“Jaws” (1975) starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, & Richard Dreyfuss

This is the first movie to gross $100M and become known as a “Summer blockbuster.” Though it went over-budget and over-schedule, it left a big impression on pop culture (and launched the career of director Steven Speilberg). I learned that Speilberg, actor Richard Dreyfuss, and composer John Williams were only 26 y.o. when working on Jaws. This was Dreyfuss’ second movie after American Graffiti (directed by Speilberg’s friend, George Lucas). Dreyfuss was already getting a rep as a bit of a “diva” (and he had turned down his role twice). He and British actor Robert Shaw had a combative relationship on set.

I’d never paid much attention to this movie when it was on TV; I watched it fully this past weekend. Aside from the mechanical shark close-ups, I thought it was pretty good! The (iconic) theme is hard to forget; at first, Speilberg thought Williams was joking re: using it. The movie actually has two acts- first we see the shark attacks and how the small-town reacts, then we have the three men facing off against the Great White shark. There are colorful extras (who were locals), fine character moments (unlike most big-budget action movies we see today), and a nice build-up of tension. There is a lot of handheld camera work done on the water.

On Amity Island, Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is a fish out of water- no pun intended. He’s a former NYPD cop, new to the job of police chief, and a family man (w/ a loving wife and two adorable young sons). His wife, Ellen (Lorraine Gary), even jokes that he doesn’t sound like the locals. Brody doesn’t like the water, preferring to sit on the beach. In the big city, he didn’t think he was making a difference. After the teen girl is found on the beach w/ her body mangled, Brody wants to close the beach. The mayor, city council, and local business people are very concerned re: the economy. Yup, this has resonance today (when a few governors want to open their states during the coronavirus pandemic)! Brody feels like he’s not being heard; he’s concerned re: his family. He and his younger son share a sweet moment at the dinner table when the boy mimics his father.

After the young boy is killed, locals realize the gravity of the situation, and (suddenly) fishermen flock to the island to hunt down the shark for a hefty reward. A young scientist, Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss w/ a fluffy beard), from the Oceanic Institute arrives to assist Brody. I thought it was interesting how Hooper was uncomfortable seeing the body at the morgue. Later on, he comes to the Brody’s house, bringing along two bottles of wine. Hooper comments that he didn’t know whether they’d like white or red wine. These are among the little touches that add to the film. It’s fun to watch Dreyfuss, who has humor, high energy, and touches of arrogance w/ his intelligence.

As the eccentric fisherman, Quint, Shaw has some meaty scenes (one of which reveals why he’s so invested in finding the shark). Unlike Brody and Hooper (who are a bit nerdy), Quint is more of the typical “macho man” we expect in action films. Quint’s tale of the USS Indianapolis was conceived by playwright Howard Sackler, lengthened by screenwriter John Milius (another friend of the director), and rewritten by Shaw. The famous line- “We’re gonna need a bigger boat”- was improvised by Scheider. The movie is quite different (and many argue- better) than the novel by Peter Benchley.

“The Breaking Point” (1950) starring John Garfield, Patricia Neal, & Phyllis Thaxter

[1] Peppered with sparkling dialogue throughout, everything in the film is splendidly executed. The movie just rattles along at a well defined pace.

[2] ...this contains one of John Garfield’s best performances. Always a fine actor, he gets under the skin of his character and makes you understand his desperation and moral conflict, he’s riveting every second he is on screen.

[3] The relationship between Juano Hernandez’ Wesley and Garfield’s Harry is about as race neutral as it could be. … they are partners – and they seem truly friends beyond their business relationship.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Tagline: There’s nothing more deadly than a gentle man pushed too far!

This film is smart, touching, entertaining, well-acted, and well-shot. The Breaking Point comes from a novel by Ernest Hemingway (To Have and Have Not). This was identified by critic Thom Andersen as an example of film gris, a suggested sub-category of film noir w/ a left-wing narrative. Michael Curtiz, who also directed Casablanca, shows he had a tough side. The screenplay by Ranald MacDougall is considered (in certain scenes) to be even better than the novel! TCM’s Eddie Muller noted that star John Garfield thought this was his best performance and the film of which he was most proud. He provided many ideas to the producers and director, unofficially taking on an executive producer role. This was Garfield’s second to last role before being blacklisted.

Harry: A man alone ain’t got a chance.

Garfield was the type of leading man who resembled a working man- rugged, blue collar, and wearing a leather jacket. This kind of leading man would rise to prominence after WWII w/ actors such as: James Dean, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen. In Balboa, CA, Capt. Harry Morgan (Garfield) doesn’t quite fit in during peacetime. He earned a Purple Heart for his service in WWII, but now struggles to make payments on his boat and provide for his family (wife and two daughters). The domestic scenes between Harry and wife- Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter)- are touching and realistic. Though devoted to her stubborn husband, she’s determined and strong-willed. Harry’s mate, Wesley Park (Juano Hernandez- a pioneer among Black actors), is loyal, wise and patient; they worked together on the boat for 12 yrs. Unlike some other characters of the period, “he is not an example of noble Black suffering” (as Muller commented). Wesley has a shy/young son who walks to school w/ Harry’s daughters.

Harry: [to Leona as she reaches into his shirt pocket for a cigarette] Yuh know, one of these days you’re gonna get your arm broke reachin’ for something that don’t belong to yuh.

Leona: It’s all in a good cause.

The femme fatale in the story is Leona Charles (Patricia Neal); she meets Harry on one of his trips down to Mexico w/ her older male friend, Hannagan (Ralph Dumke). Leona is a platinum blonde, wears nice clothes, and leads w/ her feminine charms. Harry tries to ignore her (but in a nice manner); she keeps trying to get him interested. After the two-week fishing trip, Hannagan suddenly flies off before paying Harry, and stranding Leona! A shady lawyer, F.R. Duncan (Wallace Ford), offers to help Harry make up for the loss and maybe earn a lot more. Harry has never done anything illegal, but now is faced w/ a desperate situation. Watch the full movie below.

Spoiler-Free Review: “Indian Matchmaking” (2020)

[1] This show is basically romanticizing patriarchy.

[2] If there is any critique, it’s not that of arranged marriages, but of the unspoken biases, the pressure of marriage, and cringeworthy laundry list of preferences that constantly perpetuate.

[3] I was fuming at Geeta’s “women need to adjust more.” I have SO many issues with this show… the matchmaker’s job depends on the patriarchal society, but it is truly representative of the culture. Truly representative. Which is the sad part.

[4] The fact that so many people cringed watching it only proves how real those people felt to us. The appeal lies in the fact that whether you laugh or scream, it’s difficult to deny that the whole thing has a wallop of truth to it.

[5] This is the whole purpose of the show: to make people cringe and relate at the same time so that they can understand that what’s wrong and what needs to be changed.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews from Indians in the diaspora

This is THE show (on Netflix) being discussed the past week on Twitter! While Helen of Troy may’ve launched a 1,000 ships, this show probably launched a 1,000 think-pieces. Indian Matchmaking sprung from the mind of Smriti Mudhra (a millennial documentary filmmaker raised in the US); she was nominated for an Oscar for her short film- St. Louis Superman (2019). Now, I know what some of you are thinking- isn’t this a reality show!? A pop culture critic was calling it a mash-up of The Real Housewives, Monsoon Wedding, and The Bachelor. Mudhra described it as a “commercial docu-series” on an interview w/ professor Sree Srinivasan on his YouTube channel (see comment below for full video).

For the first few days after its release, I resisted watching it (b/c I usually don’t watch everything that’s “popular”). Then, last SUN, I gave in… and quickly realized WHY so many viewers found it “cringey.” I found it partly cringe-worthy, but also partly tolerable (as in I couldn’t look away). There are two characters (one in US, one in India) who I could relate to. I will keep this spoiler-free, BUT I must warn you that sensitive issues will come up (see comments below for further reading). Is this show regressive, or is it revealing hard truths re: the arranged marriage process (“holding a mirror to nature”)? Are desis hungry for representation? Is this show enjoyable? Let me know your thoughts below!

The show follows 7 single individuals of Indian heritage (ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-30s) living in the US and India. They’re clients of the narrator/main protagonist, Sima Taparia, who refers to herself as “Mumbai’s Top Matchmaker.” Her business is “booming,” as arranged marriage is the norm in India (no stats are given on this, but it’s part of the culture). Sima Auntie (as she is commonly known) explains that she works w/ more “traditional families” who see marriage as a union of two families, not only the couple. The clients in India are among the 1% (elite): a jeweler (Pradhyuman), an engineer who went to college in the US (Akshay), and a fashion designer/entrepreneur (Ankita). The clients in the US are middle to upper-middle class; this group includes an educator in Austin (Vyasar), a lawyer in Houston (Aparna), a Guyanese dance teacher/entrepreneur in New Jersey (Nadia), and a Sikh divorced mom in Colorado (Rupam). Sima chooses matches for these people and sets them up on arranged dates, sometimes w/ family in tow.

There is no mention of how much money clients pay Sima over the 8 eps (around 30 minutes each), I assume it’s a hefty sum. It’s also assumed (by us in the desi diaspora) that most of Sima’s clients are Hindu, wealthy, and come from the upper caste; other viewers may or may not realize this. There is no discussion of the caste system. Some words are defined onscreen; “biodata” (a sort of resume for singles) is explained in detail. There are several instances where the words “tall, slim, and fair” (as in light-skinned) are used to describe prospective matches or clients’ preferences. Colorism is a big problem in India, as well as other nations of the world. The way these words are used may not shock most desis, but this show isn’t only being watched by us. It was a BIT jarring- at first. The words “good character” and “good heart” were used often to describe individuals.

“They Drive By Night” (1940) starring George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, & Ida Lupino

[1] The dialogue is salty and well-delivered… while the background stuff- the diners, rented rooms and garages- is beautifully detailed and always believable.

[2] …it features a top-flight cast of actors who are usually fun to watch.

[3] It’s mile-a-minute banter delivered by pros (this film played a big part in landing bigger roles for Bogie).

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

[Paul is checking out Cassie, a waitress, at a roadside diner.]

Cassie Hartley: All right, that’s enough of the X-ray treatment.

This is the story of the Fabrini brothers, ladies’ man Joe (George Raft) and married man Paul (Humphrey Bogart), independent-minded truckers somewhere in California. They’d like to buy their own rig, but can’t afford one. There is tough competition and long-haul trucking is dangerous. Cassie Hartley (Ann Sheridan) is the wise-cracking waitress the brothers pick up on the road. Joe obviously has eyes for her. Later that night, they witness a terrible accident after a fellow trucker falls asleep at the wheel! Later on, circumstances drive them to work for Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale), a former trucker who runs his own business. His much younger wife, Lana (Ida Lupino), is very interested in Joe.

Joe Fabrini: Do you believe in love at first sight?

Cassie Hartley: It saves a lot of time.

This film is considered an underrated/lesser-known noir. Raft and Bogart are close in age and have great chemistry, so you believe them as brothers. It’s refreshing to see Bogie (before he became a leading man) as a regular guy; I don’t think I’ve seen him smile so much! I reviewed Thieves’ Highway (1949) earlier on this blog; it also deals w/ the trucking business. The screenplay of They Drive by Night was based on a novel by A. I. “Buzz” Bezzerides, who wrote Thieves’ Highway (based on his experiences as a first gen American/former trucker).

Producer Mark Hellinger’s wife, Gladys Glad (a former showgirl on Broadway for Ziegfeld), was responsible for getting this film made. Hellinger brought home a stack of scripts to read, skimmed this script, but felt that “nobody would pay money to see a bunch of truck drivers.” Glad read this script, liked it, and pressured her husband to read it. The film became the sleeper hit for Warner Bros. It was directed by Raoul Walsh and shot in just 33 days (in sequence).



“Hamlet at Elsinore” (BBC: 1964) starring Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, & Michael Caine

[1] Plummer’s performance, it is a very sensitive and reflective one.

[2] Plummer gives us the complete Prince where others have given us parcels. He has looks, presence, breeding, charm, athleticism, wit and consummate grace.

[3] Christopher Plumber is always fascinating, and Robert Shaw was by far the best Claudius ever filmed… 

[4] Robert Shaw… the first Claudius I ever saw who was not only sonorous and regal, but violent, and sexy enough to seduce the Queen and make her agree to kill her husband.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

I’ve been on a theater kick lately, and I’m a really into Shakespeare. I saw this BBC TV movie on YouTube (it’s free, so the sound/picture quality weren’t perfect). This adaptation will not appeal to a mass audience, or someone who’s not a fan of Christopher Plummer (a fine and fine-looking Hamlet). He knows the words and also gives them feeling, but nothing feels overblown. Most viewers know Plummer from The Sound of Music (1965), but he had a long stage career before. Aside from a 1910 silent film, this is the only production to be filmed in Elsinore, Denmark. It’s refreshing to see a few outdoor scenes- Hamlet meets the players in Kronberg Castle’s courtyard and sees Fortinbras’ soldiers heading off to Poland. Shots of waves crashing upon rocks look back to Olivier’s Hamlet (1948).

Robert Shaw plays Claudius w/ a lot of presence (and gets several close-ups); he’s a character actor maybe best known for Jaws (1975). It’s cool to see (young/cute) Michael Caine; he plays Horatio w/ reserve and speaks softly (which works well). One viewer commented that Horatio isn’t well-developed, b/c Caine was working hard to suppress his (natural) Cockney accent. Well, I felt he did well w/ Shakespeare’s language; his role is primarily to listen. Horatio is (of course) emotional at Hamlet’s dying scene; he wants to drink from the poison cup himself! Today, there are UK-based actors (incl. people of color, immigrants, etc.) who use their natural accents and have a strong grasp of Shakespeare. I didn’t know what to make of Donald Sutherland’s accent for Fortinbras- LOL!

There are some odd editing cuts and misdirection. The “get thee to a nunnery” scene is filmed in the chapel w/ Hamlet standing above (and away from) Ophelia. Fans of the play may be puzzled by this; the scene isn’t done this way in the theater. The distance lessens the drama and their connection. “The Mousetrap” is seen as a “dumb show” (mime), so Gertrude’s “the lady doth protest too much” makes no sense! Ophelia doesn’t get her second mad scene (w/ the flowers). Hamlet is kind, quiet and clear-minded w/ Ophelia, so that her “O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” has little effect.