The Motorbreath 2016 Thanksgiving Weekend Capsule Review Smorgasbord

Needless to say, I’ll be spending most of the rest of 2016 and the first few months of 2017 trying to catch up and review as many of the movies as I haven’t like I do every one of my slowpoke-ass years. But it’s Thanksgiving and so I have a bunch of films I can at least try to drop placeholder capsule reviews for before I get into the real thick of my thoughts for many films (which will include some of these films). And I mean this is going to be A LOT of movies, so let get right to it and then try to sort out the rest later.

In chronological order of premiere date, here are as many of the films I saw over the years as I can recall:

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The Sea of Trees (dir. Gus van Sant, USA)

Good news for Adam Wingard, this is the worst Blair Witch Project  sequel of 2016. The most transparent attempt at magical realism that fails because its central character that we care about is on paper the most pretentious douche one could encounter, even when he’s trying to be enlightened about himself through his waltz in the woods, and is further sunk by McConaughey’s very first bad performance since the McConaissance began. Never mind the whole fashion of turning the Magical Negro into a Magical Asian and letting that sort of otherness of Japanese culture ride out while trivializing suicide as just a “maybe” answer to a privileged white man’s malaise. And they didn’t even shoot most of it in Japan, man!

Mountains May Depart (dir. Jia Zhangke, China/France/Japan)

If you’re expecting me to go against the consensus opinion that the third of Mountains May Depart‘s three acts is a very severe flaw in its disinteresting drama about language and heritage, you’re gonna be disappointed. Nevertheless, the previous two acts are compelling love triangles that allow Zhao Tao to indulge in one of the best performances of the year, a woman stuck in the middle of two manchildren that don’t know what to do about their feelings or maintain their friendship and kind of exhausted by the idea that she can’t keep things platonic. And of course, Jia simply knows how to work that sort of human drama in his sleep.

The Little Prince (dir. Mark Osborne, France/Italy)

A movie that clearly devotes itself more to translating the themes of the source material book (which honestly has sentimental value to me personally due to a friend beyond its intrinsic value as a literary work, so this was always going to be an important film to me) than to fidelity to the minutia of its content, Osborne’s film ends up letting itself become exactly the sort of profound story of protected youth that we needed in the colorless world today. Of course the real treat the difference in animated texture between the frame story of a Little Girl trying to make it into a private school and her pilot neighbor’s previous encounters with the Little Prince in the Sahara.

April and the Extraordinary World (dir. Christian Demares & Franck Ekinci, France/Belgium/Canada)

Based on a comic and it shows. In its indulgence towards the alternate history it sets up at the beginning of the film and a steampunk aesthetic rooted in said alternate history. In its thick lines that shape the human characters and the great big ships and the thick forest greens. It’s clearly a bit of pulp enjoyment that’s on its mind and the adventurousness of its plot is hard not to enjoy.

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A Bigger Splash (dir. Luca Guadagnino, Italy/France)

A Bigger Splash is totally the type of movie you watch to try to live in luxury porn. Guadagnino just has the best feel for style (I honestly don’t know how people go insane for Tom Ford over Luca) to the choice of his actors – altogether making up maybe the most aesthetically pleasant and versatile-looking cast ever and all having their moments of nude objectification (it’s probably most surprising that Ralph Fiennes spends a quarter of his screentime nude). And that’s just the movie laying the foundation for us to find underlying trouble in paradise where it doesn’t even need to be troubled, thanks to the dissonant energy of its cast, and a real 3/4 genre switch decision that just ends up feeling inspired and exciting even if it ends dissatisfying.

Eye in the Sky (dir. Gavin Hood, USA)

Back in college, I was involved in a play adapting the screenplay of a not-yet-released picture called Drones that obviously focused on the collateral damage and toll that drone warfare took on all involved. What the play simply did not have is a focus on the Kill Chain, the chain in which command and accountability and bucks are passed over and over for the highest power to give clearance so that they can know who will answer for an unfortunate additional casualty. Eye in the Sky focuses on that and as such, I really think it’s truly rewarding, especially in having a range of attitudes towards warfare and evils considered either necessary or appalling, from grief (Aaron Paul), to fear (Barkhad Abdi), to ferocity (Helen Mirren), to weariness (the late Alan Rickman), all embodying a different manner of intimacy with the fact that to take out terrorists believed to be on the way to an immediate bombing, they may have to kill a little girl. Heavy, heavy stuff.

Evolution (dir. Lucille Hadžihalilović, France)

A very chilly and icy portrayal of the horrors of community and familiarity, wrapped up with scientific grotesquerie and the most spine-tingling iron environments. It’s certainly understandable why folks would find this movie alienating, especially since it’s a very minimalist manner of storytelling – only a function of a narrative rather than any allowed depth to even our young boy protagonist as he investigates the cause of a dead body he discovered – but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it and I only find the ending shot of the film exactly the sort of thing that causes me to start discussing the movie even more excitedly.

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Borrowed Time (dir. Andrew Coats & Lou Hamou-Lhadj, USA)

It’s certainly very good looking. In its portrayal of the horizon as well as the deadly vertical aspect of the cliff that it takes place in, neither of which as incredible as the character design. Essential to a movie that parallels two separate time periods and needs to show the wear that emotional distress has taken on our lead, even as the head shape retains a masculine square rigidity. Unfortunately, the actual story is the most transparent and obvious kind of miserablism that one has obviously seen around over and over again. The whole thing is a cliche that is underwhelming given how overhyped the short was beforehand.

Ip Man 3 (dir. Wilson Yip, Hong Kong)

Donnie Yen has still fucking got it, no doubt. The man is in his 50s and I can’t imagine in the same shape he was back when I first saw him in 1993’s Iron Monkey (technically saw it in 2001, but he made it in 1993) and yet he’s still going at impressing me with his style and technique and discipline like he’s just another martial artist in the screen. He’s certainly aged more gracefully than Jackie Chan. Of course, the movie is also chockful of melodrama and I mean soap opera amounts from his wife suddenly dying to another storyline of a foreigner terrorizing locals like the last two to your good ol’ martial arts rivalry and they’re all just as hokey and transparent as you’d expect. But the real show is the fights and they’re all just too good to deny, especially the elevator showdown between Wing Chun and Muay Thai.

The Forest (dir. Jason Zada, USA)

Whelp, it’s not nearly as bad as The Sea of Trees, but it’s certainly more racist to the degree of an Indiana Jones picture. But, let’s not go down that road because I’ll give an earful. Frankly, it’s just a very underwhelming horror work and I’d have to work to find something to say.

Norm of the North (dir. Trevor Wall, USA)

There was a production stuck in development hell called “Norm of the North” from way back before I was born about an Eskimo in a New York City Fish-out-of-Water tale. The reason it was in development is because John Belushi, John Candy, and Chris Farley were all attached to star at separate points in history and those points all happened to be shortly before their respective deaths, leading to an assumption the production was cursed. I’m not sure if this is said movie (the plot seems similar except replace Eskimo with Bear) and I don’t want to wish death upon Rob Schneider, but the man does not make it easy with films like this. Films devoid of any care in their animation quality and make three-dimensional CGI look like a bootleg Nelvana two-dimension cartoon, films with toilet humor that even a five-year-old could be tired off, films that try to revolve around whatever hip new song is out right now (Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” lost the lottery, but the viewer is the one pelted with those “Shut Up and Dance” stones). It will be tough to encounter a film in 2016 of lesser quality.

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople (dir. Taika Waititi, New Zealand)

Oh, Sam Neill being a grump who has to spend a perilous journey in the wilderness with a child he doesn’t want to be around. Never seen that before… Snark aside though, this film is full of a shocking mix of warmth, arch humor that you’d expect from the guy who made Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and wonderfully “majestical” imagery of the New Zealand bush and horizon that I don’t know how I could have possibly expected a movie like this. That we get to spend time with the adorable Julian Dennison and Sam Neill’s never-less-than-human-yet-grim bushman like the anti-Dundee is only the cherry on top.

Love & FriendshipLove & FriendshipLove & Friendship (dir. Whit Stillman, Ireland/France/Netherlands)

Whit Stillman was born to do Jane Austen. Kate Beckinsale was born to do Jane Austen and play the sort of manipulative triumphant woman Lady Susan Vernon is and she and Chloe Sevigny were born to be best friends. This is easily the funniest film of the year that I’ve seen thus far.

The Barn (dir. Justin Seaman, USA)

This is absolutely amateur first-feature filmmaking with all of its problems of production value and plotting and especially with the kind of actors that feels more like they just picked up who ever could show up than who was best for the part. Yet, it’s so endearing and full of personality in its love for Halloween and nostalgia (the director, who attended the screen, apparently originally wrote it as a storybook when he was a kid and brought that very storybook he drew as a child to the screening) that I can’t help but admit I enjoyed my time. The errors may have been distracting, but they’re just products of the same excitement that wanted to make the movie in the first place.

10 Cloverfield Lane (dir. Dan Trachtenberg, USA)

What a totally ok episode of Goosebumps we have here. Honestly, it’s more hurt from its title than anything else in the film.

Collective: Unconscious (prod. Dan Schoenbrun, USA)

Previous dream pictures have spoiled me. In general, anthologies are always going to suffer from never having the same level of quality between its subjects, but the fact that this movie is meant to be an adaptation of different dreams by different directors – a concept that seems very promising to me – and yet only one of them (the second one) seems to indulge in the avant-garde limitlessness of a dream, while all of them seem too dedicated to trying to pull a narrative out of those dreams. There are truth be told no bad segments or even segments that you can’t derive meaning from and easily the best is “Everybody Dies!”, which uses acerbic comedy to comment on young black deaths, but I expected more versatility and there is more than one segment where I felt bored or unwhelmed (namely the last one). Like I said, I’m spoiled. To the point that I’m legit disappointed none of these segments are animated.

(Collective: Unconscious is available for free on BitTorrent, Vimeo, and YouTube)

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Keanu (wri. Jordan Peele & Alex Rubins, USA)

Now here is a movie that is absolutely fine with being not much more than a time-passer but still wants to at least attempt leaving you with something to think about. It’s little more than an extended Key & Peele sketch (hence the producers and stars), but it’s also eager to at least nudge towards (if not cut into, like Moonlight) black masculinity and the culture around it. Not that anybody would want to watch for any other reason than being in love with cats. Like yours truly.

Sausage Party (wri./prod. Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, USA)

So you wanna be nominated for an Oscar, eh? HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAH.

Step 1: Don’t treat your animators like shit.
Step 2: Make sure said animators don’t leave you with animation a little above Foodfight! level.
Step 3: Make a good movie.

Man, I’m gonna so rip this movie apart when I find time for a full-length review.

The Angry Birds MovieThe Angry Birds Movie (dir. Clay Kaytis & Fergal Reilly, Finland/USA)

I mean, at least the animation is impressive in making the shapey video game characters have dimension and it does what it means to by having its plot work for the reenactment of the popular cell phone game, but let’s be serious. You people let this movie take the money over The Nice Guys and I’ll probably never forgive you.

The Nice Guys (dir. Shane Black, USA)

Most of the people whose opinions I trust have held it against this movie (and Shane Black’s career in general) that it kind of doesn’t care for women and I… don’t think they’re wrong (personally, one of my favorite quotes about it is “It’s funny how a movie titled The Nice Guys hates women). But it doesn’t bother me as much as one would think it should when it’s not a movie that exists to be reductive so much as a movie that exists to be a buddy cop neo-noir comedy picture and it excels exactly at its purpose. It’s not exactly reinventing the wheel, but Ryan Gosling’s emasculated performance and Russell Crowe’s comfort at playing the familiar role of Big Scary Guy Who Beats People Up But Has Personality Deep Down have bonfire chemistry and The Nice Guys proves to be fizzy and fast genre work.

Also, I don’t want to be that one male guy who pretends “oh, here’s a consolation prize”, but I can’t imagine anybody walking away without the impression that Angourie Rice as the capable and intelligent daughter to Gosling’s character is the best damn thing in the movie (and her chemistry between the two of them – especially with Crowe – is just as fire and makes me wonder if Ty Simpkins in Iron Man 3 was more Black’s input or Disney’s).

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The Neon Demon (dir. Nicholas Winding Refn, France/Denmark/USA)

Do yourself a favor: get a girlfriend/boyfriend that knows stuff about the fashion industry and watch this movie with her (assuming she digs horror and gore) and it will be a really great time. If unattainable (maybe you’re ugly, bruh), then you might still be able to love the gorgeous inspired visuals Refn was always known for (even when making garbage like Only God Forgives) and eat up exactly all the reason Neon is right there in its title. Also, having Sia in your soundtrack is a very easy way to get me on your side, even if I don’t understand what it has to do with the movie itself.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (dir./wri./prod. The Lonely Island, USA)

Would I probably enjoy it more if I had more of a pulse on pop culture rather than just knowing it via proxy? I’m sure, but I actually really adore the movie and had a fun-ass time laughing at all the insane ways they mapped out the Boy Band craze AND Justin Bieber’s infamous rise and fall as today’s popstar (plus including a Tyler the Creator parody). And that’s just without acknowledging that The Lonely Island have always been great at inventing different absurd but accessible musical compositions. And since Popstar gets to be just another vehicle for that with a great little pop culture-savvy narrative attached to it, it’s not hard to see why people had such a good time with this movie.

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Piper (dir. Alan Barillaro, USA)

Piper is an absolute being of cuteness and so it’s tough not to be on her side as she begins to go out into the real world and the ocean. If that’s not enough to get you to enjoy the short film, the photorealism behind everything from the grainy sand to the fuzzy chick fur to the water (ay yo Pixar got dat amazing water animation) should keep you happy. But if you don’t love Piper as a character, you are probably not a person.

Godzilla: Resurgence (dir. Anno Hideaki & Higuchi Shinji, Japan)

Well damn, I did not expect Toho’s very first Godzilla picture in more than a decade to be essentially The Thick of It, but for that reason alone, it lived up to my hype. It’s good to see the character back and it’s damn good to see such an amusing and frankly inspiring narrative of bureaucracy attached to his return.

Kubo and the Two Strings (dir. Travis Knight, USA)

I don’t think anybody who is even cursorily interested in animation is truly against the understanding that Laika is right now the best animation house in the business (even if it’s also clearly one of the lowest-earning). But this is the first time since Coraline that it looks like they actually pushed the envelope of their craft – visually with fight scenes that are kinetic and imaginative in their presentation, narratively with their meta plot of a boy using stories to cope with his struggles and to map his own personal journeys, sonically with the absolutely moving Asian-influence score, and emotionally with the grief that anchors much of the film until it learns to move with it. It certainly blows most of Pixar’s post-WALL-E work out of the goddamn water.

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Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience (dir. Terrence Malick, USA)

Man, I really hope this doesn’t fade from my memory whenever I dare to go for a Malick retrospective, but I have to say that it’s nothing we haven’t really seen already. It’s not all that reductive to point out that it’s an extended portion of the “Creation of the Universe” of The Tree of Life. While it’s certainly no less gorgeous (in fact I kind of might think Voyage of Time is more aesthetically pleasing), there’s certainly no real profundity in what we’re seeing. A great diversion that is pretty aware of how long it has to be with less than an hour, but it’s not exactly essential viewing.

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Suicide Solution

CRITIC’S NOTE – 25 November: This review existed in my drafts pretty much since the movie’s theatrical release. Somehow, I was an idiot and did not publish it. I’m going to be frank, the review is already just slightly outdated in my attitudes towards Suicide Squad. However, perplexingly little of what I say here has changed and as such I will be publishing it with few fixes (also I’m super lazy and why write more when it’s all there?). Just that my overall attitude now is more negativeIf this review is to serve best as anything, I guess it’s less how a person’s opinion is always subject to changing over time (since the movie’s been out for only, what, four months?) and moreso as an illustration of how even I could sometimes try to convince myself a movie I truly understand is not good is worth a watch.

Anyway with that out of the way, please enjoy this goddamn time capsule of a review.

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A significant amount of months ago, I made a post on Panel & Frame talking about the movie Last Action Hero talking about how it is one of the roughest cuts I’ve ever seen released, an undeniably unfinished film. This isn’t necessarily a claim I give lightly to any movie that is terribly made, but to movies that have a much publicized troubled production history (especially if it’s backloaded onto the post-production process) where it’s probable what results will be a rushed product and the production will definitely reflect on the final picture.

It’s not exactly an excuse for a bad or poor movie. The makers still released it. They thought it was ok for people to pay money for that. We can still wreck it critically. Like submitting half-done homework, you shouldn’t expect a good grade.

Nevertheless, they are unfinished movies and I think it’s important to discuss how what we’re watching is sloppily done and how easily a movie can be derailed.

A lot of hate is being slung towards the DC Extended Universe and I can’t pretend a lot of it is unearned, even if I am a fan of the last two movies to come out of it. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad both have absolutely glaring problems, infuriatingly visible problems that even bug me so much I’d love to make a Soderbergh-ized fan edit of both movies and yet even then there’s a lot that simply re-editing the movie wouldn’t fix. And to be fair, I don’t think Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice exactly has an unfinished feel to it, it seemed like everybody was satisfied absolutely with production and what was going out there, both the theatrical and Ultimate feel fully controlled (even if they’re both quite sloppy).

But Suicide Squad is not finished in the slightest, they just ran out of time before they had to submit something. Even if director/writer David Ayer expressed satisfaction and authorship of the theatrical cut (which is both very noble of him to accept his work while also pretty smart considering RIP Josh Trank), what’s on-screen makes it clear that the chefs just decided “OK, I guess we’re done cooking” rather than taking the recipe to the end [Author’s Note 25 November: At the time of this writing, obviously the Extended Edition of Suicide Squad was not announced].

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The most obvious element of this is how blatantly the film wants to juggle the dark and gritty aspect of its universe established by its previous two films (Man of Steel being the first DCEU film) with a gleeful eagerness to let itself loose by its very premise – ruthless government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team from the DC Rogues’ Gallery to perform high-risk black ops missions – with a juvenile “lovable rogues” tale that makes them more cuddly than anti-heroes, bordering on comic and undoubtedly lifted from the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Guardians of the Galaxy… right down to the annoying usage of every fucking song that ever existed in history stapled on the soundtrack (and I honestly never thought I’d be sick of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” a long-time inhabitant of my “favorite songs” playlist and now I think I am).

I can’t say they two don’t exactly mix, because I’ve walked into a Hot Topic store so I know it can happen. I am almost certain it’s not the full intent of Suicide Squad to be this way. It’s too stitched together as a Frankenstein of a film where they tried to re-arrange the material at the last second. If I were editor John Gilroy (who has enough credits behind him to vouch for his ability as a film editor), I’d have Alan Smithee’d myself the moment Warner Bros. brought a team that cut trailers to change the film around to the wandering, structureless mess this is. It’s broken tonally AND narratively from the very get-go: Suicide Squad has no less than three restarts before 15 minutes pass as a misguided attempt to introduce its three defacto lead characters – in order: sharpshooting hitman Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (Will Smith), the Joker’s psychopathic girlfriend Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and Waller herself even given a fakeout of opening narration in her appearance – as though it forgot Waller has her own monologue not that far into the film intercut with obnoxious titles spelling out the characteristics of each member of the squad and being its own mess of present-day discussion and flashback narrative. The rest of the movie is not really helped – it takes a good long while before the Squad actually is deployed into Midway City to stop Enchantress, the centuries old goddess who has possessed Dr. June Moore (Cara Delevigne), from destroying the world with her laser light show.

Once that actually gets started, the team simply has a pretty destination-less journey that includes no less than three helicopter crashes in the same film, no clear objectives until the movie decides “well, I guess they accomplished it”, and the only time the narrative feels weighty is when Riff Raff The Joker (Jared Leto) himself jumps in to derail the mission so he and Harley can reunite again. I recognize the common complaint by many viewers (including the expectedly classless Leto himself) is that Joker is not in the movie more, but my problem is how the movie acts like it needs more of him as an anchor to the story since it otherwise doesn’t really have a clue where it’s going except laterally, it guesses.

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There’s a moment halfway 3/4 in where Deadshot confronts their commanding officer/keeper Rick Flag (Joel Kinneman) on everything going on and we expect the movie will clarify itself, except that Deadshot just wants Flag to come clean on his relationship to Enchantress. And the cherry on top of Ayer’s bad writing skills is how eager he is to return to his absolute reductive cartoon stereotypes towards every member of the Squad: from making the Australian their country’s equivalent of a redneck aka the bogan (it’s not really Ayer’s fault that the character is named Captain Boomerang as played by Jai Courtenay, but it certainly does not help), to having Katana (Karen Fukuhara)’s personality begin and end with “samurai sword”, to fire-manipulating Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is a gangbanging vato in the most South Central way, to having Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje have to portray Killer Croc in the blackest manner possible as he wants to watch BET and roam around in his hoodie saying “Shawty”.

Everything else is just one giant Escape from New York riff, from its production design to its characters’ attitudes about the fate of the city to the very vague need to bring their mark out of the city and then battle a poor-rendered CGI co-villain that is essentially Corrupted Shinnok from Mortal Kombat X. None of this incompentency in filmmaking is really new: there is not a single thing prior to this film with David Ayer’s name attached to it (from U-571 to Fury) that I consider a good movie to the point so I didn’t expect myself to be impressed by Ayer nor did I really expect myself to like it.

But I’m a fan of this movie. I did like it. I realize that I’m describing a pretty big failure, yet I liked it.

It’s the cast. I can’t think of any big problems with them.

Actually I can… Delevingne doesn’t make a single move that doesn’t feel absolutely alien to her whether portraying a human being or a goddess. In her defense, a lot of her performance is interacting with CGI, but even with people… her romance with Kinnaman is very fake. Kinnaman himself is swallowing a hella chewy Texas accent, but discomfort plays well into Flag’s prickly resentment with having to watch over the character so it sloppily works. Fukuhara and Akinnuoye-Agbaje have thankless roles (again… stereotypes) but they do solid grim sobriety and menace. Hernandez himself gets very horrid lines (“I lost one family, I’m not gonna lose another”, he says as I wonder if he even talked to Slipknot or Killer Croc) and a hamfisted haunted backstory that only adds to paint the portrayal of Latinos more on the racist side as abusing spouses, but he gives more than enough humanity to the character that he’s probably one of the more compelling presences even during Diablo’s pacifism. Davis can play the Waller role her sleep which is probably why I’m not impressed with her performance while still recognizing it as completely flawless in its cold, inhuman distance (I still think C.C.H. Pounder was born for the role and would do wonders with it). Courtney is a riot honestly, so it’s the first time I’ve ever liked him. Smith also gives humanity to Deadshot in a character the script hands him with a daughter to think of. But it’s not just the writing, Smith seems to have been a lot more awake here after a dark age for him between 2008 and 2015 and I’d swear it helps that he gets to share screentime with Margot Robbie, whom he was already doing very well with in Focus.

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Ahhhhh, Margot Robbie. The poor woman has taken on role after role that would essentially function as star vehicles back in the 1930s and yet here she is smashing them and we’re not really giving her the same star status as Jennifer Lawrence, somehow. At least, we have her Harley Quinn to keep us happy – a performance that takes all the unhinged danger of such a clearly disturbed character and try to wrap it as an evil-mirror-universe version of ditzy ingenue energy. In the meantime, she’s allowed little windows to show how her mentally broken status affects her emotionally broken status and vice versa. It’s there too – the movie doesn’t believe in subtlety – her flashbacks with the Joker, her sitting in the rain on a damaged car staring out – Robbie clearly wanted to earn the role and does so every step of the way. Not least in moments she shares with the Joker.

So, the Joker-Harley relationship. I am among the many who have a problem with glorifying the abusive relationship between those characters like Hot Topic tends to and I don’t think it’s ok. But Leto and Robbie have surprisingly incredible chemistry together that I honestly don’t care. Like a twisted fairytale romance together, where it’s clear the Joker’s cruelty to Harley just as well disturbs him leading to moments where he tries to fix the damage he makes. It’s twisted, but it’s believable and it’s electric between the two of them and this really shocks me because out of all the actors cast that I don’t generally like, Leto is among the ones I get closer to hating. Yet despite the trash makeup and costume design looking like Justin Bieber visiting the Gathering of the Juggalos, Leto also grounds himself less as a chaotic absolute like Heath Ledger before him (and let’s not pretend Leto’s performance is better than Ledger’s) and more like a young maniac who is willing to go just far enough to keep unpredictable to his enemies yet hanging off the edge close enough for his henchmen to follow. I can see how this Joker became a gangster kingpin and still retains Joker esque moments of mania like his entrance via helicopter machine gun while wearing a tuxedo and having a bearskin rug on the floor of the chopper. And I can see how Harley finds him irresistible and he finds her such.

That chemistry is a perfect synecdoche for the whole mass that is Suicide Squad. I can take all these elements together, even if they don’t fit together. The parts are faulty and broken and misshapen and desperate for a movie universe (with shoed-in appearances by Ben Affleck that make Batman the biggest dick ever) yet I have no problem accepting Suicide Squad as a movie that I really liked. It should not work. I’m not sure it does work. But it was a good time to spend 2 hours with this squad.

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Motorbreath Gives Thanks

Yeah, I know it’s technically not Thanksgiving anymore, but I was too busy to get this done before midnight and I have to express some pop culture things I have gratitude for. Especially in a year as dire and deadly as this has been for a lot of people, it’s worth reminding myself of some worthwhile things.

  • Let me start off with something pretty much not film but one of the few bright spots in recent events: Hamilton cast calling out Mike Pence on his shit in the most dignified manner a cast made up of minorities Pence looks down on could possibly address said figure… and Trump supporters STILL being fucking triggered.
  • Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks to keep my Twin Peaks jones satisfied.
  • Atlanta is fucking near-perfect as a show and is receiving its second season.

  • The Rock and Kevin Hart’s chemistry in Central Intelligence. The Rock is so fucking good he can make Kevin Hart good again.
  • Woody Allen finally got Vittorio Storaro to pick up a goddamn digital camera for Cafe Society and that’s why it’s almost certainly the most gorgeous movie of the year.
  • Somebody up there wants me to say Rihanna between Valerian, American Honey, Girlhood. It’s working.
  • I get to say Sofia Boutella – who plays Jaylah from Star Trek Beyond – is from my hometown in Algeria. Bab el Oued represent!
  • One of the rare times I will say nepotism. Duncan Jones is usually phenomenal, I don’t think I need to remind anyone. Warcraft may have been HIS fault among other faults, but he obviously had a pretty hard year and I trust a person as creative as him And of course, the other reason for the nepotism thanks – if you motherfuckers aren’t buying tickets for Laika, you better damn well be buying Nikes because I want more Kubos and Coralines, yo.
  • Speaking of animation maestros, Miyazaki Hayao is back baybe. And I hope somebody answers that phone because I. Fucking. Called. It. You don’t retire as a filmmaker until you’re fucking dead. You got that, Tarr Bela?
  • And speaking of Ghibli, Only Yesterday made it to America, y’all! You’re watching one of the best works of the studio by its best creative.
  • And speaking of animated works making a breakthrough return, Belladonna of Sadness, y’all!
  • And speaking of Ghibli again, The Red Turtle! Can’t wait!

  • Toho be back on making that Godzilla and Funimation is jam for bringing Godzilla: Resurgence to America. I wonder if Armando Iannucci saw it.
  • Julian Dennison’s reactions in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Just the way he says “Ohhhhhh” when he realizes he done goofed is adorable enough to make me love that movie.
  • The soundtracks for Stranger Things and Sing Street even if the former is meh and the latter is fine. It’s like in everybody’s attempt to recreate the 80s musical aesthetic, they just avoided falling into the constantly common pitfalls of 80s pop culture in general.
  • That Whit Stillman knew to best reunite Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny for the hijinks of Love & Friendship while giving Beckinsale the best material she could possibly work with.
  • Finest Girl (Fuck bin Laden)” and pretty much every other song from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. The Lonely Island so got it.

  • The kittens playing Keanu – especially when it gets to the calendar. I want that calendar.
  • Horror’s still on a strong run for the 2010s between The WitchThe Conjuring 2The ShallowsThe WailingTrain to Busan31, Lights Out. We good, y’all.
  • The two best characters of 2016 cinema are both birds – Steven Seagull from The Shallows and Piper from Piper.
  • Trevonte Rhodes. Oh my god, he was perfect in Moonlight. Definitely my favorite performance of the year so far and it’ll take something incredible to overturn that.

And most of all, I want to express my thanks for the supporters who support Motorbreath up on Patreon so far. It’s only three people so far, but that’s three more than I expected and I’m very glad to receive those three behind me.

Well, Happy Thanksgiving! Thanks for reading!

When You’re Strange

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I’m not very well read on Doctor Strange as bigger fans (ie. I know his story and mythology, but I never ever picked up a comic book where he headlined. It is one of the few comic books where my knowledge comes solely from wikipedia or other comic appearances) and so I don’t know the extent to which Doctor Strange’s famous red Cloak of Levitation has a sentient life of its own in the comics and I feel even if it did, it would not be with the clearly Disney-esque personality they gave it here in the newest installment of the MCU. The Cloak plays the same role in Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the role) path as the Magic Carpet in Aladdin and certainly feels just as much a product of Disney’s buying into Marvel as Ty Simpkins’ character in Iron Man 3. Regardless, the cloak is very much a character in its own right, absolutely one of the most lovable and enjoyable on-screen, and one of several impressive works of visual effects in the best effects-extravaganza ever released in a franchise that’s constantly tried to be an effects-extravaganza powerhouse. That pretty much is a good sum-up of my attitude on Doctor Strange as a film. Not to say this hurts the film when Ted and Rise/Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Life of Pi and The Jungle Book and The Lord of the Rings all pull this off as well without being a mark against them, but yes. Potentially my favorite character in the film is just another one of the many special effects.

After all, that was obvious from the moment Doctor Strange‘s trailer came out that its special effects were the name of the game and it’s absolutely dazzling and outstanding effects, make no mistake. Effects so damn good I whispered to my girlfriend during the most shameless yet absolutely fun homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite scene “maybe we should have caught this movie in 3D”. Effects that can still manage to supersede Ben Davis’ kind of underlit photography to fill scenes with color and shape (especially in fractal form that cut into the image) that – while it’s nothing that absolutely breaks the ceiling – keep things fun and dare I say even immersive at moments. I don’t want to go 100 on that last part because one of the problems with Doctor Strange in the end is that it feels like Inception as directed by someone who is not Christopher Nolan. Scott Derrickson doesn’t really know how to keep a grip on where Strange and other characters relative to each other when the world starts bending and that becomes absolutely bothersome in one of the setpieces, a chase through a four-dimensional New York where the point is to make sure that villain Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen in a thankless role whose main arc is given a monologue to another character) is far away and see how close he is to catching Strange and Derrickson doesn’t seem to know how to shoot a chase for that matter.

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This is however easily Derrickson’s best work otherwise and I know that’s kind of faint praise for the director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us from Evil, but it’s praise nonetheless. He’s not overall bad, he keeps things in rolling and moving once the effects start a-showin’ up, there’s a pretty fantastic astral fight between Cumberbatch and Scott Adkins that isn’t Gareth Evans here but is a great amount of fun. The anti-climax to the film is a fantastic comic bit of repetition that also lends itself to some creatively violent moments in the MCU. And of course there’s also that lovable cape.

But I said things are rolling and moving once the effects start showing up and that’s another big problem with me and Doctor Strange. I didn’t stopwatch the movie obviously, but I can’t imagine it was any longer than 45 minutes that passed before the movie’s best sequence – that very same 2001 homage – showed up to show Strange and the audience what’s what, yet it felt like it took an agonizing hour for me. Part of this is because Cumberbatch makes no effort to have this performance prove to me he’s worth all the hype he’s given. The script by Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill, and Derrickson clearly sets the character up to be arrogant and intolerable in all the same ways Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is and yet the difference here is that where Downey Jr. knows how to turn his sarcasm and wit to charm, Cumberbatch really ups the despicability and nastiness of Strange as a person to 11. I’m sure it’s deliberate and yet it’s a miscalculation (like, Ben, this isn’t an HBO series) and it very quickly gets to a point that I don’t like the guy and can’t be even slightly sorry for the severe damage to his hands early in the film that kickstarts his search for the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her (I’d like to say “it” as a celestial being but the movie refers to “her”) potential in making his hands suitable to be the great surgeon he once was.

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And with the Ancient One means kind of dealing with an elephant in the room… the white-washing of the Ancient One from a Tibetan old man to a Celtic woman portrayed by Swinton. To be frank, it’s extremely obvious the change was deliberately to avoid crossing China, no matter what the filmmakers say. It’s bothersome and problematic and the filmmakers attempts to off-set this are gaggingly awful – by including Chiwetel Ejiofor playing the same damn fundamentalist character he played in Serenity in the role of Strange’s future nemesis Mordo (who also has the utterly tasteless line that they’re “not savages” because they have wi-fi) and Benedict Wong as a character whose given a stereotypical role of the humorless wise Asian man who OBVIOUSLY gets a laugh at the end and whose choice to be mononymous is constantly berated by Cumberbatch (this is probably a good time to note that the comic relief is garbage and the worst thing about Doctor Strange) – but it was an inevitability in the great big machine that is Hollywood moneymaking, knowing that China is where much of the international bucks was to be grabbed. They clearly don’t want to alienate them and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but if we were going to have any non-Tibetan play the Ancient One, I’d certainly rather it indeed be Swinton.

Because Swinton is absolutely the best performance in the movie hands-down, no contest. She gives the supernatural character the ethereal presence she’s always been very good at, a sort of ability to make us feel like she’s levitating even when her character is clearly on the ground and yet we know the Ancient One isn’t a deity but a human being with the same desperations and faults as Strange or Mordo or others, which leads to the second best moment in Doctor Strange where she gets to wrap her characters’ emotional arc in a great bow and a tenderly delivered monologue. Most of the characters in the script are throwaway like Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams or even Michael Stuhlberg (I swear to God, I didn’t even know he was in the film until AFTER I saw it), but Swinton gets to make up all for it and takes over the movie every time she gets to appear in a shot.

Before Swinton came up, it was starting to sound like I was burying the movie so I may as well quit before I do. Doctor Strange is not a perfect movie, nor the greatest in the MCU. It’s complicated. It’s as complicated as Michael Giacchino’s score blatantly pulling a James Horner on himself with lifting themes from Star Trek for the sake dramatic yet familiar undertone (as well as Pink Floyd themes too). But the moment the Ancient One shows up, it’s a complicated film that makes for a very satisfying fantasy feature and some very wondrous special effects work that I would be very surprised and disappointed if it doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar. And I will not pretend that I did not walk out of the film realizing that I had a good time, forgiving all of the flaws I elaborated on and forgetting they were there until after the fact. Isn’t that what a good popcorn film ought to do in the moment after all? Or is time just relative when you’re moving through dimensions?

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Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.

Doctor Strange is an overall pretty decent flick, but its comic relief is easily the worst thing that’s ever happened in a franchise that I’d like to remind you has the “fish out of water” story of Thor. If the endless pop culture names tossed against Wong’s name weren’t enough to make me groan… there is absolutely no better way to get me on the wrong fucking side of a Doctor Strange adaptation than to take one of the centers of the character’s mythology – the mystic Shamballa – and relegate that word to a wi-fi password (with the completely tasteless addition of “we’re not savages”) and put it in your fucking trailer.

What an utterly dismissive attitude to have to something so integral to the Doctor Strange universe (and replaced with the blah Sling Rings). It shows exactly where writer C. Robert Cargill’s (and director Scott Derrickson’s) mind was at when making this.

Still the movie was decent (and the review will be coming up), but it reminded me of other times I recognized a film having a completely

So as the Hitchcock quote I used to title this post implies, this post is a presentation of..

The 10 Biggest Moments in Film That Showed a Heavy Contempt for The Audience

Note: Please forgive that this list ends a bit comic-book movie heavy. It’s very easy to recognize an already established audience for certain properties and the most rabid of them happen to be comic book fans.

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10. Spider-Man 3 – Venom

This is gonna sit in last place, because full disclosure: I like Spider-Man 3. I obviously like it significantly less than any of Raimi’s other Spider-Man pictures, but I certainly rank it above Marc Webb Sony’s run on the character. That said, it’s clearly a motion of complete hate for the character of Venom (a hate I kind of share with Raimi to begin with, as Venom is kind of a simple character that totally belonged in 80s/90s era of comics with no place for today and looks like a stereotypical Todd MacFarlane creation) that Venom is treated as such a throwaway concept. It’s not that he doesn’t take place in the film until its final act, that was a smart move that treated Venom as a sort of huge consequence to Spider-Man 3’s plot (although Christopher Nolan did the same hat trick much much better in The Dark Knight) and that gave it gravity.

It’s the casting of Topher Grace and his clear inability to embody all the hate and attitude that makes up Venom’s presence that makes this goddamn hard to watch. Let alone how unintimidating he and his voice is, even when he’s in the Venom suit. Or how shittily animated the character is, particularly when he talks with Brock’s face covered.

If Raimi truly felt he wasn’t able or willing to make a third Spider-Man film with Venom, he should have stepped down from the director’s chair. What resulted is a half-assed movie that was right to piss people off, and that’s just not right for a franchise that originally began as something that showed how much Raimi loved the Spider-Man comics.

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9. Antichrist – “I am the best director in the world”

This is kind of something I have to credit Lars von Trier with, which should explain the place being in nine. As the video shows, the question von Trier had tossed at him was so poorly worded and antagonistic in its nature that I am honestly surprised nobody in the room booed the guy for asking it.

That von Trier defends himself as not needing to explain the nature of his film is adequate and understandable. That he goes on a mini-tirade about how critics shouldn’t ask him to explain his films, that he does not need to justify himself, and ends it on the tongue-in-cheek is a little more tolerable than Kevin Smith’s own infamous critic rant at Sundance. von Trier’s statement that the audience is his guest and he’s not theirs implies that there’s no two-street in cinematic communication.

By the way, any move by von Trier could easily be on this list, but I settled for the most obvious point.

8. Fantastic Four – “It’s Clobberin’ Time”

It was super early in the film but the moment the 2015 attempted reboot introduced the Thing’s most beloved catchphrase by giving it to Ben Grimm’s abusive older brother as he pummels our hero, there was one thought that crossed my mind “I think Josh Trank either hates comic books or hates his life.”

Given the way his career has developed, I’d be unsurprised if it was the latter.

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7. Alien 3 – Killing Hicks and Newt

People like to claim that there’s no way there could have been a sequel to Aliens made without the killing-off of Hicks and Newt before the opening credits even finished up, but I have a couple of responses to that:

1 – The Dark Horse comic series Aliens happens to disagree with you and while I haven’t followed it since high school, at the time of my abandoning it, I can tell you it was a much much better written follow-up than Alien 3.

2 – I really doubt in all the brainstorming and last minute story developments that 20th Century Fox made for the film (y’all remember when the teaser trailer stated the movie would take place on Earth… back when Renny Harlin was attached and what a bullet they dodged with that director… and “everyone can hear you scream”, WTF? That’s the best tagline they could come up with?) they couldn’t possibly conceive of a story with Hicks and Newt’s involvement. They’re extremely crafty yet mortal characters, if you wanted to kill them, you could give them more dignity.

3 – Maybe we didn’t need another Alien film after Aliens? The fact that the heavily flawed Prometheus is the best film in the franchise since Aliens suggests that.

By the way, speaking of Renny Harlin…

6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master – Freddy Krueger is revived by way of…

You know what? I’ll let you witness it yourself.

No comment.

5. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen/Bad Boys II – Animals fucking.

Speaking of a filmmaker for whom every single thing he does could be counted on this list (I almost went with one of the great number of tasteless scenes in Pearl Harbor – “I think WWII just started” or FDR getting the fuck out of his chair)…

“I make movies for teenage boys. Oh, dear, what a crime.”

What the fuck kids do you have, man?!

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4. Funny Games – Michael Haneke remaking it for American audiences

A sort of moral superiority within the original 1997 Austrian film Funny Games was prevalent (as well as hypocrisy in Haneke trying to moralize against the audience by using overt violence that his own filmmaking enjoys) before Haneke even started talking about Tarantino.

No, but remaking his own movie, shot-by-shot in English for an American audience… now that was something different. That was Haneke saying “yeah, THIS particular audience is stupider than all the others and not only do they not read subtitles…” – which… to be fair, he’s not wrong to think – “… but they also are exactly the sort of ingrates who should be shamed.”

Thanks, Haneke.

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3. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – Existing

James Cameron cannot catch a break, man.

It’s not that Terminator 2: Judgment Day gave what was meant to be a finite end-note for his Terminator films, but that the finite element IS the moral of the whole movie. You can work, you can fight for your fate, nothing is written for you. The future is yours! It’s a completely uplifting theme and something to hold to heart.

If you wanted Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines to exist so fucking badly, you have really hate Terminator 2 to make that movie.

And so I guess the people who made it did. They don’t think they hate Terminator 2, but given that they produced the hands-down worst movie of the franchise… they totally hate it.

2. Stonewall – Whitewash the story

You can’t trust Roland Emmerich to make a good movie and you can’t trust him to take a very important event in history and treat it with gravitas. There is no worse case of Hollywood whitewashing than the man who gave you Godzilla and Independence Day: Resurgence tackling the LGBT liberation riots at Manhattan’s Stonewall and ignoring all the racial and genderfluid diversity of one of the most diverse events in modern history to let a white cismale literally rip the brick out of the hand of Marsha P. Johnson and throw the first brick.

Emmerich’s response?

“I didn’t make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people.”

“As a director you have to put yourself in your movies, and I’m white and gay.”

Cool, guy.

And the Most Obvious Moment of Audience Contempt Goes to…

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  1. X-Men Origins: Wolverine – Barakapool

I kind of didn’t want to put this at number one because I honestly don’t give a shit. I stopped giving a shit before 2010 even ended and well before FOX fixed their move with Deadpool, but when you have a character recognized specifically for his personality and chatter and acknowledge it in his first few scenes, you can’t be very much surprised when that characters’ fans are gonna come after you to have literally removed that personality and sewed shut the lips of the Merc with a Mouth. That Ryan Reynolds’ performance in his first scenes were annoyingly toneless and devoid of anything close to charisma (though he got way better in the 2016 film) doesn’t halt how obvious it is that FOX is giving Deadpool’s cult fans the finger.

Shit, if I were Ryan Reynolds even if I hated the character, I’d be trying to appease them with a spin-off too.

Honorable Mention: Psycho – Explain-a-plot

I get that all of the defenses are trying to be “back in the day, they didn’t really understand the psychology behind Norman” and here’s my thing, when I first saw the movie at age 17, I didn’t understand the psychology behind Norman as a character either, but I could recognize it and I could accept it in the moment.

I did not need a monologue that is 3 years long to tell me the psyche of Norman Bates and that monologue halted the movie so hard, I swear I got motherfucking whiplash.

But I understand the defense still, so I don’t list it. Just put it in honorable mentions.

I Wanna Be Elected

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So here I’ve been bitching and moaning about what in the Purge series of films is entirely unrealistic in this world and you know what’s really the biggest thing I find more unbelievable about the universe than its magic economics or its mostly well-behaved citizens who have never heard of drugs or hacking?

The concept that a woman could stand a hell of a chance at the presidential seat.

In spite of that unattainable fantasy, The Purge: Election Year is certainly the most improved of the franchise to this point yet. Ignoring the existence of the Rick and Morty episode. Which I shouldn’t have to say since it’s not part of the franchise. It’s still not much more than another of writer-director James DeMonaco’s (the same man who helmed the last two and thus conceived of the franchise to begin with) riffs at Assault on Precinct 13 and all the other John Carpenter films he has seen in his life, but it’s the first one where DeMonaco has given us a real gift he’s never given us before – a script with a very clear objective from the start to the finish (hey hey hey, maybe he saw the Rick and Morty episode) and a clear eagerness to expand on the The Purge universe as much as we can so that we’re not bitching and moaning about the make-up of it like I do.

Also, for a Carpenter riff, this is one of the more watchable ones, with the smoky streets covered in grungy night blues and hot burning yellows. DeMonaco has is clearly growing somewhat as a filmmaker (probably using the Purge films as his personal exercises) and while he still can’t shoot action scenes to save his life (unfortunate because once again, The Purge: Election Year has a plethora of shootouts), he’s got the ability to lay the urban atmosphere and necessity for the characters to lay low as they journey the streets from point to point like your good ol’ Carpenter did, only not remotely as good. Not even close to as good as Carpenter, but recognizable.

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Anyway those points are attached to the plot and all of those are attached to universe being expanded so let’s point out how Election Year does so: as its name suggests, it is the first time we see a bit of the infrastructure of the government that brought up the Purge to begin with in the middle of its election year. At a huge lead over her opponent for the presidency is Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a candidate whose biggest platform is her intentions to abolish the Purge (as much as I made that snarky Clinton comment at the top, I had the biggest Bernie Sanders feeling from the character). This obviously doesn’t roll with the New Founding Fathers of America and so they revoke one of the central rules for this year’s Purge – the protection of government officials. The idea that anybody in this universe could have even a cursory understanding of politics – and given The Purge: Anarchy and especially a second plot in this film, we should assume it’s common – and not recognize this as a ploy on Roan’s life is comedic, but moving on.

Roan decides she’ll wait this out within her own home with her elite squad of TOTALLY incorruptible guards and it’s no big surprise when the security is indeed compromised and she’s forced out on the street with that one still breathing incorruptible guard who turns out to be… hey hey hey our old superpal sergeant from The Purge: Anarchy, once again played by Frank Grillo and even given an actual name this time around as Leo Barnes.

Their journeys find them the aid of a local shop owner Joe (Mylketi Williamson) who was forced to defend his shop for the night when his insurance premium went up at the last second, aided by his employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) and… I want to say, first responder – even though that goes way against the fact that emergency services are suspended during this night – Laney (Betty Gabriel). This caravan attempts to enlist the help of the same revolutionary anti-Purge group introduced in Anarchy and so the destinations are just as clear.

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Once again, this lends itself to a whole lot of political and social commentary like DeMonaco is so eager to do and once again in the form of extremely clumsy arguments about urban crime, lower-class struggling, Republican eagerness to prevent separation of church and state, and… ugh… maybe this is just dismissive of me, but the way that Roan is presented as a great white hope to a majorly black cast and population is what really makes The Purge: Election Year have an incredibly bad taste in my mouth. Like I began this series with, I don’t like bad arguments for my ideals and I wonder if DeMonaco truly realized what he was doing when he basically had a premise that was a group of minorities with guns dying for this one blonde white woman who was saying she was going to make things better, but there it is. That’s only the objectionable aspect of the films’ political commentary… most of it seems eager to show off the little bit of knowledge DeMonaco has about the electoral process like it’s not something people learn in high school.

And even then the film starts getting all tangled between the guerilla and political side of the story to the point that I can hardly give a clear explanation of what happens in the final third beyond a series of loud once again incomprehensibly edited gun battles that lose all of that measured thriller sensibility. Hell, the only reason I can tell what side is what side is because frankly the good guy in a shootout in this film is black or latino or Frank Grillo and the bad guy is absolutely a white man in a suit. The final act of The Purge: Election Year is absolutely its laziest, even when it reaches its final beats and just apes protest movements (not sure if its meant to be a comment on BlackLivesMatter) in the least subtle manner it can, right down to it concluding in the super obvious shot of an American flag waving as a news broadcast talks about the social consequences of the ending note.

In spite of all this clumsiness and even while I come here to bury the movie, it is hard to recognize how DeMonaco IS growing more and more into a filmmaker and he’s inspired enough by what he’s created to try to figure out imaginary and sometimes genuinely manic ways to keep this world expanding, with the introduction of Murder Tourists – Europeans who travel on holiday to the United States specifically to take part in the Purge. This is maybe my single favorite element of the franchise – something above even Rick and Morty – and implies that perhaps DeMonaco will finally have his footing on a good movie next time around. He’s growing up. They grow up so fast.

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Shit, they already called the episode “Look Who’s Purging Now”?! What am I gonna call this review then?

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I continuously enjoy joking with my friends that – as a sign of the poor quality of The Purge franchise – the greatest Purge film remains, to date, one of the weakest episodes of Rick and Morty. By joke, I mean, I toss it flippantly but I do believe that. Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s animated series Rick and Morty does much much better with the concept of a Purge – a 12-hour time period when all robbery and murder is legalized on a population – than James DeMonaco did in three films of the same concept.

To contextualize, Rick and Morty is an animated series that airs on Adult Swim created by Roiland and Harmon. The series follows the continuous cosmic and dimensional adventures of Rick Sanchez, an elderly mad scientist who earns the title with his alcoholism, reckless devil-may-care attitude, and possible cornucopia of mental illness as he drags along his young and easily distressed grandson Morty Smith into different largely-dangerous scenarios (and occasionally his granddaughter and Morty’s sister Summer), to the dismay of Morty’s mother (and Rick’s daughter) Beth and Morty’s father Jerry. Both Rick and Morty are characters voiced by Roiland himself, Rick with a rough-throated husk and Morty with a nervous high-pitched shake that showcases his pre-pubescent adolescence. There are a lot of penises in this show.

The weakness in this particular episode of Rick & Morty comes from a sort of lack of inspiration in its premise and execution that a lot of season 2 happens to have (though several episodes of season 2 are also amongst the shows most daring and imaginative – the premiere and fourth episode of season 2 are my favorite in the series). It’s not new or rare for the series to completely lift its episode plots from popular movies – Jurassic Park, Inception, A Nightmare on Elm Street, hell the very animated models of Rick and Morty as characters is based on Doc Brown and Marty McFly from Back to the Future in animated stylization deliberately based off of The Simpsons. But this particular episode felt like in its plotting, it was scraping heavily from the bottom of the barrel just for incident, as Rick and Morty find themselves in a town going through its festival (which Rick immediately recognizes as a ‘Purge’). Whereas most of Rick & Morty’s episodes allow its characters to play around with its concept and turn it on its head, it’s plainly just a Purge parody this go around with no real twist such as mixing in the premise of Inception and Nightmare on Elm Street and making it lead to an army of android dogs or turning Jurassic Park into a map of the human body.

Still, I came to praise “Look Who’s Purging Now”, not to bury it and despite its lack of imagination, it remains the best of any Purge movie.

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What’s its big secret? Well, for one thing, the episode actually goes and specifies the crimes available to be murder and pillaging and nothing else. Unlike the film series’ claim that “all crime is legal” somehow being lucky to avoid embezzlement and bank robbery (what’s that about economic relief, DeMonaco?), mass suicides, and drug overdoses, “Look Who’s Purging Now” opens with Rick’s excitement at the concept elaborating it as “murdering and robbing each other” (pretty classy for a show that interrupted an episode with an attempted rape to not frivolously throw that out there as a legalized crime, but I digress).

The other is how even when this is among the shallowest stories in Rick and Morty’s run thus far, writers Harmon, Roiland, and Ryan Ridley find space in it to give at least some commentary at the expense of both Rick and Morty and while Morty find himself uncomfortably prone to catharsis in his later indulgence of killing, Rick’s early eagerness to witness the event before quickly growing sick about it in a sincere and off-put manner (as opposed to Rick’s characteristic apathy) is a worthy comment on the rubbernecking attitude of people about tragic or violent events (or violent movies such as The Purge). That would of course be ignoring the final massacre that Rick takes part in and facilitates, but I digress since Rick has always been established as a brutal man (which opens the show to have fun once our characters get involved in some bloodletting to the Tony! Toni! Tone! song “Feels Good”) and you can’t exactly trust a show between the juvenile attitudes of Roiland and the depressed nihilism of Harmon to be fully consistent with its themes all the time. It’s certainly not nuanced about its attitudes about the upper-class or the lack of practicality in utopian fantasy (which I guess gives it a new advantage over the Purge series in calling its sociological premise bullshit right at the very end of the episode where we don’t have to deal with it).

The third advantage “Look Who’s Purging Now” has is how it’s very clearly a plot that has an end goal beyond “let’s just wait out the whole night hoping we don’t die”. Rick and Morty are trapped on the planet by after being shipjacked and attacked and so their main objective is to find Rick’s ship and leave, not necessarily to simply survive. This translates to an urgency in the story, though the episode doesn’t see it all the way through. the B-plot of Summer and Jerry is kind of understandable as a necessity to Rick and Morty’s dilemma, but the scene where Summer and Jerry launch the suits and have an awkward conversation afterwards really stops everything flat for a moment just for another poke at how pathetic Jerry is as a person. It’s not entirely structurally sound even without that either, I get that Morty’s scene with the screenwriting lighthouse keeper leads to his first kill and is meant to be tedious and annoying, but it holds the whole thing flat.

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Even despite the morphed episode structure or the shallow plot or the fact that it doesn’t really give directors Dominic Polceno & Pete Michels and their animation team much room to be as creative and imaginative as the rest of the show loves to be (it’s a rural, practically Amish city with anthropomorphic dog-people living in it as opposed to episodes of monsters and planets with crazy shit growing out of it or different designs largely phallic in basis), it’s still an enjoyable episode. Certainly nothing I’d insist be somebody’s introduction to Rick and Morty (if not the pilot, just the second episode “Lawnmower Dog” would be my ideal introduction), but it’s just as funny as any of their other episodes and it’s hella better than anything DeMonaco has added to the Purge-iverse.

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Happy Crazy 88th, il Maestro!

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It’s probably a generally unhealthy and insecure way to have an opinion but as a general rule for me, if Mike Patton adores an artist, I’m probably going to love the hell out of him or her too.

Fortunately, I knew of Ennio Morricone before I even heard of Faith No More and I’m damn sure even if you haven’t heard Morricone’s name, you would recognize one of his scores. It’s one of the most recognizable motifs in all of cinema, bruh. It’s something that is quoted time and time again in movies just for the fun of it, starting with wild coyote scream that kicks it off and the guitar strum that sounds like its strings just boiled under the white hot Texas sun.

Yep, a long-time collaborator of Sergio Leone, Morricone’s work with the Italian director’s spaghetti Westerns is the stuff of legends and his score for The Good, the Bad, the Ugly is possibly the most recognizable film score that isn’t composed by John Williams. And that theme is not even my favorite work of his…

Metallica (spoiler alert in case you don’t get the name of this site, I am a Metallica fan) often opens their concerts (which I’ve attended twice now in my life, if you must know) with what is my favorite work of Morricone’s career, “The Ecstasy of Gold” also from The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. Just by itself with no accompaniment, it’s a heavenly choir of the most moving kind that wraps you around and builds up until it shows you the damn meaning of the word “climax”. It is the perfect way to pump someone up to inspire them, or to soundtrack a bandit’s frenzied lunatic race through the end of his journeys like in the film.

I’ve already waxed over my personal feelings over one of my favorite movies, The Battle of Algiers and probably brought up Morricone’s contribution as well, but I think it is worth doing so again when regarding how he recognizes the essential percussive element in translating a military or troop at movement intending to kill first and ask questions later. Obviously so much so to the point that Quentin Tarantino himself used the theme later on for his own guerilla army flick Inglourious Basterds.

Hell, even in movies that are absolutely unsalvageable, Morricone dives in to try to rescue them from themselves, like in John Boorman’s insane Exorcist II: The Heretic or the “you seriously expect us to take this seriously?” of Orca or the really obnoxious comedy of My Name Is Nobody. Hell, in the latter score, he’s able to manage to make even something so obviously meant to feel clumsy and flaccid feel heroic and stand-up when it’s time to gallop with the bass (of course, he uses some Wagner for help with that). In the former, he just does what he knows best: allow a female voice to lead a brass section to relaxed yet airy tones while underneath a chorus of light strings cover it (and he has some pretty dizzy out there stuff for The Exorcist II too, but I’m gonna stick with my favorites).

As My Name Is Nobody shows, even when Morricone was being derivative, he could still be on fire by knowing where imagination and where familiarity should come into place and having often just the right balance of both. In Once Upon a Time in America, his gift is to make us recognize the places Noodles revisits and gives them an aural nostalgia that taps into our own memory of songs we all know and love attaching the sentiment we already have to them to memories we don’t even get to live yet. If that doesn’t tell you the power of cinema, I don’t know what will! (This works so well in fact that given how much of the 4-hour runtime of the most-common cut of Once Upon a Time in America is spent making atmosphere for the film with slow shots, I think it could go with some cutting, though not to the infamous degree of its less-than-two-hours original cut. I’m sure such an opinion would have me drawn and quartered in the film lovers’ field, but there it is)

The only thing tougher than being sort of conservative in how many of Morricone’s works I flaunt is not showing you some of the most spoilerific scenes of Leone’s best picture in my opinion, Once Upon a Time in the West, for the score is almost certainly part of the amazing power of many of these moments and so I must settle for letting you sink into the theme of the great film and implore you watch it. All I will say is, you will never be able to look at a harmonica again without a deep sadness entering you.

But hey, it’s fine to just show you the music because a lot of these work without it. I mean, I can say I still haven’t seen The Mission in my life but I still find its theme replayable in my CD collection. It’s just too epic to leave alone and it shows Morricone’s ability to play into the grandioseness of classical music phrasing rather than just remaining on his personal jazz roots.

But it’s always when he’s at his most minimalist like with Leone that he’s at his best and he can be pretty unrecognizable at times. I swore on my soul until I was proven wrong that John Carpenter himself provided the bass-heavy yet subtle tones of his famous horror remake The Thing to accent the tension and paranoia amongst its characters and lo and behold, I found out upon my second viewing I was wrong. But maybe that’s because I shut the movie off as soon as credits began, I was only young in Algeria and had to walk back to my grandmother’s place in the middle of the night and that score kept me shuddering all the way along with the movie attached to it.

It’s one of the many uncharacteristic Morricone works in his career and one thing that can’t be denied is his willingness to experiment. Hell, just look at how off-kilter his score for A Fistful of Dollars is, it’s arguably the only original element in the whole uncredited Yojimbo remake. Or of Duck, You Sucker with its mechanical banging and clanging off-set by a light whistling tune.

Since, I got two of Leone’s Dollars trilogy mentioned, I may as well give you the single best thing about For a Few Dollars More as well, with El Indio being given such a tragic broken score to play along with any shot involving his pocketwatch and invoking just exactly what evil must have been commit to put this watch at the center of the film without us even realizing.

Last year, Morricone won his first competitive Oscar after 69 long years of legendary work for his score on long-time admirer Quentin Tarantino’s nihilistic western The Hateful Eight and my does his sound on that promise a lot of the doom and death that follow in that movie, especially in its languous opening credits alongside a cross nearly submerged in snow.

This is all just a long as damned way of saying that I truly admire Ennio Morricone’s work as one of my favorite composers to have ever graced cinema with his musical genius, basing so many of his compositions of the ratatatatat of jazz drums or blaring of the jazz trumpet and recognizing that in itself as

And so in a week with many low points, like the results of our already messed-up election or the news of Leonard Cohen’s death, I think it is necessary to force a high point for me and that may as well be celebrating the long and fully-lived 88 years of Morricone’s life on 10 November 2016.

Grazi, Maestro!

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I call bullshit AF.

Everybody Purge Tonight!

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So, I just bothered to state one of my biggest problems with The Purge as a movie is how it uses a convoluted concept – In the Future, the New Founding Fathers implication of a day where the citizens of the United States can commit whatever crime they want for 12 hours with no legal consequence – to set-up an uninspired, boring, and restrained home invasion horror/thriller. With a sequel comes the promise of a bigger budget, and so returning writer/director James DeMonaco smartly allowed himself to expand with the concept by presenting a mosaic narrative that eventually coalesces before the halfway point into a group of people who band together to survive the streets of downtown Los Angeles during Purge Night. This obviously gives the film both license and expectation to deliver on a sprawling city in the middle of its own chaos and so fixes the problem of The Purge’s swearing to ambition without dedicating itself to such.

Another big problem The Purge: Anarchy tries to solve: how its concept makes next to no sense with its claim that such a 12-hour thing means both a near non-existent crime record AND 1% unemployment are its result with phenomenal aid to the economy. It doesn’t exactly do this with much knowledge on economics, politics, or other sociological education that would probably easily disprove the ability for the Purge to exist in the real world, but it attempts a logic and set of rules to this environment and that means the world to me.

Both of these things mean identifying that The Purge: Anarchy is an overwhelmingly better movie than The Purge for me. And yet it’s still not entirely satisfying, but hey, improvement IS a positive.

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I did refer to Anarchy’s attempt to explain just why the Purge fixed the economy and crime so well and I may as well bring it up: Anarchy paints a much wider picture of classism than its predecessor by having the elite and wealthy (political leaders are immune to being purged) have particular stake in the ceremony, buying the poor and working-class or targeting them in the downtown and run-down areas of the cities to slaughter them en mass. Part of the manner they facilitate this is through auction for purgers and sending out government-sanctioned teams and gangs particularly intended on just grabbing and killing a bunch of folks from halfway houses. It takes a bunch of leaps with an absolute ignorance of micro- or macroeconomics to accept that, but on a conceptual child-brained level, one can see where “kill poor people” leads to “only rich people exist”. And like I said it is the thought that counts. The idea that crime goes down because you kill all your poor (and especially considering how many of the characters we witness as victims to the purgers are of minority races) leaves a very unsettling undertone of what DeMonaco might believe about them, but I gotta move on because I will be stuck on this concept forever.

In addition, it’s kind of still a really unambitious or unimaginative film we’re working on since in the vast potential of legalized crime for 12 hours we have only rape and murder attempted in the film. No drug use, no monetary crime, no open gambling, no littering, n—MOVING RIGHT THE FUCK ON.

Anyway, I may this film sound a lot more sprawling and vast in narrative landscape than it actually is and I should come clean: the closest we have to a protagonist, despite an ensemble cast, is an unnamed off-duty sergeant for the LAPD (Frank Grillo playing exactly the sort of discount Jon Bernthal role I expected him to play since I first noticed him in The Grey) as he roams the streets all loaded up to kill one particular man. The Sergeant is detoured from his mission when he decides to protect African-American waitress Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) from one of those Purge paramilitary trucks and in the middle of it, finding a pair of stowaways Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a married couple that got very unluckily stranded in the metro area and were being hunted by another Purge gang. This is very generous on the Sergeants’ part because it makes him the target of Big Daddy (Jack Conley)’s stalking, the leader of said paramilitary dressed like a member of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family. This is also generous because despite the Sergeant’s multiple guns and lethal/strategic training being the only thing that protects these five lives, Cali takes up a good amount of the movie scolding the shit out of the Sergeant for killing people and never ever ever shuts the fuck up. Which illustrates just how muddled The Purge: Anarchy is about its ethics to begin with.

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Grillo, being put in a role that feels tailor-made to typecast him for the rest of his life (granted, he also played a similar type months earlier in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), is one of the few sources of anything resembling personality (probably because he’s not as screechy as any of the characters surrounding him), with only Michael K. Williams chewing up as much scenery as he can in a very limited cameo where he plays an anti-Purge revolutionary Carmelo over several TV screens and John Beasley as Eva’s doomed father having his own remarkably shocking and moving arc taking place in a just-as-limited amount of screentime as Williams. Oh and otherwise, Edwin Hodges returns as the wounded intruder that started the plot of the first Purge film now siding alongside Carmelo’s group but I literally needed to be told the character was back and given a name of Bishop (he has a surname, but it switches off between this and the character’s subsequent appearance in The Purge: Election Year, so I won’t both).

Other than that, the people we spend this journey through the smoky, dark streets of L.A. are a bigger nightmare than all the carnage that surrounds them. That the moments where the movie tries to go much much harder on its satiric edge and political commentary than its predecessor (such as when we have to sit through the middle-class Purge party of Eva’s co-worker, despite Eva being shown as a waitress barely making ends meet and implying that he co-worker is on the same level) have more energy than the actual action-thriller element of The Purge: Anarchy still implies that DeMonaco is so much more invested in making his commentary function more than the movie overall. All the moments in between of The Sergeant and company struggling to make through the night are more sleep-inducing than thrilling, going through a monotonous promise that Big Daddy and the rest of the bad guys are right behind them but here is where we can just walk and talk and HERE IS WHERE WE HAVE TO RUN. Maybe it’s the hypnotic rhythm that gives those moments their predictability even for people who haven’t seen a single movie in their life that also gives them that sleepy quality.

That is, save for the climactic maze battle where it shows such a dissonant inability to frame or cut gunfight action worth a damn – a possibly seizure inducing morse code of white flashes and light where it takes a while for me to realize who is shot and whether or heroes survive – that it maybe explains why DeMonaco has to spend so much effort on his moralistic themes than anything else or why The Purge tried really hard to keep itself in one location. He can’t really provide a well-crafted movie or script if he tried. But at least that moment is one of the few moments where The Purge: Anarchy wakes up as a film and if it just happens to also be the action scene where it does, well… I guess we can be generous. This movie (and franchise) needs it.

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It’s Your Civic Duty to Purge

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There’s a quote by Daniel C. Dennett that goes “there’s nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view I hold dear.” I can think of more than a few things I personally like less than those, but it doesn’t stop me from hating a movie that tries to advocate ideals and principles I like to identify with and hold highly and that’s probably front and center as a reason why I hate James DeMonaco’s popular dystopian future The Purge series. All three of them are shamelessly bad arguments for the sort of social ideals I hold dear, largely held up by laughably convoluted and illogical concepts meant for world-building, on top of other dysfunctional elements in its aesthetics or its craft.

But I come to bury those movies one by one and so I must begin by aiming my sights at the very first 2013 film that started it all, The Purge. And its first damning mistake is to base its premise on a very underwhelming smothering of ambition the likes of which you only know to come from two kinds of movies: small-budgeted films that don’t know how to make every cent count and uninspired early works of a still green director. Of which The Purge is both, written and directed by DeMonaco himself (after a career of writing screenplays that include Francis Ford Coppola’s “man grows up to be Robin Williams” horror film Jack and the empty 2005 remake of Assault on Precinct 13), who would go on to helm all three movies.

DeMonaco’s concept: In the near future, America is run by the shady New Founding Fathers who had instituted a policy shortly after their election calling the Purge. For 12 consecutive hours, all crime is made legal and emergency services are suspended (there are caveats to this, but let’s not make this summary more complex than it is). The purpose behind this is to lower crime and unemployment and fix the diving economy and somehow it works against any real logic. Unemployment is down to 1% and the cities are completely crimeless and the best one can guess is the catharsis of being able to do whatever they want, but man is it a stretch.

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Of course, I’m ignoring how the sequel The Purge: Anarchy tries haphazardly to give an answer (partly because it is not a good one) as we’re dealing with the first movie and that’s a very fair trade to the movie in exchange for ignoring how it simply is derivative of the Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons” or the matter that the concept is simply a long and convoluted set-up for a very unimaginative home invasion thriller.

Yep, in an implied world where a whole city has the right to perform crime, The Purge restrains itself to mostly one setting as though it needed the outside world implication to have these characters play-out a lesser John Carpenter film, but I said I’d ignore that so here I go ignoring that.

I will not ignore that The Purge is a bad home invasion thriller, though. That’s on them.

The home being invaded belongs to the Sandins – patriarch James (Ethan Hawke), matriarch Mary (Lena Headley), their teenage daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane), and youngest child Charlie (Max Bunkholder). The four of them intend to spend the night holed up in their home fitted with a security system James designed and made a fortune off of selling, but that goes sour by several things: the first being how Charlie lets in an apparently frightened and wounded African-American man (Edwin Hodges) and that gives James a wild goose chase to suffer through in his own home. The second being how Zoey’s boyfriend Henry (Rhys Wakefield) sneaks into the home with the intent of shooting and killing James, quickly dispatched with so easily it’s hard to wonder how that was supposed to have any consequence on the story whatsoever. Zoey clearly doesn’t have to think very long to believe her dad defended his life and his family. Maybe it was just supposed to be a distraction.

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Still there’s one more thing we can’t be generous to The Purge and ignore: the fact that both Charlie and Henry have to commit very stupid and illogical actions to propel the plot, even for characters their age (Henry, in any case, is implied to be old enough to put James on edge about him dating Zoey – but I think he’d be much edgier if he were aware of how the movie itself lingers on Zoey during her make-out scene with Henry). And when we set that aside, the movie still has to fill the rest of its 85-minutes (by which point, Henry’s death is around the 30-minute mark) with some uninspired and repetitive shots in the dark blue halls of James searching for their intruder. Nothing in the script is given for Hawke or Headley to imply that they were not given a thankless job on-set and the movie can only move forward when we find out what the intruder was running from:

A gang of preppy Ivy League students, the main leader and mouthpiece being the biggest posterchild for blond white privilege (Tony Oller) stating that if the Sandins don’t surrender their intruder, they will be breaking into the home and murdering all of them. When the Sandins prove unable and unwilling to acquiesce to this request, the students make good on their promise by making little work of James’ security system and the movie begins to actually speed up in its climax, but that climax provides nothing we haven’t seen before from the 70s to 90s and it is abruptly stopped with still a good 10-15 minutes for the movie to crawl through.

Here’s the thing about the movie that irks me most: it swears to be a satire, but two things about it break it before it even has a chance to make its case. The first being that it’s not subtle by any means and we know all the things it is commenting about: the white rich kids killing a scared black man, the willingness of the Sandins to use torture at one point in order to save their own lives, the tribal element of affluency and classism, the injustice of politics and its absolute disinterest in the well-being of its subjects, it’s all there and it’s frankly mostly things that I vehemently agree with. But I can’t say I enjoy the hamfisted delivery of these ideals nor do I think a film is remotely intelligent for just using such a banal premise to deliver those ideals. I can’t imagine that a person would watch The Purge and change their mind on any political matter.

But it also fails as satire because I can’t think of a single damn element of the film that is meant to be… y’know, comic. Save for one line delivery by Headley at the very end of the movie that only comes about from once again a character making a stupid decision and the movie refusing to be aware of how stupid it was. It dedicates itself to making this so dark and solemn and serious that it just doesn’t leave itself breathing space for levity and humor. The lack of subtlety isn’t even a source of humor, it’s a source of mortification where we watch a tied-up man stabbed and shocked over and over again into submission. Every single idea it has is delivered in the most straight-laced manner implying that we have to take things seriously because the Sandins’ lives are in danger, but it can’t have its cake and eat it too. It can’t try to get us fearful for the Sandins’ lives and try to use their plight as the source for some guffaws. It also can’t get us fearful for the Sandins’ lives because by the end of the movie, not a one of them are sympathetic in the slightest and that’s even regarding that there is at least one casualty amongst the family before the night is over.

It also swears it is a horror film, but at least the doll-faced porcelain masks the gang stole from the set of The Strangers are spooky enough to lend it maybe a bit of credence to that claim. Nothing else about works in that order, except to frighten me on the fact that the movie made enough money to spawn a franchise.

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