My Month in Movies (September 2021)

Well, here’s something a little bit different. I had a pretty solid month in movie-watching this September (the month of my birthday!), so I figured I’d write something quick about it here.

I watched over twenty movies in September, which may not be a whole lot for some people, but for me (these days) it’s something. Quite an eclectic lot of movies too, I must say. A number of them I watched for the first time.

Despite the name of this post, I don’t think this will be a monthly thing (if it were, I should have started this a couple of years ago when I was watching movies more frequently), but I thought it’d be a fun thing to write for a change of pace, and maybe I’ll write more of these here and there in the future. We’ll see.

Here is the full list of movies I watched in September 2021 in order of viewing. Movies I watched for the first time will be marked with an asterisk.

Shan-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings*

Bright*

Speed*

Demolition Man

Superman (1978)

Lethal Weapon

The Rocketeer

Last Action Hero*

Lethal Weapon 2

The Fugitive*

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

TMNT (2007)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Jurassic Park

Tron

Speed 2: Cruise Control*

Citizen Kane

Goodfellas

Up

So yeah, quite the variety of movies. I like to think of myself as someone who can appreciate both Citizen Kane and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thank you very much.

Speaking of TMNT, as you probably guessed by this list, along with my recent review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters, I’m on a bit of a Ninja Turtles kick as of late (I can’t wait for that Shredder’s Revenge game next year). I actually reviewed all of the TMNT movies a few years back, but I feel like I have more to say about them. Maybe soon I’ll write an entire retrospective of the TMNT movies, and some other stuff about them as well.

Anyway, a number of the movies I have listed here that I haven’t reviewed, I would like to review some day. Some sooner than others, as I have a lot of things to say about the Speed movies, The Fugitive and Last Action Hero.

I also have to say, after watching the original Superman movie for the first time since I was a kid, I think THAT is how Superman should be depicted. I’ve grown something of a disdain for the character over the years, but I think that has more to do with the depictions of the character in the years since than it does the character himself. People are always trying to make Superman “cool” or “gritty,” or coming up with dumb ‘what if?’ scenarios like “what if Superman went bad?” and crap like that. A lot of what works for other comic book superheroes just doesn’t work for Superman. Keep him simple: a beacon of hope and optimism. The 1978 movie, despite some flaws, gets that so right. Just make Superman THAT.

Of course, there’s a lot to say about Citizen Kane and Goodfellas. Great movies, to be sure. However, if I’m being completely honest, the best film I watched last month was Up. I know, I’ve committed cinematic blasphemy by daring to say anything is better than Citizen Kane, and I’d be shunned by movie buffs by even suggesting that something could be better than the work of the movie buff man-god Martin Scorsese. Hey, I’m not saying Citizen Kane and Goodfellas are bad, just that I think Up is better. Of course, so much as suggesting such a thing – particularly of an animated film – would get me disgraced as a “serious” movie buff. Oh well, I’d rather enjoy movies than fit into some club.

It seems action movies were my overall flavor of the month for September . While most of the action movies I watched were good, the best of the lot has to be Speed. I can’t believe I had never watched it before.

I also watched some notable “technically revolutionary” films in Jurassic Park and Tron. Two truly pioneering movies that I’ll no doubt talk more about later. Speaking of Tron, I also watched The Rocketeer again. Like Tron, The Rocketeer deserves mention with the best live-action Disney movies, alongside the more obvious choices of Mary Poppins and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

I already reviewed Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was also a lot of fun. My apologies to Mr. Scorsese that I watched a Marvel movie in the same month as one of his films. Or maybe he should apologize for being such a prude. That works too.

Best Movie I Watched All Month: Up

Still one of Pixar’s best films. Part of me is tempted to even say it’s the best Pixar film, but when I remember Inside Out, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E and Toy Story 2 (still the best Toy Story) it gets difficult to pick a definitive winner. But Up is probably in the top three at least. Still one of my favorite movies full-stop.

Sure, Citizen Kane and Goodfellas are classic films that have earned their acclaim: Citizen Kane is widely considered the greatest film of all time, and I can understand it being considered the best up until that point. Though if we’re being honest, it isn’t magically better than any other great movie to be released since, as critics would have you believe. It’s just kind of become that “safe pick” for critics, similar to what Ocarina of Time would become for video games. It’s great, but many other works are just as great. Meanwhile, Goodfellas is often hailed as one of the best films of the 1990s, and rightfully so. It’s also often considered to be Martin Scorsese’s best film. To that I say… yeah, it probably is.

My point though, is that I can appreciate Citizen Kane and Goodfellas as great, groundbreaking films. They make for great conversation and it’s fun to dissect and analyze them. But Up is the kind of film that really moves me. It makes me appreciate life and its little things more. It makes me want to be a better person. It makes me cry. No Citizen Kane or Goodfellas has affected me on that level. So Up gets the crown. Sorry/Not sorry.

Best Movie I Watched for the First Time this Month: Speed (The Fugitive being a close runner-up)

I’m not sure if it’s the numerous references to Speed made in the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, or my need for more Dennis Hopper in my life, but I finally decided to check Speed out. Boy, am I glad I did. It’s honestly one of the best pure action movies I’ve ever seen. It deserves to be mentioned with the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road and Terminator 2. It’s pure popcorn bliss.

Shame about Speed 2: Cruise Control. Talk about a dip in quality between a movie and its sequel. Woof. Very ouch.

The Fugitive is also a classic 90s film, released a year earlier than Speed. Though it’s more of a suspenseful thriller than pure action. A feature film remake of the 1960s television series, The Fugitive was actually a really big deal in 1993, but for some reason doesn’t get talked about much anymore. We need to fix that and start talking about it again.

Worst Movie I Watched All Month: Bright

Speed 2 may be a disappointing sequel, but it isn’t entirely without merit (there are a few brief moments of suspense, and Willem DaFoe is fun as the baddie, even if he’s not an equal to Dennis Hopper’s villain from the original). Bright, on the other hand… Whoo boy….

In case you’ve forgotten (hopefully you’ve forgotten?), Bright is that Netflix movie from a few years back starring Will Smith as an LAPD officer in a modern world filled with fantasy races and creatures, with Will Smith’s partner being an orc. It isn’t the worst concept ever, but I always wonder why Hollywood and the like are constantly trying to “reinvent” fantasy. Fantasy opens the door to literally any story, in a way that no other genre can. So why not use that to tell an original story, instead of trying to reinvent fantasy itself?

Anyway, Bright is from the same director as 2016’s Suicide Squad, and somehow makes that movie look like a joy by comparison. The social commentary – while perhaps well meaning at some early point – is so heavy handed and constant (and I mean constant), that it just comes across as trying way too hard. The movie may have had something with that if it knew how to dial it back a little, but instead its constant shouting of its themes make it seem like it’s trying desperately to be important.

Basically, it’s like a Niell Blomkamp movie. Only fantasy instead of sci-fi.

On top of that, we have action that isn’t really exciting, comedy that isn’t funny, and a wildly inconsistent tone (note to filmmakers: if you’re going to go into as dark of territory as having the villains in your film murder a family, don’t try to be a jokey buddy cop movie two minutes later. It just doesn’t work). It’s a messy, ugly, unpleasant movie.

The Guilty Pleasure Award: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

I genuinely love this movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not what you would call a “good” movie. It’s just that I don’t care. I’m having too much fun.

While none of the Ninja Turtles films would be considered fine cinema, I enjoy them greatly. As someone born during the boom of Turtlemania, I have a soft spot for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The first two films, in particular, are some of my earliest movie memories.

But Out of the Shadows is the Ninja Turtles movie I always wanted as a kid, but didn’t get until 2016. While the ugly character designs for the turtles are carried over from the (also enjoyable) 2014 movie, everything else is like the 1987 cartoon and the toys brought to life on the screen: It has Krang, it has Bebop and Rocksteady, it has Baxter Stockman, it brought back Casey Jones, it has the Technodrome, it has the theme song!

Due to Michael Bay being attached as producer, a lot of people seem to lump the 2014 and 2016 Ninja Turtles movies together with those awful, awful Transformers movies. They really don’t deserve that. The Transformers movies are bad. The Ninja Turtles reboot movies are fun. Dumb fun. But a whole lot of it!

It’s a shame Out of the Shadows was a box office bomb (which I once again attribute more to the Transformers/Michael Bay connection than the movie itself), because I feel like the series finally got on track to replicating the TMNT we all knew from the cartoons and video games, and could have had another fun sequel or two. But it was a dead end. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is now being rebooted (again) with two different movies (one animated, and a new live-action one), so it’s unfortunate that Out of the Shadows won’t have a proper follow-up. At the very least, please don’t recast Tyler Perry. He seemed to be having the time of his life as Baxter Stockman.

And there you go!

Again, hopefully I’ll be able to write about these movies more in-depth at some point, whether through reviews or other such write-ups. I already have so much more to say about some of them, that I really should get to those soon. And some of the movies I didn’t talk about as much here definitely deserve more love. We’ll see how quickly/slowly I get around to all of these.

September was definitely an enjoyable movie watching month for me. I’ll have to wait and see how October stacks up. If it does I may have to write another one of these (the fact that I already have my tickets to see Spirited Away – my favorite film – on the big screen is already a great sign). But please, don’t expect me to write these every month. I’m already backlogged with my video game reviews, I really should emphasize those for a while before I think about writing something else…

Hopefully you had a fun little read here. It was fun to write, and something a little different for me. So I hope you had a decently good time with this. At the very least, I gave you a place where you could read a little bit about Citizen Kane and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in one spot. I see this as an accomplishment.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review

I loved 2015’s Jurassic World. I know, in this day and age of internet cynicism, it’s a popular movie for people to hate on because the characters make some illogical choices here and there (apparently the people complaining forgot they were watching a movie about a dinosaur amusement park running amok), but damn it, it was the sequel the original 1993 Jurassic Park always deserved. Just as important to me on a personal level, it also reminded me of that almost mythic outlook on dinosaurs that I had as a kid. Dinosaurs are always interesting, but Jurassic World made them wondrous again.

That’s why it saddens me that it’s sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, lacks that magic. It’s still ultimately a thrilling and exciting addition to the franchise, and even cleverly veers the series into horror territory. But it never has that same sense of wonder as its predecessor or the 1993 original.

Three years have passed since the events of Jurassic World, and now the island that housed the ill-fated amusement park is facing an impending doom, as a volcano on the island is now active and threatens the remaining dinosaurs (man, this theme park was doomed from the start! If it’s not an Indominous Rex it’s a volcano!).

Returning heroes Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) become a part of an expedition to rescue as many dinosaurs from the island as possible, before the inevitable eruption (take a hint people! God wants these suckers dead!). The expedition is helmed by Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), Jurassic Park founder John Hammond’s old partner. Lockwood wants to save the dinosaurs, feeling that mankind brought them back to life, and thus it’s their responsibility to save them. But the well-meaning billionaire is gravely ill, and his conniving right-hand man Eli Mills – who is in charge of Lockwood’s company’s future – has ulterior motives for the rescued dinosaurs. This of course leads to a series of set pieces taking place both on the doomed island, and Lockwood’s castle-esque home.

This brings me to one of the reasons I was disappointed with Fallen Kingdom, too much of the movie takes place in Lockwood’s mansion, making things feel considerably smaller than they did in Jurassic World. On the plus side, this benefits the film when it ventures into the horror genre territory, as many of the thrilling set pieces have a claustrophobic feel to them. But after Jurassic World gave us the whole island – let alone the theme park – to house both adventure and suspense, this sequel feels strangely unambitious by comparison. It works for what it is, but Fallen Kingdom often feels like it would be better suited as some kind of spinoff with different main characters, as opposed to the continuation of a movie as big as Jurassic World.

“The Indominous Rex made you hate it for killing the “real” dinosaurs. But the Indoraptor feels like just another raptor.”

Another downgrade is in both the film’s human and dinosaur villains. Mills comes off as a generic businessman villain, which falls short of Vincent D’Onofrio’s hammy-yet-somehow-dead-serious Vic Hoskins of the previous film. Meanwhile, Fallen Kingdom introduces us to the “Indoraptor,” a new hybrid dinosaur created from Jurassic World’s Indominous Rex and a Velociraptor (didn’t the Indominous Rex already have Velociraptor DNA?). Not only is the Indoraptor not featured nearly as much as its predecessor, but it fails to leave a terrifying presence like the Indominous Rex did.

Before things start sounding too negative, I will say that I had fun watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Yes, it still features characters making baffling decisions that seem to go against the obvious, but I guess I’ve also never been chased by a hungry dinosaur, so maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. More importantly, the action set pieces, and the darker moments that veer into horror, are effectively entertaining. I admit I jumped out of my seat on more than one occasion, and clenched my knuckles in anticipation to the outcome of an action scene just as frequently.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a good piece of entertainment, then. The problem is that its 2015 predecessor was a great piece of entertainment, and in many ways matched up to the beloved 1993 film. Fallen Kingdom follows suit with the usual assets of the franchise (people running from hungry dinosaurs), and continues some of the lingering plot threads of Jurassic World to connect it into a proper trilogy. But for all the pieces Fallen Kingdom gets right (action, suspense, and trying its hand at horror), it lacks the sense of awe and wonder that made both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World standout.

There’s still another film to go in this Jurassic World trilogy within the greater Jurassic Park franchise, and here’s hoping that the third installment can add a bit of newness to the series while also bringing back its magic. Action and suspense are fun and all, but nothing I can’t see in other movies. When I see one of these dinosaurs on screen, I want it to mean something.

 

6

Inside Out and Jurassic World: Proof That Classics Can Be Topped

Jurassic World

I’m going to make two very bold statements: I think Jurassic World is better than Jurassic Park. And I think Inside Out is the best Pixar movie to date.

Again, two very bold statements, considering the former blatantly says that *gasp!* I think a modern sequel in a franchise is better than the nostalgic favorite 90s originator, and the latter states that I think the newest entry in the Pixar canon is superior to their incredible back catalogue of classics, which includes the likes of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and many others.

That’s just the point I’m trying to make. Sometimes, classics can indeed be topped.

Now, I’m not one to suggest that newer automatically equates to better. I’m normally quite the opposite, and usually think that classics that prove their timelessness are indeed quite difficult to surpass. But I also roll my eyes at the growing trend that people seem to think older automatically equates to better as well. Sure, a good deal of my favorite films (and video games, and other things) would be considered retro, but I’m also open to the idea of newer things sitting alongside old favorites, provided they’re good enough.

I know Jurassic Park was revolutionary and influential for its groundbreaking visual effects, and that just about every visual effects-heavy blockbuster that has been released since 1993 owes a debt of gratitude to it. I know that Jurassic World can’t hope to have that same kind of revolutionary impact. But that doesn’t mean it’s a lesser movie.

Jurassic World, I feel, managed to capture the same spirit of Jurassic Park in a way that the previous sequels never could. But it also benefits from having an overall more entertaining cast of characters than the original film. Sure, there may not be any character in the franchise quite as memorable as John Hammond (who is an infinitely more compelling character on screen than his generic villain counterpart in the original book, but that’s besides the point). But let’s face it, Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Sattler were a pretty stock hero and heroine. They were there to move things along, but didn’t exactly give us enough reason to care about them specifically. We may not have wanted them to get eaten by a T-Rex, but you could also easily imagine any other character in their shoes (which may be why Ian Malcom, a supporting character in the first film, was promoted to the main role in the ill-fated second installment).

"A great movie, but rather bland main characters."
“A great movie, but rather bland main characters.”

Now, I’m not about to say Jurassic World introduces a whole new depth for characters in an action/thriller blockbuster, but it does give enough attention to the characters to make you care about them individually.

Owen Grady would feel right at home as a 90s action hero, but he has a more grounded, everyman aspect to his personality and a good sense of humor (courtesy of Chris Pratt) that make him feel more relatable (and mortal) than the 90s heroes that probably inspired him. Claire Dearing is also a much more memorable heroine than Sattler before her, since she gets some good character development (growing from thinking of the dinosaurs as mere “attractions” into appreciating them as living creatures, for example) which makes her more interesting than Sattler, who could be summed up as “the female lead” in the original film.

Jurassic WorldJurassic World also does a terrific job at meshing suspense and action in a way that not only does the first film justice, but may actually surpass the original Jurassic Park in this regard. Of course, this could be the benefit of being a sequel, since a large portion of Jurassic Park’s first half needed to explain all the “how did it happen?” in regards to the dinosaurs which, admittedly, could sometimes feel slow. Jurassic World can bypass all that exposition and use the added time to let us know more about the characters and double up on the action and suspense. We all know the premise by this point, now we’re given time to just soak it all in and enjoy the ride right from the get go.

This is not to say anything against the original Jurassic Park, as that film holds a special place in my heart for numerous reasons (it’s honestly the earliest film I can remember seeing in a theater, and then there’s that theme music!). But I’d be lying if I said Jurassic World isn’t everything I look for in a Summer blockbuster. It’s pure, unbridled entertainment through and through.

Inside Out

But now let’s address the bigger question: Is Inside Out really Pixar’s best? I’ve certainly come to think so.

Now, I’ll probably write more in-depth about the finer details of what makes Inside Out so mind-blowingly awesome at a later date, but for now I’ll just run down some of the more obvious things to avoid spoilers and such.

The idea of Pixar films making audiences cry has almost become a running joke at this point, given the studio’s penchant for bringing audiences to tears. But in all honesty, Inside Out really did make me cry my eyes out. Even long after seeing it, as it ruminated in my mind, just thinking about the depth and delicate beauty of its story continued to make me misty-eyed. I always find it wonderful when any film can move me in such a way, and it’s true that some other Pixar movies have had a similar effect on me, but not nearly to this extent.

One thing I was beginning to question about Pixar movies, even with their quality, is why the most emotional moments were always depicted through montage. There’s nothing wrong with an emotional montage, of course. But it was becoming such a habit for Pixar that I actually began wondering if it was simply an easy way out. A convenient means to bring on the tears through melancholic music in case the writing couldn’t get the job done on its own. The melancholic music is still there in Inside Out (in fact, I’d say it’s the best score of any Pixar film), but much to my surprise, I found the film had a profound way of creating emotion in simpler, quieter moments in a way not unlike the films of Hayao Miyazaki. I do not mean to dismiss the likes of Up or Toy Story 3 for their use of montages, as they are lovely films, but there’s something to be said about the emotional impact Inside Out can create even when it’s doing so little.

Inside Out also has a wonderful sense of invention in just about every scene. Pixar has always used a particular “schtick” for each of their movies (toys, bugs, fish, etc.), but it kind of got to a point where they were beginning to corner themselves with these motifs (you can only do so much with anthropomorphic cars, after all). Up was previously the closest thing Pixar made that could have potentially set their imaginations free to run wild without being confined to a singular motif. But Up’s best ideas all come and go within the first twenty minutes, after that it’s a great, but admittedly less whimsical movie than its opening suggests. Not so with Inside Out, as its idea of exploring the mind – fittingly – gives its filmmakers the opportunity to throw in seemingly whatever fantastic ideas popped up in their heads. And it never lets up with its creative genius, and in some moments it goes into such levels of whimsy and surrealism that I must once again say it’s comparable to Hayao Miyazaki’s features.

Inside OutThere’s much more I could say about Inside Out (and I no doubt will), but suffice to say I think it has all the hallmarks of Pixar’s classics of the past, but takes them to a whole other level in terms of imaginative storytelling and emotion.

I must repeat that I normally am not so easily swayed to say that a beloved classic is bested, with the only other recent example I can think of being Frozen, which I’ll happily say is the best Disney animated feature in the studio’s history. But seeing as Frozen was released in late 2013, and Jurassic World and Inside Out now join this club of quality newness, that’s three movies in less than a two year timespan that I can claim trump their beloved predecessors, which once seemed untouchable.

Could this be a new trend in quality that I can expect to see more of in the near future? Probably not. But it is wonderful for me personally to have had two animated masterpieces and one of the best popcorn movies ever released within a relatively short timespan, as I feel it’s lifted some of my jadedness towards the modern movie scene. At the very least, it has me eagerly anticipating if Star Wars Episode VII can join this club.

Jurassic World

Jurassic World

I went into Jurassic World with very little expectations. After all, aside from Mission: Impossible -Ghost Protocol, how many fourth installments in franchises end up being very memorable (Star Wars doesn’t count)? Not to mention the whole setup with a genetically engineered dinosaur sounded downright silly.

I was wonderfully surprised when the movie was over, as not only did Jurassic World not suck, but it was some of the most fun I’ve had in a movie in years. Not only is it the best non-animated blockbuster since Guardians of the Galaxy (which, interestingly, also starred Chris Pratt), but I’ll even say it’s my second favorite film of 2015 so far, after Inside Out (which I now feel I underrated in my review, but more on that another time).

So where did Jurassic World go right where so many other blockbusters go wrong? First and foremost, the characters. Jurassic World takes time to properly introduce its characters to the audience before all the mayhem starts, and even once all the dinosaurs start running amok, it still provides some breathing room and gives us extra moments of character development.

Jurassic WorldChris Pratt’s Owen Grady is an action hero right out of the 90s, but with a bit of an everyman touch added to make him a bit more believable. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) probably goes through the most character evolution throughout the film, and even the kids are more capable and much less annoying this time around.

All of the characters are given time to develop interactions and stories. Jurassic World makes you actually care about the characters, and because you care about them it makes you care about what’s happening around them. Compare that to The Avengers: Age of Ultron, where characters are rapidly introduced seemingly for the sole purpose of marking a checklist of how many super heroes from the comics the movie can cram in.

Now about that genetically engineered dinosaur. It was a risky move, but somehow Jurassic World pulls it off. I was a little worried at first since the movie itself is quick to make fun of the “Indominous Rex.” Yes, the idea of a brand new, mixed up dinosaur is a little silly, but I don’t want the movie to make fun of itself about it. Too many blockbusters these days make jokes of themselves, I’d hate to see that happen with Jurassic World. Thankfully, it doesn’t. After the initial jokes come and go, the movie quickly changes its tone on the creature from that point on. It addresses the potential ridiculousness at first, and then, appropriately, treats the Indominous Rex as a terrible threat for the rest of the movie. The Indominous Rex could have been a disaster, but it ends up working well as the film’s primary threat.

As you might expect, Jurassic World plays up the nostalgia card. But it does so tastefully, creating some moments of pure nostalgic joy (and melancholy) in regards to the first movie, but it never simply relies on it. The movie also makes the wise decision to ignore mentioning the events of the second and third films in the franchise. The climactic sequence even largely plays up on fanservice, but it does so in such a clever and genuinely entertaining way that I couldn’t help but applaud it. It was a moment that made me feel like a kid again.

Jurassic WorldJurassic World succeeds in regards to action, suspense and horror in a way that so few blockbusters do these days. It may not have been directed by Steven Spielberg, but Jurassic World has the same beating heart of Spielberg’s best blockbuster movies. It’s an expertly crafted piece of entertainment through and through.

Not too many blockbusters have won me over these past few years, with most of them relying too heavily on excessive destruction and garish visual effects. But Jurassic World takes the best kind of blockbuster from the 80s and 90s and makes it feel brand new again. I went into Jurassic World not expecting much, but came out thoroughly entertained.

Simply put, Jurassic World is awesome.