Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation"



 4 / 5 

Everything you need to know, or not know, about Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (or is that Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation?  Or Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation?  Who knows about the grammar) is all right there in the first action-packed scene that opens the movie.

Evan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his Impossible Mission Force operatives are on an airstrip trying to prevent a big airplane from taking off.  Inside the fuselage of this cargo plane is a big, giant crate.  They tell us, over and over, that the crate is in there, and that they have to get it out.

It's a nail-biter of an action scene, a pitch-perfect way to begin an action movie.  It doesn't have time to stop for silly questions like, "What's in the crate and why do they want it?"  Crate=good.  Pilots≠bad.

It goes on and on like this in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation for more than two hours.  The bad guys have something.  The good guys want it.  But since the good guys have been doing some possibly very bad things lately, the CIA director (Alec Baldwin) has disavowed all knowledge of the actions of this splinter group.  Tom Cruise finds himself without a country, which is something a lot of gossip sites and maybe one or two religions would like to have actually happen.

But you think that's going to stop Ethan Hunt?  No, he's a man on an even bigger mission, because he believes that the recent calamities that have befallen humanity (there's some rather bold references in there to the fate of Malaysia Airlines 370) are not coincidental.

No, Evan Hunt and his operatives believe that assassinations, factory explosions, missing planes and all sorts of things that fill the headline are the work of an independent group of terrorists bent on -- what, exactly?  World domination, I guess.  Not knowing their motives hardly diminishes the enjoyment of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and casts their lead baddie, an oily blond guy named Lane (played by Sean Harris), as the ultimate baddie.  He wants to create havoc.  Sure, there's something in there about how he's bought politicians to fund his efforts, but the pacing of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation flagged just oh-so-briefly enough to have me wondering things like: Who pays them?  Do they have a payroll group?  Do their checks go to direct deposit?  Who handles things like making sure the lights don't go out at home or that the dogs get fed and walked?  I'm assuming the members of the Impossible Mission Force have some sort of home life.  Interesting.  But not interesting enough to show in the film (nor should it be).

Instead, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation careens at breathless speed from Germany to Austria, from London to Morocco, and it's the kind of film that should not be seen by someone with Wanderlust.  You want to hop right on the plane and see these places, where people with unlimited income do dastardly things.

The movie is one big action scene.  If it has time to slow down, I didn't really notice it. Even in its quiet moments, the film is trying to help us understand what this device or the other one does.  They're all in service of finding the Big Chief Bad guy and destroying his stranglehold on the ultra-rich donors who make offshore deposits to very bad men.

Apparently there's something about keeping the world out of balance, or political gain, but I confess I didn't listen much to the dialogue in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, and I tried to follow the endless flip-flops of its gorgeous spy Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), and was hoping for an even deeper revelation about how and why she seems, at least, to work for the bad guy, whose aquiline nose makes him necessarily sinister.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation presents a slightly sweet, slightly backward world view that seems to say that despite the technology, despite the ever-persistent tension around the globe, all the really, really bad stuff that happens is because of this one guy, and if you can catch him, the world would be a better place.

It's a nice, if naive, little story to put at the heart of such a big-budget action-adventure.  But the big budget certainly shows, and the action and adventure shine through.  While it doesn't have the revelatory, eye-popping use of IMAX that made Brad Bird's last film truly transcendent -- Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation has everything you came to see and that much more.

As for the underlying "Macguffin" that everyone wants: It's perfect Hitchcockian work: It doesn't really matter what's on that 21st-century version of the "microfilm" that used to be so popular.  Whether it's found or not, whether what's on it can really save the world, all of that is beside the point.  You came for thrills.

That's a good thing, because Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation delivers lots and lots and lots of thrills.  It's perfect escapist fare for those days in which your own life might feel like something of an impossible mission.  You probably won't follow every detail of the plot, you may well get confused about who's doing what to whom, but it does't matter in the slightest.  See it anyway.

And pay attention to that opera scene -- though it's easy to criticize modern filmmakers for their lack of vision, it's one suspenseful set sequence that truly stands out by taking its time and making sure the audience knows what's happening where and what will transpire if one person takes exactly the right (or wrong) shot.  It builds tension in ways that would have made Hitchcock proud.

The rest of the film has a hard time living up to that central sequence, but if it can't hit the same highs, that's no matter at all.  As escapist, diversionary fare, you'll be hard-pressed to find any movie as utterly devoted to providing thrills and a little charm to go along with it.  Your mission, if you haven't yet, should be to choose to accept it.

Viewed Aug. 22, 2015 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

"Trainwreck"



 3.5 / 5 

If she were a man, Amy Townsend would be a sexually prolific heavy drinker who's assertive about his career.  A comedy might be made about him, one where he finds love and sees the error of his ways, but those ways would be portrayed as manly, as almost aspirational.  The male version of Amy Townsend wouldn't be a "train wreck."

But women who drink, who dabble in drugs, who choose their career over romance and (gasp!) child-rearing are still, even in the 21st century, seen as troubled, and the only problem with the otherwise funny, sad, wise, sometimes hilarious Trainwreck is that its writer and star apparently sees her character as deeply flawed.

Trainwreck begins with a wildly inappropriate, graphically sexual introduction to its lead character, a woman who writes at a magazine aimed at men, the kind of magazine that publishes articles probing whether a man's semen tastes different after eating garlic, that promotes exactly the kind of over-the-top, life's-too-short-to-care mentality that brings the double-standard at the movie's core into sharp relief: When men are involved, sex, drugs and booze are just part of life; when a woman partakes, she's wildly inappropriate.

Amy doesn't care -- neither Amy the character nor Amy Schumer, the actress who plays her and wrote the incisive screenplay.  And yet, the movie keeps insisting there's something wrong with Amy.  The woman likes sex, she drinks a lot and sometimes smokes weed: Get over it.

Thank goodness, though, that Trainwreck doesn't exist on that one note.  Amy's alleged train-wreck-edness really (not surprisingly) masks a fear of commitment, a fear of growing up -- she's Adam Sandler if Adam Sandler were capable of introspection.  Watching her grow into a new, fuller, more hesitant person is what Trainwreck is all about, and on that level, it's deeply satisfying; yes, it's funny, it's really funny, but it goes much further than that, offering unexpected pathos and warmth.

Schumer and director Judd Apatow have made a movie that reminded me most of Billy Wilder's indescribably wonderful The Apartment, a film that starts out as a comedy and ends up as a raw and painful punch to the gut.  Trainwreck is lighter and fluffier than that, but only by a little; there's a shocking scene that occurs about two-thirds of the way through the film that left the audience I was with gasping and doing the unexpected in what they thought was going to be a gross-out comedy: They were holding back tears.

In its observations of early 21st-century life and romantic and sexual roles, Trainwreck also brought to mind James L. Brooks' comedy-drama Broadcast News -- especially in the way it seems to still be asking, almost three decades after that movie was made, whether a woman can be strong and vulnerable, whether she can be sexual and self-confident.  It's fascinating that we need to ask, but if the question is still there, we could do worse than have it answered by a movie this capable.

Though it could be shorn of 20 minutes, and Bill Hader's boyfriend is presented at times as slightly too emasculated, slightly too submissive (and not in the sexual way -- though, yes, in one creepy-funny scene, the movie does indeed go there), Trainwreck spends far less time asking you to laugh at Amy than laugh with her at the ridiculousness that surrounds her.  Sometimes, it's overtly silly, like her homosexually confused body-builder boyfriend (John Cena); sometimes it's ludicrous, like the boss (Tilda Swinton) who seems to have watched The Devil Wears Prada one too many times; and sometimes its at the shocking and affecting ways her own father (Colin Quinn) instilled in Amy some warped views of the world.

Trainwreck covers a lot of ground, and while it is no doubt too long, it is also relievedly insightful.  It presents a fully grown, fully aware, independent woman not as an object of ridicule, but as a subject for serious examination -- and does so with deep heart, enormous humor, and, ultimately, fine results. While it's not for the easily offended, the truth is: neither is life.

Viewed July 25, 2015 -- ArcLight Hollywood

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

"Dope"


 3 / 5 

It's been three decades since Joel Goodson got caught in his Risky Business on his way to an Ivy League school, and Dope is a showcase for the Hollywood truism that a good story never gets old.

Dope is essentially Risky Business re-engineered to the hip-hop age, substituting drugs for sex, maintaining as much of that 1983 comedy's uncomfortable balance between good humor and disturbing unseemliness.  Its main character, Malcolm (Shameik Moore), isn't as effortlessly cool as Tom Cruise's upper-class Joel, but he's just as much of a go-getter, and much as an interview to be admitted to Princeton figured into the earlier film, so, too, does an interview for Harvard play a critical role in Dope.  In fact, the parallels are numerous, but the familiarity doesn't harm the enjoyment of Dope, and younger audiences are bound to be completely unaware of the similarities.

Malcolm is too smart for his surroundings, the crime-plagued, troubled Inglewood area of Los Angeles.  His best friends Jib (Tony Revolori, proving The Grand Budapest Hotel was no fluke) and lesbian tomboy Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) proudly proclaim themselves as the geeks of the neighborhood, not at all interested in crime -- though they share an infatuation with early '90s hip-hop culture, down to Malcom's high-rise flattop and his colorful clothes.

A bike ride home changes everything, and in short order Malcom, Jib and Diggy are at the birthday party of one of the street thugs, where things go horrendously, violently wrong.  Just as Joel's dalliance with prostitute Lana led to unexpected places, Malcom and his friends start shooting straight down a slippery slope that finds them selling the street drug Molly.

It's an exhilarating, mesmerizing adventure, as funny as it is terrifying.  Despite the sex, violence and gleeful use of the "N" word, Dope maintains an attitude that at times is almost wholesome.  You'd never mistake Dope for a Disney movie, but in some ways the hijinks aren't all that far removed from the screwball antics of Dexter Riley and Medfield College.  Kids are kids, even if they're learning how to sell illegal drugs.

That sweet silliness, though, is a little off-putting.  Does writer-director Rick Famuyiwa have a perspective on the ways Malcolm moves from being an innocent guy overwhelmed by circumstance to being a full-on drug dealer?  Does the film's portrayal of street drugs mean it approves of the substances?  I hate to sound like a prude, but the drugs on display aren't exactly harmless, yet Dope plays them mostly for laughs, even when it takes detours into some moments of shocking violence.  It never really attempts to comment, either, on the way drugs and crime have impacted the lives of its characters -- though at the last minute it gets pretty preachy about the plight of low-income blacks.

Then again, Risky Business didn't exactly come down hard on organized prostitution and the crime that accompanies it; it was intended as a comedy with edge, which is exactly what Dope is, too.  Despite its most off-putting moments, Dope is fast and funny, with a great visual style and a strong sense of storytelling.  I could quibble about whether it's really as sharply original as it thinks it is, but sometimes, as a moviegoer, you've just gotta say, what the f---.

Viewed July 12, 2015 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

"Inside Out"



 4 / 5 

Endlessly inventive and deeply touching, Pixar's Inside Out is unlike any movie the animation studio has created so far, which is both a great strength and a minor weakness, because while it's unabashedly sentimental and inarguably touching, there are moments when Inside Out finds itself in the same predicament as two of its leading characters: It isn't quite sure where to go.

Like Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Lois Smith, the movie's standout), Inside Out finds its way, to be sure, guided by the talents of its director, Pete Docter -- an animation visionary if ever there was one -- leading to an emotional climax that affects all but the most hardened hearts.

It's only a little distracting that some of the main characters are left with very little to do, and that some scenes feel frankly dismal and bleak; more on that in a moment.

From the first moments, Inside Out offers a hard and fast reminder that Pixar's animated films are unlike those by any other studio in the business, including its parent company.  It's rooted, as the best Pixar films have been, in the real world: It takes place not in a far-off, fairy-tale kingdom, or in a weird outer-space fantasyland, but right here where we live.  Baby Riley is brand-new to life, and her mind is home to only one resident, the emotion Joy, who finds optimistic delight in every possible situation.

Joy is (naturally) ecstatic to discover the world with Riley, which she gets to do with impunity for exactly 33 seconds, which is when she's joined by the adorably mopey Sadness.  They share the same blue hair, but that's where the similarities end.  Short, squat, myopic Sadness and tall, slender, pixie-like Joy quickly find themselves in the company of Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and working together, the five of them guide the emotional life of their charge.

Like Capt. Kirk and his crew on the Enterprise, they do it all from a compact control room somewhere in Riley's head -- and, the movie explains, the little girl isn't unique: Everyone has these five emotions running the show.  Riley just feels emotions a little more deeply than others: She's 11 years old and she's just been uprooted from Minnesota to San Francisco.

In impressive but sometimes overwhelming detail, Inside Out explains how memories are formed and how they, in turn, make up personality.  In many ways, Inside Out owes quite a bit to the 1982 Disney flop Tron, and it falls into some of the same traps, trying to move back and forth between the "inside" world and the "outside" world.  Especially for younger audiences, it's a little confusing and overwhelming.

Just at the moment I wondered if Inside Out was going to be more visually interesting than emotionally involving, though, everything clicks into place.  A character named Bing-Bong (voiced by Richard Kind), who initially comes across as grating and off-putting, winds up genuinely endearing as he quite literally catapults the movie into a final 15 minutes that are as captivating and emotionally overwhelming as anything Pixar has ever created.

Remember those wordless first 10 minutes of Up, also directed by Docter?  While Inside Out doesn't match the sheer perfection of that montage, it comes pretty close.

Still ... for all of its visual flair and complex machinations, the feature-length Inside Out is frankly outmatched in sheer beauty and emotional complexity by the short film that plays before it.  In just seven minutes, Lava manages the seemingly impossible feat of making the most inanimate of inanimate objects -- an entire island -- come to delightful life. I won't spoil anything except to say that the entire short is told through a song, and it's a splendid one.

As good as Inside Out is, Lava is downright spectacular.



Viewed June 20, 2015 -- Walt Disney Studios Theater

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl"


 4 / 5 

It's tempting to think of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl as some cinematic lovechild of John Hughes and Wes Anderson, since it combines precociously self-aware high-schoolers with visual inventiveness, and sometimes feels very much like a movie that either Hughes or Anderson might have made.  But after indulging in some overt preciousness in its first 15 minutes or so, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl settles into its story, only occasionally lapsing into flights of whimsy and more frequently demonstrating a fine assurance and keen sensitivity.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is based on a young-adult novel and bears the hallmarks of a film intended to appeal to young fans of the book, but director Alfonse Gomez-Rejon and screenwriter Jesse Andrews (he also wrote the novel, which I've never read) prove to be as canny students of film as their protagonists.  They are deliberate, careful, but not overly cautious, movie-makers, and the moment I knew that I wasn't simply enjoying Me and Earl and the Dying Girl but was falling into a sort of mild cinematic love with it came during a critical scene between "Me" and the "Dying Girl."

"Me" is Greg Gaines, a tall, gangly guy who's just, well, Greg.  He's not a nerd enough to be a nerd.  He's not a jock enough to be a jock.  He doesn't do drugs, so he can't be a stoner.  He's not rich, so he can't hang out with the rich kids.  There's nothing all that special about him, at least the way he sees it.

Greg does have one very specific set of skills, though he prefers no one to know about them -- no one, that is, except his "co-worker" Earl.  Thanks to the intellectual predilections of Greg's sociology-professor father (he's tenured, which means he doesn't need to go to class all that often), Greg and Earl have learned how to appreciate foreign-language auteur-driven films.  Names like Eisnstein, Marker, Kurosawa, Welles, Tartakovsky, Scorsese, Kubrick, Buñuel -- they all mean something to Greg and Earl.  Some kids learn about football at an impressionable age and want to become football players.  Others learn about science and astronomy and devote their lives to learning more.

For better or worse, Greg and Earl learned about films.  Not just movies, but films -- the blacker-and-whiter, the more foreign, the more obtuse and pained the better.

Like most high-schoolers, they begin to explore their own worth as artists not by creating but first by emulating.  They make movies like 2:48 PM Cowboy instead of Midnight Cowboy, Monorash instead of Rashomon, A Sockwork Orange instead of Kubrick's anti-violence screed.  They don't know why they do this, but they do.  Only Earl and Greg get to watch the final productions.  They're embarrassed by their own creativity.

As Rachel, the dying girl in the title, almost immediately picks up: Greg and Earl are not embarrassed.  They're scared.  Greg insists he's ugly with the face of a groundhog, even though everyone can see that he is handsome.  He is dead-set against going to college, because it will be just like the emotional minefield of high school without the safety net of friends you know.  He can't see himself succeeding in college.  He'd rather have a normal, you know, life.

Then he meets Rachel, a girl he has seen around the school.  Greg has seen everyone around the school, which he views as a survival tactic; if all the myriad social cliques know of him and at least tacitly approve of him, he can glide by on the sidelines -- never a stranger, but never quite a friend.

Greg's mother (Connie Britten) drops the news on him that Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia, and she wants Greg to befriend the girl he barely knows.  Neither one of them is entirely comfortable with the arrangement, but they try.  Gomez-Rejon inserts unnecessary quirkiness into many of the scenes, adding title cards that impart a mildly ironic deprecation to blunt the impact of emotion.

These touches are clever, but they begin to detract a little from the serious turns the story takes -- serious, yes, but rarely maudlin.  They're defense mechanisms, much like those Greg has developed: "Don't take me too seriously," they say, "even though I wish someone would take me seriously."  Wink-wink.

But that is the heart of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl -- that whether we're in high-school or decades removed, we are looking for those people who can see through the personas we've developed, who will recognize us despite the efforts we've made to get through life more or less invisible, the way Greg hopes to.  But none of us will emerge from high school, not to mention the rest of life, unscathed.

Thomas Mann as Greg, RJ Cyler as Earl and Olivia Cooke as Rachel all deliver fully realized characters.  We get to know Earl least, but it's clear he hopes the creative streak that he and Greg have developed can get him out of his depressed Pennsylvania town.  Greg's cloak of invisibility is pulled off of him when he meets Rachel, and for her part, she's neither as perfect or as stoic as others might hope her to be: She's 17 and she's dying.

It's long after their friendship has begun, long after chemotherapy sessions have started for the dying Rachel, that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl puts forth its bold play to make it clear that the makers of this film are actually filmmakers -- they know how to tell a story with a camera, and to do it well.

In one long scene, Greg comes to visit Rachel and she drops a bombshell on him, one that makes both of them rethink and redefine everything that has come before.  There were dozens, maybe more, ways to film the scene, but Gomez-Rejon takes a page directly from more classical, more accomplished filmmakers: He locks down the camera and lets the actors play the scene.  In the audience, our eyes dart back and forth from one character to the other as we listen to them, watch for reactions; the filmmakers trust their audience enough to let them decide how to mentally edit the scene.

The actors get to act -- and both Cooke and Mann have created unusually whole and memorable characters -- and the scene plays out in real time.  It's a daring and sophisticated move; today's editing styles should have dictated a number of cutaways to drive home the emotion of the scene, but Gomez-Rejon gives us nothing but the actors talking with each other.

It's a scene that changes Greg's entire view of both Rachel and of himself.  A more intrusive, active version of the scene might have been more commercially acceptable, but in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl it's perfectly placed, perfectly timed, trusting both the actors and the audience to have the ability to pay attention, to focus, and to be moved by the realizations that are taking place.

I had been enjoying Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, especially its slightly silly, mildly subversive way of viewing the world.  But in that long, quiet, careful scene, my enjoyment grew to adoration.  The rest of the movie didn't let me down.

It completes its story in ideal fashion, never going over the top, never succumbing to the modern temptation to hit home the story points with heavy camerawork or aggressive editing.   The characters remain true to themselves, the story completes itself in ways that are both inevitable and surprising.

What began as charming and adorable ends up thoughtful and significant -- much like the kids themselves will, with luck, become.  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is made by filmmakers who know what they're doing, and it shows.

It's a tender, big-hearted movie that knows that all you really end up remembering about high school are the people who were your friends, and that when you think about what became of some of them, you cry, because it's not fair that some people don't get to finish their lives.  And then you laugh because you remember the things you did with them, the way you were when you were around them, and you hope that as you move forward and get older, maybe you can be a little bit more like that person you used to be when you were young, even if high school pretty much sucked and there were some people who didn't make it out alive.

Viewed June 13, 2015 -- ArcLight Hollywood

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Friday, June 12, 2015

"Love & Mercy"


 3 / 5 

Love & Mercy is half of a fantastic film and half of a so-so film, but the so-so bits are worth slogging through if you don't mind having "God Only Knows" and "Good Vibrations" running through your head for hours afterward.  Personally, I don't mind at all.

In Love & Mercy, John Cusack and Paul Dano both play Brian Wilson, one of the founding members of the Beach Boys, a band whose music has become ingrained in American culture.  Love & Mercy doesn't reveal anything about how the Beach Boys came to be or about the ways they struggled as artists to be known for more than just surfing music.  A more straightforward biopic narrative might actually have helped Love & Mercy, because its two halves are constantly warring for attention.

The first half, which feels less successful and more predictable, is about Brian Wilson in his 40s, when he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic by a less-than-reputable psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti) and falls in love with a woman (Elizabeth Banks) who begins to realize that the doctor doesn't have the best of intentions for his charge.

This part of the movie is generally engrossing, but nothing about it feels new or exciting.  The actors are all exemplary, and Giamatti in particular brings a disturbing energy to the role that keeps it interesting though predictable.  Cusack looks appropriately haggard and haunted, and Banks finds some substance in the underwritten role of perky, plucky heroine.

Where Love & Mercy really comes alive, though, is in the sections with Paul Dano as Wilson in his 20s.  While it tries way too hard to find a tangible reason for Wilson's mental problems, focusing in on a bullying, domineering father, Dano consistently finds even more interesting places to take the role.

Wilson is an unabashed genius, but he's terrified by the source of his talent, his innate ability to hear how music comes together.  Love & Mercy comes tantalizingly close to being a modern-day Amadeus, a movie that explores the fine line between extraordinary talent and debilitating madness, and Dano has all the right instincts to take it there, but every time the movie comes close to letting us see further in to Wilson's chaotic mind, it pulls back to show us a near-comatose Cusack-Wilson moping about his Malibu house.

Love & Mercy goes off-the-rails wrong in a last-minute scene that seems to channel 2001: A Space Odyssey, of all things, but even that colossal mistake can't damage some genuine brilliance.  One spectacular scene shows how Wilson perplexed even his studio musicians with his off-kilter compositions that seemed all wrong on paper but blended together perfectly when played.

Love & Mercy barely touches on the relationships Wilson might have had with his brothers or his first wife, but more than makes up for that oversight by giving great latitude to Dano to portray a tortured, scared artist.

It's a good movie, made all the better by Dano's unflinching performance and some flashes of real brilliance that make the end result seem better, in retrospect, than the sum of its parts.  There's nothing exactly wrong with the Cusack-Banks sections, but imagining the film that could have been made by focusing only on the younger Wilson brings to mind one of the Beach Boys' own lyrics: Wouldn't it be nice?  Yes, that film would probably be nice, indeed.

Viewed June 12, 2015 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

"Jurassic World"



 3 / 5 

Let's imagine that Jurassic Park, the theme park that ran famously amok way back in 1993, were to re-open.  Let's say you were hired to run the place.  Let's say you had at least a passing awareness of the incidents that took place on Isla Nublar so many years ago.  Might you consider the need for heightened security measures?  Might you recommend against measures that would encourage another event of mass carnage?

Well, you might, but then what kind of fun would that be?  Jurassic World, a sequel to the 1993 original that pretends the last two Jurassic Park movies didn't happen, is a movie that can't exist if everyone in it isn't relentlessly stupid.  Even the smart people are stupid, because if they weren't, nothing would happen, and that wouldn't make a very interesting movie.

Perhaps there was a way to work around this little problem and come up with a story as tightly focused and carefully controlled as the first movie and the novel on which it's based.  That movie needed only a handful of characters and the barest of bare-bones plots.  Jurassic World is neither tightly focused nor sparingly cast.  New characters just keep on coming, and there's one action-driven set piece after another.  It's bigger than Jurassic Park was, just not necessarily better.

That's not to say Jurassic World is bad.  It's a completely serviceable, at times even impressive movie that nicely emulates the visual style and tone of Spielberg at his finest.  Director Colin Trevorrow, who made the enormously underrated and impossibly charming Safety Not Guaranteed, loves that silky-smooth, ultra-polished style, and he uses it to great effect here.

Likewise, the actors are all fine, especially Chris Pratt, who at times seems to be auditioning for the rumored Indiana Jones reboot -- based on the evidence here, he'd be great at it.  He can flirt, wink, charm and rescue women and kids.  Bryce Dallas Howard comes across as a little too cold and distant, but her character is in over her head in every possible way: As the operations manager at Jurassic World, she's more focused on amping up the profit than worrying about making sure dinosaurs don't escape.

Most of the time, she's too busy counting the number of guests in the park and making sure that the lines don't get too long at Starbucks, Ben & Jerry's, Margaritaville, Brookstone or any of the other dozens of real-life retailers who must have spent a lot of money to get a few seconds of screen time.  But she's quite proud of the newest addition to Jurassic World, a genetically engineered dinosaur called the Indominus Rex.  No sooner has she introduced the park's velociraptor trainer (yes, really) to the I. Rex than the giant beast manages to escape.

Very little stands in the way of the I. Rex and the 20,000 people who are in the park.  And for the next two hours, Jurassic World is essentially a remake of Jurassic Park but with bigger dinosaurs.

Throughout, Jurassic World seems almost obsessed with referencing the original film.  In one key scene, some of the characters find the original entrance pavilion from the first movie, now overgrown with prehistoric flora, and it seems cute and clever for a moment -- but, why go to such lengths to constantly refer to the better movie?  Jurassic World pales by comparison.

Those insistent references to Jurassic Park never completely undermine Jurassic World, but they do serve as reminders that in 1993, computerized dinosaurs were something no one had ever seen before.  Now, we have.  And as Howard's character notes, the public grows bored and jaded too easily.  They need to see something bigger, bolder, and more exciting.

Jurassic World is bigger, no doubt.  And it's a completely satisfying bit of summertime entertainment, a harmless and often fun way to spend a couple of hours out of the heat.  But it suffers from exactly the same problem that its titular theme park does: We've seen it all before.

On the other hand, at least the people in it are stupid.  They do stupid things and make stupid decisions, as if they learned nothing from the first go-round.  Thank goodness for that, because if they were any smarter the I. Rex would have remained locked in her enclosure and the only thing to watch would be hordes of hot, tired tourists waiting for an iced cappuccino at Starbucks.  As it is, Jurassic World has got a lot of smart dinosaurs and a lot of stupid people, which is a pretty good combination for a summertime movie, especially if you're in a particularly non-critical, generous sort of mood.

Viewed June 11, 2015 -- DGA Theater

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