THE SEVEN AGES OF HARRISON FORD

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

-William Shakespeare

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Hello and welcome to the second edition of The Seven Ages of.

A few things to keep in mind, inspired by Shakespeare’s words I am endeavouring to relate the trajectory of a career and lifetime of an artist through these seven ages. Whether it is where the actor was in their career and where the character was in their life will be the criteria.

Effectively for the purposes of these posts the Seven Ages will refer to these criteria.

  1. Infant – This could be an early role of little note when the actor just got their foot in the door or their first starring role.
  2. Schoolboy – Yearning for freedom and adventure but still reliant on the protection of their elders. Perhaps where the actor shows raw talent or does a terrible film or still works under a more esteemed mentor. If not fresh faced and young then still a relatively new quantity to the audience.
  3. Lover- I think Shakespeare intended this age to reflect lust, hot air and a lack of awareness that comes with youth. For the sake of this I might consider that or just put it down to their most romantic role.
  4. The Soldier – Essentially the age while still relatively young somebody decides on their code and goes out into the world to conquer it and being highly competitive to do it too. For an actor this maybe the moment where they truly define a persona for themselves that will stick. If they’re already a star it might be where they re-invent themselves and perhaps not without controversy.
  5. The Justice – maybe the height of someone’s stardom where they’re aged but established. Powerful even if coasting on their achievements from when they were the age of the soldier. Reflection comes to them too now and with it wisdom.
  6. Pantalone – Now the inevitable decline begins. Still in the world but it is passing them by. For a star who is smart this will often see them partnered with a new up and comer or Lover or Schoolboy if you will.
  7. Old Age – For most actors this may be a pitiful last appearance which only embarrasses old memories or it may be a performance of a character at this stage of life. At death’s door what will be their parting wisdom, their learned lesson?

This hopefully will be an ongoing series and I fully intend to do Gene Hackman (as soon as I see Night Moves and I Never Sang for My Father, c’mon Netflix Australia!), stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood like Stewart, Gable, Davis, Bogie, Hepburn, Tracey, and actresses who often struggle to find relevant work post 40. It is proving difficult to track down all classic films of bygone eras even from my community’s libraries so some will have to wait. Baby boomers are proving easier but the scope will hopefully expand to a Jack Lemmon or a Deborah Kerr in time. Harrison Ford is chosen this month because I’ve seen most of his films. When I was a teenager Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford were my two favourite movie stars and their movies informed me on the standard of being a man onscreen even if I rarely set the ambition of living up to it. The hope is I pick the film that represents the age and not a personal favourite but take a look and see if you have to keep me honest. If you think other ones will be a better pick for an age feel free to chime in. Do you have a landmark role for each decade Harrison Ford has been on the big screen? Let’s dig in.

SPOILER ALERT – There will be spoilers in this post!!!!!!

Image result for harrison ford AMERICAN GRAFFITI

1. Infant – American Graffiti (1973)

Harrison Ford first film appearance was as a bellhop in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round in 1966. That could be arguably be the infant age but if we’re talking about the first film where he made an impact it was American Graffiti. A teen film, the perpetually always younger looking Ford played a drag racer at the age of 31. He only has two scenes, talking smack with racer John Milner (Paul Le Mat) and then actually racing. He serves as an antagonist to be defeated but Ford already adds layers. He seems all business with a female passenger at the start of the race but is that because he’s hiding fear that he’s about to lose or something else? Either way it’s that shit eating grin and good looking face under that cowboy hat in his first scene that made the impression and what an impression it was. For a more matured and nuanced performance you can’t go past his role in The Conversation a year later. Effectively a well-dressed polite heavy, Ford decided he would make the character gay and at no point does he telegraph it because the script does not require it. It was an early example of Ford being his own man and adding layers to a performance so that nothing was lazy or by the numbers. Still I think Bob Falfa got everybody’s attention before Martin Stett.

Runner Ups: Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, The Conversation.

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2. Schoolboy – Star Wars (1977)

The Conversation could fit here as an actor starting to get good work but still learning a lot from a talented director in the form of Francis Ford Coppola. As a man his career didn’t take off until he was nearing middle age and as an actor he has always shown an independence of thought and maturity in his choices. Yet if there is one final moment where Ford was not yet a movie star and still naturally brought the charisma of such a being it is in his first go around as Han Solo. Every little boy wanted to be Luke Skywalker, then they grew up and they wanted to be Han Solo. George Lucas with script polishes from Gloria Katz and Wilard Huyck can take some credit but it is Ford who made Solo the rogue so lovable. Effortlessly cool slouched in a seat at gunpoint, slyly grinning as boys act tough and Princesses remain uninterested. Those who think Ford can’t act should compare Solo to Jack Ryan and think again. Ford apparently doesn’t like to watch his old acting performances – with Solo he’s got no idea what he’s missing out on.

Runner Ups: Heroes, Force 10 from Navarone, Apocalypse Now, Raiders of the Lost Art, Blade Runner

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3. Lover – Presumed Innocent (1990)

Cheating once again with the rules of the seven ages, instead of covering a character full of hot air and enthusiasm or a part of an actor’s career where he resembles this we’re going to refer to the sexiest role Ford ever did. There’s a few to choose from, World War II love story Hanover Street, his great chemistry with Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark, his born again husband in Regarding Henry, his cuckolded cop in Random Hearts getting it on with Kristen Scott Thomas, his socially awkward Linus swept off his feet from Julia Ormond’s Sabrina. His most successful romantic comedy remains the 80s yuppie career film Working Girl with Melanie Griffith. Wasn’t even sci-fi Blade Runner at heart all about love and what one can truly feel explored in some part by Ford and Sean Penn? Yet they all pale next to Kelly McGillis and Ford’s stare downs in Witness. Scenes that were made for the term “tension you can cut with a knife” but Witness is to feature somewhere else so that leaves Presumed Innocent. This is not a romantic role, Ford plays a husband who cheats on his wife with a power hungry woman but lawyer Rusty Sabich is haunted by his former colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi in fine form) in the way only a lover can be. Drawn into investigating her murder and then potentially seen as guilty of it the one thing that is never in doubt is that Ford is obsessed with her. In one scene his wife is seen off-screen asking why she matters so much and Ford breaks down in tears. It may not be love but it is certainly the passion of a lover and it remains one of Ford’s most unique and brilliant performances.

Runner Ups: Blade Runner, Random Hearts, Sabrina, Regarding Henry, Six Day, Seven Nights, Working Girl, Hanover Street.

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4. Soldier – Witness (1985)

The 1980s is a rich era for Harrison Ford, it begins with the greatest sequel of all time in The Empire Strikes Back, Ford’s first turn as a cop in Blade Runner, gives us the classic Indiana Jones trilogy, his tortured performance in The Mosquito Coast, Frantic hints at the Ryan persona of the 1990s with a middle aged doctor caught up in a thriller but dares to show Ford get beat up and pretend to be naked with girls half his age (Jack Ryan thrillers wouldn’t dare). These are real characters each with their own tics and foibles, they play like something more authentic and complicated than the mainstream hits from the 90s. Smack bang in the middle of the decade though is the closest thing to a prototype of the 90s star persona of them all in Detective John Book with important distinctions. Ryan is a family man, Kimble a widow, Book is a bachelor and hard edged cop where the others are historians and doctors. Book is dangerous in a way the others aren’t, he’s not a good man driven to violence, he’s a violent man driven to goodness. Which makes it all the more powerful when he is reluctant to fight, or tenderly sits with a boy or he shrinks from the gaze of a topless woman he is falling for hard. The only time Harrison Ford was ever nominated for an Academy Award it remains arguably his greatest performance. Solo and Indy endure, Blade Runner is so much richer because of his Deckard and Presumed Innocent and Working Girl were the successful changes of pace but Witness’s John Book is the Harrison Ford performance to see. John Book fits as a soldier personality too but more importantly this is essentially where Ford in his career established his reputation, proved he didn’t need to do genre work for the rest of his career and created the blueprint for what he would ultimately make a lot of money doing in the 1990s.

Runner Ups: Blade Runner, Frantic, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Fugitive, Presumed Innocent, Patriot Games

5. The Justice – Clear and Present Danger (1994)

There is a wealth of choices for this age from Harrison Ford, the age of the justice was the age that Ford played best and he became in a way the Jimmy Stewart for a new generation. After Stallone and Schwarzenegger in the 80s, Ford gave us the American hero for the 90s. Smart, urban if not urbane and a family man – just don’t fuckin attack him or his country. As a cop in The Devil’s Own he came face to face with Brad Pitt as a terrorist even if the film didn’t play it so cut and dry. Playing the President in Die Hard on Air Force One in… Air Force One almost seems inevitable in retrospect but Ford showed his boredom even before the decade closed pursuing a romcom in Six Days, Seven Nights with Anne Heche. Hey I liked it. With dwindling box office he returned to this type of film in Firewall (2006) but sadly that film was not as good as the 90s output. The Fugitive was the biggest hit and a damn fine film but Dr Jack Ryan has it over Dr Richard Kimble. In Patriot Games, Ford has his best moments when he sees his wife Cathy Ryan (Anne Archer) and child Sally (Thora Birch) in the hospital. His line delivery of the word spleen will cause any parent to tear up. His famous finger point is greatly satisfying in the next scene but Clear and Present Danger puts Ryan in a better film and features an equally good performance. Jack Ryan plays many notes here, a middle aged man fearing the death of his father figure (James Earl Jones as Admiral Greer), an analyst out of his depth in the field, and an arc that takes him from nervously advising his President to telling him where to go. For the kids who don’t know Ford was the master of awkward fight scenes, his facial expressions always moving from fear to rage with every punch and he would physically throw his body around. They’re not streamlined like a martial arts fight but they’re spectacular in a regular guy kind of way and probably owe a great deal to Ford doing a lot of work himself. You feel the fights. Conflicting reports range about how involved he was in his stunts but he sure seems to be close to some pyrotechnics in the lauded ambush scene of Clear and Present Danger.

Runner Ups: Patriot Games, The Fugitive, The Devil’s Own, Sabrina, Air Force One, Six Days, Seven Nights, What Lies BeneathK-19: The Widowmaker, Presumed Innocent, Regarding Henry, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Frantic.

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6. The Pantalone – Morning Glory (2010)

Ford came to stardom later in life and he was still box office king in his mid-fifties but sooner or later you’ve got to slide into supporting roles and pair yourself up with a younger kid. Ford proved game but as the 21st century dragged on the films he made just weren’t that good or just weren’t successful. After pulling out the old fedora again in 2008 he followed up with two films, the 2009 ensemble piece Crossing Over and the 2010 comedy Morning Glory hoping to capitalise on that momentum. Neither hit gold but he has enjoyed more success with the interesting premise of Ender’s Game and mentoring Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) in 42, both in 2013. Morning Glory was made by some of the same team that only a couple of years earlier had major success with The Devil Wears Prada the film belongs to Rachel McAdams who here didn’t play a love interest but an actual career woman. As a TV producer Becky Fuller she hires Ford’s revered but benched anchor-man Mike Pomeroy. The film belongs to Becky who does have a boyfriend played by Patrick Wilson and interacts with a cast of individuals at their morning program Daybreak. The heart of the film though is her relationship with Pomeroy. The elder newsman doesn’t want to do morning television but is running out of options and coming to terms that after a lifetime of putting career first over family he now has neither. Ford plays proud, stubborn, hurt, funny and most importantly capable of supplying a bran doughnut or perhaps even a frittata for someone special. For years Harrison Ford struggled to get a great role for this age – in 2010 he got one and you should see it.

Runner Ups: Hollywood Homicide, Cowboys & Aliens, Ender’s Game, 42, The Devil’s Own.

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7. Old Age – The Force Awakens (2015)

I watched The Age of Adaline recently to see if it was Ford’s best work in years as some have said……. I think I’ll leave it there. Ford may not have a great performance for this age just yet. There’s time, we’ve got Blade Runner 2049 coming out later this year which is bound to deal with mortality and then most likely a final Indiana Jones performance. For now though it is Ford returning to a galaxy far, far away from a long time ago in The Force Awakens. It is not great acting; Han Solo has no big lessons to pass on in this story. What Ford does though is show that old men can still be young at heart, that Solo didn’t really grow up but he did become wiser. He passes on some advice to both Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) about life and in the third act he does exactly what Han Solo did all those years before near Yavin IV and the first Death Star. He goes into the danger to rescue someone, to do the right thing and that is why we always loved the scoundrel smuggler. When he confronts his son his last act is to show that he still does and always will love him. Maybe he does have one big lesson left to impart.

Runner Ups: The Age of Adaline, The Expendables 3, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

Well that’s the list; can you believe Indiana Jones isn’t in there? It’s arguably the greatest role he ever played! What’s going on?! Where’s Deckard?! Well let’s discuss and feel free to put forward your own picks in the comments below.

-Lloyd Marken

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DOCTOR STRANGE STRANGELY FAMILIAR YET NEW

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Doctor Strange does a lot of new interesting things on film, stitched together by many influences of before. Fights between souls, palavers with galactic beings, and foot chases along New York skyscrapers may remind modern audiences of The Matrix, Inception and various comic books but never before has it been seen on such a scale and never before with the witty and ass-kicking Cloak of Levitation. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding possibilities for future adventures and even daring to switch up how their third act climaxes play out.

So it’s a little sad to report that Stephen Strange follows the path of Tony Stark a little bit. Stark was of course an arrogant tech genius lay low by a life threatening experience and imprisonment. While wounded his gifts and expertise remained unharmed even if his purpose in life was changed. Stephen Strange is arrogant as an incredibly gifted and brilliant neurosurgeon that has a car accident. It’s a key difference that Stephen’s gifts are taken from him and his arrogance takes a lot longer to be stripped away. Casual fans though may find too much familiar in this comic book origin story. The film becoming more interesting as he leaves behind love interest Dr Christine Palmer and sets forth for Nepal to find Kamar-Tag and learn how to heal himself from the teachings of the sorcerer The Ancient One ( Tilda Swinton). doctor strangeStrange proves a quick study (maybe a little too quick his first showdown with powerful sorcerers sees him handle himself very well for a rookie) getting help from Karl Mordor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong who is the keeper of Ancient Texts and gets most of the film’s best bits (Benedict Wong). Related imageThrough them Dr. Strange becomes a healed man immersed with a new identity and purpose when a disenchanted former follower Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) starts an all-out war against the Ancient One and those that stand with her.

The action scenes and effects are first rate not just for their look but also for how fresh they feel. Marvel films recently have been criticised for all retaining an aircraft hangar/industrial park aesthetic and director Scott Derrickson may go some way to challenging this with old fashioned dressed up studio sets but also real location shooting in Kathmandu, London, New York and Hong Kong on the streets that look characteristic of those cities in particular. The cast which includes Rachel McAdams and Michael Stuhlbarg sometimes feel wasted here but the dynamic between Strange, Mordor, Wong and the Ancient One is strong. Mikkelsen may not get too much either neither being particularly threatening nor scenery chewing but he still gets a few chuckles and does his fight scenes well. The film is alive with the possibilities that this character and his realm of influence opens up. As the second half rolls on, Strange takes up his new mantle a bit too easily and set piece after set piece follow each other without any real further character development but the finale flips Hollywood conventions and revels in the tricks that Strange can pull off. There is a lot here to enjoy and with a little bit of luck it won’t be long before we see Dr Strange again.

-Lloyd Marken

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SPOTLIGHT: NOT JUST ONE OF THE YEAR’S BEST PICTURES BUT AN EMOTIONALLY RIVETING STORY

The Boston Globe was founded in 1872 by six Boston businessmen and by the 1890s Wikipedia tells me it was a stronghold with an editorial staff dominated by Irish Catholics. Wikipedia also tells me Tom Winship succeeded his father as editor in 1964 and transformed The Boston Globe from a local paper into regional paper of national distinction. When he stepped down as editor in 1984 it had won not just its first Pulitzer Prize during his twenty year reign but a dozen. From 1993 until 2013 The Boston Globe was owned by The New York Times. In the 1990s it launched an online website which has regularly been ranked as one of the ten best newspaper websites in the country. The quality of their digital work can be seen for example here in this piece. It is a prestigious publication with a storied history, something Boston can be proud of. There are several shots in Spotlight with The Boston Globe marquee; a little romanticism is shown not just for The Globe but for print journalism in general.

This is not a tale about regular journos doing the regular beat to hit that print deadline every day. Spotlight is a specialised team of veteran and talented reporters who are given sometimes months to unearth the specifics of the story. When they pull the lever it needs to be good and it needs to be right because litigation lawyers for the paper have to be ready to stand firm. They are good and they do get it right and in doing so they make the world a better place. They are able to do this type of long form investigative journalism due to the deep coffers of major broadsheets. Coffers that are getting smaller in the digital age it should be noted. In 2001 the team started work on their biggest story, the covering up of sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Church in Boston. As the story broke the scope of it has increased to a global crisis for the Church and its faithful. As Spotlight reporter Michael Rezendez has been quoted by People magazine as saying “Even though I was a lapsed Catholic, I still considered myself a Catholic and thought that one possibly, some day, I would go back to being a practising Catholic. But after this experience, I found it impossible to do that – or even think about doing that. What we discovered was just too shattering.”

The Spotlight team is led by their editor Walter “Robby” Robinson portrayed by Michael Keaton who carries tremendous gravitas as an elder statesmen in this film that it is hard to believe this guy was Beetlejuice. I’ve spent my lifetime watching this man and even in something like Duplicity or Batman he brought such energy to his performance. Not here, here he is quiet and he carries the movie – Mark Ruffalo is not the star. Speaking of Mark, he’s terrific as Michael Rezendes the type of role you might have handed to a young Michael Keaton both professionally determined and yet often radiating a certain swagger. Brian d’Arcy James, predominantly a stage actor, plays Ben Bradlee Jr. who uncovers some interesting facts in old archives before realising uneasily that former perpetrators might be living close to his house. Rachel McAdams one of the most talented young actresses working today plays Sacha Pfeiffer who is the journalist who gets the brunt of the interviews with actual victims. A personal viewpoint of the abuse is never really shown. We meet the victims as adults hurting but determined to tell their story and we see them from the perspective of the journalists who are moved by their stories but have to be professional and have to discern what is true. The reporters confide in each other as the story begins to make them confront their own beliefs, heritage and feelings.

Many years ago a very wise man came to my house with a DVD to watch called The Station Agent. It was reflective of his taste and of many experiences where my best friend introduced me to great films I had never heard of. Director Tom McCarthy has been a filmmaker I have followed ever since. In that film he dealt with broken people discovering they could love again and have a place in the world. One character was getting over the death of a child and McCarthy was spellbinding in the way that he would cause greater effect by underplaying everything and showing wise restraint. That wonderful gift is on display here in a film that deals with something very painful.

Demographics have changed in Boston as they have throughout the rest of America but for the purposes of popular culture there is something distinctly Irish Catholic about Boston, MA. You can imagine then the trauma at the heart of an old respected local broadsheet staffed predominantly by Irish Catholics unearthing the first real proof of the Catholic Church’s cover up of abusive priests. It is arguably two great big Boston institutions at war with each other and there are several small meeting room scenes where old Boston guys sit down and talk about what to do with the kind of polished charm that makes one uneasy. Michael Keaton is riveting in these moments.

Sidenote: Many years ago Keaton starred in another journalism ensemble The Paper, one of those good dramedies Ron Howard did so well back in the day, which was about the daily beat of a regular journalist but also carried this film’s romantic idealism for the good, good journalism could do. Film Critic Roger Ebert who always considered himself a journalist first and foremost loved that movie. I think he would’ve loved this one too and Roger I miss you, I miss your thoughts and your wonderful words about movies even when I disagreed with you.

Films like this make a splash at awards season but often can struggle to find a wide audience. They get labelled ‘Important’, ‘Well Made’ with a ‘Terrific Ensemble Cast’ but people may hesitate to know if the film will involve them or worse be too confronting. Yes Spotlight is well made and about something important boasting an All Star Ensemble. However it is so much more, it’s terribly moving as the victims tell their stories and also as various forces seek to turn around our heroes. The crowd I saw it with on a Tuesday night was visibly moved . At the end we got up without a sound and left the cinema quietly and solemnly. Like we were leaving Church.

-Lloyd Marken

JURASSIC WORLD: A CROWD PLEASER THAT LIVES UP TO THE TITLE

Jurassic World either thinks it’s a lot more cleverer than it is or is actually a lot more clever then we give it credit for. It’s usually a fine line between the two. Regardless Jurassic World essentially remakes Jurassic Park lacking the Spielbergian touch and iconic tension building scenes he gave us. There are no shaking glasses of water or torches flashing the eyes of a monster as it looks directly at you. The closest we come is raptors running alongside a hero on a motorcycle. Like all sequels World goes bigger not better but it also playfully acknowledges dare we say criticises these conventions. The every man scientist replaced here by a Navy hero, the corporate career woman takes centre stage in the finale not a side plot, the hubris of the CEO here leads to an action scene not a quiet moment of regret and the signature monster of the piece is both the cause of so much carnage and also a reflection of our own unhealthy desires for corporate excess and new unnecessary products, the kids are not just smart and cute but kinda hurting due to their parents divorcing, the treacherous human here is neither the instigator of the crisis nor in it purely for profit but he is far more evil as well. There is also restraint displayed in the use of the dinosaurs with a handful of species gradually coming into the narrative for their respective scenes, only the popular raptors and chief monster star throughout. That last minute reveal made me break out in a grin. The plot might be uninspired but the riffs on the original formula are and create some good will towards the film. What can I say? I liked it and so did the world. The film currently holds various opening weekend records and is the 3rd highest grossing film of all time. The Force Awakens might give it a run for the money but the film’s comparative success would suggest it’s time to tap into 90s nostalgia far more so than 70s or 80s nostalgia themed vehicles. . Alas nobody told Adam Sandler and Arnold Schwarznegger.

As the trailers intoned The Park has opened twenty years after the disastrous events of Jurassic Park. In fact it’s been running for some time without incident but wouldn’t you know it-all hell is about to break loose. Claire Mitchell is the operations manager of the park with her two nephews Zack and Gray being dispatched there for a holiday under her care while their parents’ divorce. I’ll allow that they probably correctly predict emotions will boil over from the negotiations in the law offices and wanted to spare their kids while giving them a distraction before the hammer falls. Not my idea of how to play it but I’ve never experienced the trauma of divorce first hand so as plans go maybe it’s a good idea. The park, the only of its kind in the world, is seeing dwindling interest in the phenomenal and unique novelty of dinosaurs existing in the modern world!!!!!!! So they genetically engineer a monster dinosaur called Indominus Rex or I-Rex for short (that can’t be coincidence and kudos to the writers) made out of all of the demands of focus groups who want a bigger meaner deadlier dinosaur for the sequel-I mean park. Thankfully Burt Macklin, FBI himself is on the island training raptors and looking positively bad-ass with a leather vest, rolled up sleeves and a motor bike. I won’t spoil the break-out but you know one is coming. The film thankfully sets things up in a call back to old school blockbuster by leaving the first act relatively action free. We get introduced to the characters and their relationships to each other. Then we get a sense of the scope of the park and then we are suitably unnerved by the new monster that immediately seems like a bad idea. Once all those things are ticked off the film lets the proverbial hit the fan.  If there is one criticism I can’t shake it’s the lack of an immediate lock down the second a dinosaur is on the loose but distance from the break out and the main park gives the powers that be confidence they can recover the creature with minimal PR damage. I guess. Look if your business relies on patronage and you’re sitting in a control room with dozens of employees who are aware of your decisions in a crisis I’d be putting the customer’s safety first but maybe that’s just me. Maybe even a 10 second phone call to the nephews to make sure they’re secured even if you don’t care much about the general populace no?! Yes I know that would kill the plot but I don’t like dumb decisions from characters I’m supposed to being rooting for. By the way, notice how cool Chris Pratt looks when he sensibly says “Evacuate the island.”

Jurassic Park 22 years ago starred a relative unknown handsome Sam Neil as Dr. Alan Grant making palaeontologists sexy but whose occupation immediately positioned the lead as an everyman albeit one whom had knowledge and enough wherewithal to get through a crisis. By contrast Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady is a man of action whom is both emotionally adolescent around his fellow humans and stoically in tune with the true nature of animals. He hasn’t been studying dinosaurs for years; he’s been training them like a lion tamer for a little while after leaving the Navy. The focus on work over family and the awakening of paternal instincts of Grant are now saddled with the female lead which may seem stunningly retro until you consider that nobody would cry boo if that arc was handed to a male character. Maybe we all just need to chill.

Bryce Dallas Howard is arguably the main character of the film as Claire. She’s basically running the park and is a successful career woman mostly office bound having to liaise with clients and potential sponsors. It’s not impossible to imagine she would wear heels or find herself still wearing them outfield (albeit I know plenty of career women who always have a pair of joggers under their desk but I digress) but it has certainly been the source of much mocking over this American summer. I’ve run in heels (hey I was a drama student once upon a time) and it is not easy but not impossible as clearly displayed here by Rachel McAdams in Morning Glory. Howard is great in the role, her first real go at a blockbuster since her M. Night Shymalan films really and clunky dialogue aside she grounds the film well. We’re not really given much reason on the surface to like her at first. She’s ignoring her nephews (although I’d say she selflessly took them on for her distant sister who clearly doesn’t understand how busy her job is) and prattling on about sales and assets and not liking Chris Pratt who is sooooo cool but if you stop and think about it for a second long before her closing kick ass moment she’s the most sensible and consistent character in the film. She’s a professional doing her job, she is trying to spend time with her nephews despite clearly big things happening in her workday and she sets out to find them when it becomes obvious the situation is dire. I found the heaving bosom in the pink singlet top distracting but the girl has to breathe and when you fall you might go down on your hips and push up with your arms. If that means you look like you’re striking a swimsuit calendar pose then maybe some people just have a wild imagination. Nobody would complain if Chris Pratt had pulled off his shirt sleeves to dress a wound and showed off the Hammer Brothers but sadly it’s only Claire Mitchell who sheds clothes to transform from buttoned up corporate busy body to Aunty Bear Bad-Ass. Maybe that’s because it’s well established that Chris Pratt is so much more in tune with nature and basic biological instincts that Claire has repressed for too long or so the movie would have you believe. In 2015 maybe we should be more celebratory about a female character that is successful professionally and doesn’t have to be defined by how she relates to children but one female character in one blockbuster doesn’t have to answer every aspiration for her whole gender. We’re all unique and complicated individuals and the move for equality will survive a female character that in the end prioritises family over career especially if she gets to save everyone.

The two kids who the primary audience will identify with are probably not as great as Lex and Tim Hammond from the original film but they feel more modern in a way. Tim and Lex were hanging out at Grandpa’s work, suitably terrified by the turn of events but remarkably capable too. By comparison Gray Mitchell is still wonderfully enthusiastic about his holiday but far more emotional about the reality of his parent’s divorce. Zack Mitchell his older brother like all teenagers coats his pain with outward indifference and frustrated hormones. Leaving a smitten girlfriend behind at home he stares at the smorgasbord of members of the opposite sex on holiday in the park. What a dick you might judge. Except why would a kid value a relationship when his parents are about to throw in the towel on theirs. Plus as the story moves on his real affection for his little brother comes to the fore. Like most older brothers. These kids are hurting with something far more terrifying than a raptor and as the divorce rate stands at 40-50% in the U.S. there are certainly a lot of kids in this film who are going to find it relatable.

Irrfan Khan played by Simon Masrani is both a cheerful and likeable CEO if not a maker of smart decisions and Vincent D’Onofrio is suitably slimy as Vic Hoskins -head of security. A smile breaking out across his face halfway through the film seals his fate and when it comes it is wonderfully satisfying. Vince you can play scumbags any time you want buddy but I do like you as heroes, maniacs and lead villains too. The cast is filled out by very talented actors who mostly get at least one moment to shine but these are the main hitters.

One of the smartest decisions I think the filmmaking team have made here is the characterization of the dinosaurs themselves. The I-Rex keeps pulling out a new surprising capability long after somebody-anybody should have thrown Dr Henry Wu up against the wall and made him spill everything but as monsters go he looms large as a threat for the whole film through several encounters and that is pretty impressive.  The Raptors being given names if not personalities (except you Blue, you’re my boy Blue) and getting to be used for good is also a nice development. The film boasts likeable humans thank God but nobody forgot that some good dinosaur on dinosaur action holds massive appeal.

But I’ve dissected the film like an adult looking for double meanings and narrative originality. This is a big kid’s film and after watching an interview with director Colin Trevorrow claiming he directed the whole film as if from a child’s sensibility-immediately the film shot up in my estimates. The repetition of the words Animals and Assets that Honest Trailers picked up, the bickering between the female and male lead at the beginning, the stolen kiss later on, the set pieces, the inexplicable lazy fat security guard for the I-Rex’s enclosure, the overtly long staring at girls from Zack and pretty much every characterisation is informed by this viewpoint and all for the better. In particular the seriousness and lack of silliness in the scenes referencing the divorce become more poignant too. In the American summer of blockbusters this year Jurassic World made more money than Mad Max: Fury Road, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. In my humble opinion those four films are better films and better blockbusters but Jurassic World I suspect made more money for a very good reason. Maybe Jurassic World doesn’t think it’s smarter than it is. Maybe I do. Go see it, only a fool wouldn’t enjoy it.

-Lloyd Marken

The Absurdly Appropriately Titled ‘About Time’

 

Richard Curtis was recently on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
The two of them go back a bit to when Ferguson was large alcoholic comedian and Curtis was the writer of the Blackadder and Mr Bean TV series.

Surprisingly their patter was strained. Ferguson made jokes at his own expense about times when he was suffering from his disease. Curtis at one point said I believe quite genuinely “I’m so happy to see you doing so well.”

Curtis understood the need to be funny on the late night talk show but he couldn’t trivialise the depths Ferguson had recovered from nor the heights he had scaled since. It revealed a part of his nature that has been evident in his work since the beginning. Curtis can do funny but he is quite prepared to acknowledge the harshness of life as he did in the interview and as he has in his work.

Curtis was the writer or arguably the best romantic comedies of the past two decades, certainly of those from Great Britain.  Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones Diary, Notting Hill and Love Actually all contain themes of courtship and the trend continues in his new film About Time. Curtis has publicly stated this could be the last romantic comedy he directs. Like Clint Eastwood’s last western Unforgiven, Curtis approaches this film as if to make a final point on the sub-genre that he helped establish. Domhnall Gleeson plays a young man who on his 21st birthday is told by his father that the men in the family can travel through time to any moment in their lives. They just go hide in an enclosed dark space (preferably a closet ) and concentrate really hard. Tim decides he will use this gift to find love. We follow him as he falls in love with the lovable Mary played by Rachel McAdams. Their courtship takes up the first third of the movie and the hook of the trailers has had Domhnall doing over awkward date mistakes. Stuff up the first time you have sex. Go back and do it again. Say the wrong thing when meeting the in-laws for the first time. Go back and do it again.

These scenes contain the bulk of the wit that the British writer has shown in abundance ever since the Blackadder series. Yet Curtis as hinted at by his interview with Ferguson is aware of the tragedy or pathos of life as well in his work. . ‘Four Weddings’ as it is often shortened to, after all also had A Funeral. After making us laugh all throughout Blackadder Goes Forth with over the top characters the series ended with a poignant reflection of what happened to so many on the Western Front all those years ago.

His most ‘ROMCOM’ romantic comedy Notting Hill still has a close friend to Hugh Grant’s lead confined to a wheel chair following an accident.

His ensemble masterpiece Love Actually features several people recovering from or tempted by adultery and the human cost this entails. Not to mention a father and son grieving over a premature death and a sister making sacrifices in her private life to be there for her brother who needs her. Life is not pub fist fights, spectacular cross country road trips and Vegas skydiving. Instead of being full of James Bond derring do life’s most dramatic incidents can be car accidents and hospital visits that can knock the trajectory of our destinies away from us. His heroes and heroines don’t kiss for the first time in front of the Eiffel tower but in a back street of Notting Hill or a small cafe in Spain and it’s just as spectacular and romantic because it’s our lives.

The film is a Richard Curtis film as we’ve come to expect but by adding an unusual sci-fi element of time travel Curtis now in the middle of middle age goes deeper.

Here even before the courtship of Tim and Mary we are introduced to the family and given the set up for pay offs later on. The pathos will go deeper this time because we see the whole journey. The zany free spirited sister Kit Kat played by Lydia Wilson  for example may be zany for more than one reason and it could be masking deep hurt. On The Late Late Show Curtis casually remarked “It’s about the meaning of life.” masking the accuracy and profoundness of this statement.

The film gives way gradually to what happens after you fall in love. When you build a life with someone and have children. Children are of course the rebirth of the line that you are linked to through your parents. As the circle of life rolls over one must give way to the other. All of that is on show in About Time…yes people there will be a wedding and a funeral.

McAdams is one of the most wonderful actresses working in Hollywood today but she’s been stuck as the love interest too much ever since The Notebook. (A great turn in career comedy Morning Glory playing off two vets in Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton rather than her love interest failed to register with audiences). Notable exceptions include when Woody Allen invited her to play against type in Midnight in Paris and when she held her own against Sherlock Holmes.

Here she is the girl again, super cute and a little feisty but she gets to play new notes as a Mum and see the warmth in her as she sits next to her sister in law and agrees she needs to make a change to her life.

Domhnall Gleeson is so subtle in his performance here that you may take for granted how easily he slides from awkward teen to concerned brother to doting father. He provides voice over narration that never oversells anything and yet easily recognises the beats of our hearts. It is because of him that we feel this family of his is just like our own. We may not recognise every personality type but we do recognise the love they share for each other.

You will laugh out loud as Tim slyly comments of another would be suitor being a dick literally minutes of screen time after we have seen him distressed in an alternate time line after being usurped by this man as her established boyfriend.

Yet notice how his stern and yet frightened gaze directed at his sister’s boyfriend is years away from the boy who squirts sunscreen all over the back of a girl he is trying to woo.

I have no doubt the time loops and logic are inconsistent as the film goes on. But to the people who would look to dissect I say wholeheartedly I couldn’t give a shit. The time travel element is a story device more than anything else. Logic aside there are some neat touches, one is despite Tim’s special power he cannot always get the outcomes that he wants. An obvious one  is if somebody doesn’t like him his power can do little to change that as displayed early on. However notice later on Mary tells him not to scamper off during a crisis. It hints that Mary is no fool and while she remains out of his time travelling some things are still becoming obvious. It’s a legitimate question to ask how can this man have this ability and not come clean with his significant other about it but watch the film and see Tim’s ultimate decision about time travelling and you may get why.

I never once felt this film didn’t present their relationship as equal, grown up and complex despite a scence where yes McAdams tries on twenty dresses before going with the first one. By the way the first would’ve been my pick too.

One montage shows the central couple in the first bloom of love walking through their local train station throughout various days. In one shot she twirls around as he holds her hand. Later we see frustration spilling out from within them and at each other after one of their kids has torn up a project for work. Late night dates will give way to people being grumpily woken up following nights apart because someone has something ‘reaaallly’ important they need to discuss with you. The fumbling of first time sex will give way years later to jokes about whether it should be done tonight or not.

My God we do twirl around in those first few heady days but because of that a hand being held all that time later at a funeral by the same person lets us know of a different passion, a different love but one just as powerful and far more lasting. We are all twirling around train stations at some point, before holding hands in backyards and on beaches as the day goes by. Smiling without having to say a word. Maybe even on instinct spinning once more because you remember. Because some feelings don’t leave us.

One more thing. Bill Nighy who Curtis made a massive star out of with Love Actually here plays the father. Perhaps to right the wrong from The Boat That Rocked a film that touched upon fathers and sons but failed to choose Nighy to be the father nor to nail nearly as wonderful a depiction of that theme as this film does. I’m not giving anything away to tell you that the central relationship of this film is arguably not really between Gleeson and McAdams.

Nighy is an actor so beloved that when he shows up in a movie you can’t help but smile. His first line had me grinning even though he wasn’t saying anything funny. I was just so happy to see and hear him. Such an effect from an actor makes him perfect casting for the role of the father. The world loves Nighy and that love will give the film absolute weight later on when he tells Tim what he used the gift of time travel to do with his life. Because if you’re a father and you can travel through time that is exactly what you would do.

This is one of the year’s best.