Jurassic World (2015)

★★★ / 👎

Adequate programmer that didn’t particularly work for me, but was a real hit for the dozens of children in my screening, complete with laughter, screaming, and thunderous applause at the end.

The sexism angle has been talked to death, but I agree with at least some of it. Pratt’s self-described “alpha” character reacts to romantic rejection with boorishness. Realistic, but insufferable.

More disturbing is the film’s glee at combining PG-13 violence with caricatures to allow guilt-free consumption of brutality. Watching a matinee full of pre-teens cheer the deaths of Fat Guys and Snooty Authority Figures and Bad Soldiers felt exactly like sitting in a midnight screening of a slasher film, listening to an older crowd root for the death of The Slut and The Jock.

(Yeah, I know the counterpoints: identification, catharsis, exercise in empathy. Fine, whatever. I still felt the distinct sensation that I was the odd man out sitting in the middle of a pack that, however weak the individual members are, could tear me apart if it chose to, with zero weight on its collective conscience.)

Terminator Genisys (2015)

★★ / 👎

Terminator Genisys tries to smuggle a reboot inside the skin of a sequel, and compromises both functions as a result. As a reboot, it fails to perform efficiently due to reliance on antiquated designs from an earlier era. As a fan-service sequel, it’s about as convincing as the rubber skin on the 600-series Terminators.

Viewers whose attention spans survive the film’s opening salvo of flashbacks and droning exposition are promptly targeted by an interminable dialogue scene that feels like a pick-up or reshoot. Seemingly shot in an unlit hallway, and exemplifying everything wrong with the flat, on-the-nose dialogue that permeates this film, the scene consists of Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney’s characters having a tête-à-tête about what they plan to do When This Cruel War Is Over. (This isn’t the only scene between these two actors in which the “comrades in arms” dynamic could be read as having a queer undertone. In a just universe, Terminator Genisys’s only lasting impact on the world would be a dramatic uptick in the number of John/Kyle fanfics in the Terminator fandom.)

Having declined to provide a fully-realized vision of the post-apocalyptic future, Terminator Genisis jumps back into the past, and fully off the rails. A significant chunk of this section of the film is taken up by tweaked reenactments of scenes from the first Terminator that add no value for new viewers and compare poorly with the originals. Yes, the original scene with the newly-arrived naked T-800 encountering some literal punks is goofy as hell, but the new version doesn’t fix that problem: it only recreates it, badly.

And, well, the film just sort of tools along from there, without any particular sense of urgency, for another 90 minutes or so. As Terminator Genisys putters down the freeway, you can occasionally catch a glimpse in the rearview mirror of a leaner, smarter, modern sci-fi thriller about time travel in the vein of Looper. Every time that happens, though, the film immediately does its best to distract the viewer by shouting nonsense at the top of its lungs, and veering directly into oncoming traffic. The ensuing crash inevitably turns out to be awkwardly framed and poorly rendered, consisting of inconsequential digital fireballs and a meaningless series of thuds on the soundtrack.

This is one of those movies where the supporting actors and bit players fare rather better than the leads. Byung-hun Lee out-Robert-Patricks Robert Patrick as a liquid metal T-1000 whose cheekbones are at least as sharp as his arm-blades. J. K. Simmons more than earns his paycheck in a comic relief role whose antics actually feel less obtrusive than most of the clunkers the the main cast is forced to deliver.

Of the main, “franchise character” roles in Terminator Genisys, Emilia Clarke is the only actor who manages to give a performance that rises above the level of mere cosplay. The script smartly retains a core element of the Sarah Connor character: a woman actively fighting to reclaim agency over her own life, refusing to be a damsel defined solely by her biological functions.

By contrast, the new version of Kyle Reese is a dud. Partly, of course, because Jai Courtney is no Michael Biehn. (Hell, Jai Courtney is no Sam Worthington.) But I don’t think the blame lies entirely with casting, either; it’s a fundamental script problem. Turning Kyle Reese from an archetype into an everyman proves disastrous for the character. Every new piece of information we learn about this version of Kyle Reese is designed to make him more relatable, but actually makes his character less interesting, or less plausible. The same could be said of Jason Clarke or Arnold Schwarzenegger here: they are performing at the top of their (vastly differing) abilities, but what they’re being asked to do simply isn’t very interesting.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

★★★ / 👎


This is very much a comic book movie, and certainly I prefer that to the grimdark nonsense coming out of Warner/DC; but this is also Whedon at his most self-indulgent, with fanservice overwhelming character.

I really disliked a significant chunk of the action sequences in this. I suspect the 3D was partly to blame for that; I’ll be watching it again flat. (I’m also definitely in the camp that feels that the house style of Marvel Studios—particularly in the large-scale action sequences—hurts the individual Marvel films.)

Between this and Guardians of the Galaxy, I suspect we’ve seen the best the current Marvel formula can provide. Time to shake things up.

Danny Collins (2015)

★★★ / 👍

In synopsis, Danny Collins sounds like it could go very wrong indeed. It’s basically a small-scale version of Crazy Heart, built around a legendarily larger-than-life actor (who can’t actually sing), playing a version of himself struggling with irrelevance and late-career regret. Despite the potential for disaster, I enjoyed this film far more than I expected to.

There’s no doubt this is Pacino’s movie—and the best performance I’ve seen him give in well over a decade—but it’s much more of an ensemble cast than the one-man show (or Pacino/Bening two-hander) I’d assumed it would be. Bobby Cannavale in particular is interesting enough to make me idly wonder what the film would have looked like if it had been built around him, with Pacino in the supporting role. Likewise, I thought Jennifer Garner did better work in her first scene here than in the entirety of Dallas Buyers Club, but that may be a matter of the aforementioned low expectations (and my general indifference to Garner).

The script isn’t nearly as sentimental as I’d feared, which is a big plus, particularly given how frequently the film’s overall approach crosses over from straightforward to on-the-nose. (The constant John Lennon tracks are more distracting than illuminating.) I never really believed the “patter” between Pacino and Bening, but I wanted to, and with a movie like this that surely has to count for something.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

★★ / 👎

Right, so Layer Cake was definitely just a fluke, then. Pity, that.

Maybe the classic Roger Moore era Bond film really is overdue for a comeback, but Vaugn’s off-the-peg Tarantino / Ritchie knockoff isn’t really the film to make that case. All Kingsman does is double down on the vapid self-parody, empty violence, and pointless misogyny that led to the self-serious reboots this film decries. I thought Skyfall was actually pretty terrible as a Bond movie, but it’s miles ahead of this in every way.

Run All Night (2015)

★★★ / 👍

Run All Night (2015) poster

Taken meets A Walk Among The Tombstones, by way of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Often generic, sometimes absurd, and occasionally aggressively stupid, but still enjoyable. (It probably helps that I’ve avoided most of Neeson’s post-Taken output, so the formula isn’t stale for me yet.)

Unlike, say, some of Denzel Washington’s entries in the Tough Old Guy genre—and I presume most of the Neeson flicks I’ve skipped—Neeson’s character isn’t quite an unstoppable badass here, just a guy with greater-than-expected stamina who’s had lots of practice shooting people. He’s less a force of nature plowing through obstacles, and more of a survivor type who has long since pissed away most of his reasons to keep living, but whaddaya gonna do.

The number of great character actors turning in solid performances in tiny roles in this dopey little genre film—some of them single-scene cameos—puts even John Wick to shame. The action choreography emphatically does not, although it’s mostly pretty good until (as so often in these sorts of films) the final action set-piece just goes on too long to maintain tension.

The major reason I saw this movie theatrically is that it features two actors I really wish were already much bigger stars than they are: Joel Kinnaman and Common. Alas, both display the talent and charisma their earlier roles have showcased, but neither actor has much new material to work with here. At this point Kinnaman can do Working-Class Man With Ambition And A Chip On His Shoulder in his sleep. A few scenes in Run All Night made me idly wonder if Kinnaman would be a better Agent 47 than Rupert Friend—the trailer for the second Hitman movie was attached to this one—but I wouldn’t really want his career to go in that direction. Common actually does play a professional hitman in this film, and acquits himself as well as possible, considering the script requires him to engage in fisticuffs with a man decades older than himself, and to consistently display worse marksmanship than your average Star Wars Stormtrooper.

The November Man (2014)

★★ / 👎

The November Man (2014) poster

The notion of seeing Pierce Brosnan’s charm filtered through a contemporary ruthlessness has a certain appeal—finally, Bond can really go rogue!—but The November Man is as old-fashioned as thrillers get. The Russkies and the CIA are up to their old tricks. Only Brosnan’s character can set things right, by…um, mostly by assaulting or murdering every CIA and FSB officer who gets in his way, while two competent women actually assemble the evidence he needs? Okay, so it’s not entirely a throwback, but I’m not sure The November Man learned the right lessons from the Bourne and Taken franchises it’s so obviously trying to mimic.

There’s a brief feint at a cat and mouse game, with Brosnan’s protégé-turned-antagonist Luke Bracey as the CIA operative with surrogate daddy issues. Thankfully, this plot thread mostly dies out before it turns into a stealth remake of Roger Donaldson’s own The Recruit. (Whatever his merits may be—few are evident from his unconvincing performance in an underwritten role—Luke Bracey is no Colin Farrell.)