Focus (2015)

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Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie

Screenplay: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

104 mins. Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence.

 

I’m kind of done with Will Smith (Men in Black, Winter’s Tale). In recent years, he hasn’t given me much to cling to in terms of exciting projects. Granted, I’m very excited for his upcoming role in Suicide Squad, but to be honest, there haven’t been many great new projects for the actor, though he still ranks much higher than his son. As far as Focus went, I saw some initial possibilities for greatness, especially pairing Smith with Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, Z for Zachariah), who will also be joining Smith in Suicide Squad. Well, that excitement lulled rather quickly after the film started.

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Focus is the story of Nicky (Smith), an incredibly fast-footed con man, and his mentorship and relationship with Jess (Robbie), a fledging con artist in the making. As he teaches Jess, he becomes more and more involved with her until the lines between the con and the attraction blur too much for comfort and Nicky must decide what he wants more.

Focus comes from writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You, Phillip Morris), but the film is nothing like what I expected. First of all, if this plot was cheese, it would be Swiss with all the holes I found. The story breaks its own rules almost from the moment the story begins. Nicky breaks his own code so easily that it made me wonder what caused him to create it in the first place.

But none of the plot holes would have even matter if the film wasn’t so damn boring. Seriously, I couldn’t keep my eyes open for this terribly disappointing slow moving dredge of a story. I couldn’t have cared less for the characters who made decisions willy-nilly because they weren’t even interesting characters.

And then there’s the ending. No spoilers here, but seriously, that ending is one of the dumbest I have ever witnessed. I kept thinking it was going somewhere and then it didn’t. It was so sad an attempt to cash in on shock value that it pulled me right out of the film.

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Focus lost me very early on. I couldn’t decide what was worse: the plot or the pace at which it sauntered along. Keep your money for better choices. Focus is nothing but a con trying to take your cash.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So what did you think of Focus? Did you get the mark or were you conned? Let me know!

Jurassic World (2015)

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Director: Colin Trevorrow

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan

Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.

 

It has been 22 years since the events of Jurassic Park, and now John Hammond’s vision has been fully realized. Jurassic World has been up and running for about a decade, and has been run by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help, 50/50) to great success. Now, though, with declining numbers, the park’s owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi, The Amazing Spider-Man) wants something new and bigger to boost attendance. He has enlisted Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, Mulan, Focus) with the task of genetically hybridizing a new dinosaur species called the Indominus Rex, but this new species is much smarter than they could have realized, and now a raptor trainer named Owen (Chris Pratt, TV’s Parks and Recreation, Guardians of the Galaxy) must help Claire find her nephews, Nick (Nick Robinson, TV’s Melissa & Joey, The Kings of Summer) and Gray (Ty Simpkins, Insidious, Iron Man 3), who are missing in the park.

In this third sequel to the Jurassic Park franchise, we see something that has been almost promised for just as long: a fully functioning theme park, exactly what John Hammond would have wanted. It is a completely new experience for fans of the series, and it offers a cadre of new set pieces for director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) to completely destroy.

Chris Pratt gives another leading man performance that proves he has the chops to continue raking in the dough. Now Owen isn’t played as well to Pratt’s strength, and he comes off rather wooden at the beginning of the film before really finding his character beats as the film progresses. His chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is pretty strong, though the developed romance between feels way contrived in the grand scheme of the story.

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The supporting players all mostly give in to the conceit of the film and perform admirably. Our child actors Robinson and Simpkins do enough to get by, though Simpkins underwhelms when compared to previous work in the Insidious franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Vincent D’Onofrio (TV’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Run All Night) is great as the slimy Hoskins who wishes to use Owen’s raptor skills to train the beasts for militaristic purposes. He is matched perfectly by Irrfan Khan’s Masrani, an eccentric billionaire very similar to Hammond and who wishes to follow in his footsteps and do right by him. The term “Spare No Expense” comes to mind several times.

B.D. Wong returns to the franchise from the original film as the genius Dr. Wu, a character much expanded upon from the original source novel by Michael Crichton. In this film, Wu defends his place in the history books as the clever mind behind many of the park’s greatest attractions.

Now the dinosaurs here as missing much of the Stan Winston touch that made them so magical in the 1993 film. They still look amazing from the terrific visual effects work, and some of them, like the mighty aquatic Mosasaurus, but it is something I missed. Looking back on Steven Spielberg’s original film, I still look in wonder at the magic on the screen, whereas here I know I am seeing CGI.

Michael Giacchino’s score is also a great feature of the film, subtly using John William’s original themes while adding notes of grandeur and chaos to reinvent it. When we first see the gorgeous set pieces accompanied by the original music, it made my heart skip a beat.

Flaws? Yeah, there are several. The use of the Gyrospheres being completely controlled by the attendees? Yeah, no safety features required there…not! This film makes several of the same mistakes that we’ve seen before, making the characters seem like they paid no attention to the mistakes made in previous installments.

JURASSIC WORLD - 2015 FILM STILL - Pictured: The Indominus rex dominates all creatures in her path - Photo Credit: Universal Pictures   © 2014 Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Thankfully, the film is much saved by how great the wins are. There are several faults at play, but overall this is the best film in the franchise since the original. The little pieces of homage to the T-Rex, Spinosaurus, Mr. DNA, John Hammond, and Ian Malcolm help validate this film as a strong installment in the series that holds its own and opens new avenues for the future of the story.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen Jurassic World? What did you think? Did this film’s life find a way or go extinct in the process? Let me know!

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

 

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Bad Boys (1995)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Tea Leoni, Tcheky Karyo, Theresa Randle, Joe Pantoliano

Screenplay: Michael Barrie, Jim Mulholland, Doug Richardson

118 mins. Rated R for intense violent action and pervasive strong language.

 

I just watched Bad Boys for the second time. The first viewing I had was sometime after the sequel, Bad Boys II, was released. I was upset I hadn’t seen the original film and therefore could not witness the explosive spectacle of a film, so I changed that. I watched it. I somehow remember the film being…how do I put it, less terrible?

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Bad Boys is a buddy cop film about partners Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence, TV’s Partners, Big Momma’s House) and Mike Lowry (Will Smith, Men in Black, Focus). Burnett is a married man with a couple kids who dreams of less complicated days. Lowry is a newly rich single man who likes to get down and dirty with the ladies. When one of Lowry’s special ones is shot down in a hail of gunfire, her friend Julie (Tea Leoni, TV’s Madam Secretary, Deep Impact) goes to Lowry for help. She ends up believing that Burnett is Lowry and seeking out protection from him. As the two cops play some stupid version of Trading Places, there is also a bad guy doing…something. This is Bad Boys.

Bad Boys is the feature film debut of director Michael Bay (Transformers, Pain & Gain), and it also gives some of his less-awful work, though he still valued explosions over character development (what develops a character more than almost dying constantly, right?).

The two leads have enough chemistry to really build a franchise akin to Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop, but the script merely bastardizes the two series by ripping them off too much instead of forging a new path for itself, and the mistaken identity Freaky Friday conceit that envelops the film falls flat almost instantly and is drug along for the entire film’s runtime instead of abandoned early on like it should have been.

The villain Fouchet (Tcheky Karyo, TV’s The Missing, The Patriot) is a cardboard cutout with little memorable features. I just watched it and I can’t even really recall his purpose. He is neither fleshed out enough to feel real of sinister enough to be terrifying.

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Michael Bay’s Bad Boys is a bad film. I feel like Lawrence and Smith could play with their buddy cop relationship well if only the script was serviceable enough to give them room to play. For the most part, their talent is completely wasted and overshadowed by the “Things Blowing Up” route Bay’s directing takes them.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Michael Bay’s Transformers, click here.

For my review of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, click here.

For my review of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, click here.

For my review of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, click here.

Independence Day (1996)

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Director: Roland Emmerich

Cast: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Maragert Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein

Screenplay: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich

145 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi destruction and violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

In the annals of film history, it would be a tough time attempting to find a movie that depicts the destruction of all mankind better than Independence Day from director Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, White House Down).

On July 2nd, the world discovers that we are not alone in the universe as massive spaceships make their way to every major city. Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith, Men in Black, Focus) has to cancel his 4th of July plans and head back to base. President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman, Lost Highway, The Equalizer) has to deal with the floods of looting and scared citizens while also trying to reunite with the First Lady (Mary McDonnell, TV’s Major Crimes, Donnie Darko). David (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park, Mortdecai) has figured out a pattern in the signals of the alien ships, and thinks he is seeing a countdown to something big. As the world is cripple in fear of the alien menace, mankind is about to re-earn their independence.

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Independence Day is one of those movies that seems perfect when at first glance, but after multiple viewings, the plot-holes become more apparent. There are severe issues with this plot, but the film is still a culty pleasure (see what I did there?).

The performances from our stars (Smith, Pullman, Goldblum) are all serviceable to keep the hype up throughout the action set pieces. The only issue with the characters portrayed is that they aren’t written to experience catharsis. Their “catharsis” is only due to the impending death of the human race. Goldblum’s David is my personal favorite as the man who has tremendous potential but chooses to waste it. His character represents an interesting dilemma: should a man use his full potential even if he likes things the way they are? Hmmm. James Rebhorn (Scent of a Woman, The Game) also turns in some fine work as Albert Nimzki, who has specific thoughts and secrets which make President Whitmore’s decisions all the more difficult.

The cinematography focuses a lot on spectacle. It is meant to show us just how screwed we are, and it works well enough.

The score is another important piece of this puzzle, something haunting and rhythmic while empowering the American ideals of freedom and military superiority.

There are some great uses of miniature work in Independence Day. Some of the explosions do seem extremely dated, but the grandiose visual effects were well worth the Oscar win.

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Independence Day is returning to the big screens soon with a sequel (perhaps two). As far as the first film goes, Independence Day is a lot of fun. Not a particularly great film, but a classic nonetheless.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Roland Emmerich’s 2012, click here.

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