Friday, June 12, 2015


RIP to an all time great, Christopher Lee, departed at 93. More on him later, of course.

Opening wide today:

Jurassic WorldNear the beginning of this summer blockbuster, one of the bigwigs at the title theme park complains that the public is no longer impressed by live dinosaurs, that kids don’t see them that differently than they’d see an elephant. It is, after all, twenty-some years since the disastrous events of Jurassic Park the first, so in the timeline of the franchise we’ve all had time to get blasé about giant extinct reptiles.

It’s hard not to sense that behind this is the dilemma of the filmmakers—back in 1993, Jurassic Park gave us CGI/animatronic dinosaur scenes so convincing that, at the time, they seemed almost like documentary footage. Between that and the dazzling showmanship of director Steven Spielberg, the original swept us briskly past logical and logistical gaps and stodgy, banal dramatics.

But two decades and two (enjoyable) sequels later, how to revive the franchise? Both the movie and its characters use the same approach—build a better dinosaur. And by better, of course, they mean more badass.

The premise is that Jurassic World is now up and running, funded by a gushy billionaire (Irrfan Khan), as a major international tourist attraction, with dinosaur petting zoos and boat excursions and a Sea World-style show with a mosasaurus leaping for a hanging shark like a porpoise leaping for a sardine. It also has, for that matter, a Starbucks and a Pandora jeweler and a gallery sponsored by Samsung—this movie has more product placement than Clueless, and to a similarly disingenuous satirical point.

Anyway, in response to the public’s yawn about dinosaurs, the park’s geneticists (led by B. D. Wong from the original film) have created a 50-foot tall genetically-engineered dino-hybrid monster dubbed Indominus Rex. This toothy titan breaks free, kills people and other dinosaurs, sets other creatures free in the wake of his destruction, and generally unleashes pandemonium.

So, how is it? Look, I’m a dinosaur geek, so it’s hopeless asking me for a balanced view of a dinosaur movie. But I remember being intrigued by the choice of the director, Colin Trevorrow, whose only previous feature was the sweet but low-key romantic comedy Safety Not Guaranteed. He seemed like an offbeat choice for a special-effects-bloated spectacle.

He was just the right choice, as it turned out. He has a peculiar sense of humor and, better yet, no significant sense of decorum, and after setting us up with a relatively straight-faced opening quarter, he starts putting funky little spins on notions from King Kong to the Japanese monster flicks to the earlier films in this series, and he gradually lets the movie go crazy. In a good way.

He even gives us a villainous corporate creep (Vincent D'Onofrio) who thinks the velociraptors would make excellent American soldiers. I seem to recall something like that in the Weekly World News years ago.

The showpiece dinosaur scenes have a buoyant exuberance that's really fun. The one in which the two boys, riding in a transparent observation sphere, are bounced around like a pinball between a herd of panicking ankylosaurs is ready made to be a ride in Universal's own theme park.

But Trevorrow's nutty sensibility may be best displayed in the way he handles his leads. Bryce Dallas Howard starts out as a stereotypical lacquered career woman who doesn't show enough interest in her visiting nephews (the boys in the ball). As she spends more time in the company of hunky dinosaur trainer (yes, dinosaur trainer; you read that right) Chris Pratt she accrues glamour until, by the time she's leading a T-Rex with a traffic flare, she's like a de-victimized Fay Wray. It would be retrograde if it weren't for the sense that it's a put-on.

As for Pratt's brawny raptor whisperer, he gets to ride a motorcycle and lead a pack of four voracious female predators. It's been a while since a leading man has had it this good.

Opening today at Harkins Camelview:

The Farewell PartyYehezkel, an inventor and good-heartedly meddlesome neighbor, lives in a Jerusalem retirement home. With the help of a couple of friends from the building—and to his wife’s horror—he develops a Kervorkian-style euthanasia machine and uses it to put a man out of the misery of a protracted terminal illness (with the man’s wholehearted consent). Word gets around among the geriatric community, and pretty soon people are approaching Yehezkel and pals asking for the same service.

This Israeli film, co-directed and written by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, may sound grim, and it certainly has its heartbreakingly poignant moments. But it’s not a downer at all—it has at least as many sly, ironic laughs as it has tears. Although it seems firmly in the right-to-die camp, the film is fully awake to the thorny complexities that come along with this right, and employs them for both comic and dramatic power.

And good grief, is it well acted. Every member of the cast, led by bourekas star Ze’ev Ravach as Yehezkel, is effortlessly vital and convincing, and they have an ensemble chemistry that’s tense and crisp and more sexy than you might expect. There’s no patronization of the aged here. These people aren’t cute oldsters, nor are they tragically venerable—the word for them is cool. I wanted to hang out with them.

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