Wise Guise Warriors… I’m back! A lot has been happening in the world since I last posted. I got lots of questions about all sorts of topics in addition to many things I’ve wanted to blog about but haven’t had time. So, without further ado, here’s a Monday Morning Mailbag to cover most of the topics you wanted to hear about, most of the topics I wanted to write about, and some.
Jeff from Jefferson City, MO: Have you seen Jurassic World yet? How do you rank it compared to other modern-day summer blockbusters in addition to the original three Jurassic Park films?
As you may have heard if you follow my wife or I on social media, I have an 8-month old son. So I haven’t seen many films in theaters. I saw Interstellar on opening night. I also recently saw Mad Max: Fury Road after its 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and rave reviews from everyone I know that saw it (My take: Outstanding film. Grippingly powerful. Epic in scale. Technically beautiful.)
But Jurassic World was something special. So a bunch of friends (including my little brother-in-law Aphiwe who we recently took to see the original film on the big screen at Franklin Theatre) filled up a row on Thursday night for opening night.
I hummed the theme song all day. Bought the popcorn and the Coke Icee. We were ready to go.
So was most of America… and the world apparently. Reports this morning have Universal claiming box office dominance, beating Sunday estimates to defeat the original Avengers to have the best weekend opening in history. Globally, it wasn’t even close as Jurassic World surpassed 500 million.
So was it worth the hype? Unabashedly yes.
Jurassic World works because it’s unabashedly nostalgic (for the original 1993 film), unabashedly outrageous, and unabashedly fun. It knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything else.
It’s an over-the-top and winking tribute to the original film and the 1990s adventure film saga, which itself was a tribute to the original monster movie format.
To understand the beauty of Jurassic World (and its success), you must understand what made the original a modern classic.
It gave us a flawed protagonist whose professional life made his personal one nearly non-existent, with a distaste for the idea of being a parent and having children. It gave us kids with family issues. It gave us concise philosophical debates about what it means to play the role of God, limits of science, and limits of humanity’s ability to control nature. It gave us chaos theory, and Newman getting dominated, and Samuel L. Jackson, and a fun lesson on DNA.
It also gave us DINOSAURS! T-REX! VELOCIRAPTORS IN THE KITCHEN!
It gave us ultimate 90s TV commercials. It gave us one of the best theme songs of all time.
It gave us some of the best visual graphics of all-time.
IT GAVE US DINOSAURS!
Jurassic World works because it didn’t try to break from the formula. It gave us numerous nods and winks to the original classic. It focused on being fun and over-the-top, dialing up the amount of time in which nature became chaos, and reminding us why we loved these dinosaurs and why the premise is so terrifyingly dangerous.
You should go see it. If box office results are correct, many of you already have. Many of you will likely see it again.
For some of us, it’s because it takes us back to our youth. For others, it’s because it’s simply one of the most fun summer blockbusters in a long time that didn’t try to tweak the formula that worked so well.
And it still does work very well.
Manny from Memphis: Now that your Memphis Grizzlies are out of the NBA Playoffs, are you still watching the Finals? Who are you rooting for? Any predictions?
Great question. My heart lies with those gritting and grinding Grizzly Bears in Bluff City. But what an epic NBA Finals we have.
Before The Finals began, I went on the record as predicting Cavs winning an epic 7-game series. That was before Kyrie Irving got injured, but I’m standing by my prediction.
Cavs will win Game 6 in Cleveland and Game 7 will be close down the stretch. LeBron will put on a performance for the ages, putting his hometown on his back, and breaking the drought.
Now, would I be surprised if Steph Curry continues his amazing, MVP-style performance from Game 5 and closes this series out? Nope. But, as much as I’ve loved Curry since his March Madness run with Davidson, I want to see this historic performance from LeBron, without Love and without Irving.
Dellavedova has been playing some grit-and-grind ball that makes me wish he teams up with The Grindfather himself in Memphis next season.
But most of all, I’m enjoying the historic records being shattered. We’re seeing LeBron and Steph Curry do things that have rarely been done. ESPN’s statistical gurus have been having a blast with what we’ve been seeing. And I just hope it continues all the way to a Game 7.
LeBron returned home for one reason. I hope we see him do it in epic style in this epic series.
Ned from Newark: What’d you think of the Game of Thrones finale?
Well, Ned, I’m a few weeks behind. But every Sunday night, you can’t avoid seeing the BIG thing that happened on Facebook and Twitter. So I’m relatively aware of what’s been taking place… at least THE big watercooler event every week.
I’m shocked by what it was last night. Absolutely stunned. Should be interesting to see how final it is.
The best fiction doesn’t just entertain, it makes us think — sometimes in ways even the author doesn’t expect or intend. The simplistic moral reading of Thrones is “people are bad” — or, to put it in Thronespeak, “The night is dark, and full of terrors.” The better reading is that virtue is harder than we imagine, requiring sometimes-terrible choices and previously unthinkable deeds. Anyone who’s spent time at war knows this. They know of a reality where every choice appears dark, but the darkest choice of all is retreat and defeat. They know the cost of foolish trust, and they understand the incredible difficulty of building something decent out of the ashes of something horrible. They also know that the highest price you can pay isn’t your life but your very soul.
Some of our citizens choose to ignore these moral realities, to live out our lives as distant from the “men in the arena” as possible. To the extent they think about such men, it’s to unthinkingly admire or to ignorantly judge. The result is fantasy thinking. If we pursue just the right policies, we can defeat jihadists without killing innocents, without alienating potential allies, and at an acceptable cost in blood and treasure. If our police have the right training, they can suppress crime politely, in the proper racial ratios, and in a manner that not only fully respects civil liberties but also builds community relationships. Fantasy thinking tells us that America can’t be exceptional because it’s never been perfect — indeed, that there was some way for America to embrace “social justice” from the start and yet still exist.
Yet in the real world, as in Westeros, the fantasies always yield to reality. Choices are difficult, even good men must sometimes be remorseless, and winter is coming.
Polly from Portland: What’s your take on the seemingly dozens of people running for President in 2016?
I’ll cover this more once we have everyone officially declared and the race is underway. So much of the coverage right now is silly. But, don’t worry, I’m reading nearly all of it so that you don’t have to.
For the Republican Party, there are a handful of people standing out from the rest of the pack right now, a handful that can’t win the nomination but could wreak havoc on some who can, and a handful who could surprise some people and make a serious run.
For the Democratic Party, there’s Hillary.
I’m excited today for Jeb Bush’s official announcement. His record of leadership, experience, and his vision for our country shows why he would be an excellent President and the exact type of President our nation needs.
Charlie from Charlottesville: Can your Vanderbilt Commodores repeat as National Champs in Omaha?
I sure hope so. They’ve been so fun to watch this season. It’s been REALLY FUN to see them hit another hot streak at the end of the season, in the SEC Tournament, and in the NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals. They’ve got their work cut out for them. But with three first-round MLB draft picks, including two in the Top 10 and #1… along with one of the greatest coaches of any sport any where… the Vandy Boys are gonna have a shot!
David from Denver: I really liked Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Are there any other movies I can see like these? I really like the chemistry between Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.
I’m so glad you asked this question. It gives me an opportunity to discuss what I think is one of the biggest movie mysteries of the past few years. First, let me set the stage.
Imagine two of the biggest movie stars in the world. Six Oscar nominations between them, including one victory, in the last few years. An Oscar-winning director. A historic period piece based off a best-selling novel.
Surely this movie would be successful, likely at both the box office and awards season?
Wrong. Thus is the tale of Serena, a film I was sure would garner more awards love for both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and yet it went straight to Video-on-Demand here in the United States.
The film just never got off the ground. I recently watched it on a transatlantic flight. It has a lot going for it.
Jennifer Lawrence has a more-than-slightly unstable, salacious, and seductive woman of mystery. Bradley Cooper as a leader in a logging community hit hard during tough times. The wild frontier. Romantic intrigue. Shifty characters.
Don’t get me wrong – the movie is intense and has some moments. But it’s also at times difficult to understand. I think it’s well worth everyone watching it because it holds such a unique place in our modern cinematic universe. Here are some wonderful excerpts from an Adam Sternbergh piece discussing the failure of Serena:
That’s right — a movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, released in 2015, went, in that antiquated parlance, straight to video. […]
But it is a useful object lesson in moviemaking in the 21st century — and an improbable tale of how something can go terribly wrong even when everything seems to be going wonderfully right. Set during the Depression in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Serena is the tale of an ambitious timber baron named George Pemberton (Cooper), his troubled and ruthless rise to power, and his even more troubled and ruthless marriage to a difficult and remarkable woman named Serena (Lawrence), who emerges as a kind of backwoods Lady Macbeth. You can easily imagine the elevator pitch: It’s Winter’s Bone meets There Will Be Blood, with a dash of Cold Mountain and meaty dramatic roles for both leads. Sounds good, right? Who wouldn’t green-light that? […]
So is Serena that bad? In a way, it’s not bad enough. Serena is not only a film about a bygone era but it feels like a film from a bygone era — an era when when you might have stumbled on Serena as the ABC Sunday Night Movie, watched it because of the stars, then fallen asleep contentedly halfway through. Some of its flaws are obvious: Bier has no feel for the Smoky Mountains, or the Depression, or, really, America, and the story doesn’t flow with any particular coherence, let alone momentum. Other flaws are harder to pin down. The tone is distressingly subdued for a film that’s ostensibly about rapacious ambition run amok. The script never really decides whether Serena is a calculating cutthroat or a winsome woodland foundling. (Or neither. Or both!) Still, each star has his and her moments. The costumes are nice. Rhys Ifans (!) has a creepy turn as an omniscient and amoral mountain-man killer that, had it come enfolded in a much better movie, might have drawn some attention. Instead, it’s smothered in this movie and thus, like the movie itself, it earned no attention at all.
Most of all, Serena is interesting because it’s a much more rare artifact than a really bad movie: It’s an incompetent movie.
Jerry from Jackson: Who ya got in the U.S. Open this week?
Phil Mickelson tore it up in the final round of my hometown’s FedEx St. Jude Classic yesterday, giving him some much-needed momentum as he tries to shirk off the second-place finishes at our very own national championship major and complete his career Grand Slam. I’d love to see him do that.
Will he though? Probably not. Rory could get hot and win once again. Can Spieth win his second in a row? Surely he can. Rickie Fowler looked as good as anyone else in his Players Championship victory.
The fact of the matter is this: there are so many players on Tour right now who can win any given week. It’s why it’s a fun time to be a golf fan.