Movie Review ~ 47 Meters Down: Uncaged


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Four teen girls diving in a ruined underwater city quickly learn they’ve entered the territory of the deadliest shark species in the claustrophobic labyrinth of submerged caves.

Stars: Sophie Nélisse, Corinine Foxx, John Corbett, Sistine Stallone, Brianne Tju, Nia Long, Davi Santos, Khylin Rhambo, Brec Bassinger

Director: Johannes Roberts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Two years ago, a minor miracle happened when the newly formed (and creatively named) Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures bought a movie called In the Deep.  Though it had been released on DVD in the U.S. already, that didn’t bother the company who saw potential to capitalize on the lack of creature features swimming into theaters.  Renaming the film 47 Meters Down and giving it a prime June release date, the studio gambled big and reaped the rewards of their low budget movie that saw big box office returns.  At the time, I had heard a sequel was being planned but details were scarce on what was being sold as 48 Meters Down.  I’d all but forgotten about the sharky follow-up until a preview arrived shortly before 47 Meters Down: Uncaged was released.

Usually, these sequels can go seriously awry because of a lack of creative input.  The original did so well so why not just follow the same plot, add a few more deaths, and call it a day?  Thankfully, this sequel decides to go a different route and in many ways improves upon its predecessor by upping the ante not just with the script but for the filmmakers too.  Sure, there are more characters to deal with and an almost pathological need to scare the audience by jolting them with sneak attacks but the overall effect is a highly watchable and not quite implausible underwater thriller.  Where the first movie made good use of a limited setting and an ever-present feeling of claustrophobia, the sequel opens things up slightly but still finds a way to keep things contained in a small scareground.

Living with her dad (John Corbett, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2) and his new wife (Nia Long, in this so briefly she doesn’t even appear in the opening credits) in Mexico, Mia (Sophie Nélisse, The Book Thief) is having trouble fitting into her new surroundings.  Her stepsister Sasha (Corinne Foxx) could care less about her, preferring to hang with her friends Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone).   With her dad busy researching a recently discovered submerged Mayan city, Mia is pawned off on Sasha and her friends for the day.  As this is a movie about a shark and being trapped underwater, I appreciated the filmmakers deemed it worthy to make the time on dry ground count, even if it’s a broken family set-up straight out of a soap opera and acted with about as much gusto.  Though their parents believe they are going on a boat tour, the stepsisters actually trek into the forest where Alexa shows them a hidden lagoon.

Now, it just so happens Alexa has gotten chummy (pardon the pun) with a research assistant to Mia’s dad and the lagoon sits on top of the entrance to the Mayan city.  Desperate for a little adventure, the girls decide to scuba down into the city and look through the first cave before returning to the surface.  Once they get in, though, a bad decision leads to them being stuck in the labyrinthine city…and they’re not alone.  How a Great White shark came to be in the city is anyone’s guess but over time the shark has acclimated to the dark waters and is blind, hunting only by its already heightened senses.  As the girls struggle to find another way out the shark blocks their advances and with their air supply running thin, will they reach the surface before they become shark bait?

Y’know, in some ways it would have been wonderful if the shark aspect of the 47 Meters Down: Uncaged could have been a twist that wasn’t revealed in any of the marketing materials.  The first appearance of the CGI shark is genuinely scary and though it often looks like a computer-generated creature there are enough solid moments to make you forgive the bad ones.  Already in a precarious situation being trapped with a limited air supply, the added complexity of evading a predator puts extra pressure on the women (and consistent tension on audiences) over the remaining 60 minutes and returning director Johannes Roberts uses every minute wisely.

Performances are, for the most part, admirable in the face of some silly dialogue and implausible technology used throughout the film.   At first, Nélisse was such a mumbling noodle lacking the charisma of a leading lady that I worried the movie would suffer from not being able to root for her but she comes around once she has to rise to the occasion and get out of the path of the shark.  Foxx and especially Tju are good supporting characters while Stallone (yes, she’s Sly’s daughter in her first role) unfortunately carries on the family name with lazily slurring most of her lines.  Even so, when you consider the vast majority of the movie was filmed underwater and considering what an undertaking that must have been, the end result overcomes any leaky spots in a slightly rusty bucket.

Roberts seems to treat the entire movie like a pot of boiling water he keeps turning the temperature up on.  Once the heat gets applied there’s no letting up…all the way until the credits roll.  There are several false endings that maybe go on too long but I was having such a good time splashing around in the water that I didn’t mind.  Like the first movie, this one would be fun to see in the theaters but would also work perfectly well on the small screen as a rainy day option.  It’s short running time goes by quickly and the creative set-up held my interest more than I thought it would.  If this is the way Roberts plots out a sequel, I’m all for giving him the opportunity to take us down for a third dive with the sharks in another few years.

Movie Review ~ The Peanut Butter Falcon


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A young boy with Down Syndrome runs away to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal

Director: Tyler Nilson & Mike Schwartz

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Coming off a summer chock full of movies that seemed to only love us for our money, it would be easy to approach The Peanut Butter Falcon with a tiny bit of wariness.  Is this character-driven drama really asking us to just sit back and enjoy ourselves?  Shouldn’t we be figuring out what supporting players will be getting their own franchise spin-off or deciding whether or not to stay until the lights come up in case we miss any post-credit stingers?  Don’t we need to steel ourselves to debate with our friends and followers the merits of how well the screenwriter and director have brought a beloved character from the page to the screen?  Not so fast.  It’s with a grateful heart I can say that originality and a tender spirit are the key ingredients in this sweet film that has no ulterior motives.

I have to admit, when I first heard of this film the title didn’t exactly set my world on fire because I couldn’t ever seem to remember if it was a kids movie or not.  I kept getting it confused with 1985’s The Peanut Butter Solution which, incidentally, was the first flick to include a Celine Dion song. Anyway, I hadn’t heard anything about The Peanut Butter Falcon because it largely flew under the radar on its way into theaters, buoyed by a strong performance at the 2019 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, TX.  I also should be up front and say I outright skipped several advanced screenings of it in favor of other more mainstream films but the good buzz on this kept coming back my way and so I turned a movie night with a friend into an opportunity to see what the low hum hype was all about.

Without a family to care for him, 22-year old Zack (Zack Gottsagen) lives in a North Carolina nursing home where he is looked after by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson, Suspiria) and shares a room with Carl (Bruce Dern, The Hateful Eight), a wily man over a half century older than he is.  Far too young to live the rest of his life surrounded by old people, Zack dreams of becoming a professional wrestler and train with his idol, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church, Hellboy).  Though a high functioning man with Down syndrome, Zack doesn’t have the resources to live on his own so, for the time, being he has to stay where he is.  After a botched escape attempt, Eleanor cracks down on Zack and finally puts bars on his window to prevent him from stealing away when no one is looking.

Nearby, local fisherman Tyler (Shia LeBeouf, Lawless) has gotten into trouble again for fishing without a license and winds up vandalizing the equipment of Duncan, a thorny shoreman (John Hawkes, Lincoln) that doesn’t forgive and forget.  Escaping in a boat and pursued through the marsh by the angry fisherman, Tyler discovers Zack has stowed away on his boat, having escaped from the retirement home in the middle of the night with a little help from Carl.  Though lone-wolf Tyler has plans to start over in Florida, he can’t leave Zack behind and finds some purpose and promise of redemption in helping him get to the wrestling school…even if it means a few extra days of avoiding potential violence from Duncan and his henchman.

Reviews have mentioned Tyler and Zack’s journey to the home of the Salt Water Redneck as a modern day Huckleberry Finn tale, something Mark Twain would have had great fun writing, and that comparison isn’t wholly off the mark.  Heck, at one point the two men even build a raft and sail down the river like the characters in Twain’s stories often did.  When Eleanor tracks them down and makes the duo a trio, it adds a new dimension to an already intriguing premise.  Along the way they meet a blind man of faith that affords the film some honest-to-goodness soul stirring passages and eventually come to their destination which might actually be the start of another journey altogether.

Writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz have a little gem on their hands here and they’ve given it a fine polish.  While the story might feel the slightest bit warmed over treacle at times, there are enough moments that subvert the expected and yield something more interesting.  Though Johnson sinks believably into the role of an invested caregiver to Zack, the script wants her to take on another role for Tyler’s benefit that doesn’t feel as well-developed and certainly not as warranted.  Thus, Eleanor starts to feel shoe-horned into the latter half of the film, like Nilson and Scharwartz expanded the role once Johnson signed on.

The best parts of the movie are watching Gottsagen and LeBeouf converse and react off of each other.  I’m not sure how much of what is presented was the result of improv between the two or scripted developments but there’s a lightness and geniality to their quickly developed friendship that feels authentic.  LeBeouf, often given to going too far inward in his roles, is fairly fantastic here, haunted by memories of his late brother (Jon Berenthal, The Accountant) and clearly far adrift in his life.   Gottsagen, too, is an electric presence onscreen and by the time the movie reaches it’s apex we’ve fallen for his character so much that we want everything to go his way.  Separately, the actors are absorbing but together they are dynamite.

Though Nilson and Schwartz biff the ending a bit with some confusing narrative choices and a final shot that I outright disliked, what came before it was an incredibly winning and rewarding night at the movies.  It’s another film that, I feel, will play better at home because it feels like it wants to find a place in your heart.  With it’s rich soundtrack and down home charm, I can easily see why this understated film appealed to the crowds that flock to the Texas film fest and why it’s proving to be an appetizing alternative to audiences at the end of their summer blockbuster rope.