Movie Project #31 and #32: Jaws [1975] and Dark City [1998]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Jaws [1975, Steven Spielberg]
Jaws [1975, Steven Spielberg]
Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss.

I had seen parts of Jaws over the years, but had never sat down to watch the entire movie. I am kind of amazed that it has taken me so long to do so, as this is a top-of-the-line summer blockbuster flick. It’s impressive that a movie of this caliber can wait until the hour-past mark to actually show the great white shark. In fact, I found the first half of the movie to be the most fascinating, as we are watching an unseen creature terrorize a small island town. This is when the horror elements kick into full gear; we know a huge shark is out there, but since we don’t see it we feel somewhat invincible to a potential attack. But then, of course, the shark kills a couple people, including a child, and all hell breaks loose.

The second half of the movie focuses on three men — the town sheriff (Scheider), a ‘professional’ shark hunter (Shaw), and an oceanographer (Dreyfuss) — as they head out on a boat to kill the shark. I wasn’t as enthralled with this part of the film, although it did have some great moments (such as the hunter’s lengthy story about his time on the Indianapolis). Still, I enjoyed the cast, especially Dreyfuss, and John Williams’ epic score makes things even better. I can agree that this is one of Spielberg’s best. 8/10

Dark City [1998, Alex Proyas]
Dark City [1998, Alex Proyas]
Starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly.

I added Dark City to my project because I have some friends that absolutely love it, and because it was listed as Roger Ebert’s best movie from 1998. While watching the film, I was intrigued by its neo-noir style. It has obvious similarities to The Matrix, which was released one year later, and I can see why it has a bit of a cult following now. The dark atmosphere, dystopian city and intriguing sci-fi plot were all things I enjoyed from the movie. Unfortunately, the acting hampered things a bit for me.

Rufus Sewell seemed aloof and disinterested in the lead role, and I still don’t know whether I liked or despised Kiefer Sutherland’s overacting while playing the stuck-between-good-and-evil Dr. Schreber. The visual style is impeccable, but at the same time, the movie almost feels amateur-ish. I enjoyed Dark City, but I can’t help but feel that a better movie could have been made, considering the interesting sci-fi story and (normally) strong cast. 7/10

Piranha [2010]

Piranha [2010]

Piranha [2010]
Directors: Alexandre Aja
Genre: Comedy/Horror/Thriller
Language: English
Country: USA

Tits and blood. Blood and tits.

Piranha sells itself largely on being mindless entertainment, with a steady mix of T&A and violence. The story certainly has little thought put into it — prehistoric piranhas are unearthed in Lake Havasu via an earthquake, and they come back to terrorize everyone in the water, including dozens involved in a Girls Gone Wild-esque video shoot. This is a movie that doesn’t need a meaningful story, just a background for the copious amounts of the aforementioned tits and blood.

I went into this movie expecting it to be pretty hilarious while delivering some good ol’ fashioned gore. Unfortunately, there is little in the way of humor, and the gore doesn’t really become a factor until the second half of the movie. The first half is basically softcore porn, with lots of naked women rumaging about. While I’m not one to complain about gratuitous nudity, there just isn’t a whole lot going on during this part, and it is actually a bit of a bore. Things pick up in the second half when the piranhas descend upon the masses at the beach, and there are a number of great cringe-worthy gore effects used during the chaos. The problem is that it just takes too long to get anywhere.

What makes this movie stand out amongst other B-movie trash is its surprisingly impressive cast. Elisabeth Shue has one of the main roles as the town’s sheriff. Jerry O’Connell plays the douche bag porn director, and is more than effective at being annoying. Ving Rhames has a small role as a deputy, and he is responsible for one of the best scenes in the movie (let’s just say he did his part in fighting back against the piranhas). Christopher Lloyd is entertaining as a crazed marine biologist. Somehow even Richard Dreyfuss got roped into this movie, although his early cameo is wasted with a weak CGI scene. Throw in a handful of porn stars and you have the makings for a big-time B-movie.

I wish I had seen Piranha in 3D at a packed theater — that really seems to be the best way to experience this movie. While I enjoy some good camp from time to time, Piranha doesn’t hold up very well on DVD. I can’t help but feel this could have been better with just a little more focus, and less of a decisive split between the two halves of the movie. If you are tempted, give it a shot with plenty of booze and friends on hand; otherwise, I can’t say this is worth your time.

5/10