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.
Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)
Directed By: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer
Reviewed By: Dion Wyn
Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.
Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.
Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?
Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.
Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and untameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.
The Little Stranger ★★★★
Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.
Released: 21st September 2018
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill
Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland
Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.
Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.
From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.
The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.
The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain. This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.
Released: 19th October 2018
Directed By: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Marcello Fonte
Reviewed By: Rhys Handley
Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.
But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.
When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.
Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.
To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.
In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.
Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.
Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.
An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.
Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.
No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.
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