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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

San Andreas
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Shake, Rattle, and Roll would be the ideal theme song for San Andreas (Warner Bros.), an eye-popping, ear-splitting 3D chronicle of a California earthquake.

Yes, it’s time for the “big one” — make that big ones — to strike the Golden State, in this update of the star-studded disaster films that Hollywood churned out in the 1970s (including 1974’s Earthquake).

Now it’s director Brad Peyton’s (Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) turn to oversee the wholesale destruction of the West Coast, when the eponymous tectonic fault line splits wide open.

The result, meticulously rendered in CGI, is often thrilling, sometimes silly, and frequently preposterous — in other words, your typical summer popcorn movie.

Science takes centre stage in San Andreas. Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), a seismology professor, has invented a detection system which he believes can predict an earthquake before it happens.

His system is put to the test in Nevada, where a previously unknown fault line is discovered. In the blink of an eye, the earth moves, and the Hoover Dam bursts, one of the film’s many spectacular disaster sequences.

Turns out Nevada has a connection to the San Andreas Fault. With the help of Serena (Archie Panjabi), a dishy television reporter, Lawrence sounds the alarm from Los Angeles to San Francisco for everyone to “drop, cover and hold on.”

“The earth will literally crack and you will feel it on the East Coast,” he warns.

But first, domestic drama intrudes. Ray (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a helicopter rescue pilot with the Los Angeles Fire Department, is suffering from empty-nest syndrome. His marriage to Emma (Carla Gugino) has failed, and their daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), is leaving for college in San Francisco.

Fortunately, Ray has little time to fret when the first of several earthquakes strike (a “seismic swarm”), starting in the City of Angels and moving up the coast, toppling everything in its path.

Enter the action hero. Ray pilots his helicopter to rescue Emma, and together they head north to find their daughter.
“This is not a normal day!” Ray exclaims. And how.

In the meantime, Blake manoeuvres through the ruins of the City by the Bay with the help of two brothers visiting from England, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson), all the while watching the sky for Daddy’s chopper.

An epic of destruction and catastrophe, San Andreas is not for the young or faint of heart. Nor is it likely to boost tourism to California anytime soon.

The film contains relentless, intense but mostly bloodless disaster-related violence and mayhem, and occasional crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

By John P. McCarthy

NEW YORK (CNS) — Hawaii’s allure as a tropical paradise derives from its pristine beaches, fragrant flora, colourful mythology, and air of laid-back hospitality. But the islands are also defined by their history as one of America’s most strategic military outposts.

At the beginning of Aloha (Columbia), writer-director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) references the uneasy coexistence of these two aspects of the 50th state using a montage in which images worthy of a tourism bureau ad alternate with footage of missiles and other martial assets being deployed.

What follows is a half-baked yet charming romantic comedy that cautions against privatizing the nation’s defences, weaponizing space and trampling on the rights of indigenous peoples. As a romantic comedy should, Aloha also celebrates the virtues of opening oneself up to others in pursuit of truly meaningful relationships.

This mixture — one part screwball comedy, one part earnest tale of redemption through love, and one part satire about the corrupting influence of money within the military-industrial complex — is highly unstable. Yet despite its flimsy plot structure and conflicting tones, Aloha is elevated by its poignant idealism and terrific cast.

Bradley Cooper stars as Brian Gilcrest, a former serviceman turned military contractor with a checkered personal and professional past. After being seriously injured while working in Afghanistan, he returns to the Aloha State where he was once stationed and angles to get his career back on track.

His ex-girlfriend, Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), lives on Honolulu’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam with her husband, a C-17 pilot, and their two children. The marriage is wobbly and, evidently, Tracy still pines for Brian 13 years after their breakup.

Emma Stone plays Brian’s eager Air Force liaison, Capt. Allison Ng. After they fall in love, he questions the motives of his boss, billionaire industrialist Carson Welch (Bill Murray). Welch, who is funding a mysterious space project for the U.S. government, has instructed Brian to convince the leader of Hawaii’s independence movement, Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele (playing himself; he’s a real-life descendant of King Kamehameha) to bless the construction of a facility to be built on land native Hawaiians consider sacred.

With his trademark use of rock ‘n’ roll music and a talent for penning witty dialogue, Crowe aims for a loose, improvisational feel — aided, unfortunately, by some dizzying handheld cinematography. This off-the-cuff vibe cannot hide the fact he is firmly in control and that the movie has a manufactured quality.

Happily, Crowe never loses sight of something fundamental about cinema, namely, the magic that occurs when performers establish palpable connections with one another and, consequently, with the audience. Aloha is a reminder that the primary draw of movies is non-verbal. Language, plot and ideas are secondary means of expression; looks, moods and feelings come first.

There’s abundant chemistry between Cooper and his two winsome female co-stars. Stone’s performance is more of a revelation. Simultaneously luminous and awkward, she exhibits a real flair for madcap comedy. Brian also forms a sensitive bond with a third female character, Tracy’s 13-year-old daughter, Grace (Danielle Rose Russell). And the theme concerning the superfluity of verbal communication is made explicit in a hilarious scene between Brian and Tracy’s laconic husband, Woody (John Krasinski).

This is not to suggest movies boil down to star power and actors’ charisma, or that a successful romantic comedy requires beautiful people ogling one another. There must be something substantial beneath the surface to trigger sparks. In effect, Aloha argues that while the connection between man and nature may be sacred, as the native Hawaiians believe, a loving relationship between two individuals is more spiritual and more satisfying.

The film contains an instance of off-camera non-marital relations between a man and a woman, one use of rough language, several crude phrases, and some sexual innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Copyright (c) 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops