Shark movies have been suffering under comparisons to “Jaws” for more than 35 years, and with good reason: Steven Spielberg’s 1975 waterborne frightfest remains a classic. “Dark Tide,” directed with hopelessly flagging energy by John Stockwell, barely musters up enough interest to be thuddingly bad.
Halle Berry stars as a shark-loving, Cape Town-based marine biologist who’s backslid into a life of guided tours since losing close friends to great-white attacks on one of her uncaged, communing-with-sharks excursions a year prior. But her estranged husband (Olivier Martinez, smarming it up) and a wealthy thrill-seeker (Ralph Brown) somehow convince her to host another date with deep-sea danger.
We see the crew guy throwing chum in the water to attract sharks, but there’s little in the way of characterization, motivation or underwater action to entice moviegoers. The only palpable emotion from “Dark Tide” is sadness for Berry, treading water in dreary efforts like this.
“Dark Tide.” MPAA rating: PG-13 for bloody shark attacks/disturbing images, and for language including sexual references. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. At Laemmle’s Noho 7, North Hollywood; AMC Loews Broadway 4, Santa Monica.
Send ‘Goon’ to the penalty box
The monotonously lowbrow hockey comedy “Goon” stars Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt, a simple-minded bouncer with a knockout punch who’s recruited by a minor league team to be their enforcer, the guy for whom fighting skills trump skating acumen.
But instead of a rousing, good-heartedly vulgar team-sports movie like “Slap Shot,” we get a sloppy, unimaginative Cinderella story with more emphasis placed on profane locker room taunts than characterization or narrative or the details that make up a brutal sports culture. (The screenplay is by actor Jay Baruchel, who gives himself an obnoxious role as Doug’s violence-enabling pal, and Evan Goldberg.)
As soon as Liev Schreiber’s grizzled, veteran goon from another team is introduced, all you’re doing is waiting for his rink showdown with Doug, and even that’s anticlimactic.
Director Michael Dowse does exhibit a flair for the player-and-puck geometry of a fast-moving match, but any time the action stops for a blow-by-blow with “Raging Bull"-style slo-mo, the energy deflates.
Scott isn’t bad: He sells the comedy of his character’s ingrained politeness as much as the aggression. But “Goon” feels like a movie starring a gimmick, not a person.
“Goon.” MPAA rating: R for brutal violence, nonstop language, some strong sexual content and drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At the Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles.
An important conversation for women
The vital and enlightening documentary “Hot Flash Havoc” takes a detailed look at the under-discussed topic of menopause while unraveling its various medical, social and sexual ramifications. To call the film appointment viewing for women of a certain age is perhaps an understatement.
Director Marc Bennett, with the help of writer-narrator Marnie Inskip, effectively tracks the curious evolution of menopause — and female physiology in general — and the relatively recent strides made in the understanding and treatment of a key health issue that eventually affects every woman.
“Havoc” largely focuses on the upshot of 2002’s U.S. Women’s Health Initiative study that demonized the hormone therapies widely used to combat such menopausal symptoms as depression, lack of libido, memory loss, mood swings and, of course, the infamous hot flashes. The film posits that the government-sanctioned study misrepresented its results, causing panicked women everywhere to dump their estrogen-based medications thereby endangering their health and well-being.
A wide array of medical experts, professors and researchers, plus many women whose lives have been profoundly affected by menopause, weigh in on the sensitive subject with clarity, candor and at times humor. Even if the material doesn’t always lend itself to scintillating filmmaking, there’s no refuting the enormous value of the information shared here.
“Hot Flash Havoc.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.
Drawing strength amid the horrors
Bolstered by astute performances, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s artful and skillfully told new horror film “Intruders” trusts in the narrative richness of modulated creep. The darkness threatens, but it tells a story too, one you may find both nerve-jangling and, in its portrait of a terrorized family’s inner strength, surprisingly moving.
“Intruders” opens with a subtitled sequence in which a Spanish boy’s bedtime ritual of co-fashioning a scary tale with his doting mother (Pilar López de Ayala) is disrupted when a hulking, faceless creature violently appears. Then we’re sent to a country estate outside of London, where English girl Mia (Ella Purnell) finds a handwritten story that tells of Hollowface, a prowling figure who seeks to correct his erased features with those of a snatched child.
Mia’s construction worker father (an intensely effective Clive Owen) begins to fear for Mia’s sudden fascination with Hollowface, but their shared belief in the boogeyman — augmented by terrifying nighttime visits to their home — may speak to something more worrying.
As “Intruders” toggles between both parent/child scenarios in separate countries, Fresnadillo expertly massages a disturbing filmic space of shadows and suspicious tranquillity in which no image — no matter how beautifully captured by cinematographer Enrique Chediak — rests comfortably on the eye.
The effect is both visceral and thoughtful, demonstrating a knack for cinematic dread rarely shown by today’s manipulative horror meisters.
“Intruders.” MPAA rating: R for terror, horror violence, some sexuality/nudity and language. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. At AMC Loews Broadway Cinema 4, Santa Monica; AMC Universal Citywalk Stadium 19, Universal City; AMC South Bay Galleria 16, Redondo Beach; AMC Norwalk 20, Norwalk.
Reconnecting in modern age
A sequel to the Hong Kong film “Love in a Puff,” the new “Love in the Buff,” written and directed by Pang Ho-Cheung, skips easily between Hong Kong and Beijing in its story of people trying to navigate the contemporary minefield of balancing work, life and love.
The two lovers from the first film (played again by the charming pair of Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue) split up partly over work-related logistics and each move on to someone else. When they later run into each other they each recognize there is something unfinished. Their rekindled connection seems so strong and immediate it hardly seems like cheating when they begin an affair.
The movie has a particularly sharp take on the emotional effect of modern technology, on the import of switching between texting and talking, the sinking feeling of deleting old messages or the crippling paralysis when a line of communication suddenly goes dead.
“Love in the Buff” may not be one for the ages, but it is one for right now, and shows up countless lifeless Hollywood romantic comedies. Pang’s nimble, incisive writing and direction and his winning leads give proof to the rom-com ideal that a film can be funny, romantic and connected to modern life.
“Love in the Buff.” No MPAA rating; In Cantonese with Chinese and English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes. At the AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park; AMC Puente Hills 20, Rowland Heights.
Escaping in the pursuit of trout
A shameful period in American history — the removal and relocation of an estimated 120,000 Japanese Americans following Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor — is examined in the worthy documentary “The Manzanar Fishing Club.”
Clearly a labor of love for producer-director (and avid fisherman) Cory Shiozaki, whose parents were among America’s many West Coast-based Japanese descendants unjustly rounded up under an FDR mandate, the film spotlights life at the Manzanar Relocation Center, the first of 10 U.S. internment camps established during World War II.
Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in California’s remote Owens River Valley, the Manzanar outpost was near some of the state’s most plentiful trout fishing. This discovery became a lifeline for a group of dispirited prisoners who, defying armed guards and barbed wire barriers, temporarily escaped to the mountain lakes for the unfettered joy of sport fishing.
Manzanar’s surviving anglers offer absorbing testimony here of their time in captivity and their adventures in pursuit of the coveted golden trout. Other former internees and several of the fishermen’s offspring are also interviewed.
Mixed in, along with multi-voiced narration written by co-producer Richard Imamura, is a wealth of terrific archival footage and photos. Less effective are the filmed reenactments that prove sometimes it’s better to just “tell” and not “show.”
“The Manzanar Fishing Club.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes. At Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.
No cliche too trite for ‘Chairs’
It’s hard not to think of wheelchair ballroom dancing as something inherently uplifting and therapeutically good, so why has it been given such an emotionally cut-and-dried treatment in the New York-set film “Musical Chairs”?
As it predictably nurtures an uptown-downtown love story between sweetheart Puerto Rican handyman-dancer Armando (E.J. Bonilla) and Mia (Leah Pipes), a blond tango instructor who becomes paralyzed, it welcomes other clichés with open arms: the big yet claustrophobic Latino family (including old-country-wistful dad and oppressive mom) and the inevitably colorful characters (sassy black transsexual, goth girl, macho lout) who make up the wheelchair-bound patients at the rehab center Armando must whip into shape for, yep, that big competition around the corner.
Though there’s plenty of movement and enthusiasm, director Susan Seidelman is content with a metronomic approach to manipulating our feelings — buoyant Latin music never felt so routinely scene-setting — and seems afraid to let anyone on-screen depart from established caricature.
That’s a shame, because she finds an offbeat grace note in the film’s final dance routine — a moment between lovers that encapsulates the cycle of struggle and hard-won joy they will inevitably face — that suggests an intriguing exploration of mixed-agility romance.
“Musical Chairs.” MPAA rating: PG-13 for language, some sexual material and a brief drug reference. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills; Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena; and Regal Westpark 8, Irvine.
‘Gangster’ lacks name and focus
The most notable factor in the superb action films recently coming from South Korea has been their raw intensity, both in terms of brutal physical violence and emotionally messy thematics. Which makes “Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time,” a recent hit in its homeland for writer-director Yoon Jong-bin, something of an oddity for its flabby listlessness, the way in which it wastes a crack set-up and game cast on a story that lacks focus and drive.
As if to highlight what his film is missing, “Gangster” features the stars of some of the best of recent Korean thrillers, Choi Min-sik from “Oldboy” and “I Saw The Devil,” and Ha Jung-woo from “Chaser” and “The Yellow Sea.” The film follows a slightly crooked customs officer (Choi) who enters the underworld in a big way when he comes across a large shipment of heroin. He soon hooks up with a genuine gangster (Ha) and together they rise to new heights, only to be undone by paranoia, hubris, greed and an eventual government crackdown on organized crime.
Rather than the knife wielding of some recent Korean films, the weapon of choice here is more frequently the sickening hollow thwack of an aluminum baseball bat. Regardless of any basis in the actual weaponry of Korean gangster circles, those bats seem at times a nod to “Casino.” But Yoon never reaches the operatic heights of Martin Scorsese’s sometimes misunderstood masterwork, with “Nameless Gangster” too meandering to be truly effective.
“Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time.” No MPAA rating; in Korean with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 13 minutes. At CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles.
Little fresh with this slacker
The trouble with “The Trouble With Bliss” is, well, pretty much everything. This dark comedy, directed by Michael Knowles from a script he co-wrote with Douglas Light (from Light’s novel), is as aimless as its main character, Morris Bliss — yet another man-child who lives at home — and just as uninteresting.
Morris (“Dexter’s” Michael C. Hall) is an unemployed — maybe never employed — 35-year-old who shares a faded Lower Manhattan apartment with his cranky, long-widowed dad (Peter Fonda). Morris has recently begun a rash relationship with Stephanie (Brie Larson), a manipulative motormouth half his age who, it turns out, is the daughter of his ebullient old high school buddy, Steve “Jetski” Jouseski (Brad William Henke).
Little happens over the course of a seemingly short time span as Morris tries to extricate himself from Stephanie’s loopy clutches while reconnecting with Jetski, deciphering his best friend NJ’s (a fun Chris Messina) grandiosities and navigating an aggressive new love interest (Lucy Liu).
Any potential enjoyment here is fatally undermined by the film’s barely developed characters, self-conscious dialogue (“I will wax his tugboat!”) and repetitive imagery — how often must we see Morris get into bed and go to sleep? What inspired the talented Hall to sign on to this pointless exercise is the picture’s chief curiosity.
“The Trouble With Bliss.” MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and a brief violent image. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.