JURASSIC WORLD*** Blockbustersaurus Rex


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WHY DO WE never learn? If you try to pen in herds of artificially grown pre-historic animals and show them off to thousands of trusting people, all in search of a bigger, better thrill, shit’s gonna happen.

And so it does in “Jurassic World” the enormously entertaining, thrillingly made re-boot (sort of) of Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic juggernaut. Spielberg didn’t direct this one, that was left to Colin Trevorrow who, like Spielberg made his first short movie when he was twelve. But, as the producer, all his trademark touches are there: For one thing, near the start of the movie we encounter a huge Easter Egg (that’s the term used to refer to an inside joke). Masses of Isla Nublar’s guests are in a Sea World type aquarium, gathered to see the feeding time of a vast aquatic dinosaur. He’s being fed a shark, which he gulps down on one mouthful. That’s Spielberg stating that “Jurassic World’s” going to eat up “Jaws” in one smooth gulp.

Beyond this insider joke, Trevorrow delivers Spielberg’s trademark ‘gentle ordinariness’. It’s summertime in suburbia and we meet Spielberg’s idea of the typical American family (i.e they’re White. Hispanics and people of color never really enter Spielberg’s world unless they’re noble slaves nobly struggling to unshackle their chains). We meet two young boys (Ty Simpkins from “Iron Man 3” and Nick Robinson) off to visit their spinster aunt, Claire (Bryce Dallas from “the Help”) who, lucky for them, just happens to run Jurassic World.

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Still located in Isla Nublar off the coast of Costa Rica (but really, Hawaii), it’s the theme park to end all theme parks.

This time, not content with cloning raptors and other dinosaurs, the sly, cunning head of gene sciences at JW (B.D Wong from Will Smith’s miss-hit, “Focus”) has concocted his own dinosaur, the Indominus Rex. It’s guaranteed to amp up both audience thrills and (more importantly), profits for the park. It’s a skyscraper-tall, brain-enhanced beast that’s part animal, part monster that, like the monster in “Predator” has learned to hide in plain sight.

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Part of the thrill of a movie like this is we’ve been trained to anticipate what’s going to come next. Young – unprotected- kids, vast crowds, a man-made monster and the arrogance of people thinking they’re in control of nature. At what point will all hell break loose? Or, respecting the science of the franchise, at what point will chaos descend?

And when it does descend, run!

Director Trevorrow (ably assisted by veteran Spielberg producer Frank Marshall of “Raiders…” and the other Indiana Jones movies, Patrick Crowley of the Bourne franchise movies and John Jashni of “Pacific Rim” ) skillfully reprises all those familiar tropes: the shuddering trees, the panicked animals, the thundering footsteps and the bellowing roars of approaching death and destruction.

People are eaten, cars and trucks tossed aside like toys, buildings bludgeoned and profits shattered as the Indominus Rex runs amok.

And against this background of noisy destruction, there’s a gentler storyline about the sanctity of relationships. This is what links the multiple stories that play out, and lifts the movie to provide an (emotional) appeal beyond its obvious visceral thrills. The two young brothers bond in their flight to survive, hunky trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) wins the unlikely trust of four raptors, which proves to be a life saver, estranged sisters (Judy Greer from “Tomorrowland” is Claire’s sister) come together and the cold, all the business all the time, park manager, Claire finally warms to the muscular charms of her savior.

The muscular savior is Chris Pratt, who you may remember from the surprisingly good “Guardians of the Galaxy” (as well as “Parks and Recreation”) exudes the kind of relaxed warmth and sly wit that makes him much more endearingly charismatic than simply a badass with a big gun.

As his love interest, it’s great fun to observe the transformation of Claire in her unsullied all white power suit and her brusque corporate coldness strip off to rediscover beneath the make-up and the manicure, her buried humanity.

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What’s just barely buried though is the movie’s deeper environmental message: if a hubristic corporate world continues to think they can mess with and control nature for their own profit margins, think again.

That way lies only disaster.

Jurassic World; director: Colin Trevorrow; with Chris Pratt, Bryde Dallas, Ty Simpkins, Judy Greer, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan and Nick Robinson Dir of photography: John Schwartzman (“Saving Mr.Banks”); Production Director: Ed Verreaux (“Looper”);

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SPY***. May the farce be with you


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SPY IS A pleasant enough diversion, with a few smiles, a couple of laughs, and some clever digs at everything from movie-imagined spying to romance. Melissa McCarthy (as CIA Agent Susan Cooper) and her charming, deliberately understated accomplice in the story, Miranda Hart (Agent Nancy B) are to be celebrated for being at the forefront of this brave new expanding world of female comedians (after the glass ceiling was cracked by Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore and finally shattered by the likes of Sandra Bullock, Julia Dreyfuss, Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman) Melissa’s now well-known, quasi-branded take-no-shit, potty mouthed (she calls one ‘baddie’, “thundercunt”), tough-gal shtick is the driving force of the movie.

Director Paul Feig has had the good grace and wisdom to hang his often derivative spy spoof  (Ever since “Our Man Flint” we’ve been paying a high price for the pleasures of 007) around Melissa’s exuberantly charismatic comedic character and, understandably, around a theme of female empowerment. Indeed, the whole movie turns the tired convention upside down: it’s not about good guys against bad guys, but good girls against bad girls (usually the movie domaine of bitchy teenagers in High School).

The story centers around a frantic pelt around the world to find and stop the sale of a nuclear device. Key agents Bradley Fine (Jude Law) who is being controlled remotely by desk operative Agent Cooper as if he were some sort of human drone, and Agent Forde (Jason Stratham, brilliantly channelling his inner idiot) have been outed. So it’s up to those other by-passed, overlooked (because they’re women) Agents, Cooper and Nancy B to man-up.

As it were.

Once in the field, Cooper morphs from mousy Bridesmaid to Kick-Ass; stud-muffins Fine and Forde become mere background distractions; and nancy B lands her first kill. She also lands 50 Cent. Yes, that 50 Cent, who does as convincing a comedic turn as Jude and Jason. Rose Byrne (“The Place Beyond the Pines”) is the femme fatale who, despite an on-going gag about her extravagantly coiffured hair, is the movie’s weakest link. She seems to have wandered in from some other (much more serious) movie. Or maybe she’s just having a bad hair film.

“Spy” just manages (by a whisker) to edge away from being just another cynical, blockbuster, money-making “vehicle”. Director Feig sticks to the kind of physical, slapstick comedy that I guess plays better globally (where the nuance of sharp writing can well be lost in translation). And having had massive successes with his past few outings (“The Heat”, “Bridesmaids”, “The Office”) has clearly been handed an (almost) blank cheque.

This is a slick, glossy, expensively made movie (for about $65M; with a gross so far in the US of about $45M) that at times comes so creepily close to some of the ‘straight’ spy films (Mission Impossible and Bond) that it makes you appreciate just how close to farce the entire genre is.

And it is this element of farce that, I think, Guy Ritchie brings in his up-coming release of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E”

Can’t wait

SAN ANDREAS** Rock. And roll.


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ONE OF THE reasons “Titanic” did so well at both box office and award ceremonies is that director James Cameron managed to find the magic touch. He combined edge of the seat disaster-movie action with a wonderful, brilliantly acted love story that movingly illustrated the pernicious class divisions of the time. The movie has endured. Don’t look for anything like this in “San Andreas”. What Director Brad Peyton (who worked with Dwayne Johnson before in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) offers us is pure, cholesterol clogging, artery fattening, energy sapping, deliciously tasting, finger licking cinematic junk food.

It does what it says on the can: it’s an old fashioned, Towering Inferno, Poseidon Adventure-esque disaster movie without too much fluff about character development and, ahem, thinking, to bog things down.

And from that first moment when the earth shudders, and a pretty young thing gets trapped in her car, perilously perched halfway down a limitlessly deep gorge, the breathtaking action does not stop. Buildings fall, the earth heaves like a breathing beast, bridges sway and tip over sending traffic jams of cars into swirling rivers, fires rip through skyscrapers lighting up the skies, fleeing, panicked pedestrians are flung into steaming fissures or pummelled by mountainous slabs of falling concrete and a huge ocean liner propelled by the mother of all tsunamis, rockets into the crumbling city

And that’s just the first ten minutes.

At a time like this, who you gonna call?

Dwayne, the Rock, Johnson.

Dwayne, much, much larger than life is Chief Raymond –Ray- Gaines, an LA Fire department helicopter rescue pilot, whose private life (oh so cleverly… so you don’t need too much explanation) channels that of John McLane (that other hero from “Die Hard”): divorced, still with a flame for the ex and with a young, hot resourceful daughter (Alexandra Daddario of “True Detective” and “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters”) in danger (naturally) and falling for a nerdy but steadfast love interest, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt). Coincidentally Ben’s smart-talking younger brother is Art Parkinson, aka Rickon Stark of “Game of Thrones”

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Captain Ray must get to where his daughter is (trapped, as you’d expect) in a collapsing skyscraper that’s rapidly sinking beneath the pounding waves of that thunderous tsunami. And nothing stands in his way. By helicopter, light aircraft, parachute, boat and truck, he defies all that a malignant and vengeful, sundering San Andreas can throw at him. Screw San Andreas. Wasn’t his fault. The counterpart to this sleek, Hercules of a man is the short, fat, bespectacled Caltech professor, Lawrence (Paul Giamatti slumming it). The brain to Ray’s brawn. He’d warned them; he’d predicted it; they didn’t listen. He was right. And now, well, they’re all mainly dead. He’s probably looking at tenure.

At a time like this, as the real disaster movie of the world plays out in slow motion (a drying up LA, a spreading ISIS, a widening income gap, a growing refugee crisis, a saber rattling Putin, David Cameron) we need the catharsis of massive disaster that hits hard and is over with in a day (well, maybe not the Nepalese) … with a towering hero to come to the rescue.

And you’ve got to give credit to Dwayne Johnson. He only has two expressions (smiling and stoic). But no matter. His “trust me, I’m coming to rescue you” appeal is so extraordinary that this year alone, between this movie (so far, $300M in box office revenues and counting) and “Furious Seven” ($1.5B, yes billion), this man’s the most bankable movie star ever.

Forget real estate, forget the stock market, forget Clooney. Put your money on the Rock.