Naturally, we want this Indominus to get loose. There wouldn't be a film without it. And having the pterodactyls and pteranodons attack the fleeing, fanny pack-bedecked tourists en mass is a lovely Roger Corman-esque touch. And the tourists may be somewhat jaded, but this is a big budget movie, so these CGI monsters aren't just video game-style chroma keyed-up overlays ala the Asylum Syfy channel monsters, but detailed creatures with perfect amounts of shade and sun glinting, And we love that, no matter how many folks get eaten due to past accidents, the monsters keep being created and the park keeps hiring bumbling morons with slippery shoes to take care of them. On this island at least, human natural selection has a fighting chance.
That's right, once again it's the people that aren't properly shaded and shadowed: Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard), the uptight caricature of female executive control freak bitchiness who runs some aspect or other of park operations, somehow expects men and monsters alike to snap to when she pouts and stamps her high heeled foot; her sister (Judy Greer) is the same way, sending her children off to the park to visit Auntie Claire so she can divorce their dad. Naturally they'll get lost in the hot zone somehow and naturally Claire will have to, in a sense, come crawling back to the one man who can find them, hunky raptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt). Do I even need to mention that they went on one date awhile back and didn't get along because she control-freaked on him? The human villain this time is a military defense contractor (Vincent D'Onofrio) who wants to train raptors to hunt in the Middle East. Owen notes 'these are animals' and what he has with them is 'a relationship.' You get the drill. He's the only employee of the park with any balls, foresight, intelligence, knowledge of predator pack mentality, or coordination.
Thank god for Chris Pratt, then, savior of three-dimensional humanity. Lord knows Hollywood's been needing a rugged, noble, but down to earth tough guy that men and women can like who for once is not Australian and therefore proof American masculinity is not an oxymoron. He's the ultimate hybrid animal himself, able to play a range worthy of a real human: part quasi-sincere slacker/stoner comedy bro/ part hyper-competent military SEAL / Ranger romantic lead, Pratt's able to convey naturalism without crunchiness, charm without narcissism, guts without indifference, and cool without shallowness, sensitivity without mawkishness, and self-awareness without condescension, in ways hitherto unknown to our homegrown big budget mega-stars. And he's already proven his ability to take orders from a cute redhead without losing face in Zero Dark Thirty. Do I need to mention that when Claire comes to his trailer to ask for help, he's outside by the river fixing his badass vintage Triumph motorcycle in a T-shirt and jeans, and she's wearing heels and an unflattering 90s business skirt slacks combo and Garbo Prince Valiant hair?
|Pout at the devil: Claire assures Owen she's more than capable of leading the expedition via hurt eyes and a cinched blouse|
At least here in the JURASSIC WORLD the pro-life sermonizing is all leveled at the boo-hiss military guy and BD Wong's dispassionate splicer and it's more along the lines of animal rights rather than gooey eyes looking down at the 4H Fair chicks. It's not just their cliche litanies and lack of any real (as in not cliche'd 'stock') genuine character detail that casts a sickly pall, it's the lack of any non-cliche'd quality or detail in anyone. In the second film, Jeff Goldblum had a black daughter, for example, a detail that seemed pandering at the time but has proven trenchant (three of my white friends have adopted black babies and it's become more of a familiar, and oddly moving, sight). In III, Neill and ex-girlfriend Laura Dern are still friends even though she's married (to a different guy) with a kid. But here in the fourth film, it's at a new zenith of trite, as the casting director, costume dept, make-up, script, and actor all gives us way too much muchness. So it's not enough that the imbecilic glazed-eyed security guard doesn't notice the one dinosaur he's supposed to watch has slipped away from him, he's cramming a sandwich into his face right at the moment the visitors point it out and even then doesn't stop eating. That's just one example, but the most offensive is the younger nephew of Claire, who has that face where a year ago it was cherubic and now it's time to kick him out the door so stops hanging out with mom instead of playing with boys his own age; he professes to love dinosaurs but he's a color between-the-lines coward terrified of bending a rule, even in the company of his 'cool' older brother, whose smoky eyes (new from Coverboy mascara?) keep playing tag with gaggles of conveniently cute and similarly parentless girls, to whom, rather than try to play along and pick up a girl himself OR get shy and blush, the younger kid acts like Bambi watching his mom flirt with the hunters. In other words, with all that cockblocking and sabotage they're more like actors fighting over the same part than two American boys who've grown up together.
I'm not asking for the two brothers in LONG DAY's JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, but it's not that fucking hard to write good brotherly dialogue, or even let them improvise a bit. Corman would just have them maybe rehearse and go see movies together or something, so they could improv decent dialogue (what about, say, talking about how cool the last ride was while the next one is getting started?). But that's the problem with 'big' movies like this, the director is rarely even in the same room or even square mile, unions forbid touching dialogue written long ago by teams of hacks better at talking their way into conversations than actually listening to what real people say. A good writer (or even producer) knows the more specific you are with lived-in detail, the more universal the appeal; generalities such as they say here cross country and age lines only in how much they bore audiences into a stupor.
Maybe it just bothers me because that ex-cherub kids looks like my childhood friend from the same approx. age, Alan, who turned me onto guns and WWII. I kept imagining what a kick ass movie if the two brothers had a cool deadpan rapport - going into character as it were, like Vincent and Jules, albeit with whatever films they liked or something other than this 'on the nose' crapola. J.J. Abrams or Joss Whedon would have done it, or Quentin, just letting the kids improvise might have done it. I know kids aren't allowed to play with cap guns anymore, but they can't be this square... man, what is it, growing up without secondhand smoke?
Maybe it's explained the way mom Judy Greer calls them on the phone constantly, nagging them for not calling her the minute they got off the plane, the minute they got to the park, etc., asking if they're having fun while trying to guilt trip them at the same time with her unflattering pouty spoiled brat frown (above), i.e. she wants them to have fun in that buzzkill way where no matter what level of fun they do have, it's not enough and/or too much. If they enjoy the park without her, they're bad children, if they don't, well why not? They must not be trying, in order to pis her off.
Others: the nerdy comic banter of two of the tech heads working the control room (he's got a big collection of plastic dinosaurs on his desk, which is such a poorly thought-out stupid detail, like having a picture of your secretary on your desk at work); the schmuck handler who falls into the 'raptor cage also has that dumb glassy-eyed slack-jawed look where you imagine him sweeping up a 7-11 and doing even that wrong. Vincent D'Onofrio as the military tech assessor wears a big gold watch and short sleeves with fat hairy arms so you make red state sheriff associations, and so forth, and naturally the first person eaten is of Latino persuasion. Wouldn't want to break a for some reason unbreakable tradition.
Latinos: first in the field, first to be eaten.
So Own is there, saving the day, right and left, receiving the ultimate adoring kid compliment: "Your boyfriend's a badass." One can't deny that, what with his driving a motorcycle into battle, his raptor squad racing around him; but actually being her boyfriend seems just too dangerous, maybe worse in the long term than being torn to shreds by a pterodactyl (I'm amazed I can still spell that word, it's been at least 40 years) She's cool in a crisis sure (swings a fire extinguisher can upside a pterodactyl's head), but she's gonna be needin' a lot of crises to stay cool. Her idea of guardianship: drive the kids to the dinosaur attack zone, then lock them in the back of a windowless truck, later don't even let them watch the take-down from a remote feed, which at that point is like one of those things where the Vietnam vet kid comes home from the killing fields and mom still expects him to be in bed before Carson. One need only look at that buzzkill frown Judy Greer and/or the director mistake for genuine emotion to know that her treatment of the boys is really the worst kind of maternal manipulation, the type that breeds Normans rather than Owens. That they can even recognize his badassery is testament to their resilience, not hers. If kids of these two redheaded Tyrannosaurus Reginas ever screw up bad enough they get sent to military school then maybe they got a fighting chance; if not, they'll never fight again, except with the cleaning lady when she accidentally starches their socks.
One could make the excuse that this is how hot young women executive movies really always are but to them I say watch Anne Heche in VOLCANO (1997)! You could say women in fields of expertise who seem utterly clueless are common in film if not real life, but before you do, look upon Heche in VOLCANO! Her dialogue is so full of quick-thinking expertise in her field and decisive commands, all so expertly, beautifully, naturally delivered, that we realize inept, ditzy, bitchy, uptight or dumb professional women characters are more the weakness of lazy screenwriters who make no attempt to understand what the field they're writing about is really like, and rather than doing some actual research, just write neurotic female experts who don't know either.
Part of the fault, naturally, falls with the actress. A lifetime of being beautiful has left her accustomed to getting praise and promotion just by biting her lip and wearing short skirts, leaving her with no real idea of what life is like off the silver platter. Naturally she confuses seriousness for buzzkill scowling. That's how it looks on the outside, so that must be all it is.
I see the these actresses, look upon Anne Heche in VOLCANO! And take goddamned notes.
If you've already seen it and thought 'meh' due to some of its more groan-inducing Crash-esque post-King healing incidents and, especially, the dimwit clingy daughter played Gaby Hoffmann, then I say look again, and ignore everything but the Heche.
She's so good she had to be taken down by a hostile media after some mental aberrations and substance issues that would have been forgiven with a wink were she a man. Not that she's not regularly working, but she should be as honored and pervasive as Robert Downey Jr. is today. It's just the man is scared of her. And you can see why when you watch VOLCANO.
A quick thinking big canvas disaster movie that tears through the real Los Angeles, in practically real time, VOLCANO has enough well researched cliche-free back and forth between city department heads that it touches the rattatat genius of Paddy Chayefsky or 70s films that know the subject they're exploring inside and out; the writers and actors have spent time in the company of firemen and relief coordinators, they know the way experts and officials have to become quick thinking order-givers, promoted by their ability to stay cool in a crisis and mobilize team heads and be constantly inputting and computing results rather than freaking out while the fireballs fly. It's a script rich with mature people and overlapping dialogue flowing in real time, rather than the DANTE's majestic adventure sweep, where every emotion we're to feel is broadly choreographed, VOLCANO's got that 'just another fucked day in NYC' kind of blue collar guy professionalism (transplanted to LA). The bits of character business feel real, ala (the original) TAKING OF PELHAM 123 and DOG DAY AFTERNOON rather than the broad strokes of the DANTE's 'types.'
There's only one or two weak points in VOLCANO and alas, they're what most people remember: 1) An absurd (but effective) bit of Rodney King commentary as a cop tries to arrest a guy for being black while downtown LA is erupting around him, then they work together to halt the flow, etc. 2) Jones' simpering little brat daughter who drags herself along in the car while he juggles the madness at ground zero. Neither has bupkis to do with Heche's character, the city's national geologist spokesperson, mature, gutsy, innovatively written and acted, she's sexy and in the moment, loose and joyous and above all, competent.
I can't tell you if this shit ever happens in real life. I'm sure it does, but it's lazy writing that relies on idiocy of stock types to avoid having to do some research (by, say finding out personal stories of what the survivors did and who died in the St. Helen's eruption and why, or visiting a real vulcanologist team and actually listening to the rhythm and substance of their dialogue).
It's attempts to add CRASH racist LA morals or no, VOLCANO is the opposite, extremely well written and researched and, I'm guessing, rehearsed. It certainly should have put Anne Heche in the same A-list company of Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock if she wasn't already, but she got ground up in the hot button issues with Ellen and started being erratic. Hollywood gossip was on her like white on rice. It was the time when people just didn't come out very often, so we all had a hard time digesting her straight girl romance SIX DAYS AND SEVEN NIGHTS.
That's part of it, but I also feel the mainstream press is far warier of recognizing scary assertive talent in women - they like their stars to be either stunning beauties with very few lines of dialogue or else moms and/or daughters first, professionals second. They only recognize great acting if it occurs in "great" pictures of Oscar calibre (i.e. Streep's in it). If they're going to be professional career women they must be frigid bitches just waiting for the right middle-aged hero to gentle them down real nice with the right halter, or at least stay home with her kids while she's out solving the case. But this is not at all the m.o. of our cool professional Anne Heche, the geologist du jour. Thinking of her friend Rachel who just got sucked into the flaming bowels of the earth under the La Brea tar pits earlier that morning, she looks at all the erupting lava and chaos in downtown LA-- the horror and devastation--eyes wide, she says, "Rachel would have loved this!"
I almost fell out of my chair with joy when I finally re-watched this movie last week and heard that line. Why is it that Heche is the only one cool enough to say that kind of shit? Is it any wonder male Hollywood was threatened? There hadn't been a character this resilient and ahead of the curve, beyond the banal reality created for women by writers too busy crafting grand spectacle disaster to pay attention to how actual women behave --instead just shunting them home to watch kids and make angry phone calls demanding husband return because he has "responsibilities here too. We need you here, too, David!" or else just tagging along and filling in exposition gaps, rolling their eyes like the volcano is somehow dad's fault, because he stayed out playing poker and now this natural disaster is his excuse not to come home.
Not Heche, she ain't that type. Stunned but invigorated after her near death experience in the subway tunnels below the street, she hangs around in the thick of the eruption all morning, day, and night, not whining for Tommy Lee Jones' attention like his idiot daughter does, but doing her job, improvising, finding the path of the lava by watching a ball liberated from a looted toy store window, making calculations, etc. and barking them out super fast to Jones, who doesn't question them or give her shit cuz she's a woman and he's got the biggest ranch in Texas and his pappy etc, but merely reacts and mobilizes without a second thought; there's no spare time to second guess whether her advice is just that of a girl standing in front of a man and asking him to evacuate the city blocks between La Brea and the Pacific ocean. Together they're able to convey, her understanding of the lava and his understanding of the city, combining into one fluid machine where urgent calamity is responded to lighting fast in ways their opposite numbers in DANTE'S never could... they were too busy trying to dig themselves out of stupid predicaments created by idiot grandmothers of idiot children.
But that last one has little to do with Heche, though it's cool that she's the one who rescues them more or less, and though Jones has all the earmarks of the Dad of Great Adventure (i.e. his daughter is staying with him while the ex-wife is on vacation but he keeps blowing off their days together) there's little of the annoying tics of the type, since the good aspects of Tommy Lee's character (he's able to stay cool and process loads of information during a natural disaster--and after all, it is his job) are also the bad (he can't ever just relax and let someone else take over even for an hour or two). We generally loathe micro-managerial bosses but we know Jones is cool because his staff tease him about it and he just rolls with it. As with his back-and-forth with Heche, dialogue with the staff (including second-in-command Don Cheadle) is all believable, the jokes and banter and character etching are deftly woven into the action and exposition, rather than the 'here's three pages of character banter and now three pages of exposition and now three pages of disaster management' lameness of DANTE'S PEAK, a film that can't chew gum and walk at the same time.
At the time I saw them I loved DANTE'S more, mainly due to the heat so effortlessly generated between mayor Linda Hamilton and coiffed vulcanologist Pierce Brosnan--I loved his Bond, and loved her Sarah Connor and it was the late 90s. In PEAK she made me want to date a mother of two and move to a cool house in the shadow of gorgeous Colorado mountain. VOLCANO seemed much too busy, too full of business (then again, I was probably drunk when I rented it as the second film of the night back before widescreen). At the time I didn't get it. Now I don't get how I didn't get it then, or how I let a few Rodney King hand-holding "we are the children" moments rush me to snide dismissal. But it's DANTE that now seems coy and willfully naive; Brosnan especially seems much too handsome and composed to be believable as a roving geologist; look at him up there, not a single fleck of ash in that hair, and baby that ain't snow outside. Hamilton's mayor meanwhile is strong and sweet her main assertive skill seems to be in managing to pacify the diverse townsfolk with her maternal sweetness and to blindly follow and believe everything Brosnan says, his immaculate TV looks carrying a kind of absolute law she's been waiting all these years to follow.
Of course not, but it does show that big budget scripts aren't necessarily worth their money, and actress legacies (as in Howard's famous power player father) don't often bring much to the table beyond being merely a good, expensively-educated actress. My guess? They haven't suffered. Even after all the bodies are hauled away Howard just seem tired from being up all night and having to run in heels, and when she cries in the arms of her sister it's only from exhaustion and relief. At the end of VOLCANO, on the other hand, Heche is exhilarated. That's my kind of crisis-handling bitch.
If only it was America's.