Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: The Shallows (2016)

The Deathly Shallows, part 1

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Every shark movie is inevitably compared (unfavourably) against Spielberg’s classic 1975 tourist-muncher.  And “The Shallows” is no exception.  But while not a 5-Fad classic, this flick comes pretty close by being hugely enjoyable and having a lot going for it.

Waxing lyrically.  The shapely Blake Liveley.
Waxing lyrically. The shapely Blake Liveley.

Blake Lively (“The Age of Adeline“) plays surfer and  trainee doctor Nancy, still grieving the recent death from cancer of her mother and travelling to a remote Mexican surf beach where she has photos of her mother surfing while pregnant with her. While surfing alone, Nancy is attacked a couple of hundred yards from the shore by a Great White and severely injured. She has the choice of refuge of either a low rock or another less palatable floating object. Choosing the rock (at low tide) she is faced with the dilemma of both surviving her injuries and then being rescued before the high tide takes the rock and leaves her to the mercy of the ever circling big-fish.

We're going to need a bigger rock.
We’re going to need a bigger rock.

A big summer blockbuster this is not, with a total cast of eleven (not including a guest appearance of Steven Seagull (as himself)). But the small cast doesn’t make it less gripping, and gripping it most certainly is, with tension building progressively (emphasised periodically by an on-screen clock) with the countdown to high tide.

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In the words of the song, “Maybe there’s a shark in the water?”

Blake Lively is an underrated actress and really delivers the goods here. And bearing in mind the problems that Spielberg had with his mechanical shark Bruce (named after Spielberg’s lawyer) the appearance of the shark is limited to where actually needed, with Lively having to fill in the blanks with reaction shots. As your imagination is still far better than any special effects, this is hugely effective for certain sequences.

Pure horror:  here Dad had gone down to the video rental and come back with 'Dirty Grandpa'.
Pure horror: her Dad had gone down to the video rental and come back with ‘Dirty Grandpa’.

The film draws similarities to another interesting entry in the “Jaws” genre – “Open Water 2: Adrift” from 2006. In that film there was the same incessant threat of shark attack combined with the audience frustration that safety (in that case, the deck of their yacht, if only they had let a ladder down) being so near. Here the 200 yards to the shore is shoutable to but still 190 yards too far.

The cinematography (by Flavio Martínez Labiano) is also just beautifully done with some stunning surf and underwater shots that not only highlight Ms Lively’s lithely (sic) figure and her Californian surfing skills, but also the beauty of the ‘Mexican coast’ (actually Lord Howe Island in New South Wales, Australia).

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Just to prove that it’s NOT a one-woman cast.

“The Shallows” was written by Anthony Jaswinski and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (the director of “Non-Stop“, aka Taken 3.5). It comes with a truly impressive BvS quotient of just 5.9%!

So with all of this going for it, you would think that my rating is heading towards at least a 4.5. But all films like this require a satisfying denouement, and unfortunately this is where this one comes off the rails. It is just plain silly and, together with an unnecessary and irritating epilogue scene, diminishes what was on track to be one of the best films of the summer. So here’s the “One Mann’s Movies” solution:

  1. Using Final Cut X, Adobe Premier or your favourite video editing suite, cut out the scene from 115:00 to 116:00 from “Jaws”;
  2. Photoshop Blake Lively’s face onto Roy Scheider’s body.
  3. Insert the finished clip into “The Shallows” at about 82 minutes in.
  4. Enjoy a 5-Fad classic!

This limitation aside, it’s still worth your while hunting it out at a cinema near you, since the fantastic cinematography is best suited to a big screen.

Fad Rating:  FFFF.

Did the film have more or less bite for you?  Please comment below!

(And hats off to the director for putting out a really good teaser trailer that provides the essence of the film but gives none of the key elements of the plot away.  Attached below.)

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Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: David Brent: Life on the Road (2016)

A squirm-athon from beginning to end.

LotR Poster

“Life on the Road” is a mockumentary sequel to the classic British version of the TV comedy “The Office” (obviously later remade for the US market and featuring Steve Carell). Ricky Gervais played the ego-centric David Brent, a monster of a character who exercised what little control he had in his managerial role at a Slough paper company.

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Jo Hartley – excellent as Pauline, equally appalled and entertained by Brent.

Here in “Life on the Road” we join Brent 15 years later where he has taken a rung or two down the career ladder and is working as a sales rep for Lavachem, a sanitary goods manufacturer, also based in Slough. 

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Andrew Brooke as the office bully Jezza Collins.

But Brent still harbours a dream of making it big in the rock world with his middle-of-the-road band called ‘Foregone Conclusion (2)’. Gathering around him his ethnic rapper ‘friend’ Dom Johnson (Doc Brown) and a band of session musicians (who can’t stand him), Brent cashes in “several pensions” to fund a tour of the venues of Berkshire… or at least, those that will give stage time over to a “shite band”. As the tour delivers predictably diminishing returns, and no record-company interest (at least, not in him) Brent is forced to face his inner demons and some uncomfortable truths.

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Is it a T-shirt gun, or is he just pleased to see any audience?

Bringing TV comedy characters to screen is fraught with difficulty, and few have successfully done it. Even legends like Morecambe and Wise struggled with a series of lacklustre films. Perhaps in recent times Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge has come closest with “Alan Partridge – Alpha Papa” and indeed there are a lot of similarities visible between Partridge and Brent:  both have extreme ego issues and self-centredness. But there are  significant differences as well, for while Partridge is just an irritatingly loud and obnoxious minor-celebrity Brent – as this film makes much clearer – has real mental illness.

Brent - the sun shines out of his earhole.
Brent – the sun shines out of his earhole.

Is this therefore a comedy at all? Well, yes, but in a very black way. There are certainly moments of excellent humour, with the tattooing scene being a high-point. But the result of watching Brent’s progressive decline, with his nervous laugh as a constant ‘fingernails on chalk board’ reminder of his insecurity, results in a level of audience squirming that is palpable. Everything he does is perverse, from describing in excruciating detail every song before singing it, to spending his money on multiple hotel rooms when every gig is within the County of Berkshire.

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Brent has to drive himself to gigs as there is “not enough room” on the tour bus.

As a black comedy its important that it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and at 96 minutes it doesn’t. However, the film lacks the courage of its own dark convictions, and unnecessarily switches tack in the last reel to provide a degree of redemption for Brent. Whilst ‘sweet’, it is also implausible given what’s happened before and I would have suspected the interference of the director in lightening the mood of the writer’s original intent. However, as Gervais is both writer and director, there is no such excuse. That’s a shame.

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Failure? It’s a Foregone Conclusion.

So, in summary, an uncomfortable watch that aligns appropriately with the high squirm factor of the original TV show. Prepare to laugh, but feel a bit guilty in doing so.

Fad Rating:  FFF.

Do you agree?  Please feel free to comment in the comments section below.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Review: Bad Moms (2016)

Bad Moms Poster

Penned by the writers of “The Hangover” (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore), this was a film I went into with really, really low expectations. But it was better than I expected it to be.  

Mila Kunis (which we already know means “Fine” in Navajo) plays Amy, a normal  working Mum (albeit clearly living in a hugely affluent neighbourhood) with a no-good husband and two kids. Amy is at the end of her tether, and as parents haven’t we all been there? After one particularly dreadful day she uncharacteristically heads for a bar and forms a firm friendship with hen-pecked wife and Mum Kiki (an excellent Kristen Bell) and the potty-mouthed and kick-ass Carla (Kathryn Hahn). Making a pact to not follow convention they decide to be “Bad Moms” which brings them into direct conflict with Gwendoline (“Anchorman”‘s Christina Applegate), the tyrannical head of the school Parent Teacher Association and her fawning sidekicks Stacy (Jada Pinkett Smith, “Matrix” sequels) and Vicky (Annie Mumulo, “Bridesmaids”). As attacks get personal, Amy is forced into standing against Gwendoline for the PTA chair and a battle royale ensues.

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My worst nightmare. They might be Bad Moms, but f*** up my cinema experience and there will be hell to pay!

From the film’s publicity, I expected this to be a “3 go mad in Vegas” style of romp, but it didn’t head in that direction. True that there is one very funny and well-cut scene of craziness in a supermarket (“Kids, we’re going to have to find a new supermarket”), but the film has a more thoughtful tone reflecting as it does the stresses on working parents exacerbated by the need to conform to social mores.   

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Bad behaviour on aisle 5. Kunis, Bell and Hahn on a shopping trip with attitude.

It would be dangerous at this point for me, as a man, to appear sexist and misogynist, so I will quote (and credit) my wife here in commenting that the film is like a “Next Generation” movie to 1987’s Diane Keaton vehicle “Baby Boom”. In that film Keaton’s character has to juggle a corporate working life with unexpected child rearing: something still relatively unusual in those days (yes folks, things have changed a LOT for the better in 30 years). “Bad Moms” skims forward to today when being a working parent is almost a given, but the characters in the film view that maybe that swing has gone too far – that there is not enough time for them to treasure and nurture their kids. Here the film does slip into sexist territory in featuring all the struggling “Moms” as predominantly female: the one single Dad (hunk and love interest Jay Hernandez) never seems stressed or out of his depth.  

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The PTA bitches (Applegate, Pinkett Smith and Mumulo) suck up to the hunk.

So, there is a good concept in here, but to be honest it is not particularly well executed. Given that it is supposed to be a comedy, the limited laughs supplied are well distributed throughout the film. It’s more of a smile-along than a laugh-along. 

The film is also pretty inconsistent in tone, flipping as it does from the leads being “Bad Moms” to being lovey-dovey “aren’t my kids adorable”parents. For a UK audience I would suggest that there is way, WAY too much sickly hugging of kids going on. And – without spoilers – the denouement at the ending is far from satisfying.   

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But is the air bag off?

On the plus side, it is technically well delivered, and looks like bloody Shakespeare compared to the truly execrable “Dirty Grandpa”. The editing is slick and the music choice and music editing is particularly good. Some of the performances – especially those of Bell and Hahn – are great.  And a particular nod to young Oona Laurence as Amy’s daughter who carries her part really nicely.

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Wise words from Gwendoline. Dr Mann approves!

In terms of the lead, Mila Kunis wouldn’t seem to be a natural choice for a comedy part, although her performance is kookily watchable (that might just be the “fine” influence on me). A low point however is a post-sex scene where Kunis appears to have been watching ABC News rather than doing any sort of strenuous horizontal jogging (not that my wife noticed this as she was MUCH too distracted by who was acting on the other side of the bed). If anyone puts together a top 10 of unconvincing movie sex scenes, this is a strong contender.  

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One for the ladies. Jay Hernandez, filling out a sweater nicely (apparently).

Comedies are very personal things. Might this one be right for you?  I would suggest that if you are not a parent, you should probably skip it and wait for the TV showing – – many of the situations are those that only parents who’ve been through the more hellish moments of child rearing will relate to! It’s also not for the very prudish. There is a lot of bad language, a bit of nudity and drug references, although it doesn’t quite descend to the same gross-out level comedy of “The Hangover” or a Farrelly brothers film.    

A final shout-out to the goofy final credits, done in “When Harry Met Sally” style, where the actresses real mothers talk about whether they were good mum’s or not. (Cue more hugging).

Fad Rating:  FFF.   (This was originally FFf, but lobbying from the wife has prevailed!)

Agree?  Disagree?  Please comment in the Comments section below.

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Nerve (2016)

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With great internet power comes great irresponsibility. This is the premise behind “Nerve”, a film whose producers must have wet themselves with excitement that the Pokemon Go craze aligned so nicely with the release of their film. I was delighted that at last this summer there is a film with a modicum of originality I can enthuse about. 

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Don’t you just love this dream?

‘Vee’, short for Venus (Emma Roberts, niece of Julia Roberts) is an NYC teen living in the shadow of a family tragedy and the claustrophobic presence of her over-protective mother (Juliette Lewis, “Cape Fear”). Always timidly in the shadow of her best friend – the extrovert Sydney (Emily Meade) – Vee pooh-poohs Sydney’s compulsion with the new viral internet game ‘Nerve’: a social media ‘Truth or Dare’ (“but without the truth”) challenge game where you can either be a “Player” or a “Watcher”. In real time, Watchers set Players with challenges they have to complete for ever-escalating financial rewards… but “Bail” or “Fail” and you lose all. And “snitches get stitches”.

With their friendship at breaking point, Vee is provoked into playing the game by Sydney and teams with fellow gamer Ian (Dave Franco, younger brother of James Franco) – someone with a history that could bring Vee into great danger. However, Vee’s geeky wannabe boyfriend Tommy (Miles Heizer) is on the case….

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How the tables have turned. Sydney becomes a watcher.

What is so impressive about this film is that the screenplay by Jessica Sharzer (based on a novel by Jeanne Ryan) is genuinely original and is delivered with style and good humour.  Sure, you can draw parallels for any film with many other sources: in here there are traces of Hunger Games/Allegiance;  the “Simon Says” portion of Die Hard 3;  perhaps a soupçon of “Gladiator” and Schwartznegger’s “Running Man” in the mix. But this is a novel approach to a teen flick, bang on the topical money in bringing in the frenetically viral nature of social media and aspects of the ‘dark web’, cyber security and open source programming.

The film manages to generate significant credibility about the impact that a game like this would have among a teen audience. And there is a telling message in the finale: that it is easy to be a troll without responsibility hiding behind an internet ident, but when the masks come off and the message back becomes personal then your responsibilities as an individual human can come home to roost. 

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Didn’t your mother tell you NEVER to play on the railroad tracks? The gloriously named Machine Gun Kelly as Ty.

The film is delivered with style and verve as well, with innovative graphics (a great title and end title design) and an ‘augmented reality’ overlay of the action showing Players and Watchers across the city. Many of the challenges are executed really well, with a few seat clenchingly tense moments, particularly if you have a poor head for heights.

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Vee gets sucked in.

But with all this potential it unfortunately fails to be a 5-Fad classic, smelling at times of ‘B’ movie. Which is a great shame. Emma Roberts is fine at what she does, but at times I longed for the dramatic depth of a Shailene Woodley or Chloe Grace Moretz, with the scenes with the under-used but excellent Juliette Lewis rather highlighting this differential.

The otherwise excellent script is – for me – let down by a scene of male-on-female violence which I found both distasteful and unnecessary. And a coding ‘geeks shall inherit the earth’ moment towards the end is a little too glib for my liking. 

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Nice wheels mister. Vee and Ian show Nerve in getting to 60 in a built up area.

But overall the directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (“Paranormal Activity 3” and “4”) have done a fine job with a $20M budget.  Regular readers of this forum may recall my use of the “BvS quotient” – the number of films that could be made from the budget of “Batman vs Superman”:  this one has a BvS quotient of 8% meaning you could make over 12 of these instead of the superhero dud. Yes please! Although if they had doubled the budget and rounded off some of the sharp corners, this could have been a true classic. It’s still recommended for a memorable movie experience though, and probably makes it into my draft movies of the year list so far. 

Fad Rating: FFFF.

Agree? Disagree?  Have your say in the comments section below!

(online web version).