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Jurassic World Jumps The Shark

More than 25 years ago, the cinema was irrevocably changed as technology was able to bring to the big screen, in startling photo-realism, creatures that had up until then, only been done with small clay models in stop motion, or normal-sized animals superimposed to look more monstrous. Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) allowed film maker Stephen Spielberg to bring dinosaurs to life in Jurassic Park and Hollywood has never been the same since. In fact, the film was so groundbreaking it set the standard for special effects that has only been increased in the interim years and it spawned several sequels, including this weekend’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Unfortunately, for its pedigree, Fallen Kingdom suffers by comparison.

The film stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard reprising their roles from the first Jurassic World. Howard is the daughter of film maker Ron Howard who once starred in the 70’s TV series Happy Days, which was an immensely popular series. The show enjoyed its success until season 5 when a character performed a stunt on the show that was so unbelievable it coined the term “Jumped The Shark” to describe a show that goes so far that it exceeds the limits of believability. That family legacy continues here as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom jumps the shark.

Howard and Pratt are tapped to return to Isla Nublar to save the dinosaurs that have been permitted to live on the island after the events in Jurassic World. It seems that the island has a volcano that has become active and threatens to kill all life on the island. It also seems that Pratt’s personal pet raptor, “Blue,” is of particular interest in the survival effort, which is why they need Pratt’s help. Unfortunately, the rescue is not as altruistic as Howard and Pratt are led to believe and dangerous situations ensue.

Where the movie jumps the shark is that aside from the above synopsis there is no real plot to the movie, which means it devolves into nothing more than a series of action sequences loosely tied together by a common narrative. In order to create stimulating visuals, the film makers put characters in increasingly unbelievable situations and have them make decisions that no normal human being would make. It also creates a back story to explain the current situation that runs contrary to established story line from the previous films.

Howard’s Clair, so strong a character in the previous film, is reduced to bit character status in this sequel, not giving her room to grow or any opportunity to show her acting range. She is simply window dressing in this film. Even Pratt’s Owen is left flat as he gallops from scene to scene reacting to the impossible plot points with nothing more than a smirk and a shrug. Jeff Goldblum reprises his character Malcom from the first trilogy, but only inasmuch as he appears to testify before congress so the film can moralize on science run amuck.

The story also introduces a new character, Maisie Lockwood, but then doesn’t do anything with her, other than to put her in danger and in need of rescuing on several occasions, despite having potentially the greatest plot thread of the whole film. One possible explanation is that she is setting up the third film in this second franchise. Unfortunately, if other people agree with this assessment of the movie, it may not spawn a third installment.

The special effects, revolutionary in the first Jurassic Park, are run of the mill here, offering no awe inspiring graphics or breakthrough visuals. In fact, some sequences seem rushed, the overlays are obvious and the physics are problematic. It is as if the producers didn’t bother to research how hot lava really is.

Of course, the movie has to introduce a new variation of a big bad dinosaur as every other film in the franchise has done, but this big bad monster is a bit of a retread and does not engender any real sense of malice or threat beyond that of “Oh My God, It’s a Dinosaur!”

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a poor addition to the Jurassic Park franchise and is unworthy of the name. Even the most ardent dinosaur fans could skip this film and not really miss anything. The producers, in an effort to capitalize on the franchise while feeding a frenzy of mindless action, have taken the story into unbelievable plot points much like Happy Days did in season 5 where Fonzie Jumped the Shark.

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Return of the Dragon

In another of Hollywood’s drive to avoid producing anything amounting to an original idea, Disney has rebooted yet another children’s classic into a CGI spectacle. This time, they went for one of the more heartwarming combinations of cell animation and live action in their vault by updating Pete’s Dragon. The original 1977 film starred Helen Reddy (then a noteworthy songstress trying to break into film) along with Mickey Rooney and introducing Sean Marshal as Pete, the young orphan who is befriended by a loveable dragon he calls Elliot. The film was a kid’s movie, to be sure. Flat performances of two-dimensional characters and hokey scripting of an all-too-predictable plot assured this film wouldn’t appeal to a sophisticated audience, but then, the target audience was 10 years old, so it was good enough and had enough humor for mom and dad to watch along. Its humor and sunny disposition along with its soundtrack made the original Pete’s Dragon a heartwarming movie. It is one of my favorite films in the Disney Vault.

The remake is more sophisticated. It is also less heartwarming.

Bryce Dallas Howard (one of my favorite actresses) plays the female lead named Grace. I cannot say that she plays Helen Reddy’s character, because all of the characters are different except for Pete and Elliot. Grace is engaged to a logging foreman who’s brother, Gavin, is hell bent on chopping down as much forest as he can. In these woods lives young orphan Pete who is being taken care of by his friend Elliot, the dragon. The film goes down a dark path in telling poor Pete’s back story while communicating a message of the errors of deforestation and the loss of the magic of nature. While dark, it is not bleak, however, so don’t think it is a tear jerker, although my granddaughter did cry at one point. The actors’ performances were a highlight. Karl Urban gave a depth to Gavin’s antagonist character that made you feel sorry for him and Howard’s Grace was the performance that drove the story. Robert Redford plays her father, the only other person to have encountered a dragon before the events in the movie.

The story is more sophisticated, to be sure. Hollywood moved away from pure flights of fancy long ago in favor of gritty realism. Grace, a forest ranger, discovers Pete living on his own in the woods and brings him back to town. She is engaged to a single father with a daughter not too much older than Pete. Pete, initially distrustful of people and city life, yearns to return to Elliot and the forest. The dynamics of that family relationship are complex and compelling.

In keeping with the attempt at more realism, Elliot was updated too. The 1977 Elliot was hand drawn and goofy looking. Large, fat green body with impossibly small wings and purple hair made Elliot that much more appealing to kids. This computer generated Elliot is large, but more dog-like in shape and appearance with larger wings. Imagine Clifford the Big Red Dog turn green and sprouted wings. He is quite well rendered, each hair moves with realistic physics, but because of the realism, his dog-like face cannot express emotion as well and as such is not as loveable as was the hand-drawn dragon.

Over all, I enjoyed Pete’s Dragon. It tells a compelling tale and has a positive message for the audience. It is not as heartwarming as the original, but the performances are better and the characters have more depth. I would have preferred it if the story more mirrored the original, rather than delve into some of the plot points it took, but it is still worth watching.

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Who Ya Gonna Call? Not This Movie

I just wasted two hours of my life giving Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig the benefit of the doubt and finding out the doubts are well-founded. Ghostbusters is a retool of the 1984 hit of the same name originally staring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroid, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson and which, despite mediocre reviews, was well-received by the public and enjoyed a huge box office. The new film starring McCarthy, Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones garnered mixed reviews and had a solid opening weekend, but didn’t win the box office. The tepid response is justified as Ghostbusters was a painful two-hour torture session.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

 

When it was announced that Ivan Reitman was producing a re-boot of his 1984 Ghostbusters blockbuster only this time with an all-female principle cast, I was skeptical. I do not like the trend of rebooting established film classics as all of the retreads I have seen have not only failed miserably, but have tarnished the memory of the original. I also see no reason for the gender reversal. There was nothing misogynistic about an all-male team of paranormal investigators, but to have an all-female team seems to be in keeping of a trend to re-gender the pop culture of America. I would have preferred to see an integrated team. Anyway, I had no intention of watching the new Ghostbusters because of this and because the previews were less than enticing. When a dustup hit Twitter causing the service to ban one blogger from its service, I had to investigate the reasons. It turns out that the blogger had given a less than flattering review of Ghostbusters and somehow Twitter connected this review to a deluge of hateful messages directed at one of the film’s actors, Leslie Jones.

Now, I do not know what was tweeted to that actress, but I can say that her performance was just one of many weak points in the film. The worst of those is the script. The plot is diffuse and doesn’t really follow a logical progression of plot development. The film runs more like a series of similarly themed skits one might see on Saturday Night Live loosely tied together with a derivative soundtrack. The dialogue reads like a 15-year old’s joke book, filled with nonsensical blatherings that seem funny in the moment, but don’t work when retold. This kind of joke is becoming all too common in modern comedy films that have to try to be funny when the kinds of sophisticated humor that has been around for decades is suddenly considered offensive to the politically-correct sensibilities of the pansy generation. Every scene that could be significant for either plot or character development is peppered with these distracting attempts at humor that fall flat and only serve to pull the viewer out of the moment and lose interest in the scene.

McCarthy and Wiig both have several films to their credit that have earned solid praise for their portrayals. Unfortunately, one only has to see these fine actresses on screen for five minutes to see that they didn’t consider this a serious role to begin with. They approached their respective roles like a couple of film students spending a weekend playing around with a video camera. Throw in Saturday Night Live alum Kate McKinnon and the party becomes even more evident. She played so over-the-top silly that it was virtually impossible to believe her to be the genius mechanical engineer that builds the nuclear powered proton packs and the Ghostbuster mobile. Jones rounds out the cast as a former MTA worker who forces her way into the “club” after seeing a ghost in the subway so she can kick some ectoplasmic butt. Her big comic moment, when a ghost is perched on her shoulders in a nightclub and one of the patrons takes a selfie with her, gets lost in a scene where she breaks character and turns chicken. While her performance was not a great one, it was not the worst one either. In fact that honor goes to token boy toy Chris Hemsworth, who—to complete the entire gender role reversal—plays the Ghostbusters’ receptionist. I never bought into his character and his performance was not funny at all. In fact, his character could have been left out entirely and no one would notice. One positive thing, though, is that every main character from the original had a cameo in the reboot, except for Rick Moranis and the late Harold Ramis.

Ghostbusters is a poorly made reboot that ranks even worse than the sequel to the original. The only redeeming point is that I caught the matinee and only had to waste four-and-a-half bucks to find out that which I already knew. Ghostbusters is bad.

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Call Me Crazy

People cannot accurately parse what is happening around them anymore. It is like the apathy that has led to the current socio-political climate in this country is continuing its effect by making people unwilling to recognize the danger or take steps to prevent the damage. When I point out the situation and indicate the likely outcomes, people tsk tsk me as though I am missing some key mental faculty needed to function in society. I have heard some fanatical ranting over the years, and my ideas are not radical by any measure, but call me crazy if you must. Just listen first.070716_1756_1.png

It has been my position since the beginning of the primary season that Donald Trump does not want or expect to be President of the United States. Trump is a long time friend and ally of the Clintons. He supported Hillary’s ’08 campaign financially as well as campaigning for her in key states. It is my belief that Hillary, knowing that the Democrats are not in the best position to keep the White House given the shellacking they took in the mid-term elections and the debacle that is Obamacare, needed a ringer in the republican race to keep conservatives from rallying around a serious candidate. Trump—a long-time democrat—entered the race as a republican to be that ringer. At best, he was expected to split the vote, thus weakening the eventual candidate, at worst, create enough infighting that the candidates would dig up enough bad press to tarnish public opinion about all of them. The plan was brilliant and it worked better than anyone could have predicted.

The argument I get is that no one would spend the money Trump has spent just to lose an election. This argument presupposes that the goal was just to lose. No. Trump’s goal was to have a president that would favor Trump with financial rewards through government contracts or relaxed regulations or fast-tracking certain permits needed for Trump’s projects. Can I name them? No, of course not. But by his own words, Trump has said many times that he backs candidates that benefit his businesses. As President, he cannot enact any regulations that benefit his businesses. It would be a conflict of interest. As a losing candidate, he is not limited by conflict of interest, nor is Hillary. She can help him all she wants.

I also doubt that Trump spent that much of his own money. Creative financing can hide DNC and corporate campaign contributions, not to mention the Clinton Foundation is rife with graft and corruption. Trump’s personal funds have not really been used as much as the media would have us believe.

Before anyone suggests that such a deal would have been uncovered by the news, let me tell you that the major media outlets are owned by the same corporations that are funding the campaigns. The media has a part to play in this sham of an election, a huge part. Their job is to distract the public and to direct their attention to minutia rather than focus on the real issues. The news (both network and cable) have done an admirable, if insidious, job of making the public feel like Trump is a real candidate and the people are eating it up. They trot out polls that show this candidate or that candidate as being in the lead among certain voters in certain locations in certain states. This practice effectively forces people to vote for the candidate in the lead, since no one wants to vote for a loser. The media is also in charge of redirecting attention away from Clinton’s scandals. If a republican had faced similar circumstances, the fact that the FBI refused to proffer charges against a presidential candidate charged with a felony would have dominated the news cycle as all of the media outlets dug down into the evidence themselves and then castigated the candidate in the court of public opinion. With Clinton, the media celebrated the news as a vindication of their favored client.

Anyone who has studied psychology, sociology, or media relations should recognize these tactics. I have studied all of them. Look at how the Clintons managed to dodge an indictment on the email scandal. The very fact that the director of the FBI issued a press conference to publish their findings was unusual and indicative of corruption, especially in light of the meeting between Bill Clinton and the head of the Department of Justice. Obama has done everything he can to stack the deck in Clinton’s favor, including the amnesty and relaxing of immigration rules so that non-citizens can vote for Hillary. With the death of Justice Scalia, if the Supreme Court has to decide the outcome of the election, the bench is now more left-leaning, giving the edge to Clinton.

Call me crazy, but unfortunately I am predicting a Clinton win in November, and not my some small margin. If Trump is still a candidate, he will be blown away. Even if every person in the country votes for him. The fix has been in since 2008. But don’t fret for the Donald. He will come out of his loss just fine with some lucrative contracts and business deals to ease the pain of losing the presidency.

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Where No Man Has Gone

The sun was shining down from between the fluffy cumulous clouds on that summer’s day in 1974. I remember it was summer mostly because I was with my dad at his job and it was just the two of us. We were on the deck of the U.S.S. Nimitz when it was docked in Newport News Virginia, dad having finagled a tour of the massive ship. As big as the ship was, the corridors, gangways and berths all seemed cramped even to an 8-year-old. The bunks seemed smaller than my own bunk bed that I shared with my brother. Everything was gun-metal gray and industrial looking. There was no way someone could spend a whole year on this ship without going insane. Now my dad was talking to one of the crew and, at 8, I didn’t pay attention to details so he could have been a boson’s mate, a deck hand or the captain for all I knew. My ears did pick up when my dad asked one question: “Is she as big as the Enterprise?”

USS Enterprise on maneuvers in the Pacific in 1972. image courtesy Wikipedia

The Nimitz was launched in 1972, and my dad was stationed at Newport News in 1974, which is when he got us on board. But as impressive as the 100-plus thousand ton supercarrier was, there was no way she was as big as the U.S.S Enterprise. Granted, the Nimitz was big. Dad led me up stairs that were more like permanent ladders, down narrow corridors through bulkheads with giant wheels that locked them like safe doors, into areas that began to blend into one long grey room. The Galley looked like the sick bay except for the appliances. Dad showed me the berths where the sailors slept when they weren’t on duty. Not too comfortable looking stacked three deep as they were. Definitely not what one would expect on a ship as famous as the Enterprise.

After all, the Enterprise had warp drive and shuttle craft and flew among the stars. She was the flagship of the United Federation of Planets. She was commanded by Captain James T. Kirk. There was no way that this hunk of cramped metal rooms could compare to the Enterprise. Besides, the Enterprise was science fiction. Even I knew that.

The way he asked it, however, so matter of factly, gave credence to the fantasy of there actually being a real starship and that one day, my dad would finagle a passage on THAT Enterprise. We would explore those oddly curving, day-glow painted corridors, walk through doors that shushed open and closed without being touched and maybe even beam down home when we were finished. Maybe the Klingons or the Romulans would attack while we were on board. Maybe dad and I would be given a Starfleet tunic and drafted into the crew. My dad was a captain in the Army, so he would naturally be one of Kirk’s senior staff, and I could be the youngest helmsman in the fleet. Oh, the day we would have. But why was he asking if this ship was bigger than the Enterprise?

Of course, I was to find out later that he was referring to the eighth in a long line of war ships bearing the name Enterprise. At 94,000 tons, the aircraft carrier Enterprise was indeed smaller than the Nimitz, but not by much, and it never went to warp speed and never fired a phaser at a Klingon battle cruiser. Even so, I was far from disappointed at my tour of the Nimitz. It was some quality father-son time with my dad. As one of four kids, I ate up the one-on-one time when I got it. It is one of the strongest memories of my childhood and one of the memories that have been coming to mind since Alzheimer’s claimed my father a few years ago. It’s my job to remember them now. It’s how he stays alive and it is the only way my grandchildren can ever get to know their great granddad.

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The Right Tool for the Job

Pick one thing and be the best at it. I’ve heard that mantra my whole life. For a Jack-of-all trades guy like myself, this idea is somewhat foreign. I’ve always subscribed to the belief that it is important to be good at many different things; to have plenty of tools in the toolbox, as it were. This weekend, however, I figured out what one thing I am best at: procrastination.

When I bought the house, I had great plans for a woodshop in the garage. My Uncle Harris had one, my granddad had one and I wanted one. Never mind that my knowledge of wood working was fundamental at best, honed to a dull edge in middle school shop class. At least I learned how to use the tools of a wood shop. Being the Jack-of-all-trades guy that I am, I knew I could build a workshop and I could make any number of creations. I had dreams of building a crib for my grandkids (the youngest is 9 years past crib age now), a book stand, book cases and storage solutions for my wife’s craft center. All I needed was to finish the workstation that would serve as a router table, a table saw guide and a stand for a scroll saw. I had it envisioned, I had it planned, and all I had to do was build it. If you build it, it will work…or something like that. Right?

Anyway, I bought the tools I would need: a combo router, a scroll saw, a table saw, a circular saw, several clamps and a few other tools that any respectable wood shop needs. I bought lumber. I bought hardware. I bought a shop vac. I have even used these tools from time to time. I was well on my way to having that dream workshop, but there was one thing that kept me from realizing my dream. Well, several things to be honest, but I blame it all on this one: The Heat. I live in Texas and in the summer, my garage gets unbearably hot. Even in the winter, it can get uncomfortable out there. If only I lived in a more temperate clime. I kept putting off finishing the project because of the heat (and TV, and vacations, and a good book, and homework, and…well you get the idea).

I started on that book stand several years ago, but I needed a router table to do the kind of joinery I wanted for it. Being someone who often shoots too high, I wanted to build the router table myself so it would do all the things I envisioned. I started that project, but it ran aground in the heat so both projects languished on my work bench all these years. There they sat, buried under tools and materials so deep that archaeologists could define the time by counting the layers. Then, as if out of nowhere, my wife foiled my procrastination plans.

She gave me a honey do! The true enemy of the procrastinator. Only the elite of the elite procrastinators can withstand the withering gaze of a wife with a honey do.

Michelle has been wanting to do more improvements to the bathrooms since we changed the flooring last year. New faucets, new light fixtures and new toilet paper holders were straightforward projects, but she also wanted to update the mirrors. Since the sheet glass mirror was glued to the wall, Michelle thought that if we (read I) were to frame the mirror it would make it look so much better.

My new router table on top of my unfinished homemade router table.

My new router table on top of my unfinished homemade router table.

This meant, of course, buying molding and cutting it to fit the glass. In order to get the look I wanted, it meant cutting the wood to wrap around the edge of the glass. This meant the tools I needed were my router and router table. Since I knew finishing the router table would take too long and take more money, I just bit the bullet and bought a Craftsman router table and set it atop the table I had been building. It worked. I trimmed the wood I needed to trim. Of course, by that I mean that it only took trimming four of the four corner pieces before I mastered the technique. I get good at it just when I don’t need to do it anymore. Anyway, the mirror project is almost done, only needing the lengths of the molding to be cut and the pieces glued to the mirror. The cutting job really needs a chop saw, rather than the table saw I currently have. Maybe I should go get a nice chop saw to round out my woodshop.

A good procrastinator can put things off indefinitely; an elite procrastinator can go forever doing nothing. I have put many things off, especially things I have no interest in doing. I do have many interests though. This is my procrastination’s undoing; getting me interested in new tools. Lure me from my recliner with the promise of a new router table or a new chop saw and I’m working on projects. At least until I get tired of the heat again. OK, so maybe I’m not the best at procrastination, but I am pretty darn good at it.

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Off The Beaten Path

I have mentioned in past blogs that my wife and I enjoy driving out of the city to see as much of small-town America as we can. We have been through most of the small towns around Houston, San Antonio and Austin and have thoroughly enjoyed those visits, but that means that now we have to venture out farther and farther. This weekend, we drove to Oklahoma and passed through a number of small and not-so-small towns, such as Harrison and Henderson before going through Kilgore and Longview. Our route took us along highway 259 to our destination in Idabel, Oklahoma, but not before detouring us along other roads on several occasions. Sometimes the best discoveries are made when one leaves the planned path.

The weather on this trip couldn’t have been better had we controlled it. While hot for a summer day in Texas, it wasn’t the hottest day of the year. In fact, for a late July day, it did not even break a hundred degrees. The sky was mostly sunny with just enough clouds to break up the blue expanse and also be interesting. I did read on my news feed that some parts of Houston got serious rainfall, but fortunately we missed it. Traffic was light and the drive pleasant as we jammed to our favorites playlist over the Bluetooth on the car stereo. Since we both have family in Arkansas, we have travelled highway 59 more than most truckers over the years, but once we hit Nacogdoches, this trip would have us veer off our usual course and onto highway 259. It was a beautiful drive for a federal highway. There were many beautiful homes and ranches along the drive, and the setting sun cast gorgeous diffuse light that brought the country to life highlighting warm yellows and ambers. As we drove along, we passed a large red barn, with horses frolicking in the setting sunlight framed by ripe corn fields waiting to be harvested.

After we passed Daingerfield, Texas, we were detoured onto highway 67 in Omaha. I had been looking for someplace to eat ever since we passed a Grandy’s in Longview. Michelle is not the Grandy’s fanatic that I am and she wasn’t hungry then. By the time we approached Omaha, however, she was getting hungry. I was near starving. We didn’t see many places to eat on Google maps that sounded good, so I said let’s keep an eye out and we might find something interesting. Now, in this day of technology dependence where people are afraid to venture out of their homes without internet access on a mobile device, most people rely on Google to show them where to go. I use the technology as well, but I am not dependent on it. And I will maintain that statement until the day my cloud drive crashes. Anyway, after we drove along 67 for a short time, Michelle saw a sign that made her chuckle: The Rear of the Steer. It was for a barbeque place just off the highway with a full parking lot.

“Stop!” I insisted. “Turn around. We HAVE to eat there. We can’t pass a place called ‘the rear of the steer’ and not eat there.”

After some debate, she agreed and pulled over to turn around. There was only one other car on the road, so we had no problem with traffic. Omaha is so small that it looked as though most of the town was already at the Rear of the Steer. Inside, there was a small line at the counter to order, but as most of these people were probably regulars, it went quickly. We ordered and sat in a place that looked as though it had been there since the 50’s. It was quite clean, and well maintained, but the décor was not retro; it was authentic.

So was the food. I had the hamburger steak while Michelle had the chicken fried steak and both meals were quite good. We sat and listened to some of the other patrons as they talked about their day, shared stories and jokes. One gentleman told his companion the story of how the place got its name. Evidently it is very well known for its hamburgers, and hamburger is taken from the Rear of the Steer. As this couple left the place, he yelled to no one visible “See you later, old man,” to which the reply “Take Care” came from an unseen voice back in the kitchen. Later, the owner of that voice would come out bearing several plates of food, looking very much like Mel, from Mel’s Diner on the TV show “Alice”, only dressed better. He said hi to everyone he passed and stopped to talk to more than one before hurrying off to the kitchen for more food.

We liked the place so much I bought a T-shirt. It was a great beginning to the weekend that promises more good times, especially if we remain open to leaving the planned path every once in a while. Which is kind of the point of the trip.

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