Movie review: The Meg

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The Meg

A very entertaining summertime popcorn muncher. This movie is way better than the previews would lead you to believe. The trailers are dominated by grainy underwater footage, lame one-liners, and flashes of over-the-top action without context.

But the actual movie is well-done with impressive visuals, humor that works, and shark scenes that make much more sense when seen in the context of the full story.

You have to wait for it, but the megalodon makes a great entrance. This is followed by an exciting deep-sea rescue. Then we get a little levity and brewing romance back at the oceanographic research station between Jonas (Jason Statham) and love interest Suyin (Li Bingbing). Soon we get big set-piece attempts to stop the giant shark (or sharks?) in the open sea and then again as it nears a crowded Chinese beach in a surprisingly fresh spin on the typical shark-in-the-shallows sequence.

The plot develops very quickly. In some other shark movies there is down time, lounging around on boats, chumming the water, waiting for something to happen until something terrible finally does. Not so much in this one—it’s pretty much one attack scene after another peppered with enjoyable conflict among the characters.

Readers of Steve Alten’s book, the one that started the megalodon craze of the past twenty years, will enjoy seeing the story finally making it to the silver screen. There have been a lot of imitators, but don’t be fooled—this is the definitive take on the original.

Jonas is a deep-sea pilot who survives a meg attack but many people doubt him. Years later, he’s proven right when a meg escapes the deep recesses of the Mariana Trench. Mayhem ensues.

While keeping that same basic premise, the movie takes liberties with the original story from there. The Japanese Terry Tanaka and her researcher father in the book are replaced in the movie by Chinese Suyin and her father, with Chinese settings taking the place of the American west coast to appeal to Chinese movie audiences.

There are other character changes too: the additions of a wisecracking billionaire Jack Morris (who provides an clever mix of comic relief and villainy), a badass geek babe “Jaxx” (as a vehicle for Australian actress Ruby Rose), and a precious daughter for Suyin for family appeal. Jonas’s ex-wife character is totally reworked.

“Meg-heads” should not be disappointed in the changes because the book’s spirit is alive and well in this juggernaut movie.

Don’t wait for Netflix—splurge now to see this on the big screen.

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Book review: Bluff is a hand well played

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Bluff by Michael Kardos

Michael Kardos’s Bluff is an absolute delight. Natalie maims a volunteer at her magic show in a priceless scene, but it’s Natalie we feel bad for. Surrounded by jerks, she’s the victim of repeated unfortunate circumstances for which she is totally innocent or only partly blameworthy.

Falling deeper into a hole, she shifts from honing her craft as a professional magician to learning about card sharps. This sets in motion a suspenseful series of events leading up to a million-dollar poker match. In the process, Natalie teams up with Ellen, a woman with great technical skill at the poker table who offers Natalie mentorship as well as a glimmer of friendship that seems to be missing from her life.

The descriptions of magic acts and card sharping are presented with such enthusiasm and intrigue that they are 100 percent compelling, even though I don’t even care about those topics in the real world! The details reach out and grab you by your throat with their authenticity. Kardos’s heartfelt and precise language elevate the novel above typical genre fiction.

Also, I loved the sense of humor in Bluff, especially in the beginning and in the middle before things became more serious. Kardos is able to present information in a very funny, succinct, and descriptive way. It’s not the zany, confrontational humor of Carl Hiassen–it’s much more economical and subtle.

Even though I’m not a magician, a gambler, or a woman, I felt connected to and very invested in Natalie and her plight. Some books take me months to finish because I lose interest, but this one I gobbled up in three days. I even stayed up late to finish, which I can’t remember doing with any other novel ever!

But it turned out that I wasn’t sold on the ending, otherwise this would have easily earned five stars for the wonderful language, humor, character development, compelling details, and near-Hitchcockian suspense.