The Shallows **1/2
As summer flicks go, you could to worse than The Shallows, a cross between Jaws and Castaway, but not nearly as good as either. Jaws’ director Steven Spielberg probably wishes he had the shark from this newest attempt to scare us out of the ocean, as this pissed off Great White is as real as any man eater ever depicted on film. High marks to the CGI team that pulled this one off. Blake Lively, who was so good in the Boston crime caper, The Town, stars as a soul-searching med student, off to her deceased mother’s favorite secluded and secret Mexican beach. Lively will especially appeal to beautiful booty watchers, as she remains bikini-clad in nearly all of the film, even if she does get a bit bloody. Her character is off to find herself for a little surfing and introspection when all hell breaks loose. The tropical setting was picture perfect as a nice counterpoint to the terror just below the azure blue water’s surface; too bad careless directing and WAY too much surfing footage spoiled the pacing. The handful of glaring problems with the film would have all been easily fixable, and in the interest of not spoiling the plot, I’ll leave them unnamed. These simple, easy, and cheap fixes, might have saved this wannabe thriller from the shallows inhabited by countless mediocre mean fish movies.
Free State of Jones ***1/2
In another historical drama that should be required viewing by ALL high school and college students, Free State of Jones is a dramatized, violent, graphically brutal retelling of the life of Newton Knight, and his rag-tag army of followers, black and white, young and old, from the start of the Civil War through the first years of Reconstruction. In the heart of Mississippi, Jones County to be specific, all the Nation’s fears, family tragedies, war crimes, and the birth of the Civil Rights movement play out under the hot sun and in the steamy swamps of the coastal South. Texas native Matthew McConaughey, who stars as Knight, is at home in most of his Southern roles, where his cool demeanor hides a lot of angst just below the surface. He’s cool when he needs to be, stoic nearly all the time, and furious at the injustices he sees when wealthy cotton plantation owners stay rich, avoid military service, even as the poor, rural farmers of Mississippi are robbed blind and subjugated by the Confederate Army. Although based on real people, and many documented atrocities, it’s hard to know just how many liberties were taken in the Gary Ross screenplay. Regardless, the film offers a fresh, rarely even hinted at story of rebellion within a rebellion, set during an awful period in the Nation’s history.