Because that other “Jurassic” movie just went and had the biggest opening release weekend in film history…
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park was directed by an auteur who was a kid at heart and had it in his dreams to create a new pop-fable for the modern age. Having tackled sharks, nazis, and aliens, dinosaurs were really the only foreseeable future in his career, and the rampaging success of Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park was as good an excuse as any to pursue that dino-dreaming. The end result was not a healthy meal, but it was a particularly fizzy soda and buttery popcorn even in its worst moments, and we critics cannot argue with Spielberg when he is using his fullest talents to commandeer the screen and throw us into our worst nightmares.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park, released just four years later, was directed by a crusty old auteur who had better things to do than make pop fluff, and it shows. Spielberg, “the man with Oscars on the mind,” was in full swing in the late 1990s. It wasn’t his best mode, but it devoured both his serious films and his blockbusters in a layer of dreary somnambulism, suffocating whatever energy and zest he had for layering fun onto the screen. The Lost World is a tired motion picture, and even in its best moments, it has a slow-going, self-serious demeanor that coats the film in an unearned sense of importance. It is Spielberg trying to make a wacky puff piece out to be a heavingly serious drama. Continue reading
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the novel, is naughty. Alice in Wonderland, the Tim Burton film, is just nasty. An expatriated perversion of Lewis Carroll if ever there was one, it is the culmination of Tim Burton’s decade-long trek to shoot in the back any of the good will he earned doing more with film history than any mainstream American director during the 1990s.
Burton spent the better part of his early career falling in love with film and selling his love to the public on a silver platter. In their own ways, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, and Mars Attacks are infected with pure cinema, and they do everything in their power to show it, warts and all. Alice in Wonderland is all warts, not remotely invested in anything that makes its source material tick and not even passingly committed to finding a genuine visual and filmic translation of a literary text of madness, insecurity, and stream-of-consciousness insanity.
There is nothing to to ruin a film like a Famous Actor and a Famous Person mixed into a stew. As Phyllida Lloyd desperately wishes to prove, it seems, legitimately incompetent direction doesn’t even come close to causing that much hurt compared to the genuinely uninspired and violently sedate biopic genre from which this film was birthed. If nothing else, at least her casual inability to point a camera at people talking affords the film a somewhat tilted-axis, twitchy vibe that is miles more interesting than anything actress Meryl Streep or writer Abi Morgan accomplish at any point in the film. Lloyd single-handedly turns something that might have been a great bore into a more magnetic form of badness, and thus a more watchable film. Continue reading
This film was approved by Satan.
Now, something interesting. Not the film; the film is deliberately passionless. But the existence of the film? Now that is something worth milling over, and savoring the bouquet. Written by Paul Lalonde and John Patus, and based on the novel of the same name by none other than Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins – Yes, The Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins – Left Behind is not the first adaptation of this very novel. Famously, Kirk Cameron’s absolutely bizarre cottage industry of hair-budgeted Christian conversation-pieces adapted the work in 2000, eventually leading to a proper series of religion-by-way-of-looney-bin pieces of sheer, unmitigated thematic emptiness bolstered by filmmaking of such wanton incompetence that the films almost doubled-back on themselves into intoxicating dare-yourself-to-continue-on heights. Add to this recipe for a walking disaster the divine likes of Nicolas Cage and, I mean hey, who wouldn’t want to see a Nicolas Cage-fronted film about the end of times done-up in Biblical proportions and filled with all sorts of ooey, gooey fire-and-brimstone dialogue for Cage to deliver at the tips of his toes and in the depths of his derangement? Continue reading
Upon releasing his sophomore feature, the generally indifferent Elysium, not two years ago, writer/director Neill Blomkamp was keen on ensuring that nonplussed audiences knew he was entirely willing to tacitly disown the film. He didn’t quite say that, but the implication was clear. Fitting, for Elysium seemed exactly like the sub-Ridley Scott piece of blockbuster arch-competence a promising young director would sputter out upon their introduction to the corporate world, a classic example of filmmaking-by-committee and a work whose primary sin was a complete and utter lack of passion or investment from its principles. It seemed like Blomkamp producing his idea of what audiences, and producers, would want more than the film he actually wanted to make. “For his next film”, one could almost hear him hush under his breath every time he spoke, “Blomkamp the passionate South African science fiction juggernaut would return”. Continue reading
Ahem…A scientist (Dylan Walsh) with a monkey he has taught to speak via a machine needs to return his money back to Africa and teams u inadvertently with a corporate electronics executive (Laura Linney) who also has to go to Africa in hopes of finding her ex-fiance who may have been killed there by a pack of genetically mutated or hyper-learned gorillas. And Tim Curry wants to go to Africa to from some vaguely mysterious reason, and he helps you fund your trip.
Now this, my friends, is a genuine Grade-A Bad Movie plot, and the makers of Congo do their damnedest to earn every second of it. It’s terrible, sure, but in a deliriously magnetically idiotic sort of way, down from the inklings of whispy, broad thought introducing the film to a producer’s mind (something like: Michael Crichton wrote this, lets get to work!) up to the trickles of specific camera gestures and the unbridled moronic drunken stupor of the special effects tickling their way toward the film’s fingertips. Trapped in 1995, everything about the film straddles the line between the unrepentant ’90s cynicism that would form the backbone of late ’90s and 2000s blockbusters and the loopier variety of early ’90s blockbusters toeing the matinee thrills of the atomic ’50s and the heftier brawn of ’80s blockbusters themselves owing almost everything to the teenage mumbo jumbo of the hokum sci-fi of the 1950s. It dares us to see what fever-induced nonsense will pop into its mind next. Continue reading
End of Watch
Try as he might, David Ayer’s glum aesthetic really isn’t going to win any new fans any time soon, nor is it going to approach thematic heft or filmmaking prowess. He likes making ugly films, which is fine, except for two reasons. Firstly, he has not a clue that ugliness is not synonymous with pointing a camera and shooting, and that a great many films have put much effort into carefully constructing their ugliness over time. End of Watch is not one of those films, and thus it seems all a bit more dulled than truly grimy or gritty. Continue reading
Were you expecting maybe Bugs Bunny? So we arrive at 1972, not nearly the best year in the American New Wave, but the year with the release of the most famed film to call the time and place home. Yes, The Godfather is a classic piece of American cinema and a great film in its own right. I’ll maintain a certain confusion as to its status as the most loved of all American films (only rivaled by Citizen Kane and Casablanca). It’s undeniably stellar, but there is a mighty space on the couch between very great and quintessential, and I’ll leave the discussion with that. Mostly, it’s just a film that so much has been written about, I do not feel I can add anything meaningful (not that such a pesky thing has ever stopped me before, but I’m not above bad excuses).