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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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Released: 6th June 2018

Directed By: J.A Bayona

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum, Rafe Spall

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Though it made huge bank upon its initial release back in the summer of 1997, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who truly enjoys The Lost World: Jurassic Park. In fact, if you can find someone who remembers anything about its plot beyond the memorable trailer-over-a-cliff sequence, you’ll probably be as close as you’re likely to get to locating an actual fan. Simply put: Jurassic Park sequels set themselves up from the get-go as being crushing disappointments. Jurassic World III felt like its franchise’s own direct-to-video rip-off at times, Jurassic World (the best sequel by a mile) was more of a retread/reboot than anything else, and now that movie (regarded generally as the start of its own “second trilogy”) has a follow-up of it’s own, and, relax, it’s way way better than The Lost World. Not light years better, but enough that you’ll at least remember it.

With Colin Trevorrow having absconded to not make Star Wars movies, A Monster Calls director J.A. Bayona steps in as the series fourth helmer to bring a much-needed sense of gothic horror to festivities – the story this time (co-written by Trevorrow) seeing a previously inactive volcano at the heart of Isla Nublar become decidedly active. Following her ordeal in the previous film, Claire Deering (a returning Bryce Dallas Howard) is quick to jump at the chance to liberate the island’s remaining dino-inhabitants and, with the aid of a team that includes ex-turned-love-interest-turned-ex-again Owen (Chris Pratt), relocate them to a safer and more isolated new home. But it’s Jurassic Park, and nothing ever quite goes to plan in Crichtonworld, so – when it’s revealed that their rescue mission has in fact been a smoke screen to cover up a far more sinister agenda – its down to Owen and Claire to save the dinos from extinction once more… but at what cost?

It’s that latter question that quickly cements itself as the undeniable storytelling flaw of the entire Jurassic series to date at this point, simply that the franchise itself has become something of an almighty cliffhanging tease at this stage that refuses to ever truly indulge the wealth of cliffhangers it sets up as it goes. Remember the Pteranodons at the close of Jurassic Park III and how we never saw what became of their journey toward the world of man? Or how the entire world, at one stage, discovered the existence of re-animated dinosaurs by way of a T-Rex attack on San Francisco and the sum total of that revelation became a ham-fisted plot point involving rebel parasailors?

Fallen Kingdom threatens on several occasions to offer up a number of subsequent consequences, and yet – bar Claire’s “Save the Dinos!” job (which, admittedly, makes little sense unless she’s only had it a for a fortnight) and a bewilderingly tiny appearance by Jeff Goldblum (who clearly needs to stop agreeing to sequels to his nineties movies – nobody needs a Ten Months) – there’s still no real sense of the “world” in Jurassic World. It’s the fifth in a row to simply confine the action as much as possible, despite endlessly grumbling on about the global ramifications of such creatures being up and walking around. Sure, this one switches locales for the back half, but it’s hardly doing so in plain sight – taking us from one isolated environment where consequences simply aren’t really a thing, to another more manmade one in which, weirdly, consequences again don’t seem to be a thing. Until you need a cliffhanger. Hell, Jura5ic even goes so far as to flesh out the backstory of a character dead for most of the series and even dangle the prospect of its science’s genuinely intriguing other applications before us.

Does it do anything with that last one? Nope. In fact, it’s so thinly sketched out that said story element involves the killing off of one of it’s four (FOUR!) human villains without even so much as bothering to mention it. It’s more a pretty reasonable assumption than anything else. Tack on a post-credits button this series has long established it’ll do next to nothing with, and it’s narratively and conceptually quite a dulcet and intelligence-shedding affair. So, why then is it still somehow as basically enjoyable as it is?

That can easily be put down to likeable casting, impeccable VFX, and a director eager to inject some horror back into the franchise on the whole. Firstly, Pratt’s got his deadpan goofball hero routine balanced like he’s Thanos tidying a shed, Howard’s traded the heels in for sneakers and survival boots, which – it turns out – makes all the difference in taking Claire seriously this time around, and there’s a pretty likeable pair of millennial sidekicks in Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda. Meanwhile, your crop of villains this time around include Rafe Spall’s take on Stock InGen Corporate Villain, Toby Jones’ take on Stock InGen Corporate Villain Lackey (both of whom reek of having been one shared character in an earlier draft, complete with a very, very specific hairpiece), Ted Levine’s game-hunting Ken Wheatley (whose name is shouted so often at one stage, you could be forgiven for thinking Trevorrow just really hated High Rise), and James Cromwell as the character you’re forced to settle for when Richard Attenborough’s no longer with us. All four could be pooled into a solitary pair of characters, but, to be fair, if you’re coming to the Jurassic series for the human characters, odds are you’ve not being paying attention to the series thus far. And, anyway, the good guys are played well enough that it just about works on balance.

As always, the dinos are the real stars. And though Fallen Kingdom Ubers in the entire roster to date, it’s another case of the writers trekking too far down the road of the “super dino” nonsense of the previous instalment’s Indominous Rex. The design works a lot better this time around, mercifully, and there are a few species we get to see more of than ever before (one, for PC reasons, is spared an abbreviation here). It’s perhaps not as seamless as the FX work on the 1993 series launcher – somehow few films still manage to be after a jaw-dropping twenty-five years of having been shown how – but it’s A-grade work all the same, with the FX behind the new dino-antagonist outwardly terrifying on more than a few occasions.

With Bayona at the helm though, terrifying’s clearly the watchword, with Fallen Kingdom perhaps the most bonafide scary of any instalment of the series full stop. The film’s initial volcanic set-up offers something of a mundane palette cleanser more than anything else, but it’s once Bayona’ film gets off the island that his sense of gothic and the desire to instil actual fear comes into play. Trevorrow’s screenplay lets him down on more than a few occasions, admittedly, but what works not only works, but works enough to massively overcompensate for shortcomings on the page to boot. Toss in another marvellous work by composer Michael Giachinno – who appears refreshingly adverse to incorporating the classic theme as often as you’d expect – and some striking visuals from Bayona alum Oscar Faura and what you’re left with is easily the most distinctive series venture since the original.

Jurassic fans will eat it up, but those who’ve always sat on the fence or had their quibbles will likely find more to struggle with here than ever before. Fallen Kingdom’s not quite as entrenched in the studio mentality of thinking they needn’t mess with a bankable but flawed formula as, say, the Transformers series has previously proven (all hopes on Bumblebee, eh?) but it’s still positioned too far on the side of safety to thoroughly explore the richness of its own concept. It’s fun, but could be infinitely more so; intriguing, but could be vastly more intelligent; it’s a ‘Part Two’ that seeks nothing more as regards franchise evolution than “let’s ditch the island”, but it’s basically enjoyable. It’s got your sexy leads, your on-point horror director, and the dinos you know and love, and its frankly how exciting you find those three that determines just how much you’ll enjoy the rest. Oh, and don’t leave before the end of the credits – nothing’ll ever come of it, as the series has long proven, but it’s still a great moment to finish on.

Keeper of Lola M. Bear. Film critic for Movie Marker, TalkRADIO, and others. Producer of podcasts. Skechers enthusiast and blazer aficionado. All opinions my own.

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Assassination Nation ★★★★

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Director: Sam Levinson

Stars: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse

Released: London Film Festival 2018

When Director, Sam Levinson started writing Assassination Nation over two years ago, he probably had no idea how shockingly relevant this dark comedy would be today. Written as his wife was about to give birth, he credits his fear of raising his child in an increasingly brutal country as the main inspiration behind this vivid satire, depicting the disastrous consequences of living online.

The city of Salem, Massachusetts is about to delve into chaos when a data hacker starts exposing highly porn-ified secrets of its population. Internet search history, digital photos and texts conversations are published. Political careers and marriages end. The hack reaches Salem’s high school whose principal is also targeted and forced to resign, despite claiming his innocence. In need of a scapegoat, the town’s authority (macho detective and police man) finds it in high school head girl, Lily (Odessa Young), whose affair with a married man,  just leaked. Lily and her friends must face the town’s growing hysteria that quickly turns into a blood bath of sexism and brutality.

The film’s core storyline revolves around Lily, who with her friends make up the popular clique of Salem’s High School. The 1990’s had their mysterious virgin nymphs (“Virgin Suicide”) and the 2000s, their bullying princesses (“Mean Girl”) but in 2018, the popular girls are fun, clever and most of all, nasty. Born in a comfortable middle class family, Lily has good grades and a cheeky talent for drawing. What Lily and her friend lack is a reliable grown up figure to look up to. Surrounded by threatening boyfriends and denigrating parents, the only grown-up who pays her some attention is her principal but even he cannot completely give in when she makes a clever accusation of the sexism of internet and social media while defending her pornographic art work.

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There is thin line between victim and executioner in Assassination Nation and Levinson strategically jumps from teasing to threats as if one didn’t exist without the other. Levinson seems less interested in exposing the already well established outcomes of the digital age than exploring the hypocrisy and shaming young people, and particularly young woman, face on a daily basis.

Half way between  Little Red Riding Hood and Nikita, and far from victims, these girls fight back with whatever they are threaten with, usually guns but at times razors and even a shovel. Full of extreme close-ups, the camera is intrusive, and if this closeness can be difficult at first, it quickly helps creates a real connection with those girls.  Surrounded by obvious and familiar characters (naïve head cheerleader, immature boyfriend, cheating husband…), and lifted by invigorating performances by Hari Nef (Bex) and Odessa Young (Lily), these girls can only shine in authenticity and it is hard not to root for them.

Salem’s utter obliviousness takes final form in the slushy sipping little brother, revealed as the hacker. Youngest and quiet, he seemed like a harmless addition to the dinner table and yet could bring a nation to its knee. The warning signs were there, adults chose to ignore them. The film ends with a public letter to a certain president of a certain powerful nation and a feminist call to action against any form of violence and misogyny.

The film will most likely not affect every generation in the same way and will probably swing between anti-sexist fantasy revenge to painfully relevant. Yet there is nothing in this film that can’t be traced back to a recent newspaper headline or twitter feed, regrouped to create a bloody picture of the modern America, kids are made to grow up in.

“Don’t take your anger out on me, I just got here.”

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Beautiful Boy ★★★★

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Released: 18th January 2019

Directed By: Felix Van Groeningen

Starring: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

It was his tender infatuation with Armie Hammer’s sun-kissed research assistant, in the exquisite Italy-set romance Call Me By Your Name, which allowed Timothee Chalamet to emphatically march into many a cinema goer’s heart. Now he seems determined to shatter them in this affecting portrait of a young man torn apart by crystal meth addiction, based on the best-selling memoirs written by David and Nic Sheff.

Fusing the separate father and son perspectives into a singular vision. Felix Van Groenigen’s Beautiful Boy plays out like a slideshow of a photo album, leaping between various stages of Nic’s (Timothee Chalamet) upbringing in San Francisco, with the emotional pulse of the film quickening as his troubles deepen.

Applying significant strain on his relationship with his dad David (Steve Carell), who goes to remarkable lengths to garner a thorough understanding of this drug epidemic and how it tortures one’s self in both body and mind, whilst his son struggles to articulate his emotions. It only ripples throughout the family unit, slowly severing the ties with stepmother Karen (Maura Tierney) and Nic’s LA-based birth mom Vicki (Amy Ryan). Encompassing them all is a real air of desperation, as they look to salvage their home life and drag their eldest back from the brink.

Arguably intentional to mirror the often disorientating state of Nic. The narrative structure adopted by Van Groenigen allows heady highs of intimacy and unflinching honesty, making continuous leaps within the time frame. Yet it does hamper the film’s early attempts to build emotional momentum, surprisingly leaving you distant as you look to engage in this family’s plight. The musical choices seem intent to compliment this approach too and whilst some are inspired in their beauty, there is the occasional song that creates a sense of intrusion.

A theme that is prominent throughout Beautiful Boy is the perception of control, established by Nic’s growing discontent towards David and Van Groenigen utilises this visually in its confined and open-aired spaces. One fine example being through an intense cafe exchange, as Nic laments the great expectations placed on him, with both figures captured at a lower angle to emphasise their descent into hopelessness. What becomes clear and almost tangible is Nic and David are both addicts in their own way, unable to break respective habits and methods in order to move forward.

The great comedian who for me has become superior in far more dramatic works. Steve Carell is quietly impressive as David, remaining remarkably centred as he’s driven down a road he never envisaged for his son. With such a sharp focus on the father/son dynamic, Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan are somewhat sidelined, but both provide moments of potent poignancy when called upon. Of course, the film truly belongs to a stunning Timothee Chalamet who is fearless in representing the true horror and heartbreak of such a debilitating condition.

Brimming with sensitivity in its handling of an admittedly brutal subject matter. Beautiful Boy is painstakingly brilliant in its sincerity and authenticity.

To quote the trailer. When Carell and Chalamet share the screen. It’s… everything.

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Movie Reviews

Bad Times at the El Royale ★★★★

Bad Times at the El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp.

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Director: Drew Goddard

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman

Released: 12th October 2018 (UK)

Bad Times at the El Royale has seemingly fallen foul of the particularly hectic October release schedule in the U.K. As Venom and A Star is Born dominate the box-office and with the London Film Festival in full swing, El Royale has not received the recognition it deserves.

Boasting an impressive cast, Bad Times at the El Royale follows seven strangers whose stories intertwine at the El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe. As each person’s agenda for being at the El Royale is revealed, tensions inevitably rises and the characters collide.

From the get-go, El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp. Director Drew Goddard, no stranger to managing madness following his debut A Cabin in the Woods, has crafted an immersive, intricately linked murder-mystery that feels like a grindhouse version of Cluedo. The violence is garish but necessary, the dialogue is short and snappy and the characters are most importantly, interesting. The hardest part of any film with so many moving parts, is making the audience actually bond with those involved. Goddard, who also wrote the screenplay, has nailed this – giving enough back-story for each, whilst holding enough back to keep us learning more.

Between Jeff Bridge’s bad-ass priest, Dakota Johnson’s kill-happy hippy and Chris Hemsworth’s dancing cult-leader, the wider cast have somehow managed to create a credible on-screen dynamic, despite the stark character contrasts. Cynthia Erivo’s soulful singer Darlene is the obvious standout and her interactions with Bridge’s Father Flynn provide some of the most film’s most satisfying scenes. Lewis Pullman’s unassuming concierge Miles is another strong performance deserving of a mention.

The film swaggers along accompanied by its killer soundtrack, which plays a crucial part in the films tonal change from chapter to chapter. It’s dark and violent, yet at times it’s engaging and even emotional. The sharp edits that mash-up the timeline don’t over-complicate the plot, but accentuate the frenzied feeling that Goddard is creating as we head towards the plot’s crescendo.

As expected there are some areas where a film with so much going on inevitably suffers. Jon Hamm’s Seymour is arguably the biggest victim of this, with his character perhaps not utilised as much as it could have been. The film also feels a little too fleshed out in parts, lingering on some of the less necessary aspects and leaving one or two plotlines unexplored as a result.

Bad Times at the El Royale really does feel like a Tarantino movie and that’s no mean feat, Goddard has taken his own style and applied tried and tested techniques to create a compelling, genuinely exciting movie and one that deserves to be enjoyed by a wider audience.

 

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