Universal Studios

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Produced by David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck

Screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb

Music by John Williams

I headed into the den with a 3 liter of Coca-Cola, a bag of potato chips the size of a Dickensian urchin and a carton of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups.  My wife Patricia knows the signs well and asked me what movie I was going to watch.  “JAWS” I reply.  She shook her head slightly and said; “How many times have you seen that?”  I really couldn’t answer her.  In between its original theatrical run where I first saw it and now, I really couldn’t say.  Maybe eleven or twelve times. Probably more.  But to me it really doesn’t matter.  I don’t keep count.  JAWS is one of those movies that I can cheerfully watch over and over again.  Patricia is like most people, I think: she watches a movie once and then she really can’t be bothered to see it again.  My brain is hardwired a different way.  A movie like JAWS I can see over and over again because for me it’s so rare that elements of horror, high adventure, human conflict, drama and even comedy are married so well to a bedrock solid story and acting so natural that you forget you’re watching a movie and have an out-of-body experience that transports you to another world.  It would happen again two years later when Steven Spielberg’s boy George Lucas conquered the world with “Star Wars” but that’s another review.  Let’s get back to JAWS.

Amity Island is a summer resort town gearing up for its big Fourth of July weekend.  Amity Island residents and merchants depend on the summer tourist dollars to support them through the fall and winter so they’re not happy when the mangled body of a girl is washed up on the beach.  They’re even less happy when Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) determines that the girl was the victim of a shark attack and plans to close the beaches.  Town Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) assures the merchants and residents that everything will be fine.  Mayor Vaughn has a positively brilliant genius for self-delusion because even after a young boy is killed by the shark he still insists that there’s nothing wrong in Amity and they’re going to have a great summer.

Brody isn’t so optimistic and he enlists the help of marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) to help him catch and kill the shark.  A shark that Hooper informs both Brody and Vaughn just isn’t any shark: it’s a Great White Shark.  A fish that is the Galactus of all sharks.  Hooper says it best: “It does nothing but swim, eat and make baby Great White Sharks.” But it isn’t until the shark kills another innocent and almost gets Brody’s son that Brody can get the beaches closed and gets the authorization from Mayor Vaughn to hire professional shark killer Quint (Robert Shaw) to kill the shark.  Quint wants $10,000.  Brody says fine as long as he and Hooper can go along.  Quint reluctantly agrees and the three men set off in Quint’s boat ‘The Orca’ to track down and kill the beast.  It’s a quest that takes up the second half of the movie and it’s one of the most nail-biting quests in movie history.  It’s frightening, horrifying and even touching.

JAWS has been called a modern-day “Moby Dick” and there’s a lot of validity in that.  The three men all are obsessed with finding and killing the shark for their own reasons.   Hooper is simply crazy about sharks and has been since one almost ate him when he was a boy.  Brody feels an overwhelming sense of guilt for the death of the young boy.  Quint is a survivor of the World War II sinking of The USS Indianapolis in which a large number of men spent days in the water being attacked by packs of sharks.  The Amity Great White itself exhibits behavior that both Hooper and Quint have never seen in a Great White Shark before, giving the creature an even deeper layer of menace.  In fact, it even seems to be leading the three men further and further out to sea…

Chances are you’ve probably seen JAWS so I don’t have to tell you how great a movie it is.  JAWS works on a lot of levels during the first half of the movie.  I like the politics of how a summer resort island depends on tourist dollars and how that can make otherwise perfectly reasonable human beings turn a blind eye to the fact that they have an eating machine swimming around their island.  I like how Police Chief Brody is almost a comedic character in a lot of scenes.  Roy Scheider brings an amazing amount of humanity and warmth to the character of Brody.  He’s not a superman.  In fact he’s really not all that good a Police Chief.  But he is a good man who wants to do the right thing and he’s willing to put his ass on the line to do it and in the end that’s what really matters.  Richard Dreyfuss is outstanding as Matt Hooper and you really get the sense that the two men forge a solid friendship as they figure out what to do about this situation.  Murray Hamilton has a hard job in this movie but I admire the way he pulls it off.  I’ve discussed JAWS with so-called movie fans who say that they don’t think the movie is realistic because anybody with any common sense would have closed the beaches after the first shark attack (these are the same people who think that “Friday The 13th Part III” is a horror classic) but Hamilton’s character is one that exists in the real world and even though he makes horrendously bad choices we understand why he makes those choices even though we don’t agree with them.  It’s a much underrated performance and among the best in the movie.  In fact, the only performance that I can do without is Lorraine Gary as I don’t think she’s as good an actress as Tanya Roberts and I think Tanya Roberts is the worst actress to have ever lived.

Robert Shaw walks away with the acting honors in this one.  His Quint is a memorable character in every sense of the word in that we get the real sense that this is a character that had a life before this movie started.  Most people cite Roy Scheider’s “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” as the classic scene in JAWS but Robert Shaw had one just as good with Richard Dreyfuss that never fails to crack me up: Hooper is loading a shark cage aboard Quint’s boat…

Quint: What d’ye have there?

Hooper:  Anti-shark cage

Quint: (after a beat) Anti-shark cage.  You go in the cage?

Hooper: Yeah

Quint: Cage goes in the water?

Hooper: Yeah

Quint: Shark’s in the water?

Hooper: Yeah.

Quint then walks away singing “Spanish Ladies” in such a manner that is so well timed you can’t help but bust out laughing.  At least I can’t.  That whole scene between Shaw and Dreyfuss is a wonderfully played comedic bit that The Marx Brothers would have been jealous of.  Shaw and Dreyfuss have another great scene later on where they drunkenly compare battle scars and sing “Show Me The Way To Go Home”

I’ve gone on long enough.  Either you’ve seen JAWS and you agree with me or not.  Or maybe you haven’t seen it.  If you haven’t I strongly recommend that you do so.  It’s a movie that succeeds on the level of sheer entertainment value.  Trust me, 75% of the crap Hollywood throws on the Cineplex screens today doesn’t compare with JAWS in terms of suspense, excitement, characterization and great storytelling.  It was the movie that made Steven Spielberg a major player in Hollywood and it was the first “summer blockbuster” being the first movie to make $100 million dollars in theatrical release.   It’s also a fine example of the talent and professionalism that Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw brought to their work.   Among the many fine and outstanding roles they both played, their work in JAWS will be remembered as among their best.

124 minutes

Rated PG

The Punisher


Lion’s Gate Films, Inc./Marvel Entertainment

Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh
Produced by Ari Arad, Gale Ann Hurd and Stan Lee
Written by Jonathan Hensleigh and Michael France
Based on the Marvel Comics character created by Gerry Conway and Ross Andru

I should start this review by saying I’m not the world’s biggest fan of The Punisher in any medium, comic books or movies. Mention the Punisher movie starring Dolph Lundgren to Punisher fans and you might get a serious beatdown in return.  Not that it was a bad movie.  In fact, The Dolph Lundgren Punisher was a good little action/revenge movie in its own right.  It just wasn’t The Punisher.

In comic books the character is maddeningly inconsistent. When teaming up with Spider-Man or Daredevil, he’ll use rubber bullets and tasers to incapacitate his enemies whereas in his own books (at one point there was no less than three separate Punisher titles as well as numerous graphic novels and mini-series) he racks up a seriously impressive body count, ruthlessly blowing his enemies away without taking so much as a coffee break.  So you’ll not be surprised when I say that any movie version of THE PUNISHER isn’t one that I was waiting for my whole life. But it surprised me by being far better than it had to be.

Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is an undercover FBI agent whose last case is an illegal weapons deal sting operation. Frank’s death is faked during the sting but Bobby Saint; the son of businessman/drug money launderer Howard Saint (John Travolta) isn’t so lucky. He actually is killed and Saint directs his right hand man and enforcer Quentin Glass (Will Patton) to find out who was responsible for his son’s death. Glass finds out Frank is still alive and while Saint would be satisfied with just having Frank killed, his wife isn’t so forgiving and demands that Frank’s entire family be exterminated.

As it happens, Frank is attending a family reunion in Puerto Rico which makes it really convenient for Glass and his hit squad to massacre the entire Castle family including Frank’s dad (Roy Schneider) as well as Frank’s wife Maria (Samantha Mathis) and his son William (Marcus Johns) despite Frank’s heroic efforts to stop the slaughter. Frank himself is stabbed, beaten to a pulp, shot numerous times, doused with gasoline, nearly incinerated, blown off a fiery dock and damn near drowned. It was at this point in the movie that I muttered; “Who’s doin’ the punishin’ ‘round here? During this ten -minute sequence Frank Castle suffers more physical trauma than most heroes in entire two-hour movies.

Your obligatory mysterious shaman who lives alone on some island by himself presumably nurses Frank back to health. I say presumably because Frank is found by the old black guy floating in the water and the next scene has Frank and the old guy returning to Frank’s dad’s house.  Since Frank has a full beard I surmise that some time has passed but there’s no real explanation given.  But apparently the old black guy has medical skills and resources that would wring gasps of envy from an entire New York City hospital emergency room staff since he was able to keep Frank alive after his massive injuries which included a 9mm bullet through the chest at point blank range.

Frank sets up shop in a ragged, rundown building in Tampa, Florida and proceeds to go after Howard Saint and make him pay for the slaughter of his family. Frank goes about this in a variety of ways which include hijacking shipments of money from Saint’s South American drug cartels buddies and sowing seeds of mistrust and jealousy between Saint, Livia and Glass and just simply shooting a whole lotta bullets into anybody Saint sends after him. It’s during this period that Frank refines his Punisher persona, signified by the familiar skull design which was on a T-shirt his son gave him the day of the Castle family massacre. And so the movie settles down into relating Frank’s ruthless stalking of Saint and his bloody devastation that he insists is not revenge but ‘punishment’

THE PUNISHER has a lot of good things going for it. Thomas Jane certainly looks like the character from the comic books but in a lot of scenes he looked so much like Christopher Lambert I almost expected to hear him say; “There can be only one” during his final confrontation with Saint. And John Travolta does his usual highly watchable and professional work. He’s played better bad guys before but he does a really good job here. Unlike most movies of this type there’s a genuine effort to give the bad guy recognizable and understandable human motivations for what he does. There’s a scene between Travolta and Will Patton near the end that’s so dramatic and so well acted that it seems like it’s been spliced in from another movie altogether.

There’s a fight between Frank and a freakishly super strong assassin called ‘The Russian’ that’s suspenseful, well-done, very brutal and even funny at times but was lifted from the James Bond movie “Never Say Never Again” and some of the scenes with three eccentric neighbors of Frank’s, played by Ben Foster, John Pinette and Rebecca Romijn are amusing and I suppose they help to lighten the mood of what would otherwise be a downright depressing story.

I also liked that the movie didn’t skimp on the violence level. I mean, the character of The Punisher is a violent one and in this movie we really get to understand why Frank Castle goes off the deep end. There’s something like 50 members of his family at the reunion and nobody is left alive except for him. The character’s pain and loss is portrayed in such a way that his rage is totally understandable.

The plot holes in the story are obvious and some actually made me shake my head in dismay such as the scene where Frank shows up alive and well on the steps of City Hall at a press conference and confronts his old FBI buddy and the Tampa police commissioner and demands to know why there has been no arrests of Saint or his men. First off, why would the Tampa police be investigating crimes committed in Puerto Rico and second, a former FBI agent’s family is wiped out, he himself is presumed dead but turns up alive and well and he’s just allowed to walk around without being interrogated as to where the hell he’s been all this time or placed in protective custody?

So should you see THE PUNISHER? If you’re a fan of the character I certainly think you’ll enjoy this.  It’s more faithful to the comic book and it’s certainly well acted by everybody concerned, especially Thomas Jane, John Travolta and Will Patton. THE PUNISHER isn’t a superhero movie that I’d say you absolutely have to see but it certainly won’t hurt if you do.

124 minutes

Rated R: