Rampage Review: My Monkey and Me: A Dwayne Johnson Story

Rampage, loosely based off the arcade game by the same name, was just about everything I expected from the sloppy trailers. That being a generic (yet overly complex) plot involving a gorilla, mixed with hokey acting from the entire cast (especially Dwayne Johnson), all leading up to a forty-minute fight resulting in the destruction of the city.

If the film was truly committed to only being this typical, big-budget action movie, then why not go all the way with it? The audience is introduced to many unnecessary side characters, villains, and plot details that only hinder the true intention of Rampage. That being to get a giant gorilla, lizard, and wolf into a big city and have them destroy everything in sight. And since the main point of Rampage was to accomplish this, it would’ve been better to have the entire film be one enormous fight sequence. The audience viewing this doesn’t care how the monsters get into the city, only that there is destruction and action abundant in the product.

Yet, Rampage couldn’t even get this simple idea right. The film holds the audience hostage for an hour before the real action begins, trying to mimic films like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the Godzilla remake. Except where those movies had a little class and excitement attached to them, Rampage just assaults moviegoers with “stuff”. Boring, nonsensical, stuff.

Rampage was right on the money in terms of my expectations, except it was somehow even lazier than anticipated. It wears all the tropes of bloated action movies shamelessly on its sleeves, making no attempt to put a creative twist on conventional storytelling. Sometimes it’s funny how poorly glued together the film is, however it’s mostly just painful and predictable to watch. The most enjoyable part of the film is Dwayne Johnson’s relationship with the gorilla named George, which occasionally dipped into bad touch territory. Although, goofy scenes like this are frequently offset by large buildings being destroyed, wounded people emerging from the wreckage, and smoke and rubble everywhere. Naturally taking my mind to places I would rather not think about when watching a movie about Dwayne Johnson and a gorilla.

If you like the explosions, the destruction, and the PG-13 violence and swearing, then by all means get your fix with Rampage. Anyone looking for a little more meat to their movies will have to check elsewhere.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

A Quiet Place Review

With the simple tagline of, “If they hear you, they hunt you”, actor John Krasinski (The Office) stars in and directs the new hit thriller A Quiet Place.

After some indescribable, extraterrestrial event, Earth becomes ravaged by a race of monstrous creatures with no ability to see but possess supersonic hearing. Those still alive, including the Abbott family (made up of John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, and various child actors), have learned to adopt a nearly silent lifestyle. This involves complex, sand-laden trails, using sign language to communicate (which is to the Abbotts’ benefit since their daughter is already deaf), and even marking spots on hardwood floors that creak the least. In a world where coughing could mean imminent danger, how long can the Abbott’s’ survive?

The way A Quiet Place presents its simple plot and contextual information is a bit passé, and panders to viewers with no concept of subtlety. Rather than showing us how the monsters are deaf and nearly indestructible, the film tells us with overused tropes. Like the overreliance of old newspapers to convey past events. A Quiet Place even resorts to showing the audience a dry-erase board of notes Lee has in his basement, which outlines everything the viewer should know by that point in time. The only way the film would’ve been more on the nose is if John krasinski looked directly at the camera and read the script.

I found this quite strange because everything else in the film was conveyed through the actions of our protagonists, as it should be. Krasinski, Blunt, and all the child actors gave incredibly expressive performances, capturing their struggle of survival very well.

For this reason, moviegoers don’t need spoon-fed exposition, especially when the excellent performances are already communicating everything necessary. Spelling out details you already visually told the audience is needlessly handicapping the storytelling capabilities of your movie, as well as treating me like an idiot.

Other than the first major scare of the film (which introduces the terrifying monsters that will inhabit the rest of the flick), many of the scares were accompanied by the typical Hollywood trope of a loud and obnoxious sound. Frequently used as a lazy tactic to startle rather than scare the audience, even smart horror movies like A Quiet Place fall into the trappings of their inept peers.

There’s one moment that I found particularly frustrating where Evelyn (Emily Blunt’s character) becomes injured in the basement. After alerting her family that she’s in danger, Evelyn limps over to the staircase where she is surprised by the sudden appearance of a monster. This is a perfect setup to frighten the audience. Our complete and undivided focus is on the already injured Evelyn, and not about the possibility of a well-timed scare.

Yet, to my dismay, this scare is accompanied with a loud screeching noise, one that was inessential to the scene. What was supposed to make me fearful and uneasy of the coming moments just angered me instead.

Thankfully the film switches its gears about halfway through, turning into an intense thrill ride full of real tension and horror. No more sudden jumps accompanied with a loud pang of music. We alternatively get tense moments that effectively unsettle and excite the audience, both with strong payoffs.

My few issues with the film aren’t to say that I disliked A Quiet Place, as I found it to be a vastly entertaining and clever modern horror flick, albeit a few self-handicapping aspects that held the film back from being anything more. The most powerful aspect of the film was definitely when the climax hit, where the film turned into a nonstop thriller with great tension in each scene. The performances were all around fantastic, further displaying the acting range (and directing capabilities) of John Krasinski. The central topic (or gimmick, if you will) of A Quiet Place reminds me a lot of the 2016 horror film Don’t Breathe, both of which I believe utilize this concept to the best of their ability.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Isle of Dogs Review

After the critical success of his 2009 film Fantastic Mr. Fox, Director Wes Anderson decided to give animation another go with another smashing hit titled Isle of Dogs.

In a (hopefully) distant future, dogs have become the societal scapegoat of Japanese culture. Suffering from overpopulation, dog flu, and numerous other ailments, the Japanese government chooses to exile all dogs in the country to Trash Island. A very literal name for an island formed completely out of garbage.

Here we enter the twelve-year-old orphan Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), who manages to travel to the island in search of his banished dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). Along his journey Atari meets a gang of dogs on the island, led by a particularly stubborn dog named Chief (Bryan Cranston). As Atari and his new friends attempt to locate Spots, they must avoid capture by the Japanese government, who seeks to end the canine problem once and for all.

Everything about Isle of Dogs is in some way fast-paced. The quippy jokes, bizarre exposition, and hasty story all come shooting at the viewer like lightning, surely catching many by surprise. Even the speed of the animation itself felt like someone backstage hit the fast-forward button before the film began. All the characters move with such immediacy and deliberateness that it captivates the viewer almost automatically.

This is in no way a hindrance to Isle of Dogs and is in part why this film works so well. The quickly dished out jokes give it a distinct, dry sense of humor; and the exposition is rushed simply because there’s so much to get through. Nonetheless, it doesn’t throw you through a hoop and the backstory is actually quite fascinating.

The rapid animation, coupled with Wes Anderson’s unique style and imagery, keeps the story moving in even its slowest points. While Isle of Dogs is mostly stop motion, many of the shots are set up to appear on a two-dimensional plane. And when the camera and characters do slow down, it nicely emphasizes that the scene you’re watching is important. Usually this is done to build the relationship between Atari and Chief and is actually very effective.

So, with that in mind, it isn’t hard to believe that the characters that inhabit Isle of Dogs are incredibly memorable. Each with a unique voice performance from many prominent actors and actresses. A few of the most noticeable voices were Bill Murray, Bryan Cranston, and Edward Norton, who all acted so delightfully you’d have thought they were born to voice a bunch of dogs.

This canine dystopia is, first and foremost, intriguing fun. Telling a heartwarming story about man’s best friend and poking harmless fun at totalitarianism all in the process. The minimal use of music, clever storytelling, and crystal-clear vision of Anderson make for an unforgettable film experience.

I had an exceptionally great time watching Isle of Dogs and will surely return to watch it again.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

My Neighbor Totoro Review

After my review of Spirited Away back in 2017 (my most popular post to date, mind you), I immediately decided I wanted to review my second favorite Studio Ghibli movie My Neighbor Totoro. An animation studio that, to the extent of my knowledge, never made a bad film. As you can guess, this goal has been postponed, ignored, and procrastinated for a very long time. Finally, after over a year of slowly chipping away at this article, I feel I can competently and properly review this wonderful film.

My Neighbor Totoro follows two young girls named Satsuke and Mei, as they move to the rural countryside of Japan with their father. Together they settle into their home, awaiting their mother who’s ill at the hospital. Satsuke and Mei, full of curiosity, come across a group of good-natured spirits while exploring their new home. Most notable of these spirits is the lovable fan favorite Totoro, a snuggly and plush creature who leisurely roams the nearby forest.

My Neighbor Totoro is the kind of film that you could mute the dialogue and still understand everything occurring on-screen, while also having an enriching experience. The beautiful hand-drawn animation is abundant with warm, welcoming characters and relaxing watercolor skies, lulling the viewer into a sense of contentment. The magic of Ghibli’s animation maintains a well-deserved reputation for being immaculate, and it continues to delight me to this day.

On a purely storytelling level, Ghibli films often just “go with the flow”. There’s no predictable three act structure that audiences groan at because they know precisely what will happen next. We’re merely along for the ride, traveling through a myriad of dream-like sequences of awe-inspiring music and pleasant visuals.

This way of storytelling makes films like Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, and My Neighbor Totoro so memorable. They stand out from the massive amounts of animated white noise that’s pumped out every year.

Years ago, the late film critic Roger Ebert noted how My Neighbor Totoro represents the perfect kind of world to live in. One without villains, conflict, or any sort of antagonist conceivable. Not only do I agree with this sentiment, I think it is key to what makes My Neighbor Totoro such a lovably relatable flick.

It’s an exploration into childlike wonder, taking you back to a simpler time of bliss. No need for bad guys in a peaceful reflection of childhood, only the curiosity and imagination you wish you still had.

My Neighbor Totoro is a family-fun masterpiece of the highest quality. There’s a reason Totoro remains so popular with audiences of all ages, garnering a cult following that only seems to get bigger as time wears on. And if there’s anything that time won’t wear on, it’s Totoro, which I believe will remain timeless and relevant for generations to come.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Ready Player One Review

The amazing thing about nostalgia is that, at one point or another, all of us feel it. Whether it’s watching a favorite childhood movie (like Back to the Future) or plugging in a long-forgotten video game (like GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64), everybody loves reminiscing. And never has this love for nostalgia and pop cultural ever been taken to such a level as Steven Spielberg’s latest blockbuster film, Ready Player One.

In the dystopian future of 2045, life has become so bleak that everyone plugs in and tunes out into a virtual reality video game known as the OASIS. In OASIS, anyone can assume the avatars of any creature, being, or pop culture related character, living the life they wish they could in reality. After the creator of this VR technology dies, a rat race ensues for a hidden Easter egg he placed inside the game. The first one who finds it receives not only untold riches, but the deed to the OASIS itself.

Enter our main character Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young orphan who’s become very good at the game, who looks to find the Easter egg first. With the help of his friends Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe), they hope to save OASIS (and possibly the world) from a tyrannical company called IOI. All of our heroes learning true friendship, acceptance, and bravery in the process.

Ready Player One is chock-full of easily marketable nostalgic properties of some of the most iconic games and movies. The Iron Giant, Overwatch, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Street Fighter, the works. If you can name it (and it existed between 1980 and 2000), it was probably included in the movie.

The environment the characters inhabit (a pivotal piece to the film) is bleak and hopeless, especially once it’s contrasted with the slick, awe-inspiring creativity of the OASIS. The imagery is often colorful and attractive to the eye, and the many situations our protagonists come across test the imaginative boundaries of this world.

One scene that really caught my eye was the ten-minute sequence dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic The Shining, in which our main characters must travel through iconic scenes of the film in search of a hidden key. We see great homages to a great horror movie done in ways that could be described as funny, scary, and intense.

It’s well known that Spielberg was a friend of Kubrick and envied his unique directing style. The same could also be said for Kubrick, who wished he could make a mass-appealing family adventure flick like Spielberg but died before he could make that a reality. Well in Ready Player One Spielberg seamlessly weaves The Shining into his family-friendly action flick. A wonderful tribute to a wonderful director.

It’s this kind of care and affection that Spielberg has for his audience and fellow filmmakers that makes Ready Player One work on such a phenomenal level. Running the plot and technicalities of this film through my head, I came to the conclusion that this shouldn’t work. Such a mashup of pop culture should be, quite frankly, stupid; pandering to a small demographic of people who obsess over this sort of thing. Yet Spielberg pulled it off, effectively making the film both fast-paced and exciting for all audiences.

The film does come across its share of minor hiccups along the way. For example, a plethora of exposition is dumped on the audience throughout the first thirty minutes; so much so that some information is actually repeated twice. A lot of this backstory knowledge didn’t need explaining and could’ve easily been shown to the audience rather than told.

Another criticism is actually the main lead of Wade Watts, again played by Tye Sheridan. Sheridan fairs much better as a voice actor rather than live-action, as his expressions aren’t particularly strong or convincing.

This doesn’t damper the overall spirit of the film, which gets its messages across in a firm but gentle way. Escapism can be great and help us to connect and foster relationships with distant people. But as the creator of The OASIS nicely puts it, eventually we all need to face reality, as it’s the only place to get a decent meal.

There’s even potential commentary on the politics behind gaming, microtransactions, and advertising. Sometimes it’s clever and thought provoking, other times it’s so heavy-handed that I kind of relished it.

Ready Player One transcends fanboyism and taps into a wide audience of eagerly nostalgic individuals. At points it goes too far with the pop culture references, and sometimes it’s subtler (like a beloved television character who passes by in the background). I believe Ready Player One meets in the middle and fulfills the desires and expectations of a variety of moviegoers.

For the uptight contrarians who feel that this is mindless and of poor quality, perhaps you should wait outside the theaters playing Ready Player One. There, you can greet the multitudes of well-satisfied fans (young and old) to state your antagonistic case.

For what it’s worth, I had a marvelous time watching Ready Player One and truly believe that there’s something for everybody in it. It’s fast-paced, touching, and all-around fascinating, and I hope others can take as much pleasure from it as I have.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

Young Frankenstein Review

During the month of October, I had the incredible experience of viewing Mel Brook’s 1974 comedy classic Young Frankenstein on the big screen. Sitting in an almost completely empty theater, I watched in admiration as one of my favorite actors played out one of his most famous roles, just as people did in 1974.

The story, a comedic spoof based on various film adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, focuses in on the well-educated medical doctor Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder). Frederick discovers that he has just inherited the Transylvania castle of his famous grandfather, who conducted experiments in attempts to reanimate the dead. Initially hesitant, Frederick decides to recreate his grandfather’s experiments with the help of an unlikely group of odd individuals.

If there exists a film that is so universally hailed as comedic and undeniably hilarious, then it was probably directed by Mel Brooks. Brooks utilizes every level of humor to its fullest effect, whether it be simple slapstick or a subtler humor that takes a couple of viewings to fully appreciate.

Discussing humor can be a difficult and daunting task, partly because of the subjective nature of comedy. There are only so many ways that I can say a scene from Young Frankenstein is funny, and only so many ways I can say entire films made in its image are not. Yet, with that established, I believe Young Frankenstein to be comedic genius. Brooks takes a beloved source material and handles it with such care, delicacy, and most of all, lunacy.

Pondering such questions as, “What if Igor was in denial that he had a hump?” Or even, “What if Frankenstein’s monster meeting the blind man had a more comedic punch to it?” It’s questions like these that any individual can conjure up in their heads, but only Brooks has the audacity to carry it out on the big screen.

Playing the role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Gene Wilder gives what I would argue the best performance of his career. The frantic ravings and occasional lunacy of a mad scientist in denial about his family heritage is about as outlandish as imaginable, and Wilder fits the bill. Not only that, he becomes the character, going beyond the call of duty to give the audience an unforgettable experience. And is it surprising for me to say that whenever I hear somebody talk about Frankenstein, I first think of this movie, rather than the Universal classic?

One can hardly forget the enigmatic supporting cast, who help make this lovely masterpiece what we know it as today. My personal favorite would be Igor (Marty Feldman), a dimwitted wisecracker with a knack for making the situation worse. Something about Igor has always appealed to me unlike anyone else in the film. His onscreen presence alone is enough to elicit hysterical laughter from yours truly.

Young Frankenstein is a film I re-explore at least once a year, typically around the Halloween season, and for good reason. It’s listed as one of the greatest comedies of all time by the American Film Institute (14th), Bravo TV (56th), Rolling Stone (5th), and was even selected for the Library of Congress National Film Registry. It’s a beloved masterpiece that will hopefully be respected by moviegoers for years to come.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

 

Pacific Rim: Uprising Review

Pacific Rim Uprising is the same as its predecessor in every way, only two steps in a worse direction.

It takes place ten years after the conclusive events of Pacific Rim, only now there is a new enemy that threatens humanity. We focus in on out semi-main protagonist Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), who was once a promising soldier now turned to a life of crime. But, when giant evil robots and monsters return for round 2, Pentecost must return to pilot his giant robot and save the day. At least, that’s the general gist of what’s going on.

The biggest fundamental flaw with the film is that the characters are poorly written and don’t fit with this story. Never are they charming, funny, or even relatable. They just felt like people in a film studio doing stuff. Their personalities were the cookie cutter stereotypes done in the most clichéd way imaginable. There was the tough military guy played by Scott Eastwood, as well as the cool rebellious dude, who felt more like he was playing a discount John Boyega rather than the real John Boyega. And who can forget the sciency guy who speaks in intellectual jargon and looks like a coked-out Willem DaFoe.

All together, they try their best to give audiences as bland and forgettable of an experience as science fiction can possibly allow.

The climax does provide us with the robots vs. monsters fight we were promised, albeit not as stylish or exciting as the previous film. Maybe it was the unconvincing CGI effects, or perhaps the exhaustion from the last ninety minutes setting in. Whatever the case, this action sequence wasn’t nearly as intense or rousing as it should’ve been.

Those pulling the strings of Pacific Rim Uprising seemed too preoccupied with turning this into the next summer blockbuster franchise. Little effort was put into characterization and overly complex story, resulting in a hodgepodge of sci-fi nonsense that rivals the intelligence of Transformers 5Pacific Rim Uprising is just fine for those who want to watch a monster get beat up for twenty minutes, so long as they’re willing to sit through ninety minutes of gibberish to get there.

Pacific Rim was a big, dumb, exciting action movie. This one was just dumb.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint