Friday, August 10

The Meg Review

The Meg

Dir: Jon Turteltaub

Starring: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, and Jessica McNamee

You think shark, you think “Jaws”. Steven Spielberg’s iconic film that was responsible for making audiences scared to go in the water; it’s a masterclass of suspense and ingenuity, a film that somehow ages better as years continue to move forward. “Jaws” is also historic as one of the first summer blockbuster films, spending 14 consecutive weeks at the top of the box office. It changed the way films and filmmaking were done and continues to influence today. 

The summer blockbuster has continued to grow since “Jaws”, with films boasting bigger budgets and bigger spectacle. “The Meg”, directed by Jon Turteltaub and starring Jason Statham, takes the most superficial quality of “Jaws” and exploits it. The great white shark is replaced for IMAX screens with an even bigger monster, a prehistoric water beast known as a Megalodon. 

A team of researchers are working in an underwater facility, they are exploring uncharted depths of the ocean. During their history making dive, the team encounters a gigantic beast that leaves the crew in the voyaging submersible stranded. With time running out and a monster stalking their moves, the research team call rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) to save the day. As Jonas ventures to help the stranded team he comes face to face with the ancient monster.

I enjoy a film that embarrasses its B-movie qualities, especially when it comes to creature features. “Deep Rising”, the 1998 cruise ship caper starring Treat Williams, and “Piranha 3D”, the ridiculous 2010 go-for-the-gore fish film, are two examples of genre films embracing the simplistically silly premises and turning them all the way up. “The Meg” tries to do the same but never fully commits to embracing its outlandish qualities. Yes, the shark is bigger, way bigger, but the carnage and suspense that should go along with a beast of such magnitude is never accomplished. Mr. Turteltaub tries to make things suspenseful but the execution feels so cliched and the payoff fails to have the satisfaction you’d expect from a big shark movie.

Part of why “The Meg” doesn’t work is because of the script. The story succumbs to predictable setups and stiff characters. Even the usually charismatic Jason Statham, who saved B-movies like “The Transporter” and “Crank”, isn’t given much opportunity to make the role his own. And there are other talented actors hampered with paper thin roles in the film; Rainn Wilson plays an annoying billionaire and Cliff Curtis is stuck playing the sidekick role. Any suspense that the film could build when these characters are in peril is lost because of their composition.

But some viewers aren’t here for character development or story structure, some are simply here for the shark. The pure summer movie escapism factor may be the biggest reason for some to seek out “The Meg”. If that’s the case, you’ll probably have a good time watching the computer generated shark chase super-charged submersibles or stalk a crowded beach where hundreds of people are wading in the water. Still, even with that perspective in mind, it seems like there is something missing. The charm that the film should wear proudly on its sleeve is seldom appreciated. Instead the film lingers somewhere near the surface, never pursuing the depths of genre that it feels like it was aiming for.

Monte’s Rating

1.50 out of 5.00

Sunday, August 5

Streamathon - Dual Roles

Streamathon - Dual Roles

Dual Roles (August 2018)

Preface: This is part of an ongoing blog series of curated movie marathons that are thematically or otherwise tied together. The other common factor tying these films together will be their availability to watch them all from the comfort of your own home on various streaming platforms. The goal is that writing this blog will somehow justify the excessive number of streaming platforms I subscribe to. The films will be found on some combination of NetflixHuluAmazon Prime VideoMubiFilmStruckShudder and/or Fandor. These titles will be available for the month that the blog is published. All of these subscriptions offer free trials so feel free to dive in and follow along… Have fun. Just don’t message me for my login information.

By: Emery Martin-Snyder

Peter Sellers played three different and very distinct characters in Stanley Kubrick’s DR STRANGELOVE (’64). Each role a little more fun than the last. The first time I watched David Fincher’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010), I had no idea that both Winklevoss twins were played by the same Armie Hammer. In a lesser known dual role, Trevor Mathews plays both the titular character as well as “Forest Troll” in Jon Knautz’s 2007 film JACK BROOKS: MONSTER SLAYER.
But my favorite dual performance of all time is probably still Nicolas Cage’s Charlie & Donald Kaufman in Spike Jonze’s ADAPTATION (2002). Cage has an uncanny habit of showing up and delivering amazing and unforgettable work about once or twice a decade in the midst of a whole lot of other…. well… stuff. This was one of those times. Or two of those times. The construct of the plot is already so bizarre that Cage’s unhinged acting fits perfectly.

But I digress, none of these films are available to stream at this moment. But these are. 

The Stream

Eddie Murphy in BOWFINGER (1999)
Directed by Frank Oz – Streaming on Hulu

This is such a fun movie. Eddie Murphy plays Hollywood star, Kit Ramsey. Steve Martin is Bobby Bowfinger, a down-on-his-luck filmmaker desperate for a hit. But, with no shot at landing a deal with Kit, Bobby settles for a combination of ridiculous guerilla filmmaking tactics and a Kit Ramsey lookalike “Jiff”, also played by Murphy.

This was a strange time in Murphy’s career. He spent most of the latter half of the nineties reinventing himself as a much more kid friendly star with starring roles in the NUTTY PROFESSOR and DR. DOLITTLE. Both would see sequels in the coming years, leading of course to his beloved, annoying and very lucrative role as the voice of “Donkey” in the SHREK films. BOWFINGER was somewhat of a return-to-form for him. It’s pretty raunchy for its PG-13 rating. It’s also hilarious. So, if you’re like me and you started to skip Murphy vehicles around ’95 and you lumped this one in with the rest, you would be wise to reconsider. 

Bette Davis in DEAD RINGER (1964)
Directed by Paul Henreid – Streaming on FilmStruck

Margaret DeLorca isn’t the only character in this film with “Bette Davis Eyes.” That’s because Davis also plays her twin Edith Phillips who, after murdering Margaret, switches identities with her in order to live her sister’s lavish existence as a wealthy widow. Of course, after the deed is done, she finds that the grass may have only appeared greener. As it turns out, Margaret had her own slew of problems to deal with. Problems that are now the responsibility of Edith. 

Jeremy Irons in DEAD RINGERS (1988)
Directed by David Cronenberg – Streaming on Shudder

This has long existed in my mind as somewhat ‘middle-of-the-road’ Cronenberg for some reason. But after rewatching it for this post, I can’t really say why. It is far better than I remembered. Irons’ performance(s) here is key. He plays identical twins Beverly and Elliot Mantle who, for various sinister and diabolical reasons, switch places with each other from time to time. And although the supporting characters are often in the dark, we the audience are always clued into which brother is which by Irons’ specific quirks and demeanors.

In more recent years, Cronenberg has told stories like A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (’05), EASTERN PROMISES (’08) and MAPS TO THE STARS (’15) that explore self-identity issues. Now, thirty years removed, it’s easy to see DEAD RINGERS as a precursor of what the word ‘Cronenbergian’ would come to mean. And of course, it comes with a healthy dose of the body horror we’ve all come to love and appreciate from him.

Jake Gyllenhaal in ENEMY (2013)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve  – Streaming on Netflix

Villeneuve is a director that I have been getting more and more excited about with every film. And although I wouldn’t put this one up there with his best works, it is fascinating and definitely worth a watch. It’s basically a tense build up to a gimmick with a bit of unexplained weirdness to garnish. It’s shot beautifully by Nicolas Bolduc and Gyllenhaal seems to have a lot of fun with his two tonally opposite performances. 

Sam Rockwell in MOON (2009)
Directed by Duncan Jones – Streaming on Netflix

I absolutely adore this film. Although it’s probably best to keep its twisty ending unspoiled, I think there is so much more to this than the ending. Put simply, what are the moral and psychological implications of playing God? Sam Rockwell is one of the most underrated actors working today and this is one film manages to showcase many of his best performances. The screenplay and overall pacing is flawless as well. And when it comes to thought provoking sci-fi you won’t do much better than a Clint Mansell score. 

Lauren Ashley Carter in IMITATION GIRL (2017)
Directed by Natasha Kermani – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

This was the best and most memorable performance I saw at this year’s International Horror & Sci-Fi Festival. It’s a gem of a cerebral sci-fi in the same vein as Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN (2013) but with a smaller scope. This is the type of thing I get excited about during festival season. It may not be too likely to a gain a lot of critical acclaim. But every piece of this film, especially Carter’s performance is beholden to the vision of the director. And for that reason, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for future work from Kermani. 

Margot Kidder in SISTERS (1972)
Directed by Brian De Palma – Streaming on FilmStruck

The world of cinema lost one of our greats earlier this year. And although she was best known as Lois Lane in the Richard Donner SUPERMAN films, I will always think of her first for her work in this film. Brian De Palma was my first favorite director. As a budding young cinephile in the early nineties, I took special note of how he constructed the suspenseful scenes in his films like THE UNTOUCHABLES, CARLITO’S WAY and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. I didn’t realize at the time that what I was actually watching was an homage and emulation of Hitchcock.

Friday, August 3

Christopher Robin Review

Christopher Robin

Dir: Marc Forster

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Toby Jones, Sophie Okonedo, and Mark Gatiss

“Silly old bear”. After a pleasant picnic and day of doing nothing, young Christopher Robin sits atop a grassy hillside with his best friend Winnie the Pooh. Christopher is leaving the Hundred Acre Wood to go to school and his friends are having a celebration to say goodbye. Then an event that is rarely explored in children’s stories happens, Christopher Robin goes to boarding school, gets married, goes to war, has a child, and grows old of childish things. 

Director Marc Forster adapts author A. A. Milne’s poems about the lovable stuffed bear and fellow forest friends into a whimsical tale that stresses the importance of family and the bonds we have to the past. Mr. Forster approaches the story with a steady emphasis on the simplistic joy that the stories of Winnie the Pooh brought but also the harsh realities of adulthood.

Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has grown into a preoccupied corporate specialist for a luggage company. Failing sales leads to Christopher being tasked with working an entire weekend to make cuts to personnel at his job, it also means that he is going to have to bail on a weekend getaway with his wife (Hayley Atwell) and daughter (Bronte Carmichael). But as Christopher is about to forget the lessons he learned as a child, his old friend Winnie the Pooh leaves the Hundred Acre Wood to find him in London.

“Christopher Robin” is functioning on pure nostalgia for a large majority of it’s 104 minute runtime. The story is simple and reminiscent of “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Where the Wild Things Are” without the deeper complications or metaphors found in those films. Director Marc Forster focuses on telling a heartwarming tale and not much else; the film operates without much to worry about except to reacquaint and introduce viewers to a story about friendship with Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet. It’s a sweet yet unfortunately hallow experience. 

The computer generated composition of the furry characters is jarring at first but quickly turns into something quite amusing because it looks like the human characters are actually interacting with stuffed animals. The voice work is also nicely rendered; veteran voice actor Jim Cummings gives Winnie the Pooh the relaxed and easy-going demeanor the character is known for while Brad Garrett steals the show as the deadpanning Eeyore.

The character Christopher Robin, played by Ewan McGregor, seems to be the biggest problem with the film. The overdone development of the character feels forced when compared with the simplistic tone the film is obviously aiming for. When Winnie the Pooh and friends join in the adventure the film takes on a mixture of wonder and whimsy that works very well. Once Christopher mets up with his childhood friends the film moves into a awkward realm that disregards the coming-of-age aspects and instead focuses on the rigors of adult life. It never finds the balance achieved when Winnie the Pooh and friends are left to their own guidance.

Still, there is something magical about the characters from the Hundred Acre Wood. When Christopher Robin returns, crawling back into the world he helped create as a child, it feels like you are entering the pages of the storybook. You begin to feel why these characters are so powerful even in their most basic structure. Call it nostalgia, call it movie magic, either way it’s a feeling that makes you forget about the real world for a short time. I wish the film did more of this, “oh bother”.

Monte’s Rating

3.00 out of 5.00