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The Shallows (2016)
Tedious and terrible - SPOILERS
Location photography is wonderful. Blake Lively is easy on the eyes and has some good moments acting wise. The Seagull steals the movie -- best character and best character arc by far.
1. The Seagull is the best character and has the best character arc in the movie
2. Overdirected in all the wrong places
3. Doesn't establish the water as the threat rather than the shark (a la Jaws), so all the tension lets out the moment the shark drops under the waves
4. CGI overkill. Clever mix of CGI and practical effects is the key, why does this simple equation still elude so many directors??
5. Blake Lively also has some very bad moments acting wise. Mostly when it comes to moments of peril. Part of this may have to do with the fact that a portion of this movie was shot in a giant pool. If you want to do this right, go Revenant with it and stick her out in the ocean. It would have informed her performance more.
6. Not shot entirely in a real environment. So many scenes were clearly shot in a tank with the backdrop put in digitally. The scenes that are actually shot on location feel much more visceral. Had the whole movie been that, this likely would have been a different review.
7. Terrible terrible script!!! This was a Blacklist script? Seriously. Unless someone went through after the fact and tagged on a bunch of unnecessary plot arcs and hack dialogue onto a brilliant script, we may all have to reassess Blacklist's veracity. This is absolute garbage. Had this just been about a surfer chick nursing her grief with a world tour trip to all her late mother's favorite surf spots who then runs afoul of a rogue shark things would be fine. But no, there is this added on backstory of her dropping out of medical school, and a stock father and sister who spout inane expository dialogue. For what? I don't care whether she goes back to medical school or not. Completely unnecessary and offers no stakes. And the last scene of the flick is teeth clenchingly bad. The absolute worst kind of wrap-it-all- up-with-a-bow happy ending nonsense that is the hallmark of terrible movies.
8. NO STAKES. Nothing builds from one moment to the next. There are just sporadic moments of watered down shark attack mayhem interspersed with indulgent and unnecessary slo-mo shots of Blake Lively looking off into the horizon.
9. Inconsistent physical state. One scene Lively is close to death with sores on her lips and eyes burning red from dehydration. The next scene she's swimming with Olympian vigor and her complexion is vibrant and crystal clear. Never once did I fear that the elements might kill her before the shark did.
10. Stalker level overkill of T&A. Can't believe I'm complaining about this but by the 10th time the camera was crammed up Lively's butt or down her cleavage I was over it. Give us one or two shots to show off her body and move on. She's beautiful and deserves the attention, but when bikini shots outnumber shark shots in a shark movie you've gone too far.
Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
** SPOILERS ** Woof...what a dog. This movie should exist only as a teaching example to young screenwriters and directors on everything NOT to do when constructing a movie.
First off, why bother? This franchise was played out back in the 80s when the infamous Cannon Group tried to make a go of milking it for dollars. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an icon in horror cinema, and for good reason. The utter simplicity of it's story and approach, matched with a lightning-in-a-bottle performance by a cast that was literally being driven crazy by director Tobe Hooper in 120 degree Texas heat, pulsates with a gritty realism that is hard to shake. The moment you slick things up and start noodling with the plot, the whole mess is going to collapse like an over baked soufflé.
The Michael Bay reboots had a certain something about them that made them watchable--even enjoyable--but this hackneyed attempt is rotten to the core.
In the featurette, producer Carl Mazzocone confesses that his plan was to reacquire the rights and create a 6 movie franchise like Saw. If the trajectory of that arc starts this low, somewhere around #4 they won't bother to make a movie, they'll just throw you down a flight of stairs when you show up to the theater.
Mazzacone is just thinking dollars, and it shows. His reverence to the source material only goes so far as to use a ton of it in the opening credits and give Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface) a cameo.
The script is everything I hate about current Hollywood storytelling. All the characters fit a type and never veer from it, never speaking or behaving like normal people. Every action they perform is in service of forwarding the plot. There's nothing organic or believable about a single person in the whole film, and thus: who cares. It's all just meat being carved up. And you can pour as much blood on it as you want, it doesn't make me care, and it doesn't make me scared.
I don't know how much to blame the director for my next gripe, because I suspect this has more to do with some arrogant producer forcing his creative input into the editing: for horror to work, it needs to breathe. Horror is all about the build of tension and the release. MTV style hyper editing will kill any and all suspense instantly. This film is in such a hurry it never pauses to let the audience bask in suspense. But it will hang around for 10 minutes at a stretch while it dolls out it's convoluted plot.
Yes, and lets talk about the horrible plot. When the idea of turning Leatherface into the hero at the end and having the main girl turn out to be his long lost cousin came up in early creative meetings, someone with half a brain should have spoke up and nixed it then and there. Just bad, just horribly horribly bad, and completely miscalculated.
But then this is the creative crew team that thought having lead Alexandra Daddario blatantly running around in a belly shirt the whole movie would be sexy, not completely awkward and distracting. Or, when Daddario gives Leatherface back his chainsaw so he can dispatch the corrupt mayor of the town and says "Do your thing, Cuz" that the audience would cheer in appreciation, not nearly kick in their flat screen in frustration.
To surmise: attractive actors are wasted on hack writing, decent cinematography can't make up for a director that doesn't know how to tell a story visually, a greedy producer dreams about franchise money and skips the whole part about making a movie worth watching. Awful, terrible and a total insult to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Deeply flawed--but a must see all the same
** A FEW MILD SPOILERS **
First the bad news: this comes nowhere near the simplistic brilliance of the original Alien. Not even close. It is overloaded with characters that don't even get a cursory nod in terms of narrative, and just muddle the tension of who will live and who will die. It's more like: "who's that guy??" The script is almost a complete failure: clunky dialog, completely contrary or unbelievable motivations at every turn simply to satisfy the trajectory of a plot that is forced at best. There were moments where I just found myself upset with how "pushed" the narrative became. The thing that made the first two Alien movies so effective was the clearly drawn characters struggling to comprehend and keep up with the unfolding horror around them. Here, motivations change at random to suit a "how cool would this be" kind of mentality. And there's a bit of the kitchen sink thing happening too, where lots and lots of business is going on, but not much seems to be happening. Oh, and there's this odd choice of casting an actor in his forties to play a man in his 90s and making him wear not very believable old-age make-up the whole movie. If there was a scene of him as a younger man, it must be on the editing room floor. They seriously should have considered, with the budget, to re-shoot those few scenes with an age appropriate actor. The sight of it jars you from the film!
And yet, I still recommend seeing the film anyway, despite it's flaws. And seeing it in 3D. Why?
As pumped as I was, and as disappointed as I am with the outcome, I still found myself tense and fairly entertained. I'll certainly own this movie on Blu Ray when it comes out, and may even go to the theater to see it again. A strange contradiction, I agree, and I'm not quite sure why I feel this way. Maybe it's because:
1) Michael Fassbender simply can do no wrong. His portrayal of the android David is a movie unto itself. 2) Noomi Rapace can stand around doing nothing and be more interesting than 95% of the actresses out there. 3) Visually AMAZING. If there's one thing Ridley Scott still knows how to do, it's point the camera in the right direction, and fill it with amazing things to look at. The real locales, rendered in 3D are jaw-dropping. Worth the price of admission alone. 4) For every head scratching moment of ridiculous plotting, there is an equally effective, edge-of-your-seat moment of violence or suspense. 5) A good deal of the effects were done physically rather than CGI, which shows and makes a difference. 6) Despite being convoluted, and raising more questions than it answers, there is a lot of food for thought here. Even though I wanted more from it; or to at least be more challenged by it, I still find myself piecing over what transpired.
I still don't think Scott did justice to the memory of seeing the Space Jockey for the first time, with the foreshadowing of it's exploded chest. I think there was a much better back story to be told with better screenwriter(s) at the helm. But you could certainly do worse. Far worse.
Brilliant, absolutely brilliant
When David Fincher was preparing to shoot Fight Club, he briefly considered dispensing with stars and a big budget to shoot the film guerrilla style on digital video. Had he gone that route, the results would have been something along the lines of Bellflower, an audacious, flame- spewing, spit in the face of everything stale and conventional about modern cinema. Shot on a nothing budget using a camera that director/writer/star Evan Glodell built from odds and ends, Bellflower is a stark critique of characters lost and struggling in the sun soaked wastelands of Southern California. To go into detail would certainly ruin the joy of discovery this brutal movie has to offer. Suffice to say it is a love story like no other, chock full of drunken brawls, flame- throwers, and a muscle car named Medusa (also built from scratch by Glodell). Personally, I think this is one of the most important movies that's come out in recent memory. With a raw, ugly beauty reminiscent of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the sparse immediacy of films like Two Lane Blacktop, and David Lynch's ability to make the banal nightmarish and horrifying, Bellflower incinerates the very notion of narrative filmmaking, redefining it on its own terms. If indie filmmaking is meant to push the envelope, this movie leaves that envelope charred and twisting in the wind.