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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Movie Reviews: San Andreas, Man Up, Danny Collins and Fortune's Wheel

Al Pacino in Danny Collins

San Andreas is big and loud, Man Up and Danny Collins are pleasant viewing but Fortune's Wheel is the week's stand out

San Andreas

Action. Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carlo Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Hugh Johnstone-Burt, ARt Parkinson, Kylie Minogue. Director Brad Peyton. Cert 12A

As even the most cursory glance at Sky News will attest, natural disasters are not exactly fun to watch. In fact, watching the world suffer at the mercy of the cruel mistress that is Mother Nature can be downright harrowing.

So, it was with some discomfort and no small amount of guilt that I found myself laughing away as earthquake after earthquake unfolded in San Andreas. Not because natural disasters are entertaining… rather, it was the film’s sheer implausibility and cartoonish sequences that had me chuckling away to myself. Either way, not a good thing.

Anyway, it’s straight-in-no-kissing with the action as Ray (Johnson) rescues a damsel in distress hanging off a cliff face in his role as a rescue-chopper pilot. He’s a hero, certainly... but beyond his wall-of-brawn exterior, he’s a man who is crumbling privately. His estranged wife Emma (Gugino) is about to move in with her oily new developer boyfriend Daniel (Gruffudd).

Down in Nevada, meanwhile, seismologist Laurence (Giamatti) has come across some worrying data after watching the Hoover Dam crumble at his feet; that the San Andreas fault is about to deliver an earthquake that is set to shoot clean off the Richter scale.

When the quake hits Daniel’s headquarters, Ray’s stepdaughter Blake (Daddario) finds herself trapped with a British 20-something Ben (Johnstone-Burt) and his sassy younger brother Ollie (Parkinson). The trio set off to get to the highest point in San Francisco so that Ray can rescue his daughter from the wreckage.

But as happens in the movies, Ray has come up against natural disaster-related obstacles of his own. He also ends up, somehow, with his ex-wife in the passenger seat of the helicopter. To say that this requires a massive suspension of disbelief is putting it mildly.

Done right, the disaster movie can place the viewer squarely within the catastrophe and evoke genuine terror and empathy. In The Impossible, the terror of the Asian tsunami rarely felt closer or more vivid. But when it comes to San Andreas, director Brad Peyton has somehow over-iced the cake, making it hard to care.

Still, Johnson proves himself to be more than just a walking wall of muscles. Thanks to a backstory involving a child’s death, Ray is a solemn, stoic action hero with a smidge of humanity added.

Daddario and Gugino bring up the rear, both somehow managing to look like fresh-faced supermodels throughout. As to what the Oscar-nominated Giamatti is doing in this film… well, that’s anyone’s guess.

Kylie Minogue puts in a rather spirited cameo as Daniel’s ‘highly-controlling’ stepsister (the only thing highly controlled, sadly, are Kylie’s facial expressions). Spoiler alert, she comes a cropper early on during the first earthquake, and somehow that is funny too.

Ultimately, San Andreas is the kind of inconsequential romp that is big on bangs, but somehow lacking in humanity. San Andreas will rock your seat, but not your world.

 

 

Man Up

Dg man up.jpg  

Romantic comedy. Starring: Simon Pegg, Lake Bell, Ophelia Lovibond, Olivia Williams, Rory Kinnear, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Ken Stott, Dean-Charles Chapman, Harriet Walker. Director: Ben Palmer. Cert: 15A

Speaking of suspension of disbelief, Man Up demands its audience to believe that ex-model Lake Bell is a woman desperate to land goof dork Simon Pegg. It’s a nice subversion of the typical rom-com, and while the US appears to have given up the ghost on making romantic comedies, the UK is still carrying the torch, and injecting some sass and knowing humour into them.

We meet 30-something Nancy (Bell), who is so terminally single and seemingly dysfunctional that she is staring into the abyss of terminal spinsterdom.

But fate throws her a bone… or rather, a book. She meets Jessica (Lovibond) on a train, who is on her way to meet Jack (Pegg) on a blind date. She will be recognisable through the self-help book she plans to carry to the date.

But Jessica leaves the book on the train, forcing Nancy to run through Waterloo station, brandishing the book.

You can guess what happens next, right? The typical cat-and-mouse chase happens as Nancy attempts to conceal her real identity, but the film actually steps up once she comes clean and builds an endearing, sparky rapport with Jack.

Question: why are these single women always klutzes who eat carbs without apology? Insidious messages aside, those who enjoy the sassiness of typical Britcom fare will find much to love here.

Man Up is the sort of rom-com caught between the old and the new, bearing the hallmarks of the classics and enough salty dialogue to keep things fun and fresh. It’s imperfect and awkward in places… but then again, so is romance, right?

Rating ***

 

 

Danny Collins

Danny Collins.jpg  

Comedy/Drama. Starring: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Josh Peck, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Plummer, Melissa Benoist. Director: Danny Fogelman. Cert: 15A

How do I love thee Annette Bening? Let me count the ways… not only was she the best thing in American Beauty and The Kids Are Alright, Bening is also credited with taming Warren Beatty. In fairness, I would happily watch Bening in a Harvey Norman advert.

She has a small enough role in Danny Collins, but make no mistake… she’s one of the best things in it. Ostensibly, it is Al Pacino’s movie, and he certainly has the swagger to play Collins, an ageing rock star.

Somewhere along the way in his decades-long career, he has taken a wrong turn, moving away from his troubadour roots to something a little more… well, Iglesias.

On his birthday, the 70-something discovers a letter written to him (but never delivered) as a young musician from John Lennon, imploring him to stay true to his roots. But Collins never did that, preferring the coke and mistresses route.

Musical integrity, and integrity in general, is a road never travelled for Collins. But he appears hell-bent on doing it now. On his Redemption Tour, he checks into a hotel and flirts with the sober, controlled manager Mary (Bening). He also seeks out his estranged son Tom (Cannavale), the result of a long-forgotten fling. He wants nothing to do with him of course, but Collins somehow strikes up a rapport with his wife Samantha (Garner).

There is so much talent making up the patchwork quilt of Danny Collins, both off-screen and on. Everyone is keenly pulling their weight in this all-star cast, and Pacino in particular isn’t clocking in his role as the exuberant Collins.

Director Danny Fogelman is no Hollywood greenhorn either, with writing credits like Crazy Stupid Love and Guilt Trip to his name. So why, in the name of Bob Dylan’s hunting hat, is Danny Collins such a parade of clichés? Audiences will spot the nicey-nicey plot endings a mile off, but with a few real belly laughs in the mix, it’s the sort of fun movie that they will enjoy in spite of themselves.

Rating: ***

 

Fortune’s Wheel

Documentary. Starring: Bill Whelan, Herta Fossett, Lorraine Kennedy. Director: Joe Lee. Cert: 12A

If this week’s Hollywood offerings don’t wet the whistle, there’s always this home-grown documentary. Fortune’s Wheel recounts the (admittedly fascinating) life of Bill Stephens, a lion tamer from Fairview, Dublin who was killed in 1953 after being mauled to death by a lion.

Director Joe Lee seeks out Bill Stephen’s widow Mai (reported to have been a snake charmer from the East, but was actually from the East Wall), and Bill’s amazing story unfolds from there.

A fascinating look at a pocket of Irish society that up until now, hadn’t yet been brought to the screen.

Rating ****

IFI from 5th June to 12th

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