Rampage (2018): Dwayne Johnson, Moneypenny and Video Game Nostalgia (Review)

Rampage (2018): Dwayne Johnson, Moneypenny and George of the Jungle (Review)

Rampage (directed by Dwayne Johnson fave director Brad Peyton) stars “The Rock” and Miss Moneypenny (London actress Naomie Harris) and is a nostalgic look at an old video game of the same name. Granted, the film does deviate somewhat but there are plenty of nods and winks for fans of the 1986 arcade game.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a government agent “good ole boy” type (he tells Okoye – Johnson, that he works for OGA or Other Government Agency with a sincere country delivery) who later steps up to help our heroes. Harris again delivers almost effortlessly as the former scientist/convict and there is far too little of personal favorite Marley Shelton.

George, the big ape, is brought to life by “Doug Jones” type Jason Liles and the film’s primary villain; Clare Wyden, is portrayed nastily by Malin Akerman. The cast contains a number of “familiar faces” and while it may seem a tad trite (it is, after all, based on a 1980’s platform game) it moves at a good pace and is funny in all the right places. 

The film makes use of devices from other, earlier, movies dealing with apes. Congo, starring Tim Curry, Ernie Hudson and a very young Laura Linney as the romantic/strong action lead, used sign language to communicate with the tame ape being returned to the wild.

However, Okoye’s pal George is much lighter and has a better and  naughtier sense of humour with his signage. (Going from a fist bump to flipping off his friend, George is an ape of many colours, unlike the drab and downbeat Amy in Congo.)

There is a nod to John Carpenter’s The Thing with the helicopter hunt of a 30 foot wolf and references to the video game itself are there for the taking. Rampage’s story, in a nutshell, deals with mutating animals that head to Chicago. They are set to destroy the city until Dr. Caldwell (Harris), Okoye and OGA Agent Russell (Morgan) step up, with the help of a cured George, and save the day.

The film is not deep and bears a slight resemblance to most Kong remakes. As video game films go, this one is fast paced, fun and not a little addictive. Shakespeare it ain’t but it is another Dwayne Johnson vehicle for the highest paid actor in Forbes history.

Joe Manganiello is good as the buggy eyed mercenary hired by the evil scientist to dispatch the 30 foot wolf and Demetrius Grosse is perfect as Colonel Blake; a man who overestimates the military’s competence and underestimates his targets. 

Morgan could have phoned his role in as it is a variation of his Negan character in AMC favorite The Walking Dead. Any downside to the film is, along with a yearning for more Marley Shelton, that the delightful and overly talented Ms. Harris could have also benefitted from more screen time. (Harris is a performer of many hues who delivered brilliantly in last years Moonlight playing splendidly against type.)

Rampage, however,  is an almost atypical Dwayne Johnson vehicle. It is yet another action/comedy part played by the wildly popular actor/icon this year (the other being Skyscraper with Neve Campbell) and, once again, the performer manages to thrill and entertain.

The film earns a cool 4.5 stars for its  fun factor alone. Rampage can be owned/streamed right now and it is worth a look, if one enjoys nostalgic video game films. The effects are good, the action plentiful and the comedy well timed. There is no nudity, foul language (except for the finger) and the violence is oddly bloodless.

 

Skyscraper (2018): Dwayne Johnson and Neve Campbell Rock (Review)

Skyscraper (2018): Dwayne Johnson and Neve Campbell Rock (Review)

Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers) Skyscraper stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Jumanji: Welcome to the JungleRampage and a slew of other films) and Neve Campbell ( the Canadian actress best known to horror fans as the survivor Sidney Prescott from the Scream franchise).  The film, made on an estimated budget of over $125 million, feels a bit old fashioned despite its high flying premise.

The title structure is in the new Hong Kong and is now the tallest structure in the world. Johnson’s character, Will Sawyer,  is a former rescue team leader who misses a bomb and loses his leg as a result. Campbell (Sarah Sawyer) is a former military surgeon who operated on him, married him and then became the mother of his children.

Sawyer is now the head of a small security company hired to check out the new skyscraper after being given a push by an old pal and former rescue teammate. The family are living in the towering structure and they are the only inhabitants in the entire residential section of the building.

On the day that Will must certify the skyscrape as being safe and secure, a former partner of builder Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) – Kores Botha, played by Roland Møller, sets the building on fire. The plan is to force Ji to flee with his most prized possession so Botha can steal it.

This plan puts Sawyer’s family at risk as they return from an abortive panda visit and are now just above the deadly conflagration started by Botha and his henchmen.  Cue some heroics from Will and Sarah as they struggle to save the kids (Henry and Georgia –Noah Cottrell and McKenna Roberts who are brilliant in their roles) and take down the evil baddies who are willing to destroy everything to get what they want. 

All in all, the film feels like a throwback to the days of, not just, Towering Inferno with a touch of Die Hard but to a less bloody and profanity filled Hollywood PG-13 action thriller. Skyscraper entertains from its very first frame, however, it is all that bit too predictable to be originally entertaining.

Johnson, who really cannot seem to put a foot wrong lately, convinces and it is a treat to see Campbell play yet another strong female who proves to be the equal of her giant of a husband.  Perhaps the thing that really works is how Johnson manages to stay away from Schwarzenegger territory, despite his incredible physique. The fact that the former wrestling icon can act circle around the former “Governator” also helps Johnson show a more human side.

The cast deliver across the board.Hannah Quinlivan – as Xia – is good as the deadly and rather nasty bit of work who orchestrates a number of dirty deeds for Botha. Byron Mann (Inspector Wu) also convinces as the cop in charge of first arresting then assisting Sawyer and his family. 

Special effects are outstanding overall and the stunts are thrilling enough to impress the most jaded of film fans. Thurber proves that he can do much more than comedy although the script feels almost like a “by the numbers” effort.

Skyscraper pulls in an impressive 4.5 stars, despite the schmaltzy ending and rather bloodless final battle. The effects in the “pearl” are good, although they are a computer screen re-imagining of the old carnival hall of mirrors. The film is worth seeing as it does move at a breakneck speed and one could easily bring the kids and the grandparents to see this one.

The entire film is worth the price of admission for Neve Campbell alone, throw in Johnson and, despite the films few drawbacks, Thurber has a winner here. The actors rock their respective roles and help to make this one heck of an enjoyable experience.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – The Most Fun You Will Have This Year (Review)

Jumanji-Welcome-to-the-Jungle-cast

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a reimagining of the 1995 film starring Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst and Jonathan Hyde. Jake Kasdan (Sex Tape, Bad Teacher), gives us an updated version of the Chris Van Allsburg short story. This time around the film is populated by Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson and Nick Jonas. The move to base the whole thing on a video game world results in perhaps the most fun you will have this year.

The movie may not be Shakespeare and its message may just be the most simplistic one offered up in 2017, but, damn it, this is gut bustlingly fun. The audience laughs out loud with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle not at it.

Reworking the 1995 version is not a hit or miss prospect, nor is it rocket science. The opening sequence explains quite neatly how the “evil” game transforms itself from a passé board game into a “state of the art” 1996 video game. In the beginning, the plot may feel a tad like a millennials  “The Breakfast Club” (there is even a red-head female to round out the group) but the sitting, in an old junk room at the local high school takes us right out of that motif immediately.

Taking a note from Stay Alive, the film transports the small quartet of teens into the video world of Jumanji and they must survive the game, save the jungle world and then shout the name in order to go home. Like the first film, there is a character who was sucked into the world 20 years previously (Nick Jonas as Alex Freeke – whose dad is played by the brilliant Tim Matheson).

The cast all knock this one out of the comedic park. Johnson, with his “smoldering” and wishy-washy bravery, Jack Black as the teen girl in a middle aged man’s body,  Hart as the “little big-man” and Gillan as the smart wall-flower in the Lara Croft body each bring more than enough to the table to make this fun-filled action romp seem more believable than it has any right to be.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle does not go out of its way to bludgeon the audience with its video game premise. It is, obviously, aimed at the “gamer” in the theatre. The character’s mention the NPC (video-game speak for “non player character) and in this case there are several. The Brit driver and “guide” a lad in the bazaar and two guards outside the transportation hut. We are given a brief explanation of what these characters do, for those non-gamers in the audience, and then leaves the subject alone.

There is direct referencing to “respawning” and each character taken over by the teens has only three lives. In this telling of Jumanji, the animals never cross over into the real world and we have a somewhat more satisfactory ending with no apparent chance of another sequel.

The film works very well, despite having no less than four writers credit with the screenplay. Some stereotypes are used to “sell” the characters but this does not distract from the obvious enjoyment factor attached to this movie.

Bobby Cannavale is splendid as big boss Van Pelt and fans of Missi Pyle will be delighted with her tiny cameo in the film. Nick Jonas is more than capable as “Alex Freeke” the young man lost in the game since 1996 and sharp-eyed viewers will spot Colin Hanks (son of Tom) in another splendid but short cameo. 

The scenery, CGI and stunts all come together to give us a movie that feels like a video game in its presentation and structure. This all works perfectly and adds to the overall fun factor of the film.

Kasden has given us a film that entertains enormously. Any movie that ends with the viewer immediately wanting to see it again is a “win.” Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a full 5 star piece. It a glorious bit of adventure that tickles the funny bone and engages the viewer throughout. See this one at the cinema now for a full quotient of entertainment. The audience reactions are almost as fun as the film.

Action Films Equal Bodybuilding

Scene from BladeThings have changed in the action film world, to the extent that these types of movies equal a bodybuilding extravaganza for the actors involved. Take, for example, the Blade trilogy (1, 2 and 3) where in the last DVD  “Blade Trinity,” special features, the actors all talk about the inordinate amount of time spent weight training.

Actions films by the very definition of the genre include a lot of action sequences; car chases, shoot outs, heavy-duty fight scenes, et al. More emphasis is now place on action heroes looking more like professional athletes. As mentioned in the special features on the final Blade film, “more actors want to do a lot of their own stunts.”

This move toward shrugging off stunt performers who specialize in making the less athletic, or age challenged, actor is relatively new. Certainly the more “jock-like” actors have always wanted to do as many of their own stunts as possible, but now everyone wants to get into the act.

The “making of” documentaries on the third DVD point out this trend and watching films since the trilogy ended it appears that whether the movies are action oriented or not actors want to do more of their own stunts. This move seems to have broken the stunt world into three camps.

These seem to be: Coordinators, professionals who do the real risky stunts (like being set on fire) and standby performers (in case the actor cannot do the gig because of physical limitations or insurance, or “bottles it.”) *Losing one’s bottle, or “bottles it” and all the various iterations of this phrase equals Brit Speak for chickening out.*

Still of Dwayne Johnson

A lot of actors specialize in action features because they are athletic or former athletes. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the perfect example of a sports figure (we won’t go into the debate of WWE being mostly staged, these guys and gals are athletes…period.) who is forging a new career playing roles that are action heavy and he does a lot of his own stunts. Not only that, but Johnson’s acting is very impressive on top of his physical attributes.

But what about actors who aren’t natural athletes or, as stated above, limited by age?

With action films putting a lot more emphasis in actors at least looking like they could perform their own stunts, bodybuilding is the order of the day. This visual believability is crucial if the audience is to suspend their disbelief enough to buy the screen action equaling reality.

Gone are the days when attitude alone made a character deadly in terms of combat. Take for example, the television show “The Equalizer.” The late Edward Woodward, that brilliant actor from across the pond, played Robert McCall aka the Equalizer. McCall was an ex government agent of some sort, an assassin type, who hires himself out as a private detective. He is there to help the “little guy” who needs someone to fight the bullies.

Edward Woodward as Robert McCall

Woodward as McCall didn’t need to look like “The Rock” or Arnold Schwarzenegger to convince the audience he was deadly or tough. His acting skills and the character’s psychological makeup did that. McCall used guns to take out the villains, along with some physical action, and this did not require him to look like a bodybuilder or professional athlete.

Fast forward quite a number of years and Denzel Washington played Robert McCall as a very athletic and martial arts type of ex government killer. Guns were used very little as his McCall used a lot of “The Book of Eli” moves in his version of “The Equalizer.”

The character of McCall becomes less about shooting and more about being creative in dealing out death with something other than bullets. He was also more physical, in keeping with the new millennium’s perception of age; people are lot more active in their “twilight years” now than in the 1980s. Being in one’s late 50s or early 60s “back in the day” meant more reliance on walking frames, canes and a general lack of energy. In 2015 the retired generation have much more get up and go as well as being in better shape physically.

At least in the acting world, fitness is being stressed in terms of time spent in the gym prior to filming. Physical training, fight training and so on all take place in the run up to shooting and throughout the production. “Making of” documentaries on DVD’s feature a lot of “normal” actors talking about “beefing up” and getting “ripped” for a feature film.

It may well be that the action film equaling bodybuilding for its participants is now the norm. Certain actors, like “Resident Evil” star Milla Jovovich, have discovered that they enjoy the more physical aspects of doing stunts and, more importantly, are very good at it. The real dangerous gigs are still done by professionals, but the emphasis on the actor’s looking fit makes it easier for the viewer to believe in the action onscreen.

7 February 2015

Pain & Gain Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson Kidnapping Are Not Us

Pain

Despite the fact that this “based on a true story” movie did not do well at the box office, “Pain & Gain” show that Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson make a good team and the dark comedic film could have been called “Kidnapping Are Not Us.” Directed by Michael Bay, who obviously enjoyed working with Marky Mark so much that he brought him in to replace the disgraced Shia LaBeouf in “Transformers: Age of Extinction” this action and black comedy allows all the main players to impress.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shows that he can still do comedy, after this is the man who proved his comedic timing and ability in “The Rundown,” aka “Welcome to the Jungle.” His sensitive weight lifting body builder, who bonds with the kidnap victim too well, played by “Monk” star Tony Shalhoub, is funny without become a cartoon character, although it was close.

The story of three weight lifting wannabes who kidnap a wealthy client and torture him to sign over all his assets was not overly funny, especially to the real life victim played by Shalhoub. In the film, Marc Schiller (Shalhoub) is run over with a car twice after the inept athletes attempt to blow the businessman up in the same vehicle and fail.

“Pain & Gain” features the more charismatic Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson as two of the three criminals in this “Kidnapping Are Not Us” tale of dumb luck and dumb weight lifters who were destined to be caught from day one. One person who does not find the film or its version of events amusing is Marc Schiller. Presumably there were quite a number who did not find the film overly funny, but at least the estimated $26 million film made enough money world wide to classify as a success by Hollywood standards.

Ed Harris has a cameo as the cop turned private eye who helps Kershaw, Schiller in the film, track down his kidnappers who also attempted to kill him. Another cameo feature Peter Stormare as Dr, Bjornson and not one of the villains in a deviation from type for the actor.

This film has Michael Bay’s stamp all over it and it is this reason more than any other that the film is so entertaining. Combined with Dwayne Johnson’s humorous and simple villain and Mark Wahlberg’s egotistical and driven ring leader, “Pain & Gain” is not overly clever but it does tell the story, after a fashion, of the trio kidnapping a wealthy man and then trying to kill him after draining his money dry. These men are not “nice guys” as pointed out by Schiller who, unlike us the viewing audience, has first hand knowledge of what they are really like.

By Michael Smith

Sources”

Amazon.com

IMDb