Friday, May 29, 2015

San Andreas

Yes, Canadian director Brad Peyton's San Andreas is brainless disaster porn but it is also enormous fun when it's not trying to be meaningful. The film stars Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino as estranged spouses who find themselves on a perilous trek from Los Angeles to San Francisco to find and rescue their daughter (the nubile beauty Alexandra Daddario) during an unprecedented Pacific Coast earthquake. Johnson's Ray is a hotshot L.A. rescue copter pilot. Wife Emma has just served him divorce papers and announced that she and daughter Blake are moving in with new boyfriend, real estate tycoon Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd), whose San Francisco tower will be the tallest on the West Coast (compensate much?). It's then that Ray's world starts to fall apart, literally, as the earth begins to shift and buildings start collapsing. Paul Giamatti has a choice part as a Cal Tech seismologist whose equations and gadgetry have predicted just such an occurrence but his warnings have gone unheeded. The scenes of devastation -- the demolition of the Hoover Dam, the swallowing of L.A. and the drowning of San Francisco -- are so over-the-top that they are funnier than Peyton probably intended. Along for the joy ride are a comely British lad, played by Hugo Johnstone-Burt, and his cheeky younger brother Ollie (young Art Parkinson), who take a shining to the busty Blake and end up hiking the the even crookeder streets of San Francisco with her. If watching Mother Nature kick ass is your cup of tea, San Andreas is for you. Faults and all. Recommended.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road is post-apocalyptic poetry and superior to the original Road Warrior series of the early 80s, which was terrific. Miller's dystopian vision of a road-raging, fuel-starved future is familiar to many but the new film ratchets up the intensity to nearly unbearable levels.  Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron star as captives of the despotic, and despicable, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), ruler of a kingdom of fall-out survivors and a band of chalky, shaved warrior boys who guard his rocky fortress, from whence he dispenses wisdom and water, but not in equal measures. When Theron's Imperator Furiosa makes a break for it in an 18-wheeler that is carrying some of Joe's precious breeding cargo, Joe and his boys take off in pursuit with Hardy's Max in tow as "blood bag" to one of Joe's anemic underlings (Nicholas Hoult). The opening 20-minute chase is grindhouse opera -- symphonic, grungy and grand, a sensory assault that is unrelenting and exhausting.  The whole film is. The dusty, world's end vistas (shot in Australia and Namibia), the punk / metal / S&M costuming and makeup, and the Cirque du Soleil grotesque acrobatics in the final chase are all exquisite.  Miller's dark message has not changed since the original Mad Max was released in 1979 -- man's feral nature will undoubtedly survive whatever devastation his greed and shortsightedness bring --but Miller has exceeded -- to marvelous effect -- the delivery of that message. Highly recommended but terrifically violent.

Friday, May 8, 2015


The cleverness of Levan Gabriadze's little creeper for the chat-room set, Unfriended, will probably be lost on those whose primary means of interaction is NOT social media. The film assumes the viewer understands the dynamic and appeal of Facebook, instant messaging and webcams and builds on that foundation an intermittently entertaining teen revenge flick that outside of social media's cyber-bubble would make no sense at all -- not that there is much sense even for cyber pros. A group of five high school friends (Shelley Hennig, Matthew Bohrer, Renee Olstead, Wil Peltz, and Jacob Wysocki) convene one evening and are joined by a mysterious, avatar-less lurker using the web address of a dead friend (Heather Sossamon). The lurker has targeted our charmingly jaded and multitasking quintet because they were responsible for posting a shaming video of their drunk, butt-hurt friend. The video was so much the talk of Fresno that the unlucky girl ended up shooting herself in the head -- on camera, of course. That too was posted online. The film delivers a bit of a primer on debugging and blocking pesky trolls -- even if these measures come to naught -- and the little nimrods are picked off one by one.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

The artistry in Joss Whedon's Avengers: Age of Ultron is truly impressive even as the franchise's evolving story of interplanetary / interdimensional alien invasion gets compressed into chaotic, muscular battles joined by the ligaments of running gags and witty banter. The superior first installment (The Avengers, 2012) introduced the ragtag band of heroic misfits -- Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), David Banner / The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) -- led by the one-eyed chief of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). That story merged science and magic in the person of rogue Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who was hellbent on world domination. Age of Ultron grounds its story squarely in the digital world and introduces a new nemesis, a quipping artificial intelligence (voiced by James Spader) hellbent on creating peace on earth by exterminating human life. Ultron is joined, for a while, by a curious set of Slavic mutant twins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson) and a horde of flying cyborgs. Yes, it's a loud, crowded party with a multitude of your closest friends and is best enjoyed as such. If you want depth and reflection go see Ex Machina.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...