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.

 

Dark Matter: Season Three Catch Up – All the Time in the World (Review)

DARK MATTER -- "All the Time In the World" Episode 304 -- Pictured: Zoie Palmer as The Android -- (Photo by: Stephen Scott/Dark Matter Series 3/Syfy)

Despite missing the boat a bit (or in this case “the Raza”) we have done a bit of binging to catch up on all that has transpired in season three of Dark Matter. A lot has happened since the explosive finale of season two with everything reaching dizzying heights of excitement and more than a touch of mystery in “All the Time in the World.”

Season three has rung in some amazing, as well as disturbing, changes in this world we have all grown to love. There have been losses. Nyx is dead and Six, aka Kal Varrik, has left the Raza to stay and guide a revolution. Two new crew members are on board – and Shockley’s interaction with Marcus (Three) provided one of the funniest moments in episode 4 “Deal! Ahhhhh!” while Ryo has shown that underneath all that cold exterior there beats the heart of a lover.

Episode four takes a now familiar plot line (a temporal time loop – aka “Groundhog Day”) and stands it on its head. Three, Marcus Boone, is reliving the same day over and over. More importantly, he has been doing it for some time.

We are allowed to see only a small portion of this repeat cycle – to hilarious effect – and this adds to the riff on this plot device. Initially this loop affects only Boone, who is rebooted when he sleeps or when Shockley knocks him out. Later it also affects Adrian and even later The Android.

It is The Android who manages to steal the show full stop with her mind numbing, and, in places, damned terrifying, five second trip into the past. The journey takes the robot to some dark and disturbing scenarios one of which entails The Android being told solemnly that the scientist who has dissected her is not a monster – while she looks at the various body parts removed and placed by her side.

Lemke, who shines in this episode more than most, does what he does best; he acts his little cotton socks off…effortlessly. Straight-faced and completely serious he faces his own personal Groundhog Day with an aplomb that speaks volumes about this man’s talents.

Stand Out Moment:

Marcus trying to remember the name of the particle accelerator and getting the name wrong repeatedly after each reboot. “Reboot…Sh*t!”

Other Matters:

Palmer manages to keep up with Lemke throughout. She does, however, speed past her costar with ease in that short and upsetting montage with her very short trip down memory lane.

(Kudos to Ferland in those last moments of that five second trip. Her aged and creepy Five, complete with milky eyes that dart suspiciously as she tells The Android to destroy the device, is top notch and a throwback to those old days when creepy kids were her forte.)

Mallozzi and Mullie have managed to ring in the changes with scary ease. They have taken an almost stock plot in this latest episode and managed to make it new. I found myself second guessing (incorrectly) throughout  and was completely surprised at the end to find that what caused the loop fell outside of my list of choices completely.

Final Thoughts:

There are indications this season that the blink drive from season two may be the spanner in the works that upsets everything. It has clearly  introduced parallel worlds, or at least parallel lives and times. The “jumps” made by The Android provokes a number of questions about the verse and its temporal stability in general.

The biggest question, of course,  being whether or not the original crew of the Raza are not still working together in another dimension. A verse where One is not dead at all and Ryo (Four) has not gone against his comrades.

Dark Matter is still addictive television and, along with Killjoys, one of the best things about SyFy on Fridays. Despite this shows move into a dark and more disturbing direction this season, Dark Matter still has the ability to make me laugh and cry; often at the same time.

 

CAST:

Guest Starring:   Ellen Wong  as Misaki Han-Shireikan,  Torri Higginson as Commander Truffault, Natalie Brown as Sarah

Hacksaw Ridge (2016): I Got You (Review)

Andrew Garfield as Desmond T. Doss

Mel Gibson may well have clawed his way out of the Hollywood “doghouse” with Hacksaw Ridge. Directed by Mel and based on a screenplay co-written by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight the film tells the “true” story of Desmond T. Doss. Doss was the first medic to win the Medal of Honor without ever firing a shot in the battlefield. 

Somewhat amazingly, this over two hour film cracks along at a pace that never really lets up. We follow Doss as he fights the system and a group of Army colleagues who take forever to understand his beliefs. Andrew Garfield plays Doss (and got a BAFTA for his portrayal) in the Oscar winning film and his utterance of “I got you,” to each man he treats becomes a mantra of sorts to the audience. It also allows a certain amount of truth to shine through his performance and must be based on the real Doss and his time in the field. 

The editing, which won an Oscar, and the practical FX steal the show here as the battle sequences and the horrific injuries suffered by the men on Hacksaw Ridge while taking on an almost overpowering enemy are spectacular.  They are also hard to watch.

This could be said of the whole film. It is difficult to see Doss get a dose of barrack room justice – when his fellow soldiers follows the sergeant’s and the captain’s orders to make Doss see the “error of his ways.” It is just as difficult to see the death of the first man who really understand’s the conscientious objector.

Gibson’s film shows us many instances of discomfort, suffering and visceral wounds that, if real, would turn the stomach over with revulsion and horror. This may well be the real triumph of Hacksaw Ridge; it is not just the re-telling of the first decorated non-combative hero but a testament to the bloody and terrible toll of war in general.

(This was Mel’s chance to follow up the 1981 Peter Weir film Gallipoli, another film that focusses on the horrors of war. Gibson was in the film playing Frank Dunne an Aussie soldier.)

As an action film, Hacksaw Ridge, delivers on many levels. The battle on top of the ridge is intense and practically non-stop. Even the fall of night only delays the advance of the enemy for a short time.

In terms of performances, Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington both deliver admirably and Hugo Weaving is brilliant as the alcoholic WWI veteran who goes to bat for his son.  

The film is a white knuckle ride, including Doss’ expected hell in boot camp, and only the hardest heart would not get a lump in their throat at some of the more touching scenes. There are moments where the horrific injuries and the sounds of battle are almost too much and one can only imagine the bravery of those concerned at the actual event.

Mel Gibson’s ticket to redemption, in the eyes of Hollywood, is a full 5 star effort. There are mistakes, historical and otherwise, but these do not diminish the power of the film and its story. This is a brilliant counterpoint to Clint Eastwood’s 2014 film, American Sniper; which glorified the killing aspect of war.

Hacksaw Ridge is available on DVD and various online streaming platforms. Check out the trailer below:

Attack on Titan: Part 1 & 2 (2015): Battle Royale Meets Giants (Review)

Fighting the Titans

It may sound a bit dismissive to label Attack on Titan (part one and two) as “Battle Royale” meets giants” but it is not intended to be a slur on the manga based film. Both films do deliver messages on a government determined to control its denizens at all costs (although the 1999 Kashun Takami novel was much more political than the Kinji Fukasaku film released in 2000) and each features young protagonists.

Certainly BR has heroes who are yet to finish puberty, but the youngsters who battle the Titan’s in these films are not too far removed from that time span themselves. The other thing both films have in common is the “childhood interrupted” theme. Each set of players are yanked from their everyday lives and placed in situations that require them to fight.

Having not seen, or indeed read, the manga, it was easy to just take the film on its face value. The story; a world where giant’s attack and eat the general population, is interesting and the breech in the outer wall, that starts the whole two film journey, is impressive and well done.

A “giant” Titan kicks a hole in the wall and a horde of smaller creatures enter. They destroy a small town and most of the surrounding areas in the outer districts. The inner wall, full of the rulers and elite class of the nation, has not been destroyed and the heroes of both films fight to keep the Titan’s out.

The action takes place behind walls and the attacks of the giant man-eating creatures veer between hilarity and good old fashioned “King Kong” type horror. (Or even Jurassic Park, where the solicitor/lawyer gets his head crunched off by a T-Rex…) Plot wise there is nothing all that new here. It is revealed, partway through the first film, that the Titan’s were “man-made” and that their lack of genitals is a mystery, even to the creators of the things.

Still, this curious lack of reproductive equipment apparently kept the Japanese censors happy and made the film a little less “difficult” to watch.  While the female Titans did have breast, there were no offending nipples anywhere to be seen, or other genitalia to deal with.

(One character voices her interest at just how these gigantic humanoid creatures manage to procreate – there are some incredibly ugly “baby” Titans running around – but that is the only time it is mentioned.)

There are some comic moments: An enlisted man throws a Titan over his head, a young heroine eats constantly (potatoes) and her stomach is incredibly noisy when empty.

Attack on Titan (Shingeki no kyojin) is entertaining, even if one is not familiar with the original manga material by Hajime Isayama. Director Shinji Higuchi capably directs this live action adaptation of a popular Manga series. There are a number of writers connected to these two films and, according to IMDb, a few characters have been dropped, merged or changed totally.

Overall, the feel of the film is not too far removed from fantasy and/or science fiction.  The soldiers have new weapons that resemble samurai swords, “on call” and gas jets that propel the fighters through the air while powering anchors to structures. These enable the soldiers to “fly” through the air in order to attack the seemingly un-defeatable creatures.

Jun Kunimura, who played mob boss Ikemoto in Outrage   (who dies an almost comic death) and featured in “Kill Bill” volume’s one and two and the iconic cult classic Audition along with another 163 credits to his name, is, for all intents and purposes, the big bad in the film. 

His mostly understated performance helps nudge the plot points along and Kunimura is the only real “grown up” in the film. He is also easily the most despicable although Capt. Shikishima (played by Hiroki Hasegawa) comes a close second in terms of dislikable characters. 

Attack on Titan features a newer cast of young actors. None of these performers are of the Battle Royale time period. They are, however, quite capable of filling out their limited characters and look pretty good in the fight sequences. The wire work, in the film, is top notch and the combination of obvious green screen backdrops and the practical wire stunts is stimulating and impressive.

These films are not made to be taken seriously and apparently, according to the number of “dislikes” on IMDb (which go over a 1000) not really made for the discerning fans of the original Manga series or book. The Titan’s themselves are not overly frightening to look at, their faces look more like variations on the local village idiot rather than a Grimm’s Fairy Tale type Giant.

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over on YouTube, where this trailer aired in 2015, about how far the film had deviated from its source material.  Still, this is a solid 3.5 star effort that deserves a look, or two. Both are available to stream, via Amazon, or to be rented or purchased in DVD.

Fans of Japanese cinema will enjoy this offering perhaps a bit more than the annoyed fans of the manga. There is a lot of violence, a bit of low-key no-genital nudity and no cursing to be seen in the subtitles.

Check out the trailer below:

The Accountant (2016): Ben Affleck’s Rain Man (Review)

Ben Affleck as the accountant

The Accountant, written by Bill Dubuque and directed by Gavin O’Connor, could well be dismissed by some as Ben Affleck’s “Rain Man” film. His character either has Aspergers, or, as the film seems to indicate, a high functioning form of autism. The characters in the action thriller never actually come right out and give a direct diagnosis. 

Having a heroic protagonist with some sort of “disability” is not overly unique in the film world. The Pang Brothers (The MessengersRe-cycle) created a hitman in the 2000 film Bangkok Dangerous who was a deaf-mute (they then inexplicably remade the feature in 2008  with Nicholas Cage who played the same character only this time he was neither deaf nor mute. A real shame as he could have been better in the role if that had been the case…)

Another film that had the main character as a kick-arse hero was the Thai martial arts film Chocolate. The female protagonist, like Affleck’s character, is never diagnosed as being either autistic or having Aspergers although it was clear that she was, in that film, a savant in terms of martial arts and did have the condition.

There is no real other comparison to be made with Affleck’s hitman/mathematician Christian Wolf. Wolf can, and indeed does, kick arse physically. He is as deadly with hand-to-hand combat as he is lethal with weapons. In “Chocolate,” Zen (played by JeeJa Yanin) is a savant in every sense of the word. She picks up her skills by some sort of odd osmosis, by watching the martial arts being executed, and Wolf was trained by his father. 

Wolf’s brother, Braxton; played brilliantly by former The Walking Dead regular  Jon Bernthal (Bernthal is about to hit screens in the Netflix adaptation of The Punisher, this year), is as deadly but he lacks the autism which makes Christian that bit more dangerous.

Anna Kendrick plays Dana the accountant who finds out someone has been systematically stealing from her bosses company and John Lithgow is said boss. Oscar winner J.K. Simmons is the IRS treasury agent who enlists an underling to find out who “the accountant” really is and Cynthia Addai-Robinson plays the analysis agent forced into action by Simmons’ character Ray King.

For all the “big” names in the film, Jeffrey Tambor plays Wolf’s old cell mate in prison, the movie is not “high-brow.” While it is not a bog standard thriller by any means, there is enough action and plot to keep even the most jaded movie goer interested.

Even viewers who are not fans of Ben Affleck, like my friend the local librarian – who cannot abide Affleck’s “lack of talent” – enjoyed the film and thought he brought much to the role. Granted, the level of interaction between Affleck’s character and others in the film is subdued. However, the most endearing part of the film occurs when the two brothers meet up later in the film. “Hello Braxton,” says Wolf in a way that is sweet and completely incongruous with the scenario. (It is one of the best bits of the film.)

There is a humorous attempt at a burgeoning romance between Wolf and Dana. It works, but only just, and quite wisely the film lets this matter drop without too much fanfare.

To be perfectly honest, the movie delivers more on the action sequences, and Christian’s almost super-human prowess as both an accountant for the world’s most dangerous people and hitman than it does on the character development department.

Affleck does well as does Bernthal, although the only real disappointment here is that the “twist” reveals itself all too early in the film. The constant flashbacks, despite the lack of time spent on Wolf’s brother make this a no brainer.

Simmons brings his usual workmanlike performance and Addai-Robinson gets too little screen time, as does Kendrick, but overall the cast deliver adequately although Lithgow seems to be relegated to two dimensional baddie who panics in the end.

The Accountant delivers and fires on most cylinders. It is a solid 4 star film that relies on the action to entertain. There are  few laughs, mainly the interaction between Kendrick’s character and Affleck’s but, once again, this is forgivable as the film really is more action than anything else.

Affleck does well in the fight sequences and director O’Connor puts everything together nicely.  There is no sign of the star’s Batman persona, he manages to perform his deadly tasks with all the emotion of a dead-eyed doll, and he only shows any real emotion when he cannot finish any job at hand.

It is well worth a look and can be watched on Amazon, iTunes, Google play and so on. Have a look at the trailer: