A young woman is killed by a shark while skinny-dipping late one night. Brody (Roy Scheider), the local police chief of Amity Island, wants to close the beaches. This would kill the tourism-based economy in the heart of summer and the mayor and town council deny Brody permission. The medical examiner goes so far as to reclassify the woman’s death as a boating accident, to avoid generating fear. After a young boy is killed in full view of the beach-going public, a bounty is offered by his mother for the shark. Local shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) offers to kill the beast for $10,000 and the sum attracts the attention of marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss). Eventually, the three team up to end the terror.
I’ve never seen this movie before. It seems sacrilegious, right? A film buff having never seen Jaws is almost unforgivable. So sitting down to watch it, I knew all about the history of the film, how it coined the phrase “blockbuster”, how Spielberg built suspense and fear throughout the film. Knowing all of that in advance, it did not take away from my enjoyment of the film in any way. If anything, it helped me have a greater appreciation for the moments between those famous scenes. Brody’s failed attempts to close the beaches, Hooper’s inability to convince the locals of the danger they are facing, and the former’s own fears and concerns about his family are heightened. I’m worried about the shark coming, but I’m worried about the people, too.
Alex Leamas (Richard Burton) is a British intelligence officer for The Circus (the same organization George Smiley works for) and is stationed in West Berlin. He is responsible for recruiting East Germans who are willing to assist the West or defect. When his last agent is killed while crossing the border, Leamas is recalled to Britain. The agent was killed on the orders of Mundt (Peter van Eyck), who has repeatedly thwarted Leamas’ efforts. Control (Cyril Cusack), The Circus’ leader, devises a plan to kill Mundt: Leamas will pose as a defector and make contact with Mundt’s underling, Fiedler (Oskar Werner), leaking information that will lead Fiedler to conclude that Mundt is a British agent and result in Mundt’s execution.
This movie would have been perfect if I had known less about Leamas’ role in Control’s plan, his “defection” would have been much more suspenseful, and would have led to a much more thrilling climax. Burton is spot-on as Leamas, creating a character who’s asking some serious questions about his work. The role Leamas plays as a “defecting” agent is clearly causing him to seriously weigh the work that he’s doing. Martin Ritt creates suspense within a rather elaborate plot by building Leamas’ relationship with Nan, showing his humanity before sending him into the Soviet Union. It’s Burton’s performance as a conflicted intelligence officer that carries the film and makes it a classic.
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is investigating a series of seemingly unconnected deaths, pouring his energy into the cases without the assistance of Dr. John Watson (Jude Law), who has moved out of 221B Baker Street after getting engaged to Mary (Kelly Reilly). Holmes believes that all the deaths are murders executed under the direction of Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), but is unclear as to Moriarty’s purpose. Holmes abducts Watson on his honeymoon and they embark for the European continent to thwart Moriarty.
I really liked the first Sherlock Holmes movie. It was a fun, thrilling take on what may have been considered (at the time) a stodgy character. Downey’s energy in the role made for a convincing action hero. Guy Ritchie’s use of slow-motion and special effects found a perfect milieu. Sadly, I was not as enthralled this time around. The film starts off promising enough and has some enjoyable action sequences, but the overarching plot, particularly Mortiarty’s scheme, isn’t all that interesting. I was especially disappointed with Jared Harris’ performance as Moriarty. His evil is too cold and calculating. I understand that he’s this brilliant mastermind with no empathy, but a little sadism or mania would have helped me believe him as a true villain. The climactic confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty is also very disappointing and pretty anti-climactic. Overall, this is a disappointment.
Young John Bennet (played as an adult by Mark Wahlberg) lays in bed on Christmas Night, wishing that his new talking toy bear Ted could be alive. The wish is granted and the bear comes to life, becoming an instant celebrity. As the prologue shows us, though, celebrity is short-lived. Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane as an adult, and sounding only slightly different from Peter Griffin) and John grow up together, becoming lazy pot-smoking buddies. John is dating Lori (Mila Kunis), who has put up with Ted’s shenanigans as John’s roommate for a long time. She wants to get engaged, though, and needs John to make a bigger commitment to her, meaning Ted could get left behind.
Is this the “worst movie of the year“? No, it’s not, but it’s not very good. If you’re watching something involving Seth MacFarlane then you need to expect offensive, sophomoric, and stupid jokes. That’s what you signed up for when you sat down. And the characters are awfully one-dimensional. How can John be that dumb and be dating Lori?
What MacFarlane does do well, I think, is explore themes and topics by acknowledging the complex emotions that accompany them. The Brian-and-Stewie episodes of Family Guy are evidence of this. Unfortunately, he gets sidetracked and uses the resources of a feature film to be self-indulgent. A minor role for Sam J. Jones (Flash! ah-ahh! Savior of the universe!) is funny and expected, but plays too big a role. The subplot involving a man (Giovanni Ribisi) obsessed with Ted sets up the film’s climax, but it’s unnecessary. If MacFarlane had focused on the conflicts present in the relationships, this would have been a much stronger film.
Young panda Po (Jack Black) works in his adoptive father Mr. Ping’s (James Hong) noodle shop, but dreams of kung fu. He loves everything about it–the heroes, the villains, and the legends and mythology–despite his physical limitations. Fortunately, he lives in the Valley of Peace, home of red panda Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and the Furious Five, kung fu warriors trained to defend the Valley from the forces of evil. Grand Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), a tortoise, is prepared to choose the legendary Dragon Warrior from among the Five and grant them access to the legendary Dragon Scroll. The Scroll will grant the Dragon Warrior access to the most mystical secrets of kung fu. Desperate to witness this historic event, Po ends up launching over the walls and into the arena where the selection is taking place, landing directly between Oogway and Tigress (Angelina Jolie). Oogway names Po the Dragon Warrior and the young panda’s training begins, despite Shifu’s wishes.
I admired the seriousness with which directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne approached the action sequences in this film. It looks and feels like a real martial arts film, almost like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. High praise, right? These scenes could have been more cartoonish. And yes, this is a cartoon. But look beyond that, and you’ll see a film that treats its fighting seriously, all the while injecting good laughs and thoughtfulness. Kung Fu Panda presents an emotional story that its target audience (kids) can relate to: the search for identity and purpose, for accepting and belonging. It doesn’t spend enough time establishing and exploring the relationships between Po and the Furious Five, but that’s what sequels are for and I’m looking forward to seeing the next one.
Well-to-do suburbanite Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) has been alone for some time after her husband’s death and is beginning to receive interest from men who would marry her. Her college-aged children encourage this and Cary shows the first signs of availability by wearing a flattering red dress to a formal dinner. Unexpectedly, she makes conversation with and begins a romance with her gardener, Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), a younger man. Ron does not have any disdain for the lifestyle of his clients, but he seeks simpler pleasures and is less concerned with material possessions than others. Cary is drawn Ron’s charm and passion, but is fearful of what her children and neighbors will think.
This film feels pretty ahead of its time. A love story about a widow finding romance with her gardener, eschewing the more traditional suitors that come to her door, it challenged the contemporary social stratification. It’s exploration of Cary’s loneliness, though, is where it makes a bigger statement. Cary’s expected to re-marry according to everyone else’s expectations or die a spinster. You see this crush her throughout the film. Once she connects with Ron, it is impossible for her to be content with the life she had previously envisioned. She isn’t ready to be placed aside, but it takes a while for Cary to build up the strength to be her own person and follow her heart.
Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) has reigned as butter carving champion at the Iowa State Fair for the past fifteen years. The judging commission, however, believes it is time for a change and asks him to step aside from competition. His wife, Laura (Jennifer Garner) sees this as a threat to her social aspirations. Bob doesn’t deal well with his wife’s anger and seeks solace with a local stripper Brooke (Olivia Wilde) Laura finds out and decides to take matters into her own hands, entering the competition to preserve the Pickler name. At the same time, ten year-old foster child Destiny (Yara Shahidi) discovers her talent for carving and convinces her newest parents Ethan (Rob Corddry) and Jill (Alicia Silverstone) to support her in the competition. Destiny and Laura emerge as the favorites and both want to win.
With a cast like this, you’d think this film would be better. Alas, with poor direction, it doesn’t focus enough on the characters that make the film interesting. This meandering left some plot lines unresolved and the tone of the film uneven. There’s no resolution for Bob’s relationship with Laura or his personal identity outside of butter carving. His daughter (Ashley Greene) is just kind of there. Hugh Jackman’s character is criminally underused, although his character is barely present enough for us to care.
Trying to focus on two lead narrators, Destiny and Laura, sets up a weird dynamic for the film that just doesn’t work. This movie should have been either a Best in Show-esque inside look at the world of butter carving, documenting the lives of butter carvers who dream of “winning the big one”, or following “normal” people (Destiny, Ethan, and Jill) as they experience this subculture. Instead, it tries to be parts of both those movies, with a little bit of attempted satire on middle America thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, it’s too much for director Jim Field Smith to handle. I laughed enough that this isn’t a complete failure, but it’s too disjointed. This is why it didn’t get a wide release.