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A glorious debut, a little-known racial history and a summer thriller with surfing and a shark

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After the war, the local plantation owner got his land back but poor blacks became “apprentices.” Several times in the film we flash 85 years ahead to a court case that initially feels clumsy but makes a point about slow change. The acting and staging are good and yet the film’s appeal is mostly factual. (Park, International Village and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5 

THE SHALLOWS: Ok, it’s no Jaws. It doesn’t have the same tension and drawn out suspense. But for a summer thriller with a simple but clenching story line, you won’t do much better right now. And if you’re into ogling shapely bodies, notice how the film lingers sensually on Blake Lively’s rather skimpy bikini. It’s almost enough to distract you from her ordeal.

 

The former Gossip Girl star hitches a ride to a remote Mexican beach for its large surfing waves and in memory of her late mother who spent an idyllic vacation there. She was pregnant with her at the time.

That’s all the background we get, except that Nancy, as she’s called, has quit medical school to make the trip. The rest is all in the water. The waves are huge and the surfing (performed by a professional) is stunning and colourful. An edgy feeling slowly builds with a dead whale floating, porpoises speeding and finally a shark attacking.

Nancy has to take refuge on a rock that will be underwater once the tide comes in. She has to sew up a nasty gash, try to get a drunk sleeping on the beach to understand she’s in trouble and get a passing ship to notice her. What does transpire, as the shark loiters in the water between her and the beach, gets bizarre and a bit silly, but gripping. Lively does well with her yelling, screaming, grimacing and assertions of determination. (International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres)  2 ½  out of 5   

THE NEON DEMON: The story is familiar. The way it’s dressed up with style and atmosphere is too. The decadence it arrives at is something else. Be warned. The early going is mesmerizing and that’s followed by a gradually-forming corruption.

But they don’t prepare you for the climax which really belongs in an exploitation flick. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, working in Hollywood for this one, loves to shock. He does that after lulling you into thinking you’re watching art. No wonder the film was booed at Cannes and has defenders extolling its audacity.

 

Elle Fanning plays a small-town girl who arrives in Los Angeles hoping to become a fashion model. She has no talent but is pretty. “I can make money off pretty,” she says.

An agency woman and a couple of photographers recognize an “it” factor in her. A couple of established models (Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee) show a malicious envy and a friendly makeup woman (Jena Malone) tries to come on to her. Keanu Reeves as a sleazy motel manager fits in perfectly.

Elle seems unaffected but we see subtle changes in her and a couple of lurid dreams usher in her fate. It’s a very cynical critique of the modelling industry, mostly obvious (“Beauty is everything”) and a few times insightful (“Nobody likes the way they look.”) Then depravity sets in and puts the film right over the top. (International Village and a few suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5

Also now playing …

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE: The radio ads say with this one you’ll have the most fun of any movie this summer. And yet, except for a couple of trade publications, the studio didn’t show it to critics in North America. It announced previews and then cancelled them. How confident is that? Maybe they were scared off by the mixed reviews from England, where the best was only mild praise and one actually said the film is not “fun.” 

 

The original, 20 years ago, was a huge hit enacting an invasion from outer space driven back by, among others, a U.S. president who was also a crack fighter pilot. It’s real fame in movie history though is this: it was the first to visually blow up iconic buildings around the world.

Its key shot was the pulverization of the White House. For better or worse, movies do that kind of destruction quite regularly these days but back in 1996 it was an innovation. The sequel is playing at Scotiabank, Marine Gateway, in the suburbs and (sign of the times) at the 5th Avenue.  

More in New Movies

Widows of criminals doing it for themselves, the seed of modern politics and the perils of war reporting

Also an ingenious take on the migrant crisis, and a second appreciation this year of Ingmar Bergman that adds to what we already know from the first

Melissa’s forgeries, Rami’s dead-on Freddie Mercury and a cult classic re-imagined

Also: a bit of opera (real with Maria Callas and fictional in Bel Canto) and an ode to BC’s chief geographical feature in This Mountain Life
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