Monthly Archives: July 2018

Hot Rock

Dewayne Johnson Rocks Classic Disaster-Flick Mojo

Film Title: Skyscraper

Skyscraper
Starring Dwayne Johnson & Neve Campbell
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
PG-13

 

After leaving the wrestling ring for the silver screen more than a decade ago, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has confronted a battalion of beasties, bad guys and boogiemen on his way to becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest, most dependable box-office draws.

In his latest action-thriller, he channels the mojo of classic 1970s and ’80s big-screen disaster-epic, danger dramas, fighting to rescue his wife and kids from inside the world’s tallest hotel that’s been set on fire by terrorists.

In Skyscraper, Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former U.S. Marine and FBI hostage negotiator now working as a security consultant—the movie’s opening sequence shows us the tragedy, 10 years ago, that cost him half of a leg and made him vow to “lay down his sword.” Sawyer has just landed a plum assignment, overseeing all the security and safety systems for the Pearl, a new, high-tech, 240-story Hong Kong skyscraper that’s three times taller than the Empire State Building.

Film Title: Skyscraper

Chin Han

A news reporter breathlessly aligns the Pearl and its billionaire builder, Zhao Long (Chin Han), to humankind’s ancient “quest to reach the sky” and the construction of the biblical Tower of Babel. Hmmm—and that story didn’t turn out so well, did it?

Film Title: Skyscraper

Neve Campbell

Naturally, there’s a villain—a nest of them. Of course: They want something, and they’re willing to kill to get it. Of course: Sawyer’s wife (Neve Campbell, whose role becomes much more than just a spousal second banana) and two young kids are caught in the middle of it all. And, yes: Sawyer’s on the outside of the skyscraper, his family is inside, and everything’s on fire.

And Sawyer’s been framed for starting it!

Then things really get cooking.

“A 6.5-billion-dollar chimney,” proudly proclaims one of the terrorists as he disables the Pearl’s fire-safety systems, allowing the roaring blaze to spread throughout the tower.

All of this is just so much smoke, sizzle and setup, however, for what audiences really came to see: The Rock springing into action, flinging his wall of movie muscle against an obstacle as formidable as the tallest structure on the planet. Just to make things interesting—don’t forget—he’s only got one “good” leg.

And he’s on the wanted list of the entire Chinese police force, especially a couple of top cops (Bryon Mann and Elfina Luk) who are suspicious about why anyone would want to try to break in to a burning building.

Film Title: Skyscraper

But don’t ever bet against the Rock. And don’t overthink things or you’ll get caught up in the impossible physics of how a guy with a prosthetic leg can climb up the outside of a giant construction crane, smash a hole in the hotel—then leap into the air, pulling himself into the building by his fingertips…of one hand!

And I knew duct tape was pretty amazing stuff—but I never knew that, turned inside-out, it could help me cling to the outside of a building. (Not that I’ll be trying it, though!)

Film Title: Skyscraper

Roland Moller

Can Sawyer rescue his family, clear himself, turn the tables on the terrorists, especially their coldly vicious leader (Danish actor Roland M⦰ller, who also played bad-guy roles in The Commuter and Atomic Blonde)—and figure out why everyone is so nuts about a little bitty computer drive?

Neither a sequel nor a superhero saga—two of the most common big-screen options these days—this is the kind of gonzo, go-for-it standalone action movie that Hollywood typically doesn’t make anymore. Decades ago, it might have been a Bruce Willis movie, an Arnold Schwarzenegger romper-stomper or a Jean-Claude Van Damme flick. Skyscraper tips its tall, towering hat to those macho-movie icons of yesteryear, and to classic disaster-danger epics like The Towering Inferno, Die Hard and Cliffhanger.

It’s a sky-high stack of cheese, sure, but it’s pretty good cheese, especially for a lite summer snack. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber—whose resume includes Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and We’re The Millers, plus working with Johnson in the comedy Central Intelligence—keeps things moving briskly enough that there’s not really much time to dwell on the preposterous plot and sometimes stilted dialogue that pad the spaces between the Rock doing what everyone really comes to see the Rock do.

“This is stupid,” says Sawyer nervously as he heads out a smashed window of the Pearl, into the night and the wind, thousands of feet above the streets of Hong Kong, on one wild part of his crazy, life-risking mission. What sane person would, under any circumstance, ever do a thing like that? Sawyer knows it’s stupid. We know it’s stupid.

And the Rock knows it’s stupid—and exactly what we want to see, what we came to see, what has made him Hollywood’s $3.3 billion man.

So go on out that window, DJ, leap from that crane, dangle from that ledge with your fingertips—and Rock on!

In theaters July 13, 2018

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Honey, I Shrunk the Superhero

Paul Rudd & Evangeline Lilly Couple Up For Big Fun  

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Ant-Man and The Wasp
Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas and Michael Peña
Directed by Peyton Reed
PG-13

It’s easy for a character to get lost in the superhero shuffle, especially one as small as, well, an ant.

It’s hard to compete with the cosmic roar of Thor, the monstrous bulk of the Hulk or the red-white-and-blue rah-rah of Captain America—especially when you’re the size of an insect.

But Ant-Man earned his place in the Marvel movie lineup back in 2015, with a unique, breezy mix of humor and heroics, as we were introduced to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a petty thief mentored by a scientist (Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and a former member of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel’s top-secret espionage agency). Pym developed technology that could shrink things on a molecular level to teeny-tiny, or balloon them to giant size.

He trained Lang to become the new Ant-Man.

Lighter, leaner, more brisk and so much brighter than many of its weighty superhero-blockbuster counterparts, the frisky Ant-Man and the Wasp—as its title suggests—significantly adds a new main character to the mix…sort of. The Wasp is Hank’s daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, returning from the first film). Lilly, whom you’ll likely remember as the breakout castaway Kate on the TV series Lost, breaks out here as the first female character to ever get her name in the title of a Marvel movie.

nullBut Lilly’s Wasp wasn’t the first Wasp—that would be her mother, we’re reminded, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who shrank down so small, 30 years ago, she was absorbed into the “quantum realm” and could not return. Pym (Michael Douglas, also reprising his role) thinks Janet could still be alive, somewhere in there…out there. The new movie hinges on a plan for Lang, Pym and Van Dyne to engineer a way to retrieve her.

Sounds easy enough—especially for scientists and superheroes, right?

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Walton Goggins

It would be a lot easier if Lang wasn’t confined to his home, under house arrest—wearing an ankle bracelet and serving out his sentence for Ant-Man’s violation of world peace treaties, as depicted in Captain America: Civil War. Things are also complicated by the slick slime ball Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a black-market tech trafficker who sees dollar signs in Pym’s gizmos. Hannah John-Kamen (she was Ornela on Game of Thrones) is Ghost, a mysterious “villainess” with fearsome powers to phase-shift matter to pass through solid objects, and her own reasons for desperately needing to know Pym’s secrets of the quantum realm.

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Hannah John-Kamen

Michael Peña returns as Luis, Lang’s former cellmate, now running a struggling security firm and longing for a superhero suit of his own. Laurence Fishburne plays Bill Foster, Pym’s former colleague—and rival. Randall Park is Jimmy Woo, the hapless S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in charge of trying to keep tabs on Lang. Abby Ryder Fortson is adorable, once again, as Lang’s young daughter. Judy Greer play’s his ex-wife, and Bobby Cannavale is her cop fiancé.

Naturally, there’s the obligatory cameo by Stan Lee. And stay for the credits to see how everything ties into the bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, particularly how it links to Avengers: Infinity War.

It’s a lot—a lot of characters, a lot of plot, a lot going on. But the chemistry between Lilly and Rudd has real snap, crackle, pop, spark, sizzle and shine; it’s the bright dawn of a new superhero couple. And returning director Peyton Reed keeps the pathway clear for plenty of laughs as the action rips, zips and romps all over San Francisco—and all kinds of things keep shrinking, including automobiles and even an entire office building, which gets carted around like a rolling suitcase. There are some swell running jokes about closeup magic, a World’s Greatest Grandma trophy, undercarriage washes, truth serum and the fabled Slavic witch Baba Yaga.

nullEveryone will be able to relate to Lang’s comedic frustration when his Ant-suit goes on the fritz and he can’t control when it will zap him down to a speck or swell him up to a colossus. There’s a particularly funny scene when he gets shrunk down to kid-size in a school; in another, he’s a towering titan who uses a flatbed truck as a scooter.

Rudd, so adept at playing an everyman, is once again perfect for his part—a normal guy, a good guy who didn’t set out to be a hero, but who can’t imagine not doing the right thing. A guy constantly overwhelmed by all the gee-whiz science that allows him to do so many cool things, big and small—even if he doesn’t understand all the talk about quantum anomalies, quantum phasing, quantum spectrometers and quantum entanglement.

“Do you guys just put the word ‘quantum’ in front of everything?” he asks at one point.

No matter your size or your grasp of science or superheroes, Ant Man and the Wasp is pure quantum fun.

In theaters July 6, 2018

Full Court Press

NBA All Stars Go Old School in Basketball Buddy Comedy

Uncle Drew_group

Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson, Reggie Miller & Kyrie Irving play former basketball stars who reunite after three decades for a streetball tournament.

Uncle Drew
Starring Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery & Shaquille O’Neal
Directed by Charles Stone III
PG-13

Uncle Drew is a basketball comedy with its roots in television spots for Pepsi Max featuring the NBA’s Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics, disguised as an elderly man who schools younger players—or “youngbloods”—in pickup games.

The film takes that concept and runs with it, expanding the plot, adding a half-court of NBA all-stars and some Hollywood live wires.

After a faux ESPN 30 For 30 documentary intro—in which we learn that Uncle Drew was an NBA legend who mysteriously disappeared from the scene three decades ago, at the height of his fame and glory—we begin to meet the players.

UD_D028_20209.JPG

Lil Rel Howrey, Nick Kroll & Tiffany Haddish

Dax (Lil Rel Howery, from Tag and Get Out) is a hapless Foot Locker employer who loves basketball. But traumatized by a childhood buzzer-beater block on the court, he hasn’t been able to play the game since. So now he manages a team from the sidelines and dreams of winning a big annual streetball tournament—and $100,000—at Rucker Park in Harlem.

His gum-smacking, wisecracking nemesis, Mookie (Nick Kroll), thwarts him at every move, however. At the last minute, Mookie steals Dax’s star player, Casper (Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic), the rest of his team and his gold-digging girlfriend, Jess (Tiffany Haddish).

Dax is understandably crushed, but things begin to start looking up when he finds the fabled Uncle Drew, mopping up with a cocky youngblood on a playground court. Drew (again played by Irving) agrees to play for Dax’s team, under one condition—if he can bring along his old teammates.

So Dax and Drew set out on a road trip in Drew’s orange, shag-carpeted conversion van to collect Preacher (Chris Webber, who retired from the Golden State Warriors in 2008); Lights (Reggie Miller, the three-point maestro whose entire 18-year career was spent with the Indiana Pacers); Boots (Nate Robinson, the NBA’s first three-time slam-dunk champion); Betty Lou (former WNBA Los Angeles Sparks star Lisa Leslie); and Big Fella (the towering, 7’1” Shaquille O’Neal).

Of course, rounding everyone up is not so easy—and the team certainly doesn’t appear as sharp and game-ready as they were 30 years ago. Preacher, now a bona fide man of the cloth, has to sneak away from his church, and his wife, to play ball. Lights is legally blind. Boots is in a wheelchair—and a psychiatric ward.

Shaquille O'Neal as "Big Fella" in UNCLE DREW. Photo by Quantrell Colbert.

Big Fella (O’Neal) is a martial arts instructor in the Zen zone.

And Big Fella is in the Zen zone as a children’s martial arts instructor—with a mountain-sized grudge on his gigantic shoulders. “Without a good defense,” he tells his class of young students, “your offense means nothing.”

Can Dax and Drew get them all back in shape, and on board?

The big appeal is seeing all these big basketball stars in decades-deep disguise as geezers, then finally breaking out their hidden mojo on the court to show younger hotshot players how it’s done, old-school style—like an NBA edition of Undercover Boss. There’s plenty of humor as Dax and the players jib and jab each other, and basketball fans in particular will appreciate the inside jokes and zingers—Shaq and free throws, Webber’s character inquiring about time-outs.

Howery, Kroll and Haddish are all comedy pros, and the needle on the laugh-o-meter jumps whenever they’re on screen. Director Charles Stone III, whose other films include Drumline and the Bernie Mac baseball comedy Mr. 3000, keeps things light, lively and generally predictable while weaving in some sentimental messages about family, forgiveness and what it means to play a “good game.”

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Watch for J.B. Smoove and Mike Epps in small roles, and Erica Ash (who stars as Gwen Sullivan on the BET series In Contempt) as Boots’ granddaughter, Maya, who takes a romantic shine to Dax.

As “non-actors,” the b-ball players roll loose and easy with their parts, especially since they are performing underneath layers of makeup and latex prosthetics, wigs and gobs of glued-on grey facial hair. If there’s ever an award for Best Buns in a Hospital Gown by a Former NBA All Star, well, Shaq’s a shoo-in for a nomination.

Uncle Drkew isn’t a cinematic slam dunk, but it’s a surprisingly solid basketball buddy flick that plays by the rules, shoots for laughs, and scores—especially for sports fans.

In theaters June 29, 2018