June 2022 Roundup
Jurassic World Dominion
Universal Pictures // Directed by Colin Trevorrow // Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, BD Wong, Omar Sy, Campbell Scott
Universal Pictures has said that Jurassic World Dominion represents the end of the Park/World franchise that graced our screens since 1993. With ‘new’ trilogy helmer Colin Trevorrow back to direct (he previously directed 2015’s Jurassic World and co-wrote its follow-up, Fallen Kingdom), and the combined return of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum, fans could realistically hope for a satisfyingly emotional and impactful send-off for the franchise. Hope can drive a man insane, and that’s just what Dominion did. Jurassic World Dominion is frankly awful. It pains me to say it, but it’s true. Feeling like a mashup of greatest hits moments, uninspired action, and creative bankruptcy, Dominion lumbers along through its monstrous one hundred and forty-seven-minute runtime like a brachiosaurus waiting to die. Whilst Fallen Kingdom set up the intriguing idea of dinosaurs roaming freely (and somehow across the world…?), it also introduced human cloning (sigh) and it’s the latter that gets the focus in Dominion in the form of the exhausting Maisie Lockwood (Sermon) who lives in hiding with Owen (Pratt) and Claire (Howard) due to her status. The EVIL CORPORATION Biosyn is after her and they have also engineered massive locusts that will bring an end to agriculture, the natural hierarchy, and LIFE because THEY’RE EVIL. That’s Dominion, a nauseating clone kid and doomsday locusts. How did we end up here? Alas, we did and the story of the movie suffers hugely thanks to these interweaving and poorly connected narratives. Dominion does have a handful of positives. The return of the OG trio would never be unwelcome (especially Neill and Dern who still have that fun chemistry) and their return also allowed for some blasts of the classic Jurassic Park theme. The scenes of Claire slowly escaping a Therizinosaurus in a swamp and the two dinosaurs fighting it out in the centre of Valletta were highlights, however, both scenes featured prominently in trailers (having been to Valletta, I had more fun identifying the places I had seen). The reintroduction of Dilophosaurus was a nice touch but that’s about it. Everything else was a bust, including the returning World characters who either add nothing or feel as if they are going through the motions. The new character Kayla (Wise) was just bad and Campbell Scott’s Dodgson was even worse - the writing for both was dreadful, as it was across the board. Throughout, there were lots of quippy one-liners or impact statements designed to empower characters or pump the crowd up that just felt unnatural, forced, and, well, lazy. Though I will always applaud the use of practical animal effects which Dominion employed in parts, the overuse of noticeable CGI took away any fear factor from the creatures - especially during a laboured motorbike chase through the streets of Valletta…the action wasn’t a strong point for the movie. 1993’s Jurassic Park is one of cinema’s greatest achievements and stands up still to this day, and whilst the sequels haven’t always hit the heights, Dominion feels like the lowest of lows for a franchise struggling with innovation and imagination. What could have been a soaring conclusion to a (mostly) beloved IP ends up being one of the worst blockbuster experiences I’ve had in many, many years. It’s not just disappointing, it’s lacklustre and a mess. Gone are the days of awe and genuine spectacle, the only wonder I felt was wondering when this would put me out of my misery and end. What did Ian Malcolm say about the dino droppings in Jurassic Park? It’s relevant here too.
A24 // Directed by Alex Garland // Starring Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear
Alex Garland is a director that I admire and respect, his films and series constantly challenge and divide audiences with a confidence and self-assurance not-often seen in contemporary filmmaking. His previous releases, Ex Machina and Annihilation, took a couple of viewings to grow on me but are now firm favourites of mine, whereas I found Devs (his FX miniseries) to be an instant hit. With his latest film, Men, Garland turns his attention to toxic relationships and misogyny in a thinly-veiled assault on the state of current times. It’s not a subtle film, less so than his previous efforts, but it still firmly feels like an Alex Garland movie. Men deals with our protagonist Harper (a terrific emotion-scaling performance from Buckley) as she is processing the tragic end to her recently-ended (aforementioned toxic) relationship whilst all around her in the countryside town she escapes to are reminders and echoes of her troubled past (mainly fuelled by Gregg Kinnear in a multi-role performance). Owing to the isolation of the location, Garland is able to eke out a tremendous amount of tension throughout the first two-thirds of the film - the patient pacing, methodical lighting, driving score, and tight cinematography (from mainstay DoP Rob Hardy) all contributing to an extremely unsettling and effective experience. The latter sequences are visually unsettling but lack the effectiveness and, potentially, the desired intent of Garland is lost within the chaos. It’s not that the final twenty minutes or so are bad, more that comparatively what came before was stronger and more concise in its execution. The overall meaning of Men is swathed in ambiguity and open to interpretation, the potential deeper themes and symbolism throughout allow for discussion as to what’s bubbling beneath the surface - does the fact that every man has the same appearance hint that these behaviours or motivations are hard-wired into us by the patriarchy? Or is it something else? Whatever the case, Garland delivers an emotionally heavy outing complete with resplendent technical achievements, creepy imagery, and even the odd jump scare (!). Whilst not hitting the heights of his previous works, Men is still a thought-provoking journey and its ambition cannot be faulted - even if this won’t be for everyone.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Lionsgate // Directed by Sophie Hyde // Starring Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack
Holidays director Sophie Hyde’s latest offering is an intriguing one but is an ultimately rewarding one also. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande sees retired widow Nancy (Thompson) hire an attractive young sex worker, Leo Grande (McCormack) with the goal of sexual awakening and self-scrutiny as she attempts to alter her unfulfilled existence. Stories of people igniting their sexual fuse aren’t necessarily new, but it’s not often you find one that feels as fresh as this, one that challenges a host of stigmas whilst still carrying enough humour to remain beguiling. Feeling more like a stage play than a film, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande delivers a thought-provoking story that provides more than meets the eye. Aside from a story revolving around sex, Nancy and Leo engage in layered and stark conversations as they open up to each other and allow us to really see them for who they are, where they’ve come from, and their insecurities and regrets too - though the standout scene, and one that truly shows Nancy’s ‘evolution’ involves no dialogue and gradually-expressive dancing. The intimacy and bonding the two engage in elevates an already sharp script but a good script is nothing without the right performers in the role and, here, we are treated to two excellent performances. The charming Daryl McCormack is more than up to the task of matching Emma Thompson, who delivers a raw, vulnerable, and unapologetic performance that once again highlights her immense qualities. It certainly helps if you like dialogue-heavy films but, if not, don’t be put off, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is brave, funny, sensitive, and challenging - but oh so good at the same time.