Adams and Jefferson on Movies: The Before Trilogy Criterion Edition (1995, 2004, 2013)

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CoolPapaE:

It’s going on 22 years since the first of these films was released. I never watched any of them. Seemed a little too arty. By the time they released the third film, I had been married for 11 years. When this set came out on Criterion, I asked my wife if she wanted to see them with me. No interest. She’d tried the first one and it didn’t do anything for her. Leave it to my best friend of so many years to be the one who asks me if I wanted in going for this trilogy in a day.

While I don’t normally recommend watching romantic movies without your wife, who else would ever be interested?

WeMissE:

Exactly!  I have a hard time getting  my fiancee to watch any movie with me.  But she would probably call these long (even though they are average length) and boring (even though they are very engaging).  Granted, watching two people walk and talk for ninety minutes is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea,  but we were certainly engaged with the ongoing dialogue of Jesse and Celine.    I enjoy when we are watching a movie together and have an ongoing conversation as the movie progresses.  We don’t talk over the dialogue; we just make occasional interjections.  Sometimes the same detail will strike both of us at the same time.  Other times, one of us will comment on something unseen or unnoticed by the other.

As I watched these two characters progess from their mid-twenties to mid-forties over the course of three films, I was struck by my own progression through the middle of life.   The movies resonated not only because of the similarities, but because of the differences.  I think you felt some of that too.  Man!  My brain is really firing right now.  There are so many things we could discuss about these movies.   After watching them in succession, it’s hard for me to think of them as three separate movies.  They almost play like one continuous work.

So I guess lets’s start with the characters.  Where they start, where they end up, where they might be going.   In the first movie, both characters are typical college-educated twenty somethings.  They feel an immediate attraction, yet feel the need to put up a facade.  I suppose I would have done the same thing in his place.  But he invents this rather contrived story to get Celine to get off the train with him.  Granted, it works.  But one wonders if he had to go to the trouble.   She clearly likes him.  Celine is more sure of who she is.  And yet, she still has a sense of wonder.   When the spontaneous poet writes a poem around the word “milkshake”, she accepts it gratefully, whereas Jesse only wants to point out how unlikely it is that he wrote the poem so quickly.   Or the moment with the gypsy fortune teller.  Celine is enthralled with her comments.  Jesse dismisses it out of hand.  Of course, none of us think she is really reading anything on those palms.  What she can do, very well, is read people.  And she makes a statement that may be central to understanding Jesse’s character arc.  “Don’t worry, he’s learning”, she tells Celine.  She could have stopped at the table in Greece 18 years later and made the same statement.

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What are your thoughts on the character development?

CoolPapaE:

It’s all about learning indeed. The film seems to have a firm grasp on the idea that while Celine acquires a firm understanding of reality while appreciating the imagination of romantic gesture. She is met by someone who seems stuck, even if well practiced. The reason, of course, is that Jesse is one who understands what failure feels like. But he can’t imagine success in any real terms. He does, however, love the romantic ideal. In a sense, he stops right then from the moment they meet and becomes a version of the guy he imagines she was looking for, and not much more than that. This feeling is reinforced 6 months later when she, due to matters of a practical heart, fails to meet him at their rendezvous. Stillborn again, he captures the moment in written form even though he married someone else. His gift of romantic gesture is countered by a complete inability to live in the real world. Lo, but how miserable his first wife must have been.

Celine, on the other hand, seems perfect to us, except for the fatal flaw of her heart. She is definitely the more practical in action of the two. She meets what seems to be a series of the same guy. One after the other finding their wife after leaving her, then thanking her for being the springboard. She knows what it takes to live day to day, but her missing her “chance” affected her, too. That she is unable to fake it reveals her flaw to someone like Jesse, whose skill at self-deception and flattery  has been honed for the single purpose of winning over the girl of that first night. He makes that night last for the rest of their lives.

Yes I too have been completely absorbed by these characters. I resent Jessie, to the same degree that I love and admire Celine. This is because right under our noses through long, seemingly boring scenes of walking and talking, the combination of Linklater, Deply, Hawke and Kim Krizan have created pretty much the facsimile of the relationship of the modern urban man and woman. All of our yours and my relationships, for their successes and seeming failures, can be seen in these two.

You’ve got to admit it. They tricked us. But they didn’t do it in any easy way. I believe they’ve lived these truths and lies. Just like we have. That they were able to incorporate their own lives into the latter two scripts is obvious and actually pretty well documented.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, though. Even as we discuss this now, my wife just got through completely surprising me with her presence in the room. The reason: she wanted to know if we had enough money to make our next few bills. So immersed was I in what we were discussing, I completely realized the image of Jessie. I took a quick look at our account, made a promise to follow up, and got right back into our discussion, practically pushing her aside for our little hobby, based on art. Even now, I hang out with the scholars while my dear version of Celine contemplates the reality of keeping a roof over our heads.

In this way, the evolving story of our cinematic doppelgangers has engrossed me as well, to the point where in the final film we are completely engrossed, even if most of the film is about the doldrums of two people who spent so many years together only to realize they have no idea who they are. And we see it so clearly through our rose colored glasses…

WeMissE:

I definitely understand what you mean about resenting Jessie.   Many times he has valid feelings, and makes valid points.  But his way of articulating them, particularly in the third movie, is entirely wrong.   He is at his most honest when he is alone, not speaking, just reacting.

There is a moment early in Before Midnight when he sees his 12 year old son off at the airport, watching him go through security.  The look of pain, guilt, loss, confusion on his face is so real that it hit me like a punch in the gut.  I remember saying goodbye to my son, and he was just going across town to his mom’s place, not half way around the world.   The only time his words move me, the only time they really ring true, is near the end of the second movie, when he tells Celine that he was thinking of her on the way to his wedding, hoping he would somehow see her on the street.  You’re right about the first wife.  She never stood a chance.

There is another great moment in this same scene, in the back of the car.  First Jesse reaches out to touch Celine, when she is not looking, but he pulls away at the last second.   Then, she does exactly the same thing with him.  They are on an endless loop, circling that first night, going around and around, but not quite in sync.

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Everything about Jesse’s character is so contrived by the third film.  There is also another layer to this that I think we should discuss, which is separating the actors from the characters.  You already mentioned about their personal lives informing the writing.  Well if Julie Delpy wrote her own dialogue, then she comes off as extremely clever.  Ethan Hawke, not so much.  Or is he just that good at writing for this character?  There is a long walk-and-talk scene in the middle of the third movie, in which half of his shirt is untucked for the scene’s duration.   It is a distraction in the scene, a clearly contrived, additional  level of artifice.  I don’t know whether it is the artifice of Jesse, or of Hawke and Linklater, but I guess either way it serves the same purpose.  Julie Delpy even wrote the song that she sings to Jesse, about their night together, which ends the second movie.  And she gets almost all of the great lines in the last film.  When she tells Jesse that she associates shitting with contemplation, he tells her he will use that line in his next book.  She says it will be the best thing in the book.  She says it as a joke, but I think they both know she’s right.  Is that part of what bothers Jesse, that Celine probably could have been as successful an author as he is, but she just doesn’t have a passion for it.

I only know that the ending of the third movie delibarately comes full circle, ending much as the first movie began.  With Jesse using a contrived story to try and win her over.  It is so contrived that he even has a folded piece of paper in his pocket, which he uses as a prop in his little show.

CoolPapaE:

Of course this contrivance is a mirror image of the homeless artist’s poem in the first movie. It’s taken him this long to realize that is the kind of thing that appeals to her. The flowery gesture. Of course the whole point of the magnificent argument that takes almost 1/4 of the last film is the fact that Jesse’s been living on flowers and pretty words, and she’s been working and changing diapers. Then he calls her crazy. He may be right, but not for the reasons he believes. If he’s still learning, he’s not learned to just listen. He’s still completely in his head.

And you’re right about them being completely out of sync. The scene you describe in the cab for Before Sunset has its own twin, when they are in the process of attempting to make love in Before Midnight. First she takes off her underwear, they fight, she puts them back on as he gets up from the bed. He then takes his off, the fight continues and she gets up and moves away. Endless loop out of sync, but in love with the idea.

I understand your resonant feelings when you saw Jesse’s interactions with his son. Hawke has  had well publicized relationship challenges as well children who suffer through collateral damage. I think this trilogy, and especially the last two films show him coming to terms with his own limitations when it comes to self-analysis. Much less understanding how to make life easier for people he presumably loves.

Several of Delpy’s lines ring true for me throughout the trilogy. As the series moves on, I keep going back to my relationship with my own Celine, my wife of 15 years. Much of the motivation and expressions of Celine have been exemplified for me over the years, and I have reacted quite similarly to Jesse many of those times. Whenever she wants to be serious, I want to think “intellectually” about things that don’t put food on the table. One could say my whole writing and blogging career has been a time consuming attempt at connecting my life to the world outside, while sacrificing actual connections to the people living in my house.

That said, when Delpy expresses frustrations, it feels as real as anything my wife has ever said to me. The irony is that I am hearing words my wife said to me throughout the years for the first time, only through another person’s expressions. It brings me to the feeling of caution in my optimistic vision of my own stable marriage. Do I know this woman as well or even love her the way she loves me? Have I never learned to listen just to her?

That is the power of this trilogy.

WeMissE:

That is an interesting idea.  Jesse created this ideal “Celine” after their first night, and wrote a book about her.  But she is removed from the actual Celine.  Of course his first wife could not compete with this idealized, romantic, passionate woman.  But it turns out, maybe the real Celine couldn’t compete either.   There were no diapers to be changed or meals to be cooked in his best-selling novels.

I guess that is a testament to how well-written this series is, that we both found instances that resonated with us.   But different instances, for different reasons.   The primary reason I love movies, love watching them and talking about them, is to be moved in some way.  It doesn’t have to be profound.  Just being entertained is enough.  But it is a rare film indeed that  inspires me not only to feel but to think deeply about my own life.

My favorite moment in the entire series is a very simple one.  In the last film,  Jesse and Celine are watching the sun set behind a mountain.  It begins very sweetly, with Celine saying “Still there…still there…still there” as the sun sinks lower and lower.  Finally, it vanishes just below the mountain’s crest, and Celine says “Gone”, leaving them in the subdued afterglow.  The smiles leave both of their faces, and they look away from each other, realizing there is something profound in this moment, something about much more than a setting sun.  It is one of the rare moments when Jesse has nothing to say, and it is acted with incredible honesty.

This scene can be interpreted in a number of ways;  the viewer will take from it whatever he puts into it.    This is true of much of these films.  Each person will be struck by different moments.  I love the ambiguous endings as well.  And although the story has a fitting ending of sorts, where it stands  now, I hope there will be a fourth film after a nine-year interval.  I am sure Jesse and Celine will still have powerful things to say.

CoolPapaE:

The capture of the sun as it disappears is a truly profound moment. As they looked on, I was reminded of the first time Don Henley sang:

“…There’s just so many summers, babe, and just so many springs…”

I am over 3 decades of summers and springs since then, and time has become a bittersweet commodity for me by now. If I am a bit smarter or wiser, I am definitely happier. To paraphrase George Carlin, the percentage of my needs being met increased when I dropped a few of them. Still, though, I spend some time dreaming of the distance the words shared between two friends, and how they might travel on without us.

That this team of creative forces has invested time in each of three decades to give us a Polaroid of their lives is equally profound. To take the movies one by one, they would not be as valuable. The first movie is almost a throwaway for me. If they’d not followed it up almost by sheer demand, what would we know of these two?

Once they took a direction, though, they had to commit, and they have done a marvelous job investing their time into a worthy creative venture. The second film in and of itself made the films time the series timeless. It’s tenor and demeanor had changed from hope to a realization of the effect of time passing. They felt less hope, and they acted. By the third film, the die seems cast, and they have made their big move. The mood begins with the appearance calm, but the desperation creeps in.

One of the great ironies of the series is in the examination of the three generations of couples at the dinner on the Mediterranean. So much wisdom in flux at that table, but our two heroes have no real connection to any of it, because they haven’t really touched one another, as her interaction over signing his book at the hotel check in would indicate.

Jessie really is one heck of a nice guy on the surface. He’s definitely an agreeable travelling companion. Celine is the one doing most of the driving by this point, though. She even relates to Jessie’s son better than he does. She is grounded. He’s in the clouds.

I must make special mention of Delpy in the series. For me, she’s clearly the series’ greatest resource. Hawke is able to keep relatively the same shape, with a few wrinkles through the passage of time. She has taken every minute of time and brought it to a unique beauty not often seen by women in cinema: she’s allowed to age.

I can’t think of a time that I have seen a woman allow herself to be viewed without protection as she does, especially in the last quarter of Before Midnight. We see a middle age mother of two who is seemingly beyond her prime. If you pay attention, you know she’s anything but fading. She’s still on the rise.

By contrast, Hawke’s Jessie has given us another naked vantage in showing us someone of a certain age who’s still “learning.” Of course this means, the nice guy is really kind of a intelligent, but emotionally juvenile middle aged man. It’s my belief that this is not an accidental portrayal. This is artwork in motion.

We know this primarily because we’ve seen things unfold slowly over the course of the three films. What would we find out with the fourth effort?  I live in anticipation, but chances are, by the time we get there, we’ll already be going through it.

WeMissE:

You bring up a lot of great points.  I agree completely with your feelings about Delpy.  She is masterful in these movies.  I wonder if the twenty-something me, seeing these movies now, would find the younger Delpy more desirable.  Because where I am now, in my mid-forties, I think that Celine grows more beautiful as she matures.

The dinner scene  is the only time in the entire trilogy that we have Jesse and Celine as part of an extended group.  And it really does work well.   Perhaps the younger couple remind Jesse and Celine of an earlier version of themselves.  But this couple didn’t hang all their dreams on one night.   They are just young, attractive, and enjoying life in the moment.  There is also great significance in the older couple.  Two people who lost their lifelong spouses, and have found companionship in their last years.   The old man says that life is not about being in love, its about being happy.  Clearly he still misses his wife, but he has tempered his sorrow by surrounding himself with interesting people.  He seems to be squeezing every last drop out of life, whereas Jesse is already going through the motions.  At times he looks like a kid who has been invited to sit at the grown-up’s table, and still isn’t quite sure what to say.

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I think Jesse and Celine will stay together.  In nine years, their daughters will be teenagers in high school.  I imagine Celine at the peak of her profession, probably in a senior leadership position, and Jesse as a stay-at-home dad, someone whose last couple books fizzled, and disappeared quickly.   These films stand as Linklater’s masterpiece for me.   Boyhood was an interesting experiment, and the fact that he and his cast pulled it off, while keeping it under wraps, is impressive in itself.  But the film doesn’t linger for me.  I just realized, thinking about it, that Ethan Hawke plays the father in this as well.  I had forgotten.  Whereas this unintended trilogy has done a magnificent job of capturing not only the stages of a relationship, but the stages of adulthood.   I too look forward to a fourth part.  I also look forward to more movies like this, that will allow us to discourse on a deeper, more personal level.  And with that, good sir, I bid you good day.

CoolPapaE:

I couldn’t have said it better myself. This experience and subsequent exchange has been a fulfilling experience for us both.

With this trilogy in mind, I played a game with my family tonight. It was a good time. Memories were made. I listened. I hope I have accelerated my learning by the time the fourth film comes. It would be a shame to stay here, waiting for the day life comes back to me.

And with that, sir, I bid you too, a good day.

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The Magnificent Seven (****) is star power at its best

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Magnificent 7 – 2016

Director Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk based on Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa,
Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Starring  Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-Hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Matt Bomer, Sean Bridgers

In all fairness, I didn’t really care to see this movie. Washington has been in several good but nowhere near great films lately and I thought I would wait until it was released on video. When I came upon an extra 4 hours, I decided it was the best thing I hadn’t seen yet to pass the time. It was a grand decision.

Let’s be clear, nothing I watched in the span of 133 minutes is anything close to original. It’s the basis of most of the Westerns ever released, even if this version is properly accredited to Kurosawa’s original classic.

What one gets in a movie like this is the opportunity to try on a comfortable story with the flavors of the moment. The two primary ingredients this time, Washington and Pratt, are given the privilege of filling well worn characters with their own version of the trope. They are marvelous, but surprisingly aren’t even the best performers in the story.

That honor is awarded to Bennett and Lee. Who they play is not as important as how they play the roles. Both are fearless in attacking their roles with a fierceness rarely seen in retread stories. Bennett is the wronged woman Emma Cullen, stepping up when everyone steps back. She’s never expected her life to be rolled over by the likes of Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard) and she’ll be damned if she takes it laying down, like the rest of the residents of her mining town Rose Creek are all too willing to do. Emma heads to the nearest town in search of help. She ends up with Warrant Officer Sam Chisolm (Washington), who accepts the opportunity at vengeance because he wants a crack at Bogue.

Chisolm gathers up the dangerously loquacious Josh Faraday (Pratt) and together they gather the United Nations of anti-heroes to come along and help. This group includes Hawke’s dangerous yet shell shocked sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux. Robicheaux just happens to be doing the Every Which Way But Loose tour with his friend Billy Rocks (Lee). To say Rocks is good with knives would be like saying Quigley’s only good with rifles. Frankley, the dude can master every type of weapon imaginable.

By far the strangest addition to the group is D’Onofrio’s grizzled old kook trapper Jack Horne. The tone of voice used from the onset is shades of latter day Brando. That voice morphs into something different, but equally indecipherable when they get to Rose Creek. As much as he needs subtitles to be understood, D’Onofrio has mastered the skill of holding the camera’s gaze. It’s not a wasted performance by any means. Let’s just say I had to acquire the taste.

Mexican outlaw (Garcia-Rulfo) is represented as more than an a brown person with an accent. His character is given some gravitas and actually fits in well with Pratt’s goofball persona, without losing any of his stoic demeanor.

Only the rogue Comanche (Sensmeier) comes closest to being a trivia question here. His motivations are never clear enough to explain his desire to join the group, especially after nearly every one of them pulls a gun on him at first meeting when it’s obvious he’s not a threat in the slightest.

Pratt makes a bit of a comeback here, after floundering a bit with Jurassic World. Even if he’s merely a more dangerous version of Star Lord, he gets the best moments of the script and never flounders the opportunity.

Washington, as usual, gets the straight man role and flourishes. He’s not been a supporting actor in so many years, it’s hard to expect that he would develop any tics at this point. He’s got the charisma of Eastwood, but he doesn’t have to rely on a snarl. He’s the most reliable actor of the last 20 years and this is a performance that brings him glory without having to do more than flex his tiniest acting muscles. His leader outshines the one note Brenner and equals Shimura’s original. What’s most incredible is that what he’s doing doesn’t even feel like acting. It’s just who he seems to be.

Sarsgaard gives us some good old greasy evil. He’s despicable and he has style. He walks on the good side of Ribisiville. That’s a good thing, because until I saw this, I didn’t know one could pull off a stylish version of Ribisi.

The best thing about this story is Lee. He continues to shine in everything he’s in. He exceeds the grasp of his caricature here. He’s just supposed to throw knives. Instead he brings charisma to every scene he’s in, while bringing depth to Hawke’s already good performance. He is the spice that moves the needle to near greatness.

Fuqua continues to succeed in Hollywood, when critics keep comparing him to Denzel’s Oscar vehicle Training Day. He turns huge profits with most projects and his actors love working for him. Working with True Detective writer Pizzolato serves the best instincts of both. There is no downtime here. This is the best PG-13 violence I have witnessed in a film. It looks dangerous and the humor works without removing the tension.

Even if you are not a fan of the recent spate of pale remakes that come along with every generation, this update is worth your time. It will take a spot in my collection, to be sure. Right after Kurosawa.

(**** out of *****)

Boyhood (***1/2): Life doesn’t give you bumpers

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Boyhood – 2014

Written and Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Marco Pella

After having endured almost 3 hours of Richard Linklater’s passion project of 12 or so years, it is hard to come to any sort of conclusion. Was it a triumph of the artistic spirit? Is it a wasted opportunity of some kid’s developmental years? Is it genius? Is it just a bunch of scripted stuff that happened to be uttered by a growing boy who, while not quite an actor, certainly spent enough time in front of a camera to get a SAG card before he could drive? There is perhaps a bit of all of this in the span of celluloid time we spend experiencing the development of Ellar Coltrane as Mason Evans, Jr.. There is not enough to call it a classic, but there is definitely something to appreciate.

The plot is simple: Linklater films scenes with actors once a year over 12 years. These actors play parts in a family that is separated by divorce. Mason and his sister, Samantha (Linklater’s daughter Lorelei) live with their mother, Olivia (Arquette). The biological father (Hawke) is about to come back from a trip to Alaska, working on those boats that people go to when they want to make money and be away for a while. When he gets back, his and the kids’ hope for reconciliation is betrayed by the reality of the incompatibility with Olivia, who is too firmly rooted in reality for that. All the while, Mason Jr. does not complain. He moves forward with his mother and his sister.

This movement brings his mother back to school, where she meets the classic drunkard second husband (Pella). The new blended family gets along pretty well, but for the problems presented by having the booze flow freely into the mouth of one who does not like himself. The kids tolerate this incredibly, all things considered. Accepting of their lack of power, they find true kinship with their new siblings. It is difficult when Olivia breaks the cycle and gets them out. They ask if they’ll see their step-siblings again, but they do not complain when they hear their uncertain answer.

Life with Mason Sr. is more fun but just as uncertain. His reluctance to absorb adulthood results in dabblings with music and roommates to help him afford rent. We can see that he loves them, but he hasn’t got a clue on how to raise them, other than to spout off sayings now and then. Importantly, though, he stays in their lives, receiving no interference from Olivia. It’s far from the perfect situation, but there is a stability there.

The standout of the story is Arquette as Olivia. She is given much grist and has the most to overcome. She is given the unique ability to be as real as a woman can be on camera and she does not waste it. There is no glamour at all, but she does not chew the scenery with the despair of Scarlett O’Hara, either. This is as real as a movie can get and still be entertaining.

Hawke, for his part, does a good job as far as the script allows. His early meanderings strike a chord. Later, when he moves from being a McCain sign stealing Obama supporter to full acceptance of his 2nd wife’s family’s conservative leanings, it seems like a move that would have to take a bit longer than Obama’s first term.

Coltrane’s performance is subdued to the point of being comatose. In some ways, this would seem the luck of the draw, but since the script is written by Linklater and (according to him) the performing team, it would seem there would be more of an emphasis to find creative ways for Mason Jr. to express himself. His face is subtly effective, but it is hard to get to where he lives.

Strangely, once they give Coltrane more to say, he appears to be voicing anything but his own, true feelings. It gives the impression of one trying to voice lines he’s been told to remember. The child is indeed the father of the man, but in this case the man cannot clearly remember what his father experienced. The result throws off the delicate balance to the point where one might wonder how much better the story would have been had the kid not said anything at all.   It’s like the boy doesn’t know himself.

This is likely the impression that we are intended to have, but it’s rare to see the kid that will show this so plainly. Many kids find something to live behind when they have this uncertainty. These are often called phases. The disturbing feeling is that Linklater is telling his actor to express the uncertainty of his feelings whenever he opens his mouth. Kids don’t do this often. As adults, this is one of the things we most remember about those years.

This is Linklater’s vision to explore, though. He has one shot at life and he’s doing what he wants in a big way. He, Hawke and Julie Deply have another set of films (Before Sunrise, Sunset and Midnight) that explore some of the same themes. He is speaking to his artistic truth, even if it doesn’t always match the reality. That is some last shot, though.

Special mention to a song that made it to the movie, but somehow was not nominated for song of the year. Family of the Year’s song, “Hero” is perfectly placed in the film and matches the voice of the protagonist as well as any amount of dialogue could. The Academy may have ignored it because it it 4 years old.  You should not.

(***1/2 out of *****)

The Purge: If everything was just so…

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The Purge – 2013

Written & Directed by James DeMonaco
Starring Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis

Dystopian stories are often made with some political point in mind.  The author generally feels that we have valued something in society that not only could cause our destruction, but will be overlooked to the point of being repeated after the destruction occurs.   The New Founding Fathers of The Purge have seemingly solved the problems of crime, violent or otherwise, with one night of lawless violence per year.  Who these rebirthing Founders are and how their one night per year formula took care of our baser instincts for the other 364 nights is unclear.   There is supposedly some connection to antiquity with something called Krypteia.  In this tradition Spartans were granted free reign to kill helots, who were a people somewhere “between free and slave,” without any fear of reprisal.  The concept seems more like bullying of one class over another, while the purge of the film gives the appearances of all people under a certain class as targets.  Equals within the classes can afflict one another too.  Why anyone would agree to this, I have no idea.  For purposes of the story however, most people on the screen seem reverent to the changes, when it is convenient to them.  We will follow suit, no matter how unlikely. This is called the suspension of disbelief, in literary circles.

In the case of The Purge, we have merged the dystopia with the home invasion film.  This usually contains several elements:

  • A seemingly impenetrable fortress
  • Overconfident parent with a flaw to be exploited
  • Another parent who is generally pure but uneasy with the situation
  • One child who is in a dispute with the father
  • One child, usually younger, who is clever beyond his years, has his doubts but generally supports his parents
  • An unknown element that gets in the house
  • An unknown and malevolent force that is intimidating and usually wants the unknown element that got into the house
  • Another element, sometimes but not always the malevolent one that is tied to the father’s flaw

All of these elements are hit, often with a thud.  There is not any element which is not obvious and labored. DeMonaco had experience with Hawke on a film much like this before: writing a remake of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13.  It garnered decent critical praise, even if it just broke even at the box office.  This time through, there are fewer people inside holding weapons, but it doesn’t keep the body count any lower.  The malevolent forces are faceless in this film, aside from their leader.  Why they would choose to hide with no fear of prosecution is probably due to the need to market the film and create a signature look, like they did with the Scream films or what happened incidentally with Carpenter’s Halloween.

The point that DeMonaco wants to make about society is lost in the inadvertent statement his lack of creativity makes about film making in general.  The most original element he adds puts a damper on whatever it was that passed for momentum in the film.  At the crucial moment where she has the opportunity to make a decision for vengeance, she opts to have everyone sit at the table until time for the purge runs out.  Her behavior is not unique.  I feel most people who love their family would think this way.  It belies the strength of the power of the “new” Founding Fathers to impose such barbarism on a society filled with loving parents.

(** out of *****)

Sinister: You’ve seen some of it before, but not all of it

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Sinister – 2012

Director Scott Derrickson
Starring Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, Nick King, James Ransone, Clare Foley, Michael Hall D’Addario
Screenplay Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill

Snidely_WhiplashSinister is a strange name for this film, even if it is technically correct.  As defined: threatening or portending evil, harm, or trouble; ominous, it works.  For some reason, I picture Snidely Whiplash being foiled by Rocky and Bullwinkle.  The power that comes from this story is not the twisting mustache kind.  When at its top form, this film about watching the abyss, while fearing what might be looking back at you.

In his quest to write his next great true crime novel, Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) has moved his family somewhat unwittingly into a house where a recent slaughter of all but one of the family has taken place.  Even if he is not being forthcoming to his wife, both she and the kids know the drill and the score.  He has done this several times before, leaving the family to fend for themselves at their schools and around the town.  Then there’s the house.Sinister flickteaser 10

Much of the movie is spent in the dark inside of this rather plain-looking brown brick house.  Never has 1960’s house style looked so ominous.  There are many windows to the house, where much light comes through.  Still, it always seems dark.  Many tricks you have been exposed to before are used here, some very effectively.  Distributed into the mix are several new techniques, many involving the conversion of Super 8 into digital editable footage.  The bad guy, sometimes known as Mr. Boogie, is haunting for his simplicity.

His silence and mask, reminiscent of Michael Meyers, permeates through the proceedings as indeed the harbinger of doom, even in relative stillness.  What he does, I will not say.  It is pretty easy to ascertain, if you pay attention.  In paying attention, however, one has the tendency to be too drawn in for their own good.  Kind of like Oswalt.

While he spends way too much time sticking around in situations no sane or sober person would, he is, conveniently, not all that often sober.  He does have some sobering help in the name of Deputy “So and so” (Ransone) and a professor at the University  (D’Onofrio).  Unlike most “help” in movies based on horror, these guys actually present useful information in an even-handed way.  Still Oswalt finds a way to ignore common sense and move right into the line of fire.

sinister_filmreelsSome of this, like I said before, comes from the addiction that is watching.  This is something we all can identify with.  As Ellison falls deeper into the trance that is watching these films on projector, we fall with him, hoping we won’t regret it later.  The fascinating part is those damn Super 8’s.  They have remarkably cheesy, childish and somewhat mocking titles that hint of the sheer terror within: “Family Hanging Out ’11,” “Pool Party ’66,” and “Sleepy Time ’98.”  One finds that he or she can’t wait for the next one to be open and reviewed, even if we don’t think we’ll better off for it.

This film is possibly the first to scare so effectively, even with the main character performing just about every clichéd mistake I have ever seen.  This is not to say that Hawke was not effective.  His character is a truly unlikable writer who is too wrapped up in his own goals to care truly about his true prize, which are his wife and children.  One wishes that the consequences could be limited just to him, even when we know it’s not likely.

Make a point to see this movie, preferably late at night, with less than 5 people in the room.  It will make you laugh at times, but it will get you in the end.

(**** out of *****)