Reviews

Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Written by: Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones
Released: June 21, 2018
Grade: C+

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
In November 1990, American author Michael Crichton published a fictional novel about a theme park with genetically engineered dinosaurs.  Few would have envisioned the reach it would have around the world.  We’ve now had 5 movies, several videos games, and a theme park ride at Universal Studios in Hollywood (which belts out John Williams’ iconic film score through the speakers as you arrive).

It’s been a good run but the question must be asked – has the Jurassic World film franchise reached its peak?  There are some worthwhile action sequences here but for the most part, this is a tired looking movie with a lacklustre plot.  Picking things up several years after Jurassic World (2015), it opens by presenting a moral dilemma.  The last remaining dinosaurs on the planet now live without human contact on a small island off the coast of Costa Rica.  Sadly, a volcano is set to erupt which will obliterate the island and kill the last of these giant creatures.

So what’s the plan?  One school of thought is to have nature take its course and let the dinosaurs die out.  They’ve been problematic since first regenerated and perhaps this is nature’s way of restoring balance.  On the flip side, there’s a some who want to save the dinosaurs and believe that future generations should have the chance to see and study these incredible creatures.  The government takes the first view while a group of dinosaur-rights activists, led by Claire Dearing (Howard), take the second view.  They accept finance from a wealthy scientist (Cromwell) to help rescue the dinosaurs and transport them to a safe sanctuary before it’s too late.

There are several problematic elements to the story and topping the list are two “bad guys” played by Rafe Spall and Toby Jones.  They’ve crafted an illogical plan to steal the dinosaurs and sell them on the black market for an insanely high price.  They’ll pulled together a group of influential heavyweights, motivated solely by power and money, for a fast-paced auction at a secluded mansion.  It’s a laughable scene with no nuance to the characters whatsoever.  The ideas of these one-note villains are so dumb and clichéd they belong in a Scooby Doo cartoon.

It’s not all bad news though.  Director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls) has created a number of cool escape sequences.  The pick of the bunch comes early in the film when the original island is about to explode and our beloved heroes are trying to evade a fast-flowing river of lava in addition to the dinosaurs and hunters.  Another notable scene features Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt as they try to extract blood from a sedated creature in a confined space.

The film sticks with the tone of its predecessors and shies away from violence.  Whilst some folk won’t make it to the end alive, we’re not shown any of the deaths in graphic detail.  The visual effects teams have done a stellar job and when you hear the sound of dinosaurs creeping across wooden floorboards, complete with their sharp nails, you’ll have an appreciation of the work performed by the sound engineers.

We will see more from this franchise as a 6th film is scheduled to be released in 2021.  That fact will be obvious when you see the cliff hanger finale in Fallen Kingdom which, like most of what precedes it, doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Am I supposed to be cheering for these heroes?  Or hoping they die like everyone else?

Review: Brother's Nest

Directed by: Clayton Jacobson
Written by: Jaime Browne
Starring: Shane Jacobson, Clayton Jacobson, Kim Gyngell, Lynette Curran, Sarah Snook
Released: June 21, 2018
Grade: B

Brother's Nest
In compiling a list of Australia’s best comedic films, one movie that deserves inclusion is Kenny.  The creation of two brothers, Shane and Clayton Jacobson, the film told the tale of a loveable guy who rented portable toilets for use at concerts, carnivals and sporting events.  The film spent 13 weeks inside the top 10 at the Australian box-office and grossed just under $8 million – more than any other Aussie film in 2006 with the exception of the animated blockbuster Happy Feet.

That helped open a few doors for the largely unknown Jacobson brothers.  Shane continued to act and landed roles in productions such as Charlie & Boots, Oddball and Jack Irish.  Clayton picked up the occasional acting gig while churning out a few short films.  He was also involved in the short-lived spin-off television series, Kenny’s World.

Despite the success of Kenny and a myriad of ideas, the Jacobson brothers struggled to get a follow up feature film off the ground.  That was until they came up with an original way of obtaining finance.  Rather than make a movie and try to sell it to cinema owners/managers, they were able to convince the cinemas to come on at the start as “investors”.

As an example, if a cinema could stump up $20,000 in funding, they would have special advertising and a red-carpet premiere with both brothers attending.  They would also share in any profit if the film became a smash hit.  Aside from generating the necessary cash, the other big advantage of this financing model is that it guaranteed cinema screens – a tough ask for the average low-budget Aussie film when trying to compete against Hollywood blockbusters.

So is the film worth seeing?  The answer is a mild “yes”.  It’s the fictional tale of two brothers (played by Shane and Clayton) with a lot on their mind.  Their mother has terminal cancer and, rather that worry about how to make her final months as great as possible, their #1 priority is her will.  Custody of the family home will transfer to their step-father and the brothers are worried that he’ll screw them over and give them nothing when it’s ultimately sold.  Rather than sit down and talk it through, they come up with an unorthodox solution – to kill the step-dad.

Brother’s Nest is broken up into two distinct parts.  The first half is all about planning.  The brothers talk through a number of scenarios and role play the impending murder.  They’ve even come up with a murder “to do list” to make sure everything is in place and nothing goes wrong.  The second half is about the execution.  Things don’t go as expected and the film takes a few unexpected twists.

This is a dark, warped comedy.  You’ll have a few laughs with these not-so-bright characters during the early scenes as they argue about almost everything.  One is meticulously prepared while the other doesn’t seem to care.  Given the worst thing they’ve ever done in life is a dodgy tax return, it makes you wonder if they’ve got the guts to follow through.

It’s at this point where the tone shifts dramatically and, somewhat reminiscent of a dark Coen Brothers flick, will catch some audiences off guard.  The arrival of two new characters, played by Kim Gyngell and Lynette Curran, give the film a much needed spark.  You’ll forget about the slightly drawn-out opening and be drawn into the intense conclusion.  The fact that it feels so plausible adds to the uncomfortable vibe (in a positive way).

It won’t be as iconic as Kenny but Brother’s Nest still makes a strong mark.

Review: Ocean's Eight

Directed by: Gary Ross
Written by: Gary Ross, Olivia Milch
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, James Corden
Released: June 7, 2018
Grade: B-

Ocean's Eight
Hollywood has a new formula that it’s putting to the test – take a famous movie with an all-male cast and remake it with an all-female cast.  We saw it in 2016 with Ghostbusters and we’re likely to see it again in the next few years with planned reboots of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Lord of the Flies and The Expendables.  In the meantime, we’ve got Ocean’s Eight – a spin-off from the original Ocean’s Eleven released in 1960 and subsequent remake in 2001.  Some will see it as an exciting move forward in terms of female-led movies.  Others will see it as a lazy writing and question why such a great cast weren’t deserving of an original concept.

There is an overlap with the earlier movies as we learn during the opening sequence.  Debbie Ocean (Bullock) is the youngster sister of Danny – the character played by George Clooney who orchestrated a series of heists in the last three movies.  Debbie has just been released after a 5 year stint in prison for fraud and, despite what she tells her parole officers, she’s geared up and ready to commit more crimes.  When asked by a colleague why she’s doing it, her answer is simple – “because I’m good at it.”

There is another reason and it’s an obvious one – money.  Declaring that “banks are boring”, Debbie spent her time in prison crafting an unorthodox crime.  Locked deep underground in a safe at the Cartier store in New York City is a 6 pound diamond necklace valued at roughly $150 million.  It’s so valuable that it hasn’t been released and seen in public in more than 50 years.  With acclaimed actress Daphne Kluger scheduled to wear the neckless to the famous Met Gala, Debbie teams up with a diverse group of female criminals to infiltrate the Gala and pull off the perfect heist.

Her team is headlined by an old friend (Blanchett) and consists of a jewellery maker (Kaling), a computer hacker (Rihanna), an acclaimed fashion designer (Carter), a cunning thief (Awkwafina), and a mother who knows how to get things (Paulson).  All have important skills which will be called upon when the time is right. 

I love a good heist flick and this is a cool concept but Ocean’s Eight struggled to keep me interested.  Character development is kept to a minimum with much of the screen time devoted to watching these women plan and execute the robbery.  That may be satisfying enough for some but it feels inferior to great heist movies including A Fish Called Wanda, The Thomas Crown Affair and The Italian Job.  It’s lacking when it comes to villains and backstabbers and it all feels too easy as we watch events unfold.  It needed a bigger injection of laughs and tension.

That’s not to say you won’t be entertained.  The cast is fantastic with everyone doing their best to stand out and create a memorable character.  It’s hard to pick a favourite which is a testament to their respective talents.  In terms of the supporting players, keep your eye out for a few cameos at the Met Gala with famous celebrities playing themselves.  James Corden also deserves a mention as a humorous insurance investigator with a part to play during the final act.

So where to from here?  Will we see an Ocean’s Nine in a few years’ time?  I’d be up for that if we could add a few more twists to the screenplay.

 

Review: Incredibles 2

Directed by: Brad Bird
Written by: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Bird, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Jonathan Banks
Released: June 14, 2018
Grade: A-

Incredibles 2
I went to an opening night screening of the Incredibles 2 here in Brisbane and on walking into the cinema, my first observation was that adults were abundant and kids were few and far between.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with the original.  The Incredibles was the 4th highest grossing film of 2004, it won two Academy Awards including best animated feature, and was watched again and again on DVD by children around the world.  Those kids have now grown up and will be contributing heavily to the box-office of this much anticipated sequel.

So what made the first movie so good?  Firstly, it was a fun superhero flick that combined fast paced action with family dynamics.  These heroes may have powers that allow them to save the world but they find it just as difficult as a regular person to juggle responsibilities at home.  There were some great arguments between the inflexible father, Mr Incredible (Nelson), and his argumentative teenage daughter, Violet (Vowell).  Secondly, it highlighted that superheroes can rescue as many people as they want but they won’t be universally loved.  Mr Incredible saved a man falling from a high-rise building but was later sued because it turns out the guy wanted to commit suicide!

Incredibles 2 follows closely in the footsteps of its predecessor and explores similar themes.  Mr Incredible and his wife, Elastigirl (Hunter), arrive on the scene to prevent the evil Underminer from robbing the vault of a major bank.  The stop the crime but there’s huge collateral damage with wrecked cars and smashed infrastructure.  On top of that, the Underminer gets away.  It leaves the public asking more questions about whether the pros of superheroes outweigh the cons.

Looking to win the public relations battle, Elastigirl accepts a job with DEVTECH, a leading telecommunications company that supports the superhero cause.  They install state-of-the-art cameras on her latex suit so that all her heroic actions can be filmed and broadcast to the world.  This will be helpful if her actions are ever questioned.  As all of this goes on, Mr Incredible has reluctantly become the caregiver at home.  It’s his job to feed the kids, get them off to school and assist with their homework.  The fact their infant baby is discovering his own superpowers makes life even more stressful and adds to his sleepless nights.

Sequels often feel inferior to the original but that’s not the case here.  Writer-director Brad Bird has returned to create a worthy, interesting story that befits the era we live in.  It’s cool to think that an animated feature about action heroes also has time to make some important observations about father-daughter relationships and a husband feeling weak because his wife is the major breadwinner of the household.  There’s a lot at play here and a lot for audiences to digest, whether they be kids or adults.

Turning to the technical elements, the animation is fantastic and so too is the music score from Pixar stalwart Michael Giacchino (Ratatouille, Up, Star Trek).  It’s a soundtrack that will soon be added to my collection.  The voice cast have all returned from the first movie with Craig T. Nelson going through a draft of emotions as the father and Samuel L. Jackson getting some great one-liners as another of the superheroes, Frozone.  Brad Bird also reprises his role as the aging fashion designer, Edna Mode, in a particularly good scene.

It’s been a 14 year wait for Incredibles 2 and if this film is as popular as I think it will be, we won’t be waiting as long for a follow up.

Review: Tea with the Dames

Directed by: Roger Michell
Starring: Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith
Released: June 7, 2018
Grade: B+

Tea with the Dames
South African born director Roger Michell has made some terrific films including Morning Glory, Changing Lanes and Notting Hill.  That said, he’s never made a more intimate film that this one.  Tea with the Dames is a documentary that brings together four of Great Britain’s greatest living actresses – Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins.

It was shot over a weekend at the home in Sussex shared by Plowright and her late husband, Laurence Olivier, since the 1960s.  It’s a relaxed “fireside chat” with each reflecting on their long and successful careers and from that, Michell has taken the best conversations to create a tight-knit 84 minute film.  It’s seldom dull.  It’s wonderful to hear these women speak so openly whilst also being treated to archival footage of their early performances dating back to the 1950s.  There’s a funny scene where Dench can’t even recognise herself when shown the material.

Over the course of the movie, they discuss a surprisingly broad range of topics.  They touch on the early part of their careers including how they all first met, how they were introduced to the theatre, how they deal with nerves and how they tackled iconic roles in Shakespeareans plays.  As the film progresses, they touch on their lives today including interaction with their families, negative reviews, and the battles of old age.

They each have a distinctive personality but it’s hard to go past the sarcastic sense of humour held by Dame Maggie Smith.  She’s strong-willed and isn’t afraid to express an opinion – a trait she’s possessed her entire life as evidenced by an old television interview we see.  There’s a funny conversation during the doco where she reflects on performances in the Harry Potter franchise and on Downton Abbey which have made her a household name around the world.

With the greatest of respect to Plowright and Atkins who are little more subdued, it’s Judi Dench who deserves to share MVP honours alongside Smith.  She’s such a great story teller and this is illustrated when sharing her experiences about a young paramedic on set.  She’s also not afraid to tell it as it is – humorously arguing that being knighted by the Queen gives her even more justification to slip an F-bomb into casual conversations.

The film is being released in Australia as Tea with the Dames but I much prefer the British title, Nothing Like a Dame.  It makes it sound more comedic and less formal – which is exactly how the finished product comes across.  It’s getting a short cinema release in select countries across the world before going straight to TV.  It may not sound like “big screen” material but it’s nice to see it in the company of an admiring crowd who, if my preview was anything to go by, should be laughing openly.

These four talented women have won Oscars, BAFTAs, Tonys, Emmys, Golden Globes and SAG Awards.  You don’t have to be familiar with all of their work to appreciate their experience and the words of wisdom they impart on the audience.

 

Review: Tag

Directed by: Jeff Tomsic
Written by: Rob McKittrick, Mark Steilen
Starring: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones, Annabelle Wallis
Released: June 14, 2018
Grade: C+

Tag
Five adult guys playing a game of tag.  That’s the premise behind the latest release from Warner Bros. Pictures.  They played the game as children and they’ve never really grown up.  They even have a detailed rule book which has evolved since the 1980s and contains simple conditions such as “you can’t tag the person who tagged you.”  Another key rule is that the game only takes place in the month of May each year.  Suffice to say you don’t want to be the last person tagged because you’ll have to wait another 11 months to be rid of it.

This isn’t some fun thing these guys do on weekends.  We see their passion illustrated in the opening scene.  Hoagie (Helms) is desperate to tag his mate Bob (Hamm) but can’t get through the tight security at Bob’s high rise office building.  So what does Hoagie do?  He applies for a janitor’s job at the company, gets a staff pass, puts on a disguise, and interrupts Bob while in an important meeting.  It’s a huge amount of effort but Bob is ultimately tagged and the cycle continues.

Does this sound silly, far-fetched and unrealistic?  That was my first reaction to the plot but you may be surprised to know this is based on a true story.  It was all revealed in an article in the Wall Street Journal in 2013 when the new chief marketing officer at a leading fashion retailer told the story to a journalist.  The men are now in their 40s but the game is ongoing and much of what you see in the film was created from events that actually took place.  You’ll even see video footage of the real guys during the closing credits.

I’m not sure how this would have worked as a documentary but it had the potential to be more interesting than this over-dramatised re-enactment.  Screenwriters Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen have tried to spice things up by introducing a quasi-villain named Jerry (Renner) who, despite having played the game for so long, has never once been tagged.  He’s always been too competitive, too fast and too smart for the others in the game.

The guys learn that Jerry is to be quietly married in the month of May (an odd but convenient date choice given the rules of the game) and so they all head back to their home town in Washington and put together an elaborate plan to tag him for the first time.  They are joined by a journalist (Wallis) who is interested in writing a story about their bizarre game.  The end result is large scale hijinks with everyone trying to outsmart the other and remain tag-free.

I’ll be honest – it’s hard to believe that 4 people and a few others offering support can’t find a way to tag one guy over a 30 year period!  To try to make his character appear credible, we’re given insight into his sharp mind using narration and we also see him use an array of ninja-like escape acts that give him the appearance of a Marvel Comics superhero.  It’s just a bit too weird and over-the-top.

There are other elements to the screenplay that are undercooked.  An example is a love triangle that develops between two of the men and an old childhood sweetheart but her character adds next-to-nothing to the broader narrative.  The same can be said of the journalist who looks like a stunned bystander for most of the movie.  It makes you wonder why the character was included in the first place.

I’d suggest you read the original Wall Street Journal article about these people but if you’re still keen to see the movie, keep your expectations in check.