Bryce Dallas Howard

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

11/06/18

Another day, another instalment of a well-worn movie franchise.

I’ll be honest with you, when I first heard about this, I wasn’t overly inclined to bother with it. Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World (2015) was okay, but nothing in it instilled in me the appetite for another monster helping. But then I noticed, that this time out, the movie was to be directed by J A Bayona and my curiosity was aroused. I’ve admired his three previous offerings, all very different beasts – The Orphanage, The Impossible and A Monster Calls, exceptional films, every one. Could he possibly bring something new to the table?

Fallen Kingdom begins with news that the ex-theme park of Isla Nubla, now a dinosaur haven, is in big trouble. The island’s resident volcano has decided to blow its top and its saurian inhabitants appear to be doomed to extinction all over again. John Hammond’s former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) has devised a rescue mission, which means that eleven different species will be captured and shipped off to a new, safe haven. Lockwood is terminally ill so the organisation of this complex mission has been left to his young assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), a man we just know at a glance is not entirely trustworthy. Mills calls in Clare Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to help with the mission and she enlists former love interest, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, as affable as ever), to assist her. With a couple of young associates in tow, they head off to Isla Nubla. (The good news is that Clare actually remembers to pack some sensible footwear this time!) Once on the island, they quickly discover that the mission is nothing like as straightforward as they originally supposed…

All right, so the first third of the movie is beautifully filmed and there are some decent people-versus-lava scenes. The dinosaurs are state-of-the-art CGI and, though there’s nothing here to disgrace Stephen Spielberg’s game-changing original, neither is there very much in the way of surprises. Indeed, this first section is haunted by that most deadly of dinosaurs, the Nothingnewbeforeus. Isla Nubla goes up in smoke and I start to think that this is the fate that’s inevitably going to befall the franchise.

But then the action shifts to Benjamin Lockwood’s estate in California and the film instantly takes a big step up, heading in a different, and much more compelling direction. The idea here is that no matter how well intended an original idea is, there are ruthless people waiting in the wings, ready to step in and monetise it. In comes the ever-dependable Toby Jones as Gunnar Eversol, a smug and utterly repellant dino auctioneer. He’s there to sell off the ‘rescued’ creatures to the highest bidder. There’s also a new addition amongst the specimens, a hybrid dinosaur called the Indoraptor,  a super killing machine that’s just crying out to to be ‘weaponised.’

When the auction goes a bit haywire, Bayona ramps up the suspense to almost unbearable levels and, there are some scenes that ride very close to the wind in terms of the film’s 12A rating. Best of all, there’s a fabulous sequence where Lockwood’s granddaughter hides in her bedroom, as the Indoraptor resolutely makes its way towards her. Bayona uses shadows and music to create something both menacing and enchanting – like a dark Grimm’s fairy tale with the wolf replaced by the most terrifying creature imaginable. If the film had all been as good as this, we’d be talking a much higher star rating.

Still, against all the odds, Bayona has managed to imprint his own DNA into this over-familiar franchise and in so doing, has created his own hybrid beast. The concluding announcement of yet another new direction for the series seems suddenly a much more interesting proposition. If they can get Bayona to direct, I for one, am in.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Gold

04/02/17

We’re getting used to those Matthew McConaughey mega-performances. In Gold, he goes full Jake La Motta, transforming himself into an overweight, balding, snaggletoothed chain-smoking alcoholic and yes, it’s the kind of impressive tour de force we’ve come to expect from the man, who used to make a living taking his shirt off in Jennifer Aniston comedies; but you can’t help wondering why he’s gone to such extreme lengths when the character he plays is semi-fictional anyway.

In Gold, he plays Kenny Wells, a down-on-his-luck prospector who gambles everything on one last-ditch expedition after having a dream about striking gold in Indonesia. (Let’s face it, we’ve all had that dream!) He hooks up with geologist, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), a man who talks a good game and Wells raises the money to finance a trip to the Indonesian rain forest. Once there they pitch their tents and settle down to the wearisome task of drilling soil samples and having them assayed. For a long, long time, nothing happens, (unless you count Wells’ debilitating bout of malaria) but then they do find gold and almost before you can say ‘yippee’ the entire might of Wall Street is rushing in to get their hands on a piece of the action…

We’ve all seem films that are ‘based on a true story.’ This one is ‘inspired by real events’ and sure enough, a little searching on the internet pulls up the story of a man called David Walsh, who founded a tiny mining company called Bre-X in 1989. In the early 90’s he and one Michael Guzman discovered gold in Indonesia and generated billions of dollars off the back of it, before it was discovered that the whole thing was built on a lie. Gold alters some of the facts and shifts the events firmly into the 1980s (which if nothing else, does give the excuse for a cracking soundtrack) but the film is rather dominated by McConaughey, relegating most of his fellow-actors to the sidelines (including Bryce Dallas Howard as his long-suffering wife, Kay) and, rather like the star’s waistline, the film does get a bit lumpy towards the middle section.

A firmer hand in the editing suite would have helped to streamline proceedings, but this is nothing like as bad as some critics have suggested and here and there, the film does manage to fizz into life. Mind you, if you were looking for something to improve your opinion of the American financial system, this one isn’t for you. You’ll leave the cinema with the impression that every last person in the industry is a venal, money-grubbing back-stabbing piece of excrement.

Just sayin’.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Jurassic World

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19/07/15

In 1993, the release of Jurassic Park was a genuine game-changer. It was the first time that CGI had been convincingly used to create realistic-looking dinosaurs (rendering the pioneering stop-motion work of people like Ray Harryhausen obsolete virtually overnight.) It was directed by Steven Speilberg at the height of his powers and even if Michael Crichton’s source novel was just anther riff on one of his earlier ideas (Westworld), it nonetheless deserved to be the blockbuster it undoubtedly was. There were a couple of underwhelming sequels in the 90s that never really capitalised on the central premise and now here we are, more than twenty years later and Jurassic World has recently become the biggest grossing film in history.

I put off watching this one for quite a while, mostly because I suspected I’d be disappointed. But after all the furore about its earnings, I had to give it a shot. What becomes clear from the outset is that despite the care and effort that has been lavished on making those dinosaurs look absolutely real, no such effort has been made with the screenplay, which features so many ridiculous ideas, it’s hard to know quite where to start.

It’s twenty two years after the events of the first film and Jurassic World on Isla Nublar is now a successful theme park. Quite how the operators obtained the licence when so many of its previous visitors had been eaten by the exhibits is never mentioned. Let’s face it, in terms of safety records, this place makes Alton Towers look like a vicarage tea party. In a sort of amped-up version of Sea World, tourists flock to watch the antics of giant dinosaurs. Well, yes, who wouldn’t? But there’s a problem. Apparently, audiences are growing tired of seeing ‘ordinary dinosaurs.’ Yeah, like that would happen. With this in mind, the island’s boffins have been doing a bit of gene splicing and have come up with a bigger, louder, toothier creature called Indominus Rex, which they’re keeping in a secret enclosure on the island. Apparently, it occurred to nobody that this might not be the most sensible move ever.

Now we’re introduced to Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who operates in some kind of PR capacity at the park. Just to give her something more to worry about, she’s tasked with looking after her two cuddlesome nephews who are on holiday, escaping from their parent’s marital problems. You can’t help wondering how Claire ever got her job; she’s frankly useless at PR and even more useless at looking after kids, making one bad decision after another, each one seemingly intended to plunge her luckless nephews deeper and deeper into the brown stuff. It gets worse. The woman doesn’t even have the sense to take off her high heels when running from a dinosaur! Luckily, she has hunky Owen (Chris Pratt) to fall back on. He’s an animal expert who is currently training three velociraptors to work as a team – sort of like a Dino Whisperer. But he’s somewhat hampered by the ambitions of Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) a ruthless park contractor who is such a pantomime villain, he may as well have the word ‘dodgy’ tattooed on his forehead. Hoskins sees the velociraptors as potential military weapons and is clearly biding his time, waiting for the right moment to step in and take control of them.

That moment arrives when the Indominus Rex escapes (honestly, who saw that coming?) and starts gleefully chomping down on the tourists. It’s now up to Claire and Owen to sort out the situation…

Look, I get that Jurassic World is a family film, one that has to appeal to viewers from twelve to twelvety and I can’t really argue with the kind of success it’s enjoying, but honestly, how did this damp squib of a film become the runaway success of the year? There’s not an original idea in it, all the best sequences riffing on tropes that featured in the original. The lack of chemistry between Dallas Howard and Pratt is a real problem (a scene where they pause mid-carnage for a quick snog is rewarded with gales of laughter from the audience.) And perhaps most damning of all, there is no sense of peril here – remember the knockout scene in Jurassic Park where the kids were pursued into a kitchen by the velociraptors? You actually felt they could die in there. There’s nothing here to equal that – the two kids in this movie experience all kinds of dangers, but you never feel they’re being threatened by anything more lethal than a shedload of pixels. It’s by no means an awful film, it’s just a bit… meh.

I’m looking forward to the next one in the series, where Dallas Howard, Pratt and the entire board of Jurassic World end up in court, accused of causing the deaths of hundreds of innocent tourists. Now that would put a different spin on the franchise!

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney