Friday, June 29, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Every Apocalypse Deserves an After Party

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Dinosaurs, zombies, and Kong.


Director Colin Trevorrow's 2015 film Jurassic World revitalized the Jurassic Park franchise with the help of a heavy dose of nostalgia, taking the series back where it all began: Isla Nublar, the place where the titular theme park had been built in the first film, a location the previous sequels The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III (they were set instead on a neighboring island, Isla Sorna). I felt that the film worked quite well overall, and looked forward to seeing where the story of Jurassic movies would be heading from there. One thing I did not want to see was another sequel that was all about people running from dinosaurs on an island. That had been done four times, I was ready for something new. So when we started seeing the marketing for the new film, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I was disappointed. This looked like just another "people running from dinosaurs on an island" movie, only this time there would be an erupting volcano in the mix.

Thankfully, that's not what Fallen Kingdom is. That's only how it starts out.

As the story begins, it has been three years since the events of Jurassic World and Isla Nublar has been abandoned. Now a dormant volcano on the island has become active and an eruption is imminent. When the volcano erupts, all of the cloned dinosaurs inhabiting the island will be killed. So how should that situation be handled? Should the dinosaurs be rescued, or should they be allowed to go extinct again? Jurassic Park / The Lost World character Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) makes a cameo long enough to state his opinion on the matter, which comes down to: let 'em burn.

That's not an opinion shared by Jurassic World character Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who now runs the Dinosaur Protection Group and is desperately trying to find a way to save the dinosaurs. Hope arrives in the form of the elderly and wealthy Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who we're told used to be business partners with the founder of Jurassic Park, John Hammond. In fact, Lockwood and Hammond were working together when they extracted dinosaur DNA from the belly of an amber-perserved mosquito for the first time ever in a custom lab under Lockwood's massive mansion. It's kind of odd to toss in a former business partner five films into a series, a questionable decision, but it's something I'm willing to roll with.

Lockwood has set into motion an operation, overseen by a fellow named Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who runs the Lockwood Foundation, to save eleven species of dinosaur from Isla Nublar and transport them to a sanctuary that's protected by natural barriers. Not Isla Sorna, although that's the first question that would come up in my mind, "Why not Isla Sorna?" There is no mention of Isla Sorna in these Jurassic World movies. To pull off the rescue mission, and specifically to locate and save Blue, the last remaining Velociraptor, Mills needs Claire to return to Isla Nublar and access the dinosaur tracking system that the theme park had implemented. They also need former Raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), now Claire's ex-boyfriend, to go along to help them get Blue into captivity.

At first, Owen is on the side of Ian Malcolm, but he has a change of heart after watching some old video of Blue, so he and Claire head off to Isla Nublar along with a couple other Dinosaur Protection Group representatives (Daniella Pineda as paleoveterinarian Zia Rodriguez, Justice Smith as high-strung tech guy Franklin Webb) and the operatives Mills has assembled to capture the dinosaurs. Operatives led by the great character actor Ted Levine.

With this set-up, we could just be in for a repeat of The Lost World, but the good news for me is that only roughly 30 minutes of Fallen Kingdom's 128 minute running time are set on Isla Nublar. That's just long enough for a couple action sequences involving rampaging dinosaurs, flowing lava, and a plunge into the ocean. And long enough for Mills' operatives to turn out to be villainous; so much so that they tranquilize Owen and leave him for dead, then Levin's character starts collecting a tooth from each captured dino for his own twisted collection.

We were tipped off that something wasn't quite right here with a very cool opening sequence that involves a submersible salvaging a piece from the remains of the Indominus rex (the bloodthirsty hybrid dino from the previous film) and a ground level team of mystery men having a run in with both the T. rex and the aquatic Mosasaurus - an opening that drew me into this film right away.

Less than an hour into the film, the volcano has erupted and Isla Nublar has been destroyed. Goodbye Jurassic Park / Jurassic World. For good. The last shot we see of the island features a howling Brachiosaurus, left behind and slowly being consumed by lava and ash. It's a heartbreaking moment, but an effective way to say goodbye to that island, since the Brachiosaurus is the first species of dinosaur the characters of Jurassic Park marvelled at upon their arrive there.

In the second hour, Fallen Kingdom shifts gears into a different style, giving a better idea of why Trevorrow decided to step back and have director J.A. Bayona, who is best known for the 2007 horror film The Orphanage, take the helm of this one. (Trevorrow still wrote the screenplay with his Jurassic World collaborator Derek Connolly.) The second half of the film is set almost entirely at the Lockwood estate, where Mills has teamed with an auctioneer played by Toby Jones to sell off the rescued dinosaurs to the highest bidder. Mills has also had geneticist Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), a character from both Park and World, create a new hybrid dinosaur, a variation on the Indominus rex, a creature called the Indoraptor.

Also living at the estate is Lockwood's young granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), and while Owen and the Dinosaur Protection folks are still around and trying to save the day, the film sort of becomes a horror story about a little girl who lives in a creepy mansion where a monster (the Indoraptor) lurks in the basement. Not to mention the monster in human form that is Mills. Of course what it really all comes down to is just people running from dinosaurs once again, but the change in location from an island to a mansion and the shift in tone and style to a darker, more horrific feel was enough to keep me entertained.

Complaints have been made about how dumb the characters in this film are, and there are certainly some very dumb actions on display here, but it didn't interfere with my enjoyment of watching them share the screen with dangerous dinosaurs.

Trevorrow has been saying for a while that he envisioned a Jurassic World trilogy, and Fallen Kingdom leaves the door wide open for a sequel (which is already scheduled for a 2021 release). Some have balked at the idea being set up here, but for me that third film looks like it's going to be the realization of something I've wanted to see happen for twenty years. I'm excited to see what Jurassic World 3 is going to do with the scenario the ending of this film teases.

I see a lot of negativity about the Jurassic World movies out there (negativity that isn't reflected in the box office for these films), but for me both Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom have been a step up from the Park sequels. Fallen Kingdom has its problems, sure, but I was having too much fun to be bothered by them. I enjoyed the ride.


Directed by Steve Barker from a screenplay by Paul Gerstenberger, The ReZort is essentially "Jurassic Park with zombies". The story is set after a global outbreak of a virus that caused the dead to rise and start feeding on the living, but somehow humanity found a way to prevent the planet from going full Walking Dead and beat the zombie threat. While people are still struggling to recover from the event, the only place zombies can now be found is the island ReZort of the title.

Run by a woman named Valerie Wilton (Claire Goose), The ReZort offers people a chance to work out their post-near-apocalypse issues by coming face-to-face with zombies in a safe environment... and then getting to shoot them in the head. It's basically a hunting lodge where the big game are living dead people.

The film follows one group as they make their way through the activities the island has to offer, showing how different people react to the situation. There's the dude-bros who are just there for have fun shooting zombies, the former soldier who snipes zombies with ease, the girl who believes in zombie rights, the young woman who attends "outbreak survivor's support group" meetings and has come to the ReZort in hopes that it will be a therapeutical experience, etc. This group is deep in the wild when the island's security systems start to fail, releasing the zombies into areas that are supposed to be safe, allowing them to feast on visitors and employees.

Just like the characters stranded in Jurassic Park when the dinosaurs got loose, The ReZort's characters have to make their way across this now dangerous island and try to find a way to escape from it before they become a hot lunch. Making the situation even more dire is the "Brimstone Protocol", which calls in an air strike if the situation isn't under control within a certain amount of time, so there's a ticking clock element where the escape has to happen before the island gets bombed.

With lots of zombie action, decent characters, some interesting twists and turns, and a bit of depth, The ReZort stands out among the many modern zombie movies as one of the better recent entries in this horror sub-genre and is worth seeking out if you're in the mood for flesh-munching entertainment.


Released by Warner Home Video, The Mighty Kong is an animated remake of the original 1933 classic King Kong, with a couple elements lifted from the 1976 remake along the way. Something that it has that neither of those versions of the story had are musical numbers. While director Art Scott and writer William J. Keenan tell you the story of King Kong all over again (again), the characters will sometimes break out into song in the middle of a sentence. Although these songs were provided by the Sherman Brothers, who brought us some all-time classics with their work on such films as Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book, and even wrote "It's a Small World (After All)" for the 1964 World's Fair, none of the tunes in this movie are likely to stick with you.

Dudley Moore earned his last acting credit for voicing filmmaker C.B. Denham, who charters the ship the Java Queen on a quest to shoot an epic film on the legendary Skull Island, which is rumored to be home to a "monkey god". Before leaving New York City on this adventure, he picks a woman named Ann Darrow (Jodi Benson) off the street and gives her the lead role in his movie. You know how it goes from there - they reach Skull Island and have an encounter with the monkey-worshipping natives, who decide they need to kidnap Ann and offer her to their god. 42 minutes into the film, King Kong arrives to carry Ann off into the jungle... but it's not much of a reveal here, because he makes a quick appearance during the opening title sequence, which features another young woman being offered up to him.

Java Queen crew member/Ann's love interest Jack Driscoll (Randy Hamilton), who disliked Ann and considered her a jinx at first because his grandfather had taught him women don't belong on ships, leads a rescue party into the jungle, where they run into prehistoric creatures. Kong has to tussle with some of these creatures himself, including his usual opponent, a T. Rex. It's a fight that lasts roughly 7 seconds.

Soon enough Ann has been rescued and Kong has been incapacitated with gas bombs, which gives Denham the opportunity to have him taken to New York to become the star attraction of a new stage show. Of course, Kong leaves the stage for an animated take on that famous climb up the Empire State Building - a take that ends in a less tragic way than we're used to.

Wrapping up in just over 70 minutes, The Mighty Kong is harmless, family friendly entertainment that makes different choices than other versions of King Kong to make sure it's as harmless and family friendly as possible. I didn't get much out of it watching it as an adult, but if you have children you might want to watch it with them. Then again, if you're going to introduce your children to King Kong why not just show them the original one?


Like Jim Wynorski's 2001 film Raptor, John Carl Buechler's The Eden Formula is a rampaging dinosaur movie that brings its dinosaur to the screen through the use of stock footage from the Carnosaur films... but since Buechler did the special effects for Carnosaur and Carnosaur 3, it seems sort of fair that he could use those effects for a different project, even if does risk making in-the-know viewers feel ripped off to see the same effects shots used all over again. To make up for that a bit, there are some new special effects mixed in there, including some less than stellar CGI.

The film is set in downtown Los Angeles, where a group of thieves led by Tony Todd break into Calgorin Industries in search of the titular formula, which has been used to create the film's dinosaur. Dr. Harrison Parker (Jeff Fahey), who created the formula, isn't too enthusiastic that it was used to clone a dinosaur, but Calgorin wanted to impress their share holders.

Part of the theft plan includes hacking into Calgorin's computer system and shutting down all of the building's security measures, which happens to let the dinosaur in the basement, a T. Rex, loose as well. While a small scale version of Die Hard plays out in the Calgorin building with Parker and a character played by Dee Wallace trying to thwart Todd's character and his lackeys, the T. Rex breaks out of the building and proceeds to stalk the (mostly deserted) streets of L.A., eating people as it goes.

It's cool to see these genre regulars interacting within this dopey movie, but the highlight of the film is really when it seems to lapse into a completely different movie, with a random woman (Miranda Kwok) being attacked on the street and busting out impressive martial arts moves to defend herself. This is a scene being filmed for a movie, and after the fight ends we're shown the crew - which happens to include Hatchet director Adam Green as the director. The fact that Green had an acting role in a dinosaur movie somehow managed to escape me for over a decade, so I was blown away to see him show up on the screen here. This would have been right after he and Buechler worked together on the first Hatchet.

The Eden Formula is pretty run-of-the-mill for the most part, but it has its charms and fun moments. The only viewers I would really recommend it to are those who are fans of the genre stars involved and/or are interested in the fact that this movie uses Carnosaur effects.

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