Wading With Blake Lively in “The Shallows”

Film, Rave!

First things first – Blake Lively is gorgeous. The camera loves every unconventional angle of her face. Her long, fairy-tale blonde hair flaps as though in sync with wind patterns. She really is Barbie Goes Surfing. But, that is as shallow as “The Shallows” gets. It’s a clever way for the director to subvert the viewers’ expectations that the film they are about to see is a story of a pretty girl in distress. Once all pretences have been plucked away, “The Shallows” becomes a bona fide thriller.

The plot of “The Shallows” isn’t all that original or unique. In this genre of filmmaking, originality isn’t necessarily as pivotal to a film’s success as the actor’s willingness to survive throughout the following 90 minutes or so. Blake Lively plays Nancy Adams, a recent medical school dropout due to the emotional duress of her mother’s death. She decides to visit the same beach her mother visited years ago around the time she found out she was pregnant with Nancy. Therefore, the visit to this beach is setting up the film to be an exercise in healing and closure. The imagery here becomes integral to the plot’s development. The clear, blue waters represent the confrontation of one’s past, and the beaches’ absence of people can only set up our protagonist on a journey to confront her emotions and feelings without any distractions.

When Nancy leaves her cell phone in her backpack on the beach before embarking on what is to be a very terrible surfing adventure, she’s saying goodbye to the life she lived and immerses herself into a baptism of sorts. A symbolic rebirth, if you will. I don’t know if this is what the director envisioned, but as someone who has seen many, many films, I feel like this subtext is too coincidental to let slide by.

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Aside from meeting two local surfers, Nancy is solo on this journey. After speaking with her father and sister (represented by some smart visual methods by the director) on the cell phone she leaves back on the beach, she gets in the water. After taking in some waves, she sees an enormous whale carcass floating in the water. Clearly noticing it’s a sign of danger, she decides to take the next rolling waves back to the beach. This is where the action starts.

A big, menacing shark decides to bump Nancy’s surfboard and take a big chunk out of her leg. Running on adrenaline, she takes refuge on a nearby reef, where she devises a makeshift tourniquet for her profusely bleeding wound. Spending the night in intense pain, she has a glimmer of hope the next morning where she sees a local man on the beach. Trying to signal him to get help, she only succeeds in having him get in the water (after stealing her cell phone) and getting eaten by the shark. This shark is ruthless…and hungry. And clearly only frequents this particular beach.

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There’s more waiting for help, and there’s plenty more blood. Instead of becoming the stereotype victim in thrillers, Nancy is resourceful and resilient. She seems to understand that there might be a way to safety, and with the comic device of an injured seagull by her side, she tries to outsmart the shark and get to a nearby buoy which has flare guns.

What follows is a little bit of cat and mouse between Nancy and Shark. They’re both great swimmers, and begin to mirror one another in terms of motion and behaviours. The film is relatively short and clocks in under 90 minutes, thus the tension is not drawn out. This short running time also prevents the viewer from screaming out “Bad Idea!” or tsk-tsking aplenty at the screen.

In films such as “The Shallows” where a lone popular star is in peril for two hours, (see Gravity or Cast Away), the story is often just a way to showcase a certain actor’s acting abilities. There’s no really getting way from bad acting in a film where there is only one actor on-screen (minus a CGI shark, of course). Blake Lively certainly does not disappoint in this respect. She commands the screen, her likeability radiating in every scene. I don’t quite get why there’s so much ambivalence regarding Lively’s screen presence. It’s actually sort of hypocritical in that when Lively is being criticized for her acting, critics usually comment on her beauty. The two can be mutually exclusive but not in Hollywood, apparently. It’s like some big revelation that a pretty actor can act.

Pleasantly surprised by “The Shallows,” I recommend it to those who like fun, and thrilling, summer blockbusters. It won’t change your life, but it will certainly entertain you for a good 86 minutes.

 

 

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The Dead Don’t Speak – Kendall Bailey

Book Reviews
Never having been to Las Vegas (yet!), I get the definitive impression that, apart from the glitz and glamor of the Britney Spears residencies and fancy restaurants, the city is an urchin of debauchery and seediness. Oft-depicted as the syphilis of America, I don’t know if Las Vegas has a bad wrap or is really that deprave of a place. Until I can make that judgement for myself, I’m content reading books like Kendall Bailey’s visceral The Dead Don’t Speak.

The Dead Don't Speak

Wandering Wanderlust

Book Reviews

We all make snap decisions, and whoever says otherwise is a liar. When UK novelist Adam Millard reached out to me to review his eclectic piece Wanderlust, I was a bit taken aback. Not because of his brave use of strong imagery, but because his sheer willingness to bring the world’s attention to that of steampunk. One of the first and truest forms of subversion, steampunk is the perfect blend of technology and industrial aesthetics that gives Millard’s work a sense of modernity but also a tinge of nostalgia.

Millard’s Wanderlust is energetic and refreshing in its portrayal of suspense in turn of the century London. The story finds the self-aware and agile Abigale Egars, infamous art thief, is a heroine for the ages. She’s unapologetic and intelligent, quite literally, up for anything. Egars is soon kidnapped by the faceless The Guild, an organization that wishes to extract the wisdom from Egars’ mind via an implanted device. Egars is then forced to embark on several quests by The Guild, throwing her life in danger and enabling her to question the true value of art in the new world order.

Wanderlust

In Praise of John Sharer’s “The Cockney Lad and Jim Crow”

Book Reviews

The Cockney Lad and Jim Crow, the newest book from trial lawyer and novelist John Sharer, is a classic example of master story-telling. It’s a delicate but effective take on the still controversial topic of racism in the southern USA. Despite being set in 1950, the novel itself still contains elements that are unfortunately still at play in various areas of the world, just as turning on your television to the daily news will be apt to tell you. But instead of merely reiterating a news-like piece, Sharer has created a work where the goals of redemption and acceptance are on the forefront the person al journey befalling the books protagonist, Peter Mason.

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Doc Hunt: A Review of Chris Stookey’s “Where Death is a Hunter”

Book Reviews

In keeping with my predilection of reading books of varying styles and genres, I welcomed Chris Stookey’s medical thriller “Where Death Is a Hunter” with open eyes. The medical thriller genre is a tricky one. It could either be so chockfull of jargon and clichés that only fanatics of the genre will be left satiated. Or, on the other hand, it could be so sterile and cold that one feels like they would have had a better time sitting in a waiting room. Fortunately, neither of which apply to “Where Death is a Hunter.”

The lead character  in the novel is not so unlike the naïve, fiercely intelligent doctors one sees on Grey’s Anatomy or defunct ER. Hannah Fatier (a really unfortunate surname if pronounced phonetically or with an accent) is green in every which way; newly out of residency, a home recently acquired, and pending nuptials to the love of her life. Clearly, this plethora of good luck and good news cannot be sustained, thus resulting in the event that truly commences the strength in the narrative. Under Hannah’s care, a patient dies during what is described as a routine operation. What unfolds is a taut medical mystyery where Hannah shifts from true despondency to the understanding that she may have been framed.

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A High Exchange Rate

Book Reviews

Like Groundhog Day on crack with a dash of teenage lust, Sasha Leigh’s quirky “Fate’s Exchange,” the first in the “Twisted Fate” series, takes the fickle young adult genre to a whole other level. That level, which I’m sure is to be played in the subsequent books in the series, is neither tangible nor symmetrical – but totally and completely variable, which is sort of how I’d describe the book itself.

Alyssa Frank is the flawed and really unfortunate heroine in “Fate’s Exchange,” doomed to relive the final week leading to her death. The set up is that, like the dryness of Groundhog Day multiplied with the momentum of Run Lola Run, Alyssa is to relive her abysmal week repeatedly in order to identify the root causes of her ultimate demise and what decisions she could have made differently to not have her life end by the end of the week. Yes – it’s dark. You’ve been warned.

Fate's Exchange

A Questionable Subversion

Book Reviews

Reminiscent of the heroines found in the popular fiction series such as Stephanie Plum and Kay Scarpetta, “Subversion” by J.P. Choquette clearly uses aforementioned characters as inspirations for her own Tayt Waters.

The heroine in Choquette’s “Subversion” is no one trick pony. A self-proclaimed vigilante, Tayt Waters is a house cleaner by day and a restorer of justice by night, the latter by any means necessary. Told in first person (an ambitious decision in its own right), “Subversion” is a quick read which will be devoured by those who enjoy a nice mystery with their coffee.

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No Missing Suspense Here

Book Reviews

The first thing I’d like to say when starting my review of Ace Varkey’s taut “The Girl Who Went Missing” is that it thankfully bears no similarities to the currently popular (for reasons I cannot comprehend) “The Girl From the Train” – and that’s a very good thing. “The Girl On The Train” is one of the most ridiculously insipid books I’ve read in a long time, and fortunately Varkey’s work is heads and shoulders above that tripe.

For a first time novelist, Ace Varkey sure has a tenacious hold on maintaining a vision and following through successfully. “The Girl Who Went Missing” is a classic mystery thriller in many conventional ways. It’s set in an exotic locale (Mumbai), has a heroine who is searching for her missing sister, and features a police authority figure who is flawed but experienced. The combination of these components allows the author to present a story that is at once both suspenseful but personal, which is a difficult mix to attempt.

Girl Who Went Missing

Quick Fix Drama Queens

Book Reviews

I always gratefully accept requests for reviews from authors who pique my curiosity with the book’s synopsis. It’s extra icing on the literary cake when the author is from halfway around the world and who has lived a life full of visceral experiences that would be a good fit for an intense sit-down interview with Oprah herself.

Rihanna Wilding’s “Quick Fix: Drama In The City” is a classic example of today’s propensity of modern authors’ to fuse several established genres and creating something all together new and refreshing. The very first scene written in the book is not for the faint of heart nor is it really indicative of the tale that soon unfolds. This is clearly an interesting tactic by Wilding to confuse the reader and to test one’s threshold of willingness to commit to a work that is quite unlike the tripe that populates the shelves of your local bookstore.

Quick Fix

Pawn Shop: A Review of S.K. Thomas’ “Pawned Queen”

Book Reviews

As a critic, one thing that annoys me to no end is when reviewers comment that there is a lack of plot or character development in a novella. A novella is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. Thus, intrinsic to the format, there cannot be long discourses that allow for character profiles or a study in intent. Therefore the reader must expect a certain level of a lack of above components because, well, there just isn’t enough time or space. It’s not that complicated.

SK Thomas’ “Pawned Queen” takes advantage of this style of narrative to present a thriller that is, as expected, fervently plotted and quick witted. The story itself is a splice of Gone Girl meets The Girl on the Train with its tone of untrustworthy characters with questionable intents. The novella finds the missing character Alice being sought after by her close friend, Melissa, who herself suspects Alice’s husband might be to blame for Alice’s disappearance. Resolute in her suspicions, Melissa enlists the help of her husband to search for her missing friend, and to bring the perpetrator to justice.

Pawned Queen