Tense Swim (The Shallows, 2016)

shallows-movie-posterI confess, I saw the trailers and thought this would be a pretty standard survival flick.  Instead, what I discovered was a very tense thriller of woman versus nature.

Blake Lively is Nancy…a young woman grieving the loss of her mother.  She has discovered a remote beach and is there to surf.  Late in the day, she follows some dolphins and discovers a dead whale.  After a large great white shark attack, Nancy finds herself trapped on a rock.  The shark seems determined to make Nancy a meal, and she struggles to find a way to survive.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra has brought us an intense story that does not often give you time to breathe as Nancy tries to find a way to outsmart the shark.  When you consider a large chunk of the film is Lively sitting on a rock, it is pretty impressive that they are able to keep the audience on their toes.

This film was a very good surprise.  

Urban Pasta (Beware the Slenderman, 2017)

beware-the-slenderman-posterOn Saturday, May 31st in 2014, two young girls stabbed their friend 19 times in Waukesha, Wisconsin.  She survived after crawling from the forest and being found by a cyclist.  The two girls were found walking along a road.  They explained to the police that they were trying to prove their worth to “the Slender Man”.  When they were found, they were on their way to the Slender Man’s mansion, hidden deep in the forest.

The police had no idea who “the Slender Man” was.  The HBO documentary _Beware the Slenderman explores this question.  It tries to understand what drew these young girls into believing that they had to murder their friend.  And, according to the girls, if they did not kill their friend, Slender Man would hurt their families.

Slender Man is an urban legend…but unlike most urban legends, his origin is traceable.  Back in 2009, a forum group called Something Awful had a Photoshop contest.  Its goal was pretty simple, create paranormal photos.  One user created two images of children playing.  If you looked into the background, you saw a tall, thin and faceless man watching the children.

From there, other users started to build the myth of the Slender man.  In some ways, this is fascinating, as they explore how Slender Man grew and became so much bigger.  Especially when it was a mainstay of the Creepy Pasta community…which is where the two young women discovered him.  Creepy Pasta is a web community that writes creepy stories, creates fan art and so on.  Part of the inherent creepiness of the Slender Man is that he is often portrayed as a figure watching from a distance.

As the film progresses, we find there are reasons why these girls (especially one) are certain he is real.  It is a truly tragic story which really has many victims.  _Beware the Slenderman will both sadden and creep viewers out as it weaves it’s way through the history of the character and story of the girls as they are tried for attempted murder.

There is, admittedly a bit of an ethical controversy surrounding the film.  Irene Taylor Brodsky uses other filmmakers’ footage without permission in the film, and neither she nor HBO, have given them any credit.

Filed Away (Hidden Figures, 2017)

hidden-figures-movie-posterHidden Figures tells a story I suspect few Americans were aware of.  The women of NASA in the sixties.  Or to be more precise, the black women of NASA.  Hidden Figures explores the real story of three NASA “Computers”.  In the sixties, people were doing all the calculating that would eventually be taken over by computers.  And this film brings to light Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.  All three were firsts in their field.

The film shows their struggles and triumphs, with terrific performances from the leads.  The film is heavy, joyful, heartbreaking and of course, inspirational.  This is not to say there are not some things one could take issue with.  One of the recurring issues for Katherine is running across the NASA campus to find a Colored Bathroom.  This does deliver an entertaining payoff towards the end of the film, as well as a great “standing up against the establishment” sequence.  But in reality, Katherine simply used the only women’s room in the building.  And when informed she should not use that bathroom?  She shrugged and kept using it.  It was Mary who had to make the run for the bathroom.

Also, the white characters (outside of John Glenn) are complete fabrications.  Costner’s Al Harrison is the tough but fair white guy who seems oblivious to the color of Katherine’s skin.  Jim Parson’s Paul Stafford and Kirsten Dunst’s Vivian Mitchell are there to represent specific racial attitudes of the time.  However, when watching the film, it had not occurred to me, as all three characters are nicely fleshed out.

Hidden Figures is a terrific film that I recommend.  It is a story that needed to be told, and both challenges and inspires.

 

Also, more movies with Janelle Monáe please.

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