SKYSCRAPER & SIBERIA Film Reviews
It never fails to amaze (and amuse) me how movies mirror reality and are emanations of the collective psyche and/or motion picture prophecies. Just days after the premiere of The First Purge, about a race war aimed at exterminating African Americans in Staten Island, a Black Staten Island resident - Congolese immigrant Patricia Okoumou - heroically climbed the Statue of Liberty on July 4 to protest the racist Trump regime’s cruel purging of refugees, seekers of asylum and other immigrants.
Now, as the Trump purgers use tactics associated with slave traders and masters and Hitler’s “master race” (hey, how come 72-year-old Donald dyes his hair Aryan blonde???), literally tearing brown families apart, the brown-skinned superstar Samoan/African American Dwayne Johnson performs death defying stunts to rescue and reunite his own family in Skyscraper. This special FX, big budget blockbuster is set in Hong Kong, where - amidst much skullduggery - ex-military/ex-FBI agent Will Sawyer (The Rock) must save his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell), daughter Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell) in the world’s tallest skyscraper called “the Pearl”, which is under attack and engulfed in flames.
The Rock displays derring-do and bravado as he fights flames, bad guys and even good guys at this latter day towering inferno (with sincere apologies to Stirling Silliphant and Irwin Allen). Johnson’s Herculean labors to find and save his family are complicated by an interesting plot twist: Due to a previous botched mission as an FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader part of one of Sawyer’s legs was blown off. It’s interesting to see the ex-wrestler, who voiced the animated character Maui, the mighty Polynesian demigod in Moana and played so many other action roles in The Scorpion King, Walking Tall, etc., portray an amputee. The fact that the screen’s Samoan superman is acting as a disabled person who nevertheless courageously rises to the occasion is one of the most notable advances in the dignified depiction of people with disabilities - especially veterans - since Harold Russell in 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives, Marlon Brando in 1950’s The Men and Tomas Young in Phil Donohue’s 2007 documentary Body of War.
Danish thesp Roland Møller (2015’s WWII drama Land of Mine) co-stars as the ruthless gunman Kores Botha, who may be of South African heritage. In any case, it’s striking that this vicious character has the same last name as the apartheid era prime minister of South Africa. Another standout in the large cast, which includes many Asians, is Taiwan-born Hannah Quinlivan as a deadly merciless assassin. Shot in Hong Kong, Vancouver and other parts of British Columbia, Skyscraper, which is being released by Universal, clearly aims at capturing the vast Chinese moviegoing market.
Skyscraper, which is written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, is an extremely enjoyable action picture. But the epic’s underlying theme of family bonds and the admirable father (with only one foot) who walks through hell to salvage his wife and children enhances this movie with a moving message that’s more important than ever in America. The Rock’s mother is Feagaimaleata Fitisemanu Maivia, who was born in Hawaii and traces her lineage to independent Western Samoa, where my daughter, the great Samoan singer Marina Davis was born. The heart of “Faa Samoa” - or the Samoan Way - is the “aiga” or the extended family. In Skyscraper the tattooed Polynesian Rock dramatizes the Samoan Way, repeatedly placing himself in harm’s way, despite his disability, on behalf of his wife and children.
Compare this to home wrecker Trump’s Republican “family values”: Twice divorced, he does not currently live fulltime with his current wife Melanoma and youngest child. Shortly after Barron’s birth his wayward father was reportedly committing adultery with a porn star and Playboy model (probably around the same time). Breaking up two families, Donald does not seem as if he lived fulltime with any of his offspring. At the 2016 GOP Convention one of Trump’s demented older sons - I can’t remember if it was “Dumb” or “Dumber” - “boasted” about how if he wanted to see his father he’d have to go to a construction site to visit him. The point he was trying to make was how hard working the Donald was, but unconsciously he was telling America that he was abandoned by an awful father who had no time for his own flesh and blood. Hey, if I wanted to see my own Dad, all I had to do was walk into the living room of our apartment!
It’s no wonder that the fascistic Trump is willy-nilly ordering the destruction of brown families. The Gestapo-like ICE (which should be immediately disbanded) and other U.S. government agencies have no idea where thousands of stolen brown children are because Trump has apparently had such little regard for his own children (except, perhaps, for feckless Ivanka, whose father has publicly lusted after her - no wonder she acts like an abused child), why should The Donald care about children from South of the border seeking refuge in the USA?
But at the same time, with his onscreen heroics, the brown people’s champion Dwayne Johnson shows us in the rip-roaring, eye-popping Skyscraper what family values REALLY are - and the importance of keeping families intact and together. The Rock is as lovable as The Donald is detestable.
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If Dwayne Johnson is of part-Samoan ancestry, Keanu Reeves - that other South Seas Cinema superstar of Excellent Adventures and Matrix movies - is part-Hawaiian. (“Keanu” means "cool breeze over the mountains" in Hawaiian.) Just as Johnson’s Skyscraper reflects the current hot topic of family reunions, Reeves’ new movie likewise mirrors reality. In Siberia Reeves portrays shady diamond dealer Lucas Hill who is doing business with Russian gangsters, just as Trump is to meet with Vladimir Putin, whom many also regard as a Russian thug.
I really enjoyed this tight, taut thriller directed by Matthew Ross (Frank and Lola) and co-written by Stephan Hamel and Scott B. Smith (Oscar-nominated for 1998’s A Simple Plan). Like Skyscraper, Siberia is chockfull of violence and gunplay. But unlike The Rock’s character, Hill is not a loyal “family man.” In a cameo Molly Ringwald plays Gabby, Hill’s wife, who seems to enjoy the affluent trappings her husband’s not so kosher operations bestow upon her. Although their scenes together are brief, they do not come across like a devoted couple, unlike Skyscraper’s Will and Sarah Sawyer.
Enter Katya (Romanian actress Ana Ularu, co-star of 2013’s I’m an Old Communist Hag), a bartender/waitress at some backwater Siberian dive who encounters Hill. Clearly tired of what Marx called “the idiocy of rural life,” Katya boldly pursues Hill, who clearly has some money. Maybe a brief affair with the Amerikanski will offer momentary respite from the sheer boredom of remote village life or perhaps Hill may offer Katya a way out of her stultifying existence? And youthful, carnal Katya offers Hill the libidinal excitement that seems to be lacking in his marriage back in the USA.
Their torrid romance is extremely passionate, with a series of increasingly graphic sex scenes. Their relationship and what happens to both of them contributes to making Siberia more compelling than a mere run-of-the-mill caper flick. Although I didn’t quite understand the ending overall I found this sophisticated psychosexual drama shot in Manitoba and St. Petersburg to be worth a trip to the Eastern front.
Siberia and Skyscraper both open July 13, a red letter day for South Seas Cinema because for what may be the first time in “Haole-wood” history two major movies are premiering simultaneously featuring Polynesian stars - the Samoan Dwayne Johnson and Hawaiian Keanu Reeves. The South Seas Cinema genre - films shot and/or set in the Pacific Islands - is also being highlighted at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood on July 14 (see here).
And for the first time in its 18 year history South Seas Cinema is in the limelight at the annual Tiki Oasis, a gathering of devotees of “Poly Pop” culture and Pacificana from August 8-12 in San Diego. South Seas Cinema symposiums at Tiki Oasis include several by three of the co-founders of the film fan club called the South Seas Cinema Society: Ed Rampell presents ; Matt Locey presents; DeSoto Brown presents.
The third edition of “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book”co-authored by L.A.-based film historian/reviewer Ed Rampell is now available at: https://mutualpublishing.com/product/the-hawaii-movie-and-television-book/ .