REVIEW: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

1 07 2018

In 2016, a short film called “Sunspring” used AI technology to produce a script based on predictive text. The result is something borderline nonsensical, containing words and phrases but little in the way of logic or cohesion. Give the algorithm time, and it will probably catch up with what made it into the screenplay for “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” (And I can imagine the computer is probably cheaper than Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow’s salary.)

All the outlines and contours of a studio action movie are present, yet the finer details requiring an artistic touch are not. Dialogue has no punch or flavor, usually just serving to advance plot and fill air before a big action moment. Trevorrow’s direction of the first film in this new series no doubt paid great reverence to maestro Steven Spielberg. J.A. Bayona, taking over the helm for the sequel, does not so much imitate the franchise’s originator as he forcefully repeats all his hallmarks ad nauseam. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is Spielbergian in the way that a luxury car commercial is a James Bond movie; it’s a distillation of filmmaking panache into a handful of easily recognizable clichés.

Acting feels like sleepwalking, particularly from leads Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt. The surrogate parenting undertaken by the two characters in 2015’s “Jurassic World” means that their relationship was mostly mediated through those youngsters, neither of which appear in this sequel. When Claire and Owen (whose names I had to look up on IMDb in order to write this review) finally reunite, there’s not a drop of urgency or a whiff of stakes to the encounter. Try as they might, none of the countless new random supporting characters with scant development can ever ignite the spark between them on screen. Their Han-Leia style sexual tension sputters every time it starts.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” at least has decent spectacle to justify the film’s existence, the credit for which must go to the visual effects artists who continue to set new standards for realism with each new installment. Bayona makes good use of a different setting away from the island, a palatial estate where villainous Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) intends to auction off dinosaurs to the highest black market bidder. He gets one good bit of explanatory dialogue about how his plan actually serves the greater cause of species conservation, although it’s too bad it couldn’t have approximated more of the truly riveting ethical quandaries explored in last year’s poaching documentary “Trophy.”

The real problem, though, is that no one inside the mansion makes the film anything interesting to watch. It’s a $200 million advertisement for the theme park, bait for customers paying $15 for a ticket to eventually pay hundreds for an immersive brand experience. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” like many blockbusters of its ilk, are getting lazier and more brazen in touting how the movie is little more than a flashy centerpiece for a larger branding campaign. The result is that we are now living a truly confounding time where a film like this can open to a whopping $150 million … and somehow not even leave the smallest footprint on popular culture. C /

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REVIEW: The Artist

9 01 2012

There’s more than just silence that makes “The Artist” a magical throwback to a bygone era.  Writer and director Michel Hazanavicius uses an old style to capture an old-fashioned mood of narrative simplicity and purity, and he executes it with such grace and elegance that it becomes absolutely irresistible.  However much ice your heart may have accumulated over the year, this movie is bound to – at least in a few moments if not in its entirety – melt some layers and make you feel moved like your grandparents did before the talkies came around.

If the sheer bliss of being transported back to a simpler era like Owen Wilson in “Midnight in Paris” (minus the reality check at the end) doesn’t get you, then the sheer charm of the movie is bound to make you weak at the knees.  Between the wonderfully emotional story, the jaunty score by Ludovic Bource, and the magnetic and charismatic performances of the lead actors, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, the undeniable heart of the movie will register with you on some deep, emotional level at least in fleeting moments.  For me, the “Waltz for Peppy” sequence is one of the most beautiful, touching scenes committed to film in recent memory, ranking in the pantheon with the postcards scene from “Benjamin Button” and the wedding sequence from “Up in the Air.”

You can’t refute the passionate love behind crafting “The Artist;” however, you may be able to resist falling passionately in love with it.  The movie’s simplicity and breeziness, while a main component in making sure the film’s silent strategy works, also leaves a bit of longing for something more.  While there are moments where Hazanavicius exhibits a Charlie Kaufman-esque flair for the meta, overall, the movie lacks a great spark of originality in its plot.  At times, it settles for clever homages to movies like “Singing in the Rain” and loving winks to classics like “Vertigo” where it could have forged its own trail.

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