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By Vernor Rodgers
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"JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM"

Other than showcasing the spectacular special effects of CGI and puppetry to create the incredible dinosaurs, "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" serves no other purpose than to be a summer movie that will make a lot of money. But the reality is that while original "Jurassic Park" stands out as a classic, the subsequent sequels have all clumped together, and if one scene is picked from any of these movies, it would be difficult to correctly identify which movie it actually came from. They all have blended together with very little to distinguish one from another.

Plus, the grim reality is that the dinosaurs have developed more depth of character in these films than the humans. It's one thing to be upstaged by animals and children in a movie, and quite another to be outshined by CGI-created creatures.

Steven Spielberg, who directed "Jurassic Park" a quarter-century ago, is attached to this "Jurassic World" as an executive producer, but the touches he implemented that made his film so splendid -- the humor, the personality quirks -- have faded under the efforts of these other directors.

The problem I had with "Fallen Kingdom" is that I had few recollections of the previous "Jurassic World" other than remembering it was about yet another disastrous failure in making essentially a retreat for recreated dinos a tourist attraction. Hardly anything in that film stood out.

And I figure that six months from now I will retain little from this latest venture of Jurassic revisited.

The story line in "Fallen Kingdom," crafted by screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, is that  Isla Nublar, the island on which the dinosaurs are living in peaceful (relatively speaking) harmony after the collapse of the tourist attraction, is now in danger of being decimated by an active volcano, and unless the creatures can be rescued they all will perish.

One voice of reality is Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum reprising his role from the original "Jurassic Park"). As an advocate from the beginning of "you don't mess with nature, " he testifies before Congress that this simply is nature doing its thing. As cold as it sounds, it is best if these dinosaurs, as magnificent as they are, be a casualty of the forces of vicious nature. The U.S. government agrees and declines to fund any effort the rescue the animals.

Meanwhile, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, reprising her role from the last "Jurassic World") has formed a group dedicated to saving the dinos. But with the U.S. not contributing dollars, it appears all is lost. However, Claire is summoned to meet Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the aged former partner of Jurassic Park creator John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough). He informs Claire that his estate has the funding to rescue the animals and has created a self-contained island on which these creatures can be relocated and able to prosper without any human intrusion. The details are being handled by Lockwood's estate planner  Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), the kind of bean counter who would never let a dollar bill hit the ground before grabbing it.

Claire needs to go to Isla Nublar because she is the only  person with the security clearance to access the computer system there that tracks the dinos on the island. Claire in turn, seeks the assistance of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, reprising his role), as he was the one who was able to instill empathy into the cunning and deadly velociraptors.

Of course Clair and Owen have a romantic history that did not go well, so there is the obligatory discussion about that. Owen would rather live a solitary life in the cabin he is building and even initially says he is willing to allow Blue, he favorite velociraptor, to die on the island. But that is a lie. You know he will be tagging along.

Claire also recruits Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), a veterinarian who happens to be a dino expert, as well is the always necessary but usually a pain in the ass tech geek, Franklin Wells (Justice Smith), a guy who will be launched way out of his comfort zone.

The group flies to Isla Nublar and there meets the muscle of the project, the big armed guys who will do all the heavy lifting, led by Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine).

Of course it soon becomes evident that greed, not compassion, is driving this effort. These people who want to cash in on lab-created dinosaurs just never learn.

There are some heart-wrenching scenes of doomed and confined animals, and the urge is  to root for these creatures to magnificently waste the evil humans. Added to this is a subplot involving Lockwood's granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) that appears to be injected into the story so that the resolution at the end of the film can be justified.

Like all the previous Jurassic adventures, this is a cautionary tale, once again with Ian Malcolm providing the doomsday scenario. Yes, the set up seems to be for yet another Jurassic movie in a few years. But for some of us, the next Jurassic should eliminate all human involvement. Modern dinosaurs would be fascinating to explore without all those pesky people lurking about.

"JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/vn9mMeWcgoM

 

"OCEAN'S EIGHT"

Well, there was the female-dominated "Ghostbusters: Answer the Call" two years ago that many deemed a failure -- $128 million box office in the U.S., short of its $144 million cost; and a worldwide gross of $229 million. Now we have a female take on the "Ocean's Eleven." It fares much better.

The tie-in to the George Clooney-lead Ocean's adventures is that this Ocean is Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), estranged sister of Clooney's now deceased Danny Ocean. Fresh out of prison after serving five years, Debbie has concocted a plan to pull off the heist of a valuable diamond necklace during the annual Met Gala in New York.

First, Debbie has to convince her closest friend and associate Lou (Cate Blanchett), to go along with the plan. This part of the movie offers the only real human interaction, because as soon as the team is assembled, the film goes into high gear with the setting up of the theft and the actual carrying it out.

Debbie and Lou recruit the people necessary to carry out this crime -- with a provision of no men. The team includes street hustler named Constance Wong (Awkwafina), a pickpocket and sleight of hand expert; Nine Ball (Rihanna), the computer hacker; Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), a fashion designer who is in the throes of a career slump; Amita (Mindy Kaling), a jeweler; and Tammy (Sarah Paulson) an all-around con person.

Yes, here are only seven and it's Ocean's Eight, but the eighth person is being used without her knowledge. This is snobby socialite Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), who is manipulated into hiring Rose to dress her for the gala and have her insist on wearing the multi-million-dollar Cartier necklace that is targeted to be stolen.

Character development is pretty thin, as the movie concentrates on the carrying out of the crime, from the preliminaries to the momentary setbacks to the actual commitment of the theft.

"Ocean's Eight" is boosted by the presence of established pros like Bullock, Blanchett, Bonham Carter, Paulson and Hathaway, who between them have been nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won four Oscars. And Paulson is known for some incredible performances of numerous characters during the several seasons of "American Horror Story." They are not particularly challenged dramatically in this movie, but they carry out their roles with a competence expected of them.

"Ocean's Eight" is a pleasant diversion. The star of the movie really is the carrying out of the crime. It maintains a brisk pace. This is a watchable movie but one in which it is best to catch a cheaper matinee showing rather than a primetime screening when ticket prices surge past $10.

"OCEAN'S EIGHT" Official Trailer: https://youtu.be/MFWF9dU5Zc0

 

"HEREDITARY"

Horror movies always get slammed for being scary but often low-rent and lame. But in recent years the sub-genre of "quiet horror" has brought intelligence to the realm. Certainly the critically acclaimed "Get Out," as well as "The Shape of Water" have boosted the reputation of horror films.

"Hereditary," the feature-length debut of writer-director  Ari Aster, is a chilling story of a family, already teetering on the brink of total dysfunction, now reeling from tragedy. It bears some parallels to "Ordinary People," except the drama is darkened further by unfolding horror.

Toni Collette ("The Sixth Sense") has earned some kudos for her performance here as Annie, a wife and mother who in the beginning of the movie is dealing with death of her mother, Ellen. Never really close to her mother, Annie admits at the funeral that she and Ellen drifted even further apart in the final years as dementia twisted up Ellen's mind.

Annie and her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) seem to have a stable relationship, although they tend to go their separate ways. While Steve's vocation is never revealed -- he must be making good money given the size of the house the family lives in -- Annie is an artist who specializes in miniature dioramas (these sets are stunning).

Annie and Steve are parents to two children -- Peter (Alex Wolff), a high schooler who seems normal enough although he does smoke pot and appears to be wound too tight. The daughter, Charlie (Tony-award winning actress Milly Shapiro) is a bit odd. She has inherited her mother's artistic talent but uses it to make some disturbing drawings. She has no social life and clucks a lot.

Charlie apparently had a better relationship with grandma Ellen than she does with her mother and seems even more lost and concerned there is nobody to take care of her.

More tragedy strikes the family, and it is quite jolting, and serves as a catalyst leading the family into a paranormal nightmare that reveals a terrible family secret.

Collette gives a tragic and chilling performance as Annie, a woman on the brink of a total breakdown. The miniatures she works on provide a disturbing look into her distressed psyche. On top of this, her relationship with Peter is very unstable, not helped by the guilt Annie carries in knowing she really did not want to be Peter's mother.

Byrne's Steve is very much like Donald Sutherland's Calvin in "Ordinary People," a man who cherishes his wife and family but seems powerless to mend the fractures that are occurring.

Young Shapiro has memorable moments as Charlie, and the trailers to this movie presented a false promise that she would be a major part of the story. She is, but in a way that does not include her being on screen much. Wolff has a difficult role as Peter, wracked with guilt while knowing he is not totally the source of pain, and haunted by his interactions with his sister and his mother.

Ann Dowd has some keys moments as Joan, a woman Annie meets in a support group. She embraces Annie and is sweet and supportive. However ...

"Hereditary" adeptly moves from tragic drama to outright chilling horror. It is well crafted, with top performances, and is the type of film that lingers in your mind after you leave the theater.

"HEREDITARY" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/V6wWKNij_1M

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