The Shallows

“The Shallows” is a tense thriller about a med student named Nancy (Blake Lively), who, while surfing by a remote beach while on a vacation in Mexico is terrorized by a Great White shark. She spends a great deal of time trapped on some rocks, and she knows, as high tide approaches, that her haven from the shark will soon become submerged.

There’s really not a lot to say about the film — the story is pretty simple, and is about matching her wits and endurance against that of the shark. Sure, there’s other things that happen. We meet Carlos (Oscar Jaenada), who drives her to the beach and she practices her rusty spanish talking to him during the trip. We also meet two fellow surfers, who share the camaraderie for the sport. We meet her kid sister and her dad, who talk to her on the phone before she goes into the water. And we also learn about her late mother, who told her about this particular beach, and how much she loved it. It’s a very simple film, but it works. We share Nancy’s joy and then her terror and her fight for survival.

The film was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.  I checked his references, and I don’t think I’ve seen any of his other films. But this one is certainly one that is worth seeing. I want to comment on a specific incident towards the end of the film, but I’m afraid that that would be too much of a spoiler.  Let’s just say that I have no idea how plausible a couple of things that happen in the film are, but the film still works.

Central Intelligence

“Central Intelligence” starts with a flashback to high school. Kevin Hart plays Calvin Joyner. He is the popular scholar-athlete, who everyone loves. I can’t even recall all of the sports he excels in.  And he’s also dating (and in love with) the most beautiful girl in his class, Maggie, played by Danielle Nicolet. The film opens at a pep rally, led by Calvin and the principal of the school.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, with some incredible CG that you can see in the trailer, plays his opposite, Bob Weirdicht, the overweight, socially-inept kid. During that pep rally, a group of bullies drags him out of the shower, naked into the middle of the gymnasium. Just about everyone, with the exception of Calvin, the Principal, and Maggie, erupt in laughter. Calvin takes pity on him, and gives him his letterman jacket to cover himself up while he walks back into the locker room in shame.

Cut to several years later. Calvin is now an accountant, unhappy with his job, being overlooked for promotion. He’s married his High School Sweetheart, but their marriage may have hit a slight bump. And his high school reunion is coming up and he feels embarrassed about showing up, not having met the promise of his ‘Most Likely to Succeed” designation there. Enter once again, Bob (who’s changed his name to Bob Stone), who contacts him out of nowhere. Bob is still plagued by the bullying incident, but he has never forgotten Calvin’s kindness to him on that day. But it turns out that Bob may have ulterior motives, that goes beyond the need to reconnect with the only person who treated him well back then. It turns out that Bob has joined the CIA.

Just about everything I said above, you can see in the trailers. What the trailers don’t tell you is that there is a real story here, where you, as an audience member are never really sure about just what CIA agent Bob Stone is up to. Well technically, you can figure it out if you know enough about the genre. But the movie tries to impart that illusion, so that you understand that Calvin is never really sure of what Bob is up to. For a lot of the film, Calvin isn’t exactly sure if he can trust Bob, if Bob is on the side of the angels, or if Bob is just crazy or if he’s a traitor. And Bob gives Calvin a lot of mixed signals. And that kind of works in the film. But…

From a believability standpoint, Bob is not a believable character. A lot of what he does is just strange, even after you find out what is what. You can chalk that up to Bob just being a weird character in a comedy, and that’s really the only reason why he is the way he is — to serve the comedy. Which is fine. And I don’t want to stress the unbelievability of a lot of things too much, because Central Intelligence is funny.

I haven’t seen a lot of Kevin Hart films, honestly. I’ve certainly seen Dwayne Johnson, and he’s usually quite good (and I’m not saying this because he made the transition from Professional Wrestling into Acting.  I’m not judging him on a curve. — he’s actually become a decent actor, and he is quite charming in this, even while he’s being… odd. And Kevin Hart is pretty funny here. I’ve never been a huge fan of his — his stand-up is ok. But he’s pretty good here.

Besides what I’ve already mentioned, the film is funny, and if you want to have a laugh at the movies, I think you can’t go wrong with this film. Certainly, not all of the jokes hit. There’s a certain degree of discomfort that comes from having bullying as a theme and a subplot in a comedy — and maybe that’s partly because I was bullied relentlessly by one specific kid in Jr. High. Don’t expect that to be handled in the same way that a more serious film might deal with it. But as I said, it IS a comedy, and it certainly succeeds at that.

So I definitely recommend this film.

On Death

Last night, I found out that someone I knew and considered a friend, but haven’t seen in about 10 years or so, died of cancer. His name was Joe.

When I was living in Jacksonville, Florida, working as a programmer, I was very unhappy. Note that I had not been diagnosed yet with Depression. But I was bored with my job, which I had been doing for 10 years or so, with only a few changes here and there. I loved the apartment I was living in, but didn’t have any real friends there. Plus I really didn’t like a lot of things about Jacksonville (though they throw a really cool Blues festival  right next to the Beach every year, and if you are ever in the neighborhood, I recommend it).

Anyway, I got a phone call one day from a headhunter, saying that, essentially, they had a job opportunity in Columbus, Ohio, that fit my qualifications perfectly.. I said I was interested (I couldn’t wait to get out of Jacksonville, really). Joe was one of the people who talked to me on the phone. As it turned out, they didn’t want me for that particular job, but told me that they did want to hire me for a different position, but I’d have to wait a couple of months. Sure enough, 2 months passed, and they contacted me again, they flew me up to Columbus, and then hired me

Joe was a great boss, and this was the type of job that comes around once in a lifetime, if you are lucky. So I’m forever grateful for Joe hiring me.  He had a strange sense of humor, but he joked around all the time. Everyone under his watch was very casual with one another.  We all became friends, and respected one another. Joe and I didn’t agree on everything, but we had a mutual respect for one another, so our disagreements were never serious. He was a smart guy, a guy that everyone respected. So after he moved on to another job, and he contacted me to tell me that he wanted to hire me again, I had to say yes.  I felt really flattered that he wanted to hire me a second time. That job didn’t work out quite as well, partly because I wasn’t really doing any programming, and what I was working on was thoroughly frustrating and irritating and I hated it. And also partly because, through no fault of Joe’s, my life was starting to fall apart. My Dad’s deteriorating health (due to Alzheimer’s and Cancer), plus a series of unrelated events that left me feeling isolated and unhappy.

Even though I hadn’t seen Joe for 10 years, I feel bad for his family — his wife who lost a husband, and his kids who lost a father. And I feel bad for everyone else who knew him, who considered him a friend, for their loss as well.

Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey

I discovered Hugh Howey, much as, probably, most people have, through his landmark Silo science fiction series (WoolShift, and Dust). So I’ve been following him to see what else of possible interest he may come out with. The only other book I read of his so far was his 5 part series Sand, which I also enjoyed.  But if you haven’t read Wool, you really ought to. It’s terrific.

Beacon 23 is a stand-alone novel that, like many of his novels, was originally published in 5 separate parts through Amazon, and then as a complete novel. It tells the story of “Digger”, a veteran who got a bit messed up both physically, and psychologically, in the ongoing war against aliens known as “The Ryph”.  He has PTSD. After the incident, in which he was viewed as a hero, he had his choice of positions, but what he chose was to be a beacon operator, on his own, somewhere out in space. Beacons function kind of like lighthouses in space, telling spaceships of hazards, like debris and asteroid belts and so on.

What actually happened to him is something that he won’t share with most people.  In fact, most of his interactions involve communicating with ships, and with NASA. He doesn’t expect to have to have to deal directly, in person with people all that much, and he likes it that way. The problem is that although he’s no longer a soldier, it seems like the war may be coming to him.

I could strongly relate to the main character of this novel — I am currently being treated for depression and an anxiety disorder and although I don’t have PTSD, and I was never a soldier, I’ve had a couple of traumas in my life. And there were just some parts of the story that rang very true to me. The novel is fairly short and well written. Overall, it was really good.  The only issue I have here, which prevents me from being more enthusiastic about the novel than I am is that the ending does not ring true. I don’t want to enter spoiler territory, so I will say that IF anything like the situation that Howey describes in the book, I don’t think that the epilog would have been what it was. (Is that vague enough?)  As I said, I don’t want to spoil it, because the book IS very worth reading.

“Everything Happens for a Reason”

That’s something that I hear nowadays several times a week. And it’s always bothered me. The person who says it — what kind of insight is that person claiming to have that the target of that ‘advice’ is meant to infer?

I recently bought a T-Shirt that, the moment I saw it, I knew it was something I had to wear.  It says “Everything happens for a reason”, and then below that it says “And that reason is usually Physics”. That pretty well summarizes my view on why bad things happen. You got into a car accident? That’s physics at work. Your dad died?  Well, that’s biology, which, if you look at it deep enough, depends on Physics. All of the mechanisms, atoms and molecules interacting in your body, even if they are parts of living organisms — if you drill down deep enough into what’s happening at the molecular level, medicine and biology and chemistry is reduced to Physics

OK, but that’s my non-religious, non-spiritual brain at work.  What the heck is THAT OTHER person thinking when he or she says “Everything happens for a reason”.  Is that meant to imply that there is an invisible hand at work, an intelligent entity that is thinking “Well let’s really screw with this guy now, make him miserable, make him suffer. But if he doesn’t die, if we don’t permanently crush his spirit, he’ll learn from it.”.  Or does this come more of a belief in fate than any kind of religious belief?

Fate, oddly, can be believed in without any kind of religious baggage. The concept of a mechanical universe is something that must occur to be a possibility to almost any student taking a Newtonian physics class. In fact, it kind of goes against some religious beliefs, that we have free will.  Because, really, if everything in the universe IS purely mechanical then everything, once set in motion (in a purely Newtonian universe) would behave in a predictable way. Even your thoughts, being the result of a mechanical process, are predictable. Of course, once Quantum Mechanics enters your thinking, you can begin to question how predictable things really are. But on the macroscopic scale, most everything can be tracked from cause to effect.

I’m starting to think that it’s a phrase that doesn’t mean anything other than “it’s something I can say when something bad happens to another person, and I can’t think of anything that would ACTUALLY be comforting. “Yeah, your Grandmother died but at least you still have your health”. “Yeah, you are sick, but at least you have a good doctor”. “Yeah, your doctor is a quack, but at least you know that now.”

Things happen, some of those things are bad. And that’s about it. If you need to know the reason, on the macroscopic scale, odds are it was just physics. I doubt that would be comforting to a lot of people.  But it does make me feel better.

The Nice Guys

“The Nice Guys” stars Russel Crowe and Ryan Gosling as Jackson Healy and Holland March, private detectives trying to locate a missing person named Amelia. Like many other ‘buddy’ movies, their start is fairly rocky, with (as you can see in the trailer). In the beginning, Holland was actually hired to track down a porn actress named “Misty Mountains”, but she’s soon found dead.  Also, there seems to be a mysterious connection between Misty and Amelia.  Furthermore, it turns out that it isn’t just Holland who is looking for Amelia, but also some unsavory people.  Pretty soon, Healy and March end up working together to uncover just what exactly is going on.  What actually happened to Misty Mountains, why does her grandmother insist that she saw Misty alive 2 days after her dead body was found.

And did I forget to mention that this is a comedy?

“The Nice Guys” is a pretty funny movie.  I must say that I chuckled through a lot of it, and laughed out loud at a few spots. Holland March (Gosling) is also a single father who’s trying to raise his daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) while also getting into all kinds of trouble related to this case. He’s doing his best, but somehow he can’t prevent his daughter from tagging along during his investigations, including a visit to a party hosted for members of the adult film industry. Jackson Healy (Crowe) is the tough guy who seems more competent, yet is unlicensed, and has a tendency towards violence (much to the detriment of Holland, who’s arm he breaks early on, and to the disapproval of Holland’s daughter). Oh yeah, it’s rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use.

Both Crowe, and particularly Gosling, are perfect for their roles. But the script itself is not perfect, not all of the humor hits, there’s a fight scene where it’s not exactly clear who is on who’s side, and the ultimate villain is a bit unsatisfying. But it works as a comedy better than it works as a mystery. And I really did have a good time watching it, so I definitely recommend it.