The Shallows


If you’ve read some of my previous reviews or chatted with me for longer than 3 minutes, then you know my favorite movie is Jaws. So I don’t have anything against movies about jerk sharks that are attacking with reckless abandon. As a shark enthusiast, I know that the rogue shark — and territoriality — are Matt Hooper’s theories. I don’t work for the Oceanographic Institute or rock a Canadian tuxedo, but I feel confident in saying that nothing has been proven where territoriality is concerned. At least through this rube’s eyes. I suppose it’s plausible considering that 98% of shark attacks are accidental and consist of an exploratory bite before the shark realizes the blunder. Embarrassing!

Any time a new shark movie comes out, some ding dong is always going to make the Jaws comparison in some way. It annoys me more than it probably should, because it only goes to show that Jaws set the bar. Any juxtaposition is merely complimentary.

So there I was, ready to hate this movie for no dang good reason, and I was being smug about it, too. Facebooking to my friends that I had a 10-spot on falling asleep before seeing the shark. Well, movie, you got me. Not only do you see the shark early on, it’s not at all overdone or cheesy. I mean, outside of the fact that the cardboard cutout of a great white that I have in my bedroom is more realistic than the one in the movie.

Nancy (Blake Lively) is a surfer. She speaks poquito Spanish — adorably — and doesn’t take her jewelry off before she goes in the water, which seems like a good way to lose it if you ask me. On hiatus from med school, she’s off to the hidden beach her mother surfed in her salad days.


Learning that her friend is bogged down with the Irish Flu, Nancy’s gonna go it alone and catch some choice waves in this crystal clear, cerulean Xanadu. She makes some new pals and together, they three ride the dopest of waves together. I don’t know surfer jargon, but I’m trying.

After her new bros determine they’ve hung enough ten for the day, Nancy stays to ride one last wave. Oh, Nancy, why? Meanwhile, Nancy’s friend who was too hungover to come to the beach is off with some boy. This information is sent in a text that Nancy will never get. Nancy’s friend is a prize asshole.

After putting herself in a rather precarious pickle, it happens; The Bite. The worst, most unrealistic and aesthetically pleasing shark attack in the history of the cinema. Quint will tell you that when you’re in the water, you can tell how big a shark is by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. This one had to be a 20-footer. So the shark bites her leg and drags her down. Escaping, she scrambles atop a nearby rock to reveal the damage — a sizable gash.


No. No, movie. I’ve gone along with everything you’ve given me up until now. Her leg would’ve been gone. Or at least, the bite radius would’ve been much larger. Do you know what it’s like having to explain to your roommates why you were just in your bedroom shouting, “The bite radius! THE BITE RADIUS!”

From here on out, Nancy uses her cunning and her med school learnin’ to patch herself up and outwit the shark. She makes a little bird friend, Steven Seagull, and spends the rest of the film with the worst chapped lips I’ve ever seen. I literally could not focus on anything else. I went through an entire tube of chapstick on her behalf.



And, yes, the buoy scene from the trailer is delightfully similar to Brody on the sinking boat. I’m not even mad at it. I’m not mad at this movie at all. It’s actually quite good. There’s some laughs, some sweat, and the same feeling I get every time I watch the scene in Jaws where the fisherman is trying to outswim the shark and almost doesn’t get his foot out of the water in time. I love a small cast coupled with an isolated location and some hot cinematography. Watch it. Enjoy it. Shame on me for being so judgy. Even if that bite radius was as realistic as the shark itself.




Operation Avalanche


There are a lot of things I’m iffy on in life. UFOs, Bigfoot, Nessie; I’d like to believe they all exist and I can say with a modicum of certainty that I’ve seen one of those three with my own eyes. While we have shaky evidence that would suggest they are not completely farcical, outside of some blurry pictures always taken with the worst camera the photographer owns, they remain largely mythical.

In the interest of keeping this light, I’ll spare you my opinions on conspiracy theories. People have conflicting ideas about certain things. Are Elvis and Tupac still alive and kickin’ it somewhere in Cuba together? What’s up with Area 51? What are they even doing out there?  I’m pretty sure Paul McCartney is still alive since I’ve seen him in concert twice… or have I? And what really happened to the little duckies in the book President Bush was reading on that fateful day?

One thing I’ve never questioned is the moon landing. I don’t know why, but I’ve just always taken it at face value because so many people are on board. I guess my reasoning is flawed there. A great way to get bamboozled is to just believe something because someone else does.


When JFK promised America that we would get to the moon first, it boosted morale immeasurably. It gave people something to hope for; something to be excited about. It also skyrocketed — no pun intended — his popularity. Everybody loves a guy who makes big promises and follows through. JFK was no slouch, so folks were pretty confident that if he said we were goin’ to the moon, by god, we were goin’ to the moon. Bang zoom.

In Operation Avalanche, CIA agents Matt Johnson (Johnson) and Owen Williams (Williams) are sent undercover to NASA when there is hear tell of a mole. In order to capture their findings on film without facing interrogation, they’re calling themselves documentarians. Their mission: expose the informant and don’t get caught.

Johnson comes across as a bit of a buffoon at first — and he totally is one — but when it comes to the task at hand, he’s got his eyes on the prize. He’s wily and quite reckless and operates mostly under the idea that it is easier to apologize than to ask for permission.

His uptight counterpart, Williams, is the Frye to his Bueller. He is frequently a nervous wreck and always skeptical. When the two learn that Russia may be winning in the race to get to the moon, Johnson’s radical idea to fake a moon landing on television elicits a skittish response from Williams. Johnson is essentially left with his CIA-issued babysitter, Josh Boles (Boles), to carry out what is regarded by some as the greatest ruse of all time.


In their search for the perfect terrain to replicate the moon on film, Johnson and Boles track down Stanley Kubrick who also happens to be making a movie about space. Vital information is gained and the project soldiers on.

Lost in his own maddened state and obsessed with seeing his objective to completion, Johnson chooses to ignore the ominous — and not so ominous — red flags popping up all around him. He’s in the eye of the maelstrom and inadvertently taking everyone down with him.

Operation Avalanche masquerades as a light-hearted romp about a guy who wants to fool the whole world and then it leaves us completely breathless by end credits. Matt Johnson is a delight to watch; often a cartoon version of himself. Outstanding timing and a knack for making everybody a little uneasy, Johnson makes the most of every moment on-screen. Williams, Boles, and a generous smattering of largely unknown actors — plus some very neat camera work, some of which is reminiscent of Blair Witch handheld action — give this film a very real feel. That’s always important, but especially so for a faux documentary.

I’ve always thought my mom was a little funny for the fact that she doesn’t believe that we landed on the moon. She argues that if we didn’t have microwave ovens, how did we go to the moon? I don’t have the heart to tell her that we totally had microwaves before the moon landing. Don’t tell her. That said, maybe she’s onto something. Maybe Elvis and Tupac are on the moon right now.  After all, it’s not a lie if you believe it.

Blair Witch


I remember the day that I saw The Blair Witch Project in the theater very well. Mostly because it was part of a double feature. The other movie I saw that day was American Pie. I was 14-years-old and my sister’s boyfriend had to purchase my tickets because both were R-rated features.

I learned a lot that day. It was my own coming of age tale right there at the cineplex. I saw BWP first and then went for American Pie as a palate cleanser. Looking back, I wish I’d done it in reverse. As a freshman in high school, American Pie was much more frightening to my unsullied brain than The Blair Witch Project was. I was like, “that’s what I’m in for? I’m goin’ to the woods instead.”

Blair Witch is being called the sequel to BWP. Only… there was a sequel already. Are we just acting like that never happened? Got it.

When James Donahue (James McCune) finds a video that he believes to be footage of his sister Heather who disappeared 17 years earlier, he gathers friends to venture into the Black Hills Forest with him in hopes of finding her. James has very good friends. He must’ve helped all of them move at one point or something because unless I owe you big time, you’re goin’ into those haunted ass woods by your damn self.


Tagging along are his friends Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Ashley (Corbin Reid), and Peter (Brandon Scott). Lisa’s going to film the whole thing documentary style. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from movies, it is that if you are going to go somewhere and film it, you’re probably also going to die or find yourself in a precarious situation that nobody wants to be in.

To keep us current, the friends have also brought along a drone for some sweet aerial shots. This can only mean good things.

The group meet up with Talia (Valorie Curry) and Lane (Wes Robinson) — the couple who uploaded the footage that started everything from a video tape they found — who then decide to join them.

Countless. That is the number I’ve come up with for how many times I would’ve peace’d tf out. Obviously there are going to be bizarre things happening. Like, they don’t just go into the woods, find his sister, and then go have a pint at the Black Hills Forest Pub. It’s the severity of the weirdness, though, that varies and sort of makes you go, “Wait, was that crazy? Or was that just crazy because we’re all really freaked out and on edge?”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love horror movies that take a handful of characters and put them in an isolated location. It’s a formula that has been proven to work time and time again. No matter what the circumstances, there’s always a point where everyone starts to suspect everybody else of being behind the creepy goings on. Who can you trust? Anyone? No one? We’re all dead? Cool!

So they set up camp and have super eerie campfire conversations, like you do, on the first night out. After oversleeping until 2p, they pop their little heads out of their tents to find the infamous Blair Witch stick figures all over camp. For once, a logical decision is made when the group decide to call it a day and GTFO. After traipsing through the trees for hours on end, they find themselves right back at camp. They even use GPS and the drone to try to nail down their location.


That right there is why this movie is so excellent; people are making good choices. They’ve gotten themselves into a pickle and are trying to right things again, but not even Tom Cruise in All the Right Moves could help them now.

This movie is nightmare fuel. It doesn’t give much, but that is way more effective than going the other way. It’s a slow burn that gradually becomes an inferno. What makes the Blair Witch itself so terrifying as that it’s left completely to the imagination. We have very little notion of the size, shape, or physical appearance. So our minds are free to run wild with ideas; each more panic-inducing than the last.

Also, I was delighted to find that this movie is really frickin’ funny! That, I was not expecting. I love a good thriller with a sense of humor. Blair Witch gets the job done without diminishing the feeling of imminent terror pukes.

Nobody dies in this movie.

Just kidding. People totally die. Or vanish. Or … get beamed up. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. What I do know is that Adam Wingard knows how to make a scary ass movie. Directing one of my favorite films of the last decade, You’re Next, Wingard is also responsible for segments in two other greats, V/H/S and V/H/S 2.

To put a bow on things, Wingard teamed up with music producer Robert Rich to create a perfectly macabre blanket of sound to complete the hell-on-screen world of the Black Hills Forest.

If you enjoyed the first one, I’d wager a guess that you’ll love this one. This movie has Wingard all over it. It’s supremely creepy, disarmingly witty, and really brings the A game jump scares. If you really want that genuine we’re-all-gonna-die feel, see this one in the theater for sure.


Hell or High Water


As someone who used to work in a bank, my worst fear was that one of my wealthier customers would come in and drone on about their recent holiday in The Maldives and then tell me, “You can visit one day, too, if you put your mind to it!”

My second worst fear was being robbed. I worked in an affluent neighborhood, so in the early morning hours I mostly ran into rich people who had nothing better to do than be awake, drinking coffee and walking their cobblestone streets.

Hell or High Water starts with a bang when brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) nab bank teller Elsie (Dale Dickey) as she’s slipping the key into the lock. Forcing her inside the bank, she gives them lip service that I certainly wouldn’t be able to muster, but then again, they are in Texas.

Come to find out that Toby and Tanner are on a bit of a bank robbing bender. In some cases, the rush appears to outweigh the necessity for Tanner, but Toby is far more level-headed. Partly because that’s just his demeanor; partly because he has to be for his boys. Tanner and Toby are polar opposites in a lot of ways. Tanner has a mean streak; his crass carelessness often inviting trouble. Toby feels a sense of responsibility to do right by his family, making him far more concerned with doing the right thing. That idea often disagrees with whatever Tanner’s got going on.

The end game here is saving the family’s ranch in West Texas, but at what cost? Causing a commotion in The Lone Star State is a good way to get everyone in the vicinity to draw their guns, and trigger happy Tanner has no problem following suit. When the news of the robberies reach the local jurisdiction, the hunt is on and two of the best rangers in TX are hot on the trail.


If I’m ever on the run from the law, I don’t want Jeff Bridges donning the badge behind me. Bridges plays Hamilton. He’s the version of Rooster Cogburn who stays on the right side of the law and doesn’t drink nearly as much. Nearing retirement, Hamilton and his partner, Parker (Gil Birmingham), track the bandit brothers all over Texas, looking at patterns and estimating where they might make a mistake.

For me, this movie felt like a less engaging version of No Country For Old Men. Jeff Bridges, of course, slightly reminiscent of Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff character; Toby and Tanner representing a far less menacing, fluffier version of Anton Chigurh.

I always enjoy Jeff Bridges. The movie gives good character development with both Hamilton and Parker and Toby and Tanner. Hamilton is endlessly razzing Parker for being a “half-breed” and throwing cleverly crafted, racially charged jabs his way. Parker, in turn, takes the high road, recognizing that his partner is a bit long in the tooth, almost retired, and that he, to quote Matt Hooper in Jaws, “Won’t have to take this abuse much longer.”


Hell or High Water is OK. I didn’t love it, I didn’t notice anything exceptional about it, and I definitely didn’t think it was as funny as everyone else deems it. I did enjoy the score quite a bit. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis do a nice job of combining soft piano with that sort of spine-tingling string thing that nearly the entire OST to There Will Be Blood is made of. The cinematography knocked it out of the park, too. Great, big wide shots and wonderful use of the landscape.

Overall, it’s fine. It’s got a bit of charm and wit, and it’s got Chris Pine’s giant dome — seriously, where did the costumes department find a ski mask that would fit over that thing — but I guess I was just expecting something… more. It’s like an itch I can’t quite scratch. I’m not gonna tell you not to see it. You’re a grown ass adult and you can do whatever you want. If I were you, though, I’d wait for Netflix.

Don’t Breathe

Jane Levy stars in Screen Gems' horror-thriller DON'T BREATHE.

Fear and desperation are a lethal cocktail of emotion; fear being the bleach to desperation’s ammonia. Some cases are not as toxic as others, but when the light at the end of the tunnel begins to go dim, our baser instincts kick into overdrive. Whether you’re melting Cheez Whiz on stale saltines because you don’t have the means to make actual nachos and Walking Dead is on in two minutes so you don’t have time to go to the store, or stealing a loaf of bread to feed your family, we do what it takes to survive.

Living in a dilapidated neighborhood in Detroit, Rocky (Jane Levy), her boo-thang, Money (Daniel Zovatto), and their third wheel friend, Alex (Dylan Minnette) spend their free time breaking into nicer homes in better areas and stealing valuables to pawn on the street. Rocky is the only breadwinner in her household and takes care of her little sister, Diddy (Emma Bercovici), while her mom and her mom’s charming beau slum about on the sofa.

When Money gets wind of a man in town sitting on a small fortune, the gang decide that they’ll have this one last hurrah and then take off for sunny California. After scoping out the joint, they learn that the owner of the home is blind.


Upon making this discovery, Money turns into Al Jolson in Bombo and decides that they’re doing it that night. Naturally, the house is locked up like Fort Knox. Money is full of brilliant, sage wisdom, but his observation on why there are, like, 16 locks on the door — because all of the money is inside, duh — is maybe his finest revelation.

After a successful entry, the three search for the stash only to find that they’ve stumbled into some Cave of Wonders shit. They’ve disturbed The Blind Man’s (Stephen Lang) slumber and will pay dearly. Though he is blind, his advantage is that all of his other senses have been expertly sharpened. His on-screen time is spent mostly sniffing, listening, and punching.

Stephen Lang

I’d tell you more about the movie, but that wouldn’t be right. There are so many buttery little nooks and crannies in this English Muffin that it needs to be savored firsthand.

That said, there are many great things that I CAN tell you. I had ample mixed emotions throughout and it just kept turning the tables. It is reminiscent — at least to this critic — of the 1986 thriller Crawlspace starring Klaus Kinski. Similar in the way that it’s this super creepy, almost super human dude chasing these kids through his house and showing up in places impossibly quickly based on where he was in the last scene, always to the delight of the crowd.

It’s got remnants of the vintage element of surprise that makes older horror movies so much better than the rubbish we mostly get these days. I read a review before I saw the film that said it’s non-stop and I thought to myself, “This shit better not stop.” and it really doesn’t! It’s a monster truck rally and The Blind Man is Truckasaurus.

There’s very little setup before we get to the meat and potatoes, so-to-speak. The character development isn’t the strongest I’ve seen, but they do a fine job in the time allotted, and it needs to be said that Stephen Lang — who doesn’t have a ton of lines — sounds like a 50/50 mix of Dieter Laser — Dr. Heiter in Human Centipede — and Christopher Walken. It’s. Amazing.

Bottom line, this movie is a fat lot of jump scares, but it is a dang fun theater experience. This was a “fingers in ears” thrill ride and I absolutely recommend catching it on the big screen. And just keep in mind that if you ever see a blind, ripped dude, you turn and run as fast as you can forever.


What We Do in the Shadows


I wish I could invent a time machine to go back to 2014 so that I could be with What We Do in the Shadows for a little bit longer. The life span of a great romance is never long enough. My love affair with Shadows comes two years late, but I think I’ve made the most of it by watching it so many times that — much like a vampire — it has gained immortality in my mind. And my heart. Unless either of those things is set on fire.  Or impaled on a stake.

Whenever you’ve got roommates cohabitating — or in a flatting situation, as the Kiwis say — there can be turmoil. Whether it’s because somebody got blood all over the sofa in the lounge or someone else hasn’t done the bloody dishes in 5 years, things can get a bit tense.

What most people don’t realize is that vampires deal with the trials and tribulations of the average day to day — or night to night — as it were, too. A documentary crew was lucky enough to be privy to the goings-on in this house in Wellington, New Zealand. They captured the events leading up to the annual Unholy Masquerade; a veritable who’s who in the undead community.

What they found… was pretty mundane.

Viago (Waititi) — aged 379 years — traveled from Germany to New Zealand to be with the woman he fell in love with. Only, his servant, Phillip (Frank Habicht), badly botched the job — placing the wrong postage on Viago’s coffin — and it took roughly 18 months for him to get there. He was too late.



The youngest of the group, Deacon (Jonny Brugh) — aged only 183  years — is the rebellious one. He’s the James Dean of the crew. Always more concerned with looking cool than doing his part around the flat. What else would you expect from a former Nazi Vampire?


8,000 years young, Petyr (Ben Fransham) is the oldest of the flatmates. He’s got the Nosferatu game on lock and mostly keeps to himself in his basement tomb. He’s basically me with bigger fangs and no hair.


And then there’s Vlad (Clement) — aged 862 years. Once known as Vladislav The Poker for torturing victims by poking them with implements, he dedicates most of his time to orgies and going out to have a good time. When he’s not doing unsavory things, he spends what is probably an unhealthy amount of energy feeding the hatred he has for his nemesis, The Beast.


The worst thing about being a vampire is that you have to drink human blood to survive. Fortunately, Deacon has a familiar named Jackie (Jackie Van Beek) to do his bidding which includes dishes, yard work, and tracking down potential victims in exchange for eternal life. On the quest for victims and a good time, the foursome meet Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer).


Nick’s eyes were bleeding heaps, but he’s come out on the other side and is now a full fledged vampire. He brings his best mate, Stu (Stu Rutherford) around and is surely only allowed to hang out because Viago, Deacon, and Vlad like Stu so much. Nick has only been a vampire for a short time and loves bragging about it. This ultimately leads to dire consequences.

To make matters worse, vampires aren’t the only believed-to-be mythical creatures roaming round Wellington. A run in with some werewolves proves to be troublesome as well. The leader of the pack, Anton (Rhys Darby) tries to diffuse the situation, but pack member Dion (Cohen Holloway) only exacerbates things by breaking the code of “Werewolves not Swear-wolves.”


Will the vampires and werewolves ever be able to put their differences aside? I’ll never tell. At the end of the day, though, vampires are just like us. Except they can fly. And they can’t eat fries. Or sun bathe. And they drink blood. And don’t have reflections. But the solidarity runs deep. And that’s what really matters.

Shadows hits everything: love, friendship, loss, and the importance of changing into track pants so that your trousers don’t rip to shreds when you transform into a werewolf during a full moon. Also noteworthy are the visual FX. Some are digital, but others are as simple as camera tricks. From occasional vampirical flight to an expertly blurred shot when a dude’s head is turned all the way around. There’s no WETA Digital here. Just damn clever camera work.

Taika Waititi truly has the Midas Touch. He is the epitome of a comedic genius. Waititi earned a cult following with his first feature length film, Eagle vs Shark, which also starred his co-writer/director on Shadows, Jemaine Clement. The two met at university and went on to form comedy troupes So You’re a Man and The Humourbeasts. Maybe most impressive about Shadows is that everything outside of the scene in which Taika speaks German is improvised. Waititi and Clement should always work together forever. The results are 1000% magic.

While he is currently directing what will likely be one of the biggest films of 2017 — Thor: Ragnarok — Waititi has truly worked his way up the ranks to get where he is now. It’s lovely to see someone achieving the success and accolades they deserve. Taika is a voice for the unappreciated, largely unknown filmmakers of the world.

In addition to being one of the last bastions of true grit in cinema, he’s got the most skux crew I’ve seen. In my favorite film of this year, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, you see a lot of the same actors from his previous films. Not only are they wildly talented — all possessing a refreshingly natural gift for their art — you wanna  be friends with these folks. Shit, I wanna say, “To hell with it” myself and move to New Zealand because that would increase my odds of hanging out with them exponentially.

If you haven’t seen What We Do in the Shadows, buy it today. If you download it for free, I’ll personally find you and poke you with implements. Takeaway points: we should all be lucky enough to have a Stu in our lives and if there’s something you want out of life that seems unattainable, just say, “To hell with it” and go after it anyway.


BONUS TRIVIA: The role of Stu is played by a guy named Stu Rutherford. He was hired on the film to do actual computer work and was told he’d have a small part in the movie. He was actually a business analyst in Wellington at the time. I guess that worked out, eh?




You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat


Y’all know me. Know how much I love Jaws. About a week ago, the host of the How Is This Movie? podcast, Dana Buckler, reached out to me on Twitter via my personal account, @mister_quint. He complimented my username and said that Jaws is also his favorite movie.

My first thought was, “Oh yeah? How many Jaws tattoos do YOU have?”

But then he invited me to join him on his show to do a Jaws retrospective next month and I humbled up real quick.


After chatting with Dana, I found out that he not only possesses a wealth of movie knowledge that rivals my own and likely surpasses it, but he’s just an affable guy.

Turns out he’d read some of my reviews and — outside of putting me in touch with a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association — he asked if I’d like to have a weekly segment on the show!

Gee, I don’t know… should Spielberg have killed off Hooper in the movie? Yes! Absolutely!



This Fall I will be joining the How Is This Movie? show doing a weekly film review of a new release! That differs from the show’s typical fare in that it’s about something new to theaters as of the weekend before. Pretty neat!

Our Jaws episode will be my official introduction to the How Is This Movie? audience and will cover everything from the novel by Peter Benchley — the existence of Jaws before the movie was even a twinkle is Spielberg’s eye — to the brilliantly bad, sometimes almost actually good sequels.


Just two superfans talking about Jaws. It should be noted that I initially types “Jawas” there. That would be a very different episode.