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By Vernor Rodgers
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"THE MEG"

Forty-three years ago, "Jaws" set the standard for the shark movie and triggered a near-industry of predator-in-water thrillers. While most of these movies were cheesy rip-offs, including the three increasingly silly "Jaws" sequels featuring the absurd premise that one family, the Brodys, would have multiple encounters with great white sharks, occasionally some decent ones would break through, most recently "The Shallows" and "47 Meters Down." And then there are the "Sharknado" misadventures that do an ample job at  poking fun at themselves.

Now comes "The Meg," which is kind of in the middle between adept shark movies and the ultra goofy ones. But who can pass up a chance to see Jason Statham ignite his bad-ass vibe on a killer animal rather than human villains?

"The Meg" borrows a plot device from "Deep Blue Sea," in which scientific research unwittingly releases hell upon the waters of the Earth. The idea here is to present a warning that while exploration may be good, sometimes things should be left alone.

Based upon the series of books by Steve Alten, "The Meg" introduces Jonas Taylor (Statham), who, in a familiar character device, is a man who was very good at what he did -- in this case a deep-sea rescue expert -- until a tragic incident leaves him discredited -- he insists something huge attacked the submarine which he was trying to rescue and led to its destruction -- and relegated to a life of beer drinking and repairing fishing boats.

That is until he is motivated to return to his area of expertise. An off-shore research facility is serving as a home base for some real deep-sea nosing around at a place called the Mariana Trench. Penetrating through a layer of cloudy water -- some sort of parfait corridor -- lies a flourishing habitat of fish and other creatures, but during a dive by a submersible down there -- being piloted by Taylor's ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) -- the vehicle is attacked by some huge creature and disabled.

Taylor manages to rescue all but one member of the crew, but later he is redeemed when it is discovered that indeed there is a huge beast swimming around -- the supposedly extinct Megalodon super shark is alive and well, and manages to gain access to the upper levels of the sea.

So now it becomes the usual kill-it-before-it-kills-many-people adventure. Yes there are some subplots in the movie: a hate-turned-love relationship between Taylor and Suyin (Bingbing Li), leader of the research team and who has an adorable daughter, Meiying (Sophia Cai); and the actions of the usual cast of associates that include the funny cowards, the computer and tech experts and the wealthy person who sees potential dollars instead of peril.

"The Meg" is full of scenes that force the viewer to dispel disbelief, but overall it is fun. Not to be taken seriously, "The Meg" is a good way to wind down the summer movie season.

"THE MEG" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/udm5jUA-2bs

"MILE 22"

Another end-of-the-summer action flick, "Mile 22" is packed with gunfights, car chases, hand-to-hand combat and the marvels of high-tech gadgetry.

Mark Wahlberg stars as James Silva, leader of an elite paramilitary team in the CIA called Overwatch. His team of foot soldiers includes Alice Kerr ("The Walking Dead's" Lauren Cohan) and Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey). They are supported by a group of people in a hub, surrounded by computer terminals, et al, handling communications and surveillance, that is led by Bishop (John Malkovich).

Is it me, or is there ALWAYS a high-level spook named Bishop in these movies?

Anyway, Silva is brilliant but also seen by colleagues as obsessive, narcissistic and just an asshole. He can be grating and abusive but otherwise trusts his team.

The plot of "Mile 22" centers around Overwatch transporting a mysterious police office from a Far East country to a plane and asylum. This man, Li Noor (Iko Uwais), claims to be in possession of some vital information, and this appears to substantiated, as the police force from which Li Noor is fleeing seems to have an endless supply of manpower and artillery that it is employing to kill the guy as well as Overwatch personnel.

Because the mission is being recalled via flashbacks during a debriefing of Silva, it is obvious things went way wrong. No spoilers here, but I will tell you the finale is so obviously a set-up for a sequel.

"MILE 22" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/ton2-vP99VQ

"THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS"

Jim Henson might be spinning in his grave -- given he was buried rather than cremated -- over this movie.

Directed by his son Brian, "The Happytime Murders" is not a family-friendly Muppet film. It is raunchy as one can get, an R-rated comedy wherein the funny stuff is about as unsophisticated as it can be. So this is a guilty pleasure through and through.

Just like the Muppet movies, it is a film that mingles a live cast with puppets. It is also a throwback to the noir murder mysteries a la Raymond Chandler.

That Melissa McCarthy is the lead star in this is no surprise. This is the kind of movie where she shines -- yeah the comedy is low-brow, but she is infectious in pulling it off. But it is a surprise that Maya Rudolph, known for drama and more gentle comedies, signed on to this.

Actually, the lead character in this is Phil (voiced by Bill Baretta while Ryan Tran does the physical acting), a puppet who is a disgraced police detective turned private investigator in a Los Angeles where humans co-exist  with puppets but the puppets are marginalized -- an obvious dig at prejudice that, while meaningful gets pushed a little too much here.

Just as he takes on a case of uncovering a blackmail scheme, Phil soon finds himself drawn into a murder mystery when his brother, who starred in a popular children's puppet TV show, is killed, and soon other members of the cast are dying.

LAPD Lt. Banning (Leslie David Baker), needing Phil's connection to the puppet world to help solve the murders, teams him up with Det. Connie Edwards (McCarthy), who happens to be Phil's former partner on the force, and the two have been adversaries since a botched shooting.

Connie and Phil have to set aside their differences and try to find out who is doing the murders and why. Meanwhile, Phil's secretary Bubbles (Rudolph) becomes a valuable ally.

The screenplay by Todd Berger, who has written some shorts featuring the Smurfs and Kung Fu Panda, is rife with the F-word and sex jokes as well as a jab at drug addiction -- what's snorted is not cocaine but the high it produces is extremely likely.

But like a lot of these adult comedies, there is a gentle soul underlying everything, harkening to honor, trust and friendship. This movie, other than being a puppet-human interaction effort, is not very original, but there are moments in which you cannot help but laugh -- guiltily.

"THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/XF9Lyb5UJHo

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD / BLU-RAY:

"THE SONG OF SOLOMON"

Demonic possession has been a steady horror sub-genre since Linda Blair, barely in her teens, portrayed the sweet, innocent Regan in "The Exorcist," wherein she is transformed into a hideous, foul-mouthed monster when her soul is invaded upon by the demon Pazuzu.

These films, in which the main event is the actual good vs. evil exorcism, have a very narrow corridor to navigate when attempting to add something new to the theme.

"The Song of Solomon" is part of the American Guinea Pig outlet of horror films, spawned from the Guinea Pig element of underground graphic Japanese movies.

Jessica Cameron as Mary in Song of SolomonWritten and directed by Stephen Biro, "Song of Solomon" centers around a young woman named Mary (Jessica Cameron), who witnessed the brutal suicide of her father and now appears to be possessed by a demon.

The emotional wallop of "The Exorcist" stemmed from seeing Regan before the possession, and witnessing her brutal descent into the physical and spiritual chaos once the demon takes hold.

In "Solomon," Biro does not present any such prelude. The only clues we get about Mary are culled from her father's desperate, pre-suicide ravings, and from a brief interview of Mary by a doctor. At first this seems to be an unfortunate misfire, but as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that Biro has a bigger theme to spell out.

It has to do with the End Times, from the biblical revelations of the rule of the Antichrist that is subsequently squashed by the Second Coming of Christ.

The Ordinary (Andy Winton), a high official of the Catholic Church, has received word from the highest echelons of the church that this possession of Mary has the implications of determining the fate of Heaven. Her soul must be saved or all is lost. This may well lead to the Super Bowl of Exorcisms. The Ordinary first dispatches Fathers Blake (Jim Van Bebber) and Lawson (Scott Gabbey) to perform the exorcism. The Ordinary even gives Father Blake an ultimate weapon --  one of the three Golden Bibles of Antioch --  to use in the ritual.

The Ordinary does not tell Father Blake that there is a contingency plan in the works: The Ordinary is ready to  send two more priests, Father Corbin (Gene Palubicki) and Father Powell (David McMahon) to resume the exorcism should Blake and Lawson fail.

Except for scenes in which The Ordinary briefs Fathers Corbin and Powell, "Song of Solomon" from this point focuses on the exorcism, where the priests are clearly overmatched.

This is where Cameron is showcased in a performance wherein she literally puts her body through a ringer. With unkempt, stringy hair and sans makeup, Mary looks to be beaten by life. But, oh, the words she expels, courtesy of the demon, as the exorcism goes one-on-one. And yep, there are body contortions and skin cracking open.

And the regurgitation scene is one that makes "The Exorcist's pea soup blast seem like child's play. You might want to refrain from eating before viewing that scene. Also, it is interesting to hear what Cameron had to say about that scene in an interview included in the special features offerings.

The final act of "Song of Solomon" delivers a horrifying jolt that concludes: nothing, but nothing, will stop the biblical prophesies from transpiring.

Jessica Cameron's performance carries the movie. Whatever she was before she became possessed, she now is an entity that is wickedly confident, uncaring and terrifyingly unstoppable. Even when she is restrained on the bed, she can shrug off those "The power of Christ compels you" chants.

"Song of Solomon" is low-budget, financed by Indigogo fundraising, but Biro and his team have put together a film that looks high-budget. The special effects team of Marcus Koch and Jerami Cruse -- the latter who was tasked with making Cameron's Mary so hideous looking -- pulled off some incredible visuals.  Director of photography Chris Hilleke beautifully captured the mood with a dark, ominous atmosphere.  

"THE SONG OF SOLOMON" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/h6fTNoCncvs

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