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Movie Review: ‘Rampage’

Usually paired with smaller companions like Kevin Hart or Moana, Dwayne Johnson is for once the diminutive one in “Rampage,” a hopelessly bland and bizarrely self-serious monster movie.

Johnson plays primatologist Davis Okoye in Brad Petyon’s adaption of a classic 1986 arcade game. Naturally, Okoye has some covert military history but — like so many highly trained international commandos — he’s now working at the San Diego Zoo. His time is especially focused on a hulking albino gorilla named George. They are pals, Davis and George, who fist-bump and play pranks on one another.

The two are actually a winning pair, but “Rampage,” unfortunately, isn’t the Rock-and-monkey buddy comedy (“The Guerrilla and the Gorilla”?) we might crave. “Rampage” is professional-looking, thanks to the well-integrated effects artistry of Weta Digital. We have become spoiled, perhaps, by affecting computer-generated primates thanks to the “Planet of the Apes” franchise. But George (played with motion capture by Jason Liles) still holds his own in the monkey-movie kingdom.

And Johnson, so recently in the jungle for “Jumanji,” remains a truly indefatigable movie star capable of carrying even the most half-baked of premises with colossal charisma. “Rampage” would surely sink a less sturdy action star, yet even here the wayward mishmash of monster-movie tropes only seem to ping off him like bullets deflected by Superman.

The objective of the original 8-bit video game was to, while controlling one of three giant monsters (a gorilla, dinosaur or werewolf), reduce a city to rubble. Naturally, a story of such pathos and originality brought Hollywood rushing with a check for millions.

What the film’s writers — Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel — have come up with from this skeletal concept is something overly elaborate and curiously humorless. The film opens ominously in space, where a genetic experiment has created a giant mutated rat that chews up the space station’s crew, but not before an escape pod with three samples shoots back to Earth.

The canisters of serum land alongside an alligator in the Florida Everglades, a wolf in Wyoming and at George’s habitat in San Diego. Each quickly swells massively while simultaneously becoming increasingly aggressive. (With a slightly different trajectory, we might have gotten a more unpredictable mutant trio like maybe a cockatoo, a koala and Keith Olbermann. Now that would be interesting.)

The company behind the trials tries to quietly recapture the lab results. Malin Akerman, the fine actress of “Billions,” plays its ruthless chief executive, alongside her more clueless brother, played by Jake Lacy. Meanwhile, a consortium of military and government agencies try and fail to capture or kill the beasts as they converge on Chicago. Naomie Harris plays a genetic engineer.

But the only performance really of note in “Rampage” is by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays an agent for an unnamed government agency with wild-eyed, cowboy abandon. The scenery might be digital, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to chew it all.

As a product that reunites the director and star of “San Andreas” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” ″Rampage” is similarly forgettable popcorn fare that, in almost every scene feels like a knockoff of something else. And it should be funny. Movies about giant mutant animals that flock to the Windy City really ought to be funny. Morgan seems to be the only one to realize that in monster camp like this, go big or go home.

“Rampage,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language and crude gestures.” Running time: 107 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

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MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Movie Review: ‘A Quiet Place’

Let’s start with a popcorn warning. If you’re bringing your usual tub of multiplex popcorn into “A Quiet Place,“ just be aware that you’ll be hearing every single crunch.

That’s because much of John Krasinski’s ingeniously creepy new film, in which he stars alongside his real-life better half, Emily Blunt, takes place in virtual silence. This is a movie about a world where noise gets you killed. In fact, if you ate popcorn IN the movie, you’d quickly be dead. Unless you were standing by a waterfall. More on that in a minute.

Krasinski, in his third feature outing as director, has a lot going for him here: An inventive premise (was it dreamed up by some vengeful librarian?), a terrific cast featuring two extremely effective child actors, and the always superb Blunt, who can register fear, joy, love and anxiety in one scene without needing to utter a word. He takes all this and runs with it, producing a taut, goose-pimply thriller that earns its jump-out-of-your-seat moments and only occasionally strains its own logic — and then, who really cares? It’s a monster flick!

We begin on “Day 89.“ But what exactly happened 89 days ago? Our first clue is that there’s nobody in the streets of the desolate town where the Abbott family — Lee, Evelyn and three young kids — makes a precarious shopping trip. The family has ventured on foot from their farmhouse to search an abandoned store for badly needed medicine. The next clue is all the “Missing” posters on the streets. What happened to all these folks? The most obvious clue is that the family cannot speak, or make a sound. They communicate in sign language, and walk barefoot on soft sand and dirt so even their feet won’t give them away.

An early, shocking tragedy makes it clear what they’re up against: evil, hungry monsters who consume anyone who catches their attention with sound. Soon, that fateful Day 89 skips ahead to Day 472. The monsters still rule, and now Evelyn (Blunt) is pregnant. As the family goes about its soundless daily routines — cooking meals silently, eschewing the washer-dryer for hand washing, playing board games with soft pieces, dancing to music on headphones — one wonders how they’ll possibly bring a baby into the world without making noise.

Krasinski and fellow screenwriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck are cleverly tapping into universal parental angst here. First, childbirth, already pretty darned painful and stressful, is made even more difficult — you can’t even scream! And how on Earth can you keep a newborn from crying? More broadly, there’s the constant fear for Lee and Evelyn that any daily task can lead to an errant noise, and quickly, death. What’s worse than feeling like you can’t protect your child? “There’s nothing to be scared of,“ Lee (Krasinski) tells young son Marcus reassuringly at one point, as they leave the house. “Of course there is,“ the boy replies, correctly.

Basically the only place where one can talk freely, in this world, is next to the roaring waterfall where Lee takes Marcus (an appealingly sensitive Noah Jupe) one day. Because the waterfall is louder than they are, they can holler with abandon. They’ve left older sister Regan at home to help Mom. Despite her obvious smarts and instincts, Regan is technically at even greater risk from the evil creatures, because she is deaf and can’t hear them even if they’re right behind her. To survive, she will need to be more resourceful than anyone else in the family. (Regan is embodied with warmth and poignancy by young deaf actress Millicent Simmonds).

Remember we said this movie earned its jump-out-of-your-seat moments? There’s one in particular, involving Blunt, that is applause-worthy, and you’ll know it when you see it. There’s also a terrifying sequence in a grain silo, reminiscent of the movie “Witness,“ and an errant nail sticking out of a wooden plank is used quite (ouch) effectively.

“A Quiet Place” may not have the weighty social meaning or piercing comedy of another recent high-profile horror thriller, “Get Out.“ But like that movie it is smart, it moves fast, it has a hugely satisfying ending — and it deserves to attract a much broader audience than the usual horror film devotees.

But just watch out for that popcorn. Crunch too loud, and you’re a goner.

“A Quiet Place,“ a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America “for terror and some bloody images.“ Running time: 90 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Our Bodies, Ourselves Will No Longer Be Published

The Free Press WV

The most recent new edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves will be the last. The organization that publishes the iconic book announced last week that it can no longer afford to update the book and put out new editions. Instead, it will transition to a volunteer-led organization “that will mainly advocate for women’s health and social justice.“ Our Bodies, Ourselves was “revolutionary” when it was released in the 1970s, educating women about their anatomy and sexuality at a time when many of the subjects it addressed were taboo, NPR reports.The last revision was released in 2011.

John Oliver’s Weapon Against ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’: His Own

So-called crisis pregnancy centers have come under fire for years for allegedly using misinformation to talk vulnerable pregnant women out of having an abortion, and John Oliver took up the topic Sunday on Last Week Tonight. “What is happening with CPCs is that, way too often, women with unplanned pregnancies are being actively misled while trying to access health care,“ he said, explaining that the centers, which are often church-affiliated, basically pretend to be abortion providers—many of them, for example, include the word “choice” in their names, among other questionable tactics like offering free ultrasounds. Even media often cover CPCs as if they offer women all their options, though they don’t. Once inside a CPC, women are often presented with information that’s simply not true—fake statistics like “abortion almost doubles the risk of breast cancer.“

Some CPCs will even lie to women about how late in pregnancy they can get an abortion, resulting in a woman delaying the decision too long and being unable to terminate. And if you’re wondering whether the centers at least offer women birth control, the answer is no. CPCs also manage to avoid regulation as health care providers, and in many cases they get federal funding. Oliver added there are about 2,700 US pregnancy centers, but only 1,600 or so abortion providers. And there’s about to be a new pregnancy center—one set up by Oliver, who’s filed paperwork for “Our Lady of Choosing Choice,“ which will be housed in a van (a tactic used by many CPCs) so it can go where needed. “There is absolutely nothing stopping us from parking outside an abortion clinic tonight and haranguing people first thing in the morning—and ... there really f—-ing should be.“ See the video in our gallery or HERE.

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