Synopsis: A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.”
Release Date: August 2, 2013
Thoughts: Yet another reason why you should never be late for a movie…because you may wind up missing a preview like The Spectacular Now. Like The Way, Way Back the preview suggests a film that feels fresh and bold with a strong cast of young talent that doesn’t wind up feeling like something we’ve seen before. Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) and Shailene Woodly (a knockout in The Descendants) are the romantic leads in a cast that also includes Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kyle Chandler. From the same writers as the dynamite (500) Days of Summer, I found a certain magic to the trailer…leading me to think/hope this could turn out to be a sleeper hit come August.
Synopsis: When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
Stars: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Susan Backlinie
Director: Steven Spielberg
Running Length: 124 minutes
TMMM Score: (11/10)
As someone who is in the business (okay, hobby) of reviewing movies and being known as a fan of the silver screen, I’m often asked what my favorite film is. Though at times I may wish I could be someone that would say Modern Times, Animal Crackers, Casablanca, The Graduate, The Godfather Part II, or Grease 2 (kidding…or am I?) I always ALWAYS have a one word answer: Jaws.
You see, for me the most honest experience at a movie is when I am totally swept into and away with the thrill of it all and thrills is something Jaws has in spades. It’s too smart of a film to be kept inside the monster movie genre and too gung-ho about getting a rise out of its audience to be relegated to mere classic cinema status and put on the shelf with other well-made movies that aren’t nearly as re-watchable.
In 2013 Jaws turns 38 and though I’ve lost count over the years I’d bet my viewings of the film number in the triple digits. It’s one of the very few films where I can’t remember the first time I saw it…and that’s saying something because I’m known to have a fairly good memory for when (and where) I’ve seen most moves in my life (go ahead, quiz me!). All I remember is one day Jaws came into my life on a VHS copy and my changed for the better. After that sharks were the #1 obsession of mine and though I wasn’t one of the viewers too scared to go back in the water after (living in a landlocked state will do that to you) I’ll admit to dog paddling a little easier knowing I could see the bottom of whatever body of water I was taking a dip in.
Another special memory of Jaws is that shortly after my parents met they saw it at a sold out theater in Iowa. My mom remembers that they had to sit in the front row and she’s had a hard time seeing the film over the years because it scared her so bad. If I could travel back in time I’m not ashamed to admit that attending a screening of Jaws when it was first released in theaters would be one of my top five choices.
Luckily, the popularity of the film has guaranteed that some theater will have it on the big screen once or twice a year and I find it hard to resist buying a ticket any time I see one pop up. I love sitting through the film packed in a crowded theater and hearing the screams, laughs, and shrieks that Steven Spielberg’s landmark film can still elicit all these years later.
Having seen every documentary and read all the material on the famously shaky making of Jaws in the summer of 1974, there’s not a lot about the film and its production that I don’t know. A greater appreciation for the final product develops every time I hear about the pain of filming at sea and the frustration with a mechanical shark that rarely worked. Still, without these roadblocks I’m not entirely positive that the film would have wound up as fantastically entertaining as it did.
Adapted from Peter Benchley’s runaway bestseller by the author and Carl Gottlieb, Universal Studios knew they had the makings of a huge money maker…if only they could assemble the right team to make the film. Enter young director Spielberg (Lincoln, Jurassic Park), fresh from directing The Sugarland Express which was lauded by critics but ignored by audiences. Decidedly green but possessing a crackerjack eye for film technique, Spielberg wasn’t even sure of himself but faced a trial by fire as he and his crew attempted a daring shoot on location in Martha’s Vineyard under the watchful eye of its residents.
Originally planned to feature its star (that’d be the shark) much more, when technical difficulties kept the shark in the repair shop, Spielberg filmed as much of the movie as he could that didn’t feature the man-eating fish. Working with an unconventional troupe of actors, Spielberg was forced to get creative when time and budget called for something shark-related to finally be shot. Merely suggesting the presence of the shark for the first half of the film was a high-wire risky move and I’m not sure anyone involved with the movie was sure how it would all turn out.
Luckily for the studio, Spielberg, the crew, and the audience it all came together in a film that went down in history as creating the summer blockbuster. A monster hit when released in the summer of 1975, people waited in line for hours to see the shark do his thing and returned for second and third viewings, propelling the movie into the top box office champ of the year and, for a while, of all time. In fact, in 1975 Jaws made nearly double what the next highest film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, made and it was the first movie to make more than 200 million dollars in the US box office.
All the hoopla about making the film and its success aside, let’s not forget that Jaws is one of the most perfectly constructed movies ever put on celluloid. Opening with a bang meant to jolt the audience into rapt attention; the film slowly builds and builds with each new attack more violent and unsettling. Spielberg keeps the tension high as a huge (but not comically proportioned) great white shark descends upon the small New England island town of Amity in the peak of summer. The new police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider in a performance that honestly gets better and more satisfying with each viewing) wants to do something about it but a mayor and town council that has their eyes on tourist dollars ignores the problem until it’s too late. Then it’s up to Brody, marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss, just a few years before he’d win an Oscar for The Goodbye Girl) and salty man of the sea Quint (Robert Shaw who by some cruel miracle wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar) to set sail in search of the shark…who begins to hunt them as well.
While the film could have gone off the rails on any number of occasions, it’s thanks to the three lead performances, Spielberg’s sharp direction, and Verna Field’s Oscar-winning editing that the true beauty of Jaws is revealed. In between passages of breathless energy and suspense, time is taken to let the characters drive the story so we get to know who these people are. That’s why when they find themselves in peril the terror feels even more real because they aren’t just faceless victims ready to be chomped down on…we’ve warmed to them and their squaring off with a very real foe becomes all that more powerful.
Though I’ve seen the film numerous times I still find myself having a real reaction to certain sequences in the film. The opening attack on an unknowing swimmer is still unsettling to this day and that Spielberg can stage something so violent without showing a drop of blood and gore is noble. (How this only managed to garner a PG rating is fairly incredible…) I love the interaction Schieder has with Lorriane Gary as his headstrong wife. Even though she was married to the head of Universal Studios and some cried foul, Gary is a commanding presence and makes a believable counterpart to Scheider. Who can forget Shaw’s infamous monologue about the true-life tale sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and all of the men taken by a swarm of hungry sharks? Then there’s the 25 foot shark and his wickedly scary appearances throughout the film; timed so perfectly that you don’t just jump in your chair…you leap out of it.
Of course, you can’t mention Jaws without saving some space for John Williams and his Oscar-winning score that is very nearly a character unto itself. Some have said that watching Jaws without the score takes away much of the suspense and I can’t say I totally disagree. Though the shark isn’t seen fully until late in the film, it’s the ominous simple note combination from Williams that tells you danger is near. It’s one of the select film soundtracks that could be heard in its entirety where one can see the movie happening in their head as they listen.
I’m always a bit stunned when someone says they haven’t seen Jaws. Then I’m excited because that means when I finally force them to see it they will get to experience filmmaking at its absolute finest. The movie has everything going for it – it’s a scary, funny, well-made, well-acted, carefully stitched together piece of cinema that has kept its dignity over the years though many lesser talents have tried to re-capture some of the magic. Followed by three sequels and inspiring endless rip-offs the movie is still a high water mark for blockbuster entertainment.
Happy 38th Birthday Jaws…you still have a lot of bite left in you!
Synopsis: Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter
Release Date: November 27, 2013
Thoughts: Disney’s update on the classic fairy tale The Snow Queen is sadly not going to be hand-drawn but should continue on in the footsteps of its non-Pixar animated slate that has been doing solid business the last few years (Tangled, Wreck-It-Ralph). Right now, however, snow and ice are the last things that any summer loving movie-goer wants to think about in the middle of June. I’m also getting a strong Ice Age feel from this teaser trailer that makes me hope a full preview with more substantial material is released in short order. Also interesting to note is that aside from lead Kristen Bell (Hit and Run), the voice talent assembled features a healthy roster of Broadway talent with the likes of Idina Menzel (Wicked), Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening), Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon, and June’s The Internship), and Santino Fontana (Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella). Could this mean Frozen has some music numbers thawing out…we shall see.
Synopsis: An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.
Release Date: February 7, 2014
Thoughts: Though I believe with the release of The LEGO Movie we are one step closer to seeing Lincoln Log: The Film or Yo-Yo: The Musical, I must admit that I’m interested to see how well this film will play to larger audiences. Bolstered by an impressive roster of voice talent including Elizabeth Banks (People Like Us) , Chris Pratt (Zero Dark Thirty), Will Ferrell (The Internship) I’m hoping that the movie itself is easier to watch than the trailer. While more than a few waves of nostalgia will wash over you as various LEGO characters are introduced, it does look like any number of homemade YouTube videos. Let’s see if the final product is more animated than it appears because I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to make it through the film without my head imploding.
Synopsis: A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.
Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Russell Crowe, Michael Kelly, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff
Review: I love 1978’s Superman: The Movie. I figured I’d get that out of the way off the bat so you know where I’m coming from. Richard Donner’s big budget epic was bolstered by the tagline: “You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly”…and audiences did…in droves. Capturing the all-American charm of one Clark Kent aka Superman, Donner’s film successfully moved characters that had long lived on the pages of comic books and a television show to the silver screen with impressive results.
So perhaps it was a bit too much to hope that 2013’s Man of Steel could provide some of that same magic in kicking off yet another reboot of the superhero with a giant S on his chest. The trouble is that this updated hero is too aloof, too troubled a searching soul to mine any joy out of the proceedings. It’s a chilly film with precious little in the way of true blue charm and moxie. Instead, it’s largely a showcase for director Zack Snyder (Sucker Punch, Watchmen) to puff his special effects chest out and screenwriter David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) to put a Bruce Wayne-style glum-ness on the picture.
Perhaps that solemnity also comes courtesy of producer Christopher Nolan who successfully reshaped the Batman franchise into a lean and mean money making machine. What worked for Nolan and Goyer on the Batman films unfortunately doesn’t work here and mores the pity because several other key elements of the film are strikingly on point.
Take Henry Cavill for instance. The Brit is possessing of a well toned eight pack to go along with his All-American features and cheekbones that could cut kryptonite. The script never allows him to emerge too far from his gloomy gus hole but there are moments especially near the end where we can see a glint in Cavill’s eye that brings a little Christopher Reeve to mind. In his newly redesigned suit, which does look better than the near neon colors in previous Superman films, Cavill is a convincing hero that has real potential.
I also found a lot to like about Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as refreshingly earthy incarnations of Jonathan and Martha Kent, Superman’s earth bound adoptive parents that provide stability even when his powers threaten to overwhelm their found child. Most of their performances are relegated to flashbacks and much of the film is presented in a non-linear fashion as Clark wanders from job to job, only moving on when his powers put him in danger of being discovered.
Costner has some of the best scenes in the film as he alternatively counsels his son and quietly fears for him if the outside world knew what he can do. I’ve often found Costner to be too mannered of an actor, always holding back what he’s really feeling but here he’s given nice material that helps him shine.
The same can’t be said for poor Amy Adams (The Master) who is terribly miscast as ace reporter Lois Lane. Though it’s well documented she has auditioned/lobbied for this role on three occasions, it’s a shame she didn’t do more with the role when she finally got a crack at it. I missed the plucky verve that Margot Kidder to the role and it’s something I’m disappointed Adams didn’t tap into more – that being said she’s light years more interesting than Kate Bosworth was in 2006’s Superman Returns.
I’m still not totally sure how I feel about Michael Shannon (The Iceman) as Superman’s main nemesis Captain Zod. Talking out of the side of his mouth and sounding like he has a Lifesaver he wants to keep under his tongue, Shannon is an unlikely choice for the role and even wearing a costume that looks like a hand me down from KISS he manages to give the character more depth than was probably necessary. Russell Crowe’s (Les Miserables) Jor-El can’t hold a candle to the “I can’t believe this works as well as it does” casting of Marlon Brando in Donner’s film but there’s a solid whiff of nobility given off by Crowe…and thank the Lord he doesn’t sing in this one.
Snyder is known for putting a rich visual spin on his films and that’s what almost saved his disastrous Sucker Punch from being totally relegated to the waste bin. In Man of Steel the special effects gets the better of him though with too much of the film looking more cartoony than visually impressive. Sure, the flying sequences are solidly entertaining and some of the larger action sequences (including a much too long go-for-broke finale) look mighty fine but it only adds to a strange hollowness to the entire film.
I may be a bigger fan of Superman than any other comic book character so I was very much looking forward to seeing where the next generation of Superman movies will take us. This wasn’t the movie I really wanted to see and that’s a bummer…but then I remember that I wasn’t totally taken with Batman Begins either when I first saw it. Time will tell if Cavill and company will find a way to truly take flight in their next outing but it’s possible that with more focus on the good and less on the glum a better franchise starter will emerge.
Synopsis: Brent Magna must get behind the wheel and follow the orders of a mysterious man to save his kidnapped wife.
Release Date: August 30, 2013
Thoughts: Though star Ethan Hawke is on a bit of a hot streak lately after appearing in a trio of successful films over the past year (Sinister, The Purge, Before Midnight), he may have trouble coming out on top of this hokey looking action thriller that also features Jon Voight, Jon Voight’s questionable European dialect courtesy of Villian Accents Inc., and a performance from Selena Gomez that may be destined for the Razzie Awards. Though muscle cars and a slick grit may help sell this film to overly forgiving audiences at the end of the summer, I’m not so sure that Getaway should be anything you get involved with.
Synopsis: The Greek general Themistocles battles an invading army of Persians under the mortal-turned-god, Xerxes.
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Thoughts: It’s hard to believe, but this sequel is arriving a full 7 years after the original surprise blockbuster was released. I found the first film a hyper-surreal thrill ride filled with ample amounts of blood and bared flesh and in the years since the movie has inspired countless inferior knockoffs and quite a few new ab workouts for those wanting to get into Spartan shape. Director Zack Snyder was busy with Man of Steel so the directing duties went to Noam Murro…a relatively green director helming only his second feature film. Even with Snyder staying on as producer and screenwriter, it remains to be seen if the unproven Murro can really sail this ship. Bolstered by some interesting female leads in the form of Eva Green (Cracks, Dark Shadows) and Lena Headey (The Purge), this sequel is highly anticipated and should be a nice blockbuster of 2014.
Synopsis: The last two years of Princess Diana’s life: her campaign against land mines and her relationship with surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan.
Release Date: TBA 2013
Thoughts: The world’s fascination with all things Royal continues with a look at the life of the people’s princess in a biography that feels several years too late to the game. Releasing in time for prime award season, Diana will be up against another film about a princess who died before her time when Nicole Kidman (who happens to be Watts’ best friend and fellow Australian) takes on Grace of Monaco. Although admittedly hard to tell from this teaser trailer, Watts just doesn’t say “Diana” to me and it’s not just because Watts only resembles the late Princess of Wales if you squint. There was such a mysterious air to the real life royal that I’m not sure could ever really be captured. Final judgment of course must be reserved when more footage is released but so far…I’m not convinced.
Synopsis: The Dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf have successfully escaped the Misty Mountains, and Bilbo has gained the One Ring. They all continue their journey to get their gold back from the Dragon, Smaug.
Release Date: December 13, 2013
Thoughts: I’d like to say I was one of the relative few that accepted Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with a forgiving embrace but alas I couldn’t give myself over to a film that was long in the tooth and overstuffed with material that wasn’t needed. Though a technical marvel that made some huge steps for filmmaking, there was a strange void that was never filled by anything that flew across the screen. The second installment is being prepped for release in December and here’s hoping that Jackson and co. went back to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy of films and re-examined what made them so special. The heart and soul from those films was missing from Part 1 of The Hobbit – let’s keep our ringed fingers crossed Part 2 rights some wrongs.
Review: There are times when I’m in a movie theater where I start to bargain with myself before the lights go down. The internal conversation before The Purge went something like this… “C’mon Joe, it’s your day off mid-week and you don’t really have much to lose taking in a home-invasion thriller with an interesting concept. At best you’ll be surprised at the (pardon the pun) execution and at worst your eyes will get a nice workout as they roll in your head. If the movie is half-way good you’ll come out on top.” Well, The Purge is one half of a good movie, a par-baked pizza of a film that looks nice when you open it but the more you digest it the less appetizing it becomes.
Running a scant 85 minutes, The Purge has a first act that is nothing if not engaging. Opening with security footage of some very bad people doing very bad things the audience is reintroduced to the concept that most will know going in: in the very near future the US Government has sanctioned one night a year where for 12 hours any and all crime is legalized. You can murder your boss, make an unfortunate soul fodder for target practice, loot your local Best Buy, or if you choose to you can avoid it all by sitting back in your home under the protection of the latest and greatest security system…if you can afford one.
That’s what the Californian nuclear family at the center of The Purge is doing…and they know they’re secure within the walls of their manse because Dad (Ethan Hawke, Sinister) is the top-selling agent of the top-of-the-line security system on the market. He’s outfitted their entire gated community, netting quite the bucks for his efforts and early on we see that the neighbors, while thankful for the protection, don’t love the fact that Hawke and his family have benefitted from the cost of their peace of mind.
Like most families the children have a boatload of issues. Daughter (Adelaide Kane) is boy crazy and unhappy with her dad for keeping her away from her older boyfriend. Son (Max Burkholder) is at that awkward age when communication comes best through methods that he has control over. Dad and Mom (Lena Headey) do their best to keep the peace…though nothing is presented that puts any new spin on family dynamics. Casting wise, the four actors make for a believable family.
When the Purge commences the family goes about their night inside as gunfire is heard and the television shows the horrors happening outside the tightly sealed doors and windows. Then the son sees a black man yelling for help in the street and before anyone knows it, he’s opened the gates and let the bloodied man in. It isn’t long before a group of preppy hunters have tracked the man to the house and begin their own attack in their quest for blood.
What happens after that is best left for the viewer to discover but trust me when I say that it’s at this point the movie starts to go downhill in a curiously rapid fashion. Though the lead maniac (Tony Oller) possesses a chilly charisma that thinly masks some serious crazy there’s nothing distinctive about anyone else that comes knocking. Actually, the film is edited so that you never get a true idea of how many people Hawke and family are up against.
Even with its short running time, the middle of the movie has some major pacing problems as the family looks for the man who has disappeared into the house so they can give him up to machete wielding psychos at their door. That’s when you realize that the film has squandered an earlier opportunity to give the viewer an actual layout of the house so we can get our bearings. There’s a lot of discussion about a new addition to the house and its general square feet but most of the movie looks like it was filmed in one or two hallways and bedrooms.
Though director James DeMonaco’s script raises some interesting questions about violence in our society, suggesting that what the Purge was really designed to do was aid in the further separation of the haves from the have-nots, it chickens out at the end with a lackluster run-of-the-mill final act where seemingly smart people do infuriatingly stupid things. Morals only come into play when it’s convenient and a soapbox is handy to stand on. Worse, no one really seems to understand the message that DeMonaco was going for in the first place. Close but no cigar award goes to Headey who at least makes the most out of a role that doesn’t give her much to fight for.
I’m not sure that the first 45 minutes of The Purge is good enough to make you leave the theater satisfied but perhaps in the sequel (which was quickly greenlit after the low-budget but handsomely made film made back its budget in midnight screenings alone) there could be a better through-line that marries the societal questions on violence with a more thrilling output.