“THE MEG” TAKES BIG BITE OF THRILLS; “CASTLE ROCK” ON TV
A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley
The MEG (Rated PG-13) Scientists believe that the giant prehistoric shark known as the Megalodon existing millions of years ago is an extinct species even if conspiracy theorists like to claim that the predator still roams our oceans. The fascination with sharks that dates back over four decades to Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” where thrills thrived in the hunt for the deadly great white shark, had to lead one day to something bigger, and that’s where “The Meg” fills the cinematic void.
The combination of menace from a giant predator and the presence of Jason Statham enticed out of retirement for a rescue mission at the depths of the China Seas makes the essential ingredients for the mindless fun of the popcorn entertainment of “The Meg.” Statham’s Jonas Taylor was part of a deep-sea rescue attempt years before that had gone wrong, resulting in him becoming an alcoholic slacker on a fishing boat in Thailand because no one believed that he escaped death in a brush with the prehistoric killer.
Some of Jason’s old colleagues are now working for eccentric billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) who are financing an undersea observation program that finds its submersible trapped on the ocean floor. Enter Jonas to save the day. With people in peril, the formula calls for some melodrama which is offered up when Jonas becomes aware that his ex-wife (Jessica McNamee) is part of the crew trapped miles deep at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
More than anyone, Jonas instinctively knows what the 75-foot prehistoric shark lurking beneath the sea represents in terms of danger even if others may unwisely think they’ve made a great scientific discovery that can be shared with the world for their own aggrandizement. Any familiarity with the tropes of a thriller that pits man vs. beast is surely the path to knowing how this story plays out. “The Meg” borrows from the likes of “Jaws” and “Godzilla,” and maybe even the “Sharknado” films, albeit without the outlandish silliness.
Of course, the mission includes a beautiful Chinese scientist single mom, Suyin (Li Bingbing), who overcomes her initial resentment of Jonas’s presence to transition to a flirtatious admiration for his bravery if not just his stunning physique. The payoff for thrills comes nearer to the climax, where first Jonas and his surviving mates face almost certain death when their trawler is capsized by the brute force of the vengeful Megalodon. Recalling scenes from “Jaws,” the last stand comes at a crowded beach resort where swimmers frolicking in the ocean are in great peril. As expected, panic and mayhem ensue. Will Jason Statham save the day again? You know the answer but probably want to see our hero in action anyway.
“CASTLE ROCK” ON HULU
Even the most rudimentary knowledge of the prolific work of author Stephen King (which I admit, for me, is rather limited to the basics) will not detract from the off-kilter enjoyment of creepy horror series “Castle Rock” set in his trademark Maine venue. Running on Hulu, “Castle Rock” could fairly be described as more disturbing psychological occult thriller than true horror, but horrific scenes take place in the fictional hamlet of Castle Rock, which is home to the Shawshank state prison and a decaying town center.
In the first episode, retiring Warden Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn) comes to an untimely end, the details of which should not be revealed. There are enough temptations to divulge some spoilers but they must be resisted because “Castle Rock” is layered with mystery and suspense. Suffice it to say, the catalyst for the central story is the discovery of a prisoner locked away in an abandoned section of Shawshank. The inmate (Bill Skarsgard) has no name or fingerprints, nor does the prison have any records of his existence. Acting mute for the most part, the prisoner can only utter the name of Henry Deaver, an odd coincidence as that is the name of the town’s only African-American child who mysteriously disappeared in 1991 for eleven days.
The real Henry Deaver (Andre Holland), raised by a white pastor and his wife, feels so alienated from his hometown that his practice of law lands him in Texas as a defense attorney for death penalty cases. Called back to Maine by a mysterious phone call from the prison, Henry finds little has changed in Castle Rock, though his adoptive mother Ruth Deaver (Sissy Spacek) shows signs of dementia and shares the house with former sheriff Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn).
Strange characters abound, including just about anybody connected to the prison and Henry’s childhood friend Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey), troubled by drug addiction and harboring dark secrets. A telling remark about the atmosphere in Castle Rock is after Molly pitches a gazebo in the town center as a place for contemplation, her friend retorts that the “only thing people contemplate in this town is suicide.”
My educated guess is “Castle Rock” should prove satisfying to the Stephen King fan base.