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Non-Review Review: The Meg

The Meg is proof that bigger is not always better.

There are moments when The Meg works beautifully, the film embracing its ridiculous concept by going all-in on a couple of absurdly heightened images. There are a number of shots in The Meg, particularly towards the climax, that are gleefully and unapologetically “too much.” It would undercut these moments to discuss them in any great detail in a review of the film, particularly since they are the moments when everything in the film seems to click into place. In these beats, there is a reckless abandon, as if the film understands the appeal of “Jason Statham in Jurassic Shark.”

Lifeboats find a way.

Unfortunately, these moments serve to highlight what is missing from so much of the rest of the film. The Meg is a movie committed to the idea of “more”, but is more invested in promise than in delivery. Everything in The Meg happens at breakneck pace, to the point where the first act of the film might make a compelling blockbuster on its own terms, given room to breath. However, like the sea-faring predator that inspired it, The Meg is eager to get to the next thing and the next thing after that. The result is a movie that feels rushed, but never urgent.

The Meg is so busy trying to heighten its stakes and its scale that it never quite manages to establish them.

Don’t bait him!

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Non-Review Review: Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is an intriguing and compelling mess of a film. It is shrewd and clever, if never entirely human.

Director J.A. Bayona might be the first director since Spielberg to put his own unique slant on the Jurassic Park franchise, to move with just enough confidence and faith in his own stylistic sensibilities to escape the shadow of the legendary director who turned a pulpy novel into a beloved family classic. Bayona does that by allowing his own stylistic sensibilities to shine through, to embrace his own interest and to engage with the material on his own terms.

Dino escape.

Fallen Kindom walks a fine line. It is very much a creature grown in a laboratory to satisfy the demands of the larger franchise. There are elements here that exist purely because they are expected, because they are signifiers of what a “Jurassic Park movie” should look like, including both returning characters and new characters fashioned after familiar archetypes. At the same time, there is a coy and wry self-awareness to Fallen Kingdom that was sorely lacking from Jurassic World, a cynicism about its own nature that integrates rather neatly into its larger worldview.

Although it may be damning with faint praise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is easily the best Jurassic Park movie since Jurassic Park: The Lost World, the film in the franchise with which it shares most of its DNA.

Things are heating up.

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Non-Review Review: Jurassic World

Jurassic World is very self-aware.

Introducing visitors to the eponymous theme park, an audio recording assures them that the elevated train is passing through the original gates of the park. One of the techies working in the operations centre wears a “vintage” t-shirt from the original park – conceding that it might be “in poor taste.” Nostalgia is the name of the game, and the theme park basks in it. There are landmarks built to the amber that held the mosquito from the original film, and a giant bronze statue of Richard Hammond.

"Mommy's being blatantly emulated..."

“Mommy’s being blatantly emulated…”

So does the film. No opportunity for shout-out or homage is missed. When John Williams returned to work on Jurassic Park: The Lost World, he only broken out the powerful theme for very special moments – crafting a largely original score for the sequel. Not Jurassic World. It seems like every time a character does something, the theme blares. Open the gates? Theme blares! Drive through herd of dinosaurs? Theme blares! Open doors to balcony in resort room? Theme blares!

There is something relentlessly cynical about Jurassic World. The film is based around attempts at Ingen to build a designer dinosaur, one assembled from random bits of other dinosaurs. Nobody except the geneticists seem to know exactly what’s in it, but it doesn’t matter. It’s bits and pieces of what everybody’s seen before, and they’ll love it, right? The fact that Jurassic World basks in this meta-commentary hints at a sly subversive streak, but they film seems more smug than sophisticated.

Feeding time...

Feeding time…

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Non-Review Review: Walking With Dinosaurs – The 3D Movie

You never really grow up past the love of dinosaurs. Sure, you are probably never as relentlessly fascinated with the gigantic reptiles as you were when you were a kid, but those prehistoric creatures still garner affection from children of all ages. That was, after all, the basic premise of Jurassic Park, which got a high-profile 20th anniversary re-release this year. It was also the driving force behind Walking With Dinosaurs, the ground-breaking CGI documentary broadcast on the BBC in the UK and on Discovery in America.

So adapting the show to film seems like a logical step, and Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie is a bit of a no-brainer for a holiday family release, especially with families that have children too young to watch The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug or Anchorman: The Legend Continues and who have already seen Frozen. It’s a concept that really sells itself, which makes it incredibly frustrating that Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie goes out of its way to sabotage itself.

"It was a night like this, forty million years ago..."

“It was a night like this, forty million years ago…”

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Non-Review Review: Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is like an extended visual sugar hit. There’s always something happening, the characters seem in perpetual motion, and there’s never a moment where the audience is allowed to catch up. A technicolour marvel, there’s an endearing energy to all this, allowing the plot’s riff on classic monster movies (from King Kong to Jurassic Park) to become infectiously enjoyable. There are moments where the movie almost seems too sweet and too insubstantial, but they are only fleeting – there’s another neat visual gag, corny pun, or exciting slapstick joke only ever seconds away.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is hardly food for the soul, but it’s certainly a satisfying meal.

A berry good idea...

A berry good idea…

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My Best of 2011: Super 8 & Understanding as a Child…

It’s that time of the year. To celebrate 2011, and the countdown to 2012, I’m going to count down my own twelve favourite films of the year, one a day until New Year’s Eve. I’m also going to talk a bit about how or why I chose them, and perhaps what makes this list “my” best of 2011, rather than any list claiming to be objective.

Super 8 is number ten. Check out my original review here.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

– Corinthians 13:11

It seems easy to lambast modern mainstream cinema as devoid of originality or of new ideas. It seems that every other film is a sequel or a prequel or a remake of another film, with Hollywood seemingly eager to cannibalise itself. I’ll concede that there are more franchises than before, but I also think that indie and original cinema is thriving in its own environment. I’d make the case that there’s room for all sorts of film, and that originality and quality don’t necessarily equate. Still, I doubt that will appease too many of the people who are sick of “the same old nonsense”, and I imagine that those people will cynically pick apart Super 8 as exactly the sort of copycat movie that demonstrates everything that’s wrong with modern cinema.

Naturally, I take a different approach, even if I can concede it’s hardly the most original of films. Then again, I’d make the case that this is precisely the appeal.

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Non-Review Review: Monsters

At this stage it seems almost pointless to reflect on how impressive Monsters is from a purely film-making perspective. Filmed on a ridiculously tiny budget, the film features a wonderful epic scale, beautiful locations and not-half-bad special effects (they’re more The Mist than Avatar, but let’s not complain). It’s the latest “look what modern film directors can do on a shoe string!” picture, one that you drop into conversation when you wonder how a film like Transformers can cost as much as it does. Unfortunately, as bedazzling as these aspects are, and they are very bedazzling, the film has several shortcomings which have nothing to do with budget.

Here be monsters...

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