Friday, May 29, 2015

BY DE FAULT

Opening this weekend:


San AndreasA good disaster movie can be great fun. So, for that matter, can a bad disaster movie. Indeed, the line between a good and a bad disaster movie is tough to define, and depending on your criteria, either adjective can be applied to this California earthquake melodrama. It couldn’t be more preposterous, and it’s fun.

After trashing Hoover Dam as an appetizer, the movie gives us the long-dreaded Big One. The title fault finally splits wide, L.A. buckles like a house of cards, then the crack spreads north toward San Fran. But The Quake hasn’t counted on The Rock: our hero Dwayne Johnson, an L.A.-based rescue-helicopter pilot, heads for the Bay Area with his estranged wife (gorgeous Carla Gugino), because his college-age daughter (Alexandra Daddario) is trapped there.

San Andreas feels like a pure throwback to ‘70s-style mayhem. Starting with Charlton Heston for Johnson, it’s easy to recast every role with a familiar character actor from four decades ago, and even Andrew Lockington’s music sounds like something that John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith might have written back then.

Mostly San Andreas is good for laughs, but it does have a potent demonstration of the power of acting. Paul Giamatti plays a Cal Tech seismologist who looks directly into a TV camera and tells San Franciscans that they must get out right away, and that whiny, strangled, almost apologetic voice of his gives more of a chill than all the apocalyptic special effects the movie has to offer.

The special-effects spectacle isn’t really anything we haven’t seen before, but it’s geographically expansive—we get to see both the Hollywood sign and the Golden Gate Bridge brought low. Thus the movie may have some extra appeal for Tea Partiers and other reflexive Cali-haters.

Oh, and over the end titles we hear a spooky version of “California Dreamin’” performed by Sia. Nice touch.


AlohaIn Cameron Crowe’s peculiar new romantic comedy, Bradley Cooper plays Brian, a defense contractor fallen on hard times after being wounded in Afghanistan. Brian gets a minor, foot-back-in-the-door job in Hawaii, facilitating a diplomatic formality with the indigenous people on behalf of a creepy billionaire (Bill Murray) who’s about to launch a satellite with the collaboration of the U.S. Air Force.

The gig throws Brian back in touch with his old girlfriend Tracey (Rachel McAdams), now married to a taciturn pilot (John Krasinski) and raising two kids with him at Hickam Field, but unable to conceal her love for her old flame. It also introduces him to Captain Ng (Emma Stone), his exuberantly forward aide during the proceedings. He’s put off by Ng’s overenthusiastic manner at first, but over time…

Well, you can guess. On the one hand, Aloha is a meet-cute romance set against the paradisiacal backdrop of Hawaii; on another it’s a satire about rich guys buying their way into national (and global) political and military power, and about the vaguely guilt-ridden Faustian flunkies like Brian that help them do it.

We don’t seem intended to take this strand, about Murray and his satellite, very seriously, however. At times the movie feels almost like the contemporary equivalent of an early sixties comedy, with Stone in the Doris Day part and Cooper standing in for James Garner. You expect Arthur Godfrey and Paul Lynde to turn up in the supporting cast.

This movie was at a disadvantage with me from the start—Bradley Cooper’s charm continues to elude me, I’m afraid. He’s been undeniably proficient in several films I’ve seen, and on TV interview shows he comes across like a nice guy, but something about his onscreen manner, some unseemly petulance or neediness, makes me reluctant to see movies in which he stars. His work here is professional, but just about every other member of the cast—like Danny McBride, amusing as a put-upon Colonel, or even Alec Baldwin at his most shamelessly hammy as a splenetic General—has so much more presence that Cooper begins to seem like a dead spot at the movie’s center.

I also resisted Aloha for a long time out a desire not to be played by Cameron Crowe. His cute, preciously hip, knowingly indirect dialogue can work my nerves, and for a while it did here, until…

Well, until it didn’t anymore. By the end of Aloha, despite the silly implausibility of its plot, I had succumbed to it, as I almost always do to Crowe’s films. I wanted to be these people—these attractive, flawed yet decent folks with their charming, flirty, oblique-angled way of conversing.  With the exception of the miserable Vanilla Sky, Aloha may be Crowe’s least successful film, but it won me over in the end.

3 comments:

  1. Nice reviews and I agree with you about Cooper

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  2. Thanx Steve, glad to hear somebody does!

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  3. I have an off-center sense of humor, love Cameron Crowe's dialogue in his films!

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