Monday, October 13, 2014

Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Elizabeth Olsen gives an amazing lead performance in the suspenseful 
and well-crafted Martha Marcy May Marlene.

I have been hearing about Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011, dir. Sean Durkin) for some time, and now that I've seen it, I am happy to report that in most ways it lives up to its positive hype. It is a dramatic thriller about a young woman (played brilliantly by Elizabeth Olsen) who flees a cult to live with her sister and husband at their vacation home in Connecticut. The film cuts back and forth between Martha's interactions with her family in the present and her experiences being indoctrinated into a patriarchal, hippie-esque cult two years earlier.

As an exploration of the mindset of cult members and of the insidious techniques used by cult leaders to ensure new members' loyalty, this is a creepily fascinating and insightful film. The back-and-forth structure, cutting between Martha's present and past, is extremely effective, revealing narrative information to the viewer piecemeal and conveying Martha's fractured, subjective, disoriented state with chilling force.

Martha converses with Patrick (John Hawkes). 

Where I feel the film stumbles a little -- and now I must warn you of both upcoming SPOILERS and the possibility of an intrusive personal bias -- is when it starts following the real-life Manson Family "playbook" too closely. I am quite familiar with Vincent Bugliosi's book Helter Skelter (Norton, 1974) and the 1976 made-for-TV movie adaptation of the same name, so once Patrick and his followers start creeping rich peoples' houses, Martha Marcy May Marlene loses much of its spontaneity (and hence its dramatic edge) for me because I know all too well where it's heading. Any viewer even passingly familiar with the activities of the Manson family, particularly the Tate and LaBianca crimes, will have no difficulty seeing exactly where this film is going after a certain point.

Thus, after a couple key scenes alerted be to this intertextual "borrow," instead of remaining firmly on the edge of my seat, I started wondering: Is this Patrick guy just a Charles Manson copycat? Is that really all he is?

Sadly, the film's answer seems to be "yes." And in my view, this film doesn't need to raid Manson territory to be chilling. The early indoctrination sequences at the cult's secluded farm are incredibly spooky and disturbing in their own right, and could have maintained the film's unnerving suspense by means of the psychosexual power games already at play, without heading onto full-blown Helter Skelter-land. Alas, the choice to do the latter causes the film to lose some of its grip on the viewer -- or at least me -- because it makes one wonder if Manson-emulation was the Martha cult's whole purpose (and if so, what IS the purpose? WHY does Patrick just want to do the same stuff Manson did back in the sixties?). Or was it that Sean Durkin, the film's writer/director, simply could not think of anything else for Patrick and his followers to be up to?

John Hawkes is terrific as cult leader Patrick . . . 

. . . yet his character becomes a bit too overtly Manson-like and less interesting to me 
around the time of the scene depicted here. 

In any case, that is my main disappointment with this very well-shot, grippingly acted, and expertly crafted thriller. And since that disappointment originates with my extensive knowledge of the real-life Manson case -- I am a true crime fan and have read Helter Skelter at least three times -- it may not affect the experiences of less Manson-savvy viewers.

Otherwise, I have only praise for this tightly wrought and thematically provocative movie. The lighting and cinematography are stellar throughout, and the locations are beautiful and well-chosen. Martha Marcy May Marlene features a large dose of handheld camera work, which tends to be overused these days, yet this is the kind of film -- intimate, subjective, and creepily frightening -- where that style of cinematography really works well.

My only other critique, and it is particular to one scene only, regards the film's soundtrack: while it did not bother me in any other scenes, I found the musical score during Martha's party freakout scene to be distractingly loud and tonally heavy handed. Thumbs down there.

But thumbs up overall. I highly recommend this disturbing psychological thriller to my readers, and I only hope my spoilers will not spoil the impact this well-made movie has upon you.

The chillingly effective final shot (which is also a minute-plus long take) 
of Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

I Am A Feminist

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien 3 (1992).

I assume that my feminist (that is, anti-sexist), anti-racist, anti-discrimination views are quite clear by now, but it occurred to me in light of some Facebook responses to my Terminator post that maybe I should provide a bit of back story and explanation for my deep commitment to social equality.

My journey toward feminism began when I was quite young, in the context of my extended family. My parents are originally from central Indiana, though they moved to the West Coast once my dad got his first professional job just after I was born. Growing up, I was always told -- and saw with the evidence of my own eyes -- that my maternal grandmother was an exceptionally intelligent woman, who could have been an excellent lawyer had the gendered assumptions of her time and place been different. She worked as County Clerk of her home county for approximately seven years in the early 1950s, and as Court Reporter for the county judge for four to six years after that. Yet it is my understanding that it would have been somewhat unthinkable for her, a farmer's wife in 1950s Indiana, to seek the bar and work as a full-blown lawyer. This always made me feel sad, baffled, and (ultimately) angry.

Mind you, I do not know how my grandma actually felt about this, and I don't recall ever talking with her about it. But the oft-repeated tale that "your grandma would have made a great lawyer" resonated deeply with me and provided me with my first lesson in the reality of structural sexism.*

Once I got to college in 1989, it wasn't long before I took a women's studies course, "Introduction to Feminist Theory and the Women's and Men's Movements," taught by Gloria Orenstein at USC during Spring Semester 1991. This course, in which we read key works like Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and learned about the history of women's liberation, was a key turning point for me. It gave me terms, language, and concepts with which to articulate my deep discomfort and anger toward our patriarchal, sexist society. And it set me further on the path toward becoming an academic feminist.


That path led me, some years later, to graduate school at the University of Oregon, where I became a student of feminist film scholar Kathleen Rowe Karlyn. I highly recommend Karlyn's work to anyone interested in issues relating to women, feminism, and popular film and television. Her early work on female comedians and the romantic comedy genre -- encapsulated in her first book, The Unruly Woman (1995) and her really great article "Comedy, Melodrama, and Gender: Theorizing the Genres of Laughter"** -- is absolutely essential stuff. Her latest book, Unruly Girls, Unrepentant Mothers (2010) is just flat-out superb, and I teach from it all the time. Karlyn is obviously an academic, but her background is in journalism, which lends her jargon-free writing style a clarity and directness not always found in scholarly publications.

Anyway, during my graduate school training under Karlyn, my feminism found its voice and I started writing about issues of gender and sexuality in popular and independent films. I still do, and I also teach courses in feminist approaches to understanding film and popular media.

One thing I teach my students is that sexism isn't ONLY Hollywood's fault, yet the images and ideas circulated by mainstream films certainly perpetuate the bigger societal problem of gender inequality. This is why it's called structural sexism -- it is built into the infrastructure, institutions, and assumptions of our culture.

Want some evidence? Try this:

This chart found on page 11 of this 2012 U.S. Census Report.

That is a sobering chart whose data gives the lie to anyone who thinks women are treated equally to men in our society or that feminism in no longer needed. Even in such a simple matter as equal pay for equal work, we still have a long way to go.

And things may actually be worse in Hollywood than they are in American society writ large. Check out this interesting article about USC media scholars who are working to concretely quantify what feminist analysts and savvy laypeople have known for years about unequal gender representation in film.

The article presents statistical data showing that "in 2013, only 29 percent of characters [in the top 100 grossing Hollywood films] were female, and a mere 28 percent of the films had a female lead or co-lead." Sadly, this comes as no surprise to those of us who study Hollywood for a living. Nor does the even more discouraging data about women working in production jobs in Hollywood: "When it came to the people behind the camera — in the roles of director, writer and producer — only 16 percent were women."

Source: This article by Walt Hickey.

This saddens me greatly because (obviously) I love movies and I do not like that the industry responsible for making some of the best and most influential films on planet Earth is so pervasively and unrepentantly sexist, on both sides of the camera.

Furthermore, I am in complete agreement with this post about the need to reject the horrible, demeaning concept of "strong women" characters -- we need well-rounded female characters, NOT "strong" ones -- and this related post about the Trinity Syndrome, i.e., the tendency for seemingly powerful female characters to be marginalized by male ones in the movies in which they appear. I also urge my readers who are interested in these matters to see Anita Sarkeesian's sharp rundown of the Bechdel Test, which is a quick and handy (if somewhat limited) guide to sexism in the film industry:


So what can I do about these sobering statistics? What can I do about structural sexism in movies?

Well, on the scholarly side, my anti-sexist, anti-racist beliefs have led me to write (or co-write) articles like this one and this one, exposing the implicit sexism and racism of the rise of geek culture. (The short version: popular geekdom is a guise assumed by white masculinity in order to keep itself front and center in American culture, as it always has been. Onscreen geeks think of themselves as more sensitive and progressive than more traditional, manly, jock-ish males, when in fact they are every bit as sexist and male-centered as the jocks they have replaced as the central male figures of our current cultural moment.) I am proud of this work and only hope more folks will read it and understand its frightening implications.

On a personal level, my progressive beliefs have, over time, caused a subtle and gradual shift in my film tastes -- though I think that the change in my movie preferences is also a simple result of my getting older. That is, I think it is developmentally appropriate that, as a man in my mid-forties, I should find most of today's superhero films to be too simple-minded and adolescent in their themes, and that I should instead prefer films whose content is aimed at adults my age. In terms of my feminism, I can still enjoy a fun, mindless blockbuster, but as I have written here before, I find it increasingly difficult to enjoy terrible, two-dimensional, insultingly bad screenwriting, and I really cannot stomach watching many more films that blatantly celebrate how great white men are at the expense of women, people of color, extraordinarily bodied persons, etc.*** I think I have more or less reached my limit on throwing down ticket money for blatantly sexist crap.

As for what ALL of us can do, I think we can be more cautious about which films we spend money to see, and we can at the very least become aware of the sexist (and racist, and other discriminatory and damaging) stereotypes so commonly and unthinkingly circulated by our popular films and media. I am NOT saying we should boycott or avoid all films that star white men, or cast aside films we might enjoy just because they contain damaging stereotypes and messages. We ALL have films we love that are ideologically questionable. Like it or not, we live in a world where Hollywood is globally dominant, and Hollywood is very much invested in maintaining the cultural status quo.† I think the key to resisting this pervasive ideological conditioning is KNOWING that we are seeing racist / sexist / imperialist stereotypes, watching out for them in the media we consume, and not buying into those retrograde messages unthinkingly. To me, awareness is the key, for awareness empowers choice. And we are all still free to make our own choices and, ultimately, to enjoy what we enjoy.

--
* I emailed my mother to learn some of the finer details about my grandmother's legal career, and even in that email response my mom reiterated the story I grew up hearing: "I believe in another day and age she would have been a lawyer. She was so smart and loved all the things pertaining to law." She also added that "Mom always made comments how she would have liked to go to college but that didn't happen in her time. Only a few were that lucky and her family was not into education nor did they have any money."
** "Theorizing the Genres of Laughter" is anthologized in Classical Hollywood Comedy (1995, ed. Karnick and Jenkins) pp. 39-59.
*** "Extraordinarily bodied persons" is my preferred term for folks commonly referred to as "the disabled" -- I prefer the term "extraordinarily bodied" or "differently abled" and I believe I learned both of these terms from Rosemarie Garland-Thomson's terrific book Extraordinary Bodies.
† Hollywood doesn't support the status quo because of some deliberate, evil plot to keep women and other non-white, non-male groups down (though there is a great deal of cultural and historical momentum behind centralizing white men). Hollywood studios do this because they think it is profitable not to rock the boat or upset people too much. Most Hollywood films are in fact rife with internal ideological contradictions -- that is, they contain both liberal/progressive AND conservative/retrograde ideas that coexist side by side. This is so that folks from all over the political and social spectrum can enjoy these mass media products and see what they want to see in them -- and keep paying money for the privilege. Capitalism (heavily influenced by patriarchy) drives Hollywood.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review: Life of Pi (2012)


I finally saw Life of Pi -- on Blu-Ray no less -- and must confess to feeling underwhelmed. I am, in general, a big fan of Ang Lee's work, especially The Wedding Banquet, Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, and Brokeback Mountain. Lee is one of the richest visual directors around, he composes beautiful shots and the visual poetry of his work (if you'll forgive the somewhat vague and pretentious phrase) is always breathtaking. Even those films of his that I like less -- Hulk and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- are undeniable visual masterpieces rife with lovely eye-candy.

So what went wrong with Life of Pi?

Ang Lee-style eye-candy abounds -- the film is every bit as visually mind-blowing as the director's previous work. But there are two key problems that keep Life of Pi from resonating with me and had me checking my watch several times during its two-hour running time:

(1) Too many of its beautiful visuals rely too heavily upon digital effects. That is, they are way too obviously created by computers, and this (for me) causes a disjunction between the "real" photography and the CGI. It is not seamless, and it makes it hard for me to accept -- or care about -- what I am seeing onscreen. Much of what happens to Pi while he is alone at sea feels fake-o.

(2) The "twist" ending, which is, I admit, fairly impactful (at least in theory), loses most of its power due to #1 above and due to the early parts of the film focusing upon the wrong things.

I am actually not going to say too much about point #2, since my associate A.J. has already covered that topic brilliantly in this post on his own blog. Simply allow me to quote a chunk of and briefly comment upon his assessment [which includes SPOILERS]:
Early on in the film's second part, Pi attempts to live with a vicious Hyena, a calm elder Orangutan, a Zebra with a severely broken leg, and, of course, a large Bengal Tiger. This clearly cannot, and (SPOILER) does not, work. The carnivorous animals eat the Zebra and the Orangutan, and eventually Richard Parker [the tiger] eats the Hyena. 
Now in the novel, each animal death marks another strong blow against Pi's will to survive. And rightfully so, as these creatures are his sole companions and the only remnants of his entire life up to this point. Their deaths are specific and, frankly, horrifying. They feel harsh and cruel well before that little twist at the end of the book, making the "truth" that is revealed all the more disturbing. 
Fastforward to the 2012 BIG HOLLYWOOD MOVIE adaptation and we are instead treated to a hyperspeed version of those profoundly impacting events. Rather than the slow torture, particularly of that poor Zebra, that ends with Pi alone with Richard Parker, we instead are treated to about one minute of quick dashing about ending far-too-soon with three animal carcasses (essentially blood-less and certainly gore-less) hidden under the Tiger's tarp-covered half of the raft. I cannot stress it enough, despite Pi's emotionally charged rebuking of the Hyena, this scene is not even remotely as powerful as it was intended--and ought to have remained. This diminishes the entire impact of the ending to the point where it feels pointless having left it in. When Pi talks to the Japanese business men at the end of the film [. . .] it just sounds like he's lying to them.
Now I haven't read Yann Martel's novel so have no basis for comparison there, and furthermore, I do not necessarily read Pi's concluding story told to the Japanese businessmen as being a lie per se -- I think the movie keeps its options open on that score. However, I completely agree with A.J. that the impact of that late scene is severely deflated by the fact that we do not care very much about those other animals (besides the tiger) nor do we care enough about Pi's parents (especially his mother) for the second version of the story to matter much to us. It is kind of momentarily horrifying but doesn't cut deeply enough.

The end of the film also makes me wonder, as A.J. does, why the first act even bothers introducing Pi's romance with Anandi? As it was happening, I was really invested in that part -- in fact, I think the first quarter of Life of Pi, before anybody gets on any cargo ship, is the best part of the whole movie, both narratively (it hasn't been mismanaged yet) and visually (not much CGI yet, just good, old-fashioned, beautifully staged and lit shots). But then the romance subplot goes nowhere, when that time could have been spent extending the scenes that build to the big payoff at the end. Isn't that the point of narrative cinema?

Visually stunning though it is, Life of Pi features a bit too much of this . . .

. . . and not quite enough of this.

That said, I am not here to go on a screed against this film or against computer generated imagery (CGI) in general -- I know that this is how things are being done these days in Hollywood. Yet I expected more from Ang Lee and his team here. I expected the astounding CGI to blend more believably with the live footage in Life of Pi, yet it didn't. The moment I knew the film was in big trouble was during the sinking of the cargo ship, when Pi finds himself in the lifeboat with the zebra, and the little boat starts zinging and zanging all over the place, hyper-kinetically zipping around the sinking mast of the ship like some kind of cocaine-fueled, obviously digital, video-game version of itself. That crap doesn't impress me any more that the opening shot of Star Wars Ep. III: Revenge of the Shit does, and feels out of place in what is supposed to be a somewhat meditative and thoughtful Ang Lee movie.

Is Life of Pi worth seeing? Probably. It is almost a good movie, and the visuals taken on their own merits are mostly quite beautiful and pleasurable to watch. But as far as substance goes, if you want a truly great "survival at sea" story, check out the vastly superior All Is Lost. If you want a meditation upon the meaning of spirituality and existence, try Waking Life or Wild Strawberries. And if you want a film about how lies and truth get all mixed up, look to Rashomon, Rules of the Game, or Network. 

In short, don't get your hopes up too high and you will likely find much to enjoy in Life of Pi. Me, I'll be eagerly awaiting Lee's next directorial effort.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Why The Terminator Kicks Terminator 2's Stupid Ass

The Terminator (1984) is better than its sequel, largely (but not entirely)
 due to the role played by this lady right here.

Okay, this time my use of the adjective "stupid" in the post title is not fully warranted: Terminator 2's ass is not completely stupid. In fact, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) is actually a good movie that I enjoy. I admit outright that my main reason for using that post title is to create a sense of uniformity with my last post in this series.

However, I am here to tell you that the original 1984 film, The Terminator, is definitely much better than its fun but problematic sequel. As enjoyable as that sequel is, it is not nearly as tight on the filmmaking front as its predecessor, nor is it the pro-feminist work that many uninformed persons believe it to be. In fact, the first Terminator is both a better film and a more feminist film than Terminator 2.*

Let's start with that main ideological issue: sexism. In The Terminator, Sarah Connor is an average twenty-something woman living in L.A., who happens to get targeted by an invincible killer cyborg from the future. While she seems frightened and somewhat in shock when she first realizes she is being stalked, she makes several smart moves -- staying in public places and calling the cops ASAP. Then, once she learns about the whole time-travel thing from Reese, she adapts quickly to her new circumstances and responds quite well to Reese's elementary lessons in survival and weapons training. She does make one crucial error -- calling her mother to tell her where she is -- but even this blunder can be explained by her naivete about the full capabilities of the Terminator, and needn't be read as some kind of feminine weakness or hysteria. In fact, the Sarah Connor of The Terminator practically never gets hysterical, nor, ultimately, does she need to be saved by a man, except right at the outset. She shows resilience and depth throughout, and by the end, after Reese dies, Sarah manages to save herself and to destroy the Terminator all on her own.

"You're terminated, fucker!"  

By contrast, in Terminator 2, despite (or perhaps to chauvinistically compensate for) her badass muscles and paramilitary training, Sarah Connor gets sold out; she loses agency and power relative to the first film. While the early scene in which the mental institution staffer is shown erotically licking her face against her will is gratuitous and humiliating for her character  -- I have never understood the necessity of that moment -- the main way in which Connor's agency is undermined is via the ascendancy of her adolescent son. As John Connor slowly comes of age in this film -- under the tutelage of the gendered-male Terminator, NOT Sarah herself, mind you -- he also becomes her surrogate parent, bossing her around and preventing her, with the help of his new cybernetic daddy/buddy, from making the horrible errors she plans to make by assassinating Dyson. And the film wants us to sympathize with young John in this, showing Sarah's actions to be badly thought out, rash, histrionic, even outright crazy. This character who supposedly has the mental fortitude to withstand the first Terminator attack, the loss of Reese, her own subsequent institutionalization, and the appearance of yet another (and more powerful) Terminator in her time, suddenly loses it, requiring her tweener son to not only rescue her but to counsel -- no, order -- her back into a state of relative mental stability. Which she never quite regains, because she spends the whole last third of this movie taking orders from this kid, who SHE should in fact be training!

This is a progressive, well-rounded depiction of a heroic female character.

This isn't. 

Now I totally get that one should not be too nitpicky about blockbuster action movies making too much sense -- otherwise, NONE of them would be any fun. Yet I do ask for a certain basic level of adherence to THEIR OWN internal rules, and on these grounds I find the inconsistencies created by second Terminator film to be distractingly bad for the franchise.** For example, see item #3 on this list, in which the author notes that the main rule for time travel established by the first Terminator film -- "The time machine can't transport non-living matter" -- is flagrantly broken by the second one:
Now, technically, the first Terminator is a machine with living tissue layered over its endoskeleton, so it gets a pass, we guess. Enter the T-1000, the second film's liquid metal Terminator that can take nearly any shape and recover from nearly any wound. Oh, and it can turn its arm into a knife.  
The problem is, this Terminator is composed entirely of liquid metal. No living tissue, no flesh, just 100% mimetic-poly alloy (thank you, James Cameron). That means, according to the rules clearly established in the first movie, it cannot travel back in time.
Indeed. This has always bothered me, since no such flagrant problems exist in the first, tightly scripted and well-thought-out film.

Sure, the first Terminator movie does create a kind of temporal paradox by revealing (SPOILER!) that the time-traveling Kyle Reese is the unborn John Connor's father, which means that none of the future events of the film would have happened at all if he hadn't come back in time in the first place -- but this I write off as one of the inevitable results of ANY time-travel scenario. Paradoxes arise and exist. I don't have a problem with this twist because it doesn't fundamentally undermine the premises set up by the film. It just fucks with our heads a bit because time-travel scenarios are ALWAYS illogical and paradoxical.

Reese finds shoes --  a great moment from a superbly shot and edited chase sequence 
early in the first Terminator film. 

And who cares about the occasional temporal paradox when the action is this good? With only one major exception I can think of -- the truck-and-motorcycle chase along the L.A. River in T2 -- I argue that the action sequences in the first Terminator are uniformly better than those of its sequel. Sure, those exciting bits in the sequel are more over-the-top and quite pleasurable, but I urge you to take a careful look at the opening cops-chase-Reese sequence in The Terminator, or the final showdown of the first movie from the point where Reese and Sarah leave the hotel room and end up at the factory. The editing and cinematography (not to mention the great soundtrack) are all so effective in these sequences, so pulse-poundingly exciting and suspenseful, that they generate a cumulative intensity that cannot be matched by Judgment Day, good as it is.

The L.A. River chase = the best action sequence in T2, and the only one 
that matches the intensity of those seen in The Terminator

Lastly, one of the biggest flaws in T2 is that there's no Michael Biehn -- Reese is one of the most badass parts of the first movie. Instead, we get a somewhat annoying 10-year-old kid. Cracked.com calls the young John Connor (Edward Furlong) the flaw that nearly ruins Terminator 2, lambasting the film for "giving us a 10 year old John Connor who, upon repeated viewing, is so obnoxious that you spend most of the movie wanting to see him shot in the face, fate of humanity be damned." Taken together with my feminist critique about how grating it is to have such an immature kid bossing his mom Sarah around, I am inclined to agree with this point. I don't hate young John Connor per se, but he's no Kyle Reese.

The Terminator's Reese sez: "I'm a badass --  AND Sarah's driving the car right now!"

To conclude, while I am not here to disabuse anyone of their love for T2 -- let me reiterate that on the whole, I enjoy the film -- I would urge all my readers to take another serious look at The Terminator, and see if you can tap into the crazy intensity, tight direction, and more satisfying character arc for Sarah Connor that leads me to champion this film over its (perhaps undeservedly) more popular follow-up.

T2's Sarah Connor sez: "Get me out of this hysterical role in this sexist movie -- NOW!"

--
* This same logic applies to the first two Alien films: while falsely believed to be as good as if not better than Alien (1979), and also supposedly more feminist, James Cameron's Aliens (1986) is in fact no better than Ridley Scott's Alien from technical standpoint and is actually more sexist than its 1979 predecessor. But that is a subject to return to later.
** As one of the guys in this funny video puts it, "James Cameron is like: 'Shut up and watch this badass thing I made but don't you dare fuckin' think about it!'"

Monday, August 4, 2014

Carter's Top 50 Films (August 2014)

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe."

Just under a year ago, I composed a "Top 40 Favorite Films" list. Following Lee Sabo's suggestion that I treat such lists as a kind of thought-exercise, like a Rubik's cube, I have decided to create another such list now, for fun. I have expanded it to fifty selections this time.

Remember, this is NOT a list of "must-see" classics provided by a film scholar or "expert," but rather a slapdash list of my "favorite" films at the present moment, the main criterion of value being how much pleasure I take from viewing and re-viewing these particular movies.

I have tried to go on instinct and simply jot down what the Top 50 might be, without reviewing my list from last time.

Here are a few notes on the changes and what they tell me about my tastes these days:

I typically do not throw newly discovered films into my "Favorites" list until they've had some time to "season." Given the types of films I generally prefer -- films made for adults with some narrative, thematic, and/or visual substance and ambition -- it doesn't do to rush movies into my personal canon until I ensure they will withstand the test of time.

That said, two films I discovered only last year -- We Need to Talk About Kevin and Holy Motors -- have made this list. These two are definitely solid favorites despite their newness to me.

I may be kind of "over" James Bond, I haven't sat down to do a Bond-fest in quite some time, and thus Thunderball -- still the best-ever Bond film IMO -- has been bumped.

I could have put First Blood and Blue Velvet and Female Trouble and especially Nebraska on this list, but the first three are ones that I haven't returned to as much lately and the last one is a "new favorite" I've only seen once -- Nebraska needs further road-testing before making a list like this.

I also more or less ignored documentaries on that previous list -- I don't know why -- and have corrected for that omission here.

So. . .

Tabloid (2010) *
Pitch Black (2000)
Holy Motors (2012)
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
Bernie (2011)
Brother's Keeper (1992)
Blade Runner (1982)
Zodiac (2007)
Memories of Murder (2003)
The Room (2003)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
King Kong (1933)
King Kong (1976)
Nashville (1975)
Chinatown (1974)
The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Shampoo (1975)
The Parallax View (1976)
The Birds (1963)
Dogville (2003)
Rashomon (1950)
Caché (2005)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Videodrome (1984)
Contagion (2011)
Election (1999)
Muriel's Wedding (1994)
The TV Set (2006)
Cure (1997)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Duel (1971)
Alien (1979)
The Terminator (1984)
Rio Bravo (1959)
The Last Waltz (1978)
Heat (1995)
Double Indemnity (1945)
City Lights (1931)
Fargo (1996)
A Serious Man (2009)
Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
Chuck&Buck (2000)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Deep Water (2006)
Raise the Red Lantern (1991)


UPDATE 8/6/2014: A few more ruminations on the process behind and implications of this list:

First, Mother and Snowpiercer did not unseat Memories of Murder, the latter still being my favorite Bong Joon-ho film. This highlights the subjectivity of the film experience, in that Memories, while a terrific film, and surely worthy on an artistic level of being on any quasi-objective "best films" type list, is my #1 Bong Joon-ho film in part because of my personal tastes (I love serial killer stories) and due to how strongly I bonded with it when I first saw it (I was absolutely spellbound). As a scholar and film critic, I would say that Mother (2009) is Bong's objectively best film, and that Snowpiercer (2014) is his best big-budget, mass-audience film. But humble little Memories of Murder is still my personal favorite.

Other substitutions on this list are more arbitrary -- Contagion for Bubble, Dogville for Melancholia, The Birds for Psycho -- and these were based mainly on what came to mind this time. I probably like each of the films in these pairs about equally at the end of the day. In related news, I vaguely considered swapping in Zero Effect for The TV Set, because I saw the former Jake Kasdan film more recently and remembered how much I like it. But no dice on that one. See how arbitrary this process is?

Eyes Wide Shut, The Lost World, Election, and Rashomon represent films that would have made it onto last November's list if I were more honest with myself and/or I had remembered them when composing it.

Finally, yes, I do enjoy Jurassic Park 2 more than I usually enjoy the original Jurassic Park; I have watched the sequel MANY more times than the original. As with the Bong films discussed above, I know it's odd how much I like the second Jurassic Park film -- I am not saying that it is objectively better than the first, only that I personally enjoy it more.

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* This was a really tough one; Errol Morris is my favorite documentarian and I struggled with whether I should put Tabloid, The Thin Blue Line (1988), or Standard Operating Procedure (2008) down as my fave. Tabloid won out because I watched it (again) most recently so its pleasures were freshest in my mind.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

EW #9: Nashville (1975)

Henry Gibson as Haven Hamilton in Robert Altman's masterpiece Nashville

Although this entry once again emphasizes the strong bias of the EW staff in favor of 1970s American cinema, Nashville, Robert Altman's 1975 epic about the music industry and American politics, is truly a masterpiece worthy of very high placement on any Top 100 Films List. For Altman himself and for 1970s Hollywood cinema writ large, it just doesn't get much better than Nashville. 

Nashville is one of my personal very favorite films, bar none -- it appears on my "Top 40 Films" list of last November and is one of only nine movies to place on my personal Top 40 and on EW's 100 Best Films list.*

Film critic Robin Wood identifies Nashville as essential Altman, stating that
Everything in Altman so far -- the good and the bad -- comes together in Nashville. Its great scenes -- Gwen Welles' enforced striptease, Ronee Blakley's onstage breakdown, everything involving Lily Tomlin -- are all centered on the characters' exposed vulnerability and realized with painful intensity. At the other extreme are the embarrassingly Cutie-pie uncredited guest appearances of Elliott Gould and Julie Christie as Themselves.
Unlike me, Wood is none too keen on these latter moments of meta-textual wit; for him, they disrupt or lessen Nashville's potential political impact. He concludes:
The film's total effect -- for all the marvelous local successes -- is to engulf the spectator in its movement of disintegration, making intellectual distance impossible. The ironic force of the ending, with the crowd confronting catastrophe by singing "It don't worry me," a communal refusal to think, is weakened not simply by the inability to offer any constructive alternative but by a perverse rejection of the possibility.**
Wood claims to feel "somewhat sick and depressed" at the end of Nashville, and that, I think, is a proper response (though I typically respond with schadenfreude-laced elation). The film's dead-on accurate portrayal of how American jingoism blinds us to the real machinations of capitalism should indeed disturb and, to some extent, sicken us.

However, I disagree with Wood that intellectual distanciation is rendered impossible by Nashville. In some ways, the film's very mythic/allegorical dimension, the way so many of its characters, while being very particular, feel like stand-ins for classic American types, encourages us to read the film symbolically and intellectually. Nashville's darkly ironic use of the American flag and that closing song surely provoke me to respond thinkingly to the film, to consider it as an eerily accurate mythic summation of the contradictions inherent to American character and culture.

This prominently placed American flag freights the final sequence of Nashville 
with mythic -- if deeply ironic -- layers of meaning.

No, I instead prefer Jonathan Rosenbaum's succinct assessment of Nashville from his book Essential Cinema:
In point of fact, the film celebrates as much as it ridicules -- often doing both the same time -- while giving both its brilliant cast and its audience too much elbowroom to allow for any overriding thesis.***
That's just it. If my post thus far makes Nashville sound like some sort of pedantic manifesto or overt "social statement," that is not an accurate portrait. Altman's great talent lies in creating films that feel "lived-in" and real. His heavy dependence upon his actors and his insistence that they improvise and go off-script keeps his work from ever feeling too artificial or "writerly."† So even if, in the broad strokes, Nashville resonates on political, mythic, and satirical levels, it nevertheless feels so real and alive and delightful in all its interactive particulars that it never feels heavy handed or false. If anything, its ability to draw the viewer in, to involve us in its wonderfully human textures, may be exactly what makes Wood feel so disturbed by the ending of it -- it is difficult, once one is immersed in such a believable, nuanced, and enjoyable onscreen world, to extricate oneself from the darker, more violent implications of that world's underlying logic.

As Rosenbaum puts it,
The difference between conventional methods and Altman's is one between directness and indirectness, actions and interactions -- the actors', the characters', the director's, the scriptwriter's, and our own. It is decidedly a group endeavor, and, as such, one that lives and breathes in an intangible no-man's-land between "thinking" and "playing" for the filmmakers, "thinking" and spontaneous "reacting" for the audience: the relative strengths of both values are held. ††
To sum up, Altman's films, and perhaps especially Nashville, are difficult to describe or assess in words; to see them is to experience something quite ethereal and magical and particular to the workings of (Altman's) cinema.

Yet I can say a few words about why Nashville is particularly essential viewing. Besides the fact that it is one of Alman's most assured and "unified" films (if that word is even appropriate when describing a filmmaker like Altman), Nashville is also an important historical film, one of a group -- including The Parallax View, All The President's Men, The Conversation, Taxi Driver, and The Deer Hunter -- that accurately characterize the vibe of post-1960s, post-Watergate America. Nashville's assassination plot and ironic use of anthemic-sounding music tie it formally to this group of films, while its downbeat, relaxed, even humorous tone make it stand out uniquely among this otherwise heavy menagerie.

Further, what Nashville achieves that few other Hollywood films of any era do is to stage an effective critique of the insidious and cruel nature of consumer capitalism. Every single musician or aspiring musician we see in the film has been co-opted and used in some way. Haven Hamilton is a pawn of the Nashville promotional scene and of local politics; Barbara Jean and Tommy Brown are token minorities who are used and then thrown aside; and poor Sueleen Gay is an aspiring singer whose very American dreams expose her to humiliations of the worst kind.

Aspiring musicians perform at a deafeningly loud racetrack, ignored by 
an indifferent crowd. Their plight reflects the fate of all the musicians we see in the film: 
the capitalist system lets them climb toward fame and fortune but gives them nothing in return, killing them metaphorically and (in some cases) literally. 

Indeed, one of Nashville's great strengths is its relentless exposure of the commodification and exploitation of women that lies at the heart of patriarchal (popular) culture. Although Wood argues that "Altman's identification with a female (never feminist) position is extremely problematic: it is limited almost exclusively to the notion of woman-as-victim, to sensations of pain, humiliation, and breakdown," I assert that this strategy is very effective and is aligned with the tradition of melodrama, which foregrounds and ennobles female suffering.††† For me, the heartbreaking scene in which Sueleen (Gwen Welles) does a striptease under duress is one of the most excruciating scenes in all American cinema -- as it should be. Far from exploitative, this scene, like most of the scenes involving the convalescing (recovering?) Barbara Jean, serve to highlight the ways in which the patriarchal entertainment industry -- which has clear ties to our patriarchal political leadership -- vampirically exploits women's bodies and talents in order to make more profit and further its oppressive ends. If everyone is exploited under capitalism, Nashville seems to say, women are exploited most of all, and suffer for it the most painfully.

Ronee Blakley as Barbara Jean, one of the most moving and heartbreaking 
characters in Nashville

Finally, I take it as significant that the song the crowd sings together at the end -- "It Don't Worry Me" is actually a hit radio song composed (in the world of the film) by callow folk-rocker Tom Frank and heard in snippet form on his album and requested by fans at a pub before we finally hear it sung in full by all in the denouement. In other words, far from being a grassroots anthem, this song of "resistance" -- or is it compliance? -- that the crowd spontaneously sings is actually itself a commodity, a song marketed to them by the same Nashville music industry that set the stage for the film's climactic tragedy. The crowd is simply reproducing what the exploitative system has already sold to them. In this way the film interweaves the political and the pop-cultural, showing us that what counts as "culture" in America is in fact a for-profit, totalizing network of systems -- fully encompassing party politics -- that only requires our docile participation in order to maintain its awful, exploitative momentum.  Nashville thus incisively exposes how supposedly "apolitical" performers and activities are anything but.

Yet there I go again, harping on Nashville's political themes, when I should be emphasizing how well-acted, cleverly constructed, witty, touching, and fun this film is to watch. There are many films I consider to be socially or politically important, but few that I return to nearly as often as Nashville for the sheer pleasure of it. I give this film my highest endorsement and urge all of my readers to check it out.

Arnold Schwartzenegger and Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye.

Bonus Afterthought: Despite my deep appreciation for the Altman films I have seen (about nine altogether, and a few of those so long ago I don't remember them well), I have not seen a great many and am no expert on the director. (Sure, nine films sounds like a repectable number, but Altman is prolific and that count does not include crucial entries like California Split [1974] and 3 Women [1977]. Plus my memories of the seminal McCabe & Mrs. Miller [1971] are rusty at best). Nevertheless I can point you toward a few of the other Altman features I have enjoyed most: Gosford Park (2001), Short Cuts (1993), and The Long Goodbye (1973).

A bit less ambitious but no less well-crafted than his mid-career epics, Gosford Park is a delightful treat that any moviegoer should enjoy. One of Altman's few films set outside the U.S. context -- in Great Britain -- this comedy of manners/whodunit will surely appeal to fans of the hit BBC series Downton Abbey, particularly since its screenplay was penned by Downton creator Julian Fellowes.

The Long Goodbye and Short Cuts are both exemplary L.A. films, the former a parodic riff on film noir, the latter another lengthy "tapestry" film of interweaving stories similar to Nashville. I have a hard time choosing which of these two films I like better -- they are tied for my second-favorite Altman film after Nashville. I recommend Goodbye to fans of film noir and offbeat comedy, but would probably have to consider Short Cuts more essential viewing if you have the time to invest in it -- at just over three hours, it is twenty-five minutes longer than Nashville.

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* The nine films appearing on both lists are: The Wild Bunch [#83], 2001: A Space Odyssey [#25], Blade Runner [#81], Chinatown [#31], Double Indemnity [#40], Nashville [#9], Psycho [#5], Rules of the Game [#39], and Night of the Living Dead [#79].
** Wood, Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan . . . and Beyond, p. 36.
*** Rosenbaum, Essential Cinema, p. 92.
† The exception to this rule is Altman's debut feature, MASH, which, as Rosenbaum points out, is a relatively focused "thesis film" quite different from all of Altman's subsequent work (Essential Cinema pp. 81-2).
†† Rosenbaum, p. 81.
††† Wood, p. 38. For more on melodrama, see Linda Williams' "Melodrama Revised" and/or Kathleen Karlyn's Unruly Girls, Unrepentant Mothers. 


Sunday, July 27, 2014

What Makes The Room So Great?

The Room's Johnny asks "Why is this happening to me?" -- reflecting
the sentiments of many who watch this film.

I recently re-watched Tommy Wiseau's The Room (2003) -- my fourth or fifth viewing now, I believe -- in order to share its greatness with my girlfriend. During our post-screening discussion she asked me a very provocative question: Why is The Room such a gleeful pleasure to watch while the Star Wars prequels are not? If all these films are flat-out terrible (which they are), how and why does The Room cross over into "so bad it's good" territory while Star Wars Episodes I - III cannot?

While the Star Wars prequels are as badly written and directed as The Room -- and I say that in complete earnest, no hyperbole intended -- the thing that makes them disturbing and gutting rather than fun is that we know that their creator, George Lucas, is capable of delivering at least decent, and sometimes even great, movies.* So Lucas' numerous artistic and technical failings on the prequels are haunted by the possibility that those movies could have been good. If Lucas would have brought on additional writers, surrogate directors, etc. and just focused on the one thing he knows how to do well, i.e., deploying special effects, those movies might have been at least watchable and maybe even enjoyable. As it is, they are some of the worst movies ever made -- incoherently scripted, boringly shot, and abysmally directed -- and it is confounding to think that they could have been, with just the slightest bit more thought and effort, something more. That could have been aspect is a major part of what ruins the fun and makes those films unwatchable.

Not so with The Room. There is no better version of The Room out there, haunting our viewing experience of the version we have. No, The Room as it exists today is a perfectly realized, painstakingly crafted, highly accurate expression of Tommy Wiseau's complete lack of understanding of what constitutes a watchable movie. It is so terrible as to be miraculous. The Room looks as if a third grader with no understanding of American life or storytelling conventions was given the money and equipment to make a movie, and did so. Its understanding of human motivations, and its approach to the art of filmmaking, are so infantile that it is a total pleasure to watch, constituting as it does a truly unique artifact in the history of failed cinema.

 Meet the only two believable characters in The Room, Michelle (Robyn Paris) and an unnamed party guest who delivers many key lines in the film's climax despite having never been previously introduced as a character.

The Room is not merely a bad movie in the technical sense. In fact, the lighting, sound, design, etc. are passable, and the camera work, while dull and unimaginative, is no worse than that which pervades the Star Wars prequels (again, I am being serious -- no hyperbole intended here). And The Room's glaringly obvious and fake-o greenscreen work is, again, no worse-looking than the same techniques as relentlessly abused in the Lucas prequels. No, the thing that makes The Room such a true masterpiece of badfilm is the complete seriousness with which it takes its ridiculous self.** It does not seem to know that it is one of the worst movies ever, and that naivete and earnestness is what makes the film a perfect and delightful masterpiece of camp.

In her seminal essay, "Notes on 'Camp,'" cultural critic Susan Sontag observes that
Pure Camp is always naive. Camp which knows itself to be Camp ("camping") is usually less satisfying. The pure examples of Camp are unintentional; they are dead serious.
Now this factor alone would not fully explain why The Room is camp whilst Lucas' failed prequels are not, for I assume that Lucas also was "dead serious" when he made those shitty movies. But Sontag elaborates:
In naive, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails. Of course, not all seriousness that fails can be redeemed as Camp. Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naive. When something is just bad (rather than Camp), it's often because it is too mediocre in its ambition. The artist hasn't attempted to do anything really outlandish.*** 
And this is where the Star Wars prequels fall short -- they lack outlandishness or artistic ambition. They may be technically ambitious in the sense that they (over-)depend upon digital effects to achieve their aesthetic ends, yet there is little imagination or fantasy or passion to be found in them. As others have pointed out, the prequels mainly rehash imagery from the original Star Wars trilogy and show little interest in wowing us with their exciting new ideas or deeply felt commitment to the art of producing exciting cinema. They just feel like badly scripted, mediocre retreads of something that used to be pretty great. 

Tommy Wiseau says: "I'm a strange, emotionally infantile weirdo 
trying to be serious -- and that's funny!"

Jar Jar Binks says: "I am a disturbingly racist caricature 
trying to be funny -- and that's depressing!"

By contrast, The Room is incredibly ambitious -- director Tommy Wiseau seems genuinely convinced that he has created a true cinematic masterpiece that all Americans should see multiple times in order to suss out its deep nuances. And as badly written, directed, and acted as it is, no one can fault writer/director/star Wiseau for lacking passion for the project. If The Room does not possess Sontag's "proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naive," then I don't know what does. It is a perfect storm of pure Camp. And hence, immensely enjoyable. I recommend it highly.

"WHERE'S MY FUCKING MONEY, DENNY??!!"
--
* By my reckoning, I count American Graffiti and THX1138 as decent films, and the original Star Wars and its sequel The Empire Strikes Back as good, possibly great films. I will return to this subject in more depth in my discussion of Empire, which is entry #53 on EW's 100 Best Films list.
** badfilm refers to fringe films deliberately championed for their technical badness and/or outlandish, grotesque visual and thematic content. I picked up this term from Jeffrey Sconce, who discusses badfilm and other forms of "paracinema" in his sharp, interesting essay "Trashing the Academy," found in Screen 36.4 (Winter 1995).
*** Sontag, "Notes on Camp" in Against Interpretation and Other Essays (Picador, 2001) p. 282, 283.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

In Defense of the Jaws Sequels

"SURPRISE!!!"

While the original Jaws (1975) is by far the greatest film to carry that name, I am a staunch defender of the many pleasures to be had in the three Jaws sequels, particularly Jaws 2 (1978) and the much-maligned Jaws: The Revenge (1987). Allow me to briefly explain why.

Tina Wilcox screams: "A . . . SHARK!!!" in Jaws 2.

Jaws 2 (1978)
Sure, Jaws 2 is basically a rehash of the first Jaws movie with a less stellar cast. There is a shark out there off Amity Island, Chief Brody knows it's there, and Mayor Vaughn and the townspeople don't believe him. And with Quint dead and Hooper not present, the amazing character dynamics that drive the last third of the original Jaws simply don't exist in the sequel.

But Jaws 2 makes up for this lack on two fronts:

(1) It substitutes in an ensemble cast of sailboating teenagers, and those teen actors are in fact quite good. In a way, we actually care more about the victims in this installment because we get to know them better than, say, Chrissy the night-swimmer or Alex Kintner form the first film. Tina Wilcox (Ann Dusenberry) is a particularly great and pivotal character in Jaws 2.

(2) The actual shark attacks in Jaws 2 are more grandiose and badass than in the first film. Knowing he cannot replicate Spielberg's slowly-built suspense and delayed reveal of the shark from the original, Jaws 2 director Jeannot Szwarc just says "Fuck it" and lets us see the shark more or less right away.* The attack upon the waterskier and her friend is flat-out awesome, and it concludes with a motorboat exploding in flames. Cool! Even cooler is the shark's incredible takedown of a Coast Guard helicopter (!) late in the film.

So Jaws 2 is a winner. The destruction of the Jaws 2 shark by electrocution is almost as badass as its being blown up in the original. The remainder of the supporting cast -- Murray Hamilton, Lorraine Gary, Jeffrey Kramer -- is top-notch as well and the film takes Chief Brody's storyline seriously despite the ludicrousness of the overall premise (i.e., that ANOTHER shark has come to Amity). After the original, Jaws 2 is my next most favorite Jaws film.

Dennis Quaid and Bess Armstrong anchor a solid cast in the somewhat boring Jaws 3-D.

Jaws 3-D (1983)
Despite its clever premise -- the Jaws shark runs amok in SeaWorld -- I think Jaws 3 is the weakest of the Jaws sequels, for two reasons: (1) the film is played a bit too seriously, with too few cool shark attacks and not enough campy humor to sustain a Chief Brody-less installment, and (2) it was made to be exhibited in 3D so many parts look stupid and shitty when watched today on home video.

This 3D shot of the shark looks really fake-o and dumb on DVD.

That said, what are the good points? The cast is good, especially Bess Armstrong, Lou Gossett Jr., and a terrific Simon MacCorkindale as a roguish undersea photographer and adventurer. The premise is good, if it is executed with little flair or panache. 

Probably the best scenes in Jaws 3 are the character development parts in which the Brody brothers and their girlfriends hang out at a bar or go frolicking in the sea. I also like the subplot wherein a SeaWorld worker goes missing (killed by the shark of course) and his brassy girlfriend shows up demanding answers. But there just isn't enough decent shark action to really carry this thing off -- essential viewing for Jaws completists only.

Michael Caine and Lorraine Gary are great in the so-bad-it's-good Jaws: The Revenge.

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
After Jaws 2, the much-misunderstood Jaws:The Revenge is my next-most-favorite Jaws sequel. This film is rightfully criticized for being ridiculous and somewhat shoddily constructed -- this latter point surely applies to its ending, which intercuts newly shot footage with recycled images from the climax of the 1975 original. Yet I truly do not understand why more people do not champion this film as one of the great "so bad its good" delights of the cinema. For me, Jaws:The Revenge stands up with films like The Room in terms of the sheer quantity of unfettered pleasure it delivers via its campy badness.

The movie's premise is one of the most absurd premises ever committed to film: having driven Chief Brody to a fatal offscreen heart attack, the Jaws shark is now systematically hunting down the surviving members of the Brody family, and it is up to the Chief's widow, Ellen (Lorraine Gary) to protect her children and granddaughter. After the death of her younger son Sean in Amity, Mrs. Brody travels to Florida to be with her older son Michael and his family, and -- of course -- the shark follows the family south!

The shark sez: "This time it's PERSONAL, muthafucka!"

Despite the craziness of this concept, and the film's cheap recycling of original Jaws images (the climactic shark explosion, Martin's interactions with young Michael at the kitchen table as Ellen looks on), I nevertheless maintain that Jaws: The Revenge is well-scripted and well-constructed from a purely structural point of view. Unlike many of today's blockbusters, the film makes sense given its premise. It is actually better scripted and acted than any of the Star Wars prequels or any Michael Bay Transformers movie.

Much of the pleasure of Jaws:The Revenge stems from (1) its unabashed, over-the-top commitment to its absurd concept, and (2) its cast. Regarding the latter, Lorraine Gary is great in the lead, and the always-entertaining Michael Caine gives a standout performance as Hoagie, the charming pilot / gambler / ne'er-do-well who develops a romantic interest in the widow Brody. His one-liners during the final shark battle are totally priceless. And speaking of one-liners, Mario van Peebles is another welcome comic addition to the supporting cast, serving as the somewhat dull Michael Brody's marine biologist sidekick.

In conclusion, don't be a hater: check out the Jaws sequels. There is a lot of fun to be had in these unpretentious, if somewhat uneven, cinematic works.

Michael Caine says: "Come fly with me in Jaws the Revenge!"

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* Szwarc's actual words, taken from the making-of documentary on the Jaws 2 DVD, are: "I kept saying from the beginning: we must show the shark a lot. Because that image of the shark coming out of the water for the first time, it's already happened in the first one. That is never gonna happen again."