Another Look at ‘The Shallows’

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Stephen Porzio wades in.

The Shallows is an example of a fairly standard and unoriginal genre picture yet manages to be far more entertaining that its premise would suggest. Blake Lively plays Nancy, a Texan surfer, who takes time out of her medical degree to journey to Mexico. Her goal is to discover a secret beach which was of great significance to her recently deceased mother. While surfing close to coast, she happens upon the dead body of a large whale. Without realising, Nancy has stumbled upon a shark’s feeding ground and is subsequently attacked. Close enough to see the shore but not to reach it, our protagonist must leap-frog from the dead whale to a tiny piece of land and then to a buoy in order to stay above water – avoiding her predator. However, with the tide rising and Nancy becoming weak from the scars of the shark’s original onslaught – can Nancy survive?

While sharing a plot similar to various survivalist sea-set thrillers such as Open Water or The Reef, The Shallows still manages to engage due to its stripped back nature. It’s only 86 minutes, meaning the film never drags, delivering tense set-piece after tense set-piece. Also, its script by Anthony Jaswinski (which was included in 2014’s Black List – a list of the best unproduced screenplays), despite being slightly clichéd, is very economical in terms of information and time. There are no superfluous scenes. The audience is given everything they need to know but nothing else, briefly and efficiently, allowing the film to maintain its quick pace while still enabling the viewer to root for the protagonist. It’s also a very funny script, managing to stack the deck against Nancy in more convoluted but enjoyably bizarre ways as it continues.

However, the writer is not the only person worthy of credit. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (whose output is almost entirely entertaining films with average premises) adds a sheen to proceedings. Having worked in both the horror genre (Orphan, House of Wax) and the action genre (Non-Stop, Run All Night), he is the perfect choice to tackle a survivalist thriller. He manages to the convey the horror of Nancy’s situation with great skill as evident by The Shallows sound-mix. While another director would use visual gore to portray our hero’s suffering, Collet-Serra emphasises the loud bangs as Nancy crashes into jagged rocks and stinging coral to create a more visceral experience. His talents as an action director also shine through in his staging of the shark sequences. They manage to be both inventive (a shark-attack seen from the POV of the victim’s GoPro is genius) and coherent. In relation to the latter, one is always aware where Nancy is in relation to her attacker which serves to heighten tension.

Blake Lively (The Town, Green Lantern), who is often type-cast in a bland love interest role, makes for a rather charismatic final girl of sorts. Essentially carrying the movie by herself, she is forced to convey every emotion from joyous optimism upon finding the secret beach, to terror at her situation and then to acceptance of her predicament. Lively is up to the task, even entertaining as she talks to a seagull (hilariously dubbed Steven Seagull) a la Wilson in Cast Away, adding levity. Her performance, a tight script and efficient direction raise The Shallows above its predictable premise, reminding that even serviceable films can be quite good in the right hands.

 

 

The Shallows is currently in cinemas

 

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Review: Suicide Squad

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DIR/WRI: David Ayer • PRO: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle • DOP: Roman Vasyanov • ED: John Gilroy • DES: Oliver Scholl • MUS: Steven Price • CAST: Margot Robbie, Cara Delevingne, Will Smith

I approached David Ayer’s Suicide Squad with an attitude that can be best summed up as “cautious excitement”. I was curious to see whether or not the film could live up to its string of promising trailers. However, following Zack Snyder’s hulking, lifeless Batman v Superman (with which Suicide Squad shares a burgeoning D.C. cinematic universe), I was not sure this would happen. Comic-book movie fans, of which the majority appear to be in the same boat as me, can now rest easy. I am happy to report that Suicide Squad is a significant improvement over its lumpen predecessor.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Snyder’s movie and Ayer’s is that the latter is so much more fun. Perhaps, this is down to the original premise of John Ostrander’s comic: violent criminals with abilities are recruited by a shadowy government organisation to take down a more sinister villain. In return, the anti-heroes get time in prison reduced. It’s a plot that has been around many years (see Dirty Dozen or Inglorious Bastards – the original) for a reason. It’s oddly satisfying to see typical bad-guys reform for a good cause, putting their badassery to good use. Often, the best comic-book films are genre pieces that happen to feature superhero characters (the space-opera of Guardians of the Galaxy, the heist movie that is Ant-Man). Suicide Squad falls into this bracket. It does not try, like Batman v Superman, to cram the plot of five movies into one in order to lay the groundwork for impending releases. Instead, it tells one self-contained, genre story, which hints at what is to come in the future.

Like many superhero movies, the early passages of Suicide Squad are the best. As government official Amanda Waller (the always brilliant Viola Davis) explains to her colleagues her plan to recruit smaller time crooks to fight greater threats, we get a small origin story for each member of the team. On paper, this is a sequence that should resemble that horrendously clunky moment in Batman v Superman where Bruce Wayne finds the footage of each future Justice League member and we watch it in its entirety with him. Yet, Ayer throws so much information (gang wars, world-class hitmen, Australian bank-robbers and an Amazonian adventure) at the viewer at such a speed that it’s hard not to get swept up in the movie’s fast, propulsive pace. These sequences are also the funniest (Jai Courtney, against all odds, is the best Australian low-life on-screen since Ben Mendelsohn in Killing Them Softly) and the most stylish, recalling movies such Sin City or Dredd.

As the film continues, it does begin to fall into the same trappings of Batman v Superman and of superhero films in general. As Cara Delevingne’s personality-less villain (a pagan God who attempts to prove she is all powerful by destroying the world a la X-Men’s recent Apocalypse) becomes more prevalent, Suicide Squad lags in pace becoming just one set-piece after another. Also, because it is well known that future movies such as Justice League are on the way, the final battle is stake less – Enchantress’ plan will clearly fail. Although, this is the case with practically every other superhero movie too, Ayer drops the ball character-wise with his key-players. For instance, although Harley Quinn is a fun character, she is completely psychopathic and Ayer skirts past any chance to give her real depth (what attracted her to Jared Leto’s Joker, making her kill for him – we never learn). Also, the other character’s motivations such as Will Smith’s are bland and clichéd. As a result, one does not become invested enough to care who lives or dies.

In terms of the performances, despite charismatic turns from Will Smith and Jai Courtney, Viola Davis steals the show. Her Amanda Waller is cold, cruel and commanding. One never questions for second that she is the most powerful in the film, even in the face of people with actual superhero abilities. Davis effortlessly exudes strength in a role that would slip easily into Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. In contrast, Margot Robbie is far showier but that suits Harley Quinn, as the character is always acting, trying desperately to appear wild and effeminate. As her lover, Jared Leto’s take on The Joker is far more random and sexual than previous takes on the character, as evident by his incoherent babblings regarding the “heat of his loins”. Yet, I think this suits Ayer’s “gangster take” on the character. If a Joker was to exist in real-life, he would act like this.

D.C. are still far from rivalling the behemoth that is Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. However, with Suicide Squad, they prove that they are capable of producing an overall successful blockbuster. David Ayer’s movie gives a little hope to fans anxious for the upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League.

 

Stephen Porzio

122 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Suicide Squad is released 5th August 2016

Suicide Squad – Official Website

 

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Review: Chevalier

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DIR: Athina Rachel Tsangari • WRI: Efthymis Filippou, Athina Rachel Tsangari • PRO: Maria Hatzakou, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos • DOP: Christos Karamanis • ED: Matthew Johnson, Yorgos Mavropsaridis • DES: Anna Georgiadou • CAST: Vangelis Mourikis, Nikos Orphanos, Yorgos Pirpassopoulos

Chevalier, the latest from writer-director Athina Rachel Tsangari, appears to be getting a release in Ireland through its association with the burgeoning Greek “weird wave” movement. Numerous of the country’s films in recent years – Tsangari’s previous film Attenberg, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth and Alexandros Avranas’ Miss Violence – have received critical acclaim and accolades at International award ceremonies. Following the surprise success of Lanthimos’ recent movie The Lobster, it makes sense that distributors are pushing for more Greek films to play internationally.

This weird-wave derives its name from the dark absurdity of Greece’s current cinematic outputs, perhaps a response to the turbulence of the country in recent years. Chevalier boasts a winning premise in keeping with the movement. Six fishermen, journeying back to Athens by boat, kill time by constantly pitting against each other in competitions. One of the men devises a new game – “The Best at Everything” – whereby the men rank each other on everything (sleeping, table-manners, building Ikea furniture and penis-size). The person who has the most points by the time they dock at Athens is the winner.

The film shares similarities with The Lobster (Tsangari produced three of Lanthimos’ works), particularly its wordy script and the deadpan delivery by its actors. However, comparing the two movies only serves to highlight the flaws of Chevalier. Both are billed as dark comedies. Yet, while The Lobster managed to make a recurring gag about a man banging his nose violently against a desk funny, Chevalier barely raises more than a few light chuckles at situations which should have been hilarious. The latter’s premise enables it to go either two interesting ways. Events could begin lightly but may then escalate into Michael Haneke-esque horror, highlighting the dangers of this toxic form of masculinity. Or, the events could become more absurd and screwball-esque, signifying through satire the ludicrousness of man’s need for competition. Chevalier does neither, sitting rather uncomfortably between the two. Although, the movie certainly portrays the crew’s endless game-playing in a negative light, its meandering pace and limp humour (Tsangari appears to think a heavy-set man lip-syncing to Minnie Riperton’s ‘Loving You’ is the height of hilarity) removes any of Chevalier’s potential to be truly edgy. Thus, one is stuck with these unlikeable characters for 105 minutes, while they do very little to shock, to make the viewer laugh or to truly engage.

On the positive front, Christos Karamanis cinematography is excellent. The film opens with a beautiful long take of a vast coastal cliff as the men reach the shore. As Chevalier continues, the area covered within the frame gradually becomes tighter, with all action eventually taking place on the boat itself, mirroring the claustrophobia of its characters. Also, the performances are quite good, even if the actors are working with thin characters. Makis Papadimitrous as Dimitris, the kind but weakest member of the crew, manages to add some depth to his character while also eliciting the most laughs through his humorous delivery. However, with a weak third act, which ends with a whimper, these are only minor joys in movie which is not mischievous enough for its own good.

Stephen Porzio

99 minutes

Chevalier is released 22nd July 2016

 

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