Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How to Survive a Shark Attack

Despite its obvious flaws I quite enjoyed last year’s ‘The Shallows,’ a movie about a cat-and-mouse game between a Great White Predator and Blake Lively’s hapless surfer-in-peril (reviewed here: Blake Lively kicks Shark Butt), so when the new Jaws-inspired movie ’47 Meters Down’ came under my radar I just knew I had to see it.  One blurb even called it “the best shark film since Jaws,” so you’ll have to forgive me for jumping the shark, I mean into my local mega-plex to see it the first change I got.
The basic plot of 47MD is bloodily simple.  Easy-on-the-eyes siblings Kate and Lisa (Aussie actress Claire Holt and singer/actress Mandy Moore) go on vacay in Mexico to help the latter get over her recent separation with her boyfriend, who had the gall to break up with her because he considered her “boring.”  Needing to send her ex-BF a “FU, you don’t know what you’re missing” and reasoning that “I’ll be enclosed in a sturdy steel cage and people did it all the time, so what could possibly go wrong?", Lisa (who does seem to be a tame and risk-averse gal in the movie) threw caution into the wind and reluctantly allowed her wilder and more spontaneous little sis Kate to talk her into going on a cage dive in shark-infested waters after a couple of local young eligible bachelors they met at a bar the previous night suggested it.  What could possibly go wrong?  The law of “Murphy” of course.
I was disappointed.  After sitting through a third of the movie following the sisters around with all their girl-talk and issues before they become shark bait, the big payoff I expected never materialized.  Unlike ‘The Shallows,’ the tension and suspense failed to build-up to a level that kept me at the edge of my seat, and the sense of danger and peril were sorely lacking in this film.  47MD may be more realistic in its depiction of real-life shark encounters wherein a survivor lived to tell the Shark tale, but sometimes movies have to ratchet it up a few notches and over-dramatize things to keep us interested even if every marine biologist tells us that sharks aren’t the aggressive, human-chomping monsters pop culture made them out to be.  Even the original ‘Jaws’ went pretty far, right?  And I was shaking my head in utter disbelief when I saw the (spoiler ahead) faux ending sequence in which Lisa fought off tooth-and-nail the shark that had her firmly in its grips by ripping one of its eyes out, but then I read this hard-to-believe story: How to Survive a Shark Attack.  Regardless, I still liked the badass, don’t mess with Blake Lively ending of ‘The Shallows’ much better.  Sorry, reality is just soooo boring.

Grade: C+

All in the Family

I admit I am a bit of a sucker for low-budget indie horror and have, as you might expect, seen my share of both good ones and bad.  For every ‘Paranormal Activity’ and ‘Get Out,’ there is an ‘As Above, So Below’ and ‘Ouija.’  There are movies that were critically maligned that I somehow enjoyed, such as the unabashedly exploitative ‘The Purge,’ and ones that critics raved about that I thought aren't very good, like the highly overrated ‘It Follows.’  The latest such movie to get a wide release is A24’s ‘It Comes at Night’ which falls somewhere in between being just so-so. 
‘It Comes at Night’ (don't ask me what comes at night because I still can't figure it out) can best be characterized as post-apocalyptic survival psychological suspense horror (now that’s a mouthful).  A family of three comprising of a father, mother and their teenage son (played by Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr.) live in a secluded house in the woods of an unspecified location in America.  A plague or disease of unknown origin has ravaged the world outside, and the characters’ (and by extension the audience’s) situation awareness is so limited that all we know is what’s happening in the "here and now. " When another family of three including a little boy seeks their aid and appeals to their humanity for shelter, they agree to take in the family for mutual support and companionship. However, even sympathetic gestures such as this can lead to tragedy and disaster in the end.
While this glacially paced movie is fairly well written and solidly acted, it is not an easy film to watch.  Not only is ‘It Comes at Night’ bleak, depressing and devoid of hope even by post-apocalyptic standards, its dark and tragic ending defies Hollywood conventions and leaves a bitter taste in our mouths.  Be forewarned.  All ye who enter this movie abandon hope because there is none to be found.

Grade: B

The She-Mummy

Universal Studio’s much ballyhooed “Dark Universe” appeared to be off to an inauspicious start in producer/director Alex Kurtzman’s ‘The Mummy,’ the latest incarnation (or is it reincarnation) of one of Hollywood’s classic monsters harking back to the days of Boris Karloff.  Lambasted by critics and shunned by moviegoers, ‘The Mummy’ bombed with a disappointing domestic take of $32 million on opening week and suffered a steep 60 percent drop over the past weekend.  The final nail seems to have been driven into the $125 million dollar movie’s coffin before you can ask “What the hell happened?”  Well, something funny, that’s what.  With the savvy Tom Cruise at the helm, ‘The Mummy’ proved to be a mega-blockbuster hit overseas, particularly in China.  The film has now grossed nearly $240 million worldwide, of which less than $50 million came out of the North American market.  Just let that sink in for a minute.  What would Hollywood do without the Chinese?
The critics are right though.  The story (credited to Kurtzman, Jon Spaihts and Jenny Lumet)  is pretty bad.  Cruise plays Nick Morton, a sleazy ex-Special Forces sergeant and shameless tomb raider who had no qualms selling priceless artifacts that belong in museums on the black market for personal gain.  When he accidentally awakened the mummy of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian princess who sold her soul to Set and murdered her own family for the throne but was thwarted in her quest to become queen of Egypt, Morton must draw upon every ounce of his wits and ability in order to prevent worldwide catastrophe with the help of archeologist and out of central casting cookie-cutter blond sidekick Jenny Halsey (Anabelle Wallis).
The main problem with ‘The Mummy’ isn’t that it’s unwatchable.  The problem is that it cannot be judged on its own merits without comparing it to the 1999 version directed by Stephen Sommers starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and John Hannah.  While that movie was no masterpiece by any stretch, it was fun and the perfect Indiana Jones-inspired popcorn flick.  By contrast, this latest is a weak effort that’s a sloppy slapdash mish mash of various influences, and the film suffered for it stylistically and tonally.  I mean, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, really?  Also, Cruise and Wallis lacked the sheer on-screen chemistry of Frasier and Weisz.  If anything, this film brings to mind another expensive and messy failure, 'Van Helsing,' whose director happened to be the same guy who directed the 1999 version.

Grade: C

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Princess Diana of Themyscira

Superhero moviedom gets a good dose of “Girl Power” in DC Extended Universe’s ‘Wonder Woman,’ director Patty Jenkin’s highly anticipated and “trail-blazing” film featuring a superheroine in a genre overrepresented by men (just ask yourself, how many such movies end with the suffix “Man”?).  Much hand-wringing and no small amount of feminist drama, including a controversy over WW’s shaved armpit (hairy armpit "controversy"), preceded the movie’s release as Hollywood held its collective breath to see if the world is finally ready to embrace and, more importantly, financially reward a movie with a female headliner.
Having made more than $100 million over its first weekend in North America and twice that globally, we can all now breathe a sigh of relief.  Not that there’s really any doubt, since WW was well-received and a bright spot in 2016’s ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (reviewed here: Bats vs Supes: Dawn of Justice), her very first appearance in the DCEU.  Israeli stunner "what a Gal!" Gadot was nothing less than gorgeous as the Amazonian Goddess Diana Prince, the greatest warrior princess on an invisible island full of Xenas.  After British pilot and spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) unwelcomely crash lands on her secluded island paradise, she joins him and embarks on a mission outside her sheltered world to stop Ares (as in the God of War) and put an end to man’s greatest folly, which happens to be World War I at the time.
Relying on familiar storytelling tropes such as the opening scene in which an old war photograph from Bruce Wayne triggers her story via flashback, WW’s origin is a nostalgic affair reminiscent of the story of another idealistic red, white and blue-clad do-gooder who fought Germans during the last century in ‘Captain America: The First Avenger.’  Partly set in London during the early 20th Century, WW also provides some levity in the way of a British comedy of manners.  And even though Zack Snyder stepped aside as director this time his influence is still evident, like the 300-esque visual style and jerky slow motion action scenes throughout the movie.

Grade: A