SKYSCRAPER: Duct Tape Will Solve All Your Problems

I’m a big Dwayne Johnson fan, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s difficult to separate the man himself from the roles he plays. When I see Dwayne in a movie, I usually think of him as Dwayne instead of the name of the character he’s playing. I read a review of Dwayne’s latest movie that said Dwayne may not be much of an actor, but he’s one hell of a movie star.

I agree completely. Dwayne’s latest effort, the aptly-named SKYSCRAPER, is deeply derivative and doesn’t have an original bone in its body. It’s Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno, and the debt Skyscraper owes to both pictures is so obvious that the movie’s marketing team released posters that directly reference those films.

Universal/20th Century Fox

Loving homage or blatant rip-off? A strong case could be made for either one.

Regardless of Skyscraper’s obvious lack of originality, I still found quite a bit to enjoy here. Dwayne plays Will Sawyer, a former member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team who lost a leg in a hostage-rescue mission that went wrong and is now a security consultant. He’s been hired by a rich businessman named Zhao to assess security for Zhao’s massive new building the Pearl, located in Hong Kong. The Pearl is 220 stories tall and is the largest structure ever built. As you can probably imagine, this leads to a lot of potential security problems.

These problems come to the forefront when Will becomes involved in an elaborate scheme by some nefarious individuals, who set part of the building on fire. The residential upper levels of the Pearl are not yet open to the public, so wouldn’t you know it, the only civilians in the building when the bad guys enact their plan are Will’s wife and kids, who are trapped above the fire line and are therefore unable to leave the building. When all of this starts to happen, Will is not in the building, so his number-one priority is to find a way to get into the building to save his family.

Getting into the building is more difficult than it sounds, because Will can’t just take the elevator. The 96th floor is on fire and his family is on the 98th floor. Will has to find a way to enter the building above the 96th floor. The way he does this is thoroughly implausible if not outright impossible, as is everything else that happens in the movie. But, as is his way, Dwayne can make the viewer believe that he is the only person on the planet capable of doing the things his character does.

Most of the things his character does are ridiculous. Will has a prosthetic leg and the movie finds creative ways of using it. There’s even a fight scene where a guy knocks Will’s prosthetic off and one-legged Will still wins the fight. It reminded me of that old joke about the one-legged guy in the ass-kicking contest. If that one-legged guy were Dwayne Johnson, he would still win the ass-kicking contest hands down, regardless of how many limbs he may or may not have.

At one point, Will ties a rope around his waist and duct tapes his hands and feet to help him shimmy down the side of the Pearl, which is ludicrous but still fun, and something that I kind of admire for its sheer audacity. The Burj Khalifa sequence from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is another obvious influence on Skyscraper, but hey, if you’re going to rip something off, at least rip off something good.


Adding to my enjoyment of the film was the fact that I liked Will’s family. His wife Sarah is played by Neve Campbell, best known for 90’s hits like Wild Things and the Scream franchise. Sarah is tough, smart, and resourceful, and since she’s also a veteran combat surgeon she can hold her own in a fight, and even helps save the day at a crucial moment. I don’t know the names of the actors who play Will’s kids Henry and Georgia but I liked both of them. They’re not irritatingly screechy like kids in movies tend to be and are both cute and likable. The family members who need to be saved are often stock characters in these kinds of movies, but I appreciated that Skyscraper at least tries to give them some personality.

There’s one more thing I want to talk about but be aware that this will contain spoilers. In an odd coincidence, I read the classic Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia the day before I saw Skyscraper, and the villain’s plot in Skyscraper is identical to something Sherlock Holmes does in that wonderful Conan Doyle story.

In the story, Irene Adler has a photograph that would be very damaging to the King of Bohemia were it to see the light of day. The King is desperate to retrieve it but doesn’t know where she’s hiding it and comes to Holmes for help. Holmes engineers a situation where he leads Irene to believe her house is on fire, and he watches as she goes straight to the thing she values most: the precious photograph. Holmes knows that in the event of an emergency a person will seek out the one thing that is most valuable to them and uses this knowledge to get Irene to unwittingly expose the photograph’s hiding place.

The villain in Skyscraper does the exact same thing. He sets the Pearl on fire knowing that Zhao, who has dirt on him that’s kept on a futuristic-looking hard drive, will go straight to the hard drive’s hiding place. It’s a clever motivation for a villain in a modern big-budget action movie, and one I might not have recognized had I not read A Scandal in Bohemia the day before I saw the movie. Holmes truly is timeless.

I liked this movie. It’s fun. There are a lot of fun, explosive action scenes and nonstop suspense, and I was never bored while watching it. It has the good sense to be less than two hours long and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Will Sawyer is no John McClane but he’s a likable fellow and I enjoyed spending time with him and was engaged in his quest to save his family. The two things that people seem to have an issue with about this film are its derivativeness and its implausibility. I don’t deny that these are present, but neither of them bothered me. I went into the theater expecting to be entertained, and I was. I left the theater satisfied. What’s not to like about that?

RAMPAGE is Exactly What You Think it is

RAMPAGE is a deeply silly movie, and I enjoyed it immensely.

The movie is based on a series of arcade games that started in the 80’s. I never played any of them but from what I can tell they’re mostly plotless, and are simply concerned with letting the player control giant monsters and wreck lots of stuff.

This is totally fine, but presents problems for an adaptation, because there is no plot. The movie invents a plot that is profoundly silly and wildly implausible, and makes for a movie that is absolute tons of fun. I had a blast with RAMPAGE, despite its many obvious flaws. This is one of those movies where I was having so much fun that the movie’s problems didn’t bother me at all.

Images: Warner Bros.

Here’s my attempt to explain the ludicrous plot. The movie invents an evil corporation called Energyne which is run by two complete dipshits who are conducting some kind of genetic research that is so dangerous it has to be carried out in a space station. This inevitably goes horribly wrong (“The test subjects have gotten loose!” is one of the first lines of the movie) and canisters of dangerous experimental goo end up falling to earth. This is a movie where plot devices LITERALLY FALL FROM THE SKY. And wouldn’t you know it, various wild animals find those canisters and begin to transform into giant mutant creatures. This leads to the titular RAMPAGE, and yes, I will be capitalizing the word RAMPAGE every time I write it, so you might as well get used to it.

One of the animals exposed to what I will call the Genetic Goo of Doom is an albino gorilla in the San Diego zoo named George, who is best friends with Davis Okoye, played by none other than DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON, one of my favorite actors. I freaking love the guy. He’s got charisma for days.

His character Davis is a former special forces soldier turned primatologist, which is a resume that I’m pretty sure no actual human being has ever had. The man is a true pioneer. He rescued George from poachers when he (George) was a cute l’il baby gorilla, and the two are best friends. They communicate using sign language, and some of George’s language is a bit, shall we say, colorful. By which I mean that he is rather fond of flipping the bird. As with every animal specialist in every movie ever, Davis gets along with animals better than he does with humans.

So when Davis gets to work one day and discovers that George has grown several feet and killed one of the zoo’s grizzly bears, something is obviously awry. Meanwhile, a wolf elsewhere in the United States has discovered one of the canisters of the Genetic Goo of Doom, and promptly slaughters an Energyne security team sent to bring him in. There’s also an alligator in the Florida Everglades who gets exposed to the Genetic Goo of Doom, although the movie keeps this particular creature mostly offscreen until later in the film.

Soon, George breaks out of the zoo and is apprehended by shady government agents, among them an agent named Russell, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan from The Walking Dead, who says things like “Assholes like us gotta stick together” with a Southern accent. He’s pretty great, because he’s initially positioned as an antagonist but ends up having more to do than being a generic government bad guy, and gets several funny moments.

There’s also a disgraced geneticist who used to work for Energyne, and whose research is largely responsible for creating the monsters. She’s played by Naomie Harris, a very talented actress whose talents are largely wasted in the movie. She does her best but there’s not much to her character. One thing I noticed is that she always has utterly flawless hair. Even right after she wakes up in the morning, hell, before she’s even had time to put pants on, her hair is absolutely gorgeous. That must be some kind of superpower.

Then there are the two evil corporate dipshits I alluded to earlier. They’re siblings whose names escape me. One of them, and the only one who has any brains, is played by Malin Akerman, an actress perhaps best known for playing Silk Spectre in Watchmen (a movie which Jeffrey Dean Morgan also starred in). The other is some idiot played by some guy, whose incompetence and stupidity are mainly used as sources of comic relief. They’re both soulless and shallow characters, whose only concern is money.

They activate some kind of beacon designed to lure the monsters to their corporate headquarters in Chicago so that they can capture them and, uh, make money off them somehow. The movie isn’t super clear on this, nor is it clear why they think that luring three giant unpredictable creatures to their corporate headquarters in the middle of one of the most highly-populated cities in America is a good idea. Clearly, critical thinking is not something these two are particularly good at. They also have actual RAMPAGE arcade machines in the middle of their office, which is something I’m sure that rich CEOs do all the time.

I talk a lot in my movie reviews about tone and the tone of RAMPAGE is all over the place. There is a tremendous amount of violence for a theoretically family-friendly movie, much of which is played for laughs. People are squashed, trampled, blown up, swallowed whole, and chucked off buildings. I admit I did find some of this funny, which is probably due to my own rather warped sense of humor, but parents with small kids might want to think twice before taking their kids to see this one.

The movie was directed by Brad Peyton, who previously worked with Dwayne Johnson in the movies San Andreas and Journey 2 The Mysterious Island. Peyton does a good job with the destruction scenes and the special effects are quite good, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the trio of monsters climb buildings and create mayhem, even if the considerable amount of collateral damage is glossed over. The entire movie is so insane and over-the-top that I couldn’t help but find myself swept away in its tidal wave of monsters and mayhem, anchored by a characteristically charismatic performance from my good pal Dwayne Johnson. He’s such a badass that getting shot partway through the movie doesn’t seem to bother him at all.

I’m not going to lie, RAMPAGE is a very dumb movie. It is also a very enjoyable movie. It’s surprisingly violent for a PG-13 rated blockbuster, and can even come off as a bit mean-spirited at times. But I had a ton of fun watching it and would happily watch a sequel.

Also, the wolf flies. Because of course it does.

Next week is going to be good, with the return of HBO’s Westworld on Sunday and Avengers: Infinity War on Friday. Expect posts about both of them very soon.

The Fate of the Furious is a Fun Movie with Problematic Writing

The Fast and Furious series has overcome humble beginnings to somehow become one of the biggest blockbuster movie franchises in recent memory. The eighth and most recent installment, The Fate of the Furious, was released in April and grossed a staggering $1.2 billion, which puts it at the number 2 spot on the list of the highest-grossing films of 2017 so far (only Beauty and the Beast has made more).

I saw the movie when it came out but I was in a bit of a funk at the time and never got around to writing about it. But since the movie just came out on Blu-Ray I thought it would be a good time to share some thoughts about it. Besides, given the fact that it made such an immense amount of money, most people who wanted to see it probably already have, so I figure the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired. This is my way of saying that the rest of this post will be chock-full of spoilers. You have been warned.

I like The Fate of the Furious. It’s a fun movie that delivers exactly what the fans of the series expect: nonstop over-the-top vehicular action and an emphasis on family and teamwork among the protagonists. So I can’t fault it too much for delivering on its promises. However…I do have some issues with the storytelling.

I might sound like a prude for saying that. After all, no one, myself included, goes into a Fast and Furious movie expecting Shakespeare. But while it is entirely possible to forget the storytelling issues and enjoy the movie for the solid piece of entertainment that it is, there are some glaring flaws with the writing that are hard to ignore.

Image: Universal

The movie’s trailers intentionally caused a bit of a stir by making it look like Dominic “Dom” Toretto, the unkillable protagonist played by Vin Diesel, had turned on his team and become the villain. He does work against his team for a good part of the movie, but he never goes full-evil. That’s okay, because he’s the main character of the series and the filmmakers would never kill him off or make him permanently evil, so clearly the film’s true villain, the dreadlocked super hacker Cipher (played by Charlize Theron) was manipulating him somehow.

Let’s backtrack a bit. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Dom’s girlfriend and now wife Letty (played by Michelle Rodriguez) was presumed dead for a while, and during that time Dom shacked up with a Brazilian cop named Elena. It turns out that this relationship resulted in a child whom Dom was never aware of, and Cipher now has Elena and Dom’s baby son held hostage. This is the leverage she uses against him to make him do her bidding, which includes stealing an EMP device and a Russian nuclear football.

It’s a pretty decent twist, and since the series emphasizes family so much, it makes a degree of sense that Dom would risk so much and work against his team in order to save his son. I’m okay with that part, but it starts to get messy.

The movie re-introduces Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham), the villain of the previous film, 2015’s Furious 7. Deckard was one of my favorite villains of 2015, an unstoppable ass-kicking force of nature. The grudge match between Deckard and Dom felt like it had real dramatic stakes, but The Fate of the Furious retroactively undermines it.

Deckard reluctantly joins the team to help them catch Dom and Cipher, and this leads to some fun macho rivalry between Deckard and Dwayne Johnson’s character, the equally-unstoppable badass Luke Hobbs. But then the movie starts to try to make Deckard look like not such a bad guy, by revealing that he had won medals for valor while serving as a member of British special forces. He even starts to bond a little with Hobbs, and Hobbs appears genuinely upset when they hear Deckard has been killed by Dom.

But before this happens, Deckard explains that Cipher was the mastermind behind the team’s most recent adventures, hiring Deckard’s brother Owen (the villain of Fast and Furious 6) and other villainous characters in Furious 7. Remember in Spectre, when it was revealed that Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld was the mastermind behind the villains of the previous Daniel Craig Bond movies? I thought that approach worked well enough in that film, but in The Fate of the Furious it feels…rushed.

It turns out that Deckard is not actually dead, and that he and Dom (somehow) faked his death. And then, during the movie’s climax, Deckard and Owen (who got kicked out of a plane during the climax of Fast and Furious 6 and was last seen catatonic at the beginning of Furious 7, kicking off Deckard’s plans for revenge against Dom) infiltrate Cipher’s mobile command center to rescue Dom’s son.

If all of this sounds convoluted, that’s because it is. The movie ends as these movies usually do, with Dom and his team (which now includes Deckard) sitting down to dinner.

I have so many problems with this.
Image: Universal

First of all, this series has a tendency to take antagonists from previous movies and turn them into allies. Let us not forget that Dwayne Johnson’s character Hobbs started out hunting Dom and his team back in Fast Five. I’m fine with Hobbs joining the team, because who doesn’t want more Dwayne Johnson in their movies? Hell, I want Dwayne in every movie.

But it’s so much harder to accept Deckard (and potentially Owen) joining the team as well. Hobbs was never portrayed as a bad guy in Fast Five. Dom’s a criminal, Hobbs is a cop, his job was to catch Dom and by God that was what he was going to do. Hobbs was a guy doing his job, and even though his job was to catch Dom and his friends, Hobbs was never evil, and he became sympathetic towards Dom once he realized that there were far worse criminals around.

That makes sense as a character arc, but with Deckard is just doesn’t work. Furious 7 spent the entire movie establishing Dom and Deckard as the most bitter of enemies. Dom kicked Deckard’s brother Owen out of a plane, in return, Deckard killed one of Dom’s team members. But The Fate of the Furious undermines this by showing that Owen is apparently fine now, aside from some facial scarring he seems A-Okay despite having been kicked out of a plane that was going at several hundred miles an hour. Deckard’s grudge against Dom is therefore nullified, but Deckard still killed one of Dom’s team members. Dom seems willing to forget about this, and since the movie makes no mention of Dom’s friend that was killed by Deckard, I’m guessing the filmmakers wished the audience would forget about it too.

This also undermines the conflicts in Fast and Furious 6 and Furious 7. It makes it seem like Owen and Deckard were not that bad after all, despite both movies working hard to set them up as Really Bad Dudes. I mean heck, even if Owen was hired by Cipher to steal whatever the hell it was he was trying to steal in the sixth movie, he still drove a tank on a highway and annihilated several carloads of innocent people. Even if Owen and Deckard had been manipulated by Cipher to some extent, that doesn’t exonerate them of their past misdeeds.

You might argue that in a movie full of over-the-top action and people surviving things no actual human ever could survive, the storytelling issues aren’t that big of a deal, but for me, it’s the other way around. The Fast and Furious movies have always been about crazy action and stunts. Sure, some of it may be impossible, but after eight movies of death-defying mayhem, I can accept it. The plot contrivances, however, are much harder to swallow.

It also doesn’t help that it’s inelegantly done. Much of the final half-hour or so of The Fate of The Furious is composed of non-stop action, and for the most part it’s great fun. As much as I don’t like the whole “let’s make Dom and Deckard be friends now” angle, it is always a lot of fun to watch Statham kick ass, which he’s very good at. The scene where he battles Cipher’s henchmen with a gun in one hand and Dom’s son in a baby carrier in the other hand is one of the highlights of the movie (and also owes a clear debt to John Woo’s masterpiece Hardboiled).

But before this happens, the movie cuts back to show the audience how it transpired that Deckard was not killed earlier and how his mother (played by an uncredited and of course fabulous Helen Mirren) hatched a plan with Dom. I hate it when movies go away from exciting action scenes to show us people talking. It kills the momentum of the movie. I understand why the film is structured this way (so that the appearance of Deckard and Owen comes as a surprise) but for crying out loud, there’s got to be a better way of doing it than cutting away from the frenetic action scenes that are this series’ bread and butter. It interrupts the pacing and always feels like the filmmakers patting themselves on the back for being so clever, but to me this sort of thing always feels contrived.

My other main issue with the movie is Tyrese Gibson. I HATE Tyrese Gibson. The guy is an absolutely terrible actor and his character Roman is an irritating, obnoxious, loudmouthed asshole who does his best to ruin every scene he’s in. What’s worse, every director of every Fast and Furious movie seems to think that he’s hilarious and gives him way too much screen time for his incessantly smug mugging (smugging?). I REALLY wanted him to die during the movie’s climax, although I was sure it wouldn’t happen and sure enough, it didn’t. GAH. I HATE HIM.

Anyway, Tyrese Gibson rant over. Despite its profoundly flawed and somewhat lazy storytelling, The Fate of the Furious is still a fun movie. Even though I spent most of this post dissecting its many problems, I don’t want people to think that I hate it. I don’t. It’s a fun movie that delivers what fans want, and I can watch it and enjoy it as long as I don’t think too much about it. Maybe I’m my own worst enemy here and I need to stop thinking so much (DAMN YOU CLASSICAL EDUCATION) but I can still enjoy the movie as a fun piece of popcorn entertainment, even if it ultimately fails in its aspirations to be much more than that.

Thanks for checking out this spoiler-filled discussion of The Fate of the Furious. I hope it didn’t seem like a rant, except for the part about Tyrese Gibson. That part was definitely a rant. Next up is Christopher Nolan’s epic-looking war movie Dunkirk, which I’m very excited about. Tune in next Wednesday for a review.

The Curse of the Misleading Trailer

How many times have you seen a really good movie trailer, only to be let down by the actual movie?

The problem is that the purpose of a movie’s trailer is to sell the audience on the movie. It is not necessarily intended to accurately represent the movie.

This can be a problem because it can affect what you actually think of the movie itself. It’s really too bad when the trailer kills the movie, but in some cases it’s hard to think of how it could have turned out otherwise.

Take, for example, three recent would-be swords-and-sandals epics. The movies I’m going to be talking about to illustrate this point are Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 King Arthur, Ridley Scott’s 2010 Robin Hood, and Brett Ratner’s 2014 Hercules.

Let’s start at the beginning. Fuqua’s King Arthur has virtually nothing to do with the legend of King Arthur as most people are familiar with it. There is no sword in the stone, no quest for the Holy Grail, no love story between Lancelot and Guinevere, no Morgan le Fay, no Mordred, none of that.

king arthur psotre

This isn’t automatically a problem, mind you. I don’t mind people putting a new spin on a familiar story. The problem with all three of these films is that their trailers and titles all promise things that the movies themselves fail to deliver, even though the movies aren’t necessarily all that bad (another good title for this post would have been The Curse of the Misleading Title, but I thought The Curse of the Misleading Trailer had a better ring to it).

When you hear the phrase “King Arthur,” what are some of the first things you think of? Chances are they include some of the things I mentioned above. It’s somewhat galling that a movie called King Arthur has almost nothing to do with the King Arthur stories that most people are familiar with. I don’t even think Arthur is a king for most of the movie. Merlin is just some forest wizard who does almost nothing, Lancelot freaking dies at the end of the movie and has almost no relationship with Guinevere, the list goes on and on.

The thing is that Fuqua’s film isn’t necessarily all that bad, but it most certainly does not live up to its title. Maybe it would be slightly easier to take if it had been called something different, but this leads to my second point: what the hell else were the filmmakers supposed to call it? It’s a swords-and-sandals epic about a dude named Arthur and his pals, some of whom just so happen to be named Lancelot, Guinevere, Merlin, Galahad, and so on. So sure, call the movie King Arthur and that ought to put asses in seats. The obvious problem is that you’re setting yourself up for a fall when you (rather brazenly, in the case of King Arthur, since the movie claims to be a true story and, you know, isn’t) don’t deliver on the audience’s expectations.

The same holds true for Ridley Scott’s 2010 version of Robin Hood. When you hear “Robin Hood,” what do you think of? Robbing the rich to give to the poor, duh. Guess how much of that there is in Scott’s film? Yep, you guessed it: virtually none.

robin hood psotre

Instead, the movie is an origin story, telling how Robin, Marion, Little John, etc. all came to be living in Sherwood Forest and hunted by famous douchebag King John. The original script of Scott’s film actually began with the title Nottingham, and portrayed a more sympathetic Sheriff of Nottingham as the main protagonist. From what I’ve read about it, the script portrayed the Sheriff of Nottingham as a CSI-style forensics investigator, torn between his duty to serve the king (who was corrupt) and his sympathies for the outlaw he was supposed to catch.

I don’t know about you, but I think that sounds like a hell of a good movie right there. Unfortunately, Ridley Scott himself apparently didn’t think so, and filming was delayed while the script was rewritten. It’s really too bad, because the resulting film’s story, while not terrible, is nowhere near as interesting.

Again, I wouldn’t call it a bad film, but it most certainly does not live up to the expectations its title and marketing suggest. But again, what else would (or should) the film have been called? Calling the film Robin Hood should put some asses in seats, but it’s hard to blame the people those asses belong to for leaving the theater unsatisfied.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? You should, because it continues with Brett Ratner’s Dwayne Johnson-starring Hercules, which was released last year.

Brett Ratner is kind of a sleaze (I mean, he does have the word “rat” in his name), who has one of the most punchable faces I’ve ever seen. I mean, look at this face. Don’t you just want to punch it after looking at it for more than two seconds?

the most punchable face in the universe

Gah, so punchable. I feel kind of bad for saying that I liked his film more than the previous two, (and it feels especially weird saying that I liked a Brett Ratner film more than a Ridley Scott film, that’s not something I ever thought I would find myself saying), but it’s true. Fuqua’s King Arthur and Scott’s Robin Hood are both so relentlessly dour (not to mention overlong) that, while I still don’t think they’re terrible, they aren’t always very much fun. Ratner’s film, at least, is more consistently entertaining. As Alfred so wisely told Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, “Who knows? If you start pretending to have fun, you might even have a little by accident.”

So, here comes the first inevitable question. When I say “Hercules,” what do you think of? You probably think of the twelve labors, gods and monsters, that sort of thing. And here’s the second inevitable question: how much of these elements do you think Ratner’s film has? If you were to say “not very much,” then congratulations, you’re right.

Ratner’s Hercules is basically a mercenary with really good PR. He’s the guy who does all the hard jobs that no one else will do (although he doesn’t do them by himself, he’s the guy who gets all the credit for it), and he has a really good PR guy who spins tales of his legendary deeds.

hercules psotre

He becomes involved in a plot by a couple of douchey kings played by John Hurt and Joseph Fiennes, and the movie portrays him as a character separated from magic and mysticism. The whole point of the movie is that all of the things that people think of as being magical (centaurs, the hydra, and the like) turn out to be nothing but people (or just really mean animals, such as the Nemean Lion).

I kind of like this approach, to be honest. I love the idea of events becoming legends (such as in The Road Warrior) and Ratner’s Hercules taps into this. Not as well as The Road Warrior obviously, but the ideas are certainly there. The main problem with Hercules was the trailer, which hyped up the twelve labors of Hercules (such as the hydra and the Nemean Lion), and made it seem as if that was what the whole movie would be about.

But in the actual movie, all of those big trailer moments (the lion lunging at Hercules, chopping the heads off the Hydra) happen in the first five minutes, and are later revealed to not have been everything they were cracked up to be.

I feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but can you blame the people who may have left the theater unsatisfied? Not really. How else could the movie have been marketed? What else could it have been called? I dunno. The whole situation is a bit of a Catch-22.

It’s not that surprising that movie marketing is frequently misleading, advertisements are misleading all the time. There’s always a relationship between the consumer’s expectations of a product and the ability of that product to deliver on those expectations, and sometimes it skews dramatically one way or the other. Generally, when a product doesn’t do what it says it will do, it’s a bad product.

But it’s different with movies. A movie can maybe not fulfill all of your expectations, and yet you may still end up liking it to some degree. Such was the case for me, with all three of the films I’ve mentioned here.

So the next time you see a movie that wasn’t quite what you expected it to be, maybe try asking yourself: Okay, what did the movie do that I liked? Were there things about it that were really good that I wasn’t expecting?

I love movies, and I want other people to love them too. I guess that if there’s one thing writing this post has made clear to me, it’s that there is more than one way to like something, not just movies. So I guess what I’m saying is, try keeping an open mind and who knows, you just might end up surprising yourself.

Why Fast Eight Will Be a Must-See

Two years ago, when Fast & Furious 6 was released, my review of it was entitled, “Why Fast Seven Will Be a Must-See.”

At this rate, I think I can see where this is headed, because Furious 7 is furious fun.

Furious-7 banner

It was supposed to be released last year, but as most people probably know by now, it was delayed by the tragic death of Paul Walker in a car accident in November of 2013. Walker’s death occurred when Furious 7 was still in production, and the film was put on hold while the filmmakers figured out how to complete it without Walker.

They ended up rewriting the script to serve as a send-off for Walker’s character, and completing his scenes using a combination of CGI, carefully-chosen camera angles, and body doubles, including Walker’s brothers Caleb and Cody.

I think that they handled it pretty well. I’m glad that they didn’t simply kill off Walker’s character. That probably would have been easier from a technical perspective, since if they just killed him off they wouldn’t have to deal with CGI and body doubles. But again, I’m really glad they didn’t go that route, since it would have cheapened Walker’s character and his contributions to the series.

Another good thing about how the filmmakers handled Walker’s death is that the techniques they used to complete his scenes are very convincing. There weren’t any moments where I found myself thinking that Walker’s character looked weird, or that he looked like a special effect. It’s a testament to the skill of the filmmakers that I have no idea how much of Walker’s footage was actually him and how much was simulated.

furious 7 paul walker

Furious 7 ends up being a fitting tribute to Walker, and ends with a very nice little montage with some of his highlights from the series and the simple dedication, “For Paul.” It gives the movie real emotional heft and leaves the viewer feeling that the cast and crew of this big-budget action blockbuster really cared about Walker and really sought to honor his legacy.

So now that all that’s been said, what is the actual movie like?

Well like I said earlier, it’s pretty damn fun.

Part of the reason I was so excited for Furious 7 in the first place was because Fast & Furious 6 ended with such a great tease, in which a mysterious character played by Jason Statham kills one of Vin Diesel’s character Dominic Toretto’s buddies, and then calls him on the phone and intones ominously, “Dominic Toretto. You don’t know me yet. But you’re about to.”

Turns out he’s Deckard Shaw, the big bad brother of the previous film’s villain, Owen Shaw. His brother is now comatose (he seemed pretty dead at the end of the sixth movie but whatever) and Deckard has sworn revenge against Dom and his crew.

Partly it’s because I already like Jason Statham so much, but he’s my favorite villain of the year so far. He’s like a freaking Terminator. Pretty much every time he shows up it’s in the middle of an already-crazy action sequence, or his appearance sets off another crazy action sequence. I saw the movie a week ago so my memory on this may be a bit hazy, but off the top of my head I can’t remember any appearance Statham makes in the movie that isn’t action-related somehow.

He gets to drive fancy cars really fast (and wreck them too, of course), shoot machine guns and he gets to fight both Vin Diesel AND Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, so Statham fans such as myself will definitely get a satisfying dose of Statham badassery. It’s also a bit of a departure for Statham since he usually plays the good guy in his movies, but based on this film I would love to see him cast as a villain more often.

This is actually the first time Statham and Johnson have been in a movie together, which in my opinion has been far too long in coming. I’ve been trying to convince my dad of the cultural and historical significance of this event for some time now, but he’s still not buying it for whatever reason. Oh, well. He’ll come around eventually (I’m not giving up on this, dad).

furious 7 statham vs johnson

Pictured: cultural significance. Can’t you just feel the culture radiating off those biceps? I can feel it like a punch to the face.

Johnson doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time in Furious 7, since his initial encounter with Statham puts him in the hospital for most of the movie, which is too bad. But he still gets some cool moments, such as (spoiler, I guess) crashing an ambulance into a Predator drone and shooting down a helicopter with a minigun, so there’s that, and his battle with Statham at the beginning of the movie is a knock-down drag-out brawl for the ages. He also gets to break a cast off his arm simply by flexing his enormous muscles, which is all kinds of awesome.


The plot of the movie is fairly simple. Deckard Shaw wants revenge. Dom and his pals have to stop him. In order to find him, they need to get their hands on a computer program called God’s Eye, which is capable of finding anyone on the planet no matter where they are. They are assisted in this particular endeavor by a government agent played by Kurt Russell of all people, who also gets a couple of badass moments, one of them involving night-vision sunglasses. Just throwing that out there.

The cast is mostly the same as the previous films. Vin Diesel is really quite likable as the gravelly-voiced Dom, Michelle Rodriguez returns as his amnesiac girlfriend Letty, and Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, rapper Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and of course Paul Walker all reprise their roles from the previous films. They’re all pretty great in roles each of them have been playing for years, the only one I don’t really like is Tyrese Gibson’s character, an irritating loudmouth who just gets on my nerves after a while. The only new addition to their crew is a computer hacker named Ramsey played by Game of Thrones alum Nathalie Emmanuel, who helps them get their hands on the God’s Eye program and of course looks gorgeous.

furious-7 cast

All of this involves substantial amounts of mayhem. Cars dropped out of airplanes, cars jumping skyscrapers, cars getting blown up by missiles. I read that 230 cars were destroyed in the making of Furious 7, and I think it’s safe to say that they gave their lives for a good cause. The action sequences in the movie, and there are a lot of them, are consistently thrilling and just an absolute blast to watch, in many cases literally.

The movie was directed by James Wan, known mostly known for his horror films (among them Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring). He acquits himself quite well as an action director, with a couple of cool camera moves during the fight scenes. The previous four films in the series were directed by Justin Lin (who I think is going to direct Star Trek 3), but the change of directors doesn’t affect the quality of the movie.


Furious 7, like its predecessors, isn’t high drama. It’s not a masterpiece in the arts of storytelling and subtlety. But it is an extremely well-made and endlessly exciting action movie, as well as a satisfying send-off for a gifted actor gone too soon. Popcorn flicks don’t get much better than this. Bring on Fast Eight, which I seriously hope will be called F8, and pronounced “Fate.” You can use that, Hollywood. I’ll expect my royalty check in the mail any day now.

Why Fast Seven Will Be a Must-See

I was a bit late to Fast and Furious 6 since I was out of time when it opened on Memorial Day weekend, but I finally caught up with it this last weekend and I’ve gotta say, Holy Crap. I am still riding that adrenaline high.

But first, story time. Fast Six is, obviously, the sixth film in the franchise which began with The Fast and the Furious all the way back in 2001. The second and third films weren’t really direct sequels to the first one, bringing in new characters and whatnot. The first direct sequel to the first movie was actually the fourth movie, simply titled Fast and Furious. This movie brought back all the original stars from the first movie. It became a modestly-budgeted hit so Universal upped the budget for 2011’s Fast Five, which ditched most of the street-racing elements from the previous films and was more of a setpiece-driven heist movie. Now 2013 brings us Fast and Furious 6, which picks up right where Fast Five left off.


Whew. Now that that’s out of the way, I must confess that I have only seen the fifth and sixth films. I really didn’t care much about the franchise until Fast Five came out. Heck, I didn’t even really care about Fast Five until it came out and got surprisingly solid reviews. I decided to check it out, but even then I didn’t bother until it came out on DVD.

When I finally did see it, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a well-made, solidly entertaining action film. One thing about it that I’ve thought about a lot is that I really didn’t give a damn about any of the characters. Fast Five featured a large ensemble cast with pretty much every major character from the previous films. I had no idea who most of them were. The plot itself was straightforward enough, they were trying to steal $100 million from an evil drug baron. But there were a lot of character-based subplots that really had no impact on me whatsoever. Much is made in the film about family and brotherhood and so on and so forth but I really didn’t care about any of it.

The interesting thing to me about this is that, the way I see it, my not caring that much about the characters wasn’t really the movie’s fault. It’s clear that the filmmakers cared about these characters, and if you were a longtime fan of the franchise I saw no reason why you wouldn’t be happy with this film. Fast Five isn’t really all that bad at characterization, my indifference was due more to the fact that I hadn’t seen any of the previous films. The characters were all likable enough and they each get their time in the spotlight. I rooted for them, I just wasn’t particularly invested in any of them.

I had a similarly detached enthusiasm for Fast Six, which I was looking forward to as a fun summer blockbuster, but expected to not care about the plot very much.

Also, Dwayne “Don’t-Call-Me-The-Rock” Johnson.


One of my favorite aspects of Fast Five, and one that got a lot of critical praise, was the addition of Dwayne Freaking Johnson as the no-nonsense, tough-as-nails Agent Hobbs, who kicks off the sixth movie’s plot by recruiting Vin Diesel and his crew to help him track down a new group of bad guys, led by an ex-SAS soldier named Owen Shaw. Also, Agent Hobbs’ new partner in this movie is played by Gina Carano.


This is Gina Carano, in case you were wondering. She’s an ex-MMA fighter who made her film debut in a little movie called Haywire last year. She’s…well, look at her. She’s badass! Her role in Fast Six is fairly minor, but she does get not one but TWO fight scenes with Michelle Rodriguez. And she certainly looks good alongside Dwayne “Samoan Thor” Johnson.


I’d watch a movie that was just these two fighting crime any day of the week. The “Samoan Thor” thing came from the movie, by the way. Much as I would like to take credit for it, I cannot. Also, if you haven’t seen Haywire it’s really worth checking out.

In one sense, my response to Fast Six was much the same as my response to Fast Five: lots of fun, but I remained largely indifferent to most of it. Much hullaballoo is made over the return of Letty, Vin Diesel’s character’s old girlfriend played by Michelle Rodriguez, who apparently was thought to have been killed in the fourth movie, and whose return was teased at the end of Fast Five. She’s back, and she’s working with the bad guys! OH NOES!!

Part of me was like “Eh, who cares?” and the other part of me was like “Michelle Rodriguez vs. Gina Carano! Awesome!” I think it’s safe to say that these two thoughts balanced each other out in the end.

But enough about plot and characters! What about the action??

Well, it delivers.

And then some.

Suffice to say that Fast Six has some of the most outrageously entertaining action sequences I have seen in a long time, quite possibly ever. This kind of movie is why I love action movies. The action scenes in this film are expertly choreographed, and edited in such a way as to ensure that you can easily follow the chaos unfolding on screen.

One of the most common criticisms I’ve heard of modern action films is that the superquick editing and shaky camera work make it difficult to follow what’s going on. It’s a legitimate complaint, I suppose, though to be honest that kind of style has never really bothered me much. It can be off-putting at first but I don’t find it hard to get used to. But still, Fast Six does an admirable job of making huge chaotic action setpieces easy to follow. Director Justin Lin is showing himself to be a fine action director, and he deserves credit for coordinating massive chase scenes that are fun and intense without being confusing or overwhelming. Well, they can be a bit overwhelming at times, but in a good way if you’re an action fan.

How else to describe the film’s EPIC final battle, in which a massive plane is attempting to take off but finding it difficult due to the fact that the heroes have attached their vehicles to it by shooting titanium cables into the plane’s wings, and the cars are dangling off the wings with people fighting BETWEEN THE CARS IN MIDAIR while at least three more individual battles are happening inside the plane? Words seriously do not begin to do this scene justice. It’s one of the most terrifically exciting action sequences I’ve seen in quite some time. I have no idea of the logistics involved in staging such a massive sequence, but the filmmakers pulled it off marvelously.

Also, this happens.


Don’t see Fast Six for realism. This is the kind of movie in which cars flip upside down and skid on their roofs for several meters and the occupants look only mildly annoyed, and robotic humanoid Paul Walker is capable of thrashing roomfuls of thugs.


Yes, this guy.

See it for fun. See it for spectacle.


See it for this guy.

The stunt work in this film also deserves credit for pulling off all kinds of crazy shit. There’s one stunt in particular during the big highway chase that was so ludicrously awesome it had people in my theater (myself included) clapping and cheering, and at least one audible cry of “WHAAAATTT???”


It isn’t this particular stunt, but it takes place during this sequence. Also, the interwebs inform me that a real tank drove over approximately 250 cars during the filming of this sequence.

If you’re an action fan there is no way you will not enjoy this film. The plot is ho-hum and the characters again meant little to me, but the action is expertly staged and the film is never less than entertaining.

And referring back to the title of this post, make sure to stay through the first part of the closing credits, or you might miss a surprise cameo from one of my favorite action stars, whose identity I will not reveal but whose first name…

…starts with a J.

Until next time, true believers!

The Return of WTF: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a film that left me baffled. Bewildered. Bemused. Flummoxed, even. You could go so far as to say that I was flabbergasted.

Here is a film in which not one single thing makes even the slightest amount of sense. The plot makes no sense. The character motivations make no sense. The connection to the first G.I. Joe movie is tenuous at best. Bruce Willis is in the movie for maybe ten minutes, and serves no purpose other than to provide obscene amounts of firepower. The protagonist from the first movie is unceremoniously offed about twenty minutes into this one. Most of the characters from the first film are nowhere to be seen, except for maybe three or four, one of whom died in the first movie. More nukes are launched in this movie than have likely ever been launched in the history of motion pictures. The movie was directed by one Jon M. Chu, best known for directing the 3D Justin Bieber concert movie. And to top it all off, if you count the entire population of London, this film based on a series of children’s toys has a death count in the millions.

Okay, confession time. I am one of the few people who will readily admit to having enjoyed the first movie. Sure it’s cheesy as hell and is certainly no masterpiece, but it’s good, goofy fun and I find it impossible to hate any movie in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Cobra Commander. I’ve also enjoyed Stephen Sommers’ previous movies. When I was maybe 11-14 I watched The Mummy and The Mummy Returns dozens of times, and watching Van Helsing is a Halloween tradition.

So I was also one of the few people actually looking forward to Retaliation, which was scheduled to come out in June 2012 but got pushed back NINE FREAKING MONTHS to March 2013 because movie studios are stupid. Not that I am bitter.

Anyway, I finally saw the damn thing this past weekend and as, has been previously described, it made zero sense. It made about as much sense as the dreadful second Transformers movie, although it admittedly was more fun.

Alright, so at the end of the first movie, the evil forces of Cobra had been defeated but the President had been replaced by the evil Zartan impersonating the President (Anyone named “Zartan” is evil, no exceptions. There will also be spoilers from here on out).

So the evil President promptly orders a strike on our heroes the Joes, killing ALL of them except for three: Roadblock (yes, Roadblock), played by Dwayne “Please-don’t-call-me-The-Rock-that’s-not-my-name-anymore-I’m-trying-to-be-taken-seriously-as-an-actor-but-I-keep-making-movies-like-G.I. Joe: Retaliation” Johnson, a Random Hot Girl named Lady Jaye, and some jackass named Flint, none of whom were in the first movie.

From there, everything pretty much descends into madness. It turns out that Snake Eyes, the badass black ninja dude who never says anything because he is literally too cool for words, is for some reason hanging out in the Himalayas with some blind ninja master dude. Who the hell this guy is and how Snake Eyes came to be hanging out with him is left completely unexplained, and I was left scratching my head every time the blind ninja master dude (played by rapper RZA) showed up. Maybe this guy is actually an important character in the G.I. Joe universe, but you sure as heck wouldn’t know it from this movie.

Also left unexplained is how in the hell the evil white ninja Storm Shadow survived, when he was clearly killed in the first movie. Seriously. He gets stabbed and left in the crumbling underwater base at the end of the first movie, but appears alive and well not far into the second movie, with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. There’s not even any half-assed mysticism or some kind of scientific reconstruction or cloning or something to explain his presence in Retaliation. He just shows up.

And to further muddy the waters, his character gets completely changed, since one of his major events in the first movie gets retconned to be something different, which completely annihilates his entire character motivation from the first movie. Also, after a while he becomes a good guy and fights with the Joes. So Storm Shadow’s presence in this film makes zero sense, both in terms of his actual character and the very simple fact of his physical presence. When the very existence of one your movie’s main characters makes absolutely no sense, you know you’re in some serious trouble.

It turns out that the evil President’s evil plan is to get the rest of the world’s nuclear powers to disarm their nukes, which would leave them vulnerable to the Bond villain-esque, massive orbiting death machines he has created. He blows up poor old London just to show he’s serious. This chain of events involves an absolutely hilarious scene where all the other world leaders get their little nuclear suitcases and launch all their nukes at each other, and there is this hysterical little holographic projection of the earth with literally dozens of nukes flying through the atmosphere, all of the world leaders are screaming at each other, and the evil President is sitting in his chair playing Angry Birds.

Seriously. This actually happens. In a major studio release that, according to Wikipedia, cost $130 million to make. This almost puts Michael Bay to shame in terms of sheer ludicrousness.

Needless to say that the Joes put a stop to all of this nonsense and the world is saved, except of course for poor old London which has been reduced to a smoldering crater.

God, writing this just reminded me of how little sense any of this made. Among the film’s many other ridiculousnesses are the fact that it takes the Joes a remarkably long time to figure out that the President is evil, which you would think would have been pretty obvious, and did I mention that poor old Bruce Willis gets to do virtually nothing except show off the literally dozens of very large weapons he has stashed in every conceivable weapon-stashing place in his house?

It’s also a disappointment because the movie was written by a pair of screenwriters named Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who wrote Zombieland, which is smart, funny, and one of my top 3 all-time favorite zombie movies (the other two are Shaun of the Dead and Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead, just for the record). I was expecting more from them, but G.I. Joe: Retaliation feels like the result of a particularly potent acid trip.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a mess of a movie. The plot is overcomplicated, nonsensical, and utterly ridiculous, there are too many characters, most of whom either have little personality or are new and hard to care about (or both), and the events of the previous movie are mostly changed, overlooked, or ignored entirely. It rivals Michael Bay in terms of over-the-top, style-over-substance filmmaking, and it flat-out beats the entire Resident Evil franchise in terms of the complete lack of series continuity. What happened to the big black dude, the sexy redhead, Dennis Quaid and those other guys from the first movie? I have no idea, and the makers of Retaliation clearly did not care.

Ah well. At least the special effects were good, and there were a few fun action scenes, like the mountainside ninja battle that was admittedly pretty cool. That nine-figure budget had to go somewhere, I suppose. It’s not like I expected Shakespeare or anything from a movie based on children’s toys, but I think I’m not alone in wishing we had gotten something more that this random pile of junk running around in search of a movie to attach itself to.

That analogy didn’t even make sense, yet it made about a thousand times more sense than G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

Maybe the 3rd G.I. Joe movie will fix all that…?

WTF rating: 9/10.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.