Flashback Friday (On Monday): The Purge

I’m a bit ambivalent about my desire to see THE PURGE which opens this coming Friday, June 7th. The premise of an almost utopian United States where unemployment and crime are nearly nonexistent and the only cost is a lawless 12 hour period once a year is tremendously intriguing. Yes, the logic of it is…confounding. Yes, it suggests a view of humanity that I have a hard time comprehending as it is not even man as beast or man as inherently evil but something closer to man as largely rational being that needs to kill or steal something on a somewhat regular schedule. And that’s only the crime aspect…I’ve got no clue about the unemployment part.

Anyway, very intriguing, definitely something I’m down for seeing explored over a few hours.

However, the movie “reads” as horror in the trailers. Perhaps it is the use of masks that recalls THE STRANGERS, the Liv Tyler/Scott Speedman home invasion/random violent event film from 2008. Or the presence of Ethan Hawke who leads to me to thinking of last year’s SINISTER and DAYBREAKERS, the 2009 Vampires as Society thought exercise (I kid…it’s actually good as we’ll talk about later). I am not a huge horror guy. I have and will watch them but they tend to rank pretty low on my list of genres I have an interest in.

It should be noted though, it might not be horror at all. From the written description, it recalls more of a PANIC ROOM set in a nearly crimeless future time USA. I don’t love PANIC ROOM—as you’ll soon read—but the premise is one I can dig into.

It is perhaps fitting then that I had such a struggle figuring out films to use for THE PURGE preparation. In the end, I chose the aforementioned DAYBREAKERS because of the Ethan Hawke connection and the aforementioned PANIC ROOM due to the criminals getting into the seemingly impenetrable and menacing a family connection. At the last minute, I also added THE NEGOTIATOR because a.) it’s THE NEGOTIATOR and b.) it was written by James DeMonaco, the writer-director of this picture.

And now here are my opinions on them.

"Us? Oh, we're just standing here, looking good. No big deal." (photo from produto.mercadolivre.br)

"Us? Oh, we're just standing here, looking good. No big deal." (photo from produto.mercadolivre.br)

THE NEGOTIATOR

I believe it was Rolling Stone movie reviewer Peter Travers who described the movie as a hamburger that the stars tear into like it is a great steak (paraphrased) and I think that might be the perfect metaphor for it. (Metaphor is the right term here, yes?) Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson spit the script out at one another and the supporting players with no hint that they are anything but fully committed to the film and the characters. As a result, the movie is wildly quotable various times, oft inappropriately, I find myself using several lines.

An incomplete list would include: “You want my blood? Take my blood!”

                                                    “I wonder why that is?”

                                                    “Getting you out of here alive…that’s a distant second.”

                                                    “I got no truck with leaving you with this.”

                                                    “I’m a stranger to you. You have no idea what I’m capable of.”

I am aware those make me sound a bit antisocial but I promise I use them exclusively ironically and inappropriately.

Besides Spacey and Jackson, the cast is chock-a-block full of strong supporting players including David Morse, Ron “Not Bob Balaban” Rifkin, Siobhan  Fallon, John Spencer, J.T Walsh, and a cowardly, civil rights leader quoting motor mouthed apparent perennial con Paul Giamatti. It is an action movie with surprisingly little action, so it needs a cast that can keep things moving and make the viewer forget that, at times, the movie is essentially a play and this cast does it. Thus despite being long for what I’d describe as a modern b-movie at two hours and 20 minutes, I never found myself watching the clock or tempted to fast forward.

Highly recommended. It is not an Oscar winner nor should it be but it is the kind of film I can watch at almost any time and enjoy it.

PANIC ROOM

I respect and appreciate director David Fincher quite a bit. His music video for “Jenny’s Got a Gun” is one that I still recall the look at plot of years after I lost saw it, I think THE GAME is an underrated gem and that it is lunacy that the SOCIAL NETWORK lost Best Picture at the Academy Awards to THE KING’s SPEECH.

That said, not even Alfred Hitchcock or Martin Scorsese have batted a thousand. Everyone makes a lesser film now and again and for Fincher that lesser film was called PANIC ROOM.

It’s not all bad. Jodie Foster gives good “wounded mother bear protecting her cub” and Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam bring convincing life to two very different kinds of sociopaths. But overall, it’s all a bit too gimmicky and more of an epic exploration in how CGI can simulate traveling through a lock or a length of hose than a movie. 

This, however, is my favorite part of the film, the opening credits. (photo from picturemill.com)

This, however, is my favorite part of the film, the opening credits. (photo from picturemill.com)

It’s worth seeing from a filmmaking standpoint as you see a stylish director hit the wall in terms of his bag of tricks and, when watched in conjunction with the films from his oeuvre that followed, how he used that negative to advance to the next stage of his director’s evolution. But as a random movie to watch just because? I would not recommend that, no.

DAYBREAKERS

The world of DAYBREAKERS, where Vampires rule and humans are but a dwindling food supply, is apparently what awaits us in a scant four years. So those of you still celebrating the lack of a Mayan Apocalypse, not so smug anymore, are you? Would a unidentified world ending calamity really be worse than ending up vampire food? I leave that question to you.

Anyways, in this Deacon Frost’s wet dream of a world, Ethan Hawke is the vampire scientist trying to come up with a way for vampires to live and not snack on people and Sam Neill is the corporate type trying to protect a way of life that clearly is running out in the name of convenience, not good sense. If you think Big Oil instead of blood or Big Pharma instead of synthetic blood, you’ll see the allegory pretty clearly here.

Also Willem Dafoe is a southern former vampire who might just have the answer to how to save the world. And he calls himself Elvis.

Boy, these Mormon missionaries have gotten a lot more aggressive lately (photo from teaser-trailer.com)

Boy, these Mormon missionaries have gotten a lot more aggressive lately (photo from teaser-trailer.com)

DAYBREAKERS is about ¾ of good movie. As it world builds, it is a neat trip throughout an alternate world that someone clearly spent some time working out to the fine details to reflect the new vampiric order. However, as it heads into its climax, the film becomes as bland as the largely static visual style. As it turns out, the key to saving the planet for human and vampire alike is gun battles and buckets of blood. And thus, a strong premise that is well built ends up drowned in red and the rat-a-tat-tat sounds of scores of machine guns.

Still a recommend for me. The climax, rote though it may be, does not undo my around hour and 10 minutes worth of enjoyment.