USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

uss.jpg

This should have been called USS Indianapolis: Men Of Cloneage, amirite! Coz they all look the same! Seriously, some of the flaws of this movie could have been avoided if they had simply cast some actors with more distinct faces. Throughout the movie I couldn’t tell who was who, which one wanted to marry the blonde, which one was the thief, which one just got eaten etc. In all seriousness, this is a powerful story, one of my favourite true stories of all time actually, and it deserves to be told well. Unfortunately this film doesn’t deliver – its low budget is very noticeable and negative, the performances are forgettable, and too much of the movie is spent attempting to introduce the characters so that we are invested and affected by what comes later – though these early scenes are horribly and confusingly edited in such a way that it simply becomes frustrating and we lose interest. I found myself sadly thinking, just get to the sharks already.

A bit of a personal backstory. When I was young, one of my favourite books was Maneaters by Rupert Matthews. It’s a collection of true stories based on horrific encounters between people and animals – bear and tiger attacks, snakes, sharks etc. One of the stories was about the USS Indianapolis, and that story makes up the bulk of this film. In 1945, the US Military has crafted a couple of atomic bombs and would like nothing more than to drop them on Japan. The A-Team were several decades away, so they decided to send some of the bomb parts via battleship to The Philippines – a mission so secret only the top brass knew about it. The unlucky ship going on this mission was the ship of the title, knowingly being sent into enemy territory without an escort to defend them from submarine attacks which they could not foresee or withstand. They successfully completed their mission, but on the return journey the Indianapolis was spotted by a Japanese sub who torpedoed the hell out of it. Within minutes the ship was in the water. I can’t recall the numbers, but there were over 1100 men on board, and around 900 went into the water. Stranded, cold, and bleeding, with barely any life rafts and thousands of miles of ocean all around them, things were looking bleak. And then the sharks came. And came. And came.

If you don’t think you know the story, you’ve probably heard it famously delivered by Quint in Jaws, thanks to John Milius, Robert Shaw, and Howard Sackler. Yes, Quint tells Brody and Hooper about where one of his scars came from – after he went into the ocean when the Japanese struck. It’s one of the most famous moments in Jaws, chillingly delivered. One of the first stories I ever wrote featured a character haunted by his involvement and memories of the event. I saw Mission Of The Shark when I was young – a TV movie starring Richard Thomas and Stacey Keach, also based on the event and it was then that I learned about the court case aftermath and the dubious plots. Maneaters you see, only focused on the immediate human event – one man’s recollections of what is was like to be trapped, surrounded, and feeling hope ebb away. It’s then that I thought ‘why doesn’t someone famous and powerful actually make a good movie about this?’ When I first heard about Men Of Courage I hoped that movie had finally come, but as reports about the movie, then previews, then reviews came, my hope ebbed too.

The second half of the film is considerably stronger than the first. I was worried it was going to go downhill due to horrible shark effects, but in most cases the sharks are very good. Am I right in saying some were real too? There were some moments which appeared to be ridiculous and not how sharks would actually behave, but on the whole it was fine. The problem is that this section of the movie felt too short. It was low on tension, there wasn’t much emotion, and by that point I didn’t care about most of the characters or differentiate between them. The movie is basically in three large parts, or five smaller chapters – Meeting the team, the mission, the sharks, the court case, the end. I appreciate the attempts to introduce the characters, but as mentioned it simply doesn’t work. Cage’s Captain is really the only character we care for as he is the focal point throughout the five chapters. Cage’s performance is either restrained or flat – it essentially could have been anyone. I appreciate that when making a film like this, you can’t possibly focus on everyone, but you can give us a subset of characters and get us emotionally invested from the outset – make them likable, or real at the very least. Make them stand out, with their own lives, past, fears, and flaws. I’m repeating myself, but the film tries and fails.

To its credit, the film does also show things from the opposing side. We meet several of the Japanese crew and see them as humans forced into a position no-one would ever want to be in. The film neither shies away from pointing the finger of blame squarely at those who actually were to blame. Even though the film essentially ends on a downer, we get some real life footage of the rescue and brief moments from the remaining survivors and other archive footage to re-iterate the courage of those involved. A little over 300 men survived the ordeal.

There was one fantastic moment late in the shark section where the music swells and the camera swings around some of the survivors in long shots to give an eagle eye view of the vastness of their struggle – we see some in rafts, some dead and floating away, some exhausted and gripping on to what they can, and some simply drifting among the ever present shark fins, past caring that they could be the next to succumb. That’s what I want to see – the real struggle, the real pain, and by virtue of surviving, the real courage.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of USS Indianapolis: Men Of Courage. Did you enjoy it more than you expected to, or was it another poor attempt at telling a tragic tale?

Jaws 4

Jaws 4

Firstly yes, the premise is absurd but if we can try to forget that then Jaws 4 is not as bad as some have said. Certainly better than part 3.

Sheriff Brody has been dead for some years, his sons have grown, and his wife has tried to move on, but she now fears the water and still has nightmares. Her son Sean, now a cop at Amity is killed one night in the water so a paranoid Ellen decides to visit Michael, her other son on a Caribbean island. Ellen believes her family is haunted by sharks and wants her son to stop working with them as he now has a family of his own to look after. He will not believe her, but a Great White attacks him and his friend Jake. They escape, but decide to investigate. Meanwhile Ellen is falling for local Pilot, Hoagie. Soon though it becomes clear that the shark is after the family. Elle decides to find and destroy the shark as she cannot get on with her life and must protect remaining members of her family, and Mike, Jake and Hoagie follow.

There are some good performances here, they hardly are special, but above average especially when you remember the story. Lorraine and Lance are solid as the Brody family, while Van Peebles is good and provides some banter. Caine looks like he is having fun, it is the Bahamas after all, and he probably was paid well. There are a couple of good moments- the banana boat scene and the shark following Mike into the sunken ship. A poor finish to the series, but then again not much new could really be done to spice things up. The cinematography is good, the shark looks OK, but of course some things the shark does are just wrong. The films should have ended after part 2. Then again, if someone could make a fifth, with a good story, I’d pay my money. Hmm.

The DVD has nothing extra of note.

Feel free to leave any comments on the movie- is this the worst thing ever?

Jaws 3

Jaws 3 (D)

A gimmicky mess which tarnished a few respected names- Richard Matheson, Lois Gossett Jr and Dennis Quaid. Mike and Sean Brody have left Amity and now work at Sea World in Florida. A new Underwater theme park is being opened, full of glass tunnels to walk through. When a baby great white shark is found and brought back to the park, it dies. Soon a number of people vanish. When the body of one is found, it becomes apparent that another great white is on the loose, and it wants revenge for the death of its child. Soon everyone is in danger from the shark, and it is bigger and badder than all others.

Poor acting, weak dialogue, pointless scenes (all the 3D stuff), dodgy effects (which embarrass the viewer-strange when we watch the original and the bad effects in it have little…effect on us), no scares or real laughs, and very few memorable moments. None of the actors are given a chance because of poor writing, strange because the idea behind the film could have worked, even if it did not have the same impact as the first. A shark attacking an underwater theme-park, the possibility of children, old and young people all being threatened, trapped under the sea by the animal, all their possible fears, prejudices coming out etc. Unfortunately the film avoids this, throws in some dolphins, a bit of stupid looking gore, and another hunt for the shark. A bad film, but watch it anyway if you’re even a semi-completist.

The dvd has trailers for other Jaws films, nothing else. Get it with the box set, unless you’re some Jaws 3D fanatic.

Feel free to comment- Is this the worst in the series or is it a guilty pleasure for you? Let us know!

Jaws 2

Jaws 2

Without Spielberg and certain members of the original cast, this sequel to the seventies smash was never going to come close to being as good as its daddy. It has its moments though with a good amount of scares, humour and fair performances. As sequels to masterpieces go, it’s not bad.

Jaws 2 takes place in the same resort town Amity a few years after the original, with Sheriff Brody trying to lead a safe, peaceful life with his family. However, a few recent deaths cause suspicion in his mind, and he finds the half-devoured corpse of a killer-whale he believes another Great White is attacking in the area. Naturally no-one believes him, thinking he has grown paranoid over past incidents. The money grabbing mayor is trying to make the town popular again and will not listen. A sailing event is taking place soon, and although Brody warns his kids to stay out of the water, they disobey him and go with their friends in various tiny boats an catamarans. Brody is fired for scaring tourists, and he goes looking for his kids. Meanwhile the shark attacks the many boats, killing some, and soon each person is struggling for their life on pieces of driftwood.

Jaws 2 is a film which takes a deeper look at Brody’s family life, as well as the Mayor’s, dealing with similar issues to the first. However, the action and death count is increased, but unlike most sequels this does not cause it to suffer. There is a good amount of tension created, and we never know whose boat is going to be attacked next. Once the sizes of the boats and shark are compared, we know the kids have little hope. The mix of kids is good, with certain characters giving funny moments. Mostly the performances are good, particularly from Scheider, while most of the annoying characters are happily eaten. Memorable moments include the finale, the water-skier scene, and of course the helicopter scene. Much better than the next two, though I have a habit of marking high.

Unfortunately the DVD does not have any strong extras, so unless you are a massive fan of the film, you’ll be better off getting this in the box set. Still, as a stand alone it’s cheap.

Feel free to leaveany comments on the movie- is this a worthy sequel or a disaster? Check out my other Jaws reviews in the DVD section.

Jaws

Jaws

The film that truly launched Spielberg into the public eye, a film which overachieves and overcomes the odds stacked heavily against it. A story about a seaside town attacked by a shark would not seem to be the basis for one of the most loved, respected and successful movies of all time, but Spielberg and the cast make it happen-scares excitement, laughs, good characters and great acting all contribute, along with fluid direction and a now infamous score. The budget was low, the filming at sea extremely troublesome, the shark wouldn’t do what it was supposed to, but through all this the story prevails and we are left with a true classic.

Scheider stars as Sheriff Brody, an ex-city cop with a fear of water who moves with his family to Amity, a popular sea-side holiday resort. There have been a number of deaths recently, and young shark expert Hooper comes to town to long at the bodies. He believes the deaths have been caused by a Great White Shark which will not leave the are while there is still plenty of food around. He advises Brody to close the beach, but the Mayor thinks it should be kept open for the July 4th weekend, the time when the town makes a real profit. When attacks continue, Brody and Hooper decide to track the shark and catch it. Local fisherman Quint who has met one or two sharks in his time also comes. The three set out on the tiny boat, and the shark soon finds them.

There are scenes which have since become the stuff of legends- the opening night attack, the ‘need a bigger boat’ scene and others. The shark may look unreal now, especially as we all have a far better knowledge of sharks with all the documentaries and underwater technology. However, the tension is still high, and like Alien, we only see it near the end. The relationship between the three men on the boat, their arguments and jokes give the film a unique feel, ensuring the viewer is on the boat with them, and other touches such as Brody’s son mimicking him are now a Spielberg staple. The death scenes are gruesome and real, thanks to the acting, and the score will is one of the best anyone has done, suiting the film perfectly. By the last few minutes, as the ship sinks, we are with Brody, waiting for the shark’s inevitable return. Much has been made of the ‘jumpy’ moments, and every part of the film has since been dissected. It remains a film which everyone can enjoy, and one which will stay with you forever.

This 2 disc special edition has plenty of trailers, interesting deleted scenes, a good interview with Spielberg and a good documentary charting the history of the film. A piece of history which everyone should enjoy.

Feel free to leave your comments on the movie- is this Spielberg’s best? And don’t forget to check out my other Jaws reviews in the DVD section.