Shark Night (2011)
★ / ★★★★
A group of college students (Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Zylka, Sinqua Walls, Alyssa Diaz, Katharine McPhee, Joel David Moore) visited a lake house in Louisiana for some fun in the sun after finals. One of them, Sara (Paxton), was from the area but she left her hometown three years ago and never went back. Her friends thought it was strange how Sarah, in all the years they’ve known her, never became intimate or even hooked up with a guy. Meanwhile, the barely clothed undergraduates, gleefully playing in the lake, were unaware that the water was infested with sharks. “Shark Night,” based on the screenplay by Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg, lacked the courage to come off as completely ludicrous. If it had been more confident, it could have worked as a parody or even a satire. From its first scene involving a topless girl who had to search for her swimsuit in the water, it was obvious that the material wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. The shark attack lasted for about three seconds of choppy editing and it wasn’t scary in the least. While a handful death scenes, aided by CGI, were rather neat, the few seconds prior to the characters’ deaths felt almost like wasted time. There was no patience from behind the camera prior and during the attacks. The formula was this: The camera would go underwater and about five seconds later, someone screamed out of pain. Sometimes having a character just pulled from underwater by a very strong shark and its victim never having to scream for help could work just as effectively or even more so. Let the camera linger for about five seconds on the surface of the water. Doing so would give us a chance to observe waves created out of panic turn into utter quiescence–an illusion that a shark attack never happened. Moreover, the movie could have benefited from more extreme typecasting. For instance, Nick (Milligan) was supposed to be the geek who wanted to become a doctor. He had his MCAT coming up but the only reason he decided to come with was because he pined for Sara. They knew each other through other friends but he lacked bravado to ask her out on a simple date. He didn’t think he was good enough for her. Yet without his glasses, he looked like another jock who should have all the confidence in the world. How were we supposed to believe that he had something to prove? The one character I found most interesting was Blake (Zylka), the blonde Adonis obsessed with fake tanning. He wasn’t especially smart, even self-absorbed at times, but when tragedy struck, it turned out he was the most sensitive and relatable. Having a final girl, which inevitably just had to be Sara because it was her hometown, was anticlimactic and frustrating because the character wasn’t established as strongly as she should have been. As a rule of thumb, for horror movies that require a “final girl,” the protagonist has to be someone we will be behind no matter what. Sara wasn’t that person. Ironically, it was Blake. It could have been an excellent twist if the writers had been more aware of and fleshed out the inconsistencies in their screenplay. Directed by David R. Ellis, “Shark Night” was tame compared to other bloodfests like Alexandre Aja’s “Piranha.” It wasn’t even as fun.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★
As campy as this movie was, it had genuine thrillers and horror. Director Renny Harlin tells the story of a group of researchers who breed genetically engineered sharks in order to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The sharks’ genes had to be altered because their normal size did not produce big enough brains to store more proteins–proteins that activate inactive Alzheimer-ridden neurons. The researchers consisted of Saffron Burrows, Stellan Skarsgård and Jacqueline McKenzie. Thomas Jane was the person who wrestled with sharks in order to incapacitate them so the researchers could extract brain matter, Samuel L. Jackson was the funder of the project, Michael Rapaport as the physicist, and LL Cool J as the god-fearing chef. I liked the fact that this picture used humor in order to relieve some of the tension on screen. There were a plethora of very funny one-liners, especially from LL Cool J as he tried to fight off a shark in the kitchen. But the one character I had a big problem with was Burrows. For such an intelligent person, she made such stupid decisions, especially toward the end. It was as though the film wanted to note a sort of evolution in her morals, which really wasn’t necessary at all because, as a scientist, she must be objective and be able to weigh the pros and cons of situations. If I were in her position, I would not have felt as much guilt for creating very intelligent, giant sharks if it meant saving millions of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s. As a person who works with people who are ravaged by the disease, I can understand how serious it is and losing a few lives in the process would not have impacted me as much if I were to consider the big picture. Also, this might be a minor complaint, but the movie implied that one can “bring back” those who were in severe stages of the disease. In reality, it’s not possible because the memories have been lost. Stopping the degeneration and even prevention, on the other hand, are entirely possible. But granted, this movie was released in 1999 and we didn’t understand the disease as well back then. Overall, this is a thrilling film with several clever ideas but does suffer with a weak first few minutes and ending. “Deep Blue Sea” is simply a story of survival–a cross between “Jaws” and “Daylight.”
West Side Story (1961)
★★★ / ★★★★
“West Side Story” is pretty much an updated version of “Romeo and Juliet.” Instead of Montagues vs. Capulets, it’s the Sharks vs. the Jets, Puerto Rican immigrants and second generation Americans, respectively. I’m not very interested in musicals but I had to see this one because it’s considered a classic. Although I was pleasantly surprised with how well-made it was, I was also disappointed because it’s not very consistent in its quality. After it delivers one great scene, a pointless and aimless scene comes right after it, which balances out into mediocrity. Although the songs are memorable and some even made it to the modern media consciousness, there were some musicals numbers that tried to do too much. For instance, in one shot the characters are singing in a dimly-lit backdrop; the next frame introduces a glaring use of color in order to symbolize certain emotions when it really didn’t need to do it. Certain techniques like that became distracting and they took me out of the emotions that I was feeling at the time. Natalie Wood as Maria (a Shark) and Richard Beymer as Tony (a Jet) had strong chemistry so I was interested in what was about to happen to their relationship. I wish the film had focused more on them instead of the rival gangs. I think Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, the directors, spent too much time on the gangs just hanging about, bickering, and acting stupid. Not to mention those scenes were a bit lame (in this day and age) so I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I got what the directors were trying to do: To paint a picture that youth is the time to make mistakes and how teenagers are forced to grow up once they learn to take responsibility. But that doesn’t mean that they should spend about half the movie trying to get that message across. I felt like this movie could’ve been condensed from two hours and thirty minutes to an hour and forty minutes. Still, I’m giving this a recommendation because some parts were very strong such as when the film tried to tackle the issues of immigration, racism, groupthink, and us vs. them. Those social themes made this a musical with a brain even though it may not seem like it at first glance.
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