Claustrophobia of Shark-Flick '47 Meters Down' Sunk By Ending



Directed by: Johannes Roberts; Runtime: 87 minutes
Grade: C-

Y'know the thrilling sensation when a shark's dorsal fin emerges from the water in a horror film, that flicker of dread knowing that they're closing in on whatever main characters are left alive? Something like that doesn't really happen in 47 Meters Down: there's a scene involving a dorsal fin coming out of the water, but the onlookers view the sight as something positive, smiling and cheering at its appearance above the water since it means their day of marine adventure will have their desired excitement. Instead, the film's title correctly describes where all the suspense takes place, concentrating entirely on how a pair of tourists handle being trapped way underwater while surrounded by those kind of massive, hostile carnivores of the sea. The suspense generated within the tourists' submerged cage doesn't hold many surprises, swirling together realistic concerns about the dilemma with agitated great white sharks, but the direction of Johannes Roberts sinks its teeth into enough raw tension to make the descent to the depths worth taking. That is, until the unnecessary frustrations of its ending come to the surface.

Younger people on vacation make for easy shark fodder in these flicks, something that continues with sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt). They're on a trip in Mexico, soaking up the sun and drinking at the pool, which serves as a distraction from a few issues in Lisa's life that have her confronting the kind of reserved, unadventurous person she's become over the years. On a lark, and with that desire for new experiences driving Lisa forward, the sisters decide to get on a boat and descend into the depths of shark-infested waters while surrounded by a diver's cage. It's a cheap, unobserved service provided by boat owner Taylor (Matthew Modine), who also supplies the necessary diving equipment for these excursions. When the sisters go down and take their turn, however, equipment malfunctions leave them submerged deep in the water without a way back up, surrounded by bloodthirsty great whites and scrambling for a solution with the limited amount of time they have left.

In order to eventually dunk these sisters underwater, 47 Meters Down goes through the motions in establishing who they are and how they'd respond to their harrowing situation, which, in theory, could breathe some life into the film's dramatic aspects. Mandy Moore's honest attempt at playing a repressed girlfriend who's enduring relationship issues gets surrounded by the tedious, seemingly obligatory build-up of the situation, unable to shore up the same kind of deeper strife of, say, Open Water's marital woes. Unlike most other installments in the modern shark-horror genre, however, at least 47 Meters Down tries to support the coming events with credible dramatic cartilage, comprised of Moore's hesitations in blindly trusting locals and Claire Holt as her thrill-seeking, pressuring counterbalance. The bits-'n-pieces for a more substantial portrait of the dangers and delights of embracing life's adventures are here; they're just really drawn-out and dull, and they amount to yet another stereotypical depiction of what happens to careless tourists.



Once the darkness of the oceanic depths spreads across the screen, 47 Meters Down takes a sharp turn into the waters of brisk survival suspense. The threat of massive sharks -- around twenty feet, according to Matthew Modine's salty sea captain, Taylor -- constantly swirls around the substantial cage encasing the sisters, heightened by constant radio communication between the two as they react to both the threat of an attack and their dwindling air supply. Since their faces are largely obscured by their colorful scuba masks, the tension created by their voices and their eyes becomes crucial, and the frantic vocal delivery of both Mandy Moore and Claire Holt works well with the enlivened fright in their glances around them. Between their constant monitoring of their air supply, the almost prison-like nature of their time in the shark cage, and the ever-present reminders of what could happen if they just decided to rush to the surface, director Johannes Roberts telegraphs a down-to-the-wire situation that's full of desperation ... mixed with a few harebrained choices made by the sisters that one might struggle to believe.

47 Meters Down didn't need to throw other obstacles at the sisters for the suspense to work, beyond broken communication with the surface and well-rendered, deliberately imposing sharks lurking in the distance, but that doesn't stop the writers from transforming this into a Murphy's Law kind of situation. Every thinkable problem seems to come about, foreshadowed or not, which progressively pulls down the film's credibility in a misguided effort to make the scenario as harrowing as possible, reaching a point where it seems like director Johannes Roberts and his script are jerking around those who are watching. This reaches a finer point once 47 Meters Down reaches its delirious finale, one that relies on a hinted-at yet meaningless twist to yank out the rug from under the audience for little reason at all, other than pure impact. Had the beginning been more successful at making one truly care about these sisters, it'd be the kind of tiresome and unreliable end of the line that would make one consider what the purpose was of plummeting the tourists down to the depths in the first place.

Note: 47 Meters Down was originally released last year on demand and in limited physical-copy form under the title In the Deep, and this review has been republished to account for the theatrical release of the film. For a review of the previous release, head over to DVDTalk.com: [Click Here]

Battles, Lore, Charm of 'Wonder Woman' Worth Believing In



Directed by: Patty Jenkins; Runtime: 141 minutes
Grade: A-

Finally.

There are several ways to interpret it when a discussion about Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman begins with something like: "Finally." Perhaps it references the legion of fans of the character, created in the ‘40s as a way of empowering girls and emphasizing the strengths of nurturing leadership, who finally get to see their heroine on the big screen. Perhaps the folks at DC have finally hit the right marks following a string of lackluster outings featuring the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader. Or, perhaps we've finally been bequeathed that mythical female-led superhero blockbuster that so many have hope for over the nearly two decades comprising this latest renaissance of comic-book films, whether we're talking about the embattled actress filling the suit or the director at the helm. With Gal Gadot shouldering the burden like a perfectly-sculpted champ, Wonder Woman defies the expectations laid out by DC's output to date, lassoing together both optimistic and ominous tones into just the right kind of dynamic, vibrant projection of heroic idealism that this universe so desperately needed. Imperfect, but wonderful.

This was mentioned in my review of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it bears repeating: remember when the internet flew into a rage at the casting of Gadot as Wonder Woman, and she ended up being one of few bright, indisputable aspects in what's otherwise a polarizing film? That glimmer of an appearance was enough to anticipate her own standalone story, especially once that'd properly trace her origins, even if we've been overdosed on "Fill-in-the-blank Begins" style of movies over the years. This time, it's deserved, as there's a compelling and fantastical story behind the creation of Diana. Traveling back nearly a century to the period of WWI, Wonder Woman reveals how the heroine was created under the watchful eyes of Grecian gods, how she trained to become a powerful Amazonian warrior initially against the wishes of her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and how the warfare of the outside world crashes into the Amazons' hidden island sanctuary … as well as how Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a pilot who accidentally drops into their homeland, guides Diana toward battle in search of Ares, the God of War.

Wonder Woman distills elements from the breadth of the character's history -- mostly subtle tweaks to the same concept at the various stages of the comics' ages -- in creation of this Diana's backstory, hinged on her immortal and peaceful existence in the transparent island of Themyscira. Against the sparkling blue ocean and lush foliage, the film's visual language immediately focuses on effervescence and breathability, almost alien concepts in DC's bleak atmosphere. Starting from square one in shaping her mythological character amid these surroundings, Diana grows up from a young, spunky girl who actively wants to learn the ways of being a warrior to a statuesque woman with a strategically concealed destiny, mirroring other action-oriented epics in its formation of her background. Her progression might follow along that well-worn path of vigorous training, discovering one's predestined importance, and tragedy propelling the character's drive and confidence, but the Amazonian culture of stewardship created by Patty Jenkins gives old concepts a fresh, compelling attitude.



From the moment Diana can be seen testing her mettle while training against other Amazonian women -- long before she slips on the iconic outfit for the first time -- Gal Gadot hammers home that she's ideal for this role, displaying both the physicality and poise for the girl who's to become Wonder Woman. Gadot's capability to handle the rigors of battle is only part of the equation, though, one already proven she can handle in Batman v. Superman, yet continues to do so amid the sword-wielding and gymnastics involved with the character's time on Themyscira. It's in the quieter moments after her training and battle that Gadot embraces the substantial other side of embodying the character, someone driven by rational idealism in how she approaches the outside world, the concept of warfare, and her determination to travel beyond her home island. With striking beauty counterbalanced by the power of her confidence and resolve, Gadot musters a specific kind of electricity within her desire to seek out her people's foe within the war-torn world of mankind, revealed in both delicate responses and energized outbursts.

Wonder Woman switches between two fish-outta-water stories, beginning with Steve Trevor's time with the Amazons and then, more importantly, leading to Diana's journey into the bleak, industrialized atmosphere of WWI-era London and Europe. The playfulness between them is magnetic, where Diana's perceptive innocence and Steve's harmless male bravado light up the screen through the chemistry between Gadot and Chris Pine. It's good that they do, because the sequences that bridge the gaps between Themyscira and the trenches of battle dramatically slow down the pacing, propelled by cliche happenings featuring clothes being tried on by the Amazon woman and human food being tasted for the first time. Gadot's charisma and the way she interacts with Pine's appealing performance as Trevor -- a character whose balance between chauvinism, awkwardness, and likability isn't easy to get right -- enlivens this otherwise lethargic stretch in the film, boosted by director Jenkins' sincere, endearing perspective on Diana's outlook on how the outside world should work.



Once Wonder Woman storms onto the battlefield, the action telegraphed by Patty Jenkins is a marvel to behold, juxtaposing the evils of Germany during World War I with the superhuman powers that make Diana such an inspiring force. The stakes can be challenging to uphold when mortal weapons are being used against a godlike warrior who can deflect bullets and rapidly snare her foes with a golden lasso, but director Jenkins telegraphs them with gritty, steadfast momentum that persistently grasps at the heart of the matter, paying close attention to how her might pushes forward against overwhelming odds and inspires those around her. Jenkins remains playful by concealing Wonder Woman's classic outfit for an impressive stretch of time, and the way she eventually storms onto the hopeless, decimated expanses of No Man's Land in all her classically-dressed glory amounts to a monumental payoff. A symphony of digital effects and slow-motion photography elevates the magic bringing her immense powers to the big screen, and it's damn invigorating to see her skillfully debilitate her foes.

Director Patty Jenkins never loses sight of the reasoning behind Diana's journey to the world of man, though, and the conflicts that emerge in her search for the literal God of War while surrounded by figurative displays of said god's desires transform into Wonder Woman's crucial strengths. When it eventually delivers on its fantasy-action promises -- following zany plot twists involving Grecian mythology and evolving stages of weaponized gas, as well as other moving parts befitting the genre's formula -- it does so while also tying into its heartfelt musings about humanity's violent nature and the origins of Wonder Woman's emergence as one of their heroes. How the final act ultimately challenges Diana's powers could be called overblown, something typical for superhero films (especially those from DC), but the moral complexity involved about warfare and the flaws of the men whom Diana fights alongside give the chaotic showdown a jolt of relevant depth and immediacy. Finally, DC have discovered how to properly channel optimism through bleak circumstances and blockbuster vigor, and they've done so with a remarkable and iconic heroine leading the charge in what'll stand tall as one of the year's best superhero films.

Classic Musings: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1963)



My relationship with musicals is, overall, a little complicated. The exceptionally vibrant attitudes, the bubbly dialogue, and the unnatural introduction of songs into everyday activities might be common criticisms lobbed at the genre, but they're also what hold me back from embracing more of those productions. That just makes the few that I do latch onto feel special, though, from Singin' In the Rain and Disney animated films to Sweeney Todd and Les Miserables -- and, of course, Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg -- and it often comes down to whether the subject matter has a certain type of bold emotionality and relatability that transcends its genre: tales of poverty, political discord, vengeance, the struggles of the creative process, or tragic love. It was surprising, then, to find myself not joining in on the adoration showered upon Whiplash director Damien Chazelle's La La Land. It's another piece of work centered on struggling, romantically-entangled artists in Hollywood that many had deemed to be "one of those musicals for non-musical people", but one in which the interjection and extended presence of musical elements hits that familiar unnatural note, and where the roadblocks encountered by the jazz musician and burgeoning actress on their way to success revolves around self-satisfied showbiz nostalgia.

Chazelle was heavily influenced by Jacques Demy in his creation of La La Land, specifically and quite observably by The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a different sort of tale about an in-love couple being separated by time and space. The story of Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve), a young clerk at her mother's (Anne Vernor) struggling umbrella shop, and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), a mechanic who recently became of age to be drafted into the military, follows a different path than that of the recent Oscar contender by focusing on turns of events that aren't universally relatable, hinged on France's mandatory conscription of young men into military service during the late-'50s. Despite how this conflict dates the film and creates a barrier for those who haven't had to deal with the perils of military/wartime romance, there's a tenderness to the relationship and a bittersweet unfolding of the course of events in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg that allows Demy's musical to endure and appeal to broader audiences -- even those outside the musical genre -- due to the genuineness of its sentiments and the risks taken involving poverty, obligation, and disenchantment.

Of course, Demy's film doesn't wallow in those somber underpinnings with its cinematic presence. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg boasts bright, lovely shades of color that lace throughout the titular coastal city almost like streaks found in pieces of fancy ribbon candy, dominating the walls and décor of the umbrella business and spilling out into the bars and other businesses around it. Pastels, pinks, and other insistent palette confections obviously command one's attention, yet it's the sneaky bursts of color tucked away in little spaces that give Genevieve and Guy's gallivanting through the city its charm, from rich expressive greens on textured walls to an abstractly-painted fuchsia and purple wall seen through iron gates. Demy captures a gradient of moods in his visual choices, yet they're not so blatant that they're easily deciphered, where blues only convey sadness and red only convey passion or warning. He holds the audience's interest with aesthetic playfulness, giving them expressive flavors to enjoy without being told what the colors indicate, if they indicate anything beyond how the color makes a viewer feel.

There isn't a moment in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg where dialogue isn't delivered through song or without a kind of choral inflection. For some, this might take a little getting used to since there aren't any breaks between musical numbers for "normal" drama, conveying the gradient of emotions going on around Genevieve and Guy -- devotion, insecurity, frustration -- through a combo of lyrics, vocal tones, and overt body language. Gradually, Demy casts a spell with his combination of lavish colors and constant delivery of music, where the fluently sung dialogue comes across as second nature in his take on ‘50s and ‘60s France, ever presenting a feast for the eyes and ears. More pertinently to this discussion, this locked-in illusion of musical conversation bypasses the entrance and exit of musical numbers in everyday situations since, well, the whole thing's essentially a song, never interrupting moments of romance or family discord between Genevieve and her cynical, pragmatic mother. Questionable transitions from spoken drama to musical drama aren't a concern here.



While the choral performances are dubbed over by other French singers, the dramatic performances are entirely of the actors' making, center of them all being the vacillating, increasingly solemn presence of Catherine Deneuve. For an element that could create a profound disconnect if not delivered right, Demy bridges that gap by pulling tender, entirely genuine performances from both Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo as Guy, crafting a pair of lovebirds posed with a challenging life decision -- whether to break apart or stay together during Guy's enlistment -- that takes on a wide gamut of emotions while they figure out their situation. A charming synergy forms between them through their impeccable facial and body expressions moving in tandem with Demy's intuitive and evenhanded script, hinged on devotion, insecurity, and frustration as they grow closer and cope with the repercussions of their choices. Deneuve commands the breadth of the film's attention, though; the flush of her cheeks and the lamentation in her slumping poise effortlessly deepens one's empathy for her emotional state.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg transpires across three stretches of time in the young couple life, or lives, spanning several years and showcasing how distance apart from another changed them as individuals. What sets Jacques Demy's depiction of their long-distance woes apart from similar stories, similar decorated and well-regarded musicals, can be observed in the ways that the couple adapts, bends, and breaks to the everyday woes of their life's challenges, how Genevieve handles the prospect of a more comfortable life with a wealthy suitor -- whom her mother favors -- and how Guy copes with returning home from his service. These themes aren't restricted by the moving parts of the film's conceit; instead, they tap into relatable ideas that reflect upon the experiences of anyone who has weighed the pros and cons of momentous decisions in their lives, who has grappled with the controlling suggestions of their parents, and who has endured the rigors of long-distance relationships of many types. With The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Demy displays spellbinding artistic playfulness and expressive nuance, while striving to be aware enough with its perspective on everyday people that it shouldn't leave anyone out in the cold.

For the full Blu-ray review, head over to DVDTalk.com: [Click Here]