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Non-Review Review: Skyscraper

Hollywood never really gives up on a genre that it loves, even when it might appear that the audience has moved on.

The perpetual reinvention of the western is one example, a genre that is constantly updated in terms of style and substance to reflect the times. The western has been reinvented and reimagined countless times over the past few decades, whether by combining it with other genres or by examining its underlying assumptions. The western survives in movies like The Hateful EightThe RevenantBone Tomahawk; films that are very clearly westerns even if audiences from the genre’s peak would struggle to recognise them.

Hanging on in there.

Disaster films are another example of Hollywood’s perpetual reinvention of a genre that has fallen out of style. While by no means as ubiquitous as they once were, disaster films still pop up from time to time. The attempts to update the disaster film often take the form of hybridisation, of tying the trappings of the genre into a more marketable template. In the nineties, Independence Day cleverly wed the disaster movie to an alien invasion narrative. More recently, Patriots’ Day tied the structure and rhythms of the disaster movie into a counter-terrorism epic.

Skyscraper hits upon what might be the ultimate genre fusion for the disaster movie template. At the very least, it feels like an inevitable hybrid in the modern cinematic climate. At its core, Skyscraper essentially asks… “what if a disaster movie, but also a superhero film?

The bed Rock of a stable marriage.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Tsunkatse (Review)

Tsunkatse is the crossover between Star Trek: Voyager and WWF that you didn’t know you needed. Mostly because you didn’t actually need it.

Tsunkatse is a delightfully bizarre piece of television, and perhaps the most cynical piece of Star Trek ever produced. That is saying something, considering that the franchise also includes Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, an episode that literalises William Shatner’s paranoid delusions about his fellow cast members. Separated from the episode by almost two decades, it is still hard to believe that Tsunkatse actually exists, even allowing for other “out there” premises for Voyager episodes like Threshold or Concerning Flight.

Somehow, the production team couldn’t secure Jean-Claude Van Damme as a guest star.

To be fair, Tsunkatse isn’t awful. It isn’t especially good either, but it never develops into the trainwreck suggested by the premise of making a Star Trek episode designed to cash-in on the popularity of wrestling. That might sound like damning with faint praise, but there is something to be said for the fact that Tsunkatse manages to be a truly memorable episode of Voyager based around a highly dubious premise, without ever collapsing into itself. Tsunkatse is better than it has any right to be, and that might just be enough.

Might.

Rock your world.

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Non-Review Review: Rampage

Rampage suffers from some pretty severe tonal issues. The video game adaptation starts and ends as a spiritual companion to Kong: Skull Island, but takes a detour into the last American Godzilla movie during its extended climax.

The results are jarring, creating a more dissonant movie than either of its obvious monster-movie forebearers. Rampage is goofy enough that its urban carnage feels out of place, and brutal enough that some of its cheekier decisions feel mean-spirited and vindictive. The result is very much a curate’s egg, to the point that it occasionally feels like Rampage escaped its creators in the edit room.

Going ape.

There is a lot to like in Rampage, particularly its weird committed earnestness when it comes to dealing with the friendship between a primatologist and his gigantic albino gorilla. Rampage skirts the line, occasionally embracing the camp absurdity of muscle-bound Dwayne Johnson’s deep-seated emotional attachment to a computer-generated rampaging “gene-edited” monster. Rampage understands the absurdity of the set-up, but makes a convincing sell of it nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Rampage‘s human characters are never as interesting, which creates a problem when the climax attempts to shift gears into a sprawling urban destruction epic. Rampage feels as much a product of careful and outrageous engineering as the creatures at its core. However, as with those creatures, it never feels quite like those doing the engineering had a clear design in mind.

“I sure picked a bad day to move George to the Metropolis Zoo.”

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Non-Review Review: Baywatch

The most damning criticism of Baywatch is that it is actually a pretty decent Baywatch movie.

Of course, it is hard to define exactly what Baywatch is. The show ran for eleven seasons, launched a handful of spin-offs, built up an instant recognisable iconography. However, the most striking Baywatch was just how hazily the concept was defined. As imagined by Baywatch, the beach front was a tabula rasa, a canvas as blank as the sand dunes on the shore or the expressions on most of the cast’s faces. The beauty of Baywatch was in its lack of a distinct identity, its capacity to be almost anything that it wanted to be, albeit in the clumsiest and cheapest manner possible.

To Beaches, or Not To Beaches?

Baywatch was nominally a show about lifeguards, about beautiful people running in slow motion. However, it could also be a show about shark attacks, about drug smuggling, about wrestling matches, about illegal immigration, about mermaids, about possession. It could even launch a spin-off Baywatch Nights, about private investigators pursuing beach-themed crimes that evolved into a water-themed X-Files knock-off. Baywatch could be whatever the audience wanted it to be, and even sometimes what they needed it to be.

Baywatch was a mirror unto which anything could be projected, the most popular show in the world about the day-to-day adventures on Malibu Pier. Baywatch became a window into the popular consciousness, an abyss that gazed back. Many tried to decipher its mysteries, to account for its popularity. Was it as simple as the fact that very pretty people were running while wearing very little clothes? Did Baywatch speak to a deeper yearning in those landlocked countries where it proved so popular? Did Baywatch know the audience better than they knew themselves?

A versatile storytelling engine.

All of this is to say that Baywatch comes with a baked-in absurdity. It is so elastic a premise, and so ridiculous a concept, that it is pretty much immune to mockery. It is hard to imagine a joke about Baywatch that the show never embraced in earnest during its two-hundred-and-forty episode run. Baywatch is beyond parody as a pop culture object. It is a möbius strip of ridiculousness and earnestness, taking itself so seriously that it doubles back around into self-aware absurdity.

This is the biggest problem with Baywatch. It is a terrible parody of Baywatch, if only because the source material seems to exist in a realm where parody has been folded in on itself and presented as an entirely sincere beach-bound adventure.

Lost at sea.

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Non-Review Review: San Andreas

San Andreas is a b-movie that desperately wants to be taken seriously.

The film is at its best when it engages with its corniness. The characters make terrible baseball-related puns as the world falls to pieces. Our protagonist has a clever idea inspired by a passer-by’s choice of headware. Paul Giamatti sells his seismological terror. A desperate mother decides to plough a boat through a window into the room where her daughter is already close to death. The disaster relief efforts are interrupted so that the news reporters can thank the team of hard-working seismologists who predicted the disaster whole minutes before it happened.

Pilot error?

Pilot error?

However, the film has no real sense of tone or mood. The script longs for a deeper resonance, and so aims a lot higher than it can actually hit. The main characters spend most of the disaster working through the death of a child several years earlier, with cliché flashbacks striving for heart-breaking but landing on groan-inducing. Plot points are dutifully and awkwardly set up, with characters spending most of the first act spewing obvious foreshadowing more than meaningful dialogue.

The result is a mismatched and uneven piece of work, a disaster movie in more than the way that the production team intended.

"Um, I found a plot hole..."

“Um, I found a plot hole…”

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Non-Review Review: Planet 51

Planet 51 is an enjoyable little animated film. It mostly skirts by on it’s rather interesting premise (what if an astronaut landed on an alien world exactly like fifties America?) and razor-sharp pop culture references (I wonder how many kids are going to get the references to E.T. let alone Alien or 2001: A Space Odyssey), but it’s ultimately let down by the fact that nobody involved seems to be trying too hard… or at all, really. The film relies on its intriguing premise to carry it, which it just about does, but it’s hard to feel that there isn’t so much more that could have been done.

I'm not sure if Chuck demonstrates to Planet 51 that there's intelligent life out there...

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Non-Review Review: The Rock

I think there’s a case to be made for The Rock as a pop culture masterpiece. And, no, I’m not being sarcastic or bitchy – I genuinely believe that. It’s tough to look back no in the era of huge summer blockbusters, but the movie really codified what we should expect from a modern summer tentpole. I remember the gasps of shock when the Criterion – the gold standard of DVD releases – announced that they would be including Armageddon as part of the Criterion Collection, in what was clearly meant to be a nod to the mainstream action movies. Being honest, they should have picked The Rock.

Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?

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