Jurassic World

Movie poster
I read fair-to-good reviews of Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, but judging by the size of the audience for an early screening, tonight, I believe this will be a very popular film. The story takes place 22 years after the original Jurassic Park failed. Scientists have genetically engineered a new breed of dinosaur, when suddenly everything goes wrong.

The plot in this film is not unusual. Many films have creatures of science — Frankenstein, for instance — that become a danger to their creators. And in Jurassic World such drama is exploited on a monumental scale.

It is true that convincing, hyperrealistic, creepy reptiles render mere humans powerless in both films (Speilberg’ Jurassic Park and Trevorrow’s production); but the current film comes off as more consciously political than the first one.  Spielberg’s film evoked a sense of wonder, seen through the eyes of children and somewhat well-meaning scientists who underestimate their creations.

In the second film, however,  Spielberg’s “innocent wonder” is gone and dinosaurs and science have become merchandise for a resort. Trouble emerges in corporate complacency  embodied mainly in the executive manager of the resort, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and  a defense contractor with ulterior motives, Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio). The one sole voice of conscience (and sanity) is Chris Pratt’s character, Owen, who appears to be a veteran of military special forces, who humanizes the story. Telling more would set off a spoiler alert.

The Second Jurassic film is so different from the first that I believe many viewers won’t be disappointed, but there will be a striking difference between the two. The tremendous visuals and CGI dinosaurs (and their “acting”) is worth the price of admission. Get your tickets early!

Check it out: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0369610/


Aloha: Another Beach Movie without the Beach

film poster for Aloha
I loved the trailers for Cameron Crowe’s Aloha and I bought a ticket based on what I believed is a great cast. The tropical setting of Hawaii, military romances, and characters with ulterior motives are a romantic mix for this comic melodrama. Bradley Cooper plays a military contractor who returns to Honolulu for work, but he finds himself caught between a former lover and a new romance.

In the course of things, military secrets are revealed and Cooper is caught between following the military plan or exposing potential catastrophe. A sleaze vibe would have carried this subplot, like the one in American Hustle (you could admire and be annoyed with characters simultaneously), but such dynamics don’t surface in this film. The problem is that moral dilemmas emerge in predictable ways. The nice-guy Cooper, endears his audiences as he usually does, and even struggles with a torn conscience, but we never quite believe that he could be truly devious with every hair in place.

Other rolls by John Krazinski, Alec Baldwin and Bill Murray are small parts in the film that could add complexity, but they remain flat characters. Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone, however, ease into their rolls better than Cooper, although Stone has drawn criticism for playing a Hawaiian of Asian descent.

All said, when I saw the trailers, I wanted Aloha to be a great film. There are moments of suspense, passion, and drama that come off as entertaining; but compared to Cooper’s other films, like Silver Linings Playbook, and American Sniper, Aloha falls short. Better luck on the next one.

Check it out: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1243974/

Woman in Gold

During Hitler’s invasion across Europe, Nazi Soldiers looted the homes of Jewish families, many of whom either escaped their countries or went to the death camps. In some cases, losses included significant works of art. Ownership of these works was often falsified and after the war, they were appropriated as objects of war crimes.

Simon Curtis’s Woman in Gold is such a story about Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) who seeks to recover a painting of her Aunt Adele, by the well-known Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Because Altman’s ownership of the work has been erased, the painting finds its way into a national gallery in Vienna, where it becomes favored by Austrians as “their Mona Lisa.”

In 1998, Maria (who has re-established herself in Southern California) hires a young lawyer, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to represent her interests. Randol becomes an underdog character against the court system, while Mirren is an individual seeking not only a family treasure, but also the past she lost.

The film is carried by a web of cinematic jumps between the 1940s and 1998. One layer of the narrative is about bureaucracy, the legal system, the loss of identity and possessions that unfolds through courtroom drama. But within another layer is a personal story that unfolds through cycling flashbacks of Pre-Occupation Vienna, where the most gut-wrenching tragedy of the 1940s casts a shadow of irony over the cool-handed legal system Maria and Randol must navigate in the 1990s.

What does not unfold as intricately is the dense bureaucracy of the legal system, which is positioned here as a monolith of cruel nationalism, without its confusing and contradicting maze of loopholes. In this case, how does a painting of such importance migrate from its post-war recovery to the wall of a national gallery without the suggestion of an attempt to contact the rightful owner? Faced with this opposition, Altman and and Schoenberg slug their way through it all as melodramatic heroic characters often do.

If you know much about World War II and the history of the Holocaust, Woman in Gold will be a moving film — well crafted and well-acted, rich with historical detail; but the film is also predictable. It contains many lessons of struggle leading to social justice told in an ordinary way.


Check it out: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2404425/

Mad Max: Way Beyond Thunderdome (but in a good way)

Fantasy cars, kick up blazing sand in harsh desert heat to introduce George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. This film is a revival of earlier films: Mad Max (1979), with Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky. Two sequels followed: Mad Max 2, or Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, (1985).

In this dytopian narrative, Austrailan law and order has broken down after a massive energy crisis. Though cities continue to survive, motorcyle gangs become sources of terror; and in this film they are trouble makers on an monumental scale.

In Fury Road, Max (Tom Hardy), a man of few words, defends himself from the menacing Imortan Joe, whose principle female warrior, Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, has defected. She is rescuing other women that Joe has enslaved for bearing children. Eventually Furiosa is foregrounded as the leader against the villain, Joe.

In Fury Road,  women become warriors equal to, if not stronger than the male characters. Characters have dimension, but still remain enshrouded in the action on screen.

The set units for the film are actually the road vehicles. What was Max’s first car, the yellow Interceptor from the 1979 production, has evolved into fantasy vehicles that become battleships on wheels.

The special action effects are convincing, because computer generated effects are used only to enhance or alter real car crashes, explosions and other and amazing stunts.

This is not  romantic, comic-relief film, like Marvel productions. Any passion in the film is turned toward survival, as if violence brings redemption in a lawless time. Overall, casting and action they carry the film throughout.

If you are a plot-driven moviegoer looking for subtexts of romance and sacrifice, this film is not for you; but if you are looking for action, effects and battles for survival, then you should see this film.

Ex Machina — a Mind Game

A machine that thinks is a common trope in science fiction of artificial intelligence, but  what about machines that pretend? Alex Garland’s Ex Machina characterizes a robot in a way that avoids terror-ridden stereotypes of Terminators and Trons. He repositions mechanical individuals as driven by artificial Intelligence,  artificial empathy, deception, and even sexual ploys.

A young programmer is selected to visit a remote estate owned by a wealthy scientist to interact with with a form of artificial intelligence. Tension in the film unfolds as we find out what this form is. In a setting of glamorous surroundings the plot is driven by the subtlety of gestures, long camera shots of empty hallways, and more — all in convincing  drama that will leave you motionless.

For a futuristic film that fascinates and keeps you uncertain, you’ll have to go see it.


Check it out: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0470752/

Avengers: Age of Ultron

I got to the theater early to see Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and was immediately caught up in a crowd of enthusiastic fans. The reviews were promising and I was not disappointed.

The film is jammed with many layers of subplots, effects and enough superheroes to populate an athletic team, but they fit tightly into a matrix that holds together in one solid work. There were some nice surprises — moments where I didn’t recall that kind of twist in other films, even in 2D and 3D.

I saw the film in 2D projection on Thursday and then returned on Friday to see it in 3D on another night. Speaking for myself, I noticed a big difference between the two formats. On the 2D screen, all the complex action seemed challenging to keep up with, as though I were watching too many effects and one-liners through a window. The next night, however, the 3D format was easier to read, because it put my eye in the middle of the action. A number of effects make a tremendous difference. – objects hurled past me, superheroes flying around me, moving with the camera within a space.

It seem that the Johansson’s Natasha appeared closer to the foreground in this movie, along with more female characters.  The rivalry between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers still emerges, though it does not drive the plot as directly as in past Marvel films.

If you like the Marvel Comics productions and if you have seen the series of Marvel films that lead up to Age of Ultron, this film will not disappoint. And if Age of Ultron is your first of these films, you will be swept up in the action for a bit until the plot begins to coalesce. Either way, it would be a mistake to miss it.

Check it out: http://www.fandango.com/avengers:ageofultron2015_157897/movieoverview

The Water Diviner

Director Russell Crowe begins his film, The Water Diviner, after World War I, in 1919, with focus on the Battle of Gallipoli at the eclipse of the Ottoman Empire. Crowe plays the lead role, an Australian farmer Joshua Connor, who searches for his three sons who went missing in battle.

Under the surface of this narrative of postwar anguish, the film places viewers squarely in front of uneasy cultural instabilities through cinematic leaps across time and location. The complex plot emerges as more of a prism than a lens, bringing together many layers of narrative.

The film balances cultural uncertainty with rich with images of Persian, Byzantine Greek and Islamic cultures. These complexities appear in Connor’s Australian visuality, as he becomes father, outlaw, and peacemaker. All this is punctuated with the trope of Connor-as-diviner at important points of the film, and becomes a mystical guide.

The film is a reminder that WWI extended well beyond Western Europe, into cultural upheaval in the Near East and beyond. This film blends wartime heroism with political and cultural complexities, which will carry it to a wide audience without a preachy, sermonic tone. Indeed, The Water Diviner worth seeing twice.

Check it out:   http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3007512/

It Follows

David Robert Mitchell’s film It Follows takes place in a Detroit suburb built in the 70s and 80s that has lost its pristine manicure, leaving cracked concrete and weathered siding as a backdrop.

The smart tension in the film builds in layers. One layer is the teen life in summertime – sipping soda on the front lawn, sleepovers, trips to the beach, and even backseat sex. Curiously, no adults or or even extras appear. An occasional police cruiser signifies investigators at a crime scene, whom we never meet. Nonetheless, these ordinary characters and their rituals become unsettled when paranormal forces begin to “follow” individuals. Eventually all the teens are prisoners of this menace.

Some critics say this is a smart, and well-done horror film, and others say it has the feel of an art film. There is no orchestral score that crescendos to long screams of terror. Instead, silence is broken with well-placed and unexpected sounds and other effects, which evoke audible gasps from the audience. In one instance, camera shots place the viewer as voyeur of sex, undermined by the uneasy feeling that danger could leap into the frame at any moment.

For those who like the melodramatic style of vampires, millions of zombies, and special effects in haunted mansions, this is not the movie to see; but for those who like a fresh approach to psychological terror, go see this movie.

Check it out…

Another (good) Will Ferrell Movie

Saw Will Ferrell  and Kevin Hart in Get Hard . It’s Ferrell’s style of comedy, but in this film he plays a comic buffoon who comes off as a genuine, endearing figure that plays along side Hart’s persona of common sense. Together they create a likable camaraderie. Though other characters were largely under-developed as a backdrop to the “Ferrell and Hart show” in the limelight, I thought the film held together well. If you like Will Ferrell, then you’ll be pleased with this film.

Saw “Danny Collins” on Friday

After seeing the trailer for “Danny Collins” over several weeks, this film finally screened in Columbus. The reviews for this film varied with everything from praise to backhanded compliments, but after seeing the film, I believe this movie is worth a night out. It is exactly what it is billed to be, as a romantic comedy that pulls at heart strings and does it well. Characters and relationships unfold in sometimes rocky and unexpected ways built around the trope of a father (Al Pacino) estranged from his son (Bobby Cannavale). This relationship unfolds with some unexpected turns and keeps things moving.

The film shows — again — that the celebrity excesses of wealth and charity, even a Gull Wing Mercedes won’t buy happiness. Viewers who like redemption narratives, complete with all the bad habits, hang ups, and dysfunction that celebrities are stereotyped with, will see Pacino as a rogue pop music star — worn with time, cocaine, alcohol, and a fake tan.  If thats what you like, you won’t be disappointed. Check it out at the link below: