Film Review: Rampage (2018)

Release Date: April 4th, 2018 (Microsoft Theater premiere)
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel
Based on: Rampage by Midway Games
Music by: Andrew Lockington
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Marley Shelton

New Line Cinema, Flynn Picture Company, Rickard Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Like my grandpappy always said, ‘Us assholes gotta stick together.'” – Harvey Russell

I wasn’t sure what to think going into this film. I am a massive fan of kaiju movies and I was a big fan of the Rampage video game when I was dropping quarters into it on the reg back in the ’80s. However, the game didn’t have a plot, really. It was just about playing as one of three monsters: a gorilla, a werewolf or a lizard. The only real purpose was to cause as much destruction as you possibly could: punching buildings into rubble and eating people hanging out of windows.

The film’s story actually did a decent job of explaining the creation of these giant creatures and their physics defying abilities.

For the most part, I really liked this movie. It was ridiculous in the best way possible and a ton of friggin’ fun. This is what a blockbuster should be. It doesn’t have to be scientifically accurate or attempt to be overly serious, it can be a balls to the wall smash’em up festival. And while that formula has worn thin and I’ve been critical of it in the past (*cough, cough Man of Steel), when done right and with an organic purpose, it can still work. It works here.

From a storyline standpoint, this is more engaging than the first Pacific Rim movie. I liked the plot of the second Pacific Rim much better, by the way. Rampage just does a good job with its human characters and also really makes you feel for George, the Rock’s large albino gorilla friend who turns into a menace, only to be cured of his aggression and turn into a hero that teams up with the Rock in taking down the other two monsters: the giant wolf and the giant alligator.

I also love the cast. The Rock, who prefers to just be Dwayne Johnson now but is and will always be The Rock to me, leads the charge but is backed up by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello and Marley Shelton, the last two being in small roles, unfortunately.

But with The Rock, Morgan and Manganiello together in the same film, there is a testosterone overload that matches the beastly intensity of the three actual beasts in the film. I also loved Malin Akerman as a villainous corporate bitch in this. She was perfect, cold and still looking damn fine. In fact, having her and Morgan in this makes the film a mini Watchmen reunion.

I also really liked the Easter egg of having the old Rampage arcade game in Akerman’s office.

There are some goofy things about the movie. Okay, “some” is an understatement. However, it works for a movie with giant monsters tearing up Chicago and literally toppling the Sears Tower. I’m not going to get nitpicky and bitch too hard but sometimes the dialogue was forced and felt unnatural but this was usually in the moments where The Rock was yelling at green screen. There just seemed to be a disconnect at times, which isn’t the actor’s fault but for some reason certain bits felt off.

The creatures and their physical embellishments all worked for me and the special effects used to bring them to life was well done. I also like that they didn’t make the monsters too big like the Pacific Rim kaiju or the modern versions of Godzilla. The monsters don’t have to tower over the largest buildings, they just need to tower over the humans running away and the military might that confronts them.

Rampage isn’t a great motion picture in the terms of being cinematic art or something that the Academy would see as worthy of their consideration outside of special effects. However, it is a solid popcorn movie. Especially for those of us who can’t get enough modern kaiju films.

And if you are wondering if there is a scene where a monster eats a lady like in the video game, well… you won’t be disappointed. And frankly, it’s an awesome f’n moment.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The 2014 Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island and the Pacific Rim movies.

Film Review: Moonlight (2016)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2016 (Telluride)
Directed by: Barry Jenkins
Written by: Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney
Based on: In Moonlight Black Blues Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali

Plan B Entertainment, Pastel Productions, A24, 111 Minutes

Review:

“At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.” – Juan

I didn’t get to see this last year, as it was only in my local theaters for a blink of an eye. Now that it is streaming on Amazon Video, I finally got to see the film that derailed La La Land‘s beeline to Oscar glory. I didn’t really like La La Land, so I was pretty okay with it getting knocked off of its pedestal.

But is Moonlight a better picture? I’d say so.

Strangely, this is the first motion picture to win the Oscar for Best Picture that has an all black cast, as well as being about LGBT issues. It probably won because of industry politics and Hollywood’s need to redeem itself due to pressure from those social justice warriors that have an opinion about everything. Regardless of the politics, this is a fine film. It probably isn’t the best of 2016 but it is certainly in the top ten.

The one thing that stands out the most is the acting. Everyone in this film just existed in it, as real characters. Sure, I know Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris and Janelle Monáe but they really just melted into their roles quite fabulously. Ali was deserving of the Oscar that he won for this and really, I just wish we got more of his character but his fate was important to the overall narrative of this coming of age story, that sees a young boy grow into a man, sort of lost in the world.

While the plot can feel slow moving at times, this is a very human story and driven more by emotion than action. All three actors that played Chiron at different points in his life, were stellar. The last act of the film is a mixture of sadness and hope but it is satisfying and anyone who has lost a friend, only to reconnect in some way, years later, can relate to it.

Other than the acting and the well constructed narrative, the cinematography of this film is spectacular. The lighting is perfect, the shots are pristine and meticulously orchestrated; even if this was a picture that was shot on location in short bursts, it turned out magnificently. I really loved the way the camera moved around characters in several scenes, especially during conversations or conflicts on street settings.

Moonlight is well crafted and its real purpose is to show that finding your own identity isn’t an easy task. Life throws its curveballs and isn’t fair. But whether you’re white, black, gay or straight, I think we can all relate to Chiron’s need to find his right place in the world.

Film Review: Spectre (2015)

Release Date: October 26th, 2015 (UK)
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 148 Minutes

spectreReview:

*written in 2015

Well, I finally got to see Spectre. Yes, I saw it on opening night, here in the U.S., but this was one of my most anticipated films.

I really liked the previous Bond chapter Skyfall and with the same cast and director returning, I was excited. I was even more stoked for this film with the inclusion of the criminal organization SPECTRE, their first appearance since 1971s Diamonds Are Forever and a brief appearance by Ernst Stavro Blofeld in 1981s For Your Eyes Only.

Even though there were great James Bond movies after SPECTRE disappeared from film canon, none of the other great villains ever felt as dangerous without being aligned with the organization.

The reason for SPECTRE not appearing for so long was due to a battle over the rights to the copyright. That battle waged on for years. So when it was announced that “Spectre” was the name of this film, it was clear that the rights finally belonged to the studio and that the antagonist side of this franchise’s coin was getting a much needed boost of adrenaline.

Spectre picks up after the events of Skyfall. It isn’t clear how much time has passed but you can assume it isn’t much, as James Bond goes off on a rogue mission given to him by the deceased M, the Judy Dench version, on a video he received after her death.

Entering into Skyfall territory, the film fleshes out more of James Bond’s past. It takes more of the mystery away from who he was in the past. While this is something we never knew in any of the previous twenty-two films before Skyfall, I like how it helps you understand Bond better as a character. He isn’t a caricature, as he became in the older films, he is much more human since Sam Mendes started directing the series.

The backstory, as with the previous film, comes back to haunt him. Someone knows about Bond’s childhood life and is doing their damnedest to hurt him. You come to find out that everything bad that has happened to the Daniel Craig incarnation of Bond has been orchestrated by one man and his sinister organization: SPECTRE. All the films have been tied together but until now, the dots weren’t fully connected.

While the villain has the name of Oberhauser, if you know your Bond lore and understand that he is the leader of SPECTRE, it isn’t hard to figure out who he really is. Hell, his jacket when he is giving Bond a tour of his facility is a dead giveaway. And if you haven’t figured it out by that point, the furry white cat that jumps in Bond’s lap is too blatant for it not to be obvious. But I think most of the fans knew who Oberhauser was going to be before even seeing the film. And Christopher Waltz is perfect in this role.

The supporting cast of Bond’s MI-6 crew has never been better. Ralph Fiennes is perfect as M, Naomie Harris takes Moneypenny out from behind the desk and Ben Whishaw’s Q is a refreshing take on the character. I like how they are more active characters than before and how they, like Bond, had to defy orders and go off the grid, in order to save the world.

Andrew Scott, known for playing the evil Moriarty in Sherlock, does a great job as M’s foil by playing his new boss with ties to SPECTRE. Léa Seydoux was lovely as the new Bond girl, Dr. Swann. Monica Bellucci is also in the film but it is nothing more than a two scene cameo. Former WWE wrestler and Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, Dave Bautista shows up as this film’s evil henchman, Mr. Hinx. I’m hoping he isn’t dead. He probably isn’t. He’s the first henchman in a long time that was really cool.

The thing I like most about this film, is that it is really left open ended. Bond saves the day but evil isn’t vanquished. While that is the trend in these movies, you don’t really understand why until this film’s plot unfolds. With the villain living, you know that it will come back to haunt James and his allies.

I like this film the same way I like Skyfall. It has its flaws but it is still a fun and intense Bond flick. I don’t necessarily expect Bond movies to be masterpieces, I expect them to be fun, beautiful, action-packed and sexy. This film was all that and more. While most critics seem to like this less than Skyfall, I think it is a perfect companion to it. Both films are my favorite of the Daniel Craig era.

I hope that Daniel Craig does come back for at least one more picture, even though he seems to be exhausted with playing Bond. I also hope that Mendes directs again and that Waltz returns for payback. SPECTRE can’t just reveal itself in this film and disappear. SPECTRE needs to be a constant antagonist, at least for a little while.

My only complaint, is that SPECTRE should have felt massive. In the Connery era films, they felt immense. While they had a grip on the world in Spectre, they were more hidden and too reserved. I like in the old films how they had massive bases with their logo plastered all over the place. Maybe that would seem corny in today’s world but SPECTRE are proud of who they are and believe in what they do. They are kind of like Cobra in G.I. Joe or Hydra in Marvel Comics.