47 Meters Down (2017)

47 Meters Down posterReleased: June 23, 2017. Directed by: Johannes Roberts. Starring: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine. Runtime: 1h 29 min.

Two sisters, Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) go to Mexico for a vacation and after meeting a pair of locals, they’re told about going underwater in a cage where they can go face-to-face with 25-foot-great white sharks.

They do just that but when they’re in the water, the boat’s mechanism that holds the cage breaks and the sisters plummet 47 meters down to the ocean’s surface. There, their oxygen starts to run out and sharks circle nearby, and their fight for survival begins.

I watched this when it came out in theatres in June 2017 and I liked it. On second watch, it doesn’t hold up. The characters aren’t interesting. Lisa initially was going on this vacation with her boyfriend Stuart, but he broke up with her because she’s boring. Honestly, I can’t blame the guy.

That’s how Kate gets Lisa in the cage, telling her that she isn’t a boring person if she’s in a shark cage. When Lisa’s anxious the day of, Kate says she won’t make Stuart jealous if she waits in the bathroom.

Lisa’s anxious for good reason. The cage looks rusty and she has no scuba diving experience, so when Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine) tells her about her gear, it’s like a foreign language. Before they go down, he tells them, “once you’re down there, you’re not gonna want to come back up.” False, because Lisa wants to come up immediately.

Taylor’s talent is puns – as he named his boat the Sea Esta. Taylor’s mostly a voice presence through the film as Kate repeatedly swims higher to communicate with Taylor, since their cage is out of range for radio contact.

47 Meters Down review

Claire Holt and Mandy Moore in 47 Meters Down. (IMDb)

Kate is the brave character here as Lisa spends most of the time panicking and telling us how scared she is. I’d be the same way – but you wouldn’t find me in a shark cage. The sisterly chemistry is good and the two leads are charming as thinly written characters. It’s nice watching Lisa overcome her fears in some moments on her fight to be less boring.

Johannes Roberts writes (with Ernest Riera) and directs the film. He delivers strong tension and some thrilling sequences, especially while in the open water. He captures the fear of the characters well in simple scenes of tension like the mechanism that holds the cage breaking. His writing’s also smart and the film is best when the characters are forced outside of the cage. The third act is a lot of fun, too. The ending might frustrate some, but it’s consistent with the story.

Enough about the humans. The sharks usually look fine, but late in the film when we get better looks at the shark, the fact that this was initially meant to be straight-to-DVD explains the quality of the subpar visual effects.

But it just doesn’t serve the film well, as some visual effects shots are so brief it’s hard to tell what happens. The dark cinematography underwater doesn’t help that either, which is a shame because they spend a lot of time underwater. That’s a big thing with 47 Meters Down – it’s good for a straight-to-DVD film as it was produced (on a budget of $5.5 million), but mediocre as a theatrical release.

Score: 65/100

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Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Released: July 17, 1987. Directed by: Joseph Sargent. Starring: Lorraine Gary, Michael Caine, Lance Guest. Runtime: 1h 29 min.

In the franchise’s timeline, Jaws: The Revenge takes place after Jaws 2 and completely ignores the events of Jaws 3-D. This is helpful to know that it ignores the events of the third film – since Sean’s no longer afraid of the water and he’s a deputy on Amity Island now.

Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) is now a widow after Chief Brody died of a heart attack (Ellen thinks it was the fear of sharks that killed him). The film kicks off with her youngest son Sean (Mitchell Anderson) getting killed by a shark a few days before Christmas. Enjoy this poorly edited attack, it’s the only one for awhile.

It’s funny that the film’s set during Christmas time. We can tell it’s Christmas as Sean’s death scene is accompanied with carolers singing on the island. In case you’ve forgotten by the 30-minute mark, Ellen and Michael have a conversation outside while the other characters sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in the background.

The terrible script entirely forgets about that Sean was getting married and we hardly see her at all after his death. After his death, her eldest son Michael (Lance Guest) comes to town wife his wife Carla (Karen Young) and their daughter Thea (the late Judith Barsi). They invite Ellen to stay with them in The Bahamas over Christmas. The water’s too warm for sharks, so it’ll be fine.

You see, Ellen believes that Great White sharks are out to get the Brody family. She’s wholly convinced a shark killed Sean out of vengeance, so The Bahamas’ warm waters won’t keep the Great White Revenge Shark away. Since the sharks from the first two films were defeated, they must have told their friends during their Brody feuds that if they were ever blown up, that bastard Brody did it. The shark only cares about Brody flesh, so there aren’t many shark attacks in a shark attack movie. In fact, there are two dream sequences and only one actual shark attack in the film’s first hour. Ouch.

The premise of a revenge shark is also so silly. Revenge sharks don’t make any sense. Though, the film’s lack of explanation is better than the one in the film’s novelization where a witch doctor puts a curse on the shark to do his bidding and get revenge on the Brody’s. I much prefer imagining a group of Great White sharks meeting and showing each other pictures of people that they hate the most, and Public Enemy No. 1 is the Brody family.

Ellen confides this mania in local pilot Hoagie, played by Michael Caine in one his paycheck pictures (he got $1.5 million for a week of filming). He acts circles around everyone without really trying. It’s a dull romance between Ellen and Hoagie, because Ellen’s simply boring. She works in the first two films as a supporting character but can’t carry a film to save her own life.

Jaws Revenge in review

Lorraine Gary and Michael Caine in Jaws: The Revenge. (IMDb)

She’s adamant her family not go near the water, which is hard when Michael is a marine biologist. He’s not a smart character as he decides to study the shark with Jake (Mario Van Peebles) and not tell anyone about it. Yay, secrecy.

There’s one okay scene as Michael escapes the Great Rubber Shark through a sunken ship, but that’s it for anything close to good. The script’s just ludicrous, but the film’s more memorably bad than Jaws 3-D. Speaking of Jaws 3-D, the only aspect better than it is the cinematography (especially the underwater scenes), because at least we can tell what’s happening.

The dialogue is what is memorably bad at times. Carla gets mad at Michael about not taking out the trash. She then takes out a blowtorch to work on her beach sculpture and Michael says, “I’ve always wanted to make love to an angry welder. I’ve dreamed of nothing else since I was a small boy.” That, my friends, is romance.

Spoiler alert for the last three paragraphs, so if you don’t want to read about the stupidity of the ending, thanks for reading. Still here? Cool.

The plot’s still ridiculous. The finale wouldn’t happen if Ellen didn’t recklessly go after the shark. She thinks if she lets the shark kill her, it’ll leave the family alone. It’s hilarious and delusional. The ending doesn’t make sense, either, as Jake puts an electrical pulse device down the shark’s throat and Michael uses a flashlight connected to it to make the beast literally roar in pain, which is hilarious. Ellen’s determined to kill the shark and remembers Sean getting eaten (though she could not see it) and recalls Chief Brody’s victory over the shark in Jaws, even though she did not see this.

While going to kill the shark, there’s dramatic zooms on Ellen’s face, then on Martin Brody’s in archive footage, and then the “smile you son of a bitch” line is replayed. Ellen jabs the shark with a stick and the shark spontaneously explodes. The shark looks like clay here and we can’t even tell what happens because of the bad editing. It’s basically the ending to all the Jaws films and the writer (Michael De Guzman) is like, “okay, let’s poke the shark with a stick and he’ll blow up… Because science.”

That’s a main problem with Jaws: The Revenge, it’s just a highlight reel of the first film. There’s even a similar scene to the first film where Michael gets mimicked by Thea. The filmmakers reusing footage from the first film to frame the ending around is just lazy filmmaking.

Score: 12/100

Jaws 3-D (1983)

Released: July 22, 1983. Directed by: Joe Alves. Starring: Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCorkindale. Runtime: 1h 39 min.

“Jaws 3-D”, a film so bad that it’s not really even canon in the franchise because of the events of “Jaws: The Revenge,” follows a grown-up Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid) as he’s working at SeaWorld in Florida. The amusement park is about to open an attraction called the Undersea Kingdom, a series of glass tunnels about 40 feet underwater. Interfering with the grand opening is a 35-foot Great White shark that manages to get into the park.

The IMDb synopsis says “the sons of police chief Brody must protect customers” at the park, but that’s only the last 40 minutes and Sean Brody (John Putch) doesn’t help much. He’s just kind-of there to visit as he’s taking a break from schooling in Colorado. He shares his father’s fear of water but goes in because his love interest Kelly (Lea Thompson in her first film), a water-skier at the park, likes the water. The Sean character has always been afterthought to Michael, and it’s no different here.

The characters in the film are just flat. Michael works at SeaWorld as the engineer of the Undersea Kingdom and lives with his girlfriend Kay (Bess Armstrong), SeaWorld’s senior biologist. Their main thing is that Mike might go to Venezuela for work, but he also might not. That’s the deep development we get.

There’s also Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.), the park’s manager who makes a lot of stupid decisions because he’s the boss and doesn’t want to ask anyone before doing something. A photographer named Philip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale) also shows up to help hunt the shark. His characterization’s basically “must get footage, must get footage” and that’s it.

It seems like there was an interesting idea in Richard Matheson and Carl Gotlieb’s script – about a shark getting loose in a water park – but the result’s bad and the attacks suck because we can barely see them. We spend a scene on a pair of random thieves trying to steal coral from SeaWorld’s lagoon, and it’s worthless because we can barely see the attack.

Jaws 3-D in review

The film’s cutting edge visuals.

Usually when I hate a film, a redeeming quality is that’s in focus. That’s not the case for Jaws 3-D as the cinematography (by James A. Contner) is consistently bad. Everything looks terrible, and the underwater scenes don’t look good this time. Unfortunately, much of the film takes place underwater because of the Undersea Kingdom, including the finale. The exterior of the Kingdom’s glass tunnels look like the fakest thing, as does the scuba vehicle the characters use.

The use of 3-D is gimmicky – where things like a fake-looking severed arm come at the screen, and a harpoon also gets shot at us – and the visuals are god-awful. The film just has bad production design, terrible cinematography and worse visuals. It all renders it unwatchable. There’s a part where the shark literally looks like a cardboard cut-out coming at the camera. It looks more rubber often, but when it does look real, it’s just stock footage.

At one point, after Mike and Kay get out of the water after the first interaction with the shark, Mike asks, “What was that?” After encountering sharks so much as a kid, you’d think he would know what a shark is. But the beast just looks so fake, I can’t fault him for not realizing it’s a shark.

Score: 12/100

Jaws 2 (1978)

Released: June 16, 1978. Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc. Starring: Roy Schneider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton. Runtime: 1h 56 min.

The greatness that is the original Jaws is a tough act to follow. Jaws 2 is easily the best of all of the sequels, but it’s not an impressive feat. This takes place four years after the original film as a new shark terrorizes Amity Island and Chief Brody (Roy Schneider) again protects the citizens. This time, the citizens he’s protecting aren’t interesting. The only ones you might care about are Chief Brody’s sons Mike (Mark Gruner) and Sean (Marc Gilpin). Even then, I didn’t care much.

Half of Mike’s friends look the same and have little characterization – I thought of two characters as Sideburns Nerd and No Sideburns Nerd – and the only one of the teens that’s easy enough to differentiate is his buddy Andy (Gary Springer), the closest thing to the movie’s comic relief. Mike also gets set up with someone’s cousin named Jackie (Donna Wilkes). But I didn’t care about this romance stuff or their teenage shenanigans, I just wanted sharks.

There’s an argument that this film just makes it more about the shark rather than establishing secondary characters, so that’s kind-of fine because even if it did give the characters more to work with, I don’t think I would have been interested in them anyway. They’re just so dry.

Jaws 2 in reviewThe writing’s not great, either. There’s a moment where one of the teens is parasailing and the shark stalks underneath. I was getting annoyed waiting for the shark to eat him. The character turned out to be Mike and since the film didn’t establish that well, I ended up being annoyed by the scene rather than feeling the suspense that should have been there if we knew it was Mike.

Roy Schneider doesn’t look interested as Chief Brody this time, but that’s probably because he just didn’t want to do this film. He’s a great character in the first film, but he’s my least favourite of the three main characters – out of Chief Brody, Robert Shaw’s Quint and Richard Dreyfuss’ Matt Hooper – if I had to choose. Brody’s wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) returns for this film and is a good support system, but this time Brody doesn’t have anyone he can banter or play off of, which worked so well in the first film.

I like the scene seeing what the events of the first film did to him as a person when he thought he saw a shark in the water – when it was just a sea of bluefish – and he causes a huge scene. It’s believable and is what makes some of the first half like The Chief Who Cried Shark. Though, it feels more like a tool for characters just not to trust his judgment instead of fully diving into the fears he still feels because of his encounter. He warns everyone including the mayor (Murray Hamilton), who like the first film, doesn’t listen.

It goes through the motions and most of the first half bored me. There was just nowhere near the same amount of suspense. That has to do with the writing – but the score by John Williams still rocks during the shark attacks. There’s just a lot of waiting between shark attacks in the film’s first half and I was waiting the whole time for consistent shark action. I finally got that in the film’s third act – which is decent fun – but this is so boring I just wasn’t interested by that point.

Score: 40/100

Jaws (1975)

Released: June 20, 1975. Directed by: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Roy Schneider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss. Runtime: 2h 4 min.

I’ve only seen Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece “Jaws” three times. The first time I watched it was when I was 11 years old at school, weirdly enough. The next time was in August 2012 when I was 17.

For some reason I keep waiting six years between watches as I just watched it again the other day, but with each new viewing – I still feel the suspense, like the suspense of fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) simply catching something on his hook.

I still feel the thrill of John Williams’ score as we see the shark’s underwater point of view before it attacks. As our fear of the unknown, and the ocean, builds throughout the film, it makes the big reveal of the shark that much more effective.

The film starts with such a memorable beginning of a young woman being killed by a shark while skinny dipping on Amity Island, a New England tourist town.

Despite suggestions that it’s a shark attack from Chief Martin Brody (Roy Schneider), the town’s mayor (Murray Hamilton) doesn’t want to shut down the beach because it’s the Fourth of July.

He doesn’t want a panic on his hands and he doesn’t want to lose money because of this. It has dire consequences. When the Great White shark continues to terrorize the town’s waters, the police chief, marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and ship captain Quint take the fight to it.

One of my favourite things about “Jaws” is that it is so well-paced. The second half of the film is the actual hunt and it doesn’t feel like an hour at all. This is helped by, of course, the film’s tension and its non-stop thrills.

Jaws in reviewwwI just love how the trio think they’re being the hunters going out to take down the shark and then it turns the tables on them.

Also helping the pacing is the great acting and chemistry between the three main characters, which makes their banter so natural. I always forget how funny Richard Dreyfuss is as Matt Hooper and the scene on the boat with him and Quint comparing their scars is great. Quint’s monologue about the USS Indianapolis is so compelling. He’s such a character and the songs he sings are amusing.

Chief Brody isn’t as funny as the other two, but he’s perfectly developed as someone who feels guilty about the deaths by the shark even though the fault is really on the Mayor for not shutting down the beach.

I know I’m probably not saying anything new about the film, but it’s because it’s just so great. The film’s shark attacks are just so brutal and they still make me have second thoughts of going into the ocean but it’s why it’s still so effective 43 years later.

Score: 100/100

The First Purge (2018)

Released: July 4, 2018. Directed by: Gerard McMurray. Starring: Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade. Runtime: 1h 38 min.

I remember when I first heard about The Purge. I was excited because of its concept – but it ended up being disappointing. I thought its sequels (2014’s The Purge: Anarchy, 2016’s The Purge: Election Year) were stronger and added to the universe.

Now, we get a boring prequel with The First Purge, that shows the events of the very first Purge. The 12 hours of everything being legal implemented by the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) and it’s the 12 hours of all crime being legalized is pitched as a psychological device to let Americans unleash their anger. It’s supposed to save the country, thought up by Marisa Tomei’s Dr. Updale (Tomei’s the film’s only household name and she’s fine, but isn’t heavily involved in the action).

The first experiment takes place on Staten Island and the government offers $5,000 to simply stay on the island on Purge Night. It’s a payday many just can’t pass up. Other incentive offered is a bigger payday for all the crimes you commit. Want to kill a lot of people? Then, wear special contact lenses that videotape your night and you’ll have a nice payday if you survive.

A lot of this film doesn’t work because we know the Purge’s purpose – combatting overpopulation and thinning out the herd, especially those on welfare so the government doesn’t have to take care of them. It’s uninteresting when they repeat the politics, and since they have to establish the new characters, it takes 25-30 minutes to get to any action.

The main characters are Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade), who live in a low-income apartment building on Staten Island. They have a good chemistry but they’re not memorable.

Her ex-boyfriend Dimitri (Y’Lan Noel, TV’s Insecure) is a drug kingpin who’s trying to protect his business from competing drugl ords who would use the Purge as an opportunity to take him out. He’s also protecting the citizens since the government wants to take out Staten Island’s black population. Dimitri’s a highlight who can be threatening but also sweet when it comes to Nya.

The First Purge in the review

Lex Scott Davis and Joivan Wade in The First Purge. (IMDb)

He’s heroic and has a likable charisma for a drug kingpin, and has a good presence in the action scenes. Noel has the most presence of the main cast in general. He is a reason the film feels more like an action movie than a horror film this go around, as some it’s more akin to The Raid: Redemption than a Purge movie.

It still maintains its jump scares, but these are stupid. The franchise has evolved a lot from its original conception of home invasion horror and commentary on human nature to this boring affair. It’s also bogged down by its commentary on American extremism – featuring characters dressed as KKK members and Nazis.

The franchise has never been subtle but its subtext feels really in your face this time, especially one of its main references to Donald Trump – a Purger that hangs out in the sewers that traps Nya and grabs her by the pussy. If the action isn’t a clear enough reference, she then runs away calling him a “pussy grabbing motherf–.”

Also problematic are the film’s villains. The masks are toned down this time, but because of the Purgers’ lack of creativity. The Staten Island purgers are boring – but perhaps this is because in The Purge the participants had eight years to perfect their killing style.

The more creative Purgers are silly, from a pair of old women, accompanied by the Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip” whenever they’re on screen, who rig stuffed animals with explosives, to the film’s main antagonist Skeletor (Rotimi Paul). He’s a junkie and a psychopath who seems to be the only one who really wants to purge.

He’s over the top in every sense of the word, spitting all over the place as he talks. He’s totally crazy and Paul goes completely into the role. The character’s dumb– just because of his over-the-top nature – but he’s also the most memorable villain since Rhys Wakefield’s Polite Leader of the original film. Skeletor just might be the only thing I remember about this bad prequel.

Score: 40/100

Tag (2018)

Released: June 15, 2018. Directed by: Jeff Tomsic. Starring: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

The concept of Tag could sound like the silliest thing ever. It’s literally grown men playing tag because they’ve been playing the game for 30 years and they get together every May to play. The concept only works because it’s true. The film’s based on a Wall Street Journal article called “It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It” by Russell Adams.

The article’s about a group of 10 friends who started playing the game in Spokane, Washington, in high school, but resumed the game again in 1990 at their high school reunion. A main difference of the stars of the article are their ages – average Joe’s in their late 40s – and these characters are thirty-somethings who started the game on the playground.

It seems that the film has only taken the concept of the game as our main characters are a core group of five instead of the real-life 10, but this is effective for purposes of simplicity. We first meet Hogan ‘Hoagie’ Malloy (Ed Helms) dressing as a janitor in an attempt to tag his friend Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm).

He wants to round up the gang, which also includes Randy ‘Chilli’ Cilliano (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Burress), to go to the wedding of their best friend Jerry (Jeremy Renner) to tag the untagged before he retires from the game.

We get the exposition that they have been playing the game for 30 years when Wall Street Journal journalist Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), the gender-swapped stand-in for the actual article’s author Russell Adams, interviews Bob for an article but follows this story instead.

The characters have a nice bond because the game was conceived as a way for them to stay in touch and build their friendships around, and the film surprisingly has a ton of heart. It also shows good examples of fun competition and unhealthy competition, like Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher) who is willing to do a lot to find out where Jerry is in town. She’s not actually able to play, but she has a lot of funny, overtly aggressive lines.

Tag featured

Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm in Tag. (IMDb)

For me it’s more than grown men just playing a game of tag because it’s about embracing your inner child and not forgetting to have fun. This film’s fun, and the comedy is outrageous for a reason. Characters dress up as old ladies in efforts to tag others, and it’s that much funnier because it happened in real life.

The elaborate scenes of characters trying to tag each other are just generally hilarious and it must have been a lot of fun for writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen to figure out these set pieces of them trying to tag each other. They’re super creative.

In one scene we get inner monologues of what the characters are thinking as they’re trying to tag Jerry – and Jerry’s monologue is mostly assessing the situation like a military operative. My favourite line of inner dialogue in this scene is from the journalist as she sees a doughnut flying in slow motion: “This is why print journalism is dying.” I was probably the only one who really laughed at this at the theatre, but I thought it was a funny comment on the type of story she’s covering.

She does have a point – but it’s articles like the one Russell Adams wrote that make amusing films like this happen. At Tag’s core, it’s a story about human connection and staying in touch. It even got me a little emotional near the end. As for the comedy, the outrageousness of the characters trying to avoid being tagged is what makes this so much fun, and its over-the-top comedy really worked for me.

Score: 75/100