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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 22, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 25
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Majestic Rider a hauntingly intimate triumph
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE RIDER
Now playing


On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota sits a lonely trailer in the middle of the wide-open wilderness. Living there is cowboy Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) with his gambling-addict father Wayne (Tim Jandreau) and his little sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau), the young woman never seeming to let her battle against Asperger's syndrome get her down. Once a rising star on the rodeo circuit, Brady had his skull crushed by a horse after a fall. He was in a coma for three full days, waking up with a massive scar on the side of his head and a warning from his doctors that he'll likely never ride competitively again.

After Wayne sells his son's favorite horse to pay some outstanding bills, Brady takes a job in a local convenience store to make sure his family can keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. He also regularly visits former professional bullrider Lane (Lane Scott) in the hospital whenever he can, his friend's career cut short because of a horrific car accident that left him severely brain-damaged and with only limited use of his arms and legs. As time goes by Brady finds he cannot stay away from horses and resumes training them for local ranchers, all the while mulling a return to the rodeo circuit even if doing so goes against his doctors' edicts.

I can't imagine I'll see a more visually gorgeous film in 2018 than writer/director Chloé Zhao's (Songs My Brother Taught Me) award-winning drama The Rider. Utilizing her Pine Ridge locations to perfection, featuring hushed, painterly, majestic visuals courtesy of cinematographer Joshua James Richards (God's Own Country), there is a minimalistic elegance to this film that couldn't help but blow me away. More than that, though, Zhao has also composed a story that tugs at the heartstrings, sparks the imagination, and challenges the intellect almost all in equal measure, her focus on the minutiae of life's miseries and miracles incredible.

Granted, the reason so much of this motion picture feels real is because it is. Jandreau was an up-and-coming rodeo star who suffered a horrific head injury that has put his competitive career in jeopardy. His sister Lilly really does battle Asperger's and does so with a positivity and a resilience that goes far beyond inspiring. Former bullrider Scott portrays himself in the movie and does so with a fearless openness that's documentary-like in its nakedly raw candor. All of this helps the film ooze a form of truthfulness that cannot be faked, the austere grace of it all oftentimes magnificent.

But this isn't a documentary. Jandreau might be playing a character that resembles him in real life, and his father and sister might be acting right alongside him, but that doesn't mean he isn't giving a complex, touchingly personal performance. There is a haunting longing burning inside Brady that's primal in its fiery glow, his connection with the land, the people who live on it, and the various horses he has the good fortune to become acquainted with bristling with a quiet realism that's sublime. Jandreau is electrically alive for every second of the movie's running time, commanding the screen in a way that would lead a casual viewer who knew nothing of his history to think he'd been doing so for his entire life.

There are moments where Zhao's script almost becomes too weightless, too ephemeral, the wispy nature of the themes she's so intimately trying to explore vanishing as if they've been carried away by the winds blowing through deserted South Dakota plains. But she keeps her characters at the forefront of all that's happening, the focus always on Brady and his interior battles. It gives the film an air of humane specificity that's poignantly affecting, making this cowboy's journey innately universal in the process. I could go on, but I'd rather let Zhao's sophomore narrative opus speak for itself. A naturalistic marvel of restraint, The Rider is a cinematic triumph I'll not soon forget.


Working and earning: Cowboy Brady Jandreau sits tall in the saddle in The Rider
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE RIDER
Now playing


It shouldn't have come as a surprise. I was given the opportunity to speak with The Rider star Brady Jandreau, a young one-time rodeo star and professional cowboy making his debut in writer/director Chloé Zhao's award-winning film, and when he picked up the phone the first words out of his mouth couldn't help but make me smile. 'Things are going pretty good,' he says nonchalantly after I asked him how he was doing, 'just got done moving some cows. It's a good day.'

Turned out Jandreau was outside working the range, taking a break from handling his herd to chat with me for a couple of minutes. For those familiar with the film, the thought of him being outside shepherding cattle and taking time out for a quick, friendly call feels entirely within character. But then, Zhao based her story for The Rider on happenings from Jandreau's and his family's lives. The movie is about a young, upcoming rodeo star named Brady Blackburn who has his dreams potentially curtailed after suffering a massive head injury that forces him to stop any sort of strenuous activity, including anything that puts him astride a horse. It's the exact injury Jandreau suffered not too long before the filmmaker began trying to write her script.

'We already knew one another,' says a plainspoken Jandreau referring to Zhao. 'I'd worked with her before. On another movie. We became friends and she just started asking me about my life. She asked me about my dad Tim. She asked about my sister Lilly. All of that stuff. Then she produced a 65-page script for us to look at and see if there was anything we weren't okay with. We didn't have any issues. Things just sort of happened from there.'

In the background I hear a few muffled moos, and Jandreau says something under his breath about how some of the cows are a little restless while I try to conceal a quiet chuckle. There's something surreal about our conversation. It also feels wholly appropriate. In the movie, Jandreau gives a sturdy, emotionally evocative performance that is grounded in little details, which allow Zhao's story to come alive in ways that are consistently surprising. Speaking to him now, I start to wonder how much of the cowboy's performance was theater and how much of it was just the young man being so comfortable in his own skin he couldn't be anything less than genuine.

I get that question a lot,' he says dispassionately. 'I guess that's to be expected. I can see how all of this must look odd to some people. But I've never acted a role that was about another person's experiences. I imagine that would be weird. Playing a role based on my own and my family's experiences is just as weird as anything else, I'm guessing. On a certain level, even if some of it is based on me, it's still just pretend, right?

'The first day of shooting we were actually shooting at a rodeo and they weren't really prepared for us. Everything was hard to control. It was pretty chaotic just in general, but Chloé always seemed to know what to do, and I never saw her get frustrated. But the second day? We picked right up. At that point it just started to feel natural, the whole acting thing.'

Considering his competitive background and his time lassoing stardom on the rodeo circuit before his head injury, I can't say this laid-back display of confidence on Jandreau's part is surprising. 'I pretty much felt comfortable from the get-go,' he states. 'I've never really cared about what people think about me, to be honest, but you probably knew that. Or, I imagine you probably guessed it. So that's one thing that really helped, I think. Chloé told me what she wanted and I tried to do it. Was pretty much that simple.

'I really think that's what moved her towards having me be the lead role. The fact I don't care what people think. We were going to make a film before my head injury. We just didn't have a story yet. The way Chloé puts it, if she were going to make it about somebody else, if she were inspired to write this story because someone else had the head injury, would I still play the lead role? She always says I would have.'

It's that trust that helped allow Jandreau to believe he would be able to portray the character. 'Me and Chloé, we've always had a pretty good connection,' states the cowboy. 'As we got to know each other better, that connection also got better, you know? She knows what she wants. She's very focused. Makes it really easy. I always felt like I was in good hands and she wasn't going to steer me into a bum direction.'

Ultimately the movie truly was a family affair. Jandreau's father, Tim, plays his character's dad in the movie, while his sister, Lilly, plays the role of his sister in the story as well. Also in the film and playing himself is former rodeo star Lane Scott, an up-and-coming professional bull rider who was severely injured in a horrific car accident in 2013, spent seven months in a coma and awoke having to deal with catastrophic physical impairments he's still struggling to overcome. 'People watch this movie, especially people from here, they watch this movie and they think they just shot us being us and we're just that cool and all that,' he says in regards to acting alongside his father and sister, 'but it really wasn't like that at all. This wasn't a documentary. We would still have take after take. We would still change things up.

'There was a lot of improvisation because there were a lot of things that were dependent on nature. Most of the story is set outside. A lot of what we did was dependent on the weather, dependent on the mood of the horses, which a lot of times is also dependent on the weather. It's like a big circle. Scenes with Lane in the hospital and at the rodeos were harder to control than you'd probably think. A lot of those had to be improvised. You never knew what Lane was going to do, what the horses were going to do, what the weather would be like; stuff like that.

I can hear the reticence in his voice where it comes to talking too much about his family or about his friend Lane. At the same time, Jandreau doesn't mince words, doesn't try to conceal anything, even when the conversation turns back towards working with the horses. 'There would be a part of the script where all it would say was, 'Brady trains horses.' and that would be it,' he laughs. 'So I would just work with the horse as I would normally work with a horse. But as we were doing something, Chloé would be like, what if you did it at a different angle? So that would change how I would have to work through the scene. We would also have to work to make the horses feel comfortable. You'd be surprised all the things horses would be scared of, especially horses that are very rarely worked with.'

'But, then, you probably saw that I was also given a credit as the horse trainer on the film,' Jandreau adds without an ounce of conceit or pride, the young man just stating another fact as he sees them. 'I had a lot of work to do on this film. I bet you could only imagine that I had a lot to do.'

There's a moment late in The Rider where Brady's character has to decide whether or not to put himself in jeopardy at a rodeo against his doctor's orders. Zhao's story eschews easy melodramatic convention, instead choosing a more enigmatic, and thus more authentic, outcome to this quandary, and it is one Jandreau is happy about. 'The movie never says whether or not my character will ever ride again,' he boldly asserts. 'It's left open. Who's to say he will never ride again? Things don't need to be definitive. That's not necessarily what life is, and the film leaves enough room for lots of different outcomes in so many respects.

'For all the viewer knows, I could be riding again at the next rodeo. Maybe I just didn't ride at this one. Maybe I didn't ride for reasons nobody knows about. Maybe I just went and listened to the doctors, made a full recovery and started riding again sometime in the future. Maybe that's what I'm gonna do next year.'

At this point it's hard to know if Jandreau is still talking about the character or if he's talking about himself, the two so intertwined separating them becomes increasingly difficult. He clears that up pretty quickly. 'If you're wondering, I do listen to my doctors,' he says gently. 'But I do want to ride again in a rodeo. Who is to say that I won't?'

'It's not a movie about a story,' he continues after an introspective pause. 'It's not a movie about an event. It's a movie about people. That's what it is. It's just us trying to be ourselves in a lot of aspects, but we still also have to present ourselves in a certain way. I was young for my injury and I was going through a lot of different emotions not being able to rodeo having brain damage. I was kind of an emotional wreck.

'But I might have had a horrible headache but still needed to act happy in a scene. Or I might have just gotten done joking around with my buddy and I needed to go look like I just had a horrific brain injury. It's still acting, you know? It's not all real. But working on the film did help me, I think. It was therapeutic. And life still goes on. And it's going good. I got married. Been training a lot of horses. We've got a lot of nice looking horses standing around right now as we talk. And that's life. Working and earning. That's what it is about.'


Raucous Hearts Beat Loud a joyous gem
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

HEARTS BEAT LOUD
Now playing


It's hard to imagine a film being released this year that will have anything close to the same amount of pure, unadulterated joy fused to its DNA as director Brett Haley's (I'll See You in My Dreams) latest character-driven drama Hearts Beat Loud exhibits with such intoxicating enthusiasm. A musical journey that follows a father-daughter relationship through the waning days of a New York summer before she takes off to attend college at UCLA, this movie couldn't be more enjoyable. Haley's crafted something memorably genuine, and along with Paddington 2, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, and Wanderland this tightly structured little story about love, family, friendship, and kindness is a total delight I absolutely adored.

Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) owns a small New York record store. His ambitious daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) dreams of becoming a doctor, taking college preparatory pre-med classes over the summer. The two of them also get together a couple of times a week for a jam session, father and child playing around with lyrics and music as they knock out some songs for what can only be assumed to be their own enjoyment.

But Frank marvels at Sam's songwriting skills and her emotionally confident vocals, and as such he's always joking that the two of them should start a band and play some local clubs to see what might happen. Secretly he uploads their latest song to Spotify, never dreaming that it might go viral. Meanwhile, even though she's leaving for a California in just a few months Sam has started an unexpected romance with local girl Rose (Sasha Lane), the pair's strong connection throwing something of a wrench into the young woman's future plans.

For the most part it is Sam's relationships with both her father and her girlfriend that drive Haley and co-writer Marc Basch's (The Hero) script forward. There are a few additional subplots, most notably ones involving Frank's decision to close his record store due to rising rents and the way this subtly changes his friendship with landlord Leslie (Toni Collette). There's also some stuff involving his aging mother Marianne (Blythe Danner) and how her struggles affect both he and Rose, but that section of the film is never developed as comfortably or as complexly as other facets of the story are. Overall, Haley and Basch's screenplay balances its various ideas with confidence, the father-daughter story at the heart of things having a delicate naturalistic specificity that's wondrous.

I love how natural everything feels. There is no condescension, no pandering to the audience's baser melodramatic needs. Haley assumes his viewers have a brain, that they're okay with putting certain pieces of the puzzle together themselves, all the while understanding it is that core relationship between a father and his only child that matters more than anything else. More than that, he allows the other characters who come in and out of their lives to be realistic, to not behave like standard genre drones who fit any number of stereotypical typecast roles a lesser story would insist they become. This is a film that oozes authenticity, making all that happens hit home in ways it never could have otherwise.

Leslie is Frank's friend. She likes hanging out with him and is sincerely saddened when he informs her of his intention to close the shop. But she doesn't need to blossom into a love interest, doesn't need to be some female ideal who will help push her male associate's story forward to the detriment of her own. The same goes for Rose. There is a knowing intricacy to her understanding of what is happening between herself and Sam that doesn't need any additional exposition trying to put what's happening into any greater context. Her silence can oftentimes speak volumes, Haley refusing to have her needlessly vocalize what is going on when the grace and cerebral majesty of Lane's performance triumphantly speaks for itself.

I can't say the subplot involving Danner works that well, and as magnificently as the filmmaker utilized the actress in I'll See You in My Dreams, I honestly can't recall a single second involving her happening inside this film. While little moments between her character and Clemons's Sam brought a smile to my face, that doesn't mean I can remember what those scenes were about or why they were supposed to matter. This is one case where Haley's otherwise laudable restraint works against him, and I do think the story would have benefited had these brief sequences been fleshed out a bit more than they frustratingly are.

No matter. The rest of Hearts Beat Loud is so profoundly effervescent my adoration for it is beyond substantial. Not only are the songs Frank and Sam compose and perform magnificent, the emotions fueling them are equally tremendous. Offerman gives the type of relaxed, effortlessly determined performance that reminded me of what singer/songwriter Glen Hansard accomplished in John Carney's 2007 classic Once. He disappears into the role, the veteran comedian and character actor simply mesmerizing throughout the film. As for relative newcomer Clemons, she makes even more of an impression here as Sam than she did in Rick Famuyiwa's award-winning Dope. Not only does she sing the heck out of every one of the killer songs, her chemistry with Lane is off the charts. Then there are the plethora of moments where Clemons and Offerman share the screen together, my heart bubbling over in pure, unabashed adulation for every one of them, the two actors crafting a father-daughter relationship that's magnetically authentic in all of its rapturous minutiae.

Haley's movies tend to fly under the radar and, quite frankly, they need to stop doing so. I'll See You in My Dreams contained an award-worthy turn from Blythe Danner that ranks as one of the decade's crowning achievements. In The Hero, the filmmaker gave a role to iconic character actor Sam Elliott that on one hand defined his entire legendary career while on the other expanded it into new, deeply affecting corners of cinematic consciousness that were extraordinary. With Hearts Beat Loud, the talented filmmaker has composed a universally accessible human drama of music, romance, and family that brought tears to my eyes while at the same time had me wanting to leap out of my seat and give it a hearty cheer. Haley has done it once again, and here's hoping audiences take the time to head out to the theater so they can experience this ecstatically raucous gem and see so for themselves.


Aggressively violent Upgrade an enjoyable sci-fi action throwback
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

UPGRADE Now playing

Mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), who specializes in fixing up old muscle cars for wealthy clientele, is on the verge of letting go. His wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) was brutally murdered, the quartet of killers purposefully leaving him a quadriplegic in order to inflict the maximum amount of pain and suffering as he sat and watched her die, unable to lift a finger to help her. Just as he's about to give up on life, former customer and cybernetic genius Eron (Harrison Gilbertson) offers Grey an unreal opportunity, asking him to volunteer for a top-secret medical procedure that could allow him to walk again. He'll implant a tiny microchip called STEM into the base of the quadriplegic's spine, and if all goes according to plan it will provide a bridge between brain, bone, muscle, and tendon, not so much repairing those broken connections as allowing them to communicate with one another as if nothing were wrong.

But Eron didn't tell Grey everything. Turns out STEM (voiced by Simon Maiden) can do more than just allow a quadriplegic to walk again. The chip can communicate with Grey directly, offering to help the grieving husband find those responsible for murdering his wife. Moreover, STEM can take over all of Grey's motor functions if authorized to do so. This means that if Grey ends up in a situation that could potentially prove lethal, this little microchip can, almost at the flick of a switch, transform him into an unstoppable killing machine. Together, man and microchip join forces to solve the mystery of Asha's murder, in the process uncovering a terrifying secret that could alter the way humanity interacts with technology forever.

Writer/director Leigh Whannell, along with James Wan one of the minds behind both the popular Saw and Insidious franchises, steps behind the camera for the second time with the original science fiction/thriller Upgrade. This sophomore outing is a huge leap forward after the fine, reasonably entertaining but also almost instantly forgettable sequel Insidious: Chapter 3, this movie an engaging, incredibly energetic, and oftentimes thrilling bloody action flick that when over I wanted to stand up and cheer. Featuring a strong performance from Marshall-Green and a number of terrific, eye-popping set pieces that are as gripping as they are gruesome, this R-rated throwback is a burly enterprise chock-full of fresh ideas and assertively vicious thrills and chills. I loved it. Better, I can't wait to head back to the theater and watch it again.

Drawing from a large pool of influences ranging from old-school pulpy Mickey Spillane/Raymond Chandler/Dashiell Hammett detective noir, to cerebral Ray Bradbury/Harlan Ellison/Philip K. Dick science fiction, to brawny John McTiernan/John Sturges/Don Siegel cinematic action theatrics, Whannell has certainly done his homework. But instead of feeling like some hodgepodge of influences and ideas pulled willy-nilly out of the ether with no concept of how to make them all mesh into something approaching a cohesive whole, the director does a fine job of making all these disparate elements organically fit together. As absurd as this story might be it still feels real, Grey's descent into blood-splattered mystery oozing emotional authenticity no matter how unbelievable or extreme events themselves might eventually become.

The first time STEM and Grey join forces to battle a bad guy is the film's high-water mark, and as great as everything that follows might be, the initial jolt of adrenaline when the human host allows his cybernetic companion to take over and save him is so extraordinary nothing that happens afterwards can quite equal it. Part of the reason for this is Whannell's confident framing of the action, he and cinematographer Stefan Duscio (Jungle) playfully allowing the scene to take shape with a minimum of edits. The more important reason has everything to do with Marshall-Green's suitably shocked performance. His character's disbelief as to what his body is doing, and his eventual pleading that his attacker stop trying to hit him (because Grey doesn't want to hurt him any more than he already has) is goofily perfect. All of which makes the petrified shock the actor showcases at the end of the scene all the more effective, the unanticipated grotesque glory of what transpires packing a flabbergasting emotional wallop I honestly didn't see coming.

As good as Marshall-Green is - and he is very, very good - on the whole the quality of the performances varies wildly. Vallejo is lovely as Asha, the actress adding a layer of sweetness and cheerfulness that's divine. Maiden is equally strong as STEM, the many layers of his verbal delivery fluctuating between understanding, tenderness, aggression, and authoritative dominance, his soothing mechanical cadence concealing a devilish duplicity that's noticeably perceptible even if the reasons for his insincerity aren't always clear. Best of all is Get Out scene-stealer Betty Gabriel as a curious police detective who begins to suspect there's more to Grey than meets the eye, the manner in which she puts the pieces of this puzzle together containing a grizzled open-minded gravitas that's wonderful.

The villains do not fare nearly as well. Most of them come across as faceless nobodies the story has precious little interest in, almost all of them becoming nothing more than potential cannon fodder for Grey and STEM to dismember limb by limb. The exception is Benedict Hardie. He plays Fisk, a human-cybernetic hybrid who has intimate knowledge as to what happened to Asha and why she was singled out for assassination. I don't quite get what the character actor is doing here. His performance isn't so much bad as it is weird. I just couldn't make heads or tails out of it, all of which makes his character's third-act confrontation with Grey fall oddly flat at the most inopportune moment possible. As for Gilbertson, I just don't have a lot to say, his work as the childlike tech genius nothing special, and as such my impression of the character and of his plans never changed at any point during the film's reasonably well-paced 95-minute running time.

None of which, thankfully, affected my overall enjoyment of the film. Whannell has crafted a nimble and nifty futuristic thriller that's as brawny as it is brainy, and even if his story's resolution isn't as shocking or as much of a surprise as I'm certain it was intended to be, that doesn't make it any less successful. Upgrade is a total blast, and if in the coming years this bit of muscular, blood-soaked science fiction silliness were to spawn a sequel I'll be first in line to see what sort of aggressively violent trouble Grey and STEM get themselves into next.


Goofily dumb Fallen Kingdom embraces dino-sized absurdities
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM
Now playing


Isla Nublar is about to be destroyed. It's been three years since the Indominus Rex devastated the Jurassic World theme park and now the island, along with all its dinosaur inhabitants, is facing an extinction-level volcanic event. Former park supervisor Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has become one of the world's leading prehistoric environmentalists and she's determined to see that the creatures on Isla Nublar survive to see another dawn. But when the U.S. government declines to save the dinosaurs she is forced to turn to corporate billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) for assistance.

A former associate of the late John Hammond, he and his executive secretary Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) are all too eager to help. In fact, they've already got a rescue team ready to go, armed to the teeth and led with militaristic precision by their oddly determined commander Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine). But for the mission to be successful the group must rescue Blue, the last surviving and most intelligent member of the pod of Velociraptors trained by fellow Jurassic World employee Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). It's up to Claire to get his assistance, but considering their last conversation didn't go all that well she's not sure he'll be happy to see her. Nevertheless, the only way things are going to work out for the dinosaurs is if the two of them can put aside their differences and return to Isla Nublar together, and with time running short there's no guarantee they or the team Lockwood has assembled to assist them will be able to get to the island in time.

That scenario is nothing but a bait-and-switch as far as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is concerned, screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow crafting a farcically silly plot that ends up bringing many of the dinosaurs, including Blue, out to a secluded California estate to be sold off to some shady baddies for untold millions. Additionally, Owen and Claire face down an unstoppable hybrid dubbed the Indoraptor while also trying to protect Lockwood's clever granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), the precocious, dinosaur-loving youngster the unexpected key to unraveling a terrifying mystery that could mean the end for humanity as most now know it. The movie feeds in so many ideas, characters, and subplots there's just no way award-winning director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, A Monster Calls) can do anything memorably substantive with most of them, the finished sequel an unrelenting hodgepodge of disconnectedly preposterous ideas that rarely coalesce into anything substantive.

Nevertheless, when this fifth film in the long-running franchise works it does so magnificently. Bayona stages some horrifying creature sequences, the final third of this flick becoming something of a gothic Alien variation with the Indoraptor stalking the halls of Lockwood's house in search of its prey. He also transforms Blue into the film's secret weapon, the intelligent Velociraptor this story's most important character as she helps protect Owen while at the same time figuring out her place in this brave new world where human and dinosaur now coexist. It's can be pretty darn thrilling, Sermon's hauntingly ethereal presence a big help as far as that is concerned, and as convoluted, untidy, and downright stupid as events might get, I was still entertained just enough to not particularly care just how dumb things eventually turned out to be.

I do give Connolly and Trevorrow credit. The pair double down on the idea they broached in Jurassic World about the militarization of dinosaurs, taking that concept even further down the sci-fi rabbit hole than I anticipated they would. This allows the franchise to move in a somewhat new direction unlike that of any of its four initial entries, and while most of what transpires with regard to the genetic modification and splicing of the creatures is left to be explored in a future sequel, that they're sticking with this scheme no matter how imbecilic it might be is kind of commendable. But the dialogue Pratt and Howard are forced to spout is well below the standard Connolly and Trevorrow set with their wondrous debut Safety Not Guaranteed, and there were definitely moments where I began to wonder if Claire and Owen even existed inside the same motion picture.

As for Bayona, he's clearly picking up a paycheck, but that doesn't mean he still can't stage some crackerjack moments overflowing in visual ingenuity and bristling in viscerally unsettling elegance. There are sequences involving the Indoraptor hunting down Maisie that made my skin crawl, while a scene inside the dilapidated Jurassic World command center with streams of lava raining down through burnt cracks in the ceiling while a malevolent predator looks upon Claire and one of her petrified assistants as nothing more than an end-of-the-world snack got me to giggle in excited glee. The director is at his best, though, when he allows all of the prehistoric beasties to chomp down on a variety of victims, and there were certainly times I wondered what might have been had Bayona made a straightforward dino-themed horror flick instead of another installment in the Jurassic Park universe.

For those who find the missteps Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom takes on its way to setting up what I imagine will be the final part of this second trilogy inspired by Michael Crichton's novel and Steven Spielberg's 1993 adaptation far too numerous to easily get past, I can't really say I disagree with their assessment of the film. It's messy and absurd to an almost unfathomable degree, and the place the sequel takes both Pratt's and Howard's respective characters is frankly ridiculous. Even so, there's just enough here that made me smile that I had little trouble enduring all of these blunders, Bayona doing just enough with the material to keep me happy, all of which helped make this bit of dino-themed silliness an exuberantly nonsensical rollercoaster I honestly enjoyed riding.


PNB's Season Encore a warm and fitting tribute to Karel Cruz' artistry
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Book-It's The Picture of Dorian Gray both dark and amusing
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Welcome back Kathleen Mullen as festival director for 23rd TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival
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Seattle Humane - Pets of the Week
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Muddled messaging aside, Incredibles 2 still an eye-popping animated extravaganza
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Majestic Rider a hauntingly intimate triumph
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Working and earning: Cowboy Brady Jandreau sits tall in the saddle in The Rider
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Raucous Hearts Beat Loud a joyous gem
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Aggressively violent Upgrade an enjoyable sci-fi action throwback
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