The Forever Purge(7/5/2021)
The Purge franchise might be unique among horror series in that it actually gets a lot more ambitious and political as it goes. The first movie basically sucked but over the course of its five movie run it has expanded and become increasingly bold in its provocations… but that’s not to say any of these movies are actually great because they aren’t. The basic premise at the center of all of them remains absolutely ridiculous and implausible and none of them are really as smart or as effective as they think they are, but they are consistently doing things with genre that I at least find interesting. The last movie, The First Purge, was rather overly attempting to be the “Black Lives Matter” tinged Purge movie for better or worse and this latest installment, The Forever Purge, is set on the Mexican border and looks at Trump era xenophobia (it was supposed to come out before the election but got delayed by the pandemic). In this one the actual night of “The Purge” (a “holiday” in the dystopian future of the series’ world in which all laws are suspended for a night so people can get out their murderous urges) only takes up about fifteen minutes of screen time and the rest of the movie depict the day after when (in an act of coordination and secrecy that is wildly unbelievable) a group of disaffected purgers decide to continue the purge past its legal boundaries into what is essentially a right wing populist revolution of ethnic cleansing where rich snobs and immigrants are the first ones against the wall. With this movie the series has basically stopped being anything resembling a pure horror work and becomes more of a low budget action movie but also one that’s very interested in western iconography and the resulting movie is an interesting mashup of genres. It is not, however, a movie with terribly interesting characters to empathize with and its individual sequences never rise too far above the level of average. Still, I’m fascinated by just how openly mainstream horror movies have been allowed to become and admire just how boldly Blumhouse has been willing to expand on this wacky concept in order to make these movies fit the times.
*** out of Five
No Sudden Move(7/13/2021)
Celebrities love Steven Soderbergh and he loves them… sometimes to a detriment. Dude often assembles casts that are so packed with talent that looking at all the names on the poster gives you expectations for some of his movies that they aren’t even really trying to live up to. To some extent that’s the case with his latest film No Sudden Move, which sure has an impressive cast but which perhaps has more modest goals than the pedigree might suggest. On the other hand this crime film is probably more straightforward and accessible than some of his more experimental films where he seems more interested in noodling around with digital cameras than with the story at hand. Though not based on one of his books, this definitely feels like a bit of a tribute to the works of Elmore Leonard (the source of Soderbergh’s popular Out of Sight) and concerns a crew of fallible criminals who are all plotting and scheming against each other and it does a good job of introducing a whole bunch of characters in the first half and then have them double, triple, quadruple, and quintuple-cross each other for most of the second half. Ed Solomon screenplay doesn’t necessarily re-invent the wheel but it is certainly fun and you can appreciate its intricacy. I also think the cast shows up for the most part and do some good work, especially David Harbour (who’s almost unrecognizable) and Amy Seimetz.
But where I think the movie stumbles a bit is actually with Soderbergh’s direction, and especially his cinematography because I think his camera nerdery gets the best of him here. I don’t really know enough about the intricacies of filmmaking to fully diagnose this but he seems to be using some sort of weird-ass lens to film this thing that gives the whole picture an odd curvature of sorts, especially whenever the camera pans left or right, almost like it was filmed to be viewed in VR or something. I didn’t care for that at all and didn’t think it really fit the film’s 1950s setting. Maybe he was going for a sort of intentional filmic anachronism à la Michael Mann’s Public Enemies but I mostly found it to be an eyesore. Beyond that I’m just not sure Soderbergh’s heart was in this thing; you can imagine a version of this made by a younger filmmaker taking this script and trying to turn it into his calling card but Soderbergh kind of approaches it the way a guy with thirty films under his belt and ten more projects planned and you kind of get the feeling that he’s kind of bored with it beyond a couple of ideas he’s experimenting with. That’s a feeling I got anyway, but I don’t want to over-state it too much, even a bored and disengaged Soderbergh is still a better than average filmmaker and he’s working with some good material here and the resulting movie still has quite a bit going for it in spite of itself.
***1/2 out of Five
Space Jam: A New Legacy(7/16/2021)
Space Jam: A New Legacy is not exactly a movie I had high expectations for, and were it not for the fact that it was readily available on HBO Max I almost certainly wouldn’t have seen it. That, however, proved to be a rather appropriate medium to watch the movie as the film turns out to be something of a feature length advertisement for that streaming service. The film in many ways feels like Warner Brothers doing everything in their power to sell themselves as a brand in the way that Disney so often sells itself, unlike the 1995 Michael Jordan vehicle this is based on in which Jordan was simply sent to “Tune World” this film sees Lebron James uploaded into a computer world based around the entirety of Warner Brothers’ intellectual property. We see “DC World,” fly past “Harry Potter World,” “Matrix World” and in some particularly undignified moments we see the cartoon characters inserted into scenes from The Matrix, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Casablanca and when the film’s central basketball game starts they’re being spectated by damn near every character from Warner Brothers history including but not limited to: Pennywise from It, the Batman and Robin version of Mr. Freeze, and of all things the Droogs from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. It’s all very Ready Player One, which has proven to be oddly influential on the films of 2021 but at least that movie had the dignity to stamp the Warner Brothers logo all over all its IP pilfering. Of course commercialization is to be expected from a damn Space Jam sequel, the original movie was basically a feature length version of a series of Nike commercials after all, still there is something rather obscene about watching a major corporate media company suck its own dick for two hours.
Having said all that… if you want to watch an insidious act of synergy gone wrong this one isn’t poorly made. At the very least I think it has a lot more going for it than that old movie. Lebron James is probably a better screen presence than Jordan was (not that I’d particularly want to see him play anyone other than himself) and Don Cheadle is plainly have a lot of fun as the film’s villain. The film’s technical aspects will also hold up a lot better than the original films and I thought the CGI version of the “tunes” looked a lot better than they needed to. I doubt the film will impress Looney Tunes purists I do think the film showcases those characters better than the first film did and the film’s six writers find some moments of comedy I was amused by (along with other moments that are plainly cringe). And while I can rag on the film for its shameless showing off of Warners IP I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get some fun out of playing Easter Egg Where’s Waldo with some of the characters in that crowd. Does any of this make up for the fact that this whole project is basically the world’s most expensive company picnic video? Well, my mind says “no” but my heart says “maybe.” Again, whatever enjoyment I got out of this thing were because of subterranean expectations but those low expectations were exceeded by quite a bit more than I expected.
**1/2 out of Five
Pig is a movie that kind of snuck up on me. It didn’t really have much of a festival run, it was from a first time director, and while Nicholas Cage has made a lot of great movies he’s also kind of diluted his brand by making a ton of weird B-movies and you’re never sure whether you’re getting a “real” movie from him or not. Oddly I think Neon’s marketing has largely encouraged the belief that this is one of his odd cult movies than it really is. The film concerns a recluse who lives in a remote cabin in the woods who spends most of his days searching for truffles with a pet pig who can sniff those valuable items out. But when people break into his home and kidnaps the swine he sets out to find the hog, which will entail an adventure through the cut-throat underworld of Portland’s farm-to-table suppliers. The movie is not really the violent revenge film it sounds like and occasionally teases its audience into thinking it will be, which may disappoint some audiences and may lead other audiences to be pleasantly surprised to the point where they perhaps over-rate it a bit. I do hesitate to even mention its more gentle side because on some level I think the film intends to sort of subvert expectations but priming certain audiences what to expect is sort of one of the jobs of a review. First time writer and director Michael Sarnoski brings an impressive grasp of tone in the film and I’m interested to see where he goes from here, though I do think he still has a bit more work to do before I’m going to declare him a major voice. The movie he has given us is solid but I feel like there’s an ingredient missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. Its finale relies on a form of persuasion that’s interesting but which I also didn’t entirely buy and there are a couple of other points I found a bit odd, but overall this is a pretty good indie which will serve as one of the few bits of counter-programing we get in this otherwise confused summer.
***1/2 out of Five
Believe me, no one wanted to see M. Night Shyamalan succeed more than me. The dude emerged as a major filmmaker right when I was first getting into film and I believed the hype when Newsweek mused that he may be “the next Spielberg.” But then The Village disappointed, Lady in the Water baffled, and The Happening bewildered. I didn’t stick around for such indignities as his The Last Airbender or After Earth but I was a bit surprised when the public seemed to give him a second chance in the last few years. Split was a surprise hit and its follow-up Glass was considered something of a major release… which surprises me because these movies, while indeed an improvements over some of the guy’s low points, still had a lot of the same oddness and miscalculations of Shyamalan’s failures. Then when I saw the trailer to his new movie Old I must say I groaned a little. The film, which envisions a hidden beach on an island resort that traps people and makes them suddenly age rapidly, was a premise that seemed inherently off-putting to me and the thought of Shyamalan specifically directing these adult actors to act like children seemed to have the potential for unintentional comedy. I was bracing for this to be a disaster of The Happening proportions, but when reviews came in they were… mixed, and there was talk about there being some kind of wacky ending and at a certain point I just needed to see this thing for myself.
This is being advertised as a horror movie but it’s not really trying to be “scary” so much as it’s trying to riff on the existential fear of aging and bodily decay, which isn’t an inherently terrible idea but its execution here is lacking. The film offers basically no explanation for the aging phenomenon here beyond “it’s magic,” which is fine but its reasons for why tourists are showing up on this beach are kind of crazy and don’t really hold up to even the slightest scrutiny. Additionally I think Shyamalan kind of misunderstands the kind of movie that this premise invites. This rapid aging idea would seem to be one that would lend itself to a wildly transgressive work of body horror that would revel in the gore of bodily decay but Shyamalan instead tries to turn it into something of a mass market PG-13 movie that shies away from some of the crazier aspects of the premise. The camera needs to shy away from things like an impromptu tumor surgery or a rapid body decay and there’s something that transpires between two of the child turned adult characters that is absolutely insane but which the movie basically glosses past instead of lingering on the ramifications. Speaking of those child turned adult characters, the movie basically sidesteps a lot of the implications of that, the performances weren’t as painful as I was expecting but that’s partly because they just kind of stop acting like children at a certain point as if maturity is primarily rooted in brain development rather than life experience. Beyond that, while this is nothing as embarrassing as The Happening there are still off-putting Shyamalanisms here like odd character traits and botched line readings. I will give it this, I was never really bored watching the movie and the scenery was certainly nice, but whatever opportunity was there for something really memorable was not achieved.
** out of Five