Tag Archives: Dwayne Johnson

Moana (2016, Don Hall, Chris Williams, Ron Clements, and John Musker)

Moana takes a while to find its stride. Directors Clements and Musker and Hall and Williams aren’t at ease until the movie’s on the water. The film starts on a Polynesian island, with a young chief-in-training (Auli’i Cravalho) secretly longing not to be stuck on the island paradise, but out exploring the ocean. Grandmother Rachel House encourages her, dad Temuera Morrison does not, she’s got an adorable pet pig and dimwit chicken as sidekicks… it’s cute, but it’s pretty shallow.

Once the movie gets out to water, however, everything changes. Cravalho isn’t reacting to House or Morrison, the performance all of a sudden has energy and personality. Until that point, it’s been entirely unclear how the story is going to work. Every time it seems like it’s going to be a quest story, Morrison steps in and shuts it down for a few more minutes. The first act of Moana is overlong.

Back to the water. The computer generation animation in Moana has these distinct thick edges for the characters. Again, cute enough, brings in some extra personality, whatever. No, not whatever, because once the characters are on the water, it’s all about how the CG light hits their CG angles to make CG shadows. Moana is shockingly beautiful. And the directors know it. They compose for it. The film gets away with a lot because of that lightning and the composition.

But it’s strongest assets are leads Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson. Johnson’s really, really good, giving a personable, but measured performance. His character–a selfish, disgraced demigod who Cravalho offers a chance at redemption–has a fairly predictable arc so there shouldn’t surprises and there aren’t in the narrative sense, just in how Johnson and Cravalho interact. Johnson’s got an askew distance in his performance, fully supporting Cravalho while still doing rote predicable incorrigible sidekick. It’s a surprisingly good performance, especially since it starts before the directors have shown they can excel at anything. They haven’t proven themselves at sea yet.

Jared Bush’s script is mediocre but fine for the first act. Too long, like I said before… way too long. Then there’s action and conflict and character development and excitement. There’s action, conflict, and character development in the first act, there’s just no excitement.

Land has lectures, ground situation, ground situation songs, and sadness. Ocean has excitement and exciting action. No more lectures, just funny and sometimes touching arguments. Good slapstick. Giant crabs doing Bowie impressions (Jemaine Clement is awesome). Sentient–and evil–coconuts roaming the high seas under the pirate flag. A lava beast. Oh, and a ghost. That’s a particularly gorgeous night sequence, because the light from the ghost–it’s a good ghost–provides the lightning for the figures’ angles.

Moana’s a thoughtful, gorgeous, amiably complex picture. The directors do well, the script does well, the computer animation’s breathtaking. Cravalho, Johnson, and House are all wonderful. It’s a lovely film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Don Hall, Chris Williams, Ron Clements, and John Musker; screenplay by Jared Bush, based on a story by Clements, Musker, Williams, Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell, and Jordan Kandell; edited by Jeff Draheim; music by Mark Mancina; production designer, Ian Gooding; produced by Osnat Shurer; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Auli’i Cravalho (Moana), Dwayne Johnson (Maui), Rachel House (Gramma Tala), Temuera Morrison (Chief Tui), Nicole Scherzinger (Sina), and Jemaine Clement (Tamatoa).


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The Fate of the Furious (2017, F. Gary Gray)

What is the Fate of the Furious? It’s unclear screenwriter Chris Morgan knows–it comes up in the script a little–but it’s a needless portent. The Fate is the cast sitting around listening to Vin Diesel talk about family after they’ve gone through high action and zero character development. Just because they’re all millionaires after one of the sequels doesn’t mean they can’t still have some good old-fashioned wholesome (and no longer goofily ironic) backyard cookout complete with grace. Because Diesel’s just got to get the positive religiosity into Fate of the Furious.

Which really should’ve been called F8 of the Furious or something. Because a movie where two guys flying around with jetpacks not raising any eyebrows needs a much more entertaining title. Fate of the Furious sounds serious and severe, things Fate gives up on relativity early on. The PG–13 rating might have something to do with it. It’s a little toothless.

So after a misfiring first act, which has Diesel going bad because Charlize Theron is blackmailing him, Fate gets a lot better. While Diesel is running Theron’s super villain errands–she’s a super hacker who lives off the grid because she has a private stealth jet–the Furious regulars get a chance to bond. And it works out. Though not as well as when the Rock buddies up with previous entry villain Jason Statham. Lots of likable trash talk. Fate might be the best Dwayne Johnson performance I’ve seen–apparently he just needs a subplot. And Johnson’s subplot in Fate is one of the film’s handful of laugh out loud funny moments. The character stuff is about the only thing director Gray doesn’t have to reign in, so he indulges the actors to good effect.

Even Michelle Rodriguez; she starts the movie terrible and ends up being not annoying. But maybe she gets some sympathy because even if Diesel has his reasons for betraying the team, Morgan’s script gives him a lot of other really awful gestures towards Rodriguez separate from the A plot. In way too many ways, the film picks on Rodriguez. Not for comic relief, just a dramatic drain. Though without taking any responsibility for it; Gray’s busy and Morgan doesn’t care.

After a couple awkward action sequences–one at night, one apparently an attempt at doing more CGI cars than, you know, Pixar’s Cars–Gray gets a better tone. The action gets immediately better once Diesel’s plot has its reveals, which Diesel already knew about just not the audience; it’s just Morgan trying to get drama out of deception. Because once it becomes clear Theron is just a lame Bond villain, Fate becomes a somewhat exaggerated, often comedic Bond movie. Or at least it has the set pieces of a Bond movie, only with the Furious crew running through it. And Gray does a lot better with actors than with CG.

Though Gray doesn’t seem to give the actors much direction, because someone should’ve begged Theron to show some enthusiasm for the role. She sleepwalks through the villain part, embracingly the ludicrous nature of the film instead of immersing herself. And whoever though the dreadlocks were a good idea was wrong. All of her hi-tech gang looks like mid-nineties Eurotrash villains.

So she’s awful, but she’s not really important. Diesel ends up taking the villain slot of the narrative and he’s fine in it. Since he’s constantly deceiving the audience and his costars, he doesn’t really have much to do. Just look sad, stoic, bored. It’s more bravado than performance. And thanks to Gray, it’s effective bravado. Gray might not be able to make those Theron scenes work, but he and editors Christian Wagner and Paul Rubell definitely know how to cut for sympathy.

Statham’s good. He’s fun. Rock’s fine. He’s fun too. Ludacris has his moments but his character’s weak. Same goes for Tyrese Gibson but more so; he’s initially exceptionally annoying, then Scott Eastwood starts hanging out and they bicker. It forces them to have personality, something Eastwood probably wouldn’t have otherwise. He’s Kurt Russell’s sidekick. Kurt Russell is playing a slightly less absurd than an “All My Children” super spy.

Nathalie Emmanuel seems like she should be in a much better movie. Her part’s thin–though everyone’s part is pretty thin–but she manages to make her absurd scenes and silly dialogue seem, if not believable, at least worth suspending disbelief over.

One thing about Fate is it’s real dumb as far as action set piece believability goes. Morgan comes up with this risible technology reasonings and then the special effects crew takes over. And Gray coordinates it all very well. He manages it all very well. The most impressive thing about Fate is how successful it works out given its craven lack of ambition.

And the two minutes of a foul-mouthed (well, for PG–13) and uncredited Helen Mirren help a lot.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by F. Gary Gray; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Paul Rubell and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Vin Diesel, Neal H. Moritz, Michael Fottrell, and Morgan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dom), Charlize Theron (Cipher), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Jason Statham (Deckard), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), Scott Eastwood (Little Nobody), Kristofer Hivju (Rhodes), Celestino Cornielle (Raldo), and Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody).


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Doom (2005, Andrzej Bartkowiak), the unrated version

Doom may very well be the worst inoffensive film I’ve ever seen. Director Bartkowiak and his crew redefine ineptness in production values. No one does a good job, everyone does something benignly terrible, whether it’s photographer Tony Pierce-Roberts’s blue hue for everything or composer Clint Mansell’s inability to create tension. It’s all bad.

Bartkowiak has absolutely no ambition for the film. It’s a video game adaptation featuring a lengthy sequence where the protagonist (Karl Urban) “plays the game” and the audience watches. The action in that scene, mimicking the video game, is–in terms of content–better than any of the other action sequences. Instead of translating the game’s content to a film medium, Bartkowiak rips off every popular sci-fi action movie since the late seventies and creates a bunch of Mars-centered nonsense.

It’s pointless. Why bother? Because it’s obvious and bad and it’s sort of compelling to see something where no one tries so nothing can go right or wrong. The blue lighting, for example. How much does it matter? Good lighting wouldn’t make the movie any good, just a little bit more competent. Not even better, because the ineptness is the closest Doom gets to charm.

There’s some decent acting from Deobia Oparei and Razaaq Adoti. Bad acting from Richard Brake and Al Weaver. The three leads–Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike and Dwayne Johnson–are sometimes okay and sometimes bad.

Doom is a terrible film. But the script’s inventively derivative enough to keep it moving.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak; screenplay by Dave Callaham and Wesley Strick, based on a story by Callaham; director of photography, Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Derek Brechin; music by Clint Mansell; production designer, Stephen Scott; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and John Wells; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Karl Urban (John Grimm), Dwayne Johnson (Sarge), Rosamund Pike (Samantha Grimm), Deobia Oparei (Destroyer), Razaaq Adoti (Duke), Richard Brake (Portman), Al Weaver (The Kid), Brian Steele (Hell Knight), Ben Daniels (Goat), Yao Chin (Mac) and Dexter Fletcher (Pinky).


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Furious 7 (2015, James Wan)

Furious 7 has some really bad CGI. And I’m not talking about the creepy Paul Walker head at the end (during the utterly out of place and terribly integrated memorial sequence). It’s everything. Director Wan doesn’t know how to shoot a single scene in Furious, not the action scenes, definitely not the car scenes, even more not the fight scenes. No one–not Wan, not his four editors, not his two photographers–cares about making the action work in Furious. The CGI doesn’t improve it or solve a physically impractical problem. It’s just the easiest way to do it. Cheap CGI.

Of course, cheap is the keyword for Furious. Screenwriter Chris Morgan has only a handful of scenes not directly related to Kurt Russell (cashing a paycheck as a CIA agent) hiring Vin Diesel and company; those scenes are desperately melodramatic, either involving Michelle Rodriguez’s memory loss, Jordana Brewster not wanting to henpeck Paul Walker too much or… no, I think those two subplots are it.

Even Jason Statham hunting down Diesel, Walker and everyone else is underused. Once Morgan and Wan establish Statham, he just shows up in every action sequence to wreck havoc. What could have been anarchy working through the movie is instead a painfully bad performance from Statham.

Really terrible supporting performances from John Brotherton, Tony Jaa and Djimon Hounsou.

Wan’s a bad director; he sinks Furious. The movie is absurdly mercenary. No imagination went into anything. Except maybe the cars and Wan can’t shoot those.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Wan; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; directors of photography, Marc Spicer and Stephen F. Windon; edited by Leigh Folsom Boyd, Dylan Highsmith, Kirk M. Morri and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel and Michael Fottrell; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Jason Statham (Deckard Shaw), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), John Brotherton (Sheppard), Tony Jaa (Kiet), Djimon Hounsou (Jakande), Ronda Rousey (Kara), Elsa Pataky (Elena), Lucas Black (Sean Boswell) and Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody).


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