Jaws 2 (June 28th, 2016)
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Starring: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, and Joe Mascolo
Any sequel to Jaws is gonna have a lot to live up to. It’s an endeavor basically designed to fail, as trying to basically follow up perfection is a fools errand. One that not even Spielberg has tried to do, never even trying to make a movie like Jaws again. But Universal is not without the capacity for stupidity in the face of greed, so they greenlit a sequel to their smash hit. But Spielberg did not return, nor did Richard Dreyfuss. Only Roy Scheider would return, and that was only out of being forced into it thanks to a contractual obligation to Universal. What should have been a horrible mistake chalked up to a misguided attempt to catch lightning in a bottle, the movie surprisingly isn’t bad. It’s, obviously, in no way up to the same levels as its predecessor. But it is a charming enough little movie that is kinda smart in its way on building off of the first one. Brody has survived the first movie and is still working as the Chief of Police in Amity, content with his life. But he starts to believe, after a series of accidents, that another shark has come to feast in Amity. He may be right in the end, but he really doesn’t have proof for a long time and comes across like a hysterical mad man beset by a strong case of PTSD. It’s pretty smart to go in that way. It even feels like it’s in the same world as the first one, Amity feeling like the same place. It’s kinda like Spielberg directed the pilot of the Jaws universe and Szwarc had to keep the visual style close to what Spielberg did to keep the continuity going. And he does a decent enough job, if lacking the same filmmaking grace that Spielberg did. What sinks the movie is that it’s way too long and focuses on a group of prototypical teen characters that get beset by the great beast. Seeing as how this came before Halloween, thus coming before the slasher movie trend, it’s funny how it feels like the a movie chasing a trend but it isn’t. These characters make the movie stretch a little too long. There’s a laxness to the flick, a lack of thematic richness to it. The sharks attacks in this one are a little too much, too overwritten and clumsy and convenient. It feels like a movie the entire time and it makes the shark seem way too smart. Although I will give the movie credit for the scene where Brody asks a doctor if Sharks can seek revenge and being shut down, essentially forgoing a bullshit reason for a sequel that would actually become a plot point in the 4th entry. This flick has it’s charms and is a more worthy sequel than it has any right to be. But it is definitely flawed, the lack of Spielberg is missed and the feeling of cinematic rot in the franchise has started to rear its head. And somehow they made 2 more, which are both immensely bad and I can’t wait to see them again.
Assault on Precinct 13 (June 30th, 2016)
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Jostin, Laurie Zimmer, and Tony Burton
Very few directors burst onto the scene with a debut that is as fully formed and definitively them. John Carpenter did it with this movie, an immense and iconic action movie that right out of the gate told everyone what he was all about. From that pulsating synth score to the gorgeous widescreen compositions to the elevating of simple stock characters to the merging of western stories with the more modern and a sense of nihilism mixed with a sense of hard worn optimism, this is a quintessential Carpenter movie. Taking the basic idea from one of his favorite movies, Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, he strands a cop and a criminal inside a police station and forces them to team up against a silent horde of thugs trying to kill everyone inside the essentially abandoned police station. But within it you get everything that makes Carpenter the iconic director he became, setting it apart from being a simple pastiche of an older movie. He claims there isn’t much in the movie in regards to social messages, but it’s there. There’s no way it wasn’t in his subconscious if he really didn’t aim to make a statement. It’s about the white flight and how the police station is being shutdown because the “scum” that live in the area aren’t worthy of protection. So it leaves the police station wide open to attack without any sort of help, leaving them as helpless as those they are abandoning. He also sidesteps any sort of racial messiness by making the cop black and the criminal white, without even commenting on it. Not many B movies from the 70s can come out today and be think piece proof, but this movie side steps at least one subject by smartly doing that. It’s also smart as it helps to make you care, subliminally, because the cop is a guy from that area who bettered himself to try and help others. What’s nice is also that there is a sense of camaraderie between the cop and the criminal, as they both have a code and a sense of morality that plays well off each other. There’s no handwringing about having the crook help when the attack happens, just simple survival. The movie is a nice breath of pure and simple thrills on all fronts. Hell, my favorite aspect of the movie is that the people in the station have no idea why they’re being attacked. We know, but it doesn’t matter to them. They just need to survive and the whys of it won’t change that. While Dark Star might technically be his first movie, this is really his debut as this is the first movie he made outside of school and it is an immense fucking debut. The man speaks pure cinema, wringing gold out of a tiny as hell budget and making something timeless and indicative of his style and interests. John Carpenter came to the fore fully formed and he just tightened it up as he went along.
The BFG (July 1st, 2016)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Ruby Barnhill, Mark Rylance, Jemaine Clement, and Bill Hader
It’s a sentiment that’s been going around in many of the reviews of this movie, but it’s true. This is definitely a minor entry in the works of Spielbergs career. But that’s only because the man has so many classics in his filmography that he has some to spare. This may not be an all timer from him, but it has way too much greatness in it to be ignored because it doesn’t reach the absurd high points he’s reached in the past. The main problem with the movie is that it is very slight and there isn’t much story to it, ultimately going for an easy going and hang out vibe. Which means it’s a little shaggy at points. There’s no real drive to it and then when the end shifts into story mode, pushing towards a resolution mighty quickly, it feels a bit off. But when it ends you don’t really care because the movie was so utterly charming and fun that any imperfections can be shunted to the side. Because this is yet again another immensely crafted movie from him, utterly gorgeous. One of the best looking movies he has ever made, perfectly capturing the storybook feel of the source material while never looking completely fake or cartoonish. It’s a hell of a magic trick and helps you just get lost in the beauty. And in a movie that essentially falls to two characters, he knocks it out of the park with the casting. Barnhill is another great child actor in the Spielberg pantheon, a lonely girl with steel in her spine and warmth in her heart. But the real MVP is Rylance, who is just a national fucking treasure. He completely embodies the BFG and sells the weirdo Rahl dialogue he’s been given. WETA has done a great job at mo capping him, never losing the magic of the performance and letting him shine through. There’s a slightness to the movie, but there’s some interesting thematics to it regarding dreams and storytelling that feel very personal to Spielberg. It makes it stand out above simply being a fun little romp. Spielberg has always been a dynamo at using tech to elevate a movie and he does so again here, using the digital camera to zoom in and out of locales and show off the world he’s built. The ending is also really weird and out of left field but fitting somehow, and also containing some next level fart jokes. It’s Spielberg playing very loose, having fun and aiming a movie at the kids without getting into the Amblin style darkness of the 80s movies. This may end up being lower tier Spielberg, but it is a good little movie that will make kids have a good time and may even charm the adults with them.