The Shallows

Just when you thought it was finally safe to go back in the water…

Jaws (1975) revolutionised cinema in three ways. 1) It established the career of a certain well-known director by the name of Steven Spielberg. 2) It was one of the first, if not the first, Blockbuster movie. 3) It made sharks seem really really scary, continuing to turn generation after generation into galeophobics (those with an intense fear of water due to sharks). 41 years later (yep, just take a minute to ponder that!) The Shallows comes along, using a great white shark to once more terrify audiences. Does it work? For the most part yes it really does!

Shortly after the death of her mother medical student Nancy (Blake Lively) decides to take a break from college and go travelling. She’s decided to retrace her mother’s steps and has travelled to a secret beach in Mexico to surf. Her favourite photo of her mother is her being stood on the beach, surfboard in hand, just after finding out she was pregnant with Nancy. Kind local Carlos (Óscar Jaenada) drives Nancy to the beach and drops her off. Nancy proceeds to surf for hours, first alongside two local residents and then on her own. After sensing a commotion in the water she travels a little further out when a great white shark attacks. A badly wounded Nancy drags herself to a pile of rocks roughly 200m from the shore, but the beast is circling and stopping her from reaching the shore. What will follow is a test of wills between man and nature – will Nancy survive?

In the 41 years since Jaws (again, can you believe it?!?) about 83 movies (yep, I counted) featuring killer sharks have graced big, small and non existent screens. For every Jaws there’s been at least ten Jaws:The Revenge. Thankfully The Shallows  is more like the former than the latter.

There’s a few reasons The Shallows has the makings of something of a modern masterpiece. There’s the fact it’s a bottle thriller – a movie set solely in one small location, think Buried (2010), Moon (2009) and 127 Hours (2010)- is an excellent decision. Bottle movies play us right in the situation the characters are in , we the audience cannot escape just as the character we are watching cannot. Having Nancy trapped on a small pile of rocks, that are soon to disappear with the tide, really ratchets up the tension. It allows us to connect with the tension she is feeling and develop our own sympathy tension. Even though we have only just meet her we know quite a chunk about her and we are desperate for her to pull through, no matter how unlikely that regularly seems.

This, however, would not be as effective were it not for Lively’s performance. It is not hyperbolic or oversimplified to say she carries this film. For the majority of the film, aside from a temporary companion seagull she names Steven, she is alone on screen. At least 60 minutes pass where she has no-one to communicate with and no-one to help her. Lively excels in communicating every emotion – from the pain of her energy, the horrendous worry over her situation to her savvy quick mindedness as she handles each situation. Should it have really been warranted Lively truly proves her skill as a fine actress.

Her excellent performance is immensely well served by the cinematography. The sequences of the shark attacking are as chilling as you’d hope/expect/want. The scenes where the shark cannot be seen, when we know it is lurking, are equally-wracking. An excellent balance is used between showing the beauty of this secluded and breath-taking beach along with the horror that lurks beneath the surface. There’s also an effective integration of social media/mobile phones early on which whilst highlighting this is a modern movie also had to the believability of the situation and of Nancy as a character.

The only negative has to be the final 5 minutes/ ending which really test the realms of believability.

All in all The Shallows has plenty of thrills and chills, with scares that will compel  most of the audience. And, at less than 90 minutes long, it’s a taut and lean thriller. Well worth a watch.

3.4

‘The Shallows‘ is in cinemas now. 

Pete’s Dragon

A truly affecting and oh-so-lovely modern fairytale.

I saw this yesterday with my friend Galia. I think we both went in thinking, eh this will just be a kids movie. We both left the cinema post-film as hot messes having cried, a lot. Having not seen the original movie from 1977 and choosing not to look up the film beyond the trailer I expected to be entertained. I hadn’t expected to be so completely moved. Few films are this much of a treat to watch and even fewer will leave you feeling so drained yet consumed by a happy glow. A cinematic gem with little equal!

Five year-old Pete (Oakes Fegley) was orphaned by a car accident. Lost and alone in the woods it looks certain that he will not survive for long. However help, and friendship, comes in the most unlikely and unbelievable of places – a dragon who lives in the woods. Pete names his new friend Elliot and six years of undisturbed friendship follow. However after spying on a of lumberjacks a series of events results in Pete being discovered and taken away by park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). She, and the rest of the town, cannot believe that Pete survived six years on his own in the woods. Yet Pete is insistent he wasn’t alone, though he struggles to explain who/what Elliot actually is. Maybe Grace’s father (Robert Redford), who has claimed for decades that he once meet a dragon in the very same woods, will be able to help?

It’s actually a real struggle to explain just how wonderful, marvellous, fantastic this movie is without repeatedly using the aforementioned adjectives. It’s just so ruddy lovely! Part of this surprise and pleasure comes from how unexpectedly brilliant the film is. Considering how certain disappointments (again I’m going to name and shame Suicide Squad here) have been advertised non-stop for months Pete’s Dragon quietly got on. Some beautiful posters here and a very well-done trailer there a quiet buzz was created as opposed to some enormous fiery roar. Whilst this certainly works in the film’s favour it’s the quality of what on over here that truly casts a wondrous spell over the audience.

Few films, be that kids movies or otherwise, are this captivating and beautiful. For the visuals alone are gorgeous – the settings are spectacular and the special effects of a certain friendly dragon are fantastic. The character’s are brilliant as are the actor’s performances. Bryce Dallas Howard (who I found rather problematic in last year’s Jurassic World) is warm and delightful as Grace. Redford is a charming old codger, a likeable grandfather-figure with that certain twinkle in his eyes.  Wes Bentley is more than fine as Grace’s fiancee, Karl Urban is yet again a treat to watch (his second great role of this year after Star Trek Beyond) as his gung-ho  brother and Oona Laurence gives a really lovely performance as Jack’s daughter and Pete’s new-found friend.

Yet the two stars of this movie have to the the eponymous duo. Fegley as Pete is so captivating and heartfelt to watch. His backstory, which opens the film, is as dark and emotional as that of Bambi (1942). His performance is so natural and carefree that he is a real to joy to watch. The fact his main screen companion is a product of computer animation provides him with no trouble (just as Neel Sethi in this year’s The Jungle Book) and he convinces us with ease. My maternal instinct really made regular appearances as we watch his various emotional turmoils. I also fell in love with Elliot the dragon – so much so I’ve got a niggling need to buy this plushie from the Disney Store. He’s a magnificent cinematic creation, fully developed with a great balance between goof, charm and undivided loyalty. It says so much about the developments in cinema that a computer generated character such as Elliot fits in seamlessly. Elliot looks, sounds and moves like a real creature – something I desperately wish for! 

‘Pete’s Dragon’ is a true pleasure to watch for both children and adults. It’s completely charming, sincerely soulful and magnificently mystical. Unlikely to be beaten for the title of family movie of 2016.

4.5

Pete’s Dragon is in UK cinemas now. 

 

Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates

The men might have their names in the title but it’s the women who steal the show.

It you’re in need of an antidote to disappointing blockbusters (see Suicide Squad), you’re not a big fan of science fiction (see Star Trek Beyond) and for whatever reason can’t stand kids films (erm maybe you’re heartless…see Finding Dory, I guess..?) then this film just about does the job. If you like your frat pack movies and love watching a bit of raunch then you’re going to love this.

Mike (Adam Devine) and his younger brother Dave (Zac Efron) are renowned  for their behaviour at family events. They think they get the party started, their family think they end all the parties with reckless and dangerous behaviour after getting each other relied up. Their sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard) is about to get married to Eric (Sam Richardson) so the family issue the brothers an ultimatum to prevent them from running their big day – if they want to attend they must bring wedding dates. They post an ad on Craigslist – offering an all expenses trip to Hawaii for two ‘nice girls’ in return for accompanying them as their wedding dates. The ad goes viral, with the brothers even going on tv to discuss their search. That when definitely not ‘nice girls’ Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick) find out about the search, deciding to pose as ‘nice girls’ they end up accompanying Mike and Dave to the wedding. The boys quickly discover their newfound companions  are far wilder than expected. 

This film is not the greatest comedy to come out of this millennium. In fact once this summer finishes I doubt it will ever be remembered. And yet, for right now, it more than serves its purpose of a summer comedy. It easily passes the six laugh test and most of the jokes are hits rather than misses. And even with the misses the jokes come so frequently the miss is quickly remedied. The standout joke, which was so throwaway you might even miss it, has to be when Tatiana is talking about one experience when she was so high she read a shampoo bottle for 13 hours. The delivery and the punchline itself caused me to giggle myself silly, so much so I nearly had tears of laughter.

The story rarely strays from an unexpected path and is at times rather predictable – though this is not a huge problem considering how entertaining it ends up being. Based ‘sort of’ on a true story (one which I fully intend to investigate further) it’s great fun to watch the situation escalate with a series of raucous situations. The film is reliant, almost overly, on it’s cast to provide the personality and charm of the characters. Yet, rather pleasingly, it’s something all of the cast succeed at.

We’ll go in order of introduction. Mike, played by Devine in his first leading man role, does well. He brings the oddball charm he’s most known for providing in both Pitch Perfect movies (here’s my review of the sequel ) and tv series Modern Family whilst going to even more extreme lengths. Whether it’s the fact he shares most of his screen time with old pro Efron (old pro aged 28- ha!) it occasionally comes across that he is trying to too-hard leading his character to be gratingly over-the-top. On the whole, however, he provides many laughs. Best moment: his meltdown over his behaviour.

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Then there’s Dave. Efron plays the role with ease, providing a nice and easy comic groove he has been displaying in recent years. His character here is far more likeable than his character in Bad Neighbours 2 and plays the more rational of the two brothers very well. At times it does feel like he’s coasting on his admittedly innate charm and yet then brings it out with some excellent delivery. Best moment:  his relationship with Alice.

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The film’s most valued player has to be Aubrey Plaza. She plays Tatiania to deadpan perfection – think April from Parks & Rec but wilder and raunchier. She easily out-grosses and out-does the boys. Her adept skill at manipulating the boys and concealing their boozy and stoned behaviours provides much hilarity. Best moment: the aforementioned shampoo gag.

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The big surprise from the four had to be Anna Kendrick as Alice. Kendrick USP tends to be character who are clever, deadpan and kick-ass with a bit of goofiness. Here she is more than a bit ditzy, a bit dim and completely goofy. Normally she seems really with it and together, here she’s a total loose cannon. It really works, bringing a sweetness and sincerity that balances well with Plaza’s powers of evisceration. Best moment: her flashbacks of her not-quite wedding.

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 It’s down to the chemistry and in-syncness of the four leads that allow this film to work so well. It’s crude, rather rude, not massively memorable and yet funny enough to fill in 100 minutes running time. If the heatwave we are promised in the upcoming weeks does actually arrive this film is a great excuse to hide in an air conditioned cinema!

stars

‘Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates’ is in UK cinema now. 

 

Lights Out

Be aware of things that lurk in the dark…

If, like me, you are afraid of both the dark and mannequins you will pretty much be done in by the opening sequence. If they’d also included spiders I probably would have walked out… Anyway ‘Lights Out’ is a feature film adaptation of a rather successful short film (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOI4bJ0-IrY). On the whole it is a very effective horror movie, utilising old-fashioned fears and old-fashioned scares to great effect.

Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) left the family home a long time ago. She now lives in an apartment on her own, far away from her mother Sophie (Maria Bello) and half-brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman). She’s been dating Bret (Alexander DiPersia) for eight months but struggles with the concept that he is her ‘boyfriend’ – these issues with relationships stem from her turbulent past with her mother that lead her to leave home as soon as she could. Several months have past since the mysterious death of her step-father Paul (Billy Burke) when her brother gets back in touch. It appears their mother, who has a history of mental illness, is struggling again. But when Martin explains some of the strange ongoings in the house, including their mother talking to a friend called Diane when she is actually talking to herself  and strange things being seen in the dark, Rebecca becomes desperate to unlock the truth and soon comes face-to-face with a terror that haunts the shadows. 

Horror is not exactly one of my favourite genres. Honest admission time: I’m easily scared by some of the most ridiculous things and really don’t take pleasure from being scared. Attending this preview screening at The Soho Hotel (which genuinely has the fanciest toilets in London, a comment unrelated to the fact I saw a horror film there!) seemed like a stupid notion, especially as I was going on my own, and yet I went. And I actually really enjoyed the film. Admittedly I clutched the armrest of my chair  (very comfy/fancy seat I hasten to add!) for the entire running time and watched a good third of the movie through my fingers…yet I was somewhat surprised at how much I appreciated the film. Impressively for all the terror I felt I underwent I laughed a lot to, with the film not at it. It easily passed the six laugh test with intentional gags.

At just under 90 minutes long it’s taut, no time is wasted on unnecessary scenes or information. The pacing is strong and unrelenting. The story itself takes familiar tropes of horror films (‘Don’t go in the basement!’ ‘Why are you going on your own?!?’ etc.) and plays around with them. Some moments do not surprise and some moments really do. Whilst there are some rather obvious elements to the story, and a rather problematic use of mental illness to explain character behaviours/story, there is enough freshness to everything that make these issues less jarring.

This is also helped by some excellent acting by the cast. The central trio are definitely three actors to look out for. Eleven year old Bateman, playing Martin, is fantastic as one of the leads. He conveys an excellent amount of emotion and really holds his own amongst the cast. Palmer as Rebecca was certainly convincing balancing her desperate need to know with an adequate amount of logic and cynicism. DiPersia as her boyfriend was a magnetic presence on the screen and suitably charming. The only issues I had with their ‘relationship’ was the obviousness of their characters – both being dressed in black, her music choices and the themes of the posters decorating her apartment. It felt obvious what they were trying to say about her character and yet needless as this an element of the story that was not explored. Maria Bello did a good job with what she was given, although it felt undermined by the flawed use of mental illness to explain away her character and certain elements of the story.

And then there’s Diana, our villain of the story. Having a villain who can only appear in the dark is an inventive idea, one that is used to great and very effective effect. The places that she manages to pop up in..! And then there’s the noises we quickly come to associate with her – whenever she approaches the noise of fingers against a chalkboard pierces the air. Then, when she makes an attack, her roar (she literally roars) it’s actually really terrifying! Most of my deciding to watch some scenes through my fingers came from those noises. My only problem with her as a villain as how undefined her powers were, she seems to suddenly have a skill for every means and possess multiple superpowers. These skills come with no explanation or discussion and soon become convenient rather than believable. And yet she still managed to unnerve me so greatly I did sleep the following night with my bedside lamp on. Just in case.

‘Lights Out’ is a more than solid horror movie, providing thrills and chills within a neat less than 90 minute running. A great way to spent the evening watching, then much of the night trying to forget!

stars

‘Lights Out’ is in UK cinemas from August 19th. 

 

Central Intelligence

A surprisingly hilarious Summer comedy

Central Intelligence does not try to reinvent the wheel, it has the typical rhythms and beats of a Summer buddy-movie, but this is not a bad thing. Though it may have the cliches and lazy set-up it is a genuinely hilarious movie that works far better than you’d expect. Plus, some unexpected and on point Sixteen Candles references for the 80’s movie connoisseurs among us (as in I started cry-laughing at one point..)

In 1996, during the last senior assembly school legend Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) is awarded the school prize for ‘Most Likely To Succeed’. In the very same assembly overweight school loser Richard Wheirdicht (Dwayne Johnson) is thrown into the room by the school bullies, completely naked. Richard leaves school and is never seen again. 20 years later and a school reunion is on the horizon. Calvin, who married his high school sweetheart Maggic (Danielle Nicolet), is refusing to go as he does not feel he has truly ‘succeeded’ at life and feels like he peaked at high school. Seemingly by coincidence, on the day before the reunion, a mysterious ‘Bob Stone’ adds Calvin on Facebook. It turns out that is the name Richard now goes by. The two meet and Calvin cannot believe the transformation Richard/Bob has undergone. He also can’t believe the series of events that follow which result in his being wanted by the CIA…

In terms of storyline this film will not win awards for originality, the school reunion as a concept is an overused plot point. As is the ‘wrong man’ story arc. As is the generic misunderstandings and bland gunplay that occurs as a result. And yet, in terms of execution, Central Intelligence does an excellent job of standing out from the rest of the crowd.  This is primarily due to the star power the film has, which it utilizes to it’s fullest. Kevin Hart does his usual Kevin Hart schtick – lots of shrieking combined with lots of race and short jokes – yet it ends up being more bearable than usual. This is down to the fact that his character Calvin is rather well-rooted, a conflicted character who we end up actually caring for. It’s a universal fear to worry that you have not fulfilled your potential, that you should/could/would have done things differently. His character arc covers this well and ends with a resolution that isn’t all that cloying.

However, this is Dwayne Johnson’s show. The man is a comedic revelation – creating a character who is imposing physically yet haunted by insecurities, truly funny both intentionally and unintentionally, and a proper oddball. This is a man who wears a unicorn tee with pride, unironically owns fanny packs (aka bum-bags) and whose favourite movie is Sixteen Candles.He could also hurt or kill you very easily. Yet what Johnson manages to do, in a film that isn’t perhaps the most nuanced seeming, is provide his character with more than one dimension. As goofy as his character appears he still seems rather real, rather loveable and rather riotous. 

Although it is the two leads that drive the movie and make it as unexpectedly entertaining as it is honourable mentions have to go to the supporting cast. Amy Ryan is excellent as the deadpan CIA boss. Jason Bateman awful (as in nasty character, Bateman is never awful!) yet brilliant as the school bully. Aaron Paul as Bob Stone’s ex CIA partner is brilliant. There’s also a cameo from a female comedy actress that I don’t want to spoil (it’s a small part but a goody). Also, for the Veronica Mars fans amongst you Ryan Hansen (Dick Casablancas) plays the kind of character you’d expect and that he does oh so well. 

Central Intelligence will surprise you. It will make you laugh more than you’d think and has a lovely feel good message. Plus, for a mainstream Hollywood comedy, it has a superb amount of oddness that makes it something of a rarity. Unpredictably delightful.

stars