Welcome to New York: The Terrifying and Timeless Taxi Driver

It’s easy to get lost in the high opinion of our modern times. Sure, we might have a tendency to idolize the nostalgia of the past but we also have the tendency to view modern things as superior. We are, by nature, animals that love to make advancements in society. As much time as we spend thinking, “this world is madness and it’s only getting worse” we also spend using all the amenities of the modern world to better our lives. We rarely sit down to look back at the past to piece together how we got here. In avoiding doing so we end up overlooking that our past has dealt with the same exact things we are dealing with today, in the here and now.

I think my favorite thing, and also, greatest hesitation in watching an “old” movie is examining how it fits in our modern world. Will the cinematic experience hold up? Will my awareness of the age of the film impact my opinion? Are the character’s actions or opinions difficult to watch with modern eyes? Does the message even mean anything after all this time?

In addition to these thoughts running through my brain, as I sat down to finally watch Martin Scorsese’s classic 1976 film, Taxi Driver, there was quite a lot of events happening in both my personal life as well as the modern world of 2019.

Those events, first, I had just moved to New York City, alone (temporarily). Another step in an endless quest to understand this crazy world. Second, I decided to explore my new city on foot AND in the cinema. Sure, I can step outside and breathe the polluted air of Manhattan, walk the streets of Brooklyn, and eat halal food in Queens but how can I fully understand my new home without a cinematic history lesson? And finally, and most importantly, our world seemed to take another couple steps closer towards self-destruction.

I’m not someone to fear the world. I know bad things happen all the time but I also know they have always been happening. However, these horrific acts hit me hard. Having previously lived in Ohio, I have friends from Dayton and those friends have family in Dayton, and they also have friends who were hanging around bars that night, in Dayton. It hit close to home, or my adopted home. And as someone who grew up with Columbine as high school rivals, this has been an unsettling trend of my life.

It was probably poor timing to jump into Scorsese’s view of New York City because as I watched Travis Bickle (played by a young Robert De Niro) drive aimlessly down the streets of New York City in Taxi Driver, I found myself deeply unsettled. Not so much because he leans on the dirty and dark streets of NYC to craft Travis’ worldview. No, I’ve experienced those myself in my six weeks here and I can say, not much has changed, still dirty, still dark.

The unsettling feeling came from how modern this story about a young white man who is struggling to find his place in the world felt. The parallel lines between Travis and the, typically, young white males, that have done these horrific mass shootings are clear. He is socially isolated and psychologically disturbed. He detests people his age who engage in behavior that he does not approve of, i.e. drinking, smoking, dating, sex. He spends most of the film intentionally isolating himself. When he finally reaches out, he gets rejected.

This rejection leads to him being not only a disturbed, socially isolated, and angry young man but also one who will do anything to get revenge AND respect. By the end of the film he has attempted to assassinate a presidential candidate, has succeeded to murder every person exploiting a young prostitute named Iris, and has been praised a hero both by Iris’ family and the media.

Throughout the film Travis sees himself superior, above it all, and responsible to fix the issues he sees, even when he is not asked to. He doesn’t know how to interact with women. In fact, he doesn’t view them as self-sustaining individuals. Rather as something he needs to save and then be rewarded for. His world view is tied up in his ego and his misguided views of justice. These biases has been intentionally isolated from learning how the world truly works. His mind just continues spinning in circles about what is wrong with the world, with no push back from opposing views, just an endless negative feedback loop.

And whether or not the ending was real, whether Travis truly did live and earn praise or whether he died on the couch imagining the glory he believes his actions will earn him, it’s a brief view into the mind of a madman who believes his terrifying actions are an act of justice. It’s a haunting reminder that the monsters of the modern world typically feel no remorse but instead pride in their horrific acts.

That’s why a film from 1976 still resonates today. That’s why I found the character of Travis Bickle so terrifying. It’s foreboding of the future and people like Travis feel omnipresent today. But the most unsettling part of it all? The age of this film proves this has been going on for decades.

My fascination with this movie is eerily summed up by the late, great Roger Ebert who simply states, “Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film is a film that does not grow dated…” and I would argue one that is more relevant today than ever before.

Welcome to New York: Far from Home with an Old Friend

Growing up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, I dreamed of one day moving to the great New York City.

There, I thought, I could be any one I wanted to be. A tough guy living in the Bronx, a hipster artist in Brooklyn, a wall street bro in Manhattan, a…uh…whatever Staten Island is known for, and of course a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in Queens.

Okay so my obsession with the Big Apple started, and possible endured, because of Peter Parker and company. How could it not? I’ve watched, read, and even played along as Spider-Man web slings through the towering skyscrapers of the city, as he’s rested at the top of famous landmarks, and as he fought the bad guys and dodged the NYPD.

The city felt like a real character, a place as alive as any living thing. It was rough and filled with people with bad intentions. But it was also filled with friendly neighborhood Spider-Men and helpful citizens. The beauty of the city in the comics, movies, and video games is that it’s a part of Peter Parker’s DNA because it’s real and not hiding behind aliases like Gotham or Metropolis. It always felt so real and yet…oddly unobtainable.

Fast forward to this past 4th of July weekend and, in what you could call either an incredible coincidence or proof that the universe loves telling great stories, I found myself sitting in a theater in Queens, New York to watch the aptly named Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Yes I had just moved to the Big Apple a day prior and who else was there to welcome me? None other than Queens’ own Peter Parker and, yes I have to say it, we were both far from home.

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Auto-Play Will Always Be a Maybe

One of the most annoying features on Netflix is how it auto-plays trailers for movies and shows as you are scrolling through its vast library of content. On the surface, this doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. Auto-playing a trailer for something that I’m not sure I even want to watch sounds like a classic first-world problem, and oftentimes you can simply move on and completely forget about that new Adam Sandler movie. I’ve been doing that for years anyway.

No, what really bothers me about auto-play has more to do with the nature of trailers these days. There have been too many instances recently where I will watch a teaser and come away feeling like I just saw the whole movie. In a digital world where spoilers are waiting for us at every turn, it’s downright disheartening that movie studios willingly give away plot details like free tickets to a WWE pay-per-view. It’s gotten so bad that rarely do I ever watch more than a single trailer for a film that I want to see, and even then I hesitate before I hit the play button. Netflix’s auto-play function makes it that much harder to sidestep those previews, and as a result, all the more difficult to go into a new movie completely blind.

Lovers of film know this plight all too well, which is why after my fiance and I finished watching a movie on Netflix, and then it immediately jumped into the trailer for Always Be My Maybe, I was certain that I knew all the ins and outs of this “new” romantic comedy: childhood friends Sasha and Marcus hit adulthood and have an awkward sexual encounter, contact between them is severed, they randomly encounter each others years later and feelings are rekindled, but then Keanu Reeves (playing himself) emerges as a romantic rival for Marcus, creating a huge obstacle to win Sasha’s heart (seriously, that is all in the trailer). To be fair, romantic comedies all more or less hit the same beats (minus Keanu playing a sardonic version of himself), but if you feel like you know the outcome before you even start the movie, then it just feels like a waste of time.

Regardless, we both found ourselves home sick one day and decided to give Always Be My Maybe a chance. The upside to rolling the dice on a Netflix film is you can always stop watching 20 minutes in if you don’t like it, and my fiance is a fan of Ali Wong’s standup, so we figured why the hell not? Much to my surprise, this latest romcom had more depth than I was expecting and featured great chemistry between Wong and co-star Randall Park. There were also (gasp!) many key scenes and developments that were NOT highlighted in the trailer. Had I not been feeling so rotten that day, I would’ve done a victory dance in my living room in celebration of a trailer that actually did its job: provide the audience with an idea of what to expect and pique our interest so that we’ll actually tune in.

Thank you Always Be My Maybe. You were not only a refreshingly fun and poignant romantic comedy, but you also didn’t ruin any of that for me beforehand. If only all of the other trailers would follow suit (or, ya know, Netflix could do away with its intrusive auto-play). Neither of these seem likely, so continue to tread lightly when it comes to previews, friends.

There be monsters out there.

The Necessity and Justification of Toy Story 4

My feelings about Disney and Pixar going back to the toy chest for a fourth time around were not dissimilar to Jesse’s. I recall the first time I read that Toy Story 4 was in production. I, too, was filled with disbelief. I, too, believed Toy Story 3 concluded the trilogy with perfection and grace. I, too, didn’t want to cry at another movie about animated inanimate objects.

Eventually I came around. I started to rally behind the idea because I realized that, while any sequel is really just a cash grab, I trust the team behind Toy Story. They earned the trust with the exquisite Toy Story 3. However when I tried sharing this opinion with my many friends that were NOT behind the sequel, I continually got shot down. People really didn’t want this movie to exist.

Which means, I couldn’t help but go into Toy Story 4 with the need of it justifying it’s existence. I needed the film to prove everyone wrong. I needed the film to come through for me like Woody came through for Andy time and time again. Like a kid I needed my toys. And like any good toy, they pulled through and made me feel like a kid again.

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Have You Ever Taken the 3:10 to Yuma?

I spent last Christmas in Arizona with my fiance and her family. On Christmas Eve, her parents suggested that we venture down to Tombstone because I had never been there before and they knew that I was a fan of that Western. Pretty good family to marry into, right?

On the way, we passed the turnoff to Bisbee and I excitedly pointed out, “Bisbee?! That’s the first town they went to in 3:10 to Yuma!” My fiance laughed, rolled her eyes a little and said, “I love how you know where places are solely because of movies you watch.” She’s not wrong, but it’s simply the catch that comes with being engaged to a film lover. To her credit, she always takes it in stride and even sits through movies that I want to review and that she could care less about because she wants to be supportive. That’s true love folks, and another example of how lucky I am and that I made the right decision by proposing.

But while I could talk about my wonderful fiance from dawn til dusk, the point is that I will forever associate Bisbee with 3:10 to Yuma, the 2007 remake of the 1957 film of the same name. And when I’m reminded of that movie, I instantly recall the clever direction, expert pacing and superb acting. I then find myself yearning to experience it all over again, and that’s the mark of a tremendous motion picture: one that you can revisit repeatedly without tiring of it or being able to spot any flaws.

I’ve certainly never been able to find any, friends, and that’s why I declare that 3:10 to Yuma is a perfect film and one of the finest Westerns ever made.

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How Did 20-Year Old Me Feel About Toy Story 3?

I’m going to be upfront and admit that I have some pretty big misgivings about Toy Story 4. Sure, on the one hand, Pixar has crafted three outstanding entries for its most popular franchise. On the other hand, Toy Story 3 wrapped up the trilogy beautifully and left the story on a high note. Sometimes, you have to know when to leave well enough alone.

But regardless of how much I am or am not looking forward to the continuation of the franchise, that doesn’t really matter. Toy Story 4 hits theaters on Friday and hopefully any worries I have will be put to rest by another worthy follow-up. That really would be the best case scenario here. While we’re waiting, I thought it would fun to revisit Toy Story 3 and analyze what worked so well for that movie. The twist is that it won’t be me providing the analysis, or at least not present day me.

Back in the days before we had a blog for publishing our film reviews on the internet, Kevin and I would share our opinions with each other on Facebook messenger. Let’s just say it was the beginning of a shared appreciation for filmmaking and the first step towards pursuing a mutual passion. One of the movies I reviewed back then was indeed Toy Story 3, which Kevin and I saw together in 2010.

It’s crazy to think that it’s been that long since the last Toy Story hit theaters. It’s even crazier to me that we’ve been writing about films for almost a decade. That’s why I thought it be worthwhile, and just a little terrifying, to publish my original review and let 20-year old Jesse have his day in the sun.

That’s what we have to do, right? Take some time to remember where we’ve been, and the truth is the Toy Story movies have always been part of my life. My original review is after the jump.

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Wes Anderson’s Criterion Journey: Rushmore

Coming-of-age stories are one of the most overused archetypes in Hollywood: familiar, relatable and uplifting. In other words, it’s a proven formula that works. So when Wes Anderson revealed that his second feature film was going to follow that outline after Bottle Rocket bombed at the box office, I’m sure his producers were thrilled.

They might’ve been less enthusiastic when they read the script and found that the hero fakes injuries to try and win the heart of the woman he loves (one of the teachers at his school, nonetheless) and when his best friend starts dating that woman, he jealously tries to cut the brakes on his friend’s car. How are people supposed to get behind this guy if he’s trying to take us to all of these dark places?

The simple answer is that we have all been to those places before, because part of growing up is learning to cope with the injustices that life throws at you without succumbing to our worst impulses. That’s why we forgive the protagonist when he tries to exact terrible revenge on the friend who betrayed him. We’ve all felt that way before, only most of us haven’t acted on it.

You see, Anderson does adhere to the coming-of-age formula: he just does it in his unique, off-brand sort of way.

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