The Shallows


The Shallows opens with Nancy (Blake Lively) riding along in an old pickup truck in the middle of what appears to be a Latin American jungle, with her native driver asking how she knows about such a secluded beach. Between receiving texts from her hungover absentee friend – Four bars in the middle of nowhere? I want her service provider! – Nancy shows the driver a picture of her deceased mother, “This was her beach.” A pretty, white Hernando Cortes, if you will. The driver drops her off at the beach, and asks her how she intends to return to civilization, “Uber,” she jokes, and leaves the question unanswered. The tone of uneven ridiculousness is set within the first 10 minutes and never improves. The Shallows was written by Anthony Jawinksi, who’s five other produced credits are direct to VOD horror movies. The Shallows was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Collet-Sera is known for such classics as The Orphan, House of Wax (2005), and three Liam Neeson films, Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night.

Wanting to catch one more wave, Nancy declines a ride back to town with two other surfers who happened to be on the beach that day. There is still no explanation of how she intended to get back. While waiting for that perfect curl, Nancy is attacked by a shark. The next 24-plus hours are spent with Nancy trying to figure out how to get back to shore, which is only 200 yards away, while the shark continues to circle waiting for fresh meat. The story is Jaws meets Castaway meets 127 Hours without the talents of Spielberg, Hanks, or Boyle. The script focuses strictly on Nancy and her seagull friend, as they’re stranded on their rock. Before Nancy becomes marooned, we learn that she has a father and sister back in the States and she’s left medical school to process the death of her mother. These elements would have lent an excellent psychological element to the movie had the film bothered to mention them again. Instead, we’re left watching Blake Lively talk into a GoPro cam declaring her exhaustion one moment, then attempting to outswim the shark to a buoy 25 yards away, mangled leg and all.

The movie has its tense moments, but in the end it’s overshadowed by Nancy’s inexcusably poor choices, her wildly inconsistent energy levels, and Lively’s overall performance. It’s a perfect trifecta of a mediocre screenwriter, director and actress. And it’s not that Lively is an outright bad actress, but she’s not the kind of actress that can carry an 86 minute movie by herself. Had the script given her more to do, more to distract the audience from her shortcomings, the movie might have worked better. Eighty-six minutes shouldn’t feel as slow as it did. Shallow certainly describes the works of Jawinski and Collet-Serra, but it appears that Lively was in too deep.

Judd: 2 stars

Finding Dory


Swanner: A few years ago, Pixar announced they were going to be making sequels for some of their films. They had already made multiple Toy Story movies, and both Cars and Monsters Inc had sequels. So, when they said Finding Nemo was going to get a sequel, I was a bit worried. I don’t know why, since the Monsters and Toy Story follow-ups were fantastic. Finding Dory has arrived and the good news is it’s wonderful. Bad news is, at the movie there might be noisy children sitting behind you repeating what’s happening on screen.

Judd: When going to any kids movie, I know  I’m going to be kicked, coughed on, stared at and whispered about. I’m used to it. Finding Dory follows Dory (duh) as she tries to find her family and remember where she came from. The movie brings back Albert Brooks, Ellen Degeneres, and adds Ed O’Neill, Kailtin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba and Sigourney Weaver (as Sigourney Weaver’s disembodied voice) to the cast. The movie was very… nice; I won’t go so far as to say it was wonderful.

Swanner: One mistake I made was watching Finding Nemo just last week. It’s interesting that I still smile through Nemo. It was so well written, and the characters and story so charming, it would be hard not to love it. With any sequel, the thing missing is the originality of the first. That being said, Dory has hilarious new characters and a great script, but that newness is missing. In the long run, I don’t see this being a problem. Dory will hold up like Nemo, especially once it hits video and I watch it a few hundred times more.

Judd: Once was enough for me. I don’t think Dory’s cast of characters is nearly as strong as it was in Nemo. Ed O’Niell’s Hank the octopus was a great character, but the rest of the new supporting cast is fairly forgettable. Destiny and nearsighted whale, and Bailey the sonar-less beluga were fairly one-note. In addition to that, the movie mostly takes place on the California coast and in an aquatic center, so the color palette is very dull as opposed to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Swanner: It’s true the waters off California were murky, but the storyline is crystal clear and that’s what Nemo and now Dory is all about. Families come to us in different ways. It’s not just the family you’re born with, but the one you choose to love and loves you back. It’s been the underlying theme to these films and it comes across loud a clear. Dory is a welcome relief to our lackluster summer movie season.

Judd: Understandably, when you set the bar as Pixar has with their truly excellent movies – Finding Nemo being one of them – it’s difficult for a sequel to live up to expectations. Sometimes it works, like Monsters U; sometimes it exceeds expectations, like Toy Story 3. Finding Dory is a decent, but unremarkable, addition to Pixar’s growing canon of sequels. This is not one I will be adding to my library.

Swanner: 4 stars

Judd: 3 stars

The Conjuring 2


Swanner: In 1977, Ed and Lorriane Warren were asked by the Catholic church to investigate a claim of a possession. In a suburb of London, a single mother and her four children are being terrorized by an entity that claims to own the house where the family is living. The spirit focuses  on the middle child, Janet, using her to speak and carry out it’s evil. This is a sequel of The Conjuring, but instead of seeing where the last family was and how they are living after their incident we follow the Warrens, a married couple who have investigated hundreds of paranormal cases. These are their stories, and I love them.

I’m a big fan of horror films, and in the past few years we’ve finally started seeing movies that are scary again. A big part of that comes from a talented director who knows how to terrorize us without using a guy with an ax. James Wan is the Horror Master of his generation. Insidious, Dead Silence, Saw, Annabelle and the original Conjuring. He doesn’t rely just on a villain killing teenagers on some holiday. Sure there’s something scary attacking our protagonists, but this director can make a shadow scary; He can make the wind, a creak, a growl and sometimes just your own imagination terrify you. He’s brilliant, and I pray that that his ventures out of the horror genre — to movies like Furious 7 and Aquaman — don’t keep him away from this his true calling, Horror.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farming return to their roles of Ed and Lorraine. Ed is the courageous Demonologist and Lorraine a gifted physic. The couple have investigated many of the most haunted places including Amityville and The Haunting in Connecticut. Lorraine, by the way, is 89, still alive, and still investigating haunted houses. I’m hoping this film does well because I’d love to see more of those cases put to film. The rest of the cast is top notch (mostly British cast) and did well at giving me 2 hours of goose bumps. The screenplay is by director Wan, David Leslie Johnson and the Hayes twins, Chad and Carey, who wrote the original script. I  don’t know why, but it’s creepy to have twin brothers writing some of the scariest movies in decades. What kind of children were they?

When I see a scary movie, I want to be frightened, this film did that to me.  As I walked across a dark and shadowy parking lot to my car, I checked in the backseat before O got in, and yes, I locked my doors.  To that I say good job Mr Wan, and please don’t stop making me wet myself over things that go bump in the night.

Swanner: 4 stars

Now You See Me 2


Swanner: Three years after the first Now You See Me, The Horsemen find themselves being used by a hi-tech genius who is having them pull off his own impossible heist. Of course in addition to that we have the FBI still after them for their previous heists. With the success of the original film I was wondering how long it would take before they were going to follow up with a sequel. The first film felt so complete at the end, so finding the right story was going to be very tricky. I think the creative team found the right story to tell in this part two. Bringing back the original screenwriter was the important for this film because the general tone of the story needed to stay the same.

The difference here, from the first film, is that from the beginning of this film the Horseman are out of control. Our team of Illusionists are all posturing to be in charge, so until they can trust each other as a team again, they can’t gain control. Director Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) guides us seamlessly through this thriller with ease thanks to Ed Solomon’s tasty script. It’s all slight of hand and the more confused we are the better they are doing.

Most of the original cast is back except for Isla Fisher, who’s character is gone but replaced with new Horseman Lizzy Caplan (The Masters of Sex), who steps up and feels like she belongs. Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Dave Franko, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman return to the cast. Daniel Radcliffe is added as the obsessed genius game player controlling the team. You also get more of Harrelson when his grudge-holding twin brother appears. These movies are fun because, if done right, we should be amazed at the movie magic being played on us. They have done it again, and part three is already in the works.

Swanner: 3 stars