Lion

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Once, when I was about 4-years-old, I got up one morning at 6am, wandered across the street to a neighbor’s house, and sat in their backyard sandbox playing alone for roughly 2 hours. About 20 minutes after I’d started playing, I heard my mother calling for me.

I listened to her calls for an hour and a half before eventually deciding that I should probably head home. When I emerged from behind the house, on my front lawn were state police, my father who’d come home from work, my grandparents, and my mother in absolute shambles. I walked right up to her and, dropping to her knees, she asked, “Did you hear me calling you?”

I nodded. I don’t remember what happened after that because I’m pretty sure I got a well deserved clock cleaning.

Lion isn’t the story of some little digbat running off. It is far more profound. Living with his mother, Kamla (Priyanka Bose), sister, and Brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), in a dilapidated home in India, 5-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and Guddu spend most days robbing coal trains to get food and milk for the family. When Guddu is set to leave for a few days for work, Saroo insists on joining him.
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Reluctantly, Guddu decides to bring Saroo along on a long train ride. Upon arrival, Guddu attempts to wake his snoozing little brother to no avail. Telling him to wait right there, Guddu disappears into the darkness.

Stirring from his slumber some time later, Saroo realizes his brother is nowhere to be found. In his frightened state, he boards a nearby train and after calling for Guddu for probably as long as my mom called for me, he falls asleep and wakes to find the train moving and he is unable to get off.

Taken two days travel from where he last saw his brother, Saroo must now navigate back home in a place where he doesn’t speak the language and predators are lurking.

Eventually entered in a school for orphaned or even forgotten children, Saroo’s image is printed in a newspaper in an effort to help his family find him. While his mother and brother don’t locate him via the article, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman, respectively), of Australia, see his story and adopt him.

Moving along 20 years, tormented by the thought of his mother and brother still looking for him, Saroo (played by Dev Patel as an adult) struggles to lead a normal 20-something existence. He finds work as a hotel manager, meets his girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara), there, and the two attempt to build a comfortable life around his constant longing to find home.

I was missing for two hours. To this day, I still feel terrible for what my family went through that day. To be lost for most of your life, unable to assure your own mother that you’re alright is an agony that I can only imagine.

This movie is sublimely well done. Based on ‘A Long Way Home: A Memoir’ written by Saroo himself, and adapted to screen by Luke Davies, Lion tells the story of the brave little boy who spent his life adrift. Directed by Garth Davis, the film illustrates the total destruction of a man in a perpetual state of unrest.

Done properly, the viewer is enveloped in the total breakdown of a character with genuine interest in their well-being. Lion executes this perfectly, giving the audience a glimpse at the pain experienced in going missing, the hesitant joy of finding people to love and care for you, and the exquisite sorrow lying just beneath the surface all along.

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Not only is Lion poignant and divine in its direction and storytelling, but cinematographer Greig Fraser invites us into the picture, generously bringing our collective subconscious into his brilliant vision. His breathtaking views of little Saroo’s world lend to the magic being created through the lens. Coupled with Dustin O’Halloran’s riveting and — at times — energetically melancholy score, Lion is one of the best movies of 2016 by a landslide.

Lovely, endearing performances from Patel, Kidman, and Mara, but that little Sunny Pawar is just a gem; cripplingly adorable and a very fine actor.

A picture destined for many well deserved accolades, Lion needs to be seen. Thoroughly seen. I implore you — go see this movie.

Hidden Figures

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The last time a man told me I couldn’t do something, it was in regard to the last chunk of a brick of cheese I’d put away. He said, “Bet you can’t finish it,” and do you know what I did? I picked up that whole hunk and shoved it in my mouth. Took about 8 minutes to chew it up, but damn it, I did it.

Hidden Figures is vaguely similar to that story, yet far more poetic and eloquent with much higher stakes.

Today — right now — women everywhere of every race are fighting the good fight for feminism and everything that means. This film takes place in the 60s, making it even more empowering and motivational for women folk everywhere to stand up, grab that last chunk of cheddar, and cram it in their mouths proudly and with gusto.

Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) were three of the most extraordinary minds working at NASA in the 1960s when the US was in a race with Russia to get a man into space. Living in a still segregated Virginia, these sharp, fiercely driven ladies were subject to the tortures of such a life; belittlement, harsh and unnecessary criticism, and maybe worst of all — limitations on what they were allowed to do due to their skin color and gender.

I will say this word only one time and it is merely to express my deep and utter hatred of it: they fell victim to being “colored”. Don’t worry, fellow enraged masses, there’s an incredibly cathartic and gratifying moment, regarding that word in the film.

Moving right along.

A gifted mathematician since she was just a wee one, Katherine is promoted when the director of the Space Task Group, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), is in need of someone who can do some seriously complex geometry stuff that would make my brain melt. Walking into a room full of white men after being told that no one like her has ever entered that room, Katherine is intimidated, but prepared to take on the challenge.

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Dorothy Vaughan — stuck in a tiny, segregated part of the campus with about 20 women — is doing what so many of us have done once or twice before; she’s performing all the duties that a supervisor would, without the title or the pay. Bringing it up with her brusque, standoffish supervisor, Vivian (Kirsten Dunst) goes about as well as you’d expect, and she’s sent back to her office, dejected.

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Mary Jackson. Saucy, outspoken, impassioned Mary Jackson. After being reassigned to assist the engineers working on the vessel that will take a man into space, she’s encouraged to become an engineer herself. However, nothing in life comes easily. Especially for these three women. That said, she will not be stopped.

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Together, the three face their own day-to-day trials and tribulations; supporting one another with unwavering love and honesty. What else can one do when faced with unbridled oppression?

Together, they would go on to make history.

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I can’t recall the last time I was so profoundly moved and personally motivated by a film. While I’m not jumping the same kinds of hurdles they did — not by a long shot — I think this film speaks to what women can do in the face of rejection.

THAT SAID. I was seriously disheartened to read this article, and I recommend you proceed only if you can handle the truth: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

When it’s all said and done, the film is quite good, even with some wavering truths interjected. Hollywood does love to pander, though. If they didn’t, the shark would not have been blown up and Hooper would have been dead at the end of Jaws. That doesn’t get butts in the seats, though. Gotta blow up that shark.

Backed by a fitting score composed by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, and Benjamin, Wallfisch, and written by Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder, and based on the book by the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures is a lovely film with just a couple of alternative facts. That doesn’t take away from the superb performances by Henson, Spencer, Monae, Mahershala Ali, Costner, and Dunst.

I can’t wait for the sequel; Hidden Fences 2 — where Taraji blasts Denzel Washington into space!

The Bye Bye Man

say-his-name-you-wont-be-laughing-when-he-kills-9800803In the weeks before The Bye Bye Man was released, some genius made a poster, mocking the movie’s original poster and called it The Peepee Poopoo Man. I wish this movie had been that one instead.

The Bye Bye Man is about some college kids who move into a house off campus together because… I honestly can’t remember why. They move into this old, dilapidated house as a couple and a third wheel. Elliot (Douglas Smith) constantly looks as though he’s just come off of an 18 hour Call of Duty tournament. His girlfriend, Sasha (Cressida Bonas), who has clearly been recently lobotomized, says yes to the house and they settle in. Oh, and their friend, John (Lucien Laviscount) is there, too.

They decide to have a housewarming party, I guess, and during the festivities, Elliot’s young niece toddles off upstairs. In Elliot and Sasha’s bedroom, she finds a coin that’s just seemingly dropped out of thin air below their nightstand. She puts it back, cause she was raised well, and is then discovered by Elliot and sent back to the downstairs where all of the responsible, drunk adults are.

That’s when it happens. Elliot discovers the scribblings of a madman in the nightstand. Don’t think it don’t say it. Don’t think it don’t say it. So what does he do? HE SAYS IT. Dunce.

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Anyway, one of Sasha’s friends, Kim (Jenna Kanell) is some kind of half-assed clairvoyant so she holds a séance after everyone else leaves. She gets freaked out half way through and scares everybody else because she knew that Elliot hid his keys in the frying pan.

Going forward, the house goes a bit Amityville when the housemates’ minds start playing tricks on them. They’re seeing things that aren’t there, John comes on to Sasha who just stands there like, “as if!”, Sasha gets sick and has the fakest cough I have ever heard… it’s a real nightmare.

This movie is what I like to call a drinking game movie. You don’t seriously watch it. You wait for it to come to Netflix and you invite your friends over and drink every time someone does something dumb. The “Special FX” are very special indeed. Including some sort of hell-hound that looks like it walked right out of an earlier version of Zelda.

I think naming it The Bye Bye Man was their first mistake. One more “Bye” in there and this could have been about N*SYNC’s revival tour. Do you want everybody to make fun of your movie? That’s how you do it. My advice? Don’t think it. Don’t say it. Don’t see it.

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Moonlight

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Moonlight starts off in a way that was painfully relatable for me; getting bullied as a little kid. I was viciously bullied in school for no reason in particular. It seemed to be different every week. It was like the kids united and their camaraderie only grew stronger with their sustained and severe disdain for yours truly. Do you know why? Because kids are the most evil human beings on this planet.

However, the way I could go home, play video games, and snack on Slim Jims to take the edge off, the boy in Moonlight had a starkly different reality.

Chiron (Alex Hibbert), or Little, as he’s called by all of the other kids for his slight stature and unassuming demeanor, is chased on his way home after school. Finding refuge in a dilapidated, abandoned housing unit, he waits for the bullies to clear out. Mercifully, a man shows up by the name of Juan (Mahershala Ali) and shoos them away, rescuing him. Chiron remains completely mum, and not knowing where to take him, Juan drives him to his house where his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae), gets him to talk with a universal icebreaker: food.

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Learning where Chiron lives, Juan takes him home the next day to his verbally/mentally abusive mother, Paula (Naomie Harris). Chiron has two things going for him: his friend Kevin (Jaden Piner) with whom he is quite close, and Juan. Juan takes Chiron under his wing teaching him how to swim and other, more profound life lessons. Unfortunately, good guy Juan is also a crack dealer. You can see how that might cause turbulence down the line.

Moonlight uses three wildly discernible acts. Little is Act I. Act II, Chiron (played by Ashton Sanders as a teenager). Still close with Kevin (played by Jharrel Jerome as a teenager), he remains a bit scrawny and still tormented by classmates. He and Kevin have a falling out as a result. His mother is much worse for wear — addicted to crack and partaking in just about all of the unsavory activities one can. Having had it up to here, he attacks one of his aggressors Hulk Hogan style with a chair and is arrested.

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Act III — and from the ashes of Hulk Hogan rises The Incredible Hulk, Black (played by Trevante Rhodes as an adult). A moniker given to him by Kevin on a night many years ago while they were exploring their relationship and what it truly was, Black is jacked now. I suppose that’s what a lifetime of bullying will do. After being contacted by both his mother and Kevin (played by Andre Holland as an adult), Black must now decide which, if either, of these relationships he wants to try to reconcile.

Moonlight is an ardent coming of age tale. A child, confused about who he is and what he wants with odds pretty well stacked against him. A child unsure of his own mother’s intentions. There are no right answers. There is no Occam’s Razor. You just do the best you can with the circumstances you were given, or you give up.

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I’m always skeptical when anyone calls a movie a masterpiece. That’s a bold claim. That said, Moonlight is the very definition of a masterpiece. Writer/Director Barry Jenkins and Writer Tarrell Alvin McCraney have created something remarkable. We, the viewer, are invited to watch something private and we’re granted a better understanding of something so personal that many have actually lived themselves.

Not only is it visually stunning, it sticks the landing on cinematography seemingly effortlessly. Cinematographer James Laxton created one-of-a-kind shots that lend to the film’s authenticity and emotion.

To say that the casting was good would be a gross understatement. Two of the roles — Chiron and Kevin — were both played by three different actors. Each brought something pure and vulnerable to their respective characters. Chiron, the scared little kid, evolves into someone much stronger physically, all the while maintaining the part of him that is afraid. Kevin cares for Chiron from the very beginning, but it’s the level and depth of that affection that varies throughout.

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Mahershala Ali plays a man who only wants the best for Chiron, but is enabling something potentially harmful in his life. He performs with palpable compassion, forming a rapport with the audience without ever speaking to us. Janelle Monae and Naomie Harris are powerful and striking, both shaping Chiron in their own ways. It’s a bit like an angel and a devil on his shoulder; two women who love him, with different capacities to give that love.

Maybe my favorite part of this experience was the score by Nicholas Britell. It’s a film/score pairing finer than cheese and wine. He captures the heavy sadness of it all while maintaining a whimsical cadence. Such a feat done so well that it overwhelms the audience and they don’t even know it until the moment’s passed.

Moonlight is outstanding. It’s an extraordinary film that will keep hold of you long after credits roll; the beauty lying in its honesty and willingness to stay true to itself. See it in the theaters if you can, but watch it whatever way you must.

“At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”

Passengers

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I went to see an advance screening of Passengers last night. They do this fun thing sometimes at these screenings where they valet your cell phone and any recording devices you may have on you. Here’s how it works: a man in a tuxedo takes your phone, acts like you’re lying about not having any other recording devices, and then talks into a fitbit about how The Eagle has landed.

The only part of that story that I didn’t fabricate was the man in a tuxedo taking my phone. He asked if I had an iPad or anything. What he doesn’t know, is that I can’t afford an iPad. Take my phone, just let me keep my triscuits, sir.

I’ve found, recently, that I have an affinity for films that are contained to one space and have a small cast. If done correctly, they are often more effective than movies with a lot going on. Just this year we had The VVitch, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Don’t Breathe, The Shallows, and Blair Witch just to name a few. All very different movies following the same protocol; take a handful of characters, put ’em somewhere they can’t leave, and make ’em do stuff.

Aboard the Starship Avalon, there are roughly 250 captain and crew and 5,000 passengers. They are all on the their way to a new start on a planet that is essentially a better Earth called Homestead II. The journey will take 120 years to complete and everybody gets to snooze the entire way in hibernation pods. Not too shabby if you ask me. Leave crappy Earth behind and wake up in Xanadu? Sign me up. Let’s get started on ruining this planet, too!

The only problem is — and I work for a tech company so I know what I’m talking about — sometimes, in technology and in life, we experience glitches. The glitch can be something as small as a website not loading properly, or as big as your hibernation pod malfunctioning with 90 years left ’til you arrive at your final destination.

I feel like the trailer to this movie could have been the voiceover guy going, “Jim (Chris Pratt) and Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) are having a REALLY BAD DAY,” and then it cuts to the two of them freaking out about waking up too early and just running in and out of different doors down a hallway, Yakety Sax style.

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Upon realizing that they are the only ones awake on the Avalon, the pair do some sleuthing and discover that if they can’t get their pods up and running again, they will die long before they’ve arrived at Homiestead II. Yeah, I changed it. It’s cooler.

I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I’m alone long enough I get real weird; making strange noises, talking in different accents, pretending I’m a secret agent in my own apartment, and so on. Imagine having an entire fancy spaceship to play on. This thing has a swimming pool that looks out into space, a video game room, a basketball court, a French restaurant, and a bar with an android barkeep called Arthur (Michael Sheen).

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Nothing makes you forget that you’re stuck somewhere for 90 years with one other person like boozin’ and making out a bunch, but when flaws in the ship start popping up left and right, they need to crawl out of their sex dungeon and get real or over 5,000 people are going to die with them.

Passengers is a good movie with a sweet message, but a blockbuster it is not. It’s not for lack of trying from the cast. Everyone is excellent. In this humble critic’s opinion, many filmmakers get a few big-ticket names on a project and sort of let that carry the premise to a glorious finish. That does not always work. In fact, most times it doesn’t. As topical and thoughtful as the screenplay is, it just doesn’t come full circle the way it would like to.

The movie is trying to provoke the idea that we need to pay better attention to what we’re doing here on Earth while also evolving a love story. A story and B story is one thing, but trying to do two dances at the same time often does not work. You can have a movie that contains a deep and provocative message and still include the fun and games, but this one just doesn’t pull it off. It’s essentially a romcom in outerspace that forgets the takehome point Re: we’re totally blowing through all of our natural resources and we need to be more mindful until the last 10-ish minutes of the film.

At least that’s what I felt about it.

Thomas Newman was on the score for this film and, man… so much of what that guy does ALMOST sounds like a Pure Michigan commercial. It’s pretty, but it’s nothing special.

Jennifer and — geez, I almost typed Bradley – force of habit! — CHRIS… Jennifer and Chris are both very fine actors, respectively. They’re a great watch. And seeing Michael Sheen bash his face into the bar was hands down the very best part of the movie because he’s doing what I feel like doing at my desk 100 times a day.

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Anyway, go and see it. You’ll get a tasteful glimpse of Chris Pratt’s chiseled  glutes, all of Jennifer Lawrence’s greatness, and Michael Sheen’s charming and British impression  of what we all want to do after this godforsaken year. Here’s to having to find a new planet to live on once we completely ruin this one!

La La Land

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I had the very good pleasure of seeing La La Land in an advance screening last night. While I was waiting in line, this little, old man had just come down the escalators after seeing a movie. He walks over, looks at the sign for the film, looks at me, and smiles ear to ear.

“Are you seeing La La Land tonight?”

I smile and nod. He leans in closer and whispers, “You know, Ryan Gosling was born in Canada. He used to sing and dance all the time — and now he gets to do it again!”

Then he grinned, shook his head, and walked out of my life.

A promising start to the evening.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a hapless but tremendously talented jazz pianist. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actor who just can’t find the right part. Together, they are a whole heap of unrecognized potential and both just looking for that one thing that’s missing. That’s kind of all anybody’s doing, but Hollywood is not for the faint of heart and the rejection can be quite harrowing.

A happy distraction is just what the doctor ordered, and Sebastian and Mia find it in one another. Where the trouble begins is coincidentally the same place the two had been working so hard to get to before they found each other. It begs the question: does one sacrifice an unbelievable, unicorn opportunity for love, or vice versa? If you can’t have both, which one has to go?

Do star-crossed lovers have a shot?

When club owner, Bill (a delightfully perturbed J.K. Simmons) fires Sebastian for ignoring the provided song list and playing his own stuff, he winds up playing a Casio keyboard in a tacky cover band. Slightly directionless, he meets Mia. A young, ambitious woman who is chasing her dreams of gracing the silver screen. In championing her , he lights a fire under himself to have his own jazz club where he can play whatever he likes.

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Meanwhile, Mia is working in a coffee shop on a studio lot with movies filming all around her. It’s the closest she can get to starring in pictures at the moment and sates the immediate desire while she goes to audition after audition.

When Sebastian is approached by his old friend, Keith (John Legend), to play piano in his band, the offer comes with one stipulation; sacrificing the music he’s passionate about for lots and lots of money. So much money, in fact, that it affords him the opportunity to let Mia quit the coffee shop and focus on auditions. No longer struggling to make ends meet, Mia is free to pursue acting, but what good is any of it when they never see each other? Love is fickle that way. It’s marvelous to have but tricky to manage.

When Sebastian begins to lose sight of his club dream, Mia becomes frustrated and overwhelmed at her own failings and their once super solid foundation begins to shake and crumble.

La La Land resurrects the likes of Singin’ in the Rain, High Society, and Funny Face. What’s really neat about this film, though, is that it’s the classic musical vibe set in present day. With iPhones and Priuses and such. It is vibrant and captivating, replete with lively dance numbers, witty and engaging songs, and natural, genuine, heartfelt performances.

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Emma and Ryan bring something so candid and organic to the picture. To everything, really, but the two of them in this movie are some kind of magic. Separately and together, they both bring it all to life in a seemingly effortless manner. They’ve always been fun to watch together, but this is another level. Not only do you believe them, but you’re pulling for them. There was a grown man sitting a couple of seats away from me, stifling sobs at one point. You want them to win.

As for writer/director Damien Chazelle — YOU ARE YOUNGER THAN I AM. HOW ARE YOU SO BRILLIANT?! Enjoy your Oscar, ya bloody bastard. Chazelle absolutely killed it with Whiplash (2014), earning an Oscar nod and a whole slew of other, well-deserved accolades. I very much look forward to whatever pours out of that beautiful brain of his next.

The film’s composer, Justin Hurwitz — I dunno how old he is but he looks like he’s younger than me, too. The John Williams to Chazelle’s Spielberg, Hurwitz composed on both Whiplash and La La Land. Being the score junkie that I am, this music touched my soul. It’ll lift you up one moment and break your heart the next. The opening number got a round of applause in the theater. Probably would’ve gotten a standing ovation if we weren’t all so lazy. It kicks the movie into high gear right away and only continues to deliver one sublime song after another.

Damien and Justin — if you’re reading this — please just always work together forever. Alone you are both great people and whatever, but together, you are a treasure too pure for this world.

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La La Land is dazzling, sharp, poignant, and radiant from top to bottom. This is one of those movies that people say you need to see in the theater. For real though? See it in the theater. It’s an experience to be had and it consumes you. Just let it happen. La La Land hits theaters this Friday, December 16th. GO. The soundtrack can be found on iTunes and Spotify, to name a couple of options. I’ll just be over here listening to it forever.

The Shallows

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If you’ve read some of my previous reviews or chatted with me for longer than 3 minutes, then you know my favorite movie is Jaws. So I don’t have anything against movies about jerk sharks that are attacking with reckless abandon. As a shark enthusiast, I know that the rogue shark — and territoriality — are Matt Hooper’s theories. I don’t work for the Oceanographic Institute or rock a Canadian tuxedo, but I feel confident in saying that nothing has been proven where territoriality is concerned. At least through this rube’s eyes. I suppose it’s plausible considering that 98% of shark attacks are accidental and consist of an exploratory bite before the shark realizes the blunder. Embarrassing!

Any time a new shark movie comes out, some ding dong is always going to make the Jaws comparison in some way. It annoys me more than it probably should, because it only goes to show that Jaws set the bar. Any juxtaposition is merely complimentary.

So there I was, ready to hate this movie for no dang good reason, and I was being smug about it, too. Facebooking to my friends that I had a 10-spot on falling asleep before seeing the shark. Well, movie, you got me. Not only do you see the shark early on, it’s not at all overdone or cheesy. I mean, outside of the fact that the cardboard cutout of a great white that I have in my bedroom is more realistic than the one in the movie.

Nancy (Blake Lively) is a surfer. She speaks poquito Spanish — adorably — and doesn’t take her jewelry off before she goes in the water, which seems like a good way to lose it if you ask me. On hiatus from med school, she’s off to the hidden beach her mother surfed in her salad days.

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Learning that her friend is bogged down with the Irish Flu, Nancy’s gonna go it alone and catch some choice waves in this crystal clear, cerulean Xanadu. She makes some new pals and together, they three ride the dopest of waves. I don’t know surfer jargon, but I’m trying.

After her new bros determine they’ve hung enough ten for the day, Nancy stays to ride one last wave. Oh, Nancy, why? Meanwhile, Nancy’s friend who was too hungover to come to the beach is off with some boy. This information is sent in a text that Nancy will never get. Nancy’s friend is a prize asshole.

After putting herself in a rather precarious pickle, it happens; The Bite. The worst, most unrealistic and aesthetically pleasing shark attack in the history of the cinema. Quint will tell you that when you’re in the water, you can tell how big a shark is by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. This one had to be a 20-footer. So the shark bites her leg and drags her down. Escaping, she scrambles atop a nearby rock to reveal the damage — a sizable gash.

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No. No, movie. I’ve gone along with everything you’ve given me up until now. Her leg would’ve been gone. Or at least, the bite radius would’ve been much larger. Do you know what it’s like having to explain to your roommates why you were just in your bedroom shouting, “The bite radius! THE BITE RADIUS!”

From here on out, Nancy uses her cunning and her med school learnin’ to patch herself up and outwit the shark. She makes a little bird friend, Steven Seagull, and spends the rest of the film with the worst chapped lips I’ve ever seen. I literally could not focus on anything else. I went through an entire tube of chapstick on her behalf.

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And, yes, the buoy scene from the trailer is delightfully similar to Brody on the sinking boat. I’m not even mad at it. I’m not mad at this movie at all. It’s actually quite good. There’s some laughs, some sweat, and the same feeling I get every time I watch the scene in Jaws where the fisherman is trying to outswim the shark and almost doesn’t get his foot out of the water in time. I love a small cast coupled with an isolated location and some hot cinematography. Watch it. Enjoy it. Shame on me for being so judgy. Even if that bite radius was as realistic as the shark itself.

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Operation Avalanche

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There are a lot of things I’m iffy on in life. UFOs, Bigfoot, Nessie; I’d like to believe they all exist and I can say with a modicum of certainty that I’ve seen one of those three with my own eyes. While we have shaky evidence that would suggest they are not completely farcical, outside of some blurry pictures always taken with the worst camera the photographer owns, they remain largely mythical.

In the interest of keeping this light, I’ll spare you my opinions on conspiracy theories. People have conflicting ideas about certain things. Are Elvis and Tupac still alive and kickin’ it somewhere in Cuba together? What’s up with Area 51? What are they even doing out there?  I’m pretty sure Paul McCartney is still alive since I’ve seen him in concert twice… or have I? And what really happened to the little duckies in the book President Bush was reading on that fateful day?

One thing I’ve never questioned is the moon landing. I don’t know why, but I’ve just always taken it at face value because so many people are on board. I guess my reasoning is flawed there. A great way to get bamboozled is to just believe something because someone else does.

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When JFK promised America that we would get to the moon first, it boosted morale immeasurably. It gave people something to hope for; something to be excited about. It also skyrocketed — no pun intended — his popularity. Everybody loves a guy who makes big promises and follows through. JFK was no slouch, so folks were pretty confident that if he said we were goin’ to the moon, by god, we were goin’ to the moon. Bang zoom.

In Operation Avalanche, CIA agents Matt Johnson (Johnson) and Owen Williams (Williams) are sent undercover to NASA when there is hear tell of a mole. In order to capture their findings on film without facing interrogation, they’re calling themselves documentarians. Their mission: expose the informant and don’t get caught.

Johnson comes across as a bit of a buffoon at first — and he totally is one — but when it comes to the task at hand, he’s got his eyes on the prize. He’s wily and quite reckless and operates mostly under the idea that it is easier to apologize than to ask for permission.

His uptight counterpart, Williams, is the Frye to his Bueller. He is frequently a nervous wreck and always skeptical. When the two learn that Russia may be winning in the race to get to the moon, Johnson’s radical idea to fake a moon landing on television elicits a skittish response from Williams. Johnson is essentially left with his CIA-issued babysitter, Josh Boles (Boles), to carry out what is regarded by some as the greatest ruse of all time.

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In their search for the perfect terrain to replicate the moon on film, Johnson and Boles track down Stanley Kubrick who also happens to be making a movie about space. Vital information is gained and the project soldiers on.

Lost in his own maddened state and obsessed with seeing his objective to completion, Johnson chooses to ignore the ominous — and not so ominous — red flags popping up all around him. He’s in the eye of the maelstrom and inadvertently taking everyone down with him.

Operation Avalanche masquerades as a light-hearted romp about a guy who wants to fool the whole world and then it leaves us completely breathless by end credits. Matt Johnson is a delight to watch; often a cartoon version of himself. Outstanding timing and a knack for making everybody a little uneasy, Johnson makes the most of every moment on-screen. Williams, Boles, and a generous smattering of largely unknown actors — plus some very neat camera work, some of which is reminiscent of Blair Witch handheld action — give this film a very real feel. That’s always important, but especially so for a faux documentary.

I’ve always thought my mom was a little funny for the fact that she doesn’t believe that we landed on the moon. She argues that if we didn’t have microwave ovens, how did we go to the moon? I don’t have the heart to tell her that we totally had microwaves before the moon landing. Don’t tell her. That said, maybe she’s onto something. Maybe Elvis and Tupac are on the moon right now.  After all, it’s not a lie if you believe it.