3 posts categorized "disaster"


Eli's coming, hide your hate now

We've seen action-adventures with heart before.  The "Star Wars" sagas, for instance.

"The Book of Eli" packs an additional element:  soul.  Not the rock 'n' roll kind, either.  We're talking spiritual depth I've never seen in such a brutally violent near-future setting.

Denzel Washington is well-suited to play the soft-spoken Eli, a man (or something more) who walks among the falling ash of a seared, post-war Earth with a single purpose; to stay on his mysterious path west.

Washington, an Oscar winner as the ruthlessly corrupt cop in "Training Day" (2001), is equally at home on both sides of the integrity fence.  That helps one of the finest actors of his generation fit so effortlessly behind the sunglasses as a man (or perhaps more) who tries to avoid trouble, but is lightning fast with a machete when he's unable to avoid conflict.

That happens a lot in "The Book of Eli." It unfolds in a post-apocalyptic world of survivors and killers 30 years after "The War," or "the flash" as Eli sometimes refers to a conflict so brutal "that it blew a hole in the sky and the sun came down and burned everything up."

An enigmatic lone warrior, Eli's not unlike "Mad Max," the Australian futuristic wasteland warrior that launched Mel Gibson's career in 1979.  And there are similarities to Viggo Mortensen's character simply called Man in "The Road," which is currently on screen in some areas.

Eli is not looking for revenge as Mad Max was or even to protect a frightened son like Mortensen does in "The Road," however  He's got a book in his backpack that inspired this 30-year trek west.  

When the loner in sunglasses happens upon a lawless town ruled by a despot who controls the thieves, murderers and possibly worse who hang out in his saloon, Eli meets Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a man as determined to get his hands on "the book" as Eli is to keep it.

Oldman, who appeared as Bob Cratchit, Marley and Tiny Tim in the recent  rehash of "A Christmas Carol," is an exceptional actor like Washington. And Oldman absolutely convinces as an egomaniac with power.

Despite the pleadings of his blind wife (Jennifer Beals), Carnegie sends his own step-daughter Solara (Mila Kunis of "Extract" and Jackie on "That '70s Show" on TV) into Eli's room to, shall we say, "charm" him into revealing all the tight-lipped mysterious traveler knows.

"The Book of Eli," while routine at times as the latest entry in the post-apocalyptic genre, also ventures where I didn't expect it to go.  That's a good sign.

Solidly directed by filmmaking twins Allen and Albert Hughes, who have built a reputation on gritty urban dramas like "Dead Presidents" and "Menace II Society," "The Book of Eli" opens up a new chapter in grisly action-adventures.

Here we have murder and corruption, for sure, but with an effective spiritual side that offers at least some hope of redemptive healing.

For lack of a better term, let's call it New Age Old Testament mayhem.


A jolting, well-acted 'Road' through the ruins

Except for the quality acting and poignant, effective screenplay, the post-apocalyptic drama "The Road" could serve as a follow-up to the popular, but one-dimensional doomsday thriller "2012."

Thankfully, it's not.  Based on Cormac McCarthy's decidedly dismal 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the simple, yet haunting story follows two disaster survivors; a father and his terrified young son on a scorched, devastated road to somewhere, hopefully, but possibly nowhere.

"It's just another earthquake.  I'm right here," the near-starving father played by Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen says to his son, The Boy (Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee).

We never learn what caused all this devastation that has knocked Mother Earth to her knees.  War?  Global warming?  Giant meteor strike?  All we know about the past is that The Man woke up to a blindling light outside the window.
He filled the bathtub with water before the devastation reached them.  We learn in flashbacks that The Woman (Charlize Theron) chose not to accompany her husband and son when they hit what's left of the road.

All we know is that The Man and The Boy, desperately weak, hungry and often cold, are trying to make it to the ocean.  The Boy has never seen one.  That gift, if he can make it there, is all a father slapped to near death by circumstances has to possibly offer a son.

Horrific destruction mixes with a will to live in this effective, minimalist screenplay by playwright Joe Penhall.   Heightened fears since the terrorist attacks of 2001 add another element to the mix.  What happens to humanity when the world around up has been reduced to ash?

Australian director John Hillcoat ("The Proposition") set up location camp in Pennsylvania, where blackened coal landscapes, devastated mining areas and the abandoned freeway or two could be located.  The shoot also ventured to the shores of Lake Erie, Katrina-stricken areas of Louisiana and to Oregon.

As convincing as the backgrounds are (becoming a central character themselves), the heart of "The Road" comes from performances Hillcoat draws from excellent actor Mortensen, an Oscar nominee for "Eastern Promises," and young Smit-McPhee, who appeared in "Romulus, My Father."

There are other stunned wanderers along the disaster-stricken road, of course.  Robert Duvall ("The Godfather," an Oscar winner for "Tender Mercies"), barely recognizable as The Old Man, is as good as you'd expect him to be.  And Guy Pearce, who appeared in Hillcoat's "The Proposition," provides a little hope for whatever is left of mankind as The Veteran.

Just know going in that "The Road" is a long, hard one that adheres faithfully to McCarthy's masterpiece of devastation.  


'2012' an unintentional disaster-laugher

"2012" is quite entertaining, really, as a comedy of absurd preposterous overkill.

Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure Roland Emmerich, who juggles hats and the Earth's crust as director, co-writer and executive producer, hoped for a slightly more reverent response as our planet crumbles and L.A. goes bye-bye.

Emmerich, you see, is a victim himself, of sorts.  It would seem that ever-advancing special-effects, especially when gifted computer nerds are writing the codes, have reached the point where nothing is impossible.  In reality, that is not the case.  

Dialogue without heaping helpings of cheese remain out of the grasp of disaster filmmakers; especially one named Emmerich.  He's the director who scored big with the patriotic flag-waver "Independence Day" in 1996 but managed to turn hulking sea monster "Godzilla" into a giant bore two years later.

Emmerich co-wrote this astonishingly inept and seemingly never-ending doomsday script (two and a half hours and change) with composer/screenwriter Harald Kloser, who penned the grunts in "10,000 B.C.," Emmerich's most recent expansive yawner.

The premise of this one hooks onto the Mayan myth/prediction (take your pick) that on Dec. 21, 2012 something catastrophic or quite enlightening (take your pick) is going to happen to Mother Earth.

It's no surprise that Emmerich, who subjected moviegoers to a fierce alien attack in "Independence Day," the citizen stomper/chomper "Godzilla"  remake and global warming floods with "The Day After Tomorrow" would take the negative, destructive view.

The guy obviously likes to wipe out iconic landmarks.  Granted, he destroys things real good in "2012."  Los Angeles slips off into the Pacific.  A tsunami slams the U.S.S.  John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier into the White House and earthquakes rumble.

John Cusack ("The Ice Harvest," "1408") is a very good actor ("War, Inc." was too cynical to catch on) who manages to keep a straight face throughout.  He takes on failed author, failed husband and failed dad Jackson Curtis, this scenario's everyman who stumbles across a plan to save a select group of Earthlings.  Amanda Peet has too little to do as his ex-wife  Kate.

And then there are the politicos.  Cusack may have top billing, but the real lead is Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Redbelt," "Talk to Me").  He's the scientist who informs President  Danny Glover that, basically, Mother Earth is about to blow her top.

It's a huge ensemble cast.  Thandie Newton (daughter of the prez), Woody Harrelson (a mountain kook who may not be as dumb as he sounds) and Oliver Platt (greedy government official) all show up between spectacular shots of Yellowstone National Park erupting in molten fireballs, Hawaii in flames, Vegas crumbling, etc.

Before things get too erratic and divorced husband/loving dad John Cusack fights to get his estranged family to safety, a mom and her plastic surgeon boyfriend have this little dialogue exchange (or something similar) in the local supermarket.

He:  "I don't know.  I just sense that something is coming between us."

Cue the earthquake.  Sure enough, a giant abyss -- literal, not emotional -- separates them.

Roland, Roland, Roland.

If you go for the unintentional fun, you can get your money's worth of yuks from "2012."  Just don't expect much gee-whiz end-of-the-world awe.  Emmerich and visual effects supervisor Marc Weigert destroy so much and do it so well technically, it all plays like elaborate falling dominoes after a while.

"2012" is an extremely drawn-out overblown (and overly blown up) special-effects ride driven by grossly overstated melodramatic cheese warmed over with a few tender moments.