The Shallows (2016)

shallows1The Shallows almost immediately lost me when the main character apologized for being an American. It remained iffy with some out-of-place choppy editing (intermittent slo-mo) in an early surfing sequence — just jarringly awful.  However, the film quickly recomposed itself to be visually stunning and suspenseful.

Blake Lively is returning to the beach where her mother went when she was pregnant with Blake. Having not seen Touristas, Hostel, The Ruins, Jaws or basically any movie ever, Blake goes to the remote beach alone. She does not even have a car which might be spotted or reported missing.

She meets up with two locals and they ride the waves.  The landscape is beautiful and the surfing — awful editing aside — is great.  There is even a fun shot of the shark inside of the cresting wave.  I don’t know if it is aquatically accurate, but it is a nice visual.

The guys leave, but she just has to get one last ride in.  That is when the trouble starts. Without recapping the obvious, she is attacked by a shark.  However, the story does go places I’ve never seen and is never boring.  There is a B-story with her father that seems extraneous, but does give texture and closure to the story.  It might be a little perfunctory and cliche, but there’s a reason some things become perfunctory and cliche — they work.

Is the ending credible?  Is that even an issue?  Were the endings of any of the Jaws movies credible, even the first one?  Only the book had a credible ending and that was a complete bore.

This is Gravity in the water, but I don’t mean that as an insult.  A woman is alone, her companions killed, surrounded by a hostile unbreathable environment, can see home but can’t get to it, makes her way to “islands” of momentary safety grasping at any opportunity to survive, she wins by using her wits, and ends up exhausted on a beach.

Highly recommended.

Bonus points:  Blake Lively’s character is a woman rather than the usual immature Hollywood little girl, she is a medical student, she surfs, she clearly takes care of herself, she helped raise her little sister after their mother died, she is confident enough to go to this remote beach alone, she improvises sutures and bandages on a big-ass shark bite, she survives while the men die, she defeats the shark, and after her ordeal, she returns to surfing.

But some delicate snowflakes are saying it is exploitation because she wears a bikini to the beach, and applies sunscreen.

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation

missionimpossible501As usual, my lousy memory prevents me from getting too detailed, but a few observations:

My usual routine is to arrive at a movie 10-15 minutes late to avoid the too-loud, spoilery, misleadingly-cut trailers.  Lately they have been running an absurd 17 to 20 minutes. However, at both this movie and and Edge of Tomorrow (also starring Tom Cruise) last year, there have only been 5 to 10 minutes of trailers. Does Tom Cruise have that much power?

I was immediately not crazy about the opening arrangement of the iconic score, however, patriot that I am, something else disturbed me more.  Movies’ interminable production companies and logos are getting very tedious.  In the first few seconds of the film, I was presented with China Movie Channel, Alibaba Pictures Group, and Alec Baldwin — all three names have the connotation of hair-trigger hatred of Americans.  I have never heard of these companies, they might be perfectly fine fellows.  Seriously, Baldwin is a dick, though.

Just one more complaint:  It really is a great scene (that has been spoiled to death in marketing) where Tom Cruise is hanging off the side of the plane.  And make no mistake, it is thrilling not because it is Ethan Hunt, but because it is Tom Cruise — this has nothing to do with acting.  This guy knows how to put on a show.  That’s not the complaint.

No, once Cruise gets into the plane — as you knew he would — he finds himself discovered by a guard.  Defenseless against the armed soldier, he always finds a way — he pulls the parachute deployment handle, pulling him and the canisters of toxic gas out of the back hatch of the airplane.  What really bugged me was that we literally get about one frame of the crate moving toward the back of the plane, then cut to credits.  Blink and you’ll miss it.

No shot of him clinging to the crate as it falls, no shot of him standing triumphantly on top of it after the parachute deploys?   Seemed like some great potential shots wasted there.

Other than that, excellent.

The Gift (2015)

gift01And now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together[1].

In Arrested Development, Jason Bateman (Simon) was a master in his reactions to the other actors — always perfectly tailored to the other character and the situation, not lazily falling back on stock responses — the exact opposite of “walking through a part.”

In the 20 years since high school, his character Simon has also been a master at moderating his responses; so well that he has hidden his true face from his wife for their for their entire life together.

Simon has moved with wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) back to his hometown in California hopefully to get a national sales position with an electronics security firm. Despite his line of work, it never occurs to him to install some security cameras around the house once things start getting a little weird.

While stocking up at a fancy housewares store, he is awkwardly approached by Gordo, an old high school acquaintance.  Since Gordo is ultimately revealed to be something of a loser, his presence in Bed, Bath and Beyond His Price Range is a little odd.  In fact, the meeting does not entirely feel coincidental, but it is presented as such.

Simon never uses the phone number that Gordo gave him at BB&BHPR, but Gordo does leave a house-warming gift on their front steps.  They feel obliged — or mostly Robyn does — to invite him over for dinner to share the wine.  It is expectedly awkward, and not because it was a bad vintage.

After an unannounced visit when Simon is at work one day, Robyn feels obligated to invite him in for tea.  The next day, Robyn sees that Gordo has sneakily left another gift at their doorstep — a bag of fish food.  She looks down and sees that he has also stocked their new koi pond.

Still not getting the message, Gordo invites Simon and Robyn to his house for a dinner party.  Simon is ready to cut Gordo off, but Robyn persuades him to at least attend the dinner.  It begins oddly, first as they are shocked to see Gordo’s residence is of Kennedyesque proportions down to including a steel gate to prevent escapees; then as they are told the other couple supposedly had to cancel at the last minute; and Gordo admits he is divorced — so it is just the three of them again.

After more weirdness, Simon has had enough and orders Robyn to the Batemobile[2] while he tells Gordo that they are not going to be BFFs.

At that point, despite an effective cloak of awkwardness over the whole movie thus far, the plot really starts into motion.  The koi fish are found belly-up and the dog is missing. Simon immediately suspects Gordo (rather than the more obvious canine fishkiller) and calls the police.  It did take me out of the picture when one of the detectives was Detective Bunk Moreland from The Wire.  It was just a dumb casting choice — like if they had cast Peter Falk as police detective, you would think “Why is Columbo here?” Then “Isn’t he dead?”

It becomes a bit of a cat and mouse game between Simon and Gordo, with Gordo losing a bit in each encounter even when he appears to win.  Slowly Robyn learns what a bully Simon had been in high school, what he did to Gordo, and that he really hasn’t changed all that much.  He is still able to manipulate and ruin lives without a second of remorse.

He refuses to take responsibility for the lies about Gordo 20 years ago that nearly led to his death, and he has the Clintonian mind of a sociopath, running background checks on people and keeping them hidden on a secret server in a locked desk drawer to be used at opportune (i.e. blackmail-friendly) moments.

Simon’s deceptions and false face crumble piece by piece so effectively, that you almost feel sorry for him.  Especially given the ultimate gotcha that Gordo springs on Simon.

This was a great small movie that I had heard nothing about, and went in completely blind.  Writer / Director Joel Edgerton performed admirably in all capacities.  But maybe he really is a creepy guy, so I can’t comment on his range.

Some people say that Rebecca Hall was given just another woman’s do-nothing role “as usual” in Hollywood.  This is just the standard whining.  Her role is fine, and the movie is really the tug-of-war between the two men.

Surprisingly good stuff.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Much as I love Arrested Development, I never understood why he “had no choice but to keep them all together.”
  • [2] Ha!  Bateman and Robyn!
  • I’m normally a fan of short hair, but Rebecca Hall really needed to grow it out a bit.

Terminator Genisys (2015)

Image 001Where to start?  Where to stop?  That’s kind of the film’s problem too.

I couldn’t take notes in the theater or rewind to catch anything I missed, so this pretty bare bones.

Arnold – Great!  They were smart not to try to make him look 30 years younger.  I was disappointed, though, that they didn’t find some way to have Bill Paxton play one of the punks again.  Or Brian Thompson.  They probably could have picked up the 3rd guy pretty cheap.

John Connor – Played by Jason Clarke.  Didn’t like him in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, don’t like him here.  He is this year’s (and this Terminator’s) Sam Worthington.  He was tolerable in the future, but when he got to present day, he was awful.  I’m willing to say part of that is because his character arc was so ludicrous (nay, blasphemous!), and the action scenes were tedious.  The metal shavings bit could have been fun, but was derivative of T3, and just not well staged.

Sarah Connor – Played by Emelia Clarke who is on my shit list.  Game of Thrones made her a famous millionaire star and now she’s too good to do the nude scenes? Ironically, it is her hesitation to “mate” that provides some of the film’s few laughs. She is adequate here, although she is no Linda Hamilton or Lena Headey.  I can see her as an alternate timeline version of the waitress in T1, but she didn’t have the benefit of 20 years to prepare in that universe.  In this timeline, she had 20 years to prepare, and with a real Terminator, but she lacks the attitude and gravitas of T2 Sarah.  This is the woman who has been training 20 years for this day?

Kyle Reese – Played by Jai Courtney.  I can’t blame him for the shitfest that was Die Hard 5, but I can say he was such a non-entity that I can’t remember a single scene or line from him in that fiasco.  Hell, I saw Terminator Genisys yesterday and can say the same thing about him in that.  He and Aaron Taylor-Johnson from Godzilla must be from some new charisma-free school of acting.  Tobias Fünke honed his craft better at the Method One clinic.

J.K. Simmons – Great, basically playing the Dr. Silberman role.  Except this time he is trying to be part of the solution.  Or maybe just because they’re both bald.

Sadly, the only things that resonate in this movie are callbacks to the first two.  Even throwaway shots like the garbage man chomping on his cigar before the first time transport, Kyle’s feet slowly touching the ground in his new Nikes, the T-1000 incorporating a stray piece of his liquid metal into his body — they will be remembered long after the cartwheeling bus.

But mostly it is Arnold that saves the movie.  He is older for a legitimate reason, he has made slight progress in his humanity, and they gamely try to go for a “not obsolete just because you’re old” theme but don’t quite make it.  His T-800 is blatantly, yet improbably, set up for a sequel here, but where can they possibly go now that they have screwed things up so badly in this one? By the time we get to the third act, the nostalgia has been milked, the timeline is a mess, we are uninterested in the god-awful characters, and the action is just boring.

Reading a few other reviews, what strikes me is the lack of respect many have for T3. That was a fun, solid movie, even in spite of Nick Stahl and Claire Danes being grossly miscast.  Kristanna Loken as the Terminatrix, however, was every bit as good as Robert Patrick in T2.

Even better, and unmentioned in most reviews was The Sarah Connor Chronicles with Lena Headey in the titular role, and Summer Glau as another Terminatrix.  Say what you will about those hunter-killers . . . they can turn out some smokin’ product.

Headey made for a perfectly believable extension of Sarah Connor, despite lacking the natural resemblance that Emelia Clarke has.  Glau was great as the Terminatix, but sadly, they once again missed the boat on casting John Connor.  He was just too whiny and had a horrible haircut (seriously, it was awful enough to affect the quality of the show).  The writing seemed to go downhill in season 2, so maybe it was best to end it there.

Terminator Salvation — don’t remember a single frame.  I think a motorcycle came out of a robot leg or something.

I’ll probably give Terminator Genisys another chance on Netflix someday.  However, I own T1, T2, T3 and just bought Blu-Ray of The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  I don’t see me ever purchasing T4 or T5, even in the $5 bin.  You are Die Hard 5 to me.

Post-Post:

  • Robert Patrick and Michael Biehn were missed.
  • This might be the first incarnation of Terminator where Danny Dyson isn’t sent to his bedroom.  And WTF is Joe Morgan as Miles?
  • Arnold’s “upgrade” in T5 immediately reminded be of the nanite-driven upgrade of Jason Voorhees in Jason X (Jasonnnn innnn Spaaaaaaaace!).  I’m not a fan of the series, but Jason X is a vastly underrated hoot.
  • C’mon Spellcheck, I type nanite, and you want me to change it to Canaanite?  Well, they were also waiting for J.C. so maybe it fits.

It Follows (2014)

itfollows0120 minutes of previews?

First, we are treated to the wholly unnecessary remake of Poltergeist, a movie that was almost perfect in its original incarnation.  We see several of the same exact same beats — the houses built over the cemetery, the clown, the ghostbuster, the hands on the TV, the killer tree.  I can’t see this through the eyes of an 18 year old, but to anyone who saw the original back in the day, this preview pales on almost every point; and pales literally, since it is so dark.

Much of the success of the original was that it was constructed on sunny days, a new neighborhood, clean streets,and with a happy family with 2.5 kids — it was the Stephen King / Richard Matheson horror-in-our-own-neighborhood concept.  Everything in this trailer goes for the cliched dark motif. The “harmless” toy clown is now sports an evil smirk, the new home is described as a fixer-upper, even the absolutely radiant blonde original Carol Anne is now a brunette.

And JoBeth Williams might have been the first MILF, even before there was an acronym for the phenomena.  No one who enjoyed the original can be looking forward to this.

Insidious was fun.  Insidious 2 was fun, but got a little too busy in the final act.  Insidious 3 does not look like fun.  Like the Poltergeist remake, all of the scares in the trailer are cheap jump-scares.  And, for the love of God, can we have one movie that Lin Shaye is not in?  OK, she’s not in Poltergeist, but she has 10 movies in 2015 so far in IMDb.  Give someone else a chance.

On the other hand, Unfriended is not a sequel, looks like a low-budget joint and I didn’t recognize a single person in it.  Yet, miraculously, I actually got several real chills from its preview, and not a single goose-bump from the other two.  Maybe it will be crap, but it is the only one I could care less about seeing.

Each of these trailers was not 6+ minutes long, so there must have been others, but they were so uninteresting that I have forgotten them a few hours later.

And, hey Regal Cinema — no one cares about your nagging, product-placement-loaded roller coaster.  Yes, texters should be killed — I think we can all agree on that — but you’re just delaying the movie another minute.

And now our feature presentation . . .

itfollows02After seeing the film, I read many interpretations of It Follows.  I don’t know that I really subscribe to any of them.  Is it a metaphor for adolescence?  For a budding young love affair?  For an STD?  Does the water represent innocence?  Don’t know, don’t care.

We are thrust into the narrative immediately as we see a girl run from her house in a snappy lingerie set and spiked heels.  How this ensemble was put put together is not explained, but is worthy of later reflection by the viewer.  Her father comes after her, but she runs back into the house, presumably to get car keys as Victoria’s Secret still refuses to put pockets in their panties.  She ends up at the beach, dead with a leg bent at the knee — the wrong way.

After having the sex with Jay in the backseat of a car, Hugh chloroforms her and ties her to a chair. He explains to her and to us that he has passed along a curse (although that word is never used, so thank God no one is trotting out the menstruation metaphor again).  A thing is now going to follow her, but must never be allowed to catch her.  Only she and previous owners of the curse can see this thing which can take the form of anyone.  It is not clear why he ties her to a chair to make his point, as he does untie her and take her home (i.e. dumps her in the street) when the thing arrives.

The bulk of the movie is the very slow Michael Myers / Walking Dead speed pursuit of Jay (who is a teenage girl, BTW), sometimes across many miles of country.  The relentlessness of the pursuit provides an over-arching suspense, and periodic battles with the thing provide some good scares and action.  Like the Terminator, it absolutely will not stop until Jay is dead; or passes the curse to someone else via sex.  And once Jay is dead, it will go back up the food-chain and kill Hugh.

The thing always shows up in the form of a person and only visible to Jay.  On the first sighting, it is a completely naked woman.  Other times, the thing takes the form of other women and men, some of which Jay recognizes.  Kind of like er . . . The Thing.  So the suspense is heightened — as in Paranormal Activity — by the viewer constantly being on the lookout for anyone in the background who could become a threat.

The viewer is also subtly kept off-balance by the indeterminate time of the film.  Like the hatch in Lost which had an eclectic mixture of new appliances and 1970s stereo, there are conflicting signals.  The cars all seen to be old family trucksters, but one girl seems to be reading from a clam-shell Kindle.  Or maybe it is a cell-phone — if it is, it is the only cell-phone in the movie and is never used as one.

All of this keeps the viewer constantly on edge, and makes for a great experience. There is some wailing and moaning about a couple of scenes or unanswered questioned, but are you going to obsess over details, or have a good time?

Highly recommended.

Post-Post:

  • Despite all the references to other titles above, I never once felt like this was unoriginal.
  • For some reason I can’t figure out, the thing frequently shows up totally or partially naked.  This is not as good as it sounds as it rarely takes the form of anyone you want to see naked.  Especially the naked guy standing on the roof — to be fair, he does thankfully appear to be wearing a Speedo, or is maybe is in desperate need of some manscaping.
  • I took an immediate dislike to the score other than in the set-pieces.  It seems to be praised everywhere else, though, so I am willing to chalk that up to a tin ear.