Friday, June 16, 2017

47 Meters Down ★

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    Here is the plot of "47 Meters Down," this summer's annual shark-infested thriller, in a nutshell: Two siblings, Lisa and Kate, embark on a fun-filled trip to Mexico in order to overcome life's mundane tendencies and messy breakups. (In essence, one's a nervous Nellie, and one has trouble saying "No." I'll let you guess which is which.) After a drunken night out with a pair of potential suitors, our threadbare protagonists elect to take on shark cage diving, the latest craze among the thrill-seeking crowd. Once underwater, something goes awry—as the title implies, they become trapped "47 meters down"—and we're left with roughly 60 minutes of plodding suspense and pointless maneuvering. The uneventful score, composed by Thomas Hajdu and Andy Milburn (a Princeton duo widely known as "tomandandy"), is mechanical and useless, and the principal characters, portrayed by Mandy Moore and Claire Holt, are nothing short of moronic. (Forgive me for being blunt, but I've seen enough dumbed-down female personas to last a lifetime. Case in point: While gearing up for their initial dive, one of the simple-minded sisters, it doesn't matter who, quickly progresses from a petrified state to one in which she asks the other, "Does my butt look cute in this?" These actresses deserve better, and so do we.) I promise you this—by the film's end, you'll be rooting for the sharks.

    It's pretty clear where this half-hearted production pinned all of its hopes: on the allure and pull of its two leading ladies. (I'm trying to remember the last time Moore starred in a live-action setting, and Holt, God bless her, couldn't muster a line of dialogue with any sort of conviction even if she wanted to.) Granted, they both should receive credit for enduring the physical demands required of the roles, yet muffled screams and incessant hyperventilating aren't exactly attributes of an Oscar-worthy performance. It comes with the territory, or in this instance, the subject matter. Moreover, director Johannes Roberts and underwater cinematographer Mark Silk frequently swap disheveled camera angles for substance, and this creates an ambiance completely devoid of terror and emotional intensity. Although close-ups abound—the majority of which focus on the panic-stricken eyes of our daring yet doltish heroines—the best shots simply went unused. (It would help to have an editor who understood the principles of continuity editing.) Sadly, we're never given a reason to fear these notorious predators, except, of course, for their reputations and past on-screen appearances. Spoiler alert: The ill-famed antagonists are rarely seen until the climax of the film, and their long-awaited arrival is upstaged by a script that is inherently misguided, and above all, it evinces inexperience. Evidently, the writers thought it would be wise to rob Moore's character of her defining moment for a plot twist that is about as foolish as it is gutsy, and this injudicious move only gives substance to the stance that risk-taking doesn't always translate to success in cinema. (You know, it's one of those endings where a reverie is confused for reality in an effort to shock and startle audiences; I have to say that it wasn't very effective.)

    I can't believe Hollywood is still churning out these tacky, stale pictures. (As one would expect, revenue remains the chief incentive, yet there has to be a limit on these shark attack movies, which are bordering on unwatchable.) I mean, Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" actually meant something, and "47 Meters Down" can be dubbed the fast-food variety of the genre. For reasons I cannot fathom, the viewing public continues to have an eternal fascination for these flaccid, watered-down productions—"Shark Week" will even hit theaters for a one-night event next month. I hate to be the bearer of bad news (on the contrary, I enjoy it immensely), but all this fear and trembling at the hands of these predaceous creatures is entirely ungrounded. As a matter of fact, here are a few nuggets I found while researching the film's misunderstood villains: 

    (1) As reported by The Washington Post, on average, 28 people were killed each year from 2001 to 2013 by man's best friend. How many died as a result of a shark attack? Well, if you round to the nearest whole number, sharks killed about one individual per year during this span. 

    (2) More importantly, however, according to the Shark Research Institute, 100 million sharks are slain every single year by humankind, and yet we're frightened to death of this predominantly fabricated evil. 

    Now, I understand the method behind the madness, but movies such as "47 Meters Down," regardless of content, aren't worthy of our attention—to sum it up with a few choice words, it's just not interesting writing. And so, in the opinion of this critic, save your precious time and avoid this piffle as if it were the plague. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Fifty Shades Darker

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    Review coming soon.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Monster Trucks ★1/2

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    Paramount's latest debacle entitled "Monster Trucks," a movie about a young man who befriends an unusual creature that is keenly adept in the art of truck driving, should serve as a reminder of how half-baked ideas seldom give way to box-office greatness. (It should also provide hope for every wannabe screenwriter in the greater Los Angeles area—if Paramount considers the plot of "Monster Trucks" to be worthy of development, then anything is possible.) This action comedy, which is painfully purposed for the youngest of viewing audiences, may have an appealing cast with genuine promise, yet I could never heap praise on a picture whose main attraction is a giant squid. (In truth, Creech, as the beast is called, is more of a cross between an octopus and a whale; nevertheless, there doesn't seem to be much room for marketability.) And I thought E.T. was repugnant.

    Tripp (Lucas Till) is an ambitious North Dakotan teen who desires to leave his hometown in search of bigger and better things. (The movie implies that it is the dullness of the surrounding countryside that fuels this inclination, and this is not only a slight to the residents of North Dakota, but it's a poor excuse for a motivating force.) Meanwhile, Terravex Energy, which is plainly a representation of Big Oil, hits trouble on a nearby fracking operation when it unleashes three subterranean creatures, one of them being the likable yet repulsive Creech. Eventually, Tripp and Creech happen upon each other, and from this point forward, the feature blossoms into a full-fledged chase film with enough meaningless drivel to make any contemporary of mine sick with boredom. (As for me, I'm afraid that I've become accustomed to these one-dimensional productions, which are slowly becoming the standard in Hollywood.) The only thing worse than the simplistic storyline is the manufactured villains, which, believe it or not, includes a Terravex bounty hunter by the name of Burke (Holt McCallany).

    "Monster Trucks" has all the makings of a Steven Spielberg adventure: there's the troubled teenager with parental issues, the presence of a human-unearthly bond, as well as a conflict stemming from a corrupt corporation, but nothing can subdue the elephant in the room—that being, the unattractiveness of the material. In fact, this is what I like to call a "step back" film, as all parties involved showed signs of regression in their particular filmmaking positions. (It also gives our screenwriter and director an opportunity to view their work objectively, which I'm sure will be a harrowing experience.) Filmmaker Chris Wedge, who's mostly known for his role in several animated successes, shows his competence behind the scenes in what becomes his live-action debut, yet sweeping camera movements and nifty boom shots cannot divert one's attention from the disastrous dialogue that propels the script. (Take away the subtheme concerned with environmentalism, and you have a screenplay that could have been written by any imaginative child or film school dropout.)

    I'm saddened to see budding actress Jane Levy and up-and-coming actor Lucas Till in such abysmal working conditions—quite honestly, they hardly stood a chance. (Levy is as charming and capable as they come; Till, if given the proper nutriment, could become the next Marvel Avenger.) Unfortunately for them, neither star looks or sounds the part—they play a pair of teenagers even though they're clearly much older—and their passionless performances can be chalked up to a bad case of casting fever. (Meaning, they were chosen for their popularity as opposed to their fitting the characters.) Young actors take heed: Sometimes, one must forgo a paycheck in favor of what's suitable, which the latter is more conducive to long-term success.

    Film criticism is a paradoxical profession—this has been the theme of much of my work—and pictures like "Monster Trucks" only prove this notion. On the one hand, the movie's climax is thoroughly engaging, and you'd be hard pressed to find a more jovial conclusion. And yet, where is the lasting value? Where's the significance? (These are rhetorical questions, mind you, but they still touch on the complications associated with film commentary—should we regard the medium strictly as escapism or evaluate it as an art form? There's also the question of whether or not a children's picture should be graded on a different scale (less stringent), but that is neither here nor there. The intent is key no matter the profundity.) Oftentimes, I must decide if I am to give a film, whose aim is that of amusement, a pass for its superficiality or condemn it for the same reasons. (Hence, the contradictory nature of the craft.) In many cases, subjectivity will inevitably rear its head; this is one of those instances. Needless to say, "Monster Trucks" just isn't very good.