San Andreas

Release: Friday, May 29, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Carlton Cuse

Directed by: Brad Peyton

San Andreas turns a massive crack in the earth into the Ultron of natural disaster villains, and Dwayne Johnson seems to be the only man fit to star opposite in this chunk of supposed summer entertainment.

The former wrestler fits in well with his surroundings as rescue helicopter pilot Ray Gaines, although it’s anyone’s guess as to how the guy actually fits inside a chopper. In a tense opening sequence involving a girl and her car stuck between a couple of rocks and a hard place, we are privy to Ray’s death-defying abilities. (Those will come in handy later.) A respected member of the L.A. Fire Department, Ray is of course no model human. An impending divorce from wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is putting pressure on him as he wants his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) to remain in his life as much as possible. Both relationships remain fraught with tension since the loss of a fourth family member in a drowning incident some years ago.

While the strategy is far from original, getting us to invest in this particular family’s affairs works because Johnson and Gugino exude charisma as a couple on the brink of divorce. Strange as that sounds, the pair are suitably cast and make ridiculously cheesy character development somehow watchable. Or at least tolerable. For the world — make that the western American seaboard . . . er, no, strike that: the California coastline as far as Ray and his family are concerned — is about to fall apart in more ways than one.

Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) is a scientist (you know this because of his permanent frown and a hairline that suggests his scalp and Rogaine have never met) at Caltech who is on the brink of discovering more accurate ways of predicting seismic activity. Unfortunately he isn’t too good at predicting that which strikes the Hoover Dam and claims the life of a long-time colleague. “Uhh, yeah — that fault line wasn’t supposed to be there. That was . . . my bad.” Or so says his furrowed brow in the ensuing scene, a retreat back to the university, when a local news crew inundate him with questions about any progress he might be making. Oh, such poor timing.

The incident at the dam is merely a precursor to a series of escalating, catastrophic earthquakes that come to define the plot, the characters, essentially the film’s score, ultimately any lasting memories of what you’ve just seen upon leaving the theater. However long those memories last may well depend on the magnitude of the ‘quake. The best way I know how to criticize San Andreas while sounding like I had a good time is that it is far too eager to get to these big CGI set pieces.

Everything is rushed, the biggest victim being the characters. For an action/disaster flick in 2015 there need not be a poetic fascination with them but there should be more discovery than what we get. Peyton clearly favors pushing past all that icky stuff to the visual goodies. A tidal wave engulfs many a Californian landmark; buildings collapse as though they are built from Jenga pieces; fires scorch the afternoon sky at the tops of those remaining upright. We certainly get the sense that not even Giamatti’s math could save millions from the carnage.

But the concluding sequence all but confirms the only interest Peyton and his writers have in showcasing the power of Mother Nature — the raging, pissed off one living beneath our feet apparently — is parading this year’s minuscule improvement in special effects technology. This is a visual feast and nearly two hours’ worth of society falling apart implies that, while the world may collapse, CGI will be here to stay. Like cockroaches living long after nuclear fallout. CGI is rapidly becoming the main vein feeding the industry, the lifeblood of many a filmmaker with eyes larger than their intellect.

Even by disaster movie standards, the chaotic (but beautiful) computer graphics dominate, rendering any human-related drama as deep as a paper cut. While science can at least somewhat support Peyton’s vision of a California torn asunder by massively destructive earthquakes — it has been three centuries since the southern portion of the fault line has made its presence known, and seismologists do in fact predict it is overdue for some kind of rupture — what begins as hypothetical quickly devolves into laughable.

Recommendation: Yes, San Andreas is harmless and mindless summer escapism but this is a film that had greater potential. I could smell The Rock cooking up a more memorable performance than this as well, but he and his co-star Carla Gugino pull off a marriage in trouble convincingly enough. But given the rest of the cast, they are outliers. There’s not enough in this action spectacular to recommend to the casual viewer of these sorts of things; diehards, on the other hand. . . .

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “The earth will literally crack and you will feel it on the East Coast.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Franco Files — #4

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Welcome to May, and the fourth edition of The Franco Files! This most recent addition to the site takes an in-depth look at an actor and how that individual helps shape a film in whatever capacity they are able to, whether it be the lead or a supporting role type. Originally I was drawing this little feature up as a way to express the ways in which I love James Franco. This was supposed to be the place where I shouted my appreciation for the Palo Alto-born actor’s efforts from the top of a mountain.

Actually it still is, but I guess I’m discovering that I’m much less familiar with his body of work than I previously thought. TFF, as it is turning out, is becoming an educational tool for me as well as a platform from which I can still, yes, wax poetic about. . .you know, that thing he does. Considering we are only on the fourth edition here, I’m finding that I am going to have to do more research on the guy than I thought. I’m pretty sure I’m already running low on performances that I know like the back of my hand.

But that’s okay, though. I’m happy with having to do a little more digging before jumping into a discussion of some of his more obscure performances here in a little while. Not all of the things he’s been in are highly accessible productions, either. And then there’s always the constant influx of new movies he’s in, or helping to make. Like Palo Alto (released this weekend), an interesting-sounding story in which he appears to be involved in both capacities.

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Francophile #4: James Franco, This is the End

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Comedy

Character Profile: James Franco’s James Franco might will be the most meta thing he’s ever done. Then again, he was only doing his job as per This is the End‘s script, the very ridiculous story of a group of Hollywood friends who hold up in Franco’s house as the apocalypse unfolds quite literally on the doorstep. Like his co-stars, Franco plays a trumped-up version of himself that tends to exaggerate the negative qualities of his real-life celebrity. For example, there’s a sweater Franco wears throughout the film that screams “You should hate me for wearing this, but you know you want one too.” Then there’s his fascination with art. One gets the sense the REAL Franco could very well be half-hipster, given his affinity for style and appreciation of the visual arts. (Not to mention, his home, which I referred to as his fortress in my review, is the product of geometric obsession.) He’s sinful, silly and sensational all at once — a thoroughly clever creation.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: quite literally that — the James Franco factor. Despite a grab-bag of hilarious characters to latch onto, his is actually quite key to the film. Much of the plot development hinges around his character and particularly his home. But more importantly, he feels part of this crew of comedians who have known one another for a long time. There’s an undeniable chemistry he holds with everyone involved, and there’s a very particular reason for that. If Franco goes, everyone goes. The project ceases to exist.

Out of Character: “People know I’m interested in art. I just went to school for it and for a while I was collecting [art] — I sold most of it awhile ago so I could go to school and not work so much. So it was kind of a funny idea that the Franco character would be collecting art, and Seth asked me if there was any particular artist that I wanted to have in the character’s house. And I thought, there’s a way to take this to a different level. There’s a painter that I really like named Josh Smith — his work is hard to place because a lot of it has a very humorous feel, even though it’s abstract work. Josh was interested. Not only interested, but wanted to create new work, and it would be special because it would be work that was only intended for this movie. And as Josh and I were talking, we came on the idea that we could do the paintings together. Josh and I spent two days together and we painted a lot, through the night, ten huge paintings and a bunch of little ones.”

Rated the Performance (relative to his other work):

3-5


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Speed (1994)

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So as we move further into September, I may as well come up with a name for this batch of TBT posts. Let’s go ahead and call this month something pretty cheesy, say something like: ‘Movies that Really Move.’ I’ve wrestled with a bunch of different names for these throwbacks, and so far that’s the one description which I feel suits this particular theme the best — films that feature car chases, races and fast paces. We started off with a look at Days of Thunder, an excellent film based around NASCAR racing and starring the world’s most endearing scientologist, Mr. Tom Cruise. This week, we jump forward another four years and examine one of the all-time best adrenaline flicks ever made. Part-car-chase movie and part-psychological-thriller, the throwback of today does indeed have a sequel, but we are all going to just ignore that fact since A) the quality of the sequel is enough to make me shudder just thinking about it, and B) we can only focus on one product at a time, fortunately. 

Today’s food for thought: Speed

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Release: June 10, 1994

[VHS]

A bus filled with random strangers must maintain at least 50 miles per hour as it tears through the greater Los Angeles area, otherwise an unseen terrorist hits the detonation button for the bomb he’s strapped to the underside of the vehicle. Keanu Reeves, an L.A.P.D. S.W.A.T. team member, comes to the aid of an interim bus driver (Sandra Bullock) as she attempts to steer the bus without slowing down and killing everyone on board.

Just before this film debuted all the way back in the mid-90s, I can only imagine the amount of sneering and chuckling the title must have garnered from its critics. I can’t say definitely what the atmosphere was like surrounding the release — I was 8 years old at the time. What the film then turned out to be — an instant classic, one which set the standard for many action-thriller films to come (even if said standard has rarely ever been reached or surpassed since) — was probably hardly what anyone expected at first. How can such a simplistic plot yield such an incredibly entertaining ride?

I may not be speaking for anyone else, but each time I watch this movie I feel as though I’m binging on adrenaline.

Directed by Jan de Bont, Speed is fast, intelligent and well-acted. It is arguably his best effort to date, and likely the best he might ever put out. His direction takes full advantage of the chaos one might expect to be present in a story that pits the good guys against a determined and well-prepared villain (played by none other than Dennis Hopper — we miss you, Dennis). On one level, there’s the terror that comes along with blasting down busy roads at 50-plus-miles an hour; on the next, the bomber can see everything that is going on, and part of the trick of his game is that if he sees anyone escaping the situation he’ll blow the bus by remote detonation. The third  level is a little more psychological. Even though the motivation for Howard Payne (Hopper)’s plan isn’t the most unique — as a former member of the L.A.P.D. himself, all Payne wanted was his retirement benefits. The more Jack Traven (Reeves) deals with the situation and with the man behind it, he realizes how intelligent his rival is, and that he knows the ins-and-outs of the city as well as anyone. Not to mention, he’s simply nuts. . . principally the reason he was let go from the force. Given all of this, the film possesses a rare level of excitement that a great many films seem to not bother investing the time into developing. (Are you listening, Getaway?)

SPEEDY CAPTIONS

In this edition of TBT let’s do things a little differently. Included below are five of the best still images from the classic film that came out almost 20 years ago. The idea here is for you, my adrenaline-junkie readers, to provide your most creative captions for these photos in twenty words or fewer. I will stand back and watch the chaos unfold — only chiming in in the comment section following YOUR GREAT CAPTIONS (let’s try to keep them PG-13). This should be a really fun and challenging way to go back and look at one of the most incredible action-thrillers ever made. Let the captioning begin….

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Caption A: _______________________

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Caption B: __________________

Caption C: _________________

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Caption D: ____________________

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Caption E: __________________

That does it for TBT this week. Thanks for reading and participating peeps! Hopefully it was as fun for you as it was for Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. And of course, me.

4-0Recommendation: Speed is quite simply a classic. My recommendation would be one simple suggestion: watch it again….because I don’t think it’s possible for someone to not have seen this film.

Rated: R

Running Time: 116 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.fanpop.com; http://www.imdb.com