Darke Reviews | Skyscraper (2018)

So I kinda had to talk myself into seeing this one. I had a few of my readers on Facebook support my decision and thus we have a review. You need to understand though I missed part of a monsoon here in Arizona to do this; and if you know anything about me that usually wins out. Being in a storm is one of the few times most people see me actually relax and be at peace. The other time is the ocean. So against instinct and what looked to be a mediocre Die Hard rip off with Captain Charisma at the helm I saw Skyscraper tonight.

The first and most important question everyone is asking is:

Is this a Die Hard rip off; and by how much?

A lot; yet not. So what does it have in common? Well you have a man trying to get to his wife (and kids this time) in a building taken over by terrorists who have the apparent aim to get something only a ridiculously wealthy man has hidden in a secure room. There are action set pieces with him going through windows. There are exploding helicopters. There’s the media. There’s “one good cop”. All of this is in the trailers and it is all there but that is mostly where the similarities end between this and Die Hard.  Oh…there is one other similarity only geeks, movie nerds, and semi obsessive movie reviewers will notice. (I kinda hope I am the first one to point it out to be honest). This is coming out literally on the 30th anniversary of Die Hards release, July 12, 1988. So…points to the filmmakers and whoever made that decision. I tip my hat to you

What’s kind of interesting is that the current millennial and younger generation of movie goers by and large don’t know about a movie that predates Die Hard by 14 years and this one by 44. It also starred someone who was probably the most charismatic action star of his generation. It also has something in common with this one. At it was one of the highest grossing movies of 1974 as well; behind only Blazing Saddles $119 million, with its $116 million box office haul. This is equivalent to roughly $564 million in 2018. Of course some of you are already looking this up so I will stop teasing, but the movie is the three Oscar winning pictured called The Towering Inferno and starred Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. This movie is about a fire in the worlds tallest building that continues to go up and has people trapped; while someone tries to get in and save them from the fire.

So plot wise writer and director Rawson Marshall Thurber; director of…We’re the Millers and Dodgeball?…..decided to try an action set piece and merged two amazing movies into one. Did he do it successfully? Mostly. Anyone watching this will see echoes of Die Hard in it. It’s impossible not to as it is one of the most recognizable, well crafted, and widely loved action films in the past thirty years. It is impossible to make a Person in Danger in a skyscraper movie without being compared to Die Hard since 1988. That being said, this is also the best Die Hard movie SINCE 1988.

The story is as you see it. The Rock is a former FBI agent, Will Sawyer, who is now working as part of his own private security firm. He is invited to review the security of the “tallest building in the world” and assess it so that the insurance company will underwrite it. During his review at an external location, the building is taken by a group with intent to obtain something held by its owner; and to add to their desired effect they set fire to the middle of the building trapping them, the owner, and The Rock’s family above the fire line. The Rock must now find a way to get  back into the building and rescue his family.

It’s basic, but it works. There are plenty of action set pieces, but much like the two films clearly influencing this one they rely more on the tension of the moment than the big hero moments we’ve gotten used to with action movies. This is very similar to its predecessors in that the physicality of its star and the action around him is one of vulnerability and drive rather than what we received in say Rampage or a Fast and the Furious movie. This feels closer to the under appreciated San Andreas in Mr. Johnsons performance and that’s a good thing. Also much like San Andreas, he continues to have his big action star character already have a family rather than be flirting with the damsel and get the girl. The family this time comes in the form of Neve Campbell, who is used very well here, as his Navy Doctor wife and the two children played rather well by McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell. They work, they felt right. That’s all I needed there. The director didn’t forget Ms Campbell is a survivor of the Scream franchise and not helpless.

The supporting cast holds their own with Atomic Blonde’s Roland Moller being our big bad and continuing to impress. I’d love to see him get more meaty roles in this vein, but while lacking in the raw Rickman charm, he does have a certain something to him that makes him engaging. Altered Carbon’s  Byron Mann (he was Kovac’s first sleeve you meet) is almost under used, but due to script, directing, and ability is able to avoid being a a stereotype. They let him be smart and cunning and still professional and follow the rules. Imagine that?! Hannah Quinlivan, plays a  member of the bad guy crew and is absolutely a heavy despite her normally sweet look.  I feel like I need to see her and Ruby Rose square off in a movie. Maybe it was the hair cut. Regardless, the cast was fine and so was the acting.

Yes, some of the plot points are absolutely Chekovs’ Guns and quite honestly. I don’t care. They worked. I saw the set up and recognized the pay off and was not displeased with it.

TL:DR?

Skyscraper was a far better time than I was expecting. It will never quite be the classic that Die Hard is. Sometimes you need to be first to the gate to do that. It was a solid little movie with good acting, good tension, and solid characters that made logical decisions. This was proof to me that you can make a “basic summer action film” and not have to make people turn their brains off. I suppose if I hyper analyze it I may come across a few fallacies in logic or plotholes, but it didn’t deserve that. It never once annoyed me with a character or decision made.

Dwayne Johnson retains his title, though maybe it should be Major Charisma. He is as always absolutely charming, but in this one he lets it come through in the interactions with the family rather than being an over the top action star.

Should I see it?

Honestly, yeah. It’s kinda good. It’s pop corn fare without a doubt, but I don’t regret the 95 minutes I spent with it.

Would you see it again?

Probably? I dunno. If someone asked, I would probably go with them and try to look for actual flaws, but more than likely would just be content to enjoy myself again.

Buying it?

The odds are in it’s favour.

Anything else to share?

This may be a bit spoilerish, so forgive me. I don’t think it is as the trailers show quite a bit of what I am talking about. The film has one other comparison with Die Hard and comes as a counter to the usual performances we see from an action star of this caliber. He gets hurt. It adds up. Sure there’s some level of hero immunity shown, but not like we’ve gotten used to. It’s very John McClane in this aspect and I was really happy to see that.

So…the leg?

Alright, so there’s an elephant in the room and you may want to stop here, but I can’t ignore it consider how I have been dragging someone for the past week.

I am not the right person to address this one and will take correction justifiably if required. Yes, Sawyer has a prosthetic leg below the knee. A phrase that was introduced to me on my FB wall  recently was “Not about me without me”. This is used by disability activists to express you can’t make a piece of media (movie, tv, etc) about us without including us. So knowing Dwayne Johnsons reputation for charity and consideration I did a bit of research and was able to find this little gem of an article: (source: http://989theanswer.com/news/entertainment/dwayne-johnson-honors-amputee-community-with-skyscraper )

“I was honored to play an amputee, and to make sure that I did right by them,” Johnson said on the red carpet for the film’s US premiere Tuesday night. “The research was very extensive. I spent a lot of time with amputees.”

One of those he consulted joined Johnson at the premiere: Jeff Glasbrenner, a Paralympian who became the first American amputee to successfully climb Mount Everest in 2016. Johnson called him “an amazing man.”

Of the film, he added: “There’s two sides to this. One is a big spectacle, big summer fun. The other side is making sure that we paid homage and respect to amputees around the world.”

The film’s writer and director Rawson Marshall Thurber called it “incredibly important” to represent the amputee community.

“There hasn’t been an amputee as the lead of an action film, ever, as far as I know. And I thought it was high time and I hope we’re not the last. I think Dwayne worked really, really hard to represent that community and honor that community. And I think he did a fantastic job,” Thurber said.

I cannot say if this is right, if this is enough. I can say I believe they made every intent to do right. This isn’t erasure as it appears to be the first real attempt I’ve seen at a hero in a live action movie who is an amputee. Technically Hiccup from How to Train your Dragon beats this by a few years, so I clarified with live action. This however is again, up to the community to decide if it was done well. Not me; but I do have a responsibility to address it in the best way I can.

The other debacle..well that is my community and the dragging will continue.

 

Alright folks that concludes this review. Sorry for getting so heavy at the end there, but it was needed.

Next week should be Equalizer 2.

Advertisements

Darke Reviews – The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

Thanks to Tucson Comic-con having made a deal with Lionsgate, I had the opportunity to see this movie on Tuesday. Plenty of geeks in the audience and a row of local professional reviewers behind me. More than a few geeks were discussing their Star Wars Force Awakens tickets, or lack there of, but the general mood of the theatre was fairly positive. Talked to the pro’s a bit, desperately wanted to plug my site and didn’t, tried to sell them on Crimson Peak. The lights didn’t dim, the sound didn’t come on, but then they fixed that and the movie started.

How was it though?

Let’s begin with one very basic conceit, all rumors and stories seem to indicate the character was based on/inspired by a Dungeons and Dragons character of Vin Diesel. The man is a geek and is proud of it. So this knowledge going in made me more inclined to be favorable to the movie. It does risk the ire of the three writer rule with Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama, and a name so odd if it isn’t a pseudonym I almost feel bad: Burk Sharpless. Goodman’s only other writing project was the critically panned Priest. Sazama and Sharpless provided us Dracula Untold. So we have three writers who don’t do particularly good with deep stories, but enjoy a specific type of atmospheric and supernatural film and this shows in the final product.

Hellboy, Constantine, Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and Beautiful Creatures all could fit in the world they crafted without even batting an eye. Honestly, I would watch the hell out of that universe if given an opportunity. Part of that comes from the vision of the director Breck Eisner. Eisner has very little in the way of directing credits, but can tout such films as Sahara and The Crazies. He doesn’t do much new or really draw much out of his actors that wasn’t already there, but at least he committed to the story. A few of the set pieces made me smile and want to visit them and if he had a hand in that, then he did ok. That’s the best I can give there.

I wish I could say more on the acting, but it’s pretty flat overall. No one reaches, no one does more than the bare minimum they are capable of. Michael Caine is the wise mentor. Elijah Wood is the young protege. Rose Leslie (Ygritte from Game of Thrones) gets to do more than she did in the show, but not too much. It’s a weak characterization given to someone who can do more. The same can be said of Diesel, there’s just no passion to the role, no weight, no effort. He goes through the motions, which is disappointing considering what I mentioned earlier. Maybe he was just too comfortable? The acting isn’t bad, that’s important to note, it just isn’t special or particularly strong or memorable.

Now, while I praised the world building which I did enjoy quite a bit, the overall plot and characterizations are relatively bland, rushed, and ultimately hollow. I cared about Leslie’s character Chloe because I have a crush on the actress, little else from the script made me care. She’s also got the veneer of feminism. She appears to be a strong, independent, and powerful character; yet barely does much on her own. Disappointing. Same can be said of Diesel’s character, which had so much potential but it was wasted by the script itself. The story had such potential for him.

From a technical and visual standpoint, the movie is ok. Most of the effects are solid enough and rather well done. It with the world building mentioned earlier was pretty immersive and kept me interested when other elements were drawing me out.  Others…just a few grades up from SyFy movie of the week. On par with some of the earlier films mentioned, such as Priest or Dracula Untold. At an editors view it takes too long on some shots and not nearly long enough on others. Amateur tip: We know you are in New York. You made that clear. We do not need long aerial shots of people driving across any of the bridges. That was a few seconds that could have gone elsewhere, like not doing a clear pick up shot on a backlot that doesn’t match the rest of the location you are supposed to be at.

TL;DR?

Despite the overall blandness, it is a bit of fun. I did actually enjoy it. Part of that enjoyment was hearing a line of “he’s a 14th level warlock” (only throwaway line I picked up on) and imagining this movie in the same world as other movies I’ve enjoyed. Part of it was the concept of the film, even if it wasn’t executed well. It was just appealing. The audience I was with did seem to enjoy it as they were giving their one liners to the person polling them, “awesome”, “exciting”, “kick ass”.

I just said Fun.

The movie reminds me of watching a group of people give it their all and turn out something mediocre. You appreciate the intent even if the final product isn’t all that good. It reminded me of other things and those things brought a smile to my face; and that’s worth something.

Shortest version: It’s fun, but unless you really want to support it wait til Blu Ray.

 

Darke Reviews | Furious 7 (2015)

Furious 7.  As I have said in previous reviews when you are this invested in a franchise it is already a forgone conclusion that you are seeing this film. So how do I review it? Do I review it? Well of course I do. It’s worth mentioning as I open this that there was a clip in the pre movie commercials of Vin Diesel being asked if he thinks this is the best of the franchise. His response brought a tear to my eye.

“Whenever we went to a movie premier, I would turn to Paul and ask was it the best? He would look to me and tell me the best is still in the can. I am hoping to hear from him, somehow that he thinks this one is the best.” These men were brothers in real life as much as they were in the films. Even Paul’s mother knew it and is quoted by Diesel as saying “I thought they needed my strength but realized when I got there and broke down before his family, that it was I who needed theirs.”His mother hugged me and said I am so sorry … I said sorry? You’re the mother who lost a son? … She said yes, but you lost your other half.”

So how was the movie?

The writer on the franchise since Tokyo Drift , Chris Morgan, returns to give us what will likely be the last of the series. If Fast 5 was a love letter to Oceans 11 with cars and Furious 6 was a love letter to shark jumping everywhere, then this film is the love letter to Mission Impossible, while it jumps a shark with friggin lasers on their heads. It is gloriously over the top and embraces it with a smile and a Corona. The natural charm and chemistry of the returning cast members makes every ridiculous scene work. Morgan is also wise enough to give us slow moments where the characters can interact and show why we have stuck with them for the six previous movies. It’s not just long looks, but comes down to the performances and delivery which means Morgan needs some help from the cast

I won’t go too long here. Vin Diesel returns as Dominic Toretto who continues to stubborn and street prophet his way through the movies. Walker’s role is probably more reduced than originally intended, but the moments he gets with Mia (Jordana Brewster) sell every single time. Michelle Rodriguez continues as Letty and is both beautiful and one of the baddest women we have on screen. The meme of keep your pop icons, we have our own should equally apply to this woman. Tyrese keeps earning that paycheck as CinemaSins says and sadly continues to be the weakest part of the family. Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges is once again epic as Tej and a highlight for the film. Dwayne Johnson was born to be in this franchise and clearly has a blast with every single scene chewing line.

Joining this film is Statham as Lee Christmas, er the Driver, er …Deckard Shaw. Oh heck with it. Jason Statham is Jason Statham. Djimon Hounsou comes in as a secondary villain along with Tony Jaa and a brief but wicked appearance of Ronda Rousey. Kurt Russell makes his own appearance as Nobody taking a page from the Rock and looking to chew scenery. In my private fiction I think he was secretly Jack Burton 20 years later. Our movies McGuffin is a person this time, Nathalie Emmanuel, better known as Missandei from Game of Thrones. It was nice to hear her in her own speaking voice rather than her clipped precise tones from the show.

James Wan, best known for Saw, The Conjuring, and Insidious is replacing Justin Lin at the helm. I think that might be where the seams begin to show. He just doesn’t have what Lin did. This isn’t to say he was horrible, but he isn’t as gifted with the camera or ensemble as Lin. There’s some weird camera tricks used that detract from the film and there just is not enough love for certain characters that I think comes down to the director more than anything else. Granted, he still directed the heck out of the film while the shark continued to do it’s double half back flip with a triple twist. He does run this far more as an over the top Mission Impossible action film than a car movie, but that comes across as an observation than a complaint.

From the technicals CG is CG. Physics is bound, gagged, slapped around, and hung up in an oubliette – and we don’t care! Seriously we don’t. You shouldn’t. The movie is absolutely ridiculous and makes no sense from a biologic, architectural, or engineering standpoint. Gravity? HA! Injuries? Don’t make me laugh. Actually the movie did more than a few times and I was thankful for it.

TL;DR?

The final film in the Fast franchise is so beautifully over the top any flaws it has, which there are a few, don’t seem to matter. This is one of the first movies this year I can feel comfortable saying “Go See it

– If you are invested already – you didn’t need my review.

– If you weren’t invested – you also didn’t need it. You weren’t going to see it anyway. Seeing it before the others is a disservice to the series.

The movie is good. It is beefcake. It is cheesecake. It is ridiculous and I love it for all of it. 14 years of these movies and the series can rest now. It earned it and got a good send off.

 

PS

Rollover spoiler –

I did cry at the end from the reshoots they added to address Paul Walkers death. Diesels send off for him was as much to the character of Brian as it was to Paul himself. It was moving and heartfelt. I am not sure what the original ending was, nor does it matter. This was good and I am glad they did it the way they did.

– end spoiler

Darke Reviews – John Wick (2014)

There are some who are saying this is Keanu’s best movie since The Matrix. I am not sure I can agree with that sentiment. While he was not the Constantine we wanted…he actually did a good (if Americanized) take on our favourite snarky demon binder. I will acknowledge that The Day the Earth Stood still remake is garbage. I do think his directorial role and acting in Man of Tai Chi were pretty good. I also think that 47 Ronin was pretty good as well and that he did a good job in the role. I have heard people diss that particular film because he doesn’t look asian enough. I should take a moment to remind everyone he is of Hawaiian, British, Chinese, and Portuguese ancestry. If there was someone who was qualified to play a mixed race individual in such a film – I think he is among the list.

So, no I cannot agree that this is his best movie since the Matrix, but …well lets talk about it a moment shall we?

I don’t normally talk about producers, but as the credits began to roll, I saw a name that certainly left me with a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment – Eva Longoria. I have no idea how or why she became a producer on this film, but there we go. Ok, on to the writing and direction. The directors, thats right plural, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski have never directed a film before in their lives (at least according to IMDB). May not be impressive, but oh wait – with an average of 76 Stunt, Stunt Coordinator, or action choreographer credits between them they might know a thing or two about a good action film. They’ve worked on The Wolverine, Man of Tai Chi, Hunger Games, Tron: Legacy, 300, and V for Vendetta. Stahelski  was even a stunt double for Keanu in Constantine and The Matrix. Leitch has been a stunt double for Brad Pitt and Jean Claude Van-Damme. Again I say, they may know a thing or two about how to handle action sequences. Apparently along the way with the dozens of directors they worked with they picked up a few tricks. Not only is the action in the film fantastic (more later) but the direction clearly was as well. It just worked. They sold me. I bought it. Yes, I was laughing at how ridiculous some of it was, but it was the RIGHT kind of ridiculous.

Granted, some of that goes to the script by relative first time writer, Derek Kolstad. He has done nothing I know, but actually can write a very tight, well paced action movie. Yes, the line from the trailer is difficult to take with a straight face, but it is entirely out of context. In the context of the scene where it is delivered, the ridiculousness of it is toned down from a mild 11 to only about a 7. The dialogue that is left beyond that is entertaining as is the character reactions as written. Between directors and writers, where the Equalizer was a good drama with some action, this is a good action with….um…Good Action! Sure there are bits where they slow down and let you catch your breath and all of them work. There is a magnificently beautiful Dante and Greek Mythology subtext woven through the film as well. Well played sir. Well played.

The story, by the by, is that of John Wick (surprise!) a retired contractor whose wife just died. During an impulsive and botched robbery the last thing keeping him out of the darkness is taken from him. He re enters the world he left behind for his wife and meets all his old colleagues who react with varying degrees of joy and fear for the return of the Boogeyman. Sorry, he isn’t the boogeyman, he is who you send to scare the boogeyman. It works. Everyone sells it. You can’t help but enjoy the ride.

Of course the cast is important to make this work. Reeves does give one of his more memorable performances in this genre and it is far less subdued that you might believe. His take on a retired Contractor is really well done and often reminds me of Mel Gibson in Payback. Willem Dafoe is as awesome as you could imagine him being as a fellow contractor. Adrianne Palicki also is believable as a contractor, but doesn’t have as much time for me to say if I like her performance. I am not a Palicki fan thus far, but she wasn’t bad here. John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Lance Reddick mangle the scenery as usual. Reddick is the perfect gentleman and still manages to have all the weight he needs. McShane is…McShane. This is a compliment for him as I just love watching him on screen. Poor Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy) does appear to be starting to get typecast as a putz, though his Russian wasn’t bad, he was playing the Russian Mob version of Theon (not Reek). Michael Nyqvist (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) dives into his role as the patriarch of a crime family and is a pure joy to watch.

From a purely technical aspect, I want to praise Jonathan Sela. He is the cinematographer on the film and knows what a Steady Cam is. The beautiful action that was crafted by the directors? You can see it. You see every movement. Every action is watchable. Everything is taken into consideration. How much ammo he carries. Gun control. Reloading time. The number of shots to kill someone properly. Pure efficient motion. Nothing is wasted and for that, even if to a certain point the action scenes get a touch repetitive, they work. We need more action like this. We need this going forward.

TL;DR

If you like action, please see John Wick. Seriously. All the action that Equalizer was missing was here. The movie only slows down long enough for a laugh or to catch a breath before moving to the next beat. I know they are promising a 90 minute car chase with the new Mad Max; well this is a 90 minute stunt show. It works and deserves to be watched.

Should you take it seriously? NO! Not even. Sit back, keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times, and enjoy the ride.

I sure did.

Darke Reviews | Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

If you haven’t heard of it, I am not surprised. The studio didn’t market this one heavily and after watching it I am left with a burning question – Why the frak not? We could not escape the advertisements of the wanna be Die Hard movie and it was an apocalyptic piece of celluloid garbage next to this. AGDtDH (I refuse to type it out) director John Moore needs to talk to Olympus has Fallen director Antoine Fuqua on how to do a Die Hard movie, much less how to direct an action movie.

This film is what Die Hard 5 should have been. Antoine (Shooter, Training Day) delivers in his usual directorial sense an action movie with no holds barred and no F-Bombs left behind. This movie is a bloody, brutal love letter to the original Die Hard. I swear there’s even a handful of scenes where I think the script writers paused writing, watched the original Die Hard and went – “How can do we do a scene like that?”. John McTiernan (director of the original Die Hard) would be proud of the bromance between these two films if he was allowed back in the U.S. Notice all my references to Die Hard? You should – this movie truly is Die Hard in the White House.

Fuqua pulls together a list of actors you know that is really quite impressive – Gerard “300” Butler, Aaron “Two Face” Eckhart, Rick “Ninja Assassin” Yune, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Angela “should have been Storm” Bassett, Cole Hauser, Dylan McDermot, Ashley Judd, and Morgan -mother frakin- Freeman. The movie starts with a car accident on an icy bridge after letting you get to know a few of the characters and their relationships. We have President Asher (Eckhart) and the head of his Secret Service detail Mike Banning (Butler). A few months later after things went pear shaped, we have tensions with the 21st century boogeyman – the North Koreans, on the rise. Approximately 20 minutes of time is devoted to character introductions. After that, it’s time for the bang. There is a lot of Bang. And Boom. And “Ow!!!!” Butler is everything we should expect of our action stars these days. The quips are few. The fights are brutal and efficient. The fights actually make you believe this guy has been trained to, oh I don’t know kill every person in the room that isn’t supposed to be there.

For all my enjoyment the movie is not flawless. It required one specific leap that would not happen. Once the Secret Service goes into action to protect the President, the President no longer gets a say in what happens to those around him. Their job is him, no one else. There are a handful of other moments that had me ask Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, but then I remembered I am watching a movie where the White House is getting attacked and taken over. I let some of the logic fails slide. One I cannot let slide is the subplot of the movie; where the moment the McGuffin is introduced I as the audience member understand the plan. Generals, Secret Service and other people ostensibly smarter than I am (character wise) do not see this “twist” coming. It angered me. With everything else executed so well, this Fail is kinda a let down.

for the TL;DR crowd –

If you are an action movie fan – see the first action movie worth a damn this year!!!
If you are a fan of any of the actors mentioned – See the damn thing!!
If you like the director – see the damn thing!

If you are not a fan of violent action – Give this a pass. I did mention the fight scenes are brutal. I am not joking. Knives are not to be messed with.

And for gods sake, if anyone who does read these reviews of mine knows anyone in Hollywood – point them to THIS movie on how to do an action movie or the next Die Hard the RIGHT WAY.

Olympus may have fallen, but thankfully the action movie has not.