Under the Sea

Underwater

by Hope Madden

Kristin Stewart has been stretching.

Yes, she will probably forever be first known as that girl from Twilight, unfortunately. But, in the same way her ex-vampire lover Robert Pattinson has relentlessly carved a stronger impression via challenging independent film roles, Stewart has been honing her craft and developing a reputation as a solid talent via varying roles in small budget films.

The few dozen or so of us who saw her versatility over the last few years in Personal Shopper, JT LeRoy, Lizzie, Certain Women, Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria no longer think first of Twilight’s Bella Swan.

But Ellen Ripley?

William Eubank’s deep sea horror Underwater sees Stewart as Nora, a no-nonsense, quick thinking, fast acting survivor—the kind who just might keep the remaining crew alive as they try to make their way from an irreversibly damaged deep sea drill rig to a nearby vessel that might have pods to float them to safety.

But what caused the damage in the first place and what is making that noise?

Eubank has assembled a surprisingly solid cast for his “Alien Under the Sea” flick. Joining Stewart as the rig’s humbly heroic captain is the always excellent Vincent Cassel, while John Gallagher Jr. plays the latest in his long line of effortlessly likeable good guys, Smith. Chubby comic relief is delivered by T.J. Miller.

If that sounds like your basic set of recognizable stereotypes assembled to be picked off one by one, you’ve detected the first major problem with Eubank’s film: a breathtaking lack of originality.

The script, penned by Brian Duffield (The Babysitter) and Adam Cozad (The Legend of Tarzan), offers nothing in the way of novelty and much of the dialog is stilted, and Nora’s third act reveal of the emotional damage she must overcome is false and forced.

Luckily, Eubanks somehow convinced a bunch of genuinely talented actors to deliver these lines, so they mainly come off fine. And while the director frustratingly and consistently undercuts the claustrophobic tension he’s begun building, his monsters are pretty cool looking.

Stewart gets to try on the action hero role, and she’s not too bad. For a 95 minute sea monster movie, neither is Underwater. It’s not too good, either, but at least there are no sparkly vampires.

Bourne This Way

Jason Bourne

by George Wolf

If you’ve got some asses that need kicking, Christmas comes early this year. Jason Bourne is back, with a sack full of fuzzy memories and furious fists.

Star Matt Damon and director/co-writer Paul Greengrass return to the franchise after nearly ten years, trading some of the emotional depth of the previous films for a stab at new relevancy and two of the most effective action sequences of the entire series.

Since we left him at the end of Ultimatum, Bourne has basically been wandering the Earth like a violent Caine, grabbing cash in back alley fights across the globe. Old friend Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) tracks Bourne down to deliver more clues about his past, with CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), cyber division chief Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and the agency’s favorite assassin (Vincent Cassel) close behind.

Bourne’s search for his identity gave us a connection to the character that is now largely gone, and this film is anchored instead with what it calls “the great question of our time:” personal rights vs. public safety. Dewey’s new black ops program promises total cyber surveillance of the populace, even as he’s reminded that “computer privacy is freedom – you should think about defending it.”

Timely? You bet, but this layer isn’t explored as deeply as it could be, even as Bourne catches up with a whistleblower who is “worse than Snowden.” As it moves on to the next fistfight, the film sometimes feels like its running in place, content to feed the formula without a large chunk of the human element that drove it.

Still, this director/star tandem can run pretty well.

Damon’s brooding-yet-vulnerable intensity makes Bourne an effective anti-hero who’s easy to root for, and Greengrass is still a master of shaky cam tension. An early sniper showdown delivers sharp, hold-your-breath action, and the climactic car chase through the packed streets of Vegas is over-the-top spectacular, with a well-placed sign for self-parking becoming the exhale-inducing coup de grace.

It’s repetitive in spots, a bit ridiculous in others and slightly overlong, but Jason Bourne reclaims its legacy with a keen eye toward landing one last thrill before the theme park of summer shuts down.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





Once Upon a Time…

Tale of Tales

by Hope Madden

The concept of the fairy tale has been sterilized over the centuries, evolving mainly into capitalistic cautionary tales with overt morals meant to guide our youth toward a socially accepted line of thinking. But that’s not what they were always about. Fairy tales began as oral entertainment benefitting adults, their lurid magic often aimed at critiquing the powerful and finding absurd amusement in the helplessness of the majority.

Director Matteo Garrone returns to these early principles with his moody, atmospheric film based on the work of 16th Century Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basil. The yarns he spins are about narcissistic royals, unwise subjects, dark magic, and human brutality.

His braid of stories possesses a particularly dark and dreamy nature: Salma Hayak wants to have a baby; Vincent Cassel wants to bed a mysterious woman; Toby Jones wants to spend some alone-time with a giant flea.

OK!

Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, David Cronenberg’s regular collaborator, brings that elegant chill to certain frames, rarely but effectively punctuated with scenes boasting an especially flamboyant and lush look. The imagery meshes with another brilliant Alexandre Desplat score, aurally and visually supporting Garrone’s absurdist rethinking of the classic fairy tale structure.

Garrone’s cast is uniformly solid. Hayek embraces the haughty nature of her queen, but she allows just enough sympathy to creep into the characterization to create the necessary heartache as her story climaxes. John C. Reilly’s touching tenderness in a small role as a supportive spouse and king is especially wonderful.

Christian and Jonah Lees beguile as magical siblings, Franco Pistoni cuts a wondrously dark image as the film’s necromancer, and Cassel is characteristically excellent.

The real surprises in the film lie in Jones’s tale, though, which begins as something especially weird, then unravels into the darkest and most savage of the stories.

Certain moments lumber along, making the film feel longer than it is. Tale of Tales also comes up mildly lacking when compared to Garrone’s blisteringly brilliant Gomorrah. But the filmmaker deserves credit for bringing a delightful bit of madness, in character and filmmaking, back to the fairy tale.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





Help Me, I’ve Been Hyp-no-tized!

By George Wolf

 

The head-trippy space so eloquently invaded by Christopher Nolan in films such as Memento and Inception seems to have caught the fancy of Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire).  In Trance, Boyle gleefully plays with perception and reality as he unveils a mostly effective noir tale of the hunt for a stolen art masterpiece.

James McAvoy stars as Simon, an employee of an exclusive London auction house who opens the film by explaining his game plan for safeguarding art masterpieces during any heist attempts.  While Simon is narrating, we see a heist being organized, leading up to the moment when ringleader Franck (Vincent Cassel) and his thugs steal a prized work.

Simon owes Franck an old debt, but attempts to pay it off with the location of a lost painting are stalled by Simon’s claim of amnesia.  And so, the group understandably turns to…hypnosis.

Stay with me, because this is when things get freaky. Once Simon begins visiting hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), all lines begin to blur.

What is real, and what is a hypnotic suggestion? Who is plotting with whom, and is all that nudity and sex merely subconscious desire?

Boyle, in films such as Slumdog, 127 Hours, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Shallow Grave, has shown that his choices regarding pacing and visual style are often masterful.  With Trance, Boyle seems energized by his new genre playground – so much so that the questionable leaps taken by the script are swept aside with little regard.

The core story was first hatched by current “Dr. Who” writer Joe Ahearne in a TV movie from 2001. Frequent Boyle collaborator John Hodge has expanded the screenplay to keep your head swimming with possibilities, as heroes turn into villains, past becomes present, and then back again.

The solid cast is anchored by Dawson, who reaches beyond anything we’ve seen from her so far with a layered, emotional performance in a role that makes frequent demands. She answers them all, and becomes the film’s center of gravity when too many elements threaten to spin out of control.

Trance is engaging and entertaining, but I’m guessing Boyle was after a bit more. Instead of leaving with a feeling of wonder as you spend days trying to get your head around it, you’re more likely to view Trance as clever, forgettable fun.

Verdict-3-5-Stars