Movie #119: Jurassic Park (1993)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Wayne Knight, Samuel L. Jackson, BD Wong

Academy Awards (1994):

Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing: Gary Rydstrom, Richard Hymns

Best Effects, Visual Effects: Dennis Muren, Stan Winston, Phil Tippett, Michael Lantieri

Best Sound: Gary Summers, Gary Rydstrom, Shawn Murphy, Ron Judkins

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“God help us, we’re in the hands of engineers.”

Eccentric billionaire John Hammond (Attenborough) has built a park with genetically recreated dinosaurs on a remote island.  Prior to opening Jurassic Park, he invites palaeontologists Allen Grant (Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Dern), chaos theorist Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), and his grandchildren for a sneak preview that doesn’t go as smoothly as planned.

I was too young to see Jurassic Park when it first came out, and it’s one of those movies that I’ve only recently seen.  Also, I watched this on VHS, so while I’m sure the picture quality and some of the special effects have been tweaked over the years, I am for all intents and purposes unaware of them.

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Jurassic Park was enjoyable to watch.  It had engaging characters with witty dialogue.  Top to bottom the cast worked well together.  Though Goldblum has many of the memorable lines, it was interesting to see how each character interacted with everyone else.  Hammond realizing the dangers of what he had done and Grant’s interactions with Lex and Tim Murphy were two of the more notable examples of character growth.

It was interesting, and annoying, to see how quickly Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) switched from being the skeptical attorney to overzealous cheerleader when he realized how much money the park could potentially make.  Hammond’s enthusiasm for the park was infectious for most of the people who worked there.  There was almost a “nothing could possibly go wrong” feel at the island.  It was nice to see Gennaro get what he deserved.

There was also enough suspense to keep things interesting.  The first introduction of the T-Rex and the velociraptors chasing Lex and Tim had just the right amount of build-up to keep me on the edge of my seat.  Though I knew in the back of my head that most of the main characters would be safe, there was still just enough doubt to keep things engaging.

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Despite the great performances in Jurassic Park, the real stars of the film were the dinosaurs.   One of the biggest accomplishments of this movie is the special effects.  Although it’s primitive by current standards, in 1993, it was cutting edge.  The dinosaurs were impressive, even in a VHS format.  It’s not very surprising, though, given the fact that it’s a film by Steven Spielberg.

Though some elements of Jurassic Park have clearly become dated, it is still an enjoyable, suspenseful film.  It’s a franchise that I will probably someday get around to watching, but it’s definitely one worth watching.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Movie #110: Back to the Future (1985)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells

Academy Awards (1986):

Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing: Charles L. Campbell, Robert R. Rutledge

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Music, Original Song: Chris Hayes, Johnny Colla, Huey Lewis for ‘The Power of Love’

Best Sound: Bill Varney, B. Tennyson Sebastian II, Robert Thirlwell, William B. Kaplan

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Robert Zemekis, Bob Gale

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 Teenager Marty McFly (Fox) inadvertently goes thirty years back in time and interrupts his mother and father’s first meeting.  To avoid fading out of existence he must convince his future parents that they’re meant to be together. (via 501 Must-See Movies:Revised and Updated Edition)

This is a nice mix of science fiction, comedy, action, and drama.  This mix was common for a lot of the major films of the 1980s.  Looking back, the casting for Back to the Future was spot on.  Michael J. Fox works wonderfully as Marty McFly.  Eric Stoltz, who was originally cast as Marty, would have probably done a serviceable job, but Fox’s comedic timing and chemistry with the rest of the cast really makes the character and by extension the movie.

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I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the key characters in this movie.  One of the things that really sticks out to me is how each character acts whether it’s 1955 or 1985.  It’s interesting to see how common American culture and history influences each era and   Christopher Lloyd does a great eccentric scientist, and he’s a much different character depending on what year it is.  Part of that was his performance, part of it was from great writing.

"Last night, Darth Vader came down from Planet Vulcan and told me that if I didn't take Lorraine out, that he'd melt my brain."

“Last night, Darth Vader came down from Planet Vulcan and told me that if I didn’t take Lorraine out, that he’d melt my brain.”

Ok, yes, this was more than a little creepy.

Ok, yes, this was more than a little creepy.

Though they all were around the same age, I enjoyed the contrast that Biff Tannen (Wilson), George McFly (Glover), and Lorraine (Thompson) has with Marty in 1985.  The makeup really gives each character, Thompson specifically, a noticeable difference between looking 17 and looking 47.

One interesting message in this film is the profound impact one moment can have on a person’s life.  George’s encounter with Biff towards the end of the movie completely changes the dynamic of their relationship.

Though I’ve seen this movie many times before, it’s always interesting to catch new things I hadn’t seen before.  I’ve realized and come to appreciate how the dialogue is intricately connected throughout the movie.   There are very few throwaway lines in Back to the Future.  It’s also interesting how a lot of the same lines and conversational sequences are used in 1955 as well as 1985 Hill Valley between Biff, George, and Marty.

Back to the Future is fun.  It combines a funny, intelligent script with great on-screen chemistry between the primary actors and actresses.  It’s fascinating to look back and think that virtually every major studio passed on this movie and Universal Studios green lit this film after Robert Zemeckis directed Romancing the Stone.

Also, since they travel to 2015 in Back to the Future Part 2, here are a few reminders.

People dress like this...

People dress like this…

and drive cars like this.

and drive cars like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Movie #106: Children of Men (2006)

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Charlie Hunnam, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Huston, Clare-Hope Ashitey

Academy Award Nominations (2007):

Best Achievement in Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki

Best Achievement in Editing: Alfonso Cuaron, Alex Rodriguez

Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay: Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby

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It’s 2027, there have been no births worldwide in over 18 years.  The UK is the only country with a functioning government.  It is more of a police state, however, due to the overflow of immigrants fleeing their chaotic home countries.  Theo Faran (Owen), is hired by his estranged ex-wife Julian Taylor (Moore) to help Kee (Ashitey), a young woman who also happens to be pregnant, out of the country.

I thought this film was interesting, and depressing.  Creating this kind of film will win over the critics, but can be off-putting to audiences.  I don’t think this film out-grossed its budget, but it’s an interesting cautionary tale.  Though this movie came out eight years ago, I still get the sense that this world, however unlikely and however bleak, is one possibility.  The film updates the source material, a book of the same name published in 1992, and touches on issues that are still relevant now.

Though I haven’t seen a tremendous sampling of his work, I’ve always been a little put off by Clive Owen as an actor.  I think it’s because he always comes across as the cold, distant, indifferent type of character.  From what I’ve seen, he’s more or less a type-cast with a limited range and appeal.

His temperament as an actor, though, is a strength in this type of film.  He becomes the hero, but still comes across as having a bleak outlook on the world around him.

I enjoyed Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Luke, a leader of the Fishes, an activist group that Julian also belonged to.  He does a good job coming across as an ally but also having ulterior motives.  The only other film I’ve seen him in is Serenity, and he impresses me as an actor.  I need to see some of his more recent stuff.  I’m a bit surprised that Clare-Hope Ashitey hasn’t been in much other than Children of Men.  Her performance was interesting and engaging despite the film’s grim outlook.

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I’m not that big of a fan having Julianne Moore and Michael Caine as the second and third billing.  Their characters, though essential to the story, are much smaller than say, Clare-Hope Ashity or Chiwetel Ejiofor.  I know the bigger names give the film a more legitimate perception, but I’d expect them to have more screen time than they did.

I suppose that’s just me nitpicking.

childrenofmen1The pacing, story, and cinematography all work well for me.  One of the final scenes where everyone sees Kee’s baby, and though they’re in the middle of a major gunfight, they stop fighting long enough for Kee, the baby, and Theo to pass.  I was a bit surprised, though, with what happened after they were through the majority of the fighting.  It was both sad and a little comical all at once.

Children of Men was both sad and enjoyable to watch.  The story isn’t overly drawn out, but still produces some major themes about humanity a complete story.  Any more and it would have started becoming overkill, any less and it would have been incomplete.  Clive Owen excels and has interesting performances from his supporting cast.  It’s not one I’m interested in watching again, but I think it’s one of those you only need to watch once or twice.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Starring: William Fichtner, Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Danny Woodburn, Whoopi Goldberg, and Minae Noji

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“Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles must work with fearless reporter April O’Neil and her cameraman Vern Fenwick to save the city and unravel Shredder’s diabolical plan.” From IMDB, Written by Paramount Pictures

The wait is over, the new version of the turtles is here.  I’ve been incredibly skeptical about this film, and though I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t a total disaster, at the same time it was, sad to say, less than impressive.

Visually this film is pretty well done.  I saw this one in 3-D (which I would recommend), and I’m starting to get the feeling that Hollywood is figuring out how to do 3-D films right.  The comic book-esque sequences were great, and I think the 3-D really helped it.  The turtles themselves came out pretty good.  The advances in digital effects in the last 20 years definitely made the turtles appearance more far ahead of where it’s been.

They could do without the lens flares though, there were a few too many of them for me.

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Splinter, on the other hand, was a compete disaster, visually speaking.  He was creepy, and this is something the director and special effects folks should have spent more time perfecting.  I thought Tony Shalhoub did decent with Splinter’s voice.  There was just enough of his touch to tell it was him.  In contrast, I don’t think Johnny Knoxville added much to Leonardo’s character.

The writers did a decent job of distinguishing each turtles with their own personality traits.  Michelangelo was funny, though I think they could have spread the jokes around with the other turtles more.  Some of Mikey’s one liners seemed a little out-of-place.  They nailed it with Leonardo and Raphael as far as personality and the sort.  Donatello was ok, but I just think the last few incarnations of the franchise have made him too much of the geek tech guy.

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“I’m not frothy.”

The biggest disappointment for me is, no surprise, Megan Fox as April O’Neil.  She has an exchange with Will Arnett’s Vernon Fenwick within the first five minutes that pretty much sums up her role in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Her acting is boring most of the time, and in this film she is almost more important than the turtles themselves.  Her character drives the story forward, and though it’s good to see her as an essential part of the story, I think they made her too central to the story.

Also, she has a unique connection with the turtles that I thought wasn’t necessary.

William Fichtner left a lot to be desired as a villain.  His role in this film sets him up for future films in what could turn into another Turtles franchise.

The critics consensus from Rotten Tomatoes is: “Neither entertaining enough to recommend nor remarkably awful, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may bear the distinction of being the dullest movie ever made about talking bipedal reptiles.”  Though I found myself enjoying this movie for the most part, there was the lingering thought that the movie was just kind of boring.  It’s not that it’s necessarily bad, because it wasn’t, but there just wasn’t enough there to make the movie pop and make me think, “Wow, that was great I have to see it again.”

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was entertaining to a degree.  It has some balance with the humor being suited for both kids and adults, and I’d say it’s a small improvement over the previous two Turtles movies(not that it would take much).  It wasn’t a complete disaster, however, it didn’t really pop at the same time.  The movie will make millions and likely lead to a sequel.  My hope is that the writers, producers, and directors will make a more engaging story for the audience.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

3-D Matinee this one!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)

In anticipation for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie set to release August 7, 2014, I’ll be revisiting my childhood and reviewing the four previous Ninja Turtles movies.  I’m incredibly skeptical about this new film, and will probably write some previewing commentary based on what I know of the new film.

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Following the events of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie, the turtles and Splinter are living in April O’Neil’s apartment, much to her dislike.  Meanwhile, Shredder has survived and begins plotting his revenge.  April does an investigative report on TGRI, the company responsible for the ooze that mutated the Turtles and Splinter 15 years ago.  Shredder gets his hands on the last canister of ooze and uses it to create two new mutants, Tokka and Rahzar.

Growing up, this was the turtles movie I watched the most.  Probably because the first film had some profanities, hence my parents preferring that I watch this one.  The Secret of the Ooze takes some of the elements that made the first film great and either turned it to formula filmmaking or expanded and extended it.

turtles2tgriI enjoyed how they explored more of the turtles origins.  Though it’s explored much more extensively in the first film, the subject matter in this one kept it fresh and engaging without being too repetitive.

Some of the elements of this film were basically copy-and-paste from the first film: Raphael getting captured, Leo and Raphael’s back and forth, Mikey’s constant one-liners and bad puns.  There’s

Though I think this film is pretty close to the first film quality-wise, there are a few differences that give the first film the edge in my book.

tmnt2kenoCasey Jones is replaced by Keno, a less impressive, younger human counterpart for the turtles.  Don’t get me wrong, Ernie Reyes Jr. did a serviceable job as Keno.  His fight sequences were impressive, however, it’s hard to replace a character who played as essential of a role as Casey Jones did in the first film.  At times Reyes’ acting was more irritating than entertaining.  The martial arts elements were definitely more his strength.  The back and forth between Casey and April would have been nice to keep.

tmnt2pizzaPaige Turco replaced Judith Hoag as April.O’Neil.  Watching these films back-to-back was nice because I could see the two distinctive styles each actress brought to the role.  April had a more central role in the first film, offering observations on the turtles state while they were on the farm.  Here she’s another friend and messenger to the turtles from Shredder.  Turco does well with the smaller role her character has in this film.  The more helpful assistance for the turtles comes from Professor Jordan Perry (David Warner), a scientist for TGRI who is very familiar with the ooze.

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Tokka and Rahzar helped in keeping the battles between the turtles and Shredder fresh.  The filmmakers avoided the same old “we fight you, you fight us” back and forth by introducing these characters.  It also kept the story fresh by incorporating the ooze and helping the enemy evolve.  I’m a bit surprised that they chose Tokka and Rahzar over say, BeBop and Rocksteady.  Either way, it worked.

tmnt2supershredder

It’s a Super Shredder!

  Shredder’s motivation in this film isn’t to build an empire, rather, plain and simple revenge.  He had less face time in this film, probably because Tokka and Rahzar were the primary villains the turtles had to face.  Still, it’s good that they evolved his character instead of recycling the same old storylines.

 

 

"A true Ninja is a master of himself and his environment: so don't forget, WE'RE TURTLES!"

“A true Ninja is a master of himself and his environment: so don’t forget, WE’RE TURTLES!”

Following the successful live-action film from the previous year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze does a good job of keeping the story fresh and entertaining.  They do a good job of developing more of the turtles origins and evolving their confrontations with the enemy.  Though some of the casting and character changes hurt the film, it’s still very entertaining and enjoyable for me to watch nearly 25 years later.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

NINJA RAP!

NINJA RAP!

With regards to the new film:

Another thing I am concerned about with the upcoming Ninja Turtles movie is Shredder.  His original story has been left behind, or perhaps adapted to today’s world.  Either way, I’m skeptical about how his character is going to do.  I like William Fichtner as an actor, but I’m not sure he’s cut out for this kind of role.  He’s made a living being a strong secondary character, and I just don’t know if he’s got what it takes for a role like this.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie (1990)

In anticipation for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie set to release August 7, 2014, I’ll be revisiting my childhood and reviewing the four previous Ninja Turtles movies.  I’m incredibly skeptical about this new film, and will probably write some previewing commentary based on what I know of the new film.

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“For 15 years now, we have lived here. Before that time, I was a pet of my master Yoshi. When we were forced to come to New York, I found myself for the first time without a home, wandering thew sewers, scavaging for whatever I could find. And then, one day, I came upon a shattered glass jar and four baby turtles.  The little ones were crawling into a strange glowing ooze from a broken canister nearby. I gathered them up in an old coffee can and when I awoke the next morning, I received a shock. For they had doubled in size. I, too, was growing. Particularly in intellect. I was amazed by how intelligent they seemed.”

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, based on the popular Nintendo video game and cartoon series, brings to life four mutated turtles and a mutated rat who have lived in the New York City sewers for fifteen years following exposure to radioactive ooze.  Splinter, the rat, is the father figure and mentor to Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael, and he has taught them the ninja fighting style and way of life.  They fight The Foot, an organized crime family targeting teenage men and causing all sorts of criminal problems for the city.

I’ll do my best to be impartial, but since this is probably one of my favorite movies from my childhood, that’s probably not going to happen.

Making a movie like this work is very difficult.  Since it was made in 1990, CGI was still in its infancy, so puppeteer effects are used in bringing the turtles to live action.  A problem with this was the mouth movements with dialogue.  It’s forgivable because a movie like this is targeted towards kids, but I can’t overlook it.  The puppeteer crew does an admirable job in bringing the turtles to life.

Each turtles represents an element in team chemistry.  Leonardo is the leader, Michaelangelo is the comic relief, Donatello is the intellectual who is also socially awkward, and Raphael is the angry loner in the group.

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“Wise men say, ‘Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for a late pizza.'”

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” Yeah? Well, you act like a JERK sometimes, you know that? And this attitude of yours isn’t helping anything.”

Something I enjoy about this movie, besides the fact that I can quote it almost verbatim, is the various relationships the movie showcases.  Though the characters roles become oversimplified in later films, here it’s interesting to see the balance and conflict as it plays out between the various characters.  The back-and-forth between Leonardo’s calm leadership with Raphael’s temper, Raphael’s and Casey Jones’ (Elias Koteas) anger issues, Casey and April O’Neil’s (Judith Hoag) back-and-forth, and Splinter and Shredder’s history, among others, provided some great lines and contrasting personalities.  They’re all entertaining, and none of them overpowers all the others in dominating the storyline.

I also like how the film takes a step back in assessing what is going on.  April’s reflection out on the farm helps sort the various layers of conflict and circumstance.  Splinter does fantastic as a voice of reason and demonstrates the fatherly elements both with the turtles and with Danny Pennington (Michael Turney).

 

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“A Jose Canseco bat? Tell me, you didn’t pay money for this?”

At its core, this movie is fun.  The scene when Raphael and Casey Jones meet for the first time is incredibly funny, and I like how they develop a mutual respect for one another.  Each of the fight scenes is complemented by a good amount of bad clichés, most coming from Michaelangelo, others coming from Donatello.

Side note: Sam Rockwell played the gang leader.

Side note: Sam Rockwell played the gang leader.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles works as a film adaptation for the popular television and video game series.  Since the formulas haven’t been set just yet with the film series, this film balances comedy with storytelling and developing the various characters history and relationship with one another.  Of all the films, this one is probably my favorite, and though I can quote most of the movie, I still enjoy watching it every time.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

With regards to the new film:

One of my fears with the new film has to do with casting Megan Fox as April O’Neil.  Judith Hoag, and Paige Turco in the second and third film, are both strong characters who roll with the punches and handle themselves professionally.  Megan Fox is eye candy, and nothing more.  I think it’s very telling that she had no dialogue in the first trailer for the film, and she has a very limited role in the extended trailer.  We’ll see, but like I said, this is one of a few things I have serious doubts about with the upcoming film.

Movie #101: Independence Day (1996)

Director: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnall, Randy Quaid, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Robert Loggia, Vivica A. Fox, Margaret Colin, and Adam Baldwin

Academy Awards (1997):

Best Effects, Visual Effects: Volker Engel, Douglas Smith, Clay Pinney, Joe Viskocil

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Sound: Chris Carpenter, Bill W. Benton, Bob Beemer, Jeff Wexler

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“I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next.” ~ President Thomas Whitmore

A seemingly indestructible alien race attacks Earth on July 2nd.  As they destroy every major city in the world, President Thomas Whitmore (Pullman), Captain Steven Hiller (Smith), computer genius David Levinson (Goldblum), and many others lead the counterattack in hopes of saving life as we know it.

Independence Day has a lot of things that work in its favor.  Public interest in the extra terrestrial, exemplified with the popularity of The X-Files, and Emmerich’s well-balanced ensemble cast and entertaining story made this film larger than life.  Released the same year that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, this film launched Will Smith’s highly successful film career.  I was fairly young when this film was released, and though I’ve seen it many times, I still find it highly entertaining.

This is the type of film that though it has its fair share of dark moments, it still has an inspiring resolution without being completely dark as many of the newer summer blockbusters are.

Though the special effects have clearly become dated, Independence Day does a great job of destroying a lot of the world’s major landmarks in a convincing way.  Specifically, the White House getting destroyed, from a visual effects standpoint, was probably one of my favorites.  The worst of the effects was probably when the aliens were chasing Hiller and Wilder (Harry Connick Jr.).  At times, the effects with the alien spacecrafts weren’t up to par.

There is a good balance of comedy, action, and drama between the various cast members.  Smith has it all, Goldblum is perfect as the paranoid computer genius, Pullman is a serviceable president.  Randy Quaid does great being Randy Quaid.  The various relationships throughout the film, Hiller and David Levinson, Whitmore and General Grey (Loggia), Hiller and Jasmine (Fox), David and Julius Levinson (Hirsch).

Judd Hirsch gives one of the greatest supporting comic relief performances.  He has a few shining moments where he brings order to the immediate chaos, but for the most part he does a great job at lightening the mood in the scenes he’s in.

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Though this film has a wide range of major cast members, Will Smith is the true star of this film.  He’s got great stage presence, his quick wit makes his both funny, relatable, and likeable for audience members.  He also has to deal with a lot throughout the film.  I guess everyone does, but his relationship with Jasmine, losing his squad, his desire to be an astronaut and eventually seeing that dream come true.   It’s just enjoyable to see him showcase his acting talent and range.  My only critique of Smith’s performance is that I think some of his smack talk runs a little too long.  His monologue while dragging the unconscious alien through the desert got a little old.

I like to call this the type-cast lineup, at least with Robert Loggia (middle) and Adam Baldwin (right). Sorry other guy.

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“In the words of my generation: UP YOURS!”

Randy Quaid, though annoying and insufferable at times, delivers some of the greatest lines in the film.  His abducted by aliens bit got really old, but though they tied his character in perfectly by the end.

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“Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and this movie is called Independence Day.”

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“Yes Will Smith, I did just shoot that green shit at you.”

Independence Day has everything a summer blockbuster should have: entertaining story, likeable characters, balance in comedy action and drama, and a happy ending.  The right balance in cast members chemistry make this far out concept more down to earth.  The story has just the right amount of comic relief without it being too over-the-top and ridiculous.  Watching this film won’t become an Independence Day tradition for me, but I’ll definitely revisit this film every once in a while.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.