Skyscraper (2018)

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Juggernaut action star Dwayne Johnson is back for his second blockbuster of the year, after ‘Rampage’. This time around he’s tackling terrorists, Hong Kong cops and a star-piercing blaze.

Former FBI Hostage Rescuer Will Sawyer (Johnson) now assesses security, which has landed him and his family a stay in the new residential section of the worlds tallest building. The Pearl is meant to be perfectly safe but whilst Will is out and about, a group of terrorists storm the skyscraper and start a fire in the hope of smoking out something valuable and Will’s children and wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) are also trapped inside.

Director of ‘We’re the Millers’ and writer/director for ‘Dodgeball’, Rawson Marshall Thurber is in charge of this summer action movie. He’s clearly handled comedies well before but this film feels like a strange combination of trying to be serious and gritty yet also self aware of it’s ridiculousness. Saying that, he manages to ensure the film which clearly echoes ‘Die Hard’ has some of it’s own cool set pieces to sell.

In terms of spectacle, ‘Skyscraper’ has a good couple of stand out examples. The crane sequence is finely executed if not totally unrealistic, a makeshift bridge within The Pearl racks up some fiery suspense and the inner workings of the spherical top to the building itself provides us a Truman Show-esque shot of Sawyer over a city skyline and this same venue becomes the backdrop for a genuinely great sense-meddling final act battle.

All the visual effects team deserve mention because they’ve made this humongous skyscraper feel somewhat believable, plus the cinematic quality of The Pearl’s design are massively sleek and hands the film an awesome visual flair. Even with this futuristic, gleaming quality I felt that the movie wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as I’d expected, it’s not overly fun or silly like it should have been. The attempts of tension and strained family drama never hooked me in. It’s almost like they were shooting for a genuine disaster movie with tongue in cheek aspects duct taped on, which feels a bit off for me.

The rocky mountain himself provides that expected charm that he’s proven over and over. It’s also nice to see Mr. Johnson playing a character with a physical flaw and being someone that can actually get hurt and pushed around instead of the usual indestructible roles he’s become the poster boy for.

Some flashy visuals and a handful of action don’t do enough to stop the film suffering from not being as heart poundingly engaging as it deserved to be. Turn your brain off and don’t turn it back on again to enjoy ‘Skyscraper’ to the fullest.

6/10

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Tag (2018)

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Adulting can be tough, that’s life unfortunately but a bunch of mates playing a game of tag aka ‘it’ in their childhood and over 30 years later, putting aside realities of the real world to still catch each other sounds cool right? Well this actually happened and this comedy takes inspiration from that wacky true story.

Hoagie (Ed Helms) is keen to get his group of friends back together for one last hurrah in the hopes of tagging Jerry (Jeremy Renner); the only member whose never been caught. Every year in May, they play tag wherever and whenever. As the month ticks on and Jerry nears his wedding day, Hoagie and his trio of buddies try to finally get their friend.

The idea itself is a unique and amusing one, from the time I saw the trailer I was on board, because it looked like the film would be genuinely funny with a quirky story throughout. The comedy falls flat though and the actual juvenile witnessing of adults playing a child’s game, seen in some post credit videos are the light-hearted fun that the movie failed at entirely.

Tonally, this movie feels rather odd. It’s like a strange juggling act of typical American prat-falling with more serious elements of how they’re behaving and what they do no matter the cost. A narrative of playing this extensive game of tag to stay in contact could be endearing but it’s not explored enough. What we get instead, are excessive uses of swearing, slapstick violence and slow motion fights with a vaguely comic but over the top Renner voice over.

I will admit there are some funny moments, for example; three of them slapping each other in a small circle so they aren’t it or a house-break that goes beyond where you’d expect. Then there’s a genuinely unfunny joke made me seize up super-hard; a miscarriage strand that’s elongated, truly dark and wildly unfunny. The rest of the movie comes short of the premise and feels little like a comedy, thanks to my mind thinking that with just a tiny shift of direction and a change of score this feature could easily be a horror, Jerry and his dominance are almost sinister and the team are all fairly unlikable.

Helms helms the rag-tag group together nicely, he gives it his all as the competitive ringleader out to finally catch his distant compadre. Jake Johnson is amusing when believing the world is ‘The Truman Show’ and comes across like a stoner version of Nick Miller from ‘New Girl’. Renner drops his Hawkeye arrows but utilises his hero-like Avenger training as the fit and strongest tag player. Isla Fisher is a talented actor and usually funny but here she does little else than shout profanities aggressively. Jon Hamm also has little to do, he smoulders well and plays a tinge of arrogance but feels like the business bound chap to easily get the Wall Street Journal arc into play. Annabelle Wallis plays that journalist and like us is an onlooker to this madness, watching on in disbelief.

I feel like the true aspect itself is a dumb yet good idea but the film runs away with it too much and can’t handle the heavier story points. I was mildly entertained at times and some of the action is exciting but the cast look like they had more fun making it than I had watching them in it.

5/10

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

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I missed this when it was on cinematic release but thanks to good ol’ Netflix, I’ve now rectified that wrong. I say it’s a wrong because I’m glad I watched this movie; it’s a breezy fun action flick that satisfied me from start to end.

Former triple A rated bodyguard is down on his luck after an unfortunate mission, but Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is still good at what he does and is called to protect former adversary Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). It happens that Kincaid is a hitman in Manchester, needing to be at the Hague in the Netherlands to testify against a possibly genocidal leader without being killed or killing his ‘protector’.

Okay okay, the film may not be a marvel or genius example of film-making but if you’re looking for some high octane comedic affair then look no further than this feature that excels thanks to the selling point of it’s leading double act. The script from Tom O’Connor never breaks the mould and it’s obvious throughout how the sequence of events will play out but in a way that makes the film more fun to follow. Also, some attempts to mix in the action and comedy with grounded politics and pearls of wisdom about their two roles in society and what they do feel a bit misplaced against the lighter charm presented.

Again, the direction by Patrick Hughes isn’t something that steps up out of the generic action staple we’re used to seeing but he shows off some neat explosive sequences with confidence and they’re some breezy action moments that don’t yawn with Michael Bay slow motion syndrome. A ‘Black Betty’ backed car chase, a fast jaunt along the canals of Amsterdam and an early Manchester based hit all do a great job in providing exciting action.

It’s easy to see why this film has scooped up a sequel; not just because it did well at the box office against a 30 million budget but it crackles and fizzles thanks to an energetic chemistry between unsuited Deadpool and extended hi-jinks from Detective P.K. Highsmith (The Other Guys). Reynolds turns down his expected Merc with the Mouth shtick and plays around with a semi-boring is best play it by the letter unromantic dude. He gets a few funnies but does a good thing in playing the straight guy hopelessly trying to rein in the balls to the wall maniac-like tactics from Jackson’s portrayal of Darius. If Samuel L. Jackson’s laugh isn’t enough to infect you then I don’t know what is because he’s clearly having a great time in this role. Gary Oldman as the Belarus PM brings effective chill to a part that other actors would have just hammed up or not tried in. Salma Hayek is underused but also seems to be having fun in a role that sees her shouting profanities and being a suitable partner for Jackson.

There are problems, mostly down to cliches and it not being an action film I’ll likely remember in 5, perhaps 2 years but for the time being it sits nicely with me as an entertaining jolt of enjoyment.

6.5/10

Ocean’s 8 (2018)

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I’ll admit now that I have never seen any of the George Clooney led ‘Ocean’s’ movies, but this stands tall by itself thanks to a sparky cast and I’d not begrudge this doing well enough to gain itself trilogy status.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has spent over 5 years in jail but manages to get out after a parole hearing. All that time inside got her concocting a heist to steal a diamond necklace to be worn at the annual Met Gala in New York. She enlists the help of 6 others, including former crime partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) and hopefully her plan will land them all, a lot of dollar indeed.

The script by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch is the weakest player in the game. There’s not enough twisty turns to keep the hustle flowing and one of the swerves it does throw at you, I guessed before even seeing the film, thanks to the trailers, promotional imagery and the name of the film itself. If you overlook the quite formulaic narrative then you’ll be faced with an enjoyable flick.

Anything that reminds me of the cool swindling found in BBC’s ‘Hustle’ makes me happy and the production quality in certain places of ‘Ocean’s 8’ is stylishly pulled off. There’s a sort of revelry to be had in watching guilty folk being tricked which Mickey, Danny and his television chums did all the time. This film retains some of that but doesn’t quite justify Debbie’s actions as she does it because it’s what she’s good at and for revenge; another showcase of the plot not being as strong or dynamic as it could have been.

I enjoyed little character moments of small scams and the planning aspect has some entertaining quirks, if not slightly stretching in places. Luckily the first Monday in May sequence hits and the ladies do their thing as the Met gets well and truly in the swing of things. This big plan is directed well; bursting with well dressed celebrities, slick editing and just a pinch of light tension. This sequence, like the majority of the movie, is a glamorous joy to sit back and watch.

Bullock and Blanchett are a formiddable duo and are on top form playing the intelligent and crafty leaders. The scheme being no major sweat off their brow is utterly believable, as is Helena Bonham Carter playing failing, scatty Irish fashion designer Rose who is on the brink of ruin. Rihanna gleefully plays tech smart Nine Ball and her reactions are priceless as she sells her character enjoying every second of the work she’s been hired into. Sarah Paulson is great in everything and here as Tammy, she plays equal measure of business confidence and mumsy warmth nicely. I’m not a fan of either Anne Hathaway or James Corden but I have to say that the former is clearly lapping up the fun of her egocentric turn as Daphne Kluger. The latter….well, for once he’s well cast as an annoying, smarmy insurance guy who can get in the way.

‘Ocean’s 8’ is harmless fun and the con work may not be groundbreaking but there’s a ball to be had spotting cameos, admiring dresses and feeling the effortless cinematic chemistry of the eight females on show.

6.5/10

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

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It wasn’t a long time ago, on a cinema screen not that far away, that we had a Star Wars adventure to revel in. Moving on from the hugely divisive ‘The Last Jedi’, we get this spin-off story which centres on Han Solo and his life before turning into Harrison Ford.

On a less than glamorous planet, lives Han (Alden Ehrenreich) who aspires to be a pilot and see the stars with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). As they attempt an escape, Han ends up by himself and over subsequent years he clings onto any person or team he can, in the hope to make some money, get a ship and find Qi’ra again.

I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m not the biggest Star Wars fanboy. I know enough of the originals to get by and find the recent offerings to be entertaining but hearing that Han was to get a feature, wasn’t something I had any feeling about whatsoever and it still vaguely feels that way after watching the film. It’s enjoyable enough and deepens Han and his world but it never blew me away or felt like something I’d choose to watch more than the one time.

This movie has numerous flaws and a big one lays within the comedic elements the script strains to lean towards at times. The writing of these lighter lines sound forced and maybe boil down to the aftermath of the troubled production; what with previous comedy duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being kicked out and replaced by Ron Howard. The latter director finds his stride away from the comedy moments and he provides some strong directing in the building of the titular character and adding treachery.

There are also a good number of places where I felt this film was lagging and dare I say, lame. It took a while to feel like the cool science fiction western it’s trying to be and earlier scenes setting up everything didn’t exactly do their best in inviting me in like they should. In my opinion the plot does get better as it goes on and nearer the end, as the mission almost wraps, is where I felt the progressing character paths became so much more engaging and interesting. A neat level of are they/aren’t they back and forth is also played with well.

I had fun whilst watching two major sequences; one being an earlier train heist and the other actually showing us the quotable Kessel Run moment. Both these big blockbuster scenarios are gripping and very well made. They each share elements of fun, personal stakes and visual skill which heightens the drama. Luckily these sequences did just about enough to make me forgive the many uses of extremely on the nose dialogue throughout the movie and moments that caused an eye roll – how Han got his name being a major example.

Ehrenreich is a great youthful Solo, he carries a swag and boyish yet capable know-how which works, with just the right level of roguish charm that I’m sure Ford would admire. Clarke is a captivating character helped by the fact she’s a captivating actor. She definitely does well in playing cards close to her chest, being smart, kick-ass and someone you just can’t quite work out. Donald Glover pretty much steals the galaxy, as do his eye-catching capes. It looks like he’s having a ball playing Lando Calrissian; someone else who can be unreadable and whip smart. Phoebe Waller-Bridge may be a good performer but I found the droid character of L3-37 to be an annoying robot sidekick that never grew on me. Paul Bettany is slightly underused but is a believable villain in a world that’s set up as untrustworthy. Anyone could have an agenda against good hearted motives, anyone that is but Han, whether he’d admit it or not.

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ possesses some moments that make you feel as if you’re in the Millennium Falcon; a cinematic theme park ride to enjoy. Then there’s other moments where both the action and story lulls and you wonder why we need to see this story. There’s fun to be had but it’s not a well-oiled machine.

6.5/10

 

 

 

Rampage (2018)

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As you’d now come to expect from films headlined by Dwayne Johnson, this one doesn’t break from the loud, action filled ridiculousness template. Sadly, it does crack at the fun element and feels like more brain-dead than ‘San Andreas’; if that’s somehow possible.

Davis (Dwayne Johnson) is a primatologist who luckily happens to be more an creature fan than a people person. He’s friends with an albino gorilla called George, but one night George is exposed to a pathogen that blends animal genes which makes him bigger and angrier. As George and two other monstrous beasts make a beeline for Chicago, it’s up to Davis and Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to try and stop them.

The plot is gigantically stupid and I know it’s vaguely based on a video game, but it’s still hilariously silly and utterly convenient when it needs to suit a point or keep The Rock alive like a powered up console character. It’s definitely a film where you need to switch off your brains to fully enjoy the spectacle but it still could have been a numbing dud but thanks to the charisma of Johnson; again playing a character he could act in his sleep, we have a movie that’s rocky but an enjoyable blast.

It’s a visual film, not in the way of being dazzling or creative, but more in the usual blockbuster sense of carnage and seeing lots of things tossed around. Helicopters and people become playthings for the animals as they rampage across Chicago. So if seeing buildings crumble, Dave and Busters getting busted and vehicles getting ripped like shreds of paper is your bag, then this is right up your street. It’s odd that even with all this destruction, the film does feel slightly long and almost reaches a tired slog.

Some of this tiredness may stem from the poor attempts at comedy littered lazily through the movie. Normally in a Dwayne Johnson-led vehicle, the zingy one liners do indeed zing, that isn’t really the case with ‘Rampage’. Aside from an amusing reference to his song in ‘Moana’, the repertoire and jokes don’t land well and seem achingly forced. Even the initially interesting, nice built up comradery between Davis and George get muddied and mined for predictable middle finger gags.

Johnson, as stated, is a solid lead playing firmly to stereotype but delightfully so. Harris can do so much better but seems to be having a proper good time opposite Dwayne. Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy present a weird sibling dynamic and their evils could have been more realised and less hammy, but at least Akerman’s character is gifted the brains of the pair and commits an unexpected action. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a government agent with a delicious Texan drawl that is also hammed up and has him spieling like Lotso Huggin’ Bear as he helps the film and Davis rock on.

‘Rampage’ may be as dumb as a brick but I can’t say I didn’t get a kick from watching it.

6.5/10

Blockers (2018)

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Admittedly I wasn’t expecting much when I saw the trailer for this American comedy, but I should learn to not judge movies by trailers because this is a smart overturn on the usual laddish, adolescent sexual awakening that is found in almost every movie of this type.

With prom night coming fast, three best friends since the first day of school, agree to a sex pact of losing their virginity at the same time. Accidentally discovering this news via iPad, the girls parents do all they can to find their ‘sweet’ daughters and block them from having sex.

Kay Cannon; who had great influence behind ’30 Rock’ and ‘New Girl’, debuts as director with this female led comedy. One of the best things surrounding the feel of this film, is how pitch perfect (pun kind of intended) it is, in regards to finally toning down the boring frat boy nature of teen sex movies and seeing how the other half live, so to speak. Obviously, as a guy I can’t speak for the emotions/thoughts women go through before their first time, but it is refreshing to see something where girls go hard and still retain a genuine sister like bond.

A lot of the laughs, mostly from people around me, stemmed from the physical humour played by the adults of the scenario. I didn’t exactly laugh or chuckle very often, but I do agree that this is a fun film and the scrapes the parents end up in, however ridiculous, are entertaining to witness. To balance the comedy, there’s alright chemistry with the friends and enough behind the shift in life that happens, as the children inevitably fly the nest, as we all do. It may be obvious and not exactly refined or clever writing but it works for the target audience.

One of the girls is struggling with their sexuality and I found this a possibility to fill the film with more heart, to acknowledge all aspects of who are and who we like. It works in regards to the eventual father/daughter chat, but the moments where the film shows us the character looking at this caped beauty, arrives with mystical almost Oriental music which felt tonally off and like they’re playing this attraction for laughs. It almost harks to the Lady in Red use in ‘Dodgeball’.

There’s no doubt that this movie belongs to John Cena, who manages to squeeze overly worrying fatherhood in every look and action. It’s not exactly hilarious but it’s damn close. Leslie Mann excels as the clingy mother and Ike Barinholtz effectively annoys as the absent dad but gets his chance for predictable redemption. Angela Hayes lives another life as Julie; a girly girl who likes ‘Sixteen Candles’ and hopes for a perfect first time, played convincingly by Kathryn Newton. As a general note, it would have been good to see more of the 3 teens stories and less of the prat falls and dilemmas the parents face.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is a cracking comedy, but there are good sparky moments that can make you laugh and best of all, it’s an open minded film about womanhood, sex, family and John Cena having a ball.

6.5/10