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Pete and Elliot looking at the evening sky_zpsuk7od7he.jpg

The film is gorgeous. Often jaw-droppingly.

The first indicator that Pete’s Dragon had the potential to be something special was the hiring of David Lowery, whose previous film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a moody, slow, and Malickian drama that was critically acclaimed and underseen. I saw it just prior to seeing this, and the contrast reminded me of Spike Jonze and his masterpiece, Where the Wild Things Are. I don’t know if Pete’s Dragon is as sophisticated and singular as that film, but it’s definitely just as powerful and perhaps more so for its accessibility. Though it never talks down to kids and deals with some very difficult subject matter, Pete’s Dragon maintains a safer overall approach. But I was reminded of the way Where the Wild Things Are, which to me is the gold standard for sophisticated movies about and for kids, weaves wonder and drama together into a relatively daring emotional core.

I dare you to feel nothing in the opening minutes of Pete’s Dragon. This is a movie, like the kids movies I grew up with (Land Before Time and The Neverending Story come to mind), that is unafraid to be as sad as it is happy. Whenever the movie could veer into a bouncy, safe, and condescendingly “kiddie” version of a sequence, it refrains. Lowery keeps the movie grounded even when you’re watching a giant CG dragon splashing in a stream. These scenes definitely owe a debt to How to Train Your Dragon but the association is a positive one, helping the audience to completely buy Elliot and his puppy-like behavior. This is key because where many films of this kind would under-utilize the “fantastic” elements, like big green dragons, and focus instead of human drama and safer, more familiar scenes and characterizations, Pete’s Dragon spends only the amount of time on that stuff as is needed to serve the story and its emotional, thematic beats. If anything, some characters could have used more time, but overall it’s a good thing that the film keeps its focus centered on the dragon and his boy.

SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW. PLEASE SEE THIS MOVIE, THOUGH.

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JURASSIC-WORLD-15-1940x1042

That’s got to be a metaphor for fucking something.

Jurassic World would be an embarrassingly stupid and pandering movie if it didn’t have so many things going for it. And this is almost in spite of itself. Jurassic World is a pretty good time while you’re watching it, but a lot of stuff doesn’t hold up when you sit down and think about it. Even then, though, the movie is full of spectacle and (sometimes accidental) glimmers of awesomeness. It’s also criticizing the exact thing which it happens to be, and with that comes a certain degree of cognitive dissonance that accounts for much of the stupidity. The pandering comes from its total reliance on the still-amazing Jurassic ParkWorld “spares no expense” and no fucking dignity in reminding you that it is the bastard offspring of that far better and far more coherent film.

And yet… and yet… Jurassic World isn’t quite as stupid as some would have it. Nor is it such a huge crime for it to be reminiscent of Park and aware of itself as a mega-budget creature feature. The whole project started out with director Colin Treverrow taking a leap beyond the establishment of a Park that actually works and all the way to what happens when people get bored of it, when the people running it get complacent or greedy (again) or, even worse, creative. This is a cool idea, and the movie even tries to explore it. However, even as it thematically punishes hubris and showmanship for its own sake, it traffics in exactly those elements, delivering as bombastic and “more more more” a movie as can be imagined. That is a weird balance and World never strikes it with the cleverness of, say, The Lego Movie, which is kind of a master class in being subversive and commercial at the same time. World isn’t even close to that. But it does try.

Most people will enjoy Jurassic World as evinced by its ridiculous earnings and the fairly good natured reception it has gotten from moviegoers. Critics have been somewhat less kind, for a variety of really good reasons. Where I fall into it is basically some sort of middle ground between acknowledging the flaws in a deeply flawed movie, and also being able to put that aside and appreciate what it gets so right. In theory, anyway. I had a sense before sitting down to write this that I might write myself into a negative review. We’ll see. Read the rest of this entry »

Apparently the head-shaving scene was completely improvised.

You kind of knew that even with the subject matter, 50/50 was going to work. Maybe it was the cast, I know for me it definitely factors in heavily as I’m an avowed fan of both Rogen and Gordon-Levitt. I guess it’s also that the trailer so well sold the combination of drama and comedy, two sides of the same coin that is rarely so well balanced as in 50/50. Read the rest of this entry »

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