Colin Treverrow's Jurassic World returns the mighty hand of the Marshall/Spielberg peak decade of Amblin. The themes are recurrent and so are the steady readmission rates that shot this one to number three. Teen and preteen together face divorce and death defying events (see E.T. through War of the Worlds). Here the romance of the leads carries across other plot points, no less absurd than any other film this summer, yet deadpan nimbleness alternates hysteria, like a Warner Bros 1930s adventure, and the film never let's off. Droll teens played straight. Heroic outlier. Villainous privateer. By the numbers Jane. Billionaire fantasist who does his phoenix. All get their five minutes of emotional resonance, and however diagrammed it is, Treverrow manages to convince us to at the very least, not hate them, he's a humanizer, and no one is mean for means sake. It's more under the surface romantic than even Spielberg, with divorced parents getting one last postcard in before the credits roll, yet he's generous to his characters, nothing is in itself threatening because we're always being taught through the basic biological tale. Death is pointed, not abstract, and continual. And the other side is he manages to instill a slight amount of characterization to the dinosaurs. "You can see it in their eyes." says billionaire Masrani, and we can. They behave, at moments, cognitively. And they communicate. The Jaffa/Silver pairing naturally follows the retooling of Apes, here suddenly aware and subtly realized prehistoric reptiles work in coordinated ways, and Treverrow and his team instinctually know how to build this without lecturing or explaining too much. Visuals make the case and gesturally he's got the Spielberg deontic down, maybe a little too eeirly exact. When Hammond successor Masrani takes a good look at his Indominus Rex, he realizes it's chameleon-like "You didn't tell me it's white." Cut to a hazy, defocused Claire, whose ghostly face materializes in the security glass's reflection who does her best coy voice: "is that bad?" and we've just been visually cued to the buried motif: the monster under this all is the white-girl. Her spreadsheet efficiency, her servicing the goals for bigger and better of everything. (Later on ghost stories are retold). Clever visuals punctuate the story non-stop; a birthing I-rex punctures its eggshell with its tiny talons followed much later by one of them piercing a clear transporting sphere. The first full screen glance at the unleashed I-rex's jaws is metaphorically juxtaposed against the familiar logo's T-rex, on a jeep's door, upside down and black and white. Action is built out of descriptive structure rather than the typical explanatory lecturing that afflicts most blockbusters nowadays. A junk food crunching watchman is crunched himself seconds later, you start to realize every act has its follow-up, it's the clever rube goldberg yellow-pages of kinetic antics Spielberg can deliver, now somehow coming out of a late protogee gangbusters. Here's the student it took Spielberg three decades to find, with the master's comparative skills down cold. A teenager says goodbye to his girlfriend who's a dead-ringer for his mom, then he spends the film eyeing other girls at the theme park, triggering his brother's fears of the divorce. Cleverly the writers have already explained the father's probable behavior through his son's. The teens pull an Indiana Jones decipherment scene in the ruins of the first film's setting, where they reverently touch an image of a raptor behaving like a religious icon. Using a dino bone, they set fire to the banner that ended Jurassic Park to gain a torch; later they'll hurl a pressurized air tank, a la Jaws, at pursuing Raptors. For a finale, the triumphal T takes in the view from the same spot villain Hoskins did mid-second act. The whole flick has a fine base of visual structure and breakneck characterization, more so than even the series's first film. The star here is the genetic hybrid, the mosaically defined Indominus Rex, who always seems to have a plan running. Worse than any reptile, the I-Rex (clever, aint they) plays Jurassic World as slaughter videogame, inflicting maximum carnage by prompting the zoo to revolt, only to have the zookeepers and members restore order as a team. Corporate abuse, rank commercialization and environmental issues play the greek chorus of warning, but it's mostly ignored. Why? We know a sequel is inevitable to a film this tight, those warnings are all directed to the moviegoers, challenging them to ignore the dual corporate/studio-speak mantra: the audience always wants bigger things...and besides, the sub-rosa monster chick has escaped. She's just paired off with the film's hero. She'll be back for more carnage they'll both be taming. Everyone may be romantically attached to Jurassic Park for sentimental reasons, but this is the better film. It's got the nightmare down.
Richard Lester's highly entertaining and riveting Juggernaut is the best of the churning meat grinders in the disaster genre. An unintentional blending of Poseidon Adventure with the airborne takeovers of Airports, the not exactly widescreen British Academy 1.66 ratio is the first clue we're onto something wild. Set aboard a real ship rented between owners, Captain Lester's camp style perfected in the early 60s gives way to part social realism, part satire, with the two crossing over in every scene. A bomber has placed seven bomb-laden drums aboard an Atlantic crossing, and police and army race on-land to find the titled bomber, it's his pen-name (nom d'bomb). Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, Ian Holm, David Hemming, Anthony Hopkins all drop the theatrics and get down to the business, well, all except for Harris, who gets to thesp out while gaining the flick's true moment of realism as the recordist catches an empty stomach squelch that he ad-libs beautifully. In disaster films, there's an attempt to pull us back to the silent era's spectacles, presentation instead of the representation that began in 1908. Lester manages to pull the genre together to a height by crafting scenes of failure (both emotional and deadly) that lend it the aura of realistic voyeurism. No smarmy pathos, just unusual scenes where one character first comes across as elegant and powerful then caustic and terse, and the romantic arc never leaves the storytelling, only it slowly drifts into commentary. It's only sin is it was either underfilmed or overedited. Not only the best of the disasters (with overbaked competition like this: Poseidon, Airport, Earthquake), but clearly a model for the next-gen's Die Hard. A must-see in 35mm. Part of the Richard Lester series at Lincoln Center this August which includes rarely screened 35mm versions of How I Won The War, and the extremely before its time The Bed Sitting Room.
Not a new body but an old corpse given new life, MAD MAX:Fury Road is the transfused return to the fierce blast of Road Warrior days. While the swagger of Mel is reborn in Charlize Theron to lesser effect (she's a better shot), New Max Hardy creates another character separate from the Gibson cocktail of blunt gamey charm, his new embodiment revels in self-hypnosis. Gone is the gambler who smirked when given one more chance to survive (though only he sees the way out, to the audience he's finished, old Max reveled in nihilistic pride). He only seemed suicidal. Hardy instead looks intimidated when he has to read lines, though he's mastered the physical aspects fine. His one chance at redemption is smashed when he bungles telling Theron's Furiosa his name. He mumbles it like he's in love, but he's really more concerned she'll die. (Yes, movies are made pantheonic or not at these little moments of discovery). The only time he apes Mel well is when he sets out in a blue mist to confront a hotrod on tank tracks following them. And that bit of Mad Max is left offscreen, as if we, steeped in the Mel Max of yore have to imagine a leather clad Gibson trapping the machine and slaughtering its occupants. It's the summer of 1982 all over again except off camera, and only for a moment. The thing to remember is all that madness in Road Warrior's 1982 kinetic highway slaughter was done-in camera, trapped by celluloid. Here, what's really there and what isn't is arbitrary, decided not all by pre-planning, but by Miller's choices and the limits imposed by rendering cash.
Miller, for all his digital knowhow, still has the mind born in the optics of filmstock. The movie's gripping qualities come from his coarse, non-digital panache with tighter lenses that toggle the mayhem inside the cabs and their adjacent threats. It's throwback disarray that had to be solved on the KEM, then the AVID and now the render. Not letting go of his shooting style gives the audience a taste of what kinematics was. He's in there somewhere between the lavish 3-D effects he's labored over and the blunt kinetics he shot on location. First conceived as an animated film, Fury Road drifted into live-action probably out of budgetary necessity. That's where the flashes of inspiration come from, from Miller's new anime mad-man side. The photographic stuff is pulpier, like a bright graphic novel. It has a flatness the landscape effects don't. It's at these moments you forget you're looking at binary bits up there (see above, the war rig annoited by light); you can almost sense the chemistry once tasted by eyesight. A must see... anyway, and only in 3-D.
Seymour Hersh's detailed autopsy of the official myth of the death of Bin Laden, if true, dissolves the common view: a brilliant piece of detective work aided by torture - ending with an adernaline soaked flurry of early morning airborne gunmen. Instead in Hersh's account there are no stacks of hard drives and techies, just a few diaries. No courier to lead them back to the compound. All that hardnosed analysis and groundwork was an illusion in the CIA's myth. In his telling, there wasn't even a risk for the Blackhawks crossing the border from Afghanistann. UBL's sale was approved by Pakistan Intelligence and given wide berth, including team passage across radar soaked areas. In Abbattobad, Bin Laden was carefully watched, and wasn't allowed to lead any underground. The city is, after all, the intelligence community's second residential city. And now, it seems preposterous to think the mastermind of Al-Queda would hole up in a military elite locale like Abbattobad: in Hersh's narration, the city gave him up. On the night of the raid, the neighborhood Bin Laden resided in had its power shut off, surrounded by families tied to the inteligence and military academies. Obviously Bin Laden would never have chosen to be here. Nor was he even a moving target. According to Hersh, Bin Laden was no longer spry, but a man in bad shape healthwise. The strangest of all is that Bin Laden was sold by a walk-in to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, and that his presence, though never verified visually, was easily proven from DNA samples by a team of American investigators housed in-country for the op. Price for the intel? 25 million reward fee and the op's cost. And a cover story was planned, pinning Bin Laden to the Hindu Kush mountains. Scheduled to emerge the week after. Problem? The copter crashed, and was potentially ruinous to the cover story. So Obama rolled the dice and got reelected.
With Hersh's story more than likely plausible, running through Zero Dark-Thirty means living inside a CIA fantasy version of it. One concocted, even triangulated through two ex-SEAL accounts of the raid. The weirdest part would be the alternate version that comes out about now, if the Blackhawk had never bonked. Hersh would be denouncing a far more effective story, set in a remote, empty area of mountains, and telling us about UBL's Abbatobad compound, which would sound ludicrous and absurd. And at that point, it would be long erased by bulldozer.
Here the myth is far less believable. And makes us wonder, how did we even start believing the story of a master terrorist, hiding in plain sight, never viewed.
footnote: The guards surrounding Bin Laden were ISI (Pakistani), and were there 24/7. They were told once they heard the roters coming to split. Bin Laden was left unarmed for the raid.
As a mythology, the Marvel Universe is theraputic. It's here to help us (the U.S.) process the aftermath of 9-11 and the subsequent wars we sought vengeance through. Nobody really misses the point with a group of security obsessed, tight-wearing superheroes proclaiming themselves "Avengers." What are they avenging?
In mythology, murder and destruction are taboos made sacred by the sacrifices of the protagonist: with the primary scarifice being isolation. Nolan's Batman is the only comic book character in motion who enacts this violence as ritual. He is a loner by nature and though he's rescued by sleight of hand by the end of Rises, we believe he dies alone. The Marvel Universe, however, has its lead serial Iron Man announce his identity as a mission statement. These heroes aren't going to hide, nor will they brood too much. M.U. insists on blending 1950s values of family (Guardians and Avengers, Parkers vs. the Osbornes) and sex-roles with taboo carnage and death so that none of the outcomes can be read as sacred. Instead a false family is born, a criminal family not unlike other families that practice violence in myth (like the Corleones). They are somewhat empty tales, usually ignoring the psychic role violence plays, and so they erase the sensations of collective responsibilities from audience minds. Why are they here suddenly, and why are they so successful? The films are essentially mental degaussers that absolve resposibilities for the carnage we've turned loose on the world under the guise of liberating dictatorships in the past 15 years. We are the empire, share this moniker with the other world powers. We practice warfare without sanction, kill chosen by drone. And we seem to be unaware of how this is perceived on the world-stage. And the Marvel Universe might help us to remain blind to our self image. Certainly the last Avengers was a 'world-stage' battle.
Time for new mythologies before it's too late.
Some back-up: Damien Straker's Ultron review http://www.impulsegamer.com/avengers-age-of-ultron-3d-film-review/
A little bit Matrix a little more Bioshock goes on rails with a semi-global cast veering Wes Anderson, the actors' ironic satire of white culture gets led by a white hero. Most of the hero prompting-speechifying drags, but Swinton's kneeling about the sacred engine's water intake gets the right weirdness. Eco-planning gets mechanized while Poseidon Adventure meets Supertrain in the unconscious. In the age of the still-born blockbuster, an E for effort.
This visual overload is a space opera derived from a 1977 Manga of the same name. The Gaia scenes and their back stories are dead weight, but the majority of the film is next-level optics and depth construction. 2 hours best seen on a projection screen. In some cases, CGI adds to characterization.