Sunday 11 December 2016

Blake Lively holds her own when shark attacks

* The Shallows (12A, 86mins), 2 Stars
* Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (16, 98mins), 2 Stars
* Valley of Love (15A, 92mins), 3 Stars
* The Confession (No Cert, IFI, 101mins), 3 Stars

Published 12/08/2016 | 07:00

Grave danger: Blake Lively fights off a shark in 'Shallows'
Grave danger: Blake Lively fights off a shark in 'Shallows'

Jaume Collet-Serra's breezy horror film The Shallows stars Blake Lively as a rather smug American medical student called Nancy, who makes a pilgrimage to a Mexican beach once surfed by her late mother. Nancy intends to surf it too, but unwisely decides to do so when no one else is around.

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She's just about to call it a day when a great white shark attacks and takes a lump out of her. Nancy manages to swim to a small rock, where she tends to her leg wound and waits it out. But she's a long way from shore, and sooner or later will have to take her chances in the water. Made for a comparatively modest $17million, The Shallows looks pretty good and rattles along at a lively pace. It is, however, profoundly silly, especially late on when the shark is asked to play a larger dramatic role. Oddly, though, I found myself rooting for it.

A short film with a long title, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a brisk and frantic comedy that tries hard to be hilarious. It fails despite a talented cast and a workable premise, falling victim to a kind of desperate crassness. Zac Efron and Adam DeVine are Dave and Mike Stangle, two idiot brothers whose propensity for regrettable frat-boy party stunts is legendary. Their sister is about to marry in Hawaii, and Mike and Dave's parents insist they bring dates in the hope this will keep them in line.

But when the brothers come up with the brilliant idea of putting an ad on Craigslist offering two lucky ladies an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii, they fall victim to a couple of scam artists every bit as crazy as themselves. Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick) seem like nice girls, but once they get to Hawaii the sweet façade is dropped and disaster ensues.

There are one or two amusing moments, and Mr Efron and Ms Plaza are talented comic actors. But Anna Kendrick seems miscast, Adam DeVine overacts hysterically, and the film descends into unseemly chaos long before wedding vows are exchanged.

Guillaume Nicloux's drama Valley of Love is no masterpiece, but worth watching for anyone with an interest in high-quality screen acting. Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu play a divorced couple whose son has recently committed suicide, and they've both received letters telling them he will appear if they visit a series of landmarks in Death Valley, California.

He is dubious, she seems more inclined to mysticism, and as they cross the desert in an air-conditioned hire car, they bicker over whether or not they're to blame for their child's demise. Valley of Love is nicely photographed and has a sense of humour: Depardieu and Huppert's characters are also famous actors, and may be versions of themselves. Their pilgrimage seems entirely contrived, however, and the film's flimsy plot is overwhelmed by obnoxious undercurrents of new age spiritualism.

But Depardieu and Huppert are wonderful together, their performances full of wit, compassion and tiny, telling details.

In Ashish Ghadiali's interesting but profoundly un-cinematic documentary The Confession, we hear one man's very personal experiences during the war on terror. A British-born man of Pakistani heritage, Moazzam Begg became committed to the idea of an international Muslim community after travelling to Bosnia during the Balkan War. He moved on to Chechnya, then popped up in Afghanistan in 2001, living among the Taliban.

This list of facts made him an obvious object of suspicion, and Mr Begg ended up experiencing hellish treatment in Guantanamo Bay.

He maintains his innocence, but seems reluctant to explore certain details of his time in Afghanistan. Is he a secret fanatic, a man wronged, or a little bit of both? You decide.

Irish Independent

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