Sunday, 21 June 2015

Jurassic World (12A)

Seriously, what do you want from me? It's not like you're going to pay attention to what I say when there's a dinosaur on the loose-about.

It's not even like you don't know what's going to happen this time round - the whole damn thing is in the trailer.

Even if you've never seen any of the other three, all shocks and surprises are served up in the three-minute taster.

Just in case you haven't picked up on the subtlety and nuance of the back story, however, here's a refresher.

Man with money makes big amusement nirvana with monsters. It all goes to poop. People are surprised that this could happen.

They even reference the first park (although politely ignore Lost World and III) without learning from their own history.

Mind you, neither have we - which is why we're watching this balloon juice.

Of course, this is not a mere repeat of earlier films, no no. That would be too easy.

Yes, there are moments of racing dinosaurs through the fields. Yes, people get chased through jungles. Yes, the aviary is still an issue.

But this time (and you'll like this new twist) they've made a new dinosaur.

A whole new one. Who can, it seems, hide it's body temperature, camouflage itself, hatch a complex escape plan...

All of which will be explained using expositional dialogue so leaden it could have been hewn from the rock the original fossils were found in.

And even if the obvious stuff doesn't bother you (and it should), there are subtler issues that annoy.

Things like it having seemingly rained just before the helicopter takes off, a man who has seen live action with the army yet doesn't remember what safety harnesses are for, oh and would you look at my Apple Watch it's time to mention the product placement.

How the dinosaurs manage to get away with running about without any branding is beyond me, because this film couldn't exist without the non-too-subtle advertising that's going on.

Frankly, it makes a Bond film look measured and principled.

If you can, try and keep count, and see how far you get before the final big fight scenes. I was well into double figures.

Once they start trashing the gift shop and mall, you'll lose count.

And yet none of this would matter if the plot was worth a damn.

Points are made all through the film that Aunt Claire doesn't stay in touch with her nephews and doesn't even know how old they are (NEWSFLASH: She doesn't have to, that's a parent's job).

And yet, knowing full well where she works and how little interest she takes in children, Aunt Claire is seen as the perfect person to send the children to for a weekend.

No pre-amble, no back story, just a swift "hey, kids, you're too young to remember all the times a dinosaur theme park went tits up - have a great trip!"

And again, if the plot was anything more than gossamer thin, this wouldn't bother you.

But this film has been stitched together after a meeting in a pub with people who only half remember the original, been wrapped in carrier bag from the stores of the world and just thrown at the screen.

To be fair to him, Chris Pratt does his best to carry the whole thing - and he clearly isn't taking it too seriously - but the rest of the cast are either out of their depth (in this puddle, I know) or clearly bored.

Bryce Dallas Howard has the look of a woman who remembers being in The Help and can't believe she let her agent talk her into this, while Judy Greer carries the air of a woman who remembers what it was like to be given a back story.

Lauren Lapkus, meanwhile, is the woman with two masters degrees and a PHD who can't believe she's being employed to answer a phone.

The only other person who comes out of this with any credit is Jake Johnson, whose years on New Girl have finally paid off as his comic timing and knowing subtle air almost makes the more ridiculous scenes bearable.

I should be more annoyed by this film than I am. I should be livid that I spent precious hours of my life watching a multi-million pound blockbuster that still - at times - managed to look shonky and cheap.

I should be annoyed that a film I approached with low expectations failed to meet them.

I should be annoyed that this film was a screaming pile of pterodactyl poop.

But I can't be.

Because when it has the word Jurassic in the title, we know what to expect. And even when it's this bad, it's still better than any other film about dinosaurs running wild YET AGAIN in a dinosaur theme park.

Can't wait for the next one...

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Survivor (12A)

I was wrong about Survivor.

Last week, when I reviewed Spy, I lumped it in with other films that had Bond pretencions.

Now, in my defence, this is what the trailer would have us believe - Pierce Brosnan may have changed sides, but he was still the running, jumping, shooting guy he so loved being before being retired in favour of Daniel Craig.

But the trailer was misleading.

Instead, Survivor is a simple action movie with ambitions of being a thriller. And to be fair, at times it almost gets there.

The story focuses on Kate Abbot (played very well by Milla Jovovic), a government agent who thinks she's on to something.

Then things go boom, Brosnan's The Watchmaker (no, really) comes after her and she has to go on the run and try to stop a thing.

And that's pretty much it.

And it could have been brilliant.

Sadly, however, someone forgot to suggest a more subtle approach, and as a result this is a thriller where you don't have to do any thinking as the plot points are explained along the way.

Which is criminal, because with some better writing and more judicious editing, there could have been twists and turns instead of a laboured dash in a straight line.

Then there's the dialogue.

Clunky would be a kind word to use. Ridiculous and at times just down-right daft could also be brought in to play.

But it does look nice.

Cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann has done a fine job in making it look slick and atmospheric, with a lot of shadows helping to add atmosphere to cover up the lack of depth.

And, as I said earlier, Jovovich is in great form.

She is thoroughly credible as the American agent battling against the odds. She can handle the action scenes with ease, while being thoroughly believable when it comes to showing actual emotion.

Which is just as well, because Brosnan left his acting chops in his trailer.

Now, granted, playing the world's most wanted assassin (again, really) was never going to require a Shakespearian performance, but at times it feels like even he can't quite believe what he's being asked to say and do.

Brosnan that is, not Shakespeare.

And then there's his action scenes.

Not wishing to be unkind, but Pierce isn't getting any younger. Not a problem when playing a divorced dad in, say, The Love Punch or A Long Way Down (in both of which he is excellent), but when he has to slide down a light fitting?

Yes, it looks great, and has some lovely lighting techniques along with it, but he doesn't look comfortable doing it.

And running after Jovovich is no walk in the park either.

This, on the back of The November Man, would suggest it really is time he accepted he's not 007 any more and got on with making films with substance. Or intended laughs.

Mind you, he's not the only one who fails to have any sparkle.

Dylan McDermott, Frances De La Tour and Roger Rees are just three of the assembled cast who don't seem quite sure why they're there.

But even among all these negatives, there are some positives.

As well as looking nice, the action and explosions are good, and there is a brief spell where - even though you know who is doing what when - you do find yourself edging forward in your seat.

Which actually came as a bit of a shock, because not five minutes earlier I'd been picking apart another scene for it's basic daftness.

And not just because I enjoy doing that sort of thing, no. With Survivor, they kind of leap out at you.

Want to enter a cordoned off bomb scene? Just say "American embassy" to the Bobby on duty and he'll let you through. Need to meet someone at St Pancras around Christmas time? No bother, just drive there and park right outside. Want to stop a car getting in to a busy city centre? Don't speak to the driver, tell the passenger in the back...

Amazingly though, the positives do outweigh the negatives.

Sure, it's unsubtle (wait till you see what's on screen right at the end, just before the credits roll) and does all your thinking for you, but treat it as a 90-minute nuts-and-bolts action romp and you won't come away too disappointed.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Spy (15)

You may not have heard, but there's a new Bond film coming out later this year.

But don't worry if you can't wait that long, because there are two films out right now that will keep you ticking over.

Survivor clearly has aspirations to Bondhood, and even has a former Licensee To Kill at the helm in Pierce Brosnan. (There was also Spooks of course, but the less said about that the better).

Spy, meanwhile, has gone for a slightly different approach.

As you'd expect from Paul Fieg - the man who brought us Bridesmaids and The Heat - it's not a straightforward look at the spy genre.

Instead, it's got it's tongue firmly in it's cheek, it's heart (and there's a lot of love for Bond here) in the right place and - as you'd expect from Fieg and Melissa McCarthy - a bucketload of gags.

The story is not what you'd call complicated - after watching her spy partner Jude Law get shot, McCarthy steps up to go after Rose Byrne's Roya Boyanov, enlisting the help of Miranda Hart (yup, that one) and Peter Serafinowicz.

And the hindrance of Jason 'The Stathe' Statham.

And no stone is left unexploded in the team's bid to pay homage to a franchise everyone clearly loves.

There's a small amount of lampooning, as the women tend to come out on top, but this isn't a Spy Harder or a Hot Shots Part Deux.

Instead, it's Statham and Law's chance to play 007 with slapstick and puke gags thrown in for fun.

And fun it really is.

It's loud, brash, violent (all the blood never spilt in a Bond film is shed here), gross, ridiculous and - perhaps most surprisingly - subtle.

While the big laughs come with McCarthy throwing up after killing someone, or fainting over another corpse, the real gems are in the Bond geek moments.

Ever noticed how Bond films always feature a mildly patronising "local culture" scene every time Bond arrives somewhere knew (which is also handily spelt out on the screen)?

Fieg has.

And every new location is treated to this, and never in a way the local tourist board would appreciate.

Then there's the fight scenes.

Fieg gets right in close, so you can feel every bone break (as well as see and hear it). Every twatting with a frying pan rings around the cinema.

But it's not just a slapstick barf fight.

As well as the glamour and the action, Spy knows it has to have some sort of story with twists and turns (and a large amount of the ridiculous to hold it together) and Fieg delivers here too.

People pitch up out of nowhere to save the day, coincidences handily tie the story together, and there's a casino scene which will have Casino Royale fans grinning like idiots.

That's not to say Spy is perfect.

Miranda is asked to do nothing more than play Miranda - which may help shift her TV show stateside but adds nothing extra here - which is a shame when she can clearly act, and there's a very odd moment when Byrne has overdubbed herself. Obviously so.

There's also a point about an hour in when it feels like you've been in the cinema for days, but somehow Fieg manages to claw it back for his grand finale.

And the celebrity cameo is painful.


All that said.

Spy is a whole bunch of swearing-stuffed fun.

Statham, Law and Serafinowicz are all clearly having the time of their lives, with Serafinowicz in particular almost stealing the show from McCarthy.

Not that that was ever really going to happen.

This is, after all, her show, and again she shows why she is one of the best comedy film actors around today (Mike & Molly never happened, OK? NEVER).

She gives her character depth, her delivery is faultless and she even takes on the action stuff head on and wins.

Spy isn't hard hitting, gritty or satirical. But it shouldn't be.

What it is is a massively fun way to while away a couple of hours.

It won't change your life, but it will make you laugh. A lot.

And that's almost the same thing.