Review: ‘San Andreas’ (Tectonic Plates Vs. The Rock)

Rescue dad to the rescue.

Investigating a way to better predict earthquakes, a CalTech professor (Paul Giamatti) finds out his new technology works very well when the Hoover Dam collapses. Unfortunately, his new data is predicting a massive earthquake along the San Andreas fault with almost no time to warn anyone. Helicopter rescue pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is on his way to Las Vegas to assist when a call from his wife (Carla Gugino) diverts him back to Los Angeles. With downtown LA shaking apart, Ray’s daughter (Alexandra Daddario) has no idea that the biggest quake is heading her way: San Francisco.

A by-the-numbers broken family mended by surviving a disaster plot, this bare-bones story works as a framework for lots of cool special effects – seriously, what else were you expecting? To its credit, San Andreas dispenses with ridiculous complications like those employed in 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. There’s even a bit of the old “trying but failing to save everyone survivor’s guilt trope” here, but just enough to move things along. Yes…yes, it looks like Dwayne Johnson is really ACTING in a few of those sad scenes reconciling with Carla Gugino – hey, it’s Carla Gugino: step it up!
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Review: ‘Jurassic World’ (chaos theory still in effect)

Underdeveloped characters and a meandering middle act culminates into the ending we want to see, but is it worth the 3D ticket and a OMG super-theater sound system? Hells yeah.

After the famous failure of John Hammond’s dinosaur park, the realization of the late entrepeneur’s dream at last comes to fruition: Jurassic World. Bigger than it was originally envisioned, the ten-year old park is losing visitors, prompting the park scientists into thinking outside the genetics box: cooking up their own hybrid creature. When their prize asset escapes, corporate suit Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) enlists the local dino wrangler (Chris Pratt) to find her two nephews missing in the park. Meanwhile, a military-minded slug (Vincent D’Onofrio) decides to take the opportunity to provide a demonstration of using InGen dino-power for future battlefield operations. What could possibly go wrong?

Twenty years have passed since the wonder of Jurassic Park, the ultimate zoo where extinct dinosaurs roam the earth again. With advances in film technology and real-world technology, the new park is a state-of-the-art containment system that allows human meat to look giant predators in the eye and feel superior – until the running and screaming, of course. Mirroring the original story and cast, it felt like a step backward trading a corporate robot for the lady scientist lead and saddling our requisite “kids in danger” with homegrown family issues. Still, the writers clearly knew what they wanted for an ending and that doesn’t disappoint.
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Review: ‘Unfriended’ (or Jump Scare: the Social Media Movie)

A real-time technological/paranormal twist on the found-footage concept.

On the anniversary of the suicide of her friend Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), high school senior Blaire (Shelley Hennig) recalls that fateful night by watching a video of the suicide that keeps reappearing online each time it’s taken down. Later when cybering with her boyfriend Mitch (Matthew Bohrer) over a video chat, three friends all join in the conference: Matt’s best friend Adam (Will Peltz), Blaire’s friend Jess (Renee Olstead), and their mandatory gamer/hacker/joker buddy Ken (Jacob Wysocki). Being a convenient evening when none of their parents are at any of their homes at that exact time, an univited blank image appears in the chat conference that won’t go away…just before a direct message appears on Blaire’s screen from someone claiming to be Laura herself, back from the dead.

This probably sounded like a cheap idea on paper – a budget horror film that is literally watching someone’s computer screen in real-time – but what’s impressive is just how effective it is. Insulated behind the relative safety of a digital screen and a web browser, little things begin to go wrong until that safety is turned into a trap when the usual escape of disconnecting is proven fatal. It’s a virtual And Then There Were None story (or Ten Little Indians) where secret relationships are revealed as the body count rises. Of course, if you don’t care what a bunch of snot-nosed whippersnappers are doing to one another over social media (and good riddance to them), you’re probably not going to care if a ghost in the machine is bumping them off. That said, if you let it under your skin and are familiar with the technology, it’s a twisted little tale with a clever in-concept payoff at the end.
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Review: ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’ (Rise of Robo-Spader and the Wondrous Twins)

Exhausting in the best way – like seeing everything in one day on a two-park ticket to an Orlando resort.

Following a tip from Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (not actually in the film, but hey, “it’s all connected”), the Avengers catch up to Hydra scientist Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) and capture Loki’s missing scepter, aka The Glowstick of Destiny. The only survivors of Strucker’s experiments to enhance humans are the Maximoff twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen); to quote Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders): “He’s fast and she’s weird.” Realizing that the scepter isn’t supernatural but technological, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) convinces Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to use it to jumpstart a dormant A.I. program called Ultron, designed to create “a shield around the world.” The experiment works…all too well, as Ultron (James Spader) comes to life as Stark’s android doppelgänger opposite, escaping into the internet after an attack attempt on our heroes. Recruiting the Maximoff twins with promises of destroying the Avengers and particularly Tony Stark for causing collateral damage, Ultron has far dire plans in mind: destroying all humanity.

Writer/director/producer Joss Whedon looked like he’d been run over after finishing this film, and it’s no wonder: it took a lot to top the last outing of The Avengers. Age of Ultron tops the original in every way, from camaraderie and humorous team interaction to pure superhero bliss…and yet, somehow it felt like less. The problem may be one of timing; this Avengers sequel wasn’t really competing with its predecessor so much as it was trying to top Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film so good it made Age of Ultron feel like a step backwards – if only slightly. You’ll get your money’s worth here, folks, so don’t be shy.
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Review: ‘Furious 7′ (Long. Slow. Meaningful. Looks. And vehicular warfare.)

You will believe a digital actor can digitally act.

After the crew of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) put Dracula…sorry, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) into the hospital at the end of Fast & Furious 6, his brother Deckard (Jason Statham) vows revenge! Enduring a couple of sneak attacks with varied results, Dom goes on the offensive but is intercepted by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), an American shadow operative who offers to help locate Deckard so that Dom can put a whooppin’ on him. One catch: the operative needs Dom and his team to recover a mobile audio/video hacking/tracking system called God’s Eye (tech stolen from Bruce Wayne, no doubt). What makes no sense is why they’re stealing a McGuffin to find the bad guy – to KILL the aforementioned bad guy – because that SAME bad guy keeps showing up everywhere they go!

From the opening scene, you know how ridiculous it’s all going to be…and fans of this series won’t care because of all the fun to be had. It’s a modern Mad Max with every James Bond Q-branch auto gadget spread out over an entire movie. Jason Statham wallows in being the bad guy and looks great doing it. The story even manages to surprise along the way, taking a few old tropes and tossing them out the driver’s side window. In fact, you might even say Vin Diesel has managed to find a way to combine the too-serious space bounty hunter franchise Pitch Black action with Car Wars – and theater popcorn sales will never be the same.
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Review: ‘Matt Mercury – Plot of the Galactic Mastermind’ (the future…the way it used to be)

Where overly heroic heroes and needlessly futuristic gadgets always save the day. Well, okay, mostly.

After rescuing the last survivor of an alien race of weapon-making molten men, Captain Matt Mercury (Matt Lavine) of the Rocket Rangers learns that Earth is in danger of being stolen away by the evil mutant super-genius Professor Brainwave (Bill Hughes), the once-human servant of the Galactic Mastermind! With his valiant crew members including snarky Sparx McCoy (Lauren Galley) and underappreciated Jinky the Robot (voice of Heidi Hughes), Matt must save the day…as long as his involvement with old flame Mulkress Dunner (Chantal Nicole) doesn’t distract him more than repeatedly than finding milk in his tea. Will Matt succeed? Will the Earth be returned? What’s with the robot lima beans? Rip open a Rocket Bar and sing along with the Rocket Rangers until the day is saved!

Where Spaceballs spoofed modern space fantasy adventure, Matt Mercury skewers classic sci-fi serials with hairy rubber aliens, hand-painted lasers beams, and actual model miniatures of locations and spacecraft. Sure, they had to incorporate a lot of green screens to pull this off on a small budget, but it lovingly reflects the look and feel of everything up to the original “Star Trek” series, wallowing in the absurdity instead of just playing it straight. While comparible to the understated, overacted brilliance of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, genre fans will find plenty of familiar tropes and more than a few Easter-egg absurdities for sharp-eyed viewers – not to mention those wonderfully quotable one-liners!
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Review: ‘It Follows’ (a throwback with a clever take on corrupting the innocent)

Pat Benetar was right, but what ELSE are you going to use as a weapon?

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a pretty young woman residing in Detroit dating a mysterious new local guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). On the night after they have sex for the first time, Hugh knocks her out, binds her to a chair, and says he’s “helping her.” Something is coming for Jay because she had sex with Hugh, and it will kill her if it can reach her – unless she has sex with someone else to pass the curse along. Here’s the kicker: if she fails to do this before it succeeds, the thing comes back to stalk and kill the one who passed it on. It can look like anyone dead or alive, presumably something disturbing, but it never runs…and it never stops.

Stop worrying about what will happen if you watch forbidden video tapes or play with witch boards; this film is all about doing it and paying for it…forever. With a surprisingly competent cast of young actors, It Follows manages an incredible amount of creep on a small budget with a high concept. This isn’t to say it’s all perfect, but for all its flaws, it’s both memorable and controversial, inspiring the kind of water cooler horror-fan talk that the The Ring managed to generate before it was diluted with all the sequels. Like all good first films, no explanation is given for how this thing got started, but that doesn’t stop our cast of potential victims from trying and failing spectacularly to survive.
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