Friday, September 21, 2018

The Meg

Jason Statham in The Meg (2018)

Yes, Jon Turteltaub's The Meg borrows without apparent shame from the Spielberg, Cameron, Emmerich playbooks (Jaws, Jurassic Park, The Abyss, Godzilla) and goes on to load this familiar human v giant critter story with distracting "family fare" that adds little to the proceedings because the characters lack depth. Star Jason Statham's diver Jonas meets cute Bingbing Li's intrepid oceanographer Suyin and her precocious and curiously ever-present 8-year-old daughter on a billion-dollar deep-sea rig off the coast of China, where their benign explorations disturb the rest of a 90-foot prehistoric shark believed extinct, which leads to wholly predictable results. (The picture seems oddly anti-scientific inquiry). Turteltaub has populated the film with the usual array of factotums who deliver plot points when they're not being sacrificed to the voracious 90-foot shark of the tile. And, as expected, it's the chomp-chomp and Statham's close calls that are the most fun. In my screening, a family of five sat in a row near mine, the youngest child in daddy's lap throughout the flick, which is grisly and bloody and chock-full of peril. If you're going to traumatize your child, pick a better flick.

A Simple Favor

Actor / director Paul Feig is known for his frothy, sometimes filthy, comedies (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy). His latest film, A Simple Favor, has delectable doses of crass humor wrapped around a chewy murder mystery that has some inspired surprises. Anna Kendrick stars as uber-Single Mom and vlogger Stephanie, who befriends and is seduced by another Mom, Emily (Blake Lively), whose big-city, psycho brio domestic goddess Emily finds intoxicating. Emily is married to the hunky Sean ("It Boy" Henry Golding), an English literature professor who can't seem to reignite his career. When Emily disappears, Stephanie tells her vlog subscribers (the posted comments from whom add a wonderful bit of cultural spice to the story) and takes off to discover what happened to her. Stephanie shifts into detective mode and uncovers hidden (at times hilarious) secrets on the back roads of Emily's past and realizes quickly enough that nothing is as it seems.

White Boy Rick

White Boy Rick (2018)

French Director Yann Demange's White Boy Rick tells the true story of a white Detroit teen in the '80s who joins a black drug-dealing organization, ingratiates himself to its members and leaders but ends up turning evidence against them in exchange for a lighter prison sentence, which is not delivered. Newcomer Richie Merritt is the eponymous youngster, Rick Wershe Jr., who lives with his desperate but enterprising gun-dealer father (Matthew McConaughey in his usual fine form) and druggie sister (a terrific Bel Powley). We're led to believe young Rick's circumstances account for most of the disaster his life becomes, but the case is not convincing because aside from the bombed out landscape we don't really come to feel present in Rick's world; his life remains cloudy and remote. The film also has a convoluted narrative (filmed mostly in Detroit, the seasons don't seem to line up from scene to scene) and the lack of substantive exchanges between the characters leaves their motivations blurry and indistinct. Too often important characters seem to occupy the same space but aren't actually in the same moment. The film also fails to recognize the elephant in the room: the whiteness that is referred to in the film's title and the book upon which it is based. How was 16-year-old Rick Wershe able to overcome racial distrust, if not animosity, as he clearly did? We're not offered more than just passing references to Rick's relationship with his closest friend, a low-level player in the organization. Why are they friends? What is their history? How was their friendship used to lend Rick gravitas? While the film has several powerful scenes (the rescue of Rick's sister from a crack den is gut-wrenching) the whole feels frustratingly incomplete.


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