Film review: ‘RAMPAGE’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Like many of the nerd persuasion I would stay up to ungodly hours as a kid to watch a zero-budgeted Japanese movie in which Kong fought a giant cockroach. It’s in this fine cinematic tradition that we now have films like Rampage, ludicrous guilty pleasure monster fests but with a bigger budget than the old Kaiju films and CGI replacing the man in the ape suit.

Adapting the 80’s arcade game Rampage, this extremely silly but occasionally enjoyable beast-feast relies on the hoary old premise of mysterious gloop from outer space turning normally imposing creatures into giant, ravenous mutant monsters hell-bent on destroying civilisation.   Here, an albino gorilla named (believe it or not) George along with a wolf and an alligator are infected with a strange pathogen that hits the earth after a spaceship disaster. Transforming into enormous, hyper-aggressive monsters reminiscent of peak hour drivers on the Monash Freeway, the trio lead a path of destruction through Chicago.

When faced with global catastrophe what the world needs is a wise-cracking muscle man and there’s none better than Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson. In Rampage, he plays primatologist Davis Okoye an ape specialist who can actually talk to gorillas a bit like a cross between Jane Goodall, Dr Doolittle and a pro-wrestler. Of course, he’s also that mandatory figure in contemporary action films, the former special forces soldier. Teaming with geneticist Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), the Rock sees his oddly intimate relationship with furry friend George as the only hope if the world is to survive the creature apocalypse.

Rampage comes from the same team that brought us the lamentable disaster movie San Andreas. For the most part they’ve simply swapped an earthquake for monsters although thankfully a tighter script and winking acknowledgement of the whole concept’s inherent silliness make this a more enjoyable experience.

Most of the film involves giant creatures smashing city blocks and munching on hapless dopes who think they can take on the beasts. For those simply looking for monster destruction-fest this will probably suffice even if some of the CGI is a little dodgy with creatures still loping in slow motion the way they have for decades.

The film attempts to add some commentary about the dangers of corporate greed with Malin Akerman and Jake Lacey as sister and brother owners of the sinister company responsible for the evil pathogen. This corporate meanie scenario isn’t very well developed and is really only there to give the film a couple of dislikeable villains.

The Rock is exactly the same character he plays in every other film, a confident, perpetually grinning but likeable action hero who seems to be as indestructible as the monsters; no amount of shootings, helicopter crashes or creature attacks seem to affect him. Naomie Harris, who has distinguished herself as Miss Moneypenny in the Bond films, brings charm and intelligence to the role of Dr Caldwell. Malin Akerman is both seductive and appropriately dislikeable as femme fatale, Claire Wyden.

Audiences should know exactly what to expect from a film like Rampage, a sugar hit of cartoon violence, monster porn and the Rock’s self-aware posturing; it’s junk food cinema but it’s a lot more palatable than a Transformers film.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Sci Fi/ Action.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Brad Peyton.

Release date: 13th Apr 2018.

Running time: 107 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

Film review: ‘ISLE OF DOGS’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Isle of Dogs sees idiosyncratic director Wes Anderson make another foray into the world of stop motion animation. As with any Wes Anderson film enjoyment relies on a viewer’s attitude to his typically droll humour. Those who delight in quirky characters making ‘oh so ironic’ comments in expressionless voices will be in Heaven here while others may be grinding their teeth. Few, however, could fail to be entranced by the film’s visually striking and highly inventive animation which looks like an elaborate picture book come to life.

Isle of Dogs is set in a fictionalised version of Japan roughly 20 years in the future where a dog-hating politician (Kunichi Nomura) has consigned canines to the foreboding Trash Island where ragged, starving and diseased dog packs fight each other for survival. When 12-year-old boy Atari (Koyu Rankin) – who remarkably for a 12-year-old knows how to fly a plane – crashes on the island while searching for his long-lost dog, Spots, the dog inmates learn of a sinister political conspiracy against them. Mobilising dog leader ‘Chief’ (Bryan Cranston), his canine buddies and student activist (Greta Gerwig) Atari begins an uprising.

The film occasionally invokes some potent ideas such as the treatment of the poor, political corruption and activism. For the most part, though, politics and social commentary take a back seat to dry comedy as much of the film is composed of self-consciously ironic banter between the dogs. At times Anderson threatens to create a nauseating confection of quirkiness piled on top of quirkiness but as he so often does he manages to infuse the silliness with touching pathos. It also helps that Anderson has assembled a stellar voice cast that also includes Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Ed Norton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum and Scarlett Johansson.

The film has stirred controversy with its depiction of Japanese culture as some have accused it of cultural appropriation and stereotyping. While we should give a satirical fantasy film some latitude there is a disquieting sense of a culture foreign to white westerners being fetishised here. There’s also another cultural reference in this film that will prove extremely uncomfortable for Australian audiences. These unfortunate elements don’t by any means ruin Isle of Dogs but they will take many out of Anderson’s intricately conceived fantasy world for a large portion of the film.

Isle of Dogs probably won’t make fans of Wes Anderson detractors or even those in the middle but any viewer will be frequently mesmerised by this film’s technical achievements.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Animation/ comedy/ drama.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Wes Anderson.

Release date: 12th April 2018.

Running time: 101 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

Film review: ‘TRUTH OR DARE’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Truth or Dare comes from the Final Destination school of supernatural horror, in other words it’s a vague morality tale in which pretty young people are stalked by a supernatural force determined to kill them all.

Here, good-natured college student Olivia (Lucy Hale) and her male and female friends head down to Mexico for some Spring Break debauchery. When a beardy hipster (Landon Liboiron) invites them to a creepy old church, alarm bells should have been sounding given the fate of attractive young people who enter such places in movies. Stupidly, they agree to play a game of truth or dare not realising it will place them under the control of a sinister force that intends to torment and kill them one by one.

This is pretty formulaic stuff as the group of twenty-somethings are besieged by a demonic force that uses household appliances and knick-knacks to despatch them, at times with gory results. The pretty young things are almost indistinguishable from the ones we see in all these types of films: the conscientious sexually repressed heroine, her blonde extroverted promiscuous friend, nice guy, arrogant guy and creepy guy. To its credit the film does actually feature a non-stereotyped gay guy.

Despite more than a few silly moments Truth or Dare is competently made and features dialogue and performances that are slightly above average for the genre. It’s not particularly scary, though and lacks the menace, not to mention the artistry, that a vaguely similar film like It Follows had.

There are a couple of effective pop-outs and a couple of tense moments but the film seems more concerned with snarky teen characters and their relationships than with straight-up horror.

Truth or Dare is a little stronger than expected but in no way evolves the horror genre.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Horror.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Jeff Wadlow.

Release date: 12th Apr 2018.

Running time: 100 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


What’s on ‘Built For Speed’, Friday 18th May 2018

This week on ‘Built For Speed’ we take a look at Aussie post-apocalyptic horror film ‘Cargo’ which stars Bilbo Baggins himself Martin Freeman.  There’ll also be plenty of fine music with more tracks from all-time favourite albums, indie classics and new tunes from Australia and overseas.  Don’t forget our regular preview of gigs and TV for the week.  Check out ‘Built For Speed’, Friday 8-10pm on 88.3 Southern FM.

Film review: ‘ A QUIET PLACE’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

A Quiet Place is the second recent film that transforms a post-apocalyptic monster movie scenario into a highly effecting human drama. The other film is Cargo and coincidentally, the male leads in both these film, John Krasinski and Martin Freeman, started playing essentially the same character in different versions of the TV show The Office.

In A Quiet Place, John Krasinski, who also co-wrote and directed the film, plays Lee Abbott the father in one of the few families left alive following what seems to have been an invasion by deadly xenomorph-like aliens. As the creatures are blind but highly sensitive to sound and munch on any unsuspecting dolt who makes a noise, Lee, his wife Evelyn (Krasinski’s real life partner Emily Blunt) and their children have to move through their home and the surrounding forest signing rather than speaking and making every effort not to create loud noises. If only we had such a monster to silence cinema audiences and footy loudmouths.

Like Ben Affleck, Krasinski seems to have slipped effortlessly into the director’s chair. He uses the scenario superbly, extracting maximum tension from a frightened family as they tip toe through life terrified of making sounds, a dilemma made all the more difficult by the arrival of a new baby. The intense silence makes the sudden monster attacks all the more jarring.

Whether this scenario is meant to have greater metaphorical import, such as a commentary on a population silenced by a political oppressor is uncertain. Undeniable though is that, Krasinski uses this set-up to create compelling human dramas that draw on themes of guilt, redemption and responsibility. As nearly all communication is visual and conveyed through signing, gestures and facial expressions the film allows the audience the opportunity to experience life in the way a deaf person would.

Krasinski along with cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen have also created a remarkable looking film with a decaying world captured in autumnal tones that make the film beautiful to look at but foreboding.

While its premise recalls the highly inventive thriller Don’t Breathe and several scenes have clearly been influenced by the likes of Alien and Jurassic Park, thanks to Krasinski’s direction A Quiet Place still has a distinct feel.

There isn’t quite enough plot to sustain the film to the end but for almost all of its running time A Quiet Place is moving and nerve-jangling experience.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Horror.

Classification: M.

Director(s): John Krasinski.

Release date: 5th Apr 2018.

Running time: 90 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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