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The Meg (2018) Movie Review By John Walsh

The Meg

Director: Jon Turteltaub
Writers: Dean Georgaris (screenplay by), Jon Hoeber (screenplay by)
Stars: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson

Right, I’ve got a couple of small admissions to make here before I start delving into my review of The Meg. Firstly, I’m not a big Jason Statham fan. He’s been doing practically the same stuff for nearly twenty years now and it usually bores me to tears. I don’t hate the guy or anything, but he doesn’t draw me to the mundane like a Dwayne Johnson might. Secondly, I’m a closet fan of the shark horror sub-genre. It’s for the latter reason that I’ve seen this film twice in the cinema following it’s release. 

In all honesty, you’ll probably already know the general plot if you’ve ever seen anything resembling a shark film before. That’s not a negative either, it’s just a fact. I’ve seen people using this as a giant stick to beat The Meg with, but I’m genuinely perplexed as to what it is they were expecting. It’s going to be set in a large body of water, with humans in constant peril of being eaten alive. Unless the shark is the hero then what else can possibly happen in these films? That’s how Stephen put it on Box Office Chat this week and he’s right. 

There’s a brief rescue mission takes place at the beginning, with Jonas (Jason Statham), a rescue diver, attempting to rescue scientists from a nuclear submarine. Things go a little pear shaped in the midst of said rescue and he has to bail with two still left inside after seeing the shape of a massive creature, bashing in the side of the vessel. This has ramifications for poor Jonas, of course, especially when the submarine explodes moments later and he’s accused of suffering from pressure-induced psychosis.

The film then jumps five years and changes perspective to a state of the art, underwater facility called Mana One. There’s a whole host of scientists and experts stationed there, with the intention of studying what may be a deeper section of the Marianas Trench, the deepest place on Earth. There’s Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), the man financing the operation; Dr. Zhang (Winston Zhao); Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor); Suyin (Li BingBing) and few others that may or may not get a mention. Needless to say, they send a small submersible craft down for a look, not long after Morris arrives at the facility. 

And what they discover is both wondrous and rather terrifying in equal measures. There is indeed a further depth below a thermal, gaseous layer and the crew, led by Tori (Jessica McNamee), Jonas’ ex, find a host of exotic sea creatures beneath, including a 75ft, prehistoric shark with anger management issues and an insatiable desire to feed on human flesh. It attacks them immediately, leaving them stricken alone in the dark, and setting up a grand entrance for Jonas of the present day to come in to save the day. Zhang and ‘Mac’ (Cliff Curtis) are sent to persuade him and despite an apparent drinking problem, he’s in damn fine spirits. 

It’s after the easy enough rescue of the majority of crew in the small craft that things truly kick off however. The Megalodon manages to burst through a thermal eruption into the colder waters above and sets off on a path of utter carnage. This pits the action hero that is Jason Statham, arguably this generations Sly Stallone against the prehistoric Jaws. I’ll spare a word for word plot synopsis, because nobody wants to read that, but needless to say, the other seventy odd minutes of running time is full to the brim with toe curling, moments of panic, action and lots of near misses.

There’s a few moments where the Meg doesn’t miss and they may be my most enjoyable bits of the film. The barging of half a dozen beach goers off a large wooden platform and the eating of a smug, gonk of a man in one of those stupid inflatable balls, being the highlights. I can’t lie though, despite it being a fierce and menacing presence of an antagonist, I never at any point felt the main protagonists, Jonas and Suyin were in real danger. I said it previously, these films all play out the same. The shark will always bite the dust. It’s just how enjoyable they make the experience in between that decides whether the film is a flop or not. 

I think Jon Turteltaub managed to make it a very enjoyable ride. It was visually spectacular, the actions sequences were pretty cool in the main. I’ve spoke about this film before on a couple of our shows and consistently highlighted the ending with the two submersible vehicles as a standout moment for me. They were almost like underwater Star Wars space scenes, the way they zipped around at speed. The multiple helicopter crash scene, the take down of the Meg itself and even the aforementioned beach scene were all moments that made this film an enjoyable ride, despite the inevitability of the ending. They tried their hand at a double bluff twist, incidentally, but it fell flat on its face.

Performance wise, I’m not going to lie, there’s not much to go by. It’s very much the Jason Statham show. He’s been cast in this role for a reason. He excels at this leading man, action stuff, whilst adding a touch of humour at times. He was perfect for the role of Jonas. Li BingBing was probably second in terms of screen time and outwith the odd cringeworthy, broken English moment, she did fine. There was little chemistry between her and Statham despite the forced attempts at romance. Her daughter in the film played by the young Shuya Sophie Cai was surprisingly entertaining with her extroverted, gallus personality. The periphery players did fine without excelling. 

This film isn’t going to be winning anything come awards season. It’s an entertaining, summer blockbuster. The kind you go in to see with the biggest damn bag of popcorn available. It’s escapism, full to the brim with cheese, and thankfully, it knows it too. It never takes itself serious and that’s key here. There’s been many a shark movie tried too hard to be serious and that can’t be done now. Jaws has a monopoly on that particular breed. This is lighter in tone, makes jokes at its own expense, and listen, it ain’t that bad. It’s more than watchable and it’s a decent addition to a sub-genre that hasn’t exactly set the bar high. 

Rating: 3/5

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Cool Runnings (1993) Movie Retro Review By John Walsh

Cool Runnings

Director: Jon Turteltaub
Writers: Lynn Siefert (story), Michael Ritchie (story)
Stars: John Candy, Leon, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba

I’m in the midst of a 90s nostalgia fest at the moment. It was a decade that produced some of my all-time favourites, spanning a variety of genres and so my mind was cast back to 1993, when I was but a small child of just four years old. Cool Runnings, wouldn’t be one of those films that I’d class as an all-time favourite, but it holds a special place in my heart. It was one of the first times I became acquainted with the late, great John Candy and it never fails to whisk me back to my carefree youth of playing on an Amiga and scoffing my grandads fairy cakes. 

It’s follows the well trodden (even then) sports genre, redemption story, that was nailed in the original Rocky, leading to ever diminishing returns as that franchise progressed. It’s apparently based on the real life events of the 1988 Jamaican Bobsled team that captivated the world, but as I’ll get into shortly, that’s not quite correct. 

Derice (Leon Robinson), is a sprinter and an elite one at that, who faces early heartache, failing to make the 1988 Olympic team after a disastrous time trial. Devastated about missing out on his dream, he pins his hopes on putting together a bobsled team and hitting the Winter Olympics. Why? Well, because quick sprinters are a significant part of that sporting disciplines success. He already has a driver in his wacky friend, Sanka (Doug E. Doug), a champion pushcart driver on the island. All he needs is two more athletes and a coach. 

Which brings a certain Mr. John Candy into the proceedings. He plays Irving ‘Irv’ Blitzer, a multiple gold medal winner and disgraced US bobsled coach that’s retreated to the Caribbean to escape his ignominious past. An old friend of Derice’s dad, both him and Sanka hammer him into submission, pleading for him to return to his old life and coach them. That just leaves a recruitment drive for the final two members and the turnout is initially high, that is until the dangers of the sport are highlighted in a film reel, leaving the room deserted. A funny moment that needs to be seen to be appreciated. 

There’s just two men left standing when the dust settles and they share a painful connection with Derice. Junior (Rawle D. Lewis) and Yul Brenner (Malik Yoba), both elite level sprinters in their own right, where involved in the same Olympic trial, with the formers trip ending the dream for all three. 

Now, if that doesn’t give the premise behind the entire story away then nothing will really. The films primary message, outside the multiple redemption arcs, is all about using the disappointments in life to fuel your determination to succeed and improve. They all come together, bonding through the journey, despite their initial differences, bickering and infighting to appear at the 1988 winter games. There’s many an obstacle put in their way, from a ramshackle sled, racial intolerance to a corrupt governing body doing its best to ban the interlopers for having the audacity to besmirch their sport. 

Which brings me onto my next point quite nicely. The events in this film are highly fictional. Like to the point where there’s no discernible connection to reality in any way whatsoever. For instance, the real Jamaicans were pushcart racers, but they weren’t elite level sprinters by any means. They had multiple coaches, none of which were ever banned for cheating. Nor did they use a ramshackle sled, in fact, the USA actually gave them one so they could qualify and there was no hint of intolerance or racism from the East German team like we see in the film. 

Does any of that actually bother me? Nope. It wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enjoyable a film, a redemption story or emotional rollercoaster if it was a faithful depiction. We wouldn’t have got the “I see pride, I see power. I see a badass mother that don’t take no crap off nobody” bathroom scene and the subsequent bar brawl that erupted afterwards. We wouldn’t have had the tension surrounding their reinstatement, the team bonding over the sled painting or the brilliant character of Irv. That would’ve been a travesty and it would’ve  made for an infinitely less enjoyable experience. 

The characters make Cool Runnings the film that it is. With all due respect to the real guys, I doubt they were as ragtag a group of a strange bedfellows as Derice, Sanka, Yul Brenner and Junior. I’m going to call it a leading quartet of actors that excel in bringing these likeable personalities to the screen. They’re all different too and yet together they help each other, slotting together like a game of Tetris. Derice is intelligent, driven and reserved; Sanka is zany, extroverted and loud; Yul is sullen, aloof but has a big heart and is a good guy; finally, Junior is lacking confidence and desperate to find his freedom. He also rich, which proves useful.