Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Dwayne Johnson”

San Andreas

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 31st May 2015

This excellent disaster movie caters to the voyeur in us all – or, at least, those of us who were spared the nightmarish experience of our recent homegrown earthquakes – by giving us front-row seats at the spectacular large-scale devastation of California.

Thankfully, holding our hand and saving the day is Dwayne Johnson, one of Hollywood’s most reliable action heroes and an actor of surprising nuance. San Andreas is elevated further above the genre by the canny casting of Paul Giamatti (once Sideways, now everything of note) and a surprisingly good alumnus of Home and Away, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, who dons a fine English accent and helps to break the film out of being just another American-feeling movie about America getting pummelled. (There are Welsh and British actors in the ensemble, too, and even a strange cameo from an Aussie popstar – a sign Hollywood is becoming pleasingly cosmopolitan.)

Despite the bog-standard disaster set-up (devoted divorced dad who works for Fire & Rescue; ex-wife moving on; plucky daughter in tight jeans), the action is absolutely thrilling from Go to Whoa. A terrifically nail-biting opener sets the scene for nearly two hours of literally jaw-dropping moments as San Francisco and Los Angeles take a beating from Mother Nature. Better yet, Giamatti’s seismologist harbinger delivers his doom-ridden clichés with a straight face and absolute commitment – a tone also carried by Johnson even as he is established as the bicep-bulging hero who’s “Just doing my job”.

The subject is one which may sit a little close to home for New Zealand audiences, but while one isn’t gloating at the American devastation, it’s impossible not to feel awe. Usefully, Giamatti reminds us to “Drop, Cover, Hold” as he pulls a colleague away from the doorframe and under a table. (Thank goodness the movies can teach us something.)

Doing exactly what it says on the tin, San Andreas is hugely exciting and utterly enjoyable. Better just make sure you’ve got that tin-opener in your civil defence kit.

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Fast & Furious 7

In case you thought we didn’t need another Fast & Furious movie, particularly after the laughable London escapades of the last one – because, honestly, how many times can you shoot a street race with straight-faced drivers, burning rubber and long-legged lasses until it gets tired? – well, how wrong you were.

Vin Diesel and his crew are back, this time fighting the avenging brother of Fast & Furious 6’s victim who is played by a typically po-faced Jason Statham whom we meet leaving an hilarious trail of destruction in his angry wake. Deckard Shaw (great name!) is a “legitimate English bad-ass” with boundless energy and a Terminator-like tenacity, who duly travels to several ends of the Earth in pursuit of Diesel’s Toretto and his pals, to even the score.

The relatively young and undeniably talented James Wan has taken the directorial reins for number seven, his first comparatively benign movie in a career of torture porn and supernatural horror (we have him to thank/blame for Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring). With Furious 7 he delivers thrills in spades, bouncing the gang across the globe from London to LA to Abu Dhabi in an action movie which is more Mission Impossible than petrol-head. Wan alternates the franchise’s signature car chases with brutal fights amidst revolving camerawork, including a Bechdel-approved all-female bash-up. There is an exhilarating race across unbarriered clifftops, a new take on skydiving and an incredibly well-executed rescue mission which is financed by the obligatory “old man comeback” character, (here played by a craggy Kurt Russell).

The usual suspects are all present and accounted for, although as the death scenes kick off early in the movie there is much foreshadowing of “Just no more funerals, OK?” as Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Ludacris reprise their roles from the previous films. Proving his intelligence quotient, Wan has also cast Oscar-nominated Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator) as the baddy who is out to control the world (because one guy avenging his brother’s death isn’t enough for one movie).

But viewers will be mostly watching Paul Walker, looking for cracks in the wallpapering that was inevitable following his tragic death mid-production (not on set, but still ironically in a car accident).

Well, the cover-up is seamless, thanks to Walker’s brothers having body-doubled some scenes and our very own Weta Digital believed to have composited the late actor’s face into shots. Furthermore, the movie manages to address his future absence in a surprisingly appropriate and moving fashion.

Two years ago, the Fast franchise looked like it might have stalled. Now, it’s echoing James Bond with its renewed vigour and cinematic panache. Let’s hope they keep Wan in the driver’s seat for number eight.

Pain & Gain

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 11th August 2013

Whoa, whoa, whoa! I know I’ve been singing the praises of Dwayne Johnson lately, and I usually give Mark Wahlberg a pretty long leash, but they both need to stop and take a deep breath before picking up another script.

Michael “Explosions” Bay is to blame for directing this outrageous piece of utter drivel, shot like an over-produced music video and written like a 12-year old boy’s underdeveloped fantasy.

Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a “fitness evangelist” whose idea of the American dream is steal it off somebody who’s already made it. He teams up with a daft Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau) and an even stupider The Rock, and the trio of buffoons embark on what was probably pitched as a comedy of errors, but plays out like someone held a gun to Bay’s head and said “Make ’em laugh”.

Far from being funny, the film is laughably awful – as grotesque in its physical cruelty (tortured victims are then graphically run over; bodies are hacked and limbs burned) as it is in its misogyny (it’s all boobs and “bitches”), its “ironic” racism, tired mockery of Christianity and even its passing disrespect of dwarves. About the only person who gets through unscathed is Australian comedienne Rebel Wilson. Otherwise most characters are repulsive, failing to amuse as they rattle off whip-fast lines that ought to get a giggle except they’re missed as the action jump-cuts from the nonsensical to the tedious.

OK, so the film is beautifully photographed and… well, that’s it.

But tonally, the film is a mess. Like those children’s flip-books where you composite a body from mismatched parts, Pain & Gain looks stunning, sounds crass and thinks it’s a comedy without even scraping the Tarantinian heights required to successfully mingle wit with violence. Bay wastes his otherwise talented cast (even Ed Harris is in there) in a film that rates even lower than Battleship. While that film was lame, Pain & Gain is actually objectionable. That it is based on a true story is distasteful enough but its execution is 50 shades of pointless.

Fast & Furious 6

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 26th May 2013

Not wanting to waste more of your time than will be sucked up by the two and a bit hour running time, here’s a brief rundown (pun intended) of the latest Fast & Furious flick.

Chase one: before the opening titles. First clichéd line: “I got you five minutes with this guy”. “I only need two”. Cue: massive punch-up.

Second cliché: the baddies are (wait for it) – British! The live in “Lundun”. You know, the London where foxy South American women wear tiny skirts to illegal street races and fellow road-users get out of your way. That London.

But for some reason Dwayne Johnson’s CIA agent Hobbs has jurisdiction in Britain, so he enlists the help of a gang of exiled crims (led by Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and the usual suspects) to help him track down, and possibly hurt a little, the head baddie played by Luke Evans (who has until now mostly been in silly, thuggish films, and shows no sign of branching out).

The womenfolk fall into two categories: the unrealistically understanding girlfriends who give their menfolk permission to go off and find presumed-dead ex-girlfriends and slip back into a life of crime; and actual fighters like Gina Carano who is incredible and only has to suffer slight indignities like Hobbs saying “Woman, you keep that up and I’ll be out of a job”. Oh, and a baddie who looks like Galadriel.

Car chases, fights, deadpan delivery of stock lines, car chases, betrayal, a twist (ooh!), sadness, and then a completely inappropriate group prayer when it’s all over.

And apparently there’s going to be a seventh.

SNITCH

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 12 May 2013

Dwayne Johnson hasn’t traditionally been one of my favourite movie stars (I’m more of an Edward Norton girl) but I’ll be adding “The Rock” to my list of Must-Sees on the strength of this action-thriller.

Johnson – I just can’t call him Dwayne, no matter how talented or rugged he is – stars as John Matthews, an ordinary guy whose banal name belies the awesomeness with which he leaps to his son’s aid and goes undercover to hunt down a drug-dealer.

Playing slightly against type, Johnson isn’t a gun-toting mercenary but a hard-working business owner who gives ex-cons a second chance and just wants a better relationship with his child. When the son is implicated in a crime with huge repercussions, dad approaches the hard-nosed District Attorney – an excellent Susan Sarandon, off the ropes after that dreadful turn in Arbitrage – to propose a deal: he’ll bring down the crims if his boy can come home.

The film is directed by Ric Roman Waugh, whose nearly 50 films as a stuntman preceded his foray into writing/directing, notably 2008’s Felon, which trod the similar path of an ordinary man forced into a criminal situation in the protection of his family. Impressively, the high production values and Fuqua-esque (Training Day) aesthetic are matched by solid performances from Benjamin Bratt and Barry Pepper (immediate redemption delivered after the deplorable Broken City). There is even a cameo by a favourite actor from The Wire, just to prove this movie’s got street-cred.

Moreover, the moral dilemma at the film’s heart sees not one but two men forced into a predicament that threatens to destroy the life each has built on the right side of the law. It’s brash, unsubtle but nonetheless thrillingly played.

G I Joe: Retaliation

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 31st March 2013

Brought to you by Hasbro, the toymakers whose alpha response to Barbie’s Ken has morphed into a fully-fledged upholder of the Free World, G I Joe: Retaliation starts off like an mediocre Transformers movie – a team of soldiers gets the band back together in order to ward off the threat of nuclear terror at the hands of their adversaries.

The unfunny but warmhearted banter between Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Channing “We’re not in Step-Up anymore” Tatum keeps things light in between explosions and gun-play, but once the team has been smashed and burned and things get serious, the film jolts into life. A subterranean prison, some political manipulation and a cameo by Action-Man Bruce Willis all inject what could be a by-numbers sequel with great energy and some very watchable sequences.

Director Jon M. Chu has performed an impressive move himself, coming fresh to this action behemoth from directing a string of dance and concert movies. Naturally, therefore, the fight scenes are done well, but nothing I have seen in recent memory beats the incredible mountain-top (rather, mountain-face) choreography of one sensational set-piece. This revenge tale was one worth making.

 

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