Spring Breakdown #6: The Beach (dir by Danny Boyle)


Here’s a lesson for any and all aspiring film bloggers:

Even if you’ve seen the movie before, always rewatch a film before you write about it.  This is especially true if it’s been a while since you last saw the film.  Often the pressure to say whether a film was bad or good can lead to your memory playing tricks on you.

That was certainly the case with me and the 2000 film, The Beach.  For the longest time, I remembered The Beach as being a gorgeously shot but rather shallow film, one that featured one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s least impressive performances.  Whenever I had to explain my theory that DiCaprio didn’t become a consistently good actor until 2003, The Beach was inevitably one of the film’s that I would cite as proof that, early on in his career, DiCaprio had a tendency to overact.

In short, if I hadn’t rewatched the film on Saturday morning, you would currently be reading a really negative review of The Beach.  However, I did rewatch The Beach and I discovered that both the film and DiCaprio’s performance were a lot better than I initially remembered.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  The Beach is still a frustratingly uneven film and the voice over narration (which DiCaprio recites in a rather overwrought style) still makes me cringe.  But still, it’s hardly the disaster that I initially remembered it being.

DiCaprio plays Richard, a privileged American who finds himself in Bangkok, searching for adventure.  When he meets the appropriately named Daffy (Robert Carlyle), a bemused Richard listens as Daffy talks about an uncharted island in the Gulf of Thailand.  Daffy swears that it’s a paradise that is populated by other travelers.  When Richard smirks and asks Daffy if he’s “fucked in the head,” Daffy responds by drawing Richard a map and then promptly committing suicide.  Richard and his two French friends, Françoise (Virginie Leydon) and Étienne (Guillaume Canet), go searching for the island.

And they find it!  It turns out that Daffy knew what he was talking about.  On the island, they discover a small but thriving commune.  Soon, Richard is killing sharks, having affairs, and becoming close to the leader of the commune, Sal (Tilda Swinton).  Unfortunately, Richard is also starting to lose his mind.  He grows to love paradise so much that he chooses ignore the dangers all around.  When a member of the commune is attacked by a shark, he’s left out in the middle of the jungle because no one wants to deal with the reality of his suffering.  Even more dangerous are the neighboring marijuana farmers, who allow Sal and her followers to live only under the condition that they keep the island a secret.  The problem is that Richard’s not good at keeping secrets.  Before he even knew if the island was real, Richard showed the map to a group of American surfers.  And now, the surfers are coming….

The Beach was directed by Danny Boyle, so it’s not a surprise that the film looks great and that it has an absolutely brilliant soundtrack.  (The film makes great use of both Moby’s Porcelain and Out of Control by the Chemical Brothers.)  At the same time, Boyle is too much of a subversive to fully buy into his film’s vision of paradise.  From the minute that Richard and his friends reach the island, Boyle is offering up hints that utopia isn’t as wonderful as people assume.  When Sal asks for a volunteer to accompany her to the mainland on a supply run, Boyle practically delights in showing everyone freaking out at the idea of having to indulge in responsibility.  Boyle often contrasts Richard’s pretentious narration (which, at times, sounds like it could have been lifted from a Beto O’Rourke medium post) with the rather mundane details of living on the island.  Though it may not be obvious from the start, The Beach works best when viewed as being a satire of middle and upper class ennui.

As for DiCaprio’s performance as Richard ….. well, let’s just say that he spends a lot of time yelling.  During the early part of his career — essentially the pre-Scorsese years — DiCaprio had a tendency to overact.  For all of his obvious talent, it took DiCaprio a while to really get to a point where he seemed as comfortable underplaying as he was just going totally overboard.  The Beach has its moments where DiCaprio gets awkwardly shrill.  (The scene where Richard talks about killing a shark always makes me cringe.)  But, at the same time, DiCaprio’s performance gets better as the film progresses.  (The scenes where DiCaprio is running around the jungle and trying to act like an animal are actually quite good.)  If DiCaprio’s performance sometimes seems shallow or histrionic, that’s because that’s who Richard is meant to be as a character.  (In one scene, Françoise even calls Richard out for being shallow and pretentious.)  Just because Richard’s narrating and is played by the star of the film, that doesn’t meant that we’re necessarily meant to like him.

These are all things that I didn’t really understand until I rewatched the film.  Maybe I was too immature the first time I saw the movie to understand what Boyle was really going for.  Maybe I was just having an off night the first time that I watched The Beach.  Or maybe my memory was just faulty.  For whatever reason, I’m glad that I rewatched this often uneven but still rather interesting film.  For all of its flaws. it was definitely better than I remembered.

Spring Breakdown #5: 47 Meters Down (dir by Johannes Roberts)


One of the surprise box office hits of 2017, 47 Meters Down tells the story of two sisters.

Kate (Claire Holt) is free-spirited, glamorous, and always up for a new adventure.  Her older sister, Lisa (Mandy Moore) is more serious and responsible.  If Kate craves constant stimulation, Lisa seeks stability.  When we first meet them, they’re on vacation in Mexico.  Lisa has just admitted to Kate that her boyfriend has dumped her because he feels that she’s too safe and that she doesn’t take enough risks.  What is Kate’s solution to all of Lisa’s problems?  How about going on a cage dive and seeing the sharks!?

Now, I should stop right here to point out the main strengths of 47 Meters Down.  The main character is named Lisa.  For me, this made her instantly sympathetic and I was able to relate to her, even though I’ve always been more like Kate.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many movies could have been improved by renaming their main character Lisa.

Anyway, Lisa and Kate find a group of slightly seedy sailors who own a boat and a cage and soon, they’re off to see the sharks.  Before getting into the water, both Lisa and Kate are warned about all the bad things that can happen during a dive.  You can run out of oxygen.  You can get eaten by a shark.  You can resurface too quickly and get “the bends.”  We here a lot about “the bends” over the course of the film.  That’s when you get nitrogen bubbles in your brain and it can cause you to get delirious and hallucinate.  It’s a pretty serious thing but I have to admit that I kept giggling whenever anyone said, “Be careful, you’ll get the bends!” because ….. listen, it just sounds silly, okay?  I get that the bends are a real thing and that they’re really dangerous and that they should be taken seriously but “the bends’ just sounds like a punchline to a vulgar joke.  Whenever I heard anyone in the film use the term, I was just like, “Wasn’t that Beto O’Rourke’s college band?”

Lisa is nervous about going in the water.  Kate isn’t.  It turns out that maybe Lisa had the right idea because, almost immediately after Lisa and Kate are submerged, the cables holding the cage snap and suddenly, the two sisters find themselves trapped 47 meters down.  If they leave the cage and attempt to swim back up to the surface, they might very well get eaten by a shark.  And if the sharks don’t get them, there’s always …. the bends!  The men on the boat swear that they’re going to rescue the two sisters but who knows if they can be trusted.  Meanwhile, the oxygen tanks will soon be empty….

47 Meters Down may have been a surprise box office success when it was released in 2017 but the critics absolutely hated it.  Watching the film, it’s easy to see why.  The critics who complained that the film was predictable had a point.  However, the audiences who didn’t care what the critics thought had a point as well.  Silly as the film may occasionally be, it works.  When that cage sinks down into the murky darkness of the ocean, the film captures some very primal fears.  When Lisa and Kate argue about what to do next, it’s a scene to which anyone who has a sibling should be able to relate.  The relationship between Lisa and Kate felt authentic, which made the film’s final twist far more powerful than it had any right to be.

47 Meters Down is somewhat silly but it’s still an effectively entertaining look at sisters, divers, and the sharks that like to eat them.

Music Video of the Day: Golden Spiral by Holly Miranda (2019, dir by Natalie Morales)


I like this music video because it doesn’t look like it cost much to make but, at the same time, it also communicates the idea that the world is on the verge of ending.  This is the Ides of March, after all.  If there’s ever been a day to appreciate apocalyptic art, this would be it.

Personally, I have my doubt as to whether or not Julius Caesar really appreciated art.  Everything that I’ve read about him would seem to suggest that he was more into war and military history than into artistic representations of those same things.  Cassius, however, probably had a god eye for art.  He sounds like he was an intellectual.  As for Brutus, I imagine that he always made sure to say that he liked everything that everyone else liked.  Brutus was probably a lot like the character that Tatum O’Neal played in Basquiat.

Anyway, enjoy!

Music Video of the Day: Low Rider by War (1975, dir by ????)


This is a song that really gets stuck in your head!

The song, of course, is about cars.  Myself, I’ve always associated this song with Dazed and Confused. I’ve also always liked that line about the low rider getting a little higher because it’s such a 70s line.  It’s like the parents think it’s about the car and the kids know it’s about the driver.

As for the video, my favorite part comes at the end:

Far out!

Enjoy!

Spring Breakdown #3: Open Water 2: Adrift (dir by Hans Horn)


The 2006 film, Open Water 2: Adrift, is a film about a group of people who are literally too stupid to live.

Now, that may sound like a harsh judgment but just consider what this film is about.  A group of shallow friends get together for a birthday party on a yacht.  They head out to the middle of the ocean.  One-by-one, they all get into the water.  One of the friends has been terrified of the water ever since her father drowned in front of her.  She doesn’t want to get in the water so, of course, the owner of the boat picks her up and jumps overboard with her.  With the exception of a sleeping infant, everyone is now in the water.

Oh!  And guess what!

It didn’t occur to anyone to lower the ladder before getting in the ocean.  That means there’s no way to get back on the boat!  And now, everyone’s stuck in the water where they’ll presumably eventually die of either hypothermia or just general stupidity.  They’ll also end up yelling at each other and arguing about whose fault it is.  They’ll all discuss issues of wealth, religion, and envy.  There’s nothing like a weighty theological discussion being conducted by a bunch of idiots floating in the ocean.

Of course, they do make a few attempts to get back on the boat.  One guy tries to use a knife to climb back up the side of the boat but he just ends up getting stabbed instead.  An attempt to grab hold of an American flag just leads to desecrated symbol of patriotism.  One girl decides to pray, just to be reprimanded by the group atheist.  At one point, everyone takes off their swimsuits and they attempt to tie them into a makeshift rope.  It doesn’t work but now everyone’s naked.  This movie knows what it’s doing.

We get a lot of shots of people floating listlessly in the ocean.  In order to pad out the run time, there’s a lot of pointless slow motion.  Amy (Susan May Pratt), the hydrophobe, has a flashback to her father’s death and it’s amazing how little sympathy the film manages to generate for someone who watched helplessly while a parent drowned.  Because Amy’s supposed to be scared of the water, she spends most of the movie floating around with this dumbass look on her face.  I’m a hydrophobe too.  If I found myself in this situation, I’d probably scream until I exhausted myself and drowned.  But I wouldn’t float around with this stupid beatific look on my face.

This film was sold as being a sequel to Open Water, though it actually went into production before Open Water was released.  After Open Water was a surprise box office success, the film’s title was changed from Adrift to Open Water 2: Adrift.  There are obvious similarities between the two films but the major difference is that the couple in Open Water ended up stranded through no fault of their own.  On the other hand, the folks in Open Water 2 were just too dumb to lower a ladder.

Open Water was effective but depressing.  Open Water 2 is just kind of stupid.

Music Video Of The Day: Mission Impossible by Lindsey Stirling, feat. Piano Guys (2013, dir by ????)


It’s definitely not easy carrying out a top secret spy mission while playing a violin but if anyone could pull it off, it would be Lindsey Stirling!

Please enjoy this fun little video from 2013!

Spring Breakdown #2: Open Water (dir by Chris Kentis)


So, who wants to spend 80 minutes watching two people slowly die?

That’s the question that’s posed by the 2003 film, Open Water.  Apparently, quite a few people had a positive response to that question because Open Water, which was made for about $120,000, went on to gross over 55 million dollars.  It also inspired two sequels and it continues to be something of a mainstay on the SyFy channel, where it usually airs during Shark Week.

I have to admit that, largely because I have a huge phobia about drowning, I didn’t see Open Water until three years after it was initially released.  I watched it with my cousin Paulie.  At the end of the film, he exclaimed, “Oh, nice fucking movie, Lisa Marie!,” and I understand where he was coming from.  There’s not much hope or positivity to be found in Open Water.  It’s not a happy film.  Instead, it’s a movie about a couple who end up getting stranded in the middle of the ocean.  Eventually, one of them gets eaten by sharks while the other one drowns.

That may sound like a spoiler but really, it’s not.  From the minute we first see Daniel (Daniel Travis) and Susan (Blanchard Ryan), we know there’s no way they’re getting out of the movie alive.  They’re both so happy about taking a vacation and finally getting to spend some quality time together that it’s obvious that there’s no way things aren’t going to end in tragedy.  Their vacation takes them to the Caribbean, where they hope to go scuba diving.  Unfortunately, their scuba diving group leaves without realizing that Daniel and Susan are still underwater.  When the two of them resurface, they discover that they’re stranded out in the middle of the ocean.

At first, they assume that someone will notice them missing and come back to rescue them.  They make jokes about how this is a story that they’ll be able to tell for the rest of their lives.  They laugh.  They joke.  They briefly argue.  Daniel gets frustrated and spends a while screaming with splashing water.  Eventually, the jelly fish arrive and they both get stung.  Then. the sharks show up….

It’s all very dark and depressing and the film certainly did not help me with my fear of swimming.  Imagine Jaws if the whole film was just an hour and a half of Chrissie Watkins getting eaten by the Great White and you kind of have an idea of what Open Water was like.  As a result of the film’s low-budget, Open Water has an effectively rough, documentary-like feel to it.  Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan seem like any ordinary couple that you might run into while on vacation.  They’re easy enough to relate to that you certainly don’t want to see them die.

Unfortunately, after Daniel and Susan get stranded out in the ocean, the film gets stranded along with them.  At that point, all you can do is watch as they two of them get eaten by undersea life.  It gets a bit tedious.  One imagines that Werner Herzog could probably make this material compelling and, whenever I watch Open Water, I like to imagine the sound of Herzog saying, “I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder.”  However, as it is, Open Water is one of those well-made films that leave you with no desire to ever watch it again.