Big, Bad Movie in Theaters
Big weekend! I mean, physically large—the movie itself is pretty forgettable. So, that’s a shame, but there are some excellent little indies to seek out, plus reason for optimism as the warm weather brings out all the early-season superheroes in just a couple of weeks.
Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I miss the cohesive vision of Battleship, a movie that is no longer the dullest adaptation of a game. That’s because Rampage exists, the latest video game adaptation to suggest that Hollywood is intentionally tanking these things to convince audiences that movies are a superior medium.
To be fair, there are far worse adaptations out there. Rampage reunites director Brad Peyton with disasters, Dwayne Johnson and green screen destruction, last seen together in San Andreas (2015). Peyton knows how to keep the action moving along, and Johnson is extremely adept by now at oozing charm no matter how nonsensical the material.
Johnson plays primatologist Davis Okoye, whose beloved gorilla George is one of three beasts who fall victim to rogue genetic engineering and cut a destructive path through the country as they all converge on the company responsible for their mutation.
Because some tension is needed to pad out the sparse story, Okoye is joined by genetic engineer Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) and government agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who all have reservations teaming up at first but come to learn that they have more in common than not. For example, they are the only three people involved in the relief effort who think maybe it’s not a good idea to level a major American city.
Sure, the plot is inane and the dialogue breaks new ground in expository heights—especially from the film’s human antagonists, corporate baddies Claire and Brett Wyden (Malin Åckerman and Jake Lacy, who do about as much as possible for being tasked with Explaining Things We Just Saw a Minute Ago).
Rampage’s script-by-committee strives to meet some golden ratio of one-liners and world-ending peril. And the cast is game, plainly knowing what they’ve signed onto. But something still feels off, and it’s a fatal problem for a movie like this when the biggest tension isn’t onscreen but rather a nagging conflict between millions of dollars and who knows how many studio honchos never quite committing to whether this should be a serious property or a popcorn flick.
While the Rampage video game series managed to pay tribute to its monster movie conventions as much as it tore them down, all of that gets ignored for something so by-the-numbers that the number of people credited for the screenplay is the only thing less believable than the movie’s treatment of genetics. (Also physics.)
And, as if Rampage needed anymore off-screen problems, Warner Bros. isn’t doing themselves any favors by reminding people of King Kong and Godzilla at a time when the studio’s “MonsterVerse” is giving those properties insightful, visually distinct and even daring reboots.
If you’re under the age of 13 and might enjoy seeing The Rock swap crude jokes with a CGI gorilla—or if you’re over the age of 30 and have an inexplicably intense connection to a niche video game series—then there’s a chance Rampage is for you.
Otherwise, it’s a muddled genre substitute for the real thing. Save your quarters.
Where is Kyra?
Even if you hated last year’s polarizing mother! (let’s argue about that later), Michelle Pfeiffer’s bracing performance was a reality check for anyone who doubted her chops.
But that was a supporting role well-suited for scene stealing. Pfeiffer takes the titular lead in Where is Kyra?, the latest from director Andrew Dosunmu, and not only carries, but elevates a film anchored in some grim realities of American life.
Her Kyra is an increasingly desperate woman struggling to keep her deceased mother’s apartment in Brooklyn. Though Kyra continues to look for work, nothing pans out except a dive-bar romance with Doug (Kiefer Sutherland – solid), a cabbie trying to turn his own life around.
Mom’s government checks keep coming after the funeral, and the job offers don’t, so Kyra begins a secret life with slim hopes for happy endings.
Dosunmu, in his first film since the heartfelt and wonderful Mother of George five years ago, re-ups with screenwriter Darci Picoult and again utilizes a stirring lead performance to study a woman faced with shrinking options and tough choices.
But, in contrast to the culture clash that drove Danai Gurira in Mother of George, Pfeiffer’s Kyra personifies the perils of aging in America, and how quickly the slope to desperation can become quite slippery. Pfeiffer is masterful, giving Kyra’s tailspin an authentic center even as Dosunmu and Piccoult box her into a corner with questionable credibility.
Frequent partial shots through doorways, lingering close ups and selective slo-motion enable Dosunmu to move gracefully from monochromatic grit to dreamlike lenses and back again, each trip reinforcing the reality Kyra can’t wish away. The pace may seem achingly slow at times, the message a tad too manufactured at others, but Pfeiffer is always there to keep your attention from wandering.
She pays it small, with an intimately sorrowful center both sympathetic and fascinating, holding Where is Kyra? steady whenever its knees get shaky.
12 Days screens this weekend only at the Wexner Center for the Arts.
Like a fly on the wall, Raymond Depardon takes his audience inside a world most will never see, and many may never want to see again.
In France, anyone committed to a psychiatric hospital without consent must be seen by a judge within 12 days. At that time, the judge will decide whether to continue their treatment or release them from care. Each patient’s doctor, or group of doctors, provides recommendations to the judge. In every case Depardon is privy to, the doctors never recommend release for their patients.
Only one woman is okay with this decision. She admits she needs additional care and seems happy with the judge’s decision to continue her treatment for another six months. For the rest, they desire their freedom.
Many of the patients are lucid. They argue their cases before the judge, promising to seek treatment from their own doctors, find jobs, and do what they can to lead healthy lives. When they’re remitted back into the care of the hospital, they promise to appeal the decision (they have ten days to appeal any decision made by the judge).
For others, it is clear their mental health is poor. One man is unable to answer questions from the judge; it’s as if he is having a separate conversation, one that only makes sense to him. Another man begs the judge to find his father and have his father come visit him. Only after he leaves the room does the judge comment on why his father will never visit.
It’s an interesting conundrum for the judges, who must rely on the recommendations of the doctors to make their decisions. Do they struggle with their decision when patients have clear goals for their lives outside of the hospital?
Depardon doesn’t give us any answers. He remains an unbiased observer never offering a narrative to sway the viewer. We’re never given any information outside of what we see inside the small, claustrophobic courtroom. This may irritate some viewers who may wish to know more about each of the individuals seen before the judges or the circumstances surrounding their care. For those open to simply taking what Depardon gives, the film is likely to raise many important questions about the nature of mental health care.
Also opening in Columbus:
Borg McEnroe (NR)
Finding Your Feet (PG-13)
Summer in the Forest (NR)
Truth or Dare (PG-13)
Reviews with help from George Wolf, Matt Weiner and Rachel Willis.