Friday, July 13

Skyscraper Review


Dir: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, Roland Moller, and Chin Han

Take the barebones plot of “Die Hard”, now add fire to the building like “The Towering Inferno”, and lastly let Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson fight some bad guys. The elevator pitch for director/writer Rawson Marshall Thurber’s “Skyscraper” probably went something like that. And for a summer popcorn movie I’m sure that was more than enough information to greenlight this 80’s-esque action throwback. Having Dwayne Johnson as the foundation for a behemoth building-on-fire film is a pretty good way to guarantee that even though your film might check every single genre cliché, it will still have charm and entertainment value.

Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is a retired FBI hostage rescue agent, also retired soldier, who is doing building security contract work in Hong Kong. However, this isn’t just a regular building, this is the tallest building in the world. It is Will’s job to make sure it is also the safest building in the world. Will’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their two children (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell) are the only people living inside the luxury rooms located high up in the skyscraper. While checking an offsite facility, where the sophisticated building operations system is located, the building is suddenly set on fire and blamed on Will who soon finds out his family is still in the building and he is the only one who can save them.

During one of the pivotal action scenes, the moment in the movie when our everyday hero moves from ordinary to extraordinary, Mr. Johnson’s character utters the line, “This is stupid”. The same may be uttered by some audience members during the movie as well. However, taking a look at the movie poster, which shows Dwayne Johnson jumping from construction equipment into a burning building, it’s obvious the kind of movie you are paying for. It’s a nonsensical, physics defying popcorn film in the vein of the movies teens from the 1980’s fondly recount. 

The story is simplistic and idiotic at times, however the composition of Will Sawyer as a determined tough guy who, after an accident, must deal with having a prosthetic limb adds some nice moments of suspense. And it also limits the physicality of the character and specifically, for someone with an intimidating physique like Dwayne Johnson, it seems to give the bad guys an advantage during combat scenes and it makes the high-flying action scenes have increased suspense. Yes, we know nothing is going to happen to the character, that’s not how these kinds of films work; but when fire is blazing, when the ground seems miles away, or when our hero is dangling from a building by his prosthetic leg (as seen in the trailer), it’s intriguing to see how the character will escape his predicament. 

Dwayne Johnson fits perfectly into the mix as the good guy out to save his family. Think about the Bruce Willis’ character John McClane in “Die Hard”, an everyday officer trying to save his wife, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character John Matrix in “Commando”, a masculine soldier trying to save his daughter; Dwayne Johnson’s character here is a mix of both of them and he is completely likable in the performance. Add Neve Campbell, who could easily transition her career with this type of tough character, and the character development nicely accompanies, and many times carries, the hampered script.

“Skyscraper” is a good action film, if you can overlook the fact that coherency will play no prime directive in the film. Still, Dwayne Johnson is a better actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger and has more charm than Sylvester Stallone. If he could only get that Jean-Claude Van Damme roundhouse kick, Johnson would have it all.

Monte’s Rating 

2.75 out of 5.00

Monday, July 9

Ant-Man and The Wasp Review

Ant-Man and The Wasp

Dir: Peyton Reed

Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Hannah John-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Michael Douglas

With the stakes operating on the highest level, Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” ended a ten-year superhero saga convergence on a serious final note. Marvel assumingly understood that fans would be seeking some levity after the tragic “Infinity War”, so they brought back the dependable super shrinking everyman, packed on a few more lighthearted laughs, and added a new winged partner to help with the heavy lifting with “Ant-Man and The Wasp”.

Ant-Man, also known in civilian clothes as Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), has had a fairly tumultuous run since putting on the super-shrinking and, as we found out in “Captain America: Civil War”, super-sizing suit. Scott got out of prison, stole a super suit from a scientist, almost died, helped The Avengers, became a wanted man, and at the beginning of this film is on house arrest. One thing is better for Scott however, his relationship with his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) is strong and he is on speaking terms with his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer). Having only a few more days until his release from house arrest, Scott is forced into helping some old associates, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who are conducting an experiment to help a loved one.

Ant-Man doesn't fit the mold of his superhero constituents; he is a former thief who wasn’t a soldier, wasn’t a scientist, or wasn’t born with secret powers. This makes the journey with Scott a little more difficult simply because of his normalcy. Having a charismatic comic actor like Paul Rudd helps the journey; Mr. Rudd displayed in the first “Ant-Man” film that he could handle the burden of introducing a new superhero character into the Marvel universe with the same cool and calm demeanor that he has brought to most of his roles. The same quality is present here; whether in the middle of the battle on busy San Francisco streets or drumming to tunes on his electronic drum set in his house, Mr. Rudd remains as goofy and carefree with or without the costume. 

Director Peyton Reed returns as well, seemingly less restrained than his first outing. But maintaining a sequel with the momentum to keep up with ever-evolving Marvel universe can be a task. While “Ant-Man” was a surprisingly pleasant introduction, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” does something very important in making this sequel hold its own ground, it adds The Wasp. Evangeline Lilly is a fun addition to the superhero fold, but more importantly she is a great counter to Ant-Man. Ms. Lilly establishes a nice chemistry with Mr. Rudd, her character is the authority and expertise to Ant-Man’s more amateur proclivities.

What’s missing here is a better adversary, it’s hard to recognize what devious or sinister purpose the bad guys are serving towards the narrative throughout this film. Walton Goggins plays an entertaining gangster and Hannah John-Kamen has a breakout role playing a morphing character in a cool costume named Ghost but neither provide much consequence in the end. These confrontations, which should challenge the good guys in some way, are played more for spectacle than suspense. Still, the narrative is nicely interwoven with themes of family and the sacrifice one makes for them. Add the scene stealing moments from supporting actors like Michael Pena, Michael Douglas, and Judy Greer and the film shines in moments.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” functions with nice amounts of heart and humor, the heroics aren’t as flashy as other comic book movies but there are still some really amusing sequences that play on the big and little abilities of the heroes. For a summer superhero film, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a better than average sequel.

Monte’s Rating

3.75 out of 5.00

Friday, June 29

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Dir: Stefano Sollima

Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Shea Whigham, Elijah Rodriguez, and Matthew Modine

In the first 15 minutes of “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” more than one disturbing act of violence, pulled from the world headlines, is on full display. Backed by an ominous, pulsating score the tone for director Stefano Sollima’s film is clearly and emphatically established. It doesn't take long for the film to delve deeper in the political darkness it so carefully, and carelessly, utilizes to establish the politically driven secret wars taking place in the Middle East and across the border in Mexico. 

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is an unusual sequel to director Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 film “Sicario”, substituting for the interesting style and broad scope that the original film so deftly weaved into a subverted revenge film is a sequel that depends more on expanding established characters into a world that operates with clear genre tendencies. This is an action film with tough guys operating in tough situations with no clear direction, caught in the crossfire are the innocent, and the innocence, of people trying to survive their own difficult circumstances.

Matt Weaver (Josh Brolin) is still the shadowy government figure who comes into to do the dirty work the higher political figures are too squeamish to do for themselves. By his side for the more grisly jobs is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), the hitman who is hunting down everyone involved in the death of his family. Matt is tasked by the secretary of defense (Matthew Modine) to clean up the cartel issues across the border in Mexico; the plan is to start a war between two drug cartels. 

Amidst the startling violence and political confusions is a film that operates without much clear direction except to display how complicated and murky the maze associated with the terrible happenings in the world can be. Human trafficking, terrorism, and bad guy power coups are just a few of the narrative weapons unabashedly and sometimes irresponsibly unleashed throughout the film. When the film tries to transpose the current political atmosphere into the film it never commits to providing any kind of insight into the reality of political decision-making. Instead it safely watches like the helicopters that hunt for border crossers in the film. 

At the middle of everything is an interesting relationship between two lone soldiers fighting for their own strained beliefs of how order should be brought into the world. Both are figures with unknown backgrounds, with stories that have shaped and molded them into the seemingly heartless decision makers that reorganize how complicated situations will be solved. The truth is that resolution is far from the primary concern, instead it’s the necessary maintenance to keep everything from spiraling out of control. 

We’ve seen these archetypes before, the lone gunman traveling from town to town in the western film or the worn out hit man doing one last job in the crime film; Matt and Alejandro are the updated contemporaries to these cinematic figures. It’s the relationships that these two characters have with the world that is ultimately the most fascinating aspect about “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”. When two young people, the kidnapped daughter (Isabela Moner) of a drug cartel leader and a young teenager (Elijah Rodriguez) growing into a role with the cartel,  intrude in the grown up affairs, Matt and Alejandro become less fascinating because the mystery behind their creation becomes more clear. Still, in some of the quieter moments, like when Alejandro is left to protect the young girl after a failed operation, the film establishes a familiar yet interesting dynamic between the choices made in the present and how they will ultimately affect the future.

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” trudges through some murky waters, trying to connect the narrative arcs into the current political climate doesn’t work in the scheme of the film. Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro swagger in and out of action scenes nicely and when their characters are offered glimpses to contemplate the gravity of their violent tendencies the film speaks to the nature of the real victims in the war on terror and the shockwaves that will change lives and attitudes in both negative and positive ways in the future.

Monte’s Rating

3.00 out of 5.00