The Shallows: Bought It Before I Watched It

Here is a well-known, irrefutable fact about myself: I am old.

Now you might be thinking, “But Jesse, you’re only 29! You’re still a young man,” and that’s exactly what you would think given my age and appearance, but that’s without taking the following into account: I listen to a ton of classic rock, I still pay for cable, I try to avoid long lines and crowds, I’m just as content with a quiet night inside as I am going out and doing something fun, and I still buy physical copies of movies.

That’s right, every single movie I own is perched upon a bookshelf in my guest room. Whenever I have to move (which thankfully isn’t very often), I have to take them down, pack them up and put them all back up again when I get to my new place. That probably sounds awful to you, which is why most people who still collect movies (instead of just streaming everything) opt for digital copies, so they don’t have to deal with all of the clutter. Marie Kondo would definitely prefer the latter approach.

And I wish I could tell you that I have a bulletproof reason for buying and storing all of these optical discs, like that they provide me with superior audio and video quality (which is somewhat true) or that I don’t like relying on the internet to have access to good movies (for the two times a year that my internet doesn’t work), but maybe it just brings me to joy to see all those plastic cases twinkling at me from their respective positions on my shelf.

If you think that sounds crazy, then this little nugget will really blow your mind: I will sometimes buy movies that I haven’t even SEEN yet. Now in my defense, I do look at the reviews for a film to determine how well it was received and if it might be unique, but that’s still weird, right? Why pay money to own something that I’m not even sure I’ll enjoy?

I won’t even attempt to come up with a good answer for that question, but what I am going to attempt to do is start a series of posts where I watch a movie that I bought without seeing it first, and then write about whether I regret it or not. I’ll even do a mock interview of myself. We’ll see if I regret that.

First up, The Shallows.

Why did I buy The Shallows?

You can count the number of good shark movies on one hand, or maybe even one finger. On a side note, I bet you thought my answer was going to be, “Blake Lively in a bikini.” Get your mind out of the gutter, pervs.

Really, people are expected to believe that?

Hey, I love Jaws. It’s one of the greatest feats in film history and the piece of cinema that put Steven Spielberg on the map. I loathe virtually every other shark movie I’ve seen, although I do respect the Sharknado franchise for fully embracing its own ridiculousness and just running with it (they released a sixth one just last year!). The point is, I wanted to believe that The Shallows brought the survival horror element of Jaws without the stupidity of all its sequels, so I took the plunge… erm, the dive.

Alright alright, so what did you think?

Much to my relief, The Shallows is a perfectly watchable summertime horror flick. Lively makes for a compelling lead, as she’s proven in some of her more recent work, and the great white shark is a force of nature that lays waste to anyone stupid enough to be in the water (basically everyone). I don’t think a bigger boat would’ve helped Lively in this one, or a bigger surfboard for that matter (unless the Silver Surfer let her borrow his and she could just fly out of there). Director Jaume Collet-Serra tried his hand at horror previously, including the graphic 2005 remake of House of Wax, but he seems to have tightened the reigns a little bit here by favoring suspense over gore. The mere threat of the shark is equally as imposing as when it’s actually chowing down on something, which I found rather effective.

He also found a pretty clever way to visualize Lively’s smartphone on the screen, which is something we’re seeing more and more of in film with things like texting and Facetime.

Do you think you’ll come back to it again?

I’m sure I will someday, but it was brutal to watch by myself (my fault for putting on a scary movie while I was home alone). My fiance also hates survival horror, so the chances of getting her to sit through it someday are between slim to none. Maybe I can convince Kevin to fly back from New York for it? You never know.

Moment of truth… do you regret purchasing it?

Thankfully, no. While it’s certainly not on the level of Jaws, all I wanted was something to shock me, awe me and make me scared to get in the water. You can check all three boxes for The Shallows. On top of that, there is a seagull in this movie named Steven Seagull. How could I ever regret buying a film that features a bird named after a 90’s action star?

What’s next in this series?

Good question. Kevin has been badgering me to watch Enemy and Sorry to Bother You, so probably one of those two. Stay tuned!

What If: A Feel Good Hidden Gem

“Love is dirty, baby, sometimes it’s downright filthy.”

Maybe it’s because wedding bells are drawing near for Jesse and because I’m currently living 461 miles away from my love but, whatever the reason, romantic comedies are getting featured here on Flimsy Film Critics this month. Actually the real answer is we are smooth, handsome, hopeless romantics who express their love with big romantic gestures on a daily basis but we don’t talk about it here because we don’t want our audience feeling bad about themselves. Yeah that’s it…

Either way, I was in the mood for a feel good movie about love and all its complications. I found just that in the hidden gem that is 2013’s What If (not to be confused with Netflix’s recent What/If series nor the comics-soon-to-be-Disney-show What If that asks daring questions like, “What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four”, the answer is, the Fantastic Four would finally get a good movie as long as Sony wasn’t producing it).

What If has a classic romantic comedy set up, a dude meets a girl at a party, there’s instant chemistry but the girl reveals she has a boyfriend, in the most ham-fisted, awkward manner possible of course.

What makes this movie stand out is the cast led by Daniel Radcliffe and his best friend Adam Driver (Harry Potter and Kylo Ren fanfics goin’ wild right now) alongside the so-hot-right-now Zoe Kazan with a great supporting performance from Mackenzie Davis (that girl from your favorite Black Mirror episode).

Daniel and Zoe, portraying Wallace and Chantry, have palpable chemistry, and as they settle into their friendship you feel like they’ve known each other forever with their quick banter and comfort to be their whole selves. Wallace, coming off a bad break up, and Chantry, living with her boyfriend, decide, over a handshake, they are going to give the ‘men and women can be friends’ thing a shot.

The other stand out in this movie is the dialogue, it is crisp, quick, and funny. Each word feels intentional and has meaning. Especially the scenes with Allan (Driver) and Nicole (Davis) as the head-over-heels couple that falls madly, and quickly, in love. The performances by Driver and Davis had me cackling with laughter bringing a much needed energy to Wallace’s downtrodden world view. Allan and Nicole, who meet the same night as Wallace and Chantry, in fact in front of the same fridge, are the foil to Wallace and Chantry. They fall for each other fast and they don’t stop to think or ask questions. They serve as opposition to Wallace’s nihilistic views on love as well as the comic relief. They drop nuggets of wisdom along the way and truly might be the #relationshipgoals couple of the movie.

Of course no relationship is perfect. As Allan pontificates after his first fight with Nicole, “All this love shit is complicated. And that’s good. Because if it’s too simple you’ve got no reason to try and if you’ve got no reason to try, you don’t”. It’s one of the seemingly cliché lines that is so well delivered by Driver that it sticks with you. It provides a sense of relief that a lot of romantic comedies don’t, life is messy and that’s okay.

Love and life is complicated. People fall in love with the wrong people at the right time and the right people at the wrong time. As much as we can focus on ourselves, our careers, our hobbies, we can’t control who or when we fall in love and we shouldn’t have to feel guilty about our feelings. This movie gives a sense of relief that life is nuanced and messy. No one knows what they’re doing, especially when feelings are involved. This film reminds you that love happens in unlikely ways but if something is good, hold onto it for as long as it stays that way.

The Farewell: Guilt Inducing Poetry

When telling people where I’m from, the typical question I get is, “Colorado? Why the fuck did you leave?” followed up by, “do you go back often?” My response actually sums me up well as a person, meaning it’s sensible, dark, and a tiny bit funny, “only for weddings, babies, and funerals” I say. And I wonder why I make friends slowly, I guess I’m an acquired taste.

As someone who has chosen to live away from my family, friends, and community, I have to deal with the weight of guilt on a daily basis. How do I maintain these connections while thousands of miles away? And as I miss birthdays, doctor appointments, and house warming parties the weight gets heavier.

The Farewell is a movie made for people like me, or really, for anyone who has dealt with the sudden news of the impending loss of a loved one. But it specifically hits home for those of us who are thousands of miles away from our homes. It’s a brutal reminder of the reality of our choices as well as showcase of the beauty of our bravery.

The Farewell directed and written by Lulu Wang and starring Awkwafina, follows a family of Chinese immigrants as they deal with the heart wrenching news that the beloved matriarch of the family, Nai Nai (grandmother), is at death’s door and only has a short time to live. The family decides to NOT disclose this information to Nai Nai herself, instead choosing to carry the emotional burden quietly amongst themselves.

Dealing with the news of an impending death is maddening enough. What exactly do you say to someone who is dying? Do you keep it light and discuss the weather or the news or other meaningless trivialities? Do you ask for stories of their past or ask them for wisdom as a dark reminder that the end is coming? Neither seem like an enjoyable path but neither does a loss without warning with no time for these conversations. For every person who has lost someone suddenly and wishes they had just a little more time to enjoy their company, there is someone who has been blessed with that time and has no idea how to handle the awkward blessing.

It’s even trickier for Billi, an aspiring writer living in New York perfectly portrayed by Awkwafina, who has to keep the family secret of her grandmother’s impending doom while visiting her under the false pretense of a fake wedding (so Nai Nai doesn’t get suspicious). Billi loves her Nai Nai dearly and desperately wants to tell her the truth and cry in her arms. But her family, and the cultural expectations surrounding it, will not allow even a single tear. The film follows Billi as she traverses through the societal differences between the culture she was born into and the culture she was raised as well as the guilt of living so far away.

The heart of this movie lies in the realism. Pay attention to the scenes of the family around the dinner table eating an endless amount of food, there’s a lot of them, and they serve the purpose of creating the familiar. Sure this is a Chinese family but the conversations they have around the table are recognizable for any culture. There is gossip, there is the constant pressure to “eat, eat, eat” from the matriarch, there is childhood stories told, as well as pointed, guilt-inducing, remarks made by elders.

It’s a heart wrenching reminder for those of us who have left of what we leave behind and of the moments we miss while apart. If this is you, the scenes of reunion around the dinner table or walking around the city with a random relative or watching your cousin get married will spark a grueling familiarity. It’ll throw you back to those times when you are forced to step back into your past life. The battle of dread and secret joy that is waged internally, followed by reminders of why you left and why you come back.

The Farewell, for those who have chosen a path away from their families, is a gut punch of guilt, laughter, and the familiar. It’s everything you hate and everything you love about going home to visit those you have abandoned physically but will never abandon emotionally. It’s pure poetry that will drive you to both immediately call your loved ones and refocus your reasons for leaving.

 

It’s a Long Shot to Go to the Movies

I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret – Flimsy Film Critics is all for romantic comedies!

I know, I know. We don’t write about them much (except when I’m critiquing Netflix’s autoplay feature) but it’s true. We like to see the hero wind up with the object of their desire, we find humor in the critiques of modern dating and we find satisfaction in people growing as individuals and ditching their lousy significant other for someone much better. Mainly, I think we are just relieved that we no longer have to endure all the awkward moments that being single can bring cascading into your life.

That’s why when I saw the trailer for Long Shot, I was instantly intrigued. Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron are both actors that I admire, but they’re an unusual on-screen couple. I figured that was a good sign that a little more thought went into making this film other than, “Get two attractive people together and let the sparks fly,” especially since Rogen also served as a producer. My fiance was equally intrigued, so seeing Long Shot in theaters seemed like a great potential date night and an opportunity to support an original movie.

Then we didn’t go. But we did order it on-demand because I’m old and still pay for cable. That still counts, right?

Alright, so it’s not the same. I always kick myself for not forking over the $20 that it takes to go see a film that deserves our money, because these movie studios are always listening with their wallets. That’s why we have all those Fast and Furious movies and just got Angel Has Fallen, the third installment of a trilogy that most people have forgotten even exists. Long Shot barely made its budget back, which only compounded my guilt. We as a society always complain that we don’t get enough original films, but then we rarely put our money where our mouths are when we have the chance. Why is that?

I think a lot of it has to do with the impact that streaming has had on the industry. If people see a trailer for a movie that captures their interest but isn’t  something they have been eagerly anticipating, what are the odds that they just wait it out and catch it on Netflix or Hulu someday? Exponentially high, and only increasing with the additional streaming services that have been starting up (just wait until Disney+ is released, families will never leave their homes again!). For people who aren’t passionate about film or just watch movies to pass the time, they are probably ecstatic about this trend. They get to sit on their couch and save money on something they aren’t even sure they’ll like. But for cinephiles like the two goofy guys who run this blog, it’s an upsetting development in our film loving worlds. Try as you might, you just can’t replicate the experience of going to the theater with the streaming device at your home, and you never will.

And of course I liked Long Shot. It was a fun and refreshing rom com, which is all the more reason why I should’ve gotten off my butt and traveled the 10 minutes to see it on the big screen. Imagine a world where public movie theaters don’t even exist and everything is released right to your Smart TV or Roku Stick.

It’s a lot closer than you might think.

Ready or Not Brings the Cathartic Laughter

Ready or Not, a film directed by the relatively unknown Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, is a big foam middle finger to the wealthy and conservative elite that are running our country. It’s the kind of film that steadily, and humorously, builds to a cathartic release of anger and frustration in the form of violent comeuppance that will make you want to literally stand up and clap like a fool. It’s exactly the kind of movie you need after a hard, long news day (AKA every day).

The film follows Grace (played by the underrated…actually maybe ‘not yet rated’ is a better term, Samara Weaving) as she prepares to marry Alex Le Domas, he of the “richer than God” Le Domas family whose wealth is built around a board game monopoly (not the board game, Monopoly, but a monopoly OF board games). Oh and also funded by a dead spirit named Mr. Le Bail, minor detail.

Except it isn’t!  Because per the deal that great-grandad Le Domas made with Le Bail, the obscene wealth and success of the family will only continue to be passed down through the generations under one stipulation, anyone who marries into the family MUST have a game night with the family on the night of their wedding.

GASP! BUT THAT’S WHEN THE COUPLE IS SUPPOSED TO BE BANGING FOR THE “FIRST” TIME!

(Alas, those of us who are married know that’s not how it really works. I, for one, beat my wife at Mario Kart the night we tied the knot. That’s…that’s not a joke.)

Back to the plot! Not only does the newly married person have to play a game with their new family but there’s a slight chance that the person will have to be sacrificed to Satan if they draw the wrong card. The ‘hide and seek’ card to be exact. Talk about drawing a bad hand.

Of course Grace pulls the hide and seek card because otherwise the movie would be pretty dull if we just watched a rich family beat each other at checkers for two hours. And now she must deal with the consequences of drawing the worst hand (outside of a 2 and 7 off suit in hold ‘em of course) by hiding while the family loads up guns and crossbows.

Except there is one small detail, SHE DOESN’T KNOW THE CONSEQUENCES. That’s right, the dude she loves decided to buy a ring, pop the question, spend thousands of dollars on flowers, and decides it’s not important to inform his soon to be wife that she is soon to be dead! Men, am I right?

Grace is left to her own devices and has to learn to traverse the many hidden passages of the unfamiliar Le Domas mansion. Luckily for her the Le Domas’ incompetence is threatening to derail their home field advantage.

That’s right, there are four things that makes this movie worth giving up two hours of your life for: a simple and engaging premise that delivers numerous scenes of true terror and intensity and is balanced by a self-awareness of its own ridiculousness. But the best aspect is that the old white rich family is completely daft and hopeless.

Many horror movies build themselves around a villain that is unconquerable. And why not? What’s scarier than true hopelessness? What sets Ready or Not apart is the villains are truly terrible. Both morally and murder skills wise. You laugh as these numbskulls, born with silver spoons in their asses, bumble around the house possibly more terrified than the person being hunted. You laugh because it feels far more realistic that a rich person who doesn’t even do their own laundry or fill their own gas, can’t manage to hunt down a small, unarmed woman.

The wealthy family being ill-equipped at murder brings a sense of humor that connects directly with the endorphins in your brain. It allows the audience to point and laugh at the helpless rich people, it provides a rare sense of power over those who control our world if only for two brief hours. It’s dark humor, sure, but it’s also good humor. In an alternate universe without Get Out and Us, Ready or Not is the horror movie you would have thought was directed by Jordan Peele because it feels like an expanded Key and Peele skit mixed with the deeper meanings of Peele’s real work.

The beauty of Ready or Not is it brings a sense of relief to the audience. It doesn’t bother with subtext or allegories because it is glaringly obvious what the writers are trying to say: rich people don’t play by the same rules and they would rather sacrifice your life than lose their power. And this overt message mixed with the cathartic release of the climax provides EXACTLY what we as an audience need in this day and age, a good laugh and a giant middle finger to the man.

Wes Anderson’s Criterion Journey: The Royal Tenenbaums

There is a scene in The Royal Tenenbaums that always mesmorizes me. No matter how many times I see it, no matter what else I’m doing, I instantly get swept up in its beauty and simplicity and come to admire it even more than before.

Margot and Richie have been in love for a long time, dating all the way back to their childhood. Summoned back home after a prolonged absence, they arrange to meet at, “the pier by way of the Green Line Bus.” As Margot steps off of the bus, and spots Richie awaiting her arrival, their eyes lock and their expressions soften and not a word is needed to understand how these two truly feel about each other. They are wearing nearly identical colors, casting off a dreamlike hue as if they are the only people in each other’s worlds that stand out. Nico’s cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” plays over the scene, suggesting that these two never really got to be together and that their love as a whole was a missed opportunity.

Of course, none of this takes into account that Richie is Margot’s brother and Margot is his adopted sister. It wouldn’t truly be a Wes Anderson movie if there wasn’t one absurd little tidbit that threw the entire idea of this potential courtship out of whack. Richie later discusses his love for Margot with his father, Royal (played by the legendary Gene Hackman) and the following exchange takes place:

Royal: “It’s illegal though, right?”
Richie: “I don’t think so, we’re not blood related.”
Royal: “But probably frowned upon. But then again, what isn’t these days?”

That line made me wonder about what the reaction would have been if The Royal Tenenbaums had been released these days. Would there have been a giant backlash towards the Margot/Richie relationship on the internet or would they have been in the clear thanks to Game of Thrones’ portrayal of full-fledged incest? It’s safest to assume that people will get offended about anything that is even the slightest bit controversial. But as I rewatched the film recently, I realized two things: 1) I’m glad that certain movies were made before the advent of social media and 2) I really miss seeing Gene Hackman in new movies.

Probably a lot more than the other people in this movie missed his character.

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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.