Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

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Roaring into cinemas comes the follow up to ‘Jurassic World’; which decimated competition with a dominating box office weekend and currently stands in the top 5 highest grossing movies ever. There’s no sure way to know if this will topple that but I can safely say that it’s a well and truly flogged horse that does little to break new ground.

3 years after the disastrous events at the Jurassic World theme park, an active volcano on the island threatens to wipe out the dinosaurs once again. Now part of a protective group, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is called to return to the scene and rescue the creatures, with the help of former raptor wrangler Owen (Chris Pratt). As the volcano reaches literal boiling point, it becomes clear another tactic hidden from the two of them is at play.

After the amazingly effective original from Steven Spielberg, it’s overwhelmingly clear that these new films have no real idea what to do with the dinosaurs and are throwing them at the screen with CGI aplenty and little to no engaging plot. The narrative strand of weaponising the beasties is picked up again and it tries to expand on that but doesn’t do a great job, the shift in setting is the only marked difference. This is another issue because as soon as the action moves off of Isla Nublar, I found the film to become dreary.

There are so many stupid character decisions made, which can be amusing and when it’s made by a bad guy you don’t mind but there’s also lots of eye rolling moments that happen, when a character we’re meant to root for is in need of an escape that was impossible before. Another problem, is I don’t feel there’s a character to care about, that is obviously a flaw and when intelligent raptor Blue is the only one I side with, that’s not great.

It’s not all doom though. An opening sequence harks back to the neat prehistoric chills from the 1993 movie. There is a nice threat from a looming dinosaur backed by atmospheric lightning flashes. This playing around with light is used quite a bit throughout the feature and is done well I must admit; even with a vaguely amusing Nosferatu-esque dino stalking its prey. I also liked a small claustrophobic scene based in a T-Rex cage, which provided both a shot of tension and a warming inclusion of animatronics. This film does also feel darker in tone to 2015’s outing and a trapped brachiosaurus was a heartbreaking sight that stood out.

One of the reasons I didn’t really connect to or care for the films’ characters is because headliner Chris Pratt is slowly beginning to grate on me. He’s everywhere almost and plays the same kind of roles which are smarmy, wise-cracking, macho heroes. Bryce Dallas Howard injects the film the emotional heart as we see her caring for the dinosaurs even after she helped create the monster problem three years prior. Somehow the script makes this the most boring I’ve ever seen Jeff Goldblum in anything, whilst he picks up an easy paycheck.

If you turn your mind off, then this is a perfectly acceptable and vaguely fun movie but it’s so dumb and loud that I found a lot of it testing my patience and only enjoyed small fractions of a blatant cash grab.

5.5/10

 

 

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Truth or Dare (2018)

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Let’s pay a game to see how stupidly we can squeeze horrors out of anything shall we? Truth or Dare, the typical drinking excuse to unearth dirt and see friends make out, is taken by Blumhouse Productions and made with no real oomph to keep us scared senseless.

Whilst on a Spring Break trip in Mexico, a group of friends enter some ruins and begin playing truth or dare. Unfortunately for them, one of their group has involved them in a life or death version, wherein each player needs to tell their truth or finish their dare to stay alive. As the teenagers start dying, the remaining numbers hope to work out how to end the game.

It’s never a good sign when the trailer alone for a horror film, makes you shudder with sighs and groans and the movie itself does nothing to make that just feel like bad promotion. There are insanely high levels of expositional chatter and cringe dialogue amongst a plot that is impressively dumb and progressively boring. It baffles me that a story so lacklustre, with characters so paper thin were brought to life by 4, yes 4 screenwriters.

Once the cursed game takes hold, the films first half rattles through each person’s turn so quickly that any hope of tension is dialled to zero. Then the second half seems to take an age to get anywhere and finally wrap up this lame, evil motive of a freed demon, with the mentality of a sadistic freshman. I honestly yawned so much and someone was asleep behind me, this film feels like it goes on for way too long and ends on a resolution so pathetic and it staggers belief why they didn’t just do something similar from the offset.

This whole idea of people who gain creepily elongated smiles and killer eyes is laughably bad. One of the characters mentions that they look like they were Snapchat filters and they do, in such a way that deletes any sense of scariness and makes the visual rather cheap. It further proves my thinking that bad horrors are so, because they rely on some identifying visual over narrative and fall back on jump scares; which this movie definitely depends on for numerous occasions. I don’t get why they didn’t have the actors, you know, act. It would have been far more disturbing seeing them perform in a manner where they suddenly switch and become imposing smiley freaks instead of the hokey stretched mouths.

Lucy Hale plays the central part of Olivia Barron, who is barren of any charisma. The character is pretty much a wet drip and a pushover who makes stupid choices as final girls often do, but Sidney Prescott or Laurie Strode she ain’t. Hale tries hard to keep some injection of interest in her role but it doesn’t quite work. Generally the entire cast are devoid of engagement because they’re playing characters that are mostly jerks or two-dimensional that I couldn’t root for them even if I tried.

‘Truth or Dare’ is an unintentional comedy laden horror, that feels long, uninspired and cheap on every level.

3/10

Downsizing (2018)

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A film about a huge idea has never felt so small and yet so long.

Earth is facing more climate change issues and the devastating toll of overpopulation sees Norwegian Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen (Rolf Lassgard) invent a procedure that shrinks humans to be inches tall. Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) sees this as a chance to live a better life with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), but she runs scared from the downsize and leaves Paul to look differently at his way of life, with this newly gained perspective.

This was a movie that initially had me very intrigued and excited. The trailers and Alexander Payne credit gave me good reason to see this as a neat and quirky release but upon seeing the film a few months later, I must say that’s it’s far from the kooky gem it could have been. There’s an unshakeable mundane quality to the storytelling and the majority of the movie left me switched off and yawning.

To its credit, this is a fun idea to play around with but the idea never really gets played around with that much. It’s within the set up and initial thirty or so minutes, that the visual humour of small scaled people with large props works well. Leisureland; a community especially designed for the downsized is a cool idea and all the notions around that are executed very well. It’s just a shame that the movie feels like a split from one half to the next and this shrinking set story from Payne and Jim Taylor becomes one devoid of comedy and stretched to uninteresting ends.

The main problem, I feel with this film, is that almost all the characters left me bored. I never connected to them or felt engaged by their progression. The way they talked was uninspired and certain actions made by some of the characters, between Paul and Vietnamese activist turned cleaner Ngoc felt truly out of place. This idea of a love blossoming like a big yellow rose didn’t ring true. I didn’t really see them as loving each other at all and a lot of the characters; Paul, Audrey, Dave, Dusan and others are cartoonish almost unbearable people, so to follow them for over two hours left me wanting the film to shrink away.

Matt Damon is meant to be a pathetic character and he does carry this constant feeling of uselessness to his role and then manages to turn just upon seeing this inspirational cleaner turn up after a drug fuelled party. It’s the mostly dull and pathetic moping to his character that becomes annoying; to emphasise my point I want to mention Oscar Isaac in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ who is a talented musician but a pathetic man who never gets anywhere, that is a film and performance where you still feel connected and engaged, Damon and ‘Downsizing’ are not. Kristen Wiig is made out to be a villain of the piece after ditching her husband but you never really know enough about her to care. Christoph Waltz is an actor I do like watching but recently he’s appeared in some bad films and that’s no exception here, he’s still going with the shtick he’s been pigeonholed into but with extra arrogance. The MVP of the whole movie is Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran who seems to be the only one with emotion and shows some connection to the film she’s acting in unlike everyone else.

It’s the sheer disappointment of what could have been, that lets down this movie massively. The premise has some good moments to start but becomes lost very quickly. I haven’t felt so unenthusiastic or uninterested for quite a while.

5/10

Allied (2016)

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Robert Zemeckis, Brad Pitt and even Marion Cotillard cannot save this film from falling short of the romantic sweeping wartime drama it aspires to be. There’s good performances and a vague sense of spy-like apprehension but on the whole this feels like a bland affair and you’d wish for more gusto.

After teaming up in Casablanca and working on an assassination, Max (Brad Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) fall for each other and marry in London. It’s only once settling down and keeping out of the war action that Max learns his love may not be who she says she is, throwing him back into action as he tries to find the truth.

Robert Zemeckis is and will always be a director with great films and fun visionary ideas to his name, his collection of movies spanning genres but with his latest outgoings espicially it seems that he’s foregoing interest of story for the shiny spectacle of how it looks. As in ‘The Walk’, any trepidation or unnerving sense of doom was lost because everything felt like a Chaplin adventure with extra sheen. This new release has a similar gloss that even makes the Blitz over London look like a page from a magazine.

It’s this way of heightening the scenery and not the story that lost me and took me right out of what could have been a grittier more engaging wartime drama. It’s like he tried stepping into the Hollywood glitz of ‘Casablanca’ but too hard and therefore it suffers. Steven Knight also comes under my general fire because his writing of the plot is lagging and no true suspense is offered, even some exchanges of dialogue sound forced or dumb earlier on in the film as they chat over tables in French Morocco.

There may be a slightly unexpected end and everything is shot or framed greatly but aside from this, some mildly memorable music and Cotillard trying to sustain the movie, everything begins cracking. Even the so-called hot chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard fizzles without trace, I never felt amazingly connected by their connection. Just in general I didn’t ever become interested or connected to the movie which is a shame considering the story and talent involved.

Everything just felt lacking and leads to a movie that from start to finish is empty of any gripping emotion or dramatic tension and toil. It’s a typical WW2 bait film throwing back to the Hollywoodland heyday that I almost wished I could throwback out of my memory.

5.5/10

American Pastoral (2016)

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Attempting to show the decline of happiness and that big ol’ American Dream ideal is this so-called crime drama which is dramatic in more than a few places but the crime aspect is sorely missed and overall it feels like a bland film.

Meeting at a reunion, Nathan (David Strathairn) is told about the crumbling life of high school star Swede aka Seymour (Ewan McGregor). Seymour has a beautiful wife in Dawn (Jennifer Connelly) and a daughter who may stutter but has a motivated attitude in life. It’s this that leads Merry (Dakota Fanning) to have possibly set off a bomb and killed someone and all Seymour wants is to know the truth and get his girl back.

It’s a directorial debut for Ewan McGregor and he does at least know how to capture that period style, the slow moving sense of building our view on the family to see the cracks appearing as more prominent and tragic but the entire subject matter of Lyndon B. Johnson era politics, protests and family failure seems to evade his management and he loses a grip on what could have been a more gripping story.

Everything does look right, costuming and locations put us in a believable time and espicially when we see Merry masked up and wandering through dingy homeless filled streets, that’s the nervous unfolding of drama I’d wished to have seen more often. The plot follows Seymour way too often, from glove factory boredom to odd hotel encounters whereas I’d rather witnessed Merry’s journey and what she did, it may have lost the mystery crime aspect but it could have lifted the interest of the picture.

The heartfelt and probable emotional ties I think this movie was going for never connected with me, I looked at my phone time a couple of times thanks to the tedious slow moving pace and I left feeling underwhelmed and unattached. Considering the real power and trauma I imagine America went through post Vietnam and people rising up against the government, I didn’t ever grasp that power in the movie, it felt too sentimental and the silly last scene at a cemetery did little to rid that notion.

McGregor brings a steady stern and a reliable frown as he tries uncovering where Merry is and what his daughter may have actually done but he’s never more than just a journeying father. Connelly seems left behind as she hopes to change herself after Merry leaves. Fanning delivers a convincing stutter but is also left with little to do as her character is left to be found by Seymour.

Nothing about this drama is special or different, like a paint by numbers book that you give up on after 1 page, not even Desplat on music or a trying McGregor can save this stodgy bore.

4/10

Haywire (2012)

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This thriller/action movie had me annoyingly disengaged for the majority of the run time. There is a genuine admiration to be had for the stunt work and actual fighting style used by MMA fighter Gina Carano, but apart from that I feel this was nowhere near as exciting or special as it could have been.

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is a former Marine and after retrieving a hostage in Barcelona she gets an assignment to Dublin from director Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). There she meets up with MI6 agent Paul (Michael Fassbender) and after a shady night she realises she’s being wrapped up into a conspiracy.

It’s a film that feels like it has so much potential, from the talents of director Steven Soderbergh to the impressive acting list including Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton, there’s the action grittiness that usually works so well and a story about embroilment and pointing the finger but it only comes across as…average.

It would be hard not to compare this film to the Paul Greengrass splendour of the Bourne 2 and 3. This one appears like a female version of Jason Bourne but sadly is never quite as impacting or interesting. The action is alright but the attempts at the murky world of intelligence shrouding a person in blame and mystery doesn’t ignite in the same way as the JB trilogy.

Soderbergh does a neat job in utilising blends of fast paced shots with black and white moments, he gives each new location a suitable amount of breathing time and he ensures that the focus sticks with capable Mallory, but it never felt like he was breaking out of the action thriller formula and aside from him doing well in casting an actual subject for his lead and giving the movie some sleekness, this for me felt like a blah picture.

I do commend the way we see Carano kick ass and flip off walls, the brutal elements as she takes down a succession of men is cool to see but it nearly gets blinded by the stupid choice to have Mallory and Aaron just kiss, the awful deer in car moment and a drained sense of colour and blur to most of the movie. Even David Holmes’ music at most points sounds like it comes from a 60s/70s TV show and doesn’t feel right.

There’s a neat ending which feels very right and helps the film…but it’s at the ending. I don’t know, you just never feel tense or you don’t get nervous for the main character because she just gets seen as a strong fighter and nothing else. Everything is almost to easy for her, I feel from the other reviews I’ve seen of this feature that I’m firmly on my lonesome in having this viewpoint on the film but I didn’t really like it.

 

Gina Carano isn’t much of an actress but she more than makes up for it with her display of real hand to hand combat. There’s a cold tenacity in her eye, a furious touch to her look that helps Mallory feel driven. Michael Fassbender is brooding, handsome and dangerous as Paul. Ewan McGregor doesn’t get to do much outside of the typical director cliche mould, his motive transparent and Michael Douglas also fails to get much to do to pique the interest.

I admit there’s a cool level of muscle and style to this action number, but the pace, music and been there done that plot made me switch off multiple times.

4.5/10

 

A Bigger Splash (2016)

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Like a holiday with your relatives when you’d rather be with your friends, this Italian set drama is unwanted and boring. It starts with some initial promise but winds down to a damp squib of a conclusion that leaves you with only pretty stars and prettier locations.

Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is a well-known glam musician on voice rest, living in Pantelleria with her partner Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), when they find out musical connection and former Lane flame Harry (Ralph Fiennes) is coming to visit with the surprise addition of his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson).

The opening with it’s very short burst of the Marianne character is funky and exciting, giving us enough to know who she was and/or is. Then we see sunny shots of an Italian island and flesh from openly passionate present day Marianne and boyfriend Paul. It’s enough to grasp a sense of who she and he is but only a tid-bit to entice us into the world of the film, sadly that’s the only engaging factor as after…well perhaps half an hour, the film begins losing any appeal and I couldn’t care less for the characters or story developments.

Luca Guadagnino reunites with Swinton after the 2009 movie ‘I Am Love’, and though Swinton is an undeniable muse and fascinating talent, this movie is a meandering strange look into an empty vessel. The directing is smooth and edgy at times what with the whip pans or the decision to jolt zoom into objects but aside from these sparse stylistic choices this movie suffers from a zzz inducing quality. It’s the first film I’ve seen in the comfortable and quaint Picturehouse cinema of Norwich that didn’t embrace me or lose me into the film at any point. I felt like I was in that unusually warm screen the entire time, wishing I was in Italy or at home not watching the slow plot unfold.

Even Yorick Le Saux’s beautiful European cinematography couldn’t stir me from the unyielding tiredness I had with this film. I’m not being that harsh either, it’s just a movie that suffers with lengthy nothingness and by the arrival of the third act where you’d hope for more of a thrilling touch in the suspense of this detective mystery…there’s none whatsoever. It’s also blisteringly predictable in what the characters are going to do and I made sure I hadn’t watched a trailer or read up on the film beforehand, so being boring and unsurprising really made me get on the wrong side of this supposedly labelled erotic thriller.

Tilda Swinton draws a short straw in being a great and striking cinematic presence but playing a dreary glam rock-star who can’t even speak for the majority of the narrative. She still presents herself well and has a magnetic physicality but it’s not the performance you’d expect. Matthias Schoenaerts has the most human qualities and plays the damaged former rehab tainted soul with enough charisma to get by. Dakota Johnson at least captivates with more sexuality and believability than as her turn playing Anastasia Steele, but she’s not wholly likeable, she’s distant as a character and the whole reveal of who Penelope is comes at such a late stage it begs belief to why they even bothered. Ralph Fiennes is the only saving grace I can find with this movie. He musters up a fantastically humorous dose of energy as the irritatingly talkative and lively Harry. The way he rocks out to a Rolling Stones track made me smile and gives most of the points to the film.

After a promise of something disrupting and possibly tense, the film fizzles into nothing all the way through when it could have been much more. Apart from Fiennes and a sun-baked backdrop, this film appears like a pointless flick through your relative’s dismal holiday photo album.

4/10