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

Advertisements

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

 

Released: May 5, 2017. Directed by: James Gunn. Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista. Runtime: 2h 16 min.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages to be as fun and original as its predecessor.

It feels fresh as it sets itself apart even in its opening action sequence as a space beast tries to take batteries the Guardians are protecting.

These batteries are a power source for the Sovereign, a race that’s hired the Guardians to kill the beast and in exchange they’ll release a thief to them: Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan).

We get a different perspective as Quill, Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) fight the behemoth in the background and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) does a dance to “Mr. Blue Sky” in the foreground. It’s creative as we watch his antics and it’s like a great opening act before the main event.

After they complete the job, Rocket steals the batteries and naturally, they want them back. The leader of the golden conceited douchebags, Ayesha (a statuesque Elizabeth Debicki) pursues the Guardians. Our heroes are helped from the situation by Ego (Kurt Russell), who ends up being Quill’s father and we learn about Peter’s familial lineage.

We learn the source of Peter’s charm and slight arrogance from Ego. He’s portrayed well by Russell, and the character takes superiority and egotism to the max – his name is literally Ego. Pratt plays Quill so well and has the charm for the role and gets some really good laughs. It’s intriguing learning about his background and their relationship is one of the many interesting dynamics and a focus of the film, and Pratt and Russell carry it well.

The narrative is fast-paced but it’s more complex than the first film’s simplistic story. It gets unfocused on the road to the end, but it finds its way back on track. It’s still a really entertaining story, and the same zany sense of humour and creativity in writing shine through. The characters themselves drive the action-packed space opera.

The dynamics between characters work well, especially as we learn more about the sister rivalry between Gamora and Nebula. Saldana and Karen Gillan play their respective characters well and are both kickass, and Nebula is a stronger character this go around. Gamora doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this sequel – at least compared to the first film.

Guardians

The Guardians of the Galaxy. (Source)

Rocket gets slightly serious as we understand him more, and his chemistry with Yondu (Michael Rooker) is good. Yondu has a bigger role and he’s a pleasant surprise as he becomes integral to the story. It’s delightful learning about his backstory, and he’s a memorable part of many scenes.

Dave Bautista is hilarious as Drax, though his growth as a character is stalled – most of his backstory was handled in the first movie, so we don’t go much further into his development and he’s mostly a source of humour here. He ribs on new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff) a lot, and they’re fun together. She’s a good addition and the make-up is great considering she’s lovely outside the character. Drax points out multiple times Mantis is only beautiful on the inside.

Baby Groot is also great. He’s adorable and a joy whenever he’s on-screen. They’re able to create such a different character with the baby version since he’s aggressive instead of his calm, adult version of himself. This Groot is always up for a fight. Vin Diesel does the inflexions of “I am Groot” so well that it’s believable when Rocket translates for us.

I love that the characters are fractured in some way emotionally with their pasts, and it’s nice that they get through it together. The group’s closeness and how they create their own family makes the film surprisingly moving. The family dynamic enriches the chemistry, and it’s just so endearing because they’re all so different.

I just love the relationships director James Gunn and the cast bring to life. Gunn is such a good fit for the franchise and his comedy flows through the story well. This has so much heart and all the characters have a chance to shine, and it all leads up to a visually dazzling finale.

Plus, the soundtrack is great. I hadn’t heard a lot of the songs before the film – my favourite has to be Looking Glass’ “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” – but I’ve been listening to the soundtrack basically on repeat since seeing this. You probably will, too.

Score: 80/100

Unfinished Business and an unfinished screenplay

Unfinished Business review: Misleading marketing leads to disappointment

Starring Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco, Tom Wilkinson. Directed by Ken Scott. Written by Steve Conrad. Released March 6, 2015. 1hr., 31 min.

Unfinished Business unevenly mixes raunchy comedy with family drama that one wouldn’t expect from the advertised film.

The forced family drama is better anticipated from an afterschool special. It was surely a poor attempt to compensate for a weakly structured narrative. It’s a basic plot following Vince Vaughn as a bland protagonist, Dan Trunkman. He quits his job and starts his own business, called Apex Select, selling swarf, a type of metal. A young buck and an old crypt keeper follow him into the venture, in a spontaneous recruitment that only happens in the movies. The young buck, Mike Pancake (Dave Franco) was just interviewing and only has sales experience from Foot Locker; The crypt keeper, Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) was fired because of his age.

From left, Mike Pancake (Dave Franco), Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) and Dan Truckman (Vince Vaughn) prepare for a cheer in a Dunkin’ Donuts, where their business venture started. Unfinished Business was released on March 6, 2015. Photo by Nicole Revelli. (Source)

From left, Mike Pancake (Dave Franco), Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) and Dan Truckman (Vince Vaughn) prepare for a cheer in a Dunkin’ Donuts, where their business venture started. Unfinished Business was released on March 6, 2015. Photo by Nicole Revelli.
(Source)

Mike’s last name is a recurring joke where Vaughn’s Dan prefers that he doesn’t say it because it throws the clients’ focus. It’s a desperate joke that works once or twice. Franco plays a simple man. His energy and gleeful naivety, especially when he sees breasts, is charming enough to work. He always has a kid in a candy store look on his face, likely because he’s mentally challenged – a character aspect that’s never developed. His performance works because it borders on naivety and pure stupidity.

Franco is the strongest of the group, so it’s baffling that they had to give him a recurring joke crutch. Vaughn, the weakest link and lead, probably needed it the most. It’s not that his character wasn’t a nice guy, it’s that he wasn’t interesting or very funny. He’s what glues the team together at their worst points, like when their old boss Chuck Portnoy (Sienna Miller) shows up and interferes with their business deal. She interferes on a business deal with some sort-of big firm. That doesn’t get explained well, either. The supposed-to-be a one day business trip turns into a exploit-filled business trip to Berlin. There’s sporadic raunchiness, where they only compiled the trailers from the party scenes to sell it to a younger demographic.

They showed enough pointless female and male nudity, in a rather awkward bathroom scene, to get an R-rating slapped on it. Though, it was an interesting creative choice to spotlight a Berlin gay fetish festival rather than the defining Oktoberfest. I suppose it makes the film unique in its own way, but very basic thematically. The film tries to depressingly portray the idea that if you work and travel too much, you’re going to be super unhappy. Adding to the depressing quality, there’s a large focus on relentless bullying. Much like Ken Scott’s previous film Delivery Man, this has heart but no comedic momentum. Scott brought his appreciation of family drama into a film where it was unwelcome.

Score: 38/100

Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) is in the forefront of a cast shoot of stock photographs.  Source

Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson) is in the forefront of a cast shoot of stock photographs.
Source

Annabelle (2014)

AnnabelleReleased: October 3, 2014. Directed by: John R. Leonetti. Starring: Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard. Runtime: 98 min.

Do viewers remember that creepy doll named Annabelle from 2013’s “The Conjuring?” Well, regardless of your enjoyment of her, she’s getting the origins treatment. The film opens with background that dolls can both be children’s toys and conduits for inhuman spirits.

The film, based before the account with Ed and Lorraine Warren’s case files, follows a young couple, Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton). The couple, who are expecting a baby, are one’s average Church-attending folks, and John is training to become a doctor. As a present, John gives Mia a rare, vintage doll to finish her collection. It’s Annabelle – the creepy, rosy-cheeked porcelain doll in a white wedding dress. The next-door neighbours’ daughter, Annabelle Higgins (Tree O’Toole), ran away to join a cult, and one night she returns to slay her parents. In their brutal wake, Higgins and her boyfriend also invade Mia’s house and conjure a malevolent spirit, and use the Annabelle doll as a conduit.

The haunting starts out innocently – rocking chairs and sewing machines have minds of their own. The frequently absent husband John blames it on pregnancy hormones and the anxieties of the brutal attack. When things get worse after moving from Santa Monica to Pasadena, he suggests marriage counseling – even though priest blessings seem to do a better trick. As you can tell, he’s not smart.

Mia isn’t much smarter. At one point, she gets John to throw the doll in the trash early on – but when she finds Annabelle later in one of the boxes after moving, she doesn’t think to throw her back in the trash. What’s more bothersome about these characters is that they don’t pursue anything. In one instance, Mia and John find drawings that suggest a threat to Mia’s baby, which they assume were drawn by kids in the apartment building. They contemplate asking the young children’s parents about it, but never pursue. Also: The two kids are literally the only two tenants other than Mia, John and Evelyn (a great Alfre Woodard), we see in the apartment the entire film.

Unintelligent character decisions aside, the writing isn’t half-bad. It has a lot of demonic material and the tone feels like a mix between “Rosemary’s Baby” – perhaps the character name Mia is a nod to this film’s star, Mia Farrow – and “Insidious.” The expansion of the “Insidious” universe was great. Granted, the expansion of that universe made historical inaccuracies even more prevalent. The only truth about this film is that Annabelle is an inhuman spirit and that she’s a real doll. Otherwise, it’s a fictional but creative story. The inconsistency within the Warrens universe is confusing. In “The Conjuring,” Annabelle Higgins was murdered at seven years of age; in this film, she is a satanic cultist killed in her early twenties. It’s a more malevolent origin, but it suggests a lack of care from filmmakers.

There’s some poignancy in characterization, specifically found in the character of Evelyn. There’s also psychological horror thrown in for good measure. This doesn’t make “Annabelle” a creepy doll horror in the traditional sense. It has more layers, but it doesn’t have doll catch-phrases or the pitter-patter of doll feet in the apartment. The chills “Annabelle” musters are notable in eerie imagery and basement scenes. Before the Pasadena apartment, the film is only sporadically scary. The apartment building adds a creepier vibe.

Director John R. Leonetti brings his own style to the film and emulates James Wan’s style simultaneously. He uses a lot of bizarre zooms, even in conversations. The zooms exaggerate certain physical features like a comic strip might. The zooms are indicative of both his style and experience as a cinematographer. He rouses unease with these shots, but most are empty images of her doing absolutely nothing. The heightened unsettling score is designed to offer a sense of depth that isn’t there.

Score: 67/100

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

Purge AnarchyReleased: July 18, 2014. Directed by: James DeMonaco. Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford. Runtime: 103 min.

After last year’s The Purge disappointed, my expectations were virtually non-existent for The Purge: Anarchy. The quick production of the sequel also contributed to my low expectations, because I appreciate a strong production value.

The film opens with three different chapters that intersect within the first 30 minutes. The first chapter is an average working mother Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo), and her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul). They represent the lower-class citizens, and they’re forced out onto the streets when a small army infiltrates their urban apartment building. Another chapter follows a police sergeant (Frank Grillo) who is out on purge night on his own accord, searching for vengeance. The third follows a middle-class couple (Liz and Shane, Kiele Sanchez and Zac Gilford respectively) whose car breaks down on the highway in downtown Los Angeles. When all of these characters intersect, a simplistic A to B plot is introduced.

 Writer/director James DeMonaco improves on the original in a lot of ways. Most notably, the high concept works better as an ultra-violent action flick, and the original’s horror aspirations just made it weaker. With a decreased amount of pop-up scares, this seems to aspire to be an action film with horror undertones – as it would be freaking scary to be out on purge night. It’s a high-concept from the mind of DeMonaco where annually each year, crimes – including murder – are completely legal for twelve hours. Of course, you can’t use weapons over Level 4 (rocket launchers would be out of the question) and you won’t legally be able to assassinate the President.

 The idea is designed to render the crime rate non-existent and to lower the unemployment rate. It’s a way for Americans to let off steam, or to “release the beast,” a right they are given by the new founding fathers of 2023. It’s also a way for the corrupt government to allow the murdering hunters to thin the herd by killing those who cannot defend themselves – the homeless and the poor. It’s also a way to control the American population, like hunters do to control the animal population.It’s also another way for Americans to be Number One in lowest unemployment rate and lowest crime rate.

 One unbelievable aspect is that people still won’t be imprisoned on non-Purge day. I don’t buy that there still won’t be money laundering or bank robberies. One thing that DeMonaco failed to take into consideration is the desperation of humans; because if they’re desperate enough, they’ll still steal or rape. Especially if they’re mentally ill, they’ll probably still kill because they could just snap. Even if they do wait until Purge day, it’s just not logical – because the justice system is what would be keeping that anger, or crazy urge to kill someone, in line.

Never-mind one’s morals or anything. There’s a bit of a more moral argument brought into this film through certain characters. One is a young woman named Cali (Zoë Soul) who is fascinated by an activist’s beliefs in the immorality of the Purge. This man, Carmelo Johns (a great Michael K. Williams), wants to fight back – because it’s legal, baby! Cali’s brief lectures to another character about the immorality of it all makes it a bit more in your face than it should have been in an average horror movie, but it adds a layer that the original was missing.

Another thing that is fascinating is the fact that some wealthy families actually purchase martyrs for Purge night. They go through sick and poor people, desperate enough to be bought out for a sum of $100k, which could help their families in great ways. It’s an intriguing little concept within the Purge mythology.

The film has good pacing and a strong third act. The characters are underdeveloped, but that’s fine with everything else going on. Since DeMonaco brings his story onto the streets of the purge night, it has much more depth and possibility of events than the first had, which was a limited home-invasion thriller with long stretches of yawn-worthy cinema. He knows where to improve and that’s great for a young filmmaker. Perhaps I enjoyed this because my expectations were non-existent, but if this is the direction the low-budget franchise is headed, it’s looking pretty good.

Score: 75 out of 100

Get on Up (2014)

Get on UpReleased: August 1, 2014. Directed by: Tate Taylor. Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd. Runtime: 139 min.

Timelines in biography films can be difficult to depict, especially when dealing with a 54-year timeline that the ambitious Tate Taylor tackles while depicting the life story of James Brown, the Godfather of soul.

Wow, though, Taylor and writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth make this unnecessarily difficult to follow. A big problem with the timeline here is that it sporadically offers one event, goes to other events, and revisits the first event in 30 minutes’ time. That’s just one frustrating and bizarre way that the film displays its narrative. There’s also very little indication of the actual point in time between 1939 and 1993, other than cues for music buffs, like when Brown’s song he’s performing was released; or important events in time, most notably the Vietnam War or when Brown performs at The Garden in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The meandering order of events finds no groove and it just feels lazily formed. Within the 149-minute run-time, it feels like it jumps around in time more than Doctor Who and Mr. Peabody combined.

This year’s Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood’s music biopic depicting the story of the Four Seasons, also suffers from awful timeline issues – as the make-up department did not do a good job of successfully aging the actors – which is a problem Get on Up doesn’t possess. The film is, of course, about James Brown. It depicts his rise to fame from extreme poverty, and his road to be among music’s most influential artists.

Themes of extreme prejudice in 1950s Georgia are displayed by James getting five to 13 years in prison simply for stealing a man’s suit. This does put him on a course where he meets future band-mate Bobby Byrd (a grounded and memorable Nelsan Ellis). Byrd is a reasonable man, which seems to be a reason bandmates can tolerate Brown for so long, because even though he has a vibrant energy on-stage, his personality is quite arrogant. He could be soured by fame, which seems to be the case with a lot of big stars. Brown shows a preference to his black audience, and I think that’s well-highlighted by how well James seems to react to a “Let’s not make music for the white devil” spiel by a young singer named Little Richard (Brandon Smith). One jarring scene depicts his preference to black people, where he performs in front of a white crowd, and then breaks the fourth wall and is then performing in front of a black crowd. The imagined sequence just doesn’t have a strong transition.

There are scenes that do conduct their job marvelously. A scene in James’s childhood depicts him finding a hanged black man in the woods. James steals the dead man’s shoes. This told me his poverty is so extreme, in order to get a new pair of shoes he had to steal them from a dead man. This was the film’s most powerful scene.

The acting is fine all around. Octavia Spencer performs well in her brief screen time, and Viola Davis is great as James’ mother, Susie Brown. Up-and-coming star Chadwick Boseman gives it his all as the iconic James Brown with an energetic performance. He embodies Brown perfectly, down to the persona and vocal patterns. At least we can all take pleasure that both Tate Taylor and Boseman capture the essence of Brown in their film. However, Boseman gets so involved in the role that he might not realize he mumbles constantly. It’s difficult to hear him clearly and often enough, only every few words per sentence are caught. That’s the way Brown talks, but it makes for a truly frustrating experience if what is being said will make ask “What did he say?” every so often. Due to that irritating aspect, wait for the DVD and just watch this with subtitles.

Score: 55/100

 

Deliver Us From Evil (2014)

Deliver Us From EvilReleased: July 2, 2014. Directed by: Scott Derrickson. Starring: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn. Runtime: 118 min.

Director Scott Derrickson brings the same eerie style to his latest film “Deliver Us From Evil” as he did with “Sinister”, even though this is the more basic of the two, without the same heart-pounding effectiveness. Early on, the scares rely heavily on creepy crawlies and scares from hyperactive animals. This choice for atmosphere doesn’t enable any ability to differentiate itself from “The Silence of the Lambs”, until it gets into the story.

The competent mystery begins in Iraq with a small army group who find a cave with odd inscriptions. This leads to 1990s New York where the real-life Sergeant Ralph Sarchie resides. A passionate detective, Sarchie is deeply affected by the abuse of children – it is established early on. The mystery starts when a seemingly insane woman Jane (Olivia Horton) throws her two-year-old baby in the lion’s den at the local zoo. Sarchie is sent on an awry journey and first-hand encounters with malicious evil, and makes him want to find out why a woman with no previous criminal record just lost her mind.

Basic horror film scares can be found in this film: creepy crawlies, strange noises from the basement, weird static, children’s laughter, and children’s toys that come to life. Latin inscriptions might make you expect a basic exorcism film and the long-run, and that’s what is delivered. Some aspects of the mystery are intriguing, particularly the repetition of lyrics from a song by The Doors (“Shut the door, the damn door”). The film, running nearly two hours, is too long for something this basic and something that delivers only a few intense sequences and a creepy atmosphere.

What does set this apart is a sensitive performance from Eric Bana; as he truly captures the essence of Sarchie, who cares deeply for others, even if he is not the best at showing it. By being so dedicated to his community, he neglects to spend time with his family (Olivia Munn isn’t notable as his wife). This is an enjoyable aspect. This is a movie that’s about how people can be affected by secondary evil, and the effects it has on them. Sarchie has been deeply impacted by this kind-of evil, but is now experiencing a whole other type of evil, a primary evil that sometimes can’t be explained. Many of these concepts are brought up by a priest named Mendova (Edgar Ramirez), a heroin addict who found God.

One good thing about this film: This is Joel McHale’s first truly enjoyable film role. He’s been playing jerks since his days of TV’s “Community” and that’s the only place it has previously been effective. This time he plays a mildly likeable character, and perhaps action or horror films might be his calling in the movies.

Score: 63/100