Film: Jurassic World

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Title: Jurassic World
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryca Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, BD Wong
Seen on: 13 June 2015

Let me start by saying that if you were planning to (re-)watch the old films before going to see Jurassic World, then don’t. I promise, the (not so subtle) easter eggs and tributes to the originals are much more fun and warming when they come unexpectedly. Seriously, let yourself be surprised by how well the writers and director of Jurassic World have tied in the history of the franchise.

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That being said, Jurassic World fits perfectly within the franchise that started in 1993. It is basically Chappie meets Alien vs. Predator; big giant unnatural monster battling each other while white people sit in their iron thrones of their companies and let everything go to hell in a hand-basket by one of their bastard employees. Which was really the premise of the original Jurassic Park, which creates the perfect circle. Jurassic World knows damn well what it isn’t-a serious film with an important message or moral-but it also knows very well what it is. Pure and simple entertainment.

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Jurassic World requires a lot of suspense of disbelief (seriously, in those shoes?!) and a mind set to “entertain me” rather than “educate me”, but if you go in with an open mind and ready to just go with it, you will have a brilliant time. Chris Pratt is a wonderful lead character (and occasional raptor whisperer, apparently), Bryce Dallas Howard plays the quintessential damsel in distress who finds her balls (and seriously, in those shoes?!) without too many cringe-worthy moments, and the two boys (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) bring the family element with a twist well enough to elicit a few honest laughs and smiles. But you don’t go to Jurassic World for the human actors, now do you?

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The dinosaurs are EXCELLENT. With technology coming so far since the last Jurassic Park film it was a given it would look fantastic, but the production teams outdid themselves. All dinosaurs still have that old-school Jurassic Park feel, but with a modern twist; better textures, better lighting, better animation. After the first ten minutes you simply forget they aren’t real. Imagine never having seen the original films and now seeing this for the first time! I saw more than a few kids’ faces alight with new obsession!

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The story is much of the same, but that’s alright. The park has finally opened on Isla Nublar after the failed attempt so many years ago. The original owner has passed away (many nods to sir Attenborough’s famous role) and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is now in charge of running the park. Chris Pratt’s Owen is the animal trainer and researcher, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Hoskins is– I’m not sure who he is exactly, but he is a dick and his decisions ultimately lead to the final boss-fight, but more on that later. BD Wong is back as Doctor Henry Wu and it is he who came up with the park’s new “attraction”: the Indominus Rex; the biggest, baddest dinosaur ever created. Not bred, created. In a lab. Because what could go wrong?

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Exactly. Everything. The new dino tricks everyone into thinking she escaped her already too small cage and then actually does. She goes on a rampage (obviously), the park owner refuses to evacuate the island (obviously), the good guy and bastard co-worker butt heads but end up working together anyway (obviously), the park manager finally finds her balls (obviously, but still in those heels!), and the unexpected saves the day. [spoiler alert!] THE ORIGINAL JURASSIC PARK T-REX!!

I will admit to having squealed out loud when she was released to come save the day. And that’s exactly what I meant when I said to not see the original films before seeing this one, the surprise is too good. Which I have now ruined. Sorry.

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There is a lot of talk about human-animal bonds, caged animals and behaviour, and morals in Jurassic World but none of it is too heavy or obtrusive. In the end all Jurassic World wants to do is entertain you and it does on a massive scale. It is a ridiculous film (the final boss fight is MENTAL), it has its flaws (was the romance angle really necessary? and those heels!), but it is absolutely badass. A fantastic addition to the franchise. Go see.

Rating: 8/10

Film: Avengers Age of Ultron

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Title: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Elisabeth Olson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, James Spader
Seen on: April 23, 2015

I was lucky enough to be able to attended the European premiere at Westfield London on April 21 (fun times!!) of Avengers: Age of Ultron and the energy and buzz only made me see this film even more. Midnight screening tickets in hand, I decided to brave the 3am London night buses on my way back home for the chance to see the film as one of the first “regular” people in the world. And boy, was it worth it! 🙂

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Age of Ultron is big, it’s loud, it’s funny and most of all it is the Avengers as we like them; snarky (Tony Stark), sassy (Steve Rogers), a little bit mysterious (Natasha Romanov), big and green (Bruce Banner)  and not quite a team. And the big bad is equally impressive: Ultron seems almost invincible, upping the game throughout the whole movie.

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The storyline for AOU is this: The Avengers are gathered at Tony Stark’s tower in New York after a mission against Baron Strucker (fantastic opening sequence in one long take culminating in a classic comic book superhero group pose). They have Loki’s scepter and have a little celebration because of it, when Ultron decides to crash the party. Tony and Bruce didn’t think they were close to functional AI, but the souped-up robot proves differently. He is angry and murderous and extremely powerful. Cue the team chasing him across the globe to fight him, until they encounter the Maximoff twins; Pietro and Wanda. They join Ultron in hopes of destroying The Avengers, but when it turns out they can’t trust the maniacal robot (who would have thought?!), they join forces with The Avengers and help bring down Ultron instead. It all comes to a head when Tony and Bruce (with a little help from Thor) manage to get Jarvis a body (a.k.a. The Vision) powered by the infinity stone that was hiding in Loki’s scepter all along. The Vision is then finally able to beat Ultron, together with Thor’s hammer Mjolnir and Iron man’s suit.

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It sounds very complicated, layered, intricate, and it is. But come on, it’s Joss Whedon, he can handle it. And he does, very well. But he also manages to get a more human side to the team inserted into the film. We get a lot more backstory on Clint Barton, who has a whole ‘nother life besides being the world’s best bowman, Natasha Romanov and her upbringing in the Red Room, and Joss Whedon has added a butt load of little insights into everyone’s personal side. The way he shows them to us is not always as fun for the character as it is for us, as we see them through painful dreams courtesy of Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. Scarlet Witch and her mind-bending powers. But AOU is as much a film about the team being superheroes as it is about the people behind the superheroes.

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That combination-a solid story with an interesting plot and bad guy, and a real connection to the people on the screen-is what makes AOU a strong, solid film that captivates and entertains. And it is surprisingly funny! So, so many little in-jokes, one-liners and humorous moments keep the balance between the hard action and the levity; both serving the action fans and the casual cinema goer. There are a million little nods to the entire MCU in the film too; Sam Wilson and the search for Bucky from Cap2, War Machine from IM2, Wakanda for the upcoming Black Panther movie, and many more. I for one can’t wait to see what they do from here on out.

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There are a few moments and things I want to briefly touch on that stood out: The Vision and Thor’s hammer (audible gasps from the entire audience), Pietro’s first line (and Hawkeye’s return of it later on) and ultimate death (more audible gasps), Ultron’s humanity brought to you mostly by James Spader’s fantastic voice, the Hulk Buster and Veronica, the incredibly CGI for Ultron, Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaw (MOOOOOORE!!) and Clint’s family and “auntie Tasha”. Also, the end. All I’ll say is AVENGERS….

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After all of this praise and fangirling, there is one reason I am not giving this a 10/10. Well two, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier was better than this film, but the other reason is more important: the party at Stark Tower. Every single one of them felt out of character to me, except for Tony Stark. Steve, Maria Hill, Natasha, Bruce, Thor, Sam; they all felt out of place, out of character and odd. It might be because we’ve never seen them as a bunch of relaxed people just hanging out, it might be because they simply were behaving out of character. Either way it felt forced to me, so early on in the film it felt like Joss Whedon was trying to shove their humanity and team bonding in my face. Not to mention the Natasha/Bruce connection…

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If you’re still with me at this point, well done to you! Now go out and see it because it really is a fun, entertaining and strong film that deserves the price of a cinema ticket. I promise you won’t be bored once!

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Rating: 8/10

Theater: The Laurence Olivier Awards 2015

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Date: 12 April 2015

This year, I was lucky enough to attend the annual Laurence Olivier Awards at the Royal Opera House. Check me out!

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And apparently I was entirely on trend on the red carpet too; long black dress and gold accessories. I guess it had to happen some day 😉 It is a strange phenomenon though, walking down that red carpet. When you step on it, every head along it turns your way to see if you are anyone of importance and when you’re not this air of disappointment and disinterest wafts your way. I could only laugh about it and quickly dodge celebrities (Pixie Lot, Amanda Abbington, Mark Gatiss, George Maguire to name a few) on my way to the glass of free champagne. Or three. (four)

The view from the nosebleed section wasn’t actually bad! Not all the way up top and fairly in the center of the row, I had a great view of the stage. And they gave us a little goodie bag with a bottle of water, sweets and a candy bar 🙂

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Lenny Henry was the host for the night, bringing laughs and scathing remarks about arts funding and the upcoming election. And he wasn’t the only one; many of the winners’ speeches revolved around the cuts in the arts section. Interestingly enough, many of the winners are or come from subsidised plays and shows. Something to consider if you are eligible to vote and enjoy theater and/or musicals.

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There were performances from all the nominated musicals and revived musicals which really reminded me how much I love musicals. I don’t go see any often enough! The nominated plays were represented by a host and trailer each and there was a breathtaking dance performance in celebration of Sylvie Guillem’s career (as well as the special award she received!) I missed an opera performance though, despite the two opera categories.

It was a long show, 3,5 hours, but I was never bored during any of it. The joy of the winners is contagious, even high up and far away. It is lovely to see the talent and happiness and fantastic shows. And some very special moments as well (read on)!

This is the full list of the Olivier Awards 2015 winners:

New Play – King Charles III
New Opera – The Mastersingers of Nuremberg

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Supporting Actress – Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
87 years old and finally her first Olivier Award!

Supporting Actor – Nathaniel Parker, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
Set Design – Es Devlin, The Nether
Costume Design – Chrisopher Oram, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
Sound Design – Gareth Owen, Memphis the Musical
Lighting Design – Howard Harrison, City of Angels
Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre – Bull at The Maria, Young Vic
New Comedy – The Play That Goes Wrong, Duchess Theatre
Revival – A View From The Bridge, Young Vic
Best Actor – Mark Strong, A View From the Bridge, Young Vic (completely deserved, but James McAvoy was equally stunning)
Best Actress – Penelope Wilton, Taken At Midnight, Theatre Royal Haymarket (I was rooting for Gillian Anderson!)
This Morning Audience Award – Wicked
New Dance Production – 32 Rue Vandenbranden and Mat EK’s Juliet And Romeo
Entertainment and Family – La Soiree
Theatre Choreographer – Sergio Trujillo, Memphis The Musical
Director – Ivo Van Hove, A View From the Bridge (a little Dutch pride :))
Supporting Actor in a Musical – George Maguire, Sunny Afternoon
Supporting Actress in a Musical – Lorna Want, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Musical Revival – City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse (a personal whoop-whoop, my favourite show this year!)
Actor in a Musical – John Dagleish, Sunny Afternoon
Actress in a Musical – Katie Brayben, Beautiful

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New Musical – Sunny Afternoon

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Special Honour – Kevin Spacey
Special Award – Sylvie Guillem

Kevin Spacey was honored by Dame Judi Dench, who told a story about how he turned up on her doorstep one night “with a ping-pong table on his head”. One can only imagine… He was awarded an award for his work as director of the Old Vic for the past 10 years; his revival of the theater, his work for The Bridge, his plays and one-man-show he starred in.

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In return, he gifted everyone with the biggest surprise of the evening; a rousing rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water with Beverly Knight. Yes, you read that right. You should really have been there, my lord.

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The programme book is large, heavy and shiny, and a lovely reminder of the night. As nice as it is to watch it on TV, being in the room was magical and amazing and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I am already picking out a dress for next year!

Film: John Wick

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Title: John Wick
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe
Seen on: April 07, 2015

When a Russian mobster beats up his own son for stealing a car from a man and killing his puppy-the one his now dead wide gave him as a last present to him, you know this man is terrifying. This man is John Wick, and he is not happy. At all. And John Wick doesn’t stop until he gets what he wants: revenge.

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Keanu Reeves is, as always, infinitely cool and quietly threatening which works well for the retired-but-dragged-back-into-it John Wick. A man of few words, but a lot of actions. Which works well in turn for Keanu Reeves; not the best emotive actor, so some of the more emotional and dialogue heavier scenes fall a bit flat, but he does a really good menacing hit-man. Really good.

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The film is basically one big stunt. The story is simple-retired hit-man goes after the kid that killed the last thing he had of his wife-but it doesn’t need much more. I’d rather see a well-executed simple story than a confusing intricate plot-driven train wreck. And the story really is just a tool to get from one stunt (fight) to another. And the fights are impressive; not only are they clean enough to follow what is happening, they are realistic. The characters get hurt, don’t just walk away from these fights with nothing but a few bruises. No, John Wick needs stitches, a sling for his arm and shoulder, painkillers.

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The supporting cast is pretty cool too: Michael Nyqvist as the Russian mobster with a healthy awe for John Wick. Alfie Allen as his son, stupid enough to take on John Wick. Willam Dafoe as unlikely friend, Adrienne Palicki as hit-woman Ms. Perkins (fantastic fight sequence between her and John Wick!), Dean Winters as the long-suffering assistant to the Russian mobster, and Lance Reddick as the hotel manager with the best one-liners in the film.

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The best exchange comes early on in the film though, after the first fight at John Wick’s house. Local cop Jimmy comes to the door just as John Wick kills the last man come to kill him, and this conversation happens:

Jimmy: Evening, John.
John Wick: Evening, Jimmy. Noise complaint?
Jimmy: Noise complaint.
Jimmy pauses, glances inside at the dead bodies in the hallway.
Jimmy: You uh working again?
John Wick: No, just sorting some stuff out.
Jimmy: Oh well, I’ll leave you be than. Good night, John.
John Wick: Good night, Jimmy.

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This film isn’t just gritty and cool and stylish, it is really funny at times. The humour gives the film the levity it needs to not take itself too seriously and that is what makes it so awesome. Just accept Keanu Reeves will never be the most emotive actor in the world and you will love this film. It’s good.

I will leave you with the most heartbreaking thing in this film. Go see it and you will know why.

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Rating: 8/10

Film: Home

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Title: Home
Cast: Rihanna, Jim Parsons, Jennifer Lopez
Seen on: March 22, 2015

Boov (alien) O screws up-again-and gets his entire race fleeing to earth. The Boov relocate everyone to Australia and settle in. And then O screws up-again-and accidentally tells the other alien race they are running from where they are. Almost anyway, apparently even alien email goes slow.

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Cue O on the run, meeting up with last remaining human in the city, Tip, and her cat Pig. Still following? O = alien, Tip = human, Pig = cat. Anyway, Trip has lost her mother (unbeknownst to her, she is in Australia) and O needs to stop this email from reaching the Boov’s enemy. They both need to go to the Boov HQ in Paris to find what they are looking for. It’s a fun ride too, with enough jokes and references for adults to have a laugh.

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The characters are all relatable, though very much aimed at kids about a third my age 😉 The Boov are funny creatures and O is childlike curious and ignorant. He just means well. Tip helps him overcome his Boov ways of running as soon as things become a bit scary and by doing so she finds her mother and O resolves the issue with their enemy. Who is actually a starfish in a massive Borg-looking suit. Yeah.

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Home is a lovely story about unlikely friends, overcoming your fears and courage. It will certainly appeal to kids and even I had to swallow past a few lumps near the end.

Rating: 7/10

Film: Chappie

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Title: Chappie
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Die Antwoord, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver
Seen on: March 22, 2015

This film isn’t so much about the performances of the actors as it is about the director who made it. Neill Blomkamp wowed the world with District 9 and disappointed with Elysium, so the pressure was on to prove he is a genius filmmaker and not a one-hit-wonder. I’m not sure he succeeded. Chappie falls somewhere between District 9 and Elysium.

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But if you ignore the comparisons for a moment and just look at this film as it is, it’s not actually a bad film. In fact, it is actually entertaining and even a little moving. This is mostly due to Chappie himself and, surprisingly enough, Yolandi of South African music duo Die Antwoord. She’s not an actress and it shows, but her scenes with Chappie-still in a childlike state of mind-bring the connection to the robot you need to really get into this film. And Chappie really is the best thing in it (aside from Hugh Jackman’s mullet, but more on that later).

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Chappie is a robot, discarded from the robot police force of Johannesburg, South Africa, after being damaged too much. The robots are the brain child of Deon, a genius scientist who is trying to create a self-thinking AI. His robots are not that, they are simply programmed to follow orders rather than think and-more importantly-feel for themselves, but when he finally has his break through and finishes his AI program he steals the discarded robot’s body and installs his AI on it. Or he wants to, because the robots gets stolen before he can start the install.

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The thieves are Yolandi and Ninja, or Die Antwoord fame. I won’t go into too much detail about who they are and what their story is, because it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The acting is awkward and the plot holes so large you could fit Europe in it, so instead I’ll focus on their influence on the robot. After stealing the robot, they soon realize it can’t help them in their criminal ways since it doesn’t, you know, do anything. Until they get Deon in and bargain with him to install the AI program. Once in a lifetime opportunity for Deon, but definitely not his smartest move. Yolandi and Ninja quickly get-temporarily-rid of Deon and “raise” Chappie as their own. That includes big chains, graffiti tattoos and gang language.

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What we then get is a touching story about human behaviour; What is born and what is taught? How does environment influence a child’s development? Chappie essentially grows up in an abusive home (Ninja leaves him to find his own way home across the violent city when he is at a toddler’s age), but he has a few influential people around him that try and counter that; Yolandi, in her own way finds motherly feelings, Deon strikes a deal with Ninja and gets visitation rights which he uses to teach Chappie ‘normal’ behaviour, even Ninja’s friend Amerika teaches Chappie about loyalty and friendship. Chappie’s development into a teenager and his relationships with his father and mother is a wonderfully tender thing and even at times pulls on your heart strings.

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Until it absolutely and resolutely smashes that moment with another round of mindless violence that doesn’t serve the story in any way. It’s a whisplash of a film that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Luckily it also has Hugh Jackman’s mullet for some against-type casting that the actor seems to relish in. His Vincent is a dick; a military man with a grudge and a massive robot. All he needs is support from Tetravaal’s CEO Michelle (Sigourney Weaver) to get it into the streets, but she won’t give him the budget to install the police program and release it. Cue the bigger grudge.

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The big show-down and ultimate climax of the film has to do with Hugh Jackman’s huge robot, Chappie’s humanity and Deon ending up in one of his own creations. It’s not important, really. It’s too far-fetched, too riddled with impossibilities and again doesn’t really know what it wants to be. It’s an ending, is what it is, which is enough.

This film has one massive saving grace though: the absolutely breathtaking, seemless incorporation of Chappie into the rest of the environment. Completely motion-captured by Sharlto Copely, you’d think it was an actual robot and not something CGI-ed in. That alone is worth seeing this on a big screen. We’ve come a long way from the first Terminator film.

Rating: 5/10