Sunday, April 3, 2016

Four Movies, 9000 Characters

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle; directed by Dan Trachtenberg; starring Jhn Goodman (Howard), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Michelle), and John Gallegher Jr. (Emmett): Delightful psychological thriller with several fine twists. The writing is sharp, the direction from first-time helmer Dan Trachtenberg precise, and the acting superb. And that's all I"m telling you so that you can go spoiler-free. Highly recommended.

San Andreas (2015): written by Carlton Cuse, Andre Fabrizio, and Jeremy Passmore; directed by Brad Peyton; starring Dwayne Johnson (Gaines), Carla Gugino (Carla), Alexandra Daddario (Blake), and Paul Giamatti (Dr. Hayes): Goofy, implausible, impossible shenanigans involving a massive, San Francisco-centered earthquake. Dwayne Johnson, playing a Los Angeles fire-department rescue pilot, is having major marital issues with estranged wife Carla Gugino because Of Course He Is. But when earthquakes come a-knocking, Johnson pilots helicopters, cars, SUVs, boats, and airplanes to save his wife and 20-year-old daughter, who's in San Francisco. 

This is the sort of movie in which visual effects carry pretty much everything. They're OK, and the direction by Brad Peyton is mostly brisk. Among other things, San Andreas gives us an impossibly large tsunami that couldn't actually happen in the San Francisco area. And it's going the wrong way. Maybe this is a remake of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Certainly no worse than the disaster movies of the 1970s. Lightly recommended.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016): written by David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio; directed by Zack Snyder; starring Ben Affleck (Batman), Henry Cavill (Superman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), and Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor): A lighter touch on both the writing and directorial ends could have made the 2 1/2 hours of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice pass a lot more smoothly. However, for all the darkness of his colour palette, director Snyder at least aims for something epic and movie-like, which is more than I can say about 90% of all Marvel films, most of which are filmed as if they were the most expensive, stylistically inert TV movies ever made.

Ben Affleck is perfectly fine as Batman, Henry Cavill is solid as Superman, and Gal Gadot is a hoot as Wonder Woman. There's a plot explanation for Jesse Eisenberg's loopy Lex Luthor, but it's in the deleted scenes. Amy Adams plays Lois Lane as the film's one real ray of light. The bombastic sturm-und-drang of the battle sequences may actually play better on a small screen, where they'll be less sonically and visually overwhelming. And hey, a Mother Box! Parademons! Batman with goggles! A Boom Tube! An early Excalibur (1981) reference that pays off visually in the climax! Recommended.

The Princess Bride (1987): adapted by William Goldman from his own novel; directed by Rob Reiner; starring Cary Elwes (Westley), Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya), Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck), Christopher Guest (Count Rugen), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini), Andre the Giant (Fezzik), Robin Wright (Buttercup), Peter Falk (Grandfather), and Fred Savage (Grandson): Still a gold standard for light-hearted meta-fantasy after all these years. William Goldman's screenplay is slightly sweeter than his even more meta novel. The cast is great, though Billy Crystal remains somewhat jarring -- he's a little too tonally off to be funny enough to justify. Andre the Giant steals the show, though, as the amiable, reflexively violent Fezzik. A movie from the time when giants walked the Earth, and the giants were funny! Highly recommended.

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