Friday, August 29, 2008

Movies opening this week

Hear me discuss these movies and more with Las Vegas Weekly Managing Editor Ken Miller in this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast.

Elegy (Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, Dennis Hopper, Patricia Clarkson, dir. Isabel Coixet)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I kind of hated Coixet's last movie, The Secret Life of Words, and this isn't quite as pretentious and heavy-handed and self-important as that was, but it still is all of those things to some degree. I like movies that tackle aging honestly and don't try to pretend that older actors are younger than they really are, but this almost fetishizes the melancholy of the dirty old man, and uses Cruz as a prop for his soul-searching. It does feature one of Kingsley's most restrained performances in years, but I have to say that as much I'm inclined to complain about his general hamminess, I thought he did a much better variation on this theme while going completely over the top in The Wackness. Opened limited Aug. 8; in Las Vegas this week

Traitor (Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Neal McDonough, Said Taghmaoui, dir. Jeffrey Nachmanoff)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I'll give this movie credit both for being more even-handed about the war on terror than almost any other film on the subject so far, and for having ambitions beyond its rote thriller plot. But it can't quite succeed on either front, and cribbing from (spoiler alert!) The Departed, among other things, doesn't exactly announce it as a serious discourse on politics. Still, more entertaining than it probably had a right to be. Wide release

Friday, August 22, 2008

Movies opening this week

Hear me chat about these movies with Roger Erik Tinch of CineVegas on this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast.

Death Race (Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, dir. Paul W.S. Anderson)
I haven't seen the 1975 Roger Corman-produced B-movie of which this is a remake, but by all accounts there aren't very many similarities. Anderson is generally derided as a crass genre hack, but I do like at least one of his movies, the creepy and underrated sci-fi/horror hybrid Event Horizon. This one isn't in that league, certainly. It's a grim, ugly, repetitive action movie with the bare bones of a plot (which is not necessarily a problem) and a bunch of incoherent car chases that all look the same. The violence is relentless and uncreative, and even Statham, a great action hero under the right circumstances, can't make it fun. Allen looks like she's having a good time slumming, but there's not nearly enough camp here to make up for the vulgar carnage and total lack of compelling characters to root for. Wide release

Hamlet 2 (Steve Coogan, Joseph Julian Soria, Catherine Keener, Phoebe Strole, dir. Andrew Fleming)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I had hoped for more from this movie, which has a fun goofy premise, a South Park writer and the director of one of my favorite teen movies, The Craft, all going for it. But other than Coogan's go-for-broke performance and some inspired production numbers at the end, it doesn't quite work. They seem to have dropped the ball on coming up with an actual plot, and the jokes just aren't funny enough to make up for that. A real missed opportunity. Limited release

The House Bunny (Anna Faris, Emma Stone, Colin Hanks, Kat Dennings, dir. Fred Wolf)
I know this isn't exactly a good movie, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and it has just enough going for it that it makes me sad it wasn't better. Like Steve Coogan in Hamlet 2, Faris totally carries this thing, giving a very funny performance as a Playboy Bunny kicked out of the mansion for being too old, who ends up as the house mother to a sorority of misfits. The plot is as predictable as can be (basically Revenge of the Nerds with hot chicks), and the messages are decidedly muddled. I would have loved to see a more clear female-empowerment tale from the writing team behind Legally Blonde and 10 Things I Hate About You, whose work I've always enjoyed following (although this much-discussed LA Times article makes me like them a little less), and Wolf's direction is pretty slapdash and unfocused. But I still laughed plenty at Faris' performance, and I do think she could become a female Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey (in a good way) if given the chance. Wide release

The Rocker (Rainn Wilson, Christina Applegate, Teddy Geiger, Josh Gad, Emma Stone, dir. Peter Cattaneo)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I was maybe harder on this movie than necessary; it's really just a forgettable late-summer filler comedy, but the total neutering of the rock n' roll storyline, the terrible music, the lazy plotting, and (once again) the missed opportunity to do something genuinely funny really bugged me. Wilson is perfectly likable and could have a career as a solid character actor, but he doesn't strike me as a stellar leading man. And Jason Sudeikis is great as a douchebag record exec, although he's sort of cast aside by the plot. But still, this could have been halfway decent, and instead it's just a lame, unfunny disaster. Wide release

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Air #1

I feel like I make the same observation about damn near every first issue of a Vertigo ongoing series, but once again I find myself wondering what exactly this book is about, and where it could possibly be going. Curiosity is a good thing in that it will get me to come back for another issue, but bafflement is not necessarily an appealing quality in a series opener. I can tell you that Air is about a flight attendant who is caught up in some sort of secret underground world of, um, rogue air marshals? There are two factions battling it out, and she ends up siding with one of them, represented by some chameleon-like dude who can apparently make himself seem like he's from anywhere in the world. And they fall in love.

Writer G. Willow Wilson jumps around all over the timeline, and makes many cryptic references to things happening beyond the main character's understanding. Clearly she wants to take on Big Issues here, what with all the discussion of terrorism and the fluidity of countries' borders and so on. But right now it's just a lot of vague talking around points that aren't really made. Artist M.K. Perker has a nice straightforward, realistic style that makes all the portentous goings-on seem a little more relatable. The cover blurb from Neil Gaiman claims that he loved the first six issues, that they start out as Salman Rushdie (who's referenced on the opening page) and then transform into Thomas Pynchon. Which may mean that this series will end up being mindblowing, or that it will just be confusing and pretentious.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Marvel Knights X-Men: Logan and Angel

Dedication to a couple of different creators has spurred me to pick up a pair of superfluous X-Men miniseries that I otherwise wouldn't have bothered with, both from the Marvel Knights imprint (which means their connection to continuity is fluid at best).

Writer Brian K. Vaughan has all but disappeared from comics in the last year or so, spending his time on the writing staff of Lost and regularly putting out only issues of Ex Machina. His Wolverine series Logan, drawn by Eduardo Risso, was in the can for quite some time before being released by Marvel, and although it's a perfectly serviceable Wolverine story (and entirely plausible within the character's continuity), it also has the air of a contract-fulfilling inventory story. So it's far from Vaughan's best work, and far from a revolutionary take on an overused character. The story is full of familiar Wolverine tropes - his connection to Japan and Japanese culture, his easy bedding of exotic women, his healing factor bringing him back from even the gravest injuries, his facing down of a similarly unkillable foe. It's also yet another story that purports to tell about a previously unknown event from Logan's past; the guy has so many hidden stories and old foes and former lovers that it's a wonder he ever had any time to be a tortured loner.

Risso's gritty art is definitely not a traditional superhero style, and combined with colorist Dean White's watercolors it gives the story the feel of a fable or a dream. But aside from a few lyrical reveries, the narrative is straightforward and cliched, almost no different from a dozen other Wolverine tales that have come before, or even that clutter shelves now. Putting Logan in the middle of the nuclear explosion at Hiroshima is only crass if it's handled poorly, and Vaughan seems respectful enough. What's more absurd is the increased level of harm that the character can now survive. Once he's escaped unscathed from a nuke, it's hard to get worked up over his battle with the forgettable villain. I'd love to see Vaughan return to comics full time, but only if he's not coasting through lame company exercises like this one.

Angel: Revelations, which has seen three of its five issues released to date, is a little more successful if only because its lead character hasn't been overexposed nearly as much as Wolverine has. At the same time, the story here by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is a pretty standard origin stuff, with young Warren Worthington ashamed of his mutant powers and subject to the taunts of a rich, entitled bully at his swanky boarding school. There's also a weird subplot about some sort of demented priest tracking down mutants; presumably it will all come together in the last two issues.

I didn't pick up Revelations for Angel's origin or for Aguirre-Sacasa's writing, though; I picked it up because it's the grand comics return of artist Adam Pollina, whose stint on X-Force with writer John Francis Moore (and earlier with Jeph Loeb) in the mid-'90s is one of my favorite superhero-comics runs. He's put out only sporadic work since leaving that book in 1998, including a few disappointing creator-owned miniseries, and seemed more focused on pursuing work outside of the comics industry. But he's back in full force with Revelations, taking the distinctive elongated lines of his artwork and exaggerating them even further, making that basic origin story into something creepy and unsettling. Pollina's Warren is like one long, thin torso, and the double-page spread of Angel's wings finally opening up in the third issue is breathtaking. Pollina made traditional superhero action into something off-kilter and funky in his X-Force work, and here he does that to an even greater degree with an even more conventional narrative. If he sticks around in comics this time, it'd be great to see him paired with a writer who can come up with something more original and provocative for him to draw; Brian K. Vaughan, perhaps?

The Logan hardcover collection is in stores August 20; Angel: Revelations #4 comes out August 27

Friday, August 15, 2008

Movies opening this week

Listen to me chat about these movies, plus new releases on DVD, in this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast, with guest T.R. Witcher, associate editor of Las Vegas Weekly. (I know I said last week I was going to try to make these things shorter, but this one is, er, slightly longer. Less awkward, though, I think. Feedback welcome.)

American Teen (documentary, dir. Nanette Burstein)
A lot of criticism has been thrown at this movie for being staged or contrived or somehow not real, which seems misguided to me. All documentaries are contrived or manipulated in some way; unvarnished reality is not exactly possible without invisible hidden cameras that no one is aware of. Burstein spent a year filming many students and whittled her footage down to the most interesting people and the most interesting events in their lives, which seems like a sensible strategy to me. She crafted what she had to make it into an entertaining movie that will hold people's attention, and in that sense I think it's a success. Even if some things have been massaged a bit, it's not fiction, and it gets to genuine emotional truths. Comparisons to superficial reality shows like The Hills are not fair; the insights here aren't new or groundbreaking, but they are more heartfelt and genuine than what you find on vapid reality TV. MTV shows like True Life and Made offer similarly packaged but honest glimpses into the lives of young people, and I think that saying this movie is on par with those is not an insult. Opened limited July 25; in Las Vegas this week

Man on Wire (documentary, dir. James Marsh)
And, speaking of fakery in documentaries, here's one of the most acclaimed movies of the year (fiction or nonfiction), which is full of re-enactments. Again, I don't have a problem with documentarians using whatever method best tells their story, although here the re-enactments seem superfluous to me, especially since the main subject, tightrope-walker Philippe Petit, tells the story so well on his own, bouncing around and almost re-enacting things himself. The story of how he walked a tightrope between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 is so fascinating that it's pretty much impossible to screw up, but the presentation here is often lacking. A greater scope would have helped to understand the larger meaning of the event, and some of the more grandiose devices could have been toned down. But when Marsh just lets the subjects talk, it's engrossing and exciting. Opened limited July 25; in Las Vegas this week

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (voices of Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, dir. Dave Filoni)
I've never been a big Star Wars fanatic, so I didn't have a whole lot invested in the quality of this movie, but even so I was disappointed. I didn't much care for any of the prequels, but this is even worse: All of the stilted dialogue and wooden acting, along with a complete lack of urgency or consequence to the plot, mediocre animation, and some incredibly lame new characters. The teen-girl Jedi who presumably will be a big part of the spinoff TV series is gratingly spunky, and I sort of stared in disbelieve the entire time at Jabba the Hutt's uncle Ziro, who's portrayed as a mincing drag queen, complete with heavy makeup, feathers and flamboyant speech patterns that recall (apparently on purpose) Truman Capote. George Lucas' complete cluelessness about what his audience wants, or even just what makes for good storytelling, is all on display right there. Wide release

Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, dir. Ben Stiller)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I've got a whole essay in next week's Weekly about actors changing their ethnic appearance for movies, so I feel like I've already said everything I can about this movie. But controversy aside, it's very funny and more complex than it appears on the surface. The world certainly didn't need another Hollywood satire, but this one actually has something to say and really understands the way actors think. It's clever and effective, and even surprisingly deep at times. Wide release

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, dir. Woody Allen)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
The relative merits of late-period Allen have been debated endlessly and tiresomely (Steven Zeitchik points out how often critics refer to the director's latest movies as a "return to form," and Karina Longworth offers a good defense of continuing to take Allen seriously), so all I want to say is that this is a good movie, regardless of the period it comes from. It's not Allen's best work, but it's at least in the top half or so, and for someone as prolific and talented as he is, that's a compliment. It's fun to watch, insightful (if deeply cynical) about love, and vibrant in a way that the work of a 72-year-old isn't necessarily expected to be. Cruz is fabulous, Johansson seems at home in an Allen movie for the first time, and Hall handles the female version of the Allen-surrogate role very well. It's the kind of summer movie I'd like to see more of: Not a giant expensive blockbuster or a joke-a-minute comedy, but not some dour drama, either. Just a nice time at the movies with a bunch of people who really know what they're doing. Wide release

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Summer TV roundup: Returning shows

Burn Notice (USA, Thursdays, 10 p.m.)
Last season's finale seemed to contain a game-changing plot development, but it turned out not to be as world-shattering as it first appeared. That's not necessarily a bad thing - Michael's search for who burned him could have gotten boring and tedious if stretched out too long, and putting him one significant step closer without altering the basic premise of the show is a smart way to keep things interesting without messing with what works. The result is that the show can mostly get back to the self-contained plots about Michael helping people in trouble, while also giving him a long-term antagonist we can put a face to. The mix of single-episode A-plots with the long-running B-plot works well here, combined with the continuing character arcs (Michael and Fi's on-again, off-again relationship; Sam's romantic troubles; Michael's family issues) that give the show a sense of progression. Most importantly, the second season is still flat-out entertaining, showcasing Jeffrey Donovan's considerable charm and strong comic relief from Bruce Campbell. Not all the capers are fascinating, but they provide enough structure to keep things moving from one adventure to the next as the producers string along the larger mystery effectively.

The Closer (TNT, Mondays, 9 p.m.)
Now in its fourth season, this show has largely run out of shocking and/or clever ways for Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda Leigh Johnson to dupe suspects into confessing their crimes, and I will confess that I've all but lost interest in the mysteries that form the bulk of each week's plot. Brenda is veering into increasingly unethical territory with her methods, and while that's sometimes glossed over, the producers are making an effort to show that her bullheadedness can have consequences. As always, it's the character interactions that hold my attention, and this season has been very rewarding in that area, from the tensions in Brenda's relationship with FBI-agent fiance Fritz to Gabriel and Daniels' fractured romance to the comedy team of Flynn and Provenza. Even when the whodunit is labored and obvious, the show itself remains graceful and engaging.

Mad Men (AMC, Sundays, 10 p.m.)
Now that The Wire has ended, this has become the new default greatest show on television according to the critical establishment. And I hesitate to join in with the over-the-top praise, because I think it creates overinflated expectations for people who haven't seen the show, and because it tends to curtail any meaningful analysis. But I will say that this is a very good show, and I do think people ought to be watching it, and so far this season has been incredibly well executed. It's still an incredibly slow-moving show, and sometimes I get impatient for people to do more than stare at the walls meaningfully, but there is a lot of character development going on in that staring. This year has seen some increased focus on secondary figures like Harry Crane and Paul Kinsey, and more time spent with the likes of Peggy Olson and Pete Campbell away from the office. Plus, main character Don Draper is showing even more cracks in his ad-genius facade; there's always the sense on this show that the carefully crafted world of each character could come crashing down at any moment. I still love Christina Hendricks as the marvelously bitchy Joan, and I feel like there's more humor this season, even if it's often quite dark. Now that the slightly labored mystery of Don's origins has been revealed, creator Matthew Weiner is focusing on the characters' present (which is 1962), and where they may go is, to me, far more interesting than where they've been.

Friday, August 08, 2008

I will not be silenced

I'm temporarily off the radio again, as the guys from Xtreme Disorder have parted ways with X-107.5. I had a great time chatting with them over the last 10 months, and wish them the best. I hope that we'll be able to work together again in the future, wherever they end up. I'm still working with the folks at 107.5 to figure out my future at the station, and in the meantime I've started recording podcasts for the Las Vegas Weekly website. The Josh Bell Hates Everything blog, which had been featuring podcast versions of my Xtreme Disorder segments, is now host to the inaugural podcast, on which I discuss this week's new releases in theaters and on DVD with my good friend Jason Harris of the Frat Boys of Comedy. I'll be joined each week by a different guest to chat about movies. This first edition is a bit awkward, as I'm used to being the guest rather than the host, and I'll probably try to make future segments a little shorter. But I think it's a decent first effort (plus it features the return of the "Josh Bell Hates Everything" theme song).

Movies opening this week

Encounters at the End of the World (documentary, dir. Werner Herzog)
I haven't seen very many of the incredibly prolific Herzog's films, but I do appreciate the prickly, extreme personality he's cultivated, and this movie is as much about Herzog being Herzog as it is about the scientists and technicians who live and work in Antarctica. He offers his observations on the awesome beauty of nature and humanity's doomed future in an often deadpan-hilarious voiceover, and sort of wanders through Antarctica chatting with whomever he encounters. It's an unfocused, sometimes rambling film, and it lacks the impact of something like Grizzly Man. But it's fun to watch and full of beautiful scenery, and a nice way to pass 100 minutes inside the mind of a fascinating eccentric. Opened limited June 11; in Las Vegas this week

Hell Ride (Larry Bishop, Michael Madsen, Eric Balfour, dir. Larry Bishop)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This movie proves that there really is a skill to making enjoyable trash, and that thinking "How could any movie full of topless women, graphic beheadings and badass bikers not be enjoyable?" is a lot different from having to sit through one as inept as this one. There's a reason that those fake trailers in Grindhouse were only three minutes long; if they were actual movies, they might look like this. Limited release

Pineapple Express (Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Gary Cole, dir. David Gordon Green)
I'm getting close to burned out on Rogen and the Judd Apatow factory, and this mediocre comedy isn't going to get my enthusiasm back. It's perfectly fine, predictable but mostly entertaining, and more successful as a low-key comedy than an action movie. The filmmakers seem inordinately proud of the action elements, but really they're pretty sloppy and uninteresting; a movie just about two stoners hanging out would probably have been more enjoyable. Wide release

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Dead Like Me

This Showtime series from Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller (Daisies was actually conceived originally as a Dead Like Me spin-off) has its dedicated following despite lasting only two seasons. It seems to have found enough of a life on DVD that MGM is putting out a straight-to-video movie sequel next year as a possible testing ground for another go at the series, or further movies. The quirky show, about the everyday lives of grim reapers whose jobs turn out to be strikingly similar to the 9-to-5 drudgery of the living, seemed like it would be a nice break from my continued viewing of The Wire and its depressing (but compelling!) view of society's bleak condition. It turned out that Dead Like Me was plenty lighthearted (though not without its serious moments), but just not very good.

I slogged through all 14 episodes of the first season anyway, spurred on at first by an optimism that the show would find its footing and direction eventually, and then simply by my irrational completist's desire to hit the stopping point at the season's end. Fuller left after only five episodes, and the show definitely betrays signs of turmoil behind the scenes. As much as I like Pushing Daisies and enjoyed Fuller's previous series, Wonderfalls, I didn't find the initial episodes of Dead Like Me all that entertaining; they basically recycled the same plot (about main character George, newly dead and made into a reaper, refusing to go along with the afterlife rules and, er, reaping the consequences) for three or four episodes straight with little forward motion.

After Fuller's departure, the show continued meandering, abruptly writing out Rebecca Gayheart's reaper character with virtually no explanation and replacing her with Laura Harris' irritating Daisy Adair; stretching in increasingly strained ways to include George's still-living family; sending the various reapers off on unrelated storylines resulting in disjointed episodes; and resorting to a glorified clip show, of all things, after not even a full season of material. I did like Ellen Muth's performance as the sarcastic, introspective George, which was what made me want to keep watching at the beginning, as well as Mandy Patinkin as her gruff reaper boss (except when he kept having to be an exaggerated hardass in the same way over and over again). The other supporting characters I could have done without, although they each had their moments.

The biggest problem was that I never understood what the show was meant to be about, from a thematic or big-picture perspective; the world of the reapers was ill-defined, with guidelines that seemed to be constantly shifting, and always felt very superficial. This could very well be the result of ever-changing creative visions among producers and writers, or it could just be that nobody knew what to do with the show once Fuller left. I've heard that the second season isn't as good as the first, and given my sustained frustration with the show, I don't think I'll be giving it a chance. It's back to the stark realities of The Wire; at least those are fully realized and always engrossing.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Shark Week: Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

A certain longtime blog reader has been bugging me for years to revisit Jaws, which I saw once as a kid and about which I remembered basically nothing when sitting down to watch it again this week. And after a week of less-than-brilliant shark movies, it certainly stood out as the most well-crafted and effective, although it's also one of those movies that's been so influential that it's hard to see how original it must have been when it first came out. As with a lot of classic movies, I found myself waiting in anticipation for famous lines ("You're gonna need a bigger boat") and moments, which of course lose their effect when you've seen them parodied so many times beforehand. It was also neat to catch little bits of homage in other movies I've seen this week: The main characters in Open Water are named after the first two victims in Jaws, and one of the sharks in Deep Blue Sea eats a license plate that's the same exact one they dig out of a shark's stomach here.

There are other important innovations here, including the use of the camera to represent the shark's perspective, John Williams' oft-imitated menacing score, and of course the use of giant, scientifically inaccurate sharks as monsters in the first place. Even the cliched comparing-the-scars bit seems to have originated with this movie. Spielberg builds suspense and tension very well without resorting to too much gore or a high body count, and Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw provide nice comedic counterpoints to stoic hero Roy Scheider. The animatronic shark, notoriously problematic during the shoot, doesn't hold up that well, but it's kept off-screen for long enough that by the time you see how fake it looks, you've already accepted its genuine danger.

I've never been a huge Spielberg fan, honestly, although I like many of his movies. He's a top-notch pop-entertainment filmmaker, but I can't remember ever being moved or transported or amazed by one of his films. This, of course, isn't meant as anything other than crackerjack genre fare, and in that sense it succeeds completely. But I admit I probably had a better time watching Deep Blue Sea.

Movies opening this week

The Wackness (Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Olivia Thirlby, dir. Jonathan Levine)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I've been on vacation this week, and thus decided to forgo any movies starring mummies and/or Kevin Costner, and instead have been busy watching shark movies. So all I've seen is this coming-of-age dramedy, which played at CineVegas. I had been skeptical of what seemed like the movie's manufactured hype, and mindful of things like this review from Karina Longworth, which made the movie sound like something I wouldn't like. But despite its definite flaws, this is an entertaining and often affecting little film, not necessarily worthy of the expectations bestowed on it coming out of Sundance, but definitely worth seeing. Well-acted and well-written, if a little familiar, it's clear evidence that you can make a good movie out of an oft-told story if you approach it with passion and skill. Opened limited July 3; in Las Vegas this week

Friday, August 01, 2008

Shark Week: Open Water (Chris Kentis, 2003)

This movie was hyped as the Blair Witch Project of shark movies when it was first released (after having been a festival sensation), and while it did make a good amount of money for a low-budget indie, it never achieved the following (or backlash) that Blair Witch did. It managed to spawn a completely unrelated direct-to-video sequel, though, and like the filmmakers behind Blair Witch, its director has gone on to do essentially nothing. It was one of those movies for which I encountered the hype long before the film itself, and I remember being sort of underwhelmed when I first saw it (I'd link to my original review, but the Las Vegas Weekly site is undergoing a revamp, and much of the content is inaccessible right now). Coming in with lower expectations this time, I had about the same reaction: This movie is a cool idea that can't quite sustain itself even for 80 minutes.

One way I approached the movie differently this time is that I wasn't expecting scares; the normal-sized, normally behaved sharks may be genuinely dangerous, but they seem positively tame compared to movie sharks like those in Deep Blue Sea. Really, though, this movie is far more tragedy than horror, and as time goes by and the two protagonists come to the realization that they are likely to die in the middle of the ocean, whether by shark attack or simply dehydration, you're more sad for them than scared. The acting in the 25 minutes or so of setup is pretty rudimentary, and Kentis' writing shows his impatience for getting to the danger, sketching out only the most basic of character outlines.

Things improve once the married couple played by Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan are stranded by their dive boat, and Travis and Ryan do better at conveying fear and hopelessness than they did at conveying everyday coupledom. Kentis allows the viewer occasional rays of hope, only to dash them mercilessly; if this isn't a movie that will keep you up at night with fear, it is one that may keep you up at night despairing at the bleakness of existence. That's undermined a little by some jokey foreshadowing (Travis with his head in a shark statue, laughing) and a cheesy postscript that shows fishermen opening up a shark and finding the couple's camera in its stomach. Plus, there's pandering to the B-movie horror audience with gratuitous nudity, although Ryan has such an amazing body that I'm inclined to forgive this.

The clumsy parts of the movie may point to why Kentis hasn't since been able to make another one: He may have played all his cards with this one, and succeeded with the only thing he's good at. Unless he makes another shark movie, or another movie about people stranded in nature in some way, he may not have anything else he can do (or I could be completely wrong about this). At least he manages some fleeting moments of greatness here.