Bryce Dallas Howard

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018, J.A. Bayona)

After a strong dinosaur suspense opening, with some futuristic submersible entering the closed Jurassic World bay to get something off the seafloor, Fallen Kingdom shockingly quickly becomes a remake of the first Jurassic Park sequel, Lost World. Like, so much you wish there were more in it so David Koepp got a credit through forced arbitration or whatever.

This time, there’s a calamity on the island—a volcano—and Bryce Dallas Howard, now a dinosaur rights activist, wants to get them off the island somehow. Snap of the fingers and in comes Rafe Spall (in for Arliss Howard) who works for rich guy and ret-conned in co-father of dinosaur cloning, James Cromwell. As a British guy. Fallen Kingdom will have some amazing casting finds and choices, but obviously American James Cromwell as a British guy. I wonder if they tried for Sean Connery. Fallen Kingdom is a big Spielberg homage, fifteen or so minutes in to finish. Like, a perfect one; Bayona gets how to do the scenes, gets how to direct the action. And Fallen Kingdom has—unbelievably—a great score from Michael Giacchino. Never thought I’d type those words in that order.

It’s a total rip of John Williams, but a brilliant one. Giacchino doesn’t just lift from Jurassic Park, he lifts from everywhere in Williams’s career, which is very good for Chris Pratt, who’s definitely doing an Indiana Jones audition. The first act reuniting with Howard and Pratt is unsteady; they really needed to have the “relationships based on tense experiences never work” conversation onscreen but don’t. Instead they just turn it all into a joke, which ends up working. Most of the jokes don’t land, but the actors seem a lot more comfortable pretending to be ex-dinosaur amusement park employees than current dinosaur amusement park employees. Fallen Kingdom’s light on establishing the ground situation. It doesn’t ask a lot of questions, it doesn’t encourage many, but it keeps a good pace. The film’s lean and nimble when it needs to be—not easy considering editor Bernat Vilaplana has a concerning lack of timing—which helps it get through the major story shift.

See, Fallen Kingdom’s not a remake of Lost World, it’s not a volcano disaster movie with dinosaurs (though it seems like one for about twelve minutes; may haps a nod to Son of Kong or, dare I say it, People That Time Forgot), it’s actually a haunted mansion movie. The thing haunting the mansion just happens to be a genetically modified raptor. Because the real lead of Fallen Kingdom, at least as far as narrative arcs go (or the implication of them), is Isabella Sermon. She’s Cromwell’s treasured granddaughter and she’s suspicious of Spall because Spall’s a creep caricature. He’s occasionally effective, but not after the first half for sure. Once he teams up with an ill-advised Toby Jones, he just gets more obnoxious. Great comeuppance though, with Bayona digging deep into franchise favorites.

But, yeah, it’s all about Sermon solving the mystery of the basement or whatever. Only the film never does any work to establish it; there’s nothing about Sermon being scared of raptors for some reason or being scared of the gargoyles on the giant scary mad scientist mansion where she lives; there’s not even a sequence establishing she scales the exterior walls of the mansion because she’s a badass kid. She’s in the first scene at the mansion–Kingdom doesn’t bring back the kids from the previous movie, like the original Park did because clearly the filmmakers realized no one liked those kids and instead made a great kid character with Sermon.

Bayona directs that section of the film beautifully. It’s terrifying. Excellent photography from Oscar Faura. And all the rest of it, with the dinosaurs getting to civilization finally–seventeen years after III didn’t deliver it—works out. Bayona and Giacchino make you think you’re watching Spielberg figure out how to do a B-movie dinosaur movie for pure fun.

Acting-wise, Pratt and Howard average out to be fine. He’s usually a little better, she’s usually a little worse—once Sermon teams up with Pratt and Howard, Howard takes a back burner to Pratt being the lovable alpha protector of Sermon, so it’s probably not all Howard’s fault. Spall’s low eh. Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda are both fun as the science nerd sidekicks. Ted Levine’s cruel great white hunter guy is a disappointment; he’s not just no Pete Postlethwaite, he’s not even Peter Stormare.

Good small turn from Geraldine Chaplin, good cameo (though nonsensical) from Jeff Goldblum; pretty much no one else makes an impression. The script’s mercilessly efficient and actually rather impressive in how much it gets done in two hours. And Bayona’s good, Giacchino’s good, the photography’s good, the editing’s not. It’s a surprise once Fallen Kingdom starts getting good, but then it’s not a surprise when it stays good. The film inspires confidence in itself and, potentially, the franchise.

It’s a series of Spielberg action homages strung together with some effective screaming dinosaur mauling victims, with a great John Williams score. What could be better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by J.A. Bayona; written by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, based on characters created by Michael Crichton; director of photography, Oscar Faura; edited by Bernat Vilaplana; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Andy Nicholson; costume designer, Sammy Sheldon; produced by Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, and Belén Atienza; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing), Chris Pratt (Owen Grady), Isabella Sermon (Maisie Lockwood), Rafe Spall (Eli Mills), Justice Smith (Franklin Webb), Daniella Pineda (Zia Rodriguez), Ted Levine (Ken Wheatley), Toby Jones (Mr. Eversoll), Geraldine Chaplin (Iris), James Cromwell (Benjamin Lockwood), and Jeff Goldblum (Ian Malcolm).


Jurassic World (2015, Colin Trevorrow)

If I had to describe a feature of Jurassic World as saddest… I might find myself hard-pressed. There aren’t a lot of possibilities—worst, dumbest, cheapest, silliest, probably some others… but saddest is something different. When the film takes a pointless detour through the original visitor center from Jurassic Park, aged some twenty years and run over with quite a bit of vine growth and so on and I definitely don’t think anyone involved with World has read Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, which discusses how long it will take for nature to reclaim in layperson’s terms. Though production designer Ed Verreaux’s never impresses. Not when it’s the nostalgia trip, not when it’s the amusement park, not when it’s the control center. Of course, Verreaux can’t help with director Trevorrow’s chronic impatience or wanting composition, just like editor Kevin Stitt can’t do anything about Trevorrow’s utter lack of coverage.

Jurassic World is only occasionally bad-looking—Chris Pratt riding on the motorcycle with the velociraptors has some truly embarrassing composites (John Schwartzman’s photography is middling at best)—but it’s never good looking. Not once. Not even when it’s desperately using the original John Williams music. Though the music’s much better when composer Michael Giacchino is just using the Williams because when Giacchino does it himself? There’s better music on almost every television show. It’s terrible music.

But still not the saddest thing about Jurassic World. The saddest thing about Jurassic World is annoying kids Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson aren’t ever going to die. They’re visiting aunt Bryce Dallas Howard, who runs the park and works for owner Irrfan Khan, who only partially owns it and an evil shadow corporation really runs it. A slumming Vincent D'Onofrio (I really hope he bought something nice with the paycheck on this one) is the bad company guy. I got off track. Back to Simpkins and Robinson’s narrative immortality.

They’re visiting the park to give their parents (Judy Greer and Andy Buckley) time to work on their divorce, which younger Simpkins has figured out is incoming thanks to Googling their attorneys’ names while Robinson is just concentrating on getting off to college in a couple years. They both give terrible performances, but it’s not their fault. The writing on their fraternal relationship is truly godawful. Trevorrow’s “direction” of the actors is also godawful, but not worse than the script. The script is really rough on Simpkins and Robinson. But it’s still sad they’re never going to die. They spend… a mildly significant portion of the film running from the dinosaurs and they’re never in any danger whatsoever and it’s obvious.

Actually, Jurassic World is always obvious about its victims. Save Katie McGrath’s torturous death sequence, played for laughs because McGrath’s character is supposed to be so terrible (Jurassic World has some issues with how it characterizes its female characters… like a lot of them for a 2015 movie)–that sequence is a vapid, albeit brutal choice from Trevorrow. He makes very few directorial gestures with the film, anything suggesting a pulse stands out a bit. He and editor Stitt take an hour until they can gin up any actual suspense in the film. The third act’s actually pretty solid with it, but the resolution’s so dumb it erases whatever ground the film’s made back up.

The end involves Trevorrow’s attempts at directing Chris Pratt like he’s Harrison Ford or something. It seems more like Ben Affleck playing Harrison Ford only not unlikable like Affleck would play it. Pratt’s not exactly good, but he’s effective and he’s affable. He’s enthusiastic and it successfully impacts his scenes. If Howard’s ever enthusiastic, either the script or Trevorrow’s direction ruins it. Howard’s never fails but she never succeeds. She’d be a good metaphor for Jurassic World if it weren’t so poorly executed, if Simpkins and Robinson weren’t so pointless, if it didn’t always look just a little too cheap. Trevorrow’s got no idea how to show the money onscreen. As a dinosaur movie, it’s completely indifferent to the dinosaurs, which is a bummer.

Lauren Lapkus and Jake Johnson initially seem like they’re going to be good as the control room flunkies who watch everything go to crap when the genetically modified I-Rex gets loose and starts eating dinosaurs and guests, but their arc sputters, then ends badly. Trevorrow mocks Johnson, while extolling Pratt. It’s very weird how manly Pratt’s supposed to be in the film. They should’ve named him Super-Chad.

Though he’s basically got an early nineties Steven Seagal part, which sounds like an amazing movie.

The special effects are fine. Rarely are the dinosaurs around long enough to admire any sort of creative artistry and there are often bad composite lighting messing things up so why bother looking too much.

Omar Sy’s in it so no one can say there’s not a Black guy. Simpkins and Robinson are the most annoying little White boys too. They’re so bland. BD Wong—the only cast member from the original film returning—is awesome. Shame he’s only in it for four minutes max.

Jurassic World’s much worse than I expected. Though I didn’t dislike Chris Pratt in it, which seems like a whole lot.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Colin Trevorrow; screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Trevorrow, and Derek Connolly, based on a story by Jaffa and Silver and characters created by Michael Crichton; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Kevin Stitt; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Ed Verreaux; costume designers, April Ferry and Daniel Orlandi; produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Ty Simpkins (Gray), Nick Robinson (Zach), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire), Chris Pratt (Owen), Vincent D’Onofrio (Hoskins), Irrfan Khan (Masrani), BD Wong (Dr. Henry Wu), Omar Sy (Barry), Lauren Lapkus (Vivian), Jake Johnson (Lowery), Katie McGrath (Zara), Andy Buckley (Scott), and Judy Greer (Karen).


The Mandalorian (2019) s01e04 – Sanctuary

It’s a really good thing the Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) has seen Seven Samurai, otherwise he’d have no idea he and new pal Gina Carano (as a former Rebel shock trooper) would be able to train the villagers to take on the raiders out for their crops. The villagers hire Pascal, who’s on this backwater planet looking for someplace to lie low with Baby Yoda—but, seriously, how can you lie low with Baby Yoda because everyone’s got to notice the inordinate cuteness—and Pascal brings Carano onboard. They’ve already had a fist fight to bond so it’s a natural development in their relationship.

In the village, Pascal meets fetching widow Julia Jones, who also knows her way around a blaster somehow, and considers taking off his helmet and settling down. But it’s only the fourth episode; no spoilers… but it’s only the fourth episode.

The episode’s absolutely gorgeous, with Bryce Dallas Howard doing an excellent job with the direction. It’s also this tranquil village with rice paddies—or whatever kind of paddies—and the kids are all happy and cute and so on. They all love Baby Yoda and he’s thrilled to have all the attention. The show gets around to some exposition as far as Pascal and the Mandalorian way but at some point they’ve got to address Baby Yoda’s development. If Yoda Yoda was 900 and Baby Yoda is fifty, should Baby Yoda be talking by now? No, because he’s lived his life in hiding without a steady caretaker apparently. Baby Yoda doesn’t play into the episode much, not once Seven Samurai versus an AT-ST starts.

The big surprise of the episode is Carano, who’s good. Not sure if it’s the script, the direction, or just Carano learning to act but hopefully she’s not just in it for a single episode. It’s probably also Pascal’s best episode too, if only because he’s got a lot to say and interesting things to talk about. Jones is good too. It’s slight and obvious, but really well-made and performed.

If Disney+’s “Star Wars” shows are going to draw so heavily on Kurosawa movies, they ought to at least offer the corresponding one streaming.

Terminator Salvation (2009, Joseph McGinty Nichol), the director’s cut

Ok, no joke, what idiot thought adding Christian Bale to Terminator 4 was a good idea? Was it McG? Without the dumb connection to the previous films–if it had just been the adventures of Anton Yelchin’s Young Kyle Reese–it might have been fine. Nichol’s direction isn’t anything spectacular (it’s solid enough, surprisingly), but he doesn’t fetishize the Terminator world. The callbacks to the originals are at least amusing, since they’re trying for subtly.

Sure, it’s a knockoff of Road Warrior with a little Return of the Jedi thrown in but whatever, it’s not complete garbage. It’s at least diverting, more than Terminator 3, in fact.

However, then there’s Bale. Oh, wait, no way. Bale’s got the goatee to look tough (and less like a date rapist?).

Sam Worthington’s wasted. If I hadn’t seen Rogue, I’d have no idea he was good. Though he can’t hold his accent.

The script’s awful, but Nichol’s shoots it so large scale (studio franchise pictures with establishing shots, I’d missed those), it’s like Terminator‘s less about its actual content than that content’s presentation. Brancato and Ferris probably don’t have the writing chops of a good “Days of Our Lives” writers’ room and have some of the most lamely predictable “surprises” I can remember. But I suppose the script’s better than their Terminator 3 script, even if the nonsensical items–the Terminator base, the networked machine base, having manual, physical overrides.

If you haven’t been able to tell yet, this post’s going to be double length, just because there’s so much to talk about. Not the content, of course, but the film as an example of the decline of popular filmmaking.

Helena Bonham Carter is really bad. Laughable. She just gets worse and worse, doing some kind of impression of The Emperor from the Star Wars series.

Common’s awful. Michael Ironside’s embarrassing himself here.

Watching Bryce Dallas Howard act opposite Moon Bloodgood is pretty funny too. I’ve never seen Bloodgood in anything before and haven’t seen Howard in years–I figured the former would be bad and the latter okay. I was wrong. Very wrong.

Still, whoever did the special effects went cheap on the big “old” Terminators, which are clearly guys in costumes. And the thing when Worthington’s walking around half-Terminator or whatever, it looks awful, cheaper than a Halloween mask, even if they are doing some idiotic CG composite thing with it.

Terminator Salvation comes after The Matrix, so there are plenty of lifts from it (though the giant Transformer-like robots are not)–the whole prophet thing with Bale feels directly copied and pasted from The Matrix 2.

Unexpectedly first-rate is the Danny Elfman score. As much of a Brad Fiedel fan as I am, Elfman’s pure action score is great. There’s nothing playful to it, which is somewhat non-Elfman (at least the Elfman I know), but it’s such a solid piece of composing, it doesn’t seem at all lacking.

Maybe most offensively, they dedicated this crap to Stan Winston.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph McGinty Nichol; screenplay by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; director of photography, Shane Hurlbut; edited by Conrad Bluff IV; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Martin Laing; produced by Derek Anderson, Moritz Borman, Victor Kubicek and Jeffrey Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Bale (John Connor), Sam Worthington (Marcus Wright), Moon Bloodgood (Blair Williams), Helena Bonham Carter (Dr. Serena Kogan), Anton Yelchin (Kyle Reese), Jadagrace (Star), Bryce Dallas Howard (Kate Connor), Common (Barnes), Jane Alexander (Virginia), Michael Ironside (General Ashdown) and Ivan G’Vera (General Losenko).


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