Super Dark Times (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): A dark, disturbing coming-of-age drama thriller

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“Super Dark Times” is a dark, disturbing coming-of-age drama which turns out to be more unnerving and compelling than expected. Set in a suburban area of New York State, the movie initially presents itself as a calm, realistic depiction of mundane American adolescent life during the 1990s, but then it becomes a stark, chilling thriller about how its two adolescent heroes get themselves mired in guilt and paranoia after one unfortunate incident which changes their life forever, and we come to brace ourselves as their circumstance becomes more fearful and gruesome later in the story.

After the quiet but striking opening scene which shows the aftermath of an unpleasant happening at a local high school, the movie shows us another usual day of its two adolescent heroes: Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan). When we see them for the first time, they are looking into their high school album just for killing their afternoon free time at Zach’s home, and they casually talk about which female student is more desirable, like any heterosexual boys would at their hormone-charged age.

They later get out of the house, and then they meet two boys they know: Daryl (Max Talisman) and Charlie (Sawyer Barth). While Charlie is a student of the other high school in their neighborhood, Daryl attends the same high school along with Zach and Josh. It is apparent that Daryl is your typical obnoxious jerk who often annoys others around him, but Zach and Josh hang around with him anyway because, well, there is nothing else to do besides that.

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After spending some time with Daryl and Charlie on a big abandoned bridge, Josh and Zach passes by a house where a girl named Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino) lives. It is clear that Zach has had a crush on her, but he still cannot express his feeling directly to her, and we get a small amusing moment when he attempts a small harmless frank in front of her house instead, which turns out to be a little more successful than he intended.

And then we get to know a bit about Zach’s relationship with his mother, who seems to live alone with her son in their cozy suburban house. Although it looks like she is mostly occupied with reading a romance novel unless she is working, she is always nice and gentle to her son, and they look fine together even though they do not interact much with each other.

So far, I have only described the first act of the movie, which carefully establishes its story and characters and then slowly lets us be immersed into the mundane suburban world inhabited by its characters. You will clearly see a trouble coming from the distance when the boys come across a big sword while killing their time in a private place belonging to Josh’s older brother, who has been absent since he joined the US Marine not so long ago. The boys soon go outside and have some fun together with that sword for a while, but then…

Naturally quite shocked and scared by a very serious trouble they inadvertently caused, the boys decide to cover it up as much as they can, but then they have to deal with its ramifications in one way or another. They just could ignore everything as nobody else has not yet found what they did, but Zach finds himself burdened by mounting guilt and worry everyday, and the movie often shifts itself to a more stylish mood for depicting his increasingly agitated state of mind, which is sometimes shaken by several Freudian nightmares reflecting his fear and desire.

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In case of Josh, he looks more unstable and disturbed than his friend. After some point later in the story, he begins to show rather disturbing signs, and Zach is unnerved by whatever is happening to his friend, who becomes a lot more distant to him than before. When another incident happens, Zach fears what may happen next, and we subsequently see him driven into sheer panic when his worst fear turns out to be true.

“Super Dark Times” is the first feature film directed by Kevin Phillips, who initially worked as a cinematographer and then directed several short films before making this movie. He and his cinematographer Eli Born did a superlative job of establishing the mundane but subtly tense and ominous atmosphere on the screen, and there are a number of impressive shots to be admired for skillful handling of lighting and scene composition. I also appreciate several authentic details of the background era of the movie, and I must confess that I cannot help but nostalgic when I saw a portable CD player during one brief scene.

The young main cast members of the movie are convincing in their unadorned natural performances. While Owen Campbell and Charlie Tahan are believable in their casual interactions on the screen, Max Talisman and Sawyer Barth are also effective in their respective roles, and Elizabeth Cappuccino has a few tender scenes with Campbell as his character desperately seeks for some solace and comfort from her character.

“Super Dark Times”, which is currently available on Netflix, is not a pleasant film at all, but its dark drama is engaging and gripping to enough hold our attention, and it surely deserves to be compared with “River’s Edge” (1986) and “Mean Creek” (2004). This is one of the interesting debut films of last year, and I think you really should give a chance to this solid piece of work.

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Gifted (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): What is the best for her?

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As a conventional family melodrama which clearly wants to pull your heartstrings, “Gifted” does not bring anything new to its genre territory, but it did its job better than expected. While maintaining its balance mostly well between two conflicting opinions on what is the best for its prodigy heroine, the movie works as a sincere and engaging drama to entertain and touch us, and I had a fairly good time with it even while noticing its several weak aspects including its contrived final act.

The movie begins with the first school day of Mary Adler (McKenna Grace), a young girl who has lived with her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) since she was born several years ago. As a pretty smart girl who not only has a prodigious talent in mathematics but also has learned many things from her uncle, she is not particularly interested in going to school, but Frank believes his niece must go to the school for having a normal childhood life as his sister wished before her early death. Sure, he has nurtured his niece’s academic interest for several years as shown from a number of advanced mathematics textbooks in their house, but he also does not want to see Mary letting herself and her life driven too much by her academic interest. As told to us later in the story, that was exactly what happened to Mary’s mother, who was almost close to the solution for one of the most notorious mathematical problems before her death.

Anyway, Mary instantly comes to draw attention from her classmates and her teacher Miss Stevenson (Jenny Slate) while confidently showing off her mathematical talent in the classroom. As the principal of her school later suggests to Frank during their private meeting, it may be the best for Mary to be sent to a special school for mathematical prodigies like her, but Frank remains adamant about keeping her in the school – even after one serious trouble resulted from her rather aggressive reaction to a school bully.

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However, the situation soon becomes more complicated as Frank’s estranged mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) enters the picture. As a former mathematician who pushed her daughter’s academic interest as much as she could, Evelyn is surely determined to make Mary follow her mother’s footsteps, and she does not hide her intention at all when she comes to see her son and her granddaughter. Through legal procedures, she is going to take Mary away from Frank, and that is certainly the last thing Mary and Frank want.

The following part of the movie is not so far from “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) and other similar family melodrama films. As Frank’s lawyer and Evelyn’s lawyer try their best for their respective clients, the mood naturally becomes bitter as the respective flaws of Frank and Evelyn are inevitably magnified during the trial, but the movie also lets us see that both Frank and Evelyn have each own good point on what is the best for Mary. While we surely come to agree more to Frank’s argument, we also come to understand Evelyn’s sincere wish to develop further her granddaughter’s precious talent, though that wish of hers happens to be intertwined with her own academic ambition and enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, the movie also focuses on Mary’s thoughts and feelings under this difficult circumstance. When she goes to Boston along with her grandmother, she is delighted to learn more about her mother as well as her grandmother, and she is also quite excited to demonstrate her talent in front of Evelyn and her colleague, but she still wants to be with her uncle, who knows and understands her better than anyone except Roberta (Octavia Spencer), a middle-aged woman who is their close neighbor. When Mary becomes quite sad and depressed to learn that her biological father never cared about her from the beginning, Frank takes her to a certain place for making her feel a bit better, and that is the most touching moment in the film.

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During its final act, the screenplay by Tom Flynn pushes its main characters into a simplified melodramatic situation, and that is the major weak point of the film. At least, this rather flawed part is supported well by the strong emotional base established well during the first two acts, and the finale works on the whole although it is a little too artificial in my trivial opinion.

The main performers in the movie bring considerable life and personality to their respective characters. While Chris Evans shows again that he is an engaging actor who can do a lot more than Captain America, young newcomer McKenna Grace is simply wonderful as balancing herself well between innocence and precociousness, and she and Evans are effortless as ably conveying to us a strong emotional bond between their characters. In case of several notable supporting performers surrounding them, Jenny Slate utilizes well her natural charm which is previously shown well in “Obvious Child” (2014), and Octavia Spencer and Lindsay Duncan are also solid in their supporting roles.

“Gifted”, which was released as “Amazing Mary” here in South Korea, is directed by Marc Webb, who previously made “(500) Days of Summer” (2009), one of the best romantic comedy films during the 2000s. Although “Gifted” is less special in comparison, Webb handles well its story and character under his good direction, and the result is mostly satisfying with several nice moments of genuine emotions. It is a familiar stuff indeed, but it is a well-made one coupled with good performances to watch, and I am fine with that.

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Kodachrome (2017) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A predictable road movie shot on 35mm Kodak film

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In short, “Kodachrome” is your average road movie. Thoroughly conventional and predictable at its every key narrative point, the movie did not surprise me or touch me much. While there are several good elements to notice, they are not enough to distinguish it from many other similar road movies, and I was eventually left with a rather hollow impression when it was over.

The movie opens with its hero’s serious business situation. While he has been modestly successful as an executive of some small record label located in New York City, Matt Ryder (Jason Sudeikis) is about to get fired because a very popular musician walks away from him and his record label for the contract with a bigger record label, and he must sign any prominent musician to his record label for not getting dismissed by his boss. Fortunately, there is a chance from a famous rock band named the Spare 7’s, and Matt must succeed within 2 weeks.

And then there comes a young woman named Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen), who turns out to be the nurse/assistant of Matt’s estranged father Benjamin (Ed Harris). As a renowned professional photographer, Benjamin has been respected a lot in his field for many years, but he has been quite distant to his son since he abandoned his wife and son a long time ago, and Matt still feels angry about how much Benjamin hurt him and his mother, even though Benjamin is now a dying old man who simply wants his son to accompany him during what is going to be his last journey. Benjamin has four old Kodachrome film rolls which have not been developed yet, but there is the only one photo shop in US where Kodachrome film can be developed, and he needs to go there as soon as possible because that photoshop in question, which is located in Parsons, Kansas, will stop developing Kodachrome film in a few weeks as the Eastman Kodak company ceases to produce the developing solutions for Kodachrome film.

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Mainly thanks to the persistent urging from Zooey, Matt reluctantly agrees to visit Benjamin’s apartment for a dinner, but, of course, things do not go well once he and Benjamin sit on the dinner table along with Zooey and Benjamin’s manager Larry (Dennis Haysbert). As seeing again what a callous and insensitive guy his father is, Matt comes to walk away from the dinner table earlier than expected, but then Larry gives him an offer he cannot refuse. Through his old connections, Larry arranges a meeting with the Spare 7’s in Chicago, and all Matt has to do is dropping by Chicago in the middle of his journey with Benjamin.

Right from when Matt gets on Benjamin’s car which is alternatively driven by Zooey and Matt, we can clearly see what we are going to get, and the movie does give us exactly what we expect from it. Yes, Matt and Benjamin surely bicker with each other at times, but they eventually come to settle in a sort of equilibrated state as Zooey functions as the buffer between them, and the movie accordingly gives us a number of wide landscapes shots which are accompanied with, what do you know, sentimental pop songs. Yes, as Zooey often reminds Matt of what is wrong with him, we sense a certain mutual feeling developed between them, and we are not so surprised at all when Matt makes a little forward step toward her later in the story.

Meanwhile, the movie dutifully supplies several small episodic scenes as its three main characters roll from one spot to another, but we do not get much surprise from these nice but mostly predictable moments, and the screenplay by Jonathan Tropper is often hampered by its numerous plot contrivances. When Ben and Matt visit Ben’s brother Dean (Bruce Greenwood) along with Zooey, it looks like Ben and his brother put away those old feelings between them, but there eventually comes an uncomfortable moment when Ben blurts out an old secret in front of others, and Matt is naturally exasperated by this. When Matt finally meets the Spare 7’s in Chicago, Ben helps his son through a small piece of advice, but then the movie takes an artificial left turn, and it never recovers from that as lurching toward to its predestined arrival point.

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In case of those four Kodachrome film rolls in the film, I do not dare to reveal anything about their contents, but I bet some of you have already guessed why they are so important to Benjamin. When its contents are finally revealed during the ending of the film (is that a spoiler?), we are supposed to be touched along with Matt, but the movie does not build enough emotional base for that, and I must tell you that what is shown during the following end credits are far more memorable in comparison.

Anyway, the movie, which is incidentally shot on 35mm Kodak film, is a mildly enjoyable experience thanks to the competent direction of director Mark Raso, and his three main performers try their best with their respective roles. While Jason Sudeikis, who has shown his more serious side during recent years, ably dials down his comic persona, Ed Harris, who has been always reliable throughout his long, illustrious acting career, gives us a couple of sincere monologue scenes to be appreciated while never overlooking his character’s unpleasant aspects, and Elizabeth Olsen, who has been one of the most interesting actresses in Hollywood after her breakthrough turn in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (2011), brings some life and spirit to her character despite being under-utilized on the whole.

“Kodachrome”, which is currently available on Netflix in US, is not entirely disappointing, and I enjoyed how Sudeikis, Harris, and Olsen enhance their characters to some degrees, but I still cannot help but be reminded of its many flaws which distracted me a lot during my viewing. I saw many road movies better than this, and I think you should look for them first, but I will not stop you if you just want to spend your free time on anything passable.

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In Between Seasons (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): With her son’s boyfriend

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South Korean “In Between Seasons” is a mild but sensitive drama which respects and cares about its two main characters who have been close to each other but then suddenly come to confront an invisible gap between them. As carefully establishing an awkward human circumstance surrounding them, the movie lets us understand and emphasize with their respective emotional struggles, and it is often quietly poignant as they tentatively approach closer to each other with honesty and acceptance.

After the opening scene which shows the aftermath of a car accident which results in the comatose state of Soo-hyeon (Ji Yoon-ho), the movie shows how his close friend Yong-joon (Lee Won-geun) came into the life of Mi-kyeong (Bae Jong-ok), Soo-hyeon’s mother who has raised her son alone for years as her husband is usually absent due to his work in Philippine. When Soo-hyeon introduced Yong-joon to her four years ago, Mi-kyeong was glad to see that her lonely adolescent son came to have a friend to hang around with, and she soon found herself becoming a sort of mother figure to Yong-joon after learning of a few things about his unhappy childhood including his mother’s suicide.

After graduating from their high school several months later, Soo-hyeon and Yong-joon meet each other less frequently than before as Soo-hyeon goes to a college and Yong-joon starts his obligatory military service, but they remain as close friends nonetheless while always supported by Mi-kyeong. We see Soo-hyeon visiting Yong-joon along with his mother, and then we see Mi-kyeong visiting her son along with Yong-joon not long after Soo-hyeon begins his obligatory military service a few years later.

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And it is gradually revealed to us that Soo-hyeon and Yong-joon have been romantically involved with each other right from the beginning. While not telling anything to Mi-kyeong, they spent their own private time together from time to time, and we come to learn later that the aforementioned accident happened during their another private time.

While patiently waiting for his son to regain his consciousness at a hospital, Mi-kyeong happens to check out her son’s camera which was handed to her along with his other possessions, and then she finally comes to realize what has been going on between her son and Yong-joon. When Yong-joon, who has been recuperating in the same hospital, drops by Soo-hyeon’s hospital room, Mi-kyeong understandably does not welcome Yong-joon much, and then she comes to put more distance between her and Yong-joon. At one point, she flatly asks him not to come to see her and her son again, and she subsequently moves her son to a facility located in some remote rural area.

Now this looks like your average melodramatic setting, but the movie wisely goes for quiet intimate drama instead of resorting to sappy sentimentalism or overwrought melodrama. As both Mi-kyeong and Yong-joon try to handle each own emotional pain and confusion, the movie steadily brings more depth to their respective relationships with Soo-hyeon via a number of flashback scenes, and we get to know more about how much Soo-hyeon and Yong-joon have loved each other – and how much Soo-hyeon has meant to his mother.

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Eventually, Yong-joon comes to locate where Soo-hyeon has been taken care of by his mother, and Mi-kyeong does not block him much even though she still feels angry and confused about her son’s relationship with Yong-joon. She lets Yong-joon stay in the facility, and she becomes a little more relieved than before as Yong-joon willingly helps her taking care of her son.

Even during one particular scene where Mi-kyeong comes to let out her frustration and exasperation in front of Yong-joon, the movie keeps maintaining its low-key tone, and it continues to engage us with small nuanced moments to observe. When Yong-joon and his older brother have a private talk at one point, we come to gather that Yong-joon’s brother knows about Yong-joon’s homosexuality even though neither of them talks directly about that. In case of a few scenes between Mi-kyeong and her estranged husband, these scenes are imbued with silent but palpable bitterness, and we later get a brief amusing moment when they officially terminate their superficial marriage.

“In Between Seasons” is the first feature film by director/writer Lee Dong-eun, who subsequently made “Mothers” (2017). Through these two solid works which were incidentally released in South Korea early in this year, he demonstrates that he is a competent filmmaker who is also a good storyteller, and I think he is another promising South Korean movie director to watch. Although the movie is not entirely without weak points (a subplot involved with Yong-joon’s co-worker feels rather unnecessary, for example) and it could have felt much fresher if it had come out around 10 years ago, there are still several strong elements including the good performances of its three main cast members, and the overall result is engaging enough for me to care about its story and characters. Yes, the ending may be a bit too inconclusive, but we get to know a lot about its two main characters’ complex human relationships as watching their close but separate emotional journeys, and that is a satisfying experience in my inconsequential opinion.

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Hereditary (2018) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A creepy and insidious horror masterwork

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“Hereditary” is a creepy and insidious horror masterwork you have to see for yourself. Alternatively unsettling and harrowing in its unflinching depiction of an ordinary family under some eerie influence, the movie will disturb and then overwhelm you as pushing its story and characters as much as it can, and you will not easily forget its many scary moments as well as its palpable sense of dread surrounding its characters.

After its calm but unnerving opening scene, the movie slowly establishes the moody situation of its four main characters: Annie (Toni Collette), her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), their adolescent son Peter (Alex Wolff), and their younger daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Annie’s aging mother recently died, and we see them attending the funeral along with other attendees, but we cannot help but sense the awkwardness from Annie and her family. When Annie talks a bit about her deceased mother in front of her family and others, she does not look that sad, and we are not so surprised to learn later that her mother was not so friendly with not only Annie but also other family members except Charlie.

However, as we watch Annie and her family trying to go on with their life in their house located in a remote forest area, it is apparent that they all are struggling with grief in one way or another. While Annie keeps focusing on a number of elaborate dioramas which are going to be exhibited in a gallery, Peter often lets his mind drifted in marijuana haze, and Charlie, a quiet, introverted girl who has clearly been disturbed in her mind, shows some unnerving behaviors including the one involved with a dead bird. As the most sensible member of the family, Steve tries to make everything look stable and normal around his family, but the mood in the house becomes more morbid and distant despite his well-intentioned efforts, and he is quietly frustrated as not knowing what to do with his troubled family.

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Meanwhile, Annie secretly goes to a group meeting for handling her grief, but it turns out that this group meeting does not help her much when something unexpected happens. I will not go into details here, but I can tell you instead that director/writer Ari Aster and his performers did a tremendous job of conveying to us the resulting grief and grudge in Annie’s family. As sensing more tension and awkwardness being accumulated beneath the screen, we come to hold our breath while dreading what may be erupted among them, and there are several emotionally brutal moments which are as raw, intense, and, uncompromising as the works of Ingmar Bergman and John Cassavetes.

While things become more unstable and uncertain among them, the movie also dials up the level of creepiness as suggesting something far darker which may be lurking around the screen. Evoking several well-known horror films such as “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), “The Exorcist” (1973), and “The Shining” (1980), the movie gradually unnerves us more and more through a number of truly scary scenes which value suspense over shock, and I must tell you that the highlight moments of “The Conjuring” (2013) look like child’s play compared to these masterful moments. In case of a certain scene unfolded in Peter’s bedroom, it surely terrified me a lot, and I found myself becoming quite nervous when I tried to sleep on my bed after watching the movie.

Like the climactic part of “The Shining”, the final act of the movie act leaves many uncertain aspects which make us wonder what actually happens, and this may be quite baffling and frustrating to some of you, but I think the ending is not only appropriate but also inevitable considering everything preceding it. Although it does not make sense much in some aspects, it feels like a logical arrival point for the main characters’ imploding status, and you may appreciate a dark irony shown during the very final shot of the film.

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While the movie is his first debut feature film, Aster shows here that he is a promising filmmaker with considerable talent, and I admire how deftly he and his technical crew members generate mood and tension. Cinematographer Pawel Porgorzelski deserves to be praised for smooth and precise camerawork coupled with impeccable scene composition, and I especially appreciate the skillful utilization of lights and shadows during many key scenes in the film. While the atmospheric score by Colin Stetson constantly keeps us on the edge, the sound effects of the movie are also impressive as creating unsettling ambience on the soundtrack, and that is one of the main reasons why you must watch the movie at a movie theater equipped with good multi-channel audio system.

The main performers in the movie are terrific on the whole. While Toni Collette, a versatile actress who has always been reliable since she drew our attention through “Muriel’s Wedding” (1994), gives one of her best performances, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, and Gabriel Byrne are equally convincing in their respective roles, and Ann Dowd, who has recently been more prominent thanks to her Emmy-winning supporting performance in TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale”, is also fine as a substantial supporting character in the film.

Although it is not exactly entertaining, “Hereditary” is quite commendable in many aspects including mood, performance, and storytelling, and it surely deserves to be mentioned along with “A Quiet Place” (2018), another notable family horror film of this year. Like any good horror film, the movie touches upon our dark human feelings and then mercilessly delves into them, and it will grow on you more with its creepy emotional resonance. To be frank with you, I am not sure whether I can watch it again, but, boy, this is indeed one hell of a scary movie.

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) ☆☆(2/4): The Insipid Return to Jurassic World

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25 years ago, there was a film called “Jurassic Park” (1993), and I still remember how much I and other audiences were amazed by its many vivid, awe-inspiring moments of various dinosaurs roaming on the screen. Although it looks a bit dated at present and there has been lots of advance in visual effects since that point, the movie has remained as a remarkable technical milestone in the movie history which surely deserves its three Oscars including the one for Best Visual Effects, and I found myself impressed again by its ground-breaking visual achievement when I watched it again at a movie theater thanks to its re-release in 2013.

Right before watching “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”, I could not help but become nostalgic about “Jurassic Park”, but that did not last long once the screening began. While having a fair number of dinosaurs to present to its audiences, the movie is hampered a lot by its dull, uninteresting storytelling and lifeless characterization, and that is quite a disappointment considering some good potentials shown in “Jurassic World” (2015).

The first half of the movie is mainly about how Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the former operations manager of Jurassic World, and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the former dinosaur trainer of Jurassic World who specialized in taming Velociraptors, come to return to Isla Nublar, a remote Costa Rican island where Jurassic World was located. After that catastrophic disaster shown in “Jurassic World”, the dinosaurs created in the park have roamed freely in the island for next three years without any human intervention, but then they are in a serious danger due to the sudden activity of a big volcano of the island, and it is quite possible that all of them will be extinct as the volcano continues to erupt more or more. Although Claire and other activists try hard to persuade the politicians of Washington D.C. for saving those dinosaurs, the US congressional committee eventually comes to decide not to do anything after hearing a crucial testimony from Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who makes a sensible argument on why the humanity should not meddle further with a mess caused by their advanced technology. After all, dinosaurs do not belong to the human world from the beginning, so it may be better to let the nature take care of the mess once for all through this upcoming catastrophe on the island.

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However, Claire and her fellow activists still believe they must do anything for saving the dinosaurs, and there soon comes a good opportunity for them. Sir Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the former business partner of late John Hammond (late Richard Attenborough), also wants to save the dinosaurs, so Claire is invited to Lockwood’s big manor and then meet Lockwood’s righthand guy Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) and Lockwood’s young granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon), who is quite enthusiastic about dinosaurs just like many young kids. While Lockwood already prepared a shelter for the dinosaurs, he still needs some help from not only Claire but also Owen, and Claire manages to persuade Owen to come to the island with her despite his initial reluctance.

Shortly after Claire and Owen arrive in Isla Nublar along with Claire’s two colleagues, they meet a bunch of mercenaries led by Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), who is very eager to capture a Velociraptor named Blue and does not hide much his rather vicious side in front of Claire and Owen, who was very close to Blue while taming it to some degrees. While they do not like Wheatley much, Claire and Owen cooperate with Wheatley and other mercenaries anyway because it is quite apparent that time is running out for the dinosaurs in the island hour by hour.

Now this part of the movie will probably remind you of “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” (1997), but the movie is not even as enjoyable as that flawed film while failing to generate enough tension or excitement as lurching from one uninspired moment to another. Although things become a little more exciting when all hell breaks loose with the big, catastrophic eruption of the volcano, but the resulting action sequence is not that memorable except one brief haunting shot shown around the end of this sequence.

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In case of the second half of the movie which is unfolded in some other place I will not reveal here, we see plenty of dinosaurs as expected, and there later comes a climatic action sequence as required, but the movie still does not give us much awe or surprise while becoming more predictable and boring. I like a few nice moments such as the one involved with a certain dinosaur which has a very thick skull, but the movie keeps failing to engage us due to its thin plot and bland characters, and I found myself becoming more bored and disinterested as occasionally checking my watch or noticing how an audience sitting right next to me kept fanning herself despite the fairly low temperature of the screening room.

The performers in the movie try as much as they can. While Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard feel less spirited than before, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, and Isabella Sermon merely fill their respective supporting roles, and it is really disappointing to see that notable performers like Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Ted Lavine, Jeff Goldblum, Toby Jones, B.D. Wong, and Geraldine Chaplin are utterly under-utilized without being given any interesting thing to do.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” may satisfy you if you just want to see dinosaurs on the screen, but this is the lowest point of its franchise because of its many underachieving aspects, and I came out of the screening room while not remembering much from the movie. Maybe it is the time to leave the franchise and its many dinosaurs alone, but, as shown from the ending of the movie, that will probably not happen very soon, and now I become more depressed while reflecting on that fact.

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Game Night (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): This is one nutty game night

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Surprise is always important in comedy, and “Game Night” surprised me as a good comedy film. Because I saw its trailer a few months ago, I had a pretty good idea on where its story was going, but then it caught me off guard several times as inducing big chuckles from me, so I recommend you not to read my review further if you want to be entertained as much as possible.

For folks who want to know more about the film for deciding whether it is worthwhile to watch, I will now describe how Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) meet each other during its opening scene. When they happen to be playing against each other at a bar during your average game night, something soon comes to click between them, and it does not take long for them to start a romantic relationship and then get married later.

When they are going to have another game night with their friends at their cozy suburban house several years later, things look fine as before, but there are a few problems to bother them. There is a young divorced police officer who lives alone right next to their house, and this guy is a little too eager to be invited to Max and Annie’s game night while not noticing at all that they do not want to invite him for understandable reasons. For not hurting this guy’s feeling, Max and Annie have to hide their evening plan as much as they can, and we later get a small funny moment as their invited friends clumsily slip into their house one by one.

And there is Brooks (Kyle Chandler), Max’s older brother who has always been better and more successful than him since their childhood. Always feeling inferior to his older brother more than he admits, Max is not so pleased about Brooks coming to the meeting, and Brooks confirms his brother’s worst fear as making Max embarrassed and humiliated in front of Annie and others right from when he arrives with a fancy sports car.

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While this game night is about to end, Brooks suggests that they should have another game night at a nearby house rented by him, and he assures to others that they will have more fun and excitement there. Although he is understandably not very enthusiastic about this, Max goes along with others to that house a few days later, and he surely feels lousy again as they are impressed a lot by how big and fancy Brooks’ rented house looks.

Shortly after Brooks tells his guests about what kind of game they going to play this evening, somebody comes into the house. As the person in question sets the situation, Brooks’ guests come to have some expectation for fun and excitement, but then another thing suddenly happens right in front of their eyes, and the situation becomes far more violent and aggressive than expected.

Now I should be more careful about describing the plot for not spoiling your entertainment, but I guess I can tell you that Brooks’ guests soon find themselves thrown into a disorienting situation which may be a lot more real and serious than expected. It looks like Brooks dealt with some dangerous criminal, and that means Brooks’ guests must find and rescue him before it is too late.

As Max, Annie, and other characters bounce from one spot to another during their very eventful night, the screenplay by Mark Perez steadily accumulates its comic momentum through a number of inspired moments. There is a hysterically messy moment involved with a dog belonging to that police officer, and then there comes an absurd but skillful sequence unfolded inside a big mansion, and we are also served with an amusing gag associated with glass table. While constantly making us aware of what may be at stake for its main characters, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein also maintain well a wry sense of fun throughout the film, and we willingly come to overlook its several implausible moments such as the climactic scene on a bridge.

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The cast members of the movie are effective in their respective roles. As shown from acclaimed TV sitcom “Arrested Development”, Jason Bateman can be quite funny with his everyman persona, and he is especially wonderful when Max tries to hide his envy and annoyance caused by Brooks during several earlier scenes. Rachel McAdams, who already showed us how hilarious she can be in “Mean Girls” (2004) and “Morning Glory” (2010), is impeccable in her comic timing with Batemen on the screen, and they are particularly good during one cringe-inducing moment involved with a gunshot wound.

In case of the supporting performers around Bateman and McAdams, they have each own moments to generate more laughs for us. While Kyle Chandler is suitably obnoxious, Jesse Plemons shows another side of his talent through his oddball character, Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury are also solid as another couple in the story. Although he is mostly required to do or say dumb things, Billy Magnussen acquits himself well, and Sharon Horgan complements him as his no-nonsense counterpart.

Although it does not go up to the level of sheer deviousness shown in David Fincher’s “The Game” (1997), “Game Night” is still a smart, funny, and entertaining comedy film, and I enjoyed its numerous humorous elements while appreciating how they are handled deftly enough to earn laughs from its audiences. I always expect to be not only amused but also surprised whenever I watch a comedy movie, and I can assure you that the movie did its job pretty well.

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