Review of ‘San Andreas’ and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. Part of an occasional movie review series.

To begin, an explanation of these eclectic choices. As a geologist, the first is essential viewing; I am honour-bound to vet movies with a geological theme. ‘Dante’s Peak’ gets a big thumbs up for its realistic pyroclastic flow and top drawer acting. (That being said, driving over red hot lava will never work; even Pierce has his limits.) The totally crap ‘Volcano’, on the other hand, with a bigger budget, had no volcanic edifice. Instead, lava flowed spookily through Los Angeles sewers, choosing to pop up, incinerate utility workers, then disappear mysteriously. Add in the wooden Tommy Lee Jones, whose face runs the gamut from pissed off and craggy, to craggy and pissed off, and this became a true ‘disaster’ movie. But not in the way the makers intended. So, is ‘San Andreas’ a ‘Volcano’ or another ‘Dante’s Peak’? Dull grey sinter or red hot lava?

‘San Andreas’ features Dwayne Johnson, aka ‘The Rock’, someone I greatly admire. Despite a background in professional wrestling, or because of it, he runs acting rings around Arnie, Van Damme and Vin Diesel. Here he plays Ray, a rugged emergency helicopter pilot who can do remarkable things with a helicopter, some defying the laws of physics. Likewise, the fuel tank seems bottomless; his chopper has the range of a Voyager probe. Sadly, Ray is newly separated from his improbably hot wife, played by Carla Gugino. You may recall her magnificent, ahem, acting assets from ‘Sin City’. Ray is also possessed of an impossibly beautiful daughter, similarly blessed. Wife and daughter become key plot strands, each rescued from a series of ‘Perils of Pauline’-type situations. These include drowning, crushing, and being tied to railway tracks as a locomotive approaches. (Sorry, I made that last one up.)  The women strip down to vests, becoming grungier as the various earthquakes take their toll. Fortunately, eye makeup and lippy survives 9.5 magnitude quakes. Ironically, as foundations fail all around, their foundation, augmented by demolition dust, seems to improve.

I went into ‘San Andreas’ with rock bottom expectations, my default position with Hollywood movies. And was therefore pleasantly surprised. The plot has more holes in it than a Fukushima reactor, but the special effects dazzle and the acting is not bad at all.  ‘The Rock’ does a sterling job, backed up by a great cast, including porky Paul Giamatti as a seismologist with a permanently quizzical expression, as if he just sat on something sharp. Poor Paul seems to have given up on smart films (‘Sideways’ anyone?) and can now be found in such fodder as  ‘Shoot ‘em Up’. I can forgive the over-the-top tsunami, which towers over the Golden Gate bridge. Likewise, that the San Andreas Fault remains as a gaping, bottomless chasm after the quake (has no-one heard of lithostatic pressure folks?). The wavelength of the surface S-waves also looks a bit too long, the ground heaving in gigantic waves. But, in summary, it is all good clean fun and gets the Pratt thumbs-up.

The second film, best categorised as ‘good filthy fun’, was chosen because it is one of those ‘event’ movies that cannot be ignored. Beginning as a ‘Twilight’ fan’s blog, it became a book, then firmly established as a film. I thought it may provide a rich vein for criticism, but I was careful to check that none of my fellow air passengers was underage. Nothing worse than ogling flesh when there is a 10-year old sat next to you. The book was dreadful, full of ‘Anastasia thought he was amazing’ moments. Christ knows how it became a bestseller, but I have a theory, expounded below.

The eponymous Christian Grey is played by Jamie Dornan. Our favourite serial killer, you will recall him drawling ‘Stella’ in his sexy northern Irish accent in ‘The Fall’, the best piece of UK television in the last decade. Throughout ‘Shades’ he has a ‘what the hell am I doing in this’ expression.  Washboard abs are flashed frequently, but, unfairly, and hypocritically, he seems to get a lot less nude than poor Anastasia, played by perky Dakota Johnson.

Christian is a seriously messed up guy. His sex addiction and controlling behaviour goes beyond the pale. And what woman would not run a mile at being asked to sign a contract with clauses like….. well, I can’t even write them down. My mother may read this.

Anastasia shows her spunky character by refusing certain acts, whilst accepting others. She yields to fairly intense spankings. Why would any woman enter into this type of relationship? It can’t just be because he flies a helicopter and is a billionaire, surely? And why are the books so hugely successful, almost entirely with women?

And time for my theories, nothing earth-shattering and I know I risk sounding sexist. Firstly, I think Christian is the ultimate ‘Bad boy’ and many women love a challenge. They want to change him. They want to be ‘The One’ effecting transformation. It doesn’t hurt that he is loaded with cash and has a penchant for Audis.

Secondly, in the modern world women and men are equal. Women are under considerable pressure to have a successful career and be good mothers. To achieve this, they need control in their lives. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is about the complete loss of control and I suspect that, deep down, this appeals to women. Something here chimes with investigations of female sexual fantasies. Many years ago, I was forced to read ‘My Secret Garden’ (Nancy Friday), by my ex-wife, a sociologist and anthropologist. This collection of female fantasies is a bit of an eye-opener, making ‘Shades’ look like an Andy Pandy bedtime story. You will certainly never look at faithful Fido the same way again after reading Friday.

That is the end of my theorising and I await the onslaught. I have entered a minefield which, as a man, I am ill equipped to traverse.

As with ‘San Andreas’, my expectations of the film were minimal. How could such a terribly written book ever be a good movie? Which just goes to show how wrong one can be. Yes, like the book, some plot strands jar. Did Christian’s equally hot brother really have to fall in love with Anastasia’s best friend? Can Christian really run a massive corporation and fly a helicopter? Cable ties. Really? But that is just me, nit-picking. The movie is entertaining and, breathe it quietly, quite sexy, particularly when perfect sweaty bodies are accompanied by Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love’.  The mix of sex, luxury lifestyle and beautiful people is irresistible. I eagerly await the sequel.

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