THE MEG: 3 STARS
“The Meg” stars Jason Statham. There’s a giant shark. Its tagline is “Pleased to eat you.” There is no need for a review. You know exactly what you’re getting into here but, because I am paid by the word, here we go.
Based on the book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten, “the Meg” sees action-man Statham play Jonas Taylor, a rescue diver who must face his fears to save the crew of a marooned deep-sea submersible from a fate worse than sharknado. Think Quint from “Jaws” without the expressive range. Years before Taylor narrowly escaped being eaten by a 70-foot shark, the Carcharodon megalodon—“Meg” for short—a 100,000 pound, prehistoric great white thought to have been extinct for about 2 million years. Now it appears the giant beast is back and hungry for the crew trapped inside the submersible. Hired by Chinese oceanographer (Winston Chao) Taylor must not only save the stranded sailors but also make sure the Meg doesn’t eat the world… or something. “Man versus Maggie isn’t a fight,” he grunts, “it’s a slaughter.”
"The Meg” tries to take all of the thrills of Shark Week and compress them into two hours. It almost gets there but not quite. There are some silly thrills, but humungous squids, scientific mumbo jumbo and b-movie dialogue that would make Roger Corman blush buffer the excitement.
“The Meg” is ridiculous. Start to finish. It’s a giant shark story that plays like a watery “Valley of Gwangi.” The key to its ridiculous effervescence is twofold. First, the aforementioned giant shark. Second, Jason Statham, the po-faced hero who, deep down, knows this is silly but is too stoic to admit it to himself or to us. Some people are method actors, relying on past experiences to create their performances. Statham simply glowers. He’s an actor who’s dead-eyed stares make up 95 per cent of his method. Running, punching and blowing up sharks comprise the other 5 per cent. Range? He don’t need no stinking range, he just needs to save the world or at least whatever is in peril.
A reassuring presence, he’s exactly the same in every movie regardless of the plot. No surprises, just extreme machismo with a side order of sentimentality. Here it works. He’s like a silent movie star, easy to read and fun to watch and without him “The Meg” wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
“The Meg” has a few scenes that’ll make you chew your popcorn a bit faster and doesn’t skimp on the silly. In fact, there probably won’t be a more hare-brained underwater adventure this year until “Aquaman.”
DOG DAYS: 1 ½ STARS
In the dog days of summer comes “Dog Days,” starring a cast of folks, including Vanessa Hudgens, “Stranger Things’” Finn Wolfhard and Eva Longoria, all brought together by their canines. Expect bastardized cover versions of pooch songs like “Walking the Dog” and “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and more easy sentimentality than you can shake a dog bone at.
Set in modern day Los Angeles, the story follows a litter of characters. There’s the host of a TV morning show (Nina Dobrev), her co-host (Tone Bell), a dog rescue owner (Jon Bass) with eyes for a barista (Hudgens) who has a crush on the vet next door (Michael Cassidy). That should be enough, but there’s also a couple (Thomas Lennon and Jessica St. Clair) who leave their unruly dog in the care of her even more unruly brother (Adam Pally) while another family (Longoria and David Cross) whose family is completed by a stray. Meanwhile, in another part of town, an elderly man (Ron Cephas Jones) and his pizza delivery boy (Wolfhard) bond over the love of a pug. Eventually, everyone finds either love or a sense of purpose or both through their dogs.
“Dog Days” is so predictable it’s as if the studio forced a bot to watch hundreds of hours of rom coms and Garry Marshal movies and then sat back as the machine spit out a script based on all the data. Beat for beat, it telegraphs what is coming next as though any deviation from the form will result in a case of ringworm.
On the plus side, the dogs in “Dog Days” do not speak. If they could, they might say things like, “Call my agent! What am I doing in a movie as bad as this?”
You will not be bow-wowed by “Dog Days.” Instead you may wonder, not who, but why let the dogs out?
BLACKKKLANSMAN: 4 STARS
“BlacKkKlansman” is based on the strange but true story of Ron Stallworth. The true part sees the Colorado Springs, Colorado police officer join the KKK and even act as a bodyguard for Grand Wizard David Duke. The strange part is that Ron Stallworth is African American. Maybe that’s why director Spike Jones chose to open the film with the title credit, “DIS JOINT IS BASED UPON SOME FO’ REAL, FO’ REAL S***.”
When we first meet Stallworth (John David Washington) it’s the mid-1970s and he is an ambitious rookie cop who wants out of the records room and into the action. The overwhelmingly white Colorado Springs police department doesn’t quite know what to do with him until Civil Rights organizer Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins) is booked to speak in town. “We don’t want this Carmichael getting into the minds of the young people of Colorado Springs,” he’s told. Sent undercover to the meeting wearing a wire, he meets local college activist Patrice (Laura Harrier). She calls the police “pigs” but awakens Ron’s dormant activism with her passion.
Back at his desk a recruitment ad for the Ku Klux Klan. On an impulse he dials the number, changes his voice and gets a meeting with a local, high-level Klansman. Now what to do? Stallworth continues wooing the Klan on the phone, spouting racist gobbledegook, while his colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) plays the part in person.
“BlacKkKlansman” is set forty plus years ago and comes complete with flared pants, jive talk and other indicators of the time but feels timely and alive. This is not a period piece. It’s a slice of Stallworth’s life that bristles with Lee’s anger, social commentary and humour. Parallels to today’s news are woven throughout, sometimes subtly, sometimes with the delicacy of a slap to the face. For instance, midway through Duke says he’s working, “to get America back on track, to give America its greatness again.” It’s a barbed satire with its feet firmly rooted in the realities of American life.
The use of clips from D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” and news footage from Charlottesville compares and contracts a hundred years of filmed racist behaviour, displaying how little has changed in that time.
Terrific performances and fearless storytelling make “BlacKkKlansman” a searing document that defies the viewer not to react.
THE CRESCENT: 2 ½ STARS
“The Crescent” is a creepy slow-burner of a story that, like it’s main character, doesn’t know how to say goodbye.
Set in Nova Scotia, “The Crescent” focuses on Beth (Danika Vandersteen) and her two-year-old son Lowen (Woodrow Graves). A recent widow, Beth is having a hard time adapting to life without her husband. Seeking solace they retreat to the family’s remote beach house. Beth tries to return to a normal life, playing on the beach, creating art projects, making food and reading stories to her son, but true normalcy remains just out of reach. Depressed and uneasy, she often leaves Lowen alone to fend for himself.
As an anxiety-inducing soundtrack hums along in the background neighbours appear, like Joseph (Terrance Murray), an unsettling character whose condolences—“It must be so devastating to lose a loved one. You can be with him again.”—sound like whispered threats. Then there’s the little girl on the beach who warns about the "dead folk who don't want to stay dead." “They've been watching your son,” she says. It’s all in service of a clever climax that suggests that the ones left behind in a situation like this aren’t the only ones who suffer.
“The Crescent” begins as a traditional narrative but ends—and ends and ends—as an experimental, and occasionally patience-trying, art house horror film. Director Seth A. Smith successfully uses music, shifting aspect ratios and the stark location to create an atmosphere of dread that builds as Beth’s grip of reality crumbles. Less interesting is his decision to not end the story when it needs to end. Elongating the narrative takes some of the power away from what has gone before, no matter how eerily effective it was.
CIELO: 3 ½ STARS
That director Alison McAlpine used to be a poet is obvious after viewing her latest documentary “Cielo.” The word means ‘heaven” in Spanish, and here McAlpine uses the visuals in much the same way a poet uses words to express aesthetic qualities of her subject.
The film is a celebration of the sky high above Northern Chile's Atacama Desert, just west of the Andes Mountains. Time lapse cameras capture the ethereal beauty of the wild blue yonder, day and night. She brings in a variety of people to comment on their relationship with the sky, the sun and moon from scientific, cultural and spiritual standpoints. We meet everyone from astronomers and cowboys, to miners and algae collectors. Elderly indigenous storyteller Roberto Garcia says he flies around the stars while professional stargazer Mercedes Lopez reflects on the data she and her colleagues collect. From the personal to the professional, “Cielo” presents a profound collection of perspectives on life’s ceiling.
McAlpine herself chimes in, saying, “the sky is more urgent than the land," and she does a wonderful job of capturing the beauty and the mystery of the sky. By the time the end credits roll we’re left with some engaging stories and observations but it is the visuals that make a lasting impression.