Skyscraper movie review

SKYSCRAPER

Director : Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan, Adrian Holmes
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 103 mins
Opens : 12 July 2018
Rating : PG-13

The Rock gets acquainted with glass and steel in this action thriller set in – you guessed it – a skyscraper.

Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader who lost his leg during a mission gone wrong, and who now works as a building security assessor. Will’s family, including his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and twins Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell), are flown out to Hong Kong for his new assignment. The upper floors of the tallest building in the world, the Pearl, are about to open for business, pending Will’s assessment. The Pearl stands almost 1.07 km tall, dwarfing Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Will and his family are the guests of the Pearl’s billionaire owner, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), and they are the building’s first residents.

Naturally, things don’t go according to plan. Will finds himself on the run from the authorities as the building is broken into and set on fire. A team of dangerous mercenaries led by Kores Botha (Roland Møller) has infiltrated the Pearl and disabled its security and fire safety systems. Sarah, Georgia and Henry are trapped in the building, and Will must get to them before it’s too late. Botha will stop at nothing at nothing to get what he wants from Zhao, and a man who wants to save his family it’s all that’s standing in his way.

This summer movie season, Skyscraper is the only major tentpole studio release that is not a sequel. That said, it is the furthest thing from original possible – not to belabour the point, but this movie might as well be called ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Die Hard’. There already exists a Die Hard knockoff named Skyscraper, starring the late Anna-Nicole Smith.

Skyscraper feels out of place amidst the giant franchise entries that have dominated and will continue to dominate the box office this summer, but that is key to its charm. It feels like a movie straight out of the 90s in a very welcome way. That’s due in part to the well-worn premise, but also to its star being the closest thing we have to the larger-than-life action heroes of the 80s and 90s.

This reviewer did not enjoy director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s previous Johnson-starring film, the buddy comedy Central Intelligence. As such, it’s surprising just how well Skyscraper is directed. The script, also written by Thurber, seems to have been reconstituted from a “just add water” action movie premix. However, the film moves with great finesse and Thurber leads audiences from one edge-of-your-seat action set-piece straight on to the next, generating breathless thrills despite the overwhelming silliness of the whole affair. Veteran production designer Jim Bissell gets to show off with the gleaming futurism of the Pearl – there’s even a high tech maze of mirrors of sorts.

What’s left to say about Johnson’s abilities as a leading man that hasn’t already been covered in countless other reviews? He’s not quite an everyman the way Bruce Willis’s John McClane started out, but he’s still got that disarming charm – Will quips about the magical properties of duct tape while stuck in the middle of a crisis. Will performs spectacular feats of implausibility, one after the other. The leap from a crane to the building has already been lampooned ever since it was made a central feature of the poster and has become a meme unto itself. Part of the joy of Skyscraper is accepting the ludicrousness and focusing on Johnson at the centre of said ludicrousness.

The script struggles to make Campbell’s Sarah more than the ‘designated wife’ so often seen in these movies, and mostly succeeds. Sarah is a Navy combat medic and can hold her own in some harrowing situations. There is a nigh-excessive degree of imperilling children in the film, but hey, these kids have the Rock as their dad. That’s a guarantee it’s going to work out all right.

Chin Han’s Zhao is perhaps a touch egotistical – you must be to build the tallest building in the world – and just might be hiding something. It’s the standard ‘rich guy you’re meant to suspect’ archetype and he does seem to enjoy strutting across the well-appointed penthouse set.

This movie’s villains were shipped in straight from Movie Bad Guys “R” Us. There are Euro-mercenaries sporting a variety of accents, led by Møller’s Kores Botha (what a great villain name). Then there are a bunch of local hires too, since this takes place in Hong Kong, including Hannah Quinlivan as a lethal leather-clad henchwoman. It’s all, to use that word again, quite ridiculous – but it’s never not entertaining.

Skyscraper genuinely reminds this reviewer of the action movies he enjoyed growing up. Sure, it’s stupid, but it’s hard to go too wrong with Johnson leading the charge. Surprisingly, it leans into its genre-ness more than Rampage, also starring Johnson, did earlier this year. As a Die Hard-style movie that could’ve easily gone straight-to-DVD but instead has a $125 million budget and stars the Rock, it works.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Rampage movie review

For inSing

RAMPAGE

Director : Brad Peyton
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Åkerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Marley Shelton
Genre : Action/Sci-fi
Run Time : 1h 47m
Opens : 12 April 2018
Rating : PG13

Rampage-posterDwayne Johnson, arguably the closest thing this generation has to 80s action heroes like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, shares the screen with monsters who dwarf even him in this creature feature.

Johnson plays Davis Okoye, an Army Special Forces soldier-turned primatologist working at the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary. George, an albino silverback gorilla with whom Davis shares a close bond, begins growing and displaying violent, erratic behaviour. George has come into contact with a mutagen developed by Energyne, after a genetic splicing experiment conducted aboard a space station goes horribly awry.

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Geneticist Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a former Energyne employee, arrives to help Davis deal with George’s mutation. In the meantime, a wolf and an alligator have also been exposed to the mutagen. As the creatures become ever fiercer, government agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) attempts to control the situation, while butting heads with Davis and Kate. The pair must foil the dastardly plans of Energyne’s head honchos Claire Wyden (Malin Åkerman) and her doltish brother Brett (Jake Lacy), who draw the creatures to Chicago where they will wreak untold havoc.

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Rampage is based on the classic arcade game of the same name. In the original game, players controlled one of three mutated, formerly-human monsters, causing as much destruction as possible to proceed to the next level. There was not much in the way of plot, and there didn’t need to be.

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The plot in the Rampage movie serves little purpose other than to fill time and justify the giant monster action sequences. The film reunites Johnson with Brad Peyton, who directed him in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas. Like San Andreas, there is plenty of disaster movie mayhem on display in Rampage, but while it was a little uncomfortable watching that movie right after the 2015 Nepal earthquakes, the wanton destruction is easier to enjoy in Rampage, given that there haven’t been any giant gorilla, wolf and alligator attacks in major metropolises lately.

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The visual effects work, especially on George, portrayed via motion capture by Jason Liles, is excellent. When the giant monsters are onscreen, which is the case for a significant portion of the film, things are entertaining and silly. There are some violent moments which push the PG-13 rating and it’s hard not to derive some joy from that. Even then, the city-levelling climactic action sequence can get a little numbing. Anything involving our human characters is tedious, thanks to stock back-stories and cringe-worthy exposition-laden dialogue. “It’s going to be a lot more emotional, a lot scarier and a lot more real than you’d expect,” Peyton said of the film when it was announced. Alas, Rampage is none of those.

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Dwayne Johnson delivers the performance one would expect: that of the charismatic, larger-than-life action hero who’s here to save the day. It’s nothing different from what we’ve seen before, but it gets the job done and he’s good at this stuff. Davis shares quite a bit in common with Jurassic World‘s Owen Grady: they’re both former military men who work with dangerous animals and have bonded with one creature under their care. Johnson tries to sell the relationship between Davis and George, and while that is never emotionally affecting, Johnson can’t be faulted for it.

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Harris’ Dr Kate Caldwell comes complete with a groan-inducing motivation for getting back at the company that’s done her wrong. Harris tries to make the material work, but the film seems to struggle with figuring out what purpose her character serves for most of the movie.

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Rampage is at its cheesiest not during the monster attack sequences, but when it turns its attention to the villainous Wyden siblings. Claire is coolly evil while her brother bumbles about in the background. While both Åkerman and Lacy look to be enjoying themselves, neither is ever actually threatening, and the cartoonish nature of their performances undercuts the stakes of the monster madness.

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Jeffrey Dean Morgan drawls his way through a reasonably fun supporting part as a shadowy government agent, while Joe Manganiello shows up very briefly as a private military contractor. Everyone’s playing to type, and Rampage contains frustratingly little in the way of surprises or spontaneity.

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Nobody can accuse Rampage of not delivering the all-out giant monster goods, but the movie stops considerably short of being the expertly-made escapism it could’ve been. There’s a tonal struggle between being ridiculous and being earnest that Peyton lacks the skill to reconcile. Rampage doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, but its clumsy attempts at emotional beats and its predictable, store-bought monster movie plot stand in the way of it being truly entertaining.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle movie review

For inSing

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

Director : Jake Kasdan
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Rhys Darby, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blaine, Morgan Turner, Marc Evan Jackson
Genre : Action/Adventure/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 59m
Opens : 21 December 2017
Rating : PG

You’ve probably heard the expression “get your head in the game,” shouted by many a coach at many a distracted school athlete. In this fantasy action comedy, four teenagers get their heads, and the rest of them, stuck in a video game called Jumanji.

Geeky germaphobe Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), vain popular girl Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), football jock Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blaine) and withdrawn Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) get thrown in detention. While sorting through old magazines in the basement, they discover an old video game console. On plugging it into the TV, the group gets sucked into the video game, where they take on the form of the avatars they’ve chosen.

Spencer becomes the muscle-bound adventurer archaeologist Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Bethany becomes rotund cartographer Dr. Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), Fridge becomes diminutive zoologist and weapons carrier Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), and Martha becomes the sexy badass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Capitalising on each of their characters’ special abilities, the group must work together to return the sacred Jaguar’s Eye gem to a large jaguar statue in the jungle. Along the way, they team up with pilot Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough (Nick Jonas) and face off against the villainous John Hardin Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), whose possession of the gem allows him to wield control over the various fearsome creatures that call Jumanji home.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a sequel to the 1995 film Jumanji, which was in turn based on the children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. While this film might feel symptomatic of Hollywood’s rabid desire to capitalise on anything with even a shred of name recognition, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a lot better than the half-baked cash grab we feared it might be.

While the first film and its source material centred on an enchanted board game, Welcome to the Jungle transforms said board game into a video game. The filmmakers do a fine job of working video game mechanics into the film without it seeming tedious. Concepts like limited lives, each avatar’s specific strengths and weaknesses, interacting with NPCs (non-player characters) and cut scenes are all integrated into the movie in amusing ways. The linear ‘quest’ structure helps keep things from getting too complicated.

The action sequences are not especially memorable, but the in-game world feels immersive and well-realised. Surprisingly, the set-pieces do not feel overly synthetic – while there’s clearly a lot of computer-generated imagery being used, it still feels like the characters are in peril. A scene in which a low-flying helicopter must escape a stampeding crash of rhinos is exhilarating. The fact that all this is taking place within a game does not diminish the stakes as much as this reviewer thought it might. Things are kept consistently silly, but never obnoxiously so.

The film’s casting is largely effective, and the actors get the opportunity to both play to and against type, since the main cast is playing two characters each: the in-game avatars, and the people in the real-world inhabiting said avatars.

Everyone looks like they’re having a lot of fun. Johnson gets to play the larger-than-life action hero, while commenting on how much he looks like a larger-than-life action hero, while also channelling Spencer’s neuroses and insecurities. When he first appears on screen, the camera pans up, past Johnson’s bulging bicep, and up to his face – upon which he immediately arches that People’s Eyebrow.

This reviewer has made no secret of not being a big Kevin Hart fan, given that his onscreen persona is often shrill and manic. Hart is bearable here, mostly because he’s working off the other cast members.

Gillan is superb, and proves she fully deserves to be an A-list leading lady in plenty more big films. Her performance blends athleticism, awkward charm and humour to excellent effect. The character’s midriff-baring costume was much ballyhooed, but it works as a pastiche of video game heroines like Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft. Gillan gets several moments of physical comedy which are a sheer joy to behold.

Of the four leads, Black handily steals the show. His affectation of spoilt ditzy teen girl mannerisms is so spot-on, completely selling the idea that the Shelly character is being ‘piloted’ by Bethany. It’s full-tilt silliness that Black visibly dedicates himself to.

Jonas is probably the film’s weak link. Each of the in-game characters are meant to be slightly exaggerated archetypes, and it seems like Seaplane was intended to be a cross between Tom Cruise’s Maverick character from Top Gun and the aviator Launchpad McQuack from the DuckTales cartoon. Jonas just doesn’t have the swagger or the innate charm to make it work.

Cannavale’s villainous Van Pelt is given a striking gimmick that’s just unsettling enough, but the character isn’t onscreen enough to make too much of an impact.

Barring a few too many inappropriate innuendos, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is serviceable family adventure fare. It does what it says on the tin, and occasionally rises above that because its cast seems admirably into it. There are several respectful nods to its predecessor, and anyone fearing this would ‘ruin their childhood’ can rest easy, because it’s not bad at all.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Baywatch

 F*** Magazine

BAYWATCH 

Director : Seth Gordon
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Yahya Abdul-Mateen III, Rob Huebel, Hannibal Buress
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 57min
Opens : 1 June 2017
Rating : M18

Let’s dive into some ‘90s nostalgia that’s been given an irreverent update, to see if the water’s still inviting. Dwayne Johnson stars as Mitch Buchannon, who leads an elite team of lifeguards known as ‘Baywatch’, including C.J. Parker (Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Hadera). Thorpe (Huebel), Mitch’s boss, assigns disgraced Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Efron) to the team. Brody, alongside lifeguard hopefuls Summer (Daddario) and the nerdy Ronnie (Bass), joins Baywatch. Brody goes about pursuing Summer, while Ronnie nurses a crush on C.J. Brody’s cockiness creates friction between him and Mitch, throwing off the team’s finely-tuned synergy. In the meantime, wealthy developer Victoria Leeds (Chopra), who just might be using her fancy country club as a front for criminal activities, attracts the suspicion of the Baywatch crew. With a string of murders frightening beachgoers away, it’s up to Baywatch to restore order and bring back the fun under the sun.

For a film about such athletic characters, Baywatch is lazy – that is its primary shortcoming. The formula of adapting a TV series into an R-rated send-up of the source material worked wonders for 21 Jump Street, but when CHIPs tried to follow in those footsteps, it crashed and burned. Because the Baywatch TV series is generally viewed as a cheesy guilty pleasure, it stands to reason that there would be a lot to make fun of in a big screen pastiche. However, there’s very little wit on display, and not a lot of energy fuelling the rampant silliness. The plot is generic, many of the jokes miss their target, and the action sequences are underwhelming. A signature set piece involving a blazing yacht features markedly unconvincing computer-generated fire, and you’ll witness more impressive jet ski tricks at the Waterworld stunt show in a Universal Studios theme park.

With the budget of a big summer movie, Baywatch had the potential to go balls-out, indulging in over-the-top spectacle and comic action that wouldn’t have been possible in the TV show and the subsequent made-for-TV movies. It seems that Baywatch is pandering squarely to the dude-bro set, and many jokes are of the “ew, men touching other men, how gross!” variety. Yes, both the men and the women in the cast showcase their impressive physiques, but weirdly enough, there’s no female nudity. There’s male frontal nudity, but not from who you’d expect. Johnson himself promised “gratuitous boobs, bums, abs, whatever” when promoting the movie. Perhaps this was edited out at the last minute – but all the swearing and the aforementioned male nudity is intact, so it couldn’t have been to secure a more lenient rating.

Much of the film is riding on the brawny shoulders of Johnson and Efron, but both actors’ natural charisma only carries things so far. Johnson plays yet another no-nonsense noble hero who looks out for his team. He’s good at this, but there isn’t as much of the nigh-ridiculous, yet awesome near-superhuman quality he’s displayed in the Fast and Furious films.

Efron plays the same character he’s played in much of his recent career: the lunk-headed, vain hunk who’s a big show-off, but who eventually becomes sympathetic. Most of the back-and-forth between Mitch and Brody consists of the former calling the latter mocking nicknames, including one that’s pretty meta. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Johnson and Efron doesn’t reach the heights this reviewer hoped it would.

What would Baywatch be without women running in slow motion? There’s a fair bit of slow-mo jogging down the beach, but there’s also an effort to make the female characters more than mere eye candy. Daddario’s Summer is the most knowledgeable member of the team, while Hadera is lean and formidable as Stephanie, Mitch’s second-in-command. Rohrbach has the responsibility of filling the sizeable, uh, shoes left by Pamela Anderson. As C.J., she has enough of the blonde bombshell quotient, but lacks comedic chops.

Baywatch falls back on that hoary trope of the awkward geeky guy slobbering after the unattainable hot girl, and it’s often grating. The mere fact that Bass’ Ronnie is nowhere near as toned as the other characters is meant to induce laughter, and the character’s establishing moment involves him getting his private parts stuck in a deck chair. It’s yet another sign of the film’s laziness.

Chopra’s Victoria is a wannabe Bond villain – she even says the line “I’m not a Bond villain…yet.” Chopra brings industrial-strength strut to the role, but the character of the evil land developer is so played out that it’s boring, even if this archetype is usually male. She even has lumbering, suit-clad henchmen doing her bidding. There is some fun to be found in Victoria’s final showdown with Mitch and Brody, though.

Even when David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson make their requisite cameos, it fails to enliven the proceedings, because there’s nothing particularly creative about their guest appearances. What could’ve been wickedly goofy, raunchy and exciting is instead a ho-hum production line comedy offering – not even the combined biceps of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron can haul this above mediocrity.

Summary: Instead of being risqué, action-packed and subversively funny, Baywatch sinks like a stone, even with several likeable cast members on board.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Fast & Furious 8 (AKA The Fate of the Furious)

For F*** Magazine

FAST & FURIOUS 8 

Director : F. Gary Gray
Cast : Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren, Elsa Pataky, Scott Eastwood
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 16min
Opens : 13 April 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)

The driving force behind the Fast and Furious franchise – besides international box office – is ‘family’. Groan-inducing though it may be, many moviegoers have warmed to the crew led by Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Diesel), and audiences around the world feel a kinship with this team. In this, the eighth entry in the franchise, we watch the family get torn asunder.

Dom and his wife Letty (Rodriguez) are enjoying their honeymoon in Havana, Cuba. The couple is called away for a mission in Germany, where the team must prevent an Electromagnetic Pulse generator from falling into enemy hands. Dom, Letty, DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson), motormouth Roman (Gibson), mechanical whiz Tej (Bridges) and hacker Ramsey (Emmanuel) pull off the mission without a hitch – until Dom betrays them. The woman who has somehow convinced Dom to cast aside his loyalty is elusive, powerful cyberterrorist Cipher (Theron). To track down Dom and Cipher, spymaster Mr. Nobody (Russell) places the team’s nemesis Deckard Shaw (Statham) alongside them. Everyone, especially Hobbs, is upset that they must work with Shaw, but desperate times call for desperate measures. This latest adventure takes the team from New York City to the frigid Russian tundra, as they try to stop Cipher and win Dom back to the side of good.

Director F. Gary Gray, who helmed Straight Outta Compton and the remake of The Italian Job, takes the wheel from Furious 7 director James Wan. While it’s officially titled ‘The Fate of the Furious’, it’s promoted as Fast & Furious 8 in several territories. With the superstar cast and key behind-the-scenes personnel including writer Chris Morgan, cinematographer Stephen F. Windon, composer Brian Tyler and second unit director/stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos returning, not too much has changed, even with a new director.

Under the guidance of Justin Lin, who helmed the third through sixth entries in the franchise, the series has morphed from being ostensibly about car racing culture into a globe-trotting military action/heist behemoth. Fast & Furious 8 opens with a street race in Havana, to remind viewers that the series hasn’t forgotten its roots. It takes confidence to open the film with a relatively humble set-piece, especially when compared to the mayhem that follows.

When the sixth film came out, some viewers were wondering just how the series would continue to top itself in the outlandish car stunt stakes. Just when it seemed there’s nothing new under the sun, Fast & Furious 8 launches a submarine at the crew. This is a series that’s always in danger of swallowing itself up, but Gray presides over things with a firm-enough hand. A sequence in which Cipher orchestrates unbridled vehicular chaos on the streets of New York City is inventive, and in between all the big-budget bombast, we get to witness a good old-fashioned prison brawl. Once again, Razatos deserves credit for staging grand, entertaining spectacle.

Watching the action scenes is like watching a penguin glide gracefully through the water. Sitting through the dramatic scenes is like watching said penguin waddle on land: it’s ungainly, but endearing. The soap opera quotient is even higher than before. Dom goes rogue! Shock, horror! While Morgan’s screenplay heaves with cheesiness and Gibson’s ad-libbing tends to make scenes less funny, we have to admire the logistics of it. Not just the logistics of staging the action, but the sheer mechanics of constructing the screenplay, such that each member of the ever-expanding cast gets their time to shine. There are a few twists, a cameo or two and a reasonably clever gambit is put into play, but it’s nothing as audacious as the chase with the safe(s) in the fifth film. While the seventh film made a fair few viewers tear up with its closing tribute to the late Paul Walker, the emotional scenes here make considerably less impact.

The massive ensemble works like a well-oiled machine, anecdotal murmurs of friction between Diesel and his castmates notwithstanding. Gray wrings a good amount of tension from the premise of Dom turning against his teammates, with Rodriguez’s Letty naturally being the most hurt.

Johnson and Statham play off against each other wonderfully, trading juvenile barbs. Having the big bad villain of the seventh film get all chummy with the crew does run the risk of diminishing Shaw’s intimidation factor, but that’s not too much of an issue because there’s a new villain in town.

Said villain is played by Theron, reuniting with her Italian Job director and co-star Statham. Theron’s awesome in pretty much everything (we like to pretend Æon Flux doesn’t exist) and she has just enough fun with this role. Cipher is coolly evil and her dastardly scheme is very Bond villain-esque. However, unlike the Shaw siblings from the last two instalments, Cipher is mostly a passive villain, standing in front of a bank of computers, shouting things like “hack ‘em all” to her minions. It’s not the best use of Theron, but we’re glad she’s in the series anyway.

Perhaps it’s because she was only introduced in the previous film, but Emmanuel’s Ramsey doesn’t really feel like a part of the team yet. Scott Eastwood plays Mr. Nobody’s apprentice who gets picked on by the crew and feels extraneous. But if you’re already invested in the series and its characters, this is a fun ride that feels shorter than its 136-minute running time. Gray does a fine job of preserving the series’ personality while furthering the team’s delightfully ludicrous exploits.

Summary: It’s as cheesy and outlandish as ever: Fast & Furious 8 sticks to what works for the franchise and even if it doesn’t break ground the same way that submarine did, it’s enjoyable.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Moana

For F*** Magazine

MOANA 

Director : Ron Clements, John Musker
Cast : Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 54min
Opens : 24 November 2016
Rating : PG

moana-posterDisney heeds the call of the ocean with the studio’s 56th animated feature film. Young Moana (Cravalho), the daughter of chief Tui (Morrison) and Shira (Scherzinger), lives on the Polynesian island of Motonui. Tui insists that his daughter remain on the island to eventually take over the duties of chief, but Moana is unable to resist the beckoning of the sea. Moana’s grandmother Tala (House) encourages the girl’s instincts, much to Tui’s chagrin. When the Motnonui islanders find their livelihoods threatened as coconut trees fail to bear fruit and no fish can be caught, Moana sets out to find the one person who can fix the situation. This is the demigod Maui (Johnson), who can shape-shift into various animals. Accompanied by the none-too-bright rooster Hei Hei (Tudyk), Moana and Maui embark on a journey to return a mystical artefact known as the Heart of Te Fiti. Neither is too fond of the other, but they will need to work together to survive the arduous voyage and defeat the deadly lava goddess Te Kā.

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Moana is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, Disney animation mainstays whose first film for the studio was 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective. Clements and Musker kick-started the studio’s ‘Renaissance’ period with The Little Mermaid three years later, following that with Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet and The Princess and the Frog. The duo undertook extensive research trips to Polynesian islands, and the effort put into authentically capturing and portraying that rich culture is evident in Moana. The animation is detailed and vibrant, with some of the finest computer-generated water we’ve ever seen playing an important role. The ocean is personified as a living entity, with globules of water reminiscent of The Abyss extending from the surface to greet Moana.

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Moana has been billed as being vastly different from all the other Disney Princess films in the studio’s canon, but for the most part, it sticks to a tried and true Hero’s Journey formula. There’s a MacGuffin in the form of the Heart of Te Fiti jewel, there’s a quest to go on and hurdles to overcome. While there’s a big reveal during the film’s climax, there isn’t too much here that’s very surprising. Moana and Maui’s adventures take on an episodic nature. A thrilling action sequence in which the pair is ambushed by a horde of pygmy pirates called the Kakamora brings Mad Max: Fury Road to mind. There isn’t really an overarching villain, with Te Kā only really making her presence felt during the film’s final battle.

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There are plenty of visual gags that work great, including a moment in which Maui hits a snag with his shape-shifting superpowers. Hei Hei, whom Clements describes as “the dumbest character in the history of Disney animation,” is endlessly amusing. However, several stabs at self-referential humour seem a little jarring. Maui tacitly comments on Moana’s status as a Disney Princess, and there’s a particularly on-the-nose reference to The Little Mermaid. There’s also a joke about Twitter that seems Dreamworks-y.

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One of the film’s biggest selling points is that, as with Brave, there isn’t a love interest in sight. Moana has great agency and isn’t defined solely by her relationships to any of the other characters.15-year-old Cravalho was the last of hundreds of Polynesian women to audition. She makes her feature film acting debut here, bringing an appropriate blend of plucky adventurer and 21st Century teenager to her performance. While Moana is a great character, there are familiar elements to her – she wants adventure in a great wide somewhere, and longs to get out from under the thumb of her overprotective father. It is nice that the character is given a noticeably different body type from the standard svelte Disney princess, and the character’s beauty is showcased in beautifully-lit magic hour scenes.

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Johnson’s trademark charm and charisma is on display as Maui, a self-centred demigod who craves adulation. Maui’s facial expressions appear to be modelled directly on Johnson’s, with the signature ‘people’s eyebrow’ look getting the spotlight. The character isn’t intended to be wholly likeable, and while the relationship between Maui and Moana does get satisfactory development, it can be tedious at times. Musker and Clements have cleverly worked some 2D animation into the film, in the form of Maui’s tattoos. ‘Mini Maui’, who acts as the demigod’s conscience, is a clever way of giving Maui his own sidekick.

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We’re not sure why Alan Tudyk was needed solely to make clucking sound effects, but in any case, we’re glad that Hei Hei and Pua the pig don’t talk. Bit of a shame that the adorable Pua was left behind on Motonui and didn’t join Moana, Maui and Hei Hei on their voyage. House’s Gramma Tala is the stock ‘wise grandmother’ archetype through and through, but her interactions with Moana do provide some of the film’s most emotional moments. Jemaine Clement pops up voicing a colossal crab monster named Tamatoa, in what is probably the film’s low point. It seems like such a calculation, that this is the designated scene-stealing supporting villain. Clement’s Tim Curry-type delivery is all too similar to his performance in the Rio films.

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The aspect of Moana that most disappointed this reviewer is the music. Please put away your pitchforks. Oceanic music group Te Vaka, Mark Mancina and vaunted Broadway impresario Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the film’s music, with Miranda writing the lyrics. They’re all fine, but aren’t as hummable as one would expect. Maui may have his magical fish hook, but these songs seem to lack hooks of their own. The Disney animated canon has produced such memorable tunes as Part of Your World, A Whole New World, Beauty and the Beast and, yes, Let It Go. Alas, nothing in Moana is that instantly catchy and memorable. This reviewer is sure the songs will grow on him, but we were hoping for songs that cling to you immediately.

While Moana delivers grand adventure and meticulously-animated spectacle, it doesn’t hit the heights of sublime poignancy which Disney has proven capable of. It’s a fine quest movie with a few lulls and songs that are okay at best, but lots of kids are bound to gravitate to the spirited heroine.

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Inner Workings, the short film preceding the feature, is delightful and infectiously silly. Stick around for a post-credits gag.

Summary: Splendid animation and a sincerity in putting Polynesian culture on the big screen offset Moana’s formulaic elements and somewhat unmemorable songs.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Central Intelligence

For F*** Magazine

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

Director : Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul, Danielle Nicolet, Thomas Kretschmann
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 54 mins
Opens : 16 June 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Sexual References and Coarse Language)

Over the past few years, Kevin Hart has become the universal adapter plug of the buddy comedy subgenre, having been paired with the likes of Will Ferrell, Josh Gad and Ice Cube amongst others. This time, Hart is teamed with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But is just their disparity in physical stature enough to elicit the laughs?
Hart plays Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner, who in high school, was a popular and highly successful student. Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson) was an overweight social outcast who was relentlessly bullied, and Calvin was the only one who would show him any kindness. 20 years later, Robbie has undergone a complete physical transformation and reinvented himself as “Bob Stone”. Calvin is married to his high school sweetheart Maggie (Nicolet), but is unfulfilled in his accounting career. Robbie and Calvin reunite, but Calvin is informed by CIA agent Pamela Harris (Ryan) that Robbie is in fact a dangerous rogue agency operative wanted for the murder of his former partner. Robbie tries to convince Calvin of his innocence as the two go on the run, trying to stop classified intel from falling into the hands of a mysterious underworld player known as “the Black Badger”.
The thinking behind Central Intelligence seems to have been “just let the two leads loose, that should be plenty to carry a movie.” Much of the would-be comedy is painfully unfunny, and the action is generic and unimpressive. This is far from the first comedy in which a regular Joe is flung into the mix of high-stakes international intrigue, and the plot is painfully perfunctory and the final reveal is a predictable one. There’s an anti-bullying message here, that if you’re picked on by the jocks in high school, all you need to do is transform yourself into Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to get back at them. That should be pretty easy for anyone to do. The prologue features Johnson’s face digitally pasted onto Sione Kelepi who portrays the young Robbie; this effect is nestled deep in the uncanny valley and is terrifying rather than funny.
To the movie’s credit, it doesn’t go down the “one’s silly and the other’s stoic” route typical of buddy cop flicks. While Hart does eventually go into shrill, flailing mode, the character is likeable because of the kindness he shows towards the underdog. Johnson does have fun with the Robbie character, who may be all 6’ 5” of hulking muscle, but is the same awkward, socially mal-adjusted kid deep down. The thing is, Johnson is too slick and polished to come across as convincingly dorky. Nicolet’s Maggie is just “the wife” – the plot seems to hint at how marrying one’s high school sweetheart may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Ryan is certainly far above the material, and phones it in as the comically serious dogged agent hunting down the suspect. Bateman is pretty much wasted as a stock slimy, snivelling banker type, and Paul’s appearance amounts to little more than an extended cameo. Look out for a prominent comedienne in the film’s climax.
Central Intelligence has the same problem that most Kevin Hart vehicles have: the producers bank too much on the comedian’s appeal to audiences and everything around him seems to be on autopilot. It’s a wasted opportunity, especially since Hart is paired with a bona fide action hero like Johnson. Instead of a production line comedy with bits of action sprinkled about half-heartedly, it would have been fun to see the duo tear into the conventions of buddy cop and spy movies in a full-tilt action extravaganza fuelled by belly laughs. The film trucks out the hoary dictum of “being yourself” – we’ll bet it’s easy to “be yourself” when you’re Dwayne Johnson. The scenes in which Robbie is wracked with anxiety brought about by the trauma he endured in school did resonate a little with this reviewer, but it never seems sincere enough to be a truly effective message. Sure, it’s sporadically amusing just by dint of putting Hart and Johnson together, but it’s clear that Central Intelligence isn’t aiming for any particular heights and is merely coasting along.
Summary: Sure, the leading men have chemistry, but unremarkable action sequences and jokes that are more cringe-inducing than genuinely funny ensure this won’t be front and centre in most moviegoers’ memories after they leave the theatre.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

San Andreas

For F*** Magazine

SAN ANDREAS

Director : Brad Peyton
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd, Colton Haynes, Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Todd Williams, Art Parkinson, Kylie Minogue, Will Yun Lee
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 28 May 2015
“We all have our little faults,” Lex Luthor told Superman in the 1978 film. “Mine’s in California.” In this disaster thriller, that “little fault” leads to big problems as the entire US west coast is crippled by a devastating earthquake of unprecedented magnitude. Los Angeles Fire Department rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Johnson) has to save his estranged wife Emma (Gugino) and the couple have to put aside their differences in order to reach their daughter Blake (Daddario). Blake is trapped in San Francisco alongside Ben (Johnstone-Burt) and his kid brother Ollie (Parkinson), Ben interviewing for a position at the office of superstar architect Daniel Riddick (Gruffudd), Emma’s new boyfriend. Meanwhile, CalTech seismology professor Lawrence Hayes (Giamatti) has been working on a system to predict earthquakes and is determined to get the word out so as many lives can be saved before the destruction escalates.

            Let’s address the elephant in the room: Nepal has recently been hit by two major quakes, the death toll now exceeding 8500. The marketing for San Andreas has been tweaked with an emphasis on earthquake preparedness and donating to the relief effort, with a portion of the movie’s takings set to be donated to Nepal. Still, it’s understandable that very few audiences, if any, will find harrowing devastation in this specific context very entertaining. It’s a little like when the kids-on-a-space-shuttle adventure Space Camp was released two months after the Challengerdisaster. In fact, it leads one to wonder if a movie like San Andreas was ever a good idea, even before the Nepal tremblor, given the tragic frequency with which such calamities occur these days.


Big summer blockbusters are meant to provide escapism rather than continually remind viewers of the problems that plague the world in real life. Post-9/11, many action flicks have deliberately invoked the imagery of collapsing buildings and citizens scrambling away from falling debris in the hopes of eliciting an emotional response through mere association with actual tragedies, which seems to be the case here too. The Catch-22 faced by director Brad Peyton is that if the events depicted in the film are too fanciful and ridiculous, it will pull audiences out of it, but if they are too realistic, it will hit too close to home.

            The phrase “destruction porn” has been tossed about derisively in reference to blockbusters like Man of Steel and just about everything in Roland Emmerich’s filmography. Let’s call a spade a spade – San Andreas is destruction porn. We don’t mean this sanctimoniously; wanton carnage has always been one of the main ingredients in creating large-scale spectacle. It’s worth acknowledging the effort made to craft inventive, thrilling sequences and the amount of work involved in creating the digital deluge must have been mind-boggling. All credit to the armies of artists at visual effects houses Scanline, hy*drau”lx, Method Studios, Cinesite and other vendors for their work here. The scale is suitably epic but one can’t help but have the niggling sense of hollow artificiality throughout. Moviegoers have become harder to impress and even with rippling seismic waves tearing through the L.A. city centre and cargo ships lodged in skyscrapers, San Andreas is rarely truly impressive. The 3D conversion is also something of a let-down.

            When it comes to the plot, San Andreas is predictable to, well, a fault. The involvement of at least six screenwriters performing multiple studio-mandated rewrites ensures that the script is safe, homogenised and dull. Paul Giamatti, playing a seismology professor as if the character were a scientist from a ‘50s creature feature, warns “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.” We also counted at least nine utterances of the line “oh my god!” (mostly from Carla Gugino). Every disaster movie cliché in the book is flung into San Andreas, as well as clichés from other genres for good measure. You’ve got the strong, hardworking protagonist, his estranged wife, the wealthy douchebag who is his wife’s new boyfriend, the daughter who needs to be rescued but who is largely plucky and capable when required, the daughter’s earnest, handsome love interest and the tagalong kid for comic relief. Oh, and the protagonist has already lost one child in an earlier rafting accident. This doesn’t feel like it needed six writers, it feels like all it took was an algorithm fed into some kind of automated writing software.

            Dwayne Johnson reunites with Peyton, who directed him in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The wrestler-turned-action-hero can do the noble, heroic thing in his sleep by now. Carla Gugino spends most of the movie yelling. Alexandra Daddario is the “damsel in a degree of distress”, competent but still in need of dad coming to the rescue. It’s all just tired and cheesy. Hollywood, it’s time to rewrite the disaster movie formula, and no amount of tsunamis smacking shipping crates into the Golden Gate Bridge can distract us from that dire need.

Summary: San Andreas manages to out-‘90s most ‘90s disaster flicks, unintentionally funny in how dated and corny despite several well-crafted set pieces.

RATING: 2out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Fast & Furious 7

For F*** Magazine

FAST & FURIOUS 7

Director : James Wan
Cast : Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Elsa Pataky, Lucas Black, Jason Statham, Djimon Hounsou, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey, Kurt Russell
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 137 mins
Opens : 2 April 2015

Big wheels keep on turning, the rubber keeps on burning and Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and his crew are rolling, rolling, rolling down the road in the seventh instalment of the Fast and Furious franchise. Dom and his “family”, comprising Brian (Walker), Letty (Rodriguez), Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Gibson) have been pardoned for their crimes in the previous films. Now, they’re sent hurtling back into their dangerous, high-speed existence when the lethal Deckard Shaw (Statham), looking to make the crew pay for almost killing his brother Owen, comes calling. With the assistance of spymaster “Mr. Nobody” (Russell) and Special Agent Hobbs (Johnson) of the Diplomatic Security Service, Dom and co. ride for their lives, this adventure taking them from L.A. to Azerbaijan to Abu Dhabi and back.

            We’ll get straight to the point – the untimely passing of star Paul Walker has cast a dark pall over a franchise built on pure escapism. What should have been yet another fist-pumping, all-out action spectacular is now a bittersweet affair. Director James Wan, taking the baton from Justin Lin, has managed to create a flick where the audience is reassured up front that it’s okay to have fun, it’s okay to just go along for the ride – and yet Brian O’Conner’s exit from the series is handled with as much grace and sincerity as the series can muster. The film displays a level of self-awareness – early on, Brian tells his young son Jack that “cars don’t fly”. Later in the film, they absolutely dofly. Screenwriter Chris Morgan supplies dialogue that is as overripe and clichéd as ever and yet, there is an undeniable charm to it all. Surprisingly, the 137 minute run time passes at a decent clip.


            There’s something that makes this franchise very different from the Transformersmovies, even though they are aimed at exactly the same demographic and contain cool automobiles, explosions and leery shots of scantily-clad women. There’s an earnestness here as opposed to the cynicism that pervades the Transformers films. This is movie #7 and yet there’s the sense that all involved are still invested and are determined not to phone it in, embracing the over-the-top stunts with all they’ve got.

Wan must’ve broken out in hives trying to devise vehicular set-pieces that would top those of Fast & Furious 6, which involved a tank and a massive cargo plane. Here, we have cars inserted into a treacherous mountain pass via air drop, a Lykan Hypersport sailing out a skyscraper window and crashing into the adjacent building, and a finale in which our heroes are pursued by a stealth attack helicopter and a souped-up Predator drone. Props go to second unit director and stunt coordinator Jack Gill for putting it all together – those cars were dropped out of a plane for real. Unfortunately, as adrenaline-pumping as these signature sequences still are, there is a conspicuous increase in the reliance on computer-generated imagery, especially for the Etihad Towers jump and the helicopter attack. The scenes in which Paul Walker is digitally doubled also stick out. It’s not enough to pull one out of it completely, but it does lack polish.

For all of screenwriter Morgan’s unsubtlety, he’s done a fine job of distributing the spotlight among the ensemble cast. The moments of pathos are cheesy – Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty is still coping with her amnesia – but all parties involved know that’s not why the audience is present. Even then, the loss experienced by the crew following the deaths of Gisele and Han in #6 is palpable and does lend the proceedings an emotional backbone, however slight. The film serves a great swansong for Walker; he gets to go mano a mano with Tony Jaa in two blistering martial arts showdowns. Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson continue to have amiable chemistry as the constantly bickering Tej and Roman, but Tyrese’s comic asides border on the excessive here.  

Jason Statham is a fittingly intimidating villain, essentially Frank Martin from the Transporter series if he had no moral compunction whatsoever. There’s a nice appearance by Djimon Hounsou as a secondary baddie even though the character doesn’t do much. Dwayne Johnson revels in the exaggerated action hero persona the material presents him with, trucking out one-liners like “you’ve earned yourself a dance with the devil, boy” and “I’m gonna put a hurt on him so hard, he’ll wish his mother kept her legs closed.” Ronda Rousey shows up as a bodyguard to furnish the requisite catfight with Michelle Rodriguez, a role fulfilled by fellow MMA fighter Gina Carano in the previous film. The show is well and truly stolen by Kurt Russell. The 80s action icon has still got it and looks like he’s having a ball. When he slips on the night-vision shades and draws twin pistols to get in on the fun himself, prepare to cheer.

As film critics, we hear the “it’s not meant to be Oscar-worthy high art” defence a whole lot. Well, for the Fast and Furious films, especially #5onwards, it applies. We’re not about to give the cheesy dialogue and sometimes-intrusive visual effects work a free pass, but Wan makes sure it all comes together nicely and delivers what was promised – a really good time for action junkies. In addition, the director shoulders the responsibility of fashioning this loud, brash extravaganza into an emotional send-off for its recently-deceased star. Vin Diesel has been open about how truly distraught Walker’s death left him and we do see some of that laid bare on the screen. We’re not ashamed to say we were left misty-eyed and in that respect, Wan has succeeded. There are no stinger scenes during or after the end credits and while this does seem like a great place to call it a day, Universal is intent on doing at least three more. Better to ride off into the sunset while you’re ahead, but that’s not how studios work, we suppose.

Summary: The spectacle is as bombastic as ever and the laws of physics are as irrelevant as ever; the series continuing to entertain. Fast & Furious 7 also manages to provide some genuine heart amidst all that cheese, bidding a fond farewell to Paul Walker.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5Stars
Jedd Jong 

We are fast. We are furious. We are Groot.