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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

06/17/2015

Jurassic World
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Prepare to be stomped on by Jurassic World (Universal).

Like the $2 billion-grossing dinosaur-themed franchise of which it represents the latest instalment, director Colin Trevorrow’s 3D optional sci-fi adventure is big, gigantic, huge! And you, a mere homo sapiens, are puny. So know your place, and hand over your credit card.

If the thought springs to mind that, proportionally speaking at least, dinos did not necessarily possess nature’s largest brains, the reflection is not misplaced. Like the creatures that inhabit it, Jurassic World is all about brawn, sheer visual and commercial heft. Sharp-wittedness and emotional subtlety are not on offer, deep characterizations even less so.

Instead, this continuation of the series that began with 1993’s Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg’s wildly popular adaptation of Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel, uses its human participants as anachronistically placed Darwinian bait, mere fodder for their outsized adversaries. So it hardly matters that they amount to nothing more than an ensemble of stick figures.

Take, for example, business-obsessed Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). A driven career woman whose precise role in the management of the titular resort — where patently imprudent tourists come to gawk, for a price, at genetically re-created prehistoric predators — is never made clear, Claire is far too worried about getting ahead to have a family of her own.

Nor does she have time to spare for the duo of visiting nephews, 16-year-old Zach (Nick Robinson) and his preteen brother Gray (Ty Simpkins), who have been foisted on her by their soon-to-be-divorcing parents. So Claire, in her turn, hands off the boys to an assistant.

Such adult neglect, of course, gives Zach and Gray the perfect opportunity to wander off on their own. Extricating them from the inevitably resulting danger will require all the acumen of ex-military animal trainer Owen (Chris Pratt).

Who’s this Owen and what’s he doing here? As with Claire’s job description, information is sketchy.

He’s a consultant of some sort, it seems, and shares some unspecified offscreen history with Claire, the upshot of which is a romantic attraction thinly disguised as mutual dislike. Well, after all, a story like this needs its Indiana Jones stand-in, the lads need someone to look up to, and Claire needs a previously untamed he-man with whom to settle down — once the dinosaurs do.

There’s some perfunctory discussion, amid all the mayhem, about the proper limits of science: BD Wong reprises his role in the long-ago first picture by playing overly ambitious, if not quite mad, scientist Dr. Wu. And it can’t hurt to have a violence-loving warmonger added to the mix, so cue Vincent D’Onofrio as a straw-man militarist named Hoskins.

But, really, such feints in the direction of seriousness are beside the point. Anyone looking for interaction more meaningful than that which transpires between the DNA disaster of an uber-dino to whose rampage Trevorrow devotes most of his attention and the anonymous extras on whom the ill-designed creature contentedly munches have come to the wrong fictional island.

The elements listed below decidedly rule out the “Flintstones” crowd. But parents of insistent teens who find their patience in danger of extinction need not feel too guilty if resistance ultimately proves futile.

The film contains some gory interludes, a bit of comic innuendo, at least one use of profanity and a few crude and crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Love & Mercy
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Great art arising from unremitting suffering is a time-tested motion picture theme.

When this reliable template is applied to the biographies of pop-culture stars, however, what typically occurs — especially if the subject is still living — is a descent into sentimental gloss and too many references to the lead character as a charismatic genius.

Fortunately, in Love & Mercy (Roadside), a profile of Brian Wilson, the driving force behind 1960s chart toppers the Beach Boys, director Bill Pohlad has managed to evade this trap. He focuses instead on lengthy scenes showing the young Wilson (Paul Dano) laboriously crafting his distinctive sound in recording studios. It’s an intelligent, steady approach, almost like that of a documentary.

Whether screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael Lerner bring a documentarian’s faithfulness to real life to bear throughout their script is, however, another question. Were, for instance, Wilson’s bandmates — his brothers Carl (Brett Davern) and Dennis (Kenny Wormald) along with cousin Mike Love (Jake Abel) and friend Al Jardine (Graham Rogers) — really so blithe in their co-operation with Wilson’s unique musical notions as the film suggests?

Whatever the facts, there is a refreshing absence of the stale dialogue that usually characterizes musical biopics. Accused by his collaborators of lacking a commercial sensibility, Wilson declares, “I got different stuff inside me. I gotta get it out.”

That “different stuff” included Wilson’s drive to break away from synthetic, clean-cut hits like “California Girls” in favour of more ambitious material — such as that found on the group’s 1966 concept album “Pet Sounds.” Yet it also extended to the auditory hallucinations that followed Wilson’s use of psychedelic drugs.

Pohlad isn’t after sensationalism, but rather what used to be described as retrained good taste. So, in order to keep Wilson sympathetic, he ducks explicit portrayals or discussions of substance abuse.

Pohlad portrays Wilson as a deeply sensitive, easily manipulated pawn. In the 1960s Wilson’s lack of assertiveness leaves him under the thumb of his controlling father, Murry (Bill Camp).

Two decades later, Wilson is held in thrall by abusive therapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Claiming his patient has paranoid schizophrenia, Landy keeps Wilson heavily medicated, and restricts the musician’s access to others who might help him.

As portrayed by John Cusack, this burned-out adult version of Wilson is eventually rescued thanks to the compassionate interventions of Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), a car saleswoman Wilson would eventually marry.

Uncomfortable details have undoubtedly been stripped away in the interests of a single, compelling narrative. And both Murry Wilson and Landy become stereotyped villains. Yet “Love & Mercy” can be appreciated for its celebration of one star’s at least partially successful maneuvering through the moral minefield laid down by wealth and fame.

The film contains a premarital bedroom scene, drug use and fleeting instances of profanity and coarse language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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