Tag: naomie harris

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.

Moonlight


Moonlight (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Screenwriter-director Barry Jenkins crafted a picture without compromise and what results is an experience in which it is near impossible for one to walk away from without some sort of a lasting impression. If film is indeed a tool that can be utilized to put one person in another’s shoes, then “Moonlight” is a great accomplishment from top to bottom. With a running time of just under two hours, every scene and every moment is executed in an intelligent, heartfelt, and insightful way. Although some may be quick to reduce it to an LGBTQ film—after all, it tells the story of a poor, African-American boy who grows up to be gay—its core is how one’s environment contributes—quite considerably—to shaping one’s identity. It is a universal story.

Most impressive is that the three chapters which make up the film stand strong on their own—each twenty-five to forty-minute segment more than worthy of a full-length movie. Our protagonist is named Chiron and in every chapter he goes by a different name which is directly tied to his identity at that particular age. And despite the fact that Chiron is portrayed by three performers (Alex R. Hibbert as the child, Ashton Sanders as the teen, and Trevante Rhodes as the adult), who share little to no resemblance, the more we spend time with them and look them in the eyes, we become all the more convinced that they are playing the same person.

Each segment has a specific perspective and feeling. For example, in “Little,” scenes are almost dream-like in its approach. There is a lot of extended attention on children playing, the sky, the grass, how boys relate to one another. There are plenty of background noises—the kind of sounds one remembers when one looks back at one’s childhood. In “Chiron,” sequences are executed with more energy. Tension escalates to a boil and we anticipate an explosion. Sudden cuts are employed to further suspend the viewer in anticipation. Notice, too, that the kind of noises we hear are different. More time is spent at school. It pays careful attention in showing the cruelty of one’s peers.

In “Black,” such a stark contrast, there is almost an eerie calm. The noises are gone. Characters tend to speak more with their eyes than they do with words or actions. There is a maturity about it, a tiredness about it. The events take place at night, indoors. Important people in Chiron’s life have grown or learned, or both, have broken free of the shackles that chained them to the past. But not Chiron. And at this moment we realize why his particular story is worth telling.

Lastly, I appreciated its portrayal of a drug-addicted mother played by Naomie Harris. She plays the character without vanity, without glamour, just a person one can find in the streets, in a liquor store, at a gas station, looking, craving for her next fix. An easier route would have been to show merely a monster of a mother, Paula who fails to show love to her son when he needs it most. And while she is that kind of mother, the writer-director gives more layers to Paula by introducing moments of lucidity. It is then up to the audience to untangle which interactions between mother and son show true affection and which are drug-fueled possessions that just so happen to appear genuine when, in reality, it is the drugs in control.

Harris’ performance touched me, perhaps the most, because I believe we live in a society in which drug addicts are treated like they are worse than animals. I appreciated that this film is sympathetic without diluting what drug addiction is. The interaction between mother and son in the “Black” chapter is near perfect in writing and execution. The emotions are earned.

Based on the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin, Jenkins has created a modern masterpiece that is filled to the brim with respect and humanity. This is the kind of work that will be remembered—and should be remembered—many decades from now. It made me feel grateful for the love my parents have given me while growing up—and giving still—so that I would not turn out to be another Chiron.

Skyfall


Skyfall (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Two MI6 agents lie dead on the floor while the third sits on a chair as he bleeds to death. The item of interest, a hard drive which contains the identities of NATO agents currently immersed in undercover work among terrorist organizations, is taken from a laptop just minutes before. M (Judi Dench) insists that James Bond (Daniel Craig) retrieve the item at all costs. A failure in Turkey means putting lives at risk as well as a justified questioning of the effectiveness of MI6’s current leadership.

“Skyfall,” written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, is a concerto of thrills and suspense in which the highly destructive action sequences balances with nuanced, smart, and playful dialogue. The film has a flair for presentation which makes its individual scenes both a sight to behold and an enveloping experience. It understands the value of range and how to utilize its techniques with efficiency.

Take the scenes set in Shanghai in which the visuals point to excess. The skyscrapers are majestic under the heavy shade of night with their lights so bright and hypnotic, it is like being dropped in the middle of downtown Las Vegas on acid, so much to see and digest while the camera teases, only giving us glimpses of its beauty. On the other hand, scenes set in a casino in Macau provide us a smaller scope without sacrificing the elegance and grandeur of the place. As it should be, each destination that 007 visits has something special and memorable for its audience so we feel excited at the thought of what it might offer in the following exotic locale.

Despite the glitz and glamour, the goals that need to be fulfilled are always clear. Once the assignment is met with success or failure, it is onto the next scene, unpredictable at times in whether the screenplay is going to increase the ante by introducing yet another drop of complexity or giving us two seconds to release the tension that has accumulated in our bodies via a well-placed joke or banter. Bond’s interactions with the brainy Q (Ben Whishaw), effeminate but dangerous Silva (Javier Bardem), and inexperienced but determined Eve (Naomie Harris) are so enjoyable, I wished their conversations are longer. By playing with our expectations, not simply focusing on making the action scenes bigger and louder, the picture jolts our brains from going on autopilot, just waiting to be entertained.

Notice that there is not one completely original action sequence and yet all of them work because it is able to draw inspiration from the game-changers and construct the stunts in a such a way that it feels fresh to this universe, from an appropriate number of beats between uncomfortable silence and utter chaos to specific shots cheeky enough to remind us that Bond remains a legend and an inspiration because he is the epitome of a debonair man in a timeless suit.

Perhaps most importantly, Sam Mendes, the director, plays upon his strengths as a filmmaker whose work is mostly rooted in intimate drama. Most interesting being that as the film slinks toward its third act, it has a feeling of something personal at stake for Bond. While he remains a cool-headed professional, the difficult, almost inescapably desperate, circumstances remind us that even though he is trained to be as tough as steel, as calculating as an apex predator, and as cold-hearted as a bullet set on a specific trajectory, there remains a humanity in him. While Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” gave us a Bond with emotional fragility, Mendes’ “Skyfall” is a fitting complement because it gives us a Bond with depth and physical vulnerability.

Ninja Assassin


Ninja Assassin (2009)
★ / ★★★★

I wanted to see this movie because the trailers looked so much fun. I thought it was going to be action-packed and it would be above trying to justify itself with creating ridiculous storylines. Instead, it was bogged down with melodramatic character history and I couldn’t help but question when those scenes were finally going to be over and actually feature some martial arts. Rain played an orphan who was raised to be a ninja but decided to seek revenge against his clan (led by Shô Kosugi) after they killed his close friend who also happened to belong in their group. Meanwhile, Naomie Harris, despite knowing about the lethal nature of ninjas, decided to expose the ninjas and the murders they committed. I honestly had no idea why she did it. I guess it was hard for her to decide between how valuable her life was and fame via unveiling a group of people who were experts in hiding in the shadows for centuries. Any reasonable and logical person would know that choosing the latter would be downright stupid. But I suppose the picture needed to have a reason–any reason–for her to meet a ninja who she could run around with all over Europe and get into action sequences. Speaking of action sequences, as limited as they were, I was even more disappointed with the fact that it was almost incomprehensible. I didn’t mind much the disappearing acts that the ninjas seemed to innately had but I had a big problem with the way the action sequences were shot. Although there were some interesting ones such as the battle scene inside Harris’ home involving shadows and a flashlight, the rest were either annoying because I couldn’t discern who was who or if the good guys or the bag guys were winning or the scenes had no feeling of tension at all. Of course I flinched when I saw gratuitous amount of blood–I liked the bathroom scene–but that was about it. I wasn’t actually excited that the action was happening and I wasn’t impressed with the choreography. Overall, even though I was willing to look past through the weaknesses of this film, “Ninja Assassin, directed by James McTeigue, couldn’t help but disappoint. At times I felt like I was watching a really bad music video where I had no idea what was happening or why. At least music videos, on average, only last about three to four minutes. It was a mind-numbing experience and I wished I saw something else that wouldn’t have resulted to losing my brain cells.