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.

Scream MTV Small Screen Slasher More Annoying Less Fun

First victim in Scream MTV
In 1996 Wes Craven started the Scream franchise, which to be fair came later, and, giving a great big cheeky nod to Alfred Hitchcock, killed off the film’s star in the first five minutes. The film was Craven’s homage with a tongue-in-cheek delivery to all things “slasher film” since the genre took off in the 1970s. The first film, like the rest, featured a strong female protagonist (or two counting Courtney Cox’s character) an endearing, and bumbling cop and some pretty spot on nods and winks to the genre and a lot of humor. It also featured Roger Jackson, who “appeared” (more accurately he was heard) in every Scream film as “Ghostface.”

The idea of taking the “scream-verse” to the small screen sounds like a great idea on paper, at least it must have to get MTV to get involved, but Scream lacks so much and the small screen slasher is more annoying and less fun than its inspiration. Certainly watching the first four episodes (“for free, then just sign into your MTV app and…”) there are things that work, albeit, barely.

There is a fairly good backstory, but it does feel like a Halloween borrow, giving the mask way more significance than Wes Craven or Kevin Williamson ever did. Certainly the creators of Scream “TV” have taken the idea of cell phone culture to heart. Using the young’s propensity to text rather than call on their cell, it almost negates the use of a “ghostface” voice changer, aka Roger Jackson (who, incidentally was never approached by the makers to work on the new series). Perhaps the most annoying thing about the show is the cheap trick by the program makers of having someone do a pretty underwhelming impression of Jackson on the phone and not having the “real deal.”

Certainly the unwillingness of the program’s makers to payout for the “real” Ghostface spells out all that is wrong with this show. Other problems deal with their use of the Internet, which Craven and Williamson opened the door on in Scream 4. Podcasts, the use of the net to promote instant “fame” (“How do you think people become famous any more? You don’t have to achieve anything. You just gotta have f***ed up-sh*t happen to you.” Jill tells Sidney this, before attempting to take over as hero of the Woodsboro story. Of course the proviso is that one has to film it, upload the footage and reap the rewards.)

Presumably the twist of the last Scream opened the door for this small screen version. The end result is one of overall disappointment. Where is the humor? Gone, like Roger Jackson and Kevin Williamson. The wry, sly, delivery that oversaw all the larger-than-life murders, buckets of blood, quips, plot twists and the likable main protagonists are all missing.

Emma Fitzgerald appears to be the small screen version of Sidney Prescott. She even comes from a broken home, single mom, versus Sid’s single dad scenario. Although mom is a coroner and dad is not dead, at least so far, he just does not live locally anymore. There is no Dewy and Gale Weathers appears to be taken over by a podcast crime aficionado Piper Shay, who lacks the career killer instinct that Weathers had in spades.

Noah Foster, played by John Karna, is a sort of Randy replacement, without the majestic geekiness that Jamie Kennedy infused the character with, although he is a crime buff and not a film one. He is also, a gamer.

The main problem with the small screen Scream is that this tries to be all things to all groups. There is a gay character, who was once bestie’s with Emma, who has yet to really prove to be anywhere near the equal of Sidney, but then who can really compete with Neve Campbell?

Answer?

Not many.

The acting is okay. There are things that stand out. John Karna’s broadcaster style delivery works and his (short-term) girl Riley Marra, played by Brianne Tju, had brilliant chemistry onscreen with Karna and Tju had the best death scene ever. Riley, who stupidly leaves the relative safety of the police station, gets stabbed repeatedly. She climbs to the roof and after slapping one bloody palm on the skylight to get the janitor’s attention, speaks to Noah, via FaceTime. Noah asks where she is, “What can you see,” he asks. As she dies, Riley rolls over to lay on her back facing the night sky. “Your stars,” she whispers and expires.

Not bad.

Unfortunately that two word descriptive fits the show all too well. Rather interestingly, the series seems to be fairly popular. Perhaps these fans are younger audience members who do not get what Craven and Williamson were doing with the big screen original franchise. Thus far the TV version lacks originality, which if would do as it is based upon a successful and beloved film franchise, and it has no humor. It takes itself far too seriously, going for the scare and leaving the humor out of the formula.

Although having said that, Noah does come close to being comic relief, but the working word here is “close.” Oddly, the best thing about the MTV show is the music. It sets scenes beautifully and supports the action very well. This makes sense, it is, after MTV. (Obligatory “Duh” entered here.) Sadly, great music and a kick-ass soundtrack do not a great series make.

One can forgive the lack of a Ghostface voice, since the plot does pretty much rely upon the text function of today’s smart phones, but to then use another actor Mike Vaughn to do a Roger Jackson style delivery is insulting. Not only to Jackson but to fans of the original who so desperately wanted to love this small screen Scream. Granted, it is not really clear if Vaughn is the voice on the phone, he is listed as “killer” rather than phone voice or “ghostface” wannabe. Just one more annoying thing about this show that is much less than the film franchise that inspired it.

Scream airs Tuesdays on MTV. Watch it and “catch up” if you are behind and see what you think. Prepare to be a little underwhelmed, this is a lot less fun than Craven’s films. Fans of horror with humor may want to hold out for Scream Queens on FOX.

Honeymoon (2014) If You Go Into the Woods Tonight

Poster for Honeymoon
Upon reading that Sony Pictures have made the decision to remake The Craft, my first reaction was one of horror. Added to this was the news that a newcomer, Leigh Janiak, was slated to direct this new version of the cult hit. Reading up on the proposed director it appears that she may be roughly 12 years old and her only prior credit in the “big chair” was on the 2014 film Honeymoon.

Curious, I checked out the title via IMDb, where the site helpfully informed me that the film was available on Netflix. Reopening my membership amid hamburger wrappers and quickly refilling my coffee cup, I settled down to watch a film that impressed me no end. It could have been titled “If You Go Into the Woods Tonight” with a warped “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” playing in the background.

The story of two young people, both delightfully quirky yet annoyingly cute in their new marriage, who are on their honeymoon, hence the title of the film. The new couple learn that heading back to the lakeside vacation home from the girl’s childhood for the celebration of their new life together is the biggest mistake ever.

Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) are the newlywed couple who are nauseatingly in love at the start of the film. It takes Janiak a good 16 minutes to show the audience just how much these two are in tune with one another. While their interaction is a bit on the sickly side, “My Honeybee,” he whispers, “Buzzzz” she replies, putting two fingers on his pursed lips, it does show just why these two are perfect for one another.

Paul and Bea decide to head down to the local restaurant where they find a man breaking lamps and yelling that they are closed. The unhappy owner, Will (played by Ben Huber), then recognizes Bea who he refers to as Trixie and it turns out that they were childhood friends. Will’s wife Annie (Hanna Brown) comes out and tells the couple that they need to leave. Annie does not look well and the disturbed newlyweds leave.

Later, Paul wakes up alone and goes in search of his missing wife. As he stumbles around the dark property surrounding the house and the lake, he comes upon a silent Bea standing motionless in the dark. She is naked and when he touches his wife, she screams.

From this moment on, the film and the couple change. A slow build up of odd events and strange looking “bites” on the inside of Bea’s thighs are just the start of the newlyweds problems. Janiak proves to be a master at allowing the initial breakdown to seem like the jittery nerves of any new couple. She then expertly starts piling on the pressure and the mystery.

At first, the viewer suspects that this could be a “Straw Dogs” type scenario, where heading to the wife’s old stomping grounds opens up all sort of inbred problems. As the film progresses, however, this turns out to be a false lead and as the suspense and fear increase, things turn out to be much worse than a bunch of village idiots attacking the new guy in the local girl’s life

Certainly Janiak looks too young to drive on her own, but in terms of filmmaking, she impresses. Leigh looks more than capable of directing another take on the original The Craft although there is the question of just who will take the roles of these teen witch wannabes.

The Craft (1996) had a brilliant cast, Neve Campbell, Robin Tunny, Fairuza Balk and Rachel True and these ladies will be hard to replace. Especially Balk who knocked her part out of the park. Despite my initial misgivings about the idea of remaking one of my favorite films, I believe that Sony have picked the right person to helm the new Craft film.

If you have not seen Honeymoon, check it out on Netflix. This “If You Go Into the Woods Tonight” will make you jump and think. A great little film, shot for an estimated $1 million, that shows real talent and is a great little cautionary tale about staying in the woods, in a house, by a lake, with no one else around….

Leigh Janiak’s first horror film earns a full 4 out of 5 stars for entertainment value and plot. My advice? Watch it.

The Craft (1996): A Twisted Teen Tale

Cover of "The Craft (Special Edition)"

*WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Directed and co-written by Andrew Fleming and Peter Filardi (who came up with the original story) The Craft is about four teen girls who use wiccan magic to improve their lot in life. This 1996 film was a sleeper hit. Something it has in common with the 1984 film The Karate Kid. Word of mouth after The Craft opened made it popular.

The four girls that the film centres around are all in high school and each one is a social outcast and misfit. Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) moves to Los Angeles with a troubled past. She appears to naturally have magical powers of her own. When she starts at the local high school she meets three other girls who have taught themselves magic and have formed a coven.

The leader is gothy girl Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk) who comes from a severely dysfunctional family unit. The other two members of this small coven are Bonnie (Neve Campbell) who suffers from disfiguring burns and Rochelle (Rachel True) who appears to be the only black person in the school.

Leader Nancy, pretty scary even before the power.

All three girls suffer mistreatment from their fellow classmates, especially Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor) who is the leader of the bullying faction. Sarah notices the high school hunk Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich) and he in turn notices her. After their one date together he ignores her and tells the entire school that they had sex. Sarah is furious.

Bonnie and Rochelle notice that Sarah seems to have some magical power and they talk Nancy into recruiting her into their coven. Because of Sarah’s latent power, the group’s magic becomes more powerful and the girls all do spells to improve their lives.

Bonnie heals her disfiguring scars. Rochelle casts a spell on Laura (her tormentor) that causes her hair to fall out. Nancy causes her abusive stepfather to die and she and her mother inherit a huge insurance payout. Sarah casts a love spell on Chris.

Everything seems to go well for a short while. But Nancy is enjoying her first taste of real magic and she forces the group to take part in a rite called the “Invocation of the Spirit” where they call on Manon a deity described as being more powerful than God. Nancy wants the power they’ve raised for herself. At the end of the ceremony she is struck by lightning and becomes incredibly powerful.

Invoking the spirit…for Nancy.

Things start to go wrong for the girls.

Chris tries to rape Sarah. Laura is found huddling in the floor sobbing because of her hair. Nancy decides to punish Chris for his attempted rape and kills him.

Sarah decides that she wants nothing more to do with the coven and the others of the group gang up against her. Nancy decides that if Sarah won’t rejoin the coven that she will kill her like she did Chris.

What none of the girls have bargained for is the fact that Sarah is the only real witch in the coven.  Earlier in the film, Nancy takes the newly recruited Sarah into a magic store. The proprietor of the store focuses on Sarah telling her that she is extremely powerful in the world of magic and that  she has inherited the gift from her mother.

When the final battle between Nancy and Sarah erupts, Sarah wins and the intensity of the magical bout drives Nancy insane. The end of the film finds Nancy strapped to a bed in a padded room, clearly out of her mind and Bonnie and Rochelle attempt a reconciliation with Sarah.

There are at least two interesting things to note about the film’s cast. Firstly, all the actors were well past their teen years but Rachel True was the oldest as she was almost 30 years old. Secondly this was the first time that Neve Campbell worked with Skeet Ulrich. They went on to work in Wes Craven‘s Scream. Ulrich was Neve’s love interest in Scream and in a case of history repeating itself, he played the same type of unpleasant character.

Hello, to the future Billy Loomis…

The Craft is a fantastic film that has aged quite well in the special effects department. The plot, dealing with the vagaries of high school and the misery that it can inflict on its inhabitants, is still relevant.

The vast majority of people who live through the fishbowl world of high school do not enjoy it. There are the few who excel in this micro environment, but  they usually never replicate the success they enjoy as the leaders and charismatic magnets.

The Craft focuses on the losers and the misfits and their small taste of power. It is a brilliant look at how power, whether it is magical in origin or not, can change a person.

At the beginning of the film we can all relate to the little coven and their newest recruit. We are shown why their lives are so out of balance and unhappy. The strict Catholic high school world they inhabit does not have the latitude to help them out of their social “class” or their unhappy home lives.

Bonnie is  shy and has no self-confidence  because of the horrible scarring that covers so much of her body. When she is able, with the addition of Sarah’s real magic, to heal or cover her scars she changes. She turns into a narcissistic creature with no room in her life for anything else.

Nancy is pushy but socially inept. Because of her abusive and unhappy home life she will never be able to claw her way out of the life she seems doomed to lead. She has anger management problems and easily “rides herd” over the other two members of her coven. Once she has tasted life, again with the addition of Sarah’s real power, she becomes almost maniacal. The magic, for her, has never been about just improving her life but about punishing others.

Rochelle, a bit flat…

Rochelle is sadly the only almost two dimensional character in the film. Oddly, she appears to be the only non-caucasian student in the entire school. Her tormentors are stereotypically racist, almost comically so, and it is the only part of the film that has not aged very well. We never see any of Rochelle’s home life to see why she is so bothered by Laura and her racially motivated verbal attacks and her lack of ability to deal with them.

Sarah, despite her troubled past, is clearly the most “normal” one of the group. She is an outsider, the newcomer who will have to find her place in the new school she has to attend. Her emotional burden is having to deal with the death of her mother and a stepmother who is in the unenviable position of having to fill her place. What Sarah has in common with the other girls is her lack of focus and her unhappiness. That she has magic is clear from the very beginning of the film.

Unlike the other girls though, Sarah has no ulterior motive or hidden agenda. Nancy’s true goal has been domination of her “fellow-man” and Bonnie and Rochelle are her friends mainly because of her rebellious nature and gothy magical leanings.

At the end of the film we see Bonnie and Rochelle’s attempt to get back with Sarah. That their motives are suspect is soon proved when Sarah rejects their advances and they walk off angrily. As they leave the girls begin to grumble that Sarah obviously doesn’t have any real magical talent and that they wasted their time. She gives them a taste of her still very powerful wiccan prowess and they leave silently.

All the actors involved in the film sell their characters. Fairuza Balk is scary as the pushy Wiccan goth chic. She never fails to convince that she is so tightly strung that she might snap. When she becomes almost unstoppable later in the film she goes from scary to terrifying. She does induce sympathy from the viewer, especially when we get a glimpse of her home life, but the feeling is replaced with fear when she shows just how power mad and vengeful her character is.

Scary “Losing her shit” Nancy

Robin Tunney did have a habit of appearing a bit lackadaisical in the acting department. I will admit it took me a bit of time to warm to her character. Even when she is fighting for her life at the end of the film, I felt her actions were just short of lethargic. She does manage to give her character a bit of umph at the very end though so I don’t want to sell her too short.

Neve Campbell’s performance suffered only because in my mind she will always be the fighter Sidney Prescott from Scream. Sorry Neve. But future boyfriend Skeet Ulrich was suitably nasty and  love struck in turns.

This film with its theme of magic and teen angst is a must see.  It is a definite two popcorn bag film and I highly recommend it.