Inside Out ***1/2

  

“Inside Out” is the latest little creative invention from the geniuses at Pixar. I can hardly believe that it has been two years since Pixar’s last release. It is good to have them back because there has been a real lull in good animated films lately. “Big Hero 6″ was a really winner but other than that there has been a lot of disappointment. I am happy to say that “Inside Out” is a winner. The film is colourful, energetic, creative, vibrant and very funny.

The story involves the inner workings of peoples minds. Emotions are represented in physical form almost as people themselves. There is Joy, Disgust, Anger, Fear and Sadness. The main mind in the film is inside the head of a little girl named Riley. Riley and her family just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco. Riley had a very happy life with her friends, family and her hockey team in Minnesota. The move has taken a bit of a toll on her emotions causing some of them to take a perilous journey to try and restore the balance.

Now I don’t think I have made it much of a secret that I love everything Pixar does. Yes I even love their sequels. They are the best studio working right now when it come to animated films. “Inside Out” is their first original film since 2012’s “Brave” which makes this that much more special.

The first thing that stood out to me is the unique look of the film. I love how all Pixar films have a special visual style and “Inside Out” is no different. The inner workings of Riley’s mind are a visual feast. First up are the characters. I love how their skin reminded me of foam for some reason. It is a bizarre choice, especially for Anger who happens to catch fire when he is really revved up.

I also loved the way memories are portrayed as crystal balls that seem to fade over time. Riley’s core memories become the focus of the movie when they are in danger of being lost.

In a time when animated movies are becoming less and less of an event we can still rely on Pixar to deliver the goods. 2015 is a special year because it is the first time that Pixar will release two movies in a calendar year. Lets just hope that the quality remains over quantity.


Jurassic World ***

  

I have to admit that I have been looking forward to a fourth film in the “Jurassic Park” franchise for many years. I was one of the few people who actually liked “Jurassic Park III”. I thought “The Lost World” was flawed yet someone enjoyable. I did have a few worries about the making of a new film in this series, especially over a decade after the last instalment. Time has not been kind to franchises that wait this long. Now we have “Jurassic World”.

From the opening seconds of this film I knew it was going to be a drastically different franchise going forward. Right away we witness the birth of a new species of dinosaur. We get to see it emerge from it’s egg and see the world for the first time. I can recall the wondrous moment in “Jurassic Park” when the characters held a baby Raptor after watching in awe as it emerged from it’s egg. Practical effects were used to create the tiny being with teeth. This time the tiny breathing life form was completely a CGI creation. Those are the times we live in.

Now as much as I enjoy visual effects I have found myself nostalgic for practical effects in recent years. I have found CGI to become too dominant on the screen making everything look like animation. Too much CGI robs the action and events in a movie of it’s realism in my opinion. That is not to say that “Jurassic World” is ugly looking or fake. Quite the opposite actually. Compared to “Transformers” this is a masterwork. I am just saying that I have been longing for a time when computers were not used to create everything we are looking at.

So did I enjoy “Jurassic World”? I actually did. It is a fun thriller that comes with a gut punch of nostalgia. Is it as good as “Jurassic Park”? No way, but then again how could it be?

I will say that it was great to see John Hammond’s dream finally come true. “Jurassic World” features a fully functioning Dinosaur theme park on Isla Nublar where it was always intended to be. The park looks amazing by the way. It totally make me think of the Universal Studios theme park. All the dinosaurs are on display in some truly unique ways.

I loved the Sea World type setup they had for and under water creature. But just when you think the attraction is over, all the seats lower down to reveal a giant aquarium. I also really liked the Gyro-spheres. They seemed like a disaster waiting to happen but they are fun to look at. Imagine walking around a dinosaur filled field in a giant hamster ball.

The newest attraction is a hybrid dinosaur called the Indominus Rex. It is meaner and nastier than anything they have debuted at the park. It also has some unexpected traits that eventually help it escape it’s pen and wreak havoc on the park. What would a “Jurassic Park” movie be without over zealous corporate types that do not understand the power of nature, resulting in the deaths of many people?

Now who are the lucky cast members who get to run away from these monsters? First is Chris Pratt who plays Owen, the main game keeper for the island. He has developed a relationship with Raptor’s where they sort of listen to his commands. This attracts the interest of Vic Hoskins played by Vincent D’Onofrio. Vic is a military guy who dreams up a plan of using the Raptors as weapons. Then there is Bryce Dallas Howard character, Clair, who is the parks operations manager. She of course makes all the wrong choices.

Now make no mistake. “Jurassic World” is made for modern audiences who crave relentless action and CGI effects. The last half of the film is almost non stop in both departments. There is not much time for the characters to stand in awe of the amazing creatures around them. In a summer where movies featuring large scale disasters created by computers, “Jurassic World” fits right in.


Spy ***1/2

“Spy” is simply hilarious. I can’t say it any plainer than that. It hits the funny bone with a hammer. The experience reminded me of the first time I saw “Dumb And Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary”. I felt cleansed by the end of this movie.

 

Melissa McCarthy play Susan Cooper. She works at the CIA essentially as an analyst and as support for field agents. She is in love with CIA agent Bradley Fine played by Jude Law. There is a hilarious moment at the beginning of the movie when Agent Fine accidentally shoots a terrorist when he sneezes. Susan promptly reminds him that he should of taken his allergy medicine.

 

When all field agents are compromised, Susan steps up to the plate. The plan is that she will go undercover because the terrorists probably don’t even know she exists. Her various cover stories, provided by the invaluable Allison Janney as Susan’s boss, are usually as some sort of lonely divorcee on vacation which does not help Susan with her self esteem. Susan’s friend and coworker, played by Miranda Hart also joins her in the field.

 

Susan proves to be a good agent almost immediately when she shows her skills in combat as well as her resourcefulness under pressure. She is underestimated by everyone in the film. Especially by other CIA agents such as Rick Ford played by Jason Statham. He has the funniest moment in the film when he describes all the outrageous things he has done in the field. Those include having his arm ripped off and him reattaching it himself with his other arm. I Especially howled when he mentioned that he took up piano at a late age.

 

Most of the scenes belong to McCarthy. I loved her in “Bridesmaids”. I was not very impressed with her in “Identity Thief” or “The Heat” and I might of been the only one who enjoyed “Tammy”. The movies I liked her in were roles where she was not asked to be as obnoxious as possible. In “Spy” she plays a smart character. She tends to face all the superficiality around her with a brave smile that sees through all the shallow people. I like that she is breaking down barriers.

 

Most action movies are lead by male characters. There are a select few woman who we are told can hold their own. “Spy” is a pretty great action movie and McCarthy holds her own well. I liked her in the chases and fight scenes. It is sort of liberating to watch her take charge and put a hurt-in on the villains.


San Andreas **1/2

“San Andreas” pits Dwayne Johnson versus earthquakes. That is pretty much the premise of this movie. Johnson plays a Fire Department rescue-helicopter pilot. He is getting a divorce after the recent death of his daughter during a river rafting trip. He has another daughter who is on her way to San Francisco with her mothers new boyfriend. Is this moving going to be original enough to spare them from peril? Not a chance.

The plot also follows a group of scientists, lead by Paul Giamatti, who exist to explain crucial information about earthquakes. We get countless scenes of them running around their labs, giving dire warnings and making startling discoveries. All of these elements are from pretty much every disaster movie ever made.

I personally found these characters to be mostly ridiculous. Their dialogue exists to create personal dramas to pass the time between scenes of mass destruction. I found a lot of the time the characters were wasting precious time to sort out their issues. At one point the main characters have a long heart to heart about why their marriage maybe ending at the same time their daughter is supposedly stuck in a collapsing building. What is worse is that they know she is in peril. Can we not have this idiotic conversation later?!

At this point I do not think we go to disaster movies anymore with the hopes that we will get a compelling story. “Gravity” is one movie I can think of in the last ten years that defies this trend. When characters are this dull my interest resides in the visual effects and the action to which “San Andreas” succeeds.

When the earthquakes hit the movie contains some breathtaking yet terrifying visual effects. Of course CGI is used to create these horrendous moments but a lot of it looked startlingly real. The director, Brad Peyton, also brings a thrilling sense of style to the screen as well. We get exciting action as opposed to visual chaos.

Are movies like this necessary anymore? Maybe. They do entertain me when I am in no mood to get involved with interesting characters or a compelling plot. I am just at the point where I don’t really need to see another one. But these movies make big dollars so they will keep coming and I will keep checking them out.

Tomorrowland **1/2

  

I have to say I am kind of surprised at how disappointing “Tomorrowland” is. I have loved all of Brad Bird’s movies so far. When I heard he was taking on an original science fiction movie named after part of the Disneyland theme park I was genuinely excited. My mind was racing with the possibilities.

The result is about half a great movie combined with half of a grindingly boring one. I loved the first hour or so.

I loved the opening passages depicting a young boy’s quest to get his invention in to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Fate leads him to the It’s A Small World ride where he finds a secret entrance to Tomorrowland. The young boy is Frank Walker.

We then cut to present day to find Casey Newton, a science enthusiast who spends her nights breaking in to a decommissioned NASA launch pad at Cape Canaveral in order to dismantle machines that are tearing the site down. Her father works at the site also. One night she is arrested for trespassing. When she is bailed out by her angry father she finds a strange pin in with her possessions. When she touches it she is transported to Tomorrowland which she is able to explore until the power of the pin runs out. This launches her on a quest to find Frank, now played by George Clooney, and get back to this mythical place that seems to exist in another dimension.

All of the build up so far had hooked me right in. Tomorrowland itself is a stunning place, brought to life with some of the most awe inspiring CGI effects I have seen this year. It is a wondrous place full of jet packs, sleek skyscrapers and hovering crafts. It is when the characters arrive there that the film sort of lost me.

One we get to Tomorrowland we are thrust in to a plot that seems sort of pale in comparison to everything that came before it. The earth is suddenly in jeopardy which results in some fist fights and robot rumbles. All of this seemed oddly familiar and sort of lame. I kept hoping for a thrilling jet pack chase through the city or anything more eye popping then a struggle against a bomb thats about to go off.

Still there are some fun scenes that stood out. I enjoyed the chase through Frank Walker’s house which has some truly zany booby traps! I also liked the crazy fight between the robot owners of a memorabilia store and our heroes.

“Tomorrowland” may be better with a second viewing, who knows. I just did not find it very exhilarating or original.


Mad Max: Fury Road ****

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is the latest entry in a franchise that has not had an entry since 1986! Replacing Mel Gibson in the role of Max is Tom Hardy. George Miller, the legendary director, now in his 70’s, returns to the Wastland for more adventures after the society has fully broken down.

The result is the best action picture in many, many years. Where do I start with this film? Well first it contains a massive amount of practical effects and stunts. The action looks like there are real human lives at stake. This ups the intensity of the action and brought me to the edge of my seat.

Sure there is CGI in the film. There is a moment a massive chase takes place inside a giant dust storm. Within the cloud are multiple tornadoes. The sequence is pure spectacle and it is awesome. Still I felt like there were real actors in the mix which made it that much more incredible.

The story mostly centres around a character named Furiosa played by Charlie Theron. As the film opens she is smuggling out the five wives of Immortan Joe, a ruthless and disgusting warlord who uses these young woman to breed his own twisted view of humanity. His army are called the War Boys. They have no fear when it comes to sacrificing their lives for Joe.

Fate brings Max and Furiosa together, leading them on a journey to escape Immortan Joe as well as other vile gangs. The chase takes place through the Wasteland which looks more desolate than it did in the previous films. The film makes use of it’s gorgeous desert landscapes of Namibia where it was filmed.

If any movie gets you in to a theatre this summer, let it be “Mad Max: Fury Road”. It begs to be seen on the big screen. 3D or 2D is your choice. Trust me when I say this is a unique movie. It is one of a kind in this day and age. Hopefully it will inspire other directors to go back to the drawing board when it comes to how to film action.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron ***

  

“Avengers: Age Of Ultron” is the latest in this ever growing canon of Marvel movies. It is technically a sequel to 2012’s “The Avengers”. For those who pay close attention it is actually a sequel to “Iron Man 3″, “Thor: The Dark World” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. Those three films are kind of required viewing. Anyway so did I enjoy this latest entry? Quite a bit actually. I have seen it twice now and it was better the second time. It does have some glaring flaws though mostly in that it spends too much time create plots for future Marvel films and not enough time developing the characters, esspecially the villain Ultron.font>

The movie picks up pretty much where Captain America’s latest movie left us. The Avengers have reassembled to take on Hydra forces. The opening scene has the super hero team trying to take down the fortress of Baron Von Strucker. Strucker has been experimenting with Loki’s staff from the first film. His experiments have resulted in the creation of two new characters with superhuman powers. There is Quicksilver who movies at incredible speeds and Scarlet Witch who has the power of mind influence.

The real antagonist of the film is Ultron who is an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. It was intended as a peace keeping program that has made the decision that mankind is the ultimate enemy of the planet and must be exterminated. He takes on the voice and persona of James Spader who is given some particularly delicious dialogue for a comic book movie.

His battles with the Avengers involves some large scale carnage created with more CGI than usual which did not really sit too well with me considering the first film made use of as much practical effects as they could. The sequences here are pretty cool but just don’t feel as real as they did in the first film.

Joss Whedon returns to direct this mega sequel and does an admiral job of cramming in as much smaller character moments as well as some great humour as he can. I can’t fault the guy for all the side plots the film introduces so that the characters can launch back into their on franchises. It is these scenes that I felt were not all that necessary or maybe they needed to be a bit more subtle.