Review: San Andreas


My girlfriend’s family lives in both Los Angeles and slightly to the east of the Bay area. Living in California is in my future. Therefore, I felt it was incumbent upon me to take a look at the potential of my someday environment.

Oh my.

San Andreas rightfully earns the title: Summer blockbuster. It’s the next generation version of past disaster movies like The Towering Inferno and Earthquake from the early 70s. The movie is a bit plot-lite and centers on a family with issues trying to survive everything nature can throw at them. Paul Giamatti plays the role of the scientist who lets the audience know exactly what earthquakes are all about. This could have been a dull role, but Giamatti, as always, makes it interesting – he could make the reading of an aspirin bottle interesting;  Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, and Alexandra Daddario round out the central protagonists. If you’re familiar with disaster movies, you’ll recognize all the elements of the genre: a guy you think is good, but isn’t, someone who dies to up the stakes, escalation of tension at every turn as nothing goes right, burgeoning love interests that are fused by adversity, and a force that makes human effort seem impotent – another example that nature can be an untamed beast. You see true character revealed whether it’s in the form of bravery or cowardice. What doesn’t come our way, even though a rudimentary attempt is made, is the kind of emotional investment that grabs you as in movies past. Whose heart wasn’t broken when Fred Astaire’s character in Inferno loses his new love as she falls from a crumbling elevator, or when Shelley Winters dies in The Poseidon Adventure – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. For all of that, you do root for the characters just because the movie is fun and everyone is attractive.

The true star of the film is the special and visual effects. Simply put, they are stunning, and in my opinion they raise the bar for others to follow. The details of the devastation are micro-managed to the finest level. I scrolled down the list of people, who contributed to this part of the movie, and I scrolled, and I scrolled, and I scrolled. It’s one thing to demolish a building for a movie, to demolish a whole city brick-by-brick and window pane-by-window pane must have taken Herculean patience and the focus of an electron microscope.

It’s a must see for the big screen, the lack of emotional depth non-withstanding, you will enjoy this film: a total B+.

Oh yeah, about that move? I think I’ll be looking for something suburban when I get there.

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road


It’s been so many years since I saw the Mel Gibson version (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior) that it felt like I was seeing this story for the first time. In truth, apart from the post-apocalyptic setting, scarce resources, and a central character named Max Rockatansky, played this time by Tom Hardy, this could very well stand alone as a new story and not strictly as reboot of a once influential movie series. As an action film, it excels; in fact, moments without fighting or chasing or running, are rare. Charlize Theron attempts the role of a tough female warrior, Imperator Furiosa, but renders a performance that fails to engage, which isn’t a good thing since she’s essentially the protagonist of the story. The secondary characters of Nux (Nicholas Hoult) and the five wives of the film’s main baddie, Immortan Joe, strike a greater emotional resonance than the two main characters.

Half of the film is spent with Max and Furiosa racing and fighting to reach a distant location and then turning around and doing the same in reverse. The clearest theme you can draw from this is that it’s better to fix what you have than wasting precious resources on looking for something that might not exist; it’s the grass is always greener sort of dilemma. I suppose it’s possible to elicit some meaning from the wives, who are running away with their unborn children, or the many forms of ritual we see performed throughout the movie, but the desire to do so doesn’t seem much worth the effort.

Thumbs up for cinematography, explosions, and stunts; not so much for an engaging storyline that you’re going to remember beyond the timing of your next meal.