Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic WorldIt may have taken 65 million years to bring extinct dinosaurs back to life, but it only took a couple of decades for the novelty to wear off. To stop attendance from dying its own death, CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) — John Hammond’s spiritual successor — has authorised the creation of a new hybrid dinosaur, placing operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) in charge of the Indominus Rex project. While her estranged nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins) are on site for a visit, and during a consultation with Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the creature escapes its confines and disappears into the dense jungles of Isla Nublar. As the park’s security forces scramble in an attempt to recapture their new attraction, InGen’s Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) sets his sights on Grady’s quartet of apparently pliant raptors.

There is always a certain trepidation when an untested independent filmmaker is handed the keys to one of Hollywood’s most iconic and best loved franchises. You can’t help but wonder whether they will be satisfied playing within someone else’s sandbox, or if their impatient attempts to mess with a well-balanced formula might spell disaster, or at least disappointment, for loyal fans. Of course, such concerns are usually unfounded; despite their apparent pretensions, it is generally these tentpole movies that they ultimately hold responsible for their chosen career path, meaning the directors in question often respect and revere the original movies just as much as anyone else. This is undoubtedly the case with Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World; having initially sounded alarm bells with his reluctance to include original cast-members, not to mention his plans to tame the once indomitable raptors, the Safety Not Guaranteed director is quick to reassure viewers that the series is in good hands.

Trevorrow’s first stroke of genius is in focusing the narrative not on Dr Grant or Dr Malcolm but Dr Wu, an unsung supporting character from the first film who was unjustly overlooked by the previous sequels. In hindsight, it seems a little strange that the franchise so quickly forgot what it was originally about: the ethics and efficacy of genetic engineering. Instead, The Lost World and Jurassic Park III dealt once again with the products of that experimentation rather than the process that created them, to the point that it’s almost surprising to see Trevorrow follow this particular story thread in his sequel. In the space of a single scene — in which Wu reminds Masrani that all dinosaurs in “Jurassic World” are spliced with at least frog DNA — he both addresses the longstanding scientific complaint that nothing in the series is paleontologically correct and dismisses fans’ objections to hybridisation as a plot point (remember, if you will, the hostile reception that those aborted Jurassic Park IV designs met back in 2012). Ingeniously, he also uses this subplot as a means of commenting on humankind’s insatiable desire for bigger and better. Thanks to Trevorrow and writing partner Derek Connolly, what Jurassic World lacks in innovation it more than makes up for in intuition and intelligence.

After all, it’s inevitable that after three films and twenty years the novelty of seeing dinosaurs onscreen isn’t what it once was, and despite his team’s best efforts Trevorrow can’t quite recreate the spectacle or recapture the same sense of awe experienced by moviegoers in 1993. This is partly due to the production’s decision to go with computer-generated imagery rather than practical effects, but there’s also no denying the fact that the original is itself to blame. Trevorrow is far from the only director to have been inspired by Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, and long before he took over the franchise others were building off of it in other ways. (As Wu rightly says, “If we don’t push the envelope someone else will.” And directors like Peter Jackson and Gareth Edwards have done just that.) Wisely, Trevorrow chooses to acknowledge this debt rather than deny it, and makes it clear just how close his film is to the first. In fact, the remnants of “Jurassic Park” still remain, untouched by all but time, only a few miles from the new facility. There’s a real thrill to seeing these old locations revisited, a feeling that is unique to long-running franchises such as this and which makes you glad the series was reprieved rather than rebooted. It’s not just the dinosaurs that make a Jurassic Park film, as the character dynamics, theme music, sound effects, set design and locations are all intrinsic and integral to the iconography.

This really does feel like a new dawn for the franchise — or, should this prove to be the final instalment, a fitting end. The series may have come full circle, but as is so often the case at theme parks you can’t help but want to go back around again.

4-Stars

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Interstellar (2014)

InterstellarIn the future, after the entitled excesses of the 21st Century, the Earth is struggling to support the human race. With little demand for engineers and explorers most people now work as farmers — including ex-pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his makeshift family: father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy, named after Murphy’s Law). When a downed military drone leads him to NASA, now underground and incognito, he is recruited for a last-ditch attempt to save the species, if not the planet. Crops are failing, and in order to prevent his children from either starving or suffocating he must find them a new home — a new world. Together with Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and robot TARS (Bill Irwin), Cooper charts a course for Saturn, and a recently-formed wormhole to another galaxy.

Having ended his trilogy of Batman-inflected treatises on fear, chaos and pain with The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s latest think-piece looks to the stars. Interstellar, which began life as a Steven Spielberg project before being rewritten by Nolan and longtime brother/collaborator Jonathan, asks whether love might be a force akin to gravity — capable not only of transcending life and death but dimensions too. At first it seems like something of a change of tact for Nolan, a director better known for debunking spells than casting them, but when the film introduces a ghost, a wormhole and a race of inter-dimensional beings known as ‘Them’ or ‘They’ you can’t help but take the bait and join Cooper in “wondering at our place in the stars”. Sadly, any mystery is short-lived.

However, for the first act at least, there is real promise. Nolan’s vision of a planet blighted by pestilence and choking in dust is an effective one, and small scenes showing life in such an environment — plates and glasses being placed upside down on the table to keep them clean; a school curriculum deriding NASA’s space programme as a hoax in order to discourage students from pointless distractions — are intriguing and well-observed. Perhaps inevitably, it’s this section of the movie that feels most Spielbergian in tone: the family dynamic is interesting, their adventures exciting and their interactions entertaining. When the family’s Land Rover leaps into a cornfield in pursuit of low-flying drone it’s more likely to evoke ET or Jurassic Park: The Lost World than anything from Nolan’s own filmography.

That all changes when Cooper arrives at NASA. He is quickly stripped of his children and his humanity; lectured on Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity by Michael Caine; and launched into the vacuum of space with the physicist’s daughter, two personality-free scientist and a Stanley Kubrick homage. The film’s humour setting is dialed down while its honesty setting is ratcheted up; with Nolan once again valuing realism at all costs, even when he’s being decidedly unrealistic. The ship — Endurance — may be about to fly into a wormhole but it must do so in absolute silence, darkness and inactivity, as its passengers enter stasis for months, if not years at a time. The film loses all momentum immediately, and for the next hour Nolan stops and starts his narrative as the characters travel to a series of gimmicky planets earmarked as potential homes (or, at least, “rocks for humanity to cling to”) by previous missions for additional exposition.

It’s not just a sense of limbo that Interstellar shares with Inception, either, with Nolan returning once more to the subject of time. As in different levels of dreaming, and as per Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, time operates differently across space. Their first destination is Miller, a planet upon which time slows to a crawl, and it’s hard not to feel a sense of deja-vu as the characters discuss temporal differences between locations at length. The stakes, in this case, are reversed: Cooper doesn’t risk losing years of his life but missing decades of his childrens’, but they are familiar nonetheless. As it stands, Miller is a bit of a waste of time, and as impressive as its mountainous waves may be they add exactly nothing to either character, theme or plot — save to necessitate the recasting of Cooper’s children as adults, so that Tom is now played by Casey Affleck and Murphy by Jessica Chastain.

According to Nolan, interstellar travel is as mundane as Gotham in The Dark Knight trilogy or Ariadne’s dreamscapes in Inception — same men, different suits. The problem is, however, that when the film finally plays its hand and Nolan is forced to ask for a suspension of disbelief from his audience it is much too late. After two films spent establishing Batman as a pragmatic character it is no wonder audiences balked when in The Dark Knight Rises he was finally called upon to do something genuinely superheroic, and so it is with the third act of Interstellar. We may not in fact be dealing with ghosts, wormholes or inter-dimensional beings but the reality is no less ridiculous — perhaps even more so. In Spielberg’s hands it might just have worked — after all, it wouldn’t be the first of his films to hang on the precept “life will find a way” — but in Nolan’s it doesn’t; it seems sentimental and simplistic. It’s a gear-change that jolts you awake, and when the core concept crumbles you realise that it’s all he ever really had in the first place. Nolan loves ideas so much he’s now naming his characters after them.

That said, Intersteller is still a thought-provoking and ambitious movie. It has often been said that the director is as gifted at writing women as he is at telling jokes — yet Anne Hathaway’s Dr. Brand is a surprisingly engaging character. There is a lot about Nolan’s latest that feels contrived and convoluted — not least a lesson on love given by Amelia herself — but Hathaway’s performance resonates regardless, and her motivations and sacrifices have all the more impact for her emotional honesty. The best scenes are felt rather than explained — the indignity of a parent-teacher meeting; awe as a space ship clips a frozen cloud; desperation during a rescue mission — but you lose hours in stasis in between. It hardly matters that it’s scientifically accurate, until it isn’t.

3-Stars

Lincoln (2013)

LincolnAware that his Emancipation Proclamation might be discarded come the end of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) tries once again to pass a controversial thirteenth amendment through the United States House of Representatives with an eye to finally ridding the country of slavery once and for all. Faced with an increasingly desperate Confederate army and a belligerent and bigoted opposing party, Lincoln must also work to unite his fractured family before it’s too late. Read more of this post

Films of the Year – 2011

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but one year ago, in a fit of madness, I started a blog. In deciding to name that blog popcornaddiction, I hoped to convey not only a truth about my unrecommendable diet, but also aspects of my palette that were decidedly more cinematic.

I like my movies big, brash and full of the kind of high-octane emotion that leaves women crying incoherently on the floor and men spitting loudly into telephones. Although I like so savour masterpieces and worship at the feet of the auteur as much as the next person, my tastes are predominantly more mainstream. Having worked in a seven screened multiplex for most of my university career, I love nothing more than to have my blocks busted and popcon flicked by the latest tent-pole release.

I realise that this probably makes me less of a critic, and more of a drooling fanboy, but this is my blog and while I do pride myself on relatively broad horizons I have no intention of pandering to some ideal that dismisses 3D and thinks children’s movies are just for kids. As such, my favourite films of the year are unlikely to be representative of other bloggers, critics and journos, and for that I do not apologise. Other opinions are available, but in my own personal opinion they are wrong; X-Men: First Class was fine, Drive was perfectly alright and True Grit was, well, a bit rubbish actually For me it was a year notable for the welcome return of Scream, a surprisingly decent Footloose remake and – don’t judge me too harshly – the ludicrously entertaining Fast Five. In that vein, my pick of the year’s best are as follows:

10. The King’s Speech

I know The King’s Speech has undergone a bit of a kicking since its January release, but still, it won an Oscar didn’t it?  Tom Hooper’s film, which starred a stutteringly brilliant Colin Firth and a surprisingly sane Helena Bonham Carter, proved as profoundly moving as it did achingly funny. Aided ably by Geoffrey Rush’s elocutionist, the filmmakers managed to tell a grand story against a grandiose backdrop while maintaining a humour and humanity which managed to charm even the Fuck Police. A compelling script, subtle direction and triad of exceptional performances conspire to create one truly unforgettable movie with magisterial presence and timeless elegance.

9. Life in a Day

Life in a Day – the cinematic experiment executive produced by both Ridley and Tony Scott – is an extraordinary and ambitious insight into a day in the life of the human race. Compiling and consolidating over 4,500 hours of amateur footage, from 80,000 submissions and 140 nations, director Kevin MacDonald has created a coherent, compelling and delightfully accomplished snapshot in time, an invaluable time-capsule to chronicle the YouTube generation. Babies are born, deaths are mourned, teeth are brushed, animals are slaughtered, rituals are practised and crimes are committed. Thrilling, you might easily scoff. But it is.

8. Midnight in Paris

Having come to terms with the fact that I might never ‘get’ Owen Wilson, it certainly came as a surprise when a collaboration with Woody Allen had me drawn swiftly to my senses. Leaving the cinema at midnight, in Nice, I was utterly enchanted by this tale of nostalgia for some ever-changing Golden Age. Midnight in Paris tells its story with a verve and emotionality that handles the rampant nostalgia with expert precision, boasting enough wit, charm and cameos to keep even the stubbornest Francophile entertained, quickly atoning for the bloated pictorial prologue that precedes it.

7. Thor

The first of two fledgeling Avengers to receive the big screen treatment this year, Thor was always a much more intriguing prospect than July’s Captain America movie. Trapped in development Hell for years, it was always going to be a difficult endeavour breathing cinematic life into one of Marvel’s most outlandish properties, made ever more unfashionable with Christopher Nolan’s recent reign of darkness. With director Kenneth Branagh (an inspired decision on Marvel’s behalf) refusing to shy away from the goofier aspects of the character’s mythology, Thor is a very different – a very necessarily different – superhero movie. And it is all the better for it.

6. The Troll Hunter

Following a slight case of found-footage fatigue – hot off the tails as we are of REC and Cloverfield – you could be forgiven for thinking the genre overcrowded and the format flagging. Rather than feeling tired or derivative, however, The Troll Hunter is an engaging and innovative return to form for a technique caught up in an endless cycle of American remakes and Paranormal Activity sequels. Thrilling, funny and absolutely breathtaking, The Troll Hunter is an unmissable piece of stand-out cinema from director André Øvredal’s. Even if I’m still not entirely sure what it’s called (The Troll Hunter? TrollHunter?).

5. Melancholia

How many times has the world ended now? Ball-point figure? While we have seen it attacked by aliens, riddled with comets, conquered by apes, ravaged by virus and infested with zombies, I for one can’t say I have ever seen the end of the world through recognisably human eyes. Or through the eyes of anyone eighteen or over. While it is undoubtedly not for everyone, Melancholia is a masterpiece in mood and menace, building to a sense of completely hopeless acceptance as Dunst, Gainsbourg and Sutherland’s characters deal with the inevitable apocalypse in different and yet wholly realistic ways.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II

To say I cried at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II would be an understatement of Grawp-like proportions. The biggest compliment I can bestow on this final chapter is that it hit me like a bat-bogey hex. It is testament to not only the work of Yates and his team of filmmakers – Alexandre Desplat, I love you – but the underestimated talents of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint that a story so high on Pumpkin Juice should ever deliver an emotional punch of such ruthless affect. As we leave Hogwarts for the last time – awash with rubble and barely recognisable – it is with the utmost closure on what really has been the motion picture event of a generation. I’m welling up again just thinking about it.

3. The Guard

I don’t really like comedies. I tend to find studio offerings like Tower Heist and Just Go With It too broad to make anything approaching an impact, while this year’s Bridesmaids embodied everything that isn’t funny about genre maestro Judd Apatow’s sense of humour (except the bit where they all shat themselves, LOL). John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard, as with his brother’s sister movie In Bruges, however, managed to deliver solid, hearty laughs without ever resorting to the ruinously try-hard schtick that plagues most contemporary comedy. Lampooning cop shows, subverting comedy conventions and gently poking fun of Irish culture, The Guard was unarguably the most fun you were likely to have in the cinema this year.

2. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Something has happened. Something bad. Lynne Ramsay’s Kevin is – almost from birth – a truly terrifying creation. Ezra Miller’s performance is cold, calculating and counter-intuitively compelling; he is perfectly horrifying without once raising his voice, jumping out of the shadows or making that petrifying clicking noise attributed to cursed Japanese children. From its matter-of-fact title to Ramsay’s bi-linear adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s epistolary novel, this is no-frills masterpiece-making at its most devastating. There is no period dress, no operatic over-emotionality and no delusions of grandeur, just an exquisitely unrelenting build-up of tension that deserves – heck, demands – your recognition. All of it.

1. Super 8

Super 8 has it all: production values, solid stakes and performances that more often than not leave you utterly speechless. The film – both within the film and the feature itself – is as fun to watch as it looked to make, the nostalgia and unreserved love that has gone into each frame making it onto the big screen. In a sea of superheroes and sex-comedies, Super 8 is a breath of old air; compelling, heart-stopping and packing some seriously impressive performances, J. J. Abrams’ latest is the best Spielberg movie Spielberg never made. And then some.

War Horse (2012)

Based on the hugely successful play, War Horse tells the story of Joey, an unfortunately named horse, sold into military service at the outbreak of World War One, and his adventures and relationships with numerous owners throughout the course of the war. Which is where the film’s problems start, because with the focus on a horse and with a succession of human protagonists dipping in and out of the story as Joey comes through, it often feels much more like we’re watching a succession of episodes of a TV series in the vein of Lassie or Old Yeller, rather than a coherent movie.

In fact, the comparison with dog-based TV series is somewhat unfair, because while dogs, kangaroos and even dolphins have a range of easily recognisable expressions, horses are the animal kingdom’s equivelent of Keanu Reeves. Where we’ve had equine protagonists previously, our connection has been fostered through the people with whom they interact. The lack of consistent human company in War Horse – even our ‘lead’ actor (Jeremy “Trench Foot” Irvine as Albert Narracott) is only in about half of the film – makes it almost impossible to connect with anything on screen.

To be fair to War Horse, while the movie as a whole is difficult to engage with, there are some sequences that do work quite well. In particular, a rendezvous between a British and a German soldier in No-Man’s Land is solidly entertaining, as is a sequence featuring a young French girl and her elderly grandfather, but these work because of the humour that runs through them. Something seriously lacking from the remainder of the film.

Indeed, for the most part, War Horse is so po-faced and sincere that it feels almost rude to enjoy it. As a result of this, sequences that should be thrilling, like a cavalry charge into a German camp, are simply dull – although, this does lead to the most interesting shot in the film, as riderless horses charge into the fores. Again, this isn’t helped by the lack of engagement with the characters. At the point in the film the charge occurs, we have spent so little time with the riders that their success or failure is about as important to the audience as the colour of the tiles in the cinema toilet.

Compounding the film’s problems is a terrifically clumsy script. Because every twenty minutes or so we are introduced to an entirely new set of characters, a huge proportion of the dialogue is used to explain who they are, and how they relate to one another. Admittedly it could have been far worse, but it often sucks the momentum out of the movie, and frequently causes otherwise decent performances to fall flat. Again, something not helped by the film’s forced sincerity.

In spite of all this, War Horse isn’t a terrible film. It’s not even a bad one, it’s simply forgettable. About a decade ago, Steven Spielberg created Band of Brothers. Ten years before that, Richard Curtis was responsible for one of the most entertaining and poignant depictions of trench warfare with Blackadder Goes Forth. The fact that they phoned in this waste of time is utterly disappointing.

Reviewed by @Montimer.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Spying a bargain and acquiring a model boat, roving reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) immediately finds himself protecting his purchase from two other would-be customers. Warned by one that his life is now in danger, Tintin is left bewildered as his benefactor is shot and his model stolen. When the man responsible is unable to find what he is looking for, a small parchment that fell from the replica when Tintin’s dog Snowy broke it, he kidnaps the reporter and smuggles him aboard the Karaboudjan under the nose of the ship’s alcoholic captain. Escaping from his confines, Tintin befriends Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), who is himself being held in a sort of prison, and depart the ship on a life-boat. Setting sale for Morocco, the Karaboudjan‘s original destination, the two slowly unravel the mystery of the model ship’s worth, entering into a race to discover the whereabouts of Red Rackham’s (Daniel Craig) treasure.

I think my favourite thing about The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is how much fun it is; a pre-requisite for an action-adventure blockbuster, you’d have thought, but remarkable nonetheless. Gone are the staid childhood traumas, the trite sexual politics and the misplaced existential angst that needlessly riddle other such movies, replaced instead with an extra scattering of set pieces and a potent thirst for adventure. While there will be those who lament the lack of character development and bemoan the apparent absence of psychological complexity, there’s always We Need To Talk About Kevin, for everyone else Tintin has everything you could ever want from a Spielbergian popcorn movie.

For the very existence of Tintinology as a field of study indicates that there is more to our boy hero than might initially meet the eye. You don’t need a poorly written female foil or a soliloquy denoting inner turmoil to read complexity into a character, people can – and have been – drawing conclusions about Tintin for years. For everyone willing to take Hergé’s cypher at face value, however, little is lost; the character’s friendships, gusto and improbable luck proving suitably engaging without a Mrs. Tintin standing in the kitchen to be kidnapped for dramatic effect, undressed on cue or used to convince America’s Deep South that our hero, like, isn’t gay or anything.

While Spielberg has thankfully remained true to the characters (poor, poor Sherlock Holmes, what has Guy Richie done to you!?), he has inevitably been forced to cash in his creative licence on occasion, particularly when it comes to the film’s plot. Taking the book of the same name, shoehorning in large swathes of previous story The Crab With The Golden Claws, and largely ignoring the concluding instalment, Red Rackham’s Treasure, Spielberg’s adaptation is a veritable melting-pot of ideas taken from throughout the entire series. While this might disenfranchise less forgiving fans, and leave everyone with even a passing familiarity with the source material scratching their heads (I for one found the pacing off until I realised what was being left out and what was being kept in), it ultimately works beautifully. Taken on its own merits, as any successful adaptation should be, The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn is an absolute delight.

Opening with an absolutely inspired montage which highlights classic moments from both Tintin’s past and future, the sequence beautifully demonstrates not only the director’s embrace of his newfangled, motion-capture enabled freedom, but also gives John Williams the opportunity to showcase his truly accomplished score. Much like Edgar Wright’s work on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Spielberg’s Tintin dances between scenes with utmost fluidity and imagination: whether cutting through a reflective bubble or alternating between delirium and reality – sand giving way to ocean – this really is the director’s most visually captivating film to date. Not only does he bring Hergé’s art to life with the utmost zeal, he uses his new medium to create the ultimate motion comic. Film.

It is clear that the director is having almost as much fun as his audience, with the film building up a truly astonishing momentum, particularly during one memorable set piece involving a motorbike, a bazooka and a beautifully realised city-slide. Referencing the comic’s mythology (take a bow, Bianca Castafiore) as often as he does his own body of work (one sequence harks back to the boulder-chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark, while another references Jaws), Tintin is a feast for the senses that will more than likely still have much to give through repeated viewings.

With Spielberg’s take on the narrative, however, there are inevitably scenes and characters missing in action: Thomson (Simon Pegg) and Thompson (Nick Frost – with a ‘p’, like in psychology) barely feature, Professor Calculus is absent altogether and the entire treasure hunt is scrapped in favour of a duel between warring cranes. That said, it is difficult to criticise a film for what it leaves out, and with Spielberg and second-unit director Peter Jackson drawing influences from the series as a whole it is likely that there sequences won’t be lost forever. A definite saving grace considering the comedy that could be mined from the scene in which the police officers attempt to chew tobacco or the professor’s hearing impairment.

While Hergé’s whimsical and ludicrous plotting may prove too contrived for some viewers (Tintin does spend an awful lot of time in exposition mode), the character’s transition to screen is otherwise a huge success. Exquisitely rendered and perfectly voiced (Andy Serkis, you ARE Captain Haddock), The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a breathtaking, pulse-pounding and laugh-out-loud funny piece of cinema; an absolute blast from beginning to end. Gobs will be smacked.

Real Steel (2011)

Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) doesn’t know when to say no. Having written off yet another boxing robot and endebted himself to yet another loan shark, Kenton attempts an escape, but not before he is confronted with the news that an ex-girlfriend has died, leaving him to negotiate custody with his estranged son Max’s (Dakota Goyo) responsible aunt Debra (Hope Davis) and uncle Marvin (James Rebhorn). Selling his son for $10,000, Charlie is able to purchase a new robot – Noisy Boy – on the condition that he looks after Max while his aunt and uncle are on holiday in Italy. When Noisy Boy too is lost to Charlie’s recklessness, and as longstanding love interest Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lily) begins to tire of his endless losing streak, Charlie is left with nothing but a set of archaic boxing skills, his own disaproving son and the outdated piece of scrap metal that Max has rescued from the local dump. Can they overcome their differences and work their way to the top of the World Robot Boxing league (WRB) with old fashioned bot Atom? What do you think!

I am going to be honest with you. Full disclosure. I did not expect to like Real Steel; I really didn’t. In my defence, the robots vs. robots genre hasn’t exactly been going from strength to strength of late: Michael Bay single handedly driving the medium-high concept further and further into the ground with every outing of his cursed Tranformerbots. Jon Favreau didn’t help things either, taking his once-esteemed Iron Man franchise and clumsily losing the point somewhere in pursuit of more machines; bigger stunts; better effects. Enter Real Steel, with its mechanical boxing avatars. Watch the trailer again, can you really blame me?

I’ll admit, it doesn’t start out particularly promisingly. Hugh Jackman reprises his role as the curmudgeonly outsider, tripping over beer bottles and picking fights he has no hope of winning. His character is (re)established with minimal subtlety, so that within the first twenty minutes he has punched a bull, lost another robot through his inability to leave a bet unwagered and – this might be important later – shouted at a triage of kids. By act two the whole film takes shape before your eyes, as it becomes clear that the hard exterior will crumble, the inner boxer will out and Jackman’s character’s consumerist attitude towards his robots will give way to a more fulfilling appreciation of the game. Just like it did in X-Men, Van Helsing and Australia. Sort of.

Despite the rent-a-character-arcs, the unrepresentatively robot-heavy marketing campaign and the inclusion of Kevin I-just-want-to-be-in-a-half-decent-movie Durand, Real Steel doesn’t disappoint. More than that, however, it actually impresses. About to enter the ring, under everybody’s radar, is newcomer Dakota Goyo – George Lucas had better be kicking himself. The kid takes the sullen child archetype and works his inevitable daddy-issues into something wholly winning and unexpectedly compelling. As an inciting incident, he is incendiary; kicking the film up the arse just as Hugh Jackman was about to do something else hugely unlikeable. This is where Spielberg’s producer credit takes hold, birthing a ghost in the machine which elevates the film to heights it had no right in reaching.

Attacking his role with a vigour far beyond his years, Goyo delivers a performance which is every bit the match of Jackman’s own, eventually agreeable, turn as unenthusiastic father Charlie Kenton. The two have a wonderful chemistry which works to offset the undeniable cliche of the film’s NET plot. Attacking the script with an earnestness and emotionality that instantly sets Real Steel apart from its blockbusting peers, Shawn Levy’s film has the same old fashioned glow as J. J. Abrams’ spellbinding Super 8. Despite the fact that the ending pretty much writes itself, the accumulated good-will hard earnt by the film’s cast (may I take this opportunity to praise Evangeline Lilly’s preternaturally emotive smile) lends it a credence and – sod it – eye-watering emotionality that after the uninspiring opening seems to come from nowhere.

Atom couldn’t be any less remarkable – with its fly-repellent face and Iron not-so-Giant design – so simple in design that the entailing robot fights are genuinely arresting as opposed to head-achingly confusing. While the odd lingering camera shot and Max’s worked persona conspire to hint at a personality, Atom remains intriguingly inanimate. It is all the more impressive, therefore, that come the inevitable confrontation with uber-bot Zues, it is emotion that drives the scene, creating a more fulfilling dénouement through a series of loaded, teary glances than it ever could with spectacle alone. Yes it’s contrived, yes it’s sentimental, yes the machinations through which Max and Atom are introduced are face-palmingly awful, but Real Steel is also enchanting, beautifully made and – I appologise – far more than the sum of its parts. I very nearly cried. Twice.

Jurassic Park (1993)

When John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) investors become jittery following a fatality, they request that the theme park be signed off by a series of experts. Recruiting dysfunctional palaeontologists Drs. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), along with chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Hammond and lawyer Donald Gennaro (Donald Gennaro) initiate an all-expenses-paid tour of the island in the hope of clearing Jurassic Park for visitors. When head computer programmer Dennis Nedry(Wayne Knight) betrays his employer and attempts to smuggle dinosaur embryos off of the island, he shuts down the park’s defences and inadvertently unleashes Hammonds’ star attractions on the tour group – which now includes the entrpeneurs own grandchildren, Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex Murphy (Ariana Richards).

It’s easy to be cynical about the studio’s motives for re-releasing Jurassic Park on a non-adversarial, really rather arbitraty date, eighteen years after it was initially released. With a new trilogy touted, this is the perfect opportunity for Universal to kick-start brand awareness in time for the next instalment, 65 and a bit million years in the making. On taking my seat in the cinema, however, two things quickly become clear: I had completely forgotten Samuel L. Jackson was in it, and, if the price to pay for a fourth film is a return ticket to 1993’s original on the big screen, I for one am all eyes.

But what is it that makes Jurassic Park so resiliently timeless? While there are those who might feel propelled to point out that it is far from Steven Spielberg’s best work, it is certainly his most accessible and entertaining. Boasting a winsome John Williams soundtrack and creature effects from the late Stan Winston which – largely – stand the test of time (the scene in which the ceiling patterns are reflected onto the Veloceraptors – to this day – fills me with joy), Jurassic Park is a veritable melting pot of talent. For me, however, it is the sound design that flabbers my gast; when that Tyrannosaurus opens its mouth, you just know that that’s what it must have sounded like all those years ago.

Jurassic Park is everything you could possibly want from a summer blockbuster: it’s action-packed, funny, scary and in the grandest possible sense, awesome. From the aerial approach to Isla Nublar to the first glimpse of the Park’s prized T-Rex, Jurassic Park is awash with cult moments, remastered for your ongoing enjoyment. While the newfangled cosmetic work fluctuates throughout, bringing a sharpness to some scenes and exactly nothing to others, it is nevertheless nice to know that such a momentous film is being taken care of. Just like artists maintain and restore prized paintings, so is it necessary to tend to the imperfections of important movies so that they continue to have the same impact on successive generations.

The truth is, however, that Jurassic Park manages this on its own, quite despite the studio’s tinkering. The moment in which our heroes catch their first glimpse of a grazing Brachiosaurus is every bit as mind-blowing as it was in 1993, overcoming the clearly dated effects thanks to a indelibly Spielbergian sense of wonder and delight. The performances may waver, the plot may wander (that ending. Really?) but this is why we go to the cinema: to be entertained. With dinosaurs.

Super 8 (2011)

Four months after having lost his mother in a gruesome mill accident, 13-year-old make-up artist and model builder Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is trying hard to help best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) finish his movie. Using the skills of leading man Martin (Gabriel Basso), special effects meistro Cary (Ryan Lee) and Preston (Zach Mills), and having hired Alice (Elle Fanning) – the daughter of the man largely blamed for the death of Joe’s mother – as the film’s talented heroin, the budding filmmakers find themselves shooting a military train wreck for some precious production values. Catching footage of an escaped creature, the friends must work together and overcome their parents’ biases if they are to survive the devestation and finish their Super 8 mm film.

It’s no secret that Super 8 owes a great debt to Spielberg’s work of the ’80s; heck, the man even serves as producer. Paying dividends to everything from E.T. to The Goonies, Super 8 is a glowing love letter to the decade’s family adventure movies, a kids’ film to grow old with and a powerful meditation on love and loss (not unlike last month’s Potter) rather than the contemporary equivalent starring talking animals and that guy from Mall Cop. It feels almost vintage, a two hour vacation from adulthood that harks back to everything you remember loving as a child, a few lens flares and pixels away from being an actual blast from the past.

This is Abrams’ movie, however, and his fingerprints are all over it. Lens flares aside, it is a film about passion, adventure and daddy issues, all wrapped up in an ensemble piece of filmmaking that has sometimes startling emotional integrity. Bringing the same sense of family to this as he has done previously with Star Trek and even Mission Impossible 3, it is an absolute joy to spend time in these kids’ company, the film’s heart characteristically enveloped in a stunning Hollywood sheen and pitch-perfect soundtrack.

After all, if it wasn’t for Abrams’ young cast Super 8 would just be one big special effect. Though the creature when it is finally revealed does manage to impress – the purposeful graininess of the print helping to hide any CGI design shortcomings – it is the kid cast that ultimately keeps you from nit picking. Many have said it, but even if a giant alien monster hadn’t crash-landed in their town Super 8 would still have been a hugely satisfying piece of filmmaking, so strong were the ensembles’ performances.

Courtney’s Joe is the perfect cipher; an every-kid who acts as a likeable control, he draws attention to his friends’ idiosyncrasies while grounding the fantastic in relative normality. He may not be the director, but this is nevertheless his movie and is all the better for it. Earnest, steadfast and heroic, Joe is countered by an assortment of outcast-types who share his enthusiasm and appreciation for film. While Fanning junior shoulders most of the heavy-duty emotion, and to truly gut-wrenching effect, Griffiths, Basso, Lee and Mills provide much of the comic relief, though each with enough character to affect as well as amuse.

However well played these relationships may be, however, Super 8 is by no means ruined by its science fiction pretences. As tense as it is touching, the film teases its big bad with the utmost capability. Like Cloverfield’s monster, Super 8‘s creature may lack the iconic pizzazz of other creature feature favourites, but it serves its purpose with an understatement and competence that befits the film’s thematics. Called Super 8, the film’s loyalty lies elsewhere, the creature serving beautifully as catalyst rather than jarringly as the film’s core.

One thing’s for sure, J. J. Abrams knows how to make a great movie. Super 8 has it all: production values, stakes and performances that more often than not leave you utterly speechless. The film – both within a film and the feature itself – is as fun to watch as it looked to make. In a sea of superheroes and sex-comedies, Super 8 is a breath of fresh – if welcomingly old fashioned – air. Compelling, heart-stopping and packing some seriously impressive performances, Abrams’ latest is the best Spielberg movie Spielberg never made. And then some.