ALISTAIR Harkness reviews this week’s new cinema releases including Jurassic World, The Look of Silence and Insidious: Chapter 3.
Film of the week: Jurassic World (12A)
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard
Star rating: **
Much as he did with Jaws 40 years ago (almost to the day), Steven Spielberg redefined blockbuster entertainment in 1993 with the first Jurassic Park movie, ushering in the era of fully integrated CGI effects, but also a kind of winking self-awareness, one that blatantly acknowledged the film’s status as a cinematic theme park ride with sellable merchandise. Not even Spielberg was good enough to spin this into viable series however. Bowing out after his bigger-not-better sequel, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, the franchise ground to a halt with Joe Johnston’s truncated Jurassic Park III. But as Jeff Goldblum’s mathematician opined in the first film, “life will find a way” and in the modern era of relentless reboots, that means leaving a concept alone for long enough to start feeling nostalgic about it, then making a film that comments on its own relationship to that first film while simultaneously falling back on amped-up effects to deliver the requisite thrills, spills and 12A-friendly kills in lieu of memorable characters or doing anything vaguely innovative.
Set 20 years on, Jurassic World finds the eponymous theme park – rebranded to minimise associations with all the death and mayhem caused by the first couple of tries to get things right – now operational, offering the public all the dino-themed rides envisioned 20 years earlier. There’s a T-Rex paddock with a lone goat, a bunch of raptors being kept in isolation, river rides through the diplodocus enclosure and safari trips through flocks of rampaging Gallimimus. There’s also the same corporate insouciance regarding technology and the same arrogance regarding its application in the creation of life and control of Mother Nature. Indeed almost everything in Jurassic World, which was directed and co-written by Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed), is a self-conscious call back to the first movie, ensuring things get pretty old pretty fast.
Not that it sticks to referencing Jurassic Park. In a playful nod to Spielberg (serving as executive producer), one of the film’s early money shots features a shark dangling from a line, baiting an aquatic dinosaur to perform for an enraptured crowd, who subsequently cheer like idiots when it pops out of the water and swallows it in one gulp. The symbolism’s unintentionally potent: Jurassic World doesn’t just jump the shark, it devours it, eradicating memories of the pre-Jurassic Park days when blockbusters still had relatable human elements between all the monstrous stomping and chomping. Indeed, Jurassic World blithely expects us to be impressed by spectacle precisely because it holds that first film so dear: hence why it throws a new, wilfully ridiculous species of dinosaur into the mix. It wants us to pine for the “authenticity” of the T-Rex and Velociraptors of old as part of a strategy to get us excited about its all-too-predictable and somewhat corny ending.
That this new dinosaur goes by the focus-grouped name of Indominus Rex (it was chosen so four-year-olds could pronounce it, we’re told) is another of the film’s groaningly self-referential gags. Bigger, faster and boasting “more teeth”, the newly designed beast has been engineered to boost visitor satisfaction at the park, which is making money, just not enough of it to satisfy shareholders. Alas, with the concept of genetically engineered dinosaurs out in the world for so long, the public has apparently become jaded by the prospect of seeing just regular animals – see what the filmmakers are doing here? – and the corporate bods, realising they get visitor spikes when they introduce new “assets”, have started doing even more tinkering – although as soon becomes apparent, the classified design of the Indominus Rex may just have something to do with a subplot involving a military plan to weaponise these creatures.
Sadly, the latter idea – a holdover from an early John Sales-penned draft for a fourth movie – doesn’t really go anywhere, subsumed as it is by the film’s determination to simply tweak the plot of Jurassic Park and hold a few things back for a possible sequel. To this end Bryce Dallas Howard and co-star Chris Pratt seem content to conform to gender stereotypes: as Joss Whedon complained when the film’s trailer hit the internet, she’s stiff and controlling, he’s a lovable maverick. Sadly, the film as a whole does nothing to contradict this: Howard’s over-achieving businesswoman has to learn to loosen up, while Pratt’s devil-may-care dino expert has his heroism repeatedly celebrated and validated by others. The other characters – among them yet another pair of siblings whose parents are going through a divorce (just like the first film) – are so thinly conceived they barely register.
In the end, this is just another bogus attempt to recreate something that was briefly special. Acknowledging this in the plot shouldn’t give it a pass.
The look of Silence (15)
Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer
Star rating: *****
Joshua Oppenheimer’s debut The Act of Killing was a radical reinvention of the documentary form; a film that used cinematic artifice not only to expose the banality of evil in the grinning, ageing guise of Indonesia’s communist-slaughtering civilian militia, but to subtly force these perpetrators of crimes against humanity to unravel their tightly knotted denials of wrongdoing through repeated re-enactments of their murderous acts for Oppenheimer’s camera. It was a jaw-dropping reminder of the power of cinema to elicit truth, and a testament to the way art – even in the crude form of a murderer mugging for a camera – can unlock the emotional reality of a moment already rendered abstract by history.
Functioning as a sequel of sorts, The Look of Silence revisits that world. Oppenheimer’s subject once again is Indonesia’s collective refusal to acknowledge the barbarity of the communist purges that resulted in a million deaths following the 1965 coup. This time, he zeroes in on one man’s determination to confront this shameful past – or, more accurately, one man’s determination to force the maniacs who murdered his brother to confront it. This is Adi, a 44-year-old ophthalmologist. His brother, Ramli, was killed before Adi was born, but the traumatic manner of his death has cast a pall over Adi’s life, and the lives of his parents (both centenarians). The film begins with Adi watching a video of a former member of the militia gleefully recounting the details of Ramli’s death. The footage was shot by Oppenheimer years earlier during his research for The Act of Killing and in presenting it to Adi in this manner he’s again showing how film, far from being a distancing device, can provide a direct connection between past and present.
After watching this footage Adi decides to track down these men with Oppenheimer’s help, a course of action that at first suggests the film isn’t going to be as formalistically daring as its predecessor. And yet contrivances such as the symbolically rich sight of Adi interviewing some of the men under the auspices of an eye examination pack an emotional wallop. What follows involves much talk of “following orders”, as well as denials and protestations that the wounds of the past should not be re-opened. Yet the shame etched on the faces of Adi’s interlocutors is impossible to hide and macabre revelations by some that they drank the blood of the dead to stave off madness function as unwitting admissions of the kind of collective insanity for which there are no words to adequately explain. The titular look of silence ultimately belongs to Adi as he comes to this realisation.
Other new releases:
Queen & Country (15)
Directed by: John Boorman
Starring: Callum Turner, Caleb Landry Jones, Tamsin Egerton, David Thewlis
star rating: **
John Boorman unites an impressive cast for this drearily nostalgic follow-up to his beloved, semi-autobiographical 1987 film Hope and Glory. That film revolved around the wartime experiences of a young boy called Bill living in London during the Blitz; the new one is set in the 1950s and finds Bill (Callum Turner) on the cusp of adulthood, signed up to do his National Service and questioning the validity of war as the world edges into a capitalism-vs-communism battle of ideologies. David Thewlis co-stars as a by-the-book major unable to cope with the insolence of the younger generation, but this is pretty dull stuff.
Second Coming (15)
Directed by: Debbie Tucker Green
Starring: Idris Elba, Nadine Marshall, Kai Francis Lewis
Star rating: ***
A religion-free story about a virgin birth set within a gritty social realist London milieu – that’s the intriguing starting point for Debbie Tucker Green’s debut feature, which also manages to provide Idris Elba with that rare thing: a film role worthy of his talents. He plays a mildly frustrated family man whose discovery that his wife (Nadine Marshall) is pregnant starts tearing their home life apart when he realises he can’t be the father. The twist? She can’t explain the pregnancy either: though marital relations have long since subsided, she hasn’t had an affair. The film works best when playing out the reality of this situation, with Marshall exuding vulnerability and despair, Elba simmering with wounded male pride and ten-year-old Kai Francis Lewis good too as their bewildered son, caught in the middle of his suddenly warring parents. The final image takes things into oddly metaphysical territory, but for the most part this works as a interesting parable about harsh realities bound up in the miracle of childbirth.
Insidious: Chapter 3 (15)
Directed by: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Leigh Whannell, Lin Shaye
Star rating: **
The best that can be said about the Insidious franchise since its unsettling first instalment is that it’s retained a consistently high level of craftsmanship. As low-budget horror movies, they look better than many mainstream blockbusters. Trouble is, this franchise stopped being scary after the first movie. Dermot Mulroney takes over from Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson as this film’s requisite stressed parent. A recently widowed single father, his life gets more complicated when his grief-stricken teenage daughter (Stefanie Scott) tries to contact her dead mother and ends up with a demon attached to her soul. The jumps are too obvious and Lin Shaye’s return as a reluctant spirit guide has slipped into the realm of corny rather than creepy.
Directed by: Christian Schwochow
Starring: Jördis Triebel, Tristan Göbel
Star rating: ***
The toxic effect on West Germany of its division from the East proves fertile ground for drama in Christian Schwochow’s smartly structured film about a single mother’s defection from the GDR. Finding herself quarantined in a border camp, frequently interrogated, and encouraged by the authorities to be suspicious of everyone in her life, Nelly (Jördis Triebel, pictured) soon realises that her life in the supposed capitalist utopia of the West isn’t all that different from life behind the Iron Curtain. Schwochow turns this into a potent metaphor for East-West relations, and though it occasionally feels a little clunky, it’s redeemed by the ambiguity of the final act and the strength of the performances (Triebel’s in particular), which suggest that reunification was never going to be a perfect solution to the problem of how to repair the nation’s troubled psyche.