At the movies: The newest entry in the shark thriller/survival film genre, The Shallows almost succeeds at making me think its psychological undercurrent (heh) is completely understood by its director, but some silly high-octane action toward the very end, and the ultimately very cheesy surfing material and the front and back of the film, give me important doubts. A physical performance from Blake Lively, a fun sidekick in the form of an injured gull, and some cool updates to the old tropes using digital technology keep the core of the movie afloat however. You can definitely take her journey as psychological, the shark a manifestation of the grief she's running from, the rotting whale a reminder of mortality, the island's shape the spirit of her mother, and even the corny Gatorade commercial surfing the fantasy of denial she creates for herself. Just not sure the first and second levels really embrace one another like they should.
DVDs: So we just had to go back to the original Jaws. Bit of a cheat, since I've already "flipped" the DVD and this doesn't count as one of my usual "accomplishments". However, I note that I've never written a capsule review for it, so why not? I still consider Jaws Spielberg's best film, probably because his manipulations are Hitchcockian, not Spielbergian, the latter mode something I've come to spot too easily in later work. Jaws is tense, but also very funny. It's a horror film, but also a tale of triumph against adversity. It has colorful, interesting characters that don't conform to the usual movie types (of the major characters, only the mayor feels like the latter). And it has so damn much HUMANITY. It's chaotic and feels full of impromptu moments that lend the story a lot of realism, which is ultimately needed to sell the giant shark. Foo on the sequels that would downplay the sacrifices and victory of this initial (stand-alone, thanks) film.
Let's stay with the theme. All Is Lost is a minimalist procedural about a man (Robert Redford) lost in the Indian Ocean after his sailboat has an accident. If Redford has more than two lines - a quasi-attempt to create a character that really, could be any man, via very brief narration, and then talking once into a radio - I'd be surprised. He's the only character, and doesn't get even so much as a volley-ball sidekick. He doesn't talk to himself, doesn't explain what he's doing. It's a realistic portrayal of how a man might survive for more than a week at sea in the most desperate of circumstances. Nothing more, nothing less. Redford is strong enough an actor to still fill in the blanks with his expressions, but the lack of scenes not strictly related to the plot (and if you were victim of such a situation, your whole life would be PLOT), made my attentions drift in place, especially in the bigger action pieces, like the storms. Well shot, well edited, well acted, and largely uncompromising, there's still a lot to admire in this atypical, real-life thriller.
Gamera vs. Viras is not one of the better Gamera films, especially when it comes to kaiju action. It depends entirely too much on clips from the previous three films, with the enemies watching a 15-minute clip show at one point, and taking the giant turtle over so it can cause the same destruction it did in its pre-hero first film (somehow reverting to black and white in the process). The new monster, the squid-like Viras only shows up at the very end, and that fight at least has some merit, mostly because it is excessively violent and I can't believe Gamera survives the assault. Unfortunately, its own demise is quite the anti-climax. What happened there? Where the film lives and breathes is in the human story, a slightly ridiculous, but fun story about precocious boy scouts who infiltrate an evil alien craft. Their adventure is full of interest, including some rather creepy alien doppelgangers. If only the monster action could have been as inventive...