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Kelly Macdonald is terrific in Puzzle as Agnes, a mother of two and wife to Louie (an also-excellent David Denman). Agnes is loved by her family, but they tend to not pay attention to her at times—and she’s beginning to lose interest in their mundane routines.

She finds solace in jigsaw puzzles, and realizes she has a talent for putting them together fast. She sees a posting for a person looking to find a “puzzle partner,” gives him a call, and strikes up a friendship with Robert (Irrfan Khan), an eccentric millionaire with a shared fascination for puzzles. As the two meet twice a week to train for a puzzle competition, things go beyond friendship, and Agnes is forced to make some decisions about her home life.

Marc Turtletaub’s minimalist direction is perfect for this story, which plays a lot better than it sounds. Macdonald is first-rate during every second she’s onscreen—especially in her scenes with Denman and Khan. Khan brings a lot of dimension to Robert, who is basically a nutty, lonely guy. Denman does a remarkable job of making Louie likable, even if he is a bit of a dick at times.

It’s not a film I was especially anxious to watch, given its premise. I was pleasantly surprised.

Puzzle opens Friday, Aug. 17, at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A few years back, word got out that Steven Spielberg and co. were looking to reboot the Jurassic Park franchise with dinosaurs controlled by the military. Internet chat rooms went berserk—and the chatter was not positive.

Then, it appeared the idea got scrapped.

Not so fast.

Jurassic World actually incorporates evil dudes wanting to use raptors in combat. Mind you, this is a fairly small part of the plot, and it winds up being a bit of a joke. Still, I really can’t believe this idea has actually made it into a movie.

I also can’t believe that a movie in which raptors are sought as military weapons is actually pretty good.

Jurassic World takes place 22 years after the original movie (the second and third films in the franchise are not acknowledged), and John Hammond’s original idea has come to fruition—albeit in a bastardized, Six Flags kind of way. Jurassic World has been up and running for years under the guidance of Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), another rich-guy owner who just wants the world to have lots of fun with dinosaurs. How naive!

Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who has impossible hair and runs the place for Masrani, is dealing with some waning interest in the park. (People are getting bored with “normal” dinosaurs.) So she and the park’s techs hatch a plan for a genetically engineered, hybrid dinosaur that is bigger and smarter than the T. rex. The new monster is ready to be rolled out—and hopefully sponsored by Verizon.

Of course, the movie wouldn’t be any good if the new monster, Indominus rex, just hung out in its pen eating goats. Nope, this sucker gets loose—and lots of people and dinosaurs are in its path. Let it be said: This particular dinosaur is very nasty, and very entertaining.

Director Colin Trevorrow, who had a hand in writing the script, throws everything into this movie. This is one of those sequels that make fun of sequels, and it honestly couldn’t be much dumber. But sometimes, dumb is good when you are dealing with a big movie featuring rampaging dinosaurs.

“It boy” Chris Pratt plays the male lead, Owen, a sort of dino-whisperer who has a special relationship with a trio of raptors. He’s got them trained to the point where they won’t immediately tear his face off, and he can stand in a pen with them for a bit. Still, they look like they will eat his legs if given an honest chance.

Vincent D’Onofrio is the bad-guy military type who wants the raptors to fight terrorists. It’s all very kooky, but D’Onofrio has a talent for selling the ridiculous, and Trevorrow obviously isn’t being held back by reality. You have to be a good director to pull this sort of thing off, and Trevorrow—whose only other big-screen feature credit is the incredibly awesome Safety Not Guaranteed—was the right choice. He balances many plot threads (a couple of brothers lost in the park, evil military dudes, crazy dinosaurs) and delivers something that goes down easy on a summer movie night.

The finale, involving all-star dinosaurs kicking each other’s asses, is a real winner. Less emphasis on the people, and more dinosaurs, please! I was relieved that Sam Neill’s crotchety paleontologist was nowhere in sight.

In addition to the Indominus rex, who is a real keeper as far as psycho movie dinos are concerned, there’s a big water-faring beastie that eats great white sharks; plenty of flying dinosaur mayhem; and lots of raptor rampages. This one spares no expense when it comes to dinosaur screen time.

Of course, things are left open for a sequel—and there will be a sequel, for sure: $500 million worldwide in your first weekend usually grants one a sequel.

Jurassic World winks so much at the genre that it’s almost a comedy—a comedy in which lots of people get eaten by dinosaurs in totally insane ways.

Jurassic World is playing in multiple formats in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

It's that time of year when studios release their Oscar hopefuls, continuing the tradition of saving the best (or what they hope to convince us is the best) for last.

So here's Life of Pi, an adaptation of the seemingly unfilmable novel by Yann Martel about a 14-year-old boy spending more than 200 days at sea on a lifeboat alone—except for a Bengal tiger that totally wants to eat his face.

Many have looked at making the 2001 spiritual novel into a film, and many have just thrown their hands up in the air and said, "Screw this. I'm going to Cabo!"

I've never read the book, but seeing a synopsis of the story had me thinking it would be best to leave this particular fable on the page. It looked like a real bitch to film. Then I read that somebody got director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Hulk) on the project. For me, this meant that something amazing could be on the way.

Life of Pi is just that: an amazing achievement in filmmaking. Not only does it prove that an entirely unfilmable project was filmable; it's also one of the year's best movies, and easily one of the best uses of 3-D. Lee is a creative force who cannot be deterred; Life of Pi is his most enchanting film to date, and this is the guy who gave us Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

It only takes a few seconds of this film's opening, depicting animals grazing in an Indian zoo, to see that a master has something special in store. Here's a 3-D movie so innovative that even Roger Ebert declared, "I love the use of 3-D in Life of Pi." Anybody who reads Ebert knows he detests 3-D, so we are definitely talking about a landmark film achievement when The Ebert comes around.

Lee cast Suraj Sharma as the teenage Pi, and Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi. Both deliver performances that center the film. In a movie full of so many visual treats and surprises, much of them done with excellent CGI, these two men give the film a beautiful and sincere human element.

Khan sets a good, worldly tone as the older Pi, being interviewed by a writer (Rafe Spall) who heard from a source that he had a great story to tell. Khan describes in very matter-of-fact terms how he came to be the lone survivor of a spectacular shipwreck.

The shipwreck sequence contains some of the most harrowing and eye-popping footage you will see any year. Lee uses 3-D to put you right in the middle of it. As water pounds Pi, you'll be checking yourself to see if you are wet.

Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with animals from his family's zoo that were being transported on the big boat: a frightened zebra, a crazed hyena and a rather annoyed tiger. Things transpire to where it is just Pi and the tiger staring each other down, with Pi using a makeshift raft to stay the heck out of the boat. The tiger, as it turns out, is not very good company.

The tiger itself is a mixture of CGI and actual tigers. He's named Richard Parker for a reason I won't give away, and there's never a dull moment when he's onscreen. I especially liked it when Richard Parker found himself in the water and unable to get back on the boat. And let it be said that there are few things sadder than a giant, soaked tiger that is very hungry.

Through a series of exciting fishing efforts, Pi manages to feed himself and Richard Parker. They eventually wind up on a mysterious island full of meerkats. The meerkat island is one of those fantastical things you can't believe you are seeing as you are seeing it.

The movie is full of many moments that fit that description: whales breaching the water's surface; magically starry skies reflected on the shimmering sea; zebras flying through the air. Perhaps it's easier just to say that most of the moments in this movie fit that description.

Those who have not read the book are in for a lot of surprises when watching Life of Pi. Those who have read it are in for some big surprises as well, in that the film greatly honors the best-seller. If you read it thinking, "There's no way anybody can make this into a movie!" you are in for a big shock. It's a movie, all right—and it's a great one.

Life of Pi is playing at various valley theaters.

Published in Reviews