Film Review: The Shallows (dir by Jaume Collet-Serra)


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Have you seen The Shallows yet?

The Shallows was released last week, to strong box office and surprisingly good reviews.  Ever since it came out, people have been telling me, “You have got to see The Shallows!”  Well, I finally did see it earlier today and you know what?  I should have seen it earlier.  The Shallows is one of the best films of the year so far.

Now, I have to admit that, even before I saw the film, I was pretty sure that I was going to like it.  Just from watching the trailer, The Shallows looked like a big-budget Asylum film or maybe a mainstream version of Shark Exorcist.  After all, here we had a movie about a blonde in bikini being menaced by a giant shark while stranded on a rock in the middle of the ocean.  It looked like it would be one of those big, over-the-top nature-gone-crazy movies that I always enjoy watching on SyFy.

And, to a certain extent, it is.  The Shallows was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, a Spanish director whose previous work would seem to indicate an appreciation for old school grindhouse and drive-in cinema.  There’s really not a subtle moment to be found in The Shallows.  The shark is huge and whenever it finds something to eat, the ocean turns red with blood and while this grudge-holding shark may not behave like a real-life shark, it does behave like a movie shark.  When, at the start of the film, Lively is on her surfboard and blissfully unaware of the danger under the sea, girl power anthems blast on the soundtrack.  Whenever the camera briefly pans underwater for a shot from the shark’s point of view, the music suddenly becomes ominous and full of menace.  The action is nearly non-stop, pausing only occasionally for a few moments when the camera lingers on Lively either stretching on the beach or resting on the rock and yet the cinematography is so stunning and Lively’s performance is so great that these shots don’t feel exploitive but instead celebrate her both her outer and her inner strength.  Undoubtedly, a lot of people are buying tickets because Blake Lively spends most of the movie in a bikini but The Shallows is still one of the most empowering films of the summer.

That’s right, I just said that Blake Lively gives a great performance.  I have to admit that, despite loving Gossip Girl, I was never really sold on Blake Lively as an actress until I saw her in The Shallows.  I thought she was wasted in The Town and her performance in Savages left me so annoyed that I was literally screaming in the theater.  But no matter — Blake Lively proves herself to truly be a talented actress in The Shallows.  From the minute she appears onscreen, you’re on her side.  You’re happy for her when she finally gets to surf the beach that her recently deceased mother surfed when she was young.  You fear for her when the shark makes its first blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance.  And when she’s stranded on that rock, fighting for her own survival and trying to figure out a way to close a huge gash on her leg (and this was a scene that I literally watched through my fingers), you find yourself truly fearful that she’ll never be rescued.  (One of the strengths of the film is that you’re never fully convinced that Lively is going to survive her ordeal.)  Blake Lively gives a performance here that I would compare to James Franco’s breakthrough work in 127 Hours.

Actually, a lot of the scenes in The Shallows reminded me of 127 Hours.  For that matter, there were also a few scenes that reminded me of Wild and, of course, the Jaws influence was obvious as well.  The Shallows is a derivative film but, to its credit, it borrows from the best and Collet-Serra always manages to add his own individual spin to even the film’s most predictable moments.

Along with Lively’s performance and Collet-Serra’s direction, there are three other things that make The Shallows special.

Number one, it features an amazing seagull.  The seagull, which has an injured wing, spends most of the movie hanging out with Blake Lively on that rock and provides her with some much needed companionship.  The seagull also happens to be a helluva actor and, at times, I found myself even more worried about the seagull’s survival than Lively’s.  According to the credits, the seagull’s name is Sully and he better get some love from the Academy next January.

Number two, there’s a scene in which two soon-to-be-doomed surfers ask Blake Lively if she’s from California.  “No,” Lively replies, “Texas!”  From the minute she said that, all of us at the Alamo Drafthouse were on her side.  And, just in case any of you northerners have any doubts, people do surf in Texas.  Just ask anyone who has ever spent spring break in Galveston or Corpus Christi.

Finally, The Shallows is a short movie and, after sitting through so many overlong movies, it was nice to see a movie that was direct and to the point and which did not include any unnecessary padding.  The Shallows only needed 86 minutes to tell its story and not a minute more!

(Compare the 86-minute The Shallows to the 151-minute Batman v Superman and you’ll understand what film critics mean when they complain about a film being overlong.)

With its truly breathtaking shots of the ocean and it’s nonstop action, The Shallows is a film that you owe it to yourself to see on a big screen.  So get to it!

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Trash Literature : “Tool.” By Peter Sotos


Trash Film Guru

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This entry represents the first in a semi-regular series of book reviews that I’ll be doing for this site whenever the mood strikes me. The sheer number of comic reviews I’ve written over the past few years have already guaranteed that the “Trash Film Guru” name is well past its sell-by date, but rather than narrow my focus back to films alone (remember the good old days?), for some reason in recent weeks it’s seemed like a good idea to annihilate my original premise for this site completely and just write about whatever the hell I feel like. And there’s probably no better way to kick off our new “Trash Literature” sub-section than with a write-up on perhaps the most relentlessly extreme piece of literary violence I’ve ever come across. BE WARNED, though — things get real ugly real quick here, and if you don’t have the stomach for it…

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Creature Double Feature: THE BLACK SCORPION (1957) and THE KILLER SHREWS (1959)


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Creature_Double_Feature_Logo

Back in the glory days of local television, Boston’s WLVI-TV (Channel 56) ran a Saturday afternoon movie series titled “Creature Double Feature”. It was a huge ratings hit during the 1970’s, introducing young viewers to the BEM (bug-eyed monsters) movies of the past. Let’s return now to those halcyon days of yesterday with a look at two sci-fi flicks from the fabulous 50’s.

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First up is THE BLACK SCORPION, a 1957 giant monster movie from Warner Brothers. This low-budget saga starts off with stock footage of volcanos erupting and earthquakes a-quaking, and a hyperbolic narrator expounding on natural disasters threatening Mexico. Two brawny geologists, Hank and Artur, investigate the devastation. While out scouting they run into beautiful rancher Teresa Alvarez, whose vaqueros have fled the hacienda in fear. After getting them back on the ranch, our scientists attend an autopsy of a dead Mexican cop (the doctor performing the autopsy looks like he…

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More Of Bronson’s Best: Mr. Majestyk (1974, directed by Richard Fleischer)


Mr_Majestyk_movie_posterWhat happens when you combine the great tough guy writer Elmore Leonard with the great tough guy actor Charles Bronson?

You get Mr. Majestyk, one of Bronson’s finest films.

Vince Majestyk (Bronson) may be a former U.S. Army Ranger instructor and a decorated Vietnam vet but now that he has returned home to Colorado, all he cares about is running his watermelon farm.  With a lucrative harvest approaching, Majestyk hires a group of unionized Mexican migrant workers, led by the fiery Linda Chavez (Linda Cristal), to pick his crops.  When a local criminal named Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo) shows up and demands that Majestyk hire his drunken crew instead, Majestyk does what Bronson does best.  He gives Kopas an ass-kickin’ beat down.

After Kopas charges him with assault, the local police arrest Majestyk and, despite his request that he be allowed three days to finish harvesting his crop, Majestyk is thrown in jail.  Also in the jail is a Mafia hitman named Frank Renda (Al Lettieri).  Renda may be a tough guy but nobody’s tougher than Vince Majestyk.  When Renda’s associates attempt to hijack a prison bus, Majestyk ends up hijacking it instead.  Majestyk plans to hold Renda hostage until the police agree to give him his three days of freedom so he can get back to his farm.  Renda even offers to pay him off but Majestyk doesn’t care about his money.  He just cares about melons.

Because he was the only 1970s action star who could be believable as both a decorated combat veteran and a no-nonsense watermelon farmer, Charles Bronson is the only actor who could have brought Mr. Majestyk to life.  Before he became an actor, Bronson worked for a living.  From the age of ten until he enlisted in the Army, Bronson worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines, earning one dollar for each ton of coal that he mined.  Though Bronson was never a great actor, his legitimately working class background allowed him to bring an authenticity to a role like Vince Majestyk that most other actors would have lacked.  When Bronson says that all he cares about is bringing in the harvest on time, you believe him just as much as you believe him when he’s beating up Paul Koslo or hijacking a prison bus.

The rest of the cast is full of good 1970s actors who have never really been given their due.  Al Lettieri may be best known for playing Sollozzo in The Godfather but he also does a good job as Frank Renda.  Paul Koslo plays another one his sleazy villains here and does a great job as Bobby Kopas.

Mr. Majestyk was directed by Richard Fleischer but, with its colorful characters, working class hero, and modernized brand of frontier justice, the film is clearly the work of Elmore Leonard. Though Mr. Majestyk is credited as being based on a novel by Leonard, Leonard actually wrote the screenplay before the novel.

The combination of Elmore Leonard and Charles Bronson makes Mr. Majestyk one of the best action films of the 1970s.

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Bronson’s Best: The Stone Killer (1973, directed by Michael Winner)


Stone_killerAfter tough New York detective Lou Torrey (Charles Bronson) lands in hot water for shooting and killing a teenage cop killer, he moves to Los Angeles and gets a job with the LAPD.  Working under an unsympathetic supervisor (Norman Fell), saddled with an incompetent partner (Ralph Waite), and surrounded by paper pushing bureaucrats, Torrey still tries to uphold the law and dispense justice whenever he can.  When a heroin dealer is murdered while in Torrey’s custody, Torrey suspects that it might be a part of a larger conspiracy, involving mobster Al Vescari (Martin Balsam).

Vescari is plotting something big.  It has been nearly 40 since the “Sicilian Vespers,” the day when Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, and Busy Siegel killed all of the original mafia dons at the same time.  Viscari has invited mafia leaders from across the country to attend a special anniversary dinner.  During the dinner, all of Vescari’s rivals will be assassinated.  To keep things a secret, Vescari will not be using any of his usual hitmen.  Instead, he has contracted a group of mentally unstable Vietnam vets, led by Lawrence (Stuart Margolin).

Charles Bronson has always been an underrated film star.  His legacy has been tarnished by the cheap films he made for Cannon and, unlike Clint Eastwood, he never got a chance to really take control of his career and reinvent his image.  But during the 1970s, not even Clint Eastwood was a more convincing action star than Charles Bronson.  Bronson may have never been a great actor but he was an authentic tough guy with a physical presence that dominated the screen.

It was during this period that Bronson made his first four movies with director Michael Winner.  Though Death Wish and The Mechanic are the best known, The Stone Killer may be the best.  Tough, gritty, and action-packed with a great car chase, The Stone Killer was filmed on location in Los Angeles and some of the best parts are just the scenes of Bronson awkwardly interacting with the local, California culture.  If you have ever wanted to see Charles Bronson deal with a bunch of hippies, this is the film to see.  The Stone Killer also has more of social conscience than the usual 70s cop film, with Bronson’s character not only condemning excessive police brutality but also his racist partner.

(Ironically, Bronson and Winner would follow The Stone Killer with Death Wish, a film that many critics condemned as being racist and which suggested that the police were not being brutal enough.)

The other thing that sets The Stone Killer apart is that it has a great cast, featuring several actors who would go on to find success on television.  Balsam, Fell, and especially Waite and Margolin are all great.  Keep an eye out for a very young John Ritter, playing one of the only cops in the film who is not portrayed as being either corrupt or incompetent.

Though it may not be as well-known as some of his other action films, The Stone Killer is one of Bronson’s best.

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #13: Final Destiny (dir by Michel Poulette)


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In an effort to clean out my DVR and make room for endless episodes of reality television (not to mention the Olympics), I am currently in the process of watching the 40* films that I recorded from the beginning of March to the end of June.  The 13th film on my DVR was Final Destiny, which originally aired on the Lifetime movie network on April 3rd.

This will be a quick one.  Usually, I try to come up with at least 500 words for every movie that I review but it’s going to be a struggle as far as Final Destiny is concerned.  There’s really just not much to say about this particular film.

According to the imdb, Final Destiny was originally entitled Brace For Impact and I assume that the title was changed in an effort to fool viewers into thinking that Final Destiny had something to do with the Final Destination films.  Well, Final Destiny does start out with a scenario that could be lifted from one of those films.  Sofia Gilchrest (Kerry Condon) gets on an airplane with her brother, Shane (Ian Lake).  Right before the plane is scheduled to take off, Sofia gets the feeling that something bad is going to happen.  She freaks out and she’s kicked off the plane.  The plane then takes off and crashes, killing her brother.

Unfortunately, that’s about all that this film has in common with Final Destination.  The plane crash does not lead to a series of increasingly macabre accidents as death attempts to correct itself by killing Sofia.  Tony Todd never shows up to talk about destiny.  There’s no humor, which is a shame because Final Destiny could have used some humor.

(The only humor comes from the fact that, beyond ripping off a more successful franchise, Final Destiny makes absolutely no sense as a title!  That said, Brace For Impact was kind of a crappy title too…)

Instead, Final Destiny turns into a plodding procedural.  It turns out that Sofia is a flight crash investigator, which means that she now gets to investigate the crash that her killed brother.  Or, at least, it would if not for the fact that all of Sofia’s colleagues are totally corrupt and have no faith in her abilities.  It turns out that, in the past, Sofia has been too quick to assume that every plane crash was the result of a conspiracy.  Plus, she is such a careful investigator that it sometimes takes her years to determine why a plane crashed.  The government wants quick answers but Sofia would rather be right than be fast!

But here’s the problem with the movie: Sofia is a totally unlikable character.  That’s a bold statement to make about someone who is investigating the death of her brother but, even with that added layer of motivation, Sofia still comes across as being shrill, self-centered, and generally unpleasant.

It also doesn’t help that the cause of the crash is pretty obvious from the start.  About an hour into the movie, Sofia figures out that it was the act of domestic terrorists and then she spends the rest of the movie telling everyone that it was the work of domestic terrorists and then, at the end of the movie, she’s like, “Yep, domestic terrorism,” and that’s pretty much it.

There, of course, are a few subplots but none of the subplots are that interesting.  Sofia’s mother is shocked to discover that Shane was gay.  Sofia’s best friend is discriminated against because of his religion.  Sofia is angry because she didn’t get a promotion.  It’s all really predictable and it doesn’t add up too much.

In the end, Final Destiny didn’t even feel like a movie.  It felt like a pilot for a TV show that nobody would want to watch.  If ever a film needed Tony Todd to show up and start talking about life and death, it was this one.

*Yes, I know that I originally said I would have to watch 36 films to clean out my DVR but I recorded 4 more films since making that statement.  So now, it’s 40 films but I’m still hoping to be finished with the series by the end of next week.

In the American City


With the 4th of July only 2 days away, celebrate the diversity of America with these examples of American street photography!

Austin -- Peter Tsai

Austin — Peter Tsai

Chicago -- Craig Litten

Chicago — Craig Litten

Chicago -- Jason Martini

Chicago — Jason Martini

Dallas -- Erin Nicole

Dallas — Erin Nicole

Dallas -- Erin Nicole

Dallas — Erin Nicole

Dallas -- Erin Nicole

Dallas — Erin Nicole

 Dallas -- Erin Nicole

Dallas — Erin Nicole

Los Angeles -- Aaron Paustein

Los Angeles — Aaron Paustein

Los Angeles -- Kim Suarez

Los Angeles — Kim Suarez

New York -- Matt Alberts

New York — Matt Alberts

New York -- Seth Nenstiel

New York — Seth Nenstiel

New York -- Seth Nenstiel

New York — Seth Nenstiel

Music Video of the Day: It’s My Life by Talk Talk (1984, dir. Tim Pope)


Even by 1984, artists and the directors of their videos were rebelling against lip-syncing in them. That’s why you don’t see the lead singer doing that here. Sometimes even black bars go over his mouth to emphasize this fact while the video is primarily made up of nature footage. This discontinuity of image and sound was another example of early experimentation in music videos. There is another version of this video as well that apparently has them lip-synched, but doing other things to still make fun of the process. People of my generation learned of this song obviously because of tomorrow’s Music Video of the Day. Also, some may know it from the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories soundtrack. Although, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City used their song Life’s What You Make It instead. Their hit songs seem to be rather positive and empowering. No doubt that’s why tomorrow’s post exists.