Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Ciné File Vol. 33

My film watching has dropped off recently hence the two week break, but I'm back now with a couple of new releases including 4* for the latest dinosaur epic Jurassic World, 3* for disaster movie San Andreas, and at the other end of the spectrum 1* for Pierce Brosnan's car-crash of a film, Survivor.

Plus, I'm loving the new American comedy Jane the Virgin enough to mention it: catch up with it if you can!

2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"A Foreign Service Officer in London tries to prevent a terrorist attack set to hit New York, but is forced to go on the run when she is framed for crimes she did not commit."


I loathe the thought of giving any film a lonely 1 star, but Survivor is just truly awful. Don't be fooled by the action packed trailer: it's 96 minutes of appalling acting, overused plot lines and lacklustre tension. It's the sort of film you'll have seen a thousand times before - but so, so much better than this - so don't waste your time (or your money) on this embarrassingly bad film.

* * * *
2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"Twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar now features a fully functioning dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, as originally envisioned by John Hammond. After 10 years of operation and visitor rates declining, in order to fulfill a corporate mandate, a new attraction is created to re-spark visitors' interest, which backfires horribly."

If the original trilogy made me want to be a palaeontologist when I grew up, then Jurassic World has confirmed that I need to abandon all current plans and start swotting up on dinosaurs once again.

Jurassic World picks up 22 years after John Hammond's (Richard Attenborough) visionary - yet fated - Jurassic Park fell apart with an escaped T-Rex, terrifying velociraptors chasing children round the kitchens and an island that descended into chaos as 65 million years of evolution drove the humans away. In the decades that followed scientists became so preoccupied with whether they could, no-one stopped to question whether they should, and now the park is open. Renamed 'Jurassic World' it's the dinosaur theme park of your dreams (definitely mine!), featuring exhibits such as a petting zoo where children can ride baby triceratops; the opportunity to canoe past herds of stegosaurus and direct a gyrosphere (basically giant hamster bowls) through the central valley of the park; and the mosasaurus exhibit which resembles SeaWorld, only this dinosaur is partial to great white sharks at feeding time... It's incredible, but according to park director Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) this isn't enough anymore - the visitors want more, hence the creation of the Indominous Rex a genetically engineered hybrid set to become the park's largest and most terrifying inhabitant. However, she's a highly intelligent creature and as the asset escapes and runs rampant on an island with 20,000 unsuspecting visitors Claire and velociraptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) fight to contain the dinosaur and ensure the safety of those on Isla Nublar...

Director Colin Trevorro had an almost impossible job following on from Steven Spielberg's 1993 epic, which proved to be a masterclass in tension, suspense and bringing dinosaurs to the big screen with a mixture of excellent animatronics and special effects. While the suspense isn't built anywhere near as successfully as Spielberg did (trembling water has never been used to greater effect) that's not really the point here. Jurassic Park questioned the viability of a dinosaur park and ultimately highlighted how it could never sensibly work, but here those sorts of problems have been overcome. The audience is fully aware of just how dangerous dinosaurs can be now, so the excitement comes from what we can do with them in the twenty-first century and there's something spine-tinglingly thrilling about a part theme park-part zoo that does everything Hammond envisaged but failed to do. It might be easy to compare the two films but the premise and aim of them is totally different. The suspense in Jurassic World comes from the impending doom and not the fear of the unknown - we now know something major will happen, it's just a matter of when not what.

The film wonderfully nods back to the original while creating truly interesting new moments. John Williams' iconic score added real wonder to scenes such as the initial image of the brachiosaurus coming into view for the first time in 1993, but here Michael Giacchino uses the iconic theme to breathtaking effect when seeing the actual park for the first time. It's a different kind of wonderment and grandeur but the effect is just as fantastic. Likewise with the dinosaurs: there's something really magical about seeing them on the big screen and while they can look a little too digitally animated and bordering on fake in certain scenes, they're still ridiculously impressive (and worth seeing in IMAX). Equally as brilliant is the park itself: Trevorrow perfectly encapsulates the child-like excitement of a park this size along with the normal annoyances of queuing for hours, VIP wristbands, overpriced gift shops and the demands of corporate sponsors. He uses product placement expertly, almost laughing at other blockbusters that are just as unsubtle by having Verizon sponsor the Indominous Rex and Samsung has its name above the fancy visitor's centre. This is the park we wanted, and it's here warts and all.

Earlier this year - and before he was chased off Twitter by trolls - Joss Whedon called out Jurassic World on its "70s era sexism", and while initially it read like a wholly unfair assessment based on a 2 minute trailer, it has to be said Whedon was right. The three women in the entire film are laughably stereotyped: there's the cold, unfeeling career woman; the weeping mother; and the preoccupied Bridezilla. It's extraordinarily frustrating, and when coupled with Chris Pratt's equally stereotyped hyper-masculine, board-short loving bro it makes for eye-rolling viewing. The Empire spoiler podcast on the film is well worth a listen, and critic Helen O'Hara suggests that swapping the two leads round (making Pratt the corporate robot and Howard the daring velociraptor trainer) would have instantly made the film more interesting, and I have to agree. Even with that in mind, though, the film is entertaining enough that these sorts of quibbles can be virtually forgiven.

At the end of the day, Jurassic World is wildly entertaining. It's practically overflowing with dinosaurs; has a loving relationship between two brothers who aren't overly irritating; contains good action scenes, moments of comedy and even a fleeting romance. Plus, the Indominous Rex is pretty scary indeed and for once a genuine villain in a series where the animals are never treated as such. Surely by now it's clear that opening a park of this kind is a bad idea, but if I'm being honest, I'd still endorse it.

* * *
2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"In the aftermath of a massive earthquake in California, a rescue-chopper pilot makes a dangerous journey across the state in order to rescue his daughter."

As far as disaster films go, San Andreas ticks all the boxes: there's an earthquake, a tsunami, a separated family, destroyed landmarks, large-scale destruction, nerdy academics trying not to scream "I told you so!" and nail-biting moments of heroism. In this respect, it's unfortunately nothing special, but while it's certainly not the best film of its kind available, it's still vaguely entertaining and thanks to the special effects packs a punch on the big screen.

Adverts in cinemas recently for San Andreas have featured Dwayne Johnson boasting about how remarkable and different this film will be compared to its similar predecessors, but it really is more of the same. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a seismology expert to work out exactly where the plot is going from the offset and sadly director Brad Peyton makes no effort to include anything to make it stand out from the crowd. However, the graphics are fantastic and really benefit from being seen on an enormous screen. In particular, shots of the Hoover Dam collapsing and a tsunami hurtling towards San Francisco Bay are extremely impressive, but that's where the excitement ends. San Andreas is natural disaster movie porn - so exactly what it says on the tin: expect to see buildings falling like dominoes, screaming helpless women (sigh) and cruise ships swept into areas of the city ships should never be found - and nothing else.

At the heart of the film is LAFD search and rescue helicopter pilot Ray's (Dwayne Johnson) desperate journey to find his daughter once the earthquake hits and disaster starts to unfold along the San Andreas fault. While it may drive the plot forward, it makes no sense at all! In his hour of need, when every available member of the emergency services is diverting from normal duties to aid the millions of civilians affected by the crisis, Ray decides to take his helicopter to firstly rescue his (soon-to-be) ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) from the roof of a collapsing building, before frantically journeying north to find their daughter (Alexandra Daddario) who's trapped in an underground parking garage in San Francisco. How on earth he managed to get away with this - and to avoid detection or scolding by his bosses over the radio - is beyond me, particularly as the suffering around him is on such a large scale and he's specifically trained to deal with it all! If he was off-duty at the time I could probably get on board with it, but he's clearly clocked on during the entirety of the film and just drops everything for his family, ignoring everything else around him with very few consequences. While this is an admirable quality it doesn't exactly translate into plausible behaviour, but I suppose if you're the Rock normal rules don't apply.

The characters have very little depth (clearly the bigger the special effects budget, the less time spent developing characters) but luckily the cast are largely charismatic enough to make up for it. Paul Giamatti does 'panicked professor who predicted the chaos' well, reigning in a smug, exasperated "you were warned!" performance and instead becoming overly emotional and spending the majority of his screen time hiding under tables. Obviously as this is a Hollywood blockbuster the two British characters are ridiculously overdone, but it's nice to finally discover where Rickon Stark has been hiding since the end of Series 3 of Game of Thrones... It seems a little unfair to pick apart characterisations in a film like this where the focus should clearly be locked on the effects, but it's very old-fashioned in the portrayal of the women. Ray's daughter Blake may be allowed moments of resourcefulness and strength but ultimately she (like her mother) is really only present to scream in horror and be rescued by the men. For all the film does positively for the character, it's undone in seconds as soon as the Rock sweeps into shot, which is such a shame.

If you want to watch Los Angeles collapse spectacularly then this is the film for you, just don't expect there to be any depth or original, interesting plots to accompany the destruction.

* * * *
Sky Movies // 2013 // DVD

"An uptight FBI Special Agent is paired with a foul-mouthed Boston cop to take down a ruthless drug lord."

Having recently seen Spy (twice) it seemed only appropriate to revisit the last time Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig teamed up with the hilarious buddy-cop comedy, The Heat. It gets funnier with each repeated viewing and the pairing of McCarthy and Sandra Bullock as the mismatched Boston cop and FBI Special Agent is just inspired.

I'm staring to think of Bridesmaids/The Heat/Spy as a sort of Cornetto trilogy: an endlessly watchable, unconnected trio of parodies of certain genres made with excellent ensemble casts. What's not to love?

* * *
Film4 // 2008 // DVD

"After being held captive in an Afghan cave, an industrialist creates a unique weaponized suit of armor to fight evil."

"I am Iron Man."

It's the birth of the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, and Jon Favreau does a stellar job of turning Tony Stark (and Robert Downey Jr.) into an absolute rockstar. Fantastic.

* * * *
E4 // Series 1 currently showing on Wednesdays, 9pm

"A young, devout woman discovers that she was accidentally artificially inseminated."

If - like me - you've had an Ugly Betty shaped hole in your heart since 2010 then look no further as Jane the Virgin is the programme you've been waiting for. Gina Rodriguez triumphed over television heavy-weights to take home the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy this year and I'm starting to see why: her performance as the accidentally artificially inseminated virgin Jane is endearing, sweet and charming. There's intrigue, romance and it consciously feels like a telenovela at times which is genius. I can't wait to see how the rest of the series unfolds!

So what have you seen over the last fortnight? Were you as impressed by Jurassic World as I was or do you think dinosaurs have had their day? Let me know in the comments below!

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