Friday, May 29, 2015

California Disaster, French Intrigue


Dwayne Johnson Carries It All in “San Andreas”

By Skip Sheffield

If anyone can carry the weight of a movie on his shoulders, it would be the broad, beefy shoulders of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Johnson saves everyone he can save from the first few action moments in the earthquake disaster flick “San Andreas.” The movie begins with a disaster of another kind: a teenage girl texting while driving on a twisty Los Angeles mountain road. Joe (Dwayne Johnson) an LAFD helicopter pilot, is summoned by 911 to rescue the girl hanging in a cliff. After a harrowing effort that nearly crashes the copter, Joe saves the girl- all in a day’s work.
Meanwhile at Caltech, a seismologist, Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) frets that no one will listen to him concerning his promising efforts to predict impending earthquakes. “We’re 100 years overdue for a major earthquake,” he warns. Dr. Hayes detects suspicious activity in the vicinity of Hoover Dam in Nevada and dispatches an associate to the site.
So begins the first of the impressive computer-generated images of destruction of well-known landmarks. So also begins the first of the logical conundrums in Andre Fabrizio’s fanciful story and Carlton Cuse’s screenplay. Wouldn’t a 7.1 Richter scale earthquake also wreak havoc on Las Vegas, only 30 miles away? Who knows?
Instead we go back to Joe and his domestic problems. He wants to take his daughter Blake (Alexandra Dabbario) up to college in San Francisco, but his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) has agreed to let her new boyfriend, high-end real estate developer Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd, in full slime mode)  take Blake and Emma.
Meanwhile signals are even more alarming in the laboratory of Dr. Hayes. Signs of seismic activity are showing alone the entire 800-mile San Andreas Fault, which runs up the spine of California to San Francisco. This is where a disastrous 7.8 to 8.3 earthquake destroyed the City by the Bay in 1906. Dr. Hayes is predicting a 9.5 quake, which would equal the greatest ever measured, off the coast of Chile in 1960.
So Joe must rescue his wife, who has been abandoned by her cowardly boyfriend, as well as his daughter, trapped in wreckage, and her new nerdy British boyfriend Ben (Hugh Johnstone-Burt) and his kid brother.
If you like disaster movies, you will find a satisfying level of mayhem, with Joe in a rubber boat miraculously avoiding one peril after another. If you are cynical you will scoff at the Hollywood illogics of pretty women who emerge unscathed from major mishaps. Hey, it’s only a movie, and Dwayne Johnson makes a humanly appealing superhero.

Catherine Deneuve in “In the Name of My Daughter”

If you are looking for something a little classier and more mysterious, acclaimed French director André Techine delivers “In The Name of My Daughter,” a romance wrapped up in a murder mystery in the South of France in Nice.
French cinema grande dame Catherine Deneuve is Renee Le Roux, the imperious owner of a casino called Le Palais. Her estranged daughter Agnes (Adele Haenel) has just returned from Africa, penniless, and she appeals to mom for some help.
Renee’s chief advisor is a shifty lawyer named Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet), who is also her lover. Maurice is quite a womanizer who has several lovers. Despite dire warnings, Agnes falls for the conniving creep.

“Name of My Daughter” will confirm all your worst suspicions about scheming, manipulative, ambitious males. Making this all the more disconcerting is the fact the screenplay is inspired by an actual missing-person scandal case in France.

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