The Purge (2013)

The Purge

(R) 1h 25 min

Plot Summary: In the future, a wealthy family is held hostage for harboring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized.

Director & Writer: James DeMonaco

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must See) From a strictly artistic standpoint, this is not a great movie.  Some of the scenes are hokey, and the character development lacks enough depth to inspire your investment in the protagonists. However,  its plot is pretty unique, the socioeconomic conversations it inspires could go on for days, and, frankly, it’s a pop culture icon (as we discussed in Episode 19 of the podcast, and as further detailed in IMDB’s The Purge trivia page, this film has inspired a few major horror maze/experience productions). Hawke manages to transcend the script with his usual intensity, and it’s pretty different to see Headey in such a morally upright and vulnerable role.

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Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel

(PG-13) 2h, 23min

Plot Summary: Kal-El, one of the last of an extinguished race disguised as an unremarkable human, is forced to reveal his identity when Earth is invaded by an army of survivors who threaten to bring the planet to the brink of destruction.

Director: Zack Snyder

Writers: David S. Goyer (screenplay & story), Christopher Nolan (story), Jerry Siegel (Superman created by), Joe Shuster (Superman created by)

Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must See) This is new and improved Superman. Today’s audiences generally don’t care for flawless characters who are all-powerful, morally inpenetrable, and have all the answers to every problem in life. Snyder and company dirty Superman up a bit, focusing on his formative years. You can recognize Nolan’s influence on this film. Viewers get to observe as young Kal struggles with impossible situations to develop his moral compass, as well as to survive battles in which he is the underdog. Theology fans will appreciate the many subtle biblical analogies inherent throughout the movie.

As we discussed in Episode 23, Part 1, of the podcast, not since Christopher Reeve has any actor embodied this role so effectively that it becomes hard to picture anyone else playing Superman, and Cavill does so while changing the direction of the character. Not only is Cavill utterly convincing in his gritty portrayal of Superman’s loneliness, confusion, bottled-up anger, idealism, and loyalty, but he even looks more like Superman than anyone else that has ever worn the costume.  Beyond having the strong jaw, cleft chin, and piercing blue eyes, acccording to IMDB, Cavill trained for 11 months to take his already-V-shaped physique to the next level, ingesting five 1,000-calorie shakes a day to bulk up, then dropping to 1,500 calories a day to shred to 7% body fat, all while shunning steroids and working out with Gym Jones trainer Mark Twight until he couldn’t walk out of the gym. Snyder made it a point to include shirtless scenes in the film just to show that Cavill’s hard work on his body was real and not just the costume or CGI.

However, at least from an acting perspective, Cavill does not do all the heavy lifting by himself. The rest of the cast is top-notch.  As also discussed on the podcast, Shannon established his own intense and unyielding interpretation of General Zod. Adams portrays Lois Lane as a combat journalist, which gives the character a very different dynamic than the passive, helpless cheerleader that she has been in the past. Russell CroweAyelet Zurer, Diane Lane, and Kevin Costner not only make you care about Superman’s parents through their charismatic performances, but their characters are also legends to the map of Superman’s psyche, through which you can recognize aspects of his personality and moral code.

The visual effects in this film are stunning. They are everything that you could ask for in terms of big explosions, mind-blowing CGI, and breathtaking scenery. Krypton is its own character in this movie.

My only disappointment was that some hokiness was present throughout the film, beyond what is inherent in a comic book. For instance, it is silly to have a school bus full of kids plummet off a bridge, hit the water, and cut to every kid in the bus still sitting in their seats, unharmed; the impact with the water would have resulted in numerous injuries and kids flying all over the bus.

The Amazing Spiderman (2012)

Amazing Spiderman

(PG-13) 2 h, 16 min

Plot Summary: After Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically altered spider, he gains newfound, spider-like powers and ventures out to solve the mystery of his parent’s mysterious death.

Director: Marc Webb

Writers: James Vanderbilt (screenplay & story), Alvin Sargent (screenplay), Steve Kloves (screenplay), Stan Lee (based on the Marvel comic book by), Steve Ditko (based on the Marvel comic book by)

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  As we discussed in Episode 23, Part 1, of the podcast, we love the Spiderman character, and Garfield not only does him justice, but he also presents a unique and charismatic version of Peter Parker that is even more interesting than when he dons the mask. Emma Stone brings The Girlfriend Experience, making Gwen Stacy endearing in her own right, not just because of how much the hero cares for her. Martin Sheen and Sally Field not only make you care about Uncle Ben and Aunt May, but they show you aspects of Spiderman that Garfield can’t by himself. Denis Leary really manages to walk that fine line between pompous jerk and loyal protector right into the viewer’s heart. In short, the acting is phenomenal.

Unfortunately, the storyline is nothing special, and the movie is too often unnecessarily hokey (Really? Is it that easy to break into a high-security lab with genetically unstable spiders?), which conflicts with the film’s more gritty tone. This film feels more like a background setup for sequel, which I have yet to see, but which I’m hoping will take the franchise to the next level, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier did for its franchise.

Gridiron Gang (2006)

(PG-13) 2 hrs, 5 mins

(PG-13) 2 hrs, 5 mins

Plot Summary: Teenagers at a juvenile detention center, under the leadership of their counselor, gain self-esteem by playing football together.

Director: Phil Joanou

Writers: Jeff Maguire, Jac Flanders (film “Gridiron Gang”)

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Xzibit, L. Scott Caldwell

Serious Jest:animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching) An inspiring true story. As you see in the credits, a significant number of movie quotes came straight from the real Sean Porter, who appears to be white. I guess Hollywood wanted to avoid the white-savior trope, but given how great this real-life story is, they didn’t need to reverse whitewash it…then again, Johnson played the hell out of this role (even if it’s not a huge stretch in range). And if you are a football fan like me, there was plenty of action with good camera work to maximize your enjoyment of the games.

Changeling (2008)

Changeling

(R) 2 hrs, 21 mins

Plot Summary: A grief-stricken mother takes on the LAPD to her own detriment when it stubbornly tries to pass off an obvious impostor as her missing child, while also refusing to give up hope that she will find him one day.

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Colm Feore, Amy Ryan

Serious Jest:animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)(Must Watch)  The film is set mostly in the 1920s, but the hokiness of some of its scenes (although, according to IMDB, “Virtually every event depicted in the film appears as cited in legal documents, with dialog often taken verbatim from court transcripts”) and its sappy score are straight out of the 1990s. However, all of that is overcome by tremendous acting performances, especially from Jolie (but not Eddie Alderson, who was not convincing as Sanford Clark), as well as by the incredible story, which is mostly true.

I can’t believe that this could happen to somebody. This is yet another frightening example of the dangers inherent in handing over unchecked power to any law enforcement organization. If we do not pay attention to history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Additionally, this story reminds me of the value of today’s technology and social media. While many complain about how much easier it is to invade someone’s privacy, it is also a lot easier to expose corruption. Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant…these cases are not a new trend developing amongst police departments. This kind of rampant corruption and abuse of authority has existed for long before anyone can remember. But now we finally have the tools to expose them.

And it’s not just the police. As an attorney, I have personally stopped a mental health professional from wrongfully committing a person to a mental health institution over what basically amounted to a petty verbal argument between the doctor and the patient.

Respect to Straczynski for getting this movie made. This is where filmmaking crosses over into activism. If someone just told you the facts of this case, you might struggle to fathom how this would play out in actuality…how many people would have to screw up, be complicit, or just flat out do nothing to perpetuate this evil…and just how many people would have to decide to do the right thing, even at risk to their own career, financial interests, or even personal safety, in order to unf*ck this mess. This movie very effectively portrays how this unfortunate situation could very plausibly go down…and while there are many more checks and balances today to help prevent some of the previous injustices from happening again, perhaps some who would previously dismiss all police corruption and mental health abuse as wild conspiracy theories might have their minds changed just a little bit by this film.

Dog Soldiers (2002)

(R) 105 mins

(R) 105 mins

Plot Summary: A routine military exercise turns into a nightmare in the Scotland wilderness.

Director & Writer: Neil Marshall

Stars: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  Think Predator, but with worse dialogue and much worse special effects (ironically, 15 years later). The “dog soldiers” were laughable.

It’s a shame because the plot and its twists had some real potential. Some of the actors, such as McKidd and Cleasby, were also pretty competent. Finally, it appears that the military technical advisors were pretty good, as well.

Underworld: Evolution (2006)

(R) 106 mins

(R) 106 mins

Plot Summary: Picking up directly from the previous film, vampire warrior Selene and the half-werewolf Michael hunt for clues to reveal the history of their races and the war between them.

Director: Len Wiseman

Writers: Danny McBride (screenplay, story, characters), Len Wiseman (story), Kevin Grevioux (characters), Len Wiseman (characters)

Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  Now that the special effects that were cutting-edge for this movie’s time have become not-so-impressive as the industry advances, the story itself is not creative or interesting enough to make it worth your time to direct your attention to the screen for almost two hours…unless you REALLY LOVE vampire or werewolf movies.  If that’s the case, let your freak flag fly!  It’s okay; I’m like that with football movies.  Besides, there are worse things to have on your TV in the background than leather-clad Beckinsale doing acrobatics, shooting weapons, and kicking ass.

We'd bite her back!

We’d bite her back!

Death Race (2008)

(R) 105 mins

(R) 105 mins

Plot Summary: Convict Jensen Ames is forced by the warden of a notorious prison to compete in our post-industrial world’s most popular sport: a car race in which inmates must brutalize and kill one another on the road to victory.

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Writers: Anderson (screenplay, screen story), Robert Thom (1975 screenplay Death Race 2000), Charles B. Griffith (as Charles Griffith; 1975 screenplay Death Race 2000), Ib Melchior (1975 story Death Race 2000)

Stars: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  In the bonus feature Start Your Engines – Making a Death Race, Anderson declares that he meant for this movie to be a darker, more serious, believable version of Death Race 2000.  I’ve never seen the original, so he may have succeeded, but I found this film to be hokey in a few parts, including the ending.  All of that being said, it is one of my favorite hokey car films.  There is actually a compelling plot behind the race, plenty of great action, and a solid cast, including newcomer beauty Natalie Martinez, whom I’d like to see more of.  While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you need to see this flick, I will say that you probably wouldn’t mind watching it more than once, either.

The Hitcher (2007)

(R) 84 mins

(R) 84 mins

Plot Summary: A serial killer pins his crimes on two college students who gave him a ride.

Director: Dave Meyers

Writers: Eric Red (screenplay & 1986 film), Jake Wade Wall (screenplay), Eric Bernt (screenplay)

Stars: Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  According to IMDB, Red was credited as a screenplay writer for this movie, but had no part in writing it (aside from writing the 1986 film).  I haven’t seen the 1986 version, but if it was any good, I don’t blame him for wanting to distance himself from this version.

This flick starts strong and features competent performances by good actors (except for Bush’s second-half performance, which gets out of her range, in my opinion; she just hasn’t mastered the thousand-yard stare).  However, it’s a lot of build-up for nothing.  The effects and action are often hokey, it feels as if some major events were skipped (and not in a good, it’s-better-to-leave-it-to-the-imagination way), and the payoff to the big question throughout the movie is never realized.  If I had to describe this film in one word, it would be “senseless.”

Also according to IMDB, “Rutger Hauer, who played the character of John Ryder in the original was offered a cameo, but declined for artistic reasons. Hauer has since said in the press that he has yet to watch the remake, and according to some of his friends he shouldn’t bother.”  Smart man.

3:10 to Yuma

(R) 122 mins

(R) 122 mins

Plot Summary: A small-time rancher agrees to hold a captured outlaw who’s awaiting a train to go to court in Yuma. A battle of wills ensues as the outlaw tries to psych out the rancher.

Director: James Mangold

Writers: Halsted Welles (screenplay), Michael Brandt (screenplay), Derek Haas (screenplay), and Elmore Leonard (short story)

Stars: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  This is a very solid film, with a compelling plot and solid cast, featuring two of the most notoriously ill-tempered actors in the business.  Who will be the bigger jerk?  Watch it and find out!

Also, Foster brings the same leashed intensity that inspired Mark Wahlberg to give up some of his own pay in order to recruit Foster for Lone Survivor.  Foster is one of my favorite supporting actors.

You can enjoy this movie as a straightforward classic action Western, or you can delve deeper into the psychological underpinnings, which are spread throughout the movie and which culminate in an ending that can either anger you or inspire a subsequent deep discussion with others who have seen the film.

For Western aficionados, this flick is an instant classic and Must See.  For the rest of us, you could live with missing this one, but once you start watching it, you’ll be hooked.