Rating: The Good – 69.5 Genre: Adventure, Action Duration: 124 mins Director: Colin Trevorrow Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins
Just when you thought it was safe to buy the box set, Universal go ahead and repackage the merchandise in a whole new brand that promises bigger, better, and lots more teeth. The plot is basically a re-hash of Michael Chricton’s original story as Bryce Dallas Howard stars as the no-nonsense manager of the new park that, in an attempt to wow their jaded consumer base, is about to unveil a monstrous genetic splicing of every lethal dinosaur they could think of. Regular dinosaurs it seems are no longer any more exciting to Jurassic World’s fictitious fanbase as they are to this movie’s actual fanbase. Once again, it’s not long before everyone is running for their lives including Howard’s vacationing nephews and it’s up Chris Pratt’s Raptor Whisperer to save the day.
The visual effects reflect what you’d expect from a 21st Century upscaling of the franchise but without the tingling sensation that comes with having never seen such effects before – as was of course the case in Spielberg’s classic. The action sequences, though capably constructed, are similarly missing the metronomic mastery of the great director while the script, though rather funny at times (courtesy largely of Pratt’s leading man’s wit), cries out for the intellectual ribbing of Goldblum and Attenborough. The biggest disappointment however is in the big nasty that they unleash on us. With no reputation preceding it, it was left up to the writing and concept design guys to terrify us with some creature of barely conceivable malice but all we got was kind of a big Raptor. The “Spinosaurus” of Jurassic Park III was more formidable than this thing plus it kicked the T-Rex’s ass! Given the former’s absence from this film, we just don’t seem to be getting an upgrade in the teeth and claws department. Perhaps they should’ve made this an aquatic disaster movie so that the far more fearsome “Mososaurus” could be the central monster – of course, there’s probably going to be a sequel for every year the dinosaurs have been extinct so maybe they’re pacing themselves!
In the end, however, there’s more than enough adventure and monster mayhem to provide a satisfactory level of entertainment and even if it fails to live up to its promise of “bigger and better”, Jurassic World has all the box-office polish of the first two instalments. It also maintains the magic that the first movie had, finally fulfilling the dream of bringing a paying public together with awe-inspiring dinosaurs. Director Colin Trevorrow’s directing comes into its own during these moments as “Jurassic World: The Spectacle” gets juiced up with all the childlike wonder of Spielberg’s park. In this regard, one shouldn’t overlook Michael Giacchino’s score as it keeps up with and even builds on John Williams’ original in a rather pleasing manner. Good fun.
Rating: The Good – 66.7 Genre: Action, Adventure Duration: 113 mins Director: Jan de Bont Stars: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes
Jan de Bont’s second directorial effort after the smash hit Speed upped the ante on the action by following a bunch of storm-chasing scientists through tornado country as they attempt to figure out the secrets of the twister. Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton lead the ragtag pack of adrenaline junkies as the estranged married couple competing with a highly financed rival scientist (a slithery Cary Elwes) who stole their methodology. The action is everything you’d expect from the man who shot Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October and the relatively early CGI effects still hold up to this day. The tornado sequences themselves range between formidable and unlikely as writer Michael Crichton takes his usual liberties in adapting science for the screen. Hunt and Paxton are more than comfortable with each other and add an understated charm to the movie while a young Philip Seymour Hoffman puts in a memorable shift as the “crazy guy”. There’s plenty of humour courtesy of his and everyone else’s antics and a neatly developed assortment of characters (an often ignored strength of Crichton’s screenplays) ensure it blends seamlessly with the plot’s progression. Incidentally, Twister was the first movie released in DVD format and so it not only scores as an enjoyable action adventure but it also holds a position of some significance among the geekiest of movie fans.
Wolfgang Peterson’s star-studded thriller proves yet another mainstream success for 1990’s cinema as Dustin Hoffman’s USAMRID Colonel attempts to stay ahead of a lethal virus which is laying waste to a small California town. With former wife and CDC big-wig (Rene Russo) in tow alongside his own team (an Oscar-laden Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr.), they go about town disobeying orders from their shadowy superiors, breaking quarantine, and any number of other drastic measures in the hope of manufacturing an antibody before Donald Sutherland’s nasty General destroys the whole town – simply to keep the virus for his own biological weapons programme! It’s a sweeping popcorn movie expertly crafted to draw every bit of tension out of an old plot and infused with all manner of personality, chemistry, and light humour by that glittering cast. Hoffman, in particular, seems to be enjoying himself no end while Russo shows yet again that she can not only hold her own next to any A-Lister in the business but enhance both of their performances with that endearing rapport she seems to so easily generate. Sutherland is the straight bad guy but Morgan Freeman gets his teeth into an altogether more textured role as the General who discovers that duty and honour make for poor bedfellows. Throw in a couple of cracking helicopter chases and a last minute dash to stop the town’s imminent destruction and you’ve got a decent night in front of the box.
Rating: The Good – 77.1 Genre: Thriller, Science Fiction Duration: 87 mins Director: Steve De Jarnatt Stars: Anthony Edwards, Mare Winningham, John Agar
Obscure thriller from the vault of hidden gems that follows a love struck young musician on a frantic chase through LA after he gets an anonymous tipoff about an imminent nuclear attack. As he tracks down the girl of his dreams in order to evacuate her, he encounters one curious character after another under a series of hectic circumstances. Anthony Edwards is the everyman at the centre of things and he’s a ball of nervous energy and dorky charm. As he whisks us through a succession of bizarre episodes like wheeling his unconscious girlfriend in a trolley down the streets of nighttime LA, his unassuming presence keeps the madcap hijinks grounded in a kind of tilted reality. Steve De Jarnatt and DP Theo van de Sande are to be commended for bathing the entire aesthetic in a soft blue neon glow. LA looks every bit the fantasy world the story demands and it’s rather pleasing to behold too. Several other factors work towards a successful movie experience but none more effectively than Tangerine Dream’s intense electronic harmonies. It’s what we came to expect from them back in the day and like Sorcerer or Near Dark, they catch the movie in a current of unabated tension. There’s no doubting that Miracle Mile is a weird ride, kind of like John Landis’ Into the Night on mushrooms, but it’s also uniquely affecting and brimming with warped fun.
Rating: The Good – 76.9 Genre: Drama, Science Fiction Duration: 94 mins Director: Gareth Edwards Stars: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga
Writer director Gareth Edwards announced himself as a filmmaker of note with this subjective approach to the monster movie, which became the basis for his less successful attempt at Godzilla (2014). Whereas most movies of this type sacrifice the personal drama at the expense of big budget monster carnage, his laudable independent feature takes entirely the opposite approach by making a highly personal drama about two lost souls who are thrown together in a near future Mexico which has been overrun with giant creatures from outer space (don’t worry, it works!). Scoot McNairy is a photographer who shoots the disaster left in the path of the creatures and Whitney Able is the daughter of his rich boss who, for her own reasons, has been hiding away in Mexico. However, at her father’s request, she must now return to the US under the care of his initially begrudging employee. But as the airports and ports close due to the encroaching monsters, the pair end up having to make their way through the infected zone and over the border.
The monsters are kept very much on the periphery of the drama and there are no action set pieces in the traditional sense as Edwards chooses instead to use the unusual context to contrast and therefore accentuate the authenticity of the relationship that develops between the two characters. And in truth, he brings us remarkably close to them and keeps us intimately engaged with their struggle. Real life couple, McNairy and Able share a palpable chemistry but are excellent in all other respects too and, of course, this was crucial because we are only too happy to leave the monsters in the background and focus on the couple as they work out their own problems amidst their burgeoning friendship. The movie glides forward thanks to smoothness of their acting, Edwards equally intimate photography (he was DP too), and Jon Hopkins serenely cool score. The threat of the monsters helps ratchet the tension when needed but if the movie has a failing, its that the danger never really materialises in the manner most will be waiting for. This would be fine if Monsters was a straight up romantic drama but the presence of monsters in the first place makes certain promises that will let many a moviegoer down. For the rest of us, there’s more than enough to justify Edwards’ fascinating project and ensure it becomes a cult favourite in the future.
Rating: The Ugly 66.8 Genre: Action, Science Fiction Duration: 123 mins Director: Gareth Edwards Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
A big budget attempt to rectify Hollywood’s attitude towards Toho’s most famous monster shows the right intentions and some of the right ideas but is ultimately crushed under their weight. Bringing Gareth Edwards in to steer this reboot towards Toho redemption was in and of itself a brave move. The director of the critically acclaimed Monsters had recently demonstrated that the monster movie wasn’t the purview of the big studios by making a compelling emotional drama that kept the monsters on the periphery of the action. That he was going to be permitted to similarly sideline the Big Fella was the second surprise! Edwards and writers Max Borenstein and David Callaham thus built this tale around Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s attempt to reunite with his family amid catastrophic destruction as Godzilla resurfaces from his primordial rest to tackle a couple of MUTO’s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) who are laying waste to the central pacific. It’s a good idea as the battles get to play out in the background through oblique glances and character PoV. And when combined with the stunning visual effects, it paves the way for some electrifying images and action scenarios.
Unfortunately, two major shortcomings prevent those images from manifesting into the emphatic release they should’ve become. Firstly, Taylor-Johnson’s story is only really nominally central. It seems the executives got their grubby mitts on the script after all because just when the movie should be aligning itself with his travails, it keeps darting off to a bunch of faceless military types who are orchestrating the defence against the monsters (and it takes some doing to nullify David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe’s faces!). This repeated marginalisation of the human lead ultimately negates all the decent attempts at character construction to the point that we become completely apathetic to his plight. With the elimination of the human interest, the monsters which continue to be revealed in side-glance, half light, and shadow aren’t enough to salvage the movie as they become a sideshow with no main event. Therefore, as is typical with so many big budget movies these days, it seems the multiple interests were pulling in different directions and the movie fell between two (or three) stools. If the human drama was nourished in the manner it was in Edwards’ previous outing, his Godzilla battles would’ve been an ever building release of large scale monster carnage, a gleaming red cherry on top of the cake. If the human drama was abandoned from the start and we got more than just the five minutes of Godzilla vs MUTO’s, then at the very least, we would’ve had an albeit unoriginal but reasonably distracting “brain-at-reception” popcorn movie. As it is, all we have is a laudable uneven monster drama that fails to build up enough steam on either stage to engineer anything but the most impotent of drama.
Rating: The Ugly – 60.4 Genre: Disaster Duration: 130 mins Director: Wolfgang Peterson Stars: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane
The Perfect Storm is a dramatised account of “The Storm of the Century” that hit the north eastern sea-board of the US in the early 90’s. The movie focuses on a swordboat crew led by salty captain George Clooney, whose attempt to traverse the oceanic monster leads to disastrous consequences. The dialogue is cheesball city but the sea-based action sequences particularly once the storm gets going are a sight to behold.
Rating: The Good – 70.8 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 101 mins Director: Francis Lawrence Stars: Will Smith, Alice Braga
Francis Lawrence’s take on Richard Matheson’s novella is a worthy addition to the sci-fi genre. Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the last man left in New York City after a genetically engineered virus either killed off the rest of the population or turned them into rabid cannibals. Like the earlier adaptation Omega Man, this film gives us a different type of mutant to the book (in the book they turned into vampires and were much more sinister in their methods) but unlike that film these mutants are far more scary. The production design involved in bringing the desolate New York to life is impressive and Lawrence creates some extremely tense scenes culminating in some genuinely terrifying moments. In this task, he is ably helped by his lead. As the only actor on show for long segments, Smith needed to bring presence to the role and he does it with ease giving us just the right balance between toughness and vulnerability. There are some minor issues such as the fact that the mutants managed to lose all pieces of clothing except their pants and the ending skirts the boundaries of cheesiness but for the most part, I am Legend is first class sci-fi/horror entertainment.
Rating: The Good – 76.8 Genre: Thriller Duration: 122 mins Director: James Bridges Stars: Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas
One of the great 70’s thrillers, The China Syndrome tells the story of a female reporter Kimberley Wells (Jane Fonda) struggling to gain the credit she deserves in a male dominated profession and who comes to believe that a local nuclear power plant is unsafe. Jack Lemmon (in an excellent performance) plays the nuclear engineer who himself is struggling to convince the bean-counters upstairs to shut the plant down until a costly inspection can be completed. Michael Douglas (who also produced the film) completes an impressive roster of actors and puts in a strong and charismatic supporting turn as Wells’ cameraman. However, The China Syndrome has much more than just a great cast going for it. With its “lone fighter against the shady superiors” theme, it has all the paranoid intrigue of the great thrillers from its era and combined with a taut script, it remains to this day a fascinating and compelling watch – especially so when one considers that the film was released three weeks before the real-life nuclear disaster at Three-Mile Island! And as if all this wasn’t enough, director James Bridges and writers Mike Gray and T.S. Cook round off this little gem by using the proceedings to make some clever observations about the then gender divide in the television industry – which may still have some relevance to this day.
Rating: The Good – 73.5 Genre: Drama, Adventure Duration: 143 mins Director: Robert Zemeckis Stars: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Paul Sanchez
Robert Zemeckis’ soulful approach to the old desert island idea is a unique and deeply engaging tale. Tom Hanks scores well as the sole survivor of a plane crash who finds himself washed up on an isolated and uninhabited island and torn away from his bride to be Helen Hunt. In retrospect, it seems Hanks was the perfect actor for a film which goes long stretches without conventional dialogue and he uses all his craft and innate humour to keep the audience’s attention. The film is full of memorable moments tied together in an unpredictable yet effective manner. The most memorable of these is the plane crash which is surely one of the more terrifyingly real cinematic experiences. The island scenes are exceptionally conceived and not overdone. There is of course that now infamous volleyball named “Wilson” but despite the humour it evoked (either intentionally or unintentionally), it was in essence a very clever Kuleshov-like device which gave Hanks and the audience a much needed emotional counter-point. Cast Away is Hollywood at its best and the ending is a case in point, as Zemeckis manipulates us with big emotions rooted in a truthfully resonating story. You’ll be surprised by how easily it sucks you in and it’ll stay with you for a long time.
Rating: The Good – 67.4 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 107 mins Director: Danny Boyle Stars: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans
A team of astronaut scientists on board a unique spaceship are charged with carrying a gigantic nuclear bomb to the heart of the fading sun so as to replenish its energy. But as they make their final approach, one disaster after another places a severe test on the crew and their fragile partnerships. Danny Boyle’s high concept sci-fi was much touted on release and it certainly sets its stall out as an intriguing genre piece. In the early exchanges, intense personalities are introduced and complex relationships are alluded to and all the while the film looks a treat. However, problems surface relatively soon into the second act as Boyle rushes into the action in favour of a slow build up. If you freeze frame any part of this non-stop rollercoaster, you’re likely to see rich set design and highly complementary visual effects. However, when watched in real time, the frenetic editing ensures too many of these lovely shots remain on screen for no longer than a fraction of a second. Within this sensory carnage, any semblance of narrative is flushed out as one disaster after another besets the mission. And with Boyle’s signature penchant for quick cuts and sharp angles, the mayhem is amplified to fatiguing levels. Thus, as is so often the case with Boyle’s work (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse – this time for worse), experience takes precedence over story. Luckily, most of the noteworthy cast are given just enough room to make their personalities count. Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans add edge and soulfulness respectively while Michelle Yeoh reminds us why Hollywood should’ve made more of her post Crouching Tiger bankability. In the end though, this film is a little too much about its director. There are plenty of well crafted set pieces and John Murphy’s score exhilarates like few other sci-fi scores can, but one can’t help feeling like Boyle and company left something behind here.
Rating: The Good – 74.5 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 131 mins Director: Robert Wise Screenplay: Nelson Gidding Stars: James Olson, Arthur Hill, David Wayne
Robert Wise brought Michael Crichton’s early novel to the screen in this unique looking thriller about a team of top scientists who are sequestered in a hi-tech underground facility to investigate a lethal extra-terrestrial bacterium. Initially contained within a crashed satellite, it quickly spread to a nearby town wiping out its entire population in the process. There are no major acting names on show in The Andromeda Strain, just some solid journeymen actors who each do their bit in raising the tension levels. In that respect, however, the star of the show is undoubtedly Boris Leven’s outstanding production design. He gives the deep underground facility an even deeper sense of authenticity and when captured by Wise’s assured eye, it is primarily responsible for creating the tense and often claustrophobic atmosphere. The story is fantastic too and Nelson Gidding’s adaptation of the famous author’s book cuts away none of the muscle.