Jurassic World (2015)

★★★★

Jurassic World PosterDirector: Colin Trevorrow

Release Date: June 11th, 2015 (UK); June 12th, 2015 (US)

Genre: Action; Adventure; Science fiction

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In the context of filmmaking, it’s very easy to construe that as nothing more than an excuse for lazy writing or a general lack of ideas. Mainstream horror comes to mind, movies that retread the same ground so often that the concrete slabs below are eroding into nothingness. Jurassic World similarly stomps over familiar tracks, the same ones paved back in 1993 by Steven Spielberg.

Yet there’s an authentic admiration afoot in Colin Trevorrow’s work. Moments so sincere that any semblance of cynicism will be expunged from your psyche. A lot of goodwill has clearly been poured into the making of this fourth dino instalment, a film that undoubtedly strives to capture the fantastical magic of the first. It probably gets there in the end. We see imitation in spades and it’s flat out splendid.

Some time after the tumultuous events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar has been transformed into the tourist-attracting dinosaur paradise originally envisioned by John Hammond. Operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) invites her two nephews — gloomy Zach (Nick Robinson) and wide-eyed Gray (Ty Simpkins) — over to experience the park first-hand. When something inexplicably goes wrong, Claire and Velociraptor coach Owen (Chris Pratt) find themselves in a race to restore civility.

These characters are initially drawn rather whimsically. Chris Pratt’s Owen is the morally upright park hand who spends his time tucked away in a cabin fixing up motorcycles when he’s not training Velociraptors. Claire is work-obsessed, her penchant for sustainable order and satisfaction statistics often overruling any time spent with her nephews (both of whom also assume recognisable age-related traits). It’s all part of the writers’ plan though; imminent danger brings heroism and savviness to the fore, particularly in Claire whose transformation is punctuated in a scene where she literally rolls up her sleeves.

In fairness, there are early hints at this increasing character roundedness. Conversations about the new breed of dinosaur — Indominus Rex, a corporate attempt to freshen up the park — leave Claire flustered, suggesting she is somewhat torn by the possible consequences. “Indominus wasn’t bred, she was designed,” we hear ominously. Owen, despite treating his raptors with care and respect, is still holding them captive. The influence of corporations, poor animal welfare, and immoral science are all interesting themes that would have benefited from more breathing time in a film not contractually obliged to serve up grand bouts of action.

Occasionally, Trevorrow and his team of co-writers do return to the aforementioned themes — an exhilarating scene where Owen rides his bike among the raptors seems to suggest humans and dinosaurs are one in the same. But the moment of the movie, and a shoe-in for one of the moments of the entire year, belongs to Claire. It comes towards the conclusion, spine-tingling in delivery, and cements her place atop the annual cinematic table of quick-thinking badassery.

While Bryce Dallas Howard moulds into the cool aunt we always knew she could be — shooting errant dinosaurs and using her wily driving skills to protect her nephews — Chris Pratt remains impossibly cool throughout. He’s Indiana Jones, a surly customer not afraid to echo some juvenile Han Solo-esque one-liners. When he gets serious, he means it. The two actors appear effortless in their roles, and share an engaging, charmingly awkward chemistry.

An underfed yet sweet relationship plays out between brothers Zach and Gray too. Not helped by an unnecessary divorce plot strand, Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins are fun to watch as the generic sibling duo who eventually, predictably, come to appreciate each other. Robinson, who excelled in The Kings of Summer, has natural charisma and could be a breakout role away from superstardom. Comparably younger, Simpkins defies the annoying kid curse and puts on an amiable show here.

Other members of a pleasingly diverse cast include Omar Sy, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, and previous Jurassic survivor, BD Wong. Jimmy Fallon makes a hilarious cameo, striking a funny bone from which point the film gets gradually more amusing. Trevorrow manages to carefully balance light-hearted humour (which the franchise well known for) and rampaging action (which the franchise is also well known for). We see this during a dino football scene: the situation is terrifying in theory, but the visual of a marauding dinosaur thumping a giant glass ball around is humorous.

Action spots are aplenty, though never burdensome. Executed with boisterous energy, you willingly give into the air of childlike joy and genuine threat. One sequence sees the dinosaurs meet The Birds and we subsequently feel that film’s sense of impending, uncontrollable danger. A claustrophobic night vision routine looks like it has been lifted directly from the Zero Dark Thirty Abbottabad raid. These instigators of flickering emotion merge with John Schwartzman’s realistic-looking cinematography, and as such we constantly feel embedded in the story. This is, without doubt, a CGI masterstroke.

The same can’t be said for compelling dialogue, of which is there is very little. There are plenty of exposition-driven sound bites in first hour though, lines wrapped in a heightened dramatic effect, snippets that have an unfortunate made-for-trailer dynamic. The screenplay is ham-fisted, especially during the film’s opening third where the desire to induce peril overrides any airy character discussion. But the people and the sounds and the overall atmosphere collectively create a welcome distraction.

At its simplest — and it is often simple — Jurassic World is a nostalgic love letter to cinema. It is a wonderfully reminiscent piece bearing great admiration for Spielberg’s original, and is able to duplicate Jurassic Park’s most memorable moments without plunging into mawkish territory. We hear John Williams’ famous track early on, during a perfectly handled island tour sequence celebrating the magnificent park facilities (Tomorrowland… pfft), before it hits a crescendo coated in cinematic glee.

Those sort of goosebump-inducing moments are the foundation of the cinematic experience. Jurassic World is not the complete package by any means, but as far as celebratory storytelling goes, it has serious bite.

Jurassic World - Pratt & Howard

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Universal Pictures

Drinking Buddies (2013)

★★★

Drinking Buddies PosterDirector: Joe Swanberg

Release Date: August 23rd, 2013 (US limited); November 1st, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Drama; Romance

Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick

If I knew anything about alcohol, I’d compare Drinking Buddies to an ice cold brew: refreshing and momentarily absolving, but certainly nothing impactful in the long run. Guzzle too much and you’ll wake up with a dizzied demeanour, clutching at the faint straws of last night’s antics. You probably wouldn’t want to indulge these characters for too long either, else their credible charm will devolve into a more septic annoyance. Director Joe Swanberg finds an amiable balance though and subsequently delivers a film that is controlled despite its obvious air of improvisation. But much like that 11th beer, Drinking Buddies just doesn’t feel necessary. There is a gaping plot contrivance, one that’s really difficult to ignore.

As co-workers at a Chicago-based brewery, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) spend more time with each other than they do their respective partners. The duo even manage to squeeze evening bar gallivants alongside other staffers into their laid back schedules. A double date weekend away ushers in a few new home truths — at least one more than we’re already aware of — whilst also cementing the obvious, that these two should be a couple.

So why aren’t they? Drinking Buddies calmly shuffles along for 90 minutes and for at least 85 of those we ponder that exact sentiment. The notion promoting Kate and Luke as a terminally separate item is quite unbelievable, so much so that the amour scales eventually bowl over into absurdity. At its heart the film is a ‘will they, won’t they?’ story that seems destined for a conclusion within reach but beyond common sense. Kate and Luke are both drinkers, they’re both jokers, both laid back. The two even work at the same craft brewery. Better still, the duo’s respective partners are more suited to a relationship with each other as opposed to their current situation. Anna Kendrick is Jill, who likes to hike and muse over philosophical idioms. She’s not much of a bevy merchant. Inconspicuously, neither is Kate’s boyfriend Chris.

The plot, though straightforward and immersive enough, struggles to overcome the grandiose fabrication staring it right in the face. We spent far too much time frustrated, pleading with the characters to face the overt facts. Not frustrated in an enticing manner, rather, gratingly so. It is a shame because Swanberg — who also wrote, edited and co-produced — drives home a genuine sense of believability when it comes to his characters. We recognise the people and we like them, but their situation is borderline nonsense.

There is an impetus to improvise and, for the most part, a justifiable one. Although proceedings occasionally teeter down an overly spontaneous route where natural is irritatingly substituted in favour of awkward (a conversation during a mundane forest hike, for example) this mantra that puts the ball in the actors’ court is a welcome one. The indie tint is prevalent and actually very agreeable; visually, Drinking Buddies manifests as cosy if not at all flashy. Nor should it be flashy. The filmmaker squeezes a lot out of his $500,000 budget by tending towards simplicity, a decision that also coalesces neatly with Swanberg’s attempts to enforce purity.

Much of what is happening hinges on the talents of Drinking Buddies‘ cast and they universally deliver. Olivia Wilde leads as Kate, constantly dawning shades in order to convince us she is hungover. Kate could easily be unlikeable — she is sort of clingy and relentlessly fails to take control of situations — but Wilde’s effortless allure grants her unlimited lives. Stepping away from the wrestling ring for a moment, Jake Johnson turns up as the other half of the film’s dynamic duo, Luke. Johnson has a slightly easier job than Wilde but delivers wholesomely nonetheless; Jake is cool (he has a beard) and eternally collected. The flick is at its most mobile when these two share the screen, their chemistry constantly sizzling. Anna Kendrick is also thrown in at the deep end — Jill is the character who is sort of ruining what inevitably would be a picturesque relationship. Yet, we still get along with her. Kendrick’s stock is on a rapid ascent and it is clear why.

Simmering irrepressibly beneath the love quadrangle is alcoholism, a damning and serious issue. Though the tone fluctuates between frothy romance and light wit, the subject of alcoholism subconsciously rears every so often — it would, at the end of the day this is a piece about people working with drink and drinking after work — and Swanberg handles it well. He has to. Kate is definitely the serial gulp offender and it is consequently unsurprising that her personal life is the one falling apart. The director aptly manages said topic by raising awareness without stumbling into burdensome territory.

There is no avoiding the almost fatal error in Drinking Buddies’ narrative. The film’s strive to be authentic butts heads with its stubbornness when it comes to characters’ romantic tendencies. Put that to one side though, and Joe Swanberg’s light-hearted indierrific outing will certainly quench your thirst.

Drinking Buddies - Olivia Wilde & Jake Johnson

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Magnolia Pictures