Life Finds a Way

Jurassic Park is an event 65 million years in the making. That can only be from the mind of master director Steven Spielberg. Whether big or small, everyone has loved dinosaurs at some point in their life. Michael Crichton published the book 3 years before the movie was released in 1993. He intended to make dinosaurs as realistically plausible as possible. The idea was so good that Steven Spielberg signed on immediately. He saw it as a Jaws style creature-driven feature on land. Jurassic Park is easily the greatest dinosaur movie ever made.

So of course my brother and I watched it several times when we were younger. Including two separate times in school for me. Which makes sense considering dinosaurs can be taught in science classes. My parents were lucky enough to experience Jurassic Park in theaters. The collective awe of seeing living breathing dinosaurs on the big screen earned the movie 3 Oscars for Best Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and of course Visual Effects. For its pioneering use of photorealistic computer generated imagery and animatronics. It also became the highest grossing film ever at the time…

1. Jurassic Park

A T-Rex roars

Welcome to Jurassic Park. Everyone knows the story of the most exotic theme park ever conceived. While the book painted him as some kind of a cold hearted billionaire, Jon Hammond is actually a kindly old man. Thanks to Richard Attenborough’s general enthusiasm. Hammond finances a theme park populated by once extinct dinosaurs. “Spared no expense.” The process is actually pretty feasible, but I doubt real life scientists would be willing to try it. As Mr. DNA explains, fossilized amber containing prehistoric mosquitoes mixed with frog DNA was used to genetically rebuild all-female dinosaurs. The park itself is like a nature walk at a zoo with a ride and gift shop. After a memorable accident, experts are sent in to test the parks safety. Sam Neill rose to prominence as paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant. As did Laura Dern as paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler. This is easily Jeff Goldblum’s trademark role. All of his quirky mannerisms are seen in mathematician/chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm.

Malcolm is the one making the most sense. Asking all the important questions of bringing an extinct species into the modern age. Danger is likely, because “Life finds a way.” Hammond’s grandchildren Lex and Tim are brought in as well. Lex is a child hacker who makes many frustrating decisions like screaming and waving around a flashlight. Tim is a big fan of Grant’s who’s nearly electrocuted in an intense scene. Samuel L. Jackson tells us to “Hold onto our butts” in what is probably his most nonchalant role. The group is flown onto the island Isla Nublar. Nothing beats the moment we see a Brontosaurus for the very first time. Made even better with John Williams awe-inspiring theme. Spielberg was originally going to go with stop motion, but it didn’t look convincing enough. So he instead went with the less common practise of CGI. Nearly three decades later and the effects still hold up. Same with the animatronics used on creatures like the Triceratops. Everything goes wrong when a disgruntled employee sabotages the park (Newman!). Dinosaurs are let loose when the electric fences are shut off.

Although Jurassic Park is generally referred to as a sci-fi adventure, there are a large number of scenes that scared and/or frightened me as a kid. The T-Rex reveal is one of the greatest scenes in movie history. There’s the water vibrations, the iconic roar, eye close up, flare misdirection, car drop, and the lawyer’s death on a toilet. All done with a seamless use of animatronics and CGI. Equally iconic is the T-Rex chasing Ian, Ellie, and hunter Robert Muldoon in a car (“Must go faster”). Personally the scariest scene for me was the one involving the ink spraying Dilophosaurus. Next to it are the breakout stars of the movie. The Velociraptors are even deadlier than the T-Rex. The scene of them hunting Lex and Tim in a kitchen is still one of the most tense scenes in a non-horror movie. The climax is equally nail biting until it ends with a cheer worthy last minute rescue by the T-Rex. The banner falling as the T-Rex roars will never get old. Jurassic Park found a way to be one of the best Steven Spielberg, dinosaur, and overall blockbusters ever to walk the earth.

2. Jurassic Park

Raptors in the kitchen

Followed by: The Lost World: Jurassic Park

The Tethered

Us is the long awaited second film directed by comedian Jordan Peele. The trailer was an encouraging mystery that managed to make the song “I Got 5 on it” sound haunting. Confirming Peele to be a horror director. Us is another socially conscious horror movie with black leads. While I fully understood the critical acclaim for Get Out (see that review here), Us was a different story. I can’t help but feel some critics felt obligated to call it some kind of masterpiece.

Despite problems that nobody wanted to acknowledge. Namely the overly convoluted plot. Us follows the Wilson family on vacation in Santa Cruz. The race of the family isn’t even a factor, which is cool to see. While on the trip, the family encounters doppelgängers of themselves. More twisted identical copies known as the “Tethered.” Their red jumpsuits and golden scissors made them creepy instant icons. Lupita Nyong’o gives a disturbing dual performance as both Adelaide and Red. Adelaide is traumatized by a childhood Funhouse encounter with the “Tethered.”

Red has a husky voice and is the only “Tethered” that speaks. Apart from her, the father is clueless, the daughter isn’t, and the son is weird. For me, a big problem with Us is how slow it is. There’s building tension and then there’s being boring. The surprise that there are way more doppelgängers than expected, at least kept me interested. Until one of two big twists. The underground bunker and rabbits are because of a failed government experiment to control people. It’s interesting, but doesn’t make a lot sense when you question it. Same with the second twist. I can appreciate originality, but Us was way overpraised.


The Tethered hold hands

No Fate But What We Make

Terminator: Dark Fate is the first movie in the franchise to have James Cameron’s involvement since Judgement Day. Meaning it’s the only sequel people think comes closest to being a worthy follow up. My whole family ended up going to see it and enjoying it for the most part. I’m far more indifferent and borderline angered by it. But I’ll start with the positives. Terminator: Dark Fate is named after the iconic quote “There is no fate but what we make.” After two unnecessary PG-13 installments, the franchise was back to being R rated. Mostly for Deadpool director Tim Miller’s fondness for F-bombs.

As well as an unobscured nude arrival for Mackenzie Davis as a cybernetically enhanced future soldier named Grace. Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger both return as an aging Sarah Connor and a very unique T-800 Model 101. Since every enemy Terminator has to top the previous Model, the Rev-9 is basically a T-1000 with an endoskeleton that can seperate into 2 bodies. Gabriel Luna shows far more deceptive tricks than previously seen. While the action feels just as gritty and fast-paced as the good old days.

Now for the negatives which require a SPOILER ALERT! Terminator 2 does remain intact, but John Connor is still killed by a T-800 within minutes of Dark Fate! Which is a major slap in the face with stunning de-aging effects. It’s an even more insulting decision that damages the whole point of the first two movies. Dark Fate is practically The Force Awakens. Aging familiar faces being replaced by younger more diverse actors and renaming things instead of getting creative. Skynet is now Legion and John is replaced by young hispanic woman Dani. Dark Fate bombed and It’s easy to see why. Arnold’s multilayered T-800 Carl at least kept me invested till the end. For better or worst, Terminator: Dark Fate terminated the franchise.

8. Terminator Dark Fate

Rev-9 goes hunting

Preceded by: Terminator Genisys

Old, Not Obsolete

Terminator Genisys is the biggest insult in the Terminator franchise. Wiping the only two good Terminator movies out of existence was a big mistake. Yet my persistent love of the series kept me existed to see it. Not even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 12 year (non-CGI) return as the T-800 Model 101 was enough to keep it from being a frustratingly PG-13, overly commercialized mess. The only redeeming scene is a very early opening recreation of the far superior original Terminator. Terminator Genisys shows everything that lead up to the first time travel from the perspective of future John Connor and Kyle Reese.

Instead of getting clothes, the T-800 meets an older T-800. Instead of talking to a random cop, Reese encounters an Asian T-1000. The fights are fine, but the CGI has somehow gotten worse. The biggest change is Sarah Connor already being a fighter and having the T-800 as a guardian. Which is the only way to cover up having an older Arnold. The T-800 (or Pops) is way too goofy in its attempts to blend in. Jai Courtney has no charisma and looks nothing like Michael Biehn. On the other hand, Emilia Clarke is a perfect match for Linda Hamilton, but she’s too immature.

What really sent me over the edge was what they did with future savior of mankind John Connor. Kyle and Sarah prevent Judgement Day by jumping forward in time. Only to find Skynet now under the guise of an app that could really use an “I.” Genisys is Skynet and I’m not kidding when I say John is the villain who becomes a freakin’ Terminator! I blame Jason Clarke’s bland performance and Alan Taylor’s lousy direction. I’ll never forgive that terrible decision. Terminator Genisys is really the Terminator movie that should be wiped from existence.

7. Terminator Genisys

The T-3000 chokes the T-800

Preceded by: Terminator Salvation & Followed by: Terminator: Dark Fate

If We Stay the Course We Are Dead! We Are All Dead!

Terminator Salvation is the only Terminator movie set in a post-apocalyptic future that should never have existed. So this is much more of a continuation to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Since it includes characters like John’s wife Kate (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard). Despite that, I was still very excited to see it when I first saw the trailer. The only major red flag was the PG-13 rating for a sequel in a very R rated franchise. Made even worse by the fact that it’s a war movie. It was ironically the first PG-13 movie my brother and I went to see by ourselves.

This is also the only Terminator movie to lack the magic of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Action director McG instead casts a gravely Batman voiced Christian Bale and Sam Worthington when he was the biggest star in Hollywood. Terminator Salvation takes place in the distant future of 2018. Skynet unleashes classic Terminators, Hunter Killers, Moto-Terminators, and Hydrobots. Since time travel doesn’t factor in, the driving force instead is John Connor trying to inspire people to join the resistance. One being his own father Kyle Reese played by Anton Yelchin. He meets a unique half-Terminator named Marcus Wright.

They’re the only interesting part of the movie, because the rest is painfully generic. Where’s the enormous laser battle we were promised? This is nothing but deserted cities and slow moving Terminators. I appreciate late Stan Winston’s practical designs, but this is just not threatening. Even the R rated cut doesn’t add much other than a darkly lit tastefully done nude scene for Moon Bloodgood. Sadly the only exciting moment for me is the surprise appearance of a T-800 played by a CGI Arnold. Terminator Salvation did not stay the course.

6. Terminator Salvation

Marcus Wright

P.S. The short lived Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is way better.

Preceded by: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines & Followed by: Terminator Genisys

You Are Terminated

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is the first unnecessary sequel made after the nearly flawless Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It’s also the first Terminator movie I saw. Which was in theaters back in 2003 (when I was 8 years old). It was the last R rated movie I went to see at a young age, because my dad didn’t want to keep taking chances. With lesser known director Jonathan Mostow replacing James Cameron, Terminator 3 earned a less than stellar reputation. Even though it’s still a kick-ass action movie with worthy moments in the franchise.

Terminator 3 now follows a young adult John Connor living off the grid. Nick Stahl does an okay job capturing John’s reluctants towards becoming humanities savior. Although he thinks Judgement Day will never come, the appearance of two Terminators begs the differ. The first to arrive is a T-X. Kristanna Loken is the first female Terminator, that’s basically the T-1000 with an endoskeleton. Far more interesting is the futuristic weapon that’s concealed within it’s arm. A formidable foe that I feel is only female to give her a nude arrival (she also enlarges her breasts).

Arnold Schwarzenegger now plays a T-850 Model 101 in what turned out to be his last high profile role before becoming Governor. This Terminator is also a protector and far more straightforward with many unintentionally humorous scenes. Like getting its leather jacket and star glasses from a stripper or saying “Talk to the hand.” Also worthy is the inclusion of a love interest for John. In the form of Claire Danes as Katherine Brewster. Awesome action sequences include the high speed truck chase, casket assault, rise of various machines, and any one on one T-X vs. T-850 fight. Although the message that Skynet can’t be stopped is bleak, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines at least manages to entertain along the way.

5. Terminator 3 Rise of the Machines

The T-850 fights the T-X

Preceded by: Terminator 2: Judgement Day & Followed by: Terminator Salvation

Hasta La Vista, Baby

Terminator 2: Judgement Day is one of the greatest sequels ever made, because it took its story and did something unexpected with it. In a very similar way to what James Cameron did with Aliens. The only difference is this was a sequel to a movie that he directed. Rather than a sequel to someone else’s work that he was putting his own spin on. Although my viewing of the Terminator films was out of order, I still recognized Terminator 2 as the best in the franchise. In a weird way, it’s sort of the most kid friendly installment and the one my parents let us watch the most.

It was far more heavily marketed to kids with toy commercials and everything. Terminator 2 was such a success that it became the highest grossing R rated movie at the time. It also won 4 out of 6 Academy Awards. Best Makeup, Sound, Sound Editing, and of course Visual Effects. This is actually when the iconic Terminator theme was first heard. The CGI was groundbreaking for 1991 and this is probably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best performance. James Cameron’s clever twist to make the Terminator a hero would have been shocking. If only the trailer didn’t give it away…

3. Terminator 2 Judgement Day

The T-800 protects John Connor

Terminator 2: Judgement Day was released in 1991, but it actually takes place in 1995. Which is only 2 years before the titular “Judgement Day” on August 29, 1997. That’s when Skynet is supposed to strike back at humanity with nuclear warfare. Despite already knowing who’s on what side, the first act still does a good job at building suspense. The best thing about playing a machine is that you can always come back as a different Model. So Arnold Schwarzenegger now plays a different more lean T-800 Model 101. The new Terminator first arrives near a bar. It’s a classic scene that ends with it donning the trademark leather jacket and shades. Even picking up a motorcycle and rifle for good measure. Truly “Bad to the Bone.” At the same time, another Terminator arrives with a police officer investigating. Under the guise of a friendly cop, the mysterious Terminator searches for the now 10 year old John Connor. He’s a little punk that acts out and lives with a foster family. Since his mother Sarah has been institutionalized. Linda Hamilton’s muscular body transformation is still impressive.

Sarah is also a bit crazier and being treated by Dr. Silberman. The psychiatrist who diagnosed Kyle Reese in the first movie. Both Terminators begin to converge on John until the big reveal where the T-800 tells him to “Get down!” Robert Patrick gives a chilling performance as the T-1000. A far more advanced Model composed of “mimetic polyalloy” aka liquid metal. It makes the T-1000 a far more intimidating threat, because it can shapeshift into anyone and create knives & stabbing weapons. Terminator 2 has some of the best set pieces in any action movie. The semi-truck chase is awesome from the  gun flipping to the big explosion at the end. The rescue at the mental hospital is a tense reunion that gives the Terminator the famous line “Come with me if you want to live.” After another exciting chase, the T-1000 disappears (unless you’ve seen the extended cut). From there the sequel’s most unique inclusion is explored. That of the Terminator’s fatherlike relationship with John. Edward Furlong isn’t always likable, but this is what gives the film its heart. As the killer robot learns to be more human.

Meanwhile Sarah’s constant nightmares about Judgement Day force her to hunt down Miles Dyson. A Cyberdyne director who inadvertently creates Skynet. It’s a traumatizing scene, but it does have a good payoff. Together Miles, Sarah, John, and the T-800 destroy Cyberdyne. All that’s left is the T-1000 now disguised as a police pilot. The climax in the steel mill has many twists and turns, but it’s always satisfying to see the T-1000 blown up and melt in a vat of molten steel. The Terminator’s goodbye to John is one of a few action movie moments to make people cry. Terminator 2 wouldn’t be the success it is without its game changing special effects. The T-1000’s morphing and liquid metal form are still seamless to this day. Even the T-800’s battle damaged makeup has gotten better. As for Arnie’s one-liners, he was somehow able to turn a cheesy phase like “Hasta La Vista, Baby” into one the most badass lines in movie history. Every risk James Cameron took helped make Terminator 2: Judgement Day a sequel that truly surpasses the original.

4. Terminator 2 Judgement Day

The T-1000 gets shot

Preceded by: The Terminator & Followed by: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

I’ll Be Back

The Terminator is a landmark science fiction achievement for first time director James Cameron. Okay, he did direct one movie before this, but the less said about that the better. The Terminator is when he really made a name for himself. Cameron was once a struggling filmmaker just trying to get by. Until he had a fever dream that changed everything. He dreamed about a metallic skeleton with piercing red eyes that emerged from an explosion carrying kitchen knives. And thus the Terminator was born. It was a risky idea, but what better year to release it than 1984.

The Terminator franchise was actually one of my top obsessions growing up. Even if my viewing of them was kind of out of order. In a way, Terminator sort of encapsulates a lot of what I enjoyed as a kid. Arnold Schwarzenegger performances, James Cameron directed films, and hyper-violent R rated action movies that I was probably too young to see. I have my parents to thank for that, since they told my brother and I how groundbreaking the movies were. With plenty of toys, comics, and video games, there was no escaping this killer robot from the future…

1. The Terminator

The T-800 is on the hunt

The Terminator offers a dark look into the distant future. By the year 2029, an A.I. defense network known as Skynet seeks to wipe out humanity in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. James Cameron does a fine job of keeping the threat a mystery in the first half. While it was intended to make the Terminator look like everyone else, Arnold Schwarzenegger became the obvious choice for the role. His bodybuilder physique made him an intimidating threat. Plus playing an emotionless robot covered up his limited acting experience. The studio originally wanted football player O.J. Simpson for the part, but Cameron ironically didn’t think he could play a convincing killer. In order to insure a victory, Skynet sends a Terminator to the year 1984. Where it first kills a young Bill Paxton and then makes its way through a phone book after picking up a few weapons.

“It can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, it doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and it absolutely will not stop, ever until you are dead.” The T-800 Model 101 is an unstoppable killing machine. Living tissue over metal endoskeleton. Since this particular time machine only allows organic material to pass through. Meaning you have to be naked. Future resistance fighter Kyle Reese played by Michael Biehn is sent back as well. The mission is Sarah Connor. An unassuming waitress who’s more important than she thinks. Her unborn son John is the future savior of mankind. Sarah is at first weak and timid, but Linda Hamilton brings out her inner soldier by the end. The second half is an intense game of cat and mouse where the Terminator relentlessly hunts down Kyle and Sarah. Mowing down an entire police station and imitating people to get close to her.

In the end, an explosion strips the machine down to its endoskeleton. It continues to pursue until Sarah finally crushes it with a hydraulic press. The Terminator became an instant icon with its black leather jacket and shades. Made even more memorable by Arnie’s ability to make ordinary lines stand out. The Terminator birthed the immortal catchphrase “I’ll be back.” The first Terminator is definitely the most R rated. The kills are more brutal and the nudity isn’t just during the arrival. It’s also in the scene that reveals Kyle Reese to be John’s father. Still not sure how that works exactly. Although the makeup doesn’t always hold up, the film still creates an atmosphere, and a monster that does hold up. In fact, the movie still retains a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Terminator was way ahead of its time.

2. The Terminator

The T-800 emerges from the fire

Followed by: Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Some Days You Just Can’t Get Rid of a Bomb

Batman: The Movie is the groovy motion picture the Dark Knight deserves, but not the one he needs. Batman is among the greatest superheroes ever created. He’s had so many mostly dark iterations over the years. Yet his first major live-action outing was in the campy 1966 television series. Most people are familiar with the lighthearted take on the Caped Crusader. While not as much as my parents, I’ve certainly seen my fare share of colorful episodes. Adam West is an ideal crime fighter whose theatrical speech pattern makes him the perfect “Bright Knight.”

The ironically named Burt Ward is always by his side as his old chum Robin. “Holy Sidekick Batman!” It was intended for a movie to be released before the show, but it didn’t arrive until after season 1. Batman: The Movie brings the bright brisk world of Gotham City to the big screen for the very first time (not as a serial). Batman and Robin fight crime and teach important lessons along the way. Their latest villainous plot to take down is one foiled by The Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman. The mustachioed Cesar Romero, salty Burgess Meredith, and goofy Frank Gorshin all reprise their roles. With the exception of least memorable Catwoman Lee Meriwether replacing Julie Newmar.

They plot a ridiculously complicated plan to dehydrate world leaders. With Bruce Wayne blissfully unaware that his new lady love is the felonious feline. Together the Dynamic Duo “Pow!” and “Sock!” their way through every henchman and utilize the Batmobile, Batcopter, Batboat, and even Shark Repellent Bat-Spray. But the crowning achievement of camp by far is Batman unsuccessfully trying to get rid of a bomb. Batman: The Movie is just good old fashioned Bat-fun. What will I review next? Find out tomorrow! Same Bat-time, same Bat-blog!


Batman and Robin in the Batcave

Choke on ‘Em

Day of the Dead does not refer to the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos. It actually refers to the seldom discussed third installment in George A. Romero’s unconnected Dead franchise. Not that it doesn’t have standout moments. Day of the Dead takes place long after a zombie apocalypse. The location is now an underground military complex. The group of survivors consists of scientists and soldiers. There’s so much arguing that you’d almost question the zombie’s presence in the movie. Since the human villains are so much more despicable.

Sarah is a scientist and the strongest female lead in the Dead trilogy. Together fellow scientists seek to learn more about the zombies. Including discovering if they can learn to be human again. The soldiers are the ones who constantly undermine their work. Only two soldiers and a Jamaican pilot are on their side. The only thing I knew about Day of the Dead beforehand (apart from zombie arms reaching through a wall), was that the antagonist is one of the most hated movie villains.

Henry Rhodes is a ruthless sadistic military Captain whose increasingly unhinged nature pushes him to kill without hesitation. Even in death he tells the zombies to choke on his guts. The gore is just disgusting even for 1985. Creative sure, but not for the squeamish. The zombies are also more grotesque than the previous designs. While Night had a sad ending and Dawn had an ambiguous ending, Day has a happy ending that makes it clear who survives in the end. Day of the Dead proves that man can sometimes be the biggest enemy in a zombie apocalypse.