Skyscraper

Do you all remember when action films were being described as a variation of “Die Hard”? You know, “Speed is “Die Hard” on a bus, and “Under Siege” is “Die Hard” on a boat, or the ultimate variation, “Die Hard” on Air Force One. Well it would be redundant to describe this as “Die Hard” in a building, that’s what “Die Hard” was all by itself. Instead, lets call this “Die Hard” in the “Towering Inferno” because that is a lot more specific. Don’t think that the film makers didn’t realize what they were doing either, because they clearly intended us to call back to those other films.

So do you see any resemblance in the marketing of these films?  The key art folks who created the posters certainly did.

This is a bone rattling, eye popping, eardrum shattering popcorn film that should meet the needs of all the adrenaline junkies looking for their next fix.   It is a well put together piece of nonsense that doesn’t have to make any sense, it just has to fulfill the expectations for this genre of film. In case you are wondering, here is a partial list of tropes that make this sort of film a “Die Hard” experience:

1. Right Man in the Wrong Place

2. A Family endangered

3. A Violent Crime occurring during the disaster

4. A Loathsome Villain

5. Duplicitous Character

6. Skeptical Police

7. Over the Top Action Sequences

8. A satisfying comeuppance for the bad guys

9. Faith Restored in the Hero

When you have Dwayne Johnson in your film, you are pretty certain to have the right man. “The Rock” as he continues to be referred to, delivers the charisma in big chunks and he gets to be a better actor with each film he makes. When that brief cameo of Arnold showed up in “The Rundown”, it really did serve as a passing of the torch to a new generation of action hero. The Rock has lived up to his part of the bargain, choosing roles that fit him for the most part, with occasional comedy misfires like “Baywatch“. I’ve not yet seen this years “Rampage”, with the giant animals, but I suspect it fits into the same category as this.

The endangered family include Neve Campbell. I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything since “Scream 4”, although I’m sure she works regularly somewhere. I thought she was a nice fit as Johnson’s wife, a Doctor with a military background. She doesn’t have to do too much that would require her background include SEAL training, for the most part she is a competent mother. caring for her kids in a desperate situation. The kids have a little personality but they are not an annoying focal point as you see too often in these film,s.

The fire in the building is created as a way to get access to a macguffin, which turns out to be a flash drive with important information on it [It doesn’t matter so don’t worry what it is].  The building itself is described more than it is shown in the lead up to the events that form the spine of the story. We get enough to be impressed with the imagination and engineering, but it might have been more interesting to get a tour of more of the building before disaster arrives.

The bad guy is less satisfying than he ought to be. That is not the fault of the actor Roland Moller. He has one scene where he can inject a little bit of performance, but mostly he has to snarl through the film. There is not any trading of quips as if he is Hans Gruber, he is just another Germanic thug with an agenda. We also get two characters who are not what they seem. You will not have any trouble spotting them early on. The telltale hesitations and the insistent advise they provide gives away their secret agenda to the audience without much work on our part.

The cops in this Asian city are like cops in NY or LA. They are quick to make assumptions, and late to the party. They also require the assistance of both the hero and his spouse.

There are plenty of action scenes in the movie, including a solid fight sequence and some car chases. The criminals shoot everyone, so obviously there is violence but the amount of blood is sparse. What is not hard to come by in this movie is fire. Johnson has so many scenes running through, jumping over and being chased by fire and explosions, that he is lucky he did not singe his beard to go with the shaved head. The highlight is of course the leap from a crane, into the burning title character. While it is visually spectacular, they over do some of the fingertip moments so that they lose a little tension sometimes.

We of course are spoiler free on this site, so I won’t do anything with the resolution except say that it is not a surprise, and it minimally meets our wants for this kind of film. This movie will probably not end up a go to film for anyone, but it won’t be something you turn off if you run across it on your TV or cable channel. As for streaming, it’s had to say what demand there will be for it, but if you are a fan of “The Rock”, it will sit nicely between “San Andreas” and any of the “Fast and Furious” movies.

 

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Mama Mia! Here We Go Again

Maybe it’s because I am a child of the Seventies, or that I have always loved movies with singing, or just that it is Summer-time, but I thoroughly enjoyed “Mama Mia !”, and now I will repeat that experience with the totally unnecessary but still fun sequel. “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again” has no depth, it is frequently campy beyond description and there are some songs that just don’t do much for you. So What? It is also visually inventive and gorgeous to look at, it has a two to one ratio of good ABBA songs to mediocre ABBA songs, and it is full of pretty people who all look like they are having a blast making fools of themselves.

The  marketing department that choose to release this in the middle of the summer, probably will re responsible for half the take at the box office. This is a movie that works because it is so light and insubstantial that your head will not hurt from trying to think about plot lines or what dialogue you should be paying attention to. Like a revue show on the Vegas stage, or an RKO or MGM musical from the golden age, this film story makes little sense and doesn’t matter. What you really want is to hear the songs and see the choreography. There are a few repeats from the first film of musical selections but the staging is all new and there were plenty of ABBA songs to fill out a second film, although some of them are justifiably obscure.

Once again the setting is primarily in the seas off of Croatia, and the landscape is spectacular. Anyone who has every taken a vacation somewhere and asked themselves when they were leaving the location, “How could I live here, what can I do to make that happen?, knows how the beauty of a place can transfix you. On film, you can also control the lighting and angles to make it even more attractive, and so this production does. Now to insure that people will really like what they are seeing, you fill the movie with lovely young women, who have romantic crushes and flings with handsome young men. When you race forward to present day, the young women and men are now old but they are vibrant and handsome in their advanced states.  Lily James and Amanda Seyfried are glowing, longhaired blonde pixie dream girls. They may lack the requisite mania to make the characters the stock issue in other films, but their smiles and enthusiastic singing are the stuff of summer romances. The young men who are cast as the youthful counterparts to Pierce Brosnon, Stellan Starsgard and Colin Firth, are effectively familiar and they carry most of the load when it comes to singing, so we only get snatches from their less tuneful older versions.

Director Ol Parker makes the film flow smoothly with inventive staging that frequently suggests his theatrical roots. As we bounce back and forth from 1979 to today, there are transitions using back to back walls, images appearing in mirrors and actions that begin with one set of characters but finish with the other set. Maybe they are not completely new inventions but they work well at moving things along and keeping the energy of the story from lagging too much. Anthony Van Laast put the dance sequences together in a vigorous manner that may lack the grace of a Busby Berkley extravaganza, but is compensated for by the diverse chorus of dancers who are not all 20 something models. Even the geezers in the cast look like they can dance a little, and if not, they look like they are having fun trying.

Meryl Streep who crooned her way through the starring role in the original film, appears in only one number near the end and then in the end credits. Lily James does the heavy lifting as the young version of the slightly promiscuous Donna. It is a bit of a leap when Meryl does come in because her Donna is definitely a different version of the character she and Lily are playing. Andy Garcia has become a go to older romantic lead, following his earlier turn this year in “Book Club“, another film to appeal to the geriatric set. Finally, Cher shows up and makes a movie star sort of impression with a minimal amount of screen time. She has one song that she chers [shares, ha ha] with Garcia and then sings in the ensemble closing credits.

If you were seeing this as a revue on stage, you would clap along and sing the chorus and when the finale shows up you’d stand up and boogie in place. The demographics on this film will definitely skew over thirty and female. At an 11am screening on a Friday, the theater was packed…with walkers, wheel chairs and canes. Forget your age, and your dignity. Don’t pay any attention to the usual standards that you might apply to a movie. This is a little like the song lyric from the 1990s, “Disco lemonade”. Have a cool drink on a warm summer day and dream of “sex and candy”.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man is a lesser Marvel Property that is slowly being elevated in status for the second generation of Post Avenger’s Infinity Wars movies.  Paul Rudd’s introduction to the MCU came in the 2015 origin story, Ant-Man. He followed that up with a quick introduction and one major scene in Captain America: Civil War.  Interestingly, he was not a part of the Infinity War movie earlier this year.  In this film we get a reason why and a strong connection in one of the mid-credit sequences as to where things could be going in next year’s “Infinity War” entry. It’s beginning to look like Thanos is not a quantum physicist.

That future speculation however has little to do with this movie. Much like its origin story, the stakes for this plot seem befittingly smaller for Ant-Man. The world is not threatened by aliens or nuclear megalomaniacs, Rudd’s Scott Lang is recruited by original Ant-Man Hank Pym and his daughter Hope, in the belief that his earlier visit to the quantum realm, has left them a path to follow to recover Hank’s long lost wife, Janet. As usual, there are plenty of complications. Black market technology thieves want the material in the fugitive Pym’s lab. A mysterious costumed character, who ends up being referred to as “Ghost”,  also wants the technology for a more personal purpose. And since Scott has been under house arrest for violating those accords meant to contain the actions of “super” beings, his fan worship of Captain America has gotten him and Pym in trouble.

So the plot is a rescue mission with a few heists and chases mixed in. Scott has to try to finish his sentence which is almost up, without having contact with Pym and Hope. Evangeline Lily returns as Hope, and has donned the tech suit created by her father which turns her into “The Wasp”.  Clearly this is a comic duo in the making, with a strong romantic strain which gives the film some Tracy/Hepburn style sparks with interpersonal confrontations mixing with the plot mechanics. Very much like the first film, this is a comedy. Much more often than in that film however, the comedy is focused on peripheral characters, like Scott’s buddy and business partner Luis. Michael Peña returns as the loquacious thief turned security expert. In a hysterical sequence that probably goes on too long, although that was the point of the sequence, he provides a whole history of his relationship with Scott in his own unique style. Also providing some humor but of a more subtle and refined style is Kirkham family favorite Walton Goggins. He has moments of frustration and fear that generate priceless laughs at the right spots.

Michael Douglas gets to put on the costume as well in this film and it turns out that Michelle Pfeiffer continues to look like a movie star. She and Tom Cruise must have made the same deal with the devil. The two more mature actors only get a little bit to do in the film, but it is enough to justify having them there, and for any fans of theirs to come out and see the picture.

I hope someday that Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale will get to do a little more in this film series than mug for the camera, but at least their mugging is in tune with the warm humor that is usually found in Ant-Man’s family relations. This whole film plays like a palate cleanser for all the strum and d angst found in the two earlier 2018 Marvel movies. This is a comedy with action parts all over the place, rather than an action film with comedy inserted. I don’t mean that it is frivolous, but rather that it is interested in entertaining us in a very different manner than it’s older brothers and sisters. That makes sense since director Peyton Reed is a comedy film veteran, helming some solid humor filled hits back in the naughts, including “The Break-Up”, “Yes Man” and “Down with Love”. He replaced Edgar Wright on the first Ant-Man movie, and I know a lot of fans want to credit that films tone to the departed director. Fair enough, so Mr. Reed should probably get credit for the jokes that work, and a little blame for some of the bits that go on a little too long, even when they are funny.

There are plenty of effects shots that take advantage of the unique powers that the two heroes on this film possess. Stuff gets big and small at the right moment or not and the outcome works in making us laugh or adding a moments tensions to the proceedings. Because the film feels so much like a stand alone story, there may be Marvel fans out there who will give it a pass and just wait for “Captain Marvel” next year. I think that would be a mistake. There are some hints about the Infinity War at the end of the movie and in the credit sequences. Those hints should delight the fans of the main story and build even more anticipation.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I am not a big consumer of documentary films, but I do try to see those things that interest me. When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I was definitely interested. Most Americans will be familiar with Mr. Rogers even if they were not the audience for the show. Millions of kids have been exposed to his work, and he has been parodied by everyone from Johnny Carson to Eddie Murphy. The trailer evokes a simple and heart-warming approach to the work of a man who for all appearances was genuinely caring about children.

The film has received a lot of hype in the last few weeks. A local entertainment reporter was rapturous in singing it’s praise. I do think it is a fine film about a fascinating subject but be cautious of being oversold. My guess is that people offering reviews for this movie are so starved for something worthy and genuine to write about, that they may heap effusive praise on a very good film, and try to pass it off as a great film.

The work that goes into a documentary includes hundreds of hours of research and digging through archives and editing together various film elements. The Academy Award winning director of this film, Morgan Neville, has done a thorough job of finding interesting material to show us, collaborators and friends of Fred Rogers to speak to, and  just a couple of minor controversies to make the story a bit more compelling. The style of the film however is straight forward, there is nothing particularly innovative about the approach here, most of the audience interest in the film is going to stem from the subject matter and personality of the show we are looking at. The winsome charm of Fred Rogers is the draw for this movie.

We will learn a little bit about his early life, he was a seminary student when he became interested in television for children. He was an ordained minister for the Presbyterian Church, and sure to irritate many of those who would like to politicize everything, he was a lifelong Republican. Everything we see in the film suggests that he was a nice man, who believed love was an important part of a child’s life and tried to make all children feel loved. Some social critics have tried to tie his open support of children to the Millennial phenomena of entitlement. The link there is so capricious that it hardly needs to be responded to. Mr. Rogers view of a child’s need for love stem from biblical concepts not self esteem books. While he was a critic of many children’s programs, his criticism was generic to the tone, themes, violence and “bombardment” of kids as opposed to focusing on particular programs.

The need for a movie about this subject at this time seems to be fertilized by all the rancor and hostility in the world. Again, social advocates may try to make hay out of some of the themes and events covered by the documentary, but the true value is that we see a decent man, doing good in the world. He worked hard and was as unassuming in his real life as he seemed to be on television. Everyone should be able to slow down a little and connect with a man who tried to teach children to love one another and set an example for adults as well. That’s as much endorsement as a movie like this needs. “A little kindness makes a world of difference.”