Reel Life mini-review: "Jurassic Park 3-D"
It took 700 artist/technicians nine months to give birth to a 3-D conversion of Steven Spielberg's 1993 2-D dinosaur thriller "Jurassic Park." Was it worth all the labor pains? Does 3-D make this 20-year-old box office smash more spectacular? More thrilling?
You bet your jurassic it does.
Back in 1993, Spielberg and cinematographer Dean Cundey (who got his start shooting a moody little horror tale called "Halloween") created multi-planed scenes with such depth and clarity that the movie practically screamed "Remake me in high-quality 3-D someday!"
That, along with a few dinosaurs lunging at the camera lens (the T-rex pursuing the Jeep; the velociraptor leaping up to bite Ariana Richards escaping through a hole in the ceiling) makes "Jurassic Park" a natural candidate for painstakingly detailed 3-D conversion.
As impressive as the visual effects are (the then-state-of-the-art CGI dinosaurs hold up very nicely after two decades), the movie's best asset remains Richards' transparently vulnerable performance as Alex, Richard Attenborough's on-screen granddaughter.
Her raw displays of shock, fear and steely resolve take up a lot of the slack from Laura Dern's stock expressions of awe and Sam Neill's low-res heroic vibes.
"Jurassic Park" opens at area theaters. Rated PG-13 for violence. 126 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½
Reel Life film notes:
• The After Hours Film Society presents Michael Haneke's Oscar-winning domestic drama "Amour" at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 8, at the Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove. Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva (who should have received the best actress Oscar that went to Jennifer Lawrence). General admission costs $9. Go to afterhoursfilmsociety.com.
• What movie possesses the greatest opening sequence in motion picture history? Join me and film historian Raymond Benson as Dann & Raymond's Movie Club counts down the top opening scenes of all time. We'll show clips from ... wait! We can't tell you because that would ruin the surprises. Join us at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, 500 N. Dunton Ave., Arlington Heights. Free admission. Go to ahml.info.
Reel Life mini-review: "Room 237"
On July 12, 1987, ABC-TV news correspondent and movie buff Bill Blakemore wrote a front-page arts section story in The Washington Post headlined, "Kubrick's 'Shining' Secret: Film's Hidden Horror is the Murder of the Indian."
Blakemore laid out his case with passion and convincing evidence that Stanley Kubrick remodeled Stephen King's horror novel into a cinematic metaphor for America's genocide, with every frame, word and image created to support it.
Wisely, Rodney Ascher's new profound, revelatory and ridiculous documentary "Room 237" -- all about deconstructing Kubrick's controversial 1980 horror tale -- uses Blakemore as its frontman for the army of noncelebrity commentators who've studied the multilayered motion picture and are prepared to wow us with their insights.
"Room 237" (the room where Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrance succumbs to the charms of a naked woman in a bathtub -- eek!) runs the gamut from the sublime to the preposterously amusing.
It begins with Blakemore and others showing the hidden meanings and symbols that Kubrick (reported to own an IQ of 200) planted in his critically underrated terror tale about a man in a remote mountain hotel (built upon an Indian burial ground, a fact not in the novel) who goes mad under the influence of evil entities.
Why did Kubrick change King's room from 217 to 237? (Because 2 times 3 times 7 equals 42, the year that the Nazis created the Final Solution to exterminate Jews, another case of genocide in the works.)
Why did Kubrick include seemingly irrelevant footage of a smashed-up red Volkswagen beetle on a road? (It was Kubrick's bird-flip to King for objecting to changes the filmmaker made in his story. The car is red in the novel. Kubrick changed it to yellow for the movie.)
This is fascinating stuff, backed by intelligent research, visual evidence from the movie and knowledge that Kubrick read Wilson Bryan Key's 1970s book "Subliminal Seduction," all about how advertisers plant subliminal messages and naughty images into commercials and ads to maximize impact.
Stop motion visually "proves" that Kubrick intended a homoerotic relationship between Jack and Barry Nelson's hotel manager. It's hilarious. And obscene.
At the end, Ascher lets "Room 237" run off the rails by catering to the idea that extra hidden meanings can be found in "The Shining" by projecting the movie both forward and backward at the same time.
Someone once asked Kubrick what "The Shining" was about. He replied, "It's about a man who tries to kill his family."
In 1987, Blakemore wrote, "That family is the family of man."
"Room 237" opens at the Music Box in Chicago. Not rated, but contains PG-13-level violence, language. 82 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½
Reel Life mini-review: "The Place Beyond the Pines"
Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance's dramatic ambitions slightly outweigh his execution in "The Place Beyond the Pines," a cautionary tale of diminishing returns about how selfish, thoughtless dads screw up the next generation of males.
"Place," Cianfrance's anxiously awaited follow-up to his bold (and initially NC-17-rated) poem about the impossibility of love titled "Blue Valentine," sings a sorrowful tune about the frailties of fathers in three-part disharmony.
In the first part, "Blue Valentine" star Ryan Gosling plays Luke, an unprofessionally tattooed stunt bike rider at a traveling carnival show visiting Schenectady, N.Y., where he discovers Romina (Eva Mendes) raising his baby from their one-night-stand a year earlier.
Touched by the lure of fatherhood, Luke vows to be a good provider, but with the economy in the dump, his best option for fast cash is to join Ben Mendelsohn's sleazy mechanic Robin to knock off area banks during the light of day.
Not exactly a sustainable career.
After a couple of tense robbery and car/motorcycle chase sequences, Cianfrance hands the story over to a different lead character, a young cop named Avery Cross ("Silver Linings Playbook" star Bradley Cooper). Parallel to Luke, he has a tiny baby and financial obligations.
He also has a corrupt supervisor (Ray Liotta) pressing him to take bribes and commit perjury, a problem that Cross cleverly transforms into a wave of support for his entry into the world of politics.
One more time, Cianfrance hands off the story to the troubled high school sons of these two men. One kid never knew his father; the other's father doesn't take time to know his son.
"Place Beyond the Pines" (a Native American reference to Schenectady) suffers from a humdrumly linear structure (think what Quentin Tarantino might have done to this script with a little bit of chronological sleight of hand).
Ciafrance also falls back on one of the laziest narrative devices ever invented. Cross chats with a shrink, thereby elating exposition and character motivations without exerting any heavy dramatic lifting.
Gosling's sheer screen presence raises the bar so high in the first third that this drama never quite recovers from the shift away from his enigmatic character, sort of a low-rent version of his stunt-driver anti-hero from the superior "Drive."
Sean Bobbitt's nicely composed ultra-widescreen images compensate a little for the story's premature wind-down and ultimate drop into dramatic inertia.
"The Place Beyond the Pines" opens at the Century Centre and River East 21 in Chicago. Rated R for violence, language, drug and alcohol use. 140 minutes. ★ ★ ½
Reel Life interview: Derek Cianfrance
Colorado native Derek Cianfrance, director/writer of "The Place beyond the Pines," has always been fascinated by the phenomenon of the real American family, not its myth.
"As a boy growing up, I remember seeing these Olan Mills portraits of my family and everyone's smiling," Cianfrance told me. "I'd ask why are we smiling in the pictures? We're not smiling all the time around the house.
"Then I'd go to my friend's house to play pool or something and we'd hear his parents beating each other up upstairs. And they also had these same smiling family photographs.
"What's with this facade? Why so fake? Why so untrue? What's with these smiles? I made a conscious decision not to smile for pictures. Then I made a decision to start taking pictures of things that were true to me. One of my first pictures I took was of my mother and brother fighting. To me, that was the ultimate family picture I ever took."
Now you have some insight into the less-than-perfect families from Cianfrance's new movie "The Place Beyond the Pines," an ode to domestic dysfunction.
• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!