The dinosaur quality of a blockbuster franchise.Jun 29, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 40 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Jurassic World is a movie about itself. It tells a story about the difficulty of making special effects exciting when it seems like audiences have already seen it all. In the movie, the titular theme park has been built on the same island that hosted the old Jurassic Park back in the day when people would gasp upon seeing a realistic-looking T. rex—just as many of the same multiplexes that are showing Jurassic World showed Jurassic Park 22 years ago. Alas, complains park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the dinosaurs that scared and thrilled people two decades ago just don’t have the kick they once did. So what’s needed is more height, more roar, more teeth.
Cowriter/director Colin Trevorrow has followed the same principle. He decided that the only way to please the crowd that once made Jurassic Park the most successful movie ever made (up to that time) would be to have lots and lots and lots of dinosaurs—and then turn them loose on lots and lots of people.
How is Jurassic World? Well, it’s really not very good. But then, neither is the original Jurassic Park, aside from two astonishing set pieces conceived of and directed by Steven Spielberg—one in which a Tyrannosaurus rex sets upon a car caravan, and the climactic assault by a group of small but vicious velociraptors who hunt our heroes with terrifyingly strategic intelligence.
There’s been an effort in some precincts to treat Jurassic Park as though it is some kind of classic, but it’s not, in any way. The screenplay is a mess, a sentimentally souped-up and poorly paced version of Michael Crichton’s far more tough-minded pulp novel, and its characters are alternately dumb and lumpy. Consider the difference between Jurassic Park and Spielberg’s 1975 breakthrough, Jaws. The latter, with its sharply observed characters and rich evocation of life in a summer beach town giving emotional resonance to the battle against the great white shark, is one of the screen’s definitive thrillers. Jurassic Park is nothing but a Luddite dinosaur movie. Still, no one had ever seen anything quite like those computer-generated creatures, and the execution of those two key sequences was so dazzling that they caused crowds to return again and again.
In classic disaster-movie fashion, Jurassic World tells much of the story through the eyes of a couple of kids who are clear stand-ins for its target audience—and who could not have been more boring if they had spent the entire two hours reading aloud from manuals on how to repair laser printers. When they are menaced, you root for the carnivore.
There’s a jumbled plotline involving some bonkers corporation that apparently wants to use dinosaurs to hunt terrorists in Tora Bora—I’m not kidding—and Trevorrow can’t decide whether the park’s multibillionaire Indian owner (played by the absolutely wonderful Irrfan Khan) is a hero or a villain. At one point, he talks about protecting the Earth and the glory of creation; at the next, he seems to care more about having invested $26 million in a dinosaur prototype than the fact that people are being eaten right and left.
Two actors save the movie. Bryce Dallas Howard gets a really nice Barbara Stanwyck/Rosalind Russell vibe going as a comically Type-A careerist who has to crack her perfect shell to save herself and her family from the calamity that befalls her theme park. And then there is Chris Pratt, who plays—oh, who cares: He’s in the movie, and he’s fantastic. Whenever he’s on screen, Jurassic World crackles.
Pratt became a movie star last year with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, in which he combined first-class comic chops with action-hero grace in an entirely new way. If he evoked Harrison Ford in Guardians, here he seems to be channeling the glamour males of the Hollywood Golden Age—a little Bogart here, a soupçon of Jimmy Stewart there, a trace of William Holden, and a dash of Henry Fonda. We haven’t seen a male movie star bust out like this since Will Smith in the mid-1990s. Now that’s exciting, and no special effects were required.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.
Not for the first time, the star outshines the movie. Jun 22, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 39 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
As a comic actress, Melissa McCarthy resembles a first-rate baseball pitcher—because, unlike many of her brethren, who have a singular shtick and stick with it, she has both a curve and a fastball.
The heart and soul of a late revelation. Jun 15, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 38 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
William Butler Yeats might have described an old person as a “paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick,” but then Yeats didn’t live to see the 72-year-old actress Blythe Danner bloom like a bird of paradise in the first starring role she’s had on screen in her 43-year career. I’ll See You in My Dreams was made over the course of 18 days for $500,000, and its modesty is evident in every frame.
The first postapocalyptic vision remains the best. May 25, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 35 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
One Friday evening in 1980, I journeyed to the far West Side of Chicago to a drive-in on Cicero Avenue and attended what may have been the strangest double feature in the history of the world. The top of the bill was The Gong Show Movie, a film written by, directed by, and starring Chuck Barris, the host of the TV show of the same name. The B-picture was something called Mad Max.
When the superheroes join forces, it’s time to head for the hills.May 18, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 34 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Offering an opinion of Avengers: Age of Ultron is like reviewing Chex Mix. According to what stand-ard should one judge this mixture of breakfast cereal and pretzels and croutons and salt? Even if you find it bland or uninteresting you’ll probably have a few handfuls anyway. And if you love it, you love it uncritically and unreservedly—until, perhaps, you eat too much of it and then feel a little sick.
The camera as chronicler of marital deadlock.
May 11, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 33 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
There are several key shots in movies—the visual strategies directors and cinematographers and editors use to establish scene, mood, movement, and dramatic tension, guiding the viewer’s eye to important information.
Liam Neeson in action is worth watching. But for how long?Mar 30, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 28 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Run All Night is unquestionably the best of the seemingly endless series of thrillers Liam Neeson has made since 2008’s Taken made him a most unlikely action star at the age of 56. And yet, rather than being celebrated for rising above the others, Run All Night has been received so poorly by moviegoers one must now presume that Neeson’s surprising later-in-life dash through the international box office as one of the cinema’s most reliable money-makers is nearing its end.
How much longer for pleasant, diversionary cinema? Mar 16, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 26 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
There should be movies like Focus every week. It’s a stylish and amusing film with glamorous actors, memorable supporting players, lush settings, and lots of twists and turns. Will Smith plays a successful con artist who chisels people all over the world. He’s amused when a two-bit newbie played by Margot Robbie tries to run a hustle on him—amused and also powerfully attracted, because Margot Robbie may be the most beautiful woman to grace the screen since the 1960s heyday of Natalie Wood and Julie Christie.
Including the virtue of keeping a straight faceMar 2, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 24 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
When I tell you that, in my opinion, the three novels now known as the Fifty Shades Trilogy are the worst books I have ever read all the way through, I am not telling you anything interesting. To criticize E. L. James’s publishing version of winning the Irish Sweepstakes is to attack a cultural phenomenon entirely beyond the reach of criticism. These three books, originally published as a series of posts on a fan-fiction website, ended up earning their author $95 million in a single year.
A musical love story finds its mediumFeb 23, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 23 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
I don’t remember when I have been more deeply affected by a film than I was by The Last Five Years, a jewel box of a movie-musical that is unquestionably the best of its kind since Chicago was released in 2003. It is at once a tiny slip of a thing and an emotional blockbuster. Over the course of a brisk 90 minutes, The Last Five Years provides an exhilarating and devastating account of the relationship between a successful young writer and an unsuccessful young actress.
A grim, epic allegory of Putin’s RussiaFeb 9, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 21 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The director of the new Russian movie Leviathan now lives in Canada. This was a wise decision on Andrey Zvyagintsev’s part—because even though Leviathan received grants from the Russian government and was officially selected to represent the country in this year’s Oscar race, at some point in the near future, Zvyagintsev’s career and maybe his life won’t be worth a plugged kopek in his homeland.
One man, one war, and the cost of serviceFeb 2, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 20 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The overwhelming American Sniper is cast in shadow from start to finish by two real-world tragedies, one very broad and one very precise. The first is the irresolution of the Iraq war, the conflict to which the film’s titular character—Navy SEAL Christopher Kyle—was deployed four times. The second is the 2013 murder of Kyle at the hands of a disturbed veteran he was trying to help. As a result of these tragedies, the movie that tells their stories is haunted and grave.
Is the Alan Turing seen here the Alan Turing who was? Jan 26, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 19 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The Imitation Game is the fanciest ABC Afterschool Special ever made: It takes the inspiring, mystifying, and upsetting life story of a great genius and turns it into a didactic and banal lesson about how people who are “different” are also very, very special.
When a historical drama is devoid of dramaJan 19, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 18 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The marketing genius of movies like Selma, the highly praised docudrama about the march in Alabama that triggered the 1965 Voting Rights Act, is that they simultaneously confuse and intimidate critics and audiences by making them feel as though it would be an act of disrespect to speak anything but words of praise for the way they depict life-and-death historical events of great moral moment.