Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Beach Rats

              These Rats Would Probably Sink The Ship Themselves

                                                          Review by Ken Burke
Pat Craig (left) and me in 2015 on a visit to his new home in far-upper Washington state; I was
a guest on his Public Access radio show where we talked about movie musicals.  I tried to
get him to write a quick review over drinks at dinner 
(aiming for coherence) but to no avail.
  This is the 300th posting (encompassing 602 reviews) by Two Guys in the Dark (although I—Ken Burke—have done all of them since we began in December 2011 as my intended-writing-partner Pat Craig continues to contemplate how he’s going to best demonstrate his cinematic reviewing skills within our enterprise; the door’s always open, Pat, whenever you’re ready for your long-awaited, audience-anticipated entrance), so I’d hoped to have something somewhat significant to share with you on this occasion, but the decent-but-not-terrific Beach Rats is the best I could come up with for now as I continue to be generally underwhelmed by most of the not-already-Two Guys-reviewed-choices currently available to me in local cinemas (including It [Andrés Muschietti] despite "its" enormous $123.4 million domestic [U.S.-Canada] opening weekend), so maybe there’ll be something more conspicuous when we get to #400 (in the meantime, I’ll fill out this posting-accomplishment with various semi-related [at best] materials).  As always, thanks to the many anonymous thousands who check us out each week; according to Google our monthly unique hits were stabilizing in the 30,000+ range (sometimes up to about 45,000, although the latest count [see the very end of this posting] shows a drop-off to about 23,000—I guess we have to start giving out coupons for Beverages and More again) so we’re blissfully overwhelmed with your attention to our eccentric approach to film reviewing, hoping we will continue to see you often here in cyberspace.
                                           Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): In an unspecified Long Island beach community—but seemingly around (if not actually at) Coney Island—a young man (late teens), Frankie, has little going in his life except a dying father, a mother who tries to connect with him to little or hostile responses, a younger sister he shows no interest in (except anger when she brings a boyfriend home), a bunch of beach buddies who share his attraction to muscles, drugs, and leering at girls (with little effort made to connect with any of those being drooled over except in Frankie's case), although he’s quite intrigued by a local gay porn site that allows him to make clandestine dates he has no intention of telling anyone else about, especially the new girlfriend who’s shown some willingness to overlook his more obnoxious tendencies.  Beach Rats doesn’t really go much of anywhere beyond this foundational situation, nor has it made much distribution impact yet (out for 3 weeks, yet playing in only 34 theaters, grossing just about $209,000 so far); there’s a lot to respect about it—especially the lead actor—but, honestly, you’ll get more from revisiting Moonlight on video in order to see an even-more-successfully-sincere-story of the lives of boys in the sand.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐  OK, continue on if you like.

What Happens: Frankie (Harrison Dickinson) is just 19 but already directionless, lives in the waterfront area of Brooklyn (maybe somewhere like Gerritsen Beach; more on that a bit later) where his days are spent in a seemingly-endless-cycle of quiet grieving over the imminent death of his cancer-stricken-father (that doesn’t prevent him from stealing some of the old man’s opioids so he can snort them with his friends), keeping his distance from his attempting-to-care-mother, Donna (Kate Hodge)—he pawns a pair of her earrings just to get $200 for more drugs—showing an older brother’s distain for his younger teenage sister, Carla (Nicole Flyus)—although maybe he’s jealous because she’s a lot surer in her sexuality than he is—hanging out at the local beach boardwalk/ arcade with his equally-buff-but-basically-boneheaded-buddies Jesse (Anton Selyaninov), Nick (Frank Hakaj), and Alexei (David Ivanov [all 3 are local amateur actors, recruited specifically for ... Rats])—clarifications I managed to figure out later from the interview with the director (2nd entry in the Related Links section of this review far below) because none of these characters address each other by name much (“Hey, Burke, you wanna know who I am?  Whassit to you, bitch?”)—showing interest (sexual for sure, maybe something deeper if he can feel it) with local girl Simone (Madeline Weinstein) who comes on to him one night during a fireworks display (“What’s your idea of romance?” she asks; by the end of Beach Rats we’re still waiting for an answer.), while smoking enough cigarettes to give you lung cancer just watching him, all of which is put into context by Frankie’s frequent cruising of the Brooklyn Boys website where he shyly, clumsily makes contact with various men for one-night-hookups in some dark realm of the beach.  Frankie’s not sure what—or whom—he wants, so we spend the rest of the film watching him try desperately to figure it out.

 Simone seems to be the only one of these folks with a job (selling clothes in a local franchise outlet) so we get to watch the guys spend their days playing handball, trying to out-macho each other, talking a lot about women but not doing much about it (Frankie tries to score, that is when he’s not doing dumb things that push Simone away from him), and looking to score whatever drugs might be available, wherever they might come from.  Frankie, of course, has one other aspect of his life no one else knows about, as this isn’t exactly a hipster Brooklyn neighborhood so his encounters are clandestine, the sex is quick and seemingly meaningless for all involved except for the immediate release, the confusion’s constant in Frankie as he insists he’s not gay even as Simone assures him that 2 girls kissing each other is “hot” while 2 guys doing so is not.  ⇒Frankie even tries to mix his pleasures toward the end of this story by telling his friends he cruises gay websites just to find guys with weed, although he doesn’t imply there’s actually any sex involved; in trying to make a connection (to satisfy his own urges, after Simone’s dumped him in response to angering her by getting too loaded while on a date even after they had doggie-style-sex in a dark corner—he’s almost unhinged when he sees the bartender’s his previous pickup, then refuses to let the man buy him drinks) where he hoped for some time alone with the guy (Jeremy [Harrison Sheehan]) before getting the pot for his buds (so to speak) his plan is thwarted when the rattier beach bros insist on coming along, so when Frankie leads his mark into the dark Jeremy’s jumped, punched out at the water’s edge by one of Frankie’s homophobic friends.  The next day we see shots of Frankie looking out at the waves (maybe to see if the clobbered guy was anywhere to be found, maybe considering suicide to end his endless-inner-trauma) but that’s put aside until another group of shots that night on the boardwalk with Frankie still looking lonely, lost, longing for some sort of inspiration as the fireworks flash above him, the film suddenly ending with no resolution.*⇐

*Last weekend was one of media-ambiguous-endings for me, not only in Beach Rats but also for the David Lynch series-continuation of Twin Peaks: The Return on Showtime TV where after 18 increasingly-weird-episodes it appears Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) has actually gone back in time to prevent Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) murder only to end up in some alternate dimension where she’s alive but as a different person (as is he, seemingly) so if you’re as confused as I initially was (due somewhat to not being a … Peaks fanatic who can keep up with the constant flow of characters wandering in and out of this rambling narrative in its current incarnation as well as returnees from the previous 1990-’91 series) you might want to explore this explanation along with follow-ups 1 and 2, plus a few cinema and TV critics discussing the impact and value of this show/fragmented film (if you need any refreshers on what went on in … The Return you can consult this site, where there’s also a link at the beginning to the original ABC-TV series [where you can find a further link to the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me {Lynch, 1992} if you want the complete story of what’s Peak-ed out at us so far]).  If after all that you can truly make any sense of what went on in this wild amalgamation of a murder mystery gone deeply into near-incoherent-surrealism, please feel free to enlighten me (although I did enjoy watching this craziness if for no other reason than to try to see what I could comprehend of events transpiring from week to week).

So What? While there’s an obvious comparison here between Beach Rats and Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016; review in our November 19, 2016 posting) due to their similar ocean-shoreline-settings and focus on the protagonists’ homosexuality (even if Frankie’s still not convinced he’s gay, yet I don't see him as bisexual either), I can’t really say this new film has quite the impact of the previous one, although both offer coming of age stories that usually aren’t promoted beyond various manifestations of LGBTQ (and beyond) festivals so they serve helpful purposes in giving straight audience members (like me) a chance to better understand life situations, challenges, traumas—even the triumphant moments of happiness—as well as the prejudices gay men must encounter, endure, in many cases attempt to rise above. (I can’t begin to say what such films offer to a gay audience, but hopefully they’re perceived as valid, mature, acceptable enough to be useful reflections of how at least some members of this vast community experience their often-derided-lives to instead be useful viewing experiences for these viewers as well).  However, in addition to Moonlight I also see some reasonable connections to a French New Wave masterpiece, François Truffaut’s debut film, The 400 Blows (1959),* not in terms of sexual-identity-conflicts but in terms of young men alienated from their families and/or adults in their communities, the social expectations being put on them, and even some of the cinematic approaches of their structures and conclusions.

*I’ll note The 400 Blows is on a list of all the films with a 100% positive rating at the Rotten Tomatoes critics’-accumulation-site (although this tally may be incomplete), a list that verifies a few things for me: (1) My stinginess in giving 5-star-ratings mostly to films I consider classics (reviewed by me upon re-release) is supported by a good many on this list going back in time as well, with the earliest one being A Trip to the Moon (George Méliès, 1902); (2) as with some of my choices for 4 or 4½ stars (there aren’t many of the latter either, but at least they’re all contemporary), one way a film might get RT highest rating is to be rather obscure so only the few who’ve seen it really like it (there are 21 entries from 2017 on this 100% positive list, none of which I’ve even seen [except, from years past, Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D {James Cameron, 1991} which is a modified re-release, Close Encounters of the Third Kind {Steven Spielberg,1977} is a 40th-anniversary re-release {with Truffaut in a supporting role} also re-mastered {to 4K sharper clarity}, while The Shape of Water {Guillermo del Toro} has only been shown at festivals so far]); (3) related to item 2, many of the entries on this list probably get there by good fortune as they’re based on a mere 10 or fewer reviews (as are 14 of the 2017 entries), all of which could be easily undone by a single dissenting voice, so I’m much more impressed by the only ones to break 100 reviews—Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter, 1999) with 163 and Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008) with 155—yet with all of them of a positive nature (a bit more on that last point will be footnote-explored in this review’s next section).

 In The 400 Blows (a title in French—Les Quatre Cents Coups—that implies “To raise hell,” in reference to the “blows” a person must endure in making the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood) protagonist (about 6 or so years younger than Frankie) Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud—seemingly functioning as a fictional version of the director’s biography)is a consistent misfit whose irreverent, independent streak constantly gets him in trouble with his parents (who have their own problems: Dad Julien [Albert Rémy] is a bit of a blowhard but at least gave a more stable life to Mom Gilberte [Claire Maurier], pregnant by someone else when he married her but now having an affair with yet another someone when caught by her son one day on a Paris street when he’s playing hooky from school), his suspiciously-stern-teachers, and just about every other adult he encounters.  He finally attempts to live in the shadows of his enormous city with the help of his best friend, René Bigey (Patrick Auffay), but in trying to raise money by stealing (then attempting to hock) a typewriter from Dad’s office he’s caught in the act, sent to reform school, escapes (shown in a marvelously long tracking shot as the boy runs away from the prison yard to the nearby beach, as he’s never seen the sea), then his story comes to an abrupt end with a revolutionary (for the time) freeze frame of Antoine at the water’s edge, the camera zooming in on his increasingly-grainy-face with an ending as arbitrarily-unresolved as Frankie’s in Beach Rats (which has a similar grainy texture throughout, having been shot on 16mm then made larger for standard theatrical projection).

 These 2 young male protagonists have different motivations for their inabilities to fit in more comfortably with their respective societies; however, the constant problems they face, along with mutual estrangements from their parents—although Frankie’s is more pronounced in that his father’s death is very traumatic for him, his inability to confess his sexual confusion to his sympathetic mother cuts him off from a potential source of comfort while Antoine’s stepfather is hurt that his “son” shows him no better respect while his mother—despite her similarities with the boy’s independent streak—clearly wasn’t (still isn’t) committed to a life of familial responsibilities.  Unlike Truffaut’s grand accomplishment, though, with its energetic pace, active roaming camera (an inspiration from his great influence, the masterful Jean Renoir), and illusions to the proto-French New Wave work of Jean Vigo from the 1930s, Beach Rats generally moves at a meandering pace (almost as if it were a documentary of the lifestyles this director seems as knowledgeable about as did Truffaut in his semi-autobiographical script for The 400 Blows), often shot in tight closeups because as Hittman explains in that interview farther below she was shooting on a constrained schedule with a slim budget (another reasonable comparison to Truffaut's early work) so to compensate for problematic visual distractions in the various environments she shot in it was often necessary to eliminate everything but the actors’ faces to get all the proper coverage of her scenes.

Bottom Line Final Comments: One of my regular screening companions (who teaches at a well-respected private school in Oakland, CA) said he found Beach Rats to be an appropriate film for the 1970s but felt dated to him because he’s easily aware of 9th graders coming out with no trauma so doesn’t understand why Frankie’s so conflicted in such a hip location as Brooklyn.  My response may be outdated as well because I haven’t lived in NYC since late 1973, have visited only a couple of times since then (including to Brooklyn), but it’s my perception the muscleheads Frankie’s hanging around with in his beachside-community (Coney Island, some reviews say, but if you watch that interview with the director you’ll see this was originally intended to be Gerritsen Beach [more inland than Coney Island, on the small Sheepshead Bay rather than the Atlantic, even though the beach shots in the film clearly imply the vast ocean so Luna Park at Coney Island’s likely where we’ve actually ended up], a place I could easily see even in 2017 as still qualifying as a NYC neighborhood Rick Blaine [Humphrey Bogart] warned Major Strasser [Conrad Veidt] the Nazis shouldn’t attempt to invade, even as far back as in Casablanca [Michael Curtiz, 1943]—a 5-star-movie if there ever was one [although I’ve never officially reviewed it ... yet])—are as homophobic as any of the goons I could cite for you from my upbringing in Texas so I don’t think Frankie’s reticence about sharing his sexual ambiguities with his buddies is inappropriate at all.  To be even more specific, these beach bums are the “rats” I’m referring to in my title for this posting, pumped-up macho guys whose tunnel visions of life (When and how can we get high next?) and sexuality (Hey, Frankie, did Simone put out?) would easily choose to sink their friend’s fragile ship (of existence) if he doesn’t conform to their hetero-masculine-expectations, as they keep making clear to him with their questioning about why he roams gay websites, suspicious he’s not just looking to score drugs.

 As with Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer; review in our August 30, 2017 posting), Beach Rats is distributed by Neon which has again included an animated short with this screening (which doesn’t noticeably increase your viewing time as the feature runs only 98 min.), New Balls Please,* with this one about a rising Black tennis star, Jorge Romeo, defeating a reigning White champ, Kurt Bruckner, as their courtside antics take on sexual overtones (it also seemed like their match might be in the process of being stopped for a rain delay or a break between sets, but that just shows how little I know about tennis—or exactly what the point of this short is, except for sneaking in a titillating title prior to a feature with a good bit of gay sex, or maybe it’s a pun on an emerging male sports star [as evidenced by this information]; either way, I find these Neon Shorts to be odd little bits of business).  The critical establishment’s more attuned to Beach Rats than I am to New Balls …, though, with Rotten Tomatoes offering a hefty dose of 82% positive reviews** while the folks at Metacritic are surprisingly close with an average 77% score, so they’re a bit more taken with this feature than I am, finding it hard to not feel Moonlight more successfully addressed this touchy topic.  Festival judges may also disagree with me, though, as Beach Rats has won the Directing Award of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize for Narrative Features at the 2017 Boston Independent Film Festival, along with some other honors.

*A 4-min. Dutch ditty from 2004 (Richard James) now on screen. An even more appropriate use of this title might be for an unfortunate incident during a match at the January 2017 Australian Open.

**Film-biz-execs are now complaining that less than “fresh” ratings (positive reviews from at least 60% of the critics surveyed; under 60% is “rotten”) are contributing to the current decline in box-office-revenues (even though RT’s owned by Fandango, itself a subsidiary of NBCUniversal, and Warner Bros.) with disputes over whether the cumulative verbiage of a review constitutes a positive response or not.  (I must agree.  When I read some of those reviews I’m completely puzzled they’re declared to be within the “positive” realm; I haven’t seen complains about the MC scores although they seem even more arbitrary to me as each review’s assigned a number somehow [not just a rounded-off-80 for example, but a very specific 78 or 83], then those scores are averaged together, but how a review that carries no numerical designation [sure, 3 of 4 stars is easy to calculate as 75%, although many reviews offer no such specifics with the commentary’s context often giving nuanced responses] from the writer is given such a specific result’s really a mystery.)  However, those complaints in the New York Times article are disputed by Variety, citing studies that show no correlation between Tomato ratings and movie grosses, with additional data indicating the more successful an offering is the higher its RT percentage is likely to be (the 2017 average: 77.5 so far)

 Beach Rats is still an honest study of its subject matter, though, fairly earning its R rating with its use of sex scenes (nothing too graphic, although when Frankie’s giving another guy a blow job you don’t have to see erect genitals to know exactly what’s happening “down there”), some brief (with no briefs) full-nudity-shots, appropriate spewing of likely street language, and frequent drug use.  I know that director Hittman wants to be authentic in her depictions of this neighborhood (even as many other NYC locations had to be stand-ins because of the ongoing damage to actual Gerritsen Beach from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy—it’ll probably be awhile before much gets shot in Houston or Miami either) which she’s done, giving us a troubled portrait of a protagonist in deep confusion about his life, which we just take an exit from at the end of the film’s running time leaving him mired in the same situation he’s been facing for quite awhile, will continue to do so until he’s finally able to make some decisions unless peer-pressured-fear prevents him from ever finding an escape from his dilemmas.  In finishing off these comments with my usual tactic of a Musical Metaphor that gives a final look at the situation from the viewpoint of another artform I was drawn to use Jackson Browne’s “Fountain of Sorrow (from his 1974 Late for the Sky album)—which I stumbled on after asking Amazon’s Echo device to “shuffle Jackson Browne,” then not recognizing a couple of the songs played so I turned to the website, reminding myself of the haunting 1974 tune which I’m offering to Frankie (as sung in a live performance by Browne at as part of my fictionalized extension to his story in which he finally meets a man—or womanhe can truly share a relationship with (not just secret sex at the beach), although they don’t connect for long but the experience still gives this kid some better perspective on his future as it might be noted to him when former lovers meet up again later, as do the main men in Moonlight:

“Now the things that I remember seems so distant and so small Though it hasn't really been that long a time What I was seeing wasn't what was happening at all [...] you see through love’s illusions, there lies a danger And your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool So you go running off in search of a perfect stranger While the loneliness seems to spring from your life Like a fountain from a pool Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight You’ve had to hide [...] but now you’re all right And it’s good to see your smiling face tonight."

 I never get to see any of your smiling faces (nor even very many of your keystrokes with commentary on what you encounter with these Two Guys—all done by this one guy—reviews), except for my wife, Nina, my most valued reader, but I do hope the sun’s beginning to shine again in southeast Texas, all through the Caribbean, and from Miami northward through the deep South for all of those who’ve suffered recent hurricane tragedies, with hopes that recovery, slow as it may be, will eventually bring back some sense of normalcy (even as Frankie out there on the ever-shifting-sands of time, probably even more so with Agent Cooper and Laura Palmer [if any version of Twin Peaks ever emerges out of the woods again] go on with their lives as well, hoping to eventually find some avenue of redemption).  As a final Musical Metaphor for some uplift in the face of such intensified-natural-disasters, here’s a tune from another seacoast entirely with The Beach Boys’ (no grungy Rats here) "The Warmth of the Sun" (from their 1964 album Shut Down Volume 2—written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love to offer some needed solace on the day of President Kennedy's 1963 assassinationwith added calming photos far from the recent angry waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean), so that even if—in a symbolic manner—“The love of my life She left me one day [just remember] Still I have the warmth of the sun Within me tonight.”  You might be able to offer a little warmth to the victims of these disasters as well by donating to the various charities helping with these massive cleanups, including the one from the recent network/cable TV telethon if they’re still taking donations at

 I'll look forward to seeing all however-many-of-you there are again, maybe for #301 and beyond (to infinity); I'm still holding out hope Pat Craig will join us as well, when the spirit's properly in motion.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about Beach Rats: (22:07 interview with director Eliza Hittman and actors Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, David Ivanov, Frank Hakaj)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*YouTube keeps deleting links to this Eagles performance so I keep putting a newer version back in but you’ll just find dead links in our previous postings prior to July 6, 2017, so don’t be confused.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 23,162; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (with activity from 5 continents, missing only Africa and Antarctica):


  1. Congratulation on number 300. As always you provide all that one needs to know and often quite a bit more. Personally, I think Rotten Tomatoes has little to do with reduced grosses at the box office. With production quality and acting generally very good, I would point to action movie fatigue followed by the constantly mutating sequel wasting disease. Maybe the reality is a screenwriters strike that I did not hear about, certainly scripts with no ending are getting old.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks for your comments and your invaluable support; no disrespect to Pat Craig, but you're truly the second Guy in the Dark (if that doesn't seem too weird). I agree with your comments on the unlikely impact of Rotten Tomatoes reviews percentages on movie attendance; your comments on why audiences are finding other forms of escape than the cinema are well-grounded. Ken