Monday, April 23

Rampage Review


Dir: Brad Peyton

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jake Lacy, Joe Mangiello, and Malin Akerman

There was this video arcade at the local mall in my neighborhood; when mom would go to the department store she would give me a few dollars to get quarters for the video games. I would feed quarters into the machines but in particular, when “Arkanoid” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” were taken, a game called “Rampage” caught my creature feature attention. It was a simple multiplayer destruction game where you would pick a gigantic monster, a gorilla named George, a lizard named Lizzie, or a wolf named Ralph, and wreak havoc on a city. Simple and entertaining. 

Simple and entertaining is the whole mission of the new Dwayne Johnson starring action film “Rampage”. Taking primary cues from the video game from the 1980’s, the film adds the biggest action star in the world, some computer generated monsters, and a lazy narrative to piece everything together and composes a film that feels situated for that mind-numbing Sunday afternoon movie time waster.

Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) is a primatologist working with an albino silverback gorilla named George in the San Diego Zoo. Davis has a connection with George, being able to communicate via sign language with the animal. A genetic science experiment on a space station laboratory goes terrible wrong, it explodes sending debris along with genetic mutation materials throughout Earth. Soon three animals, including George, are infected and grow to enormous size all on a destructive path towards Chicago.

Director Brad Peyton does a competent job of making the visuals enticing and monsters clearly identified amongst the mayhem, it’s not as much of a confusing mess as some of these other CGI laden films. Dwayne Johnson is mostly reliable throughout the film, here the actor does his best to make the most of a bad script by letting his charming personality come through in as a many scenes as possible. 

Unfortunately the script is a complete mess. Dialogue is strained with awful one-liners and pointed statements articulated solely for the next plot device. Mr. Johnson plays a primatologist who, when the military comes in for information, reveals that he use to be a special ops soldier in the military. This is solely done for the sake of the character being able to fly a helicopter and pick up weapons for the ensuing fight. At another point the two sibling villains (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy) need to capture their creations and conveniently reveal that they have the equipment to do this on their building, it’s a line that feels so blatantly forced that it’s awkward when spoken.

“Rampage” will be defended as simplistic entertainment, and for some of the visual moments in the film it feels exactly like that. But it’s hard to completely commit to the film because of the narrative issues. While it sounds like a great idea watching Dwayne Johnson jump around and fight monsters based from a simple video game premise from the 80’s, “Rampage” the movie ultimately feels like a waste of quarters.  

Monte’s Rating

1.50 out of 5.00

Monday, April 16

2018 PFF & IHSFF Festival Recap – All The Creatures Were Stirring

2018 PFF & IHSFF Festival Recap – Sunday, April 15th 2018

Coda’s ongoing coverage of the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival & International Horror Sci-Fi Film Festival. I'll be using these posts to recap the films I've experienced as part of these festivals.

Well, the festival is over. I had a great time and saw a lot of films. I ended it on a pretty high note. Enjoy

ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING – Directed by David Ian & Rebekah McKendry

I'm always a little weary of anthology films. They usually amount to a collection of short films that should be critiqued separately, leaving no room to know how to feel about the film as a whole. There are plenty of exceptions to this, it's not a rule. It's just something I feel. This is especially the case in anthologies that are compiled of films by different directors and crews such as V/H/S or THE ABC's OF DEATH. Those films are wildly inconsistent in their quality from one vignette to the next and usually the framing device, if there is one, is their weakest link.

I'm happy to report that this is not one of those cases. This film exists somewhere in between SOUTHBOUND (2015) and Michael Dougherty's TRICK 'R TREAT (2007). Every vignette was made by the same crew, just with different actors. This is surprising considering how stylistically different each one of them was. And the framing device was in itself a separate story that book-ended the whole film. This really worked out well. I liked some of the pieces more than others but each one displayed a different refreshing quality.

The shorts are framed around an awkward Christmas Eve date between friends. They find a local theatre production that tells the stories in a far less cinematic way than what we the audience are treated to. It was goofy and fun and the scenes that transitioned to the next short always had me laughing.

The first segment takes us inside of an office Christmas party. I've been to a few of these and I was already horrified before anything awesome even happened. Think OFFICE SPACE ('99) meets SAW ('04). The next piece shows us the dangers of the last minute gift run. This one was probably my least favorite part. It was small and quiet and clever but it just left a bit to be desired. After that, we get the dark comedy adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol followed quickly by a tale about the quickest way to make Santa's naughty list. At this point, I began to notice that each segment was getting more stylistic as we went on. Then the last one, which turned out to be my favorite, transitioned from color 16:9 to a beautiful black-and-white 4:3 to tell a spooky "Twilight Zone-esque" cautionary tale of why you should never show up uninvited during the holidays. 

The cast list is what will likely turn into a who's-who list of genre flick talent. Horror fans will have likely recognized many of them. Brea Grant, Graham Skipper & Chase Williams (BEYOND THE GATES) all show up as well as THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL's Jocelin Donahue. These are the types of actors that we keep seeing show up in better than average horror films in festivals and on Netflix. It's fun to wonder which ones of them will be around in 20 years, touting a storied career with tons of genre credits.

I wrote earlier this week about whether or not I expected SECRET SANTA to make the normal rotation of holiday themed horror. I don't really feel like I have to wonder with this one. It's got a lot going for it. Good production design, camerawork and acting along with a funny script and descent effects should all work together to catapult this film onto some sort of platform for us all to enjoy in about 7-8 months time. 

Sunday, April 15

2018 PFF & IHSFF Festival Recap – Saturday, April 14th 2018

2018 PFF & IHSFF Festival Recap – Saturday, April 14th 2018

Coda’s ongoing coverage of the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival & International Horror Sci-Fi Film Festival. I'll be using these posts to recap the films I've experienced as part of these festivals.

DARK RIVER – Directed by Clio Barnard

A beautifully shot drama about how two siblings can have very different relationships with their parents and the land they were raised on. The film begins with Alice (Ruth Wilson) returning to her North Yorkshire farm after her father's death. She is forced to face her brother, fight for her inheritance and confront the dark family secret that made her leave in the first place.

This film is gorgeous but I'm not sure if you could have shot this location any other way. The subject matter however is much uglier. Overall, I found myself very easily engrossed by this story, even though the pacing was pretty slow.

This picture will unfortunately struggle to ever find any traction in the U.S. The northern British accent is so thick that I probably only comprehended about 2/3 of what the characters were saying. I don't think most American audiences will have the patience for this. 

MARLA MAE – Directed by Lisa Van Dam-Bates

The opening shot of this film is of our titular character using her fingernails to scrape paint off of a metal bench... I had to close my eyes and ears. It didn't get any less gross from there. Marla (Lisa Van Dam-Bates) has been given a free IUD from a creepy family friend/doctor... Then some really gross stuff starts happening to people she gets close with <ahem>.

I actually like the plot of this one in spite of some pretty glaring issues with some of the character's motivations being somewhat unreasonable. That type of stuff bothers be sometimes but in the case of a film like this, I think that it doesn't really detract from the overall message of the film.

No, the issue with this film is in its performances. It stars its director and is supported by a pretty rough cast. I think this is most likely a product of a shoestring budget and that's kind of a shame. I'd like to see more stories like this, just with better execution.  

ANDOVER – Directed by Scott Perlman

I completed the Scout Taylor-Compton trifecta last night with this one. She is in 3 films from the festival. The others were FERAL and CYNTHIA.

This was a horribly uneven film. From one angle, it's a romantic comedy about a man so selfish he doesn't even shave for his own wedding but he still somehow gets two beautiful and intelligent women to fall in love with him. This is truly a male fantasy film in which the only conflict of self for our main character is his struggle to let his past go to clear up the way for new love that he so easily finds. 

From a different perspective, it's a dark comedy about a college professor with a god complex that keeps cloning different versions of his dead wife and then disposing of them when they aren't perfect enough for him. And throughout all of this disgusting behavior, his lab assistant Emma (Taylor-Compton) inexplicably continues to fawn over him. This doesn't really work because it wasn't nearly as dark in tone as your typical dark comedy.

This film got quite a few laughs in the screening and I'll admit, some of the gags were pretty good. I just really had a hard time with the overall pitch of it. It only leans from one side to the other and never commits. The rom-com that could have been made out of this story could have worked if the main character had at least one redeeming quality. The dark comedy could have work if it would have gone further off of the deep end. Unfortunately, what you get comes off as tone-deaf and underwhelming.