Wednesday 28 September 2016

Cinema review: Jurassic World - strictly for children

Jurassic World Cert 12A

Hilary A White

Published 15/06/2015 | 02:30

Big and dumb: Jurassic World is a disappointing adventure sequel for children
Big and dumb: Jurassic World is a disappointing adventure sequel for children
The Look of Silence: Joshua Oppenheimer's documentary is a dark experience

Reviewed this week are Jurassic World, Queen and Country, Black Coal, Thin Ice, West, The Look Of Silence.

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So disillusioned are we with today's youth that even those behind the Jurassic Park franchise are bemoaning their carry-on. The premise for this bloated fourth instalment is that kids are now so bored of genetically restored dinosaurs that visitor numbers to the island theme park are down. (In my day etc etc.)

This spurs the cute and crafty boffins of Jurassic World to splice together a custom-made dinosaur comprising all the super scary parts. Lo and behold, the thing is underestimated by us silly humans and escapes to gleefully chomp all in its path.

It's been 22 years since Jurassic Park so captivated the planet that it was rumoured to be making $60 a second at the height of the frenzy. In that time, we've had two lacklustre sequels to keep the merchandise selling. Now Jurassic World - bigger, flashier, more dinosaurs - is Universal's way of keeping the kids interested. Did someone say "postmodern"?

We know the plot; scientists play god, it all goes wrong and kiddies have to be rescued amid rehashed set-pieces and product placement. In the background, a shady corporate deal is going down.

Stripped of charisma, Chris Pratt plays it straight as he frowns and rolls away from shrieking CGI monsters (that velociraptors were swan-sized is still ignored). Meanwhile, Bryce Dallas Howard's ignorant manager outruns a T-Rex in her Jimmy Choos. If only Wicklow star Katie McGrath, playing a doomed PA, had been similarly shod she may have survived the big, dumb finale. Strictly for children.

Now showing

Queen And Country

Cert 15A

A leisurely 28 years after the Oscar-nominated Hope And Glory, director John Boorman finally gets around to shooting the concluding  follow-up to this loosely biographical saga and duly bowing out of  film-making.

Where Hope And Glory set young Jack Rohan (Boorman's on-screen persona) amid the London Blitz, this sees the now 19-year-old (played by the lantern-jawed Callum Turner) settled in military service. At the same time, he is negotiating young love after spying Ophelia (Tamsin Egerton), a toffee-nosed beauty, at a function.

It's all rather "tally-ho, old bean" as Jack, sidekick Percy (Caleb Landry Jones, weirdly aping Jack Sparrow) and the skiving Redmond (Pat Shortt) try to keep on the good side of David Thewlis's puritanical commanding officer. Outside the barracks, Jack has used very un-virginal charms to woo Ophelia but she turns out to be a slippery fish.

Boorman's first movie since 2006's A Tiger's Tale is a sorry way to wind up a career that gave us Deliverance and Point Blank. It looks and feels like a sweet TV matinee designed to give British OAPs a nostalgia ride, and lopes along as a series of little incidents. There is a stagey vibe from the dialogue, while the romantic plot is as underwritten as Landry's turn is overacted.

Now showing

Black Coal, Thin Ice

Cert Club

It's the late nineties. Body parts begin turning up in coal depots across Northern China. Five years later, all there is to show from the rigorous police investigation is a violent shoot-out in a hair salon and its leading detective Zhang Zili (Fan Liao) reduced to the life of an alcoholic security guard.

When Zili runs into a former police colleague, the unresolved case is awoken inside his lost soul and he finds himself rolling up his sleeves to get to the bottom of what happened in that grisly scenario. Doing this involves getting close to Gwei Lun Mei's laundry worker, who is the epitome of the still-waters-run-deep femme fatale. Somehow, she is at the centre of a mystery that is likely to chew Zili up and spit him out at the end.

Writer-director Diao Yinan spent eight years tinkering with the screenplay for Black Coal, Thin Ice (titled Daylight Fireworks in his native China), time that has been well spent in adding wit, tension and scenes of sudden shock to what would otherwise have been a by-numbers noir thriller (a US remake would not be implausible).

The devil is very much in the detail. Diao's China is here in the midst of a deep freeze, and the slippery, encased ground underfoot and the secrets it preserves make for a tasty metaphor to place the story against. Character nuances, some properly chucklesome, add further personality to this competent genre piece.

Now showing at IFI

West

Cert Club

THESE days it may be viewed as little more than a playground for middle-class students and lazy artists, but Berlin's scars of a recent political and social past still makes for engrossing exploration.

Rising German filmmaker Christian Schwochow adapts Julia Franck's novel Lagerfeuer with help from his screenwriter mother Heide in this saga of a young mother and her son relocating in West Berlin during the allied occupation. Owning the screen is Jordis Triebel as Nelly, who is confined to a functional but stifling refugee centre after she and young son Alexej (Tristan Gobel) make it across the 1970s border controls to the West in one piece.

Awaiting them is plenty of red tape, bureaucracy and a secret police that differs from the Stasi only in the manner of its questioning. This becomes an issue for Nelly, whose late husband may not only have been a spy but may also be still alive.

Life in the East is only glimpsed at the very start of the film, and the trials and setbacks that Nelly endures - from intimidation to coercion to disaffection are witnessed solely in the domain of the "liberated" West.

Paranoia begins to grip Nelly as it becomes apparent that her husband's ghost may bring risks into her and Alexej's lives, as if they didn't have enough to contend with. It makes for a fascinating dramatic backdrop.

Beginning strongly but suffering something of a dip in focus and wattage towards its ending, West is less a great post-war drama than a serviceable one. Schwochow directs with stark, abrupt movements but brings compositional nous to bear where it matters. The sense of the era and the disparity between officialdom's actions and its intentions is vividly depicted, even if a raison d'être becomes muddled.

In light of Berlin-born Triebel's performance, this is all forgivable. Her turn is every bit worthy of the film festival awards it has garnered her. With poise and elegance, she manages to convey both the steely determination of a young mother wanting the best for her son as well as the vulnerability of a single woman trying to start a new life in a baggage-laden environment.

HAW

Now showing at IFI

The Look Of Silence

Cert Club

Documentary film-making doesn't come much braver or hard-hitting than this follow-up to Joshua Oppenheimer's  Oscar-nominated and multi award-winning The Act of Killing. To get a sense of the severity of the conditions in which it was made you need only look at the number of closing credits listed as "anonymous".

Oppenheimer returns to Indonesia, specifically the gruesome anti-communist purges of 1965-1966, in which roughly a million enemies of Suharto's military-enforced "New Order" were butchered. He and his crew link up with the family of one such victim in an effort to confront both foot soldiers and leaders of the atrocities. They risk much - military juntas tend not to appreciate having their crimes pried into.

What follows is some of the most unsettling viewing in the history of documentary cinema. Mass murderers giggle as they reminisce, giving detailed demonstrations of how they massacred whole families with machetes, before shrugging away the gravity of their acts. Islamists proudly exclaim how they had carried out their duty and there is even talk of drinking victims' blood to maintain a sound mental constitution. We wince as school kids are drilled in hate-filled propaganda during history class.

Oppenheimer dusts off that chilling device from The Act of Killing in which he gets real killers to re-enact their crimes on accomplices, and like that film, there are many moments in The Look Of Silence that you struggle to believe are actually taking place before your eyes. The US director has a photojournalist's eye for an indelible image, and quietly lingers on expressions to mine hidden corners of the soul.

A dark, difficult experience, but ground-breaking things sometimes are.

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