Impossible Missions- The Rogue Cut
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is directed and written by Christopher McQuarrie and stars Tom Cruise in his fifth appearance as agent Ethan Hunt. Also reprising their roles are Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and Jeremy Renner. Newcomers to the cast are Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Simon McBurney, and Tom Hollander.
The fifth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise is easily the most confident of the bunch, the critical and commercial success of Ghost Protocol being proof of what works best for a Mission: Impossible film, using the right amount of action and the right amount of espionage. In addition, Ghost Protocol was the first Mission: Impossible film to show faithfulness to the original TV series, displaying a sense of team work that wasn't quite on display in any of the first three films. Stepping into the director's chair this time is Christopher McQuarrie, who had worked with Cruise previously in 2012's Jack Reacher, as well serving as co-writer for Edge of Tomorrow, one of Cruise's better action films to date. Upon first viewing of the film a year or two back, I found it to be the best Mission: Impossible film yet. Though on a second and more recent viewing, I would like to rescind that statement, because much of what makes Rogue Nation work well is owed in part to Ghost Protocol.
Rogue Nation presents another nice blend of action, hi-tech espionage, and humor, and makes a diligent effort to ensure that Ethan Hunt isn't running the entire show. The only trouble is, there's not as fresh of a taste to everything as there was in Ghost Protocol. Still, the movie knows what it is and doesn't have any boring stretches. Tom Cruise hasn't lost any of his muster as Ethan Hunt nor as a charismatic action star, and once again, the man puts himself through some insane stunts. The major stunt that Cruise pulls off this time is hanging off the side of a plane (it happens in the movie's opening scene, believe it or not), and if you thought falling off the plane was Cruise's biggest fear, Cruise stated in an interview that his biggest fear was actually a bird or random debris hitting him in the face. The man's got balls of steel, I'll tell you what.
So anyway, Rogue Nation's plot is about Ethan Hunt's attempts at proving the existence of a criminal organization known as the Syndicate. The CIA does not believe that the Syndicate exists, and CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) believes that the IMF should be shut down, as the IMF has no active secretary, and the work done by Ethan and his team in Ghost Protocol was considered destructive acts of misconduct. Hunt is captured by the Syndicate in London, but he is able to escape with the help of Ilsa Fest (Rebecca Ferguson), a disavowed MI6 agent and operative of the Syndicate. Hunt's only lead is the face of a man with blond hair and glasses (Sean Harris), believing the man to be the Syndicate's leader.
Six months later, Hunt lives in Paris as a fugitive, and he enlists the help of former colleague Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) in order to try and gather more information about the Syndicate. Hunt and Benji eventually meet up with Ilsa, who identifies the blond man in glasses as Solomon Lane, a former MI6 agent who went rogue and became leader of the Syndicate. While Hunt and his group pursue Lane, Hunley and IMF Field Operations Director William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) begin a mad hunt for Ethan, though Brandt quickly proves to not be very loyal to Hunley.
Rogue Nation's plot has some striking similarities to that of Ghost Protocol, mostly in the sense that Ethan Hunt and his team are on their own with no backup from IMF or anywhere else. The only new wrinkle is that Ethan is now considered a fugitive, but even that wrinkle was sort of done already in the first film, in which Ethan was framed and pursued by the IMF. But despite Rogue Nation loaning plot threads from previous Mission: Impossible films, everything about the story is polished and sensible, which is a luxury that the first film does not have.
- Rogue Nation gets a lot out of its fresh blood, particularly Rebecca Ferguson and Alec Baldwin. Ferguson remains an interesting enigma throughout the film, as she always keeps us guessing where her true loyalties lie. Meanwhile, she puts herself front and center of all the action going on and has just the right amount of sex appeal, enough that we like watching her on screen, but never enough to think the movie is trying to turn her into a sex object. Baldwin is great as the snappy CIA director Alan Hunley, whose heated conversations with William Brandt and desire to capture Hunt livens up the plot more. These new faces seamlessly fit alongside all of the returning faces, and I have all the confidence that Ferguson and Baldwin will keep it up in the next movie.
- One new face that I could not get behind for the life of me was Sean Harris as Solomon Lane, whose soft, mousy voice deflates his villainous prowess instead of enhancing it. Lane is a professional villain who has manners, and when he's not speaking, he still has a sinister vibe to him. It's when Lane starts talking that I started to take him less seriously, because Harris talks like a twelve year old boy who went through puberty too fast, being only a few notches above whispering. There's much more menace in Harris's eyes than in his words, and had the script given him a minimal amount of dialogue (or no dialogue at all, which I believe was totally possible), he certainly could have been the best villain of the series outside of Owen Davian.
Flaws aside, Rogue Nation is a summer action film that works, with a meaty cast, exciting action sequences, and the never-ending commitment of its central star in Tom Cruise. Five films later, and it's pretty amazing to believe that this series still has a lot of juice left in the tank, showing no signs of slowing down. It'll be very interesting to see where the series goes next with Fallout, but with the kind of track record the series has had as of late, I have no doubt it'll be another round of summer fun. Cruise won't be able to do jaw-dropping stunts forever, so it's best that we enjoy this Mission: Impossible ride while it's still brimming with high level entertainment.
Recommend? Yes, and you actually don't need to see the previous four films to watch this one and enjoy it.
Rock and Roll
The Rock is directed by Michael Bay, produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and stars Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris, along with William Forsythe and Michael Biehn. The film is dedicated to the memory of Simpson, who passed away five months before the film's theatrical release.
I have brought up Michael Bay and all of his delightful Michael Bay-isms in tons of my past reviews. How could I not? The man has developed a notorious reputation over the years for directing big budget action movies that put explosions wherever they can fit and not give at least half a damn about coherent storytelling or any other kind of narrative function. So it's odd: my first ever review of a Michael Bay movie is the movie that is not only his best outing to date as director, but a film that I legitimately like. Not just like. I mean I like it a lot. The Rock was Michael Bay's second directorial feature, and was well before Michael Bay completely turned into the Michael Bay we all know and love. Though considering Bay's next film was the messy Armageddon, it didn't seem to take very long for Bay to come into full form.
There are moments of Michael Bay-isms throughout The Rock, but they're mostly tamed when compared to what we see in the likes of Pearl Harbor and all of the Transformers movies. Explosions come in a limited capacity (there are some BS explosions, but they're few and far in between), and the plot isn't completely devoid of logic or simple common sense. In The Rock, General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris) and his group of rogue U.S. Marines invade a weapons depot and steal rockets armed with a deadly VX gas. Hummel and his men then take control of Alcatraz Island right offshore from San Francisco, taking eighty-one tourists hostage. Hummel demands that the U.S. government pay him $100 million, which he will distribute to his men and the families of Marines who died on missions under his command. Hummel explains that the deaths of the Marines under his command were not compensated for, and he aims to have the government pay for this wrongdoing. Hummel threatens to fire the gas-filled rockets on San Francisco if his demands are not met. The Pentagon and FBI then formulate a plan to retake Alcatraz Island. They enlist the help of top chemical weapon's specialist Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) and John Mason (Sean Connery), a 60-year old British national who is the only man to have ever escaped from Alcatraz. Goodspeed and Mason join a team of SEALs that infiltrate the island, with Goodspeed knowing how to disable the rockets and Mason having the knowledge of the island's layout and all of its hidden passageways.
Bay considers The Rock to be his favorite movie among his own, and that makes all the sense in the world. The Rock contains just about everything that Michael Bay dreams about at night: patriotism, slow-motion helicopters, and explosions to name a few, all the while staying afloat with storytelling, character, and humor over the course of the film's 136 minutes. Plus, the cast is easily the most interesting group of actors that Bay has ever worked with: over-the-top Nicolas Cage, toning down his usual histrionics to play a nerdy Goodspeed, who doesn't enjoy taking part in the action but is still willing to do so anyway. Then there's Mason, who is something of an older James Bond. And finally, you have General Hummel, with Ed Harris playing his role not like a pure villain, but instead as a troubled, sympathetic man who was once a hero, but feels that he has no choice but to now become the villain. That seems to be a sort of recurring role for Ed Harris, with similar roles coming in the likes of The Truman Show and Snowpiercer. His character doesn't mean to cause anyone harm. He is simply doing what he believes to be the right thing, even if it means he's viewed as a villain. But anyway, Connery, Cage, and Harris all work well together, especially Connery and Cage.
- There comes a point in the movie where Mason and Goodspeed have to work together, and this is where The Rock is at its best. Connery and Cage have great chemistry together, despite their characters being almost total opposites. Connery's Mason is a hardened criminal while Cage's Goodspeed is a good-natured scientist. If the two hope to survive, they have to combine their skills: Goodspeed's handling of the VX gas and Mason's skills in combat. The duo is something of an older veteran-young rookie combo, with Goodspeed trying to convince Mason that he has the guts to stand up to him, while Mason frequently has to save Goodspeed's skin. The two also engage in some humorous banter, with Goodspeed avoiding swear words at all costs.
- When I saw The Rock for the first time a while back, I fondly remember the thrill rush I got watching the car chase that ensues throughout the streets of San Francisco. Mason, having just gotten his release from prison, escapes FBI custody in a hotel and steals a Humvee, with the FBI and Goodspeed (in a yellow Ferrari) chasing after him. The chase is, unquestionably, the best action scene that Michael Bay has ever directed. Yes, there are some BS explosions and the editing is a little chaotic, but watching the cars zip through the San Francisco streets with Hans Zimmer's excellent score blasting loud and clear is amazing fun. It's weird to say the car chase is the best part of the entire film, happening about 45 minutes into the film. Not that the rest of the action isn't good. It's just that all of the punching and gun-slinging that happens later on at Alcatraz isn't as good as the car chase.
- The Rock can't resist comparisons to Die Hard, despite its central story and the dynamic between Mason and Goodspeed. The entire sequence on Alcatraz is Die Hard on an island, with Mason and Goodspeed picking off Hummel's men one by one while evading capture. Had this been done with a different duo of actors, The Rock would have only been as good as its first half. But it's the chemistry between Connery and Cage that salvages the whole sequence, saving it from being little more than action junk food.
And you know what? Similarities to Die Hard in this movie are a whole bunch of whatever. When you've got one of the most exciting car chases of the 1990's and Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage proving to be a terrific pair, The Rock has enough to boast about. And while it's far from the smartest movie you'll ever see, there's enough jarring excitement throughout to keep you vastly entertained. The Rock is also something of a unique gem, a gem in the sense that it's an actually good work from a director too well known for directing hot pieces of garbage. One can only dream of Michael Bay not veering off course and turning to total dreck. Regardless, we ought to appreciate The Rock for the entertaining piece of film that it is, and something from Michael Bay that we can look at with joy instead of total disgust.
Recommend? Yes. It's a fun 90's action movie that is worth your time.
1971 Oscars: The time was just right for an out and out Best Picture Winner like this
The French Connection is directed by William Friedkin and is based on the 1969 non-fiction book The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy by Robin Moore. The film stars Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, and Marcel Bozzuffi and won five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was also the first R-rated movie to win Best Picture.
As of this review, there are ninety movies that have been graced with the Academy's most prestigious Oscar: Best Picture. Of those ninety movies, not a single one of them can be appropriately labeled as an action film, one in which characters settle their differences with fists, bullets, and pretty much any other form of violence one could concoct. On one hand, the inability of an action film to win Best Picture suggests that the Oscars have a historical dislike for action films, not considering them "artsy" in the way that the Oscars would consider a romantic drama or a lengthy biopic to be "artsy." But on the other hand, it could simply be a matter of the fact that action films have a harder time trying to do everything right: acting, story, editing, etc., and though several action films like Mad Max: Fury Road have been nominated over the years, one has yet to win Best Picture.
The one and only Best Picture winner that resembles the closest an action film has ever gotten to holding up that lovely golden trophy is 1971's The French Connection, which is a gritty, urban crime thriller more than a straight-up action movie. It has elements of an action movie, but it is, in and of itself, not a pure action movie. And while we're on the topic of action movies, it's worth mentioning that about ninety percent of all action movies released during the 21st century couldn't hold a candle to The French Connection, a movie whose visceral thrills have not dated in the slightest.
From start to finish, The French Connection is a fast-paced roller coaster ride that never lets you catch your breath, and even with all of the excitement to be had, there's never a slip up with the writing or the characters or anything else worth noting. Even having seen the film three separate times, I still have a difficult time wrapping my head around the masterful way the movie is able to incorporate high-energy thrills with such a smart and pragmatic story. Filmmakers frequently have it one way: You sacrifice story smarts for the sake of entertaining action, because general audiences mostly love to watch stuff go boom and watch human bodies get blasted to smithereens. And for something like the Mad Max films, you may not have the most layered story of all time, but god damn if those action scenes aren't the coolest things you'll ever see! The French Connection, meanwhile, should serve as an early example of how it is entirely possible to craft an intelligent story while also keeping your film super exciting. The only trouble is, you're not going to do it as well as The French Connection does it.
The plot appears to be basic stuff: New York police detectives Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Scheider) are attempting to locate a narcotics ring they believe is running throughout New York, and the two go through a lot of undercover work in order to do so. However, there's much more going on than just Popeye and Cloudy attempting to uncover some secret drug deals and catch a few junkies: In Marseilles, wealthy French criminal Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) is looking to smuggle $32 million worth of heroin into the United States, doing so by hiding bags containing the heroin inside the car of his unsuspecting friend, Henry Devereaux (Frederic de Pasquale). Meanwhile, Popeye and Cloudy begin to tail the young couple Sal (Tony Lo Bianco) and Angie (Arlene Farber) Boca, believing the two are involved in some kind of criminal operation.
Describing further plot details would be entering spoiler territory, and details are something that matter a lot in The French Connection. There are so many names and faces to keep track of, that on a first viewing, I am not sure how anyone could walk away fully understanding every nut and bolt of the plot, especially because of how swiftly the movie moves along. Someone playing devil's advocate might ask how can the story be so good if the movie is going at such a fast pace? To that question I answer: the screenplay by Ernest Tidyman has no gimmicks and doesn't leave anything to chance. Every little plot point and every minor character is accounted for, the movie providing closure to everything by the end. And the way the characters go about their business, there's no time to slow down and take a break. Charnier and his men want to get their operation completed as soon as possible, hoping to be back in France before the police ever realize they were there. Popeye and his team, meanwhile, know that if they don't expose the drug operation in time, all of their efforts will be in vain. Also, Charnier and his mean are no slouches. They are organized professionals and it doesn't take long for them to realize that police are on their tails. Because the characters need to work so quickly, the movie is going to be fast.
- Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle, who I'll just call Popeye from here on out, is a massive force on screen, being portrayed brilliantly by Gene Hackman. As the poster says, "Doyle is bad news- but a good cop" and that sums up perfectly the kind of character that Popeye is. At his core, Popeye wants to do the right thing just like any other cop would: stop a gigantic drug smuggling operation and catch the crooks who are running the whole damn thing. But as we see several times throughout the movie, Popeye is a nasty and hot-headed individual, having no desire to wait around and think up a plan for chasing Charnier and his men. At the same time, however, Popeye doesn't make knee-jerk decisions or boast outrageous claims that would land him in hot water. When he believes something in his gut to be true, he sticks with it, no matter what anyone else tells him.
Let's be clear on one thing, though: Popeye is not a protagonist worth cheering for. There's a scene early on in which he and Cloudy go into a bar and force all the people there up on a wall. Popeye claims he's there to make sure the bar is "cleaned up" and in the process, he makes everyone empty their pockets, harassing some of the bar-goers (all of whom were real-life police officers), calling one of them a fat man, and making a "milkshake" out of some of the cigarettes and other crap he finds there. If The French Connection was released sometime within the past few years, there would hardcore, left-wingers and Black Lives Matter activists calling for William Friedkin's head. Anyway, Popeye is as ruthless as they come, Gene Hackman, without question, deserving that Best Actor Oscar.
- Of course we have to talk about that car chase. Considered by many to be one of the finest car chases in cinematic history, the car chase is something of the movie's thesis statement. Roger Ebert put it best in his review of this movie: The French Connection, as a whole, is like a chase, going beyond just its one chase scene. The chase itself concerns Hackman pursuing Charnier's hit man, Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzuffi), who boards an elevated train after failing to kill Popeye moments beforehand. The flawless editing of the chase is one thing, but the absolute best part is how during the chase, there's always something of note happening outside of watching Popeye drive a car at breakneck speed. Popeye rams his car into a wall and narrowly avoids running over a lady walking with her child. Meanwhile, Nicoli makes his way to the front of the train, holding the conductor at gunpoint when he gets there. Nicoli shoots and kills a police officer on the train and forces the conductor to drive through a station. There's no time for chatter and no time for thinking up a plan. There's not even time to play exciting music, because the movie, like the car chase, is going so fast and doing so at such a heightened intensity.
- If there was any kind of low point in The French Connection, the ferocity of the entire movie would make it completely irrelevant. The movie masterfully executes everything that goes into its thrilling action and fast-paced story, that anything else isn't worth griping about. Sure, characters like Cloudy and Nicoli aren't going to be the most developed characters you'll ever meet, but they function the way they need to, and again, the movie simply doesn't have the time to do something extra like explore its characters deeply.
My most common complaints with the first forty three films to win Best Picture is that too many of those films are boring, overly long, and horribly dated. The vast majority of those forty three films I pray and hope to never ever have to watch again. The French Connection, meanwhile, is the polar opposite of the likes of How Green Was My Valley and A Man For All Seasons. It's a film with heated excitement from start to finish and a type of fast pacing that too many of the older Best Picture winners could only dream of.
I am still to this day completely awestruck by The French Connection. It's not every day you find a movie that can be so fast, and yet be so thrilling and still pack tons of wallop with its acting and writing. It's far from a nice-looking movie: being shot during a cold, depressing New York winter without any set ever being built. The movie is also shot with high levels of film grain, though I admit the Blu-ray version I watched had coloring changes that Friedkin did himself, much to the chagrin of cinematographer Owen Roizman. I don't think it mattered too much, because a movie like this needs to look unpleasant.
I can't praise The French Connection enough: it's a masterpiece of a crime thriller and is still to this day one of the finest films to ever win Best Picture. It won't be any less thrilling fifty years from now, and I could watch it time and time again and never get the least bit bored with it. The French Connection is a must for action movie lovers. In fact, I dare say it's a movie everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.
Recommend? Read that previous sentence again.
Mission: Impossible - Who you gonna call?
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is directed by Brad Bird and stars Tom Cruise who once again reprises his role as Ethan Hunt. The film also stars Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Anil Kapoor, and Lea Seydoux.
By the fourth film, the experimental stage for the Mission: Impossible films was over. Three films in, and it was completely clear as to what would maximize the potential of a Mission: Impossible film: a fast-paced spy plot supported by as many eye-catching, action set pieces as possible. While the first film was a spy-heavy affair and the second film relied on over-the-top action, the third film was the first to find something of a nice blend between the spying and the shooting. Now was just the matter of polishing up the rough edges and delivering a rock solid Mission: Impossible film that stayed steady all the way through (something M:I III was not able to do).
Something I touched upon in my Mission: Impossible review was how the Mission: Impossible film series is one of the weirder ones, because the series has actually gotten better with each installment, whereas getting worse is usually the norm for film series that go on and on without end. The idea of having a new director for each new Mission: Impossible film proves once again to be a great idea, as Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol not only keeps the Mission: Impossible momentum going; it also proves to be the first Mission: Impossible film that can be labeled as great. This would not seem likely at first, considering the directing duties went to longtime animation darling Brad Bird, who had not directed a live action film before Ghost Protocol. With Ghost Protocol going on to gross nearly $700 million and to be the highest grossing film starring Tom Cruise, Bird did not suffer from a lack of live-action directing experience.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol begins with Ethan Hunt imprisoned in Moscow, for reasons that aren't made clear until later in the film. Ethan is able to escape with fellow prisoner Bogdan (Miraj Grbic), who has information that Ethan needs about a mysterious man known only as "Cobalt". Ethan learns that Cobalt has obtained a file that contains codes for Russian nuclear missiles, which was previously in the hands of IMF agent Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway), until an assassin named Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux) kills Hanaway. Ethan and his team, Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and newly appointed field agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), are sent to investigate the Kremlin in order to obtain more information on Cobalt. However, the mission ends with a bomb, whose detonation is broadcasted on the IMF frequency radio and destroys much of the Kremlin. As a result, the IMF Secretary initiates "Ghost Protocol", in which IMF is disavowed, leaving Ethan and his team with no choice but to continue pursuing Cobalt on their own. Later joining Ethan's team is IMF Chief Analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), who has more to him than meets the eye.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is the first Mission: Impossible film to be somewhat faithful to the nature of the Mission: Impossible TV series, in which it was a team of spies undergoing a mission and not one death defying man throwing himself into the heat of the action while the rest of his team hides in the shadows and provides support. The IMF team in Ghost Protocol feels like an actual team, with everyone getting a chance to take part in the action, the movie never reducing itself to "Ethan Hunt saves the day" or convincing us that the movie is another round of "Ethan Hunt and friends."
We do find out that Jeremy Renner's character has a particular set of skills, skills that would make him a nightmare for...ah, never mind. Simon Pegg's Benji is the obvious comic relief member of the bunch, and isn't it a relief when your comic relief is actually funny? There's just the right amount of Benji humor sprinkled on top of everything else going on, enough to keep things fun and never turn Benji into a nuisance. Paula Patton also plays nicely into the role of the ass-kicking female member of the group, avoiding ever being objectified (there is a scene of her changing out of a dress while in a car that Ethan is driving, but Ethan doesn't make any kind of suggestive comment) and not always being dependent on Ethan giving her directions. The team is a joy to watch, finding a nice balance between spy work, character development, and humor.
- Once again, Tom Cruise proves himself to be a good sport by performing a lot of his own stunts. This time, the setpiece most worth noting is when Ethan must climb up the Burj Khalifa and then climb back down using a line. Cruise doing this stunt on his own allowed Brad Bird more freedom with positioning the camera, and it's so thrilling to watch because it actually is Cruise out there swinging from a line. Simply put, what you see on screen is actually happening. There's no obvious stunt double or crappy CGI to deflate the aura of excitement.
- For this being the first Mission: Impossible film that works on every level from top to bottom, I don't have much of anything in terms of low points. There are a few minor plot points that don't go anywhere (for one, Bogdan turns out to not be all that important of a character), but if a few weak plot details are your greatest concern, then you're in a good spot.
I think that's just about all that needs to be said. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is fast-paced fun that gets major mileage out of its sense of team work and its marvelous set pieces. It patches up the mistakes that were present through the first three films and gives you basically everything you could ask for in a Mission: Impossible film. If this franchise is getting better with age, then who knows when it'll hit its peak?
Where The Wild Things Are
Rampage is directed by Brad Peyton and is loosely based on the video game series of the same name. The movie stars Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
A movie combining Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and giant monsters speaks for itself probably better than any other possible pairing of a famous actor and a concept. Seriously, you only need to look at the poster to get a good idea of the kind of movie that Rampage is. One of the world's most charismatic actors, standing alongside a giant albino gorilla, among the wreckage of a destroyed city? The tagline: Big Meets Bigger? If your guess is that Rampage is the hearty equivalent of a dumb monster action film, then I say to you, congratulations! You have just become the new Captain Obvious!
Rampage is loosely based on the Midway video game series of the same name, in which the player controls a human that has transformed into a giant monster and is now rampaging throughout large cities while fending off police and military forces. Video game movie is a phrase that deflates hope so fast that movie theaters should just save people the trouble and put an "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" sign right outside any and all theaters that are showing Rampage or any other video game movie adaptation. Video game movies have never worked before. Why would they start now with Rampage? The ghastly depths that video game movies frequently sink to brings up the question of why would anyone bother to release video game films in theaters, as they're probably better off testing their luck on straight-to-DVD sales?
In the case of Rampage, anything short of a wide theatrical release would be unacceptable. What bigger draw do you need than Dwayne Johnson going toe-to-toe with giant monsters? For someone like myself who has personal affection for dumb monster movies, there was simply no way I could resist the opportunity to go and see Rampage in theaters. There are no surprises to be had. Rampage is exactly what you think it will be going in, and I wouldn't have it any other way. It is guilty pleasure fun from start to finish, with all of the glaring flaws that I would not allow to get in the way of me having a good time.
Here's what we have plot-wise: Dwayne Johnson plays primatologist Davis Okoye, who works at a San Diego wildlife preserve. Davis is friends with a rare albino gorilla at the preserve named George, whom he had saved from poachers years ago. One night, a meteor crash lands not far from George's habitat, and when George goes to see what crash landed, he finds not a meteor, but a canister that exposes him to a strange pathogen. Two other canisters containing the same pathogen crash land as well: one in a Wyoming forest that gets exposed to a wolf, the other in the Everglades, where the canister is consumed by an American crocodile. The pathogens and canisters belong to a gene manipulation company called Energyne, who had been conducting research in outer space. One of Energyne's space stations exploded after a lab rat mutated and destroyed everything, and the surviving crew member, Dr. Kerry Atkins (Marley Shelton), managed to get away in an escape pod with a few of the canisters, until the pod burns up upon re-entry, resulting in the canisters being sent towards Earth.
Shortly after being exposed, George grows larger and displays much more aggressive behavior. Davis is contacted by Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who tells him she used to work for Energyne, until she was fired for attempting to expose Energyne for using the pathogen as a biological weapon. Caldwell further explains that she had been working on a cure, meaning it may be possible for her to help bring George back to normal. Meanwhile, George's increasingly aggressive behavior gets the best of him, and he goes berserk. George eventually makes his way to Chicago, where a battle with the exposed giant wolf and the also exposed giant crocodile will go down.
That all may sound like a lot of plot, but I assure you, the monsters wreaking havoc on the city and eventually beating the crap out of each other is all that your brain needs to soak in. And right away, Rampage shows that even though it is based on the video game series of the same name, there's hardly anything of substance to tell you that the movie is being faithful to the game. To start with, no human being in this movie is turned into one of the giant monsters. How much cooler would Rampage be if Dwayne Johnson was turned into a giant monster? Did Brad Peyton and screenwriters Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel not see this golden opportunity right in front of their freaking faces?! We're not asking for any kind of cinematic masterpiece here; we want to have ourselves a jolly good ol' time with monsters smashing a city to smithereens, and you're telling me they did not at least entertain the thought of Dwayne The Rock Johnson becoming a rampaging creature of destruction?
- The monster bashing finally goes down in the film's last 20 some minutes, and it is everything you'd hope it would be. The monsters smash, crash, and thrash, destroying everything in their path and never letting the movie reduce to boredom while doing it. While everything with the characters prior to the monster mash might seem like time-wasting nonsense, there's enough of George or the mega wolf (given the nickname Ralph) devouring hapless soldiers to pass you over until the final showdown. As for the mega crocodile, well, he doesn't decide to show up until all the monsters converge on Chicago (and how all the monsters get to Chicago is not worth discussing), so sorry for anyone who may be hoping to get some major gator action early on. The movie's finale is what you came to see, and Rampage delivers the goods in all of its delightfully stupid glory.
- Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays government agent Harvey Russell, who gets involved with everything going on with the monsters after he attempts to put George into captivity. Morgan is the only actor who is making a clear effort to go right along with the movie's campy nature, parading a grin that tells us he is having way too much fun with all of this. Everyone else, on the other hand, struts around with a serious business mentality while trying to convince us otherwise by frequently cracking jokes. Luckily, there's not quite enough of Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the movie for him to become annoying, and oh how I wish everyone else would follow his lead.
- Not surprisingly, Rampage suffers from mediocre writing, with cheesy dialogue and plot conveniences out the wazoo. I lost count as to how many times Johnson and Harris find themselves in a tough situation, only for them to think up a solution with little to no effort. Anytime the two happen to be in a dangerous situation, there's always something conveniently placed nearby to help them come away unscathed. And as for the movie's villains, Energyne CEO Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and her paranoid brother Brett (Jake Lacy), they constantly speak dialogue that screams, "we are doing all of this for money", but what else would you expect from a movie that centers on giant monsters brawling with one another? In scenes where Claire and Brett are talking in their office, you can easily spot a Rampage video arcade game console sitting in a corner, in what I guess is supposed to be a nod to the original Rampage game series. The console isn't ever in focus, but you can still see it clear as day.
The glaring flaws you typically expect from a video game movie are there: awful writing, cheesy dialogue, and shallow characters to name a few. But to fully enjoy a movie like Rampage is to accept these flaws and focus on what the movie intends to be: a fun monster romp that doesn't require an IQ above 15 to understand. It has absolutely zero surprises: no plot twists, no unexpected deaths, nothing that would shock you in any way. For some, the stupidity of it all will be too much to overcome. But for others, Rampage is a smashing good time that requires the largest container of popcorn and the largest soda drink you can buy. You may not remember any of it long afterwards, but for the time you're there, let your brain fall asleep and immerse yourself in the enjoyable nonsense.
Recommend? Yes, but only if you're in the mood of a brainless blockbuster
This time it ain't just about being fast
Furious 7 is directed by James Wan and stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ronda Rousey, Kurt Russell, and Jason Statham. It is the final film appearance of Paul Walker, who died in a single-car crash in 2013.
The Fast & Furious franchise is about as self-aware as any action film franchise has ever been, knowing full well what kind of absurdity they put on display time after time, but having the audacity to run with it and not feel the least bit ashamed. When you're now eight films into a franchise and you still haven't driven yourself into total action trash, then clearly something is still working. And with Fate of the Furious and Furious 7 marking the franchise's journey into the billion dollar gross territory, I think it's safe to say the franchise is going to keep going until they burn up all the tread on their tires. Or until Vin Diesel or Dwayne Johnson suffer a surprise heart attack or something. Hopefully not the latter.
The elephant in the room for Furious 7 is the tragic passing of Paul Walker, who had been the most recognizable face of the series along with Vin Diesel. While there were rumors of scrapping the film altogether, director James Wan (in his first non-horror outing since 2007's Death Sentence) and the rest of the production crew figured the right thing to do was to continue with the film and alter it in a manner that would respect and honor Walker's memory. Filming was about halfway through at the time of Walker's death, and in order to complete filming, body doubles (Walker's brothers Caleb and Cody stepped in as body doubles), stunt doubles, and CGI were all used. The movie does a fine job of not making it totally obvious which scenes contain the real Paul Walker and which ones do not.
The honoring of Walker's memory provides Furious 7 the very rare opportunity of giving the franchise some undisputed emotional heft, as well as injecting the action with real inspiration and not allowing Wan to let everyone simply go through the motions. For this, I feel safe in calling Furious 7 the best in the entire franchise, because the movie has more at work than just being another fun, over-the-top outing. It has a true purpose, and the efforts toward making Furious 7 an honorable tribute to Walker's memory is crystal clear among all of the chaotic action going on.
After defeating Owen Shaw in Furious 6, Domenic Toretto and his team return to the United States to begin living normal lives. Brian O'Connor begins life as a father alongside his partner Mia (Jordana Brewster), while Dom tries to help Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) regain her memories. However, Dom and his team are now being targeted by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a rogue special forces assassin and Owen Shaw's older brother. Deckard hospitalizes Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and kills one of Dom's team members, Han (Sung Kang), even going as far as to blow up Dom's house. Dom eventually meets with government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who informs Dom that Shaw is after a computer program known as the God's Eye, capable of using digital devices in order to track down any person in the world. Dom and his team are assigned to rescue the program's creator: a hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) who is being pursued by a mercenary named Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou).
- Talk about wall to wall action. Furious 7 never likes to take long stretches in between car chases and fist fights. The movie wants to give you its necessary exposition as quickly as it can, desperately trying to get to the action as fast as possible, like a little kid desperate to get home to his mind-numbing, shoot-em-up video games after a boring day of school (kids these days, man). And sure, the editing is pretty choppy during some fights such as Walker taking on a group of henchmen in a moving van and when Letty goes one on one in a fight with Ronda Rousey, but there's clear choreography on the part of Dom and his team when they're in their vehicles. There's also less emphasis on CGI, with one of the coolest stunts being a scene in which cars are dropped out of a plane.
- The official tribute to Walker at the end is a montage of clips from the previous Fast & Furious movies, and I don't believe anyone who has a beating heart can not feel at least a little bit moved by it. Walker had been a part of the franchise since the very beginning, and no matter how much the foolishness of this series may piss you off, you have to respect everything Walker meant to the franchise. Vin Diesel's narration at the end isn't just Domenic Toretto speaking to Brian O'Connor; it's Vin Diesel talking to Paul Walker.
- Is it necessary of me to discuss the low points of Furious 7? If you watch one or two of these movies, you know exactly what they are. Nothing changes in this installment: ridiculous, over-the-top things happen left and right, and my personal favorite in this movie is how Dom and his team prove that their bodies are made of pure steel. Dom purposefully drives his car off a cliff during one scene, and you can clearly see that the car takes a beating as it flips and spins while tumbling down the cliff side. Don't worry, though. Dom doesn't suffer any broken bones or bruised ribs or anything like that. Just a scratch or two on his face. I also love that Dom can get into a street fight with Deckard Shaw and the two can fight each other with weapons that would likely crush bones with one blow. But again, Dom gets little more than a tiny flesh wound. Someone please tell me why I am making a big deal out of this?
Overall though, the tribute to Walker and the non-stop action are the film's most valuable assets, both of which more than make up for the franchise's familiar over-the-top style and thin plotting. James Wan proves himself to not just be a one-trick pony director, serving up an action film that you can watch over and over and not get totally bored with. I actually would not have minded at all had the franchise stopped right here, had the filmmakers felt that future installments would have lost their spirit because of Walker's absence. Of course, maybe Walker would have wished for the franchise to continue, because he helped make these movies happen in the first place, and I'm sure he knew how much the world looks forward to them. Furious 7 gives Walker the send-off he deserves and because of that, I'm not sure any future installment will come even close from dethroning it as the best.
Tomb of Gloom
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is directed by Simon West and stars Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight, Iain Glen, Noah Taylor, and Daniel Craig. It is based on the Tomb Raider video game series featuring the Lara Croft character.
The original 1996 Tomb Raider video game was critically acclaimed and went on to be highly influential for future 3D action-adventure video games. The game follows the adventures of English archaeologist Lara Croft as she searches for ancient treasures. By all means, the idea of an archaeologist hunting down ancient artifacts before someone else gets to them has a lot of potential and would certainly make for a good series of action-adventure films.
And it has. It's called Indiana Jones.
But let's pause for a second. We should not immediately dismiss Tomb Raider as a ripoff of Indiana Jones, because we never see Lara Croft wear a hat or use a whip, and she doesn't have any sort of recognizable John Williams theme song. However, her and Indy have the same kind of end goal: prevent ancient treasures from falling into the wrong hands. So in order to put all Lara Croft-Indiana Jones comparisons to bed, let's just say that Lara Croft slightly resembles a female Indiana Jones and leave it at that.
Now then, to the more important matter at hand: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a video game movie, and "video game movie" is a toxic combination of words that will have almost all movie fans dry-heaving and crying tears of sadness. The one and only thing someone needs to know about video game movies is simply that they are not good. We have been trying for, my goodness, I think almost 30 years now, to make a good movie based on a video game, and we still have yet to do it. Who knows what exactly the problem is? It could be simply be that movies and video games just happen to go together as well as oil and water. But had it been that simple, we would have cut our losses and abandoned the idea of making movie adaptations out of video games some years back. And seeing how something like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider raked in $274 million plus change at the box office, filmmakers wouldn't even dream of calling it quits on the video game genre.
So anyway, Angelina Jolie is Lara Croft, and in this movie, Lara Croft finds herself up against members of the Illuminati. The Illuminati are in search of a key that will rejoin the two halves of a powerful artifact known as The Triangle, which would give its user the power to control time and space. Lara dreams of her father (Jon Voight, who just so happens to be Angelina Jolie's real life father), who had went missing several years before. In the dreams, Lara's father tells her about a planetary alignment, which is a key to finding the pieces of The Triangle. After uncovering various clues, Lara goes out in search of the two pieces of The Triangle. However, two others are also in search of The Triangle pieces: Illuminati member Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) and tomb raider Alex West (Daniel Craig).
- One thing no one can take away from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is its perfect casting of Angelina Jolie in the title role. She had the looks (just like the game, certain body parts are given extra attention) and the attitude to thrive in the role, and she is able to do the action with patent aplomb. Some other, less qualified actress would probably have gotten mocked and laughed at. Not Jolie. She is totally convincing in the role, and proved that her ability to perform action sequences in this movie was no fluke, by starring in several successful future action films like Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Salt.
- It's too bad, honestly, because Jolie's best efforts can't save Lara Croft: Tomb Raider from being little more than a bland and shallow affair that's utterly silly. Jolie might look good in the action scenes, but you're kidding yourself if you think there's anything in them resembling suspense. Lara mows down bad guy after bad guy, the action scenes flying through with almost blazing speed and never offering us the opportunity to witness Lara in real danger. Scenes end just as quickly as they begin, the plot going from point to point with a sugar rush and without a care in the world about when things begin to stop making sense. Lara swings her guns and smirks like she knows she has everything under control, and scenes where she flips, swings, and run are likely to draw eye-rolls because the movie stages them in such ridiculous ways. It's hard not to be won over and at least feel a tad bit of enjoyment, because it is a smoking hot Angelina Jolie playing the role, and believe me, the movie makes sure you get the eye candy you want.
On a genuine note, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a bad movie on nearly every front. The thin plot is standard adventure fair that brings too much of Raiders of the Lost Ark to mind. Don't get your hopes up about the movie giving you full-bodied characters or action scenes that generate real excitement and not just cheap silliness. All you'll find here is an enjoyable Angelina Jolie performance, whose charisma and supermodel-esque physique are enough to save the movie from being a complete disaster.
The movie's abundant silliness gives it some entertainment value, and I'm sure the silliness along with Angelina Jolie in the title role provides this movie with all the makings of a bonafide guilty pleasure. I didn't enjoy it enough to consider it a guilty pleasure of my own, but absolutely nothing about it made me feel intense anger. Of course, why get angry over a movie that belongs to a hopeless genre?
Recommend? Only if you're a big fan of Angelina Jolie
Dredd is directed by Pete Travis and is based on the 2000 AD comic strip Judge Dredd and the Judge Dredd character created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. The film stars Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, and Lena Headey.
In 1995, Judge Dredd got his first film adaptation, with Sylvester Stallone in the title role. The result was a pretty terrible product, critics lambasting the movie's lack of faith towards its source material and Stallone's over-the-top performance. So for any and all hardcore Judge Dredd fans out there, the announcement of a reboot must have sounded like a gift from the heavens. The new Dredd would have nothing in common with the Stallone film, meaning screenwriter Alex Garland and director Pete Travis were giving the Judge Dredd character a clean slate.
Reboots get a lot of crap nowadays, but in this case where you are attempting to reboot something that somebody previously took a nasty diarrhea dump on, why would you disapprove an attempt to make it better? I am not at all familiar with the Judge Dredd source material. My understanding is that Judge Dredd resembles an antihero, living in a dystopian future and going about his business like an extra aggressive RoboCop. That is to say that the Judge Dredd character has promise, because the concept of a scientifically advanced police force combating criminals in a dystopian world has already been proven successful by RoboCop. That is not to say that Dredd is a total ripoff of RoboCop, more so that the two's core concepts are quite similar. The key difference is that Dredd is a lot more straightforward with what it wants to do, not being as over-the-top with its violence and not exactly in your face with its self-satire. Dredd doesn't have the strange news broadcasts that RoboCop contains, nor does it kill characters by having them get riddled with thousands of bullets. And for the record, I find the original RoboCop to be a darn good film that I enjoy a lot, despite some obvious flaws.
In Dredd, the United States has become a wasteland highly exposed to radiation, where people now live in crime-ridden city blocks. The only sense of law enforcement are the Judges, acting as judge, jury, and executioner all in one. In one of the city blocks known as Mega-City One, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is assigned to evaluate a new recruit: Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a mutant who possesses psychic powers. Dredd and Anderson are sent to investigate a triple homicide that takes place at a 200-story tower block known as Peach Trees. The tower is controlled by a drug dealer named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who supplies a drug called Slo-Mo that slows a user's perception of time down to one percent of normal perception. Ma-Ma learns of the Judges' arrival, leading to her and her clan taking control of the tower's security system. Ma-Ma has the tower sealed and orders for Dredd and Anderson to be killed. Unable to leave and unable to summon backup, Dredd and Anderson have no choice but to fight their way to the top of the tower.
- Dredd is pretty nasty when it comes to violence; the bloody and graphic mayhem is not at all for the squeamish. The thing is, Dredd comes with a sense of style, relying on the likes of slow-motion shots and a saturated color scheme to make its action a lot more dazzling and to give certain death scenes more impact. The effects utilized in the film I'm sure look quite eye-popping if viewed in 3D, but as someone who is anti-3D, I passed on the chance on seeing the effects the way they were probably meant to be seen. Anyway, several bursts of violence are displayed like someone getting the ultimate high while on a narcotics-driven hallucination, bullets ripping through human skin and blood splattering everywhere in a slow-motion fashion that suggests an almost fetish-like satisfaction from watching bad people get killed. To put it differently, it's as if the effects are Pete Travis' way of making the violence "sexy", because to him, in this futuristic version of Earth, there is nothing more arousing than watching criminals get the axe. Weird, yes, but still stylish.
- The fight to the tower top sequence is the majority of the movie, and with no other kind of plot diversion, it's easy to see that Dredd is pretty damn shallow. Every scene in its 95 minutes feels necessary, and the movie wastes absolutely no time in setting up its central plotline. With the vast majority of the movie being Dredd and Anderson sneaking their way through the tower and fighting off hoards of thugs, the movie makes for a fast-paced 95 minutes. I would have appreciated seeing a tad bit more of the kind of world the Judges work in, especially because Travis has announced there would not be a sequel. So we have to live with what we got, which is an hour and a half of stylish sci-fi action, despite there being room for theme exploration.
The most you could talk about in Dredd is everything regarding its effects and how it takes a more practical approach to being bloody and graphic. The use of slow-motion and the production design make for some good conversation, though the shallow plotting leaves a lot more to be desired. Karl Urban shows to be a good fit for the role of Dredd, even though we never see any of Urban's face above his mouth. Dredd's character relies on Urban having a dead-serious attitude, but that's not to say the movie is humorless. Dredd has a very dry sense of humor, and it never gets in the way of the action. While it won't be the most inspiring or entertaining sci-fi action film you'll ever see, Dredd makes for 95 minutes of solid amusement. Fans have been begging for a sequel for forever, and even though Travis has stated there would be no sequel, there are plenty of pieces in place for a sequel, should one ever surface.
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
Non-Stop is directed by Jaume Collet-Sera and stars Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore.
It's conventional wisdom that age catches up with you eventually. Your body can only function with youthful exuberance for so long before your hair starts going gray and your knees start to give out on you. Liam Neeson is someone who didn't get the memo. The man is in his mid 60's, but old age has yet to stop him from starring in action thrillers that require him to punch, kick, and fire a gun. Taken is likely to be the first movie that comes to mind if one were asked to name a Liam Neeson action film (let us not dare speak of the other two Taken films), though some might mention any one of the Neeson-Jaume Collet-Sera action films. There's enough of the Neeson-Sera action thrillers (I think four to be exact as of 2018) and they are all similar in at least one or two ways, that they basically lend themselves to become something of a subgenre, a subgenre in which Neeson portrays a troubled character that gets himself into some perilous dilemma, and once we figure out everything that's going on, the results are middling at best.
In Non-Stop, it's Neeson facing a perilous dilemma on an airplane. Neeson portrays air marshal Bill Marks, on his way from New York to London. After everyone boards and the plane takes off, Marks receives a text message from an unknown sender, telling Marks that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes, unless Marks transfers $150 million to a specified bank account. Marks takes various measures to try and identify the mysterious messenger, such as monitoring the plane's security cameras and alerting the TSA. Marks' aggressive behavior soon has the other passengers realizing that something is wrong, some even suspecting that Marks himself is behind the commotion.
Trying to describe other plot details would be flirting with spoilers, but regardless, it's all pretty shallow. You don't need to think too much to convince yourself that Non-Stop resembles a thriller more than a straight-up action film. The confined space of an airplane would make for a very cramped action movie, so the script, as it should, aims primarily for thrills.
- Non-Stop works best with its setup and its efforts in building suspense, maintaining itself as a guessing game for the majority of the run time and never being totally obvious about what is going on and who exactly is behind everything. The plot contains many wrinkles and finds a way to keep itself busy, which is something of an achievement because you can only do so much in the tight confines of an airplane that is in the midst of a flight. In other words, Non-Stop makes the most of its setting and avoids ever being downright boring.
- Oh, but then comes the film's third act, where we get a weak and confusing reveal of the secret text messenger, resulting in a total payoff dud. The film does not at all live up to the promise that it sets for itself early on, all the while throwing in some iffy CGI for the home stretch.
I want to praise Neeson, because he is certainly one of the film's strengths, but his character requires him to show a stern face and display a sorrowful demeanor, which isn't all that fun to watch. Fun is something I know the movie wants you to have, but you've come to the wrong place if you're expecting any kind of fun, wisecracking protagonist.
The quality of Neeson-Sera action thrillers are on a very narrow range from "not all that good" to "pretty good", and Non-Stop provides no counter-argument as to why it falls anywhere outside of that range. The thrills to be had in the film's first two-thirds are smushed by the implausible reveals and equally implausible events to be had in the film's final third. What you have with Non-Stop is fairly entertaining escapism, nothing more and nothing less. It's still disappointing in the sense that it could have been very rich escapism.
Recommend? If you can't decide on a movie to watch and need to kill a couple hours, this movie will do the trick.
Who let the dogs out?
Isle of Dogs is directed, written, and produced by Wes Anderson and stars the voices of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and F. Murray Abraham.
There's something about Isle of Dogs that I think is going over a lot of people's heads, something that doesn't specifically involve the film's obsessive attention to detail nor its excessively offbeat humor. It may sound like a bold claim, but I'm going to go with it anyway: Wes Anderson has created one of the greatest movies ever about dogs. By all means, Anderson avoids the pitfalls that too many other dog movies are prone to falling into, particularly the pitfall of excessive sentimentality. The likes of Marley & Me and A Dog's Purpose are shameless tearjerkers that strong arm you into bawling your eyes out, because they know you can't handle the sight of a dog dying before his/her owner(s), thereby creating a sort of artificial sentimentality that doesn't have the impact that it should had the sadness occurred more naturally.
Anyone who owns or has owned a dog knows that they can be very funny animals. How could you not laugh or at least smile at a dog passionately chasing his/her own tail or barking at something like a shadow? Of course, we know that dogs don't compile mental lists of things that they think are funny and things that they think are not funny. In fact, we can't be sure that dogs even understand the concept of humor on an abstract level, the fact that humor involves a clash between the conventional and the unconventional. In a way, all dogs possess a type of offbeat humor: dogs constantly do things that we think are silly, but the dogs don't know they are being silly, and therefore, can't display the type of emotion that we normally associate with someone who is being silly: goofy smiles and a face that reads, "please don't take seriously what I just did."
Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs is an appreciation of how dogs are man's best friend and a celebration of the type of bond that humans and dogs have developed throughout history. It isn't the least bit mawkish, even though several humans and dogs shed tears throughout the film. And it is Wes Anderson in all his glory, minute details all over the place and humor that perfectly matches that of a dog. You can't imagine how upset I was that I had to wait a few weeks after the film's limited March release, this being one of those film's that you see the trailer for and you immediately shout, "I must see that now!" In this day and age where movie trailers have become little more than white noise to me while sitting in a theater, waiting for the movie to start, Isle of Dogs' trailer was one of those rare gems that really grabbed my attention. I'm happy to report that my prior excitement was rewarded, because honestly, I can't say if there's going to be any film to be released over the summer movie season that will come close to topping this one.
Taking place in a dystopian near-future version of Japan, Isle of Dogs is about the efforts of twelve year-old Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), who is in search of his missing dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). An outbreak of dog flu spreads throughout the canine population of the city of Megasaki, leading to the newly elected Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) signing a decree to banish all dogs to Trash Island. Spots is the first dog to be banished to Trash Island, being dropped off while still locked in a cage. Six months after the decree is signed, Atari runs away from home, steals a plane and flies to Trash Island. Atari crash lands on the island, where he is greeted by a pack of five dogs: Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray), and Chief (Bryan Cranston). The dogs, except for Chief, a former stray, agree to help Atari in his search for Spots. Meanwhile back in Megasaki, a scientist named Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) believes he is close to finding a cure for the dog flu, while American transfer student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) suspects that a conspiracy is in the works, leading her to begin an investigation.
One major criticism that Isle of Dogs has received is issues regarding cultural appropriation, and that's a fair thing to call out, because the movie, for some reason, doesn't want to give its Japanese-speaking characters subtitles, but instead rely on English-speaking interpreters who convert the spoken Japanese language into simple English statements. In addition, the American exchange student Tracy has been accused of resembling a "white savior", a white hero who attempts to rescue a foreign land and its people from some cruel, treacherous plan. While all of this is almost impossible to ignore, you won't get the best experience you can with this film unless you can find a way to tune all of this stuff out. Why let cultural concerns ruin your viewing of a movie titled Isle of Dogs, and not something like Isle of Japan?
- Wes Anderson once again proves his talents with stop-motion animation, but what truly makes Isle of Dogs a sight to behold is the obsessive attention to detail. One measly viewing won't be enough for you to notice all of the things going on in several scenes, such as people and other objects moving in the background. If you've seen the film, did you notice how scenes from a dog's perspective are de-saturated with no shades of red or green? Because it's scientifically accurate that dogs are color blind? And if you wondering, no I didn't notice that myself until I found out from someone else, and I went back and re-watched the trailer to confirm.
Anderson also shows more of his unique visual style and how he's so talented at keeping your eyes busy, with techniques such as symmetrical compositions and several shots showing characters from a 90 degree angle, all the while making you pay close attention to not just what is going on in the center of the frame, but what else may be going on around the margins. Even if you give the plot or characters a thumbs down, you can't knock on how hard the production crew worked, designing the sets and models and making sure it all looks as beautiful as can be.
- Isle of Dogs has some issues with flashbacks, in the sense that flashbacks are placed at moments one would least expect a flashback to happen. The awkward placement of flashbacks results in the film's pacing and momentum getting thrown off: the film appears to be building up to a climactic moment, only for a flashback to happen and deflate the excitement. It's as if Wes Anderson is trying to take a more non-linear approach to the narrative, giving us bits of information that, when all put together, create the entire timeline. It unfortunately doesn't work for this movie and its story.
If you say the title enough times, Isle of Dogs starts to sound like "I love dogs", and the first thing you'll want to do after watching Isle of Dogs is to find your canine pal and give him/her a big hug. Bolstered by its major attention to detail and style, Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs is a treat for dog lovers young and old, and packs plenty of dry wit to bring hearty laughs along with the movie's sweet-centered soul. The voice cast for the dogs play their respective roles as if their character was their real-life doggy equivalent. And with so much going on in basically every scene, multiple viewings are an essential. Why don't others understand you don't need to yank at the heartstrings to make a good movie about dogs? I hope Wes Anderson has set a template for all future dog flicks.
Recommend? Yes, especially if you have a dog.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: