San Andreas

San-Andreas-Poster-3-small


I’ve got to level with you guys, I really don’t want to do this one. Actually, my own mother was the only person I know who was excited to see it. She was all like “did you see the trailer for that? The cruise ship part looked delightful.” And I was like “Yeah, if you like the CG department jizzing in your eyes for two hours.” I mean, I didn’t say it to her face, obviously.

I’m really having a difficult time deciding how to start, because what we have here is a film without a single original thought in its head. When you’re trying to write about a uniform, grey gelatinous mass, which part are you supposed to cleave out and analyze first? I might as well start with the visuals, since they seem to be the only real selling point. As we’ve established in previous articles, this current-day RealD malarkey looks just as bad in San Andreas as it does in every other summer blockbuster, particularly near the end of the film. For whatever reason—perhaps because the budget ran out—the CG really seems to start lacking polish and begins looking really “video-gamey,” if you will. I’m hardly surprised at the slapdash approach to visual storytelling, but I do find it ironic that the only new, unique thing that the film purports to offer turns out to be of embarrassingly poor quality.

So what else can we rag on? I guess we can talk about the mostly non-existent story. It’s that same plot that every disaster movie has, of course; you know how it goes, right? A whole mess of people are gathered in one spot and have no idea that they’re all about to get shafted. The tragedy strikes—in this instance, a massive earthquake rents the ground asunder across the entire San Andreas fault line—and the emotional core of the film is centered on a single family in order to better pull at our heartstrings.

All this is fairly standard procedure and has worked to varying degrees of success in other films. San Andreas, too, has this ongoing plot about a family trying to reunite with each other in the midst of the chaos, but it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why it doesn’t work. It could be because a lot of the characters’ interactions were just a little bit too pretty, a little too cutesy and too “Hollywood,” if you will, to be taken seriously. It might also have something to do with the visuals, as I mentioned before, looking unreal and fake-looking to the point where it really took me out of the story, thus dissolving a lot of the tension that the film’s success hinged on.

One way they might have addressed this issue is by incorporating some graphic deaths or people being wounded in some way—you know, the kind of thing that might happen in a real disaster? Maybe a bit of blood here, some people getting chopped in half by high-tension cables there, would have added a sense of weight to the wide-spread destruction at the heart of the story. Instead, we’ve got the same problem Age of Ultron had, where things just seem to be lacking any grit or humanity. Consequently, without anything to make the audience sit up and take notice, the action tends to blur together in a bland, incomprehensible mass.

Something like Juan Antonio Bayona’s 2012 disaster film The Impossible, which had both an engaging story and impressive visuals, proves that this kind of thing can be done well. Even with the easiest formula in the word, practically tailor-made to elicit maximum audience empathy, San Andreas sill somehow manages to blow it.

There are a lot of reasons why San Andreas didn’t work, and why is was ultimately a boring film, despite the whole “chaos on a grand scale” thing. Mostly though, I think it just came down to a lack of heart. Audiences can tell the difference between a movie that was made because its creators thought it would be fun to watch and one that was made to sell tickets, and San Andreas in almost certainly in the latter category. The film is the epitome of dumbed-down slurry to appeal to the broadest possible audience and, since that’s the case, we’re left with a pretty soulless experience that takes no risks and has no new ideas, and ultimately suffers for it.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Advertisements

Fast and Furious 6 Review

ff6-new-movie-poster

Well, here we are again for the sixth extremely fast and excessively furious time. I’m not sure how many people were actually clamoring for another installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, but we’ve nevertheless been saddled with this monstrosity, so we’d better make nice with it. The real question will be whether or not Fast and Furious 6 has the chops to justify its own existence.

Justin Lin reprises his directorial role from the previous Fast and Furious films, proving that he’ll be damned if he lets his beloved cash-cow franchise finally rest in peace. Direction is serviceable but ultimately uninspired, as Lin’s only real proficiency seems to be choreographing car chase and race scenes. You might say to yourself “Well, this being a Fast and Furious film, aren’t cars and the racing thereof supposed to be an integral part of the action, and therefore provide an ample opportunity for Lin to showcase his skill?” The answer, I submit, is that while there are quite a few of those fast-paced action sequences, they counterintuitively make it more difficult for any singular chase to stand out. What I mean to say is that they all kind of blend together into a kind of generic, indistinguishable haze full of roaring motors and crunching metal. While I really want to like some individual pieces of the film, unfortunately the experience as a whole seemed to be the definition of generic.

The F&F crew returns to their well-worn roles, including Vin Diesel playing what I can only assume to be himself, and Paul Walker as the most bland human being on the face of creation. To borrow a phrase from Andrew, almost all of the characters could use a dimension or two. It seems absurd to me that the two main characters are so ineffectual and bland in such a high-octane roller coaster of a film. It seemed as though most of the characters, save the few token ethnic characters whose banter was generally pretty funny, seemed completely disengaged from the actions happening on-screen and made the whole affair feel like a cash-in on old characters and gimmicks. The spectacular Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson returns as well, and presumably he’s achieved his life long goal by finally managing to swell his biceps to a size larger than that of his own head.

While the film certainly can’t be criticized for being slow, things kick of at such a breakneck pace that I’d barely had time to turn off my cell phone before two car chases and a shootout had already occurred. It’s people like Chris Morgan, writer of Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, Fast Five, and Fast and Furious 6, who give me hope that so long as my brain doesn’t undergo any massive brain hemorrhages in the foreseeable future, I too might one day see my own screenplay green-lit. Plotting and story are all over the place, culminating in ambiguous motivations all around, a bland and uninspired villain, and dialogue that makes me want to stick scissors in my ears.

Through it all though, I find myself liking Fast and Furious 6 more than I should. About 5 minutes into the film, The Rock is tasked with interrogating a thug to ascertain the location of the big baddie’s hideout. The thug, a brute of a man in his own right and weighing easily 300 pounds, seems to present more than a challenge. Undeterred, The Scorpion King proceeds to clean and jerk the thug above his head and throw him against a nearby wall with a trajectory and velocity that would make Isaac Newton roll over in his grave. This sequence accomplishes two things: first, it establishes that the most basic laws of physics don’t apply to main characters, and second, it marks the kind of tone that’s being established- that is, sheer unmitigated silliness. Time after time, the protagonists and villains alike cheat death and laugh in the face of reality, but it’s all done in a kind of endearing, tongue-in-cheek way. If the Fast and Furious franchise ever had any semblance of realism, is has most decidedly flown the coop with nary a farewell glance.

Ultimately, Fast and Furious 6 is a writing catastrophe balanced out by some impressive action sequences and a good natured reliance on the suspension of disbelief. Inevitably, Fast and Furious 7 will try to outdo its predecessor, thanks in part to the addition of Jason Statham, whose appearance sets the series up beautifully for a Fast and Furious/Expendables/Transporter crossover. The series thus far has made it abundantly clear that it has no intention of remaining even remotely grounded in reality- which is the only way that such a nonsensical and bland movie gets a pass- but from here on out, even Chris Morgan will be hard pressed to raise that stakes and make us continue to care about an outdated property.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Pain and Gain Review

pain-and-gain-teaser-poster

Every now and then you’ll see a movie that will alter how you view a certain actor or director. Sometimes it’s for the best, while at other times you may consider driving to Hollywood to throw eggs at the offender’s car. In an unprecedented turn of events, I might now be able to excuse Michael Bay for some of his more obtuse faults after having seen Pain and Gain. Mind blowing, right? Well, while you’re busy scraping up your skull fragments, I’ll tell you why.

Michael Bay’s opinion of the general public seems to be that they’ll lapse into a coma if they’re not stimulated by explosions and the promise of tits every ten minutes, a mindset that certainly remains strong throughout Pain and Gain, but this time, there seems to be an underlying theme of self-parody and irony involved. Anyone already familiar with Bay’s work will quickly spot his fingerprints. His characteristic action sequences and fight scenes return, and he seizes every opportunity to explode something on-screen with rather worrying enthusiasm. Alas, this is Bay we’re talking about after all, so I would be more surprised if that kind of thing were absent.

These last few have been very busy years for my beloved Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and I am very happy to report that he’s finally hitting his stride. After having muddled his way through action flick after action flick, some much worse than others, Johnson as oblivious bodybuilder Paul Doyle is his best performance to date. Due in part to the fact that The Rock is a roided-up slab of meat in real life, he likely had a clear understanding of who the character was and where he was supposed to go with it. It was a riot to see him transition from a ex-con holy roller to a barely functioning coke fiend, and his antics provided hugely comedic payoffs. Mark Wahlberg as ringleader Dany Lugo likewise gives a great performance, though he too is likely playing a character similar to his own personality. By that, I mean he seems to be the perfect fit for that peculiar ‘bro’ archetype, which in all likelihood isn’t that far off from his real life persona. Golden Globe winner Tony Shalhoub (Monk) also makes an appearance as the phenomenally sleazy Victor Kershaw. Shalhoub holds nothing back in his depiction of Kershaw, and by the end of the film, he becomes a character that we love to hate and are almost glad that he gets what’s coming to him.

At it’s core, Pain and Gain is a comedy, not an action film. In this particular case, however, irony is the name of the game. Every aspect of the film has been calculated to achieve the height of it’s ironic effect. The score, for instance, is heavily dramatic which clashes with the moronic antics of the goofballs on-screen. The alleged role models of the protagonist are all a 12 year old’s worldview, ignorantly filled with hyper-masculine meatheads, not to mention the fact that they’re all fictional characters. The mantra of the protagonist- his combined motivation and justification for committing such terrible crimes- is taken straight from a self help informercial. The list goes on, but the main point to remember is that if you’re headed into Pain and Gain for the mega macho action, you’re in for a wonderful surprise.

In a departure from Bay’s usual work, Pain and Gain is a much more character driven story, and it does a surprisingly good job of making sure that the audience is invested in the stories of each of the three protagonist. In another unprecedented departure from Bay’s usual work, Pain and Gain is also quite good. The wonderfully successful comedy is balanced with Bay’s signature action in all the right places, which is in turn balanced by some definitely not unwelcome character building where it counts. In the end, Pain and Gain hugely fun and entertaining film and makes for a great time at the movies. Bay is by no means forgiven for making Transformers, but perhaps now I can consider him karmically neutral.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Snitch Review

snitch-poster

I’ve come up with a theory in the past few weeks concerning the current state of the action genre. I’ve concluded that there must be some kind of Action Screenwriter’s Syndicate (ASS for short) responsible for consistently enforcing low-quality standards on all recent releases in a sinister price fixing racket so that no single title corners the market. Snitch is yet another one of ASS’s damnable brainchildren and as such, settles into the comfortable territory of the mediocre.

Helmed by stuntman cum director Ric Roman WAUGH!, Snitch is at least competent enough to stave off the onset of haemolacria but never distinguishes itself in any practical sense. Written by WAUGH! and novelist Justin Haythe, the film was allegedly inspired by a documentary about how new US drug laws encourage convicts to snitch on their accomplices. With this knowledge brought to light, I can’t help but wonder why this movie needed to exist when there was already a documentary that expounded the subject much more thoroughly, but you know how people are these days; can’t leave well enough alone.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson keeps up appearances but by no means dazzles as family man John Matthews. Let me get something off my chest. As much as I love the Rock, and as much as I’d love to not say it to his face, the guy can’t act. He couldn’t act in The Scorpion King, he couldn’t act in The Rundown and he can’t act in Snitch. For all his posturing and swaggering about, and the added fact that’s he’s about twice the size of a normal human being, it seems as though the only emotions he’s capable of portraying are a primordial rage that would make Schwarzenegger proud and a surprised earnestness that swells his eyes to the size of dinner plates as if he’s staring into your soul with those murderous/puppy dog eyes. Besides the Rock doing his thing, there aren’t many other actual charters; rather, there are just some people doing stuff, if that makes sense. Its almost as though the rest of the cast were given sentence long summaries of who their characters were  supposed to be and told to adhere to them as closely as possible. The result is a bunch of dudes who may seem interesting and are admittedly superficially compelling at the outset but are soon revealed to be hollow and lacking any real depth.

Snitch’s main strength is it’s story, which is actually pretty coherently strung together and had some real potential had it been executed more efficiently. John’s struggle proves to be satisfying and engaging as he delves deeper into a world that he does not understand while simultaneously becoming further embroiled in a situation quickly spiraling into hopelessness. Where the narrative is a strong point, the film is a victim of brittle bone disease in a thematic sense. Like I mentioned in my Beautiful Creatures review, it is so disheartening to see a film fumble it’s thematic presentation so badly. At first, we’re presented with promising themes like character and manhood as well as the sacrifices of fatherhood. Likewise, the film’s main theme, the flawed nature of the justice system, which supposedly was inspired by the aforementioned documentary, is completely dropped and never explored again after the action gets off the ground.

Adding to the mostly mediocre execution of plot and theme, there’s not an once of levity in the entire damn film! Humor is that factor that humanizes characters and transforms them from angst-ridden automatons to sympathetic people. Likewise, all the grit in the world won’t make an impact if we don’t have a point of reference denoting that fact that everyone in this film’s universe isn’t always an angsty mess. Argo is a really excellent example of that kind of juxtaposition, wherein the first half of the movie could almost be a satire on the film industry while the second half is marked by gut-wrenching tension. As it stands, Snitch is so needlessly gritty that you could pound it into rubble and make a drive way out of it.

I wanted Snitch to be good, mostly because I don’t like paying to see bad movies, but also because I want the Rock to succeed and prove to me that he can excel in something besides B-movie cameos. What had potential with a tight, cohesive story soon became flaccid and limp amid an overly somber tone and lazy thematic execution. Maybe the the Rock will surprise me in one of the four other movies he’s in this year alone. Frankly though, I’m not holding my breath.

Rating: 3 out of 5