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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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.

Lilyhammer (2012-present)

(TV-MA)

(TV-MA)

Plot Summary: A New York mobster goes into hiding in rural Lillehammer in Norway after testifying against his former associates.

Creators: Eilif Skodvin, Anne Bjørnstad

Stars:Steven Van Zandt, Trond Fausa, Steinar Sagen

Serious Jest:animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)(Casual Watch)  I went into the first season hoping for The Sopranos-meets-Norway. I don’t know much about Norway, and it’s nice to get a glimpse into other countries through productions that feature them as almost a character in themselves (for example, The American). This series did a great job in featuring Norway. However, it was also pretty hokey and featured a protagonist that I did not like.

Frank Tagliano is a narcissistic, hypocritical bully, who pushes his culture and ideas of how the world should be onto everyone in his newly adopted country, stepping on hapless and sometimes innocent Norwegians for selfish gain in stereotypical American imperialist fashion. However, unlike The Sopranos, in which Tony Soprano constantly struggled with his conscience, this show glorifies Frank.  I feel like I’m supposed to chuckle as he “outsmarts” (more like strong-arms) people into satisfying his every whim. Fortunately, in the second and third seasons, Frank became a little more judicious and tolerable, while other characters, such as Fausa’s Torgeir, flourish. In my opinion, Fausa carries the show. He is charismatic, funny, humble, and tough when he needs to be. He idolizes Frank, even though he is often unrewarded for his unconditional love. Most importantly, he is the conscience of the show, and through him, we are reminded of the price one pays for being or following Frankie the Fixer.

By the way, world, look out for Maria Joana

maria-joana

and Ida Elise Broch.

  ida-elise-broch You might fall in love.

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.

Hannibal (2001)

(R) 131 mins

(R) 131 mins

Plot Summary: Living in exile, Hannibal Lecter tries to reconnect with now-disgraced FBI agent Clarice Starling and finds himself a target for revenge from a powerful victim.

Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Thomas Harris (novel), David Mamet (screenplay), Steven Zaillian (screenplay)

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman

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)  The sequel to The Silence of the Lambs is more creepy than thrilling, and sometimes a little hokey.  Moreover, while Moore is an exceptional actress, it just feels different with her playing Starling.  Furthermore, the plot is not as sophisticated as SotL.

That being said, the film is entertaining in more of a comedic-horror way.  Hopkins is deliciously sinister, the supporting cast is very talented, and there is a classic scene involving the human brain that is worth adding to your pop-culture tool belt.  If you’re a fan of Hannibal the Cannibal, you should set aside time to see this flick once, although you shouldn’t go into it with high expectations.  If you’re not high on Hannibal, though, this movie will be more of a Worth Watching for you.

Funny Games (1997)

(NR) 104 mins

(NR) 104 mins

Plot Summary: While vacationing at their secluded summer home, an affluent family is terrorized by a pair of sadistic creeps in this disturbing thriller.

Director: Michael Haneke

Cast: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering, Stefan Clapczynski, Doris Kunstmann

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 film is like a very dark version of Scream.  While I enjoy horror movies, haunted houses, etc, not many of them raise my heart rate anymore.  A good thriller, however, may still get my blood pumping.  Enter this unique take on the serial-killer thriller.  Haneke uses a calculating and methodical tempo, a Hitchcock-style method of making your brain fill in the gore, and an expert contrast of peaceful music with obnoxious music to keep the viewer’s eyes glued to the screen.  The movie is like a soccer match: stretches of anticipation, with exciting moments happening very quickly and with little warning.  I had the good fortune to watch the film without knowing what it was about, so those payoffs were even more exciting for me.

And like Scream, while the director showcases his ability to make a proper killer thriller, he also sends a message to the viewer in a creative and artistic fashion.  According to IMDB, Haneke told producer ‘Veit Heiduschka’ during the production that if the film was a success, it would be because audiences had misunderstood the meaning behind it.  It could potentially get frustrating to watch a well-executed thriller color outside of the lines all of a sudden, but if you keep an open mind, you might realize that such creative license actually adds to the thrill.

It would be wrong to end this review without mentioning the actors, who all performed very convincingly.  A great game plan is of no use if the players don’t execute it well.

In closing, I would also be remiss not to mention what I saw as the most important lesson of all to take from this film: a man should have the physical ability and disposition to protect his family.  Just ask Muhe’s character.  Moreover, when presented with a threat, passive compliance is not always the best answer.  Act decisively and before your situation has worsened, and you might just catch the enemy in the OO of his OODA loop.  Sometimes you just have to fight with a busted knee.

Kill List (2012)

(NR) 96 mins

(NR) 96 mins

Plot Summary: When a scarred ex-soldier turned contract killer is pressured into taking a new job, his world begins to unravel until fear and paranoia sending him reeling towards a horrifying point of no return.

Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  This movie is suspenseful, well-acted, and interesting in a wide range of ways, including an insightful look at the aftermath of the sacrifices that soldiers make in war.  It has a realistic feel, even with the injection of the occult.  I thoroughly enjoyed this flick…until the end.

The ending may leave you needing more of an explanation…in my case, it did.  I had a better understanding after reading the explanation on Holy Moly, and additional reflection yielded my own interpretation.  Still, I felt that the jump to the final “twist” needed much more development to get there.  Ironically, so many of the characters and relationships in this film were extremely well developed, but this ending left me with theatrical blueballs.

After further reflection, however, I drew my own conclusions as to the meaning of the movie, based on my military background.  Maybe a deeper understanding of the occult and its symbolism would have allowed me to better catch the intended meaning of the film, but, all in all, this film was worth watching for me because it inspired deeper thought hours after watching it.  I’d be glad to discuss any reader’s take on the meaning in the comments, but please remember to adequately mark SPOILERS.

Angel Heart (1987)

(R) 113 mins

(R) 113 mins

Plot Summary: Harry Angel is a private investigator. He is hired by a man who calls himself Louis Cyphre to track down a singer called Johnny Favorite. But the investigation takes an unexpected and somber turn.

Director: Alan Parker

Writers: William Hjortsberg (novel), Alan Parker (screenplay)

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet

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)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must Own)  These are some of the best acting performances I’ve seen from De Niro, Rourke, and Bonet.  It is probably De Niro’s creepiest role.  It’s also amazing to see the huge difference 25+ years has made in Rourke’s appearance, while how little Bonet has aged.

This flick has the ingredients to keep you on the edge of your seat.  Aside from the great acting, it is a film noir featuring murder, sex, the occult, two major cities with very different cultures, and a very solid mystery with a twist that I didn’t see coming.  If you predicted the latter, please let me know in the comments, but precede your post with “SPOILER.”

While the quality of the video, effects, sound, etc, is not on par with today’s technology, which could easily render most movies with such a dark tone sleepy, its aforementioned strengths make this movie a classic and one that you will want to watch more than once…probably not right away, but somewhere down the line, someone will say that they never saw this film, and you will suggest that you both sit down and watch it together.  You will probably enjoy watching it the second time around, knowing what to look for.

The Ninth Gate (1999)

(R) 133 mins

(R) 133 mins

Plot Summary: A rare book dealer, while seeking out the last two copies of a demon text, gets drawn into a conspiracy with supernatural overtones.

Director: Roman Polanski

Writers: Arturo Pérez-Reverte (novel), John Brownjohn (screenplay), Enrique Urbizu (screenplay), Polanski (screenplay)

Stars: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  Depp manages to make a stuffy movie about old book collectors interesting.  Well, to be fair, the books are about the devil, the film is full of murder and mystery, and Emmanuelle Seigner is captivating as The Girl.  However, some scenes are hokey, and the ending is abrupt and unfulfilling.  It seems like the novel is probably much better, as it was probably better suited to delve more deeply into the central themes and inner struggles.  In sum, this movie has great buildup, but it leaves you with theatrical blueballs.