I tried to make up for not watching any films in the first two weeks of April by watching seven over the latter half. And five of them involved actual trips to the cinema: one a press screening in Dublin, one at the fleapit down the road, one in the basement of the local arts centre (a regional screening as part of the Japanese Film Festival), and a double-bill at the IFI. My pick of the month is one I won’t be reviewing till later in May, but my thoughts on the rest are below.
Director Brad Peyton, writer Carlton Cuse and star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson struck gold with ridiculous disaster flick San Andreas, but that glint is sadly absent from Rampage. That’s mostly because, unlike their previous project, this one is too conflicted over what end of the spectrum it wants to aim for — a straight-faced shoot/beat/fuck ‘em up, or a tongue-in-cheek sendup of same — that it ends up falling short of both. That’s saying something about a film based on a 1980s arcade game about giant animals smashing up a city.
That conflict, by the way, extends to a lot of mixed messaging in the script and its characters, most notably The Rock himself, who errs so much on the everyman side of his affable persona that he leaves pretty much all of his typical muscle-bound heroism to a giant CGI gorilla. At best, he’s the butt of a perhaps accidental gag on the impotency of American firepower, despite the film’s obvious priapism for the military-industrial complex. Yes, it’s that kind of film.
I must add, however, that the relationship between Johnson and that 800lb gorilla is quite touching, and never treated as a joke; it’s an intelligent nod to the contemporary Planet of the Apes series, and one of the few aspects of Rampage that works really well, setting its bar far above your average Michael Bay bullshit. Which is why the parts that don’t work make it a middling disappointment as a whole.
While the west has The Shape of Water, Japan gives us Lu Over the Wall: a charming, hyperactive human-bonds-with-mermaid fantasy that trips over itself to rush through its story like a flash flood, when a little more time to breathe and flesh out its themes might have imbued more depth.
Very much a visual technical manual that’s a must-watch for anyone with an interest in movie magic, as it were. I must also say, it’s a revelation to see those on-set video clips that highlight the cheap and cheerful nature of the production; what a difference film stock and proper lighting can make.
It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, to say the least.
Less impressed with this after seeing it on the big screen as part of an IFI double bill with its sequel; but necessary preparatory work for what James Whale would do so much better just a few years later.
I do appreciate this one more than its predecessor now; made only four years on but the improvements in technical proficiency, from the soundtrack to the editing to the blocking and cinematography, mark such a huge leap forward. It’s still let down by the over-egged gurning comedy, mind. (Una O’Connor’s turn is such a stagey, anachronistic nod to vaudeville tastes.) But those last few minutes still muster a chill.