Dwayne Johnson’s Newest Will Leave Audiences in a Rampage

1.5 out 5 stars (one of the worst I’ve seen this year)

Rampage Poster
Image from IMPawards.com

Rampage is one of the most bizarrely terrible movies I’ve seen this year.  Taking its “story” from the always successful-source of a video game, this film collapses on impact due to insultingly underdeveloped characters, less-than-half-baked ideas, and a cast full of people who look either confused or bored throughout (excluding an appropriately hammy Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who understands the malarkey he’s in).  I don’t often leave for the restroom without qualms on missing vital pieces of plot info, but Rampage was an exception.  I knew where it was going, and it wasn’t anywhere good.

Dwayne Johnson is Davis Okoye, an ex-military man-turned-primatologist for a nature preserve who prefers animals to humans.  His main charge is George (a truly awful bit of CGI), an ape with a quirky sense of humor.  However, their lives change when George encounters a piece of scientific technology from space that causes him to grow in size and aggression, leading to the involvement of Government Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), scientist Kate Caldwell (a laughably unconvincing Naomie Harris) , and the worst onscreen military this side of Godzilla 98.  Oh yeah, there’s also a generic evil corporation headed by Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) whose experiments also lead to a giant flying wolf and alligator.  Now, Okoye and Co. must stop the animals from destroying Chicago and possibly save George in the process, all while dealing with their half-hearted personal dramas that have no actual bearing on this story.

I would normally discuss performances here, except for there isn’t much for me to go into.  Dwayne Johnson has never been Lawrence Olivier, but his usual charisma is painfully suppressed here, save for a few out-of-place jokes that go against the needlessly serious tone.  Harris and Akerman are completely miscast here, failing to sell a single line of their awful dialogue.  The only person to almost salvage the project is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays his over-the-top stereotype to a tee and brought much-needed (if not always unintentional) levity.  He’s playing the part like he’s in a Sharknado movie, which is what this should have been, while everyone else can’t decide to play it straight or not.  It’s awkward, perplexing, and honestly boring watching these actors try to make ice cream out these cat droppings called a script, and made me hope they all got big pay days.

The action, when it finally arrives, also fails.  This is the same kind of wanton destruction we saw in the Pacific Rim and Godzilla movies, but without any of the fun.  I tuned out shockingly early, realizing that the action was the only thing the filmmakers cared about, but was amazed when even that underwhelmed (an exception being George’s final move to defeat the giant wolf).  What’s more, the movie is executed like a lazy children’s flick, but has dialogue peppered with swear words that most parents wouldn’t want their youngsters repeating.  Swearing in films doesn’t bother me most of the time, but its inclusion here is unnecessary.  There’s a perfectly solid babysitter movie here, but the 4 screenwriters and 7 executive producers mucked it up.

Lastly, the portrayal of the military in this film is absolutely juvenile, with a general giving the go ahead to bomb Chicago to stop the monsters, despite both his own troops and civilians still being in the area.  I know that casualties are often a risk with operations like this, but the general starts shooting at the animals directly after Johnson tells him that doing so will accomplish nothing, which it does.  I don’t normally notice the misrepresentation of the military in film, but this particular case left me irritated as I watched our national defense be made into idiots.  This makes the Transformers franchise look realistic in comparison.

Rampage is an overlong, boring, and horribly acted mess that fails as a dark action film, a fun summer blockbuster, or a babysitter kids film (the latter of which would have saved it from my disgust).  I was bored from beginning to end, mentally counting the minutes until I could leave.  It only gets the 1.5 star rating because of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and one cool kill.  Besides that, this Rampage is pointless.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Violence, Action, and Destruction, Brief Language (surprising, given the amount they swear here), and, pathetically, Some Crude Gestures (one of which, despite getting an honest laugh out of me, was totally inappropriate for children to see).  Skip it.

This article also appeared on https://theboldopinion.com/ on April 18, 2018.

The Black Business Mixer from the View of a Millennial

This article originally appeared on https://theboldopinion.com/ on April 15, 2018

The business world is a hard place to break into for millennials.  I always questioned how new or smaller businesses were supposed to get their foot in the door with so many big companies in place.  Imagine my surprise upon attending the Black Business Mixer Atlanta, a bi-monthly get-together of new and burgeoning businesses meet and network with one another so they may learn how to better their own business ventures and help new ones thrive.  A more hopeful sight could not be seen.

Walking around the event, I saw people who were excited about their professions, from upcoming musical talent Naja the Artist to the delicious Sweet Cravings Shoppe.  The event also hosted business owner Phyllis Iller, who spoke on how to grow and expand your business.  This was the moment where I realized the importance of events like this: They are a communal, non-combative way for people to meet both others in their field (I met Rose Royse, a writer for Shustring Magazine) and build a foundation for strong professional and personal relationships.  My personal takeaway from the night: Learn how to operate an Instagram page, as most businesses are utilizing the image-sharing service to promote their events and content.

I only wish the event was bigger.  There is a wealth of growing businesses both in and outside Atlanta that would benefit immensely from this event.  As the owner and operator of a small blog myself, I can say without a doubt that the Black Business Mixer Atlanta would be educational for any business in making professional connections, learning how to expand their own venture, and giving the knowledge that they are not the only ones looking to make a dent in the corporate landscape.

My internship with The Bold Opinion has been extremely informative.  I feel more confident in my abilities to research and discuss topical issues, and have developed a greater respect for news media.  In a landscape where many of my peers will either side with the poplar consensus on an issue or completely ignore them, I will choose to examine all the facts of an issue or event before commenting on it.  I know looking at the entire picture of a news story before making your mind up seems revolutionary, but that’s just my Bold Opinion.

The Black Business Mixer Atlanta meets bi-monthly.  Tickets are $10 through EventBrite.

 

Gun Control: Mental Health is Real

This article was originally published on www.theboldopinion.com on March 10, 2018.

School shootings are becoming more and more common.  Lives are lost, tears are shed, and the media is left repeating the same phrases: that the event is a tragedy; it should have been avoided, thoughts and prayers, etc.  Many media outlets blame the NRA, with some even suggesting the second amendment be abolished (which would cause more harm than good).  It seems to me that a more obvious element is being ignored: mental health.

According to Atlanta-based neuropsychologist Lynda Boucagnani-Whitehead, PH.D, one solution would be to place “school-based teams where people could voice their concerns so they could start to offer services to help the student”.  She believes increasing the number of on-campus psychologists and other professionals would make it easier to identify and defuse potential threats.  As well, those professionals should be allowed to alert the proper authorities if they believe their patients present a potential danger to themselves or others.

I spoke with Rusty Morris, owner of One Target Gun Club in Peachtree City GA.  An ex police officer, Morris stated that background checks completed through the NICS only denies the purchase of a firearm if the individual has been arrested or has a restraining order, not because of mental health concerns.   When asked how he would resolve school shootings, Morris said, “Politicians don’t have the will to put the money toward stronger security.  The reason you don’t see someone shooting up a senate building is because they have strong security”.

I believe that both Morris and Boucagnani-Whitehead are correct: School security should be increased, but those schools also need to start taking their students’ mental health as seriously as their test scores.  Academic engagement is vital to the growth of children and young adults, but they won’t be able to focus on schoolwork if they’re afraid that their school, their community, and their lives could end at any minute.  In my opinion, the way to stop school shootings is twofold: Increase security to deter potential shooters and place as much emphasis on their mental wellbeing as their academic.

The Portrayal of Suicide in Media Needs to Change

This article was originally published on www.theboldopinion.com on April 2, 2018.

Warning: This article contains discussion of suicide spoilers for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and 13 Reasons Why.  If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal ideations, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

The 2010s should be a decade to remember.  Now more than ever, media outlets are tackling hot-button issues with unprecedented insight and sensitivity.  We are seeing shows, films, books, and even video games successfully explore issues such as political unrest, racism, and drug/alcohol abuse respectfully, often with little sermonizing.  It is a wonderful feeling to see these and other issues not be ignored, as they affect thousands of people every day and should get their time in the sun.

However, there is one issue that is continuously mishandled by the media: The portrayal of suicide and its aftermath.  Suicide is a heavy topic that no one ever wants to think about, but that is precisely the reason why we need to discuss it respectfully and without simplification.  In 2017, we saw two television shows take suicide by the horns in an attempt to make it a part of the global conversation: 13 Reasons Why, a teen drama centering on a teen suicide and its aftereffects, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a musical dramedy about relationships.  Ironically, I feel that the latter explores suicidal ideations and their ripples far better than the show that uses that exact idea as its selling point.

13 Reasons Why follows a boy named Clay whose world is rocked when his friend Hannah commits suicide, leaving behind 13 tapes that reveal the people and events that led to her act.  The series fails to portray a realistic world or bring Hannah’s mental health into the conversation.  What’s worse, the suicide scene is needlessly graphic and is accompanied by narration describing exactly what and how Hannah did it, including a shot of the bloody wound.  Lastly, the school guidance counselor does not attempt to contact Hannah’s parents after noticing warning signs in a conversation with her before the act (something he is legally allowed to do if he believes she may be a danger to herself or others).  This show could have made waves of positive change had it played the events realistically, but falls flat on its face by succumbing to teen melodrama and overusing fancy camerawork in an attempt to hide it.

On the other side, there’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a musical comedy about a girl who leaves her high-paying job in New York to stalk her ex in California.  While the idea seems poised to fail, the show exploits it for both comedic and dramatic effect, commenting on modern relationships and, in the 3rd season, diagnosing its lead character with Borderline Personality Disorder after a failed suicide attempt and spending the remainder of said season watching her slow recovery.  While the music and humor might not work for everyone, its exploration of mental illness is one that has thankfully garnered positive attention from multiple outlets.  The suicide attempt is also shown here, but the show takes great pains to show her sessions with a psychologist and a few group therapy meetings.   After she gets out of the hospital, one of her friends begs her never to try it again, to which she responds, “I would like to promise you that… but I can’t…. I don’t know what the future holds, so I can’t promise anything to anybody but myself”.  That type of honesty is poignant and heartbreaking, which is exactly what it should be when discussing something like this.  While there are a few isolated jokes later in the season that slightly lessen the impact, they don’t derail the momentum at all.  It is quite interesting that a show with wacky musical numbers and surreal humor produced by a network mainly known for teen and superhero dramas (the CW) is more adept at handling this topic than the Netflix series with a popular book as its basis.

Television is a powerful medium that can leave lasting impacts on the world.  While some shows push boundaries in terms of their violence, profanity, or sexual material, others use it as a means to discuss harsh realities while still providing an entertaining watch.  I’m not saying that 13 Reasons Why is the worst show to happen to humanity or that Crazy Ex is a flawless gem; both have high and low points that make it better and worse than others in its ilk.  Ultimately, if TV producers want to discuss suicide, then they need to do it in a way that informs the general population that there is help out there for people who need it, and never, under any circumstances, overdramatize the situation for the sake of controversy.  For some, it could very well be the difference between life and death.

 

Ready Player One: Spielberg’s Ode To Pop Culture is Visually Stunning, But Overlong

3 out of 5 stars (average)

Photo from https://www.imdb.com

Ready Player One is one of the most visually inventive movies I have ever seen.  Director Steven Spielberg has created some of the most gorgeous environments ever put to film, and should definitely gain some Oscar buzz next year.  Add in enough pop culture references to fill up 3 months of trivia nights, and you have a visually immersive experience so impressive that you might forgive its flaws on the first go-around.  Unfortunately, as many of the pop culture references and flashy visuals left a smile on my face, they couldn’t compensate for the lapses in logic, lack of character development, and a overlong running time.  Ready Player One is original, fun, and visually thrilling, but suffers from underdeveloped characters, serious plot holes, and a message more likely to insult its core audience than inspire it.  Spielberg could have verified and commented on people’s love for fandom the same way The Lego Movie did for people who adored Legos, but he instead made a film that knows about a ton of popular characters without understanding why they’re popular.

In the “distant” future of 2045, a virtual reality game called “The Oasis” exists where people can escape from the real world (which was apparently so ravaged by climate change that most people live in the slums and stopped trying to save it).  In The Oasis, you can be anyone or anything you want to be without judgment.  All that matters is an “Easter Egg” implanted by the game’s now-dead creator (Mark Rylance).  To obtain the egg, players must locate three keys by winning in-game challenges, with the victor gaining control over the company that created the game.  I have to wonder what would happen if a 5-year-old somehow won: Would they spend that nearly trillion dollars on lollipops?

Our main player is Wade/Parzival (Tye Sheridan), a teen on the search for these keys with his best game friend Aech (whose actor I cannot give without spoiling something) and other unimportant supporting characters.  His quest intensifies when he meets Art3mis (Olivia Cooke of TV’s Bates Motel), who informs him that evil CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) is also after the keys so he can overload the game with pop-up ads (the most realistic part of the movie).  Now, the teens must fight to the finish to prevent Sorrento from beating the game and (gasp) forcing them to install Adblocker!

The strongest aspect of this movie is its visuals and action sequences.  The animation evokes the look and feel of a video game beautifully, essentially making Tron for this generation.  The characters move swiftly and the voice acting is surprisingly solid all around.  The action sequences are fast, well-shot, and unpredictable, with the standout being a graphic ode to The Shining and the awesome (yet regrettably overlong) climax.  These are some of Spielberg’s best action beats since Minority Report, immersing you in the way that Avatar did back in 2009.  Hopefully these effects will look better in 10 years than Avatar does now.

You read that right, The Shining.  Because of this, and the darker tone of the latter half, I was unsure as to who exactly the film was aimed at.  People who grew up in the 80’s will get it, but younger kids and those who aren’t connected to that era from will be lost and frightened by some of the imagery here.  My best defense is that Spielberg was trying to make an 80’s kids movie (you know, back when executives didn’t dumb down content because “it’s just for kids”) and I applaud him for his work.  Unfortunately, that argument is undone when a character yells out the F-bomb near the end (actually my favorite line).  I would not complain if the film had been a movie for grown-ups all the way through, but much of the first half plays like a high-budget family film before swerving into more sinister (and interesting) territory.

The characterizations are weaker than those in Pacific Rim Uprising (Which I didn’t know was even possible), and the real-world performances are serviceable at best.  The plot is more engaging than expected, but drags in the final 20 minutes.  Cooke and Sheridan have fantastic chemistry in the game, but their eventual romance feels rushed.  Mendelsohn is a fine but forgettable villain.  I give the movie points for making his company seem realistic in their goals, but the character himself isn’t as intimidating as he should be.

The dialogue is another mixed bag.  While the writing for the teen characters feels real enough, there are other areas where it is hilariously clunky and forced.  This is at its worst in scenes with Rylance’s character.  He comes off as cartoonishly awkward rather than mysterious or enigmatic, making it extremely difficult for me to buy him as the head of a multi-billion dollar game company.  His ending monologue is particularly insulting to the very audience this movie needs to impress to be properly remembered. Maybe it worked in the book, but as the supposed emotional climax of the film, it falls flat on its face.  My sister and I laughed at this in the theater, and no one shushed us.  I’m happy to see modern audiences wising up to this cheap emotional manipulation, and hope future filmmakers will rise above it.

Ready Player One is fun, visually gorgeous, and full of engaging action sequences, but is dangerously marred by its over-reliance on and misunderstanding of popular icons, shocking lack of character depth, and overlong final act that puts down its audience for being invested in said icons (despite having an appearance by one of my favorite film characters of all time).  Ironically, this movie is like most modern video games that I see reviews for: It’s all style and little substance.  However, if you just want to see a visually astounding action ride, then I still say See it.  Just don’t expect anything more than what’s on the cartridge.

Rated PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence, Bloody Images, Some Suggestive Material, Partial Nudity, and Language