woensdag 26 november 2014

Jurassic World: official trailer released!

And so it's here. The trailer arrived three days earlier than announced, but I can't say I mind.

I have reservations about this. I won't deny I'm quite excited, but there's also a bunch of story elements I knew would be involved that I'm worried about, since the trailer confirmed their presence.

Even though a lot of it is obviously digital (as is usual in trailers, since the movies they promote are still a work in progress, so I'm not gonna whine about that), I will say it looks pretty spectacular. There's a working park now, it has been in operation for a while, and everything seems to be running smoothly. The park looks state of the art and few people wouldn't want to visit something grandiose like this. There's monorails and gyrospheres and all types of futuristic gadgets, but at the same time iconic imagery like the Main Gate is present. That in itself recalls the folly of people making past mistakes all over again, considering the events of the previous JP films, which are not ignored since this is indeed a sequel of sorts, rather than a total reboot. Of course, cynics will say the set-ups offer little new narrative possibilities and they're not wrong, as in the end, it's still mostly about people running from hungry dinosaurs. Hollywood after all engages in the same type of recycling the JW scientists apparently do, but it's been that way for decades.

Of course, the primary new ingredient comes in the shape of a new dinosaur. An engineered dinosaur, that didn't ever exist before man went and created it. An actual theme park monster, called a Diabolus Rex (shitty name, I know). It's supposedly created to make for a more exciting attraction, as if ordinary dinosaurs aren't exciting enough. This troubles me somewhat, though it also sounds intriguing. On the one hand, the notion of the hubris of scientists to mess with nature's creations in order to spawn something that fits human desires is both straight out of the original book by Michael Crichton - where it goes even further in discussing the possibilities of cloning tiny and cute herbivores to make pets for people! - and right up Jurassic Park's alley of its main 'don't play God' philosophy. Hopefully the ethical debate involved in creating a tailor made dinosaur in a lab is seriously addressed, for it is indeed a fascinating and contemporary topic. However, it basically allows for dinosaurs to be turned into stereotypical 'movie monsters' even more than the Hollywood industry already emphasized them as. In comparison, both the first and second Jurassic Park movies had the decency to handle dinosaurs mostly as real animals. Dangerous and unpredictable animals of course, but still recognizable as not behaving all that differently from most present day animals.

On the other hand, the exact same notion is twisted the opposite way in this trailer's display of the Velociraptors, which are actually trained by the protagonist (Chris Pratt). These are not the highly intelligent vicious killers that assumed the spotlight in the previous movies as nearly psychopathic killers. Rather, they're simply predatory animals that can be tamed if raised by humans from birth, much as what happens to the likes of everyday dogs and cats, or even lions and tigers. Though on the one hand I applaud this concept of literally humanizing the otherwise lethal and too often demonized Raptors, I'm also quite hesitant about Pratt using them as his personal hit squad. Nevertheless, in this case a species of dinosaurs invariably portrayed as murderous monsters is shown as not being so black and white 'evil', but more relatable than we would have thought possible from the previous trilogy of films.

Then there's the Mosasaurus. It's staggeringly huge, probably for dramatic reasons, unless the final plot will reveal its size was genetically modified to make for a good sensational show, too. The gimmick of its eating Great White Sharks appears to be a typical 'because it looks cool' rationalization on the writers' part. I can live with that, even though I consider the idea of endangered species being served as food abhorrent and ridiculous. But who knows, maybe they have a lab on the island for the sole purpose of cloning Mosasaur snacks. Introducing a species of marine reptile largely feels like a gimmick. We've had the flying kind of prehistoric critter in the previous installment, now it's time for the aquatic type to make for diversity, is probably the studio's line of thinking. Fine, but please don't make it feel like a gimmick only. Add a bit of substance to it. And bother to explain where they found its DNA. Judging from its humongous size, I wouldn't be surprised if the plot makes good use of this beastie to defeat the rampaging D-Rex, as of course nothing else could kill this highly intelligent raving creation of science gone wrong. Doesn't matter, as long as it looks cool.

There's a lot of possibilities for the plot of Jurassic World to go south, from the looks of it. But if handled well, these same dubious plot elements could truly add to the franchise. On a more basic level, at least I like the look and feel, combining old and new, clearly revealing director Colin Trevorrow is a fan of the original. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, even though I'm not as wowed by this first trailer as I hoped I would be. Jurassic World is still a place I would visit instantly if given the chance, and of course the same goes for the movie. Nevertheless, I cannot help but remain skeptical. But I never for a second thought this film would ever come close to the original Jurassic Park anyway, and I'm not gonna hold that against it.

I mean, which dino fanatic could turn down a beautiful vista like this?:

maandag 24 november 2014

Today's News: 'twas a slow week of it

What with all the reviews and such, it took me a while to get around to posting new news (aside from that little item yesterday, but that wasn't news to my mind, it was a gift from the gods), but then, last week wasn't particularly noteworthy in that regard. Here's the entire crop of the previous week:


This show is starting to look increasingly epic. Just the way I like my historical drama on telly. Of course, with a modern twist here and there: I doubt any naked sword fights took place during Polo's actual visit, but I'm not complaining. It appears Netflix has a solid first entry into the historical epic on its hands with Marco Polo, likely to rival HBO's quality programs - Deadwood, Rome, Boardwalk Empire - that dabble in the same genre with such notable success. The only thing that bothers me somewhat is the overuse of spoken English. More actual Chinese (and/or Italian for that matter) would have been appreciated to add to the levels of authenticity (especially when actors from those parts are cast), but that goes for any similar show produced in the English language by rival networks, too. Otherwise, this is definitely a series to look forward to.


I'm less impressed by this one. The twisty crime thriller has kinda become a staple in recent years, most of these copying Tarantino's flicks. Son of a Gun apparently does not, judging from this trailer, but otherwise hardly appears innovative. Except maybe for its status as an Australian entry into the genre, can't recall too many of those. Casting Ewan McGregor as a bad guy - with beard, like some sleazy Obi-Wan Kenobi - is a more inspired move though, as he's not often seen in such a capacity, almost playing against type. But the notion of this top dog criminal taking a youngster under his wing for his own shady purposes rather than for his new buddy's benefits is hardly the stuff of novelty, nor is the secret agenda the teenager cherishes to get out on top himself against all odds. I'm reminded of the French film Un Prophete, for example, which featured a very similar story line, minus all the action. I guess there's only so much you can do with prisons and break-outs in whatever country. It's just the way you spice things up that makea any difference.


It had to happen sooner rather than later. With all the dystopian movies currently hitting Hollywood's primary audience where it counts the most - their wallets - it's no surprise the granddaddy of all imperfect society stories is slated for a reprise. The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, they all took a page or two from Orwell's (in)famous reflections on ruthless governments absolutely controlling their populace. There's also a lot of sexual material present to appeal to the audience's hormones. Problem is, the original 1984 is a much more adult story, centered around adult protagonists. I doubt the studio will change that core aspect of the story to appeal to the spectators currently gobbling up dystopian fare en masse, nor do I think a serious director like Paul Greengrass would let them. However, just the notion of a society where everybody is under total control of the government's watchful eyes might bring to mind to more mature audiences who don't know jack-squat about Orwell's visionary writings the similar young adult flicks that are doing big business at the boxoffice at the moment. They might turn it down just on its dystopian qualities, ranking it as just another Hunger Games copycat (what do people know, eh?). Or the subject matter might just be too dismally bleak for them, which it just happens to be (nor should that be tampered with). However, I hope adult and younger audiences alike give it a chance, as this particular story remains as urgent thematically as it was at its inception in the late Forties.


Janis Joplin is something I know jack-squat of, admittedly. Popular musicians, be they from the Sixties or from more contemporary times, just have never particuarly held my interest. Too busy with watching movies to care about music, I suppose. I only knew Joplin died of an overdose (had to learn it from Austin Powers, I'll have you know). I wouldn't ever recognize her songs. I do know Amy Adams is a fine actress though, so that at least is one thing this biopic about the ill-fated songstress has going for it. I also know director Jean-Marc Vallee has a knack for historical drama, which the story of Joplin's life (and more so, her death) can be called after fifty years. So the motion picture adaptation of Joplin's life and times at least seems to be in good, Academy Award nominated hands, I'd say.


Get out your handkerchiefs, everybody! This video is quite a tearfest. It seems to have been made as much for the fans of both Middle-Earth franchises as for the people involved in making them. We're treated to footage from all six films, most of it fondly remembered, other bits eagerly anticipated. We also get to see a lot of folks hugging each other on set, bringing to mind those good times for those lucky few who helped bring the two trilogies to life. Over all of it Billy Boyd's singing is heard. I don't find the music or lyrics nearly as moving as the imagery, I must confess. The text isn't that much different from the likes of Into the West or May It Be, which graced two our of three Lord of the Rings movies, nor does the melody sound that much different or inspired to my ears. Nevertheless, the message is clear: this is indeed a goodbye, as we're on the threshold of the last (Peter Jackson) directed Tolkien adaptation, and that's a bittersweet thought indeed. Of course, remakes of both projects are bound to occur some time in the future, but for now, it's a sad thought that it will finally end here. It's been a great journey though, one that will forever be cherished for decades to come by the generations that grew up with it. So, from the bottom of my heart: thank you, Peter Jackson and the entire cast and crew of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies!

zondag 23 november 2014

It's finally happening!! Jurassic World is coming...

Breaking news, as far as I'm concerned. I only had to wait 13 years for new JP footage after all...


Normally I tend to look at teasers and trailers with a more dispassionate, objective viewpoint. In this case, I simply can't. I can only hope my faith in director Colin Trevorrow is not misplaced. He's still inexperienced, as this is his first Hollywood movie. But from the looks of things, he's a fan too. And this little teaser sure is for the fans. Thanks, Universal Pictures!

Now if only the toys look half as promising. The first Lego Jurassic World dinosaur sure looks sweet:

2015 is gonna be a year to remember...

zaterdag 22 november 2014

Today's Review: White Bird in a Blizzard

Wrote another review for MovieScene this week. After all, I had some catching up to do in that department:


From director Gregg Araki, we both got what we expected and we didn't, in this film's case. White Bird in a Blizzard contained all his usual themes - surrealism, teenage social issues, sexuality, death - but it lacked his usual energetic visual style. It never got recognizably 'Arakiesque'. Usually it's a not a bad thing per se when you can't tell who the director is from looking at the picture, but in this case, it's no flattery at all. White Bird is a visually unimpressive, bland picture that in many ways feels like a missed oppurtunity on this director's part. You might say he preferred to stick to the source material, this being an adaptation of somebody else's novel, but considering he did change a fair amount of things already, it would also have suited him to get the film more in line with his signature style to feel less detached and make us care more about the characters.

At least performances are good throughout the piece. Shailene Woodley makes a better impression than usual. However, it's Eva Green who steals the show while playing her mother. That too, doesn't help the movie much, as it's not her show (hence the proverbial 'stealing'). In fact, it's much more about her absence than it is about her presence, but when she graces the screen, the movie lightens up considerably. Green does an excellent job portraying a seemingly perfect house wife, sizzling with the frustrations of a wasted life and unfulfilled desires just underneath the facade. Her unhealthy relationship with her daughter makes for the most emotional scenes, thoroughly uncomfortable yet mesmerizing to behold. However, the moment she's out of the picture, literally and figuratively,and  the story fully centers around Woodley's character just hanging out with her friends, having sex and going to college, our attention wanes. And then it uneasily evolves from a typical coming-of-age drama into a thirteen-a-dozen thriller in the second half and all the predictable dirty secrets come out. But we care too little, too late at that point.

White Bird in a Blizzard will always be compared unfavorably to that other adaptation of a literary work Araki directed, Mysterious Skin. That movie too featured all his themes (including a visually sober look), but fared a lot better combining teen angst, creepy sexual relations and a thriller component, as the movie unraveled in a way that did make us interested in the questions of what happened to whom. White Bird in a Blizzard sadly feels repetitive and redundant on Araki's resumé. But at least Green is not at fault.

donderdag 20 november 2014

Today's Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

It's been (quite!) a while, but I finally got around to visit another press screening for MS and post the result here:


This film series doesn't seem to get any worse, despite all the young adult franchise trademarks trying to put a dent in its reputation. Splitting a book into two movies was obviously a financial move on the studio's part, and undoubtedly will pay off big time. However, that doesn't hinder the movie from being a solid piece of work, despite not being a whole story. It's best compared to the first installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which underwent a similar theatrical treatment and enjoys equally similar themes in its story of teenagers on the run for a ruthless government. Plus, it's on the same level of quality. Character development is at an all-time high in Mockingjay - Part 1, thanks to a plot that doesn't leave much room, or need, for big bombastic action scenes or endless droning about which bland boy Katniss likes to kiss most, though there's still a few of those interspersed here and there. Politics and intrigue are thriving, as Katniss finds herself in the company of new allies who are not all that different from the Capitol regime she just escaped, in their unrelenting zealousness to bring the dictatorship down. Thanks to the talented cast - mainly, Jennifer Lawrence and all the experienced veterans featured in way too small parts: the rest of the younger cast leaves less of an impression, as before - and a director who once again shows he knows what he's doing, the movie forms a compelling continuation of Catching Fire as well as a great set-up for the finale. It comes complete with a cliffhanger that makes you want to check out the ending at the earliest opportunity. Which unfortunately you won't get for another year's time. Job well done, then.

And boy, did I have fun this last week mocking people for having seen this much anticipated film a week earlier than everybody else. One of the most appealing aspects of press screenings but not one of the most laudable character traits of those who visit them, I'll freely admit.

maandag 17 november 2014

Today's News: Fifty Shades of a Wonder Woman

Here's the second batch of last week's reported news:


I find the whole notion of an apparent necessity to score a superheroine picture a female director more sexist in itself than the supposed lack of superheroines. As if male directors are totally incapable of understanding female sensibilities! However, I agree the lack of female directors as a whole begs an explanation, and I have none to give. Their numbers are surprisingly low, especially in but not limited to Hollywood. So it's not surprising there's only so many directrices to pick from for Wonder Woman. Warner's list of choices was basically a list of all women who directed an action flick in the last two decades, and it was still quite a short list at that. I think they made the right choice though (if the deal doesn't fall through, which it still might). These days, television directors making the switch to the big screen (and vice versa, too) is much more accepted than it once was. And of course in such a scenario you want a director who worked on the most acclaimed and popular shows. So finding someone who directed episodes of the current 'Big Three' - Breaking Bad (which is not so current anymore, I'll grant you that), The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones - is basically striking gold. With such a rich texture of compelling drama and genre aesthetics under her belt, Wonder Woman is likely to be a smooth ride for Michelle MacLaren. And hopefully she'll get a chance to direct a male supercharacter movie as well some day, just so we know female directors understand male sensitivities too.


Speaking of sexist, this is a part of the female mindset the appeal of which I will never understand. Call it male narrowmindedness if you must. This seems like total melodrama, and not the least bit sexy. But of course, I'm not the target audience, and from what I gather so far the target audience itself has a hard time explaining why they remain so drawn to Fifty Shades of Grey itself. If you call it a subconscious female desire for male domination, you're a chauvinist pig, but I still can't see much in this other than that. But I'm not supposed to: this is female pornography, a deep felt sense of eroticism enticing to women but wholly unintelligible to men. Or so it's written off. Doesn't stop me from watching the film upon its release, needless to say while bringing along a healthy dose of male scepticism. But at least this is one ruthless hype I simply cannot be drawn into, thanks to my gender.


Oh, very sensitive! Casting a German to play a bad guy in a movie about WW II hero Captain America! The previous German villain at least was played by an Aussie actor. That's Australia, not Austria, mind you. But hey, at least he ll get the accent right. He might actually even talk German, which would make sense. That is, if he's indeed playing a German character, which is likely but by no means certain. There's still a large rogues' gallery for Cap to pick baddies from, and not all of them (but still many) are of the Germanic persuasion. My money is on Baron Helmut Zemo, in this case. Brühl has that air of aristocratic sophistication with a hint of megalomania to him, though maybe that's just me seeing more in him than there is; which only means he's a good actor, a fact we already were made aware of before on numerous occasions. Or maybe Marvel will surprise us and Brühl will play someone totally different. After all, rumours suggest his character is also a Doctor Strange nemesis, which narrows it down considerably (and effectively rules out Zemo, alas). No common foe that is of major significance to both good guys springs to mind, but then, I'm not all that acquainted with the good Doctor. Maybe Brühl's participation to Captain America: Civil War will be limited to a bit part, setting him up as a major antagonist for Doctor Strange to do battle with later on. After all, Iron Man is supposed to be the primary antagonist to Cap in Civil War. Marvel could just be throwing us off-track again. Wouldn't be the first time (nor likely the last) a terrific actor is cast for a small cameo in one character's motion picture only to appear guns blazing at a later date in another's. But hey, it's the guessing game that makes for half the fun.

zondag 16 november 2014

Today's News: a threesome of trailers with a bit of casting

Time is always against me, so it has taken me a bit longer than I had hoped to get going with posting news again, though admittedly, there wasn't that much of it anyway this week:


Das ist ja spitze, toll und hübsch! I absolutely adored the first Iron Sky (Nazis on the moon, can't go wrong with that notion!) and though I didn't think its ending allowed for a sequel - it's a bit of a downer, you know - I'm pleasantly surprised to see the writers, total fanboys as they are, came up with a neat new direction for the franchise. Nazi lizard people riding dinosaurs! Apparently, things only get crazier and I'm loving it. You can't ask for a better trailer to convince people to put money in your project (as it still is in no way sure whether the budget necessary for The Coming Race will be reached). If this trailer doesn't pull folks over, they must really hate Nazis. Or dinosaurs. In all honesty, I must hesitantly admit I haven't donated (yet)... What with the Holidays and all types of social events like birthdays and marriages just around the corner, this isn't a particularly convenient time for me to part with more dough. But that doesn't mean I won't contribute to the cause financially at some later date, when it's more opportune. I'm not a hypocrit. I support national-socialist reptilians taking over the planet! I sincerely want this movie to get made, I really do! So if you people reading this have some cash to spare, you know what to do with it.


Jared Leto as the Joker? It's not the first name that springs to mind when asked who I could see in that role. However, neither was Heath Ledger's initially (heck, no!) and that sure turned out alright. I happen to know Leto is perfectly capable of portraying a wide range of emotions and characters, and I've also seem him unpredictably unstable before ('twas in Lord of War, I'll have you know). So I'm willing to cut him some slack, particularly with an Oscar for a serious role under his belt (again, a Heath Ledger type situation: hopefully Leto has learned to stay way from drugs via Ledger's example, and his own in Requiem for a Dream). The question is more whether I think it's a good idea to introduce the new DC Cinematic Universe take on the Joker in the baddies ensemble flick Suicide Squad, rather than in the next Batman flick, as most people would have expected. I don't actually, but I understand DC doesn't want to wait that long to get audiences reacquainted with an iconic villain like this, as the next Batman film proper isn't scheduled for release until at least 2019. Plus, doing the unexpected thing always has been the Joker's forte.


Looks rather bland and predictable, to be honest. But then, what more can be added to everything that has already been said and seen about World War I? It was a bloody mess that never should have happened and a dark mark on humanity's track record, period. Of course, personal perspectives (be they from notable historical characters or common souls) could still be worthy of our attention. This one, from an early feminist point of view, doesn't seem particularly inspired. Similar stories have been addressed ample times. Atonement for example, or some plot lines in Downton Abbey. Of course, the need to warn us against the horrors of war remains, as does underscoring the notion that women are equal to men. I'm sure Testament of Youth will strongly remind us of both factors, though judging from the trailer - which you never ought to do, but usually can't be helped anyway - not without sitting through a good two hours of bland melodrama first. Good cast though (particular the female roles), I'll give 'em that.


Also doesn't exactly get me stoked, this teaser for Insurgent. The film already has the issue going against it that its predecessor, Divergent, didn't exactly agree with me. Of course, it did with the millions of paying teenage girls - I'm none of these three categories - who happily devoured both novel and motion picture, so I doubt the future of Insurgent looks in the slightest bit troubled on my account. But still, this isn't exactly an adequate teaser by most standards. It feels more like a fragment from a scene from the film, randomly picked and stripped of all context and emotional investment that should make us give a damn. Just seeing Shailene Woodley hallucinating about her mom (if that's what's going on, since I can't tell, nor do I care at this point) isn't enough to pull me or many others apart from the fanbase in. I guess I'm really just more of a Hunger Games guy anyway, though I hate taking sides between popular franchises aimed predominantly at young adults. Though naturally I'm always very much in favour of taking the sides of good films over bad ones, and I wish more teenage girls would share that sentiment.