Monday, June 22, 2015

“SAN ANDREAS” NO GREAT SHAKES



















SAN ANDREAS
Starring Dwayne Johnson,
Carla Gugino,
Alexandra Daddario,
Ioan Gruffudd,
Paul Giamatti,
Archie Punjabi,
Hugo Johnstone-Burt,
Art Parkinson,
Kylie Minogue
Directed by Brad Peyton
Written by Carlton Cuse
Based on a story by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore
Runtime 114 mins.
Rated PG-13


           
Possibilities with computer effects sells this movie, but the story plays like an afterthought. For all the visual potential of the world’s largest recorded earthquake, as San Andreas ostensibly imagines, we really don’t get much bang for the buck. File it next to the Pierce Brosnan volcano flick.
           
Upshot: When earthquakes hit California and Nevada, a rescue-helicopter pilot (Johnson) spends all his time rescuing his soon-to-be ex-wife (Gugino) and their daughter (Daddario).
           
Meanwhile, Paul Giamatti plays a seismology professor able to predict earthquakes. Unfortunately, about ten seconds after he learns is when the biggest one hits. Even more unfortunately, the two story strands never do meet. Whether the filmmakers forgot to connect Johnson’s character with Giamatti’s or gave up or what is anybody’s guess.
           
We know we’re in trouble when Dwayne Johnson “tips the hat.” Piloting the chopper over a narrow gorge with a woman in a car dangling on a cliff, instead of lowering a cable long enough to reach, he risks the lives of the five other people inside by suddenly tipping the helicopter vertically in order to slip down past the narrow channel of rock. It’s annoying.
           
Because Dwayne Johnson used to be a professional wrestler called the Rock, audiences are slightly required to riff off of his career path, and mildly marvel when some acting happens, same as we would for a movie director getting to play in the NBA. If a director dribbled a couple times and put off a shot, we’d raise eyebrows and clap. Projections for audience demographics may cut a wide swath with Johnson’s casting, but the movie would be better served with more attention to the story.
           
Disaster movies work better with more characters and more build-up. With so few characters and so little story, San Andreas makes The Poseidon Adventure look like Citizen Kane.
           
It does seem a tad askew that when disaster strikes, the rescue-helicopter pilot is only concerned with rescuing his own family. Sure, we understand that the family is fractured—breaking apart like veritable plate tectonics. Got it. It’s just that there needs to be more.




 Stewart Kirby writes for



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

“JURASSIC WORLD” MEASURES UP





















JURASSIC WORLD
Starring Chris Pratt,
Bryce Dallas Howard,
Vincent D’Onofrio,
Ty Simpkins,
Nick Robinson,
Irrfan Khan,
Jake Johnson,
BD Wong
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver,
Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly
Runtime 124 mins.
Rated PG-13



           
Not as good as the first, but the best of the sequels.
           
Released in 1993, Jurassic Park was another Steven Spielberg summer blockbuster, the film version of the Michael Crichton bestseller about dinosaur DNA being used to make living dinosaurs for display. The issue of tampering with forces beyond man’s control makes it a Frankenstein story, girded by actual possibility. However, once that Frankenstein story was told, the punch was spent, and none of the sequels has equaled the richness.
           
Jurassic Park 2 in 1997, directed by Spielberg and written by Crichton, had Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough, and Jurassic Park 3 in 2001 had Sam Neil and Laura Dern, but neither of these has proved memorable. What sets Jurassic World slightly ahead of the others isn’t just the always and forever vastly improving special effects, but the amusing verisimilitude of the up-and-running park.
           
In keeping with the film’s predecessors, World has nothing substantially new to say. None of the characters compare with any of those in the first. A big part of Jurassic Park is the lead up to Wayne Knight’s terrific treachery with the theft of the dinosaur eggs; when the storm hits and fouls his plans, all the pacing pays off. None of that here, though. There is no satisfactory reason why the first dinosaur escapes.
           
Upshot: When a corporate mandate to increase ticket sales at the park leads to genetically-designed bigger, cooler dinosaurs, things go horribly wrong.
           
Even though it’s a fun summer movie to watch, Jurassic World does have glaring flaws. Not least of which being that military application of velociraptors is a lame idea. To the good, Vincent D’Onofrio makes the most of the role as the proponent for this application, but there’s no way we can get on board with his assertion that dinosaurs are destined to replace drones.
           
Regarding Chris Pratt in the lead as Owen, the vest-wearing dinosaur safety expert, he’s likeable, but not very believable because he’s too young. The Aussie big game hunter in the first film seemed like the real deal then, and even more so now.
           
The biggest flaw to the movie is the misogynistic tone throughout. In spite of this, it’s a fun movie. However, the head of the park (Howard) is a single woman with no kids who reluctantly receives her two visiting nephews (Simpkins, Robinson) and has to be protected by Owen. Speaking of dinosaurs, not much room for a character arc there…
         
          

 Stewart Kirby writes for




Monday, June 8, 2015

A SUMMER-Y FILM SUMMARY





           















Some cinematic double-feature suggestions to stimulate the season.
           
In no particular order:


1.      National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) and Up in Smoke (1978) – Whether you’re looking for a family vacation or a permanent vacation, Chevy Chase and his family plus Cheech and Chong and theirs will take you to that special summer feeling.

2.      Meatballs (1979) and Friday the 13th (1980) – Summer camp it up with Bill Murray, and cap it off with the timeless slasher classic.

3.      The Endless Summer (1966) and Blue Crush (2002) – Two tasty cinematic waves. The former a lighthearted and heartfelt documentary featuring a couple of surf dudes, and the latter a fictional story focusing on surf dudettes.

4.      Jurassic Park (1993) and King Kong (1933) – Because nothing says summer like giant beasts running amok.

5.      The Emerald Forest (1985) and The Mosquito Coast (1986) – Just to mix it up a little, get your jungle on and get away from it all with these two fairly hardcore stories.

6.      The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and The Jungle Book (1942) – Colorful family-friendly action leaps from the screen with both of Sabu’s best.

7.      Pirates if the Caribbean (2003) and Treasure Island (1990) – Would it have ruined Pirates to cast Charlton Heston as Capt. Jack Sparrow? Yes, but he makes a great Long John Silver.

8.      Woodstock (1970) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) – Hippies and cotton candy, roadies and clowns—I like to think the iconic summer music film is what happens when the Cecil B. DeMille circus movie is played backwards.

9.      Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and King Solomon’s Mines (1950) – Because Steven Spielberg probably owns thirty percent of the season of summer, we should mention one of his best movies, plus that cinematic ancestor of Indiana Jones, Alan Quartermain.

10.  Jaws (1975) and Finding Nemo (2003) – Talkin’ ‘bout sharkin’, and learning how to not be a helicopter fish. You’re gonna need a bigger screen…


 Stewart Kirby writes for

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"TOMORROWLAND" TIMELY, UPLIFTING



















TOMORROWLAND
Starring George Clooney,
Britt Robertson,
Hugh Laurie,
Raffey Cassidy,
Pierce Gagnon,
Tim McGraw,
Thomas Robinson,
Matthew MacCaull
Directed by Brad Bird
Written by Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird
Runtime 130 mins.
Rated PG

 
           
George Clooney brings credibility to this solid sci-fi family fare from Disney. Directed by Brad Bird, "Tomorrowland" takes on the task of making another feature film from a physical feature of Disneyland and succeeds.
           
Casey (Robertson) understands machines and how things work. When her NASA engineer dad (McGraw) faces losing his job, she tries to help, and in the process meets Athena (Cassidy), who seems to be a twelve year-old girl, and finds a little round pin bearing a stylized letter “T” which, when touched, takes her to a strange land.
           
We’ve seen one of these pins before, because slightly earlier we find George Clooney’s character, Frank Walker, was also given one by the same girl, and he was also immediately transported to the same wondrous world.
           
One of the neatest things they manage to do with this movie is incorporate the 1964 World’s Fair, for which the It’s a Small World ride was built. Here they take what I consider one of the lamer rides and introduce an imaginative aspect which certainly improves it.
           
In "Tomorrowland," robots and jet packs abound. Robots, especially. "Matrix"-ish ones in suits chase Casey, Frank and Athena, and this provides most of the action as Casey looks on the positive side trying to ward off the end of the world.
           
Something else remarkable about this movie is the lack of a boyfriend required for Casey. It’s unique in film to see a smart, attractive young woman star in a story and be heroic without any aspect of romance. The real romance in "Tomorrowland" is entertaining a bright, positive future.
           
Naturally the film has its faults. There are a few holes here and there. For instance, why doesn’t touching the pin zap young Frank to Tomorrowland the way touching the pin takes Casey there? And why do the robots move and sound like people until we know that they’re robots, in which case they then sound slow and robotic?
           
Triflings aside, the enthusiastic spirit permeating this movie is a cinematic breath of fresh air. "Tomorrowland" doesn’t exceed the first "Pirates of the Caribbean," but it’s better than "The Haunted Mansion."
          
I’m inspired already. "Big Thunder Mountain." There’s a movie for imagining right there. "Matterhorn," there’s another....




Stewart Kirby writes for
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