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Friday, May 29, 2015

Susan Granger at the Movies: ‘San Andreas,’ ‘The 100-Year-Old Man…,’ ‘Saint Laurent’

By Susan Granger

Like cautionary fables, disaster movies enthrall us with a horrible fascination - as we watch with morbid curiosity from the safety of wherever we happen to be. It’s pure escapism.

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The terrifying action thriller “San Andreas” follows LAFD search-and-rescue helicopter Ray Gaines (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his estranged wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), as they make their way from Los Angeles to San Francisco to find their daughter (Alexandra Daddario) in the aftermath of the largest magnitude earthquake in recorded history.

Also caught in the ensuing chaos are an eminent Caltech seismologist (Paul Giamatti), who believes he’s found a way to track the quake, along with a TV journalist (Archie Panjabi), Emma’s architect boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd) and two British tourists (Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson).

Scripted by Carlton Cuse from a story by Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore, it’s directed by Brad Peyton and produced by Beau Flynn, collaborators on “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” incorporating more than 1300 visual effects, as Hoover Dam crumbles, freeways collapse, bridges break, and a tsunami engulfs San Francisco’s cityscape.

The premise is given validity by a March 2015, U.S. Geological Survey estimating that the odds of California experiencing a magnitude 8 or greater seismic event in the next 30 years has increased, as has the possibility of multi-fault ruptures.

Psychologically, we like to think we would make smart, even heroic, choices in a crisis situation - and survive. Seeing believable protagonists do that on-screen is – in a perverse way – uplifting.

Our preoccupation with disaster scenarios goes back to Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast of his adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” His 60-minute program ran without commercial breaks in a “news bulletin” format that caused mass hysteria and panic.

In the 1970s, filmmaker Irwin Allen was known as the Master of Disaster for “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno.” Since then, Hollywood has made various depictions of global destruction a regular occurrence.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “San Andreas” is a scary 7, revealing spectacular devastation along the California coastline.

“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared,” Sweden’s highest-grossing film of-all-time, revolves around irrepressible Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson), who’s about to celebrate his 100th birthday when he climbs out of the window of a retirement home.

Arriving at a nearby transit station, he boards a bus with someone else’s suitcase, not realizing that it belongs to a vicious biker dude (Simon Seppanen) and is stuffed with millions in stolen drug money. 

As Allan ambles about, the events of his picaresque life are revealed in surreal flashbacks that show how fanciful misadventures have placed him in the midst of some major historical occasions. It’s an amusing plot device that makes him look like a Scandinavian cousin of “Zelig” or “Forrest Gump.” 

Working as an explosives expert, young Allan gets entangled in the Spanish Civil War, the Manhattan Project, and other 20th century events, including ludicrous encounters with Presidents Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, Russia’s Stalin and Gorbachev, and an elephant named Sonya.

Plus there’s his geezer buddy Julius (Iwar Wiklander), their perpetual student/driver Benny (David Wilberg) and Gunilla (Mia Skaringer), the feisty ex-girlfriend of a biker gang member.

Based on Jonas Jonasson’s international best-seller, it’s been inventively adapted by Hans Ingemansson and director Felix Herngren as a black comedy/road movie, as Allan heeds his mother’s advice: “You shouldn’t talk too much,” “One thing leads to another,” and “Life is what it is – and what it does.”

And the ungainly length of the title rivals “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain” and “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.”

On the Granger Gauge, “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared” is an irreverent, slapstick 6, an absurdist comic fable.

There are two cinematic biographies about infamous French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, who died in 2008. Directed by Bertrand Bonello and featuring Gaspard Ulliel, “Saint Laurent” is France’s official submission for the foreign-language Academy Award.

The story opens in Paris in 1974, when depressed, melancholy YSL agreed to an interview in which he admits he has “disorders” before flashing back to 1967, when his fame was at its height, as he prepares an elegant haute couture collection. Lea Seydoux and Aymeline Valade play his emotionally supportive muses: Loulou del la Falaise and Betty Catroux, respectively.

That’s also when YSL’s celebrity lifestyle disintegrated into debilitating drug abuse and dangerous debauchery, particularly his infatuation with Karl Lagerfeld model Jacques de Bascher (Louis Garrel), which deeply wounded his longtime business partner/lover and friend, Pierre Berge (Jeremie Renier).

Wearing YSL’s signature oversized glasses, Gaspard Ulliel bears a strong physical resemblance and conveys YSL’s self-destructive tendencies, along with his hedonistic sensibility and neurotic sensitivity, including insight into the clash between commerce and culture. YSL was the first major designer to launch a pret-a-porter line, making French fashion accessible to the general public.

The biopic concludes in Saint Laurent’s later years, when he’s played by Helmut Berger, utilizing Ulliel’s ineptly synched voice.

Episodic in structure with lavish production design, the somewhat cumbersome screenplay was written by Thomas Bidegain (“Rust and Bone,” “Our Children”) and director Bertrand Bonello (“House of Pleasures,” “The Pornographer”).

Curiously, there’s little mention of YSL’s youth in Algeria and early apprenticeship with Christian Dior. And it’s only fair to note that Pierre Berge threw his support behind Jalil Lespert’s rival bio-pic, “Yves Saint Laurent,” granting that production access to YSL’s estates in Paris and Marrakech.

In French and English, with English subtitles, on the Granger Gauge, “Saint Laurent” is a shallow, ill-fitting 5. Running two and a half hours, it gets truly tedious – unless you’re a fashion junkie.


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( Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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Posted 05/29/15 at 10:17 AM  Permalink



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