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



Swanner: In Warcraft, the storyline is about Orcs crossing over from the world they’ve all but destroyed, to the human world with expectations of doing the same. The story is a bit confusing for the non-gamer; at the beginning the narrator is an Orc, so I assumed he was our protagonist, but within minutes it becomes apparent they are the bad guys. Ultimately, we find out there is bad and good on both sides, but it left me more confused than ever.

I’ve never played World of Warcraft, but I am very aware of it, considering I had someone playing it in my house for endless hours of the day and late into the night. I’m also aware that the online game has 12 million paid monthly subscribers. That’s a lot of gamers looking forward to seeing the game on the big screen. With that comes a rabid base of players hoping the studio doesn’t fuck it up.

Director Duncan Jones (Source Code) moves us through this complicated world well, with the screenplay he penned with Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamonds), but this world is so big that layman just have to hope things unfold and become obvious, or wait to ask questions in the car on the way home.  The World of Warcraft was considered impossible to bring to the screen, so you have to give Jones props for even making it this far. Maybe Netflix or HBO might have been a better way to tell this huge story. The problem here is trying to fit ten pounds of shit in a five pound bags. 

There is one other glaring problem here. The acting is, at some points, bad. I mean outright awful. I’ve seen these actors in other projects, so I’m pretty sure this comes back to Jones. I’m not sure if this looked great during editing,  because it seems like the dalies would have exposed these performances. The backgrounds, I’m told, look very close to the game which was pleasing to my gamer, but overall he was not WOW’d.

Swanner: 1 ½  stars

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping


Judd: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is written by Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, and Andy Samberg. The movie stars all three and was directed by Schaffer and Taccone. The last effort this trio put out was 2007’s Hot Rod. Where Hot Rod was a hodgepodge mess that relied on silly and absurd humor to fill in the gaps, Popstar has a much stronger narrative with the WTF humor effectively peppered throughout. The movie follows Conner4Real (Samberg), a pop rapper who got his start with a boy band The Style Boys. His first solo album “Thriller, Also” reached #1 on the charts, and Popstar picks up with Conner4Real heading into the studio for his follow up album “CONNquest” and all the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing it takes to create another #1 album.

The movie is a very funny and scathing look at the current pop music market where artists sign ridiculous endorsement deals; selling out is considered the zenith of success; and songs for raising awareness are only about raising cash. Samberg’s Conner4Real is a parody of Justin Bieber and various other young entertainers who have suddenly found their star power fading. He has lost his two best friends, former members of The Style Boys (Taccone & Schaffer), by stealing writing credits from one, and relegating the other as his iPod spinning DJ who is faceless under a Daft Punk style helmet. Conner4Real is left surrounding himself with Yes Men and people on his payroll.

The movie runs a swift 86 minutes, which is amazing for a Judd Apatow production. While I wouldn’t call the writing razor sharp, the movie succeeds as satire for several reasons. The movie skewers the constant feed and oversharing that entertainers do on social media, and takes to task the idiotic snark of TMZ. The movie also calls on real entertainers to be interviewed throughout the movie extolling or condemning Conner4Real; Adam Levine, Mariah Carey, Snoop Dogg, Usher, and Simon Cowel all make appearances.

While Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping will never be held in the same esteem as This Is Spinal Tap or A Mighty Wind, it is an excellent sophomore effort for Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone. The movie works because everyone involved is able to laugh at themselves and acknowledge the ridiculousness of the music industry.

Judd: 3 stars