The Rock (1996)

The Rock

John Mason (Sean Connery) and Stanley Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage) defusing a missile.

The upcoming generation (as well as my fellow millenials) will find it hard to believe there was once a movie as entertaining as The Rock. Afterall, it is hard to find phrases these days like “quality Michael Bay movie” or “entertaining Nicholas Cage film” (the latter has had better films).

Revisiting The Rock since I first saw it multiple times as a child, I realize it does still have flaws. There are the explosions that have come to define a Michael Bay movie, but at least they are there for a reason (as opposed to something like The Transformers franchise, where the explosions are there for us to look at, not because it adds to the story). There are also some rather stereotypical characters (such as the black trolley driver) as well as a huge embrace of the military (which this movie actually does with more heart than any other movie Bay has made). Still, if there is one reason to see this film, it is because of Sean Connery.

This may have actually been the first movie I ever saw with Connery in it (leading me to his work as the best Bond ever). I remember watching him, thinking I was looking at a true myth, a legend. That is actually the aspect of his character. When a war Hero, General Hummell (Ed Harris) finds out that the government will not pay for the efforts and recognition of men who have died under his command, he steals missiles with toxic gas that he threatens to shoot at San Francisco from Alcatraz (which he is holding 81 hostages on). The best person at working with this toxic gas is a FBI chemistry specialist, Stanley Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage). Still, the FBI needs to know how to maneuver under the island, so they release the only known man to have escaped it, John Mason (Connery).

A lot of readers know how it has been a rough many years for Cage (don’t get me started on Left Behind), but there was truly a time when he was a great actor. Here, he does his normal, over the top craziness, but only when needed (he actually only swears one time). Harris’s General is a villain, but not entirely cruel (notice he makes sure the kids leave the island before he takes it over). He does not want to kill so much as just right a wrong. Still, it is Connery who steals the show,  proving his myth and legend as a movie star.

Parents, the movie is rated R mainly for swearing and violence (though it would be violence like that of a hard PG-13 movie nowadays). There is also a brief sex scene (totally not needed) without any nudity, but a lot of sound effects. Skip that scene, and I would say middle school and above.

It is hard to think of any other Michael Bay movie that is better than The Rock. Sure, it had begun with some of the negative aspects we now see too much of in his films, but it is still a blast of a movie over two decades later.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Moana (2016)

moana

To tell Moana no when she asks for help is not a good idea…

The main thing that makes Moana work is the title character. She is the evolved form of Disney princesses back from the days of Snow White and Cinderella. This princess gets the job done with or without a prince, and that is that. As the character Maui tells Moana, “If you have a dress and a sidekick, you are a princess.” (That chicken sidekick of hers is great because it actually acts like a chicken.)

Credit definitely should be given to the break out performance by first timer Auli’i Cravalho. Certainly, she is a new star for the cinema world to behold. Her Moana is the daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), whose main rule is to never leave the island for any reason. No going past the reef”, he says, even when there is a shortage of fish nearby.

Eventually, Moana is moved to leave the island in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, who, as a nineties kid, will forever be “The Rock” to me.) He has stolen a stone that he wished to use and help the humans, but the idea back fired, and he lost his magic hook in the process which gave him the ability to morph into any animal he wishes (his main choice was that of a hawk.)

While Cravalho shows she is a star that is here to stay, it is Johnson’s performance of Maui that reminds us what makes him so gosh darn charming in the first place. Basically, he plays a Disney version of “The Rock” (no threats or swearing). Who else could brag about himself, and actually have conversations with his tattoos (there is even glimpse of him raising the eyebrow that made me smile, ear to ear).

Now we come to the music. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the main mind behind it all, and this was just before his stage musical “Hamilton” (of which I am a fan, and still hope to see someday on stage) became the monster hit it is today. I confess, I think Moana has good songs, but a few too many songs. Most are good, but I did not find the urge I had after seeing a movie like Frozen to go and download the songs from Itunes. There is one song with a crazy crab character that is gorgeous to look at, but drags on too long.

Let there be no doubt: stunning is a gross understatement to the visuals of this movie. While movies like The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo (and its sequel) proved the wonders beneath the ocean, Moana proves things above the ocean can be visually appealing as well.

Parents, it is a Disney film, so basically anyone can sit through it (there are not too many heavy dark moments in the film).

At the moment, I don’t feel Moana will be in the pantheon of Disney masterpieces such as Fantasia, Pinocchio, The Lion King, Bambi, or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Still, Moana is, in every sense of the cliché phrase, fun for the whole family.

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

San Andreas (2015)

Dwayne Johnson is the one unbreakable "rock" in "San Andreas".

Dwayne Johnson is the one unbreakable “rock” in “San Andreas”.

Poor San Francisco.

Just one year after Godzilla destroyed you (well, not on purpose), you are now vulnerable to an earthquake in San Andreas. I for one think San Francisco deserves a romantic comedy or drama now.

San Andreas stars Dwayne Johnson (you know, “The Rock”) as Ray, a search and rescue pilot. He is getting over the loss of one of his daughters, and is in the process of divorcing his wife Emma (Carla Gugino). She is moving in with a “seemingly” nice guy named Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd). Riddick is taking Ray’s other daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) to college. Meanwhile, a Geology professor (the always good Paul Giamatti) has discovered a way to finally detect earthquakes before they happen. Sadly, he discovers this just as the earthquake that will “be felt on the east coast” begins.

I am not one who approves of talking much in movies, but sometimes, when a movie is so predictable, I can’t help myself. For example, just before the earthquake hits, Blake will meet Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), a one in a million guy who you would be a fool to think they won’t eventually fall for each other. He is traveling to San Francisco with his little brother Ollie (a good scene stealing young actor named Art Parkinson) from England.

The special effects are kind of cool to look at, but nothing we have not seen in other disaster movies. There were times I was thinking this movie should have almost been made on the Syfy station on TV (and you are talking here to a fan of Sharknado, people).

One of the things that disappointed me the most was Dwayne Johnson. He truly is a good, overlooked actor. Audiences (myself included) love to see him lay the smackdown (yeah, I watch wrestling from time to time), but, now, in his forties, we can start to maybe see him getting a little deeper with his characters.

Parents, there is some swearing and (obvious) violence, but no real sexual content (despite some cleavage). I would say middle school and above would be fine seeing it. Keep in mind, there are better movies out there. San Andreas is not a terrible film, but a forgettable one.

A while ago, I saw an old movie from the 1930s called San Francisco that was based on an actual earthquake (with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy). Now I have seen San Andreas. Wow, have times changed.

Overall: Two Stars **