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

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Pacific Rim Uprising (2018)

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Almost 5 years after ‘Pacific Rim’, comes this monster follow up that sees a debut role for Steven S. DeKnight as feature film director. Gladly, Guillermo del Toro has producing credit and seems to have retained some neat apocalypse cancelling world-building in what is otherwise a silly yet joyous popcorn flick.

Ten years have shuttled by since the monstrous Kaiju breached the Pacific Ocean and destroyed many cities. Now, former Jaeger front-runner, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) is taken out of his scavenging ways to train new cadets. A promising talent lies within Amara (Cailee Spaeny), but is she and the battle station ready for the troubling return of the Kaiju?

I haven’t actually seen the 2013 movie since it was released but I recall it being a tremendous blast on the IMAX screens and enjoyed the moments of del Toro handled monster-lore in between the beast vs robot carnage. This one definitely seems to have a tongue firmly stuck in its cheek with a movie that is more about the fun side of proceedings.

You really don’t need to go into this film remembering many aspects of the first feature, or in fact with your mind on at all, it’s a pre-summer blockbuster kind of film that is as subtle as having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick! If that’s your thing then you’re in for a great treat and I honestly have to say that I enjoyed pretty much the entirety of this film.

How the trainee cadets are ever ready to perfectly mind-meld for duty and fight the Kaiju is a thought to push away, as is the question about never once knowing Idris Elba had a son, oh and the countless helpful convenient plot points. But, this isn’t a film warranting script scrutiny, as said, this is one of these films that doesn’t try to be anything more than the big screen madness of its smashy smashy noise.

DeKnight takes over from Academy Award holder del Toro and you can unmistakably see his TV show – ‘Spartacus’ style. The robots beating the metal crap out of each other, the lighthearted asides, the frequent almost epic slow-mo shots all come from his Starz days, from a show I rather enjoyed to tell the truth and that gladiatorial experience has helped craft an enjoyable sci-fi combat movie.

Boyega excels in a fun role here, bursting almost to the seams with quips to counter any possible predicament. It’s a character with far more energy, engagement and sparkle than Finn from the recent Star Wars movies. Scott Eastwood doesn’t really do much in a supporting role that sees him bark orders at people and twinkle his ‘handsome’ eyes when necessary. Spaeny is a talented up and coming actor, her performance is refreshing, vulnerable and yet brashly confident which works well opposite Boyega. Burn Gorman and Charlie Day resume their characters from before, with the former doing well in a backseat science supervisor kinda way and the latter pulling typical Charlie Day shouting and vague comedy that feels wrong considering where his amped up role journeys.

I was never eagerly awaiting a sequel but now this one has arrived in cinemas I can’t say I dislike the fact it exists. It’s a rampaging delight of big and bold destruction and in the words of the late, great Eduard Khil: “Trololo” indeed, this is a damn fun film to feast upon.

6.5/10

 

The Commuter (2018)

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A typical set up of mysterious question and the capable Irish action star come together on a plane…sorry train this time but in fact it’s not as bad as you’d think. Sure it has flaws and is something akin to what we’ve seen before but it’s a silly delight.

Serial commuter, Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is used to familiar faces and the hustle and bustle of travelling back and forth through New York but this one day sees him approached by the mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who tells him there’s $25’000 hidden away, plus a further $75’000 if he works out who doesn’t belong on the train before it reaches the end of the line.

From the trailer alone; I guffawed at the typical Liam Neeson vehicle we’re now used to see him starring in. Gladly it surprised me and was a more enjoyable flick than the generic trashy kind of movie I was expecting to witness. That isn’t to say that’s a fantastically well made film that can blow your mind but it’s damn entertaining and comes with carriage loads of thrills to keep the film chugging along nicely.

Director of reasonable shark thriller ‘The Shallows’ and previous Neeson feature ‘Non-Stop’, Jaume Collet-Serra manages to keep the film from derailing for the majority of the thriller outing. There’s a neat set up in the repetitive routine of Michael’s morning and the character introductions are all well and good, nothing special but there’s enough going on to set up the oncoming mystery to be solved. It’s in the strained searching of an unnamed passenger that the film hits a nice stride, as we too attempt to uncover the missing puzzle piece.

There are some downright dumb moments, where actions taken feel forced or action set ups fill the CGI quota and big spectacle box is ticked but the unexpected pleasure is in the storytelling of what the heck is going on and who Michael is trying desperately to find. There are a few twists along the way and some are ones I didn’t see but one quite big reveal is quite an obvious one but it didn’t take away from the fun I had in watching this movie unfold.

A train full of passengers makes for a great cast of characters and it’s these many faces of possible suspects that create the best aspect of the film. Neeson himself is in a role well tailored to him by now and he has the gruff charisma that makes Michael a believable figure to lead the way. Farmiga is a fantastic actor and this possible sinister presence she carries suits her down to the zebra striped shoes she wears. Even the sound of her voice on the phone carries a mysterious air of calm and danger. Jonathan Banks, Roland Moller and Shazad Latif are interesting in their roles of possible players knowing more than they let on; in the sense they are thrust forward a lot more as people to keep an eye on. I won’t go on much more as I feel more cast chatter could spoil the reveals of the movie but it’s a ensemble that work together greatly, in a mostly single set narrative.

This shuttling train thriller has more intrigue and whodunnit suspense than last years ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. Who would have thought that Neeson on a Train would be more engaging and mysterious than an Agatha Christie classic!? Not me, but it truly is a fun and exciting popcorn movie.

7/10

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Yes, this latest in the Trekkie universe is entertaining and feels like it’s ticking boxes of the roots of the show but there’s numerous times where it felt either too campy or too boring. It’s most certainly a blockbuster movie but it ended up being quite loud, crashy and dumb.

3 years into their 5 year mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew land in Yorktown. Kirk goes for a promotion to Vice Admiral but whilst there he sees a distress signal out of the nebula. Once the escape pod figure is rescued the USS Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships and a powerful leader named Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise ensemble end up separated and then together as they try to take down the force of Krall’s plan and army.

Even though my opening paragraph may sound negative, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this film. The major thing being the look of it all. Each new planet and landscape is detailed to glorious colour, texture and ultimate perfection. The sleek quality of the ships, space and creatures are in full effect. It definitely has a sci-fi appeal and visually the movie strikes a neat balance between weird worlds and summer popcorn entertainment.

Jaylah; a new character and a unique looking scavenger is another great addition the film. She’s smart, strong and resourceful and hopefully she’ll stick around with the team. There are some funny moments also, but at times it’s this attempt at comedy that begins waning and feeling out of touch. The comradery is great though and I liked the different pairings the film goes for as the fleet end up separated. Bones and Spock are a highlight of the movie.

It’s really clear to see that Simon Pegg wrote this film, because with Doug Jung there is a quirky stab at comedy that sounds more Cornetto trilogy then Final Frontier. The most impressive piece of writing is having the Enterprise attacked so early on, it’s a cool moment to set up the conflict and the battle look of this sequence is glorious to watch unfold. I think that was the best set-piece of the movie meaning it could only go downwards from that point. Pegg injects perhaps too much jokey attitude in places that deserve to be more tense and the final showdown in Yorktown feels very silly indeed; from gravity streams to glass shard reflections it just appears quite cheesy.

Chris Pine is looking more and more like Kirk as the franchise goes on, he has a smarmy charm but a confident and likable approach to being the captain and as a hero he acts the part. Zachary Quinto is even more the doppelganger to a young Spock, his Vulcan appearance and demeanour providing logic and humour along the way. Idris Elba gets to perform under some admittedly heavy but cool villainous make-up, his usual dominant voice and stature aiding Krall very well. Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is brilliant, she can hold her own and feels right amongst the rest of the story. Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin in one of his last feature roles are all fantastic, creating a sparkling chemistry and getting enough screen-time each to contribute something to the plot.

So yes, this is a fun film for the majority and it looks great, there’s just a heavy touch of dullness in places and the climactic scene feels totally the opposite. It may not live long and prosper but it’ll do until Rogue One comes along.

6/10

 

Hot Rod (2007)

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Goofball comedy has never been goofier in this, an American comedy about a man-child wannabe stuntman. It’s not always funny and the offbeat strokes sometimes suffer from being less clever than I imagine the Lonely Island trio think they are, but it’s silly and mad enough to warrant a watch.

Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) has always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and be an impressive stuntman, alas he owns a chugging moped and can’t even jump one vehicle. So when his step-dad Frank (Ian McShane) suffers a heart problem, Rod tries proving himself by jumping 15 buses to earn enough money for Frank’s surgery. It’s up to him, his buffoonish team and the girl of Rod’s dreams; Denise (Isla Fisher) to make the stunt successful.

Firstly I commend the chemistry of the cast, the stupidity created by Samberg, Bill Hader, Jorma Taccone and Danny McBride is crackling. They’re like a dumb boy band playing school tricks aiming to be cool but utterly utterly failing. It’s generally them as morons and the running trend of moronic humour that keeps this film amusing enough to pay attention.

When the idiot comedy isn’t there or not quite hitting the mark, then the movie feels poor and messy as it tries hurling things into one big jumble. People may find it hilarious but an example of this messiness is as Rod and his half brother Kevin repeat the phrase ‘cool beans’ which transitions into an odd 30-40 second remix of them saying those two words. I love absurd ideas in comedy but at times, more often than not, ‘Hot Rod’ goes down that slippery road and can’t come back.

Akiva Schaffer of Lonely Island fame, directs this comedy certainly knowing how to capture the wilder side of the action. He can also make sure that Samberg plays up to the camera as the dreamer with a brain as small as his stunt talents. The set up and building to the final crazy stunt is well done and does provide a necessary amount of tension even if you can guarantee the result of Rod’s efforts. What I loved the most was the playing around with film, from the Footloose spoof that ends up crashing down a hill to the mention of a convenient monetary amount for the stunt.

I admit openly that I thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack for this feature. It pounds with a energetic 80’s beat from Cutting Crew to Europe. It actually works having so many songs in the film, giving it an extra spin of goofiness as Rod lives a life so right for a 1980’s movie.

Andy Samberg is a good shout for Rod, as he knows how to play that shouty awkward role well. He can be arrogant yet nervous with ease and stupidity is second nature to him so Rod is perfect thanks to his performance. Bill Hader brings in a lisp and a childish manner as friend to Rod, the skating rink and acid story are his finest moments. Isla Fisher is a sweet addition, thankfully giving a fresher less idiotic chunk to the group as she plays the hopeful and kind love interest with positivity. Ian McShane is great when simply smiling just to rile up the main character. Also an odd kudos goes to Chester Tam as Richardson who steals the show for his disregard for posters and his love for pelvic thrusts.

It’s very easy to see why this film didn’t fare well on release but on the other hand it is clear to see why this is a movie that has cult status and people love. It’s not well written and it’s too silly but there’s a skit-like comedy that works in places which is just fine.

5.5/10

 

Hardcore Henry (2016)

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Like a swift kick, punch and slap to the senses, this action film delivers on its promise of being hardcore. It’s a whole load of fun in places but there are some frenetic moments that threaten to disorientate and spoil the enjoyment, gladly that never fully happens.

Waking up in a special lab, Henry finds himself being put back together by his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett). It isn’t long until they’re under attack and Henry’s chased constantly by powerful Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). As Henry grows more accustomed to his bionic abilities he must find Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) who can help him power up.

The premise itself, about a man seeking answers to keep himself alive and ultimately running after revenge to protect his wife is nothing new but it fits the criteria for this bonkers sci-fi/action movie very well. The story is pretty much that, but with some attempts at childhood past’s echoing in to help Henry or odd multiples of characters swallowing the scenery perhaps too much, which loses the glee of what should have been a simple story that never takes off.

From the Bond like opening credits, though with more violent imagery, you know you’re in for an adrenaline fuelled ride that won’t hold back. Ilya Naishuller directs ‘Hardcore Henry’ in such a crazy way. There’s no holds barred as we see the extremities of the main character killing people. Naishuller utilises on the first person perspective in such a manner that luckily makes it less of a gimmick that it may easily have become and more of a tool to explain Henry’s robotic changes. He directs this first person view with a fast and ace knack to throw us into the brutal video game quality of the story.

It is like playing a first person shooter, because Henry or we never speak, we switch through guns and have to get to different checkpoints throughout the narrative to advance before the final boss level. This last fight with endless waves of combat and Akan’s powers taking prominence showcase the brilliant stunt work and effects combination this movie has. There’s a lot of hand to hand fighting, gun work and all out bloodshed that always looks effective that I couldn’t help but get wrapped up in the madness.

Sometimes the POV nature of it all gets too hectic and with all the cuts and speedy movements, a headache comes on trying to keep up. There are times it feels a little messy and in the middle the dumb nonsense of Jimmy and his split personalities drags out and gets too much, even drifting into a fun yet pointless musical number as Jimmy sings to Henry through many changing guises. Also, on a more immersive note, none of the characters are substantial enough and you don’t truly care for any of them, not even Henry making it a sliver away from being just a new filming experience and not a film.

Darya Charusha’s music is awesome and lifts the film to the thrilling craziness it needs to. It blasts in and cuts out frequently adding a comedic spin as Henry reloads or gets up before the score hits back again. Then there’s the stupid yet amazing use of Queen rocketing out the speakers for a fight scene that demonstrates the bat s**t crazy tone of this movie.

Sharlto Copley seems to have a whirl playing Jimmy and Jimmy and Jimmy and so on. It does grow a tad tiresome yes but his acting as the British sergeant is a spiffingly good show. Haley Bennett isn’t the damsel in distress or sexy siren, she’s just a beginning aid for Henry and then admittedly a good surprise third act appearance. Danila Kozlovsky does his best to steal the show, his Lucius Malfoy look and penchant for spieling like a camp and deranged psycho helps him become the ridiculous villain that he is.

Like ‘Crank’ on acid, which says something, this POV movie is sometimes gimmicky and messy but I have to say I found myself grinning like a fool multiple times.

6.5/10

The Dressmaker (2015)

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From the one clip I’d seen, along with the posters, I expected a completely different type of movie. I’ve let this movie simmer for a day to try and decide whether I liked it or not, sufficed to stay I still don’t know. That could be bad on my part but it’s such a varying film of heightened moments that it had and still has me thrown.

The movie sees Myrtle or ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet) return to her very small hometown of Dungatar. This doesn’t please the residents who know of Tilly as the murderer of a young boy when she too was only a child. Tilly tries helping her mum Molly (Judy Davis) and the townsfolk with her attained skill of sewing. Along the way she makes dresses, unearths the truth and plans her revenge.

Jocelyn Moorhouse directs this…um, well, hybrid film with a considerable talent.  Even if I found myself disliking parts and wondering what in the sweet world I was watching, she definitely keeps the movie ticking along and strings it up with a clear playfulness. It could be viewed that this playful nature goes too far and makes the film look like a wreck, I wouldn’t be that harsh but I can see that side of things, as whilst Moorhouse does the whole Western opener well and lifts the roof with black comedy, she’s taken perhaps too big a bite of the proverbial apple in trying to play around with lots of genres/ideas.

At least the look of this Australian set mash up of genres is quality. The opening is like a Clint Eastwood scene, only with a leather cased sewing machine as the so called weapon. The town is like a stage setting, a deserted and backwards area leading most of the attention to Mad Molly’s house. The best visual thread is the costuming, the people of that department have done a fantastic job in selling these dresses as life changing items for the otherwise nasty residents. I mean it does get ridiculous fast in what they end up wearing and the whole cross dressing, fashion loving cop is something I utterly disliked. It can be done right, but most of the time I think drag comedy is the lowest art form in trying to produce laughs.

Moorhouse and P. J. Hogan seam the screenplay with a buzzing whirlwind of madness on Tilly’s stitched together revenge plan. It has some moments that I enjoyed, the writing almost feels clever but then we’re lurched into a new type of idea or genre. This feeling is ever present throughout the script making me at least find the movie scattershot and hard to ever get into. It’s ludicrous and barmy and their writing resembles the chaotic nature of farce which is all fine but then they swing back into drama or death, leading us to one totally unexpected moment, unless you’d read the book of course.

I truly liked that unexpected moment, just for the ballsy did-they-just-do-that scene. It came at a time that felt odd but somehow right for the acts of the movie but then my other major problem with this film crashed back in; the structure. The second act is so long and skitters all over the place making it feel that one minute it could be the third act and then we’re still in the climax and resolutions of the second. The third act does eventually come but even with the revenge plan being executed doesn’t help speed up the pace. The film’s plot and therefore structure is so offbeat that watching it feels off with the constant meandering beat.

Kate Winslet plays Myrtle/Tilly greatly, caught up with genuine drama face as she tries to make her mum remember her or scheming eyes that sell the brainy side of her as she plots her come back to the Dungatar folk. Judy Davis made the film, stopping the more slapstick side of things from going overboard with her deadpan dialogue. Liam Hemsworth is watchable and charming as the hunk with a heart but he doesn’t get too much to really do. Sarah Snook was the most interesting for me, just because her character was so badly drawn in being meek and then whammo, hot and bitchy like a ‘Mean Girls’ Plastic. Hugo Weaving is always a treat to watch and he does give the sergeant charisma and sass but it becomes over the top.

I still don’t know where I am with this film, it veers so often and so wildly that I can’t put my finger on what it really did in terms of film-making. I can’t see it hitting best film lists or awards noms, it’s merely a silly and crazed trip Down Under that isn’t really entertaining and appears like an old fashioned feature but without the class.

5.5/10