Movie Review: Jurassic World (2015) (IMAX 3D)

August 9, 2015 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews


Like for many people who grew up in the 1990s, Jurassic Park was a major cinematic event in my life. It was a movie you heard about and just had to see. It wasn’t the first dinosaur movie, but it was the first that made you feel like the dinosaurs were genuinely real and that it was possible for them to be real. And most importantly, it was actually a great movie full of action, suspense and characters we cared about and could root for.

And so of course I was super excited about Jurassic World, the long-awaited “reboot” that has already become the third-highest grossing film of all time after raking in box office earnings of nearly US$1.55 billion in just six weeks (though it appears unlikely to catch Titanic‘s US$2.19 billion or Avatar‘s US$2.79 billion). I knew it wasn’t going to live up to unrealistic expectations, but I wanted to see an enjoyable blockbuster that would bring back some of the magic of the original while taking the spectacle to a whole new level.

The verdict? Mission accomplished.

Jurassic World cleverly mirrors the idea in the its story that consumers, having gotten used to the idea of “living” dinosaurs, can only be impressed by bigger, badder and scarier. The premise, which essentially ignores Jurassic Park II and III, is set 22 years after the original. Despite the disaster that was Jurassic Park, humans fail to learn their lesson as ambitious billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) decides to give the idea another go by building the massive Jurassic World theme park on the same island. But with kids having grown up in an era where dinosaurs are as real as animals they can see in a zoo, Masrani goes to great lengths to create even more dangerous creatures to draw new visitors.

At a basic level, it’s fundamentally the same film as Jurassic Park in that there’s a theme park of genetically engineered dinosaurs that get loose, a couple of kids who get caught in the middle of the mayhem, and a couple of adults trying to save them. Velociraptors also play a key role again. What it does different is broaden the scale and raise the stakes. This time, the kids are brothers played by Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson, nephews of park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), more or less the Laura Dern character from the original. The Sam Neill character is replaced by raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who naturally has a romantic dynamic with Claire and is a bit of a swashbuckling hero.

How I feel about Jurassic Park and Jurassic World is analogous to how characters in those movies felt about their respective theme parks. Like it was for the kids in the original, Jurassic Park was for an awe-inspiring experience that completely blew my mind. Jurassic World, on the other hand, no longer has that jaw-droppingly awesomeness to it. Just like it is for the kids in this reboot, dinosaurs just aren’t as big of a deal to me anymore. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still have a bloody good time looking at them chasing people around on a giant screen. They are, after all, still dinosaurs, and dinosaurs will always be cool.

The first half of Jurassic World does an excellent job in bringing the theme park to life. It’s as you would expect if such a park existed in reality, with various different sections, attractions and rides, a petting farm, an interactive museum, shops galore and glaring corporate sponsorship. This was something we didn’t get to see in the original because the park was not fully functioning, and I found it to be a lot of fun, especially as it was presented as though we — the film audience — are also visitors to this eye-opening and wondrous place.

The second half, when the dinosaurs predictably run amok, is also well-executed. Director Colin Trevorrow, previously best known for the Indie flick Safety Not Guaranteed, does a solid job of building tension and creating a sense of chaos and despair. It’s always difficult to find the right balance of frights and humour in a film like this, but I think he gets it for the most part by keeping the focus on the action with only the occasional funny one-liner to give audiences a breather.

There is also apparently a lot of references and homages (or rip-offs, if you are a critic) to the original, which I’m not sure is a good or bad idea, though it didn’t really matter to me as I seriously can’t remember most of them anyway.

On the surface, therefore, Jurassic World is fantastic. From a popcorn movie perspective it won’t be easy to find experiences that are as spectacular and exciting. Where it struggles is all the other stuff that holds good films together — like logic, characters, and surprise.

Having been in development for more than a decade and having gone through numerous pairs of hands, Jurassic World is littered with plot holes and filled with nonsensical things galore. For some, this might kill the movie, but in its defense I think a lot of the problems are mitigated by the fast pace and fun factor. To me, it’s hard to avoid noticing the problems plaguing the plot and the script, though at the same time I found it relatively easy to move on from them without dwelling for too long.

The characters in the film are also not very well developed. Bryce Dallas Howard’s female lead is annoying and not particularly likable, while I feel they criminally underused Chris Pratt’s comedic talents in making him more of a typical action hero. He could have been super funny, charming and memorable like he was in Guardians of the Galaxy, but instead he plays a character a dozen other guys in Hollywood could have pulled off without much of a discernible difference. If he ends up playing the new Indiana Jones, which is rumored and which I can totally see, I hope they let him be all he can be.

Flaws notwithstanding, Jurassic World is a rewarding summer blockbuster experience. While it fails to capture the magic of the original from more than two decades ago, as expected, it’s still a highly entertaining film packed with spectacular visuals and plenty of fun, thrills and excitement. It’s certainly a worthy reboot if you can try and ignore all the things that don’t work and just go along for the ride.

4 stars out of 5

PS: I did not want to see Jurassic World in IMAX 3D. It’s super expensive and 3D, as I have said many times before, absolutely sucks balls. But due to timing, it was the only session I could see, and while I enjoyed seeing it all on a massive screen, the 3D did annoy me to no end. The uncomfortable glasses (that kept fogging up), the added shade of darkness and the lacklustre 3D effects all contributed to a lesser experience.

PPS: The only returning character and actor is BD Wong, aka Dr Henry Wu, who doesn’t appear to have aged much over the last 20 years. Maybe he had been injecting dinosaur DNA in himself.

PPPS: Not sure how they will one-up this in the planned sequel, scheduled for release on June 22, 2018. That said, they have clearly and intentionally left a few things open ended, and I can see a few ways in which the story might go.

Movie Review: Stand By Me Doraemon (2014)

January 30, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews


Doraemon was probably the first manga and anime I was exposed to as a child, so it made sense for me to choose Stand By Me Doraemon — the first 3D computer animated Doraemon feature — as my three-year-old son’s first cinematic experience.

It’s a good choice, because unlike other Doraemon feature films that depict standalone adventures, Stand By Me Doraemon is an origins story that takes us right back to the beginning and features some of Doraemon’s best known gadgets. While there are original elements, many of the subplots, including the ending, are borrowed directly from the manga/anime, though due to time constraints some classic chapters were condensed into montages.

For those who don’t already know the story, it’s about a loser kid named Nobita who is in the very bottom percentile in terms of both intellectual and athletic ability. To change his fortunes, Nobita’s great-great-great-grandson from the 22nd century sends him Doraemon, a lovable robot cat with a pocket full of handy futuristic gadgets. With Doraemon’s help, Nobita sets out to alter his future and win the affections of Shizuka, the perfect girl-next-door, while also fending off his friends, the bully Gian and the show-off Suneo.


It’s a good-looking movie, with smooth 3D computer animation that pays homage to the simplicity of the original anime. As such, there aren’t many eye-popping images, though old fans should be content with the faithful transition from 2D hand-drawn animation to 3D CGI.

As a cynical adult, I have a few problems with the story’s logic and its underlying messages, some of which could be construed as shallow. As a kid, however, all I cared about was how cool Doraemon’s gadgets are and how much I wish I had them, so I’m not too concerned about my son being led astray.

Ultimately, notwithstanding the complexity of all the time travelling, Stand By Me Doraemon is a story that’s easy to follow and like if you enjoy rooting for the underdog. I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia flooding back, but I was actually very moved by the movie in the end. The final message teaching kids to be independent and that having a kind heart is the best attribute of all is something even adults can appreciate.

My son loved the experience and I had a pretty good time too. We’re already counting down the days until the next Doraemon feature.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Gravity (2013) (2D)

October 4, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews


I’m probably biased because I am a massive fan of director Alfonso Cuaron (responsible for possibly my favourite movie from the last 10 years, 2006’s Children of Men, as well as the best Harry Potter movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban), but let me just put it out there: I reckon his latest, Gravity, could very well be a masterpiece.

I saw just one scene of the film in one of the trailers, so I went into it with relatively little knowledge of what it’s all about, potentially a key reason why I found it so engrossing. I won’t say much except that it takes place in space and is about a bunch of astronauts (headed by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) on a mission. It is unconventional and a bit of a “concept” film in that there is only a handful of actors, minimal dialogue and limited human interaction. But it is one heck of a ride, one that is packed with a wide range of emotions ranging from fear, horror, desperation and claustrophobia to serenity, solitariness and hope.

The script is written by Alfonso Cuaron and his son Jonas Cuaron. I don’t think there is anything exceptional about it or the dialogue (there’s not a lot of it anyway), but I do think it is Cuaron’s masterful direction that makes Gravity work so well. He employs a lot of his trademark long takes which I absolutely adore, some of which feel like they last for 5 to 10 minutes each (the film’s first scene has no visible cuts for about 10 minutes). I’m sure a lot of it is just clever effects and editing, but the feel of a long, continuous, winding shot that moves from place to place and character to character really immerses you in the moment and the action.

Gravity is also one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen and makes you wonder how Cuaron went about shooting it and creating the special effects. I assume pretty much all of it is shot in studios with green screens, but the end product comes across as frighteningly realistic and genuine (I say “comes across” because very few of us know what it actually looks like in space). The same could be said for the space stations and shuttles in the film, which, I assume again, are close replicas of their real-life counterparts. The stunning and soothing views of Earth from space are incredible as well, and provide a beautiful contrast to all the man-made chaos happening right above it.

I was tempted to watch the film in 3D because apparently it’s “worth it,” but I’ve heard that so many times now and every time I’ve fallen for it I’ve come away disappointed. That said, there were parts of the film where I thought 3D might work well, and if I had the opportunity (sadly, I probably don’t) I’d love to watch it again in IMAX 3D. Either way, it’s a film that definitely should be seen on the big screen for maximum appreciation.

As with almost all films with only few characters, the quality of the acting is vital. In this regard Gravity also delivers, with Sandra Bullock — who I’ve never been very high on as an actress despite her Oscar win for The Blind Side — giving one of the best performances of her career. She spends a lot of the film on her own but somehow still manages to make us connect with her on an emotional level and forces us to sense her fear and dread. Apparently Bullock was one of the last choices for the challenging role after the talks with the likes of Angelina Jolie, Marion Cotillard, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively and Natalie Portman fell through, but it has turned out to be a stroke of good fortune.

The other major role is played by George Clooney, the experienced wisecracking team captain who is so cool and calm under extreme pressure that it makes you wonder whether he is either a robot or a psychopath. Damn this perfect man (again) because he delivers a perfect performance, one I can’t really find any faults with.

I see a LOT of films, so I always welcome something that is a little different to your typical Hollywood blockbuster. It doesn’t mean I prefer them or will necessarily like them more (for example, I liked the concept of the 2010 Ryan Reynolds film Buried, though I didn’t think they ultimately pulled it off), but I find it exciting to experience something I haven’t before. Gravity is definitely something different, so I can appreciate that it is not for everyone. As I was walking out of the cinema, most of the comments I heard from my fellow viewers were negative, such as, “It was too slow and depressing”, “There weren’t enough people in it”, and “There’s too much internal psychological drama”. Even my wife thought it was just “OK”, not boring but not great either.

But for me, Gravity ticks all the boxes for a great film. It’s engrossing, exciting and intelligent, visually captivating, masterfully directly and skillfully performed. And it’s daring and memorable. It will dash the desire of anyone who ever dreamed of being an astronaut, and viewers used to more conventional films might feel like something’s missing, but apart from that, it’s as close to a masterpiece as any film I’ve seen in years.

5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby (2013) (2D)

September 3, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews


I was kinda afraid of watching Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (it’s not just The Great Gatsby, it’s “Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby“!) because of all the hype surrounding it, especially in Australia. Described as a lavish production with A-list actors such as Leo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan, the film is said to be an ambitious adaptation of one of the greatest novels ever written.

I am ashamed to say I have never read Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 masterpiece, but I thought it would provide a fresher experience of the film version. It probably did, because the film was much better than I expected, though it did leave me wondering why it was such a great story, suggesting perhaps Luhrmann spent too much time on all the eye candy and razzle dazzle and not enough on the heart of the tale.

Set in Long Island in 1922, The Great Gatsby is told in retrospect from a sanitarium by Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who befriends the titular Jay Gatsby (Leo DiCaprio), a mysterious millionaire who loves to throw lavish parties. The story, however, is really about the relationship between Gatsby and his long lost love, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), Nick’s cousin. The problem is, Daisy is married to wealthy heir Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

This is a Baz Luhrmann film, so I got what I expected in terms of flashiness — vibrant colours, stunning costumes, spectacular sets and beautiful cinematography. So if you’re after a visual spectacle, The Great Gatsby certainly delivers. I saw the film in 2D, though I doubt you’d get a more immersive experience if you shelled out the extra bucks for 3D.

On the other hand, The Great Gatsby is a melodrama — and a fairly interesting one with a lot of layers — but I don’t feel as though Luhrmann really captured the complexity or its heart of the source material. I mean, there must be a good reason why the story has resonated for nearly 9 decades, but I didn’t sense anything special while watching the film.

The performances were great across the board. Leo is Leo and he captures the enigmatic Gatsby wonderfully with the right amount of charm, and later, pain and vulnerability, though the standout for me was probably Edgerton’s Buchanan. At first I didn’t think he would be right for the role, but he surprised me — again. Is there any doubt now that he is Australia’s most underrated export?

In the end, I was probably more appreciative of The Great Gatsby than I thought I would be. I’ve never been a huge fan of Luhrmann’s style, which regularly struck me as more style over substance — and while The Great Gatsby probably falls into that category as well, there was more substance than I had anticipated, powered by some excellent performances. It’s a big, extravagant production that I enjoyed, but when you strip away all the glitz and glamour it felt like just another story. And surely the story of The Great Gatsby, widely regarded as one of the greatest American novels ever written, is more than that.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: I did love the soundtrack.

Movie Review: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (3D) (2013)

February 7, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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I’m not sure what spell I was under that made me go and see Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, the latest instalment to the fairytale/historical ‘reimaginings’ Hollywood loves so much nowadays. What’s worse, this film was forced upon me in 3D, with no non-rip off 2D versions available anywhere (as far as I could find, anyway).

The premise is simple: Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton), the brother and sister from the classic Grimm fairytale, after killing a witch as per the story, grow up to become adult witch hunters. Bet you didn’t expect that!

The famed duo take their witch-killing talents to a small village where small children have been missing, and agree to help the mayor find the kids and slay the nasties, much to the disdain of local sheriff (Peter Stromare).

What ensues is a lot of witch hunting and fighting against the head nasty (Famke Janssen) and her minions. In 3D.

If you’re in the mood for something silly, you might enjoy Hansel and Gretel’s adventures. I, on the other hand, failed miserably to engage with this film despite not expecting a whole lot in the first place.

I suppose the aim of the filmmakers was to create something that people would think is cool (killing witches), make it a little scary and a little funny, and add a dash of money-grabbing 3D. But the problem was that the film was not very funny or very scary. Sure the witches looked nasty, but they were more comical (in a bad way) than frightening. And the majority of the humour lacked punch and came across as fairly lame. There really wasn’t anything that made this film stand out from other similar efforts.

Gemma Arterton does her best but Jeremy Renner, Academy Award nominee, looked like he was just there for the money. Plus he has the least suitable face for a fairytale in probably all of Hollywood — he just looks too…modern.

Another major gripe is the action, which had little originality and was plagued by rapid cuts that made it difficult to figure out what the heck was going on at times. Throw in the arbitrary, annoying and pointless 3D, and what you have is an uninspiring, all-round mess.

1.75 out of 5