Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Trailer

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Look, I know a lot of you liked Jurassic World, the box office numbers signal that clearly enough, but I’m afraid we must beg to differ on that one. Personally I felt it lacked not only the charm of Spielberg’s original but, perhaps more importantly, also the smarts.

Well, if that film was your bag, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (…oh boy, that title) looks to be right up your Jurassic alley. Here’s the trailer:

Sure it’s got plenty of thrilling looking visuals (and added Jeff Goldblum, which is always a good thing) but, y’know, they’re going back to an island to save Chris Pratt’s pet puppy, uh, sorry, man-eating Velociraptor, and to save a species which… ahh… they manufactured and can presumably manufacture elsewhere, from an island that suddenly – after four previous movies with no mention of it whatsoever – has a volcano! Where they built a multi-billion dollar theme park.

Oh, why am I bothering? You’ll go see this. Enjoy…

Apes Together Strong – War Continues A Great Summer

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Frankly, when Fox announced a (second) reboot of their beloved Planet of the Apes franchise back in 2010 it elicited little more than a resigned sigh from me. When news came that the apes would be fully realised with CGI my heart sank.

As a long-time fan of the original series of films (I saw most of them at the cinema in the early 1970s) I’d already been burned by the reboot attempted by Tim Burton a decade before this most recent announcement, in 2001. That film still arguably stands as Burton’s worst (even though it had some great design and make-up work).

Still I trudged dutifully into the cinema in 2011 to see James Franco kickstart the Rise of the Planet of the Apes and came out two hours later with a pleasantly surprised smile on my face. Rupert Wyatt’s prequel reimagining (and my fingers tremble even just typing that phrase) was a thoughful and engaging movie, and the work of the actors (including Andy Serkis) and animators meshed almost seamlessly to give us an exciting new take on the apes.

My surprise grew to actual anticipation for Matt Reeve’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014 and I was not disappointed. The visuals improved again and we were given an even more exciting and thought-provoking story with Caeser (Serkis) doing his best not to lead his apes into war against mankind’s few survivors of the simian plague which had all but wiped them out at the close of the previous movie.

By now I was actually excited to see Matt Reeves, Andy Serkis and co. return for the third film in this respectful but fresh series of films, and I’m happy to say that War for the Planet of the Apes not only met my expectations but far exceeded them.

First a word about the ape work. The actors and animators combine talents here to give the most astonishing performances yet seen in motion capture. These apes live, breathe and feel to such a high level that it simply becomes impossible to look at them as special effects. For me, Caesar, Maurice, Rocket, “Bad Ape” (a hugely enagaging new character) and the other apes have reached a point where you feel the awards bodies should really be bringing in a new category to recognise these remarkable types of roles.

The story opens with Caesar’s clan fighting against a human military faction called Alpha-Omega. Once again Caesar attempts to take the higher ground by moving the apes to another location, one which will see them leave the worsening human aggression behind. But Alpha-Omega’s leader, a mysterious, Colonel Kurtz-like character (played with layered gusto by Woody Harrelson) soon escalates events to a very personal level, taking Caeser on a mission which will see the leader tested as never before.

War of the Planet of the Apes is constantly surprising and totally enthralling, it continues in the vein of the best of the Apes films by telling a story which is both thoughtful and exciting. It leads towards a war of almost biblical proportions, but one whose combatants are something of a surprise. As with the very best summer blockbusters, Reeves and his team give us exactly what they promise, just not in exactly the way we might expect.

Kudos also to the screenplay (by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves), to Michael Seresin’s beautiful cinematography and also to Michael Giacchino for a truly memorable score, one that reminded me of John Barry’s work in several places. These combine to give a movie which really should be experienced at a cinema.

The film is also surprisingly emotional (I was weeping openly at the finish) and if this turns out to be the final film of a trilogy (highly unlikely, right Fox…?), then it will end as a triumph. We have been gifted with two wonderful runs of Apes movies and this latest trilogy is proof that an old idea can have new life breathed into it in the right hands.

Summer 2017 has seen a remarkable run of truly excellent movies and this might just be the best of an exceptional bunch. It’s definitely the best of the new Apes trilogy.

Beauty And The Beastly – The Neon Demon

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The Neon Demon, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, sees Elle Fanning’s Jesse, a beautiful small-town girl, moving to L.A. and finding herself negotiating a path through the city’s fashion scene, surrounded by a glistening wave of beauty that’s powered by sinister vampiric urges, full of envy, obsession, necrophilia and cannibalism.

The film moves at a cool, dreamlike, almost ambient pace, a world away from the ADHD editing of a Michael Bay film, but it never meanders, its sense of menace and ugliness building assuredly.

Then Refn goes for a bravura ending, one that has seen people throwing their arms up in disgust and outrage. It’s certainly horrific , but it’s also a thoroughly logical and quite perfect summation, and definitely not easy to forget (should you feel the need to). It’s also very funny, in its own darkly twisted way.

Fanning is terrific in this. It would have been very easy (read: lazy) to have her portray the innocent swept up in terrible events beyond her control, but both actress and filmmakers are too smart for that. The actress plays Jesse with a knowing air – she’s new to the world, certainly, but she’s not unaware of her currency in that world. She knows she’s pretty and that she can make money from being pretty, as her character says.

There are a number of power plays twisting through the cast of characters, and Jesse is at the centre of them: everyone wants something from her and she knows this. But she also wants something from them. Refn plays with the audience’s expectations as to whether or not we should like her as a central character, and it’s this ambiguity that gives her edge.

Both she and the rest of the cast work hard to give their characters inner life, it’s one of Refn’s traits, allowing his actors to fill in the blanks through… well, acting, and it works well here. Jena Malone, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcote and Karl Glusman populate Jesse’s orbit, and it’s a fine cast (not to use that word in such a distasteful way as Nivola’s character uses it in the film), while Keanu Reeves is almost unrecognisable as the truly awful dirtbag who runs the motel in which Jesse resides.

Refn is defiantly channelling Dario Argento’s Suspiria here, not just with the colour splashed visuals, but with the whispery, insistent voices of dark magics seeping through every frame, and Cliff Martinez’s electronica beats pulsing and throbbing out a suitably modernist proxy for Goblin. Of course, The Neon Demon doesn’t take place in rain-drenched Munich and Freiburg but in sun-splashed Los Angeles, nevertheless these two films would make a superbly sympathetic double bill. Or, given how brutal each film is, should that be a superbly unsympathetic double bill!?

This would be the perfect point to sing the praises of Natasha Braier’s cinematography, Erin Benach’s costumes and Elliott Hostetter’s production design, all of which are gorgeous. Refn and his collaborators don’t skimp when it comes to replicating the high end excesses of the fashion world, I doubt we’ll be treated to a more visually ravishing movie this year.

This is a filmmaker is in absolute control of his craft, telling the story he wants to tell with precision but, like all great art, forcing the viewer to bring in their own experiences and prejudices. His visual style is all glamour and gloss but the emotions lurk beneath this gossamer thin veneer, they’re dirty and ugly and perfectly 21st century human. The concerns of the film are narcissism fuelled by the fashion industry and by our wider culture, and a hard stare at the way we both deify and objectify young women.

But he’s also asking us to look at the transient nature of beauty in the moment, in the right moment, and at our own need to possess and, ultimately, to kill that beauty. The Neon Demon’s world is one of mixed messages, as is ours.

Is Refn telling us anything we don’t already know or suspect about the fashion industry, or indeed about ourselves? No, but the journey he takes us on while reinforcing that knowledge or those opinions is what makes the story worth telling.

Anyone who thinks The Neon Demon is a case of style over substance has simply been seduced by the sheen. Which is rather one of the points here, no? But those who think this are perhaps cut from the same cloth as those who walked away from Only God Forgives disappointed that it wasn’t two hours of Ryan Gosling wading through fist fights.

Refn’s film has proved to be divisive and that seems justifiable. Like the world it thoroughly eviscerates, you’ll either be utterly repulsed by it or enthralled by it. And that’s great, it’s what I love about both Refn and this movie. This is still fiercely the same director who made the Pusher trilogy, his views of the underbelly still as savage, his filmmaking style still as uncompromising. Refn is punk: vulgar, energetic and wonderful.

You don’t like it!? The Neon Demon seems to be saying almost as a clarion call for Refn’s entire body of work. Okay, great, it’s not for you. Fuck off. If you do, then allow its plumped, sumptuously lipsticked lips to lock onto yours and you’ll be rewarded with the smell of the fetid, rotting meat breath that follows. For me, it’s one of my favourite films of 2016.

The Neon Demon ain’t pretty, but it sure is beautiful.

 

 

Elle and the return of Paul Verhoeven

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It’s been a while, but the trailer for Paul Verhoeven’s first new film in ten years, Elle, looks like the rascally Dutch Master might be back with some rekindled fire in his belly.

The plot for Elle sounds comfortably, or uncomfortably, in Verhoeven’s shifting wheelhouse, as Huppert plays a businesswoman raped in her home by an unknown assailant, who then takes it upon herself to stalk him back. The film is based on Philippe Djian’s 2012 novel, Oh… and sees Verhoeven shooting for the first time in the French language.

Starring the always interesting Isabelle Huppert, Elle suggests a return to the kind of psycho-sexual fare offered by Verhoeven’s earlier films, such as Spetters, The Fourth Man or even Basic Instinct (infamous for both the tease of Sharon Stone flashing her crotch for avid freeze-framers and for allowing Michael Douglas to wear a Dad-sweater to a nightclub).

If we’re very lucky, this will see Verhoeven offending everyone when it is screened in competition for the Palme D’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and with both this and Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon showing, it promises to be an interesting time for festival attendees.

Sony Pictures Classics have picked up distribution rights in the U.S. and elsewhere, so hopefully we can all get down and dirty with Verhoeven again soon.