Tag: jeffrey dean morgan

Rampage


Rampage (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

It is too bad that Brad Peyton’s “Rampage” does not aspire to become anything more than a brainless giant monster movie. While it does deliver the expected destruction that the title promises, those who have experienced the sheer madness and imagination of modern monster films such as “Shin Godzilla” and “Pacific Rim” are likely to walk away disappointed, for its numerous generic images escape the mind like trash to be taken out by the end of the day in order to make room for healthier, better alternatives. The screenplay is helmed by four individuals—Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel—but not one of them bothers to steer the story, the source material being a video game, toward more daring and interesting directions.

The opening title card mentions the acronym CRISPR, a genetic editing tool that can be utilized with a certain level of precision. While not perfect, generally speaking, it is better than current alternatives when it comes to price and efficiency. Because I work with this technology, the title card excited me. I thought that the picture just might take the opportunity by the horns, despite being a sci-fi action picture first and foremost, to communicate the power and implications of this gene editing tool for the mainstream public. Because let’s be honest: Most scientists, especially scientific articles, do not do a good enough job when it comes to putting scientific information in layman’s terms. But just as quickly all hope is lost; the succeeding scenes show that it is not at all interested in science. And that is all right. However, as a popcorn flick, the film is not that entertaining either.

And so the movie must be evaluated based on what it is interested in achieving: escapism in the form of devastation and loud noises. On some level, it delivers. Special and visual effects are first-rate; when one does not look at them closely, they are passable and occasionally impressive. However, squint just a little and notice how, for example, George the gorilla does not interact with any of the people visiting the zoo as he makes a desperate escape. For a nine-foot agitated primate—that grew a shocking two inches overnight after having been exposed to a man-made pathogen that crashed in the enclosure the night before—it is quite unbelievable that not one person is nudged a little, knocked down, or hurt during his getaway. This is a symptom of a problem.

In other words, the material plays it too safe—preposterous because it is a monster movie after all and everything should be laid out on the table. Its brightest spots are actually instances when, for instance, a gargantuan monster eats a person and the camera shows it front and center, in delicious slow motion. Why not show more of this type of gallows humor so that viewers are constantly surprised? Skyscrapers falling, tanks and planes exploding, and shooting monsters to no avail suffer from diminishing returns. At least thirty minutes is dedicated to this exercise of increasing boredom.

Dwayne Johnson plays primatologist Davis Okoye and it is shown that he has a friendship, a special bond, with the albino gorilla. While Johnson, as expected, is able to deliver his signature charm and swagger, the problematic screenplay fails to develop their relationship in a meaningful way. After the initial fifteen minutes, the expressive CGI gorilla is reduced to another monster that goes wild and people having to run away from it. Meanwhile, Naomie Harris’ scientist character serves as decoration. She is so talented and it pains me that she ends up playing these thankless roles.

“Rampage” could have used a whole lot of ambition in order to become more memorable. The aforementioned “Shin Godzilla” criticizes the role of self-imposed red tape that the government ends up tripping itself over in the face of national emergencies. “Rampage” could have sharpened its screenplay by aiming to criticize how promising science is eventually perverted by hawk-eyed businesspeople—a subject that concerns every person in our modern world of today. Sometimes it makes more sense for a monster movie to not just be another forgettable monster movie—sometimes a monster movie is a statement piece.

Solace


Solace (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Mystery-thriller “Solace,” written by Sean Bailey and Ted Griffin, commands an intriguing premise but the deeper the picture gets into the case involving a series of “mercy-killing” murders, it proves unable to sustain and deliver upon the intrigue it promises. Instead, the film is reduced to a final showdown using guns, an uninspired avenue traversed too often by generic thrillers with not much to say so long as the antagonists meet their doom in the end. The first half has potential but the latter half is so pointless, near worthless, that a part of me was surprised it received the go signal to be made.

Anthony Hopkins is immensely watchable as a former doctor/FBI investigator named by John Clancy who is approached by Special Agent Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) with the hope of providing insight on an especially difficult assignment. The murders have been executed so well, no DNA has been found on the crime scene, no witness, not even a footprint or sign of forced entry. The MO is the same: a puncture mark on the back of the head, the sharp weapon used believed to pierce the medulla oblongata—resulting in a quick and painless death. Merriwether is convinced Clancy will be able to help given the old man’s special ability to see into the past and future by simply touching a person or an object of interest.

Hopkins injects elegance into material that would have been unbearably standard without his presence. His way of delivering lines, the manner in which he plays with pauses, the ability to communicate using only his eyes tend to elevate the scenes he is in. He creates a creepy feeling by making his character a bit detached from everyone he encounters. At times, however, his performance is diluted by various images shown quickly on screen—a distracting depiction of what John sees in his mind.

Such an approach is a miscalculation. It doesn’t work in many high-caliber thrillers and it doesn’t work here either. Having such a consummate performer like Hopkins at the helm, why not simply allow the camera to rest on his face and so we are forced to observe the minuscule changes in his facial expressions? Why do we need to see the images the character sees in his mind? The answer is, we don’t. Showing such images is simply a crutch—a technique to spell out nearly everything for the audience. The material treats us like we are neither patient nor intelligent.

The look of the picture is bland in that there is no personality in each of the environment we visit, whether it be a police station, a crime scene, or a murder victim’s home. Notice that even a solid episode of “Criminal Minds” tends to deliver a certain look or feel to it. And that is on television. In other words, the film does not come across cinematic. If this were playing on TV and I just so happened to come across it, after a few seconds I would likely think it was a show doomed for cancellation. There is a lack of an artistic eye here—disappointing because the filmmakers could have taken inspiration from David Fincher’s “Se7en,” for example. In that movie, the unsub has a twisted sense of morality, too.

Directed by Afonso Poyart, “Solace” offers a few clever moments and solidly watchable performances, especially by Hopkins, but the writing lacks focus, a highly analytical nature despite clairvoyance added to the mix, as well as a powerful visceral punch, essential elements to create a memorable and chilling crime-thriller.

Desierto


Desierto (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

The funny thing is, despite a psychotic white American deciding to go on a Mexican killing spree at the U.S.-Mexico border (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), some racist xenophobes will find enjoyment out of this picture because, for nearly its entire duration, the Mexican characters wishing to cross from Mexico to the United States illegally undergo all sorts of suffering under the hands of a nationalist murderer. Certainly the subject of illegal immigration and creating a border wall are hot button topics in the U.S., but, first and foremost, director Jonás Cuarón has helmed a strong, highly watchable suspense-thriller.

Notice how little dialogue is employed. This could have been a silent film and it would still be entertaining. As appropriate in survival, cat and mouse thrillers, the action is most critical. It prefers to show characters doing rather than sitting or talking, or—worse—pondering what it means for them to reach the so-called land of the free. The migrants’ desperation to avoid getting shot from a distance is coupled with alert and precise camera movements which create a sense of urgency. We know how thrillers like this are going to go, but it takes skill from behind the camera to allow the audience to forget some of the rules and be genuinely surprised by certain turn of events.

I enjoyed that the story dares to go beyond a white man killing brown people in the desert. During the first half, I wondered if the writers, Cuarón and Mateo Garcia, would be smart enough to tweak the plot a little bit by turning our attention on the killer. They do this by slowly taking away from things that are important to Sam and observe how he adapts, or attempt to adapt, when he loses those he values. Although a villain through and through, I enjoyed that the character is not invincible and Morgan plays the man as a monster—but an authentic one. This makes allows Sam to rise above run-of-the-mill antagonists.

Plenty of attention is paid on the details of the land. Initially, the desert looks dull: yellowish for miles, a whole lot of dirt, plants look so dry, they appear ready to be set on fire. But take notice that with each major confrontation between the hunter and the hunted (Gael García Bernal, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Cataño), the environment is different from the one before. I especially relished the field of cacti and the bed of rattlesnakes. These scenes make the audience flinch, hold their breath, or both. It makes us think whether we would be able to crawl between the spines or stop ourselves from panicking when snakes slither on our limbs.

“Desierto” does not bother with lengthy exposition. Immediately, we are thrown in an impossible situation—which doesn’t even yet involve the gun-wielding psychopath. But once he is in the equation, relentless chases move front and center in this minimalist but enthralling picture.

Texas Killing Fields


Texas Killing Fields (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mike Souder (Sam Worthington) and Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), homicide detectives, one local-based, the other from the city, respectively, are assigned to investigate kidnappings and murders of teen girls in rural Texas. Pam Stall (Jessica Chastain), a homicide detective from Texas City and Souder’s ex-wife, asks for their help because their murders seem to be related.

Inspired by a true story, “Texas Killing Fields,” written by Don Ferrarone and directed by Ami Canaan Mann, strips away all the glamour from what we expect of movies when it comes to the way cops track down serial killers. First, there is a lot of dirty work being portrayed like Stall having to slap around potential witnesses for the sake of information that might lead to the identity of the killer. Her officers look on like it is standard procedure. Heigh relies on someone from a telephone company to track down a cell phone signal without proper authorization. Meanwhile, Souder is unable to see beyond stereotypes which tinges his supposedly objective judgment.

Second, there is something visceral about the look and feel of the film. When a killer attacks and abducts his victim, it is shot sans fancy camera somersaults but every bit of horror is captured. By just allowing us to see what happens without music playing in the background, I felt that the events unfolding before our eyes can happen at any small town.

Lastly, the sense of place contributes to the increasing tension surrounding the mystery. A lot of people the detectives interact with are either poor white families or poor black families. Despite the racial difference, their deeply-rooted commonality is the belief that if they keep secrets from the cops, it is the great equalizer for being underrepresented and misrepresented. Yet the filmmakers find a way, subtle ways, to communicate that not all of the residents are bad or unwilling to cooperate. Sometimes they might be very bad but they are more than willing to go down to the police station for an interview.

However, I wished the film had given us more information about Souder, Heigh, and Stall. While each has a distinct personality and ways of accomplishing goals, I felt as though the material does not go deeply enough into what really makes them tick. A lot of time is dedicated to juvenile Ann (Chloë Grace Moretz), who lives with her drug-addicted mother (Sheryl Lee), brother (James Hébert), and mother’s boyfriend (Stephen Graham), getting into all sorts of trouble with the police. While Ann is an important character because she fits the description of the type of girl the killer tends to abduct, I was much more interested when the camera follows the detectives and we watch what they do to find answers.

For the most part, “Texas Killing Fields” sets a good example of how more crime movies should strive to be. It is able to deliver the necessary darkness in its story without having to result to showing us every bit violence that we become inured or desensitized.

The Possession


The Possession (2012)
★ / ★★★★

A woman stands in an empty room in front of a wooden box with strange engravings. Unable to withstand the ghostly whispers coming from it, she retrieves a hammer with the intention of destroying it. But before she is able to swing her weapon, she is flung across the room several times by an unknown force and her body is contorted in ways that no average person can achieve without getting sprains or broken bones. When her son enters the house and sees her body, he lets out a scream of horror.

“The Possession” is the kind of horror movie that is more than willing to go for big scares but its efforts are ultimately ineffective because the screenplay lacks the patience to build up a scene and then escalate to a catharsis. It is like watching an overconfident classmate who goes to an important exam without studying and then watching him deflated and regretful for not putting in the time to be more prepared.

Its supernatural core is anchored by a would-be realistic divorce situation between Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick). Clyde has purchased a new home and Stephanie has been seeing a new guy. Clyde gets their two daughters, Em (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport), on weekends. Although Morgan and Sedgwick are good actors and they try hard to make the best of the material they are given, the picture is bereft of emotional core. One especially cheesy scene involves Clyde and Stephanie reminiscing about their marriage while watching a video on a computer. The way it is shot hammers us over the head that there is still a part of them that wish to get back together. While the supernatural element being the glue to repair what is broken between the ex-couple can work, it requires a certain level of subtlety that we barely notice its whirring machinery.

The picture is not shy from utilizing special and visual effects, from a roomful of moths to a hand coming out of a person’s mouth. The problem with this approach is that nothing much is left to the imagination. It feeds us the so-called scary images and once they are delivered, they do not linger in the mind. True horror seeps through our initial feelings of shock, lingers in the mind, and then reappears, in a similar form, when we are alone in the shower or in our beds. In here, it seems to be all about visual acrobatics without an understanding of psychology and what makes things scary.

Directed by Ole Bornedal, “The Possession” is filled with lights turning on and off, things being shattered like glass and cabinets, and shrill screaming. The high-pitched screaming bothered and angered me most. Are the writers, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, so cynical that a girl’s screaming is supposed to be scary? I wasn’t afraid of the material; I was afraid that the shrieking would promote premature degeneration of the hair cells in my ears. At least we are given a chance to look at the contents of the box and that it houses a thing called a dybbuk, a Hebrew word for a dislocated spirit that can either be good or evil. You can read the title and make a very accurate guess which one it is.

The Losers


The Losers (2010)
★ / ★★★★

“The Losers” was titled as such because five members of the CIA (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Óscar Jaenada) were framed by a voice on the radio named Max (Jason Patric) whose goal was to obtain a new generation of weapons in order to generate a worldwide war. The CIA operatives, after everyone believed they were dead, took refuge in Bolivia (and acted as, well, losers) until they met a woman (Zoe Saldana) with plenty of resources who wanted to hunt down and kill Max. “The Losers” is anything but boring because action sequences were abound. I liked its energy, its reckless abandon in terms of sticking with realism, and even its (very) lame jokes. What I despised with a passion, however, was the fact that it was never really clear on why Max wanted the five CIA agents dead. Since Max was supposedly smart and had a lot of money, why were the five men so special or so threatening? If he had kept the five in the dark in the first place, then he wouldn’t have a problem with achieving his goals. Furthermore, his ambition to obtain a weapon and eventual world domination felt like it was something out of an “Austin Powers” movie. Not for a second did I believe that he was menacing or remotely intelligent because he kept making ridiculous voices. I found his right-hand minion (Holt McCallany) a more believable villain. What could have made this movie more interesting was if it had given the five main characters more heart. Since it was based on a comic book series by Andy Diggle and Jock, it would have been nice if the movie had given us an extra dimension to explore instead of just the typical revenge story. Three of the five had families and the picture could have explored what it meant for them to survive. I wanted them to be torn between their loyalty to their team and their families. As for the romance between Morgan and Saldana, although they looked together and they had undeniable chemistry, I did not feel tension between them. Since Saldana’s character had a malleable sense of loyalty, I kept waiting for the movie to be one step ahead of me when it comes to delivering the potential twists. It was painfully obvious and eventually I just could not wait for it to end. Directed by Sylvain White, “The Losers” is like pop rocks candy. Once it enters the mouth, it’s explosive and we are able to feel strange and fascinating sensations. However, once the explosions die down, we all know that we’ve consumed nothing but empty calories.

Watchmen


Watchmen (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

We all know the fact that people complain whenever a film doesn’t stick closely to its source material. Well, “Watchmen” remains very loyal to its graphic novel–with a few tweaks here and there so the audiences will be able to relate more with the politics it tries to tackle. I never thought I would ever read a review (like the one from Entertainment Weekly) that complains about a picture sticking too closely to its source. It seems like some critics just find a way to complain about something (no matter how ridiculous it sounds) to sound insightful so it’s hard for me to take that specific review seriously.

“Watchmen” may be about two hours and forty minutes long but Zack Snyder (who directed the 2004 version of the cult classic “Dawn of the Dead” and the highly overrated “300”) directs the movie so astutely, it doesn’t feel like it’s that long. I was particularly impressed with the way the film started: it goes over the Minutemen of the 1940’s in about ten minutes during the opening credits and then it takes us to its current setting which tells the audiences how different their successors have become. The death of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in the hands of an unknown murderer sets up a series of events that results upon the reunion of five other superheroes: Rorschach (played brilliantly and hilariously by Jackie Earle Haley), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman). Unlike most superhero movies, the six of them are atypical in such a way that they are nihilistic, not afraid to hurt or kill, and each of them can be placed in various areas of the moral spectrum. They do not necessarily have a common goal initially but their beliefs and methods of acquiring information are often at odds with each other. A typical villain is not necessary because their own selves are ultimately their worst enemies. Though some can argue that there is a “big bad” in the film, to me, nuclear weapons and politicians’ hunger for power are the driving forces that force the characters to choose the morally gray path.

Each superhero is featured in one way or another so the audiences get an idea on what makes the characters tick (pun intended). In a way, we eventually learn to see them as regular human beings with real problems instead of gods that can jump in at any time and save the world. In fact, I can only remember one or two scenes when the characters decided to do a good dead just because they are superheroes. Although at times, the dialogue may sound a bit cheesy, especially the romantic scenes between Wilson and Akerman, the film provides a great balance between seriousness and humor. I also liked the fact that the sex scenes look realistic (as opposed to other superhero flicks) and the filmmakers weren’t afraid to show certain body parts from both genders. Usually, films like this tend to objectify women’s bodies but I didn’t get that feeling here. In my opinion, this is lightyears better than “300” because of its rich moral ambiguity and ability to genuinely entertain. Those who expect a typical superhero film may be disappointed but those who want to see something different should be impressed. “Watchmen” is a breath of fresh air from the likes of “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Spider-man.” Along with “Coraline” and “The International,” this is one of those few movies of early 2009 that is worth watching in the cinema; it also should be remembered as the year progresses.