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Jurassic Universe... from Jurassic Park to Jurassic World


The Jurassic Park movies are a thinly veiled collection of answers to the same question: “In how many places and ways, in and out of the park, can we get dinosaurs to chase down our main characters without them dying?”. And they’re awesome. We’re all set to get the next instalment; Jurassic World: Dominion, sometime in the next year, having gotten the short film Battle at Big Rock to tide us over. But, what can we expect from the film, considering the trajectory of the franchise so far?

It’s hardly necessary to describe anything that actually happens in the original Jurassic Park, everybody’s seen it! If you haven’t, congratulations, you have one of the great simple joys of the movies to look forward to. It’s a perfect monster movie, emphasising exhilaration over scares, with interesting characters whose arcs don’t get in the way of the real focus here; great thrills. It’s a classic that just stacks terrific moment after moment on top of each other; tense, funny, sentimental, exciting, sharp. A combination of mixing effects and hiding imperfections means that the '90s CGI still holds up pretty well, especially in the action scenes (where Dino’s moving fast means there’s less time for you to pick apart how they look and more time to worry about the kid who’s about to be munched). A scantling of viewers and critics weren’t impressed by what they considered “flimsy” characters, overpowered by the special effects. I can’t imagine how they felt going forward.

The Lost World is an overly maligned sequel. Many of the essential ingredients of the first film are here. Same director, same screenwriter, arguably a better cinematographer, and the same all-important composer (half of Spielberg’s fortune should be in John Williams' pockets). Yes, it’s not as good as the first one, but how many movies are? People forget that this is still a Spielberg movie, and he lends his flair to what could’ve been uninspired sequences. The T-Rex overturning the RV and leaving it dangling over the edge of a cliff with Malcolm and others inside, stands up to any sequence from the original film. And whilst Malcolm is a less satisfying protagonist to spend an entire film with, he’s still funny, and the addition of his daughter, a kid who’s not such a nuisance, is a welcome one (yes, Velociraptor vanquishing gymnastics and all). It overstays its welcome to include a second climax involving a T-Rex parading around San Diego. All in all, it’s a second rate Jurassic Park, but that’s hardly a bad thing.

Third rate Jurassic Park on the other hand. Jurassic Park III is largely still the worst of the bunch, regardless of the ludicrous antics of the latest films. It’s a repetitive franchise, but here it really feels like everybody involved was going through the motions. Not excitedly scheming up new perils, but reaching forgone conclusions. Less “Oh, OH- What if..!”, more “Well… we haven’t done anything with Pterodactyls yet.” It’s also the first film in the franchise to jump the shark and decide that the old dinosaurs are boring now, we need super dinosaurs to convince the audience that it’s actually dangerous this time, because the filmmaking sure isn’t going to do that job. So we get a scene where the main bad dinosaur, a Spinosaurus stalking the characters like a shark in a Jaws sequel, conveniently kills a T-Rex. “Okay guys, this is serious, this dinosaur, this one, is actually super dangerous.” Jurassic Park III was made by a new crew noticeably picking up the reigns from visionaries. The “Park” trilogy, sputtered to a conclusion.

Jurassic World is an excellent example of a basic reboot. It is, on a tonal level, just the 2015 version of the original film. It is bigger, it is bombastic, it swaps out the cantankerous main character for a suave but obnoxious Chris Pratt stock performance, and most of all; it is dumber. That is not the worst sin a dinosaur action movie could commit. A woman outruns a T-Rex in high heels. The super dinosaurs are now genetically advanced. The Velociraptors help out the heroes. It was an absolute smash hit, and audiences were largely won over by its formulaic but impressive spectacle. It’s hard to resist the idea of seeing Jurassic Park, but this time the park is open, and crawling with customers. It is perfectly acceptable escapism. You’ll have a decent time, and forget nearly everything about it once you’re done. The film even seems to want to address that its over the top additions don’t improve upon the original (whose spirit it slavishly attempts to recapture). The original film’s T-Rex comes out and serves an ass-whooping to the new genetically enhanced Dinosaur, with some help from the Velociraptors. Nevertheless, fun.

Fallen Kingdom seemed to get over its hang-ups about ridiculous over the top additions, because that’s mostly what it is. Volcanoes! Underground dinosaur black market! Genetically enhanced... little clone girl? The writers were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. Despite this, it manages to be more forgettable than Jurassic World and approaches Jurassic Park III levels of mediocrity. Nothing much new is happening between the holdover characters from World and some of the new side-characters are genuinely annoying. There’s not much to say other than that it’s basically a bridge film to get us to the upcoming third instalment, now that dinosaurs have been set loose on mainland USA.

So what we should expect in Jurassic World: Dominion is a world overrun with dinosaurs. Not in cities necessarily, but in nature or suburban areas, invading roads and camp grounds. Sounds crazy enough. The architect behind this World trilogy, Colin Trevorrow, has said that this is the movie he’s wanted to see, and it took the two other to get there. At least we know he’s excited. All of the movies have their moments, the only real concern we should have is their ever expanding scope. There will be a ceiling where it stops being dumb fun and starts just being dumb. But, we’re not quite there yet. Jurassic Park, uh.... finds a way.

 
How Film Bros Revived the Sickest Film Ever Made


Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom is as vulgar as its name suggests (and then some), and yet it has seen something of a revival in popularity in recent years. Controversial director Pier Paolo Pasolini made the film in 1975. It is a loose adaptation of a work by the Marquis de Sade, displacing the plot into World War II Fascist Italy, and depicting men in positions of power who kidnap a group of teenagers, and subject them to four months of torture (involving excrement, castration, etc., usually sexual in nature). Pasolini was murdered 20 days before its premier under mysterious circumstances. On a recent episode of the Empire Magazine podcast, Quentin Tarantino recalls a woman’s reaction at one of his showings of the film; “Pasolini was beaten to death on the streets of Rome, and I say: Good riddance!”. How is it then, that Salo has come to escape the slums of infamy and reached prominence among young cinephiles, who go beyond reading of its notoriety and actually watch it?

First, some background. Pasolini was a vehement anti-consumerist and anti-fascist, an intellectual operating in multiple media, and openly criticised his government (going so far as to claim ties to the mafia, which ended up being true). He was also openly gay, and engaged with multiple radical left-leaning parties, despite siding with police after the proletariat student uprising in 1968 (claiming class hypocrisy soured his view of the students, who were rich children, attacking the state by grappling with police, who were underpaid lower class workers themselves). He was also a neo-marxist, opposed Christian Democracy, and didn’t like TV. Pasolini’s continued outspokenness was a threat to many Italians, and many more were disgusted by his art, which unabashedly incorporated his views through metaphor and imagery. Salo would be his most inflammatory work.

There are broad criticisms of films which attempt to cover atrocities, including that any attempt at narrativising the victim’s pain is to render it into entertainment, or that they pull punches to appeal to audiences so that they remain emotionally involved. Schindler’s List, for example, is an amazing and harrowing film, but it is, after all, the story of jews who lived, and men who made a small triumph in the face of the Holocaust. In Schindler’s List, families are lead into chambers, and we fear what’s to come, but the sprouts turn on, and are revealed as showers. Salo does not make such consolations. It is an onslaught of successively nauseating scenes of suffering, meant to please the men of power, which I won’t describe here. As for progression in the story, some victims begin to betray the others out of desperation. Unlike in most depictions of World War II atrocities, this is a work of fiction. Pasolini’s main concern was to reduce the two sides, abuser and victim, into de-personified representations of power and its subjects, and the anarchistic nature thereof (incorporating commentary on chauvinism, consumerism, nihilism, sadism, etc.). Make of this approach what you will.

With the film completed, Pasolini was murdered on the 2nd of November, run over by his car, beaten with a metal bar, and partially burned. Teenager Giuseppe Pelosi confessed, but evidence pointed to the involvement of others. Pasolini’s family agreed and suggested political motivations. Pelosi would go on to completely retract his confession, and point to members of fascist cells as having extorted him into admission. Witness testimony describing five assailants was uncovered, it had been ignored. Pasolini’s death, and its apparent connection to the very evils he criticised in his films cemented his legacy. And so, Salo has always been an important film, but due to its uncomfortable nature, never a popular one. Though it is today as popular as it has ever been, why?

The Criterion Collection is a curated line of home-video releases of arthouse/classic films. Through their unassailable selection of movies, exceptional artwork and packaging, exclusive extras (having invented the commentary track) and a boutique price range, they carved themselves a place as the premier, “exclusive”, distributor of great film to cinephiles. This is a convenient home-base for young movie buffs, who can measure up against one another by this barometer. Certain titles are must haves for them. "How many do you own? Have you seen this fundamental classic? Do you get this meme about an obscure independent Argentine surrealist docu-drama? Oh, you’re a cinephile? Name every movie." Humour particularly plays a role in members feeling that they’re keeping their pretentions in check. Salo is at the perfect crossroads, and has become perhaps the film most synonymous with this cult of Criterion Collectors. It is a film so important, and so commercially unviable (or so it seemed), that Criterion wasted no time, making it their 17th film to be released of about 1500. This alone makes it a standout addition to collectors, but its vileness has played an even larger role. Its reputation among this film community as a gauntlet to be sat through, a challenge to the viewer, has ballooned over the course of 20 or so years. If you enter the likes of r/criterion, film twitter, r/okbuddycinephile, you will know what Salo is, and what it means to the community, well before you have been able to see it, or even come across a more serious take on the film. Newcomers are filled with expectations, as they are surrounded by warnings; “Abandon hope, ye who watches Salo”, and yet feel that they must watch it, or be left out. Salo has become a rite of passage. Once you’ve sat through it, you’ve paid your dues. You’re in on the joke, and what’s more, you’ve experienced a seminal piece of film history.

And so, Salo remains ever relevant, and while the reason for this is ostensibly a joke, it doesn’t take long to find movie lovers who hold it in high esteem, many of whom might never have seen it, were it not for the community’s ability to reframe its unpleasantness as a challenge, not a deal-breaker.

 
TV Shows That Got Their Own Movies


A successful TV to film adaption is generally one that translates the feeling of the show, but is able to expand it in scale, and give well known characters an outing befitting the new run time. This, however, is a rarity. Let's take a tour of some of the more notable of these adaptations, broken up into categories, to make the task a bit more feasible. Note that these films must be directly connected to the shows they are adapting, with the same characters in mostly the same world. So, movies like 21 Jump Street, which is more of a reboot, or the Transformers series, are out.

First things first, some loose ends: El Camino, which follows Jesse from Breaking Bad, is by no means a bad film, but does feel like an unnecessary tack on. Absolutely Fabulous and Mr. Bean both benefitted from the grander scale antics the big screen gave them. Downton Abbey comfortably gave you more of what you like from the motley crew, but hear this; avoid the Entourage and Sex and the City films at all costs. Each follow the most vapid and despicably, voracious, self-obsessed, consumerist stereotypical examples of men and women ever to stain the reputations of film, men and women.

Next, Animation, for kids: There are the never-ending stream of Veggie Tales, the head on the Hydra that is Kids Christian entertainment, and plenty of direct to video Scooby Doo specials (On Zombie Island is a standout, but maybe a little bit too spooky for younger kids). Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension maintained the show's irreverent slyness and wonderful creativity, and Spongebob got a great adventure for his first movie that was originally meant to complete the series (the explosive, rock ‘n roll finish is absurd, goofy and wholesome). The universal silent slapstick of the adorable Shaun the Sheep is a favourite the world over. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, Hayao Miyazaki's first film, holds signs of the brilliance to come, and also of his obstinate confidence in his vision (he altered the characters somewhat to make them more agreeable for himself, infuriating some fans).

Animation, not for kids: The Simpsons Movie corralled the show's original writers to rehash some of their best ideas, making for a pretty satisfying upscale of the show where everything is a bit edgier and the family dynamic seems to really be on the line. Beavis and Butt-head Do America was fittingly underachieving, whilst South Park Bigger Longer and Uncut is exactly what it claims to be, and that means it's more biting, crass and obscene then viewers could have hoped for (fitting since the movie is a satire of the discussion surrounding obscenity in popular culture). There looks to be a Family Guy movie in development, but that show is way past relevancy and even if this had come at the height of its popularity, I somehow doubt it would have ever been any good.

Live Action, for kids: Way ahead of the rest, the campy '60s Batman movie, where one of Batman's biggest threats is a group of ducklings who won't get out his way so that he can dispose of a bomb, is good for a laugh. But the practice of adapting live action kids' shows is more common these days with Nickleodeon and Disney typically capping off the run of each new wave of juvenile stars with their own movie (including Drake & Josh, Hannah Montana, Suite Life, and the Wizards of Waverly Place, which is a bit better than its contemporaries). Best of all though are the Muppet movies, which arguably have become more culturally relevant than the show ever was. A Muppet Christmas Carrol brings together the most of the many, many films, Michael Caine is a fantastic choice for Scrooge, playing serious across from these bright and chipper actual puppets.

Sketch/Spoof Comedy: Da Ali G Show features four Sacha Baron Cohen characters who got their own movies. Borat is obviously top dog, but don't skip out on his great indictment of superficial America; Bruno). The Jackass movies are basically extended and expensive episodes of the show, a.k.a. unreviewable. There are far too many SNL movies, which build entire plots around characters from 5-minute sketches (the worst therefore has the most annoying character: It's Pat, and the best: Wayne's World). Finally, the hilarious Naked Gun movies, thankfully stepping up to serve a deluge of visual gags, best described as cleverly stupid.

Star Trek has a long line of films which follow up their series', starting with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This entry bores some, but it is intelligent sci-fi, powered almost entirely by intellectual curiosity and spectacular sights (more 2001 than Star Trek 2009). Subsequent movies, like the Star Trek the Next Generation films, whilst being crowd pleasers, were more standard fare, shifting the focus of the series towards sci-fi action, which is perhaps the quickest genre to age in all of film or TV.

So we come to the best of the best; Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. To this day, this is an extraordinarily divisive prequel. Many viewers, used to the show's quirky and involving characters and mysteries being able to face the disturbing truth at the heart of the town in frightening but palatable ways, were put off by Fire Walk with Me, which did away with all pretence of innocence. This is best exemplified by taking the beacon of hope that was the late Laura Palmer, so radiant that her death inspires the passionate pursuit for her killer which unravels the façade of the rest of the town, and revealing her to be, as is everyone in Twin Peaks, a deeply troubled soul. Some audience members were uncomfortable that a film about murder, incest, molestation, drug abuse and under age prostitution was joyless. They felt it didn't capture the spirit of the show. Rather, it takes you to its logical conclusion. It is a doubtless fact of the show that Laura suffered horribly, and this film, maintaining the strangeness of its predecessor, examines her entirely. It is uncompromising.

 
The Weird Stuff Crispin Glover Has Been Up To


Crispin Hellion Glover was born into an already eccentric Hollywood family, following in the footsteps of his character actor father (probably best remembered for his turn as hench-villain Mr. Wint in the Bond film Diamonds Are Forever), and entering the industry at age 13. Similar to his contemporary/multiple time co-star Nicolas Cage, his manic energy was noticeable even in these early days. Like a lot of child actors, he would grow up to be... quirky.

He got his first bit of real attention for a convulsing, awkward dance he performed in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (it was not the final chapter). Since then, the public mostly gets to see him in typically bizarre, but committed supporting roles. These include: Back to the Future as Marty McFly's hopelessly weird and nerdy dad, the Thin Man in Charlie's Angels who screams bloody murder into a tuft of Drew Barrymore's hair, and Andy Warhol in The Doors. He seems, at least in his most popular roles, to have a clear type, but no-one could say he isn't fantastic at it. His presentation for all of these characters is like a car crash, disasters calculated so precisely you can't take your eyes off of them. These are not performances that can be ignored, but Glover earned his peculiar reputation not only for his film roles, but his off-screen antics.

There was his only album (actual title: THE BIG PROBLEM ≠ the solution. The Solution = LET IT BE), suing Steven Spielberg for using prosthetics to disguise another actor as him, reinterpreting public domain books by rearranging or blacking out passages and adding images or prose, buying and maintaining a historically significant Czech chateau, and his infamous appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, featuring an apparent meltdown and karate kicks. There is an explanation for that last one, sort of. Glover appeared in character as the deviant shut-in Rubin, from an upcoming film that would only be released four years later; Rubin and Ed. Letterman did not know, the audience did not know, and everyone who witnessed the show was convinced that tales of Glover's antics had been undersold. When asked about it, he has had the same answer for years: “I can neither confirm, nor deny, that I was on the David Letterman Show.” Still, he continued and continues his tradition of nut job roles, most recently in American Gods, but, as he'll have you know, despite his dedication to them, he only takes these gigs to raise money for his real passion: Surrealist art films. Of course.

Crispin firmly believes that due to the corporate structures involved in the making and distribution of films, the industry squashes the potential of anything with content that would make an audience uncomfortable, or asks difficult questions. This not only limits the potential for artists to explore, but also for audiences to be moved to question the validity, value, honesty, etc. of the films they are watching. This has spurred him into directing the aforementioned experimental films; What Is It?, It Is Fine, Everything Is Fine! and the yet to be made It Is Mine. What Is It? concerns a young man with Down's syndrome and a disturbing, racist inner persona, starring actors who really had down syndrome. Similarly, It Is Fine, Everything Is Fine! stars its writer, who has cerebral palsy, as a version of himself in Freudian and sexual visions. Both films incorporate heavily surreal imagery and received mixed reactions. Although those reactions are few and far between, because Glover insists that the film only be screened in his presence, so that he can conduct Q & A's, and often give slideshows involving material from his books. If nothing else, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City programmed a showing of his films, describing him as a “vital and singular talent of American cinema”.

And regardless of how into Glover's more unconventional outings you are, in his art or in his life and views on film, his talent remains undeniable. He's a magnetic presence, there's no one else like him (with no hyperbole), and we can only hope that the budgets of his directorial efforts skyrocket, so that we might see a bit more of him on camera.

 
Turning 100...


This year, two more classics of cinema will be entering that most scantly populated of clubs: Over a century old! And yet, as far as 1921 goes, you'd be hard pressed to find two examples more dissimilar.

The first is the Charlie Chaplin comedy drama, The Kid. Chaplin's first feature length film as director, it's credited with inventing the dramedy genre, and remains one of the most iconic and popular films of the entire silent era.

The Tramp takes in orphaned child, and the two run a scheme: The Kid chucks rocks through windows, and the Tramp offers his services to repair them, getting the both of them into trouble along the way. The bond between these two is beautiful, and the entire film approaches its subject with tenderness, likely due to its semi-autobiographical nature (Chaplin grew up in poverty and lost a son only two years before). If you ask a general movie goer what impression the film had on them, outside of telling you how funny they find it, you'll most commonly hear them talk about their own kids, or fathers. That is an emotional authenticity so palpable, it works just the same today as it did when it was conceived.

Charlie is unsurprisingly great as the doting father figure, but what the 5-year-old Jackie Coogan pulls off is nigh-on-impossible. He never seems out of place, bored, or staged (as one might expect a toddler to be at least once), and when he cries out for his “father”, having been separated, it is absolutely heart-breaking. Never more will you want to enter the screen and let someone know; “It's okay, it's only pretend.”

Uniquely dramatic and comedic for its time (opening with the title card: A picture with a smile, and perhaps, a tear), whilst it isn't Chaplin's absolute best, it and City Lights do hold the distinction of being his most emotionally affecting efforts. It also houses an absolute standout sequence from his work; one of the great chases in film history. A group of manhandling welfare officers have apprehended the Tramp, and are taking the Kid, clutching to his leg and then crying out from the back of a wagon, away from him. The Tramp makes a frantic clamber over the rooftops, pursued by an officer, and follows the wagon down the streets. Of course it isn't necessarily the filmmaking itself that makes this such a great chase in the traditional sense, it is the unbelievable sense of involvement it commands over an audience. You desperately want them to be reunited.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the early Swedish horror fantasy from prolific director and star Victor Sjöström, The Phantom Carriage, low on sentimentality and full of fantastical effects which allow spirits to phase through walls and walk on waves, and souls to leave their bodies.

The film is a Dickensian allegory, wherein an abusive, monstrous drunkard, who has infected his wife with TB and lead his family to ruin, is taken for a ride by the Grim Reaper in flashback to see how it all went wrong, and what is still at cost. Though it wasn't the only cinematic personification of death to come out of 1921 (Fritz Lang's Destiny), this particular incarnation of the strict master, a deceased friend of the drunkard cursed to reap souls for one year until the drunkard is meant to replace him on New Year's Eve, had a profound impact on Ingmar Bergman. The Swedish filmmaker would go on to have his Death face off against man in a game of chess. As a show of appreciation, he cast Sjöström in Wild Strawberries, with its own phantom carriage.

The film is a spiritual predecessor to The Shining; they both interpret alcoholism and corrosive self-centrism symbolically through horror fantasy, and feature unnerving sequences where men viciously break down doors with axes to get to their cowering families. While it certainly has room to pontificate, the film is first and foremost a moody, dramatic morality play, punctuated by (forgive the pun) haunting imagery. The Phantom Carriage today is amazingly forward thinking, and a marvel for its ingenuity in atmosphere and candid exploration of distressing subject matter.

Two very different films. Different goals, different legacies, different continents, and so on. What they do have in common is a mixing and melding of genre elements, the likes of which the public had never seen up to that point, and which keep them refreshing and invigorating watches to this day. Here's to the next 100.

 
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