Skyscraper

Release: Friday, July 13, 2018

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Written by: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber 

There’s no ignoring the fact the star of Skyscraper, a veritable homage to one of cinema’s greatest action reels, once donned a sacrificial lion’s head as battle gear in a movie directed by Brett Ratner about the god Hercules. Earlier this summer, he also starred alongside a giant albino gorilla with an affinity for rude gesturing. These are things that happened, and yet there is this other thing called redemption and that’s what movies like Skyscraper are good at providing. Not that I’m growing increasingly concerned about The Rock’s role choices; at worst they’re palatably cheesy, not stale and rancid like Bruce Willis circa Die Hard 7000.

In Rawson Marshall Thurber’s new film Global Icon Dwayne Johnson™ plays Will Sawyer, a U.S. war vet and former FBI hostage negotiator who now assesses the security of buildings all over the globe. His latest assignment has brought him to Hong Kong, where he is to evaluate the integrity of the fire prevention and security measures of the world’s tallest superstructure, The Pearl. A bad day on the job 10 years ago prompted him to change careers and in one fell swoop introduced him to combat medic and future wife Sarah (Neve Campbell), with whom he starts up a family and tries to move beyond the days of firing heavy weaponry — much to the chagrin of his old friend Ben (Pablo Schreiber).

Falling in love on the operating table is up there with trying to use animal hide to gain style points, but if you’re experienced at all with his brand, you know you’re better off accepting these things and as soon as possible. If anything, the love-at-first-sedation scene is great practice for what this simply structured yet still ridiculous action event is going to throw at you later. (Hint: lots of on-fire things and leaps of faith.)

It actually makes sense that Thurber spends just as much if not more time establishing a building as an integral role player as he does his human actors. The film is called Skyscraper, after all. The Pearl, a 3,500-foot tall marvel of modern engineering, is undoubtedly the film’s most unique asset. And the sleek, spherical penthouse at the 240th floor is its own crowning achievement. A character unto itself, this monstrosity is the brainchild of wealthy financier Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) and is the ultimate manifestation of supreme wealth and ambition run amok. Of course one doesn’t rise to this level without making a few enemies and just before Zhao is to open the building in its entirety to the public, along come some pesky terrorists to burn his ambition down. Literally.

It makes sense because while the camera doesn’t ogle over what Zhao modestly describes as “the eighth wonder of the world” as much as I (certainly no architect) would have liked, when the building finally starts to burn it’s pretty damn cinematic. There is a sense of dizzying scale that threw me right back to the best bits of Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk and Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest. The acrophobic should be put on notice. This thing gets pretty atmospheric, and in that way the effort pays off because even as the convenient plot turns become more egregious the action feels increasingly larger than life.

Skyscraper builds just enough human drama to earn our sympathy. This time around Johnson, sporting a prosthetic leg, trades in his all-American good guy swagger for a quieter stoicism. This is a film that effectively expands the actor’s range into the dramatic, though granted this is more toes-in-the-water than a full plunge. The prop isn’t what makes the role dramatic — it’s the way he expresses concern for the well-being of his family. But it isn’t just The Rock doing the ass-kicking and name-clearing. Because his family has made the trip to Hong Kong with him, they find themselves conveniently situated within the drama. Call their problem convenient or even silly — just don’t call the Sawyers helpless victims. Sarah, in particular, proves herself when push comes to shove and she shoves the hell out of the opposition. That’s before setting about subverting other major genre clichés, too.

Moving past the adults, the children are another pleasant revelation. They aren’t given big speaking roles but these are two of the most agreeable movie kids I have met in some time. Together, these actors comprise a wholly natural family that’s easy to root for. Still, it’s a shame we are ultimately robbed of more screen time devoted to just The Rock and Neve Campbell as the two have solid chemistry. As for the villains, they’re not so impressive. They simply exist to provide generic conflict. Their motive is convoluted, but suffice it to say Kores Botha (troublemaker-turned-actor Roland Møller) is being pressured by some even worse people to put a major dent in Zhao’s soaring stock.

Skyscraper is a breezy summer escape told in an economic fashion — a sleekly designed throwback to classic action movies, and one that slots in among Johnson’s better efforts. Will Sawyer is no John McClane, but then again he doesn’t need to be. Skyscraper finds the former wrestler polishing his new craft (well, relatively new — this is his 15th film) while updating the male badass archetype. Sometimes being the badass means maybe not being able to find a way out of this mess on your own. Sometimes it means being completely vulnerable and owning up to that.

Recommendation: Skyscraper offers up another round of The Rock doing Rock things but in a decidedly more straight-faced manner. The action is fun and visually stunning at times. Don’t look to it for the best villains of 2018 or some profound statement about where technology is going or how crazy rich people are just crazy people in nice clothes or anything like that, but when it comes to picking which Dwayne Johnson you should see sooner (or at all) the choice is pretty obvious. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 102 mins.

Only in the movies: In order to make the jump from the crane to the building featured in the trailer Sawyer would have to run and leave the platform at 28.4 mph. For comparison, Olympic Champion Usain Bolt’s fastest recorded speed is 27.4 mph.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Sorry to Bother You

Release: Friday, July 6, 2018 (limited) 

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Written by: Boots Riley 

Directed by: Boots Riley 

Sorry to Bother You is the filmmaking début of Boots Riley, and the only thing it may be more than ambitious is strange. In its strangeness it is both brave and brilliant — the kind of pure cinematic experience we didn’t even realize we were missing until it became a reality. Kind of like Swiss Army Man from a couple years back, whose flatulence-driven plot still wafts through my mind.

Amazingly, that reality almost never was. Raymond “Boots” Riley, heretofore known for his community activism and anticapitalist views as channeled through the hiphop-funk group The Coup, was one Dave Eggers away from not being discovered. The award-winning novelist (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius; The Circle), having been so impressed by the screenplay Riley had been carrying around with him, decided to publish it in a special issue of his quarterly literary magazine McSweeney’s. This was back in 2014. Then the Sundance shuffle happened, with established talent like Guillermo del Toro and Forest Whitaker offering mentorship and crucial funding, and at the age of 47 Riley found himself uniquely positioned to express his voice from an entirely different platform.

Sorry to bury the lede, but this is really why we are here. The Oakland, California native has a powerful, distinctive voice that simply must be heard. If comparisons help, think the righteous anger of Spike Lee spritzed with the idiosyncrasy of a Michel Gondry. The end result of a long and unlikely process is a blistering satire that doesn’t make a statement — it screams it, until it goes (and bear with me here) hoarse with rage. In this film voice isn’t just some intangible quality that informs the overall piece and every element within; it becomes a very literal role player.

The hustle begins in a garage that happens to double as Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield)’s bedroom. He and his fiancé Detroit (Tessa Thompson) are desperately behind on rent and dream of the day they can afford something a little nicer, a little less garage-y. To that end Cash heads off for an interview with a telemarketing company called RegalView, while Detroit goes to work as a sign-spinning advertiser on the streets of Oakland. She also moonlights as a Banksy-esque graffiti artist for The Left Eye, a grassroots movement that protests corporations like WorryFree who have elevated the commodification of human labor into an art form. Run by cocaine enthusiast Steve Lift (a smarmy Armie Hammer), WorryFree is a massively profitable conglomerate that hires employees to unpaid, life-term contracts in exchange for food, shelter and the most stylish work uniforms you’ve ever seen.

Although invigorated by his recent employment, Cash soon turns to despair when he struggles to make any sales, despite his obedience in sticking-to-the-script. With the help of Langston (Danny Glover), a more experienced coworker, he discovers the secret to success. All he has to do is hide his real identity and sound white, ideally like David Cross. Because of company ageism narrative contrivance, it’s the young and eager who quickly ascends the ranks of RegalView, destined to land amongst the company’s elite as a “power caller.” (I would explain what that is but it actually sounds more mysterious if I don’t.)

Meanwhile, the workhorses in the cubicles down below, led by Squeeze (Steven Yuen) and Salvador (Jermaine Fowler), are starting to organize for better working conditions. Despite his initial involvement in the uprising, Cassius is nevertheless given that promotion, and finds himself having to choose between pursuing a life of greater comfort and supporting his friends fighting in the trenches. Sure, it’s pretty obvious which option he is going to choose. It’s the specifics of that choice that make this an adventure unlike any other. And so we pass through the same bizarre thresholds alongside Cash, both amused and disturbed by his actions (and sometimes the lack thereof).

With Sorry to Bother You (the film bears the name of The Coup’s sixth studio album, released in 2012 and based upon this very screenplay) Riley has created a reality parallel to our own in which the rules of society have a malleable property to them. He takes full advantage of the privileges of operating within the realm of magical realism. So many of the juiciest, most outrageous bits he simply can’t achieve in a more traditional comedy. The subversiveness begins with creative transitions featuring sales reps physically crashing into the living spaces of the customers they are calling, and ends in an uprising that feels mother!-esque with the way it so aggressively pursues the metaphorical.

Indeed, Sorry to Bother You hits a tipping point eventually, going from dark comedy to just plain . . . dark. Of course, it isn’t as nasty and antagonistic as anything Aronofsky has done, be they collaborations with Jennifer Lawrence or Jennifer Connelly. As far as satires go, Sorry to Bother You is right up there with the best of them. If you are listening to what the filmmaker is saying, even a little bit, then you are probably going to be leaving this one feeling as queasy as you are thrilled.

Recommendation: Sorry to Bother You is a modern satire that skewers so many aspects of modern American society. It isn’t just about race and class, it evaluates ambition and the kinds of sacrifices Becoming The Best requires. Perpetually forward-bounding with gusto and verve, with an intensely likable Lakeith Stanfield leading the charge, it’s a strange but powerful experience that you really shouldn’t miss out on — even when there is a percent chance greater than fifty you walk away from it feeling something other than purely amused. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 105 mins.

Quoted: “If you beautiful perversions don’t shut the fuck up, I’ll turn you into glue!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Release: Friday, July 6, 2018

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Written by: Chris McKenna; Erik Sommers; Paul Rudd; Andrew Barrer; Gabriel Ferrari

Directed by: Peyton Reed

You’ve read it everywhere: Ant-Man and the Wasp is a refreshingly lightweight summer adventure that offers up more laughs than big character moments. It’s more of a superhero side dish than an entrée. But that’s okay for viewers like me, whose stomachs are starting to get pretty full with all the superhero shenanigans.

Is it me, or does “quantum entanglement” sound more like the way scientists fall in love rather than an actual problem they must solve? (“Hey everyone, I’d like you to meet my Scientist Girlfriend — we just recently got quantumly entangled.”) Alas, this isn’t a joke. Getting stuck in the quantum realm is quite serious, I assure you. Granted, not as serious as what we all went through a few weeks ago when Thanos snapped his decorated little fingers and turned half the audience into a sobbing mess. Mercifully, this is a new, pre-war chapter that gets away from all of that and returns us to a time when the superhero stakes weren’t so tiresomely dramatic.

The follow-up film to the Phase 2 finale finds Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) growing restless under house arrest. On the one hand, this has provided him an opportunity to spend some quality time with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). On the other, his careless actions at the airport two years ago (you know, when Steve Rogers blamed Tony for losing his luggage) have created a rift between him and his mentor, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and love interest Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). They’ve gone on the run in an attempt to keep their miraculous shrinking technology a secret.

Scott has only a few days left to finish out his sentence, but that’s a large enough window for him to find trouble. But the interesting thing is, he doesn’t go looking for it; it finds him. He spends his time trying not to go insane in isolation, kept on a short leash by his parole officer (Randall Park, enjoying himself immensely). When Scott experiences a vision of Hank’s wife/Hope’s mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) still stuck in the quantum realm, his former allies seek him out in an attempt to retrieve her from the abyss to which they believed she had been forever lost.

It’s a ridiculous leap of faith following a simple voicemail but hey, there are worse plot mechanizations out there. Solving the problem of returning safely from the microscopic world isn’t the only challenge ahead of them, however. Because Scott in effect went public with his little stunt in Captain America: Civil War, a number of competing third parties are coming out of the woodwork in an attempt to benefit in some way from Pym’s genius.

There’s the black market dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), who sees the potential profit that can be made from getting into the quantum business. He gets into a little bit of a struggle with Hope over a parts deal that sours just as Ava Starr/”Ghost” (Hannah John-Kamen) appears out of nowhere. Ava is a young woman who seeks a cure for her gradually weakening physical state as a result of — and let’s not get too personal here — her unstable molecules. On top of that, we are introduced to a former colleague of Hank, a Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), whose life work blahdee-bloodee-blahblah. He has a few reasons to make things more difficult for Ant-Man and the gang.

If anything, Ant-Man and the Wasp is about a family coming back together. That’s kind of the perfect scope for a film following one of the most financially successful (and costly) cinematic events in history. Like the incredible shrinking Pym lab, the drama is very self-contained; there is almost nothing linking this film to the Avengers narrative at-large, with the exception of the constant berating the ex-con receives from Hank and Hope. This sense of family extends to Scott’s friends over at X-Con Security, a consulting firm he and his ex-con friends — Luis (Michael Peña), Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Dave (T.I. Harris) — started up in an attempt to go legitimate. Though these personalities don’t get much time to do their thing, you still feel the support system they provide for their perpetually-in-trouble pal Scott.

Of course, Ant-Man and the Wasp can’t really achieve any of these things without Rudd anchoring the movie. Never mind the fact he offers up a pretty wonderful example of fatherhood, he is just so effortlessly likable in the suit that he has quickly become a favorite of mine, in spite of how minor that role really is in the grand scheme. For my money, he’s right up there with Robert Downey Jr. and Ryan Reynolds in terms of infectious personalities. You have to squint to see him but he’s there, standing on the shoulders of giants while slowly but surely becoming one himself.

“Honey, I shrunk everything I cared about.”

Recommendation: Ant-Man and the Wasp is the beneficiary of Paul Rudd and a really likable all-around cast of characters. In a time when browsing through the back catalogue of the ever-expanding MCU feels a lot like shopping for flavors of Gatorade, it’s nice to have a superhero film that is not quite as preoccupied with furthering, deepening, expanding, extrapolating, implicating, duplicating, redacting, whatever-ing that all of the other chapters seem to be about. The more I think about the simplicity of this film the more I like it. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 118 mins.

Quoted: “Well, the ’60s were fun, but now I’m paying for it!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado

Release: Friday, June 29, 2018

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Written by: Taylor Sheridan

Directed by: Stefano Sollima

I need to file a complaint. Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado is an eyesore of a title. It is an awkward concession, the plasticine product of a marketing scheme designed to put the movie in “the best position to succeed.” Really though, it’s just poised to confuse. Elsewhere (outside of North America, that is) you’ll find the same film operating under various guises, such as Sicario 2, Soldado and Sicario without Emily Blunt.  

Good. Now that that resolved something, maybe now we can talk about the movie itself.

And what a vicious movie it is. Fortunately, at least with regards to quality, the content is not the title. Italian-born director Stefano Sollima confidently carries the torch passed to him in what appears to be a bonafide crime saga anthology in the making. While Soldado indeed navigates the same ethical and tactical morasses Villeneuve established in his instant classic from 2015, it’ll be remembered more for its even bloodier, soul-bruising action bent. And yet, in the spirit of its predecessor and despite the absence of an audience surrogate like Blunt’s Special Agent Kate Macer, Soldado effects the thrill of privileged access to things we should not be witnessing.

In 2018 the game has changed and so have the rules. The war against the ruthless Mexican drug cartels has taken an even more nefarious turn. Rather than the smuggling of illicit drugs, the focus has shifted to the prevention of human trafficking — specifically the transporting of bomb-making desperadoes across the line. An opening salvo details in gut-wrenching fashion precisely what CIA black ops agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and the enigmatic hitman Alejandro Gillick (Benecio Del Toro) are up against this time. We experience first-hand in Kansas City the callousness with which the bad guys are able to dispatch with the innocent.

Graver, who specializes in getting his hands dirty, is called in by U.S. Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine) for an assignment seemingly tailor-made just for him. Given such rampant violence, the American government has reclassified these gangs officially as terrorist organizations. Their objective now is to exacerbate tensions between the factions to the point where they simply wipe each other out. Victory by way of escalation, not extradition.

To get things rolling, Graver enlists his friend to carry out a ballsy false-flag operation involving the kidnapping of Isabel Reyes (a crushingly good Isabela Moner), daughter of the sadistic kingpin Carlos Reyes. The mission gets a bit more complicated/spoiler-rich but suffice it to say it doesn’t all go off without a hitch. Double-crosses and unexpected escapes crop up along the way, and it isn’t long before Graver and Gillick themselves question just what it is they are trying to accomplish. (And, as an aside, this is the coldest and most ruthless I have ever seen Catherine Keener. Consider me now a big fan.)

Crucially, Taylor Sheridan returns for this loosely-connected sequel. Once again his screenplay masterfully simplifies a lot of technical jargon without diluting the essence of the conversation. The gifted screenwriter is of course blessed with acting talent to match. Bad-boy Brolin feels at home in his über-niched role as a sandals-wearing DoD enforcer, while the aforementioned Keener and Modine lend incredible weight with their government agents standing at a safe distance. Del Toro may never have been quite this interesting (or this blood-caked). Meanwhile, the child actors — yes, absolutely Moner, but also introducing Elijah Rodriguez as the wayward Miguel — commit to their emotional load-bearing roles as consummate professionals.

Sheridan’s world-building also impresses. What else is new? He presents the labyrinthian network of black market dealers and uneasy relationships among different levels and loyalties of law enforcement as an ever-shifting landscape of personal vendetta and evolving objectivity. A lot of traveling is required and to exotic locations such as Djibouti and the Gulf of Somalia, and we hop back and forth across the border enough times to get dizzy. The director has to temporarily suspend reality in a few places to accommodate character arcs, but even with a few cut corners the main flow of the narrative rarely, if ever, exceeds our grasp — even while we shield our eyes from the more gory details.

Soldado isn’t as sophisticated a drama as what came before. This movie is more of a blunt instrument than a think piece, and it has no interest in being anyone’s friend. In almost any other production it would take some effort to justify this level of bloodshed. No, Soldado doesn’t exactly champion humanity, but it is a reflection of it. And yes, it should upset you. It should make you cringe, if not for Alejandro and friends then for the next generation caught in the crossfire.

Recommendation: Savage confrontations and a dearth of feel-good moments characterize this action thriller of above-average intelligence (poor titles notwithstanding). Soldado should satisfy fans of the original with its continuation of the same blood-soaked moral quandary established three years prior, even if a lot of nuance is lost in the transition. And the way this second chapter leaves you — left me, anyway — is nothing short of morbidly fascinating. I can’t wait for a third installment. 

Rated: hard R

Running Time: 122 mins.

Quoted: “You’re gonna help us start a war.”

“With who?”

“Everyone.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Month in Review: June ’18

To encourage a bit more variety in my blogging posts and to help distance this site from the one of old, I’m installing this monthly post where I summarize the previous month’s activity in a wraparound that will hopefully give people the chance to go back and find stuff they might have missed, as well as keep them apprised of any changes or news that happened that month.

June was the month of my grandmother’s visit. She spent four weeks here in New Jersey with us, having made the exhausting journey from England to the United States at the age of 86. Sipping limoncello in the shade became a motif while she watched her great-grandchildren splash in the pool. This was the first time I had seen her in 12 years. The first time I’d seen her without her lifelong friend and partner by her side. The first time since my grandfather on the other side passed the year prior. The first time since I said goodbye to my dear mother.

So much can change — does change — in a decade, but what hasn’t is my family’s support of my hobbies and passions. My Nan hasn’t quite got the wherewithal to be a daily visitor, but she asked me during her stay how the writing was going. Over these years those hobbies and passions have also changed. The last time I saw her was in England, and I was doing that thing where you skate up and down ramps and slide down rails and ledges — for no discernible purpose other than to get hurt. An entire decade’s worth of climbing has elapsed as well, an activity in which I made such great friends. I have gone through the whole rolodex of obscure, niched hobbies and yet, she sorted through all of that history. She found where I am today, despite all that distance time put between us.

So with that said, thank you to my Nan and as always to YOU, for reading what I have had to say. And this is what has been going on on Thomas J during the month of June.


New Posts

New Releases: Deadpool 2; Solo: A Star Wars Story; Tag


An Embarrassing Admission

The other day I caught Nic Cage in the 2009 global disaster movie Knowing. Even knowing what had been said about this rig, merely one of several in a long string of titles that have all but sullied the good Coppola name, I still allowed this to happen to me. If you care to know, the movie is about a professor (Cage) and his son coming into the possession of a cryptic message that seems to have predicted every single major disaster that has occurred over the last 50 years, including the dates, death tolls and geographic coordinates of those events. It even goes on to warn the lucky recipient about an impending apocalypse. Something about the sun going kablooey. Sure, Knowing is terrible, but it’s not the fact Cage plays an MIT professor who gets caught up in the most absurd plotline you’ve seen since Howard the Duck that makes it so. It’s mostly bad because the tone is just so unrelentingly dour. Why so serious Mr. Proyas?

But what really makes this an embarrassing admission is that . . . well, no real surprise here. I liked it! May all our children be kidnapped by aliums and taken away to the Garden of Eden on some remote planet. Good god man this movie is silly. I just wish Mr. Cage got to let loose a little more in this one. That was probably my biggest grievance.


Blogging News 

I have added the following blogs to the DSB Blogroll (which, may I add, is in desperate need of an update. Three quarters of that list are blogs that have either gone into hibernation or are no more). Be sure to check out these new additions, and stop in and give them a page like while you’re at it!

SPOOL. 

IT CAME FROM . . . 

Flicks and Pieces 

Films etc. 

Psychology of Film