The Shallows


Blake Lively hopes this film will buoy her career.

Blake Lively hopes this film will buoy her career.

(2016) Thriller (Columbia) Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Angelo Jose, Lozano Corzo, Jose Manual Trujillo Salas, Brett Cullen, Sedoria Legge, Pablo Calva, Diego Espejel, Janelle Bailey, Ava Dean, Chelsea Moody. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

 

If sharks had their own equivalent of the ACLU, there’d be picketing of Hollywood in general. No other animal has been demonized the way sharks have; perhaps Steven Spielberg would be Public Enemy Number One. Sharks are predators, yes, but they rarely attack humans and it is even more rare that they kill humans. More people die from interactions with horses than with sharks.

Nancy (Lively) has had some shit to deal with lately. Her mom (Bailey) recently passed away from cancer; this caused her to take a good hard look at her life and drop out of medical school, much to the consternation of her dad (Cullen) and her sister Chloe (Legge). Instead, Nancy has decided to take a vacation in Mexico with her party hearty friend but she’s not there for the tequila. No, Nancy wants to surf a beach that has personal meaning to her – it was a secluded beach that her mom used to take her to back in the day. It was a place where Nancy was truly happy.

When her friend is too hung over to go along for the ride, Nancy goes by herself and enlists the aid of a local (Jaenada) to drive her to the beach. It is just as secluded as it ever was; only a pair of surfer dudes (Jose, Corzo) is there. The day wanes and it has been a perfect afternoon. As the boys leave for home, Nancy decides to take one last ride. That proves to be a mistake.

You see, the surfer dudes weren’t the only ones out there; there’s also a great white shark who has been feasting on a whale out in the water. However, apparently having a whale that is ten times its size out there to dine on isn’t enough; the shark must have some human meat because, after all, variety is the spice of life. So the shark takes a bite out of Nancy who manages to make it to a rock 200 yards from shore. And there she will stay, and she will need all her ingenuity and the occasional help of a seagull named Steven (get it?) to fend off the most deadly of all predators.

Let’s get something straight; sharks rarely eat humans and when they do, it’s usually due to confusion. The fact of the matter is, sharks don’t much like the taste of human meat; they prefer more fishy sources of protein and frankly, if there’s a ginormous whale carcass ripe for the taking, they’re not going to bother with going out and killing something else. Sharks are not greedy by nature; they kill only what they can eat to survive. They don’t kill just for the sake of killing as they are depicted not only here but in popular imagination.

Mainly however this particular shark is there to menace Blake Lively and keep her in a bikini for the entire movie and admittedly she looks fantastic in a bikini. Although her character is ostensibly from Texas, Lively is the prototypical California surfer chick, so she is well-cast here. Lively needed to be solid here as she is basically the entire movie; she occasionally talks to her seagull buddy or records into a camera and/or cellphone but otherwise, it’s all her and all physical. This is the kind of demanding movie that pushed actors like Robert Redford and Matt Damon to their limits and this is also the case with Lively but she manages to keep our attention throughout and not just because of her bikini body. She does have a breezy personality that reminds me of Blythe Danner in the 70s and Kate Hudson more recently.

Jaume Collet-Serra is a Spanish director who has a knack for thrillers, particularly the action-based kind. This is more of a character thriller and he acquits himself well, considering that it is much more difficult to keep things interesting with a single character than it is when that character has other people and things to play off of. Lively doesn’t get that luxury; she has to interact with machines and an occasional bird, but has nothing else to work off of.

If you can forgive the egregious lapses in logic and biology here, this is a pretty good thriller. The conundrum of Nancy being so close yet so far from shore is tantalizing. There is a modicum of gore and of the CGI shark (which is much more realistic than Bruce in Jaws) which is a terrifying monster. As summer entertainment goes, you could do much worse – but also you can also do better. As it stands, this is a competently done edge-of-the-seat woman vs. shark film that certainly isn’t a waste of your time or money.

REASONS TO GO: Collet-Serra excels at keeping the tension high.
REASONS TO STAY: The basis of the plot is that the shark has some sort of grudge against Blake Lively.
FAMILY VALUES: Quite a few bloody images, intense peril and some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was shot under its original title, In the Deep. The title was changed because the movie takes place in shallow waters.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/23/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jaws
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Purge: Election Year

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Finding Nemo


Finding Nemo

Dude! Have you seen Nemo?

(2003) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Austin Pendleton, Stephen Root, Vicki Lewis, Joe Ranft, Geoffrey Rush, Elizabeth Perkins, Eric Bana, John Ratzenberger. Directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich

 

You might think that being a clownfish is all fun and games, but it’s a dangerous ocean out there. Just ask Marlin (Brooks). He had it all — a beautiful home with a view, a loving wife, and a brood of kids on the way.

However, a chance predator takes out nearly everything, leaving Marlin with just one son, Nemo (Gould), and Marlin swears that nothing will happen to Nemo as long as daddy is around.

Time passes, and it’s time for little Nemo to head out to school. However, his overprotective dad has Nemo seeing red, and so the little fish with the half-formed fin ventures out farther than he should — and is caught by a dentist looking for a new addition to his tropical fish collection.

Doggedly, Marlin sets out to bring his boy home. He is aided by Dory (DeGeneres), a loopy bluefish with short-term memory loss that occasionally jeopardizes Marlin’s mission. But the plucky Dory sticks with him, and turns out to be a valuable ally, even with her problems remembering what happened just a few minutes before.

Meanwhile, Nemo is attempting an escape of his own, aided by several denizens of the fish tank, notably the only one among them who had actually lived out in the open ocean, Gill (Willem Dafoe). Marlin must navigate through the ocean’s natural dangers, ranging from a minefield of beautiful (but deadly) jellyfish, to a trio of sharks undergoing a twelve-step program to become, well, friendlier to fish.

The environment created by Pixar is even more enchanting than the undersea world of Disney’s other waterlogged animations, The Little Mermaid and Atlantis, mainly because it seems more real. The sequence with the current-surfing turtles is one of the best Pixar has ever come up with. In many ways, this is the most Disney-esque of the animated features Pixar has done, which, considering that director Andrew Stanton was responsible for A Bug’s Life – quite frankly the weakest Pixar movie to date – is not surprising.

Although Finding Nemo has gotten universally excellent reviews (including from my spouse Da Queen, who quite firmly stated that this is an Animation classic), I found it to be less engaging than the great majority of their films. While I can understand the popularity of the movie (and like DeGeneres, wonder when the inevitable sequel is coming), I just didn’t connect with it.

Albert Brooks has always struck me as kind of a poor man’s Woody Allen (making him, I suppose, a rich man’s Richard Lewis), somewhat neurotic and pessimistic, which suits Marlin well enough, but can get on the nerves over the course of 101 minutes. Dory is the best-drawn (excuse the pun) of the characters here; she is certainly handicapped by her memory problems, but never allows it to get her down. She turns out to be a loyal friend, something Marlin desperately needs.

Don’t get me wrong; the kids are going to love this, and adults will find some of it spectacular at times. Like nearly every Pixar movie, this one has enough subtext (particularly in the humor) to keep the attention of the big kids, and enough eye candy to keep the attention of the smaller kids. It was one of the big winners in the 2003 box office derby, and a big shot-in-the-arm for Disney’s flagging animated feature fortunes (particularly after the dismal performance of Treasure Planet). Pixar next released The Incredibles which even now is my favorite Pixar film ever, superhero geek that I am. You have every reason to see this movie, but be warned that at least for my part, I had a difficult time loving this as much as I have other Pixar movies. Perhaps therein lies my own problem – my expectations. You may want to go into this without any. You may enjoy it more than I did.

If you have kids, expect this to be a staple in your video library – if it isn’t now, there’s a good chance it will be at some point. No kids? You’ll still want to see some of the spectacular underwater scenes anyway and you’ll appreciate DeGeneres’ kooky performance.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous backgrounds and authentic undersea settings. DeGeneres makes Dory one of Pixar’s most memorable characters. Crush and the turtles make one of the most breathtaking segments Pixar’s ever done.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Marlin is a bit too neurotic to be an enjoyable lead. Is less compelling than other Pixar classics.

FAMILY MATTERS: Are you kidding? This is Disney…of course it’s perfectly suitable for the entire family!

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The waiting room in the dentist’s office was modeled after one near the Pixar studios in Emeryville, California.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The special edition DVD, like most Disney home video, is loaded with special features including the animated short Knick Knack which played in the theaters alongside Finding Nemo. There’s also an interactive game, a studio tour of Pixar Studios and a hilarious featurette called “Exploring the Reef” hosted by Jean-Michel Cousteau which purports to be a serious feature about the Great Barrier Reef but Cousteau constantly gets interrupted by characters from the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $867.9M on a $94M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster in every sense of the word.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: We Bought a Zoo

Hancock


Hancock

The Fresh Prince don't get any fresher than this.

(2008) Superhero (Columbia) Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsan, Jae Head, David Mattey, Thomas Lennon, Johnny Galecki, Nancy Grace, Mike Epps, Hayley Marie Norman, Darrell Foster, Liz Wicker.  Directed by Peter Berg

We look to our heroes to be paragons of virtue. They are handsome (or beautiful), brave, selfless and modest. However, not all heroes are built that way. Sometimes it takes more of a hero to overcome the lack of those qualities and still remain heroic.

Hancock (Smith) is one such. He is irritable and socially awkward. He is also a raging alcoholic who often makes a shambles of his attempts to help – the clean-up bills for his appearances are often more than what he prevented from being stolen. The public despises him because of his attitude and his apparent uncaring that his actions cause millions misery.

One day he rescues an idealistic P.R. flack named Ray Embrey (Bateman) from certain death when he stops his car from being hit by a train. Grateful, he takes Hancock home for dinner, introducing him to his wife Mary (Theron) and his son Aaron (Head). Ray offers Hancock his services to help rehabilitate his image but Hancock sullenly declines. Mary, who has taken an intense dislike to Hancock, tells Ray he’s a lost cause and to forget him.

Part of Hancock’s issue is that he has no memory of his past. He doesn’t know how he wound up where he is, only that he’s there. Now he wants more, having had a taste of a normal life. Reluctantly, he agrees to have Ray rehabilitate him.

Part of Hancock’s rehabilitation involves him making amends, so Hancock agrees to go to prison to make up for all the damage he’s caused. While there Ray designs a new suit for him so that when the city becomes besieged by criminals who are attacking citizens with impunity, realizing Hancock isn’t around, Hancock will be ready to display his new image – and he does and as Ray predicts, people begin to love him. However, there is something on the horizon – something that goes back to the secret of Hancock’s past, something far more insidious or deadly than any super villain.

In many ways, this is one of the more imaginative super hero movies to come along. Here we have a hero who isn’t particularly likable, played by an actor who is known for his charm. The result is a little surprising. We’ve never seen Will Smith like this before.

Bateman, who is currently one of the most sought-after comedic actors in the business, was more or less known more for his TV roles as a juvenile (and getting his career jumpstarted again with “Arrested Development” after essentially losing the 90s to drug use and alcohol) before Hancock and it is his performance here that really ignited his movie career.

Theron has good chemistry with Smith and her little secret is surprising (if you haven’t seen the movie I won’t reveal it here) and well-played. Unfortunately, the studio blundered into revealing the secret in the trailer so if you haven’t seen the trailer, don’t watch it before renting the movie.

The special effects are surprisingly unremarkable, although I think most of the big-budget big-ticket superhero movies have pretty much shown off all a superhero can do, at least at present. There is a climactic battle that doesn’t seem particularly spectacular, although there are some shots that are pretty nifty.

What I like about the movie is the smart premise and the different take on the superhero, one who is vulnerable emotionally and not always there to save the day for the right reasons. He is fully capable of messing up, and often does, doing more harm than good despite his best intentions – and his intentions aren’t always his best. Hancock is depicted as going through the motions, another day at the office. Even a superhero has off days.

There is a generous amount of humor here but the filmmakers play it surprisingly safe, which I think is a good call. Turn this into a spoof and it just becomes another shot at comic book fandom (and there are plenty of those out there). However, play it straight and it becomes a serious look at what makes a hero heroic. We see that the best of men can be humbled, and it is often the not-quite-the-best of men who make the best of heroes.

WHY RENT THIS: An unusual take on the superhero genre. Bateman is awesome in a role that helped turbo charge his career. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A noticeable shift in tone from the first part of the movie to the last reel.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of action-like violence peppered by a few bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the scene where Mary gets ready for bed, she is wearing a Macalester College t-shirt; that is director Peter Berg’s alma mater.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a single disc DVD with just the movie, a two-disc Special DVD edition which has both the theatrical release and unrated versions of the movie, also available on the Blu-Ray which gives viewers the option to watch the eight-part making-of featurette as a picture-in-picture accompaniment to the main movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $624.4M on a $150M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Conan the Barbarian (2011)