Toby Jones

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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The Snowman

 

25/10/17

Apart from the occasional exception, the name ‘Michael Fassbender’ attached to a film used to stand for a guarantee of some kind of quality (although, since Assassin’s Creed, he doesn’t seem to have put a foot right). Director Tomas Alfredsen did a fabulous job with Let the Right One In, and his Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy adaptation received a lot of acclaim (even if it did leave me feeling indifferent). Still, put the two men together on an adaptation of one of Jo Nesbo’s hugely successful scandi-noir thrillers and for good measure, bring in Soren Sveistrup (of The Killing) to co-write the screenplay, and you’ve got at least a chance of a winner, right?

Well, no, I’m afraid not. It’s hard to understand quite how The Snowman can have gone so spectacularly wrong, but wrong it undoubtedly goes, a two hour opus that actually feels more like four, so turgid is the storytelling. It doesn’t help that wonderful character actors like Toby Jones and Adrian Dunbar are reduced to standing around spouting bits of clunky exposition whilst looking vaguely embarrassed, or that the plot is so ridiculously convoluted it beggars belief. Most damning of all in a procedural is that the eventual unveiling of a killer seems designed to surprise absolutely no-one, since it’s evident from about half an hour in who that killer is going to be – simply because we are presented with no other possible suspects.

Harry Hole (Fassbender) is a washed-up detective, reduced to drinking himself insensible in children’s playgrounds, after a messy break-up from his partner, Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg), whom he still carries a torch for, and his teenage stepson, Oleg (Michael Yates). When new recruit Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) joins Harry’s team, the two of them work together to investigate a series of seemingly random killings, which are always marked by the presence of a snowman at the murder scene. This being Norway in the depths of winter, there are presumably an awful lot of snowmen about – and, when a character surmises that it’s probably falling snow that sets the killer off, it’s hard not to smile. The film occasionally flashes back to the events of nine years earlier in which another alcoholic detective, Rafto (Val Kilmer), stumbles around investigating a similar case – but the film is so clumsily edited, we’re not always sure what is past and what is present. Kilmer, by the way, is positively unreal. I get the impression that his efforts have been edited down to the bare minimum.

What else can I tell you? What might have generated suspense on the printed page doesn’t really work on film. The smiling snowmen featured throughout the story are no doubt intended to come across as sinister, but here they just cause unintended sniggers – and how is that Harry, a hopeless chain-smoking alcoholic, still manages to sport a six-pack that would make Charles Atlas suitably envious?

I hate to be so negative, so let me just say that those snowbound Norwegian landscapes do look ravishing – but frankly, that’s really not enough to recommend this farrago of a film. I doubt that it will please fans of the book and I’m sure it will leave most cinema-goers as baffled as I am.

1.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Atomic Blonde

 

 

22/08/17

All those idiots who perpetually bleat that there could never be a female James Bond might care to check this out. If there were any lingering doubts that Charlize Theron can convince as an ass-kicker after Mad Max: Fury Road, then this should dispel those notions completely. Here she plays MI6 agent, Louise Broughton, a kind of Jane Bond figure who apparently subsists on a diet of neat vodka-on-the-rocks and cigarettes, whilst rocking a series of 80s fashions and performing extreme chop socky moves to the strains of classic rock songs. (This is the second film this year to use Flock of Seagulls’ I Ran to excellent effect. Just sayin’).

It’s November 1989 and the Berlin Wall is about to take a permanent dive. Broughton is sent over to Berlin to team up with fellow agent, David Percival (James McAvoy), a man who presents such a dodgy persona, it’s a wonder he can find his own reflection in a mirror. Somebody – Code Name ‘Satchel’ – has procured a list of British agents and their nefarious dealings during the Cold War, a list so incendiary that it mustn’t be allowed to fall into enemy hands. Broughton’s job is to find the list (and hopefully Satchel) and bring them both back to Blighty. But it isn’t an easy task when she can’t trust anybody…

What this basically boils down to is an excuse for a series of bruising action sequences, in which Broughton takes down what seems like a whole army of men, using any weapons at her disposal – a stiletto heel, a frying pan, a bunch of keys – she’s not fussy, she’ll employ anything that comes to hand. The highlight here is a long fight scene on  a staircase. Shot in a continuous take, it sets the bar high for pain and punishment and there’s no doubt that director David Leitch, fresh off John Wick: Chapter Two, knows how to stage a convincing punch-up. I loved the fact that people don’t emerge from one of these skirmishes with a polite spot of blood at the side of their mouth, as we so often witness in this kind of film – no, we regularly see Broughton’s bruised and swollen face and limbs and we quite understand her habit of taking occasional ice baths.

Rather less successful, however, is the plot, which is so labyrinthine as to defy all understanding. Virtually every character we meet is double-crossing somebody else or working for somebody else or pretending to be somebody else. By the conclusion, I thought I had a handle on most of it but I wouldn’t want to testify to it in court – or indeed, in the kind of rigorous debriefing that is used as the framework for Atomic Blonde. There are excellent supporting roles from the likes of Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan and John Goodman, as various men in suits, but this is undeniably a showcase for Theron’s star power and she makes the most of it.

A simpler plot would certainly have made this a better film, overall, but action junkies will love the fights and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find them thrilling. If Leitch can marry those superior action chops to a simpler, more convincing storyline, who knows what might be achieved? Here, he manages to win on points rather than achieving a knockout blow. But it’s certainly worth the price of a ringside seat.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney