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.

Rampage-header

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.

Rampage-Lizzie

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

Moonlight

For F*** Magazine

MOONLIGHT 

Director : Barry Jenkins
Cast : Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Jaden Piner, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1h 51min
Opens : 27 April 2017
Rating : M18 (Some Homosexual Content)

            The Best Picture winner at the 89th Academy Awards finally comes to Singaporean theatres. This coming-of-age drama centres on Chiron (Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes at different ages), who grows up in Liberty City, Miami, Florida. Chiron’s mother Paula (Harris) is a drug addict, and the shy, often-bullied child finds a mentor figure in Juan (Ali), his mother’s drug dealer. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Monáe) look after Chiron, and the bond that Chiron forms with Juan and Teresa earns Paula’s jealousy. Chiron’s only friend is Kevin (Piner, Jerome and Holland at different ages). While Chiron and Kevin are close, their relationship is charged. Chiron finds himself the target of relentless bullying from Terrel (Patrick Decile), whom Kevin is friendly with. As he moves through life, Chiron must come to terms with his sexuality and his sense of self.

Moonlight is based on playwright Tarell Alvin McRaney’s unproduced semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. When Medicine for Melancholy director Barry Jenkins was looking to make his second film, he was introduced to McRaney’s script through the Miami-based Borscht arts collective. It turns out that both Jenkins and McRaney grew up in Liberty City. Jenkins adapted McRaney’s script into a screenplay, changing the structure to make it a linear story that tracked Chiron’s journey from child to adult. In the original play, the three chapters ran simultaneously. Jenkins and McRaney eventually won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

A large part of Moonlight’s appeal is that even though it has made history as the first film with an entirely black cast and the first LGBT+-themed film to win Best Picture, it doesn’t come off as a film that’s overly self-conscious about its game-changing status. Moonlight covers ground that we’ve seen in many coming-of-age films before, but it has a distinct freshness to it. In its sincerity, Moonlight never becomes self-indulgent. Jenkins pulls off multiple balancing acts, one of which being the ensuring the film maintains its authenticity, while keeping it relatable no matter what the audience’s background is. Because it is partially inspired by McRaney’s and Jenkins’ own experiences, the dialogue sounds honest and real.

The presentation is slick without sacrificing personality. Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton were intent on avoiding what they called a “documentary look”, and as such, the images are rich and pop with colour. Each of the film’s three segments is graded in such a way as to imitate different kinds of film stock. This is not something most viewers would notice (this reviewer certainly didn’t), but it contributes to it registering on a subconscious level that there are subtle differences between each distinct section. Composer Nicholas Britell’s chamber music score is exceedingly lyrical, enhancing and enriching the emotion generated by the story and the performances.

Moonlight’s theatre DNA is evident in how much hinges on the performances. Unlike on the stage, film allows the use of closeups, and a lot of the story is told in subtle changes of expression, and the pain that ebbs and flows behind Chiron’s eyes. Hibbert’s Chiron is quiet and shy, Sanders’ teenaged Chiron lanky, awkward and frustrated, and Rhodes’ adult Chiron muscular and sure of himself – or at least, that’s the image he projects. The character of Chiron is developed with such care that it seems like the audience is watching a sculpture taking shape before their eyes. He’s a work in progress that we are witness to, and the audience observes Chiron construct his defences and his persona. The impact that Chiron’s environment and his interpersonal relationships have on him are organic and satisfyingly fleshed out.

Backing up the young actors who play Chiron and Kevin at different ages are reliable performers Ali and Harris. Ali’s screen time is relatively brief, but the character is a crucial one in Chiron’s story. Juan is a drug dealer with a heart of gold, yet Ali’s Oscar-winning portrayal rises far above the stereotypes that come to mind on hearing that description. Harris’ turn as Chiron’s broken, drug-addicted mother is even more impressive when one learns that because of issues with her visa, the British actress shot all her scenes in three days, in between the promotional tour for Spectre. Singer Monáe, arguably the breakout star of Hidden Figures, commands the screen. Teresa is gentle, yet it’s clear that she isn’t someone to be trifled with.

Moonlight has been hailed by black and LGBT+ activists alike as an unmitigated victory, a giant leap forward for the representation of both groups in mainstream popular culture. Moonlight isn’t an ‘issues film’ and its filmmakers aren’t merely jumping on a soapbox and preaching their point of view – its strength is in wearing its heart on its sleeve. While there is commentary on sexuality and race, especially with regards to the perception of black masculinity, all this is in service of the character. It adds up to a work that is captivating, sensitive and powerful.

Summary: Believe the hype: Moonlight reinvents the coming-of-age drama genre with subtlety, style and soul. Its arrival in Singaporean theatres is better late than never.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Our Kind of Traitor

For F*** Magazine

OUR KIND OF TRAITOR

Director : Susanna White
Cast : Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Damian Lewis, Naomie Harris, Alicia von Rittberg, Mark Gatiss
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 1 hr 48 mins
Opens : 7 July 2016
Rating : M18 (Some Sexual Scenes and Nudity)

Our Kind of Traitor posterBoth Ewan McGregor and Damian Lewis appeared in the largely forgotten Stormbreaker, and now reunite for a spy film of a very different stripe. McGregor plays Perry Makepeace, a poetics professor on holiday in Marrakech with his wife Gail (Harris). In a Moroccan restaurant, Perry befriends Dima (Skarsgård), who turns out to be the chief money launderer of the Russian Mafia. A powerful underworld player known as The Prince (Grigoriy Dobrygin) killed one of Dima’s associates, so Dima fears for the safety of his family, and enlists Perry in delivering key information to MI6, information that implicates powerful English bankers and politicians in colluding with the Russian Mafia. MI6 agent Hector (Lewis) naturally has his suspicions – can Dima be trusted? Why would he choose Perry as his messenger? Gail is also frustrated that her life has become upended because of her husband’s sudden involvement in this risky enterprise.

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Our Kind of Traitor is adapted from the John le Carré novel of the same name. Our Kind of Traitor joins the illustrious list of films based on a Le Carré books, including A Most Wanted Man, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Constant Gardener and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. One expects a Le Carré adaptation to boast a cerebral quality, leaning more on politics and interplay than chases and gunfights. Our Kind of Traitor is a slick and stylish picture, director Susanna White delivering a product with all the trappings of a spy thriller. While White is an accomplished television director, this is only her second feature, after Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, and it does feel like the work of someone who is a dab hand at assembling thrillers. The exotic, glamourous locations include Marrakech, London, Paris, Bern and the Swiss Alps, and Oscar-winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle is on hand to lend the visuals poetry and polish.

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Our Kind of Traitor certainly looks the part, but the story never seems sufficiently grounded, with pretty big leaps of faith asked of the audience. There is a degree of intrigue to the premise: regular folks are yanked into the cloak-and-dagger realm of spies and gangsters. However, we never get a satisfyingly logical explanation for Perry’s involvement, and the story relies on several convenient turns in the plot to progress. While McGregor is an amiable leading man, Perry finds himself out of his depth and yet gets willingly strung along so often that it’s hard to not think of the character as exceedingly naïve. It seems the character is stuck in “sure, whatever you say” mode for the duration of the film, which can be frustrating. The tension between Perry and Gail, the two somewhat unhappy ten years into their marriage, does not get sufficient development.

Our Kind of Traitor Stellan Skarsgard and Ewan McGregor

Skarsgård’s Dima is gruff yet friendly, at once suspicious and charming. While the Russian accent he attempts isn’t great, Skarsgård manages to be convincing as a high-level mob figure who has had a change of heart and now fears for his life. There’s a warmth to him and a real sadness in the actor’s eyes when Dima needs to be vulnerable. Alas, the portrayal of the Russian Mafia doesn’t offer many insights, sticking close to the stereotypes and perceptions most already have, instead of delving into the inner workings of the criminal organisation. Lewis looks right at home in a film of this sort, but there isn’t much nuance he can bring to the role of Hector, who mostly stands about looking stern.

Our Kind of Traitor Damian Lewis

Our Kind of Traitor may not be the most involving or intricate spy yarn ever, but competent performances and glossy production values go a good way to papering over the cracks in the story. There is a bit of a lull in the middle, but the intrigue and smatterings of violence help to push it along.

Summary: It’s pretty to look at and ticks most of the spy thriller boxes, but thanks to an almost laughably gullible protagonist and a general lack of intensity, it’s not particularly easy to get into.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Spectre

For F*** Magazine

SPECTRE

Director : Sam Mendes
Cast : Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear
Genre : Action/Crime
Run Time : 2 hrs 28 mins
Opens : 5 November 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)
The world’s greatest superspy returns to tackle his most dangerous foe yet in the 24th Bond film. While in Mexico City, James Bond (Craig) discovers the existence of a shadowy terror network known as “Spectre”. Back home, Bond’s boss M (Fiennes) is locked in a power struggle with Max Denbigh aka “C” (Scott), head of the Joint Intelligent Service who aims to abolish the Double-O program. Bond’s allies Q (Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Harris) render their support as Bond pursues Spectre. Through Lucia Sciarra (Bellucci), the widow of a Spectre hitman, Bond finds his way to a figure from his distant past, the sinister Franz Oberhauser (Waltz). Bond must protect Dr. Madeleine Swann, a psychologist with familial links to Spectre who’s working at an exclusive private clinic in the Austrian Alps, from Oberhauser and his hulking henchman Mr. Hinx (Bautista). As the staggering reach of Spectre’s tendrils become apparent, Bond races against the clock to prevent Oberhauser from enacting his devastating schemes.
After winning a long legal battle known as the “Thunderball copyright ownership controversy”, the Bond movie producers finally secured the rights to depict the criminal organisation Spectre, integral to the Bond mythos. Fans were excited at the prospect of seeing James Bond come face to face with the éminence grise apparently lurking behind the shadows since the events of 2006’s Casino Royale. Skyfall director Sam Mendes returns for Craig’s fourth outing as 007, and it is evident that he is trying to hit as many mile markers associated with classic Bond as possible. Craig appears in a white tuxedo for the first time, there’s a scene set in a snowy locale, a scary henchman in the Oddjob and Jaws mould and a tricked-out Aston Martin. Sure enough, there are many moments in Spectre that made this reviewer cheer, but alas, after the smoke clears, it seems that the film adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
On the level of spectacle, Spectre certainly is an accomplishment. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, succeeding Skyfall’s Roger Deakins, crafts many shots that are striking in their elegant composition and breath-taking in their scope. The film’s pre-title sequence begins with a long tracking shot which follows Bond and his companion Estrella (Stephanie Sigman) through a massive procession as part of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. Second unit director Alexander Witt and stunt coordinator Gary Powell, both Bond veterans, assist Mendes in assembling major eye candy set pieces including a skirmish to the death aboard a helicopter spinning out of control, a car chase that roars through the streets of Rome and a spectacular plane vs. Land Rover convoy battle in the Austrian Alps – not to mention the single largest explosion ever detonated for a film. This reviewer, along with the majority of Bond fans, doesn’t fully enjoy Writing’s on the Wall, the rather limp theme song performed by Sam Smith. Thankfully, the Daniel Kleinman-designed main titles do enhance its effectiveness. However, there is some imagery that undermines the overall haunting effect of the sequence: expect to hear some tittering from audience members cognisant of Japanese tentacle erotica.
While Craig (in)famously told journalists that he’d rather slit his wrists than play Bond again, he delivers an intense, committed performance, with the character finally getting into the swing of things. As expected, he acquits himself well in the many action sequences and handles the moments of humour better than he did in Skyfall. His portrayal of Bond has sometimes been decried as too self-serious, so it is amusing to see him partake in several well-judged moments of levity that are almost Roger Moore-esque. There is some brooding, to be sure, but Bond gets right in the thick of it and stays there for the duration of the movie.
Christoph Waltz’s casting was met with much fanfare and speculation as to the true nature of his role. Waltz is fine as Oberhauser, but there’s very little here the Oscar-winner hasn’t done before in other roles and this reviewer was expecting him to have more of an impact. All of the primary villains in the Craig-starring Bond movies have been creepy European dudes, and Oberhauser is no exception. The Spectre meeting at an Italian palace, designed to evoke an arcane secret society ritual, is a genuine nail-biter of a scene and is marvellously acted by Waltz. However, when Oberhauser states his motivation, it is disappointingly contrived given all the build-up, since he’s been positioned as this ultimate baddie. Even though there’s obviously more to the character than is told to us in Spectre, the feeling of “wait, that’s it?” is pretty hard to shake.
Seydoux’s turn as the lead Bond girl is understatedly affecting, even if the character isn’t one of the more memorable women in the Bond canon. With Madeleine Swann, screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth are aiming for a character who isn’t either extreme of “fragile wallflower” or “kicker of ass who can give Bond a run for his money”. Even then, the arc in which she is initially sceptical of and almost hostile towards Bond but eventually warms to his charms is very predictable. It is a wonder that the sultry, glamourous Bellucci hasn’t been in a Bond film until now, so it is even more of a let-down that she is criminally underused in an all-too-brief appearance. The Lucia Sciarra character is also little more than the “kept woman” archetype we’ve seen many times throughout the Bond films, from Domino Derval to Solitaire to Andrea Anders.
The support system of Bond’s allies M, Moneypenny, Q and Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear) is integrated into the plot instead of coming off as ancillary, which is to Spectre’s credit. The crisis at MI6, secondary compared to Bond’s tangle with Spectre but still pretty serious stuff, is rooted in topical security concerns, with C planning an invasive universal surveillance program. Whishaw gets several humorous moments and Q does go out into the field in this one, but it isn’t taken too far (see Octopussy). Scott, best-known for playing the dastardly Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock, is far more restrained here, which means the character is believable but often dull. Bautista as the silent, musclebound Hinx is excellent casting. Henchmen with silly gimmicks are one of the most often-parodied elements of Bond films, so it’s commendable that Bautista manages to hark back to that without taking one out of the movie by being silly.
This reviewer found Spectre agonising, not because it’s a bad film – not by a long, long shot – but because of how unsatisfying it is once one takes a step back. There are a few references to Bond films past that cross the line from “cute” to “smug”. In the moment, it is entertaining and thrilling and there are action sequences which stand up to the most memorable in the series, but the overarching plot, especially where it pertains to the villain, leaves a fair amount to be desired. For a film that hits so many high points, true, sublime greatness remains out of Spectre’s grasp.
Summary: There are thrills and instantly classic scenes galore, but on peeling back the layers of Spectre, it isn’t quite the ghost with the most.
 
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong