47 Meters Down

Anyone who has cruised by this site, but especially at this time of year, knows that JAWS is a driving force in my movie life. Shark movies can be fun, stupid, exciting or irritating. Sometimes they can be all these things at once.  “47 Meters Down” is no Jaws, but it is certainly better than two of the three Jaws sequels, and as a summer diversion it is pretty much what you want for a warm afternoon or a cool evening with a romantic partner. You will get a lot of comparisons in this post, let’s face it, there aren’t that many shark movies, and those comparisons should help you decide if you want the take the plunge and spend your hard earned cash.

 

The two young leads in the film play sisters who end up on an off the books excursion while staying at a Mexican resort. The premise combines some of our worst fears. We are in a foreign land, trapped in waters that we cannot see through, running low on oxygen with sharks surrounding us. If you look up the word nightmare, most of this should appear there. The movie simply has to find a credible way for these events to play out so that we will be willing to endure it all. For the most part, things move as they might if this was a real story. After the set up, the girls are the only characters we actually see for the most part.

 

Director Johannes Roberts uses some dynamic photographic effects during the titles to create some foreshadowing. He and his co-screenwriter Earnest Riera build in enough complications to keep the time on the ocean floor dramatic and tense. Sometimes, as in most films of this ilk, the events seem to pile up just a little too much. It is true that we need some dramatic tension based on the environment, but every action turns into a complication designed to keep us squirming in our seats a few minutes longer. The dialog is also a little spotty. There are way too many premature celebratory moments between the sisters, and they sound odd coming from frightened people still trapped on the bottom of the sea.

 

I don’t know anything about diving, but the ability of the girls to speak to each other seems a little suspect to me, but it might be possible with the kind of equipment they are using. While I appreciate the choice to eschew events on the surface during the crisis, it means that we get a lot of long periods where the girls interaction feels a bit awkward. The scenario in  last years “The Shallows” made verbalized conversation unlikely, but the words spoken in that film felt a lot more real than what is happening here. “Shark Night“, “Bait“,  and “Open Water” all have different elements to them to keep the story going in each of those films, so I guess it’s not a surprise that the combination of events here plays such a big part in this story.

So for comparison purposes I’d put this on a par with “Jaws 2”, it is a shark movie with other things to distract us from the fact that the sharks are not constantly attacking. “The Shallows” is a much better movie, but then the lead in that film did not have to try to emote through a three paneled diving mask and radio mike the whole time. If you pay close attention to what is said in the film, you will see a bit of a twist coming from a mile away. The only surprise was how long they played it out. Some of the teens behind us were unhappy with the climax of the movie but unlike some other films this year, this ending felt more deserved to me. We have our annual big screen trip to see “Jaws” scheduled for next weekend, until then, this toe dip in shark infested story telling will do. It can’t sit on the same shelf as the Spielberg classic, but it fits in nicely next to “Bait” and “Deep Blue Sea”.

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Most of the movie blog world is full of contradictory positions. You can find people passionately defending “The Tree of Life” as a poetic masterpiece, whereas others see it as a self indulgent, experimental film with little plot, weak characters and the most boring use of fantastic photography you can imagine. There are people who love “Rogue One” and haters who see it as destroying the underlying concepts of the Star Wars films. With that diversity of opinion so widespread, it probably says something that “Cars 2” is universally despised as the weakest Pixar film ever. “Cars 3” is an attempt to restore the franchise to a more satisfying status in the film world. People who never liked “Cars” in the first place will probably not be moved, but, if like me, you loved the original film and hated the sequel, you will probably be happy to know that this movie largely works.

As with the original film, there is a moral lesson to be learned here while you are enjoying the action and humor in the story. Very distinctly from the second film, the theme is not heavy handed, political and surrounded by silly story telling that makes no sense. “Cars 3” is an elegy of youth and old school practices. Maybe we can do things better and faster than we once were able to, but the joy of getting there is being lost and something important goes along with that. Lightning McQueen has had his time in the sun, but there is a turning point in our lives that everyone has to face. The question is simply, how do you hold on to your beliefs and dignity when the time has come?  Anthropomorphic automobiles are a strange way to confront this concept, but they fit it so well. Everyone who likes listening to music on an LP played with a stylus, or watching a film presented on a Laser Disc, knows that they are out of time and place, but the appreciate anyway.

There are two very positive things about how the story is handled here. First, while due acknowledgement is made to the secondary characters in the original story, they are mostly backdrop for this film. That means you will get far less Mater and Radiator Springs. The smaller dose of Lightning’s best friend is the biggest relief. Larry the Cable Guy should not be the lead character in the movie as he was in “Cars 2”.  We get just enough to know that he is still a part of Lightning’s life, but that puts him on a similar level with the other Radiator Springs characters. Paul Dooley and Bonnie Hunt and Cheech Marin all reprise their roles. I did notice that Michael Keaton was not doing the voice of Chick, and that hurt a little, but for the most part the characters who make an appearance are satisfying. New characters played by Nathan Fillion, Chris Cooper, Armie Hammer and especially Cristela Alanzo are all effective at making the story feel a bit more fresh. The second positive in the characters is that we get a fitting exit for the late Paul Newman and his character of the Hudson Hornet. With just a few pieces of dialogue and some nice moments of recall, there is a more satisfying meaning in his characters absence.

One more thing that the film does right is keep the story as closely tied to racing as possible. There are at least three big race segments and they work really well at building story and tension. As Lightning and his new trainer Cruz Ramirez put together a plan for his battling a new rival, we get a good transition story that shows us some of the themes that I mentioned earlier. We need to recognize that the world changes, and sometimes we have to adapt to those changes. Lightning is still the hero but everyone needs to be cognizant that he ain’t what he used to be. Owen Wilson’s laconic delivery and frustrated tone of voice manages to make these growing (old) pains feel more real than we should expect from a movie with talking cars.

 

As is usual, even in those movies where the story has failed, the artistry remains. There are some amazing parts of this film that feel so photo real that you might wonder why they bothered to create those images instead of just directly filming them, Of course there are also several moments that could only existed in an animated world as well and they look pretty spectacular as well. The humor is not quite as strong as the original film, and there may be times when the little ones will feel a bit bored, but there is another race or visual gag coming so be patient. It may not move as fast as “Cars 2” but it is a lot more valuable Car Trip to take.

The Mummy (2017)

How is it we know that a movie is exceptional? One of the ways that we can reach such conclusions is by making comparisons to other films. A movie that is mundane will pale in comparison to something really strong. Excellence can therefore sometimes be measured by mediocrity. That’s why we need films like “The Mummy”, they show us how good films like “Wonder Woman” really are. I am not implying that this movie is bad, simply that it meets no standard for greatness except one, and that is the most obvious selling point for the film, it stars Tom Cruise.

I am probably a Cruise apologist. Of the forty plus movies he has made, only a handful have been clunkers. I would include his last film, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”  in that handful of dismal efforts. This film is miles better than that weak sauce film from last year, but that does not make it great, it makes it average. Cruise as usual is winning in his role, in spite of the fact that his character is designed to be a thoughtless douche-bag who fails to follow orders as a soldier, steals from women and generally engages in the kind of archeological theft that Indiana Jones was accused of, without having any scholarly justifications for his actions. Tom just has charisma and it turns even vile characters into people we are willing to watch. As I said, this is the one big selling point of the movie. Cruise puts in as much effort as anyone can to try and bring this story to life.

 

The film is basically an action movie with a horror theme that needs to be a little more horrifying. There are a few creepy moments, like the camel spiders and rats that seem to be under the command of the villainess of the story. An ancient creature inadvertently raised from the dead and determined to bring the evil lord she made a pact with into the flesh, she has chosen Tom’s character Nick, to be that vessel. So there is a monster and a curse but there are also stunning aerial stunts and chase sequences. With a half dozen jump scares that become progressively less effective, the film barely feels like a horror movie at all. Still it is mildly entertaining in creating a universe for these characters to exist in and providing a series of hoops for them to jump through.

 

A few of the things that make this movie passable include the two female leads. Sophia Boutella as the ancient princess returned to the world looks exotic enough and she grimaces well in conveying a sense of evil. Annabelle Wallis is sweet enough for us to sympathize with and hope the best for. Neither could carry the movie but they don’t have to with Cruise in control and a scenery chewing middle aged matinee idol ready to turn into Mr. Hyde at any moment. Just like the pygmy zombies that were so fun in one of those Brendan Frasier Mummy movies, this update has something cool to sell it in the effects department. zombie crusaders. They are solid and they look especially creepy in the water.

 

A lot of people have been bad-mouthing the start of a new “Dark Universe” from Universal Studios, but everyone else in the film business has a steady supply of material to exploit and Universal is simply trying to keep up.  Their iconic monsters are laying around doing no one any good unless new stories are written for them, so the studio is following up. The paranormal team led by Dr. Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe may not be the Avengers, The Justice League or even Transformers, but hey can be entertaining if given a chance. I can’t say this film is a bright start to that future of serialized stories, but it is not the failure that others would have you believe. This a a popcorn picture, disposable as any other fast food product of our consumer society. There is a place for romance novels in literature, hamburgers in dining circles and Fords in the car business. “The Mummy” reminds me of one of those mid-range sedans from Ford, it will get you where you are going but nobody will be bragging about the cool ride you showed up in.  You may look over at that Lincoln in the next theater, but if you have already driven it and know what a nice ride it is, watch this film. It will fill your two hours and remind you that it is just a car, and there is luxury out there that you can still aspire to.

TCM/Fathom Events: 45th Anniversary of The Godfather

Sometimes you just have to sit in awe of what great film makers are able to achieve in the hot spot of their careers. For the ten years between 1969 and 1979, Francis Ford Coppola was the undisputed king of American Cinema. Four of his films were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, two of them won the award, and a third film that he wrote also was named Best Picture. This evening I celebrated in 45 years of basking in his masterpiece, “The Godfather”. I surreptitiously read the book when I was fourteen years old. I know my parents would not have approved but it was something everybody was talking about so I took a paperback copy with me around the corner from our apartment building and sat on a curb, devouring it for several days. Sure I memorized the racy bits, I was 14, but I also could tell this was a tremendous story and it should make a heck of a film. I’m not sure how I managed to talk my Dad into taking me to see it, but I know we went that Spring, when the lines were long and saw it in the Alhambra Theater. I was maybe a little self conscious sitting next to my old man when the nude scene showed up, but the rest of the film was so powerful that such discomfort never detracted from the experience. That was 1972.

 

I’m sure I saw the film a couple more times in the following two years as I awaited the sequel, a concept that up to that point was largely the realm of genre films.  One of the first dates I had with my future bride involved dragging her to a double feature of the two Godfather films, one where it turned out they decided to skip an intermission between movies. So my girlfriend and I sat there for six and a half hours straight, and she still married me a few years later. The film was one of the first acquisitions I made when VHS tapes came along. Before the price points dropped in the mid-80s to create a sell through market, most films were only available for $70 or $80 bucks, and this was more than thirty years ago. I pulled that trigger as soon at I could. It was a substantial commitment for a young married couple, and I was trying to get by on part time teaching. That’s how important as a piece of art and culture it was and is to me.

I’ve seen it several more times over the years, on the big screen. The last time was two years ago when it was accompanied by a live orchestra performing the score for three hours as the film played for nearly six thousand people in what was at the time the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles. Tonight’s screening was nothing so fancy. It was a 4K projection at a Chain Complex on a Wednesday night. There were maybe twenty people there, but when it was all over several of us spoke to one another about what a wonderful experience it was. There was applause at the end of the movie, and the somber silence that always comes when that door gets closed on Kay’s face.

I tried to watch things that I did not always focus on in prior screenings. There are two exceptional moments when the camera slowly takes in what is happening in front of us and lets the anticipation occur without fanfare. The reveal of exactly what it is that Jack Woltz has in his bed is horrifying enough. We watch as he turns in his sleep ever so slightly, then the satin sheet gets pulled down from his face fairly slowly. He feels the dampness but hesitates just a moment, the right amount of time before he throws down the bedclothes past his waist, and then, there is the quick reveal of Khartoum and the lingering horrified cry of fear and anguish from the movie producer, which extends in a echo as the scene shifts to Don Corleone with just the slightest of smiles on his face. The whole scene is iconic but watch how the pacing builds it so well. The second spot I distinctly remembered is in the restaurant before Solozzo and Captain McClusky make their exits from the story. We know what the plan is, we can see tension on Michael’s broken face but we have to sit still as the waiter, brings a bottle of wine, shows it opens it with an old fashioned corkscrew that takes some time, and then pours a small amount into a glass that Solozo then extends to Michael. Waiting for the waiter to go through that whole ritual, without any dialogue, just the characters sitting there waiting themselves, it is something you don’t see in movies anymore.

There are a hundred other moments that deserve some attention, but that will have to wait for another time. Everyone reading this has almost certainly seen this film and if you haven’t what the hell is going on? Make an effort to share this experience with a group of strangers in a dark theater. Be prepared to try and catch your breath as it is stolen from you by the brutal poetry of this story and film. There is a reason that many consider it the greatest film ever, it is visual and emotional perfection.

Double O Seven Double Feature: Tribute to Roger Moore

It was a sad day and a joyous day, all rolled into an afternoon in the cinema. Sir Roger Moore, who was the third  007 in the official series of films, passed away just over a week ago. As they did with Gene Wilder and Prince last year, AMC Theaters arranged nationwide screenings of some of his work as a salute to the star of seven James Bond adventures. People who do not understand the film business complained last year that AMC was cashing in on the deaths by selling tickets to the older films. The overhead for these special presentations and the screens that they have to give up to arrange them, will hardly cover the cost of putting this together. Maybe as a way of defraying these criticisms, whatever proceeds came from this presentation were donated to UNICEF, an organization that Roger Moore had served as an ambassador for several years.

For a generation behind me, Roger Moore was James Bond. He started making these films in the seventies and was the primary Bond of the 80s as well (no disrespect to Timothy Dalton). Gen-X had a suave, pretty and humorous Bond to admire. Moore was never the physical threat that Sean Connery was, but he had the fashion sense, snobbery, and tongue in cheek attitude necessary to carry the franchise through a transition period. The Bond films were solid money makers, but they were not the blockbusters that the mid-Connery era films were. Roger Moore stuck it out though two solid films, and in his third outing helped return the series to the heights it once had. Even though the films were big and successful, they became a little too silly to have the status of “classic”.  “Moonraker” and “A View to a Kill” are fun entertainment but are also a bit embarrassing. There is however one Roger Moore Bond outing that qualifies for almost all 007 fanatics top ten list, and that is “The Spy Who Loved Me”.

The two films chosen to represent Moore as James Bond in this tribute include that one truly extraordinary 007 adventure, and then his most serious outing, meant to restore the franchise to Earth after the shenanigans of the previous film. In an interesting choice, they actually played in reverse order for my double feature at least.

For Your Eyes Only

Fans of 007 who have read the books, will certainly appreciate the grounded nature of this entry. The story does not concern a megalomaniac trying to destroy the world, but rather a mercenary double agent who simply sees profit in selling out to the Soviets. It also includes bits and pieces of short stories and scenes from other Bond novels that had not been included in the films made of the original books.

As an illustration of the more serious tone of this story, Bond actually refrains from sleeping with the ingenue who seems to be a third his age. The romance angle that does get exploited concerns two grown women, neither of who look to young to find Roger Moore attractive. There is also a two pronged revenge story at the heart of the movie. The main Bond girl played by Carole Bouquet, is trying to kill those responsible for the murder of her parents. Bond himself pursues one of the villain in retribution for the killing of a friendly station head that Bond had trusted. We even forget the macguffian for most of the film as this pair of stories plays out.

In one of my favorite scenes in a Roger Moore Bond film, 007 races up a series of staircases to outflank an escaping vehicle that has to use a switchbacked road to reach the top of a hill. As Bond shoots at the vehicle it slides off the road onto the edge of a cliff. As it barely clings to the top, the murderous assassin is trapped in the car. Bond walks up to the vehicle, reminds him of the agent that he murdered and then kicks the car in a cold blooded move, sending tumbling down the side of the cliff to it’s demise. It’s a great moment for Moore to show he is not just a pretty boy playing at espionage.

Although the title song is solid, with Sheena Easton looking gorgeous in the background of silhouetted nudes in the title sequence, the rest of the score is a disappointment. I like Bill Conti but the electronic instrumentation in the first half of the film drains the action sequences of any tension. The music tightens up in the last third but by that point, some people may have tuned out. The film adds considerable charm when Topal shows up as a suspect and then an ally of Bonds. There are two awful aspects to the film that you should be warned about, and neither of them is the fault of the lead actor. Bernard Lee, who had played “M” for almost twenty years, died as the movie was filming and the chief of staff of the Secret Service is filling in while “M” is on leave. The actor they cast and the direction he was given create one of the least pleasant characters on the British side. For the stinger at the end of the movie, they simply could not resist the novelty that the head of state at the time was a woman, so a Thatcher doppelganger is used for a punchline.

The Spy Who Loved Me

Ian Fleming’s least favorite of the books he wrote is turned into a film that almost everyone will love. It has no connection whatever to the original story and uses the title to build the premise around. In the seventies, the Soviets were still an enemy, but the notion of British and Soviet intelligence working together provides an irresistible twist to the film. This film does feature a rich villain with plans to wipe out the population, but it is all the by-play between the two spies that provides most of the fireworks in the movie.

 

Roger Moore was at the peak of his physical attractiveness for this movie. He was a mature man who looked like he could engage in a fight, woo a woman and still look good in his clothes afterwards.

 

His pairing with Barbara Bach as agent XXX makes some sense since both sides are missing nuclear subs, and the two of them look great together thorough most of the film. Of all his co-stars, she is the one that provided the most chemistry and helped Bond feel more real than he had in a long time.

“The Spy Who Loved Me” celebrates it’s 40th anniversary this year. It was a huge box office success and is probably best remembered for the title song, the villain “Jaws” and the parachute escape in the pre-title sequence. There is so much to recommend this film that you could put your finger down at any spot and have something good to say about that moment. The whole sequence in Egypt around the pyramids and ruins was beautiful to look at and nicely staged. The battle on the super tanker is a well staged action sequence. The chase sequences on the island of Sardinia were also excellent, and they feature the second best car 007 ever drove. A Lotus that doubles as a submarine.

 

When I was in London a year ago, I added myself to the film legacy of the submersible car by posing for a picture with it in the Bond Exhibit at the national film Museum in London.

Moore had another great tough guy moment in the film when he flicks a hand off his necktie and sends a secondary bad guy to his doom by doing so. He then straightens the tie and makes a typical Moore quip.

He may not have been everybody’s  favorite 007, but he made more of the official Bond films than anyone else. He is the first of our 007s to make the jump to the next great adventure and we should all miss him as a human being. Lucky for us, he had these two outing to leave us with the best of impressions.

Links

For Your Eyes Only 007 Countdown

The Spy Who Loved Me 007 Countdown

The Spy Who Loved Me : Summer Movie Project

 

Wonder Woman

Well, we have waited a long time for this and it is finally here. A DC Universe film that makes you anxious to see another DC Universe film. With iconic heroes like Batman and Superman and villains like The Joker, it still took a woman to put them on the right track. Men just can’t ask for directions. Fortunately we have two women to thank for bringing these movies back from the brink of disaster. The perfectly cast Gal Godot and the very talented director Patty Jenkins. They have managed to make a film that is watchable but also memorable. The best thing the film does is give us a central character that we can root for and care about. Diana, Princess of Amazons, who has spent her whole life preparing to fight. We get to see that preparation but even better than that, we get to witness her explode into the world in a romantic period piece that has a great mix of reality and comic book silliness.

 

There are two distinct world depicted in this film. The first is the seemingly idyllic island that the Amazons life on, without the need for men. The only child on the island is the daughter of their Queen, Hippolyta. She tells Diana that she was molded out of clay and brought to life with the breath of the god Zeus. There is no sens of time in their world, so as Diana grows, it could be  over twenty years or twenty-thousand. She definitely has enough time however to become the greatest warrior ever among her people. Her mother despairs of her becoming a fierce instrument in the battle against war, but her Aunt Antiope, the current bad ass of the clan, knows that it is Diana’s destiny. The whole section on the island is told with efficiency and with as little excess as possible, while still filling us in on the legends and backgrounds of the characters. Certainly there are some blank spaces and questions, but director Jenkins manages to keep us focused on the main issue, which concerns Diana’s role in fighting back against the God Aries, the lord of war.

Chris Pine continues to impress in his starring roles. This second fiddle part is certainly not as challenging as his role in last years “Hell or High Water”, but it does put him in a high profile blockbuster for another consecutive year. Between his Steve Trevor and the leading lady, it is nice to know that pretty people will always be able to find work. Gal Godot is the not so secret weapon in this film. She has a look about her that can be haunted one minute and determined the next. That she has a face that could break a man’s heart and moves (admittedly enhanced by technology) that could render her the greatest action hero ever, does not hurt this film a bit. The sincerity of her demeanor at times when combined with her outright sexiness, should make massive fans out of those who watch this movie.

One other reason that I think this movie works better than “Man of Steel“, “Batman vs. Superman” and “Suicide Squad“, is that it is set in a more nostalgic period when cynicism was seen as a vice rather than a virtue. Scowling villains are not confronted by scowling heroes, but rather by open hearted optimists who see evil and while they may have some doubts about what is good, they want to do the right thing for the right reasons. Diana is so innocently hopeful that she is going to save the world, that when she experiences doubts, especially about humans, it is more believable that she can make a good choice in the long run. Her heart breaks when tragedy strikes at home when she and her Amazon family first confront modern man. She experiences the same slap in the face when she sees that even good men can be faulty in too many ways. The fact that we are capable of making an act of self sacrifice also an emblem of love, leaves it’s mark on this Princess.

Spanish Actress Elena Anaya and veteran character actor Danny Huston, serve as the tertiary  bad guys, the ones that draw the focus of our heroes immediately. Mankind is the secondary villain, and it will survive to challenge Diana Prince in the future, as we already know from our earlier DCU experiences. The main villain is exactly who you think it is going to be. When he appears on screen, you just know that something else is going on here. Since it is a movie and film is a visual medium, there will be a cinematic confrontation. It ends up a little too much like all of these stories do, with  an ultimate power being battled on the most basic physical front rather than on a more cerebral level. Still, it measures up to the kind of fireworks you want out of a movie based on a comic book.

The battle sequences on the beach of Diana’s home and in “no mans land” at the front, are two stand out episodes of the story. We also get two fish out of water stories for the price of one. Steve is befuddled by the ancient matriarchy he has fallen into and Diana is horrified by the ugly modern world, trapped in what seems like never ending war. The side characters in the WW I story are just interesting enough to be worth including, but since the story is not going to stay in this time period, it is understandable that they do not get too much backstory or time. The romance works the way wartime romances usually do, in spite of the short time period that couples have for bonding. I love the look of the film in both the mythical and battlefield visions. I could hear that Wonder Woman Theme come on in most of the scenes and still get goosebumps. I really liked this movie, and while it does have some story issues, they won’t bother you much. Instead of worrying about a lack of backstory or the tie in to Greek mythology, the real Wonder of Wonder Woman is how do we get more of Gal Gadot in all of the DC Universe?