The blockbusters and the hidden gems are battling it out this summer, and here are the winners and losers according to my calculations. I bit the bullet and saw the number one movie in the country: JURASSIC WORLD– the JURASSIC PARK sequel that’s tearing up the box office, with the biggest opening of all time anywhere, ever, on the planet. It actually held my interest, and ironically takes aim at the corporate greed and thirst for sensationalism that just might spell our doom, not to mention the dangers of messing with NATURE.
But mostly this is a kick! Two kids visiting their workaholic aunt (Bryce Dallas Howard) the operations manager at the theme park, get caught in the middle of a dinosaur rampage. The genetically engineered reptile in question has had its chromosomes tweaked and the resulting creature is super smart, strong, nasty– and on the loose! A dinosaur expert (Chris Pratt) is called in to save the day and must not only dook it out with the dinosaurs, but also with an evil staffer named Hoskins (Vincent Donofrio) who wants to turn the creatures into military weapons!
I hated that the film pits motherhood against working women– Bryce Dallas Howard is seen as a freakishly driven automaton, directly responsible for not minding the kids; Pratt’s character (and he is extraordinarily charismatic) is even the “relationship” expert tutoring her on the virtues of “understanding” over “control.” She does end up fighting alongside him–in high heels! The message? Women’s strength comes from the their foot wear? Our feet are shaped like that? We do everything a man can do– only in heels? It was apparently the actress’s choice. So be it. I liked her hair and make up. So grab the kids and jump on this cinematic equivalent of a roller coaster ride. It doesn’t quite terrify (probably in deference to the younger audience it wants to include) but sustains a a good deal of suspense and lots of great shots of BIG DINOSAURS.
Then skip TOMORROWLAND, a George Clooney time traveling vehicle that is so convoluted and corny I fell asleep somewhere in the middle of one of several long windy explanations of the future, the past, the present, what destroyed the world, what we can do to change it, optimism, good ideas, believing in ourselves, fighting the negativity and greedy captains of industry along with lazy politicians, and our shortsighted unwillingness to do anything that is required of us right now as we march blindly toward a self-fulfilling prophecy of death and destruction– hey wait a minute! That’s not a movie– it’s a dramatized (barely) lecture with big stars (HOUSE’s Hugh Laurie) who look as bored as we are. Bring on the dinosaurs.
But see I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS starring Blythe Danner (before there was Gwyneth, there was her mom the marvelous Blythe!) as a widow trying to find her way. Enter the pool “boy”–the unknown but subtly excellent Martin Starr, a handsome stranger–Sam Elliott who’s still lanky and hot after all these years, and a pesky rodent–harbinger of what we cannot control and what we can. The film is conventional, but not predictable, and Blythe gives a very textured, charismatic performance as a talented former singer (she delivers a triumphant blues tune at a karaoke bar) who’s vulnerable, but nobody’s fool. The ending will surprise and satisfy. Adult entertainment of the first order with a great secondary cast including Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place, and June Squibb.
NOW seek out the best movie on this list– the 2009 Iranian masterpiece by acclaimed writer/director Asghar Farhadi ABOUT ELLY starring one of the most exquisite actresses in the world Golshifteh Farahani. The film begins as a friendly weekend outing to the shore involving several married couples and kids sharing a bungalow, then escalates to almost unbearable tension when one of them– a kindergarten teacher, disappears. The movie is one of the most suspenseful psychological thrillers ever made as the facades of each of these characters begins to break down, revealing hidden rivalries, marital discord, and complex sociological motivations as they all try to unravel what happened and what is happening. The incident allows the filmmaker to peel back the layers of human motivation as his camera moves from the roiling sea, to the turbulence of the dynamics unfolding onshore. I couldn’t take my eyes off this film and the mystery at its core. ABOUT ELLY is about all of us too. Find it at the movies or ON DEMAND.