Jaws – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Murray Hamilton and Lorraine Gray
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb
Length: 124mins

After forty-seven years of returning to the big screen, the original, and perhaps most iconic blockbuster takes its place amongst the cinema listings once again, with a 4K restoration which promises to bring the enigmatically large molars of its title into greater definition and grandeur than ever. Of course, this is a film remembered for its terrifying Great White more than anything else, but if time has proven one thing, it’s that the exceptional writing and compelling characters which brings this tale of man versus shark to the front of the billing time and time again.

Speaking of characters, we’ll start with the residents of the idyllic Amity Island – our primary setting for half of the film. Chief Brody is a strong, well-tanned protagonist who seems all set to lead the battle against the threat upon his precinct, save for the fact that he’s constantly too tentative to go near the water, pulling on garishly yellow life preservers, and being shown to appear un-authoritative in the face of his more senior officials. Spielberg and fellow writers Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb carve out a contradictory character who the audience find a level of relatability towards, and use this empathy to create a great leader who must overcome his fears to defeat the greatest threat he faces – himself and his towns’ pleasant residents becoming fish fodder.

The mayor of the town, Larry Vaughn, is perhaps the greatest intentional threat to Amity’s population. A shark can’t help its nature, but Vaughn actively indulges the greed of a booming tourist industry, which comes only at the small cost of potentially dozens of his local residents. Smartly dressed and self-knowingly grinning throughout most of his scenes, Spielberg frames this stereotype of a figure constantly at the edge of great bodies of water – the open ocean, local ponds or graffitied signs advertising the area – but of course, never seen delving into them. A man who knows he has a shark problem on his hands would never be the first to brace the biting depths, no matter the encouragement he gives to those around him. 

Shark aficionado and resident out-of-towner Matt Hooper plays a perfect opposition to the weather-beaten, weary and wisened features of enduring local fishermen Quint, who promises to find the shark for three thousand, but catch him, and kill him, for ten. Though the pair may seem as far apart in character as man-eating shark’s mouth is from its tail, the development of the narrative allows for a determined kinship to grow between the two, as they unite alongside Chief Brody to bring the shark to damning justice.

‘Jaws’ isn’t great simply because of its characters. It’s endlessly quotable, intelligently and beautifully captured, and also features a Great White swallowing up helpless small-town locals. It’s rare that a blockbuster brings so many elements to life in such a vivid manner, and would set a benchmark for the calibre of filmmaking that would come to be delivered from Spielberg over the course of a number of decades. But if there’s one story of his that I find myself returning to over and over again, it’s a story of three troubled men, hoping to find some peace in the death of a wild animal.

The Gray Man – Review. 

Rating: 15 Cast: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana De Armas, Billy Bob Thornton and Rege-Jean Page. Written by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Length: 122mins. 

With an all-star cast led by Ryan Gosling as a CIA hitman on the run, The Gray Man feels like it’s set to challenge for action film of the year and with the Russo brothers at the helm most audiences lead with high expectations. You can definitely grasp the influence of other films in the choices behind many elements, but unfortunately it feels more like a ‘copy and paste’ of the filmmakers favourites rather than something fresh and exciting around moments of inspiration. 

The plot is this – while in prison ‘six’ (Gosling) is approached and offered a chance at freedom if he agrees to train as a highly skilled assassin for the CIA, but when a mission goes wrong he finds himself being hunted and holding incriminating evidence of his employer and a game of cat and mouse ensues with no real surprises. 

The writing lacks imagination and on a whole the film’s flimsy appearance manages to makes exotic locations feel cheap, and with some action scenes looking more like video game footage than thought through motion picture. At its centre is a tale where nearly every character feels cut from the cloth of a spy movie parody, exhibiting extreme stereotypes which just feels like a waste considering the talent that they had to play with. 

The characters are the interesting part for me. With Six they attempt give him something of a heart, by introducing the complication of Fitz’s kidnapped niece but Six isn’t so much a person as he is a mixture of cinematic ideas, none of which are given space for Gosling to develop which seems ridiculous in a film of this length. Rege-Jean Page is a convincing bad guy who doesn’t want to get his hands dirty, Chris Evans is solid – not great but again with the cartoonish villian that he was given with the script I think he’s fine and Ana De Armas is brilliant in everything she does, but definitely one of the performers that was ‘wasted’ in this production. Her part could have had so much more intrigue and depth than it did. 

The Gray Man is fine. It’s an okay action watch but is a product of too many conflicting approaches with no unifying vision, famous and talented faces that are capable of so much more and writing that lacks imagination. It was significantly too long for me and I found I didn’t really care for the plot and therefore disengaged with the film fairly early on.  

Nope – Review

Rating: 15
Featuring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea and Michael Wincott
Written and Directed by Jordan Peele
Length: 131mins

Richard Burton and Johnny Depp, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, Wes Anderson and Bill Murray. There are a great number of classic director/actor combinations which have developed throughout the years, and the dynamic duo of Jordan Peele and Daniel Kaluuya seems to be creeping up amongst them. The intelligent and thoughtful gaze of Kaluuya compliments the eerie and unpredictable nature of Peele’s stories, in a manner which reflects the audience’s own ideas, but perhaps in an even calmer way. The horror and thrill of Peele’s recent – and already impressive – back catalogue (Get Out, Us, Nope), may contain moments to make an audience leap from their seats, but would only get a slight widening of the eyes from his leading man. Although Kaluuya remains absent within 2019’s ‘Us’, the madness of ‘Get Out’ and this years’ ‘Nope’, can be explored in even more tender detail thanks to the brilliance of this director-performer combination.

Jordan Peele has absolutely reached a stage now where he can truly go in any direction he likes. His 2017 breakthrough onto the filmmaking scene, ‘Get Out’, showcased talents which were reinforced within the sophomore release, ‘Us’. For this third film, maintaining originality whilst also wanting to repeat the success of his previous work may have been a difficult task, but ‘Nope’ delivers one of the most exciting and original thrillers I’ve seen in recent years. Plotlines, ideas, and characters all lead the story into fascinating avenues that are unlikely for any audiences to hypothesise about before taking their seat. Although the motivation behind some actions, or the plotlines of some characters, can at times seem slightly erratic or untidily rushed, the film mostly delivers one exciting turn after another, resulting in perhaps the strongest film from Peele since ‘Get Out’. 

As for the story of ‘Nope’, I can’t recommend enough going in with as little knowledge as possible. Even those with a vague understanding of the concept or plot line will still be in for a treat though, as the film revolves around the sci-fi genre in a manner which hasn’t felt this intriguing since Denis Villenvues’ ‘Arrival’ in 2013. Although completely different films, both come as the work of a director firmly hitting their stride, as they explore ideas which were present in their previous films, but begin to traverse completely new regions in equal, or greater measure. 

Of course the story is great, the performances work well within the context of the story, but also this is just a film which looks incredible. The colour palette is consistently dusty and barren throughout, to match the horse ranch setting, but moments of dynamic and colourful imagery, dotted precisely throughout, re-engage the audience with their fascinating composition. Whether that be a setting as simple as a supermarket, late-night diner, or live television set from decades ago, each scene holds the audiences gaze in a well-crafted way so as to constantly reinforce the idea that these are people mixed up in an exciting and unpredictable adventure.

Definitely not the creepiest or most thrilling of his films, I would most likely categorise Peele’s new film as more of sci-fi/western/adventure. In fact, aside from the occasional intensity of a small handful of scenes, many of the supposedly more edge-of-your-seat moments, play out beautifully thanks to the incredible composition and set designs of the visuals. Though it may not contain the social and political depth of ‘Get Out’ – at least not any that has surfaced so far – ‘Nope’ is a film which simply makes for compelling viewing. A perfect cinema film.

Where the Crawdads Sing – Review.

Rating:15 Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickenson and David Strathairn. Directed by Olivia Newman. Written by Lucy Alibar (screenplay) and Delia Owens (based on the novel by). Length: 125mins. 

The film is set in the beautiful and dangerous marshland of North Carolina in the 50s and 60s, a place ‘where the crawdads sing’. Edgar-Jones plays Kya, a young woman who has basically raised herself in a remote shack deep in the marshland. She’s had to learn to survive when her drunken and violent Pa drove her mother and siblings away after years of domestic abuse; that is until her Pa dies leaving her to fend for herself. As a teenager Kya is basically on her own, making a living by selling mussels to the local store, roaming wild and free on the wetlands in her boat and drawing pictures of the nature that she’s so at one with. This unusual lifestyle separates Kya from the ‘normality’ of the townsfolk and she is treated with contempt by most, with few allies and, once an adult, catches the attention of two young men. The first, Tate, taught her to read and encouraged her artistic talents but soon went off to study. The second, Chase, picks up the pieces of her somewhat broken heart and does his best to win her affection… 

The opening scenes of the film show the discovery of a dead body in the marshland, the body belonging to Chase. He’s a popular man about town and everyone is in shock at his demise. Considering the location of his body Kya or ‘the marsh girl’ as she’s known becomes the number one suspect and we find our plot. Kya is arrested and the film jumps between her trial and her story. While in the present we see evidence against her and the noble defence of the outcast girl, broken up appropriately with Kya’s upbringing, experiences and life as a young woman all leading up to the moment that Chase lost his life. 

I find films like this to be so interesting. First and foremost, this being based on a best selling book with a large fan base – often when popular books are made into movies there’s an element of disappointment at the result, however every single fan of the book that I spoke to said it was just as good as the book, a rare situation indeed! Secondly, I was baffled by the majority of the critics reviews being so very negative. Yes, this film is not perfect, but for some reason critics seem to focus on unusual elements such as costume choices or details around Kya’s hygiene rather than the plot, performances, direction and cinematography. It seems as though there was an agreed upon opinion for this film from the very beginning, one which I’m pleased to say I disagree with and in speaking to vast audiences, so do the masses. 

I do agree that perhaps the ending is a little cheesy and that there were definitely moments that felt slow, but as a general rule the movie was engaging, interesting and shot beautifully. A personal criticism is the choice in names for the male leads, I found myself forgetting who was Tate and who was Chase as their names were so similar but that is likely just me and not really a criticism at all! Where the Crawdads Sing is a really solid film and I would highly recommend, it’s definitely one to watch to form your own opinions on but it is worth noting that it does include some upsetting scenes.