Skyscraper (2018)

Released: July 13, 2018. Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber. Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han. Runtime: 1h 42 min.

Comedy director Rawson Marshall Thurber teams up for a second time with Dwayne Johnson after 2016’s “Central Intelligence. This time, it’s for his first action film “Skyscraper.”

Will Sawyer (Johnson) is now a security expert on assignment in Hong Kong assessing the safety of the world’s tallest building, the Pearl, at 225 stories tall, built by ambitious architect Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). Sawyer’s brought in to make sure that the residential floors are as safe as can be.

He’s given a tablet that can control the building remotely, and when the building is set ablaze by a gang of mercenaries (led by Roland Møller), Will’s framed for it. He wants to clear his name – but first needs to get into the building because his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and children Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell) are still in the building right near the fire.

Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer well. He’s a strong family man and Johnson brings his usual charisma. The film opens with his character as an FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader on his last mission as an explosion leads him to losing his leg. This is about 10 years before Hong Kong and he sports a prosthetic leg for the rest of the film.

He discusses it with one of his old FBI buddies, Ben (Pablo Schreiber), in the film, but talks about the mistake of not knowing the man had a bomb, but the bad luck led him to meeting his wife. Neve Campbell plays the wife well, but their chemistry’s nothing special. Will’s family is his drive.

Skyscraper revieww

Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson in “Skyscraper.” (IMDb)

All that aside, a main criticism for the film is that it’s a lot like Die Hard.” It’s fair and inevitable, especially because of the villains and general concept, but I saw more similarities to “The Towering Inferno.” It has similar scenes where characters must get across things to escape the blaze, and it’s like an extreme version of that film for modern audiences. I won’t spoil anything about the villains, but I’ve really liked Roland Møller in everything I’ve seen him in.

The film’s predictable but I liked the ride. I also liked the setting of the film, The Pearl, which makes Nakatomi Plaza look like a normal house in comparison. Attractions like a three-story rainforest and spinning turbine things on the outside of the building are featured on the Pearl. The wonder of the turbine attraction made me think of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” The Pearl’s architect Long Ji is Wonka and his skyscraper is his chocolate factory.

There’s a pearl on top of the skyscraper that looks down on Hong Kong like you’re just in the sky, or like you’re looking down from Heaven, as Long Ji puts it. Most of the Pearl’s unique attractions feature into the film’s biggest set pieces. A few of these made my palms sweat which I thought made the “Skyscraper” have enough edge-of-your-seat thrills for one watch, despite it being predictable.

Score: 63/100

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The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Released: April 14, 2017. Directed by: F. Gary Gray. Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron. Runtime: 2h 16 min.

After being a series primarily about street racing, The Fast and the Furious franchise is now a different beast entirely – featuring heist films, revenge stories and everything in between.

The franchise keeps things fresh as they display huge action set pieces that defy logic and gravity – but they’re high-octane fun because they’re so ridiculous and it embraces the insanity.

When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.

The Fate of the Furious, though it pleases, is the weakest film since the franchise shifted direction after the fourth outing. Old characters are brought back that never felt super important, but others like Mia (Jordana Brewster) are left out. She’s off-the-grid with Bryan O’Conner (the late Paul Walker) raising their baby, as Bryan’s alive in the movie universe. They’re in retirement now after the beautiful tribute to Walker at the end of Furious 7. It’s just strange not to have Mia there since she’s actual family of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s always saying he doesn’t have friends – he has family.

A new female’s introduced in the form of Charlize Theron’s Cipher, the franchise’s first female villain. She’s a malicious hacker and mastermind who gives hacker Ramsay (Nathalie Emmanuel) a run for her money.

She’s generic in motivation in generally wanting to see the world burn. Everything she says is also a bit of a cliché. It’s totally fine because Theron gives the character such a presence, which makes her a good villain. She’s one of those enemies who does things from the comfort of her high-tech plane and has minions do her bidding, and gets peeved when she needs to leave the office. It doesn’t give her a lot to do, though.

The Fate of the Furious - Charlize, Vin

Charlize Theron and Vin Diesel in The Fate of the Furious. (Source)

She’s able to lure Dom to the dark side, make him betray his family and do her bidding. The story packs surprises in characterization, especially since it’s surprising he’d betray the people he loves. I won’t go further into that, because, spoilers.

Films in the franchise between Fast Five and Furious 7 have good stories, but the eighth offering is the most generic plot in recent years, as the villain endgame is so familiar. The story just feels slapped together to work as a frame for the amazing stunts and nutty action.

The story dissatisfies but it’s not the most important part. The big, glamorous action makes this worthwhile and it’s still a lot of fun. From a street race in Cuba that offers a short trip to the series’ roots, a getaway in Berlin, to a fists-flying prison break, the action is great. Hacking plays a cool role in a big action scene in New York City, the film’s main setting.

After things calm down after the New York action, the finale is where things get most exciting and the crew learn that in Soviet Russia, submarine chases you! The franchise also keeps things interesting with diverse settings, as the globe-trotting team spans three continents this go around.

The Fate of the Furious makes Dom feel fresh by giving a new look at the character, but other characters are becoming stale after eight outings – namely Letty. It makes me wonder if they’ll have enough gas left in the tank for two more films.

Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) returns and is good again, and a new character includes Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). Comic relief Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) rip on him a lot and they’re generally funny, per usual. Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw is really awesome and even outshines Johnson’s Hobbs, who’s trying to fill the leader role of the good guy team.

Hobbs has memorable lines as talks in puns and silly dialogue. He sees something particularly gruesome at one point and his response is simply “Hmm, nasty.” When he often has such vivid threats and comments, you can’t help but feel disappointed because it’s such a perfect opportunity for a laugh or a pun. It’s almost like the writers stop trying.

Score: 65/100

 

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Fast & Furious 6Release Date: May 24, 2013. Director: Justin Lin. Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Runtime: 130 min.

Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and co. are set for life with the $100 million they took from the last movie. However, they are still wanted criminals, so their family is not intact. Meanwhile, Hobbs (The Rock) has been tracking an organization of lethally skilled mercenary drivers across twelve countries, whose mastermind, Shaw (Luke Evans), is aided by second-in-command Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), the love Dom thought to be dead. Hobbs enlists the help of Dom and his legendary crew to match wits against the mastermind. The payment is pardons for all crew members, an offer no one can refuse.

The earlier additions to the Fast and Furious franchise are mostly just fun movies about criminals who steal merchandise, and enjoy a lifestyle of family, fine hunnies and, of course, fast cars. I think it started to lose steam at the second. Slowly, but surely, each movie improved in terms of quality. It was a change in pace for Fast Five, because it ended up being a great action movie. Since Fast Five is such a good movie, many believed it would be a hard movie to top, as the franchise did set the bar fairly high. That is precisely the one hundred million dollar question… Is this better than the fifth?

You bet your bottom dollar, it is. In fact, buckle up for the best of the franchise. If you weren’t a fan before, you certainly will be now. If Fast Five didn’t make you a salivating fan of this franchise, though, you’re probably just an action movie Scrooge. This has the necessary components that made the fifth such a good movie; and it’s all enhanced. Hobbs is back, and the action is somehow amped up. The fight choreography is more impressive. The film-makers surprisingly make a few scenes that are almost as awesome as the fantastic scene with the vault running through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. How exactly? Well, I mean, there are TWO scenes that feel like finale extravaganza’s!

Luke Evans as Shaw is the best villain of the franchise so far. He is a worthy, ruthless adversary for Dom and his crew. It’s his value of precision against Dom’s value of family. Frankly, no matter how awesome the antagonist is, it’s not such an impressive feat in this franchise. For me, none of the antagonists have really been so worthwhile or memorable. The cast is on-key. Paul Walker is improving. It’s nice to see Vin Diesel trying his hardest to remind an amnesia-stricken Letty of her past life. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a blast with Dom’s crew, as well. He’s still the badass he’s always been, and everyone’s probably forgotten about Snitch, where it just felt like normal ole Dwayne Johnson. Han (Sung Kang) is still one of the best characters, because he’s so cool. The chemistry is becoming even better. Justin Lin brings equally good direction to this. I admire how this has equal amounts of fun, action, and its fair share of sheer intensity.

Previously in the series, the dialogue has been pretty silly, but funny. This time around, a lot of it is almost smart – and it has some downright hilarious lines and sequences (mostly with Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson). This is not only the best in the franchise, but it’s also the funniest. The plot is actually intelligent, as well, and not just a bunch of racing scenes strung together. It’s always intense, in a few scenes where you just think they’re certain to run out of road. Some of these guys are great drivers, and equally agile in a fistfight. This is an awesome movie, even it’s often entirely unrealistic. People go places without their cellular phones, and much like that, you’ll have to go to the movie without your brain. You’ll enjoy it so much more. Because this is just pure fun!

A sequel that ends on a cliff-hanger, one that makes me gain respect for earlier installments in the franchise, and a sequel that makes me giddy with excitement for the next one is a truly great movie in my book. This is not only the best in the franchise; but also the best action movie and (arguably) the best movie of the year thus far. This runs on Nos the whole way through; the action scenes rarely stop, and when they do, it’s for a funny scene. If people want a breather from fun, intense, beautifully filmed action scenes, there’s probably a screening of The Great Gatsby over in Theater #2. We fans like our action fast, and, you guessed it, furious!

Score90/100

Fast Five (2011)

Fast FiveReleased: April 29, 2011Director: Justin LinStars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne JohnsonRuntime: 130 min.

Fast Five fills up its gas tank and brings it all to the table. It’s a great heist movie, a great action movie, and lots of fun. It features the finest finale and stunt-work of any movie in the franchise thus far. The cast is ideal and everyone has a great chemistry. Paul Walker is becoming better with experience. I love this crew, and I love the way this crew of criminals are so likeable and human. They hold family dear to their hearts, just like everyone should. The plot is good, and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is a great character, even if he often has silly dialogue. The fight between he and Diesel has excellent fight choreography. The runtime feels long, one of the plot holes isn’t patched up until the very end, and the dialogue is often silly, but also often funny. It’s still a fast-paced, energetic, compelling ride throughout, and since I haven’t seen the sixth just yet, this is the best in the franchise so far. It’s not only fun, but a good movie, as well.

Score82/100

Pain & Gain (2013)

Pain & Gain

Pain & Gain

Release Date: April 26, 2013

Director: Michael Bay

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: Their American Dream is Bigger Than Yours

Michael Bay doesn’t have a good reputation. He’s that one director that is best fit to movies that have gigantic budgets and simple plots. Some may call him a director of stupid blockbuster movies, but he’s hardly the worst director in the business. That’s McG. A guy whose movies are stupider than his name. Anyway, back to Bay. While he is best known for huge, popcorn movies (Transformers, Pearl Harbor) he surprises with Pain & Gain, a movie made for $26 million.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is the charismatic manager of Sun Gym, a fitness centre where muscled guys lift weights and fatties might as well be the plague. Lugo has a very specific philosophy (taught by motivational speaker, Johnny Wu, a tiny role for Ken Jeong). He’s a do-er, and if he believes he deserves it, the universe will serve it. He just so happens to believe he deserves everything local rich guy, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), possesses. He enlists the help of Sun Gym buddies Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to do so. Together, these juice monkeys envelop themselves in a extortion ring and kidnapping scheme that goes terribly awry.

These guys are truly willing to go the extra mile to achieve the so-called American dream. The movie shows how far people might actually go to achieve what they desire, and these extreme lengths can be shocking. It’s also shocking to learn this film follows the true story upon which it is based (a three-part series entitled ‘Pain & Gain’ by Pete Collins) very closely. If you think you had a hard time believing Bernie (where Jack Black plays the titular Bernie who strikes up a relationship with a wealthy widow and when he kills her, he has to go to great lengths to creat the illusion she’s still alive) was based on a true story, you haven’t seen anything yet. This is so strange and bizarre that, during the movie, we’re reminded that “this is still a true story”.

A violent true story is written into a hilarious action comedy, so the audience could easily admire that, or be easily offended. The case is, Hollywood is once again exploiting something awful and making it into something entertaining that will make money. Though, this story about the Sun Gym Gang (that takes place between the latter end of 1994 through June 1995) really should be known. Still, the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pen a great black comedy, even if it is lengthy. Everyone should see this just to see where they stand on the film, much like the other 2013 movie set in Miami, Spring Breakers. This is truly one of the most bizarre and strangest movies of all-time, but it’s also one of the most memorable and entertaining of 2013 thus far.

Michael Bay’s movie has some great production design and writing, and it’s nice to see that he’s directing a passion project; and it also helps that the closest thing to Optimus Prime are fancy cars and riding lawn mowers. Some of the characters, though, are only a little more emotional than robots, mostly because the three main protagonists are money-hungry sociopaths. The characters’ actions are so moronic that it’s hard to care what might happen to them. We don’t really feel compassion for charismatic sociopaths, like they wouldn’t for us. The sociopath that shows the most human emotions is Paul Doyle (mostly for Jesus or Kershaw) and Doorbal. The dark comedy really produces laughs, and the offbeat humour is right on the money. Wahlberg and Mackie are great in their roles and everyone has great comedic timing, but the real star here is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson has played badasses in the past (like Mathayus in The Scorpion King, Chris Vaugh in Walking Tall, Luke Hobbs in Fast Five), but this is one of his strongest performances as an egotistic moron who happens to think he’s a badass. He’s hilarious and very charming as the criminal who hits rock bottom, finds Jesus, and then becomes hooked on cocaine once again when they find wealth. He steals every scene, and right now, I can’t think of a time where Johnson delivers a more entertaining performance.

Ed Harris is great as the main investigator working for Tony Shalhoub’s Kershaw, even if he might not be extremely memorable. Rebel Wilson also shows some sultry emotions, mostly during her sex scene with Anthony Mackie, where she brings her own nun-chucks to spice things up. The versatile Shalhoub performs well, and he gets more than a few laughs as the victim. Everyone’s chemistry is ideal. It’s hilarious when his character is trying to manipulate the weak link, Paul Doyle. Their relationship is very funny, mostly because Doyle calls Kershaw, “Pepe”, and he nicknames himself “El Dad”.

This is sure to be one of the most outlandish and entertaining movies of 2013, and it’s an incredibly pleasant surprise. It is also hilariously twisted and its originality is deadly. The movie is stylish and colourful, but the movie is rather unbelievable and it is about ten minutes too long. Still, it’s bound to become a cult classic. The ensemble cast is great (Rob Corddry is also in the movie, among everyone else aforementioned). The majority of men will surely be entertained and laugh at this great black comedy of violence, inarguably moronic choices and chasing the American dream. If you’re a female, or a male who is really in touch with their feminine side, you might not enjoy it as much. Yes, that may sound sexist (forgive me), but it’s kind-of the truth with such a violent tale. One thing’s for sure, Popeye would approve of this movie.

83/100

Snitch (2013)

snitchReleased: February 22, 2013. Director: Ric Roman Waugh. Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, Jon Bernthal. Runtime: 1hr 52 min. Tagline: How far would you go to save your son?

Snitch, a film based on a true story, opens with a young man, Jason Collins (Rafi Gavron), talking to a buddy on Skype. The best friend asks if he can ship drugs to Jason’s address, and tempts him by saying he can try some if he wants, and the skeptical Jason says he’ll talk to him later about it. When the drugs get to his door, DEA agents track the package and bring him into custody.

It seems that his so-called best friend has set him up by sending drugs to his house, and by doing so, his own sentence will be reduced. The only option for Jason is to do the same, or face a minimum sentence of ten years in prison. His integrity is too strong to do so, so he’s left to sit on his hands. Though, his construction worker father, John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) can’t let that happen. John and Jason’s mother are divorced, and Jason wants little to do with his dad.

John chooses that the only one to save his son from prison is to become an informant himself. With help from one of his ex-con employees, Daniel Cruz (The Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal), he is able to get an introduction to a drug dealer in order to take down a cartel, participate in a drug deal, and in turn, reduce his son’s sentence.

Snitch is a decent-enough film. The feature takes a fairly simple plot and attempts to make it a little more complex than it has to be. With this, it manages to write in a few surprises for the audience. The characters are also one of the best parts of the film.

First of all, the supporting legal players who help John out are pretty good. Susan Sarandon plays an attorney who doesn’t have that big a heart for John, as she would be willing to risk John’s life for a bigger arrest. In the first place, it’s not extremely easy to believe that the DEA would be willing to let this man get involved with this drug world. She seems to be the face of greedy lawyers everywhere, but she isn’t entirely despicable, as this is an intense situation. Barry Pepper’s character is also good, and he embraces his stereotype of traditional DEA agent, while sporting a long beard. Seriously, you’ll want to grasp that hair and take some scissors to it.

John attempts very hard to connect with his son, but it proves difficult since Jason doesn’t want anything to do with him. The fact that Jason feels abandoned makes some of the concepts very real and, frankly, rather profound. John’s just really a family man risking his life, and the future of his own family. Though, it’s admirable that he’d go to these extreme measures to help him and rescue him. The fact that he is a construction company owner also makes it logical to the drug dealers, since they see it that he’s merely trying to save a company that he’s worked hard to get off the ground. Dwayne Johnson plays him fairly well, and even though he feels miscast because he sometimes has to act wimpy while he’s so huge, he makes the best of it, and he ends up being pretty good. Daniel Cruz’s motivations are, like John’s, for his family. Some of his character’s actions are stereotypical ‘former ex-con trying to make good for himself, but he ends up falling in with the wrong crowd’, but he’s just trying to make money for his family. He embraces his stereotype and does a good and believable job with it, and it’s just satisfying enough to make me think he can do well outside of The Walking Dead.

Since these men are trying to fend for their families and their motivations are very real and rather understandable, we all can become easily invested in them. The story manages to get in more surprises than one would expect, but the goings-on to the end are often surprising; the actual end, one could see coming from the opening credits. The story is just average at best. The character’s genuine motivations make us care for them, and since one could easily be invested in them, the characters are the thing that makes one engaged in the film, not strictly the story itself. We don’t want to see these families destroyed, we need that happy ending. The story is never extremely exciting, but it’s never particularly boring.

The film is falsely advertised. It feels more like a genuine crime drama with solid characters, and not a mindless action film like Johnson’s many vehicles. There isn’t much action as much would expect. Yes, there is some, but if you think about it as a crime drama with the flair for intensity and action, you’ll like it a lot more. If you go in expecting balls-to-the-wall action, odds are you’ll be sorely disappointed. The film is fairly slow and lengthy, with maybe three to five action sequences. When the action shows up, the sequences are pretty good, but the cinematography is very dizzying and it makes it hard to follow who’s getting pushed off the road or what’s happening exactly. That’s one of its major flaws.

The film is also fairly slow and lengthy. Another flaw is, though it offers a solid time during, there isn’t a lot of memorable content. By the time December rolls around, one might struggle saying what Snitch is about, exactly. Dwayne Johnson (who is the size of a small truck) in a semi-truck, narcotics, a few car crashes, and dizzying scenes might come to mind. It’s rather forgettable, and if you do indeed struggle to remember this at the end of the year; no, it is not a sequel to Snatch.

Score: 71/100