Archive for July, 2016


The Shallows – Movie Review

In preparation for my viewing of The Shallows, I started thinking about what some of the best shark movies are and I’m disappointed to say that there aren’t many. Obviously Jaws is the king of the subgenre, but over 40 years later and we really haven’t gotten much else. Open Water would probably be my runner-up choice and while Deep Blue Sea is fun, it’s also incredibly stupid. So The Shallows – directed by Jaume Collet-Serra – is actually pretty rare; it’s a shark movie treated with care and doesn’t feel like a low-budget movie that should belong on a sci-fi channel. Is it the best shark movie since Jaws? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a welcome surprise.

Still grieving over the death of her mother, Nancy (Blake Lively) has run away from her family and her responsibilities in medical school. She’s traveling the world and has decided to go surfing on a beach that holds a special connection to her late mother. The secret beach is absolutely beautiful and the only people who seem to know of its existence are two local surfers and the driver that brought her there. As she’s catching the last wave of the day, Nancy notices a dying whale that’s washed into shallow waters. As she floats over to investigate, the bleeding whale attacks a massive shark, which takes a bite out of Nancy. Now stranded on a rock mere hundreds of feet from shore, Nancy will have to use all of her strength and knowledge to outsmart the Great White Beast.

The Shallows starts very strong, with a simply premise that’s told efficiently. Nancy is being terrorized by a big shark, but its size has nothing to do with experimentation or radioactive waste. The idea of being stranded so close to shore may seem like a stretch, but it’s pretty realistic when compared to other shark films. The screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski does a great job at making the audience feel like they’re a part of Nancy’s situation and Collet-Serra provides a steady line of suspense that peaks at a few crucial moments. There are some moments here where the shark will make you jump out of your seat and not since the original Jaws has a shark film so effectively created the feeling that an attack could come from anywhere at any time, particularly in the moments before we actually see the beast.

But what starts as a down-to-earth B-movie gets increasingly more ridiculous as time marches on. The final ten minutes of The Shallows take the simple premise and offer an unbelievable resolution. And the visual effects – which are excellent throughout the majority of the film – don’t hold up in some of the climactic moments involving a buoy. It’s as if a simple meal was ruined by the chef adding too many ingredients onto the dessert. But I’m always a fan of the journey over the destination, so while this certainly has its problems, this is prime summer entertainment. It will make you hungry for more shark movies.

The Shallows receives 3/4

If there’s one director working today who can be described as possessing movie magic, it has to be Steven Spielberg. The guy made us terrified of sharks, showed us how an alien can be a boy’s best friend and even convinced us that dinosaurs could once again walk the earth. Lately, his filmography has consisted of more prestige historical dramas, such as Lincoln and Bridge of Spies. While this is fine, I’ve been hoping to see him make a return to the more fantastical stories that made us fall in love with him in the first place. The BFG is definitely a step in that direction; it might not be the great return that we were hoping for, but it certainly has its moments and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job with the material.

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a lonely young girl who wanders the halls of her orphanage at night due to her inability to sleep. One night, she hears a strange noise outside and after venturing over to the window for a peek, she spots a giant being (Mark Rylance) wandering the streets. This giant grabs her out of her bed and carries her to giant country. While she is initially frightened by this miraculously tall individual she soon learns that, unlike other giants, he doesn’t actually eat children. This giant is a vegetarian and he’s nicknamed the BFG (Big Friendly Giant). He and Sophie begin to form a close bond that’s put to the test when the two of them are forced to contend with a group of dangerous giants, led by the hateful Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement).

Based on Roald Dahl’s classic 1982 children’s book, The BFG is a solid effort from all involved, featuring humor, heart and great visual effects. The core of the film is the relationship between Sophie and the BFG and the two great performances from Barnhill and Rylance ensures that their friendship feels as real as possible. Barnhill’s Sophie is charming and relatable, giving us a nice point-of-view as we enter this strange world of giants. Rylance excellently captures the unique personality of the BFG and the screenplay from the late Melissa Mathison hilariously showcases his inability to grasp the English language. This is a legitimately funny film, one that will generate laughs from audience members of any age. A third-act sequence in Buckingham Palace is nothing short of delightful and it gives us the rare opportunity to see Spielberg attempt a fart joke and actually succeed.

What ultimately drags the film down is that it’s pretty forgettable and lacks any fun adventure sequences. It opens strong, sags a lot in the middle, before ending on a high note. Maybe this is just because the film feels too long, but adding in more memorable moments of suspense and adventure certainly wouldn’t have hurt. And while everything regarding the BFG’s concoctions of dreams is an essential part of the plot, its portrayal onscreen is pretty boring. Spielberg does the best he can with the material and while it has its problems, more things work than don’t. Spielberg may be getting older, but he hasn’t forgotten how to make a movie for kids.

The BFG receives 3/4

The idea of a 12-hour Purge where all crime is considered legal is admittedly a ridiculous premise. It’s difficult to imagine any country getting to that level of desperation, let alone the United States. But you know what else has been completely ridiculous? This election cycle. Regardless of your political views, there’s no denying that this has been one of the most over-the-top and entertaining presidential elections in history. So it seems like perfect timing to have these two ideas meet in The Purge: Election Year, the third film in the popular horror franchise. It has potential to really highlight some broad issues with society today, but writer/director James DeMonaco seems to have mistaken subtlety for obvious, in-your-face messages. Not only is this film not half as smart as it wants to be, it also fails to deliver a quality horror movie as well.

Two years after the events of The Purge: Anarchy, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) is now the head of security for presidential hopeful Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a senator who vows to outlaw the Purge if elected. Her main opponent is Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), a representative of the New Founding Fathers, the political party responsible for starting the Purge in the first place. This makes her a clear target and while Barnes ensures that Roan’s home is protected on the night of the Purge, a betrayal from within their group proves that she’s no longer safe. After an assault on her home, she and Barnes venture out into the streets and attempt to survive the one night a year where all crime – including murder – is legal.

I’ve always been a big fan of the premise of these films, but despite a great idea, DeMonaco has yet to deliver the goods. Their attempt at social commentary is incredibly surface level and this film’s focus on politics only creates more inherent problems with the premise. I’m willing to go with this ridiculous idea, but once they start focusing on the politics of it all, it becomes increasingly harder to accept as a reality. But even with these problems, they still can’t even deliver a decent horror film. DeMonaco is simply not a good director, failing to offer up any legitimate scares or compelling action sequences. Many of the films villains are so ridiculously over-the-top that they become comical and any of the film’s attempts at intended humor are cringeworthy at the best and borderline intolerant at the worst. Frank Grillo and Elizabeth Mitchell make for a compelling pair, but that doesn’t stop The Purge: Election Year from being another disappointment in the franchise. These films are nothing more than a great idea in search of a great movie.

The Purge: Election Year receives 1.5/4