A Damn Good Mindless Popcorn Flick
San Andreas (2015): In the aftermath of a massive earthquake in California, a rescue-chopper pilot makes a dangerous journey across the state in order to rescue his daughter.
Ok guys. Turn your brains off. We're gonna talk about San Andreas. This will be a bit of a quicker review because I'm a little busy right now, but here's the deal. San Andreas is a mindless disaster film. It follows in the footsteps of who I believe is the master of mindless disaster movie popcorn "fun," Roland Emmerich, and it never thinks its an important film. It's not meant to be taken seriously. The characters are less than paper thin, there's one nick-of-time escape after another, and the only time the movie makes you feel anything is when it goes out of its way to kill a lot of extras. So, that's my first point: if you don't like watching people die, even if they're fictional characters, stay FAR away from this film. You've probably already written it off. Don't change that. For the rest of you, however, stick around. Because you should see San Andreas.
You heard me right. Gather your friends, get a few beers, and go see this film on the largest screen possible, because it is a fun ride from one set piece to another throughout the 114 minute popcorn flick. You know, real critics actually classify popcorn flick as a genre. If I had to sum up this genre, I would probably use this film, because it is the QUINTESSENTIAL popcorn film. The film has a ridiculous pace, and it shoots its giant disaster set pieces, aka the complete destruction of three major locations in the Hoover Dam, LA, and San Fran, EXACTLY how you should shoot your big budget set piece. The film looks great, with the special effects department doing their job with flying colors, and the wall of water looks great too. I wouldn't bring that up were it not for 2014's Exodus: Gods and Kings complete inability to create a somewhat realistic wall of water. Regardless of whether it's an action set piece or a disaster set piece, this is how you do it. THIS is how you do it. From sweeping wide shoots where you can actually see everything happening, to very little shaky cam, (amazing I know, because a film about earthquakes is about the only time this element could actually be even remotely acceptable) to even a BEAUTIFUL Spielberg Oner, (a one shot that doesn't draw attention to the fact that it's a single take) in the middle of the earthquake mind you....man this is how you do it! Seriously, I praise director Brad Peyton and company for having the guts to put that Spielberg Oner in their film, and in the middle of one of the giant earthquakes. And it works! It works spectacularly and was easily my favorite moment of the film. The take was about 2 minutes long, and there was so much happening in that take it was ridiculous. Good job, guys!
Got a little off track there. But there really isn't much else to say about this film. The acting is fine. Dwayne Johnson is as charismatic and badass as ever, and our female leads Carla Gugino and Alexandra Daddario are good too. And I'm really glad that the film did not make these two characters damsels-in-distress. Well, sure, I guess Alexandra Daddario was in distress, but there were two other male characters with her that she was helping keep alive. And who basically admit at the end of the film and at a few moments throughout that they would be dead were it not for her. I love female power characters, and I'm glad this film went this way rather than the stereotypical damsel-in-distress route. Paul Giamatti was also great. As usual. His scientific exposition was very welcome throughout the film, and gave it at least a little bit of scientific realism. Not much, but some is always better than none.
So that's it. If you're looking for a big budget summer blockbuster, this is exactly it. It's mindless fun, but enjoyable mindless fun. Long as you don't mind seeing fictional characters die. I guess that makes me cynical for that not bothering me too much? I mean no one actually died making this film. Oh well. I'll just blame video games. Cause that's exactly what our society wants to hear nowadays.....
The Critique: A damn good mindless popcorn flick.
The Recommendation: A damn good mindless popcorn flick.
Rewatchability: A damn good mindless popcorn flick.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 A damn good mindless popcorn flick.
A well-intentioned, convoluted mess
Tomorrowland (2015): Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.
See that description? See how confusing that sounds? This film had 130 minutes to lay all that out there in an interesting and coherent way. While the film certainly has moments of being interesting, it's pretty, well, not coherent. Yes, the overall story makes sense, (even though the third act is incredibly rushed as if Brad Bird and company didn't want to make this film longer than two hours) but that's not what I'm talking about. There are so many themes of overconsumption and oh! we're leading humanity towards certain destruction! littered about with NO call to action. Not only that, the themes in this film contradicted each other. First off, there's this whole thing about innovation and how great it is, but now OH NO! Innovation is killing the planet! NO. No. Bad Tomorrowland. You can't have it both ways.
It's a shame too, because I love Brad Bird's work. That was the primary reason I went out and saw this film. The man directed The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, and the surprisingly good Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. But this film is easily the weakest film he's made in a long time. It clearly bit off more than it could chew, while simultaneously being sure that it appealed to its target demographic: baby boomers. Let's talk about that, shall we? I could not help but feel like this film was a corporate Disney film with a checklist of things to include in it to make the target demographic happy. Have George Clooney be the lead? Check. Have a film talk about the 1964 World's Fair and how great it was? Something that the baby boomers would be just old enough to remember and young enough to revere? Check. Include the It's A Small World ride, which baby boomers always make their children ride at the parks? Check. Have a regressive stance on the world today? Say that innovation is killing our species? Man, baby boomers will love that! Check. Have a female lead that'll make every baby boomer think of their own children because she herself is meant to be a teenager? (Even though I didn't buy a teenager being that smart and savvy for a second.) Check. See what I mean? It's just a checklist! That's all this film is. A checklist. Oh ya! One final thing to mention that I really did not appreciate in this film. I can't say much about it without spoiling anything, but there was a romance involving George Clooney that made me, and I'm sure many other younger people with a more liberal mind, very uncomfortable. The conclusion of this storyline had me yelling NO DON'T DO IT GEORGE! IT'S A TRAP. I don't think the film wanted me to be saying that at that moment. Could be wrong though.
You probably think I hate this film, but I don't. Let's talk about the positives. First off, George Clooney reminds us why he's a movie star. The dude's great, and his performance is a shoutout to the performances of the great Hollywood stars of the early days. You didn't go see 1959's Some Like it Hot because you were interested in the story. No. You went and saw Some Like it Hot because Marilyn Monroe was in it. And Clooney's performance here very much reflects that. I always love seeing a film or an actor embrace their persona and have fun with it. Not only that, but the two female leads, Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy more than hold their own alongside Clooney. I loved Cassidy's performance! Her performance as Athena almost outshines Clooney. Almost. And let's not forget the set design! There is no one, and I mean no one, better in the movie business at set design, costumes, and makeup than Disney. Sure, I'm worried about how good the story of The Force Awakens is going to be, but I am not even remotely worried about how that film's set design is going to turn out, or how it's going to look in general, because I know it's going to be beautiful. Because it's Disney! Finally, the score. Michael Giacchino has created what is easily the best score of 2015 up to this point. I want the soundtrack NOW. It even outpaced what was happening on screen at times, as I found myself completely ignoring what was happening on screen and just listening to the music. This is the first of three feature films for Giacchino this year, with the other two being Pixar's Inside Out and Jurassic World. You've set the bar high for yourself, Mr. Giacchino.
So ya. At the end of the day, this film is decent. But nothing more. Just....decent. I enjoyed looking at it and listening to it, but the story was majorly flawed to me. Now, if you're a Disney apologist, fine. Hate me for not thinking this is the best film of the year or whatever. But this film is very much a piece of corporate directive that exists SOLELY to get people into the theme parks and to Tomorrowland. That's just the harsh truth. If you like Disney, you've probably already seen this film. If you're skeptical, however, your time is far better spent elsewhere. Like watching Mad Max! Because who doesn't love Mad Max?
The Critique: a good effort, but a convoluted story prevents this film from being anything more than a piece of corporate directive.
The Recommendation: Disney fans and baby boomers will find something to enjoy, but everyone else will either be uncomfortable or bored out of their minds. I guess children will love it? I mean, there really isn't any good kids film out there right now, so I'd say go for it there too. They might be entertained for two hours.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5.5/10 Slightly Above Average
Oh what a film. What a lovely film!
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): In a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, two rebels just might be able to restore order: Max, a man of action and of few words, and Furiosa, a woman of action who is looking to make it back to her childhood homeland.
Wow. It takes a lot for a film to leave me completely speechless in the moments after watching it. Gravity did it back in 2013. Whiplash did it in 2014. (Multiple times, mind you-that's how great that film is) And now, Mad Max: Fury Road has done it. This film....this film gives me hope for the industry. I hope people like Michael Bay and Zack Snyder sit down and realize this is how you film a big budget action film. This film is beautifully stylistic, incredibly well shot, deep with narrative, and amazingly acted. In short, Mad Max: Fury Road sets a new standard for what the action genre can (and should) be.
A thesis could be written about this film. I'm not kidding. But we only have time to scratch the surface of this 120 minute piece of cinema. First off, stylistically, this film is a masterpiece. George Miller is a creative genius, and his ability to make the Australian Outback look as beautiful as it does in this film, despite the fact that it's all, you know, one color, is an incredible feat in and of itself. Nothing against the Outback: it is definitely beautiful in its own right. But it's one color. And rather than shy away from this fact, Miller embraces it and, with outstanding costumes and brilliant cinematography, (there has to be some filters on this) puts this film stylistically on the same level as a Wes Anderson film. Those two must be bffs. But watch a film like Mission Impossible 2 and how it shoots the Australian Outback versus how Mad Max: Fury Road shoots it. You'll see my point.
Since I've brought up cinematography, let's talk about it, ya? Cinematography is where most action movies fail. Many directors have adopted either the Michael Bay or JJ Abrams style of shooting an action film. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I mean we bash Michael Bay films all the time because his characters are about as deep as a paper plate, but his films are as successful as they are because that's what mainstream moviegoers want to see. Frantic camera moves (shaky cam and lens flares in Abrams case) and as much crap as possible on the screen. More more more! Both directors are excellent in their own right, but for those who want quality over quantity, that's something that's hard to come by in this genre. But then George Miller comes around and reminds us that yes, quality can still happen. The films great combination of huuuuuuuge soaring wide shots, allowing you to see everything happening at any given moment and dramatic, 80's-style close ups, all while never using hand cams creates an incredible viewing experience. And leaves you breathless after the sequence is over. Dear God: if you like action films, go see this film on the biggest screen possible. You'll thank me later. Even if you haven't seen any of the other films. It doesn't matter-you'll catchup just fine.
Finally, I want to talk about the acting. I. Love. Tom. Hardy. I'm hoping this is the role that finally breaks him into the mainstream again, because it's criminal to me that people still think of him as Bane, easily his weakest performance in the last 5 years. The dude has been tearing it up in the indie genre these last few years, and he's rapidly becoming my favorite actor in the business. His role as Mad Max is yet another phenomenal performance from him. And then there's Charlize Theron. Yes, "men's rights activists", this film is really about her. Get over it. It's been a while since Theron has turned the acting chops on, so it was nice to see her shine as well. Nicholas Hoult is great as well. Honestly, this film is very well-acted, with everyone, including the MVP guitarist, taking their roles very seriously.
In conclusion, this film is perfect. It does slow down a bit at the start of the third act, but I think everyone can agree that we really needed a second to catch our breaths before the conclusion. If you enjoy action films, this film is the definition of a must-see. I'm really hoping it doesn't get lost in the commotion of the big corporate films being released right now that are Pitch Perfect 2 (which easily beat it at the box office opening weekend) and Tomorrowland, which drops this upcoming weekend, but we'll see. Hopefully word-of-mouth advertising will help this film recoup its $150 million budget, so after you see this film and realize how great it is, spread the word! Get your friends to see it! Mad Max is counting on you!
The Critique: The action genre done right. Mad Max: Fury Road is easily the best big-budget action film we've seen in a long time.
The Recommendation: A must-see for everyone, but especially those who like Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, cars, and, well, action. And feminists! After all, Theron is an awesome power-female lead. More films need to adopt a Charlize Theron-like character in their supposed "guy" movies.
Rewatchability: Absurdly High
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect.
Oscar Talk: I'm sure we'll see this film again come Oscar season, at the very least for visual effects. Even though this film has very VERY little CGI in it. Fun fact: almost all the crashes and explosions in this film were real. That's what a 16 year production cycle and $150 million budget will get you!
The Most Original Horror Film In Years
It Follows (2015): A young woman is followed by an unknown supernatural force after getting involved in a sexual encounter.
David Robert Mitchell. Remember this name, because it will be a household name very soon. David Robert Mitchell is a young director who now has two great films under his belt. The first is the Myth of the American Sleepover. Released in 2010, this film is a great "teenager coming of age" film. With a love story under his belt, it only made sense that Mitchell would have his next film be a horror film, right? Well, to say he knocks it out of the park is something of an understatement. This film is easily the most original and well executed horror film to grace the genre since 2012's Cabin in the Woods. Only difference? It Follows is absolutely terrifying, whereas Cabin in the Woods is just somewhat creepy in a humorous way. On paper, this premise shouldn't be all that scary. After all the paranormal thing that follows the main character is limited by several rules that the film (amazingly) follows. It can't run, it can't go through walls, and it can't just appear right in front of you out of thin air. It just walks. Slowly. Deliberately. Right at you. And it's terrifying
So, how is this movie as scary as it is? The cinematography. This is some of the best uses of one-shots I've ever seen. The film successfully uses the famous one-shot that so many moviegoers crave to create an incredible amount of tension and terror. But it's not just the cinematography. See....here's the problem with the horror genre. It's very rare to get an original premise that's also well executed. Oftentimes you get either a poorly executed original premise, (2014's Clown-an original take on the demon possession story since he lives inside a clown suit, but God was Andy Powers, the lead actor, terrible) or a well executed stale premise. (2013's The Conjuring-great film, but how many supernatural-demon-posses-someone films have we gotten in the last 10 years?) It's very rare that you get both. You got both with The Cabin in the Woods. And you get both here. Maika Monroe is phenomenal here as the lead. She is asked to do a lot, as a huge part of this film is just her, and she nails it. This film lives or dies on her performance. And it definitely lives. The young supporting cast is also excellent. But I must really compliment the extras who play the creature that follows. These extras are molded into being incredibly creepy people, and were a large part of why this film is as scary as it is.
There really isn't a whole lot this film does wrong. Um.....I felt the ending was not as strong as the rest of the film. It felt incomplete and thus in today's Hollywood incomplete means sequel bait, but I'm honestly ok with that. However, the sequel better be as good as the original, and also bring something new to the table. Otherwise the inevitable It Follows 2 will fall into the vast amount of worthless sequel cash-grabs within the horror genre. Remember how good the original Paranormal Activity was? Or the original Insidious? I know. I can't either because of all the crappy sequels. How many Saws have their been? Seven? Do we really get excited for a new Texas Chainsaw Massacre film? Stop it, guys. Everybody says Hollywood is running out of ideas, but nowhere is this worse than in the horror and comedy genres. But I have hope. As long as there are directors like James Wan and David Robert Mitchell around making horror films, there's still hope. I can't wait to see what Mitchell does next.
The Critique: an original and well executed premise. The best film to come out of the horror genre in a loooooong time.
The Recommendation: everyone who loves this genre owes it to themselves to watch this film. And everyone else? Get some friends, some beer, and some herbal refreshments, (if you're in a place where that's legal, of course) and watch this film. You will have a grand ol' time.
The Verdict: 9/10 Damn Near Perfect
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