Review: Skyscraper (2018) – The Rock Gets His John McClane On

Fun fact everyone. Skyscraper’s UK release date of July 12 is the exact 30 year anniversary for the world premiere of Bruce Willis’ Die Hard! It would be nice to think Universal Pictures chose the date as a homage, but let’s be honest, they just spent $125 million doing that!

Yes, it’s obvious. Skyscraper is basically a modern day remake of Die Hard mixed with The Towering Inferno. But why not? After all it’s been 30 years (45 in the case of Inferno). And after numerous versions of Die Hard on a boat / plane / bus / mountain / train / school / prison / White House; it seems like the right time to go back to basics.

In addition, Skyscraper is a new type of film for Dwayne Johnson. Taking a look back through his filmography, Johnson has never properly done the whole one-man-taking-out-an-army-of-bad-guys thing (though Walking Tall comes close). It’s hard to believe, I know. But in most films he’s either part of a team or a duo. He’s never been given the solo chance that his modern compatriots, like Jason Statham, Mark Walberg or Vin Diseal, have got to experience.

So Skyscraper, a film which looks like the most clichéd film ever made, has basically given The Rock a chance to stretch himself as an actor 😛

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A few years after suffering the loss of his leg from a hostage situation gone wrong, Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is hired by Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) as a security consultant. Zhao wants Sawyer to assess the safety within his newest building: “The Pearl;” which is also the tallest and most technologically advanced skyscraper in the world.

While carrying out his assessment, Sawyer has been living in one of The Pearl’s penthouses, along with his wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell); and two children, Georgia and Henry (McKenna Roberts & Noah Cottrell).

But things soon go wrong as a group of terrorists, led by Kores Botha (Roland Møller), invade and set fire to the building. Now Sawyer must do everything he can to protect his family and escape the ever approaching flames.


It’s not often I start a movie review by pointing out a disability. But it needs to be said that, for a big budget Hollywood movie, Skyscraper presents a very unique (and positive) portrayal of an individual who has a disability (in this case a missing leg). Generally speaking, if a lead character has a disability, then the entire film tends to be about how that character deals with their condition. (Some good examples being The Theory of Everything, A Beautiful Mind, Born on the Fourth of July or My Left Foot)

Even with all my years of movie watching, I can’t think of one example where a protagonist has a disability, but said disability is also more or less ignored by those around him. Literally, there is not one person in this movie who mentions that Johnson’s character wears a prosthetic leg, not even the villains. It’s just another part of his character, in the same way he’s tall, or bulky, or handsome. That’s not to say it doesn’t regularly come up, with one villain specifically hoping to take him down by attacking him in what they think is his weak spot. But it’s a credit to Johnson, and the people behind the scenes, that they’ve gone to this much effort. Considering it’s the 21st century, it would be admirable if we could see more representations like this.

But when it comes to the film as a whole, there are certain places where its efforts are misguided, none more so than its adherence to an incredibly grim tone. Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber is far better known for his comedies, such as Dodgeball and Central Intelligence, and it’s puzzling as to why he chose a more poe-faced approach here. If anything this film needed to be more like Die Hard, and infuse some of the John McClane sarcasm and wit into the proceedings.

But despite the weak script, Thurber does show a consummate skill for action. Never once delving into shaky-cam, he manages to coherently take us through a number of set-pieces, each as tension-filled as the last (even if they do completely defy logic); resulting in an intense finale that admittedly owes more than just a debt of gratitude to Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon,

The villains, however, lack any real style or energy, with Danish actor Roland Møller feeling more like a henchman, rather than an epic Alan Rickman-style baddie. Fortuntely points can be given to Neve Campbell who, while slightly underused in the second half, is at least never relegated to a damsel-in-distress; as well as displaying towering amounts of chemistry in her scenes with Johnson.


Though consisting of some great performances, digital effects and positive depictions of disability, Skyscraper ultimately doesn’t bring anything new to the Die Hard formula, and never comes anywhere near the heights of other films in the Dwayne Johnson filmography.

Overall Score:

three-stars

Review: Land of Mine (2017) – Denmark’s Post-WWII Secret

Over the years I have learnt that if you choose to attend a film festival, don’t waste time going to see the big (or even middle) budget Hollywood movies. Whether you have to wait a couple of weeks or a couple of months, most of these movies will eventually be on wide-release.

In the case of foreign films though, that period of waiting can be much longer. In fact, there are films I have seen in 2008 that still haven’t been released in the UK! (Looking at you Quick Gun Murugun!)

In the case of Land of Mine, I was insanely lucky to see this German/Danish co-production at the 2015 London Film Festival. It may have been a two year wait, but god damn it people, it was worth it.

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The year is 1945. World War II is over. But the impact of the Nazis war machine still reverberates throughout Europe. Approximately 1.5 million landmines are buried beneath the vast beaches of Denmark, the endless sand acting as a perfect camouflage.

Sgt. Rasmussen (Roland Møller), a veteran of the Danish army, has been tasked with supervising their removal. Forced to undertake the actual mine disarmament are several German POWs. Made up of mostly teenagers conscripted in the death spasms of the war, the prisoners and their captor have no love lost between them.

But as the stress and danger of removing these hidden devices start to take their toll, the question of whether it’s even possible to survive such dangerous work becomes ever more paramount.

The humiliation of the enemy is something that has echoed throughout history. Whether it be on an international scale, such as the terms imposed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles; or on a more macro level, such as the repulsive photos of torture taken in the bowls of Abu Ghraib.

In this aspect, the Oscar-nominated Land of Mine leans more towards the personal. With an almost pathological abnormality, we see Sgt. Rasmussen take it upon himself to make the lives of 14 German boys as miserable as possible.

Making no secret of his utter hatred for his young charges, Møller plays his role with such an intense streak of loathing, that he comes perilously close to becoming the very Nazi that he professes to hate so much.

But such a portrayal makes it all the more apparent how easy it is for someone to tip into depravity. That line, between good and evil, that most of us feel is as clear as day, is actually razor thin in reality.

Such villainy is all the more disturbing when taking into account the relative innocence of his charges. From the natural leader, Sebastian (Louis Hofmann), to the baby-faced twins, Ernst and Werner (Emil and Oskar Belton); each terrified boy is a reflection of innocence and revenge coming together in an utterly inhumane clash.

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Such strong performances are guided by the experienced hand of writer-director Martin Zandvliet. In his third theatrical feature, Zandvliet tells a troubling and controversial story, but one that brings to the fore the complexities of post-war attitudes towards your former enemies.

Alongside cinematographer Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, Zandvliest isn’t afraid to juxtapose an increasing number of heart-pounding sequences with the idyllic summer beach setting.  As his camera sweeps along the many sand dunes and never-ending ocean, you can’t help feeling that this is hell at its most beautiful.


Das Boot may have been tension-filled, Saving Private Ryan may have been brutally realistic, Downfall might have been eye-opening, and The Pianist was probably tragedy at its most distressing.

But none of these films come close to the careful blend that Zandvliet has put forward in Land of Mine. Every actor, every scene, and every word is evidence as to how hard cast and crew worked to bring this harrowing true story to the silver screen.

But more than anything else, Land of Mine is a testament to how fragile human decency can sometimes be. It shows how easily we can fall victim to our base desires, as well as our need to blame others for our pain and suffering. And in our 2017 world of immigrant-blaming and gender-hating, what could be more relevant?

Overall Score:

five-stars

Land of Mine will on limited cinema release and VOD in the UK from 4th August.

Photo Credits: Ekstrabladet, Sony Pictures Classics, Live For Film