The screen critic: Monster sharks, another video game movie, the search for a miracle and a sweet rom-com

Aug 11, 2023
Jason Statham in Meg 2: The Trench (Warner Bros); Maggie Smith in The Miracle Club (Sony); Ellie Kemper in Happiness for Beginners (Netflix). Source: Image Supplied

The super-sized sharks of Meg 2: The Trench is bigger and hungrier than the deep-ocean beastie we saw in 2018’s The Meg as they mount a concerted quest to eat Jason Statham.

Given that nobody really cared about a sequel, Meg 2 chimes in as a cheesy, fun-filled, straight-faced action lark that sees Statham team up with Chinese star Wu Jing to do battle with the monster sharks as well as some corrupt corporate femmes.

Most of the first hour is set in the familiar environs of the murky deep, but things really spark up once the action hits the surface and the sea monsters (including a giant squid) head for the local all-you-can-eat buffet to feast upon the tourists at a local island getaway.

The crowd-pleasing mayhem goes way over the top – as it should – and shark movie fans will enjoy the references to Jaws 2. The film has already proved a big hit, so get set for Meg 3.

In the scare-free Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter evil spirits rise from a consignment of caskets Count Dracula is sending to London.

Based on a chapter of the 1897 Bram Stoker book, the violent ship-board shenanigans are shrouded in darkness, extremely loud and are so plodding you wish the ship would hit a rock.

Not a very good film, even for Drac addicts.  

The indomitable Maggie Smith is superb as the indomitable Lily, a grieving mother who leads a life-changing group visit to Lourdes in The Miracle Club, a finely etched, faith-affirming tale of four women looking for varying degrees of divine intervention in their wounded lives.

Set in 1967, Lily’s pilgrimage includes her Irish friends Eileen (Kathy Bates) and Dolly (Agnes O’Casey), as well as American Chrissie (Laura Linney), who was set to marry her deceased son 40 years earlier. 

Largely filmed on location in Lourdes, the film naturally contains a lot of unavoidable Catholic content, Christian iconography and talk about belief.

Thankfully,  there’s also a good dose of scepticism about whether the miraculous power of Lourdes is a gimmick to sell souvenirs and hotel rooms.

Bates puts in a terrific performance, but it is veteran Maggie Smith, now 88, who shines as Lily struggles to find some emotional closure before her life closes. It’s easily one of her very best turns.

In what is essentially a long form commercial for the Sony PlayStation game, Gran Turismo is designed chiefly for connoisseurs of the hit racing simulator who will love the film and not care one solitary whit that it features more product placement than five James Bond movies.

Full of fast cars, spectacular prangs and some very hammy acting (especially from Orlando Bloom) Gran Turismo tells the fact-inspired, heavily fictionalised story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), a gamer who became a world-class race car driver in the real world after he won a virtual racing competition.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong about basing a film on a game or a toy, as we’ve so recently seen with The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the Transformers films and, of course, Barbie. 

But the going gets pretty rough with Gran Turismo, a wall-to-wall ad for the Sony gaming platform that runs for over two hours. It’s strictly for fans, of whom there are zillions.

Asteroid City certainly looks beautiful, yet that’s not enough to keep it from being the dullest film yet from art-movie maestro Wes Anderson.

At a remote tourist spot built around a meteorite crater, Anderson assembles a quirk-ridden group of disparate characters whose attendance at a 1955 science contest is spiced by an alien visitor.

 The pastel-coloured images are glorious and intricately designed, but even those who adored Anderson’s previous efforts such as Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch will struggle to find anything much to warm to.

In the likeable, ultra-light Netflix romantic comedy Happiness for Beginners, a freshly divorced woman seeks solace by joining a walking group on a trek along the Appalachian Trail.

Things don’t quite turn out as described in the brochure for Helen (Ellie Kemper, best-known as Erin from The Office) who discovers her journey has been crashed by Jake (Luke Grimes), her little brother’s judgemental best friend.

The yarn is leisurely paced and maintains a light line in physical comedy as Helen deals with her oddball companions while trying to sort out where her heart belongs.

A modest film, nicely done.    

For more visit with updates on X (the micro-blogging platform formerly known as Twitter) at @jimschembri 

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