San Andreas


Either The Rock is striking a heroic pose or he accidentally gave this girl The People's Elbow.

Either The Rock is striking a heroic pose or he accidentally gave this girl The People’s Elbow.

(2015) Disaster  (New Line) Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandria Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Will Yun Lee, Kylie Minogue, Colton Haynes, Todd Williams, Matt Gerald, Alec Utgoff, Marissa Neitling, Morgan Griffin, Breanne Hill, Laurence Coy, Fiona Press, Dennis Coard, Simone Kessell. Directed by Brad Peyton

When the earth starts to shake and buildings begin to fall, who are you gonna call? Dwayne Johnson! When the fault cracks in two which the tsunami rolls into, who’ll see you through? Dwayne Johnson!

Disaster movies were a thing of the 70s for a short while, all-star casts of big stars put at risk by natural or man-made disasters. Irwin Allen was the king of these films, and things like The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno were big box office champs back in the day. These days, most of those disaster effects are done on computers which you’d think would save money in the budget for amazing casts but here in this 21st century disaster movie, after legitimate stars Johnson and Giamatti as well as next-tier stars Gugino, Daddario, Panjabi and Gruffudd, things get a little thin. Where’s William Holden when you really need him?

Ray (Johnson) is a LAFD rescue helicopter pilot whose devotion to his job increased exponentially when one of his daughters drowned during a rafting trip and he was unable to save her. His remaining daughter Blake (Daddario) adores daddy, but he emotionally shut down after the tragedy and after trying and trying his wife Emma (Gugino) is now his ex-wife and is moving into the palatial mansion of architect Daniel Reddick (Gruffudd) who seems like a genuinely nice guy. When a massive earthquake in Nevada ruptures the Hoover Dam, forcing an all hands on deck call to any rescue helicopter pilots in the neighborhood, Ray has to cancel on a planned road trip to take his baby girl to college. She instead hitches a ride to San Francisco with Daniel. And Emma takes a lunch with his bitchy sister (Minogue).

That’s when Big One #2 hits, in Los Angeles. Ray is forced to save his own wife from a collapsing high rise and when they realize that Big One #3 is going to hit San Francisco at any moment – thanks to earthquake predicting software developed by Dr. Lawrence (Giamatti) whose partner (Lee) was buried alive in the Hoover Dam thing. Now Ray and Emma are heading up to San Francisco to rescue Blake who has been abandoned by the as-it-turns-out cowardly Daniel and has hooked up with a lovestruck Brit named Ben (Johnstone-Burt) and his precocious little brother Ollie (Parkinson).

The effects-heavy San Andreas features lots of buildings and other structures collapsing, people crushed by fallen masonry, a tsunami that takes down the Golden Gate Bridge and Ray driving anything that isn’t nailed down be it on land, in the air or at sea. There’s plenty of shark jumping and WTF moments that will turn your brain into peanut butter if you think about it too hard. My advice is, just don’t think about it and go with the flow.

Other than the adequate and occasionally delightful effects, the big draw here is Johnson. He’s not the most accomplished actor on any given set, but he doesn’t need to be, particularly on movies like this. He gets by on his irresistible charm, his rippling biceps and his genuine heart. You can’t help but like the guy no matter who he’s playing; it will be interesting to see what he does with a villain role in the upcoming comic book hero movie Shazam. Here even at the movie’s most godawful plot moments, he rescues it just by being himself.

Writer Carlton Cuse (Lost) doesn’t deliver his best work here which is kind of a shame; I would have loved to see his ability to draw up fascinating characters in impossible situations transplanted here, but the movie is just so engaging in terms of effects and disaster goodness that it’s hard to really fault Cuse for not bringing on the A game here. This isn’t going to break box office records, nor is it going to redefine the summer blockbuster. While it could have used a more judicious hand in the editing room – dodging falling buildings repetitively gets pretty old after awhile – it nonetheless accomplishes what most of us are looking for this time of year which is a fun ride at the movie theater.

REASONS TO GO: Dwayne Johnson saves the day. Fun summer entertainment.
REASONS TO STAY: Paint-by-numbers plot. Probably a good half hour too long.
FAMILY VALUES: Intense action, disaster mayhem and a few choice curse words here and there.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Riddick’s San Francisco headquarters is actually the Bank of America building, the same building (enhanced with optical effects) that was used for the 1974 disaster classic The Towering Inferno.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/16/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 43/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Earthquake
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Peace, Love and Misunderstanding

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New Releases for the Week of May 29, 2015


San AndreasSAN ANDREAS

(New Line) Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandria Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti, Will Yun Lee, Kylie Minogue. Directed by Brad Peyton

All Californians know that the big one is inevitable and now it is upon them. As a 9.0 quake rocks Southern California, a daring rescue helicopter pilot and his estranged wife take a perilous journey north to find their daughter, off to college in San Francisco. However, as bad as things were, they may only be the beginning of worse things yet to come.

See the trailer, interviews, and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Disaster
Now Playing: Wide Release (opens Thursday)
Rating: PG-13 (for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language)

Aloha

(Columbia) Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray. A military contractor, once celebrated but now more of an industry joke because of a meltdown, returns to the scenes of his greatest triumphs – the U.S. Space program in Honolulu. He reconnects with an ex-girlfriend while falling unexpectedly for a fast-burning U.S. Air Force liaison. In between his romantic conundrum, he is working on an intricate satellite system for an enigmatic billionaire whose intentions aren’t entirely clear. Just another day at the office.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release (opens Thursday)
Rating: PG-13 (for some language including suggestive comments)

I’ll See You in My Dreams

(Bleecker Street) Blythe Danner, June Squibb, Malin Akerman, Sam Elliott.  A widow in her 70s finds her comfortable routine shaken up. This causes her to reassess her views on love, death and family and now in her golden years, she decides to start dating again and in doing so falls into relationships with two very different men, leaving her with quite the quandary.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material, drug use and brief strong language)

In the Name of My Daughter

(Cohen Media Group) Catherine Deneuve, Guillaume Canet, Adele Haenel, Judith Chemla. The brilliant French director André Téchiné brings us back to Nice in 1976 and one of the most notorious crimes in French history. When a casino heiress falls in love and marries a shady lawyer, her new husband manipulates her into voting against her mother and turning the casino over to the mob. Her subsequent disappearance and her husband’s hasty emigration to Panama lead her mother to believe that her daughter was murdered and her husband had a hand in it. She swears to see justice done, even though it takes decades.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for innuendo and language)

Tanu Weds Manu Returns

(Eros International) Kangana Ranaut, Madhavan, Jimmy Shergill, Eljaz Khan. The sequel to a hit Bollywood film, the marriage between Tanu and Manu collapses as many do. When lovely Manu meets a man who looks exactly like her ex-husband, what will she do when Tanu returns, seeking to patch things up?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

Fireflies in the Garden


Family dinners in indie films rarely end well.

Family dinners in indie films rarely end well.

(2008) Drama (Senator) Ryan Reynolds, Julia Roberts, Willem Dafoe, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Watson, Ioan Gruffudd, Hayden Panettiere, Shannon Lucio, Cayden Boyd, George Newbern, Brooklyn Proulx, Diane Perella, Natalie Karp, John C. Stennfeld, Philip Rose, Babs George, Frank Ertl, Grady McCardell, Chase Ellison, Michelle Brew, Gina Gheller, Stayce Smith. Directed by Dennis Lee

There are those who say that we cannot escape childhood. Like death and taxes, it pursues us with relentless ferocity and those things in childhood that wounded us remain with us, periodically picking at the scabs.

Michael Taylor (Reynolds) is a best-selling author although what he writes is generally considered “light” reading. His relationship with his father Charles (Dafoe) is strained at best. Charles is himself a frustrated writer who retreated into the halls of academia when his career as a novelist didn’t pan out. A strict disciplinarian with his children but mostly with his son, Charles meets any indiscretion with the most horrific and overreacting punishments imaginable. You can imagine what this academic does when Michael as a boy (Boyd) shames him by plagiarizing a Robert Frost poem and presenting it as his own.

Michael is definitely abused but he has two women in his corner; his gentle mother Lisa (Roberts) and his feisty aunt Jane (Watson as an adult, Panettiere as a teen) who protect him against the worst of his father’s rages and comfort him when their protection is breached.

As an adult Michael has definitely made some errors. He has separated from his wife Kelly (Moss) and continues to have a contentious relationship with his father. When a family tragedy brings the family into the same place, Michael and Charles will have to confront their feelings for one another perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Although set in Illinois, the movie was filmed in Texas and has a kind of Southern gothic feel to it that is almost soap opera-esque. Dafoe is note-perfect as Charles whose anger issues and self-loathing point to deeper waters that the film doesn’t explore but that Dafoe seems to have a handle on. Roberts’ Lisa at first glance seems like the long-suffering wife archetype but it turns out that she has some secrets of her own and not all of them are pleasant. Roberts, normally a star who appears in much higher-profile movies, imbues Lisa with decency and humanity.

Reynolds in recent years has gotten all sorts of flack for appearing in some sub-par films but to my mind is actually capable of some pretty good work. This is an example of him at his finest, showing that Reynolds can really deliver when given the right script.

The jumps between present day and past can be jarring and with all the souls revolving around the story here it can be difficult to distinguish one character from another. Simple linear storytelling might have served the film better, or failing that cutting down on the superfluous characters would at least be helpful.

The pacing here is as slow as a tax refund when you really need it which suits me just fine but some viewers who prefer a more robust pace might find frustrating. Lee does have a good eye and some of the scenes have an artful grace to them, such as when the family is swatting fireflies with badminton racquets or the bookending scenes in which young Michael is forced to walk home in the rain after a transgression in the car and his nephew Christopher (Ellison) runs away from nearly the same spot 22 years later. Despite the star power for this indie feature, there isn’t enough here to really sustain interest over the course of a full film although there is enough promise in Lee’s work to keep me interested in his future endeavors.

WHY RENT THIS: Fine performances by Dafoe, Roberts and Reynolds. Some graceful touches.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Multiple actors playing the same role gets confusing. Storytelling is a bit muddled. Languidly paced.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of foul language as well as some sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Moss and Panettiere share a birthday.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.4M on an $8M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tree of Life

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Bad Words

Horrible Bosses


Horrible Bosses

Raise the roof, 1999!

(2011) Comedy (New Line) Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Anniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Donald Sutherland, Julie Bowen, Ioan Gruffudd, Isaiah Mustafa, Ron White, Bob Newhart, Lindsay Sloane, Celia Finklestein. Directed by Seth Gordon

Everyone who spends any amount of time in the workplace sooner or later is going to have it happen to them. The horrible boss – we all have horror stories about one or two. Some are so horrible we often fantasize about pushing them in front of a train. Of course, we would never do such a thing for real…would we?

Of course, most of us never have bosses like these. Nick Hendricks (Bateman) however, does. He is working hard for a promotion that has been dangled out in front of him by Dave Harken (Spacey), a mean, cruel, vindictive and manipulative man who jerks the rug out from under Nick’s feet after months of “motivating” him with the promotion.

So does Dale Arbus (Day), a dental assistant to Dr. Julia Harris (Anniston), a dentist with a libido the size of Texas. She harasses Dale, who’s engaged to the beautiful Stacy (Sloane) and wants no part of the predatory advances of Dr. Harris. Her obsession with him is threatening his future with Stacy.

Kurt Buckman (Sudeikis) has a great boss. Jack Pellit (Sutherland) is easy-going and is well-liked by his employees, especially Kurt who is like a son to him. His actual son, Bobby (Farrell), is a train wreck. A drug addict, a womanizer, and a selfish greedy bastard, when he takes over the company after a tragic set of circumstances, Kurt suddenly knows what it’s like to have a horrible boss.

All three of these guys are friends going back to high school. All three of them commiserate with each other at a local watering hole. All three of them agree that their lives would be better if their bosses were dead. And all three of them have seen Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.

So has Mofo (that’s not his name, but his name wouldn’t exactly be marquee material) Jones (Foxx) who did ten years in the slam, and he figures out what these men have in mind. He agrees to become their “murder consultant” for a fee. The idea is for all of them need to kill each other’s boss – that way they can’t be pinned with a motive to kill a perfect stranger. Of course these types of ideas always work better in the movies…

First off, this is one of the funniest movies of the summer. It is much in the same vein from an overall standpoint (not so much in plot) as Bad Teacher and The Hangover Part II. It’s a raunchy, push-the-envelope kind of comedy that takes territory previously plumbed by Office Space – in some ways not as well and in others better – and pushes the boundaries a little bit further.

It helps having a stellar cast like this one. Bateman has risen rapidly through the ranks and become one of the busiest actors in Hollywood at the moment. He is likable and somewhat everyman-ish. He has a bit more of an edge here than he usually does but that’s understandable given the movie. Sudeikis has many of the same qualities, although he’s a bit more acerbic than Bateman. He does a pretty good job here, enough so that he might well move up a notch on the Hollywood ladder.

Day is best known for his work on the TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” I found him a little bit whiny here, which got on my nerves after awhile but I can see how he might be the breakout star from this movie, if there is one. His moment with Bateman in what will be forever known as the “cocaine scene” (the one where the three of them reconnoiter Bobby’s apartment and discover a cache of cocaine which Dale promptly drops on the floor. Day becomes, shall we say, infected. It’s one of the best moments in the film.

The bosses are great too. The actors playing them are all stars in their own right and they have fun with the outrageous parts. Anniston turns her image on its ear, playing a nymphomaniac of a boss. We see a side of Anniston that is far sexier than we’re used to (not that she can’t play sexy – she has and certainly does so here) and quite frankly, it’s pretty welcome. I like seeing her go out of her comfort zone a little.

Farrell can chew scenery with the best of them. His performance as Bullseye in Daredevil was one of the best things about that movie, and with his combover he is scarcely recognizable physically and like Anniston, you sense he’s having a good time with this. Spacey has played tyrannical bosses before (see Swimming With Sharks) and in some ways this is more or less a repeat of that performance, only on steroids.

Sutherland and Newhart, two veterans, only get a scene apiece, but make the most of their time. I would have liked to have seen more of them. Foxx only gets three scenes but he makes the most of his cameo as well. Otherwise nearly all the action revolves around the bosses and their employees so much of the onus is on their shoulders.

Fortunately they carry the movie well. Part of what makes this movie work is the casting. However, the other thing that makes the movie work is the writing. There are plenty of funny jokes, some great comic bits and the actors are given room not only to improvise but to take their characters as far as they can.

It doesn’t work well everywhere and some of the bits do fall flat. It isn’t Office Space which was a much better commentary on the modern workplace, but this is more of a comedy about cubicle cowboys pushed to their limits. It’s crude fun, and yes those who like their humor a little more gentle might be put off by this, but it is funny nonetheless. Sure, those who are unemployed might kill for any sort of boss, but those who are in need of a laugh should make a beeline for this one.

REASONS TO GO: At its best the movie is extremely funny, one of the funniest of the summer. The bosses sink their teeth into their roles.

REASONS TO STAY: A few of the bits don’t work as well. Day’s voice got annoyingly whiny after awhile.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of crude, sexual content and almost non-stop foul language. There is also a scene of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Anniston dyed her hair a darker brown to differentiate her character from the lighter roles she usually plays.

HOME OR THEATER: This works just as well on the home screen as it does in the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Sanctum


Sanctum

Richard Roxburgh is taking his toys and going home.

(2011) Adventure (Universal) Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wylie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Cratchley, Cramer Cain, Andrew Hansen, John Garvin. Directed by Alister Grierson

The exploration of caves is one of the last great adventures left to us on Earth. Most of the planet has been completely mapped and has been seen by human eyes. It is only when we go belowground that the exploration really begins…as well as the danger. 

Josh (Wakefield) is the son of noted cave explorer Frank (Roxburgh) who doesn’t share his father’s enthusiasms. He is constantly in his father’s doghouse, forced to spend summers with him that he’d rather spend doing anything else but. Frank, for his part, pushes Josh mercilessly, expecting far more than Josh is willing to give.

Frank is exploring a cave in Papua New Guinea’s Esa Ala cave system, one of the largest in the world. Josh has gone to pick up Carl (Gruffudd), a nascent caver himself who is funding the expedition. Carl has brought along his girlfriend Victoria (Parkinson) who has almost no caving experience. Josh escorts them to the massive cave opening and leads them down, although Type A personality Carl prefers jump off the edge and ride his parachute down.

In the meantime Josh’s forgetfulness about bringing down the spare air tanks has led to a terrible mishap in the caves. It becomes a heated argument between Josh and Frank and Josh prepares to leave. However a sudden storm turns into a cyclone, causing the cave to flood, leaving their only way out cut off. With the water level rising, Frank, Josh, Carl, Victoria as well as members of Frank’s support team Luku (Cain) and Crazy George (Wylie) must figure a way out of the caves before they all drown.

This was shot in 3D and to be honest, I’m not sure it really needed it. Much of the movie has little or no foreground to speak of, causing the director to have to use creative ways of framing the action in order to generate the 3D imagery. As a result, the movie has a curious lack of depth considering that it’s filmed in 3D (utilizing the same camera technology that executive producer James Cameron used for Avatar). It is also made darker because of the polarized glasses needed to view the 3D and quite frankly, the movie is dark enough to begin with. Some movies lend themselves to the 3D visual experience and some don’t and to my mind, this was one of the latter sort.

The actors are mainly not well known in these parts, although Gruffudd did get some notoriety as Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four movies. Most of the rest of the cast is Australian (much of the movie was filmed there) and for the most part do credible jobs. Roxburgh is the main eventer here, gruff and hard as nails, particularly on his son. The dynamic between Josh and Frank is at the emotional center of the movie, and if it doesn’t work, neither does the movie.

Fortunately for the filmmakers, that dynamic does work and is one of the things about the movie you come away with. That, the breathtaking visuals of the caves which are partially location shots, some sets and some CGI. The scenes are appropriately claustrophobic where they need to be, and grand vistas where they need to be. This makes for an excellent setting for the adventure.

The critics have been pretty rough on the movie and I can see some of their points although I do think they were being a little bit harsh overall. The general consensus is that this is Ten Little Indians in a cave and to my view that’s lazy writing – most survival movies, regardless of location, have that element to them as characters get picked off one by one by the elements or whatever disaster they’re dealing with. The killing off of characters gives you a sense of the danger that they’re in; without it, that sense of impending danger isn’t there and you don’t feel any sense of fear for your characters and your emotional investment in the movie then goes spiraling down the drain.

In the end, this is a fairly pedestrian adventure movie with some nice visuals that would have been nicer if they hadn’t been further darkened by 3D. Also, the language is a bit on the foul side to the point that the movie got an “R” rating here in the states, a rating that it didn’t really warrant considering there was little violence, not much gore and no sex. However, if you’re looking for a bit of fun and an escape from the ordinary, you could do much, much worse.

REASONS TO GO: Some stunning cave photography. Some of the perils are quite well done.

REASONS TO STAY: Script a little hackneyed. Language should have been cleaned up.  

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of coarse language, a bit of violence and several images that might be disturbing to the sensitive.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film bills itself as being based on actual events; co-writer Andrew Wright had a similar situation in which a cave he and 14 others were exploring had the entrance collapse, forcing them to find another way out.

HOME OR THEATER: Although some of the film is claustrophobic by its very nature, the magnificent caverns should be seen on a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Company Men