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Posts Tagged ‘Jeffrey Dean Morgan’

You would have to be a real curmudgeon, I submit, to object to the rise of genial Dwayne Johnson to his current position as the most world-bestriding movie star in the business. As it happens, Johnson started his movie career at round about the same time I started sticking my first bits of film-related writing on the internet. There have been a few missteps and quiet patches since the likes of The Scorpion King and The Rundown, of course, but since he joined the Fast and Furious circus in 2011 he really doesn’t seem to have looked back. (I, on the other hand, have steadily progressed from writing humorous film reviews on a fairly obscure website, to writing humorous film reviews on an entirely different and even more obscure website.)

They’re not doing a Fast and Furious film this year, thus freeing up genial Dwayne to make another film instead, and his choice has turned out to be Brad Peyton’s Rampage. While I was buying my ticket for this movie, I noticed one of the ticketeers struggling to deal with a young mother who’d brought her kids to the cinema.

‘I brought them to Peter Rabbit but this one says he’s already seen it,’ she complained, indicating a small child. (Another young life needlessly blighted.) ‘What’s Rampage about?’

Panic glittered in the ticketeer’s eyes. I felt it incumbent upon me to step in. ‘Dwayne Johnson plays a zookeeper,’ I said helpfully. ‘But there’s an accident and the animals get sprayed with magic chemicals that turn them into giant monsters. So he has to fight them all.’

The rictus mask of horror which settled upon the face of the young mum is not something I can easily describe, but I think it’s safe to say that Rampage did not receive her custom. This is a shame, for Rampage is pretty much the perfect Dwayne Johnson vehicle – big, slightly absurd, but essentially good-natured and very likeable.

I must confess to having simplified the plot a bit when I was pitching the movie to the lady in the cinema. It says something about Rampage that genial Dwayne plays a crack special forces soldier turned brilliant primatologist, and yet this is very far from the most preposterous thing that the film requires you to believe. Well, anyway, the film is predicated on the fact that ‘genetic editing’ technology exists allowing unprincipled scientists to basically mash up different kinds of animal.

Some experiments along these lines have been taking place on a space station, which as a result is experiencing an infestation of Rodents of Unusual Size (this sequence kind of resembles a gonzo remake of Gravity). Needless to say things go badly and cannisters of the (very vaguely defined) monster-animal-creating jollop fall to Earth in various locations across America.

The principal one of these, from our point of view, is the zoo to which Dr Davis Okoye (genial Dwayne) is attached. Davis likes animals more than people, on the whole, and his special friend is George, an albino gorilla. So he is as cross as two sticks when exposure to the falling space debris results in his pal growing two feet in height in a matter of hours and becoming uncharacteristically violent and aggressive.

Other people have more serious problems. The evil corporate types responsible for the whole mess, the Wydens (played with cartoon gusto by Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy), need to get a sample of the jollop in order to shore up their stock price, so they pack a team of mercenaries off to Montana to find another one of the cannisters. But they all end up getting eaten by a wolf the size of a bus.

So, as you would expect from people who think that creating giant mutated near-indestructible monster animals makes good business sense, they hit upon an equally sensible plan B: sending a radio signal from the roof of their skyscraper in Chicago which will attract the monster animals to the city, thus allowing the armed forces to kill them all (and letting the Wydens get their sample).

In the meantime, Davis and a female scientist who is mainly there to be decorative and exposit (Naomie Harris, who is not, perhaps, over-stretched by this role) have been nabbed by the government, along with George the gorilla. Agent in charge Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan in scenery-devouring form) would quite like the whole mess clearing up, but with George and the wolf proving uncontainable, and a third even larger beastie swimming up the Chicago river, it’s clear that a lot of things are going to have to explode before it’s all sorted out…

Even by the standards of Hollywood blockbusters, there’s something fundamentally weird and off-kilter about the premise of Rampage – for example, why a wolf, a gorilla, and a crocodile, exactly? The answer may partly lie in the fact that this is yet another movie based on a computer game – in this case, however, one from the 1980s with minimal plot and depth. The barest essentials of this – monsters vaguely resembling an ape, a wolf and a crocodile tearing down buildings – are at the heart of the movie. (It’s perhaps somewhat ironic that this production was at one point sued by Uwe Boll, director of many terrible video game-based movies – not, as you might expect, for threatening to bring the genre into repute, but because he himself directed a series of movies called Rampage and felt he held the rights to the title.)

If I say they do a pretty good job with some unpromising material (it took four people to write this thing), this is not because I am claiming that Rampage is a film of great moment which will long be remembered as a significant contribution to world cinema. It is not. It is a film about Dwayne Johnson having a fight with a giant albino gorilla, a giant mutated crocodile, and a giant wolf-porcupine-flying-squirrel hybrid. But as such, the movie knows exactly when the audience will probably cut it some slack (yeah, so the monster animals can home in on radio signals…) and when it really has to deliver – namely, in the scenes of the monsters running amok in Chicago and fighting the armed forces.

I don’t know, maybe we’re living through a new golden age of the American monster movie and we didn’t even notice it start – in the last year or so, there’s been Skull Island, Pacific Rim: Uprising, and now this, all of which have captured the energy and fun of classic monster movies much more than things from even four or five years ago. The original Rampage game clearly owed a debt to King Kong and Godzilla, of course, so there’s a sense in which the circle is closed here – it also seemed to me that the croc in this movie bears something of a resemblence to a classic Toho monster. The shade of Ishiro Honda would surely approve of the various sequences of urban devastation which make up the bulk of the third act of the movie.

However, I think we are in danger of overlooking the contribution made by the actors to this film. It’s true that the villains are just there as plot devices, and they are essentially ciphers, and it’s equally true that no matter how hard New Line Cinema push for an Oscar nomination for genial Dwayne, he ain’t gonna get one for this movie – but he and Harris and Morgan do an essential job in putting a human face on all the CGI, and giving the film a bit of warmth and humour and even soul (Johnson’s range obviously has its limits, but within those limits he’s a very effective performer). Even when the film is at its most over-the-top, there will be a little moment of knowing humour, just to reassure you that the film is entirely aware of how preposterous it is, and I can’t describe how relaxing this feels.

It’s fair to say that the only award Rampage is likely to win is Popcorniest Popcorn Movie of the Year (emphasis on the corny) – unless they introduce an Oscar for best flying CGI wolf, anyway. I am also very sure that this is the kind of film that many people would run a mile rather than go anywhere near. But as a bonkers monster movie, it is simply a huge amount of fun. It is probably the most ridiculous thing that will appear in cinemas this year – but ridiculous doesn’t necessarily mean bad.

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One day someone will make a movie in which the main character moves into a delightful and surprisingly cheap new apartment, and goes on to have a thoroughly pleasant and life-affirming time with the new friends they make there. However, to the best of my knowledge this day has not yet dawned, and even if it has then the film in question is not Antti Jokinen’s 2011 offering The Resident.

Despite a good cast, this movie is mainly notable as a product of the resurrected Hammer Films, with all the associations that brings with it. However, rather than being a full-on excursion into horror, The Resident finds the House in Mystery and Suspense mode – this is an heir to old-school Hammer thrillers like The Nanny, Fear in the Night and Straight on Till Morning rather than the studio’s celebrated gothic extravaganzas. The comparisons in this case are particularly inviting, mainly because of the presence in the cast of Sir Christopher Lee, one of the company’s greatest icons.

And so to the plot. Spoilers await; this is that sort of movie. Hilary Swank (one of those actresses who always reminds me of someone else, but I’m never completely sure who) plays Juliet Devereau, a New York City doctor who – as previously alluded – is looking for some new digs after a romance-related embuggerance. After all the usual problems people have with this sort of thing in movies, she happens upon a delightful and surprisingly cheap new apartment, leased by the apparently studly Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). What luck! Even the unsettling presence of Max’s elderly grandfather August (Lee) does not put her off.

The little frisson going on between Juliet and Max is sufficient to take her mind off the vexed question of whether or not to forgive her unfaithful possibly-ex-boyfriend and the perhaps more pressing issue of whether or not someone is creeping around her apartment behind her back. But even so, the dilemma remains: no matter how hunky and charming he is, should you sleep with your landlord?

Well, my landlord is a happily married bald septugenarian called Raymond who reads the Daily Mail, so that’s a bit of a non-issue for me, but as a general principle I think probably not, especially when your landlord is secretly a obsessive psycho who’s renovated your apartment to have less actual privacy than the Big Brother house. And lo, this turns out to be the case with Max. The film has one great revelatory moment where – having previously been told entirely from Juliet’s point-of-view – it rewinds and shows events again, from Max’s perspective this time. Suffice to say he is not the ideal landlord he has previously been depicted to be.

This bit comes quite early on; arguably too early on, to be honest. With it out of the way all we are left with is a film about a woman and her stalker, with the main points of interest being a) exactly what’s he going to do to her? and b) how long before she figures out his game and we get to the bit with the kitchen knives? (There’s always a bit with kitchen knives in this kind of film.) The answers are a) the usual stuff, but also some really unpleasant shenanigans involving him drugging her while she’s asleep and b) about 75 minutes or so.

That said, both of the lead performances are reasonably good. In the past I have grumbled at length about Hollywood’s fondness for taking luminously talented, Oscar-winning young actresses and stuffing them inelegantly into dimbo genre movies (see: Halle Berry in Catwoman, Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux, Natalie Portman in Thor, and so on), but if the alternative to that is to wind up in this kind of low-rent, low-octane cobblers, I would suggest that Hilary Swank (a double Oscar winner, no less) get her agent on the phone and start lobbying hard to play Tigra or the Scarlet Witch in the next Avengers movie. In any case, Swank’s role here is so nondescript there isn’t really very much she can do with it. Morgan actually manages to give his character a bit of pathos and depth, which is fine until you remember what an absolutely repulsive piece of work he is.

I suppose this to some extent reflects the central dichotomy at the heart of this kind of fem. jeop. exploitation movie: like good citizens, we’re ultimately all siding with the female protagonist (well, I hope we are), but many of us have probably only turned up on the understanding that prior to her triumph there will be scenes where the camera (much like the bad guy) spies on her in the bath, watches her changing and rubbing on skin lotion, etc. This is all incidental, by the way; The Resident is in no way smart enough to address this kind of stuff consciously.

Which leaves us with the presence in the movie of the great, nay, legendary Christopher Lee. To be perfectly honest Lee is much more prominent on the poster than he is in the film itself – I suspect he gets more on-screen time in Revenge of the Sith than he does here. To be blunt, he’s barely in it, and his character functions only to suggest a possible reason why Max is as messed up as he is, and to serve as a red herring as to who it is that’s spying on Juliet at the start before All Is Revealed. Even in this cough-and-spit cameo, Lee still manages to blow everyone else off the screen: he’s still an effortlessly creepy presence. There’s a bit where he’s talking to Swank and whispers ‘I get very lonely, you know’ – and despite the 52-year age gap between them, the suggestion that he’s coming on to her is unsettling rather than absurd. Alas, the movie makes very little use of its greatest asset and the film may prove to be notable in Lee’s mammoth filmography simply for the fact he fell over on set and did his back in, resulting in the seeming-frailness of the great man in recent public appearances.

There really isn’t anything else to make The Resident stand out from any one of a dozen other cheap and not especially cheerful direct-to-DVD psycho-thrillers. The plot trundles along, never really thrilling or surprising, none of the major characters is especially vivid or engaging, and  – the narrative flourish previously mentioned excepted – there’s not one moment in it you don’t see coming some considerable way in advance. I have to say that I’ve always found the old-school Hammer thrillers rather wanting compared to their fantasy and horror movies, but even the most pedestrian of those had more of interest about them than The Resident. Probably one for Hammer and Lee completists only.

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