Fireworks, Fatherhood, and JAWS

The white screen my father had recently purchased in conjunction with a far too advanced projector was placed about 15 feet from the pool I currently resided in. It was dusk, and the water began to darken to the point where you were unsure what else lurked beside you and most importantly, below you. My father fumbled with this new technology as a caveman would crafting the first wheel, but after a few choice swears under his breath, it was ready.

The film began innocently enough with scenes of a bonfire and two young lovers racing off for a moonlit skinny dip. The companion was too drunk, stumbling to get his pants off, a surefire sign the night would probably end disappointingly regardless of our fearless females’ future adventure into the water. She dove in and made her way toward the distant buoy when arguably the most recognizable two notes played, duh-nuh…duh-nuh. Building slowly and then into a frenzy, the music was in line with the anticipated attack as her body bobbed up and down. Looking out for any savior, and screaming to her already incapacitated beach lover, we witnessed this woman be yanked through the water easily by her tormentor below. As quickly as the struggle began, it was over; the music had reached its crescendo and our satiated monster disappeared. My chest got tight and the hairs on my leg felt every slight movement in the water below me.

You can never be too sure that a 25-foot Great White shark is not skulking in your father’s 15-foot pool. Trying to hold on to my last vestige of dignity, I toed the bottom of the pool with my float secured around me. All the while wondering, “Do I look like a donut to the ocean’s apex predator?” Luckily, I made it out unscathed. I finished the film in the comfort of a lounge chair with absolute awe and amazement as fireworks began to shoot off in the distance. The date was July 4th and that night unknowingly marked the start of a tradition that I have yet to miss (excluding the pandemic); watching Jaws with my dad.

This year will be my 15th viewing of Jaws on Independence Day, and a tradition I plan on continuing. My love for fireworks, hot dogs, and the occasional summer beer aside, I honestly would rather sit in front of my TV and watch this masterpiece unfold with my dad. My Father said it best when I asked him to be part of this: “Please don’t interview me.” I think even he cannot fully explain the draw of the film, especially during the height of summer.

The movie is essentially two films; one on the island before the hunt and one aboard our heroes’ boat, the ORCA. The first hour of the film builds the shark as a ruthless menace in the water, evidenced by the traumatic devouring a young boy in a raft. As the victims begin to pile up on the shore town of Amity, Police Chief Brody, played effortlessly by Roy Scheider, pleads with local government to close the beaches. As any shore town local would tell you, Summer is the season to make money and unless the shark decides to pay taxes, everything is to remain open thanks to spineless Mayor Vaughn. Is it strikingly familiar seeing a local government clearly ignore the warning signs of something dangerous, yet allow their citizens to carry on without fear for the sake of the economy? Ponder that for a moment. Are we living in Amity?

Apologies for the interlude, but after further urgence from our hunky scientist, Matt Hooper, portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss, Chief Brody tries his best to keep order on the beaches. The Shark, whether it be a scent-based vendetta or pure luck, almost succeeds in attacking Brody’s son, but misses the opportunity. Our team of Hooper and Brody decide to hire intimidating fisherman Quint, the role Robert Shaw was born for; and this unlikely crew take their fateful voyage aboard the Orca to kill the shark once and for all.

Growing up, I saw a lot of similarities between Quint and my father. They both worked long hours and had this gruffness about them that I could never quite pin down. Not to say I was afraid of my father, but just the looks he gave were enough to make me question if I really did finish my homework or if I was just full of shit. The parallels between the two made me look forward to the latter half of the film; when it was Robert Shaw’s time to shine. From his USS Indianapolis speech, which I used as an audition piece at one point, to his smashing of the radio, I simply thought he was the most badass sea captain. It wasn’t until recently that my opinions on such matters started to change.

As you grow older, you start to revisit the films that shaped your childhood and see if they hold up to the test of time. Upon viewing Jaws in 2019, as the film reaches the point where Quint is slowly being eaten and all hope seems lost, I had this strange epiphany. My father was never Quint. I had built my father up as Quint as a means to see my dad as some sea-fairing badass, but that just wasn’t the dad that I had finally gotten the chance to know. The dad who watched me raise my own son, the little boy who now sits between us as the big shark eats the angry man (his words). No, my dad was not Quint. He had always been Brody. The man whom worked just as hard, but also lived for his family and did the absolute insane thing of following this shark out to open water. Not to say my father would board a boat, but I’ve seen my father make more sacrifices for his family than anyone else. 

There is no perfect relationship with any parent. Finding common ground can be a struggle, and luckily, this is where Jaws came in. Even when my patriotism for this country is negligible, when it comes to the 4th, I can always look forward to these two hours with my father where nothing else really matters. When pitching this article, I insisted that Jaws is the greatest 4th of July film of all-time, and while I still stand by that, I also will admit that it is my favorite 4th of July film of all-time. To this day, when I sit down to watch it, I think back to that first time sitting on the float in the pool, and watching my father smile as I made a mad dash to a chair on dry land, because I was too fearful of the non-existent shark possibly swimming by me. Every year after, we still enjoy our Root Beer Floats and laugh at the same parts we have seen dozens of times, including our tandem howl of, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

Some things change, but some things stay the same.

Our annual tradition is coming up soon and after missing last year due to the pandemic, there’s almost nothing more that I’m looking forward to. So, this 4th of July, start a tradition, make a memory, or just do something you love. But don’t forget to check the pool for a shark. 


Werewolves Within: A Howling Whodunnit in the Neighborhood

When the trailer for this film popped up in my feed a few months back, skepticism was my first feeling; especially after finding out it’s based off a Ubisoft game of the same title. Well, like a man turning into a werewolf, consider everything about me changed. This IFC backed venture directed by Josh Ruben, whom you may recall directed and starred opposite Aya Cash in the worth-watching Scare Me, shows that he’s no one-hit wonder behind the lens. The writing is witty and sharp, with the kind of one-liners and retorts that’ll be running through your mind for the foreseeable future. The real magic is the cohesiveness of this small cast whose performances carry the film from beginning to end.

Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, Harvey Guillén, Cheyenne Jackson and Glenn Fleshler’s standout performances made this horror-comedy such an easy recommendation for this reviewer. We open with Sam Richardson (Detroiters, VEEP, I Think You Should Leave) as Finn Wheeler, a Park Ranger on his new assignment in the town of Beaverfield. Finn is a nice guy, no not one of those nice guys, but perhaps just the archetype of a good guy that has been missing in our own reality. He runs into the newly appointed mail carrier Cecily, played perfectly by Milana Vayntrub in a role that allowed her to flex her comedic chops. Cecily is a progressive woman who sees the town for what it is; behind the times. Finn and Cecily hit it off right away while meeting the rest of the residents; including Joaquim and Devon Wolfson, the dynamic duo of Harvey Guillén and Cheyenne Jackson. My heart leapt when these two appeared, my love of Guillén from his scene-stealing performance in What We Do in the Shadows and Cheyenne Jackson from his limited time on 30 ROCK, I knew something special was coming my way. Joaquiam and Devon are an affluent couple from tech dealings and owning a yoga studio. The other surprise was the brutish trapper Emerson, Glenn Fleshler, who viewers will remember as the behemoth monster Errol Childress from True Detective season one. Enter the classic shut-in scenario: a massive snowstorm, an impassable road blockage, destroyed generators, the entire town stuck in the rustic Beaverfield Inn, and let’s not forget the werewolf trapped within.

Keeping to the spoiler-free credo that my reviews follow, let us delicately traverse the inner-workings of this film. From the opening quote accredited to Mr. Rogers that sprawls across the screen, “Listening is where love begins. Listening to ourselves and then our neighbors,” we see our first clue into the message behind the madness that follows. A pipeline is being built in Beaverfield, with one side looking at the profit that will come with it, and other looking at the nature that will be destroyed. Pressure is mounting even before the lycanthropes presence is detected. Mr. Rogers is quoted a few times more within the film, but the ideology remains, it’s not a beautiful day in this neighborhood. Tensions continue to mount amongst our trapped guests; finally reaching a breaking point when they begin to be picked off one-by-one. But is it all the werewolf’s doing? Ruben does a tremendous job highlighting this feeling of paranoia amongst the inn’s lodgers and leaving viewers guessing up to the last minute not who the werewolf is, but rather, was there ever really a werewolf at all. Congruent with this, Werewolves Within might be one of the more enlightened films; touching on very relevant opinions and beliefs that are troubling neighbors in our own world. To hit on such a diverse range of topics, while still maintain a classic, gruesome horror presence, this film has earned its spot amongst the best of horror-comedies.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I REALLY enjoyed this film. From beginning to the very surprising end, again no spoilers, I did not reach for my phone or check to see how much time was left. In fact, my only criticism would have been to flesh it out a bit longer. Its 96-minute runtime went by in the blink of the eye, a credit to this talented cast and fast-moving plot. I just couldn’t get enough of this town or it’s people. When you have a group of actors that are as talented as this, you want every opportunity to see them flex their chops. Give me a series on the day-to-day lives of these townspeople because that is how invested I am. I’ve glanced at other reviews where they claimed this lacked a “big star,” when in reality, they all were stars. From Cecily’s dancing to the Ace of Base classic “The Sign,” an eventual gif I will use to message my wife to let her know it’s time to party, to the delivery of Finn’s bumper sticker worthy line: “It’s fucking okay to be nice! Pardon my Language. It’s effin’ okay to be nice,” this was just a joy to watch.

Almost two decades ago, IFC went from the little engine that could, to the little engine that did, taking chances on films like this one; films that might not have received a second look. We need more companies to take these risks before we are inundated with sequel after sequel and the same 5 or 6 faces in leading roles. After watching the actors and actresses I have enjoyed so much in other works finally be put in the direct spotlight makes me hopeful again for the future of filmmaking. Werewolves Within got the director and cast it deserved, doing the seemingly impossible, making an enjoyable adaptation from a video game. It opens in theaters nationally Friday July 2nd and on-demand. If you are looking for something scary, fun, and thoughtful, you are in luck, and may I recommend bringing a neighbor or two?


Interview: Marc Bernardin Discusses “Adora and The Distance”

Our writer, RJ Durante, had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Marc Bernardin last week to discuss Marc’s new graphic novel Adora and The Distance. Marc is a WGA Award-winning television writer-producer with credits on Star Trek: Picard, Carnival Row, Treadstone, Castle Rock, Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina, Masters of the Universe: Revelations, and Alphas. You will also find Marc co-hosting the podcast FATMAN BEYOND with fellow legend Kevin Smith.  From Marc’s roots in journalism, to his ventures into comics, his gifted storytelling ability has reached so many across a variety of mediums. You can purchase the comic on Comixology now.

RJ’s Review of “Adora and The Distance”

“Because Everyone Has Something to Teach and Everyone Has Something to Learn.”

-Adora (Adora and The Distance)

I have always been a sucker for quests. Whether it be Frodo and Sam taking the Ring back to the fires of Mount Doom, or Roland Deschain and his Ka-tet attempting to reach the Dark Tower, these pursuits of the seemingly unattainable captivate me like no other. Another such adventure had come across my inbox a short time ago, one whose bright illustrations and powerful words sent me on a journey towards same feelings I had in the Shire and Gilead. Adora and The Distance, written by Marc Bernardin, in artistic collaboration with Ariela Kristantina, Bryan Valenza, and Bernardo Brice; tells the story of young Adora and her group of protectors, as they attempt to escape this Storm of Darkness (The Distance), or perhaps even, find a way to dispel it for good. Bernardin masterfully crafts this epic, contained inside a single graphic novel, that inevitably leads the reader through an emotional journey from beginning to end. The breadcrumbs dropped along the way give clues as to the true meaning behind the story, but suffice to say, the ending is worth the journey. There is so much this writer wants to discuss about Adora, but I impart to you a quest of your own. Go read this sensational piece of writing and take a moment of introspection. What is your life’s version of “The Distance”? Be brave like Adora, and embrace it.