Jurassic World: Dominion

In Jurassic World: Dominion, humanity is beset by two man-made disasters: dinosaurs running amok and gigantic locusts devouring the food supply.  The former is fallout from the previous movie, where the baddie had the brilliant idea to hold a dinosaur auction in his mansion.  The latter is the result of some nefarious genetic engineering on behalf of Biosyn, run by ruthless tech bro Dodgson (Campbell Scott).  Not content with controlling the world’s food supply, Dodgson is searching for Maisie (Isabella Sermon), a genetically-engineered clone who is now the ward of Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard).

The supersized locusts catch the attention of Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), who promptly recruits old flame Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to visit the Biosyn headquarters at the behest of mutual friend Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).  (They need a locust sample to prove that Biosyn is behind the big bugs.)  The headquarters doubles as a dinosaur sanctuary, and you just know the dinosaurs won’t be kept under wraps for long.  After Dodgson’s henchmen kidnap Maisie and Blue’s baby raptor, Owen and Claire head for Biosyn to retrieve their children.  After running from dinosaurs separately, the two casts unite so they can run away from the dinosaurs together.  

Dominion is not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination.  Its plot is driven by coincidences and contrivances.  The dialog is mostly perfunctory.  In spite of its limitations, I enjoyed it.  In the sixth entry of this franchise, the filmmakers can still rely on a solid performance by Pratt and a tolerable one by Howard to anchor the proceedings.  The dino-action is, as always, top notch.  The movie avoids the unforced errors that sank Fallen Kingdom, in that nobody does anything glaringly stupid.  I’m not sure if the reappearance of OG trio Neill, Dern and Goldblum was a panic movie to regain fans after that disastrous sequel, but it ultimately disappoints, with the gentlemen tossing gutterballs.  (Dern emerges unscathed.)

Fortunately, the chances director/writer Colin Trevorrow took with the story succeeded, and turned the movie into something better than the sum of its parts.  He thankfully moves the franchise beyond the tired “dinosaurs as entertainment” angle into interesting new territory.  He shows us what a world where dinosaurs and humans coexist actually looks like.  Then, he explores how the genetic engineering used to bring dinosaurs back to life could make things dramatically worse for humankind.  Finally, he turns the question of dominion on its head for a theme of cooperation and collaboration.  The movie also introduces several intriguing new characters, including DeWanda Wise’s tart cargo pilot Kyla, Dichen Lachman’s henchwoman Soyona and Mamoudou Athie’s Ramsey, an heir-apparent to Goldblum’s Malcolm.  Omar Sy is also back, and if this series will continue with another trilogy, he should be given the leading role.  Dominion takes risks when none were expected, and for that it earns my respect.  Recommended.

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Men

If director Alex Garland had any sense of humor at all, he would have titled the movie “Fear and Loathing in Cotson”.  As it is, Men is about how badly men behave, particularly when they are rejected by women.  Jesse Buckley plays Harper, a woman suffering in a marriage with the violent and emotional James (Paapa Essiedu).  When she says she wants a divorce, he threatens her with committing suicide.  He figures she would prefer to stay married over having to deal with the guilt of his death, but Harper is determined.  James dies suddenly, and it’s unclear whether it was intentional or an accident.  Some time afterwards, Harper decides to take a vacation.  She rents a house in the English countryside.  Once there, Harper meets proprietor Geoffrey, an overly polite English type.  On a walk, she’s stalked by a naked man.  Shortly afterwards, she is confronted by an angry child, an oily vicar, a dismissive policeman and assorted male dullards, all played by Rory Kinnear.   (“The Many Faces of Rory Kinnear” would also have been a better title.)

Each Kinnear starts out by being nice to Harper, only to reveal their true ugliness when she rejects their advances.  Yes, (some) men act like assholes when the object of their affection rebuffs them.  Unfortunately, that is all that Men has to offer thematically.  Garland has met the enemy, and it is men.  In his righteous hands, feminism is blunt instrument and the audience a set of nails to be pounded.  Problem is, the audience for this movie is likely full of converts.  Allegorical horror movies like these are easy to admire for their audacity and conviction.  I admire Garland’s guts with seeing his vision through.  Unfortunately, the movie is such an obvious and didactic affair that it becomes ridiculous very early on.  It’s a well crafted and well acted movie, but it lacks any subtlety and nuance.  The more serious it becomes, the more laughs it induces.  I smell a cult movie.   Not recommended.

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Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange 2 is a superhero-horror movie mashup that takes chances and mostly succeeds. Director Sam Raimi brings some a sense of anarchy and fun to the proceeding. As Strange Benedict Cumberbatch gets to flex his acting muscles for the first time as the character, bringing subtle shadings and tinges of vulnerability to the character. Recommended. Continue reading Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness

Downton Abbey: A New Era

If you aren’t a fan of the television series, there’s no point in seeing this movie.  If you are a fan, A New Era delivers the goods.  All of your favorite characters are on hand once again in a new chapter that is more of a continuation of the main plot line than the previous movie.  The Crowley’s (a.k.a. the poorest rich people you know) need money to fix a leaky roof.  As luck would have it, a director wishes to film a movie on the estate.  Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is all for it, but Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) has his priggish qualms about it, as usual.  As (even more) luck would have it, Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) has just been left a villa in the south of France from a Marquis she met eons ago.  (Yes, before she was married.)  Mary sends her father and a contingent of her family off to the villa so that she can supervise the production.  Unfortunately, technology catches up with the director, who must shift gears and make a talkie.  Mary thinks they can pull it off, but unfortunately the lead actress sounds like a wench in a pub.  (What movie does that remind you of?)  Meanwhile, in sunny France, Lord Grantham has to confront the idea that his mother had a dalliance out of marriage, making him a bastard!

Like the series and the preceding movie, A New Era delivers what fans have come to expect and appreciate:  impeccable production values, top-notch acting, dollops of melodrama, wonderful costumes and snappy dialog, all set to that iconic orchestral score.  I liked how several of the supporting characters continue to grow in interesting ways, including resident nebbish Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle).  It goes without saying that this movie includes a wedding, a proposal and several professions of love, some expected, some surprising.  In the end, there’s the unexpected departure of a character who’s been around since the beginning, as well as the not-so-unexpected death of a beloved character.  Julian Fellowes, the mastermind behind Downton Abbey, makes it look so effortless.  Regardless, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) is still the luckiest chauffeur ever, and he knows it.  Recommended.

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Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick is a direct sequel to Top Gun and just like its predecessor, it’s an endorphin-fueled joyride of a movie.  Tom Cruise is back as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a gifted Naval aviator with a need for speed only matched by his penchant for taking risks.  Thirty-some years later, Maverick is still doing his thing, flying experimental aircraft.  He’s haunted by the death of his wingman Goose, a tragedy that he still feels guilty about.  (An official investigation cleared him, but, you know.)  A top-secret mission pulls him back into the TOPGUN program, where he’s tasked with playing the role of instructor to a bunch of hot-shot pilots almost as arrogant as he was way back in 1986.  In between training missions, Cruise alternates his free time between romancing bar proprietor Penny (Jennifer Connelly) and dealing with the anger from Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Goose.  Director Joseph Kosinski manages to recreate the spirit of the original, which is no small feat for a rebootquel.  Like its predecessor, Maverick is expertly made, very entertaining and features a performance by Cruise that makes him look a bit more mortal than usual.  If you liked the original, you’ll like this one.  Recommended.

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The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (quick take)

One day before I die, I hope to see a definitive movie (autobiography or documentary) on the life and times of the actor Nicolas Cage.  A movie that, like Cage, is intense, free-wheeling, insightful, irreverent and a bit off-kilter.  One that provides a suitable retrospective of all phases of Cage’s extraordinary career (gonzo indie performances, critically acclaimed dramas, big-budget action movies, straight-to-video wasteland and the current resurrection).  One that acknowledges Cage’s personal faults and eccentricities.  Unfortunately, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (or Unbearable) is not that movie.

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The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Long Take)

In The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (or Unbearable for short) presents, actor Nicolas Cage stars as Nicolas Cage, a well-known but struggling actor who is desperate to land his next breakthrough role.   The character Cage portrays is not actually himself, however, but a version of himself that plays on our collective media awareness of him, both as an actor and celebrity.  This type of “meta acting” pops up every now and then in movies and television series.  Recent examples include Being John Malkovich (with Mr. Malkovich “as himself”), Harold & Kumar go to White Castle (Neal Patrick Harris), The Trip (Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon), This is The End (Seth Rogan, James Franco et al).  In these and other examples, the actors involved get to have a bit of fun tweaking their public in for laughs at their expense.  How funny the exercise is for the audience is directly proportional to how far the actor is willing to be skewered for the sake of entertainment.  In this particular movie, I found the return to be modest.

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Everything Everywhere All at Once

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a story featuring a reluctant superhero who is forced to confront a villain who threatens the multiverse with imminent destruction.  Sound familiar?  No, this movie isn’t set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Instead, it features Evelyn (Michelle Yeho), a put-upon proprietor of a failing coin laundromat.  Her incredibly kind husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) believes he’s the reason she’s miserable and files for divorce.  Her angry and distraught daughter wants Evelyn to recognize she’s a lesbian.  Adding insult to injury, Evelyn and Waymond are facing an IRS audit.  While trying to explain Evelyn’s haphazard bookkeeping to cheerless auditor Deidre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn learns via her husband’s counterpart in the alpha verse that not only do multiple parallel universes exist, but that a malevolent being named Tupaki threatens to destroy it and everything with it.  Through the copious use of verse jumping, Evelyn learns kung fu (among other skills) so that she can defeat Jobu and her nefarious, multiverse-annihilating everything bagel.

Directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (a.k.a. Daniels) gleefully combine several genres and several of their favorite movies in a blender and produce what is decidedly a singular cinematic achievement.  The movie is a lot of fun and features excellent acting throughout, non-stop action and a heavy dose of humor (slapstick and otherwise).  The movie is an extremely busy one, and at times overwhelms when it should pause to allow the audience to take in and appreciate not only the incredibly bizarre visuals but the powerful dramatic moments as well.  The movie is caffeine-added to a fault, in a bouncy castle filled with rubber balls kind of way.  It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for adventurous types, there’s plenty to enjoy here.  Just be sure to strap yourself in and prepare yourself for a wild ride.  Recommended.

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Morbius

If you’re not terribly interested in seeing Morbius, here’s all you need to know: Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is a scientist who, in seeking a cure for his blood-borne illness, turns himself into a vampire-like being.  Similar to a vampire, he has super strength, speed and moral ambiguity.  And like other Marvel heroes, he’s paid his dues at the gym, sporting a nice set of pecs.  Since he’s actually a human-bat hybrid, he’s not bothered by the usual vampire afflictions (daylight, holy water, etc.)  Although he’s essentially the villain in his movie, the history of his character in the comic books indicates he sometimes plays the hero, depending on his moods.  Similar to Venom, Morbius exists mainly as the cinematic introduction of Morbius to the Spider-Man universe of villains.  Credit cookies point to a future collaboration (team-up!) with Michael Keaton’s Vulture, who was introduced in Spider-Man: Homecoming.  (Spider-Man does not make an appearance in this movie, unfortunately.)  Even though Morbius is a small-stakes movie, it’s decently made and reasonably entertaining.  I enjoyed the movie’s breezily, gothic-lite sensibility, its unique visualization of vampiric powers and Jered Leto’s intense performance.  Mildly recommended.

If you’re still interested in learning more about the movie, read on…

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