Review: Jurassic World

Jurassic-World-Raptor-Bike-Chase

 

DIR: Colin Trevorrow • WRI: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow • PRO: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley • DOP: John Schwartzman • ED: Kevin Stitt • MUS: Michael Giachinno • DES: Edward Verreaux • CAST: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Judy Greer, Irrfan Khan, BD Wong, Katie McGrath

 

Originally scheduled for production in 2004 but plagued with an onslaught of script complications and scheduling issues common to the movie blockbuster, the fourth instalment in the Jurassic Park series has finally materialised with director Colin Trevorrow at the helm and Spielberg’s wizardry harmonising the mammoth undertaking as executive producer. As the third highest-grossing film of the 1990s, Jurassic Park was extolled for its pioneering, state-of-the-art special effects (if not a dim critical view taken on its light character development), however, the franchise’s two subsequent, undernourished efforts failed to transcend the tension-fuelled visceral thrills of its original, demonstrating the jeopardy in serialising every blockbuster success story. In essence, in a matter of eight years audiences had had more than its fill of imposing, dinosaur-stomping terror and simply moved on.

 

Inheriting a cinematic legacy that provided a digital blueprint for the industry and holding a cherished positioned in popular culture, Jurassic World has to contend with pleasing contemporary audiences who have already corroborated that dinosaurs don’t do it for them anymore, thereby questioning the relevancy of a fourth film, in addition to the increasing audience demand for the excessively bigger and better in this digitally-sophisticated climate. A decade of unstable production worries would suggest that even the digitally-advanced possibilities Jurassic World has to play with, may just not be enough to resurrect the franchise in the hearts and minds of contemporary audiences and Jurassic World is in danger of further staining the cinematic and cultural position held by its iconic original.

 

Twenty-two years have passed since trailblazing John Hammond’s dreams of an international dinosaur theme park were shattered but have now been realised back on Isla Nublar by billionaire benefactor Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan). Run entirely by commercially-driven operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the Jurassic World resort exhibits a spectacular array of dinosaurs of varying species and spellbinding futuristic attractions to keep the twenty thousand daily visitors entertained. Under tremendous pressure to lure the ever-demanding audiences to the park, original InGen geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) pushes the boundaries of scientific innovation to create an original genetically modified hybrid dinosaur, the Indominus rex. Uncertain of its intelligent capabilities, Claire calls in animal behaviour expert and velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to ascertain the safety of the behemoth before its grand unveiling. Just as Claire’s nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) arrive unannounced and are left to their own devices, the unpredictable Indominus rex escapes, threatening the lives of all on the resort.

 

Narratively continuous to the original film but slightly disregarding its two sequels, Jurassic World is a spectacular rush of furious energy, spellbinding awe and alarming terror from beginning to end. Firmly situating the film in the digital age and benefitting enormously from its dividends, Jurassic World brings a level of mesmeric, adrenaline-fuelled visual wonder combined with a suspenseful yet reassuringly familiar narrative, that has all the hallmarks of a Spielberg/Amblin production in its heyday, which is essentially what Jurassic World aims to achieve. The film’s revisionist and self-reflexive tone displays great deference to its cinematic creator, technically paying homage to its style of filmmaking through an elaborate and intricately detailed production design that employs both animatronics and remarkable CGI effects, to mark the film as technically impressive, narratively nostalgic and culturally relevant again. Jurassic World is all about executing its own ambitiousness on a mammoth scale both narratively and metaphorically, and similar to Jurassic Park delivers at the highest possible technical level. Yet once again, it is not without its obvious narrative concerns.

 

As with the negative critical attention directed at the storyline and character development in the original, Jurassic World is arguably destined for a similar fate. Attempts to flesh out the characters and make them more three-dimensional have only succeeded in creating a host of stereotypes that equally hark back to the 1980s action-adventure film. If a source problem is needed to throw light on the decade-long script production issues, it surely would begin with the film’s regressive leading characters and an evident inability to improve gender stereotypes in the same manner in which they have committed to revising their technical operations. While the narrative unsurprisingly remains firmly entrenched within the boundaries of action-adventure genre, ramping up the ante at every turn with flashes of horror, humour and science, the overriding themes of strong human values specific to the action-adventure remain at the core of Jurassic World once more, if not more clearly defined than in the other three films. The narrative subtexts delineating commercial greed and unethical scientific manipulation appear to predominantly manifest themselves through Claire, who appears to bear the burden of moral responsibility entirely on her shoulders, her ethical awareness only realised once a miraculous transformation into a more submissive role has been assumed.

 

While Christ Pratt fits in solidly to the archetypal action-adventure hero role, meeting character expectations without too much incident but not necessarily all burliness and brawn either, Claire’s transformation from a dehumanised, career-orientated threat to a sexualized, simpering damsel in need of feminizing by Owen, introduces a wholly regressive and misplaced feminine quality in the franchise, that was not made visible by either Laura Dern in the original or Julianne Moore in The Lost World. While the burden of moral responsibility may be seen to be shared by some of the male characters who are positioned as the moral guardians to Hammond’s enterprise, their fates do not allow for this burden to be shared equally and moral reconditioning is positioned firmly at Claire’s door and only made possible through the realisation of her nurturing values, offering reassurance that the whole world has not gone completely mad and traditional roles remain firmly in tact.

 

Gender stereotyping and a formulaic narrative aside, Jurassic World premises itself on the promise that it is both cinematically and culturally relevant by exceeding and executing the same audience expectations that defined and popularised its original film. In a sense, Jurassic World has been crying out for twenty-two years to be revised for the digitally-rich cinematic age, given Jurassic Park’s influence in the industry overall and its current timing seems just about right. Two decades on, the film undoubtedly steps up to its own plate and in keeping with the overall philosophy of the franchise, does it bigger and better, if not narratively weaker. Whether a fifth film needs to be made is one to be mulled over later. For sheer entertainment and thrills, Jurassic World is more than enough for now.

 

   Dee O’Donoghue

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

124 minutes

Jurassic World is released 12th June 2015

Jurassic World – Official Website

 

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Hide Your Smiling Faces

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DIR/WRI: Daniel Patrick Carbone   PRO: Jordan Bailey-Hoover, Patrick Carbone, Matthew Petock, Zachary Shedd • DOP: Nick Bentgen  ED: Daniel Patrick Carbone  DES: Charlotte Royer MUS:Robert Donne  CAST: Ryan Jones, Nathan Varnson, Colm O’Leary

Tommy (Jones) and Eric (Varnson), two brothers at different stages of adolescence, live in a small, forgotten part of America. Their days are spent wandering aimlessly around the many abandoned houses in their neighbourhood, swimming or just wrestling with other kids; seemingly the only outlet for the youth to vent their frustrations and boredom. When Tommy’s friend Ian (Tomic) dies tragically, the boys begin to confront their own emerging issues to do with life, death, depression and the almost suffocating weight of their small-town life and its lack of prospects. Beyond that, there is little in the way of plot to summarise as the film is largely a series of episodes showing how they spend their time through the lens of one of the most unflinchingly unromanticised portrayals of youth you’ll likely see this year.

Above all else, what this film persistently conveys is emptiness. There is very little dialogue and what little of it there is consists of short back-and-forth exchanges of nothing in particular. The scenery is vast, expansive and largely devoid of life. We frequently see the various kids in the film playing (or really, just hanging aimlessly around) in decrepit, empty houses and structures. Even on a spiritual level, when one character tries to console Eric at Ian’s wake with some trite ‘The Lord moves in mysterious ways’ platitudes, he reacts totally unaffected by it. Even the camerawork and editing of that scene treat the spiel as the empty rhetoric one simply expects to hear at a wake, even though no one really believes it.

It is against this vacuous existence that the film chooses to explore what it means to be young and, without trying to sound too lofty here, the human condition for those with too much time to contemplate it. It’s undeniably refreshing to see a film centred on young people that isn’t a gushy, smiley ‘celebration of youth’, filled to bursting with quirkiness and indie-rock music about being alternative or whatever (I’m sorry but has anyone else seen the trailer for God Help the Girl? oy vey), and rather to see what it’s like being a bored kid in a no-name town with nothing to do and little to look forward to. Emotionally and psychologically, it’s easily one of the most realistic depictions and examinations of what it can be like growing up, warts and all.

It’s a film not big on sentiment (though a scene close to the end involving a grizzly bear comes dangerously close) or conclusions. Rather, the film presents situations and lets the characters react naturally and without judgement and it’s slightly horrifying for this very reason. The sustained lack of theatricality makes the low-key depictions of issues such as animal abuse, the beginnings of self-harm and the difficulty of expressing depression and suicidal thoughts without actually being able to grasp what those are, all the more visceral and gut-wrenching. Even the film’s most (arguably, only) tender scene comes in the form of two of the younger kids clearly trying to make sense of their own emerging sexuality. In a film that’s not so much the loss of innocence as a big sign pointing into the black hole where innocence should be, it’s a tender little moment that feels necessary to demonstrate what true innocence looks like in all its endearing awkwardness before the film continues its journey through the wastes of isolated, rural America.

Despite all this, it is worth noting that the film looks beautiful. The cinematography is rich and makes the most of its setting, filled as it is with visually sumptuous decay. What’s more impressive is how it depicts nature though. From its opening shot the film is always quick to remind us that for all the innate beauty in the world, nature is dangerous, unfeeling and indifferent toward us. The sparse soundtrack further reinforces the mood of the film with its low, unsettling ambience that creates a soundscape more akin to what you’d expect in a post-apocalypse movie than an adolescent drama.

Being a film with such a strong aversion to any form of catharsis means that recommending it sounds like a form of encouraged masochism. It’s certainly not going to win any prizes for being the ‘feel-good film of the summer’ but this is a point in its favour. It demonstrates a maturity and respect for the young characters it’s portraying (and in an ideal world, the teenagers who should see it) by not shying away from the occasional bleakness even young people can experience. It’s definitely not for everyone but worth seeking out if you don’t mind some abyss-gazing.

Richard Drumm

81 mins

Hide Your Smiling Faces is released on 1st Sugust 2014

Hide Your Smiling Faces – Official Website

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Guardians of the Galaxy

guardians-galaxy-movie-preview

DIR: James Gunn  WRI: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman  PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Ben Davis  ED: Fred Raskin, Hughes Winborne, Craig Wood   DES: Charles Wood MUS: Tyler Bates  CAST: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana

Guardians of the Galaxy continues Marvel’s impressive streak, with its characteristic technical polish and comic irreverence.

It opens brilliantly. In 1988, young Peter Quill listens to 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” on a mix tape. His grandfather takes him to visit his dying mother, who has a gift for him. Young Peter’s grief and sorrow at her death are too much to bear. He runs from the hospital, falling to the ground, crying, emotional, upset. Suddenly, out of the darkness, a spaceship appears and takes Peter up in a beam of light. The sequence takes a cheesy song, milks the sentiment from a dramatic situation, before ending with the humour and irreverence that director and co-director James Gunn sustains for the film’s length.

He keeps the action moving at a frenetic pace, introducing a ragbag of cynical characters motivated mainly by greed or a desire for vengeance. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has grown up to be an interplanetary bandit, choosing “Star-Lord” as his moniker. He has made a deal to source a mystical orb, finding himself caught up in political strife. Ronan (Lee Pace), a radical Kree, agrees to retrieve the orb for Thanos in return for his assistance in defeating his enemies, the Xandarians.

While trekking across the universe, Quill teams up with Rocket, a genetically engineered racoon voiced by Bradley Cooper; Groot, a tree-like creature, voiced by Vin Diesel; Drax (Dave Bautista), a warrior seeking vengeance against Ronan for killing his family; and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an orphan trained by Thanos. Also in the mix are Yondu (Michael Rooker), a bandit and father figure for Quill; Nova Prime (Glenn Close), leader of the Nova Corps and protector of Xandar, whose force includes Rhomann Dey (John C Reilly); and The Collector (Benicio del Toro), who keep his collection of space oddities in a place called Knowhere.

Groot almost steals the film. He can only say, “I am Groot,” and the running gag works well. A wide-eyed smile on his plain face, expressing delight after he has beat up some goons, provides another highlight, while the light given off by his branches gives the film one of its most striking images.

Rocket vies with Groot for attention, coming up with elaborate plans (notably to escape prison on Xandar). Benicio del Toro hams it up in his small role, while Glenn Close has one of the film’s best lines, a nicely timed delivery of a single choice word.

Surprisingly, Chris Pratt is the film’s weakness. His face, one of the few not plastered in layers of makeup or CGI effects, lacks expression, and Star-Lord makes for a poor main character among the more entertaining array of supporting players. He’s funny, sure, but he lacks the charm or charisma of, say, Han Solo.

Guardians of the Galaxy risks being an elaborate send-up of the Star Wars movies, but it’s been put together enough style, imagination and panache to make it an entertaining effects-laden extravaganza worthy of judgment on its own merits. Sequel guaranteed and, based on the first instalment, should be highly anticipated.

John Moran

12A (See IFCO for details)
120 mins

Guardians of the Galaxy is released on 1st August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy – Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lVH3ogPE0w

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Cinema Review: The Lego Movie

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DIR/WRI: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller PRO: Roy Lee, Dan Lin MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh DOP: Barry Peterson, Pablo Plaisted ED: David Burrows, Chris McKay DES: Grant Freckelton, CAST: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman

 

You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.’

These words, famously stated by gatekeeper Morpheus to describe The Matrix in the iconic film from 1999, might at first appear to have little to do with The Lego Movie. How could the Wachowskis’ dystopian diatribe against the hyper-real, mass-media environment of the late 20th century have anything in common with a film which functions at its most superficial as a 100 minute advertisement for children’s brick-based playsets? Yet, some clear parallels can be observed in the story of an average man, traversing a metaphorical rabbit-hole to be told that reality as he knows it is a deceptive construction; but he is a long-promised saviour, come to fulfil the prophecy of shattering this illusion and saving the world.

The hero of The Lego Movie may even be more expressive than The Matrix’s Keanu Reeves – the yellow-faced Legoman, Emmett (Pratt), a mild-mannered construction worker. His daily routine is dictated by ‘the instructions’, a technical bible which guides him on how to fit in, make friends, and be happy. The (Lego) Matrix undeniably has him: We see it when he looks out the window to greet the day (to see every other Lego-man and woman looking out the window, greeting the day), or when he turns on his television (to watch the universally-seen sitcom, Where are my Pants?). It is a ritual-driven world, pulled over his eyes to protect him from the truth – which in this case, is that its seemingly-benevolent ruler, President Business, is secretly planning to destroy the world.

When Emmett accidentally stumbles upon a priceless relic, the key to disarming President Business’ most deadly weapon, he is mistakenly identified as ‘The Special,’ an extraordinary person heralded as the saviour who will thwart President Business. Recruited into a troupe of renegade ‘master builders,’ famous figures who play by their own rules, the overwhelmed and underprepared Emmett begins his quest through a maze of secret tunnels, other realms, and the idea that the instructions are just the beginning.

The plot is as by-the-numbers as Emmett’s instructions, but the joy of The Lego Movie is in its execution. Writer/director team Phil Lord and Christopher Miller bring the same self-effacing reflexivity to The Lego Movie as we saw in their previous zany capers, 21 Jump Street and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which opens it up in a number of fairly astonishing ways for a film about Lego.  Themes of conformity vs. creativity, free will vs. fate and determinism, along with surprisingly on-point commentary about monopolist multinational corporations and the increasing specialisation of Lego playsets reducing creativity and self-determination are introduced – but, fittingly for a Lego movie, in a playful and accessible way that can always be broken down and reshaped.

Visually, the film delights in its own ‘Lego-ness,’ with intangible properties like water, smoke and fire being rendered in the small round pieces and shiny plastic familiar from Lego sets, as well as using the interlocking characteristics of its bricks to great effect. While the action is largely computer-generated, it retains the erratic energy and aesthetic of stop-motion animation which perfectly complements the film’s humour.

The Lego Movie’s cast of characters is joyously brought to life by a hilariously self-aware script and lively voice-acting. Parks and Recreation star Chris Pratt brings his characteristic brand of earnest positivity and expert comic timing to our hero Emmett, a character believably out of his depth.

There are no missteps in the huge supporting cast either; Elizabeth Banks makes for a punky, articulate heroine, while Liam Neeson’s conflicted Good Cop/Bad Cop is a particular highlight, and Will Arnett’s Batman may be one of the most enjoyably self-aware portrayals of the character in recent memory. (Your move, Ben Affleck.) Alison Brie, Nick Offerman and Charlie Day capably round out the ‘who’s-who of US sitcoms’ filling out Emmett’s team as the bubbly Unikitty, mutant cyborg pirate Metalbeard, and Benny, The 1980-Something Spaceman. (Keep your ears peeled too for other famous cameos, including Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill from 21 Jump Street reprising their double act as a couple of superheroes.)

The Lego Movie, particularly in a striking third-act narrative rupture, could maybe be read as a metaphor for the state of the Lego corporation as it stands in the 21st century –as a battle between individual, creative thought and disciplined, specific model-making. But it can just as easily be seen as a hilarious caper about what happens when you stop following instructions and start having fun. Built to last, The Lego Movie could be Toy Story for the 21st century.


Stacy Grouden

G (See IFCO for details)
125  mins

The Lego Movie is released on 14th February 2014

The Lego Movie – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Five-Year Engagement

 

DIR: Nicholas Stoller • WRI: Nicholas Stoller, Jason Segel • PRO: Judd Apatow, Rodney Rothman. Nicholas Stoller • DOP: Javier Aguirresarobe • ED: William Kerr Peck Prior • DES: Julie Berghoff • Cast: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie

Tom (Jason Segel) meets Violet (Emily Blunt), and they fall madly in love. One year later, Tom proposes to Violet, and she says ‘Yes’, and they live happily ever after… Except…

Picking up on the much smaller problems that couples today face rather than the sit-com’y, over the top stuff that most rom-coms dish out, The Five-Year Engagement will be painfully familiar to anyone who has ever been in a relationship. Tom and Violet are perfect for each other, and instead of the usual petty jealousies or ‘humorous misunderstandings’, the couple here are dealing with the very real problems of employment woes and family ills.

But just because it brings the realness, doesn’t mean it’s forgotten to bring the funny. Less laugh-out-loud funny than the likes of The 40-Year Old Virgin, The Five-Year Engagement is closer to being our generation’s version of When Harry Met Sally, with the humour originating from character rather than, say, farts. Jason Segel continues his reign as Hollywood’s Cuddliest Man, and Emily Blunt remains as adorable as ever, and as always there’s the ‘kookie’ supporting cast, with faces familiar to anyone who’s ever watched and episode of 30 Rock, Parks & Rec, The US Office or Community.

In short, pretty much the perfect date movie, and will have you smiling like a goon on your way out of the cinema. Unless, of course, you’re single… In which case this movie will inspire hope that one day you too will find your Segel or Blunt.

Rory Cashin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Five-Year Engagement is released on 22nd June 2012

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuDpU1vzekE

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