Movie Review – ‘Hell or High Water’

“Wielding a razor-sharp script, “Hell or High Water” backs up to their getaway car with deeply satisfied theater audiences in close chase. And combined with remarkable cinematography brandishing vast lands and small town life, it has confidently ordered all other 2016 films to get down on the floor and not move. At least for now.”

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Few films can deliver everything to moviegoers seeking the most bang for their box office buck. Drama and comedy, perhaps. Maybe even some sentimental chick flick mixed in with a thrilling suspense story. Now toss in a modern Western cowboy feature with risky bank robberies in the Lone Star State. For a motion picture to invoke each of these film genres in the same movie, airtight scripts must come alive through magnificent screen performances. “Hell or High Water” powerfully achieves both and is by far the best film I’ve seen this year!

The shear strength of “Hell or High Water” resides in one of the strongest ensemble casts of 2016 and an authentic, captivating story to tell. Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges stars as a long in the tooth Texas Ranger named Marcus Hamilton, who desires to bring swift justice to the pair of bank bandits before his pending retirement.

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Bridges may be the film’s most accomplished and notable Hollywood face, but his performance is matched along every stretch of west Texas highway by a very formidable Ben Foster (“Lone Survivor”). Riding shotgun to Foster’s volatile Tanner Howard character is none other than “Star Trek Beyond” captain Chris Pine, portraying Tanner’s younger brother Toby. Together this trio play a game of cat and mouse, with viewers hoping no losers emerge in the end. Credit the veteran Bridges for bringing out the career film bests for both Foster and Pine.

This film may be promoted as two brothers robbing banks, however, it’s more about two give-and-take relationships. These dueling bonds consist of one representing the law with Bridges’ and his Texas Ranger sidekick, the other a brotherhood of outlaws raised in an abusive household. One rapport the culmination of years serving together and the other a result of years spent apart.

Wielding a razor-sharp script from Taylor Sheridan (who wrote last year’s “Sicario” screenplay), “Hell or High Water” backs up to their getaway car with deeply satisfied theater audiences in close chase. And combined with remarkable cinematography brandishing vast lands and small town life, “Hell or High Water” has confidently ordered all other 2016 films to get down on the floor and not move. At least for now.

In 2012, “Hell or High Water” earned The Black List award for the most liked motion picture “screenplay not yet produced” from voters consisting of studio and production company executives. Historically, over 25% of the screenplays making The Black List have later earned an Oscar nomination, including; “Argo”, “American Hustle”, “The King’s Speech”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, “Spotlight” and “The Revenant”. Not bad company.

Is “Hell or High Water” a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination come January? You can bank on it.

Grade: A+

“Hell or High Water” is rated R for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality.  Its running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

“★★★★★!”

“One of this year’s best films!”  “An extraordinary story for your eyes and ears!”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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In her best performance in years, Meryl Streep stars as a legendary New York heiress and socialite obsessed with her dream of becoming a great singer.

An electrifying story of love, perseverance and imagination abounds in this true story. This is a compassionate story about endless love and endearing support.  As husband and manager, Hugh Grant’s St. Clair Bayfield character is both protector and tempered watch dog.  His greatest challenge, a 1944 public performance by his beloved Florence in Carnegie Hall, weighs as heavily on his heart and mind as it does moviegoers.

“Florence Foster Jenkins” is a momentous film achievement by Academy Award-nominated Best Director Stephen Frears (for 2006’s “The Queen”).  Most viewers will remember Frears’ well-received 2013 masterpiece “Philomena“, which was nominated for an Oscar in four categories–including Best Picture. Just as Frears’ “Philomena” adeptly balanced the comedic with the dramatic, “Florence Foster Jenkins” perfectly adds the same ingredients in this must-see Date Night endeavor.

The film’s most fascinating take is its ability to starkly illustrate the fine line that coaches, parents, teachers and society must walk regarding feedback to one with lacking skills and killing their dreams. We see this awkward dilemma play out with all the characters, between giving Madam Florence an honest reality check on her singing or continuing to further indulge her to the point of embarrassment and harm.

A charming and delightful love story, “Florence Foster Jenkins” dominates with splendid performances by Streep, Grant and Simon Helberg–whom moviegoers will recognize from television’s “The Big Bang Theory” show.  The 55-year old, nearly ageless Grant exudes his exceptional comedy skills we’ve growth accustomed to since 1994’s “Four Weddings and A Funeral”.  It’s Simon Helberg’s role as pianist Cosme McMoon, however, that steals every scene in this gem.

The odds are very good that this outside-the-box performance by Meryl Streep will land her a record 20th Academy Award nomination. Likewise, “Florence Foster Jenkins” is one of this year’s best films and an extraordinary story for your eyes and ears.

Grade: A

“Florence Foster Jenkins” is rated PG-13 for suggestive material.  Its running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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Coming Soon – ‘Morgan’

Paul Giamatti, Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Mara (“House of Cards”) all headline this film about a corporate cleaner sent to an accident location to get eyes-on what triggered the terrifying incident.

Roll the tape…

Luke Scott, the son of Ridley Scott (“The Martian“), makes his directorial debut in “Morgan”.

This movie hits theaters on September 2nd.

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Oscar Watch: ‘Sully’

Look for “Sully” and Tom Hanks to make almost everyone’s 2016 Best Picture and Best Actor lists.  And don’t discount Eastwood for a Best Director nomination.  If this movie takes off at the box office in 4 weeks, it could find itself on short final for many end-of-the-year awards.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Brace for impact because this one looks very good!

As pilots, we fly in an environment of peers that prides itself on self-reflection and a “There I was…” storytelling mantra.  We attempt to learn from others’ mistakes so that we can avoid the same, potentially deadly, fate.  A vast majority of the time, these “lessons learned” are imparted upon us aviators via safety board reports and accident investigations.

“Sully”, under Clint Eastwood’s visionary touch, appears to bring viewers from behind the flight deck door and into the lives of pilots–inside the cockpit and even outside the terminal area.  Perhaps, in an approach similar to how Eastwood made “American Sniper” less about the kill shots and more about Chris Kyle the husband and father, “Sully” will shake out into the decision-making, initial second-guessing and the collection of facts from the accident investigation, rather than just capture what we already know from the news media on that eventful day.  We’ll see.

But from what I can tell in the trailer, “Sully” looks to be a major water-cooler topic of discussion for passengers, as well as, aircrew, air traffic control and pilots alike.

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Common airline travelers and moviegoers will see Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s actions with an eye towards a miraculous water landing in Manhattan’s Hudson River. For pilots, we’ll focus on so much more; the split-second decisions that needed to be made in successive, rapid-fire fashion.  Decisions that kept possibilities and opportunities available as options for an aircrew that was losing precious altitude and time with every second.  As aviators, we saw an immediate transfer of aircraft control from the copilot to Captain “Sully”–who was sitting in the left seat and is now at the airplane’s controls…flying while talking to Air Traffic Controllers as his copilot and the passengers brace for impact.

When it comes to aircraft emergencies, there are moments when it’s acceptable to have the more junior pilot (copilot) fly the aircraft while the older head(s) on the flight deck decide what appropriate actions must be taken to handle an in-flight malfunction or problem.

At other times, when the circumstances are the most dire and time constraining, it’s the senior pilot–The Captain–who must fly the aircraft and exhibit their A-game skills (formulated over thousands of flying hours and years of experience) to allow for the best odds of survival.

Pilots following this true story about the “Miracle on the Hudson” know that the copilot was performing checklist items and backing up Sully from the right seat the entire time.  As this trailer indicates, the entire crew–a team really–perform and interact like a well-oiled machine.  A direct result of a profession that prides itself on preparation for all possibilities, always attempting to make the unexpected emergency more expected through rote checklist procedures, in-depth systems knowledge and continued simulator training.

It seems like every time Tom Hanks portrays a Captain on-screen bad things happen to him.  And this.  Or taking this guy down also.  Lots of Oscar chatter for this powerhouse film.  Look for “Sully” and Tom Hanks to make almost everyone’s 2016 Best Picture and Best Actor lists.  And don’t discount Eastwood for a Best Director nomination.  If this movie takes off at the box office in 4 weeks, it could find itself on short final for many end-of-the-year awards.

From an actual Cactus 1549 passenger statement to the National Transportation Safety Board:

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Agree.

“Sully” hits theaters on September 9th.

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Movie Review – ‘Suicide Squad’

Will Smith and Margot Robbie are fantastic as assassin Deadshot and the off-kilter Harley Quinn respectively… Viewers are treated to a spectacular opening sequence … “Suicide Squad” is a watchable and “worth the price of admission” film, but it falls short in the middle and final acts.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Attempting to bounce back from this spring’s disastrous Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice reception from filmgoers, DC Comics has finally taken a step in the right direction after 4 years of bland results. Set in Gotham City, Suicide Squad gathers a mixed bag of bad apples who must answer their government’s call into action in order to stop an enigmatic entity threatening us mere mortals.

Will Smith and Margot Robbie are fantastic as assassin Deadshot and the off-kilter Harley Quinn respectively. Viewers are treated to a spectacular opening sequence (in a post-Superman world), which introduces us to no less than 11 characters–most of them super villains with unique talents and personas. It’s here, during the first forty-five minutes, that Suicide Squad really shines with a steady dose of laughs and interesting traits exhibited by the unique cast.

Easily DC Comics best venture on film since The Dark Knight Rises back in 2012. Several missed opportunities, however, water down this plot and overall movie. Once again, rather than create a simplified enemy that’s easily explainable within minutes, director David Ayer (Fury) expends too much energy and valuable screen time revealing a convoluted plot. This misstep cost us the chance to fully understand each of the main characters and their various backgrounds.

Aside from perhaps introducing too many misfits to properly explain in one movie, Suicide Squad squandered some supporting cast specifics with several unforced errors. For example, Killer Croc’s elaborate costume drowned out a few of his best one-liners…a blunder that should’ve been caught by sound and editing.

Academy Award winner Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) does an admirable job as The Joker, but the storyline never fully unleashes The Joker into the bigger plot. Missing most of the time and barely seen, Leto’s portrayal of The Joker comes across the screen as an afterthought to the overall narrative–making his scenes appear as almost a movie within a movie.

Although not entirely fair, I still use Marvel’s 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy as my bellwether watermark for judging comic book film greatness. Suicide Squad is a watchable and “worth the price of admission” film, but it falls short in the middle and final acts. But with an August opening weekend record haul of over $135 million, fans of DC Comics know that we’ll probably see a Suicide Squad 2 within a couple of years.

Grade: C+

“Suicide Squad” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language.  Its running time is 2 hours and 3 minutes.

 

 

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Movie Review – ‘Captain Fantastic’

“A mind-boggling journey that exposes the limits of book smarts and the avoidance of self-reliance upon others in life.  …An intriguing and thoughtful story.  …Look for ‘Captain Fantastic’ to earn end-of the-year award nominations.”  – Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Raising children takes on many different techniques within an extended family or society. Most parents bring their own childhood experiences into the mix of raising kids, deciding which parts to emulate from their past and which ones to perhaps change-up or modify. Often, both parents can’t completely agree on how or best to raise their children. From there, compromises and trial and error must take over. Along the way, the potential for parents to second-guess themselves can intensify.

In “Captain Fantastic” we find the parents and their six children, all living in the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest, completely isolated from society. Each member thriving as individuals and contributing to the overall family unit to survive.

CF_00091_R_CROP (l to r) Nicholas Hamilton stars as Rellian, Annalise Basso as Vespyr, Samantha Isler as Kielyr, George MacKay as Bo, and Viggo Mortensen as their dad Ben in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, a Bleecker Street release. Credit: Erik Simkins / Bleecker Street

Credit: Erik Simkins / Bleecker Street

The vastly talented Viggo Mortensen (“Lord of the Rings”) stars as the earthy patriarch of the Cash family, living off-the-grid while raising and home-schooling his exceptionally smart, well-read children. The Cash family, all survivalists equally keen in hunting and gathering as they are discussing the ideologies of Mao, Trotsky or Chomsky, must deal with the unexpected death of their mother.  A heart-wrenching loss that tosses each of their wilderness lives upside down.

“Captain Fantastic” is a mind-boggling journey that exposes the limits of book smarts and the avoidance of self-reliance upon others in life. As the family comes off the mountain to seek closure with their mother’s death, the children struggle to pursue and understand their own ideas, beliefs and individuality. Likewise, Mortensen’s Ben Cash character must come to terms and deal with serious self-doubt issues on raising his children afar from society.

This intriguing and thoughtful story covers miles of social etiquette ground. It shocks the audience on the mental and physical endurance of the six siblings. As a family must cope with their loss, the second-guessing and challenges fall to a single parent to sort out. In the mission to honor the memory and wishes of their mother, the Cash family embarks on a trip to learn more about themselves.

Look for “Captain Fantastic” to earn end-of the-year award nominations. Mortensen is masterful as head of the Cash family. In his second feature-length film, actor-turned-director Matt Ross offers a stirring drama on human interaction and one family’s attempt to cope with loss, individual beliefs, and real life. Every parent, at some point, wonders if they’re raising their child the best possible way? “Captain Fantastic” offers us one unmistakable, yet riveting, parenting route. Power to the family, stick it to the social norms!

Grade: A

“Captain Fantastic” is rated R for language and brief, graphic nudity.  Its running time is 1 hour and 59 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Lights Out’

A bona fide horror flick, “Lights Out” will keep audiences sleepless and tense for days.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Making his directorial debut, David F. Sandberg delivers a fast-paced and superbly acted horror film to viewers willing to endure its jittery, nail-biting suspense scenes. This film’s best feature, though, is the compelling storyline it glues us to from start to finish.

“Lights Out” shines apart from the more common mindless horror genre features found today using expertly timed comedic relief and several intriguing backstories. Each subplot evolves completely outside of the movie’s hair-raising supernatural, creepy star until all of the story’s loose ends are nicely tied up by the film’s conclusion.

At the center of this edgy thriller resides Rebecca, a twenty-something daughter of the film’s oppressor played by Australian hottie Teresa Palmer. Rebecca, trying to eliminate all potential drama in her life, ultimately gets thrust into the lead role of this jumpy mystery. And as the central figure, she delivers this movie. In fact, the complex relationship between Palmer’s Rebecca character and the rest of the film’s cast is where “Lights Out” dominates and excels.

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Stellar bookend performances by Maria Bello (as Rebecca’s mother) and Gabriel Bateman, as the half-brother, create constant high drama and troublesome predicaments from which everyone must fight in order to stay alive. A solid tribute to the old school horror experience, this movie’s outcome is less predictable than most while leaving us guessing who’ll be left standing as the credits roll.

“Lights Out” brings a strong cast and an even stronger assortment of heart-racing suspense. Expect sweaty palms, covered eyes and a few startled theater seat moments between the dysfunctional family scenes. As both brother and sister attempt to get help for their unstable mother, a supernatural being stalks in the dark.

A bona fide horror flick, “Lights Out” will keep audiences sleepless and tense for days. Leaving the film screening, my first thought was immediately back to those warning signs posted at amusement parks attractions to customers; “For safety, you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride.” I think the same guidance should apply to those wanting to see this well-made thriller.

Grade: B+

“Lights Out” is rated PG-13 for terror throughout, including violent, disturbing images, some thematic material and brief drug content.  Its running time is 1 hour and 21 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Ghostbusters’

Thirty-two years after the comedy box-office hit “Ghostbusters” sparked a catchy Oscar-nominated theme song and the brilliant marketing slogan “Who you gonna call?” this reboot was placed in the clever hands of director Paul Feig… tapping into his razor-tongued comedic talents from Feig’s “Bridesmaids” (2011) and “Spy” (2015) films, Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig reunite in this better-than-expected girl power ghost story.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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When the teaser trailer for this 2016 makeover of the original “Ghostbusters” debuted earlier this year, I wasn’t impressed with what I saw. After all, what could this new group of all-female ghost-catchers dial-up on their proton packs that hasn’t already been covered by the paranormal tracking legends Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson? A lot, we find out.

Thirty-two years after the comedy box-office hit “Ghostbusters” sparked a catchy Oscar-nominated theme song and the brilliant marketing slogan “Who you gonna call?” this reboot was placed in the clever hands of director Paul Feig. Immediately tapping into his razor-tongued comedic talents from Feig’s “Bridesmaids” (2011) and “Spy” (2015) films, Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig reunite in this better-than-expected girl power ghost story.

Ghostbusters2016Logo121715“Ghostbusters” delivers one of this summer’s funniest films. It works because it doesn’t try too hard to rebrand a proven winner. In fact, this is a stand-alone, female version of the mega-successful “Ghostbusters”. This film smartly keeps a blistering pace—quickly introducing us to the new quartet of heroines (McCarthy, Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones) while stringing together near-continuous wisecracks using short, Saturday Night Live-type of scenes.

A character-driven comedy, “Ghostbusters” exaggerates each ghost-fighter’s outlandish personality and hang-ups in hilarious fashion. This ensemble cast oozes, slimes and blends charisma with chemistry, but never throwing shade on the original foursome. In fact, director Feig and these modern “Ghostbusters” offer several big-screen tributes to their predecessors throughout the movie–although not openly acknowledging their existence from either the 1984 film or its sequel in 1989.

Adding to the complete comedy madness is the scene-stealing performance by lady-killer Chris Hemsworth. Taking a deserved break from the Marvel Comics’ superhero role of “Thor”, Hemsworth confidently squeezes out every ounce of humor from his over-the-top receptionist gig. All superpowers, however, are duly reserved for the girl power in “Ghostbusters”…from ghost shredders to enough mobile scientific equipment to make Christopher Lloyd’s eccentric physicist character in 1985’s “Back to the Future” proud.

Generating laughs while giving a respectful nod to the original ghost-chasers, this remake of “Ghostbusters” is both enjoyable and fresh. It shines brightest when it focuses on the star-power interpersonal relationships and moves quickly through the ghostly plot setup and action scenes. Overall, a film that was better than I had expected.

My only concern is that we’ll see another “Ghostbusters II”, or even more, in the future. I’m not sure New York City or theater audiences could handle that overexposure. But the warning signs are there; stay through the post-film credits to see several Marvel-esque added scenes. And remain in your seats until the last-second to watch a teaser and special cameo appearance.

Grade: B

“Ghostbusters” is rated PG-13, for supernatural action and some crude humor.  Its running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Swiss Army Man’

Film buffs need to stand up and applaud “Swiss Army Man”.  This daring, odd and thought-provoking film is a bold statement that proves outside-the-box minds still exist in filmmaking. 

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Watch out moviegoers, Hollywood has once again found its wild side.  For nearly a decade, filmmakers have inundated audiences with television reboots, movie prequels, sequels, and trilogies, along with steady rollouts of best-selling books-to-big-screen adaptations.  All of which has made film plots safer, more predictable from the bottom-line focused studios, but less challenging to fresh-starved audiences.

As independent (“indie”) films have gained award-winning popularity for their creativity and edginess, so has viewers’ appetite for originality and unique storylines.

Film buffs need to stand up and applaud “Swiss Army Man”.  This daring, odd and thought-provoking film is a bold statement that proves outside-the-box minds still exist in filmmaking.  Newcomer feature film directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan co-wrote this ambitious, yet strange, narrative about loneliness and the human mind.

SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano

                      SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano

“Swiss Army Man” showcases the two best performances in one film so far in 2016. Future Oscar-winner Paul Dano portrays Hank, a man deserted on a Pacific island until the corpse of Manny (played by “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe) washes ashore to provide Hank companionship and his will to survive.

Together, Hank and Manny discover the power of love, humor and self-reflection.  We see how the brain works, connecting our inner childhood experiences and influences with the images recorded for dissemination once faced with a survival situation.

The human body—and all its functions—gets fully examined in a beautiful, often funny, but strange, loving and shocking manner.  Over time, we find Hank’s journey therapeutic and empowering.

“Swiss Army Man” is a powerful story about human beings.  Its bold delivery is both effective and original.  Dano and Radcliffe are sensational at breathing life and emotion into one’s lifelong struggle.

A film like nothing you’ve seen before…with an ending you have no idea how it will wrap. Hollywood creativity and freshness is back!

Grade: B+

“Swiss Army Man” is rated R for language and sexual material.  Its running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘The Shallows’

“The Shallows” wisely doesn’t overextend its welcome into our busy lives. It offers a fast-paced tempo with just enough plot twists and character depth to keep us glued to the action for the entire 87 minutes.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Moviegoers looking for a refreshing suspense film to help beat the hot summer temperatures may have found just the theater ticket in Columbia Pictures’ “The Shallows”. Forty-one years after the beaches of Amity Island were cleared by Roy Scheider’s police chief role in “Jaws”, we find another man-eating great white shark wreaking havoc in bloody waters. Is it fair to compare “The Shallows” to the one of the greatest films ever made? No. But, this 2016 adventure does an adequate job of giving audiences enough anxious moments to create uncertainty and uneasiness.

The beautiful Mrs. “Deadpool“, aka Blake Lively (married to Ryan Reynolds), confidently shines as medical student and competent surfer, Nancy, on hiatus in Mexico. The movie’s costar clearly turns out to be Lively’s eye-popping bikini—which makes “The Legend of Tarzan” loincloth look like a queen-sized beach towel. Lacking a true supporting cast, Lively smartly talks and text messages us through her disastrous surfing ordeal.

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Despite presenting a predictable outcome within the first few scenes, “The Shallows” wisely doesn’t overextend its welcome into our busy lives. It offers a fast-paced tempo with just enough plot twists and character depth to keep us glued to the action for the entire 87 minutes.

While the film may slightly hurt Mexican tourism, the larger danger exposed in the movie is the feeling of invincibility by today’s younger generation. Their comfortable mindset in traveling and surfing alone will make parents everywhere tremble with worry. Regardless of one’s ability to post social media updates or have worldwide cell phone coverage, going solo on a day trip has distinct disadvantages in safety protocol. On the big screen, the 28-year old Lively’s bright and strong character feels her isolation and the need to kick into serious survival mode…and so do we.

This shark story compliments—never competes with–the original, terrifying “Jaws” thriller of 1975. “The Shallows”, though, expertly taps into our trepidation of swimming in open waters, offering tense moments captured by amazing underwater cinematography. Blake Lively’s performance is better than expected. The same can be said about the overall film.

Grade: B-

The Shallows” is rated PG-13 for bloody images, intense sequences of peril and brief strong language.  Its running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.

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