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Thursday, June 22, 2017

FILM REVIEW OF ''47 METERS DOWN" (2017)



Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong in the best horror thrillers.  “Storage 24” director Johannes Roberts’ shark-swarming spectacle “47 Meters Down” (*** OUT OF ****) may not be as entertaining as last summer’s delicious shark derring-do “The Shallows.”  Nevertheless, this hour and a half epic will keep you poised on the edge of your seat as you gnaw your knuckles in dread.  Surprisingly enough, this raw-edged thriller almost went straight-to-video. As deceptively simple and straightforward as they come, “47 Meters Down” doesn’t pull any punches, particularly with its surprise ending.  Indeed, this is not your usual summer movie where everything works out in the surf for the heroines.  Although it doesn’t let anybody off the hook, Roberts’ eighth big-screen directing endeavor holds its characters accountable for their poor choices.  Most summer blockbusters serve up a delightful, guilt-free ending where all narrative threads are neatly knotted and everybody lives happily-ever after. If you think about it, “47 Meters Down” is the kind of movie that should chomp up summer audiences.  Mandy Moore and Claire Holt are cast as older and younger sisters respectively, who decide to swim with sharks to alleviate boredom.  Ultimately, they wind up like earlier western pioneers who tempted hostile Native Americans and had to circle the wagons to fight them off.  Moore and Holt are the two primary characters, with several peripheral characters, such as the crew of the boat they take out to see sharks.  Otherwise, Moore and Holt try to work things out for each other under circumstances that would terrible to endure considering the predicament.

Happily, the premise of “47 Meters Down” is both simple and straightforward.  Lisa (Mandy Moore of “License to Wed”) and Kate (Claire Holt of “The Vampire Diaries”) are on a vacation in Mexico.  Lisa’s boyfriend dumps her because their relationship lacks spontaneity. Kate draws the withdrawn Lisa back out into the open, and they date Louis (Yani Gellman of “Jason X”) and Benjamin (Santiago Segura of “Hand of God”), a couple of local guys.  Yani and Benjamin tell the gals about a guy, Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine of “Full Metal Jacket”), who offers an underwater shark sightseeing excursion. The gals are confined to a shark cage just below the waterline to admire the awesome majesty of the Great Whites.  No sooner have they climbed into the cage than one wants to take a picture of the other.  Lisa takes an underwater snapshot camera from Kate, but she accidentally drops it in the drink.  The second the camera hits the hits the water, a Great White shark appears as if conjured with its jaws agape, and the camera vanishes into the shark’s gullet.  Mind you, British director Johannes Roberts had set up the situation before this ominous accident with Yani and Benjamin hovering five meters below the surface in the cage as Great Whites had circled them.  Nothing happened to the dudes.  Initially, everything goes well after Lisa loses the camera and Captain Taylor submerges them five meters below the surface.  Lisa begins to have second thoughts and the girls have had enough of enough.  Suddenly, something goes haywire and the winch holding them suspended in the water breaks. Trapped in the cage, the two sisters plunge to the bottom of the ocean.  No sooner has the cage slammed into the ocean floor than the whole wench plummets atop the cage.  Lisa and Kate can communicate with each other because their diving masks are equipped with microphones.  Deep down as they are, however, they cannot communicate with Taylor. Naturally, this is the point at which the heroines behave like characters in a scary movie.  Kate swims 40 meters up to communicate with Captain Taylor.  Repeatedly, Taylor warns them to stay in the cage because sharks are swarming all over the place.  Instead, Taylor says that he is sending one of his crewmen, Javier (Chris Johnson of “xXx: State of the Union”), down to give them replacement air tanks.  Nevertheless, Taylor warns that switching air tanks during a dive can induce nitrogen narcosis which produce hallucinations.  During their time on the bottom, Kate proves either her bravery or her stupidity.  A shark almost munches her, and she scrambles to take refuge in a nearby cave.  Eventually, Lisa gets abandons the cage, and she has a close encounter with an open-mouthed shark charging at her.  

During one harrowing scene, Lisa and Kate find themselves in the midst of a flotilla of sharks.  Roberts spends more time on creating suspense in “47 Meters Down” than dwelling on blood and gore.  Roberts is wise enough not to wear out her welcome, and “47 Meters Down” clocks in at a trim 89 minutes with the action set almost entirely at sea.  The first part of the action takes place on land as Roberts and co-scenarist Ernest Riera get the girls to go out on a date with two locals who intrigue them about the shark cage gimmick.  Predictably, Lisa is too far timid to take such a dare.  Kate goads her older sister into doing it so she can prove that she isn’t as dull as her former boyfriend has claimed. The remainder of “47 Meters Down” occurs at sea.  Of course, none of those Great Whites prowling the depths where our damsels-in-distress await them are genuine predators.  The CGI of the Great Whites is flawless, and “Stardust” lenser Mark Silk’s cinematography is appropriately murky given the ocean depths and inspires paranoia.  Just when the gals look like they are alone, the Great Whites materialize with cavernous jaws ajar!  Although several peripheral characters inhabit this PG-13 epic, the action focuses most of its time on the sisters. These sympathetic souls never get a break, and you will fear for them as they deal with one setback after another.  Just remember, no matter what happens during “47 Meters Down,” you must stay in your seat.

(Author’s note: if you enjoyed “47 Meters Down,” you should be the 1971 documentary “Blue Water White Death.”)

Monday, June 19, 2017

REVIEW OF ''ISLAND OF LOST WOMEN" (1959)

"Hell on Frisco Bay" director Frank Tuttle's final film "Island of Lost Women" (** OUT OF ****) was co-produced by actor Alan Ladd's Jaguar company and written by "Teenage Monster" scenarist Ray Buffum from a story by Prescott Chaplin. Chaplin is best known for writing the W.C. Fields comedy "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break." "Island of Lost Women" appears to be inspired in part by William Shakespeare's "The Tempest." American radio commentator Mark Bradley (Jeff Richards of "Born Reckless") is being flown to a news conference in Melbourne, Australia, when one propeller of their twin-engined plane, piloted by Joe Walker (John Smith later of the television western "Laramie"), malfunctions, and Walker makes an emergency landing on an uncharted island in the Pacific. These guys have been working together for five years and what they are about to encounter is the most bizarre experience of their association. Moments before they land, our heroes hear a warning broadcast to them over a loudspeaker to dissuade them from landing. Left with no alternative but to land, Walker manages adroitly to put the plane down on the beach without it cracking up. A distinguished gentleman in casual apparel, Dr. Paul Lujan (towering Alan Napier of the television series "Batman"), approaches them and brusquely inquires how quickly they can repair their aircraft and leave him in peace.

Watching nearby from the foliage are Lujan's lovely daughters: Venus (Venetia Stevenson of "Darby's Rangers"), Mercuria (June Blair of "Hell Bound"), and sixteen-year-old Urana (Diane Jergens of "Teenage Rebel"), who have never seen any men other than their father. Later, we learn that Paul's wife died after they had moved to the island. Walker discovers their host's identity when he is gathering eggs for their supper. The pilot finds Lujan's name stenciled on a slat from a packing crate: Dr. Paul Lujan, California Institute. A cynical and disillusioned atomic scientist who is "one of the leading authorities on nuclear fission in the world," Lujan explains to Mark that his wife and he forsook civilization fifteen years ago and sought the haven of an island with their three small children after the attack on Hiroshima. Lujan never believed the Allies would have deployed the bomb. He thought it would be used only as a threat. Bradley takes a walk with Venus and they talk about his work. Urana shows up to bring Venus home and asks her has Bradley kissed her yet. Dr. Lujan furnishes our heroes with pillows and bedding to sleep on the beach. While Walker had tried to extend their stay with additional repairs, Bradley wants him now to speed up things because he senses a scoop in their serendipitous encounter on the island. The following morning, our heroes confront Dr. Lujan with his identity, and he allows them the chance to leave, but Bradley is determined to exploit the opportunity. Now, in a drastic change from his earlier graciousness, Lujan promises them that they shall never leave the island if they don't agree to never mention its location. Again, Bradley refuses to accept Lujan's ultimatum. The scientist brandishes a flame-throwing automatic pistol and destroys their plane.

This doesn't keep Bradley and Walker from commencing work on a raft with Venus and Mercuria providing them with tools. Before long, Urana creates trouble of her own when she becomes infatuated with Bradley. Our heroes have built a raft, but Bradley refuses to take Venus with her. Urana eavesdrops on their conversation and informs on them to her father. Eventually, Lujan takes Walker prisoner in his storage shed. Urana finds her father's flame-throwing pistol and they struggled over it. Accidentally, they fire it and a blaze erupts in Lujan's laboratory. Trying to release Walker from confinement, Lujan is thwarted when a shelf above the door collapses and knocks him semi-conscious. Bradley rushes it as the daughters carry their father to safety and rescue his pardner. Earlier, Lujan had shown Mark his process for forging a special isotope from uranium in his small laboratory reactor. The heat from the blaze triggers a reaction. Our heroes, the girls, and Dr. Lujan survive an atomic blast. At fadeout, an air/send rescue plane is flying all six of them back to civilization.

Director Frank Tuttle doesn't have much to work with, but he keeps the action moving briskly in this tame, black and white, 71-minute opus. Alan Napier is ideally cast as the mad scientist who believes that civilization is like a snowball that grows bigger as it rolls along toward extinction. Jeff Richards and John Smith are feisty young bulls. One scene shows them in their swim trunks about a dip in the ocean. Later, Bradley saves Venus from a shark. The shark that Richards kills is hilariously limp. Of course, the girls are all gorgeous. Production values seem above-average as this is a Warner Brothers' release. The uncharted island with atomic energy must have been a stretch in those days. "Island of Lost Women" was obviously used to pack theaters. Routine and competent best describes it.

FILM REVIEW OF "WONDER WOMAN" (2017)



The Adam West & Burt Ward “Batman” (1966) movie qualified as the first costume-clad crime fighter epic of the modern era.  Although women have figured prominently in all superhero sagas, DC Comics’ latest superhero origins extravaganza “Wonder Woman” (*** OUT OF ****) marks only the fifth time a woman has been cast as the title character in a blockbuster actioneer.  Earlier entries included “Supergirl” (1984) with Helen Slater; “Tank Girl” (1995) with Lori Petty; “Catwoman” (2004) with Halle Berry; and “Elektra” (2005) with Jennifer Garner.  Unfortunately, these four films failed to recoup their respective budgets at the box office.  (Before in the 1970s, Cathy Lee Crosby and Lynda Carter broke through the TV barrier and portrayed William Moulton Marston’s comic book creation Wonder Woman.  Crosby made one television feature, while Carter cavorted about for three seasons in a starry, patriotic costume with lots of cleavage. For the record, the Wonder Woman character made her DC Comics debut in their All-Star Comics in December 1941, and she fought Hitler’s Third Reich.)  Anyway, “Wonder Woman” is the only superhero movie about a heroine that can be classified as both a smashing critical and commercial success.  At last, little girls and feminists alike have a larger-than-life heroine as a role model that they can applaud in the eternal struggle against evil.  

Meantime, Warner Brothers should have released “Wonder Woman” before “Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.”  The earlier blockbuster introduced audiences to the iconic Amazon warrior Princess Diana (Israel model Gal Gadot) with her incandescent Lasso of Truth and her ritualistic sword--something like King Arthur’s Excalibur--who came to the rescue in the darkest hour of need to vanquish Lex Luthor’s genetically mutated monster Doomsday.  Sadly, Wonder Woman tangles with an adversary far less frightening than Doomsday in “Monster” director Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman.”  Instead, she clashes with Zeus’ son--the wicked God of War Ares--and triumphs over the dastard.  Primarily, “Wonder Woman” is a movie told in flashback about the formative years of the heroine’s life and the photograph taken of her with her mortal male companions in World War I.  Actress Gal Gadot will erase any memories of either Cathy Lee Crosby or Lynda Carter. “Wonder Woman” ranks as a spectacular movie until she scrimmages with Ares, who resembles the Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man high on bath salts.  Apart from that predictable climactic clash with Ares, “Wonder Woman” ranks as an exciting, first-rate adventure opus about our heroine shedding her na├»ve innocence as she blunders through an amoral world.

“Wonder Woman” unfolds in contemporary Paris, at the illustrious Louvre Museum. Diana works as a Curator in the Department of Antiquities.  A Wayne Enterprises armored car pulls up, and a uniformed guard delivers a locked valise to her office.  Diana recognizes Bruce Wayne’s logo on it.  Opening the valise, she admires a sepia-colored daguerreotype of her in her Wonder Woman outfit with four troubleshooters posed with her.  The significance of the photograph is that Wayne Enterprises, a.k.a. Batman, has sent her the original copy.  The picture revives Diana’s memories about her youth on the enchanted Uptonian island of Themyscira.  Eight-year old Diana (newcomer Lilly Aspell) yearns to be an Amazon warrior, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen of “Gladiator”) refuses to let her sister Antiope (Robin Wright of “Forrest Gump”) train her as a warrior.  Hippolyta warns her daughter, “Fighting doesn’t make you a hero.” Later, she calls Diana “the most precious thing in this world.” “I sculpted you from clay myself and begged Zeus to give you life.” Eventually, Hippolyta relents but tells Antiope that Diana must be the best Amazon on the island. Moreover, Diana should be able to defeat even Antiope!  Predictably, Diana (Gal Gadot of “Fast Five”) emerges from her training as the greatest Amazon.  Initially, when Zeus created the island paradise for the Amazons, he made it virtually impossible for anybody to find it.  As she is standing atop a cliff one day, Diana spots a plane as it penetrates the shield surrounding Themyscira.  The aircraft plummets into the ocean, and Diana plunges into the deep.  She rescues the aviator from the sinking plane and examines him on the beach.  Just as he recovers from the crash, Diana’s mother Hippolyta and her warriors ride up on a cliff overlooking the beach and spot German ships breaking through the invisible barrier.  Squads of German soldiers in the Kaiser’s Imperial Army storm the beach and open fire on the Amazons.  The intrepid pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine of “Star Trek Beyond”), seizes a rifle from a soldier while the Amazon warriors let arrows galore fly at the Germans.  Incredibly, the Amazons repulse them!  Later, they learn from Trevor that he is an American secret agent masquerading as a German for the British.  Moreover, he has stolen a valuable notebook from a notorious German chemist, Dr. Mara (Elena Anaya of “Van Helsing”), who is testing a poison gas that will alter the outcome of the conflict.

The refreshing thing about “Wonder Woman” is her origins haven’t been told ad infinitum, like “Superman,” “Batman,” and “Spider-man.”  In fact, the set-up on Themyscira is one of the better parts, especially director Patty Jenkins’ choreography of the fight between the Germans and the bow & arrow wielding Amazons on the beach.  Anyway, Diana learns about the global tragedy of World War I and decides the only way the war will end is when she slays Ares.  Diana promises to help Steve Trevor escape from Themyscira if he will escort her to the war.  She takes the Lariat of Hestia, an incandescent rope that prompts captives in its twine to utter only the truth, her magical bracelets, and an impressive sword nicknamed ‘the Godkiller.’  The next best scene occurs on a World War I battlefield.  Wonder Woman emerges from the trenches and enters no-man’s land.  Germans from everywhere greet her with a hail of gunfire.  She uses her magical bracelets to deflect their bullets.  Gal Gadot acquits herself as well here as the eponymous character as she did in “Batman Vs Superman.”  Altogether, “Wonder Woman” amounts to a dame good movie!