Friday, April 13, 2018

Worth Mentioning - One Good Bite Deserves Another

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Nature run amok at sea and on land, obsession, and a twisted experiment.

JAWS 2 (1978)

In 1975, Steven Spielberg's "nature run amok" classic Jaws introduced the concept of the summer blockbuster and made a whole lot of profit in the process, breaking records on the way to earning $470 million on a $9 million budget. With a return on investment that great, it's no surprise Universal Studios was keen to make a sequel - even if Spielberg decided not to return to the helm.

Jaws had the benefit of being based on a novel by Peter Benchley, but the story for the sequel had to be built from the ground up. A few different ideas were floated around - it could be a prequel based on the monologue delivered by the character Quint in the first film, the story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the shark attacks that followed; I once read that Benchley suggested the sequel should go bigger in a major way, replacing the dead 25 foot Great White with a megalodon, a prehistoric shark that could have reached lengths up to 82 feet; another idea had Amity Island suffering economically following the events of the previous film, community leaders scrambling to repay Mafia characters they were in debt to.

There were script problems and behind the scenes drama, John D. Hancock was hired to direct the film and then let go a month into production. Hancock was replaced by Jeannot Szwarc, while writers Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler crafted a screenplay that is sort of precursor to the slasher boom that was about to hit. The movie just has a killer, insatiable shark instead of a blade-wielding maniac.

Jaws 2 begins with the arrival of another voracious Great White shark in the waters around Amity Island, and it's introduced attacking a pair of underwater photographers who have come across the wreckage of the Orca, the boat the characters in Jaws took out on their shark hunt. The shark goes on to attack more and more people who dare to be in or on the water, and soon enough the island's Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider, who only signed on for the sequel to end contract disputes with Universal) has figured out that he has another shark problem to deal with.

For the most part, Jaws 2 is a run-of-the-mill sequel, making all of the decisions you would expect it to, like showing the shark early and often. It increases the body count, adds in some bigger moments of destruction (when the shark attacks a speedboat, the driver's panicked reaction with a jug of gasoline and a flare gun causes the boat to explode; later the shark pulls an amphibious helicopter down into the water), and retreads the story of the first movie.

You would think some lessons would have been learned from the way the shark situation was handled the last time around, but that's not the case. Once again, the community leaders, including Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), refuse to cooperate with Brody while he tries to save his island from a killer shark. Not even the washed-up corpse of a killer whale covered in bites or a close-up picture of the shark's face are enough to convince them that they need to put some safety measures in place. Instead, they just fire Brody. Brody doesn't help his own case by disrupting a day on the beach and firing his gun into the water when he sees what he thinks is the shark but is actually only a school of blue fish. He does try to call in help from his fellow Jaws 1 shark hunter Matt Hooper, but Hooper is away on a research vessel in the Antarctic Ocean - and actor Richard Dreyfuss was busy working with Spielberg on Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Brody's struggle takes up a large portion of the film, but around an hour in we get the slasher section. Brody's teenage son Mike (Mark Gruner) and his friends head out on the ocean in their sailboats, Mike's younger brother Sean (Marc Gilpin) tagging along. So there you have it - a buffet of youngsters just waiting to be feasted on by the shark. Waiting to be knocked off one-by-one by this aquatic slasher. After the aforementioned speedboat explosion, the shark is even sporting burns on its face like a swimming Freddy Krueger. Minus the one-liners.

Szwarc didn't want to repeat the previous movie's approach of keeping the shark off screen most of the time, but he did attempt to replicate Spielberg's style in other areas. Jaws 2 does feel like an extension of Jaws, even if it is a lesser film. It has the look, tone, and suspense. It even aims for a similar running time (116 minutes, compared to the first's 124 minutes), despite not having as much substance. I can understand why many fans hold Jaws 2 in high regard, it is the closest thing Jaws ever got to a worthy sequel.

When I was a kid, Jaws 2 definitely did the job it was meant to. I was never into the third and fourth films much, but Jaws 2 got a lot of viewings just like Jaws did, and the shark scenes here terrified me just as much as the ones in its predecessor. Those two movies worked hand-in-hand to instill in me a lifelong fear of sharks and large bodies of water. They caused me to have a lot of nightmares throughout my childhood. Often in my dreams I would find myself in water I would never actually go in, with sharks on the scene and ready to devour me. These movies disturbed me so deeply that I would even get freaked out looking at the Jaws 2 trading cards my older brother had. And yet I would watch them repeatedly, despite the psychological trauma.

So I'm a bit ambivalent about Jaws 2 myself - I really think Jaws should have remained a standalone movie, yet this sequel does have some admirable qualities and a degree of watchability. It's no Jaws, but it's better than most other shark movies. I don't watch it often anymore, but when I do it's not a bad experience.

JOSIE (2017)

The latest film from Contracted director Eric England, Josie is one of those ticking time bomb movies where you know something terrible is going to happen, you just can't be sure exactly what it's going to be... or who is going to be hurt worse when the bad things finally go down. So you sit enrapt, thoroughly absorbed in every passing minute, waiting to see when and how everything is going to fall apart.

The Josie of the title is a mysterious, tatted up high school girl (played by Sophie Turner) who arrives in a town by herself, instantly drawing the interest of anyone who lays eyes on her. Some of them are curious about her because she has moved into a motel alone, with no sign of parents or guardians. Throughout the film she gives multiple reasons for the absence of her parents, so we know she has some secrets that will be revealed by the end. But what are those secrets? Why is she lying to people? Which of the stories she tells is the truth? Turner plays this secretive character so well that we can never quite get a good read on her, we can't tell if she's a positive or a negative presence, if she's manipulating situations or an innocent who's just caught up in it all.

Within minutes of attending her first class at the local high school, Josie has fallen in with the questionable company of Marcus (Jack Kilmer, son of Val), who she partners with on a school project and who will proceed to do his best to get her out of her clothes, and his buddy Gator, played by the Halloween remake's little Michael Myers Daeg Faerch, who has some amusing moments here.

Less appropriate attention is shown to Josie by her neighbor Hank (Dylan McDermott), who also works as a parking lot monitor at the high school - and his fascination with this teenage girl is enough to make you think maybe he shouldn't have a job that keeps him in the vicinity of high school kids. You also hope Hank will come to his senses and not cross the line with this girl, because he is an interesting character. His quiet demeanor and old school country ways were appealing to me, and McDermott delivers an awesome performance in the role. I'll admit that I haven't seen much of his extensive television work, so maybe I've been missing out on his greatness up to this point, but I've seen him around here and there over the thirty years he's been acting on the screen and I never gave him much consideration before this. He is truly great as Hank.

Hank has been living in this motel for a while, but he mostly keeps to himself, and we see that he is a troubled man in his private life, haunted by something in his past. At different times he hallucinates the image of a long haired man (Micah Fitzgerald) in a prison jumpsuit; another mystery England has us on the hook for, waiting for an explanation.

Josie puts herself in the center of a love triangle where there's not a whole lot of real love going on. While they're both drawn to her in their own ways and for their own reasons, Hank and Marcus can't stand each other. Hank doesn't like Marcus because he's an annoying delinquent, Marcus doesn't link Hank not only because he's an authority figure at the school, but also because of the rumors he's heard about Hank's past. Something about cutting up dead bodies. Jealousy over the fact that Josie spends time with both of them intensifies Hank and Marcus's dislike for each other, and soon they're lashing out at each other.

That time bomb gets closer and closer to detonation.

I had no idea where the story writer Anthony Ragnone II had crafted for Josie was going, and as it went along I started to dread the terrible events we all expect to happen. For most of its running time, the film plays like a straightforward drama, but it's the intuition that the characters are treading dangerous ground that gives it the feeling of being a thriller... Which it is ultimately confirmed to be. When things finally did go wrong, it was painful to watch because I had come to care for these characters and didn't want to see anything bad happen to them.

The climax does bring to mind some questions and there are choices made by both characters and the filmmakers that I don't agree with, but some shakiness in the final moments didn't bring down the entire film. I can set aside any last minute issues because overall Josie is so well acted and deeply intriguing. It was a captivating viewing experience.

The review of Josie originally appeared on


If you're a fan of old school "blood and breasts" exploitation films, you're likely to get a smile from watching the main title sequence of director Claudio Fäh's Sniper: Ultimate Kill, the seventh film in the Sniper franchise and Fäh's return to the series after he directed the fourth film, 2011's Sniper: Reloaded. Within the first five minutes of the movie, you get a large breasted woman stripping down to join a man in a tub - and as soon as she's in the water, the man's head explodes from a sniper shot, drenching the woman in blood. Now that's how you start a movie, and it sets a precedent for the rest of the film - there is more gratuitous nudity and gore to come.

Ultimate Kill brings back Chad Michael Collins as Marine sniper Brandon Beckett, who has just been promoted to Master Sergeant but is still not feeling too happy about his career. He has sixty-three confirmed kills, and that's a weight he's not carrying too well. When higher-up Richard Miller (Billy Zane) sends him on a mission to Bogota, Colombia, Brandon initially refuses, but actually doesn't put up much resistance.

In Bogota, Brandon finds himself working with his father, the character who carried the first three films in the series, Thomas Beckett (Tom Berenger), who has come out of retirement to head up a taskforce that handles counter-drug and anti-terrorist operations in the southern hemisphere. DEA agent Kate Estrada (Danay Garcia) is closing in on Jesús Morales (Juan Sebastián Calero), the head of a cartel that has been gaining power through murders like the one seen during the title sequence. That kill was pulled off by a sniper known as El Diablo (Andrés Felipe Calero), and Brandon has been brought in to counter El Diablo and try to keep Estrada safe so she can bring Morales to justice.

When it's only 20 minutes into the movie and the characters are already in the field attempting to apprehend Morales, you know this mission is going to be a lot more difficult than any of them have imagined. Of course, that attempt goes disastrously wrong, and the villains keep our heroes on their toes from then on - especially since El Diablo is capable of pulling off impossible shots because he's using lazer-sighted smart bullets. His bullets are able to adjust direction in the air to follow moving targets.

With the guidance of Jaime Correa as street-wise priest Father Carlos, Brandon and Estrada navigate dangerous territory on their way to the climactic confrontations. The priest also gives Brandon some advice on how to deal with the killing he does for a living: he must forgive himself.

Whether or not Brandon forgives himself for his kills by the end of the film, he does have a substantially higher kill count than sixty-three by the time the credits start to roll.

Written by Chris Hauty, who also wrote the previous entry, Sniper: Ghost Shooter (which, unfortunately, does not feature the shooting of any paranormal entities), Ultimate Kill is a minor but serviceable sequel that I enjoyed more than some of its predecessors. It's entertaining while it lasts and throws plenty of action scenes at the audience over the course of its 93 minute running time.

Collins is carrying this franchise on quite well, and Garcia and Correa provide solid support this time around. This one also features the bonus of being able to see Berenger and Zane bounce lines off each other, reunited twenty-four years after the first movie. There are fun moments with both of those returning stars.


Before It Follows, before The Guest, actress Maika Monroe took on flying, monkey-like supernatural creatures in a film that I didn't even know existed until stumbling across it on Netflix while visiting Priscilla in Brazil.

As soon as you see the title Flying Monkeys, you can make two correct assumptions about this Silvero Gouris-scripted, Robert Grasmere-directed film: it was inspired by the winged beasts of Oz, even though it has no actually connection to those creatures, and it was distributed by Syfy.

The setting is Gale, Kansas, where an importer of exotic animals has just had a capuchin monkey shipped in from China. Unbeknownst to the people who captured this monkey, it's not your average capuchin: every night it turns into a huge, winged, ravenous monster. This is a fact that veterinarian's assistant Joan (Monroe) discovers when her dad buys her this monkey, which she names Skippy, as a graduation present.

While Skippy is raising hell in Kansas, a pair of monster hunters from China are on Skippy's trail because he is the last of these demonic creatures called Xigos, which chosen warriors with blessed weapons have been hunting for centuries. Xigos were created by a sorcerer, and they multiply by being killed: when a Xigo is slain by anything other than the blessed weapons, it not only resurrects, but also splits into two Xigos.

You can't expect a monster to be flying around the American countryside tearing people and animals apart for very long before hunters and the authorities start trying to shoot it down. Sure enough, Skippy is soon killed. And he duplicates. When the monkeys are blasted down again, they duplicate again. And so on and so on, until the sky above Gale is filled with flying monkeys.

Joan is the first human that has ever bonded with a Xigo, so when the demon hunters arrive on the scene with their blessed weapons it's the love Skippy feels for her that is the key to bringing an end to this flying monkey outbreak.

With a ridiculous story, clunky dialogue, some poor acting, and flying monkey things brought to the screen through the use of some sub-par CGI, Flying Monkeys is a "so bad it's good" sort of movie, reaching the level of being decently entertaining largely because of how dopey it is. It's not a film that I would recommend to a wide range of viewers, but there are certain viewers out there who at least suspect they might enjoy watching a B-movie about CGI flying monkeys, and I would suggest that those viewers give this one a chance. Kick back and have some fun with it.

In addition to having Monroe as the heroine, Flying Monkeys might also appeal to genre fans through the presence of Grindhouse's Electra Avellan as Joan's best friend Sonya.

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