47 Metres Down ***

Ever since Jaws, there’s been the desire to thrill audiences with crazed, human-hunting sharks singling out victims in the water. We know sharks can bite in reality (and even kill), but sadly, since the 1975 Spielberg classic, none of the shark films have been as effective, including the Jaws sequels. These all become more and more laughable, to the point of absurdity like Sharknado.

The only film that began capturing the ‘reality’ of being in the water with one of the deep’s greatest hunters, and came close to Jaws for sheer terror, was Open Water (2003). There was believability to it that events portrayed ‘could’ happen – in fact it was based on a true story. The beauty of this film was you never got to see the crazed shark attacking. It was all below the waterline.

Last year’s Blake Lively adrenaline fest, The Shallows, got average reviews and revived our fear of Great Whites targeting us. 47 Metres Down, like Open Water and The Shallows, plays on a realistic situation you ‘could’ possibly find yourself in, especially in the middle of the Summer season. The latest film is surprisingly effective too, and cleverly throws enough curve balls to keep you entertained for the 89 mins, but doesn’t go quite far enough with the shark menacing.

Two sisters, Lisa and Kate (played by Mandy Moore and Claire Holt respectively) are on holiday in Mexico, with Lisa trying to get over a breakup back home. Befriending two lads, they decide to go on a cage-diving expedition to get up close to sharks. The problem is the equipment and cage supplied by the operator (hippie Taylor, played by Matthew Modine) is less than safe. After the boys’ turn, and the cage the sisters are now in plunges 47 metres to the ocean floor. As their oxygen begins to run out, the sisters must find a way of communicating with the surface and get rescued, while Great Whites circle them.

The setup and process in which the girls become shark bait is highly believable – this reviewer experienced faulty diving gear while in St Lucia. Writer-director Johannes Roberts plays on this possible scenario – being exposed to dubious practices as a tourist, challenging you to think what you would do in the sisters’ unfortunate situation? The filmmaker also shoots within murky surroundings, not the crystal-clear blue expanse other productions favour. This heightens the fear of ‘what’s out there’ even more.

While you will be covering your face in anticipation of an attack, squinting with one eye through your hands, the problem lies with some far-fetched parts. There are also not enough shark frights in the run-up to the next attack – ironic, considering the subject matter. As far as stretching reality, one of the sisters goes off to find a much-needed bit of kit sent down by the boat, over the edge of a ocean-floor ledge with a significant drop, and still manages to find her way back to the damaged cage, without consequence, for example.

Indeed, the premise is, after a certain time when the oxygen is near gone, so how many of situations the sisters are in are actually happening, and how many are delusions? This is where Roberts’s film gets very intriguing. It’s a shame it didn’t played on this more to heighten the disorientation at 47 metres below the surface, and elevate it out of the vanilla-acted, B-movie outcome it lapses into. It could have been a memorable psychological thriller and upped the game in this genre. The ending does have you questioning, is this really happening? Hence the plot’s main problem lies with whether 47 Metres Down is meant to be just a shark-menacing film (like Jaws), or a psychological nail-biter about disorientation (much like Open Water), with the big fish just another peril to contend with? This is where things feel a little inconsistent.

That said, 47 Metres Down will have you cowering in your seat, muttering “no, no, no, don’t do it” to either one of the women’s actions. With its twists and turns, the film does what it intends to do; make you think twice about cage diving with sharks on your holiday, or at least, demanding to see the operator’s certificates, licences and equipment before stepping onto the boat, let along the into the shark feeding cage!

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Cars 3 ***

With Cars 1 and Cars 2 always on at some point at home (with our two kids), the prospect of a third outing is inevitable, kind of a pilgrimage that must be made (parents nods in unison). In fact, we have waited six years for the latest installment, after first encountering youthful, cocky racing legend Lightning McQueen getting lost in Radiator Falls off Route 66 in 2006.

What the third film, Cars 3, highlights is how quickly time passes – McQueen is now the geriatric motor like mentor Doc Hudson (voiced by the late Paul Newman) was, making you surprisingly reminisce on what a decade has brought you? It’s this reflection that Cars 3 makers Disney Pixar want you to experience, using a cross-generational storyline.

After losing the latest speedway race to a new generation of race cars like suave winner Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer), Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson back in the driving seat) sets out to prove he still has what it takes to win. However, his true direction is revealed after an unexpected off-track journey taken with trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).

The success (or failure) of Cars 3 really does depend on what you want from the film – and your dedication to the characters. The story has to progress – Lightning McQueen cannot race forever, as every sportsman knows too well. This is Disney too, so there has to be a happy, albeit poignant, family-friendly ending.

It’s not so much the McQueen character progression here, but whether you want action scenes verses lovable character moments for committed fans. Indeed, those craving more Mater moments will be disappointed – the Doc gets more of an outing that the goofy tow truck whose quirky quips feel a little flat. The Radiator Springs bunch – much like the second film – gets driven out as the cheerleaders once more, like spectators to their own franchise. Dwell on the (mis)fortunes of the former characters, and you get a sense of great sadness that they are being resigned to the Disney store cupboard.

This film’s hook relies on Lightning McQueen’s interaction with the new characters. Here, the studio has gone with more ‘girl power’ with Cruz – remember Emily Mortimer’s Holley Shiftwell spy car in the second film? Cruz is really peppy and great fun, but also self-doubting, which allows McQueen to give the pep talk and ‘grow up’.

What film three lacks though, is an actual adventure that the second had and kept little ones really entertained by. Indeed, there is ‘a journey’ going on, but this self-discovery version begins to feel like it’s wallowing at times, threatening to dislodge any little ones’ interest. It’s then you will the film to move on speedily to the next action scene to stop the inevitable “can we go now” line from being utter in the cinematic darkness. This happened three-quarters of the way through from a Cars-obsessed, 4.5-year-old – very telling indeed. Just be prepared.

As for action, the effects and graphics are superb especially the near-realistic mud pit in the ‘demolition derby’ race McQueen and Cruz compete in that feels like a bit of Radiator Springs nostalgia. However, it’s the first-person gamer view of the speedway racing track that really wows and gets the juices going of any speed demon watching. This wizardry shows how far the franchise has come and Disney Pixar must be commended on.

Cars 3 does have ‘something for everyone’, which is why it’s still proved so lucrative both in theatrical and home entertainment terms. This saga just forwards the narrative towards (maybe) a new fork in the Cars road map? One that doesn’t necessarily say good-bye to Radiator Springs and Route 66, but could take another interesting path…

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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War For The Planet Of The Apes (3D) *****

 

If you’ve ever doubted viewing one of these films – as this reviewer has, this could be your introduction to one of the most thought-provoking ‘man verses beast’ films of present-day cinema. Through the magic of digital technology, War For The Planet Of The Apes manages to transport you from ‘human to ape’ then makes you question our species’ impact on nature around us. All of this comes to brew in a rocky microcosm of human suffering. It’s that powerful that is makes you think long afterward viewing. Throughout, you are too busy willing the apes to survive and save the planet.

Having followed Caesar’s journey from his intelligent ape origins, in the third chapter, he (Andy Serkis returning) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson). After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.

Believe the hype: Serkis is superb in this, leaving no emotion unexplored, and becoming more ‘civilised’ and messiah-like than any human could hope to be. You are completely won over to his side, his morality and view on the world, along with his ‘apes in arms’ (Karin Konoval as Maurice, Terry Notary as Rocket and Michael Adamthwaite as Luca).

The most powerful scenes are Serkis’s Caesar verses Harrelson’s Colonel. Initially, both feel as though they are playing to stereotype, but both character arcs are way more subtle, surprising and ultimately satisfying than that, as both have darker and lighter shades to their nature, which the film always pauses to reflect on. These muted moments, however, are never to the detriment of the film’s urgency and pace. They merely add greater value.

There are also some wonderful companionship and group-bonding moments among apes – and ‘token’ primate, a young mute girl called Nova (Amiah Miller) who is there for ‘cute’ value and to shine a light on the apes’ sensitive nature. In scenes that resemble The Great Escape and Schindler’s List, the apes are resourceful, considerate and in destructible in what is thrown at them. It is all-engrossing. Director Matt Reeves and team never forget to lighten the emotional load, with a charmingly funny turn by Steve Zahn as the comedic Bad Ape, the character that actually makes the greatest progression in hindsight.

As for big-screen effects, some of the jungle scenes are spectacular, especially when Caesar firsts encounters the Colonel at the waterfall. Details that could have been lost in the dim tones are all present and alive, feral, even down to the emotions in the eyes between man and beast. This is a production that does not squander its budget, making use of every effect, production design and vista.

War For The Planet Of The Apes concludes in the only way possible, squeezing out one last emotional response from the viewer. As Hollywood endings go, it’s as expected, almost clichéd. However, the full impact of what you have just watched hits you like a tidal wave soon after. It’s the unexpected that renders War For The Planet Of The Apes one of the most powerful post-viewing experiences in a long time.

5/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Spider-Man: Homecoming (3D) ****

Everyone who is interested in Spider-Man (and Marvel) films is looking forward to seeing new Spider-Man, Tom Holland, going solo on screen and in action. Thankfully, Holland held his own in last year’s Captain America: Civil War and he doesn’t disappoint in Homecoming.

Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s nemesis is Vulture (Adrian Toomes, played by Michael Keaton), who is also related to Peter’s love interest. Toomes has built a lucrative weapons empire that involves an alien power source, with all weaponry sold to the highest criminal bidder. Wanting to prove to his mentor, the great Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) that he is Avenger material, Spider-Man goes after Toomes/Vulture, while trying to juggle life as a high-school student, with best friend, nerd Ned (Jacob Batalon), with being a superhero.

Homecoming is packed with fun and big action, and has some brilliant lines. The reason it works so well is Holland is as cheeky-chappie and quick-witted as big-timers, Keaton and Downey Jr., thanks to some great writing from Jonathan Goldstein and co. Admittedly, Andrew Garfield paved the way with a more ‘playful’ Spider-Man character, but Holland’s version feels less ‘troubled’ and more proactive like a meddling, naïve youngster should be. This nicely compliments Stark’s infantile antics, and actually renders the latter (almost) a ‘grown-up’ in this. That said an old flame makes a fun appearance half-way through and reinforces Stark’s unpredictability that fans so love.

There is also just one superhero in action verses an almost retro bad buy in Keaton’s character that doesn’t result in Marvel hero fatigue half-way through, with superpowers verses superpowers clashing. Here, it’s man (with webs, admittedly) verses man with gadgets. Therefore, the battles feel more bruising and energizing.

Cop Car director Jon Watts – who takes the directing helm for the first time here – has brought out Spider-Man’s human vulnerabilities, but rather than dwell on these like a Garfield-era hero would have, Holland’s incarnation refuses to let them get the better of him. In a way, it’s a little like watching Kick-Ass self-destruct at times but get back up again. Keaton is always better playing the villain – even his Batman was unhinged. It’s what the actor is best at and he can indulge once more here.

Along with some explosive action set-pieces, the well-crafted Homecoming is one of the best Spider-Man films yet, ending with one of the best lines of any film in a long time that will have you chucking a long time after. Stay for the ‘infomercial’ during the end credits too, for a little more Marvel titillation.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Despicable Me 3 ***

The thought of another Minions-packed film might have us parents running for the hills. Anyone who’s been subjected to (tortured by) the Minions Banana song by their offspring will be nodding in agreement right now. It takes a strong stomach to take the kids to Despicable Me 3.

Fear not though: Film number 3 is far less about the little yellow babbling creatures and more about ex-villain Gru and his family connections and choices. This is both a plus and a minus for the franchise.

Bad-turned-good Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) and wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) have been fired from the Anti-Villain League (like the FBI) for reasons played out at the beginning. Meanwhile, the redundant Minions decide life with Gru is no longer fun and decide to go it alone. Wondering what to do next, Gru is contacted by his long-lost twin Dru (Carrell) who wants him to go back into the family business: villainy – something the latter needs help with. The plan is to steal a diamond that another baddie has locked away, 80s-loving supervillian Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). Can both brothers work together and resurrect the glory days?

Although writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio have wisely tried another way of injecting a new lease of life into the Despicable Me saga with the brothers’ relationship and how that impacts on Gru’s family, the original fans of the films – the youngsters – do begin to question when they’ll be seeing more Minions action, which this film is light on. Granted, a prison break by the yellow menace satisfies for a short period, but any mini Minions nuts out there will be asking during the film when are their custard-coloured anti-heroes coming back onscreen next?

For the rest of us, there is enough to entertain you with, watching the family dynamics in play. Even though the makers have give adults a Minions respite by exploring this, the real fun comes from Bratt and his 80s obsessions, which allows those of us who remember those days first time around to indulge in 80s fever, bringing silly grins to faces at the campness of the decade and its fashions and music. It feels like a cheap laugh but it’s gratefully accepted. The rest of the film flies around at its usual colourful pace, without much else standing out.

Despicable Me 3 feels like the ‘third best’ in the saga – in all fairness, it’s just trying something new with the narrative and characters. If you like Gru and family then this will go down easily and effortlessly. If you actually ‘like’ Minions, you might be putting on a previous film when you get home to get your fill – as this reviewer did to placate a young (slightly disappointed) Minions fan.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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