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REVIEW: Skyscraper (2018)

Framed for the unfolding disaster, security expert Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) must infiltrate the world’s tallest building as it burns to save his family who are trapped inside with criminals.

If the premise of Skyscraper sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because you’ve seen some variation of this film before and it hits some pretty generic action beats to move the plot along. It’s also very easy to make comparisons to Die Hard and The Towering Inferno. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say Skyscraper is a combination of the two. Luckily for Skyscraper it has Dwayne Johnson as it’s lead, so some terrible dialogue and recycled plot points are easier to ignore.

Honestly the charisma and star power of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson really has to be admired as he will make any generic action film watchable. Will Sawyer is a compelling character who happens to be ex-military and is an amputee with a prosthetic leg. Having the hero of this disaster movie be more vulnerable was a nice touch. While Will was still strong and capable of running through fires, climbing buildings and fighting bad guys, there are moments where he has to stop and check his prosthetic leg over. Plus, as the days turmoil goes on it shows how having a prosthetic leg can be both a help and a hinderance in this unique situation. There are some action sequences that make use of the prosthetic leg, but on the whole, it is just shown as a part of him and that he is just fighting to save his family.

The performances from the supporting cast are solid too with people like Noah Taylor and Chin Han showing up making you go “I know him from somewhere!” Neve Campbell plays Sarah, Will’s wife, and she actually ends up with more to do than you think.

The set pieces are pretty spectacular, and I imagine seeing Skyscraper on a big screen would’ve made them even more impressive – and maybe even a sense of vertigo. The sequences where Will is climbing outside of the building, or his family is running through the burning building are good though the closer hand to hand fight scenes are a bit harder to follow and look a little messy at times.

Skyscraper isn’t really anything new to the disaster/action move genre, and it’s more serious than you’d expect, but it’s still reasonably enjoyable even if you can predict a lot of what happens and everything gets wrapped up unexpectedly quickly. 3/5.

REVIEW: Bloodshot (2020)

After he and his wife are murdered, Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) wakes up with no memories, having been resurrected and enhanced by a team of scientists. The nanotechnology in his blood makes him a super soldier and near indestructible. But as flashes of what happened to his wife come back to him, he seeks revenge, not realising that there might be more to his resurrection than he was led to believe.

Bloodshot is an action/sci-fi film that doesn’t quite now if it wants to be cheesy and fun or overly serious. Vin Diesel is his usual growly self. Is decent in the fight sequences and does a good job at being confused when needed. The supporting cast are pretty fun, with them all fitting the usual tropes. After Ray wakes up, he meets Dr Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), the scientist who saved and enhanced him, along with other former military personal who have been given a new lease of life by Harting’s technology.

KT (Eiza González) is the former soldier that gets the most development and appears to have more of a moral integrity than the others. There are small moments with her that make you start to suspect there’s something more going on. Alas those moments are small because the answers are given far too quickly.

There is some intrigue to be had in Bloodshot but unfortunately due to the script being chockfull of exposition – honestly some characters just monologue on their motivations or backstory at the drop of a hat – the intrigue comes to nothing. It’s like the filmmakers didn’t trust the audience was smart enough to pay attention to some pretty big cues and to puzzle together what was happening themselves. Instead, anytime there seemed to be a moment where new information was being revealed, it was explained almost straightaway.

The action and special effects with the nanotechnology are pretty good. There’s an action sequence in a tunnel that really stands out. The action is contained to a small area and it really showcases the power Ray has at his fingertips. It’s also lit by red flares and the smoke and powder everywhere along with the dramatic score and slow-motion shots, makes it an aesthetically pleasing sequence.

That being said, another action scene stands out for the wrong reasons. There’s an action/chase sequence that’s supposed to be taking part in London, but it is so clearly not in London that it’s completely jarring. It doesn’t even look like the characters are in the UK anymore as they run down side streets and encounter police cars that look nothing like UK police cars. At a guess, I’d say it was filmed in a Mediterranean country because the houses and shops in the UK look nothing like the ones in that sequence.

The concept of Bloodshot is interesting and while the majority of the action sequences are well shot and engaging, the actual plot doesn’t live up to its potential. 2/5.

While I’ve included the trailer like I always do, I’d not recommend watching it as it gives away the majority of the twists and turns in Bloodshot.

T is for Troy (2004)

When Trojan Prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) falls in love with Helen of Sparta (Diane Kruger) and brings her home with him, it plunges the two kingdoms into war. Paris’s older brother Hector (Eric Bana) leads Trojan’s armies, while undefeatable warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt) fights with Greece’s forces, led by the power-hungry Agamemnom (Brian Cox).

The scale of Troy is epic. The costumes, makeup and set design should all be commended. Not sure how much of the setting of Troy is practical vs computer generated, but it still looks impressive over fifteen years later. However, the battles are hit and miss in terms of how easy to follow they are. The big battles need some more wide shots because when you see the scope of it all it is spectacular. The one on one fights though are tense and thrilling and the actors really look like they’re trying to take each other’s heads off.

There are a lot of characters in Troy, and with all the names that often have multiple syllables it’s difficult to keep track of who is who. It’s easier to refer to characters by the actor who plays them than anything else and, whether it’s down to script or performance (or both), a lot of them aren’t that memorable or are well-rounded characters.

The dialogue is really rather clunky thanks to there needing to be so much exposition to set up all of these characters and their motivations. Some of the performances seem a little wooden at times too – Orlando Bloom being the main culprit of this. The chemistry between key characters isn’t always there either, making it more difficult to invest in them and their relationship.

For instance, the one between Briseis (Rose Byrne) and Achilles is framed as a big romantic love story thanks to the score and the dialogue. But It’s often uncomfortable to watch as Byrne and Pitt do not have any chemistry and the fact that, while he says otherwise, for all intents and purposes Briseis is his captive. It makes an unpleasant power dynamic. However, the chemistry between Bloom and Bana as the two Princes of Troy is great. Kudos to the casting department because they really do look like brothers, and they work really well as brothers too.

Troy is a decent action film if you enjoy the whole sand and sandals, epic ancient history battles kind of thing. Though it’s long and drags a bit at times, on the whole it’s an engaging watch, especially if you don’t know the whole story of Troy. 3/5.

S is for Sudden Impact (1983)

Trigger warnings for scenes of rape.

After angering a gang of criminals, San Francisco Detective Harry Callahan’s (Clint Eastwood) bosses send him on an out-of-town case until things calm down. But things are never quiet for Harry. In the seaside town he ends up there’s Jennifer (Sondra Locke), a rape victim who is exacting her revenge on her attackers, and soon Harry ends up following the case.

Sudden Impact is the fourth film following Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry. It’s been a good few years since I’ve watched the first three so I can’t compare it to them in terms of quality or Harry as a character’s story arc.

That being said, this film sees Harry as a man who sees murderers as murderers with very little grey area to move in. This means having the serial killer he’s chasing having a very understandable motive as she was a victim of a heinous crime, means there’s some interesting ground to cover in terms of Harry’s character. Unfortunately, this aspect is never really fully explored besides some lingering gazes and Jennifer being able to keep up when verbally sparring with Harry.

Jennifer is a compelling character and it’s refreshing to see her be allowed to be angry and scared, and how she seeks “justice” is never framed as a bad thing – especially once the audience knows her motives. The scenes when she confronts her rapists are powerful and Locke gives a steely performance in those moments.

The car and foot chases sometimes feel a bit dated, but the score is a great at increasing the tension in the sequences. The final act is exciting as Harry begins to put everything together and he and Jennifer both become caught up in danger.

Sudden Impact is an intriguing detective story that puts the killer almost on par with the hero in terms of screen time and understanding. 4/5.

Q is for The Quake (2018)

Three years after surviving a deadly tsunami, geologist Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner) is estranged from his family as he struggles to deal with the fallout and the constant fear of another tragedy. When his friend and fellow scientist shares with him his data on the tremors in Oslo, Kristian rushes to the city to learn more and to try and save his family from an impending tragedy.

The Quake is the sequel to The Wave and stars the same actors as the central family. Much like its predecessor, The Quake puts many big budget Hollywood disaster movies to shame. By focusing on so few people, you become invested in their survival and how they fight to overcome such a huge natural disaster.

Everything about The Quake builds tension brilliantly. The first half of the film is focussed on Kristian’s research and how he struggles to connect with people when he feels he has to be ready to save people at any time. The Quake does a great job as showing the lasting effects on living through an ordeal like a tsunami and even if you survive it, there’s still so many things you must come to term with. The score is haunting and slowly amps up the tension as Kristian begins to put things together, even when others aren’t sure there’s anything to worry about.

When disaster does hit, it’s horrifyingly spectacular. In a strange way the catastrophe seems almost earnt as you’ve had to wait for so long, and by waiting, you’ve become more attached to the characters and are more invested in their fates. With the aftershocks and collapsing buildings, The Quake never stops being a nerve-wracking experience as everything that could possibly go wrong does.

The Quake keeps you on the edge of your seat but never forgoes common sense or character development. Just like the first film, it’s well worth the watch – even if it may make you slightly hesitant about visiting Norway any time soon, because as it says in the end credits, the country is overdue for a large-scale earthquake. 5/5.

O is for Outlander (2008)

During the reign of the Vikings, Kainan (Jim Caviezel) a man from a far-off world, crash lands on Earth bringing with him a deadly alien predator known as the Moorwen. On Earth he meets King Hrothgar (John Hurt) and his people who he tries to convince that something a lot deadlier than warring tribes is out to get them.

Outlander is one of those films I’d seen pop up on Netflix for ages before I finally decided to watch it, and admittedly I thought it’d be pretty rubbish based on the premise. I mean, guy from a place with far superior technology has to deal with primitive Vikings? It sounded cringey. Luckily, instead of being condescending towards the townspeople, Kainan is actually a pretty chill and adaptable guy and looks for a way to work with these people, even if they don’t believe him straightaway.

While you might think that there may be humour derived from the culture clash between Kainan and the Viking people, that’s not the case at all. In fact, Outlander is serious and gets straight down to the action and it is often bloody action too.

The tension in Outlander comes from two places, the suspense of waiting to see the Moorwen and the conflict between Kainan and warrior Wulfric (Jack Huston). The two of them butt heads over how to deal with the threat facing them all as they struggle to trust one another. Surprisingly, while Wulfric is set up as an antagonist for Kainan the film does allow him some growth and their dynamic becomes interesting. The film makes you wait to see the Moorwen, showing you glimpses of the large creature and flashes of light as Kainan and the others go hunting. It also throws in a few red herrings as well, making you wait even longer for the big reveal.

The blend of sci-fi monster and Middle Age aesthetic works surprisingly well, and though sometimes the film does drag, Outlander ends up being an unexpectedly engaging monster movie. 3/5.

N is for National Treasure (2004)

Archaeologist Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage) races to find the legendary Templar Treasure before a team of mercenaries, led by former friend and colleague Ian Howe (Sean Bean).

So I have seen National Treasure many times before, but as I don’t own a film beginning with the letter N that I had not seen before, and I rewatched the National Treasure movies the other day because they bring me joy, I thought it would do fine for this challenge.

National Treasure is just so much fun. It’s a heist movie (one of my favourite genres of movie) with history (one of my favourite subjects at school). Sure, the premise of hidden treasure and a secret, invisible map on the back of the Declaration of Independence is farfetched and kind of silly but who cares?! This premise makes a great film!

Ben along with his best friend and tech genius Riley (Justin Bartha) are the ones trying to stop Ian – their thinking is they must steal the Declaration of Independence in order to protect it. As their heist gets underway archivist Dr Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) gets caught up in their plans and the three of them are forced to work together to figure out the clues and find the treasure before Ian does.

The main trio of characters are all great. They are all well-rounded, they each have their own skills and knowledge to contribute to finding the treasure, and they just fit together nicely. Riley isn’t related to comedy sidekick and Ben doesn’t always have all of the answers.

The action sequences are well shot and exciting, and the score, composed by Trevor Rabin, is great and the central motif just works so well. The mysteries and double crosses that are key to a heist and a treasure hunt are all there and the film goes by at a good pace so you are never bored.

National Treasure is just a fun adventure film that knows exactly what it is, and it does it incredibly well. It’s pure escapism for a couple of hours and I love it. 5/5.

K is for K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

When Russia’s first nuclear submarine malfunctions on its maiden voyage, the crew, led by Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), must race to save the ship and prevent a nuclear disaster.

I’m not sure if Harrison Ford even attempted a Russian accent in this. His usual growl is present throughout and his accent is more noticeable in some scenes than others. Liam Neeson on the other hand, who plays executive officer Mikhail Polenin and second in command on the sub, pretty much nails the accent. Accents aside, they both give engaging performances. There’s tension between the two men, Vostrikov is the new captain and repeatedly pushes his crew through drills while Polenin is more personable and well-liked by the crew.

It’s how Vostrikov and Polenin bounce off of one another and try and work together when there’s mistrust from other members of the crew as some see Polenin as their captain, that drives the first half of the film. K-19: The Widowmaker spends plenty of time giving you an overview of the crew, both the higher ranks and the lower ranks, and seeing what it takes to man a submarine. This means that when the reactor malfunctions, plunging the entire crew in danger, the tension you have a decent idea of who is who and what’s their responsibilities.

The second half turns up the tension as men volunteer to be exposed to radiation so they can try and save the submarine and their comrades. The score can be overly dramatic at times but when it works, especially when men are being subjected to the radiation, it works. It’s quieter and feels almost respectful to what’s happening on screen. The effects of the radiation are never underplayed and it’s tough to watch the men’s bodies shut down, and the fear of the rest of the crew as they try and keep the submarine afloat.

K-19: The Widowmaker highlights both the best and worst of people in a crisis, and how it’s the people on the frontline who are often screwed over by superiors who cut corners and push for things to meet ridiculous deadlines for political clout.

Based on real events, K-19: The Widowmaker is overall a gripping film that makes good use of the claustrophobic nature of a submarine. The fact that these events happened, and the lengths the crew went to to try and save one another is astonishing. As is the fact that it was apparently kept secret by the Soviet Union for so long. 4/5.

J is for Jarhead (2005)

True story about US marine sniper Anthony Swofford’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) experience in the Gulf War. As he and his unit are stationed in the Persian Gulf for months on end with little chance of seeing any action, he struggles with thoughts that his girlfriend back home is cheating on him and his mental state deteriorates.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a fantastic lead and Swofford is a compelling character that your eyes are drawn to whenever he’s on screen. The moments of intensity when he loses it are as scary as the dead look in his eyes when his superior Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx) is reprimanding him. The supporting cast are great too which include Peter Sarsgaard as Swofford’s spotter and Lucas Black as a marine who criticises the politics of the conflict and the often-faulty equipment they are given.

Seeing how Swofford and the others cope, or don’t, with the monotony of waiting in a desert for something to do and how their idea of war is vastly different to the reality, is interesting. Especially as even if you see no or little action, your mind and body are still almost constantly focussed in order to react at any second if needed.

That being said, it’s difficult to figure out what this film is trying to say and who you’re supposed to be sympathising with. So many of the men are eager to kill an unknown enemy and are desperate to see action. It’s a bloodlust that’s uncomfortable to watch but when you see the environment that that attitude is bred in it’s hard to see how anyone wouldn’t go almost feral. The arduous bootcamp, where superior officers belittle, abuse and yell at the soldiers, forces the men to develop thick skin and a whole other way at looking at the world.

It’s understandable that those on the frontline need to be tough and capable, but to the extents that the men are pushed to are debatable. Plus, it’s like those in charge whose rhetoric is treated as gospel don’t learn that their actions have consequences, and superior officers are almost surprised when their men act out due to boredom or depravity.

No soldier deserves the abuse they receive by their superior officers or their fellow soldiers. And there’s no denying the effects of war, whether they see action or not, can be incredibly mentally taxing. However, are these all good men who are mistreated or lied to by the system they joined up to? Or do some of them use their training and perceived superiority in order to act however they wish? Perhaps in some cases it’s both, and maybe it’s a good thing that Jarhead leaves that decision up to the viewer.

Jarhead is a well-shot film with good performances. It can be tense and unsettling and the way it gives an unflinching look at a soldier’s life during war can make you take a long, hard look at the military system as a whole. 3/5.

D is for The Dead Pool (1988)

Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) must stop a sick secret contest to murder local celebrities, which includes himself as a target.

The Dead Pool is the fifth and (so far but I doubt there’ll ever be more but who knows with the likes of Harrison Ford still making Indiana Jones movies) final Dirty Harry movie. Like its predecessors, it has Harry growling at anyone who gets in his way and being involved in wanton destruction, but while this film has its action and violence, it’s surprisingly funny.

The Dead Pool has one of the most entertaining and inventive car chase sequences I’ve seen, and it contains a remote-control car the exudes menace. It makes great use of its San Francisco setting with all the hills and the score is just great. It’s equally parts fun and thrilling which I really wasn’t expecting from when the remote-control car first appeared.

Harry Callahan gets a new partner in Al Quan (Evan C. Kim) and they and their fellow officers are very aware that Harry’s partners often get injured or killed on the job. Al and Harry have an easy report with each other almost straightaway as Al rolls with the whatever dangerous situations he ends up in by being connected to Harry. However, it is a bit stereotypical that as Al is Asian American, he knows martial arts and stops a bad guy by using his skills.

Part of the fun of watching The Dead Pool is seeing some of the actors who are involved. Jim Carrey plays a musician, Patricia Clarkson reporter Samantha Walker who wants to do a piece on Harry, and Liam Neeson plays horror movie director, Peter Swan, who gets caught up in the celebrity murder contest. Neeson’s Swan is a wonderfully over-the-top director who gets under a lot of people’s skin due to his perfectionism and his temper. The scenes with Swan and Callahan are great fun as their personalities are such opposites you’re never sure which one is going to snap first.

The Dead Pool is a fun, entertaining crime film. Plus, its runtime is under 90 minutes and while there’s a lot going on, the pacing is good and the mystery keeps you guessing and intrigued as Harry slowly unravels the case. 4/5.