The Movie Buff Reviews – “Ford v Ferrari,” “Last Christmas”

The Movie Buff Reviews – “Ford v Ferrari,” “Last Christmas”

Instead of a regular review today, I thought I’d compile a couple of different reviews that I’ve written for The Movie Buff, which has a new theme going which looks really awesome. The reviews include a pair of new releases – Ford v Ferrari and Last Christmas – as well as four reviews I did for the site’s Mob Movie March, which they run every year. Anyway, here are snippets from the reviews and links to where you can read them.

Ford v Ferrari – “The highs and lows of the film are amazing and this is my favourite sports film of the year, and one of my favourites of the year in general. It’s not a traditional sports movie, but I would classify it as one just because it’s so inspiring and the competition is so exciting. It has also has two key races where both have high stakes and feel rewarding in some way.” Read the review hereand I gave this one an A+

The Christmas film based on Wham!‘s song of the same name, Last Christmas – “I know sappy romance is predictable but I was frustrated with its mediocrity. The good scenes come at the wrong time, as Clarke’s rendition of “Last Christmas” should be a highlight, but I just wanted the film to end by that point. I also cry at every film, and this one never hooked me on an emotional level, which really tells that this doesn’t work for me.” You can read the review here. This review was also part of the site’s “Fall in Love February” marathon, which I also did as my 29 Days of Romance on my site. Thanks for the idea, Mark. 

Last Christmas
Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke in Last Christmas. (IMDb)

The first review I submitted for the site’s Mob Movie March was Angels with Dirty Faces, the film that inspired the Angels with Filthy Souls film in Home Alone. “It’s [James] Cagney’s performance that brings a lot of the charm to this film. That’s especially the case in his scenes with the ‘Dead End’ Kids and how they look up to him… I like the film’s ideas that they idolize a gangster because he just looks so cool. Jerry says he can’t teach honesty when the gangsters show dishonesty is the better policy. “A hoodlum or a gangster is looked up to with the same respect as the successful businessman or popular hero,” Jerry tells Rocky.” You can read the review here

I reviewed the Joe Pesci “comedy” 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag. Here’s the excerpt: “At one point, I thought that the film could either be better or get even worse if the heads interacted with the characters. Late in the film, it opens that Pandora’s Box in a nightmare scenes where the heads, lined up on a motel dresser, sing a rendition of “Mr. Sandman” (just Mr. Hitman) at Tommy where their respective bodies crash through the walls and strangle Tommy. Suffice to say, the film answers my question by being a different breed of terrible.” You can read the review here.

Okay, two more reviews. I also reviewed the 2005 film The Ice Harvest with John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, which has been on my watchlist for awhile. “It’s foremost a mob movie but also a Christmas film by default. It doesn’t have any of the traditional Christmas cheer, but has all the cynical cheer that embodies the characters of Ebenezer Scrooge or The Grinch. This film’s mantra is a line written in Sharpie on several bathroom walls: “As Wichita Falls, so falls Wichita Falls.” A sort-of “all that could go wrong will go wrong,” or The Grinch’s equivalent of wrestling with his own-self loathing.” You can read the review here.

My last review for Mob Movie March was for the 2015 film, Legend. “I’ll just talk about the best part of “Legend” straight away—and that’s Tom Hardy’s dual performance. Watching him make these two characters feel so distinct from each other is masterclass. He completely elevates this material, and without him this would have been straight-up bad for me.” Read the review here.

 

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Jaws The Revenge
IMDb

Released: July 17, 1987. Directed by: Joseph Sargent. Starring: Lorraine Gary, Michael Caine, Lance Guest. Runtime: 1h 29 min.

In the franchise’s timeline, Jaws: The Revenge takes place after Jaws 2 and completely ignores the events of Jaws 3-D. This is helpful to know that it ignores the events of the third film – since Sean’s no longer afraid of the water and he’s a deputy on Amity Island now.

Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) is now a widow after Chief Brody died of a heart attack (Ellen thinks it was the fear of sharks that killed him). The film kicks off with her youngest son Sean (Mitchell Anderson) getting killed by a shark a few days before Christmas. Enjoy this poorly edited attack, it’s the only one for awhile.

It’s funny that the film’s set during Christmas time. We can tell it’s Christmas as Sean’s death scene is accompanied with carolers singing on the island. In case you’ve forgotten by the 30-minute mark, Ellen and Michael have a conversation outside while the other characters sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in the background.

The terrible script entirely forgets about that Sean was getting married and we hardly see her at all after his death. After his death, her eldest son Michael (Lance Guest) comes to town wife his wife Carla (Karen Young) and their daughter Thea (the late Judith Barsi). They invite Ellen to stay with them in The Bahamas over Christmas. The water’s too warm for sharks, so it’ll be fine.

You see, Ellen believes that Great White sharks are out to get the Brody family. She’s wholly convinced a shark killed Sean out of vengeance, so The Bahamas’ warm waters won’t keep the Great White Revenge Shark away. Since the sharks from the first two films were defeated, they must have told their friends during their Brody feuds that if they were ever blown up, that bastard Brody did it. The shark only cares about Brody flesh, so there aren’t many shark attacks in a shark attack movie. In fact, there are two dream sequences and only one actual shark attack in the film’s first hour. Ouch.

The premise of a revenge shark is also so silly. Revenge sharks don’t make any sense. Though, the film’s lack of explanation is better than the one in the film’s novelization where a witch doctor puts a curse on the shark to do his bidding and get revenge on the Brody’s. I much prefer imagining a group of Great White sharks meeting and showing each other pictures of people that they hate the most, and Public Enemy No. 1 is the Brody family.

Ellen confides this mania in local pilot Hoagie, played by Michael Caine in one his paycheck pictures (he got $1.5 million for a week of filming). He acts circles around everyone without really trying. It’s a dull romance between Ellen and Hoagie, because Ellen’s simply boring. She works in the first two films as a supporting character but can’t carry a film to save her own life.

Jaws Revenge in review
Lorraine Gary and Michael Caine in Jaws: The Revenge. (IMDb)

She’s adamant her family not go near the water, which is hard when Michael is a marine biologist. He’s not a smart character as he decides to study the shark with Jake (Mario Van Peebles) and not tell anyone about it. Yay, secrecy.

There’s one okay scene as Michael escapes the Great Rubber Shark through a sunken ship, but that’s it for anything close to good. The script’s just ludicrous, but the film’s more memorably bad than Jaws 3-D. Speaking of Jaws 3-D, the only aspect better than it is the cinematography (especially the underwater scenes), because at least we can tell what’s happening.

The dialogue is what is memorably bad at times. Carla gets mad at Michael about not taking out the trash. She then takes out a blowtorch to work on her beach sculpture and Michael says, “I’ve always wanted to make love to an angry welder. I’ve dreamed of nothing else since I was a small boy.” That, my friends, is romance.

Spoiler alert for the last three paragraphs, so if you don’t want to read about the stupidity of the ending, thanks for reading. Still here? Cool.

The plot’s still ridiculous. The finale wouldn’t happen if Ellen didn’t recklessly go after the shark. She thinks if she lets the shark kill her, it’ll leave the family alone. It’s hilarious and delusional. The ending doesn’t make sense, either, as Jake puts an electrical pulse device down the shark’s throat and Michael uses a flashlight connected to it to make the beast literally roar in pain, which is hilarious. Ellen’s determined to kill the shark and remembers Sean getting eaten (though she could not see it) and recalls Chief Brody’s victory over the shark in Jaws, even though she did not see this.

While going to kill the shark, there’s dramatic zooms on Ellen’s face, then on Martin Brody’s in archive footage, and then the “smile you son of a bitch” line is replayed. Ellen jabs the shark with a stick and the shark spontaneously explodes. The shark looks like clay here and we can’t even tell what happens because of the bad editing. It’s basically the ending to all the Jaws films and the writer (Michael De Guzman) is like, “okay, let’s poke the shark with a stick and he’ll blow up… Because science.”

That’s a main problem with Jaws: The Revenge, it’s just a highlight reel of the first film. There’s even a similar scene to the first film where Michael gets mimicked by Thea. The filmmakers reusing footage from the first film to frame the ending around is just lazy filmmaking.

Score: 12/100

Jaws 3-D (1983)

Jaws 3-D (1983)
Jaws 3-D
IMDb

Released: July 22, 1983. Directed by: Joe Alves. Starring: Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCorkindale. Runtime: 1h 39 min.

“Jaws 3-D”, a film so bad that it’s not really even canon in the franchise because of the events of “Jaws: The Revenge,” follows a grown-up Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid) as he’s working at SeaWorld in Florida. The amusement park is about to open an attraction called the Undersea Kingdom, a series of glass tunnels about 40 feet underwater. Interfering with the grand opening is a 35-foot Great White shark that manages to get into the park.

The IMDb synopsis says “the sons of police chief Brody must protect customers” at the park, but that’s only the last 40 minutes and Sean Brody (John Putch) doesn’t help much. He’s just kind-of there to visit as he’s taking a break from schooling in Colorado. He shares his father’s fear of water but goes in because his love interest Kelly (Lea Thompson in her first film), a water-skier at the park, likes the water. The Sean character has always been afterthought to Michael, and it’s no different here.

The characters in the film are just flat. Michael works at SeaWorld as the engineer of the Undersea Kingdom and lives with his girlfriend Kay (Bess Armstrong), SeaWorld’s senior biologist. Their main thing is that Mike might go to Venezuela for work, but he also might not. That’s the deep development we get.

There’s also Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.), the park’s manager who makes a lot of stupid decisions because he’s the boss and doesn’t want to ask anyone before doing something. A photographer named Philip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale) also shows up to help hunt the shark. His characterization’s basically “must get footage, must get footage” and that’s it.

It seems like there was an interesting idea in Richard Matheson and Carl Gotlieb’s script – about a shark getting loose in a water park – but the result’s bad and the attacks suck because we can barely see them. We spend a scene on a pair of random thieves trying to steal coral from SeaWorld’s lagoon, and it’s worthless because we can barely see the attack.

Jaws 3-D in review
The film’s cutting edge visuals.

Usually when I hate a film, a redeeming quality is that’s in focus. That’s not the case for Jaws 3-D as the cinematography (by James A. Contner) is consistently bad. Everything looks terrible, and the underwater scenes don’t look good this time. Unfortunately, much of the film takes place underwater because of the Undersea Kingdom, including the finale. The exterior of the Kingdom’s glass tunnels look like the fakest thing, as does the scuba vehicle the characters use.

The use of 3-D is gimmicky – where things like a fake-looking severed arm come at the screen, and a harpoon also gets shot at us – and the visuals are god-awful. The film just has bad production design, terrible cinematography and worse visuals. It all renders it unwatchable. There’s a part where the shark literally looks like a cardboard cut-out coming at the camera. It looks more rubber often, but when it does look real, it’s just stock footage.

At one point, after Mike and Kay get out of the water after the first interaction with the shark, Mike asks, “What was that?” After encountering sharks so much as a kid, you’d think he would know what a shark is. But the beast just looks so fake, I can’t fault him for not realizing it’s a shark.

Score: 12/100

Jaws 2 (1978)

Jaws 2 (1978)
Jaws 2
IMDb

Released: June 16, 1978. Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc. Starring: Roy Schneider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton. Runtime: 1h 56 min.

The greatness that is the original Jaws is a tough act to follow. Jaws 2 is easily the best of all of the sequels, but it’s not an impressive feat. This takes place four years after the original film as a new shark terrorizes Amity Island and Chief Brody (Roy Schneider) again protects the citizens. This time, the citizens he’s protecting aren’t interesting. The only ones you might care about are Chief Brody’s sons Mike (Mark Gruner) and Sean (Marc Gilpin). Even then, I didn’t care much.

Half of Mike’s friends look the same and have little characterization – I thought of two characters as Sideburns Nerd and No Sideburns Nerd – and the only one of the teens that’s easy enough to differentiate is his buddy Andy (Gary Springer), the closest thing to the movie’s comic relief. Mike also gets set up with someone’s cousin named Jackie (Donna Wilkes). But I didn’t care about this romance stuff or their teenage shenanigans, I just wanted sharks.

There’s an argument that this film just makes it more about the shark rather than establishing secondary characters, so that’s kind-of fine because even if it did give the characters more to work with, I don’t think I would have been interested in them anyway. They’re just so dry.

Jaws 2 in reviewThe writing’s not great, either. There’s a moment where one of the teens is parasailing and the shark stalks underneath. I was getting annoyed waiting for the shark to eat him. The character turned out to be Mike and since the film didn’t establish that well, I ended up being annoyed by the scene rather than feeling the suspense that should have been there if we knew it was Mike.

Roy Schneider doesn’t look interested as Chief Brody this time, but that’s probably because he just didn’t want to do this film. He’s a great character in the first film, but he’s my least favourite of the three main characters – out of Chief Brody, Robert Shaw’s Quint and Richard Dreyfuss’ Matt Hooper – if I had to choose. Brody’s wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) returns for this film and is a good support system, but this time Brody doesn’t have anyone he can banter or play off of, which worked so well in the first film.

I like the scene seeing what the events of the first film did to him as a person when he thought he saw a shark in the water – when it was just a sea of bluefish – and he causes a huge scene. It’s believable and is what makes some of the first half like The Chief Who Cried Shark. Though, it feels more like a tool for characters just not to trust his judgment instead of fully diving into the fears he still feels because of his encounter. He warns everyone including the mayor (Murray Hamilton), who like the first film, doesn’t listen.

It goes through the motions and most of the first half bored me. There was just nowhere near the same amount of suspense. That has to do with the writing – but the score by John Williams still rocks during the shark attacks. There’s just a lot of waiting between shark attacks in the film’s first half and I was waiting the whole time for consistent shark action. I finally got that in the film’s third act – which is decent fun – but this is so boring I just wasn’t interested by that point.

Score: 40/100

Jaws (1975)

Jaws (1975)
Jaws poster
IMDb

Released: June 20, 1975. Directed by: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Roy Schneider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss. Runtime: 2h 4 min.

I’ve only seen Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece “Jaws” three times. The first time I watched it was when I was 11 years old at school, weirdly enough. The next time was in August 2012 when I was 17.

For some reason I keep waiting six years between watches as I just watched it again the other day, but with each new viewing – I still feel the suspense, like the suspense of fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) simply catching something on his hook.

I still feel the thrill of John Williams’ score as we see the shark’s underwater point of view before it attacks. As our fear of the unknown, and the ocean, builds throughout the film, it makes the big reveal of the shark that much more effective.

The film starts with such a memorable beginning of a young woman being killed by a shark while skinny dipping on Amity Island, a New England tourist town.

Despite suggestions that it’s a shark attack from Chief Martin Brody (Roy Schneider), the town’s mayor (Murray Hamilton) doesn’t want to shut down the beach because it’s the Fourth of July.

He doesn’t want a panic on his hands and he doesn’t want to lose money because of this. It has dire consequences. When the Great White shark continues to terrorize the town’s waters, the police chief, marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and ship captain Quint take the fight to it.

One of my favourite things about “Jaws” is that it is so well-paced. The second half of the film is the actual hunt and it doesn’t feel like an hour at all. This is helped by, of course, the film’s tension and its non-stop thrills.

Jaws in reviewwwI just love how the trio think they’re being the hunters going out to take down the shark and then it turns the tables on them.

Also helping the pacing is the great acting and chemistry between the three main characters, which makes their banter so natural. I always forget how funny Richard Dreyfuss is as Matt Hooper and the scene on the boat with him and Quint comparing their scars is great. Quint’s monologue about the USS Indianapolis is so compelling. He’s such a character and the songs he sings are amusing.

Chief Brody isn’t as funny as the other two, but he’s perfectly developed as someone who feels guilty about the deaths by the shark even though the fault is really on the Mayor for not shutting down the beach.

I know I’m probably not saying anything new about the film, but it’s because it’s just so great. The film’s shark attacks are just so brutal and they still make me have second thoughts of going into the ocean but it’s why it’s still so effective 43 years later.

Score: 100/100

April Fool’s Day (1986)

April Fool’s Day (1986)
April Fool's Day
Source

Released: March 28, 1986. Directed by: Fred Walton. Starring: Amy Steel, Deborah Foreman, Ken Olandt. Runtime: 1h 29min.

April Fool’s Day is a 1980’s slasher only notable for its ability to put a spin on a basic story.

Muffy (Deborah Foreman) has invited eight of her college friends to a weekend getaway on April Fool’s weekend to her family island. These people are kind-of weird in the first place to make April Fool’s Day a weekend celebration.

There are nine main characters for the getaway and that’s a lot of characters when the usual getaway vacation slasher has five or six characters so it doesn’t get crowded.

Kit (Amy Steel) is the main blonde goody-two-shoes character who wants to go to convent school and is dating Rob (Ken Olandt). Chaz (Clayton Rohner) carries around a camera a lot to videotape things for some reason and he’s with the blonde Nikki (Deborah Goodrich).

Skip (Griffin O’Neal) is simply characterized as Muffy’s cousin. Harvey (Jay Baker) is super preppy and wants to be called Hal but no one ever calls him that. There’s so much characterization to go around to everyone that a bookworm named Nan (Leah Pinsent) feels like a useless character, and the majority of them feel one-dimensional.

The comic relief comes from Thomas F. Wilson (Biff in the Back to the Future trilogy) who plays Arch, and he has some of the funniest moments as the ladies man. He’s the only actor I recognized in this. He and Deborah Foreman give the most memorable performances as Arch and Muffy, respectively.

The acting when they’re asked to be scared – mostly just Amy Steel and Ken Olandt – is bad, and Olandt’s screaming is almost annoying as the crickets that are constantly chirping. The general chemistry of the whole cast is good, and Chaz and Arch have some of the funniest moments together.

April Fool's day photo
Source

The comedy is better done than the horror itself – because it’s never actually scary, even as far as slasher films go. The setup at the beginning is good and some of the April Fool’s pranks are childish but most of them are funny.

When the killing begins, the fun stops because all of the kills actually suck because they show the bare minimum of the kills, removing a lot of the violence and it makes it really disappointing to me as a horror fan. Half of the kills literally happen off-screen and when someone wound up dead I wondered if I had missed something.

In that way it definitely sets itself apart from other slashers but it’s one of the reasons it’s not a good movie for horror fans, and a lot of it isn’t entertaining. When they don’t show the bit of what makes a horror movie successful – the kills – it feels a lot like when someone tells a story that ends with “you just had to be there.”

It’s a competent mystery because the story is developed somewhat well and there’s characters that just start acting strange.

It gears up to an interesting ending that filled in plot holes and some of the film’s major faults, and made it feel like an exercise in making an ending first and then just thinking up everything else in between. It makes it feel all a bit pointless.

It also would have been great if it were scary. April Fool’s Day is unique in the way that the comedy of the beginning is the best part even though it’s not billed as a comedy, and everything goes downhill when the killing comes, because that’s supposed to be the fun part of horror.

Score: 40/100

Pumpkinhead (1988)

PumpkinheadReleased: January 13, 1989. Directed by: Stan Winston. Starring: Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, John D’Aquino. Runtime: 86 min.

The title might make this seem like a destined Halloween classic. It’s a bit unfortunate that the revenge demon is only called Pumpkinhead because the remains of it are buried in a pumpkin patch. The practical effects of the demon are impressive, and it’s just about the only thing worth raving about with this film. It’s a decent little mash-up of classic horror sub-genres: Revenge and Dead Teenagers.

Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) is a loving father who runs a grocery store in a small town, where kids like to tease each other about a local urban legend; Pumpkinhead. It turns out, the local legend is real – and most of the locals know to stay in the house, and not interfere because the revenge demon has to run its course. When Harley’s kid is killed by a few vacationing teenagers going on a camping trip, he finds the help of an eerie witch (another thing to rave about, her decent make-up), who conjures up Pumpkinhead to take revenge on the teens who killed his kid.

Harley has a change of heart and tries to help the teens, but the demon can’t exactly be called off. He has to take matters into his own hands and intervene. Twisted occurrences happen when he’s actually on the loose, and it’s an okay set-up for the franchise; but since this has such a lacklustre cast and a mediocre story, I don’t feel the need to watch the others. There’s enough decent entertainment here for a viewing, but I doubt it will become a horror film staple any time soon.

Score63/100