Monday, June 29, 2015

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...Here's an interesting-looking book which is now in my Kindle Fire thanks to a friend's recommendation: WHEN BOOKS WENT TO WAR: THE STORIES THAT HELPED US WIN WORLD WAR II by Molly Guptill Manning. The book's main focus appears to be the wild success of paperback books as a means of entertaining the troops.

...At Hollywood Comet Jessica pays tribute to one of my favorite character actors, John Ridgely.

...Turner Classic Movies has announced that it will spend three consecutive Octobers focusing on gender inequality in the film industry.

...Coming from the Warner Archive in July: LAWMAN - Season 1, Fred MacMurray, Dorothy McGuire, and Howard Keel in CALLAWAY WENT THATAWAY (1953), a bunch of Wallace Beery movies, and a 12-film set of Dick Foran Westerns. You can bet I'll be getting LAWMAN!

...Anthony Geary has retired from his role as Luke Spencer on GENERAL HOSPITAL after a run of 37 years. Some favorite former cast members, including Finola Hughes, Kristina Wagner, and Genie Francis, came to the studio to celebrate his final day. I certainly enjoyed that cast "back in the day" and have fond memories of the show although I haven't watched it for over two decades.

...Colin recently posted on the wonderful Universal Western DAWN AT SOCORRO (1953), starring Rory Calhoun, at Riding the High Country.

...I also liked the post D.O.A.: A Love Story at Sister Celluloid.

...Toby's got lots of Western DVD and Blu-ray news over at 50 Westerns From the 50s: ROBBERS' ROOST (1955), RUN OF THE ARROW (1957), FORT MASSACRE (1958), and THE GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY (1959).

...Plans are already underway for the March 2016 High Chaparral Reunion in Tucson. In addition to HIGH CHAPARRAL cast members, Roberta Shore of THE VIRGINIAN and Robert Fuller of LARAMIE and WAGON TRAIN (not to mention EMERGENCY!) are expected to attend.

...Amazon has introduced a "Treasure Truck" which quickly delivers sale items to certain neighborhoods...In other Amazon news, last week it announced the Amazon Echo is now available for purchase without an invitation. A recent review is here. I've enjoyed mine, which I mostly use as a voice-activated timer and music player; Amazon regularly adds new features. For instance, I can ask it if the Dodgers are playing and what the score is.

...Notable Passings: One-time child actor George "Foghorn" Winslow has died at 69. He was memorable in several films of the '50s including ROOM FOR ONE MORE (1952), MONKEY BUSINESS (1952), GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953), and MISTER SCOUTMASTER (1953). Will McKinley remembers the actor and his role in ROOM FOR ONE MORE at Cinematically Insane. Condolences may be left online here.

...More Notable Passings: Another child actor, Anthony Sydes, has passed away at 74. Sydes was one of the little boys tamed by Mr. Belvedere in SITTING PRETTY (1948), a Gilbreth son in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950) and BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952), and Thelma Ritter's son Peter in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947). He went on to serve two decades in the army...Producer Harry Sherman has passed on at 87. He produced GET SMART and well-regarded TV-movies such as ELEANOR AND FRANKLIN (1976) and THE GATHERING (1977)...The Duke of Fife, who led quite an interesting life, recounted by the Daily Telegraph, has died at 85.

...Finally, Dick Van Patten, who had a long career on both stage and screen, has died at 86. Van Patten's stage work included the original Broadway cast of Thornton Wilder's THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH in 1942 and replacing David Wayne as Ensign Pulver in the original run of MISTER ROBERTS. He was in the early TV series MAMA (pictured here), which began in 1949, and was best-known as the father on EIGHT IS ENOUGH which began in 1977. Van Patten is part of an acting family which includes sons Nels, Vincent, and James, daughter-in-law Eileen Davidson, sister Joyce, and niece Talia Balsam.

Have a great week!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Track of the Cat (1954) at UCLA

Tonight was the closing night in UCLA's wonderful series celebrating the career of director William A. Wellman.

While I wish I'd been able to see more of the films earlier in the series, I've had really wonderful experiences over the last couple of weekends seeing ISLAND IN THE SKY (1953), WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951), YELLOW SKY (1948), and BEAU GESTE (1939). The screenings were all the more enjoyable thanks to the warm, appreciative introductions of the director's son, William Wellman, Jr.

Tonight was a 35mm screening of TRACK OF THE CAT (1954) starring Robert Mitchum. Wellman introduced the film as "a black and white movie shot in color." He mentioned that all of his father's Westerns were "offbeat" in various ways and said TRACK OF THE CAT might have been the most offbeat of them all.

Wellman was joined by Robert Mitchum's daughter Petrine, author of HOLLYWOOD HOOFBEATS, a history of movie horses. She shared very interesting information on the talented Black Diamond, her father's horse in the movie.

William Wellman Jr. and Petrine Mitchum are seen here signing books before the movie.

I knew going in that the movie would be as Wellman described it, "offbeat," but I felt seeing it at UCLA would be the best way to try the movie. Seeing this CinemaScope film on UCLA's big screen was definitely the way to watch it.

I was curious about the film since it was a Wellman Western costarring Mitchum and Teresa Wright, who had also teamed in Raoul Walsh's PURSUED (1947). While in PURSUED Mitchum and Wright are an adoptive brother and sister who fall in love and marry, in TRACK OF THE CAT they are simply siblings who don't like each other. But then, very few people in the movie like each other!

While there were moments of interest and I was glad I saw it, this was definitely one of those movies which more than once left me wondering "What on earth were they thinking?" It's a talky, overly theatrical, and soundstage-bound depiction of a highly dysfunctional family.

Pa Bridges (Philip Tonge) is an alcoholic married to a controlling, bitter woman (Beulah Bondi). None of their four children have married, despite getting along in years; Curt (Mitchum) is the nasty boss of his siblings, Arthur (William Hopper) is a more mellow and artistic sort, and Grace (Wright) is an "old maid" who spends much of her time hiding in her room.

Hal (Tab Hunter) is the only one who seems to have any hope for the future, as he's been keeping company with Gwen (Diana Lynn). Gwen is interested in marrying him but wants Hal to stand up for himself. Hal's mother tries to drive Gwen away, seemingly preferring that the family go on being miserable by themselves.

Rounding out the cast is an ancient Indian played by young Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer in horrid makeup. Again, what were they thinking?!

Curt and Arthur go out to track a killer cat. The cat kills Arthur, and Curt ties him to his horse and sends the horse on home. The rest of the movie runs on parallel tracks as Curt continues to track the cat, while back at home Gwen tries to roust Hal away from his family, even as Arthur's laying out and burial is taking place. Yep, it's a pretty weird movie -- just wait till the funeral scene, shot upwards from the bottom of Arthur's burial place!

There's actually relatively little of Mitchum in the film, considering he's the star, and until she makes a couple of impassioned speeches near the end, there's not much of Teresa Wright, either.

Tab Hunter is front and center much of the movie, with Bondi yakking at him endlessly and Lynn trying to pull him away from his family, while dodging his lecherous drunk of a father. One has to think there must have been slim pickings in the area for Gwen to be willing to marry a man who came with such a family!

The movie did gain interest as it went along, though I watched it as an analytical observer and was never moved by it.

I especially enjoyed what Wellman and cinematographer William Clothier did with color, or the lack thereof; most of the wardrobes and decor, such as blankets, are black and white, but then there are a few big splashes of color, including Curt's red jacket and Gwen's yellow blouse. Matches and fire are also key items with bold color.

Unfortunately the movie has an odd hybrid look which detracts from what Wellman accomplishes with the use of color. Most of Mitchum's scenes are played outdoors, yet the exterior of the family home is firmly planted in a soundstage, which adds to the film's theatrical feel.

The screenplay of this 103-minute film was by A.I. Bezzerides, who also wrote THIEVES' HIGHWAY (1949) and ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951), both seen last month at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.

The script was based on a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Clark also wrote the book which inspired the evening's second film, THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943), but I left after the first movie.

TRACK OF THE CAT is available in a Collector's Edition DVD put out by the John Wayne Estate; the film was produced by Wayne's production company, Wayne-Fellows. TRACK OF THE CAT also had a 1999 VHS release.

All in all, I was glad I saw and became familiar with the movie under the best conditions possible, but this won't go down as a favorite.

There's more great stuff ahead at UCLA, including a series honoring director Frank Borzage, opening on July 10th, and a retrospective of films by pioneering woman director Dorothy Arzner, opening July 31st. I'll have more information on each series posted here in July.

Tonight's Movie: Special Agent (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

SPECIAL AGENT (1935) is an entertaining "G men vs. gangster" film just released by the Warner Archive.

I first saw this Warner Bros. film back in 2008, and on this viewing I found it was even more fun than I remembered.

Perhaps some of my greater enjoyment was having become so much more familiar with the supporting cast over the last few years -- this is a great flick for anyone who loves the "faces" of the era. It's a zippy, fast-moving yarn which provides an entertaining 76 minutes.

Seemingly mild-mannered newspaperman Bill Bradford (George Brent) has a secret identity. No, he's not Superman, but close -- he's a federal agent who's been undercover for half a decade. Bill is out to get mob kingpin Alexander Carston (Ricardo Cortez), and Bill thinks Carston's bookkeeper, Julie Gardner (Bette Davis), is the person to help put Carston behind bars for tax evasion.

Bill loves Julie, and in fact it's interesting he doesn't seem overly concerned that she's spent years working for a mobster. Sure, Carston might kill her if she quits, but I was struck on this viewing that Julie seems to be a less reluctant employee than I'd remembered, though she cooperates with the feds readily enough.

It's no secret to my regular readers George Brent is a real favorite of mine. This is the kind of role in which I really enjoy him, as the upbeat, can-do, and rather funny agent who rather enjoys going toe-to-toe with the mob -- and winning.

I also enjoy watching Davis in films like this, before she became a big star. This is a fairly straightforward leading lady role, but Davis's screen presence still brings the part a little extra something.

Cortez is delicious as Bill's adversary, an odd duck who wears gloves at all times -- even when playing solitaire! And take a good look at the heavy door to his office, which is basically a "safe room."

The supporting cast is just terrific, starting with scary-looking Jack La Rue as another gangster, Henry O'Neill as the upright district attorney, and Paul Guilfoyle as a weasel in the D.A.'s office who's a stooge for Carston. Actor-director Irving Pichel plays the U.S. District Attorney, Robert Barrat is the head of the IRS, and Joe Sawyer is a henchman. The cast also includes J. Carrol Naish, Robert Strange, Joseph Crehan, Joe King, and Charles Middleton.

SPECIAL AGENT was directed by William Keighley and filmed by Sid Hickox.

The DVD is a good print which includes the trailer.

Fans of '30s gangster films or the lead actors should enjoy this one. I sure did!

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Today at Disneyland: Drawing Disneyland: The Early Years

I had a wonderful time at Disneyland today, including my first look at the Matterhorn since the new Abominable Snowman was unveiled. The more mobile figure is a definite upgrade to one of my favorite rides at the park.

I especially enjoyed visiting the new Disney Gallery exhibit, Drawing Disneyland: The Early Years.

The exhibit celebrates the work of five studio artists who played major roles in designing Disneyland: Harper Goff (Adventureland), Sam McKim (Frontierland), John Hench (Tomorrowland), Bill Martin (Fantasyland), and Harry Johnson (Main Street, U.S.A.).

Here's part of the tribute to Sam McKim, a very successful child actor turned Disney artist:

Sam's design of the Golden Horseshoe saloon, which was also on display five years ago in a 55th anniversary exhibit, was inspired by the set design for the Doris Day film CALAMITY JANE (1953):

Two different looks at Fort Wilderness on Tom Sawyer Island:

This was my favorite thing in the exhibit, a design of the Casa de Fritos restaurant in Frontierland. I worked at Casa de Fritos (later called Casa Mexicana) when I was in college, and it's where I met my husband:

I loved these layouts for the Peter Pan (top) and Alice in Wonderland (bottom) rides by Bill Martin:

And here's an exterior of Peter Pan's Flight:

A John Hench design for Tomorrowland:

Harper Goff's sketches of the Jungle Cruise ride in Adventureland:

And one of Harry Johnson's designs for a shop on Main Street, U.S.A.:

There's much, much more to see in this wonderful exhibit, which I highly recommend visiting.

For more on Drawing Disneyland: The Early Years, please visit the photo post at Dateline Disneyland.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day (1941) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

DR. KILDARE'S WEDDING DAY (1941) is the eighth of the nine films which are part of the Warner Archive's Dr. Kildare Movie Collection.

The title wedding, of course, is the long-postponed marriage of Dr. Jimmy Kildare (Lew Ayres) with sweet Nurse Mary Lamont (Laraine Day). At last, they're finally going to tie the knot!

This film has a somewhat infamous reputation as a big "weeper" in the series, and it does live up to that. Although the movie is okay for the most part, just knowing it was going to be sad interfered with my enjoyment, and a series fan can't help ultimately being disappointed.

While Dr. Kildare's love life is front and center, Dr. Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore) is diagnosing a conductor (Nils Asther) with a hearing problem. Meanwhile Gillespie's own health issues become more serious, prompting him to spent some time resting in a sanitarium while Dr. Lockberg (Miles Mander) furthur studies his case.

Regular cast members who appear in this film include Alma Kruger, Samuel S. Hinds, Emma Dunn, Red Skelton, Walter Kingsford, Nell Craig, Frank Orth, Marie Blake, George Reed, Gladys Blake, Pierre Watkin, Gus Schilling, and Eddie Acuff. I suspect the KILDARE films had more recurring cast members than any other movie series!

The supporting cast also includes Fay McKenzie, Connie Gilchrist, Halliwell Hobbes, Ann Doran, and Robert Emmett Keane.

The movie was directed by the series' longstanding director, Harold S. Bucquet, and it was filmed by George Folsey.

Previously reviewed films also available in the Warner Archive's Dr. Kildare Movie Collection: YOUNG DR. KILDARE (1938), CALLING DR. KILDARE (1939), THE SECRET OF DR. KILDARE (1939), DR. KILDARE'S STRANGE CASE (1940), DR. KILDARE GOES HOME (1940), DR. KILDARE'S CRISIS (1940), and THE PEOPLE VS. DR. KILDARE (1941).

There's just one Dr. Kildare film left for both Lew Ayres and this set, and then it will be time to turn our attention to the six-film Dr. Gillespie Movie Collection!

DR. KILDARE'S WEDDING DAY, like the other films in the set, is a good print. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop. Please note that the initial sets of this series sold at the WB Shop site are traditionally replicated (pressed) rather than burned on demand.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"Mrs. Peel, We're Needed!"

Another sad loss today with the passing of Patrick Macnee, star of TV's THE AVENGERS.

His death was announced on the official Patrick Macnee website. Macnee was 93 and passed on at his home in Rancho Mirage, California.

I fondly remember watching reruns of THE AVENGERS after school in the '70s.  I started with the Linda Thorson episodes but of course, like everyone else, I loved the Diana Rigg episodes the most. Their episodes would invariably start with Steed (Macnee) finding a clever way to convey to Mrs. Peel (Rigg) that "We're needed!" Here's just one example:

And here are a couple versions of the awesome opening title sequence:

Macnee's long screen career began in 1949 and continued until about a dozen years ago. I also especially remember him from the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series, which I also loved as a kid, around the same time I was watching him in AVENGERS reruns.

Here are obituaries from Variety, the Los Angeles Times, and the BBC.

Happy Birthday, June Lockhart!

Actress June Lockhart turns 90 years old today.

June was born to actors Gene and Kathleen Lockhart in New York City on June 25, 1925.

June's long acting career began when she appeared with her parents, Gene and Kathleen, as the Cratchits in A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938). June played Belinda, and they're seen here with Terry Kilburn as Tiny Tim:

June's notable roles in classic films include playing Rosie, the sister of SERGEANT YORK (1941), and glamorous Lucille Ballard in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944). She's seen here in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS with Lucille Bremer and Judy Garland.

June began working in television as early as 1949, eventually starring in the series LASSIE and LOST IN SPACE. (She also appeared in the MGM movie SON OF LASSIE in 1945!) Later she had a recurring role as Felicia's grandmother on GENERAL HOSPITAL.

June continues to act occasionally today, and she's also known as an enthusiastic supporter of NASA, which has honored her with an Exceptional Public Achievement Medal.

Acting continues to be a tradition in the Lockhart family; June's daughter Anne is a busy working actress, including voice work in animated films. Anne's late husband, assistant director Adam Taylor, was the grandson of character actor Dub Taylor and the son of actors Buck Taylor and Judy Nugent.

June Lockhart movies reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: ADAM HAD FOUR SONS (1941), KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY (1945) (also here), T-MEN (1947), and BURY ME DEAD (1947).

Update: The public is invited to celebrate June's birthday tonight at a free concert in Beverly Hills.

2018 Update: Here's a review of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944).

2020 Update: I've now reviewed SERGEANT YORK (1941).

2022 Update: Here's my review of A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938).

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Kiss Me, Kate (1958) at UCLA

Tonight was a very special screening at UCLA, the 1958 Hallmark Hall of Fame TV production of the Cole Porter musical KISS ME, KATE. This terrific TV-movie was shown on the final evening of the Archive Television Treasures series.

KISS ME, KATE, the tale of a battling divorced couple starring in a musical version of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, was most notably a reunion for Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison. Drake and Morison had created the lead roles of Fred and Lilli in the original Broadway production of the musical a decade earlier, in 1948.

Julie Wilson, who passed away in April, played the second female lead, Lois, with longtime DAYS OF OUR LIVES star Bill Hayes as Bill.

The screening was introduced by esteemed musical historian Miles Kreuger, whose impressively detailed history of SHOW BOAT has been on my bookshelf for decades. He remembers seeing the original production of KISS ME, KATE on Broadway several times as a child! It was his favorite musical.

Kreuger lamented, as I often have, that Broadway musicals were not preserved on film and that the performances were usually lost forever. The closest we can get to an original Broadway production is listening to a cast album or watching a show such as this Hallmark Hall of Fame special.

Kreuger also introduced the wonderful Marsha Hunt, who was in the audience tonight, and shared that he spoke with Patricia Morison this week. Morison, who turned 100 in March, couldn't come to the screening as she had just returned from a trip to Palm Springs, but sent her regards.

KISS ME, KATE was an abridged production, as it had to fit a 90-minute slot which also included breaks for Hallmark commercials. (The commercials were fascinating in and of themselves, a throwback to an earlier and perhaps more innocent time.) But as Kreuger said, don't focus on the songs which are missing from this production, but instead look at what we do have saved to enjoy...which is quite a lot!

I own the original KISS ME, KATE Broadway cast recording on LP, but it was such a treat to actually see Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison visually as they performed the roles. Although I have a number of Drake's original Broadway cast recordings, including OKLAHOMA! and KISMET, this was probably the first time I'd seen him on a screen. I could certainly see why he was such a popular Broadway star, as beyond his voice, he was a charismatic and funny performer. I was particularly wowed by his sincere emoting during "So in Love."

In recent months I have loved delving into Patricia Morison's work more deeply, over 40 years after seeing her on stage as the Baroness in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. In 2014 I was riveted by her performance in PERSONS IN HIDING (1939), and I also enjoyed her in THE ROUND-UP (1941) with Richard Dix. This spring I had the pleasure of seeing Morison in person at a screening of THE FALLEN SPARROW (1943), in which she played John Garfield's patrician ex-girlfriend. I've recently acquired a couple more of Morison's films, which I look forward to watching.

Morison was such an interesting performer, with a self-confident attitude, a beautiful soprano singing voice, and her trademark long, dark hair. She had a fine career, including taking over the lead in THE KING AND I on Broadway when original cast member Gertrude Lawrence became ill, but one wishes there were even more of Morison on film to enjoy today!

While I wasn't always completely simpatico with Julie Wilson's interpretation of Lois -- she made some odd vocal and physical moves I didn't care for -- she was for the most part okay, and Hayes was perfectly cast as Bill, though he could have used more screen time.

The highlight for me, other than watching Drake and Morison, was Jack Klugman and Harvey Lembeck (just seen in BEACH PARTY) performing "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." They were perfectly cast as the genial gangsters who become fascinated with the theater, and I especially got a kick out of seeing Klugman in this role.

The show was filmed in a kinescope-type process so it's not a perfect picture, but the viewer gets used to the "look" after a while, and it works. The "Wunderbar" scene is, at this writing, on YouTube; I think the print I saw this evening was better than what's seen there, with a sharper focus.

KISS ME, KATE is available on DVD. Drake and Morison can also be heard in the original Broadway cast recording.

The evening also included a showing of Janet Blair in a 1955 TV production of ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, but it's a work night for me and I needed to get on the freeway to head back home. ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, like KISS ME, KATE, is available on DVD.

I expect to be back at UCLA Sunday to see TRACK OF THE CAT (1954) on the final night of the William Wellman series.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tonight's Movie: San Andreas (2015)

Viewers looking for a very silly yet entirely entertaining summer "popcorn movie" need look no further than SAN ANDREAS (2015).

I don't see all that many "new" movies, but I was lured to SAN ANDREAS by my daughter's recent pithy review: "Terrible dialogue. Cheesy dialogue. Bad science. No logic. 4 stars."

That about captures the movie! It's a not-too-scary disaster movie for those of us who like the AIRPORT movies (especially AIRPORT '77!)...our family has a tradition of watching old disaster movies every New Year's Eve, and this one would fit right in.

SAN ANDREAS plays like THE PERILS OF PAULINE for the lead characters, but despite mass destruction, the movie is more like an amusement park thrill ride than anything terribly graphic or troubling. Some of the aforementioned cheesy dialogue helps lessen the fear factor as well; I've got to give Paul Giamatti props for apparently taking his character seriously, because I sure didn't!

One fine day two scientists from Caltech (Giamatti and Will Yun Lee) believe they have finally cracked the code which will enable the prediction of earthquakes. They journey to Hoover Dam to test out their theory and sure enough, a massive earthquake destroys the dam.

Despite the huge damage in Nevada, Lawrence (Giamatti) somehow immediately makes it back to Pasadena, minus his now-deceased colleague. Data starts coming in that a big one is about to hit L.A. -- and San Francisco is in for even worse.

Ray (Dwayne Johnson), who works for L.A. Fire and Rescue, is in a chopper on his way to help in Nevada when the Big One strikes L.A. He manages to pluck his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) off the top of a collapsing building in Downtown L.A., then they set off for San Francisco to rescue their college-aged daughter Blake (the beautiful Alexandra Daddario, who is probably a decade too old for her part).

Blake had hitched a plane ride to San Francisco with her mom's wealthy new boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd of HORATIO HORNBLOWER), who turns out not to be the man you want by your side when you're trapped in a car in a collapsing parking garage.

Blake is saved by Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), and they're off to find their way to Coit Tower to meet Blake's parents...only Coit Tower is surrounded by fire, so time for Plan B! And even Plan B goes down the tubes once a tsunami hits.

I lost track of the crises which hit Ray's family, which also include surviving falling down a few stories with a collapsing building, a helicopter crash, stealing a stolen truck, parachuting out of a plane (and landing in the middle of AT&T Park, of course!), riding a boat up the cresting wave of a tsunami...well, you get the idea!

Meanwhile back at Caltech, Lawrence the scientist has students in the media lab hack their way into network broadcasts so he and TV reporter Serena (Archie Punjabi of THE GOOD WIFE, in a thankless role) can warn California of the massive destruction which is not yet done unfolding. Caltech, incidentally, is remarkably unscathed by the quake!

Regular viewers know I don't like children in peril or overly violent movies, but every aspect of this movie clearly telegraphs it's a phony CGI universe; the film's effects are as fake as the wires one can glimpse in EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956). Honestly, SAN FRANCISCO (1936) is more realistic and dramatically compelling, despite the fact its special effects were created 80 years ago!

If I tried to list all the things in SAN ANDREAS that make no sense or are silly or raise questions, I'd never stop! I mean, as one example, is it realistic for a tsunami to wipe out a city and not have a single body float by? And a boat is somehow able to power through water clogged with massive debris without a single problem? Yet if the movie were at all realistic, it wouldn't be any fun -- especially for viewers in California!

I'll also say it's kind of interesting Ray, who demonstrates he's ordinarily a brave civil servant in an opening sequence, makes off with a city-owned chopper for his own private rescue mission, but then I guess, given the massive destruction, he figured it was every man for himself! At least he tells a few people in San Francisco the safest place to huddle during some shaking, but otherwise he's in it for his wife and daughter and no one else.

Meanwhile it's interesting that Lawrence and his students seems to be the only seismologists in California...where are Dr. Lucy Jones and Dr. Kate Hutton when you need them?

All my dissing of the movie doesn't convey how absolutely entertaining it is, right down to the final line ("We rebuild")'s fun in large part just because of all the absurdity! I had a very good time, and I'd see it again.

SAN ANDREAS was directed by Brad Peyton and filmed by Steve Yedlin. It runs 114 minutes.

Parental Advisory: SAN ANDREAS is rated PG-13 for "intense disaster action and mayhem," as well as "brief strong language." Honestly, this is about as family-friendly a disaster movie as you're going to get these days. Graphic violence and language are kept to an absolute minimum -- there are lots of collapsing buildings but very little gore -- and there's a nice thread about the love of family running throughout the film.

Here's Kenneth Turan at the Los Angeles Times: "SAN ANDREAS is chock-full of cliché characters, staggering coincidences and wild improbabilities...Yet films this preposterous can be engaging if you know what you're getting in for, especially if they have the advantage of Dwayne the starring role. An action hero with a rare kind of gravitas, Johnson has a stabilizing influence on all the silliness that surrounds him."

Meanwhile from The Guardian: "This spectacularly silly film about a monster Californian earthquake recalls the glory days of 1970s disaster films." Yep! Minus the all-star cast.

The trailer is on YouTube.

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