Two South Seas cinema superstars open in ‘Skyscraper’ and ‘Siberia’
Keanu Reeves in “Siberia”

Skyscraper

It never fails to amaze (and amuse) how movies mirror reality as emanations of the collective psyche. Just days after the premiere of The First Purge, about a race war aimed at exterminating African Americans on Staten Island, a Black Staten Island resident, Congolese immigrant Patricia Okoumou, heroically climbed the Statue of Liberty on July 4th to protest the racist Trump regime’s cruel purging of refugees, seekers of asylum and other immigrants.

Now, as the faux Aryan blond Trump purges, using tactics associated with slave traders and masters and Hitler’s “master race,” 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 (Dwayne Johnson—“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.

Dwayne Johnson in “Skyscraper”

The Rock displays derring-do and bravado as he fights flames, bad guys and even good guys at this latter-day towering inferno. Johnson’s Herculean labors to find and save his family are complicated by an interesting plot twist: On 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 actor Roland Møller (2015’s WWII drama Land of Mine) co-stars as the ruthless gunman Kores Botha. 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, released by Universal, clearly aims at capturing the vast Chinese moviegoing market.

Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, Skyscraper an extremely enjoyable action picture. But the epic’s underlying theme of family bonds and the admirable one-footed father 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 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 and youngest child. Around the time of Barron’s birth his wayward father was committing adultery with a porn star and Playboy model. Breaking up two families, The Donald apparently never 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 hardworking 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. If Trump has shown such little regard for his own children (except, perhaps, for feckless Ivanka, for whom he has publicly lusted—no wonder she acts like an abused child), why should he care about children from south of the border seeking refuge in the USA?

Have I digressed? I’m trying to say, 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. The trailer can be viewed here.

Siberia

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 reunion, Reeves’s 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 about 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. Like Skyscraper, Siberia is chock-full 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. Their scenes together are brief, and they do not come across like a devoted couple, unlike Skyscraper’s Will and Sarah.

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. Clearly tired of what Marx called “the idiocy of rural life,” Katya boldly pursues Hill, who obviously has money. Maybe a brief affair with the Amerikanski will offer momentary respite from the sheer boredom of a remote village, or perhaps Hill might offer her a way out of her stultifying existence? Youthful, carnal Katya offers Hill the libidinal excitement that has disappeared from his marriage back in the USA.

Their torrid romance is deeply 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. The trailer can be viewed here.

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, Samoan Johnson and Hawaiian 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.

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; Matthew Locey; and DeSoto Brown.

 

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CONTRIBUTOR

Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/critic and co-organizer of the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hollywood Blacklist.

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