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Filmism.net Dispatch August 14, 2018

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In this edition of the Filmism.net Dispatch, I'm talking about actors. Something particular about the media personae of two actors has struck me recently and I thought I'd figure it out with your help.

First up, I think Mark Wahlberg is the human embodiment of America. How so? It was big news back in 2017 when the 47 year old star said he'd made poor career choices and had asked God to forgive him for his role in Boogie Nights. To say it surprised moviegoers was the understatement of the century, firstly because Paul Thomas Anderson's vibrant and confronting 1997 drama set amid the vintage LA porn industry launched Wahlberg's A list career, and secondly because it was coming from the guy who'd been in the Daddy's Home and Transformers movies, Max Payne and Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes remake. Wahlberg owes us all several heartfelt apologies, but not for Boogie Nights.

Presumably, the devoutly Catholic actor wanted God to forgive him for Boogie Nights because it was about sex and the sex industry. So it's interesting to see the trailer for his latest movie Mile 22, in which he reteams with director Peter Berg. Playing an American intelligence officer escorting a valuable asset through a hostile city, Wahlberg can be seen blowing several bad guys (and what appears to be a woman) away with gay abandon, bullet holes exploding and squibs full of blood showering anyone nearby.

It's not the first action role Wahlberg has played, but it looks like the bloodiest in quite awhile, and as a director Peter Berg is only a few rungs below Michael Bay on the 'America's right to destroy people, cities and countries who don't agree with America while waving American flags' ladder. So here's an actor who seems to have a staunch moral problem depicting sex but is willing to push the boundaries of violence as far as they can possibly go for entertainment.

Remind you of a country you know?

Secondly, I recently watched/endured Skyscraper, featuring The Ubiquitous Rock in his fifth movie appearance in the last 12 months. That's a bit unfair, actually, his Die Hard / The Towering Inferno homage had all the elements and thrills in place, it just felt a bit like it came from the cast-off seconds bin in the Hollywood department store.

But Dwayne Johnson is unmistakable in it. Unmistakably Dwayne Johnson, that is. He went through a period in movies like Snitch, Pain and Gain, Walking Tall and Southland Tales where he actually played characters. These days he plays just one guy, and no matter if his name's Davis (Rampage), Will (Skyscraper), Spencer (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) or Mitch (Baywatch), the bald head, mega-lumen smile, Schwarzenegger-esque quips, shoulder tattoo and bulging muscles belong to the same charismatic hulk.

Who else has Johnson morphed into but the modern equivalent of Tom Cruise? Not even Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise anymore - he shepherds and stars in a single giant action movie franchise (Mission: Impossible), occasionally doing fun cameos in interesting side projects like Tropic Thunder or Rock Of Ages.

The other Tom Cruise movies he's been in for the last decade or more (from Jack Reacher to Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow to American Made, and particularly the irascible The Mummy) have suffered despite the presence of the world's former Biggest Movie Star®, but they've all featured one common element. They star Can-Do Cruise, the generic, endlessly capable hero who can fight, shoot, fly, drive and do whatever else is called for to fight the bad guys no matter if they're Mexican drug runners or Martians in giant tripods.

Today, that's The Rock. Doesn't matter if he's a zoologist, a video game character, a security consultant, a lifeguard or a trucking company owner. As long as you can see the tattoo and flashing pearly whites, you know exactly where you are. Whether he's saving Chicago from giant animals or dangling off the edge of the world's tallest building on Hong Kong, are you ever in any doubt he'll save the day? Of course not, and that's exactly the same slot into which Tom Cruise used to fit so seamlessly in the Hollywood firmament.

Recently on screens, it's a shame the sexual harassment allegations swirled up around James Franco as soon as The Disaster Artist gathered steam. No matter what you think of Franco, a lot of other very talented people worked on a heartfelt and well-made movie that deserved more recognition. The same unfortunate fate befell Noah Baumbach's Netflix production The Meyerowitz Stories because of Dustin Hoffman being similarly accused, but it was no less enjoyable.

The biggest surprise of recent times was Grudge Match, the movie that bought Stallone and De Niro together as rival boxers and which did so badly and was so badly reviewed it disappeared with barely a whimper. No, it's not Rocky or Raging Bull, but it's got a decent amount of laughs, heart and energy.

There was also a quite nifty Australian-set (and filmed) alien invasion movie called Occupation, and it was quite cool what it achieved with a tiny fraction of the budget Hollywood throws at this kind of thing.

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