Friday, June 16, 2017


Opening this week:

47 Meters Down--Sisters Kate (Claire Holt) and Lisa (Mandy Moore) are on vacation in Mexico. Lisa has recently been dumped, and wants to post pictures online that will make her ex jealous, so she lets the more adventurous Kate talk her into diving in a shark cage.

You can guess how this works out. The winch and crane break off from the decrepit-looking old boat, and the cage plunges to the title depth, where it comes to rest on the ocean floor. The scruffy captain (Matthew Modine) tells the sisters by radio to stay put, as swimming to the surface would risk the bends, always assuming they weren't devoured on the way up by the various great white sharks covetously cruising around the cage. Help, he assures them, is on the way.

It need hardly be said that the rescue operation does not go smoothly. Claustrophobic terror, in the manner of 2010's Buried, and grueling survival measures ensue. As with last year's shark siege melodrama The Shallows, an unseemly amount of the movie consists of women keening in panic and pain.

But 47 Meters Down, directed by Johannes Roberts, is better than The Shallows. It doesn't have Blake Lively and her impressive all-but-one-woman-show appeal, and it doesn't have a scene-stealing seagull, but it also isn't marred by a ridiculously corny, over-the-top action picture finale. It feels plausible. Moore and Holt are touching in their sisterly support of each other, and in their guileless delivery of the simple, declarative lines: "I'm so scared!" "The shark almost got me!"

The special effects are preferable, too. The great whites, with their disconsolate, thuggish faces, come across a little more convincingly than Blake Lively's enemy in The Shallows. But only a little more. 47 Meters Down is watchable, even ingenious at times. But in the end, it lands alongside The Shallows in the same large category: Shark Movies That Just Aren't Jaws.

All Eyez on Me--The role of Tupac Shakur in this biopic is played by a newcomer named Demetrius Shipp, Jr. While Shipp's features don't quite have Shakur's weirdly Old-Masters-like beauty, the resemblance is nonetheless striking, and he's a relaxed, natural actor with a likable manner. It's a creditable debut in what could easily have seemed like a no-win role.

He's no Tupac, however. He has none of the rapper's electrically vivid presence and magnetism. But maybe that was asking too much. Under the circumstances, it's an achievement simply that he doesn't disgrace himself, that he maintains the audience's sympathy.

The movie, directed by Benny Boom, is a conventional show-biz chronicle history of the short, prolific career and appallingly violence-filled life of Shakur, who was murdered in Las Vegas in 1996 at the age of 25. We get his unstable childhood among the Black Panthers, his turbulent but intense bond with his mother Alfeni (the terrific Danai Gurira), his scary youth in Baltimore and Oakland, his early success with Digital Underground, his rise as a solo artist and movie star, the rape charge, the prison term, the partnering with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, the feud with Biggie, and so forth.

The movie doesn't quite sanitize Shakur; his amusement at Knight's brutality to others, for instance, is chilling. Still, through it all, he is depicted as, to quote one of his favorite writers, a man more sinned against than sinning. I'm not remotely qualified to say if this is fair or not, I can only say that All Eyez on Me, though possibly a hair overlong, is absorbing and enjoyable on its own terms. And the music on the soundtrack, both of Shakur and others, demonstrates how anemic is most of the stuff that currently passes for hip-hop on the radio.

Shakur was a furiously angry young man. He was also a smashingly talented, riveting performer, and the evidence of his few film roles suggests that he could have become a great movie actor as well. Because he died young, he's fixed, like James Dean, in tragic radiance. But who knows if he would have kept it?

On the other hand, who cares? Had he survived, he would be pushing 50. Maybe he would have sold out and become happy; he might be on his twelfth season in the cast of Law and Order by now. Or he might have kept his social anger but found a way to channel it productively. Or a little of both. Any of the above would be better than what happened.

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