Inferno

For F*** Magazine

INFERNO

Director : Ron Howard
Cast : Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ana Ularu
Genre : Mystery/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 1min
Opens : 13 October 2016
Rating : PG13 (Brief Coarse Language And Violence)

inferno-posterHell hath no fury like a bioengineer scorned. In the third instalment of the Robert Langdon film series, Langdon (Hanks) is up against Bertrand Zobrist (Foster), a genius billionaire geneticist who has formulated a virus with which he will solve the world’s over-population crisis. The Harvard professor awakes in a hospital in Florence, Italy, stricken with amnesia and pursued by the assassin Vayentha (Ularu). Sienna Brooks (Jones), the doctor tending to Langdon, helps him escape. Langdon discovers that Zobrist has left him a trail of clues, giving him a chance to prevent the virus’ release. Said clues point to Dante’s epic poem Inferno. Visions of hell as described by Dante haunt Langdon, as Elizabeth Sinskey (Knudsen), the director-general of the World Health Organisation, assigns agent Christoph Bouchard (Sy) of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s Surveillance and Response Support Unit to track Langdon and Brooks down. Behind the scenes, Harry Sims (Khan) a.k.a. ‘The Provost’, who runs a shadowy organisation called The Consortium, is manipulating events for his client Zobrist.

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Inferno is based on the fourth book in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series. We more or less know what to expect: Tom Hanks shoves tourists aside as he sprints through European cities, following a trail of breadcrumbs involving art history in order to foil a sinister plot. Both director Ron Howard and Hanks have said they’re not contractually obligated to make the Robert Langdon movies, but it does feel like most involved are going through the motions. For all its high stakes and ticking clocks, Inferno can get a little tedious, with obscure bits of art history trivia awkwardly bolted onto the dialogue of David Koepp’s screenplay. The bulk of the film is mildly interesting rather than breathlessly arresting. Inferno doesn’t have The Da Vinci Code’s long exposition lectures, but it also doesn’t quite reach the gleefully bonkers over-the-top heights of Angels & Demons.

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Where the film succeeds is as a travelogue. Brown may not be a particularly gifted novelist, but he does pick locations with a beguiling air of long-standing history and splendour to them. Director of Photography Salvatore Totino showcases Florence, Venice and Istanbul in all their glory. A chase sequence in which Langdon and Brooks are pursued by a police drone through the Boboli Gardens isn’t the nail-biter it could’ve been, but the climactic set-piece makes marvellous use of the cavernous Basilica Cistern. Don’t expect to gain any particular insight into the overpopulation crisis or an alternative solution that doesn’t involve genocide. It’s a topic that’s worthy of in-depth discussion, but here, it’s little more than the motivation for a Bond villain. Some of the visuals depicting the various circles of hell as witnessed by Langdon in his hallucinations come off as slightly goofy rather than unnerving.

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Hanks is the definition of a dependable performer, but this reviewer still isn’t quite convinced that he’s the best fit for the character of Robert Langdon. Perhaps Hanks is more affable everyman than tweedy professor. For nearly the entire duration of the film, Langdon is disoriented and out-of-sorts, struggling to recall events that occurred before he wound up in the hospital. A bedraggled, confused Hanks isn’t particularly fun to watch, but it helps that we’re dropped into the thick of the mystery, giving the audience the illusion that we’re piecing things together alongside our hero.

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The supporting characters in the Robert Langdon stories mostly exist as plot devices as opposed to actual characters, with each tale featuring a gallery of red herrings. Jones follows in the ‘Langdon ladies’ footsteps of Audrey Tautou and Ayelet Zurer. While she is convincing as an intelligent woman, Brooks’ staggering achievements (child prodigy, marathoner, humanitarian, literary scholar) seem very Hollywood-ish and border on self-parody. Foster mostly appears via video messages and TED talk-esque presentations, but it is a neat structural twist that the primary antagonist is absent for the majority of the film.

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Sy runs around clenching his teeth, his character fitting the dogged Inspector Javert stock type to a tee. Khan steals the show, essaying Sims’ analytical nature and amorality while still imbuing the character with considerable charisma. The film doesn’t delve into the inner workings of the Consortium as much as this reviewer would’ve liked, but its depiction of a powerful, shadowy organisation hired to pull any number of strings is somewhat plausible. Knudsen doesn’t get too much screen time, but does strike a balance between sternness and warmth in her portrayal of Sinskey.

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Inferno may not be as searing as its name suggests, but there’s still entertainment to be derived from the Amazing Race-style obstacles Langdon has to navigate. The big reveal is as silly as one expects, but it does lead to a frenzied, competently-orchestrated finale. And as far as cinematic tour guides go, one could definitely do worse than Tom Hanks.

Summary: It has the veneer of learnedness rather than actually being smart, but Inferno does have its entertaining moments and shows off some quality globe-trotting.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Jurassic World

For F*** Magazine

JURASSIC WORLD

Director : Colin Trevorrow
Cast : Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 125 mins
Opens : 11 June 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)
“The park is open.” With those four little words, the 14-year-long wait for a new Jurassic Park film has finally come to an end. 22 years after the events of the first film, Isla Nublar is now home to a fully functioning dinosaur theme park called “Jurassic World”, welcoming thousands of visitors each day. Billionaire Simon Masrani (Khan) has been entrusted with overseeing the park after the passing of founder John Hammond. As visitors hunger for more excitement, the park’s geneticists, led by Dr. Henry Wu (Wong), have spliced together a new hybrid dinosaur, the vicious Indominus rex. In the meantime, the park’s overworked Operations Manager Claire Dearing (Howard) is expecting her nephews Zach (Robinson) and Gray (Simpkins) who are spending the weekend at the Jurassic World resort. When the I. rexescapes and threatens the safety of the visitors, it is up to Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Pratt) and the Jurassic World security team to contain the savage behemoth.

            A fourth Jurassic Park film spent over a decade clawing its way out of development hell following 2001’s Jurassic Park 3. Director Colin Trevorrow, known for the indie comedy-drama Safety Not Guaranteed, was given the responsibility of breathing new life into the franchise, not unlike how InGen’s scientists bring dinosaurs back from extinction. The expectations were massive and Trevorrow’s lack of experience with big blockbusters seemed to be against him, but he has come through, not unlike the Russo brothers with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly and Trevorrow, contains a healthy amount of self-awareness. There are jibes at corporate sponsorship and an explanation as to the focus group origins of the name of the Indominus rex. Visitors to Jurassic World have grown difficult to impress, demanding bigger, more exciting genetically-engineered attractions, not unlike moviegoers and their ever-increasing appetite for effects-laden tentpole extravaganzas. The main difference is it’s unlikely for Avengers 8 to break out of the screen and eat the audience alive.

            A fully-functioning dinosaur theme park seems like the natural place for a new story to unfold and, for a series ostensibly about a theme park, is long overdue. A tourist attraction at full capacity means more potential for things to go horribly, entertainingly awry. There is a lot of effort put into designing the park and the filmmakers have achieved a sense of verisimilitude with the chain restaurants, open-air arenas, monorail systems and bored employees seen in real-life theme parks. While pushing the franchise forward, there is no shortage of very respectful nods to the past and aficionados of the first Jurassic Parkmovie will find many rewarding Easter Eggs. A sequence set in the derelict visitor’s centre from the first film borders on the indulgent but this reviewer was too busy squealing with fan glee to really be bothered.

            A crucial element of what made the first film so enjoyable was the suspense. The classic T. rex paddock escape and the “Raptorsin the kitchen” scene were masterfully staged and dripping with tension. There are several great scenes in this movie that go for the scares and that do have that adrenaline-pumping thrill ride quality to them. One does get a kick out of seeing the Indominus rex make quick work of heavily-armed, highly trained security contractors and a scene in which a swarm of Pterosaurs escapes their aviary to pluck hapless visitors from the park’s grounds is a wonderful “all hell breaks loose” scene of full-on panic.

The Indominus rex is an appropriately formidable creature, but sometimes lacks the tactility of the T. rex in the original. There’s also that classic movie monster pitfall, where the big bad beast is so impervious to anything that it can get a little tedious trying to defeat it. Many were worried that the element of trained Velociraptors would detract from the ferocity of these iconic dinosaurs, but rest assured that they’re still unpredictable and still scary. After all, people train Rottweilers, lions and bears, with sometimes-deadly consequences. The film does slightly disappoint with some of the visual effects work – for the most part, the dinosaurs are adequately convincing, but the scene in which a sight-seeing “gyrosphere” travels amongst herds of herbivorous dinosaurs feels particularly artificial. Animatronic effects are still employed, but this one does lean far heavier on CGI than the earlier movies.
    
        The characters in this film are archetypes and are all relatively simple, but then again, so were the characters in the first movie and in this case, it’s done pretty well. Chris Pratt further cements his A-list action star status as the rugged ex-Navy man Owen Grady, ably carrying the film as a traditional hero. In the scenes in which Owen is interacting with the four Velociraptorsunder his charge, Pratt displays a knack for acting against nothing, perhaps a skill he honed working with Rocket and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy. Bryce Dallas Howard plays more of a caricature, the tightly wound career woman just seconds from snapping under pressure, but it’s great that there’s a woman in charge of running things at the park this time around and we are profoundly impressed by how well she can run in heels.

            Vincent D’onofrio’s hard-nosed Vic Hoskins, the head of security operations for InGen, is also one-dimensional, dead set on using Velociraptors in military applications. This may be an in-joke referring to an early draft of the film, which had gun-toting human-dinosaur hybrid mercenaries. Yes, we’re glad that didn’t happen too. Irrfan Khan chews some of the lush jungle scenery as eccentric Richard Branson-wannabe Simon Masrani. Ty Simpkins is the stock “kid in peril” and Nick Robinson is his aloof older brother – a film with as high an “embracing one’s inner child” quotient as this one has got to have kid characters in it, and they do far less shrieking than Lex and Tim did in the original. Jake Johnson’s comic relief techie Lowery gets some excellent lines and is, thankfully, not annoying. It’s also really nice to see B.D. Wong again – his Dr. Henry Wu is the only returning character from the first film.

            Jurassic World hits all the notes expected of a Jurassic Park film without merely feeling like it’s going through the motions. It’s clear that there’s earnestness and passion behind this and that Trevorrow is a fan who wants to do right by other fans. There’s definitely a tip of the hat to Steven Spielberg and the contemporary sci-fi masterpiece that was 1993’s Jurassic Park – at the same time, there isn’t a slavishness to what has come before. If there’s anything today that could come close to inspiring the wonderment and terror that Jurassic Park did in the kids who first watched it in 1993, Jurassic Worldwould be it.

Summary:Well worth the 14 year wait. A new world beckons; come on in!
RATING: 4out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong