It’s Dwayne Johnson (featuring “San Andreas”) To The Rescue!

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I’m sure that, like me, everyone has a movie or two they love but can’t exactly explain why. The movies may not be good, or even so bad that their good, but it’s nice to watch whenever it’s on cable or HBO. For me, those are movies like Armageddon, 50 First Dates, or 2 Fast 2 Furious. While some tastes may differ amongst others, there’s one genre of film that is destined for repeat viewings on basic cable when it’s late enough to binge on ice cream and watch TNT in your underwear; disaster movies. Things like Twister, The Day After Tomorrow and Volcano are big-budget bonanzas with little sense and a lot of spectacle. It’s never meant to attract critics, but to distract movie fans from the horrors of real life reminding them “hey, it could be worse, you could be caught in a giant flaming tornado.” Despite being something as disposable as Adam Sandler’s newest project, disaster movies are still alive and well, seen most recently in last year’s found-footage based Into the Storm. But now, the latest disaster epic has the one thing all disaster movies have been missing for so many years…SUPERMAN…ok, it’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but that’s pretty close.

San Andreas follows muscular helicopter rescue pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson). On top of rappelling from helicopters and saving lives, Ray is dealing with a divorce from his wife (Carla Gugino), one daughter (Alexandra Daddario) going to college and the loss of his other daughter in a white water rafting accident. Thankfully there’s something to take his mind off of it; a cataclysmic earthquake all along the San Andreas fault line. Ray must make his way through the rubble with his estranged wife to find their daughter.

San Andreas is pretty much what it looks and sounds like; an action-hero running through impossible situations to get from point A to point B. It’s simple, it’s stupid and (thankfully) it’s totally harmless. Of course, the entire earthquake (or earthquakes, as it’s multiple in the movie) is probably totally impossible and absolutely over-the-top. For instance, Johnson and Gugino are using a center-console inflatable boat to get to the other side of San Francisco, but of course they have to get over a giant tsunami (SPOILER ALERT, they make it because one of them has his name on the movie poster). No matter how much science-talk the “experts” give out to explain the events (this time the “experts” are led by Paul Giamatti), everything going on is so unbelievable that the guys from Mythbusters would be laughing. There’s also the scumbag who gets his comeuppance by the disaster (this time it’s Ioan Gruffudd as Gugino’s new boyfriend) and the random love interest for the attractive daughter (this time it’s Hugo Johnstone-Burt as the nervous British guy who saves Daddario). There are so many modern cliches and ridiculous natural disasters popping up, one would think this is a Roland Emmerich movie.

The problem with a lot of disaster movies is that Hollywood places a bland-looking everyman in the lead role so that the audience can connect with him, like Dennis Quaid in The Day After Tomorrow, John Cusack in 2012 or…whoever it was in Into the Storm. But here’s the thing, if the events in a disaster movie aren’t realistic enough to relate to, what’s the point of relating to the main character? If the movie is going to be big and ridiculous, have it star a big and ridiculous human being. Make no mistake, Dwayne Johnson is big, ridiculous and freaking awesome. He’s the best part of San Andreas as he poses his muscles in front of collapsing buildings and triumphantly leads people to safety. He even makes a sex pun after parachuting into the AT&T Park and it’s ACTUALLY FUNNY! Michael Bay has been trying to do this right for years, and Dwayne Johnson gets it right. That’s got to be some kind of witchcraft. The funny thing is, Johnson has only just started to get solo lead roles in summer action movies. He’s been a supporting player in The Other Guys, G.I. Joe: Retaliation and the recent Fast & Furious films, but only since last year’s Hercules has Johnson been the leader of a summer blockbuster. With his performance in San Andreas, he deserves a whole lot more.

So is San Andreas good or bad? To be honest, I’d say it was…..fine. Nothing to rush to the theaters for but nothing god awful. It’s a run of the mill disaster movie that’s best enjoyed with your brain turned off and your mouth full of popcorn. If anything, San Andreas is a reminder that Dwayne Johnson can handle summer movies on his own and should be given a shot with a real director or at least some more exciting action. Despite all the quakes, the destruction and the family bonding, San Andreas is nothing more than Dwayne Johnson’s demo reel. Somebody call him up!


Final Verdict: 2.5 out of 4 stars

A Necessary Failure

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Here’s a shocking bit of truth; Hollywood is scared of new ideas. So much money is sunk into today’s blockbusters, with most of them being sequels, remakes or reboots of older material. The rehashing of older ideas are what make the most money at the box-office, instead of something fresh or original. Even if there’s the slightest financial failure at the box office, Hollywood will get in the fetal position, cry and beg for the security blanket of something done before. Therefore, new ideas get little promotion and the same old shit gets shoved in everyone’s face. This is especially true for Disney, who have recently made a good chunk of change by producing live-action remakes of their classic animated movies like Cinderella, Maleficent and Beauty and the Beast up next. However, Disney wants to let a glimmer of light shine on one idea that sticks with Walt Disney’s passion for innovation.

Tomorrowland follows the belief that dreamers and inventors can shape the future, so much so that there is an entire alternate dimension where the geniuses of the world combine and create new technology. But Tomorrowland is looking for new members, including spunky blonde Casey (Britt Robertson). After coming across a mysterious pin that shows her images of Tomorrowland, she goes on a search for answers. She runs into a precocious little girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who claims to know all about Tomorrowland. Athena takes Casey to meet Frank (George Clooney), a grumpy, old genius who claims Tomorrowland has the power to save the world.

With a heavy focus on futuristic technology and a story about saving the world from the evils of society, Tomorrowland is a lot to wrangle up into a two hour summer blockbuster for kids. Fortunately, Disney brought in writer/director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) to make the movie pop. Bird is a master of making visual effects flow seamlessly with live action entertainment . His orchestration of the camera keeps the audience in tune within the dazzling swirl of action and the futuristic eye candy of Tomorrowland. He also knows how to keep the atmosphere light with his actors, especially with his three main leads. The chemistry between Clooney, Robertson and Cassidy is enjoyable and occasionally funny as the three but heads along their journey. Clooney and Robertson have an entertaining yin-yang dynamic between them, with Clooney the grump and Robertson the spirit. Cassidy also adds some nice backstory on Clooney’s character and a touch of heart to the whole story.

Then again, the futuristic technology seems a bit familiar as well. The jetpacks, spaceships, style and everything else about the future tech has been seen in everything from Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and The Rocketeer. For a kids movie, Tomorrowland is both heavy on its message and yet light in its backing. It keeps with the classic themes of “kids are the future” and “imagination rules all,” which would be fine for any old Disney movie but feels like a letdown amongst all of the visual spectacle. It’s also very one-sided in its explanation of all the evil in the world (“people are ignorant/selfish”) and in that, its message feels exclusive to only the geniuses of the world and not to a wider audience. The only solution to the problems Tomorrowland brings up is just to dream or think positive, which seem like kid-friendly cop-outs to get to a happy ending. Tomorrowland’s message goes down easy when it should require deep thought.

After leaving Tomorrowland, I thought about Disney’s other live action release this year, the remake of Cinderella. If people were to ask me which was the better film in general, I would tell them Cinderella. The Kenneth Branagh-helmed revival had the benefit of a simple story with a predictable ending, so that the enjoyment can be taken from the spirited acting and the straightforward technical work. Tomorrowland on the other hand is visually awesome and technically sound but fails in its delivery of a message and theme. It’s big enough to watch in wonder but also big enough to fail. But if people were to ask me which movie is more worthy of an admission ticket, I’d would tell them to visit Tomorrowland. Cinderella didn’t need to be remade and could’ve been made competently by anyone because it’s simple and familiar, like most sequels and remakes. Tomorrowland, while flawed and not fully realized, is at least visually fresh and tries to present some complex ideas to the feeble minds of Disney’s young followers. It may be a long time before Disney comes out from under the covers of their warm and toasty remakes to undertake another original idea, but I’ll take the valiant effort of Tomorrowland over the easy, unnecessary recycling of an old movie.


Final Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars

A Ca-Overload

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Sure, Pitch Perfect was girly, cute and an awkward cousin of Glee, but the 2012 comedy had a certain charm to it. Made for a mere $17 million and going on to earn over $111 million worldwide, Pitch Perfect was one of the first female ensemble comedies post-Bridesmaids that worked. It’s humor came from the natural abilities of its young performers, like Anna Kendrick, Anna Camp, Hana Mae Lee, Adam DeVine and scene-stealer Rebel Wilson. The pacing was solid and focused on a linear storyline. Sure, it was predictable and the humor was hit-and-miss, but I’ll take Fat Amy’s workout regiment over Paul Blart waddling around any day of the week..or month…or year…or ever. The bottom line is that Pitch Perfect worked and, like most successful comedies, it has to succumb to a fate worse than nodes on vocal chords….the bloated sequel.

Pitch Perfect 2 takes place three years after the first installment, with the Barden Bellas having won three national a cappella championships and now performing for President Obama on his birthday. After a slight mishap on-stage involving Fat Amy (Wilson) hanging bare (literally), the Bellas are suspended from touring the malls and small auditoriums of the nation. However, if they enter the a capella world championship (yup, that’s a thing too), the suspension will be lifted and their reputation will be redeemed. While most of the Bellas are focused on beating the black-clad German team, Das Sound Machine, Becca (Kendrick) is more focused on succeeding at her new internship at a local record label. On top of that is freshman Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), looking to make her mark with the Bellas that her mother was once a member of. There’s also Fat Amy’s continuing fling with a ca-asshole Bumper (DeVine) and the question of what the Bellas are going to do, win or lose, after they graduate.

Like all comedy sequels desperate to up the ante, Pitch Perfect 2 brings in a crop of cameos and new blood. The likes of David Cross, Katey Sagal, Keegan-Michael Key and even members of the Green Bay Packers are packed in to add star power. Cross works his Tobias Funke shtick to good use, but everyone else is just there to make their daughters happy. It also features more hit-and-miss comic bits, but more of them are misses than hits. For instance, one of the newest Bellas is Flo (Chrissie Fit), a hispanic girl. What’s her character? A hispanic girl making hispanic-related puns about border jumping and whatnot. You get it? She’s foreign, HA! Another common trap of sequels is not sticking to a straight ahead plot. The first film focused on the Bellas trying to build their new sound by singing at competitions. The new film can’t sit still as it bounces between Becca’s internship, Fat Amy’s love life, Emily being awkward and training montages. Most scenes end up either being pointless or falling flat.

But if audiences came for fun mashups of hit songs in energetic fashion, they’ll go home happy. Pitch Perfect 2 features the typical upbeat a cappella mashups of various tunes, including a riff-off like the one in the previous installment. Director Elizabeth Banks brings in various international a cappella groups for the finale, showing how much a cappella has taken over the globe. The tone is light, free-flowing and everyone involved seems to be having a good time. Kendrick and the rest of the Bellas still have a natural, a ca-awkward chemistry that works when they’re together. The movie is not without some laughs, like when Becca and Fat Amy have their moments. Pitch Perfect has excelled at awkward humor, and most of the time it still works. The problem is that there’s just too much filler stuffed in between the moments that matter. The audience will just be waiting for punchlines and vocal bass notes instead of actually caring about anyone involved.

In fact, the problem with Pitch Perfect 2 is illustrated in one scene. In order to compete with the high-octane theatrics of Das Sound Machine, the Bellas perform with glow sticks, light-up hula hoops and pyrotechnics. While trying to put on a bigger and better show, the Bellas fail miserably and the crowd is visibly turned off by all the flashy additions. That’s Pitch Perfect 2 in a nutshell; a movie that thinks putting more in front of an audience means a better show when in reality, it’s just too much nothing and not enough something.


Final Verdict: 2 out of 4 stars