Taxi Driver is Great Because it’s ‘Problematic’
Reflections on the great moral ambiguities in Taxi Driver.
There are plenty of good films/TV shows coming out, so I don’t want to sound like some crotchety, old nostalgia hound. Still, sometimes it pays to watch ’70s-90s films, as they often carried a gritty realism. For example, check out Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver some time, if you haven’t already. You might quickly think,”Woah, this is definitely from another era!” It sure is, and that’s part of what makes it great. Frankly, none of the characters are likable. The main character, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a deranged, misanthropic ex-soldier who becomes obsessed with a girl (Cybill Shepherd), gets rejected by her, then plans violent revenge.
Yet, at the same time, Travis Bickle is not particularly evil. In fact, there are signs that he’s just an average guy. He may have a few bad (or terrible) ideas in his head, but the tide can easily shift and make him look like a public hero. He’s a complex character, not tailor-made for modern pop culture’s preening sensibilities.
Ironically, Taxi Driver is a great film precisely because it’s offensive, unsettling. The moral ambiguity is what makes it impactful, and real. There are still films and TV shows like Taxi Driver around today, but it seems like a lot of these story approaches will go away, in favor of safe, predictable outcomes and clear boundaries between good and evil. In other words, moral ambiguity will be increasingly frowned upon, because the ideas will simply be too complex for some viewers to understand.
But is Taxi Driver really that offensive, or is it merely realistic? To me it merely seeks to elaborate the world of its main character, to approximate explaining it. You are essentially there with Travis, to see what he sees, know what he knows, and why. You might not agree with all of it (in fact, you definitely shouldn’t), but you’ll come shockingly close to understanding it. That is the power of Taxi Driver. Sure, one can talk about the strengths of De Niro’s performance, but even a lesser actor could have still worked, as the story’s realism is precisely the main driving force.
Want to know how realistic this film is? Even the guy (Harvey Keitel) who pimps out an underaged girl, Iris (Jodie Foster), comes off looking less villainous than Travis, who exacts justice on him through brutal violence. Yes, Keitel’s character is a scumbag, and it would be difficult to defend him. However, in the process of exacting justice on the pimp, Travis clearly traumatizes Iris further, and sets a media standard for accepting brutal violence as a form of instant justice!
The story is not so simple as “He’s a bad guy! Get him, Travis!” At the same time, we likely understand why Travis did what he did, and the complex reasons why. Whether a burgeoning political assassin or the savior of a child prostitute, Travis Bickle is both a villain and a hero (or an “anti-hero,” to use a common expression). His idea of justice is not entirely just.
What if Every Man Acted Like Travis Bickle?
After watching Taxi Driver, this is perhaps an important question, especially if you read comments on true crime videos on Youtube. There are tons of people out there who advocate for retaliatory violence, whether for serial killers, one-off murders or child molesters. Much like with Travis Bickle, one can understand these views.
However, what if everyone got their wish? What if every drug dealer was executed, or everyone got the maximum sentence for a violent crime? What if everyone who ever did something creepy was incarcerated or simply killed? Would the world suddenly become a peaceful paradise? Personally, it sounds more like a never-ending hellscape to me. These aren’t questions for any single person to answer. However, Taxi Driver ought to inspire such questions as a long-lingering afterthought, at least to viewers who really get the layered dimensions of Mr. Bickle. Still, one could understand Taxi Driver coming equipped with a “Do not try this at home” warning.
What are your thoughts on Travis Bickle and Taxi Driver? Let us know in the comments!
The Last of Us: Episode 2: Infected
*WARNING: This review contains spoilers.*
If you haven’t read the review on The Last of Us’ first episode, click here.
HBO’s The Last of Us‘ second episode, “Infected,” released January 22, 2023. It was directed by Neil Druckman and written by Craig Mazin. The episode takes us to Jakarta in 2003, just days before the outbreak. Dr. Ratna (Christine Hakim) is a mycology professor at the University of Indonesia. The Indonesian government orders her to examine a dead body they killed at a flour factory. During her examination, Dr. Ratna discovers Cordycep mycelium growing in the body’s mouth. After learning the full story behind the dead body, including the high infection rate and its symptoms, Dr. Ratna’s only conclusion is to bomb the whole city because “there is no vaccine for this.”
Fast forward to present day and we once again witness the aftereffects of Dr. Ratna’s discovery.
Is that everything you hoped for?
In episode one, Tess and Joel learned an infected bit Ellie a few weeks back and are reluctant to keep traveling with her. Joel threatens to shoot her the moment she starts showing symptoms, but it’s Tess who convinces him that they need to keep going to the Capitol Building to hand the youth off to the fireflies.
One of the most exciting scenes in episode two is when the trio takes a shortcut through a history museum that is almost identical to the one in the game. They enter a dark room and all seems well until they hear a slow, ominous clicking sound nearby. An infected with torn clothes and cordycep covered body creeps around them. When it hears Joel step on a piece of glass, it attacks.
Clickers are the third stage of infection and it takes about a year for them to reach this point after exposure. They can’t see their prey, but have an incredible sense of hearing and communicate through clicks. (If you want a real life example, they sound awfully similar to crows clicking in conversation.) More clickers enter the museum room and Joel, Ellie and Tess fight them off, brutally killing them one by one, barely making it out alive.
When the trio reaches daylight outside, Ellie realizes she was bit. “If it had to happen to one of us…” she jokes, still shaken by their encounter. But Tess is less than amused; she’s furious by how narrow their escape was. Even when Joel and Ellie have a sweet moment, the first sign of warmth Joel gives the girl on their journey together, Tess interrupts and tells them to keep going because there is still a long way to go.
The Last of Tess
After two episodes, HBO’s The Last of Us mirrors the video game while creating a brand new story. Spores moving through the air are a significant threat in the video game, but are merely a terrifying thought in the show’s universe. Instead, HBO’s version illustrates how the Cordyceps’ mycelium creates a “hive mind” in infected. If one infected is killed, a message is sent to everyone else it’s connected to.
After escaping the museum, the trio eventually make it to the capitol building, only to find that all the Fireflies they were supposed to meet are dead and gone. Tess rummages through the bodies’ clothes in hopes of finding a map, but there’s nothing. Suddenly, a runner lunges into the air and tries to take them down. When Joel shoots it, the mycelium hive mind alerts the rest of the infected outside the building. They swarm to their new pray.
Joel is in a rush to get going. But before they can all escape, it appears that Tess was bitten at the museum, too. In just a short amount of time, her bite has worsened while Ellie’s remains the same. Tess holds Ellie’s arm up and shows it to Joel. “This is real,” she cries, desperate for Joel to believe her. She needs him to keep taking Ellie out west, to wherever Marlene needs them to go. Maybe there is a cure after all.
Episode two continues to show promise of The Last of Us being a great video game adaptation. It maintains the game’s plot while creating new rules to make the story more suitable for TV. When the episode begins in Jakarta, we see how the world, not just the United States, is devastated by the impacts of this disease. And it is hopeful we will see the state of the present day world in later episodes, too.
Additionally, the filming of mycelium growing and spreading throughout the infected is convincing for the new hive mind theory. While spores and gas masks worked well for the game, many of those rules were still inconsistent; it’s for the best that The Last of Us‘ writers did away with spores in the show. The makeup for the bite marks and prosthetics for the clickers make the fight scenes more high stakes and terrifying. The actors, from infected extras to the main cast, are phenomenal. Bella Ramsey as Ellie especially shines, particularly with her whipsmart comebacks and various facial expressions.
It is evident the creators did not cut corners when it came to filming, makeup and casting these last two episodes. If they wanted to create as authentic an experience as possible for this video game adaptation, they did not disappoint.(5 / 5)
Dahmer, Doin’ a Dahmer
Episode three of Netflix’s Dahmer was, to put it mildly, difficult to watch. Mostly because it depicted an awkward and uncomfortable time in young Jeffery Dahmer’s life. But also because the pacing of this episode wasn’t great.
We start the episode with an uncomfortable look at Joyce Dahmer. She’s pregnant, and she’s struggling. Her doctor has her on a lot of medications, and her husband doesn’t like it. He doesn’t seem to care about her emotional well-being. His concern, as he indelicately puts it, is the fetus.
I would think that most of us, after finding our partner sitting barefoot in a thin nightgown at a bus stop in the snow, would be putting their well-being before anything else.
We go from there to the Dahmer’s bitter divorce. Joyce gets custody of the boys and takes off with her younger son. Lionel decides to leave home, and spend his time at a hotel. This leaves Jeff at home alone, at the age of 17.
Abandoned by his family, Jeff is living his worst/best life. Mostly he’s drinking and working out. He starts going on long drives, often passing a young man jogging. This young man, as I’m sure you can imagine, catches Jeff’s attention.
This episode ends with what might be the first of Dahmer’s murders and the fallout from it.
As I mentioned earlier, the pacing in this episode was slow. It was so painfully slow. In hindsight, I think this was an intentional choice.
While the action was slow coming, the feeling of most of the episode was incredibly intense. The viewer is left nervous every time Dahmer is alone with anybody. We know that he’s winding up to do something horrible. But we have no idea what he’s going to do, or who he’s going to do it to.
That being said, not every scene in this episode needed to drag as much as it did. The scene with Joyce and her boss at the women’s shelter went on far too long. The repetitive clips of Jeff working out, drinking and melting bones took too long.
It’s a difficult needle to thread, pacing. What works for one scene will just crush another. And that was the case in this episode. The scenes that work, man do they work. The scenes that don’t, though, are a slough.(3 / 5)
Sharkula is a 2022 film where two men take jobs in an isolated seaside town. The town is revealed to be ruled by Dracula and a vampire shark.
I wanted to like Sharkula. As soon as I heard the concept, I was hooked. I love vampires. I love Dracula. I love bad shark movies. All bundled together with some Lovecraftian vibes? Yes. Absolutely. I was completely here for it.
This poster? Look at it. Beautiful. Amazing. Surely this is the perfect film!
But alas, it was not to be.
Look, I love bad movies, but this movie is worse than bad. It’s boring.
It starts off so strong! We’ve got cheap special effects. A silly shark puppet. A few hilarious deaths. But it goes downhill so quickly. The movie becomes a snoozefest.
Pacing Problems in Sharkula
I get what they were going for. I really do. I could see the beats they were trying to hit. But the pacing was off. Too much of the movie is spent on the buildup & there isn’t enough room for the payoff. In other similar vampire movies (particularly Dracula adaptations) the plot flows a bit like this: we start with the investigation, a buildup of strange incidents that rouse the suspicions of the protagonists, who then try to figure out what’s going on. Then the protagonists finally figure out there’s a vampire involved, and thus begins the hunt- a cat and mouse game between the protagonists and the vampire, which generally culminates in the vampire’s demise.
The movie is an hour and ten minutes long. The protagonists figure out that vampires are involved about 46 minutes into the movie. That leaves less than 24 minutes for the hunt and confrontation. Almost immediately after the remaining protagonist finds out about Dracula, Dracula teams up with him against Sharkula. In fairly rapid succession, they move against Sharkula, defeat Sharkula, get betrayed by Dracula, plan to kill Dracula, then kill Dracula.
The investigation drags on far too long, and the hunt is rushed through far too quickly.
There were several places they could have made cuts during the investigation section to make room for more of the hunt. For instance, Renfield’s bra-sniffing scenes didn’t add anything to the film and could go, along with the several scenes of what appears to be stock footage that ultimately hurt the film. Putting glossy, professional footage right next to the more low-budget fair makes it look a lot worse than it otherwise would.
Especially when that glossy professional footage is shot at night.
It Was (Not) A Dark & Stormy Night
It seems that only one of the scenes in the film that takes place at night was actually filmed at night. For the rest it’s clearly broad daylight, and they simply put this ugly blue color grading over the footage to make it look like night. It does not work. It feels particularly unforgivable in a vampire movie.
What About The Shark?
Sharkula also doesn’t feel a whole lot like a shark movie. The shark parts aren’t really balanced with the vampire parts, and the fact that Sharkula is a shark doesn’t feel significant to the film. You could swap Sharkula for Snakeula or Bearcula and it wouldn’t really affect the film a whole lot. It feels like it’s mostly just a shark ‘cause they needed it to be some kind of sea creature to help maintain the Lovecraft vibes, and to try and make bank off the popularity of bad shark movies.
If you come into Sharkula expecting a bad shark movie, you’re probably not gonna get what you’re looking for.
The Acting in Sharkula
Despite the material they were given to work with, I think the actors did fairly decent jobs. It’s definitely not Oscar-worthy acting, but the actors were making deliberate choices with their characters and I liked what they were doing. Jamie Morgan, who played Mina, was my favorite; her over-the-top performance brought much-needed energy to the film and she was the highlight of every scene she was in.
Conceptually, this movie was the culmination of basically everything I love, but in execution it does not deliver. Unfortunately I was let down. I must regretfully give this film 1.5 cthulhus. If you’d like to watch this movie, it’s currently available on Tubi. You can also buy it on Amazon. Remember that we are an Amazon affiliate and if you buy anything using the Amazon links provided we will get some money back.(1.5 / 5)
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