June 29, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. While I will never tire of seeing really cool dinosaurs on the big screen, I’ll probably never avoid frustration from a poorly written and poorly acted film. On the bright side, I got to see this at the Grand Opening of the beautiful new Alamo Drafthouse in Denton, Texas. A 66 foot curved screen with the best available sound system made the dinosaurs that much more impressive, while simultaneously exposing the acting for the disappointment it is … especially the almost impossible to watch Bryce Dallas Howard.

J.A. Bayona directs this follow up to the 2015 JURASSIC WORLD, but he’s saddled with a subpar script from the writers and director of that previous entry, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow. The creatures of the late, great Michael Crichton deserve better. In addition to the aforementioned Ms. Howard (as Claire Dearing), Chris Pratt also returns as the smirking Owen Grady, and this time he flashes some fighting skills that would make Jean-Claude Van Damme proud. Not sure how his experience training baby dinosaurs and building a cabin in the mountains prepared him to single handedly take on an army of armed mercenaries, but such things are possible in a cartoon … which is exactly what this plays like: a live action cartoon with high dollar special effects.

We have a spoof of a villain in Eli Mills, played by an over-the-top Rafe Spall, a quivering techie played by Justice Smith (PAPER TOWNS), a tough Paleo vet in Daniela Pineda (MR ROOSEVELT), a dying billionaire former partner of John Hammond played by James Cromwell, a greedy capitalist who should be twirling a mustache in Toby Jones, a big-gun toting badass by Ted Levine, and a good-hearted housekeeper played by Geraldine Chaplin. Mr. Cromwell and Ms. Chaplin add a touch of class in their all too brief scenes. BD Wong is back doing things with dino DNA, and sadly, Jeff Goldblum probably filmed his two courtroom scenes in a couple of hours. One nice addition is young Isabella Sermon, in her screen debut. She is part of the only decent twist in the story.

Despite the disappointments, it remains awe-inspiring to see the dinosaurs on screen. If only those moments weren’t ruined by such superfluous bits such as a close up of Ms. Howard’s footwear to prove that she’s not wearing high heels in the jungle this time. Director Bayona has three very fine movies under his belt: THE ORPHANAGE (2007), THE IMPOSSIBLE (2012), and A MONSTER CALLS (2016). He’s likely to make more good films during his career, and this will surely be a box office smash because people love seeing the dinosaurs, and are willing to overlook the people. As a frequent movie goer, I’m just unable to cut slack to a mega-budget film that expects us to overlook shoddy writing and laughable acting. We don’t expect to recapture the (25 years ago) magic of Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams in the stunning JURASSIC PARK, but we do expect a better effort than this.

watch the trailer:

TALK TO HER (Hable con ella, Spain, 2002)

January 19, 2014

talk to her Greetings again from the darkness.  Not many writers/directors would put their two lead actresses in a coma for most of the movie.  But then Pedro Almodovar has never been one for a conventional approach.  His creative, challenging and visual story telling is at its peak with Talk To Her.  The Dallas Film Society provided an opportunity for me to revisit this one for the first time since my initial viewing in 2002.  A rare Best Original Screenplay Oscar winner for a Foreign Language film, those eleven plus years have not even slightly dulled the impact.

It’s typically pretty simple to determine what genre a particular film falls into.  Somehow Almodovar walks (and writes) a fine line between love story and horror story … comedy and tragedy. Always an expert at writing interesting female characters, this time he shows the women are the stronger force even while comatose!  The male leads are the ones suffering and dealing with loneliness.  Javier Camara as Benigno is both likeable and suberbly creepy as Alicia’s (Leonar Watling) caregiver.  Dario Grandinetti is stunning as Marco, whose stoic personality can reach dimensions most actors can’t touch. His scenes with Lydia (Rosario Flores) and Benigno are unlike anything ever seen on screen.

The film begins with a ballet piece featuring the amazing Pina Bausch (you should see the 2011 documentary Pina), and the rest of the film features similar pacing … each individual scene and even the film score create the feel of watching a ballet.  There is even a fantasy/faux silent movie sequence within the movie that will cause uneasiness and nervous laughter … while Almodovar again makes the point that the force of women can literally consume a man.

In addition to terrific performances by Camara and Grandinetti, the flashback sequences really allow Ms. Watling (as a fresh-faced dancer) and Ms. Flores (as a confident bullfighter) to prove why these men fell so hard.  One other actress adding interest is Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Sir Charles) as Alicia’s dance instructor.  Her presence helps tie in the flashbacks and present tense.

While most writers tie up stories with a pretty bow, Almodovar purposefully challenges us to think and feel and dig into our own thoughts and beliefs. He is brilliant (and a bit annoying) with his persistence in making us work so hard. There are decisions coated in gray, rather than black and white.  There are characters who we want to like, but maybe/probably shouldn’t. Pedro’s use of color and texture is fascinating.  This is an example of a master filmmaker at the peak of his craft.  Sure, he has many other excellent films (Volver, All About My Mother, Broken Embraces), but if you only get one Almodovar, make it this one.

**NOTE: The priest in the wedding ceremony is played by Agustin Almodovar, Pedro’s brother and the film’s producer

watch the original trailer:




January 6, 2013

impossible Greetings again from the darkness. Director Juan Antonio Bayona and writer Sergio C Sanchez reunite for a much different film than their taut thriller The Orphanage (2007). What separates this from the long list of disaster films is that it’s exceedingly well made, it’s based on a true story, and it puts a young actor in a role vital to the connection with audience.

The real life Belon family from Spain have for some reason been presented here (by Spanish filmmakers) as the British Bennett’s with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts (as Henry and Maria). They are on vacation at a beach resort with their three boys Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). In the beginning the resort plays like paradise. Unfortunately, this is Thailand in 2004 when one of the worst impossible2natural disasters of all-time hits … a Tsunami with enormous force and monstrous waves.

Filmed with remarkable intensity, we see Maria and Lucas (separated from the others) struggle mightily to survive and stay together. This 10 minute sequence leaves the audience spent and gasping for air. Rarely do we witness such realistic near-drownings on screen. The film soon breaks into two simultaneous acts: the fight for survival by Maria and Lucas; and the quest to find them by Henry, Thomas and Simon.

The first half of the film is the strongest portion and it deals with the storm and it’s aftermath. The second half is very emotional impossible3and focuses on the courage of Lucas and the strength of Maria. It’s one of the most unique combination tales of survival and family love that we’ve seen. The filmmakers wisely choose to let the story follow the family and not throw in cheap parlor tricks like TV newscasts. We all remember those reports, and the actual film does a terrific job of recreating the frightening images.  There is also a short, but sweet (almost mystical) scene featuring Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie) contemplating the stars.

Acting by the leads take this to elite status. Ewan McGregor turns in what is his best performance in quite some time. His phone call home scene is excruciating to watch. Naomi Watts delivers what is likely an Oscar nominated performance, despite being almost unrecognizable while laying in a hospital bed during much of the film. The real star and soul of the film is Tom Holland as the youngest son. His performance recalls those of Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit and Shailene Woodley in The Descendants … two of the best ever child performances.

Be forewarned. This one is a true tearjerker … especially if you are a parent or grandparent. Keeping in mind that it’s the true story of one family’s ordeal makes a few scenes almost impossible to watch clear-eyed. The film ends with a photo of the Belon family … perfect.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy a good tear-jerker, especially if based on a true story OR you want to what terrific filmmaking in a disaster movie looks like OR you need proof that it is possible to make Naomi Watts look unattractive.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: watching the trailer eclipses your preferred public display of emotion

watch the trailer: