movie reviews July 2018

 

hereditarybeastjurassic world: fallen kingdom

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

  Visit the Reel Reviews ArchivesVisit the Video/DVD Reviews



For more reviews,
go to

iloveblackmovies.com

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Reviewed by Mike Ireland

With Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom, the fifth film in the series and the middle chapter of the reboot trilogy begun in 2015 with Jurassic World, the franchise has achieved a milestone — of sorts. Dropped into a story that's little more than a series of set pieces cobbled together with recycled plot contrivances and stock characters, the computer-generated dinosaurs, which generated such awe and terror 25 years ago, have finally been rendered boring, merely a requisite threat that could have been replaced by Transformers or zombies, for all it would affect the repetitious action beats of spot, scream, and run.

As the film opens, the dinosaurs left roaming the theme park three years ago are now the center of a worldwide ethical debate due to the eminent eruption of the island's volcano: Should they be saved or allowed to return to extinction? It's an interesting philosophical dilemma. In congressional hearings, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Jurassic Park’s resident chaos theorist and Greek chorus, not surprisingly, recommends leaving nature to its own devices, an opinion which the US government very surprisingly chooses to follow.

Screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connoly, two of the writers of Jurassic World, which Trevorrow also directed, are less concerned with philosophy, however, than with finding a rationale for getting folks back on that island again, face-to-snout with the colossal carnivores.

Enter Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former park manager but now head of the desultorily titled Dinosaur Protection Group, to lead a covert mission to transport the dinosaurs to a new sanctuary island funded by philanthropist billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) For reasons only vaguely explained, velociraptor-whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is critical to the operation, too.

Ignoring good sense and the overwhelming evidence of four previous disastrous visits, a boat-load of adventure film types materialize, including a tough, tattooed female dinosaur vet (Daniela Pineda); an Urkel-syle IT nerd and dinophobe (Justice Smith); and Ted Levine, having a ball chewing the scenery as Ken Wheatley, the quintessential amoral white mercenary leading a crew of burly paramilitary henchmen (read: dino-fodder).

That the mission devolves into chaos, double-crosses, and a volcanic eruption comes as no surprise. What does surprise is how little suspense all of this manages to generate. Spanish director J.A. Bayona, who crafted such atmospheric thrills with The Orphanage, rushes through his cliffhangers so quickly that the impending dangers barely register. One scene, however, lingers: as the rescue boats depart, the head and elongated neck of an Apatosaurus left behind rises above the lava and smoke that engulf it, its bleats and bellows echoing across the water.

Having barreled through what took their predecessors an entire film to unfold, the filmmakers abruptly shift locale and tone from doomed island expedition to gothic mystery by way of James Bond.

Enter Toby Jones as Bondian-styled baddie Gunnar Eversol, who intends to auction off the dinosaurs — including a genetically weaponized super-dino called the Indoraptor — from a preposterous secret lab in the basement of Lockwood's mansion to an assemblage of international kingpins straight out of Goldfinger.

There's yet another precocious child throwing a spanner in the works and more talk about what John Hammond, the OG dinosaur cloner, would have wanted. Pratt and Howard strain, once again, to generate the least bit of chemistry. And it becomes apparent quickly how little awe and terror are generated by images of dinosaurs confined to titanium cages or attempting to rampage through narrow hallways.

Near the end, however, another moment suggests what could have emerged had director Bayona not been saddled with such an unimaginative script. Scared silly at the sight of real dinosaurs, Lockwood's pre-teen granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) makes a beeline for her bedroom and burrows beneath the covers. As she peeks out, the shadow of the Indoraptor glides across the room's sheer curtains as it descends from the roof, and a large single talon clicks as it grasps at the tiny window latch.

Here, with no larger context, it's completely out of place. But in a different film, a film of more atmospheric, more mythic roots — a film more suited to Bayona's peculiar sensibility — it could be the stuff of nightmares. PG-13 Rating: 1.5 (Posted on 07/01/18)


Beast
Reviewed by Mike Ireland

As depicted by British writer-director Michael Pearce in his feature debut Beast, the Channel Island of Jersey is, despite its relatively small size, a locale of striking contrasts — its bleak rocky coastline and dense woods giving way to manicured golf courses and suburban housing developments. Against this dichotomy between the wild and the civilized, Pearce present a tad-too-familiar murder mystery that works best when it focuses on the barely buried ferocity of its main character.

Caught between two worlds is Moll Huntford (Jessie Buckley). Still notorious within her family's tony community for stabbing a bullying middle school schoolmate with a pair of scissors, Moll, now 27, lives at home under her mother's close and critical scrutiny, working as a bus tour guide and singing in the church choir, which her mother directs.

It's clear early on, that the long-simmering Moll is nearing a boiling point. She finds hairs sprouting from her throat and, upstaged at her own birthday party by her sister's pregnancy announcement, retreats to the kitchen where she crushes shards from a broken glass inside her closed fist.

So when rough outsider Pascal (Johnny Flynn) saves her from an attempted rape, it's not surprising that Moll falls for him. For a young woman exorcising a long-delayed rebellion, Pascal is a dream come true, representing, as he does, all that her family abhors (he works with his hands and wears jeans to a country club function!).

He's also the prime suspect in a series of child murders that is terrorizing the island. No worries; Moll lies to the police and says she was with him when the last little girl went missing.

Despite the TV news clips running in the background, lines of searchers walking open fields, and the occasional police interview, Pearce is not interested in crafting yet another British police procedural; he is interested in these two outsiders' identities, who they really are and whether one of them is a murderer.

After all, both have violent tendencies. The gun Pascal uses to run off Moll's assailant he also uses to poach rabbits, a skill to which he introduces her. And despite her tears at her first kill, we're well aware of Moll's unexpressed rage.

That the film's second half gets bogged down in soap-operatics and an ill-paced and heavy-handed resolution takes little away from the ferocity of Jessie Buckley's performance as the liberated Moll. Herself an image of striking contrasts — wild red tresses and willowy sundresses — Buckley takes Moll past any standard incarnations of middle-class teen rebellion. At times, she is positively feral. Chased from a funeral for one of the murdered girls, Moll finally turns on her harassers, two sizable men, and screams so long and with such anger and frustration that they stop in their tracks.

That is a beast you can't take your eyes off. (R ) Rating: 3 (Posted on 07/01/18)


Hereditary
Reviewed by Mike Ireland

Hereditary, the feature debut from writer-director Ari Aster, is a haunted house tale that ponders what exactly it is that haunts a house — or a household. With nods to horror milestones including Rosemary's Baby, Don't Look Now, The Exorcist, and more recently, The Witch, Aster presents an original and genuinely terrifying story of a family in crisis, suggesting that guilt and secrets (often one and the same) can destroy as surely as any evil spirit.

The film opens with the display of a newspaper obituary announcing the death of the elderly matriarch of the Graham family in the home of her daughter Annie Graham. Then, in a long take, the camera ushers us into that house, floating through an open window and gliding across an artist's studio toward a dollhouse-sized Craftsman with an open side revealing painstakingly detailed furnishings and miniature residents. The camera continues pushing in until an upstairs bedroom where a figure appears to sleep fills the screen. With a knock — and utterly seamless editing — the bedroom door swings open, and Annie's husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) enters the real bedroom to wake their teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) for his grandmother's funeral.

It's an impressive effect, bringing to mind the scene from The Shining in which the camera zooms in on a scale model of the Overlook Hotel's hedge maze until the figures of Wendy and Danny come into view at its center. The facsimile house is one of many constructed in meticulous detail by prominent artist Annie (Toni Collette), within which she has recreated, in a series of miniature tableaux, moments of grief and trauma from her past. Her art seems to serve as a way for her to unpack and control her experience, yet the opening juxtaposition of doll- and real house seem to place the Grahams, themselves, in the position of dolls, at the mercy and whims of an unknown artist.

Early on, despite the appearance of normalcy — the well-maintained Craftsman and middle-class lifestyle — something feels off about the Graham family. Returning from the funeral, rather than commiserate, members abruptly disperse, Annie to the sanctuary of her studio, Peter to his bedroom to smoke a bowl, and daughter Charlie (Millie Shapiro) to her room and the solace of her own art, a collection of dark scribblings and vaguely humanoid found-object sculptures.

It soon becomes apparent that the Graham's is a house of secrets. Among her mother's belongings, Annie is surprised to discover spiritualism texts and a final cryptic handwritten message from her mother. At school, awkward, blank-faced Charlie snips the head off a dead bird with scissors and quietly slips it into her pocket. Peter's more mundane secrets involve sneaking out to party with his friends. By contrast, relatively normal husband Steve seems distanced from the family simply by his obliviousness to what is going on around him.

As the signs of an occult influence accumulate (mediums and séances, shadows and spirits, sleepwalking and prophetic dreams), the resulting eruption of suppressed anger, resentment, and guilt within this household remains utterly human, yet poses as much a threat to the family as any supernatural force.

It is this balance between the recognizably human and the supernatural that raises Hereditary far above average horror movie fare. One almost feels that the supernatural element could be removed from the film, and a very strong dysfunctional family drama would remain. In large part, this is a testament to the power of Toni Collette's performance, which builds slowly and incrementally from grief to panic and to utter hysteria. Wolff and Shapiro, too, deliver performances that turn on emotions not articulated, but visible in a hurt glance or a slumped shoulder.

Like Annie with her rooms, director Aster asserts an assured, deliberate control over the proceedings, studiously avoiding the sort of jump-scares that litter most current horror, attending instead to a careful and constant ratcheting up of dread. And the cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski, like the plot, strikes a creepy balance between the realistic and the phantasmagorical through the skillful use of icy tones, shadows, and long, slow camera movements.

The result is powerful and upsetting. But be warned: Hereditary is not the sort of roller-coaster horror film that gives you a scream and a laugh, then lets you shrug it off. Aster's vision is brutal and likely to haunt you for days. (R) Rating: 4.5 (Posted on 07/01/18)

 



Beck Ireland can be contacted at beck.ireland@gmail.com
Mike Ireland can be contacted at mike.e.ireland@gmail.com


 

Click here to buy movie posters!
Click here to buy movie posters!