June 4, 2015
San Andreas (***) PG-13
For me, San Andreas, a sort of re-do of the 1974 film Earthquake, may be the biggest surprise of the summer movie going season thus far. Not because it’s the best film I’ve seen this year or anything along those lines. No, the surprise would be the fact that the film turns out to be such an enjoyable thrill ride in spite of brimming with the type of clichés that popcorn pictures of this nature tend to do. It’s loaded with them for sure but is still able to pack an occasional surprise punch or two and will readily keep the audience engaged for all of its running time. It may be about as subtle as Smokey and the Bandit but it sure is fun while it lasts.
Every disaster movie like this has to have some sort of human drama to play out against the special effects sequences and San Andreas is no different in that respect. There’s human drama and plenty of it, most of it of a very predictable variety, but not so much that you can’t go along with it. I suppose this is the most we can ask for a film like this.
My son likes to refer to actor Dwayne Johnson as the Gentle Giant and he’s certainly in Gentle Giant mode here as Ray, a member of the LA search and rescue team, whose wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), has just served Ray with divorce papers.
Dwayne Johnson & Carla Gugino in San Andreas
She and their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) are moving in with Emma’s new squeeze and Ray seems to be having no easy time adjusting to the news. Of course we know we’re not going to see The Rock cry on camera but we get the point. Eventually, it’s revealed that Emma left because Ray couldn’t open his emotional reserve to deal with the tragedy of the loss of the couple’s other daughter.
There’s another subplot too as daughter Blake connects with two young British siblings who come to her rescue after Emma’s boyfriend, Daniel (Ioan Gruffud), turns out to be a sociopath of the highest order, running for his own safety and leaving Blake behind. Paul Giamatti also turns up in an earnest performance (would we expect anything less?) as a seismologist who tries to warn the public of impending danger.
Purists are going to have a field day pointing out the film’s implausible technical details but I don’t suppose that’s really going to matter. The film is chock full of great special effects sequences that, surprisingly for such a CGI driven film, are rendered fairly realistically. The human drama always plays second fiddle to the destruction on hand but one goes into these things expecting that.
For a disaster film of this type, San Andreas provides just what audiences will expect and won’t offend more serious scholars of film either.
Aloha (**) PG-13
Writer/director Cameron Crowe continues on his downward slide with Aloha. Although his last film, the 2011 comedy/drama, We Bought a Zoo, was slightly better than the rest of the director’s narrative output during the last decade, with the release of Aloha it’s clear that Crowe is on an inexorable creative slide from which his return is in doubt.
The problems with Aloha are so numerous it’s hard to know where to begin when dissecting what exactly is wrong with the picture, although it isn’t as unwatchable as some early reports suggested. Crowe’s past films have always had a leisurely and relaxed pace but still managed to somehow reach a satisfactory conclusion in spite of taking time to get there.
The biggest problem with Crowe’s latest endeavor is that it seems to meander without ever really getting a clear and concise point across. There is an emotionally satisfying scene at the end of the film, along with a few moments in the midst of the film’s proceedings, that serve to remind us of the Cameron Crowe films that we used to love. Still, it’s not enough to make up for the slog of getting through Aloha.
Stone, Cooper & McAdams in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha
Bradley Cooper gets the top billing in the film as Brian Gilcrest. Brian is a defense contractor, still carrying battle scars—literally and figuratively—from an earlier military stint years ago. He’s been lured back in his contractor role in order to get the US space program firmly planted in Hawaii. This is only one of the many story threads hanging around in the film. There’s also the story thread of Brian’s boss (Bill Murray), who has questionable motives. And there are not one but two romantic subplots. There’s one involving Brian’s growing attachment to his handler on the island (Emma Stone, radiant as always), with whom he finds himself growing attached after seeing the girl’s warmth and humanity shining through her gruff exterior. There’s yet another involving Brian’s old flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who still carries a torch for him and is suffering through a rough patch in her marriage.
If these story threads came together cohesively perhaps the film could have worked perfectly but Crowe never manages to weave things together in a way that feels satisfying. There is a sense that he set out to make a great film but somewhere along the way lost his focus.
That’s too bad because the film has gorgeous scenery to spare and features a terrific cast doing their best with the material, although there’s only so much that can be done. Up until this point, I’ve always looked forward to each successive new film from the Cameron Crowe. I can’t really say that I’ll be clamoring for the next and it really saddens me to have to say that.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at email@example.com.