JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM. Color me ... skeptical but I had reservations. I know, I know, I'm not leading with my customary font of optimism but rest easy, there's something coming about a drunk minister wrestling with suicide a little later.
I've enjoyed more than my share of Jurassic entertainment. In younger, simpler days I devoured the Michael Crichton book, which tempered my relish for Spielberg's version (1993). I skipped the next couple of movie sequels, as Crichton's The Lost World left me with the feeling it had been written exclusively for adaptation to the screen. It seemed like he'd sold out (he probably had about two decades before it occurred to me). Jurassic World (2015) therefore took me by surprise, with director Colin Trevorrow paying (maybe excessive) homage to Spielberg's visual style with a blockbuster of his own. That installment eschewed some of the clever story and tension building that have given the original (and almost everything in the Spielberg canon) its staying power, trading instead on the convincing relationship between its somewhat unlikely co-leads (Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt) and ever-escalating dino action. I liked the movie more than I expected but it also struck me as emblematic of the problems of cinema as global commerce, the death of creativity in popular art and all the dire harbingers of impending doom I so frequently read in the tea leaves of a pleasant afternoon at the movies.
Jurassic World didn't leave much story untold; it could have ended there and I'm not sure anybody would complain. So when trailers emerged for this follow-up, I got my guard up. But really, what's the point anymore? (There we are. Settling in again.) As Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom started up, I had to stop all my mournful forecasts and pronouncements and just watch the thing. And I liked it.
A few years after the catastrophic events that shuttered Jurassic World, Isla Nublar remains uninhabited but for dinosaurs. Unfortunately for said dinosaurs, the island's long dormant volcano has awoken, assuring a swift and violent demise to any living thing within its reach. Claire Dearing (Howard), now leading a nonprofit dinosaur advocacy group, is summoned to the estate of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), erstwhile business partner of the late John Hammond (see: Jurassic Park). Lockwood's foundation has been secretly developing an alternate refuge for the dinosaurs and a plan. That plan hinges, of course, on Claire's knowledge of the park's infrastructure and systems. It also involves her favorite rugged animal behaviorist Owen Grady (Pratt), now contentedly building himself a cabin with a view of the Rocky Mountains.
It's no spoiler revealing that she convinces him. She brings two of her volunteers, neurotic systems analyst Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and good intentions. Upon the ragtag group's arrival on the island, though, they must contend with stampeding vestiges of the ancient world, hair-trigger mercenaries, a benefactor's questionable motives and a rapidly declining environment.
It's a lot, but director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible) carries it off with aplomb, relying more on the feeling and urgency of Spielberg's early, pioneering blockbusters than on their aesthetic as Trevorrow did. He incorporates classic horror elements while elevating the action (including a perfectly executed underwater escape) and establishing the secondary cast as real people with something at stake. It's easy to dismiss Fallen Kingdom as a big, dumb blockbuster but it's smarter than that. With subtle nods to its predecessors and its balance of humor, horror and heart, it's better and more compelling than it need be. PG13. 128m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
FIRST REFORMED. Paul Schrader, both a legend of American cinema and a tragic signpost of its problems, is a prickly character whose stock in trade for 40 years has been the despair and violence dwelling together in the American male psyche. The product of a Calvinist upbringing, he famously didn't see a movie until he was 17. A few years later, he broke everybody's brain with the screenplay for Taxi Driver (1976). A torrent of brilliant, troubling screenwriting followed, then a string of beautiful, deeply nuanced movies he also directed — his run from Blue Collar (1978) through Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) could be a strong career. His output has been spottier since, whether due to his intractable nature or the art-eschewing nature of his industry.
First Reformed finds Schrader in classic form, with a distilled, minutely imagined portrait of Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke, rawer than I've ever seen him), a former Army chaplain who has essentially become the caretaker of a sparsely attended, 250-year-old New York church. He's plagued by a stomach ailment, he drinks too much and doubts himself. Before long he's brought into the orbit of a troubled young couple (Amanda Seyfried and Philip Ettinger) and begins fatalistic meditation on the crisis of climate change, in which he begins to see a long-lost, likely misplaced sense of purpose.
The movie moves with a deliberate, novelistic intensity, forgoing exciting turns for authenticity and nuance of character. Shot in a full-frame digital format that emphasizes the austere verticality of the architecture, it marries style and subject perfectly. The result is frequently off-putting and not easily forgotten; vintage Schrader, in other words, an old master at work. R. 113m. MINOR.
—John J. Bennett
See listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
JAWS (1975). We're gonna need a bigger boat. PG. 124m. BROADWAY.
SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO. Benicio Del Toro is back to brooding and shooting amid the drug war and terrorist smuggling at the U.S.-Mexico border. R. 122m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
UNCLE DREW. A desperate team captain (Lil Rel Howery) enlists a legendary old timer (Kyrie Irving) and his geriatric crew for a street-ball tournament. PG13. 104m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? Documentary on Mr. Rogers tries to fill the expanding void in all our souls. PG13. 94m. BROADWAY.
THE CHINA HUSTLE. Documentary about a post-mortgage crisis Wall Street scam that will make you stuff your money in a mattress. R. 82m. MINIPLEX.
DEADPOOL 2. Ryan Reynolds in his destined role with a better story, action and jokes. It's almost fun, kind and rough enough to make you forget it's spawn of the Marvel juggernaut. R. 113m. BROADWAY.
HEREDITARY. Toni Collette's tour de force performance is nearly as scary as the horrors in this brilliantly low-tech occult movie about a family drowning in guilt and grief. R. 127m. BROADWAY, MINOR.
THE INCREDIBLES 2. This fun, clever and funny sequel is worth the wait, with the returning cast and the right villains for our times. Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter. PG. 118m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR, FORTUNA.
OCEAN'S 8. Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett lead an all-star team of cool lady crooks on a heist at the Met Gala in this slower but still fun spin-off. PG13. 110m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
RBG. Documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the U.S. Supreme Court justice in the fly collar. PG. 97m. MINIPLEX.
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. A fun if trivial prequel with solid action sequences, winking callbacks, Han and Chewbacca (Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotama) bonding and a cheekier Lando (Donald Glover). PG13. 135m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
TAG. School chums go hard on an annual game of tag. Starring Isla Fisher, Annabelle Wallis, Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner. R. 93m. FORTUNA.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill