Soon after “the Miracle on the Hudson” you knew they’d make a film about it. The problem was that the actual action wasn’t long enough for an aeroplane disaster movie. They take off, birds, strike, and within minutes they’re landing on the Hudson. It’s impressive but it’s not a ninety minute movie. Eastwood’s movie overcomes this central dilemma by making the aftermath the central focus. Sully, played in straightforward Hanks mode, is accused of making the wrong decision. The insurance company have simulations to prove it. From here it’s a courtroom drama with plane disaster flashbacks. The film makes itself.

It is, of course, well done – Hanks and Eastwood are a guarantee of a certain level of quality, and throw in the real human drama and this will have been one of the punts movie execs can predict to the dollar what it will return. So, in terms of a Sunday afternoon movie that diverts, I’ve no complaints. It is the attempt to make it something more that rather grates. There is a Schindler’s List style epilogue where we see the survivors and real Sully. There is also a schmaltzy “New York came together” type monologue. That stuff just sounds hollow now, in the Trump days, a naive message of unity that collapses on its first inspection. Feel good is going to have to work a lot harder now.

In the Deep

After The Shallows, this is the second, non-Sharknado type shark movie this year. It centres on two sisters, Lisa and Kate, holidaying in Mexico who decide to do the tourist thing of going down in a shark cage from Matthew Modine’s slightly shabby boat. It never ends well for Americans holidaying in Mexico in films, and when we find out that one sister is the quiet, homely type, jealous of her more adventurous sibling, we know where it will end.

If The Shallows could be seen as The Revenge of Chrissie Watkins, then this is Hooper in the Shark Cage – the Extended Cut. “You go inside the cage? Cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark’s in the water” is pretty much the plot summary. But In The Deep is also a decent survival film and as well as having a realistic shark, it successfully adds the disorientation of being in dark water, and the tension of clock-watching a diminishing air supply into the mix. There are moments of real anxiety and high suspense as the two sisters attempt to escape the watery confine. It’s tightly scripted, well acted and keeps the shark action to a realistic minimum.

I have a soft spot for Jaws 2, but this probably ranks as my 3rd favourite shark movie, a worthy entry on to niche internet lists.

The Shallows

Ok, let’s just get it out in the open – Jaws, Jaws, Jaws, Jaws. Spielberg’s classic (and as you’ll ascertain from the title of this blog, my all time favourite movie) both invented, and simultaneously killed a genre. Everyone wanted to make a shark movie after Jaws, but there was no point in making a shark movie after Jaws.

The Shallows centres on Nancy Adams undertaking a pilgrimage to a secluded beach where her now deceased mother went when she was first pregnant. During surfing she stumbles into the feeding ground of a great white, feasting on a dead killer whale. Stranded on a piece of rock until the tide comes in, the film is a sort of 127 Hours on a Lump of Coral. All of the ingredients of the survival movie are in place – seclusion, a misunderstanding with someone who could be a contact, some crucial decisions early on that have consequences later one, etc. A family favourite in our household was the US TV series I Shouldn’t Be Alive, which featured real life tales of people surviving disastrous situations, often despite their best attempts to get themselves killed. The Shallows is like an extended version of one of these episodes.

One of the inherent problems of stranded type movies is that the central character is forced to vocalise inner thoughts, otherwise we’re just staring at someone. A foil can help in this, Wilson in Cast Away, and Steven Seagull in The Shallows. It does lead to unrealistic, awkward monologues “hmm, a camera”.

The climax makes a direct nod to Jaws, with Adams swimming to a life buoy for safety. This is where the film really stretches reality, and could be labelled “The Revenge of Chrissie Watkins”. But at least it’s an attempt to make a decent shark film that isn’t in the Sharknado, or Deep Blue Water vein of ridiculousness, and it has some genuine moments of tension. And maybe the whole thing is an existential metaphor – I mean which of us hasn’t felt like we’re clinging to a rotting whale’s carcass, just yards from safety while dangers swirl around.

The Finest Hours

This ‘based on a true story’ tale of a dramatic coast guard rescue in 1952 off Cape Cod is a Disney production. If you didn’t know that, you’d soon discern it . There are heroic men, plucky women, brooding old timers – at times you expect a helpful dog to show up. But it’s lack of modern shading is also its charm. This is not a self-referential, ironic take on dramatic rescue movies. It is a dramatic rescue movie, full stop. It features lots of men shouting things like “isolate the boiler”.
Chris Pine pulls off gawkiness just believably enough, and Affleck is his usual introverted, reliable self. It has decent effects, some Martian like problem solving, and plain old people doing the right thing in face of adversity. It looks great for the most part also, and if a movie so much as mentions Nantucket, it’s okay with me.
It doesn’t always work – the Pops old sea boy character is too cartoonish, as usual some of the CGI lacks weight, many of the at sea scenes have an on set feel, and the characterisation is two dimensional. But it’s enjoyable overall, and if you have dry eyes at the end you’re borderline sociopath. It may not be ground breaking or innovative, but it’s like a pub that only serves beer and pork pie – you may not want it every night, but sometimes it’s just what you want.

10 Cloverfield Lane

The law of sequels states they will always be inferior to the original, and as films such as Scream 2 and 22 Jump St have spelled out for us, they need to be bigger, but with exactly the same plot. 10 Cloverfield Lane ignores all of these demands. In making a sequel to the enjoyable POV movie Cloverfield, the easy option would be to make Battle for Cloverfield, an all out action, muscular, Independence Day, kick alien ass type movie. But Cloverfield Lane isn’t really a sequel at all, it’s more a tangential film. What is happening elsewhere in the same universe that Cloverfield is occurring? I’ve often been frustrated at the manner in which sequels follow not only the same story but the same tone. I want more tangential films – a romantic drama set when a couple meet in the aftermath of a James Bond car chase through a city, an offbeat comedy about what happens in Stormtrooper training camp, etc.

I remember seeing this discussion programme with Clive Barker, John Carpenter and Roger Corman in the 90s. They knocked around ideas for the perfect horror movie and discussed the idea where the last person left alive is not a hero but evil, and has a body hiding in the bedroom. This is the type of conflict that Cloverfield Lane sets up. The main character, Michelle, is rescued by survivalist nut, Howard. He tells her that there has been an attack, and they must stay in his bunker. We know this (from the title) and gradually Michelle appreciates it too. But that Howard is not a good guy is also quickly evident.

The film is superbly scripted, Goodman’s survivalist is sincere and menacing, and as the audience we are caught in the same dilemma as Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle – is captivity or escape the better choice. The suspense is kept up at just the right pace, and there is one moment that made my mouth genuinely drop open in shock. Having written a very good escape movie, it is brave enough to give us 15 minutes of high impact sci-fi. A movie doesn’t have to be one thing, although too often that is exactly what we expect from them. Cloverfield Lane reminds us that films can be more than one thing: it is simultaneously a psychological thriller and a creature movie, a low budget and then in the last 15 minutes goes big budget, a sequel and a wholly original film.

The Revenant

There is much to admire in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s tale of 1820s fur trappers and survival. Not least is the authenticity of the experience. It feels so cold they should hand out blankets as you enter. And the portrayal of native americans and the conditions of the early traders is captured without any modern gloss. This is what it felt and looked like one imagines. The cinematography is beautiful, at times it is like being immersed in a Tom Thompson painting. All this combines to make the first 40 minutes a genuine cinematic experience that captures all that is good about sitting in a darkened room with strangers watching made up shit on a giant screen.

The opening scene has been compared in terms of its visceral, immersive quality to that of Saving Private Ryan. But this also highlights a criticism too – after that bombshell of an opening, there is something of a anti-climactic feel. At times Revenant felt like a cricket test match – you could pop out, do some shopping, come back and nothing much had happened. The equivalent of “they’re following on” being “Di Caprio is being cold in a river”.

In the Battle of Cold, Long, Historical films, the Revenant is generally deemed to have been the victor over the Hateful 8. But my preference lies with Tarantino’s flawed masterpiece. The Revenant is earnest to an embarrassing degree at times. “Look, we mean it, man”, it declares with every Oscar beseeching grimace from Leo. “Respect us, admire us” it pleads, in the same way that Inarritu’s previous film “Birdman” really, really wanted you to think it was clever. Tarantino’s film by contrast says “fuck you, I’m having a blast here anyway.” And it is this neediness of the Revenant that ultimately left me cold. Or colder anyway.

In the Heart of the Sea

There is an odd surface quality to Ron Howard’s recounting of the tale of the whaleship Essex, which famously inspired Moby Dick. It is a fantastical tale in itself, but Howard directly adds in the Moby Dick literary weight in the mix, by having the tale retold to Melville. Moby Dick certainly has its detractors, but it is undeniably a book of depth and substance. It seems strange that with such a rich list of ingredients, something so based entirely on the surface should have been constructed. It’s like taking port, lard, venison and aged stilton and somehow managing to bake a light, airy souffle.

Sometimes this surface quality adds to the film – the colouring of Nantucket recalls the artificial, but nonetheless artful sets of 1950s epics. But the CGI whaling scenes do not generate the sense of peril and substance. You do not feel the oppressive claustrophobia and seafaring griminess that, say, Master and Commander generated. Hemsworth does a decent job at standing on ship decks and shouting, but he’s all together too rugged a hero. “Why doesn’t he just wrestle the whale or blast it with a bazooka?” your genre addled brain demands. Caught between Jaws, Mutiny on the Bounty, Alive and Moby Dick itself the film never quite finds its own footing, like a greenhorn destined to be shark fodder. It’s a reasonable Sunday afternoon watch, but then so was the TV movie, The Whale.