Movie review: The Shallows

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m more than a month late to review this film, but you can blame foreign release schedules for that. Without further ado, let’s talk about The Shallows – that small Blake Lively thriller .

IMDb summary: A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills.

I have seen this movie being described as a sum of a few already made films. Some said it was 127 hours in water with sharks, others that it was Shark Week: the movie. Personally, The Shallows reminded me a bit of Soul Surfer (the family drama, the surfer being attacked), Jaws (similar filming techniques from the shark’s perspective so as not to show the shark) and Piranha (the horror elements in the few scenes).  The main thing that attracted me to this film was the fact that I really want to learn how to surf. I already spend a lot of time in the water since I am a competitive swimmer (or used to be one), so transitioning from swimming to surfing would not be that big of a stretch.

Writing

Anthony Jaswinski wrote The Shallows’s script and did a good job. I really liked the way he presented the main character’s backstory – the viewer found out all he/she needed to know in 3 dialogue scenes: the one with the driver, the phone conversation and during the small talk with the other surfers. I also liked her backstory by itself – she was a medicine student so her knowledge of that field helped her survive – she was resourceful and quick-witted. The writing for the big finale was a bit weak though – for such a realistic movie, I had a hard time believing that the shark would meet that kind of an end.

Directing

Jaume Collet-Serra, a mainly thriller director, did not disappoint with another project in his preferred genre. To begin with, the filming locations really helped him – the beach and the ocean were magnificent. Also, the beauty of nature was effectively contrasted with the terror of the situation that the main character was in. The photos that would pop-up on-screen were also a great tool for backstory, so as to make those 3 scenes of dialogue more visual. The effects, mainly the shark CGI or a model, also worked – he did seem real. The glowing jellyfish were also gorgeous. Those seagulls that were keeping Blake Lively company really reminded me of the seagulls that live in Aberdeen, Scotland (my second hometown) because they weren’t afraid of people and seagulls in Aberdeen can literally attack anyone that is passing them by.

The handheld camera was also good (and that’s coming from a person who hates shaky cam) – the mobile frame and the close-ups depicted the fact that our character was alone on a sea really well. This feeling of fear and loneliness together with the sense of suspense made watching the movie an engaging but not a comfortable experience. The hardest scenes to watch where the actual shark attack sequence and the ‘surgery’ scene. The Shallows also had a couple of jump scares that were effective. If we would have gotten more jump scares I would accuse the film of going the easy cliche route, however, since the picture had just the right amount of jump-scares, I was okay with them. The technique that I thought was a bit overused was the slow motion – it overdramatized an already dramatic and scary situation and pushed it towards a cliche, over-the-top cartoon level. The surfing montage at the beginning was cool but the music choice was a bit cheesy – Trouble by Neon Jungle, really? The other song that I remember from the film was Sia’s Bird Set Free. It was a good song for the credits. Sia’s music have been featured in at least 4 films this summer, she is really making her mark in Hollywood. The Shallows instrumental score was great too – it helped a lot to build an anxiety-inducing atmosphere.

Acting

Blake Lively starred as the lead, named Nancy, and did an amazing job. She basically carried this whole movie. She was believable as a sporty surfer and was amazing in all the suspenseful scenes. I especially liked that close-up reaction shot where she supposedly saw the shark attacking that drunk guy. Lively just starred in the new Woody Allen film Cafe Society. She was also really good in last year’s Age of Adaline (that picture have been doing great on streaming). Lively has definitely shed her Gossip Girl persona and is probably doing the best out of all her former castmates. A few unknown Spanish actors, as well as a few familiar faces from TV, played a couple of small supporting roles but, honestly, none of them had enough of screen time for me to talk about them.

In short, The Shallows was an unexpectedly entertaining film, one of the hidden gems of this summer. Blake Lively shined and finally proved herself to be a great actress. The writing and directing were also good for the most part.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Shallows trailer

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Movie review: The BFG

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to another summer movie review. I’m running out of ways to greet you and introduce the posts, so without further ado, let’s talk about The BFGThe Big Friendly Giant.

IMDb summary: A girl named Sophie encounters the Big Friendly Giant who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kindhearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.

Genre

I would say that The BFG belongs to the live action fairytale genre, which is so popular nowadays and especially this summer (we already had The Huntsman, Alice 2, The Jungle Book and Tarzan comes out next week). However, The BFG differs from all of them in that it is a somewhat original film – it is not a sequel or a remake of an animated picture, but the first-time big screen adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book with the same name. Dahl is a famous author who has created such stories as James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda among others.

Spielberg’s filmography and similar films

Back in the 80s, Spielberg made a career for himself, crafting beautiful family films about children who befriend unique creatures. Of course, I’m talking about E.T. (interestingly, E.T. and The BFG share a screenwriter – Melissa Mathison, who, sadly, had recently passed away). However, in the past 5 years, Spielberg have focused on serious historical dramas, like War Horse, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies, so The BFG is kinda his comeback to the family fantasy genre. Another well-known director, who has also recently tried to transition from the awards contenders to family films, is Martin Scorcese, who made the child-appropriate Hugo in 2011. The BFG also reminded me a bit of Peter Pan films (the good ones) and it also had a slight Harry Potter-like feeling.

Writing: the narrative

The BFG’s story was okay. It portrayed a lead peaceful ‘monster’ in Spielberg’s fashion. It had nice things to say about friendship and growing up and also had a strong anti-bullying and standing up for yourself type of a message. The two faults I had with the story were: 1. the pace – the set up was really long and there wasn’t really any buildup: the film dragged on and the final resolution was also kinda disappointing – I did not see the need to involve The Queen – those sequences came out of nowhere and just seemed so bloody British; 2. the jokes – The BFG relied on slapstick humour and fart jokes – I really wish they would have come up with cleverer comic relief, like Zootopia did. In general, I felt that The BFG was not a family but solely a kids movie and not a very good one. It lacked sophistication for adults and didn’t have enough ‘adventure’ for the younger viewers. However, I do believe that this film could do great on TV in like 5 years time – I can definitely see people watching it at home during Christmas or something.

Directing: the visuals + the music

The CGI and the motion capture work on The BFG were both stellar. My favorite visuals were the dreamland and that tree – that whole physical manifestation of dreams was a cool idea and was realized nicely. The eye to sun transition was also a great and memorable shot. The BFG’s score by the great John Williams was breathtaking, heartfelt and suspenseful. He is the greatest score composer and his work will forever live on.

Acting

  • Mark Rylance as The BFG was really good. This was Rylance’s second collaboration with Spielberg – last year Spielberg directed Rylance into an Oscar-winning performance. His manners were really appropriate for the role – gentle yet steel giant like. His look was also on-point: Rylance looks like a really loving grandpa, so The BFG’s role was perfect for him. Next year, Rylance will be in Nolan’s Dunkirk and a year after that he will collaborate with Spielberg once again on Ready Player One
  • Ruby Barnhill as Sophie was a really good child lead. I think that this young lady has a bright future and a long career ahead of her. 
  • Penelope Wilton as The Queen. While I did not understand the need to include The Queen into this story, I was happy that Wilton was the one to portray  her. I’m happy to see her getting more work since Downton Abbey has ended. 
  • Jemaine Clement as The Fleshlumpeater – the main antagonist. Clement was okay: his look was pretty scary and ugly and his performance brought this flesh-eater to life in a believable way.

In short, I expected more from Spielberg. I hoped that he would create another family-friendly classic, which would satisfy both the adults and the children, however, I do think that anyone above the age of 11 will find The BFG kinda boring.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: The BFG trailer

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Movie review: Bridge of Spies

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another movie review! This time, it’s a review of another Oscar contender! I have actually seen this film almost two weeks ago, but, due to the revision for the exams, I had no time to review it. Anyway, I found a spare minute, so, let’s talk about Bridge of Spies!

IMDb summary: During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.

Tone

This year, I have seen way too many films about spies and special agents. Some of them were really nice (Rogue Nation), others (Hitman) – not really. It’s a good thing that Bridge of Spies falls into the first category. The film is set during the cold word and its narrative is inspired by real life events. We have already seen a spy film set in the cold war years in  2015 – The Man from U.N.C.L.E. However, that film was a remake of a TV show and had a more fun, upbeat tone and was a popcorn flick/action film. Bridge  of Spies, although set in the same era, approaches the USA vs USSR conflict in a more serious manner – it’s definitely not an action film, but suspenseful thriller/drama.

Directing

The film was directed by the famous Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is probably the first director that I have ever been interested in, even before I became really invested in films and cinema and was just a casual viewer. I couldn’t even pick my favorite movie of his, because he has directed so many films, that are now considered classics. I really love his movies from 1993 – Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. Saving Private Ryan, E.T., Jaws and Indiana Jones films are all wonderful as well.  Moreover, did you know that Spielberg was in talk to direct a Star Wars film? Sadly, that didn’t happen, but if it had happened, it would have been amazing.

Spielberg, not surprisingly, did a great job with this film as well. All the shots were beautiful and suspenseful. I especially loved the train/wall shot. It had an emotional impact and was beautifully done.

Writing

Bridge of Spies script was written by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen. Charman has previously only written one film – a WW2 drama – Suite Française, while the Coen brothers have written numerous critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning films, their last one being Jolie’s Unbroken.

Speaking about this film’s narrative and screenplay – I liked how, although made in the US and by American filmmakers, it did not offer any judgment and presented or at least tried to present both sides of the story and not just the American view on the Cold War.

In addition, I found it interesting how this film had two different stories. Th 1st act of the film was the story of the court case while the 2nd part was the exchange in East Berlin. There wasn’t really the 3rd act in the film, although, a few scenes at the end (the resolution/the aftermath) could be considered to be the 3rd act.

This film also had amazing dialogue and a lot of lines worth quoting. The character development was also quite good.

Themes

The film explored lots of serious themes and asked a few historical questions, which are highly debated in the scientific circles as well. I am actually writing this review the night before my history exam, so my head is buzzing with various names of historians and their arguments on the different controversial topics. One thing I have definitely learned from this course (Uni of Aberdeen’s Europe in the 20th century) is that history is not set. It’s not an objective subject, it’s not just set facts and dates – I have never thought that history has so much subjectivity and debate. However, let me end this paragraph the same way I ended my history essay – with a C. Hitchen’s quote: “Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.”

So, the few themes and questions touched upon in this film were:

  1. Humanity: people are still people, even in war.
  2. The hypocrisy of rights: American values of liberty and equality are universal, but only to the privileged and the Western. (Read S.Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations for an interesting take on the universality of the Western values).
  3. Who actually won the Cold War? I personally would say that USSR definitely lost the war, but I am not sure that the USA won anything. Americans tend to think that they helped the USSR to fall, but, I have a different opinion since I grew up in Eastern Europe – the most common view there is that the Cold War ended because of the actions of the oppressed people and not because of the questionable help from the West. But that’s a debate for a different conversation. (Found more info about it in M. Sarotte’s book The Collapse.)
  4. The Berlin wall and its symbolic meaning. I was born 7-8 years after the wall fell and when I was 13, I visited Berlin and saw the remains of it that are now turned into a memorial. It’s a very strong and heartbreaking image that rallies up lots of emotions, whenever I remember it. Also, on a lighter note, I have that cliche magnet with a piece of the Berlin Wall on my fridge.
  5. Nation vs individual. Are nation states even a good thing for organizing people into groups? Plus, Hank’s character presented as a silent hero – not just an American one, but a hero of humanity.
  6. The names of the countries. I have always been annoyed by people who call countries by the wrong names. Living in Scotland, it annoys me immensely when people say the UK and have only England in mind. I had the same problem with the film – characters usually said Russia when meaning the Soviet Union, which was a UNION of countries. It’s true that Russia was the leading country and occupied a lot of its neighbors and kept them in the union against their will (my country – Lithuania – included). However, when acknowledging that USSR was a union of countries, we at least acknowledge the existence and uniqueness of other Eastern European countries – they were not Russia and will never be Russia. I feel very annoyed about this issue, because these past few months, I have been meeting lots of people from all over the world and not a lot of them actually know where Lithuania is. They think that the territory of Lithuania belongs to either Poland or Russia. The ignorance reaches the highest level, when, for some people, Europe ends with Germany and the maps in their minds are missing all of the Baltic countries, Belarus, Ukraine and other central/eastern/former Yugoslavian countries.

Acting

  • Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan was the leading man of the film. This was the 4th or 5th time that Hanks collaborated with Spielberg. He did an amazing job with his dialogue and I also loved how you could see a mix of emotions on his face during the intense scenes. His character was also really likable the same way that Hanks is one of the most likable actors ever. It’s hard for me to pick my favorite Hank’s performance. I really enjoyed his later work in Cloud Atlas, Saving Mr. Banks, and Captain Phillips as well as his earlier work in Forrest Gump and The Green Mile.
  • Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel/the soviet spy. I am not familiar with Rylance’s work but I have really enjoyed his performance in this film. I liked how emotionless he was. The line: ‘Would it help?’ was funny and showed the true horribleness of that situation.
  • Austin Stowell as Francis Gary Powers/the American pilot. I am also not familiar with his work, although, he starred in one of my favorite films from last year – Whiplash. He was okay in this film as well, nothing about his performance stood out to me that much.
  • Jesse Plemons as Murphy played a friend of Powers and Plemons performance stood out to me more, maybe because I am more familiar with him as an actor. The same day, I have also watched another movie of his – Black Mass (review coming next). He was also in 2012’s Battleship, which I and my dad enjoyed while critics destroyed it. Anyway, speaking about Plemons, to me he looks like a very charismatic actor, who for some reason just attracts all the attention when he appears on the screen. Good for him and not so good for other actors, placed near him in a shot.

That’s basically all the actors that played the main roles in the narrative or had the best performances. The full list of actors is on the IMDb page right here.

All in all, I really enjoyed Bridge Of Spies. I loved Hank’s performance as well as Spielberg’s directing, although, the writing to me seemed like the strongest part of the film and I really hope that all the scriptwriters will get an Oscar nominations. I am sorry that this review was more a contextual and conceptual one while my other reviews are usually more formal and deal with the actual film and not so much with its themes. I just wanted to try something new and use my new found knowledge on the historical debates.

Have a great rest of the week!

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Bridge of Spies trailer

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