while being transported to a facility. It was up to them to capture the man before he could kill another person. Written and directed by Nicholas Smith, “Munger Road” was not without good ideas but its execution, especially the maddening way in which it ended, was haunted with tyro bravado, so desperate to stand out from typical slasher flicks, that it ended up as another interesting failure. I enjoyed the way a ghost hunting expedition ran parallel to the pursuing of a serial killer. We knew that the two strands would eventually reach a common knot but it almost didn’t matter because there was a curious energy behind whatever was unfolding. However, the adult characters were as effective as the young adults were ineffective. The four friends were just not smart enough for us to feel good about rooting for them all the way. For instance, when their car stopped working and none of them could get a signal for their phones, they eventually decided to run individually through the forest because it was supposedly a shorter distance in comparison to walking along the road. I found their decisions off-putting and unbelievable because, realistically, when a group of people are in an intense state of fear, its members have the tendency to cling onto one another. Personally, I wouldn’t have chosen to walk through the forest. But if I had to watch people take on a decision that I wouldn’t have selected for myself, at least have the situation rooted in realism so that I could still feel involved in what was happening. Furthermore, the scenes in and around the dead car were often too dark for us to be able to see anything. Coupled with putting us into the perspective of the camera that one of the characters carried around and out of it just as quickly, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. There seemed to be no technical mastery as to when we should see something through the videocamera in order to amplify the suspense. I would have loved to have seen more of the two cops as they visited various places where the serial killer might be found. With each new place they looked into, it felt like something more was at stake. First, they began to learn about the missing teens. Second, we couldn’t help but feel like it was only a matter of time until they had the right spot and it could all be over for them. I wondered if the film would have been better off as a procedural. Davison reminded me of Donald Pleasence’s performance as Dr. Sam Loomis in John Carpenter’s “Halloween” especially when expressing his character’s disappointment of constantly being in the wrong place. Yet, just as instantaneously, we felt his determination grow stronger. I wanted to like “Munger Road” because it featured smart and steadfast officers of the law who were doing everything they could to catch a bad guy–something that is sorely lacking in modern horror-thrillers. But with its aforementioned weaknesses and an ending that almost felt like a slap in the face, most people who decide to see it would probably feel like their time had been stolen.


Brotherhood (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Pledges for Sigma Zeta Chi were about to be tested. Frank (Jon Foster), the fraternity leader, took his pledges for a ride around town and given them a task: to go into various convenience stores, hold the clerk at gunpoint, and steal $19.10. The pledges weren’t aware that the gun they held had no bullet and the clerks were in on the not-so-practical joke. When Frank dropped off Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci) to a wrong location, Kevin held a gun to the man in front of the register named Mike (Arlen Escarpeta), who happened to be a high school classmate of Adam (Trevor Morgan), one of the senior of members of the fraternity. When Kevin’s defenses were down, Mike shot him in the shoulder. Directed by Will Canon, “Brotherhood” had a critical eye on groupthink and what certain people were willing to sacrifice in order to feel like they belonged. Despite its thriller aspects, I thought the picture’s dramatic core was defined. The person we were supposed to sympathize with was Adam. I liked the way he started off as unlikable but something inside his mind clicked and tried to make the right decisions, not for the sake of the fraternity’s reputation but for the survival of a person who was bleeding to death. There was a power struggle between Adam and Frank. Frank, in a myriad circumstances, tried to correct a wrong with another wrong. We all know how those work out. He was a scary figure because he had a certain sense of self-entitlement that took precedence over genuinely caring a person. He saw leadership as avoiding punishment and not taking full responsibility for his actions. He had many chances to save Kevin, like calling an ambulance right away or taking him to a hospital, but he chose to keep the situation hidden. It was like watching someone using glue to patch up a dam that was about to break. He grew comfortable in the illusion that someone would “just get better” from a gunshot wound. I thought he was fascinating to watch because he was a leader detached from reality and he didn’t have a clear vision between what was right and what was wrong. I mentioned belongingness. I confess that wanting to be in a fraternity or sorority doesn’t make much sense to me. Maybe I was engaged in the film because I wanted to make sense of why so many young people do it. Providing proof that a bond between friends is strong, in my opinion, should come later in a relationship. It shouldn’t be forced. Otherwise, the so-called proof is superficial. Written by Canon and Doug Simon, “Brotherhood” was fast-paced, modern, and it made me think what I would have done given that I was in the same situation as its characters. I think it had a great message, too, especially for the youth. Sometimes it’s okay to accept that it’s not worth it, whatever it may be, and just walk away. It doesn’t mean you’re not brave. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a sense of camaraderie. It just means you’re in control of your life.