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Friday, June 22, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom



With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the Jurassic franchise jumps the Mosasaurus into full-on Terminator franchise territory: taking a tidy, elegant, initial idea - what if there was a theme park full of dinosaurs? - and sending it careening out of control to keep the billion-dollar money train rolling. It's true that the franchise had to evolve; Fallen Kingdom is the fifth time humans ventured to the doomed island Isla Nublar and were chased by the cloned dinosaurs that rule it. The previous film, Jurassic World, soft-rebooted the original trilogy to show the theme park John Hammond dreamed of fully operational before the dinos ran amok. Fallen Kingdom is the next step - making the title manifest by bringing the dinosaurs into the mainland at last. By the end, the planet (starting with America, naturally) threatens to become a Jurassic World, for better or worse.

The plot is simple: Isla Nublar suddenly has an active volcano about to blow and wipe out all of the dinosaurs. Despite the fact that InGen took all the embryos off the island and can make more dinosaurs, Congress debates whether the Jurassic World dinosaurs classify as an endangered species and warrant protection (their answer is no). Nonetheless, Bryce Dallas Howard, now a dinosaur protection crusader, is bamboozled by Evil Businessman to recruit Velociraptor whisperer Chris Pratt and return to the island to rescue Blue, the raptor he raised and taught to follow human commands. Blue is the last of her species, they argue - again forgetting they have the embryos and can create more Velociraptors for Pratt to train if need be. Still, they go back to the island and are immediately doublecrossed by the military guys who are secretly there to traffic the animals. 

The fact that Pratt, Howard, and their two assistants Justice Smith and Daniela Pineda, survive their ordeal on the island stretches believability to its snapping point - and that's saying something for a dinosaur movie. The four manage to elude certain death many times over from a dinosaur stampede as volcanic fire rains from above and then miraculously don't drown despite dinosaurs plummeting into the ocean all around them. Their escape from the island is so frantic and impossible, it's simply not believable. This is followed by sea travel so ridiculous that it makes the travel in Game of Thrones look reasonable: Isla Nublar is 100 miles from Costa Rica. The Lockwood Mansion, where the second half of the film takes place, is in the Pacific Northwest. You cannot travel from one to the other by ship overnight - unless you're in Jurassic World

Regardless, the latter portion of Fallen Kingdom takes place entirely in a gloomy gothic mansion complete with a Museum of Natural History-like dinosaur gallery. This madhouse also has a sub-basement containing a secret genetics lab, a dinosaur holding facility, and even an auction era - apparently all built without the knowledge of sickly billionaire James Cromwell, who we learn was the best friend and business partner of the late John Hammond. Despite already being established as expendable and the targets of attempted murder, for no good reason other than the movie needs them alive to be its heroes, Pratt and Howard are inexplicably kept alive by the mercenaries.

Meanwhile, Evil Businessman auctions off the dinosaurs captured from Isla Nublar and then unveils Fallen Kingdom's newest Big Bad: the Indoraptor, a hybrid dinosaur which will be the lynchpin of a ridiculous plot to sell Indoraptors to be used as military-grade weapons (because "Indoraptors can take commands better than human soldiers"). Of course, the Indoraptor escapes and massacres everyone except Pratt, Howard, and their friends, who can miraculously outwit it. There's also the revelation that dinosaurs aren't the only thing InGen has the power to clone - Fallen Kingdom introduces the concept that perfect human clones are a thing in the Jurassic universe. Repeat: PERFECT HUMAN CLONES exist and no one bats an eye about this. But Emperor Palpatine will be pleased; he can summon a Clone Army to fight the dinosaurs.

As Jeff Goldblum (largely wasted in a mere walk on) warns, humans are irresponsible, will be the cause of our own demise, and boy, do we deserve it. As such, Fallen Kingdom - while containing a few thrilling and outright terrifying sequences well-directed by J.A. Bayona - boasts an illogical and nonsensical script by franchise architects Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connelly that eschews wonder and heart. Instead it is a deeply cynical and violent exercise in stretching a franchise out while condeming human beings for being the worst creatures on Earth. It makes abundantly clear humans are the villains, populating the film with ruthless, greedy businessmen, international arms dealers looking to weaponize dinosaurs, and paramilitary animal traffickers who have no qualms about leaving the film's heroes to die horrifically on an island about to be destroyed by an erupting volcano. Wheras the previous films feasted on humans being eaten by dinosaurs (they usually deserved it), Fallen Kingdom is the first Jurassic film to show humans murdering other humans in cold blood. 

Ostensibly, Fallen Kingdom is about empathy for the dinosaurs - there are two shots of dinosaurs crying and the most heartwrenching moment if the film is being forced to watch a Brachiosaurus left behind on the island to be consumed by volcanic fire - but virtually none for humans. The final act of the film makes the choice to let the dinosaurs live and allow them to run freely into the world - an errand of mercy for the dinos that nonetheless will condemn countless people and other animals wholly unprepared for a T-rex or a Velociraptor to suddenly storm their neighborhoods to horrific deaths. Fallen Kingdom likes dinosaurs but hates humans. Maybe it has a point, but it's a weird one for a billion-dollar movie dinosaur franchise to make - except that they've got to make another couple of billion, yo.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Hotel Artemis



Hotel Artemis is the cinematic equivalent of one of those distracted boyfriend memes that's been all over the Internet for the last couple of years. You know the one. Written and directed by Drew Pearce, Hotel Artemis posits an exclusive, members only secret Los Angeles hotel sanctuary for criminals run by the Nurse (Jodie Foster). It's a haven for bad guys who can't turn to traditional avenues for hospitality and medical care. 

However, outside the confines of the hotel is Los Angeles circa 2028 (a year before the events of the original Blade Runner; the universes are unrelated but the spirit is evoked). LA is in lockdown. The city is in the grips of a destructive riot as ordinary people take to the streets to protect the lack of clean drinking water. The City of Angels is a warzone. Helicopters are shot out of the sky by rocket launchers and explode into buildings as law enforcement struggles to contain the mob, These events, fleetingly glimpsed by news reports and by the film's main characters occasionally stepping outside the hotel, comes off as so much more compelling than what's actually going on in the Hotel Artemis. Hence. the distracted boyfriend meme, Hotel Artemis version:

Since we're mostly stuck in the hotel with criminals, albeit portrayed by some charismatic actors, you'd think the interactions between these bad guys with different agendas in such cramped quarters would be super interesting, but no, not really, though the actors try. Sterling K. Brown and Sofia Boutella are standouts; he just accidentally robbed the biggest crime boss in the city, Jeff Goldblum, and is trying to protect his dying brother from that very crime boss who's on his way to the hotel. Meanwhile, Boutella is a sexy international assassin here to kill Goldblum, but she runs afoul of a foul-mouthed skeevy arms dealer played by Charlie Day. Meanwhile, the Nurse tries to hold all this chaos together with the help of her loyal and good-hearted orderly Dave Bautista

A lot of scores are settled and there are revelations dropped about the Nurse's past and how it all ties into Goldblum, but it all feels undercooked and unearned. The third act, especially, should be taught in film schools, but as a cautionary tale since the reasons why the characters do just about anything they do are bewildering. Their actions feel more in service of the plot than anything that might actually benefit them from the way they're set up inititially - after all, they are criminals. There is bloody action and shootouts, but this isn't a visceral violent tour-de-force like John Wick either - though they try by giving Boutella a Daredevil-like hallway fight scene that she's fantastic in. Meanwhile, we're left wondering how the clean water riots turn out and the events that sparked them, all of which could have made for a hell of a lot more interesting a movie than Hotel Artemis turned out to be.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ocean's 8



Like the cubic zirconia duplicate of the $150-million Cartier diamond necklace Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) plots to heist, Gary Ross' Ocean's 8 is an imperfect copy of Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Trilogy. Debbie Ocean is the younger sister of Danny Ocean (George Clooney), who is believed to have died but she doesn't know for sure. Either way, Ocean's 8 spends a lot of its running time genuflecting at the feet of its predecessors, making it very clear that they're heisting in the spirit of Danny Ocean and his crew. "You would have loved it," Debbie swears to Danny's grave at the very end, and one can picture George Clooney's affable grin and agreeable nod, though what Danny Ocean was really thinking we never knew for sure. He'd probably react the same to Ocean's 8.

Debbie spent 5 years in prison masterminding a jewelry heist at the Met Gala (while making it clear their score is stealing from someone at the museum and not from the museum itself - though that turns out to be a lie). Once out of the clink, she immediately assembles roughly 70% of the crew that her big brother usually ran with: Cate Blanchett is her partner, Rihanna is their hacker and tech guru, Mindy Kaling is their forger, Sarah Paulson is their fence, Helena Bonham Carter is their accomplice, Awkwafina is their pickpocket, and Anne Hathaway is their unwitting mark, until she isn't. 

Hathaway blows everyone away and is the best thing in Ocean's 8; she delights as a wry parody of how people perceive celebrated movie star actresses (especially herself) behave, but she's also the only one with a character arc in the film. Blanchett, in the Brad Pitt sidekick role, does her best despite having to actual character to play; she even lacks Pitt's constant eating as a running gag. As for Debbie Ocean herself, Bullock is subdued, as if she's either keeping a private joke or stifling the urge to sneeze the entire time. Debbie Ocean's 8 lack the overall charm of Danny Ocean's Eleven (and Twelve and Thirteen), but the actresses' raw talents rise above what little there is for them to work with on the page.

Of course, Debbie is working a side hustle, just like big brother was. Danny's original Las Vegas score was also a plan to reunite with his estranged wife Tess (Julia Roberts). For Debbie, it's the opposite: she's out to frame and send her ex-boyfriend Richard Armitage to prison for ratting her out and sending her to the slammer for five years. Like Brad Pitt did to Clooney, Blanchett objects when she finds out, then goes along with it anyway.  What Ocean's 8 sorely lacks, however, is a villain of any sort, and Ross' film illustrates how vitally important Andy Garcia's malevolent casino owner Terry Benedict was to Ocean's Eleven. Without an opposing force that puts the Ocean crew at risk, Ocean's 8 essentially sails through its heist in a breeze. All of their plans go off without a hitch, they're never in any jeopardy whatsoever, and what little that does momentarily go wrong is covered up by Sandra Bullock yelling at someone in a foreign accent.

Overall, Ocean's 8 is entertaining enough but proves itself to be a fraction as good as Eleven or Thirteen (it probably ranks alongside the unmemorable Twelve). After each scoring eight figures in the end, even the rewards the ladies choose for themselves are boring: Hathaway decides to become a film director (why?), Blanchett buys a motorcycle, and Bullock takes a subway ride to Danny Ocean's tomb instead of buying a house in Lake Como, which is what big brother would do.