Directed By: J.A. Bayona
Release Date: June 22, 2018
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall
Three years after the closure and abandonment of Jurassic World, the fate of the animals left behind on Isla Nublar has become a public concern, as the island's long-dormant volcano has since rumbled back to life, threatening to wipe out the last of the dinosaurs once and for all. After it's decided that no government will step in to rescue them, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who now runs the advocacy organization the Dinosaur Protection Group, is approached by the elderly Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a man with ties to the late John Hammond and the original Jurassic Park who wants to privately rescue the dinosaurs and relocate them to a new island sanctuary.
Claire agrees, convincing Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to accompany her so that he can help find and rescue the Velociraptor Blue, the last of her kind, all with the clock ticking on Nublar's destruction. But, of course, not is all as it seems, as the team of mercenaries they meet up with as part of the operation are working towards a different goal, one that sees the dinosaurs being brought back to the mainland to be auctioned off, while Blue herself plays into a plan surrounding a new genetically-engineered hybrid: The Indoraptor, a mix of Indominus rex and Velociraptor DNA whose very existence could usher the world into a whole new realm of change.
And so is the setup of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth film in the Jurassic Park franchise that I've been cautiously optimistic about. With Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow having stepped down for its follow-up, only delivering the script for Fallen Kingdom alongside his writing partner Derek Connolly, director J. A. Bayona took the reins, and he's been a huge reason why I've been looking forward to the movie, as he directed the excellent horror film The Orphanage back in 2007, while his 2016 fantasy drama A Monster Calls was one of my favorite movies of that year. Here was the chance for the director to showcase his talent for horror and drama on a scale larger than ever before, and though the trailers leading up to its release weren't anything great, I held out hope that he would deliver something exceeding expectations.
That's partially why it pains me so much to say that Fallen Kingdom suffers from an identity crisis. The sequel feels very much like it is made up of two movies, halved directly in the middle, the first movie being the rescue story, the second being a fantasy horror film, both singular ideas that could've carried an entire film all their own that instead get shortchanged because neither gets room to narratively breathe. Even further, because each part doesn't have enough time to get expanded upon, their ultimate impact is diminished; for instance, the destruction of Isla Nublar is a big deal, a monumental event for the Jurassic franchise, yet it being placed halfway through the film just feels incongruent with the fact that there's still an hour-plus left to go of something that becomes tonally different.
Directed By: Colin Trevorrow
Release Date: June 12, 2015
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio
On June 11, 1993, Jurassic Park changed my life. I was just three months shy of my fourth birthday, and my mother took me on opening day because it's all I talked about. I wasn't alive in 1977 to have my world changed by Star Wars, or in 1981 when Indiana Jones became a hero kids all over the world wanted to be. Those movies - and others - played a huge role in my childhood regardless, of course, but they weren't "mine" in the way that kids (and even adults) in '77 or '81 were able to claim by simply being there from the beginning to see them reshape pop culture and grow as a franchise. But in the summer of '93, I got "my" movie.
To say that Jurassic Park matters to me more than any other film would be an understatement. It instilled in me a passion for storytelling, for writing in the hopes that – one day – I could sweep even just one person away on an adventure in the way that this story did for me. As a film and as a franchise, I love it, warts and all, and I spent the next decade consuming everything about it. I devoured Michael Crichton's original book, as well as its 1996 sequel. I played almost every video game I could, whether it be Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues on the original Game Boy, the before-its-time Trespasser on PC, or the addictive park builder that was Operation Genesis. I owned the soundtracks. I wrote stories set in this universe, dreaming of sequel possibilities. I spent time on fan sites in the early 2000s leading up to the release of Jurassic Park III in 2001 and after, though in the years that followed, the franchise dwindled away, as a fourth film went from a sure thing to a pipe dream.
It took fourteen years for the series to spawn another entry, the result being, obviously, Jurassic World in 2015. That same year, the Star Wars franchise was making a much-anticipated comeback with The Force Awakens, something I - like the rest of the world - was awaiting with bated breath, but at the end of the day, my highest level of excitement was aimed squarely at the return of the franchise I'd spent nearly a decade and a half hoping to see brought back from extinction, hoping that relative newcomer Colin Trevorrow – tapped to direct with only one feature under his belt, 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed – would deliver on years of expectation. Seeing it opening night was an overwhelming experience; my packed audience clapped and cheered, while my nostalgia amped up every second of the film, allowing me to get swept away simply because I'd waited so long just to step into this world again.
I saw the film two more times in theaters, as well as a number of times since, and through those repeated viewings, I've been able to set my nostalgia aside and see Jurassic World for the imperfect beast it is. In the three years that have passed since its release, I've seen many people attempt to rewrite the film's overwhelming success as a fluke, painting the movie with such hyperbolic labels as "the worst blockbuster ever," and that's fascinating, one reason why – on the eve of the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – I've decided to dive back into the film and break it apart.
Directed By: Brad Bird
Release Date: June 15, 2018
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Vowell
14 years have passed since The Incredibles was released, but for the titular Parr family, not a day has gone by, as Brad Bird's long-awaited follow-up to his superhero classic picks up right where the first film left off. With the Underminer having revealed himself to the world in the closing moments of The Incredibles, Incredibles 2 kicks off by showing what happened next, with Bob, Helen, Violet, and Dash, as well as Frozone, all suiting up to stop him from robbing the city's bank, a very public clash that has major consequences for the family.
Not long after, they're approached by Winston Deavor, the owner of the massive corporation known as DEVTECH, with an offer: He wants to help supers across the globe get back into the public's good graces with their help, with Helen chosen to be the public face of the charge as Elastigirl. While Bob is left to stay at home and watch the kids, including their youngest, Jack-Jack, who is developing a multitude of powers all his own, Helen faces off against the mysterious Screenslaver, a dangerous new foe with the ability to brainwash people and an agenda that has Helen - and all the other supers - squarely in their sights.
The Incredibles is one of my absolute favorite Pixar films, and thus I've been really looking forward to another adventure with these characters. It's been a long time coming, and now that it's here, I can safely say it's been worth the wait, though my only major complaint about it – which I’ll get to in a moment – is big enough to deflate my elation just a bit, keeping the sequel from fully hitting the bar its predecessor set back in 2004.
Unsurprisingly, everything that made the first film so enjoyable still holds true here. The visuals look more stunning than ever, whether it's in the creative action setpieces or the retro aesthetic that continues to fill every corner of this universe. Michael Giacchino's evocative throwback of a score is still infectious. And, of course, the cast is solid, the film featuring great performances from returning actors like Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, and Bird himself as Edna Mode, to newcomers like Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, and Huck Milner, who takes over as Dash from the first film's Spencer Fox. Taken all together, Incredibles 2 completely feels like an effortless return to the world of the first film, and that’s a comforting feeling that more than works in the sequel’s favor.
Directed By: Ari Aster
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
Ari Aster's Hereditary isn't the type of horror movie that rewards impatience. It has its moments of in-your-face terror, but it's less interested in keeping its audience on a rollercoaster ride of overt chills and thrills than it is in methodically cranking up the tension bit by bit, slowly nudging both its characters and its viewers towards the edge of a cliff over which awaits the open maw of insanity.
The film starts quietly, taking us to the wake for the mother of Annie Graham. As we come to learn, Annie and her mother had a troubled history together, one tainted by the presence of mental illness that affected Annie's mother, her late father, and her brother, who had long ago committed suicide. Though Annie attempts to cope with her loss, unsure of exactly whether to feel remorse or relief over the death of her overbearing parent, it's from this event that tragedy swiftly descends upon her family, which consists of her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), son Peter (Alex Wolff), and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), sending them all down a path that shatters their bond to pieces.
To say where the film goes following its opening minutes would be to give away the surprises that rest at Hereditary's core, as it takes great strides to use our expectations going into the film of what it could be against us. A character sees what could very well be a ghost early in the film, but the film posits the idea that the vision could be in their head, while Charlie's odd behavior is paired with the unique look of young actress Milly Shapiro to play into the "creepy child" trope that we've seen unfold in countless horror movies before, but it's not so cut and dry.
There's an active subversion at play throughout the film's first act that's coated with a fine layer of surrealism. The more we discover about Annie, about her mother, and about the mental illness running in the family, the more the film asks us to question what's real and what's not in the film, situating Annie - and even the children - as potentially unreliable narrators through which we're seeing this world. When someone begins to lose their grip on sanity, looking into their reflection only to see it smiling back at them, we're left to wonder if their mind is being lost to the effects of something psychological - schizophrenia, perhaps - or if there is something more sinister at play, blurring the line between the genealogical and the spiritual.
Directed By: Ben Howling & Yolanda Ramke
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Starring: Martin Freeman, Simone Landers, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter
Back in 2013, Australian filmmakers Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke unleashed their short film Cargo, an engaging, seven-minute piece set in a world ravaged by zombies. In it, a father is bitten by his recently-turned wife after he wakes up in the aftermath of a car crash in the middle of nowhere and is forced to head out on foot to find someone out there in the world who can protect his baby daughter before he himself turns in a matter of hours. It's a simple yet effective concept, and with the release of the duo's feature-length version of their story, also titled Cargo, they have taken the opportunity to dig their heels in and expand upon the emotional angle their short was only able to scratch the surface of.
In the new Cargo, Martin Freeman plays Andy, the husband of Kay (Susie Porter) and father of baby Rosie, the trio living in a houseboat in the Australian Outback, surviving by staying on the move and away from setting foot on land, where they run the risk of encountering what are, essentially, zombies. After a series of events that sees the family forced to abandon their home in search of a hospital, Andy eventually winds up all alone with baby Rosie, he himself having been bitten and left with only 48 hours to find somewhere safe for Rosie before he succumbs to his new infection.
Where his journey leads him is for the audience to discover along with him, but Cargo does a solid job of conveying both his geographical isolation and ever-growing despair as his clock winds down. Every new person that Andy encounters is a potential someone that can take Rosie for him, but it's never an easy call to make, as each experience is tempered by the realities of the world around them or the personalities of the people he'd be leaving his heart with. For what kindness and generosity he is met with, he also encounters the worst of mankind, from racism and greed to absolute despair, with the option of suicide even put on the table the worse his condition gets.
Andy's path through Cargo isn't an adventure, one where he desperately and heroically fights off the undead, nor is it a horror movie as its superficial genre coating would suggest, as the zombies themselves are relatively unimportant to the narrative at hand. Instead, it is a survival drama that uses its post-apocalyptic setting as a canvass on which to paint a story about finding even a drop of hope in a world that seems to have lost it and of the power of decency. Andy isn't without faults - in fact, the entire situation he finds himself in is predicated on a little white lie he tells his wife early in the film - but he's a kind person who refuses to give up, and the casting of Martin Freeman is a stroke of genius, the always-great actor imbuing the character with his natural charm in a way that makes Andy feel genuine, less a generic, eternally-optimistic hero and more someone struggling to hold himself together underneath the surface because he knows there's far more at stake if he gives even an iota of himself away to hopelessness.
Directed By: Ron Howard
Release Date: May 25, 2018
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover
I've seen Solo, the second entry in the Star Wars Story anthology series following 2016's Rogue One, twice now, and I've had to sit on my thoughts about it. I've been a Star Wars fan my whole life, having grown up on the original trilogy and lived through the prequel era of 1999 to 2005, so this new era of films that kicked off with The Force Awakens back in 2015 has been an interesting thing to watch unfold. As everyone knows, Disney acquired Lucasfilm - and, thus, the Star Wars franchise - a number of years ago, and Solo marks the fourth film to come out of said acquisition.
Up until Rogue One, Star Wars films had always been part of one saga, Episodes I through VII, so there was a lot of cautious optimism surround Rogue One, as it was the first time we were getting a Star Wars film on the big screen that didn't have a Skywalker front and center. Fortunately, though it wasn't perfect, Rogue One was a pretty solid film, and its success demonstrated that the appetite was there for more cinematic stories out of the massive Star Wars universe, as the sheer open-ended nature of it is one big sandbox in which tales could be spun out of any time or place.
So it's a little disappointing, then, that the second anthology film decided to play it unnecessarily safe, telling the origin story of everyone's favorite scoundrel with a heart of gold, Han Solo. There's a reason that the character is iconic and as inseparable in the eyes of pop culture from the series as he is to Harrison Ford, and in the original trilogy, we watched him grow from selfish smuggler to selfless hero; that is, all that needed to be said about his character and his arc was done, even before he was brought back for a send-off in The Force Awakens, and the idea of exploring his past felt redundant. After all, we'd already seen what exploring an iconic character's past in this franchise could negatively expose with child Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace, so the idea of that happening all over again was - to put it mildly - a little disheartening.
But Solo happened anyway, and it wasn't an easy production, as original directing duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired deep into filming, with Ron Howard brought in to salvage the picture, giving us the final product that hit theaters on May 25th. These very public production woes didn't help perception of the film, either, especially when it was hard to view the film as necessary. That said, it's finally here, necessity be damned, and there's only one question to be asked: Is it good?
Pick a Month: