Category Archives: Movies Based on Novels

The Haunting of Julia (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghost child haunts home.

Julia (Mia Farrow) leaves her husband Magnus (Keir Dullea) after their child accidently chokes on some food and dies. She then moves into a large home, which also had a child die in it years before. After Julia begins living there for a while she notices the presence of a ghostly spirit and holds a séance run by Mrs. Flood (Anna Wing) where she learns that a child was murdered by a group of other children lead by the mischievous Olivia, who is now the one haunting her home.

The film is based on an early Peter Straub noveI, but seems all mixed up in what direction it wants to take and I couldn’t understand why the first part of the story dealing with her child dying was even needed as the second half goes into an entirely different direction.  It also introduces a solid nemesis in the form of her controlling ex-husband who dies off quickly, which again left me wondering why his character was even put into the story at all.

The choking aspect is another issue and I was genuinely shocked they showed it as it’s hard to effectively pull off without it looking unintentionally comical. Having the child get hit by a train, car, slipping off the side of a cliff, or even drowning is far more dramatic and could leave a lasting visual impact whereas this looks as clumsily staged as it sounds.

The séance should’ve been avoided too since that has been parodied so much in movies that it’s hard to take seriously. The film doesn’t approach it with any new interesting angle so it comes-off as tacky as every other séance you’ve seen in a movie, even the funny ones, and yet this one we’re supposed to take seriously even though any sane participant would be convinced that the woman leading it was simply overacting for affect, which is how it looks.

The backstory involving the female child who was able to somehow control the other boys in the neighborhood to do her bidding had an intriguing element, which made me think that’s what should’ve been played out while the ghost angle dropped completely. Instead it could’ve analyzed the psycho young girl while she was alive and examined how she got the way that she did and what methods she used to convince the other kids to do what she wanted, which is never explored, but would’ve been far scarier than what ultimately gets played out.

Farrow with her super short haircut looks too much like she did in Rosemary’s Baby and a different do was needed to avoid the resemblance. Dullea has potential as the heavy, but then disappears too soon. The only one that does shine is veteran actress Cathleen Nesbit who hams it up as the mother of the killer girl, but overall the rest of it is a big letdown including the non-eventful ending that completely fizzles making it no surprise why the studio left this one sitting on the shelf for 5 years before finally giving a limited release that netted it very little in return.

Alternate Title: Full Circle

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1981 (Filmed in 1976)

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Loncraine

Studio: Discovery Films

Available: DVD (Out-of-Print), Amazon video, YouTube

Dominique (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead wife haunts husband.

Dominque (Jean Simmons) is a woman suffering from a fragile mental state who is convinced that her husband David (Cliff Robertson) is trying to drive her insane. She eventually hangs herself and then her ghostly presence comes back to haunt him, which ends up driving him over the edge Dominique (Jean Simmons) is a woman with a fragile mental state who is convinced that her husband as well.

The film was directed by the talented Michael Anderson, but you’d hardly know it as the DVD transfer by Synergy, which is already known to produce some very low grade quality stuff and looks like somebody’s badly lighted, grainy home movie. Unfortunately this is the same transfer that gets streamed onto Amazon, so if you want to see this otherwise rare movie you’ll have to buckle-up and accept the substandard look.

As for the story, which is based on the novel ‘What Beckoning Ghost’ by Harold Lawlor, it’s not all that much better as the plot and characters come off as stiff and one-dimensional. There’s no backstory either, which I felt was needed to help explain why Robertson is an American living in England and what specific job does he do that allows him to be able to afford such a big mansion? There’s also passing mention of Dominique being in an earlier accident that might’ve helped explain her mental state, but it’s never talked about in detail, or better yet shown in flashback.

Initially it’s a mystery as to whether Robertson is trying to drive Simmons mad or if it is all just in her head. Finally towards the end he admits to it and supposedly it’s all just so he can get his hands onto her money, but wouldn’t it have been much easier to hire someone to kill her and make it look like an accident then trying to drive someone insane, which has no guarantee of working and could take years and years to accomplish? Also, if Dominique is already aware of what he is trying to do then why doesn’t she just leave him instead of turning to suicide?

The ghostly special effects consist of shots showing a piano playing by itself as well as a shadowy figure walking from a distance, which isn’t much and gets repeated at several different points, which becomes quite redundant. Both stars are wasted as well. Simmons is good, but she’s only in it at the start while Robertson much spends the entire second-half saying very little and instead relying on his almost constant shocked/scared expressions to help propel the plot along.

Despite all this it still manages to be moderately compelling and may appease those who are in to ghostly tales. The twist at the end is a definite surprise, but it also leaves open a lot of logic loopholes that makes the entire thing seem quite implausible.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Anderson

Studio: Astral Films

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Heartburn (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Husband cheats on wife.

Rachel (Meryl Streep) writes for a magazine as a New York food critic and meets Mark (Jack Nicholson) at a wedding that they both attend. Mark is a political columnist who’s known around Washington for being quite a ladies man, but the two get into a relationship anyways and then eventually despite their reluctance married. Things go smoothly for a while and Rachel even starts to think that she has a ‘perfect marriage’, but then as she is about to give birth to their second child she realizes that he has been having an affair.

The film is based on Nora Ephron’s autobiographical novel dealing with her marriage and subsequent divorce to newspaper reporter Carl Bernstein. The book starts out with her ready to give birth to the second child, but the movie unfortunately takes a more linear approach to the narrative as it plods along through the initial courtship and wedding even though the red flags are clearly there and the viewer knows exactly where it’s going. The story would’ve worked better had it started at the 50-minute mark where Rachel finds out about the affair and then through brief flashbacks shown how the relationship began, which would’ve cut the runtime, which is too long for such slight material anyways, and helped make the proceedings seem just a little less predictable.

A lot of the humor doesn’t work either. The sequence involving the wedding ceremony and Rachel not sure if she wanted to go through with it which keeps the guests there for hours gets botched because I don’t believe the people would’ve remained sitting there for so long. When she finally does decide to proceed with the wedding the guests all look strangely refreshed when in reality most if not all would’ve been long gone and it would’ve been funnier to see them getting married inside an empty room save for one bored wedding guest who remained there simply because it couldn’t find a ride home.

The dream-like segments where an Alistar Cooke-like character talks about Rachel’s marriage problems while hosting a TV-show is too surreal and should’ve been excised because doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film, which is more reality based. The segment where Rachel finds out that Mark is having an affair and then it cuts to a shot of her holding a pie that she is taking to a dinner party is too obvious as the viewer immediately gets a strong sense that the pie will eventually be going onto Mark’s face and when it finally does it’s not funny, but anti-climactic instead.

The script fails to add any new insight into an already tired subject and the characters aren’t likable as they have too much of an elitist coastal feel about them and their lifestyles won’t resonate or connect with anyone living in another part of the country. There are just too many people in this whose only concern or form of entertainment is having catty gossip/conversations dealing with who’s cheating on whom, which quickly becomes derivative.

Streep and Nicholson are good and its interesting seeing them play together here as they also starred together just a year later in Ironweed playing two diametrically different people. Unfortunately Jack, who is for the most part quite likable, doesn’t look or behave at all like the real-life Bernstein, which his character is supposedly loosely based on. Dustin Hoffman, who had already played Bernstein in All the President’s Men was the first choice for the role and he would’ve been perfect, but for whatever reason he turned it down.

Ultimately though the film’s biggest drawback is simply Rachel herself as she frets and nitpicks about everything and her anxiety-ridden ways would most likely annoy any man, which makes the ultimate affair when it finally does happen seem inevitable and not a shock at all. When she ponders to Mark about if they should get married and she tells him that she fears she’ll drive him crazy and Mark replies ‘you already are’ I felt like saying ‘she’s driving the viewer that way too.’.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mike Nichols

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Romantic Englishwoman (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writer suspects wife’s infidelity.

Unhappy in her marriage Elizabeth (Glenda Jackson) goes off to Baden-Baden, Germany for a little respite and there meets up with the dashing Thomas (Helmut Berger). Although quite charming Thomas is also caught up in the criminal underworld and being chased by gangsters. After the two share a brief tryst she returns home to her husband Lewis (Michael Caine). Lewis suspects that Elizabeth was unfaithful during her trip, but can’t prove it. He invites Thomas to stay at their place in order to help him finish a screenplay that he is working on and in the process the affair between Thomas and Elizabeth starts up again, but this time Lewis is determined to stop it.

The concept is intriguing, but the film gets ruined by playing its cards too early. A far more interesting scenario would’ve been to have Lewis not suspect Thomas at all or even his wife’s longing for him and instead simply invited Thomas over as a genuine writing partner and only slowly becoming aware of the tensions boiling beneath the surface. Unfortunately having Lewis almost immediately figure things out even before Thomas arrives makes for a very boring first hour with the couple arguing over the same staid, redundant infidelity talking points that have been done a million times before.

The story’s only interesting wrinkle has Thomas starting up a relationship with the nanny (Beatrice Romand), which made more sense as Elizabeth was way older than him and I failed to see why he would’ve been attracted to her to begin with. The nanny was young and cute and it was fun seeing Elizabeth seethe with the same type of jealousy as Lewis, but the film quickly kills this storyline by having the nanny forced to move out and everything goes back to the same formulaic love triangle.

Having Lewis recreating scenes in his screenplay that replicates what he is going through in real-life had potential as it nicely illustrates the thin line between fact and fiction that writers routinely do. Unfortunately the film treats these scenes in a campy/hooky manner and then drops it just as quickly as the romance scenario mentioned above.

The direction is static with a camera nailed to the ground and everything captured in a dingy, shadowy way. The opening bit detailing how Elizabeth first meets Thomas had a naturalistic quality, but the shot were she spots Thomas from across the room and her eyes remained locked on his and she never turns away is not believable. If two people are strangers and one catches the other one staring at them it’s sheer human reflex that the other one will divert their gaze as it’s rude, awkward and off-putting otherwise. Also, to have the word romantic in the title is absurd especially after the two proceed to have sex inside an elevator during their first meeting, which is pure animalistic lust and a more accurate title would’ve been ‘The Horny Englishwoman’.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act helps fill in the gaps in regards to Thomas’ secret past, but having Elizabeth run off with him makes her character seem exceedingly shallow as she essentially abandons her young child in the process. Earlier in the film she got very upset when she saw her child sitting out on a ledge and she fired her nanny for being irresponsible and not watching him more carefully only to then by running off with Thomas behave just as irresponsibly.

The film’s final shot features strange people inhabiting Lewis and Elizabeth’s home like they’re having a party without the owners there. Lewis then after having taken Elizabeth away from Thomas and back with him drives the car the two are in up to their house. Elizabeth looks shocked at seeing all the people inside, but Lewis has a jaded expression and seems to being enjoying watching Elizabeth’s discomfort, but then the film cuts to the credits and never explains what’s occurring and nothing is more frustrating than a film which ends just as it’s finally beginning to get interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 26, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Losey

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Bless the Beasts and the Children (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kids free the buffalo.

Six adolescent boys (Barry Robins, Bill Mumy, Miles Chapin, Darel Glaser, Robert Jayson Kramer, Marc Vahanian) room together during summer camp and become known as the ‘bedwetters’. Through flashbacks we learn that the six children have difficult times at home with their individual parents and are routinely picked on by the other kids at the camp. Their camp counselor Wheaties (Ken Swofford) decides to take them to a buffalo corral where the boys witness to their horror the buffalo being shot by various hunters in an effort to ‘thin the herd’ from the weaker or more sickly ones. The boys decide to sneak off one night and free the herd from their corral, but various complications inevitably ensue.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout and one might expect from the movie’s poster, for another topical, preachy, dramatically charged production from director Stanley Kramer, but instead the film is amusing and breezy. If you went to summer camp as a child then this will be sure to bring back a flood of memories. Some of the pranks that the other kids play on our six protagonists are cruel, but there’s also fun moments that effectively recreate the carefree summer days of youth.

In a lot of ways this could be described as early version of The Bad News Bears as these ‘losers’ decided to show everyone who doubts them up and to a degree you could say this one does it better. In the bears film we never saw how the kids related to their parents and their family background, but here we do in a nice fragmented style, which allows the viewer to connect to the kids in a deeper and more emotional level, which makes us root even more for them to accomplish their mission.

The dialogue is banal and Sammy, played by Chapin, is annoying.  He’s supposed to be ‘funny’ with his lame impressions of famous celebrities, mostly those of a very bygone era that viewers today won’t even know, and the fact that he continues to do them throughout the movie made me think he should’ve been ostracized by the others just for that and it would’ve been justifiable. The on-location shooting though shot throughout Arizona helps, and Robins who plays Cotton their leader is a standout especially given the fact that he was 24 when this was filmed, but looked to be only about 14 like the other kids.

The only issue that I had with the movie is the music particularly the opening song sung by the Carpenters. Richard and Karen Carpenter were a terrific brother and sister duo, but they represented the conservative establishment. This is a movie about junior high boys and they most likely would never listen to the Carpenters or like their music. A film’s soundtrack should reflect the attitude and personality of its protagonists and the songs selected here really don’t as the boys represented rebellion while the Carpenters were all about conformity. It’s possible that director Kramer, who was nearing 60 at the time, didn’t know the difference. The Carpenters were getting chart toppers at the time, so from his generation’s perspective that made them ‘hip’ and the ‘in-thing’, which shows how out-of-touch he was to his subjects, which becomes a bit of a drawback.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Day of the Locust (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Desperate people in Hollywood.

During the depression a young artist named Tod Hackett (William Atherton) comes to Hollywood to help design the set for a new movie. While there he meets a wide assortment of people, who seek fame and fortune, but find heartbreak and rejection instead. Tod falls for Faye (Karen Black) a woman striving to become the next big Hollywood starlet despite lacking any talent while her father Harry (Burgess Meredith) is on the opposite end of the spectrum. At one time he was a vaudeville comedian, but now with his failing health is relegated to selling health tonics door-to-door.

This film is the last great effort of director John Schlesinger whose films after this lacked the same visual style that made Midnight Cowboy and Far From the Madding Crowd cinematic masterpieces. From a visual standpoint it hits all the right chords and is filled with many memorable segments. The best ones include the scene where a group of bourgeoisie guests who come to Natalie Schafer’s home (she was best known for playing Mrs. Howell on ‘Gilligan’s Island’) to watch porn movies There’s also the scene where an entire film set comes crashing down and injuring the entire crew as well as the climactic moment where a large crowd waiting outside to see the premiere of The Buccaneer turn into a violent, bloodthirsty mob.

The acting is first-rate particularly Black who portrays her desperate character to a perfect tee. Meredith, who was nominated for a supporting Oscar, gives a vivid portrayal of her equally desperate father making his scenes quite entertaining. Donald Sutherland is also solid as a likable, but socially awkward outsider, which best suits his acting persona.

The script though by Waldo Salt, which is based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Nathanael West, misses out on a lot of the book’s subtext. In the movie Tod tries to rape Faye while at a party, but this eruption of his seems to come out of nowhere while in the book it gets better explained by showing how Tod continually harbors rape fantasies for Faye and makes these fantasies a running part of the story.

Donald Sutherland’s character, the aptly named Homer Simpson, which supposedly was the inspiration for Matt Groenig’s character in his famous comic strip, is a confusing enigma. In the book he is given a better backstory and revealed to be a man struggling with a lot of inner turmoil while here he’s seems more like a strange, naïve mope from another planet.

There’s also no explanation in the movie for why the word Locust is in the title, which is in reference to the Bible and the plague of locusts that descended onto the fields of Egypt. Tod symbolizes the locust in the novel’s version of the story while in the movie his character is more of an outsider observing the ugliness, but not having a hand at creating it

The biggest issue though is the film’s underperformance at the box office, which helped relegate both Black and Atherton, who at the time were considered up-and-coming stars, to supporting roles afterwards. I believe part of the reason for this is because none of the characters are likable. It’s fine showing humanity’s bad side as long as the audience doesn’t feel beaten-over-the-head with it, but the film wallows so much in the darkness that it overwhelms the viewer. Having a character that was slightly removed from the madness and not as flawed might’ve helped to balance things and make everything else that goes on more tolerable.

Overall though it’s a great film, but the statement it’s trying to make remains murky. Better efforts should’ve been made to tie it to the disillusionment of the American Dream, which is what the book does and not seemed so much like just a glimpse into a freak show of a bygone era like it ends up doing here.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 7, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 24Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Some Kind of Hero (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Soldier returns from Vietnam.

Eddie (Richard Pryor), who spent years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, finally returns home, but finds that things have passed him by while he was gone. His wife (Lynne Moody) has fallen in love with another man and his mother (Olivia Cole) is in a nursing facility after having suffered a stroke. Because he was forced to sign a ‘confession’ to war crimes while under duress at the prison camp the army decides to withhold his veteran’s benefits and having no other source of income he decides to rob a bank, but things don’t go as planned.

The film, which is based on the book of the same name by James Kirkwood Jr., was meant to be a drama, but when Pryor signed on it was rewritten with comedy scenes added. Initially I thought Pryor wouldn’t be a good choice for the part as he is so well known as a funnyman, but it is actually his strong performance that helps carry the film through its rough spots.

The story starts out strong and despite having so many other movies that came out during that period that dealt with the same topic it is still quite gripping and revealing. The scenes dealing with Pryors’ incarceration and the harsh realities that he faces afterwards in civilian life all ring true and helps to make this an excellent movie for the first 45 minutes.

The film though starts to lose its footing with the introduction of Margot Kidder’s character. She plays a high-priced call girl who decides to go to bed with Pryor without charging him any money, but why? A sex worker isn’t going to make much of a living if she sleeps with guys for free and then getting into a relationship with him afterwards is even more farfetched. What’s so special about this guy that she falls in love with him compared to all the other men that she has already met through her line of work? Things get even dumber when Pryor insults her during an argument while visiting her apartment, but instead of throwing him out she leaves while saying she hopes he’ll ‘be gone’ when she gets back, but how can she trust he’ll not angrily tear up the place while she’s away? If it’s her apartment she should be in control and not the one who goes running.

Pryor’s character is confusing too. He becomes extremely nervous about robbing a bank to the point that he pees in his pants, but you would presume being a veteran and having seen the horrors of war he would find bank robbing to be not as tough. He also manages while bartering with some hardened gangsters to find the tenacity to turn them down when they give him a lowball monetary offer on some bank bonds that he has stolen, but how does he find the ability to be brazen in that situation, which many people would find equally intimidating, but not the other?

Also, Olivia Cole looks too young to be playing his stroke-victim mother and in fact was Pryor’s exact same age. I was expecting to see an old, withered woman with gray hair, but instead we get shown a black-haired woman looking around 40. Certainly there had to have been an older African American actresses available that would’ve been more age appropriate, so why not cast them?

Spoiler Alert!

What really kills it though is the ending where Pryor steals a briefcase full of bonds and uses that to get a large sum of money. Tacking-on such a fanciful-like ending where he is able to pull off a robbery that had long odds of succeeding minimizes all of the real world issues that came before it. Having a film start off by exploring realistic issues only to write-it-all-off with a ‘feel-good’ ending discredits the subject matter by taking a complex problem and then ‘solving it’ with a very unrealistic solution.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 2, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Pressman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Deep (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple finds sunken treasure.

David (Nick Nolte) and Gail (Jacqueline Bisset) are a couple scuba diving off the Bermuda coast when they come upon a shipwreck and some artifacts left from it. They meet with treasure hunter Romer (Robert Shaw) who tells them it is a part of a Spanish treasure and works with them to try to unearth the rest of it. Problems arise when a shipwreck from World War II, the Goliath that had carried a cargo of medicinal morphine rests right next to it. To get at the Spanish shipwreck they must also go through the Goliath. Cloche (Louis Gossett Jr.), a local drug kingpin, wants to get his hands on the morphine, which could be worth a tidy sum of money and he tries to scare away Romer and the couple from continuing their diving activities, so Romer makes a deal with Cloche, but it backfires and turns the expedition into an intriguing game of underwater double-cross.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, who because of the success of his first novel Jaws, was given an almost immediate green light to turn this book into a movie. The inspiration for the story was based on the real-life shipwreck of the Constellation, which occurred off the coast of Bermuda in 1942. Great effort was put into the underwater footage, which lasted for 153 days and consisted of 8,895 dives.

Unfortunately despite the title and underwater storyline the film lacks depth where it counts, which is with the characters. The movie starts out immediately with the couple scuba diving and finding the treasure before we have any idea who these people are or why they are even there and no suitable backstory is ever given, which makes them come off as bland people lacking any real distinction and that you care little about. Character development is still an integral part of moviemaking and the main ingredient that gets the viewer hooked into a story and yet this film completely lacks it.

I’ll give credit to both Nolte and Bisset for doing their own diving and Nolte looks great with his bleach blonde hair almost like he’s a surfer dude, but his presence really wasn’t needed. Bisset, despite the extreme limitations of the weak script, still gives a far better performance and I felt she could’ve easily carried the film without him and I’m not just saying that because she looks great in her skimpy underwater gear, which was purportedly the whole reason why this film did well at the box office. Sure she’s beautiful, but she’s also quite talented.

Shaw should’ve added an extra boost in support, but he doesn’t. Normally his strong personality literally eats up the screen in any movie that he is in, but he’s stifled by the benign characterization and unable to rise above it. In retrospect he should’ve never have accepted the part until he had actually read the script, but because he was offered $625,000 plus a percentage of the profits, he took the role before the script was even written and hence the whole problem.

Gossett is weak as the bad guy and is not seen enough to create any genuine feeling of menace. The segment where he and his cronies try to ‘terrorize’ Bisset by performing some very clichéd type of black magic voodoo on her is almost laughable. The only actor that is actually good here is Eli Wallach and it is a testament to his superior thespian abilities that even though he was straddled with a pointless, bit role he was still able to own every scene that he is in anyways.

The film’s only interesting moment, which apparently took 1,080 hours to shoot, is when a pack of grey sharks converge for an eating frenzy and get tangled up in the air hoses of the crew, but even this becomes unintentionally funny because every time one of the sharks move an air hose the crew is forced to suddenly jump up in the water making them look quite literally like a puppet on a string.

The script desperately needed some added element as the concept is too basic and one-dimensional.  Watching one dull group of people trying to get at a treasure while another equally dull group of people try to stop them does not make for a riveting cinematic experience.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1977

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Jaws (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shark in the water.

A young woman (Susan Backlinie) goes out for a swim late one night only to have her severed hand wash up on shore the next day, which causes the Amity Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) to fear that her death may have been caused by a shark. Amity mayor Larry Vaughan (Murray Hamilton) doesn’t want his town to risk losing business, so he has his coroner deny that a shark was responsible and hence the beach remains open, but then more attacks occur. Eventually an eccentric shark hunter named Quint (Robert Shaw), Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) from the Oceanographic Institute and Brody head out on a small fishing vessel called Orca to locate the shark and then kill it, but they find the underwater beast to be far bigger and more cunning than they had ever imagined.

With its exceptional ability to slowly build tension and keep the viewer riveted from the first frame to the last easily makes this the quintessential thriller. John Williams’s legendary score adds to the murky ambience and in many ways is more memorable than the shark itself. Director Steven Spielberg wisely adds a secondary layer to the narrative by creating colorful and distinctive characters, most notably Quint, who gives the proceedings a flavorful nuance and makes the conversations and interactions that occur between the three inside the boat more interesting than what happens in the water.

The most amazing thing though is how little the shark is actually seen and in fact you don’t even get a glimpse of him until about an hour in. Part of this was due to the difficulty of getting the mechanical creation to perform properly in salt water, but in the end this became a blessing in disguise as it’s the mystery and allusion to its large size that makes it so riveting. The viewer feels as helpless and confused as the men on the boat, which makes the climactic sequence when the shark suddenly does jump onto the boat all that more impactful.

Spoiler Alert!

The film though does deviate heavily from the Peter Benchley source novel and a legitimate argument can be made as to which one presents the story better. In the book the tone is darker and the characters less likable. For me this makes it more intriguing from a psychological bent as it conveys the idea that humans are like the shark that they hunt as they both selfishly devour everything around them. Spielberg though didn’t care for this interpretation so the novel’s darker subtext gets erased, but it still made me intrigued, as much of a classic as this movie is, to see a reboot where the narrative stayed more faithful.

Some of the book’s subplots got too involved particularly the one dealing with the mayor’s connections to the criminal underworld, so I’m glad that one got toned down.  However I felt the one though dealing with Hooper’s affair with Brody’s wife (Lorraine Gary) should’ve been left in as it would’ve added extra tensions between the two while on the boat while also seeing how people can learn to work together even when they hate each other.

In the book Hooper dies when the shark attacks the cage that he is in while in the movie he is able to escape and somehow hide from the shark. This though seemed unrealistic as sharks have special sensing organs known as electroreceptors that allow them to detect the electromagnetic field emitted from a moving animal or at close range even the heartbeat of an immobile one, which means the shark most likely would’ve figured out where Hooper was hiding and gotten him.

In the book the shark dies from its many wounds just as it gets a few feet from Brody while in the movie it’s killed when the scuba tank that it has in its mouth explodes when hit by a bullet, but a 2003 episode of Mythbusters proves that in reality this wouldn’t have happened. My main beef though is that by having the shark literally blow-up into little pieces it denies the viewer the chance at seeing what the beast looked like as a whole. Supposedly this was one giant of a shark, so viewing it strung up at the end would’ve been a cool thing to have seen.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Despite these many differences the film still works splendidly and I don’t mean to imply that it doesn’t, but I would still suggest reading the book afterwards as it gives the story and characters an added dimension.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steven Spielberg

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out 10

4-Word Review: He fails at monogamy.

Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a successful surgeon living in Prague during the 1960’s who has a way with the ladies. He enjoys his robust sex life, but then falls for the awkward and plain Tereza (Juliette Binoche) and the two get married even as Tomas continues to see other women on the side. Tereza becomes upset by this and threatens to leave him only for the two to get swept up into the events of the Prague Spring where Soviet tanks invade their country. They escape to Switzerland but Tereza is unhappy there as well and moves back to Czechoslovakia with Tomas later following. Although their living conditions under communist rule are harsh they still find that their mutual love keeps them happy anyways.

Although masterfully directed by Philip Kaufman I still found the characters to be poorly etched. Tomas’ ability to get beautiful women to literally throw themselves at him never gets properly explained. Yes he is good-looking, but there are a lot of handsome guys who aren’t able to get women to shed their clothes for them at seemingly the snap-of-the-finger. Some clear social skill or persuasive ability had to be shown and clarified to make the women’s behavior more understandable, but this never effectively gets addressed. The scene where Tereza gets ‘overpowered’ by Tomas’ aura when all he is doing is sitting at a table in a café reading a book, but it’s enough to get her to run up to him and tell him she’s available is a big stretch and makes this supposedly profound movie look like it was built on a very superficial foundation.

There’s also the question as to why Tomas would want to marry Tereza to begin with. This is a guy who can literally get any beautiful woman he wants so why settle for the dowdy/shy Tereza? What is it about her, or about his inner mind that would want to make him commit to her and not the others?

His relationship with Sabina (Lena Olin), who is his independent- minded off-again-on-again lover is far more believable and kind of made me wonder why Tereza even needed to be in the mix at all. As much as I liked Sabina I did find the storyline dealing with her budding relationship with Franz (Derek de Lint) to be rather unengaging. However the friendship that blossoms between her and Tereza as well as the underlying lesbian subtext is interesting and yet the film introduces this in a very long, drawn-out segment inside Sabina’s apartment only to then drop it without ever exploring it to its satisfying and full conclusion.

On the technical side it’s a splendid production. I particularly liked the imagery of the tanks rolling into the city and how Tomas and Tereza’s presence gets cropped into actual footage of the real-life event and how seamlessly it goes between black-and-white and color. Sven Nykvist’s cinematography is a marvel. Initially I felt his talents were wasted as the camera only captures the bleak colorless surroundings of old-town Prague, but then when the couple returns to the city after their brief foray in Switzerland the decay and grayness becomes even more pronounced and helps convey visually the depressing feeling of the communist oppression.

The film, which is based on the novel of the same name by Milan Kundera, has an interesting message, but it failed to give me as a viewer any type emotional impact. I was never able to understand what made these characters tick. This might’ve gotten better addressed in the novel, which I didn’t read, but gets lost in translation here and ends up hurting the provocative imagery that to some degree gets a bit over-the-top anyways. This could also help explain why despite being on the set as an ‘advisor’ Kundera expressed displeasure with the film version and refused to help promote it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 5, 1988

Runtime: 2Hours 53Minutes

Rated R

Director: Philip Kaufman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube