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Jurassic World Bites, Indies are Better

Hope Madden Hope Madden Jurassic World Bites, Indies are BetterPhoto via IMDb.
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Dinosaurs are back, and I’ve heard great things about their Dairy Queen ice cream treat. The film itself is pretty meh, but there is still reason to rejoice. We are just one week away from Sicario 2, and there is a slew of really great indies opening this weekend you should check out.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

by Hope Madden

If you don’t know director J.A. Bayona, that’s unfortunate. His first three feature films— The Orphanage, The Impossible and A Monster Calls—emphasized storytelling skills that were equal parts visceral and poetic.

He picks up the Jurassic mantle with the latest in the franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The visceral part seems likely, but dinosaur poetry? Sadly, no.

It’s been a few years since toothy, carnivorous hell broke loose on the island theme park Jurassic World. Though the un-Jurassic world has left those dinosaurs alone on their island—mostly—the island itself seems to be self-selecting extinction for the beasts, its now-active volcano an immediate threat to their very survival.

Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Hoard) wants to save them. But how? I mean, dinosaurs are really big. Many of them bite. Interacting with them has proven dangerous and silly four different times. What’s a girl to do?

Well, put on some sensible shoes, for once, and take a deal from a dying old billionaire with a Hogwarts-style estate and a guilt complex. Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), one-time partner of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough from the original film), wants to bring as many beasties as possible to a secluded island he owns where they’ll be safe.

Or is this just another example of idealistic lefties falling prey to greedy capitalists and scientists with their cadre of guns-for-hire?

The real problem, besides the hackneyed and derivative story penned by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (who both penned Jurassic World, which Trevorrow directed), is Bayona’s tired direction.

Though he does not shy away from showing human carnage, there is not a fresh or compelling set piece in the film. What doesn’t feel directly lifted from earlier works plods along blandly, the only tension coming from the real curiosity about why the character hasn’t yet a) closed the door, b) climbed the ladder, c) run.

Yes, the sight of a volcano exploding on Hawaii (location for the filming) does generate some anxiety, and the sound of a child crying out near images of anything being caged against its will is even more horrific. It’s hard to credit Bayona for having his finger on the pulse of current events, though, given that he’d have completed shooting at least a year before our latest American shame.

Hell, dinosaurs would be a welcome change of pace at this point.

Grade: C-

American Animals

by Hope Madden

In 2012, director Bart Layton laid down one of the most compelling and nutty documentaries in recent history. His true crime doc The Imposter was one of those rare films that you could not predict nor could you turn away from. It was fascinating, and not just because the story was so wild, but because of Layton’s spry skills as a storyteller.

He’s again pulling from the world of true crime to tell a potent story with his latest, the narrative feature American Animals. The yarn he spins here: four perfectly reasonable, likable, comfortable college kids steal a set of pricey books from Transylvania University’s rare books collection, including Darwin’s original Origins of the Species and Audubon’s Birds of America.

The audacity of the plan itself is reason enough to pay attention. Buddies get the itch to do something big. Something life-changing. Consequences be damned. Or, more rightly, ignored.

Build from there with a truly talented group of young actors: Evan Peters (X-Men’s Quicksilver), Barry Keoghan (Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dunkirk – the kid can do no wrong), Jared Abrahamson (Sweet Virginia, Detour) and Blake Jenner (Everybody Wants Some).

Once again, Layton blends fiction and nonfiction devices to question the possibility of honesty in storytelling. As he weaves from actors recreating the heist to the actual participants telling their versions of events, Layton poses intriguing questions about perspective and truth.

The film works best when it digs into the American preoccupation with unlimited potential, the individual’s specialness. The four young men who risk their futures unnecessarily suffer from that curse of the restlessly entitled.

As you watch the inevitable collapse of a reckless gang of kids’ movie-inspired heist, American Animals suggests depth and introspection but feels more like it’s grasping for a suitable ending, an appropriate way to cap all this madness with a bit of insight.

The problem with the film is the problem with the heist itself: it was fun while it lasted, but was there really a purpose?

Grade: B

The Catcher Was a Spy

by George Wolf

The Catcher Was a Spy features a surprisingly impressive lead performance from Paul Rudd. It’s not his talent that surprises, but rather the role as enigmatic baseball player turned wartime spy.

He stars as true-life legend Moe Berg, who spent fifteen years as a major leaguer in the years before WWII. Though never a superstar, he was a well-respected and durable catcher with many other talents that proved useful.

A Princeton grad with multiple degrees, Berg spoke several languages and was fiercely private. With his playing career over and a war raging, Berg’s intellect, discretion and communication skills were valued at the O.S.S., where he was trained as a spy and tasked with assassinating the German physicist getting dangerously close to developing a nuclear bomb.

Director Ben Lewin (The Sessions) fills his throwback yarn with the requisite newsreel voiceovers and shadowy set pieces for a satisfactory spy thriller, but makes more of a mark through the intimate workings of Rudd and the supporting cast.

We’re told Berg is an enigma, but Rudd makes us feel it. From his blunt honesty to his sexual history, Berg’s nature always seems a bit out of step with the crowd, and Rudd provides the humanity to get us on his side while he stokes our curiosity.

Supporting players, including Jeff Daniels, Sienna Miller, Paul Giamatti and Guy Pearce, are equally strong, cementing the relationships that elevate the adapted script from writer Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan).

As a spy drama, The Catcher remains fairly routine. Its power comes from its intimacy, getting just close enough to a mysterious, fascinating figure without disrespecting that figure’s commitment to mystery.

Grade: B+

Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town

by Matt Weiner

For a character who’s supposed to have trouble holding down a steady job, Izzy is putting in some serious work: Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town is a road trip movie that never leaves its first city, a shaggy dog celebration of Los Angeles with characters who could rival those in any LA noir. But more than anything it’s a sharp inversion of the manic pixie dream girl and the role she inhabits.

Written and directed by Christian Papierniak, Izzy GTFAT is disjointed by design. Mackenzie Davis (Tully) holds everything together as Izzy, a once-promising musician who is now too strung out to keep a catering job, let alone the man of her dreams. When she finds out that her ex-boyfriend Roger (Alex Russell) is getting engaged, she sets off across Los Angeles to make it to the big party and win him back.

At each stop in her journey, Izzy gets help from a standout supporting cast. Lakeith Stanfield, Haley Joel Osment, Alia Shawkat and Annie Potts run the gamut from wistful and strange to funny and strange to… well, strange and strange. These vignettes have the feel of early Richard Linklater, so while the structure of Izzy’s Odyssean journey gets repetitive midway through, the actors keep it interesting.

Papierniak gets the film back on track with Izzy’s major confrontations: first a bittersweet reunion with her sister (Carrie Coon), which hints at a lifetime of backstory in just a few tender minutes. And then finally with what has been teased all along: Roger’s engagement party.

Without giving too much away, the confrontation and aftermath go in a remarkable direction, serving up an altar of clichés only to mercilessly destroy them—a sacrifice to Izzy’s rebirth. She has spent the entire film careening from one manic pixie trope to the next in her desperate attempt to be the catalyst in somebody else’s story. So it’s pure delight to watch the way in which Izzy takes control after spending her adult life in thrall to her own fantasies, failures and dreams deferred.

There could easily be a version of this movie from Roger’s perspective. And 10 years ago, we would all be expected to care about what happens to that bearded thumb and be happy for him. It’s probably the reality Izzy would have been happy with at that point in her life, too.

But times change. People change. Slowly, unevenly. And maybe not in ways we always hoped, but hopefully still, in some small way, for the better.

Grade: A-

Also opening in Columbus:
Summer 1993 (NR)

Read more from Hope and team at MADDWOLF and listen to her weekly film podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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