REVIEW: The Debt, and Shark Night 3D

Sept. 2, 2011

Yesterday, Thursday September 1, my friend Vincent and I went to watch a couple of movies. First one was the movie “The Debt” at Fifth Avenue Cinemas. It was a really good movie. I could say one of the best of the year.

The Debt

Synopsis:

The espionage thriller begins in 1997, as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel (Helen Mirren) and Stefan (Tom Wilkinson) about their former colleague David (Ciarán Hinds). All three have been venerated for decades by their country because of the mission that they undertook back in 1966, when the trio (portrayed, respectively, by Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington) tracked down Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel aka The Surgeon of Birkenau (Jesper Christensen) in East Berlin. At great risk, and at considerable personal cost, the team’s mission was accomplished – or was it? The suspense builds in and across two different time periods, with startling action and surprising revelations.

*synopsis courtesy of Focus Features

Directed by John Madden Produced by Matthew Vaughn, Kris Thykier, Eduardo Rossoff Written by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman, Peter Straughan Starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Chastain Music by Thomas Newman Cinematography Ben Davis

This is the kind of espionage movie where it’s not about the action like what you see on a James Bond or Jason Bourne movie. It is the real kind of espionage where you spend a LOT of time waiting and planning. The story goes back and forth from 1966 to 1997. In 1966, 3 Mossad agents were sent to East Berlin to kidnap a notorious Nazi criminal and bring him back to Israel for trial. Now, I can’t in good conscience divulge any part of the story further without ruining the movie.

What I like about the movie is how it depicted espionage not as a high action concept but what is akin to what you see in real life; people holed up in a room, preparing and waiting for the opportunity to execute their plan. The movie also became a meditation of conscience when certain choices can haunt you for the rest of your life.

There is the saying, “honesty is the best policy”. Is honesty really the best policy? This movie shows it is the best policy to our conscience and our soul. But the world is not as black and white as it is. It is very gray and there are times where honesty is not an option. This movie deals with that dilemma. On one hand there is the gripping espionage and on the other, the emotional toll the characters go through that it changes them forever.

The actors who played the young and old versions of the characters were all excellent. This is the first movie where I finally understood why James Cameron decided to cast Sam Worthington as the lead for Avatar. He plays David, a man dedicated to his cause but at the same time haunted by the holocaust. He was the only survivor in his family. For David, the mission is personal. Sam plays David with so much complexity. He is guarded and yet vulnerable, strong but also weak.

But he wasn’t the only highlight in the film. You have Jessica Chastain who I first saw in “The Tree of Life” and then in an unrecognizable turn in “The Help”. She plays the young version of Rachel. It’s her first time on a field mission and she had the unenviable task to get close and later on physically capture Dieter Vogel. You can see her nervousness and discomfort when she is in the presence of the monster, “The Surgeon of Birkenau”. Jessica reminds me of a young Cate Blanchet with her talent and acting. There’s also Marton Csokas who plays the team leader Steffan. Unlike David, Staffan’s character is ambitious and for him the job is a stepping stone in his career. Marton plays him with just the right amount of swagger and charisma. One of the things that I enjoyed in the movie was watching the team’s dynamics.

I also have to mention Jesper Christensen who played the villain Dieter Vogel. He plays him as man full of intelligence and cunning. Just watch the scene between Rachel and Dr. Vogel or in this case Dr. Bernhardt, Dieter’s fake identity where he runs an OBGYN clinic in East Berlin. Rachel comes in for a checkup to see if she has any problems getting pregnant. It’s her way into getting access to Vogel. While he is examining her uterus, Vogel casually asks Rachel her history, standard personal medical questions and yet you feel like he’s interrogating her to make sure she is what she says she is. He knows he is a hunted man and has incorporated constant caution and awareness into his life.

The scene between Dieter Vogel and David is the highlight of the movie. Vogel reveals to David the monster within. Like a cat playing with a mouse, he takes advantage of David’s emotions and history. The evil glint in Vogel’s eyes as he explains why Jews deserved to die is pure cinematic gold. It ranks high among the best villain monologues in movies.

Now if I had a small caveat to the film is that there is not enough screen time given to the actors playing the old versions. The actors playing them brings the weight of their age to their roles and I wanted to see how they have been dealing with what they did all this years, especially Ciarán Hinds who plays the old version of David. But overall I can’t complain. Especially since Helen Mirren is so bad ass in this movie. She plays the old Rachel. With a scar on her face, she switches from grandma to spy. I’m not talking about the same character she played in “Red”. It’s more similar to a female older version of Jason Bourne.

It’s one of those movies that connected to me on a personal level. I could relate to what the characters experienced, specifically when it came to dealing with the moral dilemma of honesty and how it affects ones conscience. It’s worth noting the writing of Matthew Vaughn, who also produced the movie, together with Jane Goldman and later on a rewrite by Peter Straughan (who also wrote another highly anticipated spy movie showing this year “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) for crafting a good adaptation from the original 2007 Israeli movie of the same name. The three of them created a taut and thrilling script full of emotion.

On a side note: A funny thing happened during the movie. During the Vogel and David scene, a fat lady mistakenly sat 2 seats besides Vincent. At first Vincent thought nothing of it. But when the lady started touching Vincent’s bag that was placed on the seat beside him, he was immediately alarmed. She told the lady that she was touching his bag. The lady insisted that it IS her bag and that she’s sitting on her seat. Vincent replied that she is actually on the wrong seat and that her seat is on the next row in front of us. Vincent even pointed out her seatmate sitting in front of her. The lady finally figured out her mistake and feeling embarrassed apologized to Vincent as she moves to her proper seat. Anyway, the damage was done to Vincent, he missed that awesome part.

Later after the movie, as we were walking to downtown Vancouver, Vincent was bitching about what the lady did and wanted to scream at her. I asked him why he didn’t do it especially since he was very polite to her during that situation. He answered, “If I made a scene, I would miss more of the movie since I would be riled up and it will take more time to calm myself down. Maybe if she did it before the movie, I would have given her a piece of my mind.” Vincent has a point there. Personally, it is annoying when something distracts you from enjoying a movie.

Anyway, we later on went for dinner and then watched “Shark Night 3D” at Scotiabank Theatre around 9PM. Vincent won a pass to the advance screening and invited me to watch it. Personally, it wasn’t a movie I was looking forward to watch but I figured I could spend the time hanging out with Vincent.

Shark Night 3D

Synopsis:     

Arriving by boat at her family’s Louisiana lake island cabin, Sara (Sara Paxton) and her friends quickly strip down to their swimsuits for a weekend of fun in the sun. But when star football player Malik (Sinqua Walls) stumbles from the salt-water lake with his arm torn off, the party mood quickly evaporates. Assuming the injury was caused by a freak wake-boarding accident, the group realizes they have to get Malik to a hospital on the other side of the lake, and fast. But as they set out in a tiny speedboat, the college friends discover the lake has been stocked with hundreds of massive, flesh-eating sharks! As they face one grisly death after another, Sara and the others struggle desperately to fend off the sharks, get help and stay alive long enough to reach the safety of dry land.

*synopsis courtesy of Relativity Media

Directed by David R. Ellis Produced by Chris Briggs, Mike Fleiss, Lynette Howell Screenplay by Will Hayes, Jesse Studenberg Starring Sara Paxton, Alyssa Diaz, Dustin Milligan, Katharine McPhee, Joel David Moore Music by Graeme Revell Cinematography Gary Capo Budget $28 million

Vincent was saying before the movie that he was already expecting this movie to be bad. So if this turns out to be good, it would be a better experience.  Well, it did not turn out to be a good movie. Opening shot of the movie is an ass shot or ass going into the frame and over the course of the movie it happens again approximately 5 times. When I saw the 2nd time an ass shot was used to establish a scene I knew that it is THAT KIND OF MOVIE, the kind where you’re in for a mind numbingly dumb movie.

Upon saying that, I’m the kind of person who will give a movie a chance to prove itself. I will reserve my judgment at the end of the movie. When you go to watch these kinds of movies and if you have a lot of experience watching movies in general, you would have a fairly good idea how the movie will turn out. You already know that a lot of people are going to die horrible deaths and most of the time you would know who would live by the first scene of the group together. I personally try to avoid anticipating or guessing how the movie will turn out during the movie. It just ruins the experience for me.

Unfortunately, as hard as I tried not to anticipate who would live or die, the movie exactly went by how I thought it would go. The villains are not just the shark but also a group of hillbillies who wanted to create a “snuff film” by releasing sharks in a lake and attaching cameras to the sharks to record their kills. They will then take the video and sell it online. That’s pretty much it in terms of story. A lot of people die, the bad guys also die and we also get some survivors.

Is this the kind of movie that it’s SO BAD IT IS GOOD? No! This movie did not reach that level. Was the acting good? No. The writing was even bad. There was a scene where the female actress was telling the good guy why she hasn’t returned to her hometown for the last 3 years. As she was telling this and emoting, I kid you not, people in the theatre were laughing! That’s the kind of movie this is.

Were there any positives in the movie? Surprisingly there were two points that I liked. One, is an aerial shot of the bayou at the beginning of the movie were the main cast was riding a speed boat towards the cabin. You see the landscape and how there’s a system of roads in the bayou/lake by how the trees are lined up. I found that interesting. The second thing I liked are the underwater 3D shots. It felt so real being underwater that there were moments were I had to turn away or felt out of breath. It was so immersive. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing for any of the 3D shots above water.

This movie was clearly made trying to imitate the success of last year’s “Piranha 3D”. I think this movie would have been interesting and enjoyable if they went full blown old-school exploitation movie, reveling in the 3 Bs of exploitation cinema – Blood, Breasts, and Beasts. The filmmakers should have swung for the fences. Instead we just get this piece of crap.

To be fair, there was few times during the movie when I was surprised by a shark’s attack and it startled me but other than that the rest was just tame. It didn’t provide any suspense. After the movie, I told Vince that I felt sick. Not physically sick but more like emotionally or something deep down. I described it to him like I just ate a big bag of Cheetos or junk food. Watching Shark Night 3D put a sour note to my day. I wished I didn’t watch that movie, especially after the great experience of watching “The Debt”.

For me, watching movies is not just entertainment or a time passer; it is food for my soul. “The Debt” nourished my soul and unfortunately “Shark Night 3D” made my soul sick.

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