“Jurassic World: Dominion” is the Hollywood giant that opens this weekend, but if that tired action movie formula doesn’t excite you, there are still exciting indie film choices still available.
‘Jurassic World: Dominion’
OK, let’s take out the 8-ton dinosaur in the room first.
Dinosaurs are cool. It is a given. And the first “Jurassic Park” movie gave us the wonder and some of the terror of what it would be like to exist alongside these magnificent creatures. But, as computer-generated effects have improved since that film’s debut in 1993, dinos have become easier to render and now populate the franchise with less and less of that sense of awe and spectacle.
In the latest sequel, “Jurassic World: Dominion,” we get an onslaught of prehistoric beasts as the movie gets bigger but decidedly not better. The dinosaurs simply became extras without much personality or even a real threat. Blue, the velociraptor, and her baby spend some screen time, and we get a new dino terror in the Gigantosaurus (you might remember him from TheNAT), but they’re not memorable. One can barely distinguish Gigantosaurus from the ancient T. rex because the movie doesn’t give them any personality. During brief glimpses, you can’t tell one from the other: they look at each other and move the same.
And it’s a shame because these dinosaurs are cool and there’s even an interesting rendering of seven new dinosaurs not previously featured in the franchise, including a Pyroraptor with feathers. The Pyroraptor, with its ferocious talons and red feathers, reflects a scientific perspective that wasn’t prevalent when Steven Spielberg made the first “Jurassic Park.” So there are opportunities in this new film to marvel at these new creature designs, but those chances are squandered as the film chooses to follow boring, clichéd human melodrama and greed instead.
The movie brings back the main members of the original cast – Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum – which just reminds us of better times. The film essentially sets up two parallel storylines, the old cast and the new cast — Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard without his heels — that converge with lots of hugs and an obligatory sharing of respectful nods.
‘Jurassic World: Dominion’, pedestrianly directed by Colin Trevorrow, feels as long as the Jurassic period – OK, maybe just the Triassic – and assails you with a constant barrage of action but none of it does. feels more engaging than a theme park ride. And that may be all “Jurassic World: Dominion” is, a blueprint for Universal’s next attraction, because it certainly doesn’t hold up as a movie, even with the dinosaur cool factor.
The disappointment of “Jurassic World: Dominion” prompts me to catch up with a few indie films released last week, David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future” and Terence Davies’ “Benediction.” The irony here is that these filmmakers are almost twice as old as Trevorrow, but it’s Trevorrow whose work feels tired and old. Cronenberg at 79 and Davies at 76 display the bold creativity and brash innovation of youth. Or maybe they never lost their artistic creativity to try new things and masterfully paired that with a mature sense of craftsmanship. Trevorrow, on the other hand, has never been bold enough to break or even bend the rules to give us something new.
Cronenberg’s ‘Crimes of the Future’ is breathtaking and is firmly on my list of best films of the year. It looks like a return to form for him, but with a new twist. Interestingly, Cronenberg made a short film also titled “Crimes of the Future” early in his career in 1970. This film and his new one share the same title but feature very different stories. What’s amazing about how these films close out his career is how instantly recognizable they are as Cronenberg’s films from almost any image and reveal his fascination with certain ideas throughout his career. . But they also reveal how he continually looks at these ideas from different angles.
Future Crimes (1970)
Going back to the title of his first film also makes sense if you think of this last film as a sort of meditation on Cronenberg’s career by the master himself.
The film is set in a dark and dilapidated future where humans seem to be adapting to their increasingly synthetic environment. Bodies change and undergo mutations that scientists and the government try to follow. This “accelerated evolution syndrome” also poses problems of transhumanism. In that world is Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a performance artist who grows unexpected new organs and then uses them in his art. Her performance art partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), harvests these organs in spectacular plays involving an HR Giger-like autopsy machine.
Cronenberg returns to the genre of body horror that earned him acclaim and notoriety, but from a new angle. In this futuristic world, pain has essentially been eliminated, making almost any surgery, body modification, or mutilation painless. It’s fascinating on many levels. By removing the concept of pain from body horror, it also removes one of the things that often shocked people. The pain and cruelty perceived by some people in body horror may be what led some viewers to shun Cronenberg’s films. But here, Cronenberg seems to make body horror pure and clean so maybe people can perceive the perverse beauty he sees there and tries to explore in his art.
And, of course, it also pushes some buttons by linking body horror to erotica. It’s always guaranteed to offend someone. But Cronenberg does it with such sneaky enthusiasm and bold style.
He also takes a swipe at those who may try to imitate his art. Saul notes of another performance artist, who has human ears grafted all over his body, that the ears “don’t even do anything, they’re just for show.” This artist is just scratching the surface while Saul (and read Cronenberg) aims for something deeper and more internal.
I’ve seen some people post reactions to the film as disturbing, horrific, or grotesque. People at Cannes were apparently disgusted or disgusted to the point of leaving the cinema. But I have to admit, my initial reaction to the film was how beautiful it was in that only Cronenberg can deliver. Saul and Caprice’s devotion to their art and the depth with which they discuss it and consider its purpose and impact is fascinating and almost has a religious quality to it. Saul even dresses in monk’s robes. And, for Saul, there is an additional layer of discussion about an artist’s need to feel pain: does an artist need to suffer?
There’s so much to savor in this movie that I can’t wait to see it again. The film reunites Cronenberg with two longtime creative collaborators, composer Howard Shore and production designer Carol Spier, to make this film simply spectacular on screen. The soundscape is seductive, chilling and richly textured. The production design is simple yet evocative and with bold strokes of genius in terms of futuristic technology reminiscent of earlier Cronenberg films such as “eXistenZ”.
This kind of Cronenberg movie just makes me happy. I love seeing that a 79-year-old filmmaker can still be radical and transgressive. He takes far more risks and pushes boundaries with more vigor than most young filmmakers. So “long live the new flesh” as only Cronenberg can imagine.
Like Cronenberg, Terence Davies is a filmmaker who just keeps getting better with age. And both directors deliver films that can make going to the cinema a transcendent experience. In “Benediction”, Davies delves into the real life of famous 20th century war poet Siegfried Sassoon.
The film goes back and forth in Sassoon’s life, with Jack Lowden playing the young man and Peter Capaldi (absolutely brilliant) the aging one. The film shows how Sassoon’s experiences during World War I led not only to the themes of his poetry, but to political activism against the war. The film also explores his efforts to find peace and salvation.
“Blessing” is rendered exquisitely with the narrative guided by the character’s emotional state and memory flow rather than linear structure. The performances are sublime and Davies knows how to place these performances in the appropriate periods with precise and elegant detail. Davies even experiments with some computer-generated effects that are seamlessly integrated into his film.
I didn’t know anything about Sassoon going into this film, but now I can’t wait to see his work, some of which is featured in the film. “Benediction” is both beautiful and heartbreaking, and well worth seeking out.
And let me end with absolute silliness, “Nude Tuesday,” which is among Tribeca’s online premieres this Saturday.
Laura (Jackie van Beek) and Bruno (Damon Herriman) have come to a head in their marriage. Bruno’s mother therefore sends the couple on a retreat intended to rekindle a sexual spark in their marriage. Reluctantly, the pair agree and end up at the station overseen by eccentric guru Bjorg (the always weird and wonderful Jemaine Clement).
The trick here is that the characters speak in an invented language, with their dialogue “transcribed” by English comedian Julia Davis. The film is billed as a kind of wildly Mad Lib-inspired improv, but it feels very structured and not as goofy as its marketing campaign promises.
It’s a fun send-up of those cult new age self-help gatherings, but with the novelty of not being in a real language. If the whole thing was improvised, it seems very linear and well designed. I think the comedy would have been done just as well if the whole movie had been spoken in English.
But, if you’re looking for a goofy escape with flawed but likable characters, then “Nude Tuesday” is a perfect choice, in any language.