IN THE SHADOWS: EDWARD VAN SLOAN

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Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing in DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936).

 

Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, the column where we look at character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.

Character actors add so much to the movies they’re in, it’s hard to imagine these movies without them. Never receiving the praise heaped upon the major actors and stars of the genre, these folks nonetheless are often every bit as effective as the big name leads.

Up today, an actor known to horror fans for three key roles in three classic horror movies, and that actor is Edward Van Sloan.

Edward Van Sloan played three similar roles in three of Universal’s best horror movies from the 1930s.  He played Professor Van Helsing in DRACULA (1931), Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), and Dr. Muller in THE MUMMY (1932).

As Dr. Van Helsing, a role he had played earlier on stage opposite Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, he’s one of the best.  While Peter Cushing is my all time favorite movie Van Helsing, Edward Van Sloan came closer to the Stoker interpretation than Cushing did, but even he deviated from the way Stoker wrote the character.  Probably the closest I’ve seen an actor capture the literary Van Helsing on-screen would be Frank Finlay’s performance as the vampire hunter/professor in the BBC production COUNT DRACULA (1977), starring Louis Jordan as the Count.

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Van Sloan and Lugosi square off in DRACULA (1931)

But for Edward Van Sloan, it’s all about presence and authority, something he definitely wields in DRACULA.  Bela Lugosi is absolutely mesmerizing as Dracula, and his performance dominates the movie.  Yet Van Sloan is up to the task of matching wits with Lugosi, and his Van Helsing is a worthy opponent for the vampire king.  The scene where Dracula tries to use hypnosis to overpower Van Helsing is one of the strongest scenes in the film, acted so expertly by Van Sloan, as you can see it in his eyes as he’s resisting Dracula’s powers, and for a split-second, Van Sloan’s eyes go blank, and at this instant the audience shudders, begging that he doesn’t succumb to Dracula’s powers, and when he rallies and resists Dracula, it’s a great moment in the movie.

As Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN, Van Sloan plays Henry Frankenstein’s former professor, who for most of the movie, acts as the voice of reason.  He tries throughout to talk sense to Henry Frankenstein and is constantly urging caution.  As Dr. Waldman, he gets one of the best lines in the movie, when he warns young Henry.  “Your success has intoxicated you!  Wake up!  And look facts in the face!—  You have created a monster, and it will destroy you!”

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Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

Prophetic words.  Actually, they were more on the money regarding Waldman’s fate, because later in the movie, the Monster (Boris Karloff) kills the professor.  In fact, Professor Waldman’s death is one of the more shocking moments in FRANKENSTEIN, a film which contains more than a few of them, and it’s a testament to Edward Van Sloan’s screen presence.  Van Sloan was so effective as Professor Van Helsing in DRACULA, so convincing when he destroys Dracula, it strikes audiences as an absolute shock when he doesn’t do the same in FRANKENSTEIN, when in fact it’s the Monster who kills Professor Waldman, and not the other way around.

And Edward Van Sloan is one of only two actors— the other being Dwight Frye who played Renfield in DRACULA and Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN— to star in both DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN.

In THE MUMMY (1932), Van Sloan plays Dr. Muller, a variation of his Van Helsing/Waldman characters.  This time, he’s an expert on Egyptology, and he matches wits with Boris Karloff’s Mummy, Imhotep.  THE MUMMY is an excellent horror movie, as good if not better than DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN.  Once again, Van Sloan nails the role of the heroic professor and is completely believable as the knowledgable scholar who takes on the supernatural Imhotep.

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Edward Van Sloan takes on Boris Karloff’s Imhotep in THE MUMMY (1932).

As for the rest of  Edward Van Sloan’s career, here’s a partial look at his 88 screen credits, focusing mostly on his horror film roles:

SLANDER (1916) – Joseph Tremaine – Edward Van Sloan’s first film credit is in this silent movie from 1916, the only silent film Van Sloan made.

DRACULA (1931) – Professor Van Helsing – probably Van Sloan’s most famous role, and the role he is most remembered for.  Van Sloan’s work as Van Helsing in this movie is as memorable as Lugosi’s Dracula and Dwight Frye’s Renfield.

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – Dr. Waldman – Another famous role for Van Sloan, this time playing Henry Frankenstein’s former professor and the man who tries to convince Frankenstein to destroy his creation.  We all know how that turned out.

BEHIND THE MASK (1932) – Dr. August Steiner/Dr. Alec Munsell/Mr. X – a crime drama marketed as a horror movie due to the presence of Boris Karloff in a small role.  Van Sloan plays the villain here, in a role that Karloff probably would have played had this movie been made a few years later.

THE DEATH KISS (1932) – Tom Avery – a comedy/mystery notable for reuniting three cast members from DRACULA:  Bela Lugosi, David Manners, and Edward Van Sloan.

THE MUMMY (1932) – Doctor Muller – takes on Boris Karloff’s evil Imhotep in this horror classic.

DELUGE (1933)- Professor Carlysle – early “disaster” film as New York City is threatened by an earthquake and tidal wave.

AIR HAWKS (1935) – Professor Schulter – weird hybrid of drama and science fiction. Ralph Bellamy plays the owner of an airline company who hires a mad scientist— played by Edward Van Sloan— to build a death ray to force down his competitors’ planes.

THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1935) – Calvus – Historical adventure set in the doomed Roman city, directed by KING KONG directors Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper. With Basil Rathbone as Pontius Pilate.  A box office flop.

DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936) – Professor Van Helsing – reprises his Van Helsing role in this well-made sequel to DRACULA.  The movie starts right where DRACULA left off, and Van Helsing finds himself arrested for the murders of Dracula and Renfield.  Before he can be officially charged, however, the bodies disappear, whisked away by Countess Zaleska (Gloria Holden) who happens to be Dracula’s daughter, and who’s now in London with an agenda of her own. Smart horror film, well-written, acted, and directed.

THE PHANTOM CREEPS (1939) – Jarvis – Science fiction serial from Universal reunites Van Sloan with Bela Lugosi, as Lugosi plays a scientist hell-bent on taking over the world.

BEFORE I HANG (1940) – Dr. Ralph Howard – This time Van Sloan is reunited with Boris Karloff, as Karloff plays a doctor on death row for mercy killings, who injects himself with a serum that turns him into a Hyde-like villain.

THE MASK OF DIIJON (1946) – Sheffield – Erich von Stroheim plays a magician who uses his hypnotic powers to seek vengeance.

SEALED VERDICT (1948) – Priest – Edward Van Sloan’s final screen credit in a World War II war drama starring Ray Milland.

THE UNDERWORLD STORY (1950) – Minister at Funeral – Edward Van Sloan’s final film appearance, an uncredited bit as a minister at a funeral in this film noir crime drama.

There you have it, an abbreviated look at the film career of Edward Van Sloan.

Edward Van Sloan died on March 6, 1964 at the age of 81 in San Francisco, California.

While he enjoyed a long and successful career as a character actor in the movies, for horror fans, he will always be remembered for his roles in three of Universal’s best horror movies from the 1930s:  DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, and THE MUMMY.  Van Sloan made for a fine hero in all three of these films.

Edward Van Sloan -November 1, 1882 – March 6, 1964.

I hope you enjoyed this IN THE SHADOWS column.  Join me again next time when we look at the career of another notable character actor.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

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DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016) Struggles to Stay Afloat

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There’s a fine line between having a compelling story to tell, and telling a compelling story.

The recent movie SULLY (2016) is a perfect example of the latter.  It had a compelling story to tell, and director Clint Eastwood knew how to tell it.

DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016), on the other hand, tells the story of the 2010 explosion on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, an event that led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.  It’s a memorable story, but the movie struggles to tell it.

The film opens with Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) at home with his family, getting ready to say farewell to them for a few weeks while he returns to work on the Deepwater Horizon.  He’s enjoying time with his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and their daughter, and if you’ve seen the film’s trailer, you’ve seen the cute conversation they all share over their breakfast table.  It actually made for a very effective trailer, but here in the film it only adds to a rather slow beginning.

The purpose of these early family scenes is to personalize the story.  Rather than follow the lives of many people on the rig, the film chooses to follow mostly Mike, and to juxtapose his scenes with those of the panicked Felicia back home.  This really isn’t all that effective, and sadly reduces Kate Hudson to being in a series of reaction shots where she doesn’t do much more than look worried.

So Mike goes off to work and meets up with his boss Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and co-worker Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez).  Once on the rig, Jimmy immediately butts heads with members of the company that owns Deepwater Horizon led by a man named Vidrine (John Malkovich) who has been cutting costs by skimping on routine safety checks because he believes the Deepwater Horizon will work fine without them.  Jimmy, of course, is protective of his crew and refuses to proceed without the necessary precautionary tests.

Unfortunately, Jimmy’s tests are too little too late, as the company had let things slide so badly, that in the middle of one of the tests, the equipment is compromised and there is a gush of mud which overheats the engines and leads to a catastrophic explosion.

DEEPWATER HORIZON gets off to a sluggish start, and even though I was interested in this story, because I knew what it was about, the film didn’t grab my attention.  The early scenes with Mike and his family were okay, and the ensuing arguments between Jimmy and the company were certainly interesting, but there’s a whole rig full of people, and we don’t really get to know many of the characters at all.  Before the explosion, most of the exposition was simple and dull.

Once the explosion occurs, things pick up, but that being said, for a disaster movie, none of the scenes really wowed me.  Most of the action occurs at a rapid fire pace, and the camera is in close, making it very difficult to see what’s going on.  It also doesn’t help that the only character we’ve really gotten to know is Mike, so when the camera is on him, things are captivating, but whenever the action follows someone else, it’s like following a random red shirt on an episode of STAR TREK.

Director Peter Berg does an undistinguished job capturing the action.  The film is begging for an establishing shot, seeing the scene unfold from a distance so we can have a sense of the scope of the tragedy.  While there are some shots of Deepwater Horizon burning, for the bulk of the action, the camera is in way too close and it’s difficult to discern just what exactly is happening.  There’s plenty of mud shooting around, plenty of men slipping and sliding, explosions, fire everywhere, people scrambling, but left out of the whole thing were my emotions.  I didn’t know the people in this tragedy, and the movie suffered for it.

The film also does little with the actual Coast Guard rescue of these folks.  We hardly see what happens at all.  In SULLY, the rescue was one of the movie’s high points.  Not so here.

The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand was meh.  I didn’t really like the background story of Mike and his family, as it didn’t add anything here.  Again, to compare to SULLY, in that film, Tom Hanks’ character converses with his worried wife over the phone on several occasions, but those conversations moved the plot forward, as they gave Hanks’ character opportunities to question his actions.  The scenes here between Mike and his wife Felicia do not move the plot forward.  They only stall the story.

The dialogue was flat and uninspiring, very generic, except for the one sequence where Mike gets in Andrea’s face and really lays it on her as to why they are going to survive.  It’s also Wahlberg’s best moment in the movie.  The best dialogue belongs to Kurt Russell’s Jimmy, but once the explosion hits, Jimmy takes a back seat to Mike in the story.

Matthew Michael Carnahan was also one of the screenwriters on WORLD WAR Z (2013), a film I liked a bit more than DEEPWATER HORIZON.

Mark Wahlberg is fine here as Mike.  It’s the type of role Wahlberg can play in his sleep, at this point.  His performance is good enough to carry this movie, except that he really doesn’t have a lot of potent scenes in this one.  His best scene comes near the end when he pushes the panicked Andrea to survive.

Actually, my favorite performance in the movie belonged to Kurt Russell as Jimmy.  He really brings Jimmy to life, and you feel from the get-go that Jimmy takes his job seriously and that he will not compromise the lives of his crew.  We’ve been seeing more of Russell in the movies lately, and I hope this trend continues.  The only drawback is that most of Russell’s screen time here occurs before the explosion.

Kate Hudson is largely wasted in a throwaway role as Mike’s wife Felicia.  John Malkovich is okay as one of the cost-cutting meanies from the company, but he’s not really in this one a whole lot.

On the contrary, Gina Rodriguez is very good as Andrea Fleytas, the woman who helms the controls on Deepwater Horizon.  The rest of the cast are little more than interchangeable cardboard cutouts.

The strongest thing DEEPWATER HORIZON has to offer is the true story on which it is based.  This is reiterated during the movie’s end credits, when we see the names and photographs of the men killed during the explosion.

But source material alone isn’t enough to make a powerful movie.  A film needs a strong storytelling component, generated by creative directing and a sharp script. DEEPWATER HORIZON has neither.

As such, in spite of its gripping story, it struggles to stay afloat.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

SULLY (2016) – Remarkable Story, Exceptional Movie

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SULLY (2016) has a remarkable story to tell, so even if it were just a mediocre movie, it would still be worth seeing due to the strength of its story.  The good news is SULLY is more than just a mediocre movie:  it’s an impeccably made film by director Clint Eastwood, and it features yet another superb performance by Tom Hanks, which means that simply put, SULLY is  an exceptional movie, one that you should definitely see at the theater.

SULLY tells the incredible true story of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” which occurred on January 15, 2009 when airline Captain Chesley Sullenberger guided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, a forced landing in which all 155 people on board, passengers and crew, survived.

Sully (Tom Hanks) becomes an instant hero.  Yet, the airline and its insurance company are none too happy that one of their planes ended up in the Hudson River.  In fact, their computer simulations show that the plane could have made it to two airports.  They believe Sully erred in his decision to land the plane on the water.  Of course, Sully disagrees, saying it’s his belief that there was no way they would have made it to an airport.  He did the only thing he could do.

Suddenly Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) are the subjects of a massive investigation into the forced landing, putting their reputations on the line, and in Sully’s case, making him second guess himself, fearing that perhaps he made a mistake and put the lives of the 155 people on board in jeopardy.

There are many fine things about SULLY.

To begin with, it has an excellent script by Todd Komarnicki, based on the book  “Highest Duty” by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow.  It makes the wise choice of not telling its tale in chronological order.  Had it done so, the movie would have featured the exciting forced landing first, leaving the anti-climactic and dialogue-driven investigation to follow.  When SULLY opens, the forced landing has already happened, and the movie dives right into the investigation.  The landing is shown via flashbacks.

The dialogue is first-rate, and there are plenty of memorable lines, like when an official congratulates Sully and tells him that New York hasn’t had much good news lately, especially with stories involving airplanes.

What can you say about director Clint Eastwood at this point?  Eastwood is 86 years old, and the fact that at his age he’s still directing and sometimes acting in movies is incredible.  And he’s not only making movies, but he’s making quality movies!  Before SULLY, he directed AMERICAN SNIPER (2014), one of the best movies of that year.  SULLY is one of the best movies of this year.

For years, starting in the 1960s, Eastwood was the best action star on the planet.  In 1992, he won an Oscar for Best Director for UNFORGIVEN (1992), a film that also won Best Picture that year, in what many at the time considered to be Eastwood’s swan song.  Eastwood was 62.  Since then, Eastwood has gone on to direct one quality movie after another.  Sure, he’s had some misfires along the way— HEREAFTER  (2010), for example— but for the most part his films have been phenomenal.  His last two movies AMERICAN SNIPER and JERSEY BOYS (2014) were both among my favorite films of 2014.  And I can’t stress this enough:  Eastwood is 86 years old.  It’s quite possible that when his career is over, he might be remembered more for being one of Hollywood’s greatest directors than one of its greatest action stars.

Eastwood does a phenomenal job here with SULLY.  The high energy behind this movie is not what you expect from a director pushing 90.  AMERICAN SNIPER may be the more impressive of the two films, because it had a more complicated story to tell, whereas SULLY just on the strength of its story alone promises to be a crowd pleaser.

But Eastwood uses his talents behind the camera to make this movie even better.  The investigation scenes have Eastwood’s stamp all over them.  Indeed, you can trace the theme here all the way back to Eastwood’s iconic actioner DIRTY HARRY (1971), which of course he only starred in, but Eastwood embraced Harry Callahan’s law-in-your-own-hands anti-burearacy philosophy as his own, and it would show up in future Dirty Harry films and other Eastwood projects.

You can see it here in SULLY.  Aaron Eckhart’s Jeff Skiles tells his best friend Sully that the airline should be praising Sully— everyone survived!— not investigating him.  But that’s not enough for the airline.  Their plane ended up in the river, and in their eyes, that’s something that should not have happened.  Sure, no one died, but everyone’s life was put in jeopardy.  In Eastwood’s vision, this way of thinking is insanely ridiculous.

Eastwood also makes wise creative choices.  The forced landing is shown twice.  The first time we see it from different perspectives, including from the air traffic controllers who are desperately trying to convince Sully to head to an airport.  But the second time it’s shown in real time and never leaves the cockpit and so we see Sully and co-pilot Skiles deal with the situation as it happens.

Both sequences are incredibly intense, and they provide some of the best cinematic moments of the year.

And both Eastwood and the script take full advantage of our emotions.  We follow a few of the passengers specifically, including a man flying with his two adult sons, and after the landing, they are separated.  Later, once they find each other, one of the sons exclaims, “Can you believe this?  We crashed!  And we all survived!”  It’s the perfect sentiment as it is what everyone in the audience is thinking.

The sequence after the crash, when everyone is in the water, waiting to be rescued by the oncoming ferryboats and New York rescue crews is also intense because the water is icy cold and the rescuers only have minutes to work with.  Later, Aaron Eckhart’s Skiles declares, “I’ve never been happier to be in New York!”

Tom Hanks is superb as Sully.  The best part of his performance is the self-doubt he puts himself through, wondering if perhaps his instincts were wrong.  Hanks also shows how important duty is to Sully.  Once they land in the water, he makes sure he’s the last one off the plane, that everyone has gotten off, and he doesn’t relax until he knows for sure that no one has died.  The moment the news is relayed to him that all 155 people on board have been accounted for is one of the more emotional moments in the movie.

Like Eastwood and his previous film, AMERICAN SNIPER, Hanks in his previous movie BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015) may have had a more challenging assignment in that he played a more complicated character.  But as Sully, Hanks is excellent.  It’s another terrific peformance by the very talented actor.

Aaron Eckhart is also memorable as co-pilot Jeff Skiles.  And the rest of the cast, in smaller roles, are all solid.

The past few weeks have seen the release of some outstanding movies, like the critically acclaimed HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016), and the under-the-radar HANDS OF STONE (2016).  SULLY is right up there with these gems, perhaps even the best of the bunch.

It’s certainly the most inspiring and emotionally satisfying.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: MOVIES SCORED BY JAMES HORNER

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Oscar-winning composer James Horner

Oscar-winning composer James Horner

YOUR MOVIE LISTS:  Movies Scored by James Horner

By

Michael Arruda

Oscar-winning composer James Horner has died.   Horner passed away tragically on June 22, 2015, the victim of a small plane crash.  He was 61.

Horner composed music for countless movies over the years, many of them in the horror and science fiction genre.  According to IMDB, Horner composed scores for 156 movies beginning in 1978.  He won two Oscars, both for TITANIC(1997), as he won for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, “My Heart Will Go On.”

We remember Horner today with a look at the movies he scored.  It’s a partial list, with the genre films listed in bold.

THE WATCHER (1978) – James Horner’s first movie score.

THE LADY IN RED (1979) – Gangster film about John Dillinger starring Robert Conrad as Dillinger and Pamela Sue Martin as the Lady in Red.  Horner actually scored this film before THE WATCHER, but THE WATCHER was released first.

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) – classic low-budget 1980s horror movie starring Doug McClure in a tale about mutated sea monsters who kill men and rape women.  This is the first movie scored by Horner that I ever saw.

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980) – STAR WARS wannabe/clone/ripoff starring Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon, and Sybil Danning.

THE HAND (1981) – Horror movie about a severed hand that comes back to life and goes on a murder spree.  Starring Michael Caine.  With a screenplay by Oliver Stone!

WOLFEN (1981) – Stylish horror movie starring Albert Finney about Native American wolf spirits.  Based on the Whitley Strieber novel.

DEADLY BLESSING (1981) – Wes Craven horror film starring Sharon Stone.

STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982) – Probably my favorite James Horner score.  It’s certainly the film where I first noticed his music.  The music he wrote for the space battle scenes between Kirk and Khan are particularly effective, in this superior STAR TREK film, the second and arguably the best in the series.star_trek_ii_the_wrath_of_khan poster

48 HRS (1982) –Action/comedy by writer/director Walter Hill was Eddie Murphy’s feature film debut.  Co-starring Nick Nolte.

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983) – Very stylish horror/fantasy based on the Ray Bradbury novel.  Bradbury also wrote the screenplay.  Starring Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce.  Not as effective or chilling as it should have been, perhaps because it was a Walt Disney release.

KRULL (1983) – science fiction fantasy by director Peter Yates.

BRAINSTORM (1983) – Science fiction thriller directed by Douglas Trumbull and starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood.  Wood’s final movie.

STAR TREK III:  THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984) – The third film in the STAR TREK movie series, directed by Leonard Nimoy, about the search for the reborn Spock after his death at the end of STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN.  Not bad, but not nearly as good as it predecessor.

COMMANDO (1985) – Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner is a guilty pleasure.  Contains some of Arnold’s best movie lines.

ALIENS (1986) – Probably my second favorite James Horner music score in this ambitious, entertaining sequel by writer/director James Cameron.  With Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, a conniving Paul Reiser, a whiny Bill Paxton, and an army of vicious aliens.

THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1986) – Well-made period piece thriller with Sean Connery as William of Baskerville, a monk investigating a series of murders.  Featuring a young Christian Slater.

RED HEAT (1988) –Arnold Schwarzenegger teams with James Belushi in this buddy action flick by director Walter Hill.

FIELD OF DREAMS (1989) – If you build it, they will come.  Iconic baseball movie starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, Ray Liotta, and James Earl Jones.

GLORY (1989) – Civil war drama starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman.

ANOTHER 48 HRS (1990) – Forgettable sequel with Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, once more directed by Walter Hill.

THE ROCKETEER (1991) – Amiable adventure yarn set during World War II about a secret jetpack, the young man who uses it, and the Nazis spy who wants it.  Timothy Dalton makes a nice baddie.

PATRIOT GAMES (1992) – Harrison Ford takes over as CIA analyst Jack Ryan in this Tom Clancy tale.

CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (1994) – Ford returns as Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.

BRAVEHEART (1995) – Mel Gibson steals the show as Scottish rebel William Wallace.  Gibson also directed.

APOLLO 13 (1995) – Superior movie by director Ron Howard about the ill-fated Apollo 13 moon mission, based on the book by Jim Lovell.  Phenomenal cast includes Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris.  Another memorable score by James Horner, one of my favorites.

RANSOM (1996) – Action thriller starring Mel Gibson about a father who takes the law into his own hands after his son was kidnapped.  The sort of movie Liam Neeson would have starred in if this had been made ten years later.

THE DEVIL’S OWN (1997) – muddled thriller starring Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt.  Pitt’s not who he seems, and Ford finds out.

TITANIC (1997) –  The biggie, the iconic James Cameron movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.  Horner won two Oscars for this movie, for original score and for best song.

DEEP IMPACT (1998) – science fiction disaster film about a meteor about to wipe out Earth stars Robert Duvall, Tea Leoni, Elijah Wood, and Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States.

THE MASK OF ZORRO (1998) –Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins in this so-so tale of Zorro.

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1998) – Disney remake of the classic giant ape movie features topnotch special effects by make-up wizard Rick Baker.  Starring Charlize Theron and Bill Paxton.

THE PERFECT STORM (2000) – Nonfiction sea tale starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001) – Russell Crowe steals the show as brilliant mathematician John Nash, directed by Ron Howard.  Co-starring Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris

THE FORGOTTEN (2004) –Decent horror movie starring Julianne Moore about false memories and sinister enemies.

FLIGHTPLAN (2005) – thriller with Jodie Foster dealing with bad guys on a plane.

THE LEGEND OF ZORRO (2005) – Antonio Banderas returns as Zorro.

AVATAR (2009) – James Cameron classic that put 3D movies back on the map.  Superior film with yet another memorable James Horner score.  With Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012) – Inferior Spider-Man reboot, made way too soon after the Tobey Maguire series which only ended five years earlier.   Andrew Garfield as Spidey— meh.

James Horner wrote the music for so many of the movies I’ve watched over my lifetime.  Often writing scores for multiple films per year, Horner provided music for more movies than are listed here, as again, this is just a partial list.

Sadly, his life was cut short while he was still very active in his career.  His musical talents will be greatly missed.

James Horner.  August 14, 1953 – June 22, 2015.  Age – 61.

Thanks for reading.

—Michael

SAN ANDREAS (2015) Weak Entry in Disaster Movie Canon

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san_andreas_movie_poster_1MOVIE REVIEW:  SAN ANDREAS (2015)

By Michael Arruda

 

SAN ANDREAS has more faults than— well, you know.

Yep, SAN ANDREAS is a new disaster film about a powerful earthquake that erupts along the San Andreas Fault— get that opening joke now?— and rocks California, specifically San Francisco.  It has more in common with recent disaster movies like THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004) and 2012 (2009) than with the disaster pics from the 1970s, like EARTHQUAKE (1974).  Of course, the truth is most of these movies were not very good, as the scripts were often pretty bad, as was the case with EARTHQUAKE.  To that end, SAN ANDREAS fits right in.

In SAN ANDREAS, Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) is a scientist who has discovered a way to predict earthquakes.  Unfortunately for him, the largest earthquake ever recorded decides to occur on the same day he makes this discovery, and so while he scrambles to get the word out, it’s not exactly, “hey, there’s going to be an earthquake next week.”  It’s more like “There’s going to be an earthquake in the next 60 seconds. RUN!!!!!!”

Meanwhile, Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is a firefighter/rescue worker/helicopter pilot in Los Angeles who leads a crack team of rescuers who perform amazing feats of bravery.  The film opens with one of these feats, as Ray and his team rescue a young woman whose car zipped off the road and is hanging precariously from a cliff.  Of course, this young woman is seen texting while driving and paying no attention whatsoever to the road, and so I was actually hoping that Ray’s rescue would fail.  But alas, it’s Dwayne Johnson, he’s the hero, and he saves the girl.  What a surprise.

While Ray’s career is thriving, his home life is not.  His wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is divorcing him, leaving him for an ultra-rich new boyfriend Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffud).  Ray does enjoy a good relationship with his twenty-something daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario), but his scars run deep as his other daughter drowned years earlier, and Ray was unable to save her, a fact that has haunted him since and strained his marriage to Emma.

Once the earthquake hits, Blake finds herself amidst the rubble in San Francisco, and Ray decides to fly his chopper from L.A. to San Francisco to rescue his daughter, and of course, his estranged wife Emma joins him as well.  The rest of the film follows their efforts to save Blake.  So, if you’re interested in what happens to the rest of the folks in San Francisco, you’ve come to the wrong movie, since SAN ANDREAS isn’t interested in anyone else but Ray and his family.  It’s as if they’re the only victims of the earthquake.

That’s my first problem with SAN ANDREAS.  By focusing only on Ray and his family, the film loses any grand scope it may have had, and it simply doesn’t work as a disaster movie.  It’s about a massive earthquake, the biggest ever recorded, and yet we never see the results of this destruction.  Oh, thanks to the CGI special effects, we do see buildings collapsing, a humongous Tsunami crashing through San Francisco, and the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge, but we don’t feel the extent of the destruction because there’s one key element missing: the human element.  We don’t have any other characters to follow in this movie.  It’s about Ray and his family and that’s pretty much it.

For this kind of story to work, these main characters need to be compelling and interesting in order to hold our attention throughout the movie, but they are neither.  Instead, they are dull and boring.

The film does give us a few scenes with Paul Giamatti’s character, but he’s away from the action, and he’s even more boring than Ray’s family.

In the opening sequence, we meet Ray and his rescue team.  I thought perhaps this film would be about this team doing their thing to rescue folks during the earthquake.  Not so.  Once the earthquake happens, and Ray learns that his daughter is in danger, he basically highjacks the helicopter and decides on his own without checking with anyone in authority that he’s flying to San Francisco.  Nice going, buddy.  What about the people in Los Angeles who need rescuing?

 

The characters here are cliché and dull.  I like Dwayne Johnson a lot, but this role is about as cliché as you can get.  Ray is a good guy, don’t get me wrong, a guy who doesn’t deserve to have his wife leave him, and in this movie, because he’s such a nice guy, his wife won’t leave him.  Instead, she joins him in the helicopter and together they set out to rescue their daughter in yet another unrealistic story where the estranged couple realizes they shouldn’t have separated, and everything’s better if they stick together.  Ugh.  I enjoyed Johnson much, much more in last year’s HERCULES (2014).

Carla Gugino is OK as Ray’s wife Emma, even though I found the character terribly annoying.  Alexandra Daddario is also just okay as their daughter Blake.  Neither character was all that interesting.

Blake is befriended and rescued by a young British man Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), two characters and performances that are also average.

Paul Giamatti’s scientist character is hopelessly boring, and Giamatti overacts to compensate, and Ioan Gruffod’s rich boyfriend Daniel is probably the most clichéd of all the characters.  The wealthy “other man” who conveniently turns out to be a wimp and a weasel, making it oh-so-easy for wifey Emma to go back to her hero hubby Ray.  Gag.

The worst culprit though in what makes SAN ANDREAS a bad movie is the screenplay by Carlton Cuse, a man with some decent writing credits, as he’s written episodes for the TV series LOST and BATES MOTEL.  Here, the story is way too limited, focusing only on Ray and his family.  Without other characters, and more importantly, other casualties, the earthquake never seems as deadly as it’s supposed to be.

The dialogue is flat out awful and so sappy you’ll cringe.  When Ray speaks to Blake on the phone and tells her he’s on his way to rescue her, and she hears her mother’s voice in the background, she asks, “Dad?  How is it that you and mom are together?”  Which of course prompts Ray and Emma to gaze warmly into each other’s eyes.

While the film is slick and polished, and there are special effects galore, director Brad Peyton doesn’t really craft any scenes that are dramatically chilling or awe inspiring.  The closest he comes to pulling this off is the tsunami scene, where the great wave crashes down on San Francisco, but even this could have been more frightening and spectacular.

The whole film just lacks that sense of awe-inspiring dread. Part of the problem is I thought the special effects looked rather cartoonish.  Now, I admit, I saw this film in 2D, and it is available in 3D and IMAX prints.  Perhaps those look better.  It was all rather average looking in 2D.

SAN ANDREAS is a weak entry in the disaster movie canon.  It lacks scope and vision, its earthquake isn’t depicted as anything earth shattering (heh heh), and its characters are cliché and dull.  What could have been a rousing film adventure, a story about humanity trying to survive a horrible disaster, is reduced to a predictable plot, a tale of one family’s will to stay together, amidst a powerful earthquake.

How the rest of the west coast fares is anyone’s guess.

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