The Chamber (2016)


Rising waters are a bad thing on a mini-sub.

(2016) Thriller (Cinedigm) Johannes Kuhnke, Charlotte Salt, James McArdle, Elliot Levey, Christian Hillborg, James Artaius, David Horovitch. Directed by Ben Parker

 

The ocean remains an enigma for most of us. The last great unexplored space on Earth, it is as alien a landscape as Mars. Creatures that live down there are very different than us and the greater depths you go, the stranger the creatures are. The only way humans can explore down there are in great tin cans pumped full of oxygen – and there is so much that can go wrong.

Mats (Kuhnke) is the pilot of a mini-submersible that is currently leased out to a South Korean corporate entity. The Aurora is aging, nearly obsolete in many ways and held together with crazy glue, duct tape and the grace of God. When a group of American special ops types commandeer the sub, Mats is given no choice but to be their bus driver. Flinty and occasionally hysterical mission commander “Red” Edwards (Salt) tries to radiate as much testosterone as her team; brainy Denholm (Levey) and Parks (McArdle), a bear of a man with a hair-trigger temper.

They are after something on the ocean floor and in the waters of North Korea. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out – everything  Mats who is decidedly non-trusting of the decision making capabilities of this team (and with good reason as it turns out) balks at some of the orders he is given. Despite his assertion that “I know this ship” and assuming that when it comes to crew safety his authority supersedes that of Edwards, he discovers his assumptions are completely groundless when Edwards makes a terrible decision that puts everyone on the sub at grave risk.

Claustrophobic survival tales set on submarines are nothing particularly new and to be really honest The Chamber doesn’t add much to that particular subgenre. The set is pretty unconvincing – it looks like a set, to begin with, rather than an actual sub – although first-time director Parker does a fine job of getting across the claustrophobic surroundings and the rising paranoia and panic that goes along with being trapped in a crippled sub with uncertain circumstances and an unlikelihood of rescue. Most of the movie is just the four characters which you would think would leave some time for a little bit of character development but Parker who also wrote the screenplay chose not to go that route.

Instead we’re treated to a quartet of stereotypes and clichés that run through the usual motions in a film like this. Kuhnke shows some signs of being an excellent leading man. Some might remember him from the disaster flick Force Majeure, the excellent Swedish film from 2014 that was one of my favorite films that year. He shows excellent promise as a leading man; although there isn’t much chemistry between him and Salt.

The American ops are oozing testosterone, particularly Salt and McArdle, the latter of whom is a loose cannon that would never qualify for an elite black ops team. In fact given their reactions throughout the film it is clear that they are reacting to advance the plot rather than as characters actually would. Someone who works on a team for which things can go horribly wrong has to be cool, collected and think rationally on their feet; it’s clear that none of the military characters in the movie are capable of that which is a rookie writing mistake. One needs to research their characters before putting pen to paper.

That’s not to say that The Chamber doesn’t have entertainment value. While none of the situations are particularly innovative, there’s something about a rising water level and a diminishing amount of oxygen that puts the viewer right on the edge of their seat. Parker doesn’t do a bad job keeping the thrills coming and although he has a bit of a learning curve to get through there is definitely potential there. I’d call this a respectable effort and let you decide if this is the type of movie you want to spend some time with – it’s barely an hour and a half long – by all means do.

REASONS TO GO: Kuhnke is a fine leading man. The movie gives a very claustrophobic feel which is perfect for the tone.
REASONS TO STAY: There are a few too many clichés. There’s a little too much macho posturing for my tastes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first movie score to be composed by James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/25/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 36% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Abyss
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Concert for George

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Beowulf (2007)


If I saw Angelina Jolie rising naked out of a cave pool, I'd draw my sword too - but it would likely be a different sword.

If I saw Angelina Jolie rising naked out of a cave pool, I’d draw my sword too – but it would likely be a different sword.

(2007) Animated Feature (Paramount) Starring the voices of Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, Brendan Gleeson, Dominic Keating, Alison Lohman, Crispin Glover, Costas Mandylor, Chris Coppola, Charlotte Salt, Julene Renee, Sebastian Roche, Chris Coppola, Sonja Fortag, Jacquie Barnbrook. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

We are in the midst of a cinematic superhero golden age. However, even before comic books there were heroes. Gilgamesh, Hercules, Theseus – all names that were spoken of with honor in ancient days. The legend of Beowulf is one of the oldest examples of heroic literature but today, few know his story – and it is a mighty one.

King Hrothgar (Hopkins) of Denmark and his much younger queen Wealthow (Penn) are celebrating their grand new meadhall in fine drunken fashion. The aging king may lament the lack of a son and heir but he has a full life of heroic deeds to sing of. He is drunk to the disgust of his queen, but to the praise of his warriors. The noise reaches the ears of the monster Grendel (Glover). Being a monster, he reacts predictably. None of the drunken Danes can stand up to the misshapen creature, as the smarmy adviser Unferth (Malkovich) cowers in a cistern. The carnage is considerable.

Fully aware that none of his people have the strength or courage to defeat the monster, Hrothgar sends word to all the nations of the earth that a hero is required. His desperate cry is answered by Beowulf (Winstone) of the Geats, a vain swaggering man who can thankfully back up his boasts. Although his trusted right hand man Wiglaf (Gleason) has reservations about the whole situation, he has his friend’s back.

Beowulf is greeted less than enthusiastically by the suspicious Danes, who find his stories a tad tall. Wealthow, for her part, finds the studly Geat intriguing, while Beowulf does the same. Hrothgar, who was friends with Beowulf’s father, is grateful to have him there to rid him of his curse. He orders a great celebration in the Meadhall, which is sure to attract Grendel’s notice.

True to form, Grendel arrives and again wreaks great havoc. The cocky Beowulf, who is fully naked since Grendel wears no armor nor carries any sword, watches his men get bounced around the room like ping pong balls, but soon sees Grendel’s weakness and exploits it. At length, he manages to chain the creature up so that it is half in, half out of the doorway and uses the chain to rip the arm off of the beast, which limps home to mama (Jolie). His killer’s name is the last word on his lips.

 

The grieving and furious mom (she has no name either in the movie nor the story it is based on) takes out her fury on Beowulf’s men. Only Wiglaf escapes the slaughter being down by the boat preparing it for the trip home. Beowulf is also spared by the demon, but only because she has plans for him. Beowulf has been given a beautiful dragon horn as a gift by Hrothgar, who has also promised Beowulf the throne of Denmark when Hrothgar dies, but with the demon still loose in the land, Beowulf knows he must kill the mother of the monster before he can truly call himself a hero, but he will face his greatest challenge; his own vanity and pride. Will he be hero enough to overcome them?

Yes, this is the same motion capture animation Zemeckis utilized in The Polar Express, but this is far more than the one-man show that movie was. Zemeckis hired a very impressive group of actors, led by Winstone – one of the finest character actors of his generation – and Hopkins, one of the finest actors period. They roar with the best of them here. Although you get a sense of the faces of the actors, they are altered enough so that they don’t quite look the same. Still, how can you go wrong with a cast that includes Gleason, Penn, Malkovich, Jolie and Lohman?

The animation here was stunning in its day – seven years ago While they are going for an almost photo-realistic style, it is still obviously animation and the characters have that lifeless expression that came with 3D photorealism in its earliest stages. Still, there are times when you forget that it isn’t live action, and that’s saying something. I saw this in a 2-D version which spared me the headaches of 3-D animation, but judging from what I saw, the 3-D version would probably be terrifying. The music is suitably heroic and martial. Not many are familiar with Beowulf’s story, one of the oldest heroic epics we are aware of.

As I said earlier, the cast is first-rate. There is quite a bit of entertainment to be had here. Winstone’s take on Beowulf makes him a big-time blowhard, but noble nonetheless – a tough trick to pull off.

There’s quite a bit of shouting and chest-beating here. The testosterone levels are abundant to say the least, even among the women in the cast. However, Neil Gaiman wrote the script which should tell you all you need to know about the quality of the writing.

Da Queen was not interested at all in catching this, so I didn’t see it until it hit On Demand. I would have liked to see this on a big screen – the visuals are worth it. Even on a small screen, it’s impressive. I wouldn’t say it’s up with Polar Express or the Back to the Future series in Zemeckis’ resume, but this is solid nonetheless.

WHY RENT THIS: Impressive visuals. Even in motion capture Winstone, Gleeson and Hopkins are terrific actors.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Curiously lifeless. An over-abundance of testosterone.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is some animated nudity and quite a bit of carnage. The monsters can be awfully frightening, This PG-13 could easily have wound up being R-rated without too much of a stretch.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Glover previously worked with Zemeckis on Back to the Future.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There are featurettes on the history of the story of Beowulf, and how it made it from story to screen. The making-of featurettes are also unusually interesting given the demands of motion capture and the larger-than-life nature of the actors involved.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $196.4M on a $150M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: King Arthur

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Wish I Was Here