Tag Archives: Carla Gugino

San Andreas (2015)

San Andreas

From the introductory scenes of San Andreas I could already tell that it was going to be big and stupid. But I also hoped that it would be big and stupid popcorn excitement and fun. Call it mission half-accomplished.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is an LA Fire  Department Air Rescue pilot unstoppable at rescuing people apart from himself, as he’s on the verge of divorce from his wife Emma, played by Carla Gugino. Emma’s moved on already with a mega wealthy property developer played by the original movie Mr Fantastic, Ioan Gruffuld, though fortunately for The Rock he’s still on good terms with his stunning daughter Blake, played by the stunning Alexandra Daddario.

Of course, a major disaster strikes the Bay Area and The Rock must do everything humanly possible (and let’s face it, inhumanly possible too) — including misappropriating government property for personal use at the time of a major disaster — to save his family. Cue epic action music!

The first thing I’ll say is that this movie is painfully predictable. It follows the archetypal disaster blockbuster template to a T. It’s as though director Brad Peyton (best known for, er, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) and screenwriter Carlton Cuse (showrunner and writer on the campy sci-fi TV series The Strain) were handed a list of standard disaster plot points and characters and had to tick them off one by one.

Consequently, if you’ve seen any disaster movie before, you’ll likely be able to guess in this movie what will happen next, which characters will live and which will die, and how the character relationships and conflicts will be resolved. It’s actually quite funny.

The second problem is that the film takes itself far too seriously. I was hopeful in the beginning because the introductory sequence had a somewhat tongue-in-cheek tone, though the remainder of the movie suffers from a serious dearth of laughs and had one too many cringeworthy “dramatic” heart-to-heart scenes. Unintentional humour aside, there are really no jokes or gags in the film. Were they trying to balance the tone since millions of people probably died? Whatever the reason, it saps a lot of fun out of the experience. I’ve always stuck with the philosophy that if a film’s going to be cheesy it might as well go all in.

The action sequences are indeed well-executed and occasionally heart-thumping. San Andreas clearly takes a page out of the Fast and Furious franchise in that everyone lives in a world where the laws of physics do not exist and humans are borderline indestructible  — when the plot calls for it. They smash, they crash, they explode and get tossed all over the place, and most of the time they escape with nothing more than a scratch or two.

I later found out that the movie was shot primarily in Queensland, though it really could have been shot anywhere as it’s obvious the vast majority of action scenes were CGI. The effects were decent for a modern blockbuster, though there are times when it’s obvious we’re watching green-screen creations. There’s just something about the textures of the buildings and the landscape that doesn’t look quite realistic. There was also one shot of a photo where it was blatantly obvious that a young Daddario was photoshopped in.

Apart from the core cast, the lead supporting actor would have to be Paul Giamatti, who plays the scientist no one believes when he says the world is going to end. The weird thing is that, if we’re being honest here, he didn’t even have to be in the movie at all. I guess it was on the checklist. Aussie actor Hugo Johnstone-Burt also has a pretty big role as a Brit with a convincing accent, while Kyle Minogue (I was like WTF?! when she appeared) makes a jarring cameo to round out the local contingent cast.

The saving grace of San Andreas is The Rock, who has a magnetic charm and screen presence that instantly makes any movie more watchable. Surprisingly, he doesn’t get to do nearly as much as he has done — from a physical standpoint — in other recent action blockbusters he has been in, though just the fact that he’s on screen makes you feel like you’re in safe hands. Moreover, you’re never going to hear me complain whenever Alexandra Daddario is on screen.

Other positives include a welcome narrow focus — essentially just one family — which reduces the number of pointless characters, a manageable running-time of 114 minutes, and of course the spectacle of the whole thing. The sweeping catastrophe scenes aren’t jaw-dropping anymore because we’ve seen them so many times, but the visuals and execution are at least to be on par with other modern disaster flicks.

On the whole, San Andreas is a fairly typical disaster blockbuster in the vein of 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact, Into the Storm and so forth. It’s predictable, corny as hell, ridiculously unrealistic and fuelled by CGI special effects. The presence of The Rock elevates it above average, though it really could have been a lot better had they just lightened up a little and embraced the cheese.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Faster (2010)

Faster is a strange film.  It has the feel of a classy production.  The director (George Tillman Jr — who directed Notorious) seems to know what he is doing.  There is a certain dark, noir-ish mood infused throughout.  It features a star studded cast — Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (looking bulkier than in recent times), Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Moon Bloodgood and Maggie Grace.  And yet, I found the whole thing incredibly uninspiring and forgettable.

Perhaps it’s the couldn’t-be-any-simpler plot — a guy (The Rock)  is just released from prison and decides to go on a killing rampage against the people that put him there in the first place (oh, and killed his beloved big brother).  There’s cops (Thornton and Gugino) chasing him.  And a hired assassin.  You get the drift — kill, chase, investigate and repeat until final climax.

Speaking of which, perhaps it’s the silly subplot with the beautiful genius assassin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and his lovely girlfriend (Maggie Grace) that spoiled it.  The dude is supposed to be some super-overachiever who needs a challenge to keep himself going — but they tried to be too cute with it and it came off looking contrived.  And besides, Jackson-Cohen can’t act.  He looked good but was horrible.

But perhaps the worst part was that the whole time, the secret mastermind behind everything was so obvious it stuck out like dog’s balls.

Accordingly, I had the bizarre feeling when watching Faster that I should be watching something that’s a lot better than what’s before my eyes.  It wasn’t awful, but it kept me wondering what all these stars saw in the script.  The gun-fight scenes were okay, as were the obligatory car chases.  Ultimately, however, I suppose the title of the film is apt, because I wanted it to end ‘faster.’

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Watchmen (2009)

I had been importing my short Flixter entries for all my movie reviews up to now, but I thought if any movie deserved a full review, it would be Watchmen, possibly the most anticipated movie of the year for many (unless Harry Potter 6 or Transformers 2 is more your thing).

Disclaimer: I will preface this review with two comments: (1) I am going to stick to my convention of not revealing much about the plot or what happens in the movie; (2) I have not read the Watchmen graphic novel yet (thought it might ruin the movie experience if I read it beforehand).

watchmen-poster

Watchmen (2009)

Director: Zack Snyder

Main cast: Malin Ackerman (Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (Dr Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II), Carla Gugino (Silk Spectre I)

Rating: USA: R, UK: 18, Australia: MA

Running time: 163 minutes

4 out of 5 stars

Watchmen is likely to be one of the most unusual films you will ever see.  It’s about superheroes, but it’s not your typical superhero movie.  Most of the superheroes don’t display any obvious supernatural abilities (which really just makes them people who like to fight crime and have costume fetishes).  It’s often difficult to discern who is good or evil, right or wrong.  Probably all of the main characters exhibit some form of mental disorder at varying levels of seriousness.  In a sense, they are the anti-superheroes.

As I said, I don’t like to reveal the plot for those that don’t want to know about it (but I assume most people who go to see it have a rough idea).  All I will say is that the story takes place in an alternate historical version of 1985, during the peak of the US/USSR Cold War.  This becomes clear in the opening sequences.

However, to some extent, it doesn’t really matter what the plot is about, because at its heart, Watchmen is a character movie.  The story is told in non-linear form, jumping from character to character and revealing their back stories through flashbacks.  There is a central line in the plot, a mystery waiting to be solved, but the focus is firmly on the characters – who they are, how they became the way they are, their personal struggles, their fears, desires, motivations and ambitions.  At the same time, there is this constant undercurrent about the nature of human beings, and in particular, their capacity (or lack thereof) for understanding and compassion.

The Watchmen graphic novel (by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins) first came out between 1986 and 1987, which explains the setting.  For many years, it was regarded as unadaptable, and after seeing this film, I got a sense of why that may have been the popular opinion.  It’s a shame that the movie was not made closer in time to the graphic novel, because the story reflects many of the contemporary anxieties of the American public of that period.  Many of those anxieties are still relevant today, but they have evolved (in the wake of 9/11) and the impact is not quite the same as it would have been.

Directing and Screenplay

Director Zack Snyder and writers David Hayter (who wrote the original script) and Alex Tse (who kept the best elements but amended much of it) should be commended on bringing Watchmen to life at last.  As I haven’t read the graphic novel, I cannot comment on how good the adaptation was, but as a standalone film, it was very good, though not great.  The difficulty may lie with the running length – at 163 minutes, it is very long for a superhero movie (though not as extraordinary as it would have been a few years ago) – but at the same time, you get a strange feeling that there was much more of this bizarre world yet to be explored.  Perhaps the director’s cut, which is supposedly 191 minutes (and coming out with the DVD), will be a more complete picture for those that want to see more of it.  For some, I imagine 163 minutes is already too much.

Acting

rorschach
Haley as Rorschach was amazing

The importance of the acting in a film like this cannot be understated.  For the most part, the actors in the lead roles delivered believable performances that traversed a plethora of emotions.  The clear standout would undoubtedly be Jackie Earle Haley as the freakish yet intriguing Rorschach, the best character by far.  You’re already impressed with him when he wears a mask that obscures his entire face.  You then become even more amazed when he takes off the mask.  Truly brilliant.

Not far behind is Patrick Wilson (Haley’s co-star in the magnificent Little Children), an extremely underrated and underappreciated actor who plays Nite Owl II, a slightly overweight and awkward social misfit.

If there is a weak link, it would have to be Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias.  While he may fit the bill physically (tall, lean and traditionally handsome), he doesn’t quite exude the charm and presence needed from the character.  Not to take anything away from Goode’s performance because it was adequate, but if you have to pick on someone it’s him.

Violence, Sex and Special Effects

Given the classification ratings for Watchmen, it’s not surprising that there is an abundance of incredibly bloody and gruesome violence (as well as ‘normal’ violence), a bit of sex and nudity (both real and assisted by special effects) and some coarse language (though not as much as I expected).  I’m glad they made this film for adults rather than worry about the classification and go for a toned down version that simply wouldn’t have worked.

The fight scenes were superbly choreographed – smooth, crisp and whole, thankfully avoiding the rapid cut scenes that have plagued action films of late.  And from the guy who directed 300, I would have expected nothing less.  On the other hand, Snyder didn’t shy away from some of the more frightening scenes either, displaying the pain, gore and blood in all its glory.

As for the special effects – they were good, but certainly not groundbreaking.  They did a fairly decent job with Billy Crudup’s Doctor Manhattan, but there were times when you could easily spot things that were completely computer generated (not that you would expect them to build the real thing).

Conclusion

On the whole, Watchmen was very very good – but it fell considerably short of the masterpiece some it expected to be.  It may seem unfair, but you cannot NOT compare the film to its source material (or at least its reputation if you haven’t read it), which is considered by many to be the greatest graphic novel of all time.

There were some absolutely brilliant sequences littered throughout this movie, but it was more scattered than consistent.  Those expecting an all-out action flick might be disappointed because there are quite a few ‘dull’ character development moments in between.  I assume there will probably be 4 broad classes of reactions to Watchmen: (1) loved the graphic novel and therefore loved the movie; (2) loved the graphic novel but felt the film did not do it justice; (3) haven’t read the graphic novel and now want to after seeing the film; (4) thought it was weird and stupid and didn’t get it.

I put myself in the third category.