50. The Purge: Election Year

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I liked The Purge.  I absolutely loved The Purge: Anarchy.  Even though the creative team stayed in place, they were two wildly different experiences.  The former relied completely on its unique premise to get by.  Once the premise was in place, it played it safe with the narrative and didn’t do anything that most people wouldn’t have seen coming.  The characters were solid, but pretty typical.  And in my opinion, there were almost no surprises.  But it covered the basic core concept, and you need to walk before you can run.

When the sequel came along, director/co-writer James DeMonaco (who returns for this third installment) and his team really thought outside of the box and played with the deeper implications of and motivations behind the existence of an annual Purge.  The characters were rounder and more completely developed with clear motivations to their beliefs and actions.  Little unexpected consequences and uses of the Purge were introduced and the entire world was fleshed out to completion.  In addition, it served as a social commentary, reflecting a disturbing mindset within a certain sect of Americans at the time.  If Anarchy bothered you from a philosophical point of view, you have to ask yourself why it got to you.  In addition to all of that, Frank Grillo and Kiele Sanchez were added to the cast.  Both of them are underrated talents who need more high-profile roles.  Grillo is also Brock Rumlow/Crossbones in the two most recent Captain America films (I was fortunate enough to meet Grillo, earlier this year, and took the opportunity to tell him how much I enjoyed the film), whereas Sanchez made a splash in Lost and then stole the show in the overlooked classic horror-thriller, A Perfect Getaway.   As a result of the multi-layered nature of the film and the cast additions, The Purge: Anarchy may have been the biggest pleasant surprise (creatively speaking) of 2014.

With the third installment, The Purge: Election Year, the series become more topical than ever.  I’m not sure if DeMonaco was especially prescient or if the timing is a happy (?) accident but the narrative behind Election Year reflects where America is to a frightening level.  Sure, it’s an exaggerated version of modern America, but one can’t help but ask, “For how long?”

Election Year takes some threads that were hinted at in Anarchy regarding the true motivations behind the Purge and fully explores them.  It’s as if DeMonaco is holding up a mirror and demanding that we, as Americans, look at ourselves and course-correct before true disaster happens.  Because, in the universe of the Purge, true disaster has happened, just by nature of the Purge existing, at all.

Fortunately, out protagonists are determined to do something that will enact change.  Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes (he has a name, now), professional badass, and the cast exchanges one Lost alumna for another as Kiele Sanchez steps out and Elizabeth Mitchell steps in as presidential candidate Senator Charlie Roan.  They are joined by other survivors (who I won’t spoil) in an effort to take control of the country, put an end to the Purge, and truly make America great, again.  But they have to survive the night to do it, and Roan’s political adversaries want to ensure that doesn’t happen.

As always, Mitchell brings a certain class to the proceedings.  She simply exudes poise and intelligence and plays her role perfectly.  Her Senator Roan represents the voice of reason that is sorely needed in a society that is plagued by fear and insecurity.  It’s a voice that is speaking to the characters and to the audience.  The role is important and carries a responsibility with it that Mitchell carries effortlessly.

The film, as a whole, is incredibly topical and political, as I’ve alluded to.  But it’s also a horror/action hybrid and it succeeds on both levels, though it probably leans a little more closely to the action side.  While solid, I don’t feel that the staging and the choreography are quite up to the standard that Anarchy set, but it was all strong enough and most people probably won’t notice much of a difference.  Along those lines, the character work is also quality, but not quite to the level of Grillo’s Sergeant and Sanchez’s Liz in Anarchy.  Still good, though, and I consider character the single most important element of storytelling so I would say so if I thought otherwise.

The fact is that Election Year had more important things to take care of than the previous films.  It’s obvious that DeMonaco is terrified about where America is heading and both his desperation for a solution and his level of investment pour forth from this film.  One scene, in particular, plays very much like the Donald Trump rallies we’ve all heard so much about and seen on the news, but taken just a couple of relatively small steps further.  But the entire point of the film is that if people can justify all they’ve said and/or done, so far, they can very well justify the next step or two.  That’s what makes Election Year so scary.

While the entire Purge series is a well-made franchise of horror-action films, they’re also about something deeper, which is what sets them apart from the rest of the pack.  Election Year, specifically, makes an effort to get the attention of the good people of America – and the world, as a whole – to rise up and stop the repressive thinking, fear-mongering, and avarice that threatens, as Senator Roan says, the soul of the country.  What’s especially great about this film is that it manages to work on both the literal and metaphorical levels, which is something that another film I recently saw could stand to learn from.

The Purge: Election Year is a thrilling horror film that also has a brain and a conscience.  It implores its audience to find their respective brain and conscience, as well.  If you aren’t up to being challenged, this one might not be for you.  But otherwise, Election Year is like a wholesome meal and a guilty-pleasure dessert in one, expertly crafted meal.

And, with that, I successfully make it to the halfway point of the 2016 Movie March to 100 and I do it on the last day of the first half of the year!  That was not intentional, but it certainly seems like serendipity!  (Have you seen Serendipity?  It has Kate Beckinsale!)  To celebrate, I’ve launched a Facebook page for the site, which you can like by opening up the sidebar and scrolling towards the bottom.  I hope you do just that and thank you for supporting this passion of mine!

50. The Purge: Election Year

50/50, Part 4 -The Top Five Pulse-Pounders

Pulse-Pounders

Welcome to Part 4 of the 50/50 mini-list series!  Don’t miss Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3!

Generally speaking, going to the movies is supposed to be fun.  And nothing is more fun than when a movie sucks you in to the point that your heartrate actually elevates, your breathing speeds up (or stops entirely), and you completely forget that what you’re watching isn’t real.  If only we could get that experience every time!  Well, the following films gave me that experience.  Here are my Top Five Pulse-Pounders from January through June of 2016.

5. Captain America: Civil War

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There’s nothing more personal than a quarrel between friends.  It’s even worse when one friend is attempting to imprison the other.  But when those friends come to blows?  Exciting!  And when the friends bring their friends and it’s an all-out battle royal full of inventive beats and elevating scale (heh)?  PULSE-POUNDING!  Throw in the long-brewing revelations that play out within the story, as well, and I have an easy choice to kick off my Top Five.

4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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I don’t care.  Keep it to yourself.  If your pulse wasn’t pounding during the entire last hour of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, you went in with an agenda.  Marvel is making better films than Warner Brothers and DC, but DC’s films are doing the battles better.  And that climactic war was the most thrilling scene that we’d yet seen in 2016.  And then Wonder Woman appeared!  Once she shows up, it gets even better!  Sure, there wasn’t much in the way of excitement during the first half, but once it kicked in, it kicked in to an unmatched intensity.

3. 10 Cloverfield Lane

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10 Cloverfield Lane was the first movie of the year where I felt like I was grabbed from the beginning and completely at the film’s mercy for the entire runtime.  Though no single scene matched the final battle in Dawn of Justice, this film gets the nod because it was pulse pounding for a longer period of time and also in a much different way.  Whereas both Civil War and Dawn of Justice were pulse-pounding due to being very exciting, 10 Cloverfield Lane achieves the same effect through mood, atmosphere, performances, and instilling a fear for the protagonist(s) and, vicariously, the viewer.

2. The Conjuring 2

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The top two on this list were basically a tossup and the toughest choice of any of these lists, so far.  I stand by my previous statement that The Conjuring 2 is the greatest horror sequel ever made.  It’s every bit as good as the first Conjuring film and contained what, for me, was the most terrifying single scene I’ve ever witnessed in a film.  When that particular scene concluded, I realized that I had been holding my breath (I suppose for the majority – if not entirety – of the scene).  That’s how stimulating it was.  As if that’s not enough to be pulse-pounding, there are plenty of other scares to go around and fill the film out.  The Conjuring 2 was easily one of the most satisfying filmgoing experiences of the year, so far, and it is largely (though not exclusively) due to its ability to get the blood pumping and transport the audience into another (petrifying) place and time.

1. The Shallows

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This probably wasn’t a surprise.  The Shallows gets the nod over The Conjuring 2 due to the fact that, once it gets a hold of you, it never lets up.  There’s no relief.  No tension-free moments to catch your breath.  No safe zones.  The danger is omnipresent.  It’s real.  And it’s imminent.  After a viewing of The Shallows, you can walk away feeling guilt-free that you skipped your cardio for the day!

50/50, Part 4 -The Top Five Pulse-Pounders

50/50, Part 2 – The Top Five Pleasant Surprises

Pleasant Surprises

This is the second installment of the 50/50 series, celebrating the halfway point of the Movie March to 100.  Don’t miss part 1!

Probably the best moviegoing experience one can have is sitting down in a theater with little to no expectations and then proceeding to have an outstanding experience.  Maybe the reviews were bad.  Or the marketing was unimpressive or drab.  Or maybe you just had no clue what the movie was about.  But walking away from a theater happy when you expected to be unenthused at best or outright disappointed at worst can really turn a day around.  While there were other pleasant surprises than these, here are the Top Five Pleasant Surprises from January through June of 2016.

5. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

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The reviews weren’t great.  Lily James wasn’t able to help me enjoy Cinderella.  And Victorian era period pieces aren’t exactly known for stimulating pace and excitement.  But I had a blast with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  The cast was captivating, the dialogue was interesting enough, the action was surprisingly well-staged, and the cinematography was gorgeous.  I bought this one on 4k blu-ray and it will be one of the first ones I watch in that format (it also came with the standard blu-ray) once I upgrade my system.

4. Me Before You

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Okay, again, forgetting my schoolboy crush on Emilia Clarke (she’s single at the same time that I’m single.  That just can’t be a coincidence.), I wasn’t expecting much from Me Before You.  I certainly thought that I would enjoy Emilia.  And I did, because I’m not some sort of soulless demon.  But I was even more impressed by her than I anticipated.  And the rest of the movie made me laugh, made me feel the feelings, and generally entertained me from beginning to end.  The dialogue was sharp, the storytelling was bold and confident, the cast stepped up to the plate, and everything hit the mark.  This one is proving more favorable in the eyes of general audiences than professional critics but really, the audience is what matters more.  So far, it’s made a worldwide gross of over $111 million on a production budget of approximately $20 million.  That’s an unqualified – and much deserved – success.

3. Gods of Egypt

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I have seen very few movies that were as hated before they were even released as Gods of Egypt was.  People complained about the casting, the effects, the premise, the economy, global warming, the presidential election, Brexit . . . all of it was Gods of Egypt‘s fault.  Unlike many of these people, I decided to 1) actually sit down and watch it and 2) do so objectively.  And I had a blast.  The action scenes were unique and exciting.  The tone was light and fun.  The dialogue was tight and snappy.  The cinematography was clean and bright, fully immersing me in the world.  And the cast – despite what many want to claim – was charming and perfectly suited for their roles.  I have since bought and enjoyed this one again on 3D blu-ray.  I’m so glad I decided to make up my own mind.

2. The Nice Guys

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As I mentioned in my initial post regarding The Nice Guys, this movie had a lot going against it from my own personal preference perspective.  I’m not a fan of the seventies.  I haven’t been thrilled with director Shane Black’s recent work.  And the initial marketing campaign didn’t grab me.  But, boy, was I wrong about this one.  I enjoyed myself from start to finish and found that this was the sort of movie that just makes me smile.  The comedy was on point, the action was fun, the pacing was brisk, and Crowe and Gosling worked perfectly together.  I look forward to checking The Nice Guys out again in the future.

1. The Shallows

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The Shallows is a little different from the others because I expected that I would like it to some degree.  I like Blake Lively and the concept was refreshingly simple and guttural.  As much as I like thinkers (Memento and Mulholland Dr. are two of my favorite movies), I also enjoy films that are driven by pure thrill and emotion.  I wasn’t prepared for how much I was going to enjoy The Shallows, however.  Thanks to the combination of Lively’s hypnotic performance and pulse-pounding action, I walked out of the theater considering this one as perhaps my favorite film of the year so far.

50/50, Part 2 – The Top Five Pleasant Surprises

50/50, Part 1 – The Top Five Standout Performances

Standout Performances

This is the first of five Top Five lists for this week.  Each day, Monday through Friday, will see a new 50/50 column covering the first half (50 down, 50 to go) of my March to 100.  Well . . . the first 49, I suppose.  But 49/51 doesn’t have the same ring.  If Thursday night’s number 50 deserves a spot on any of these lists, I’ll give it its due.

The first list is the Top Five Standout Performances of the first half of 2016.  Performances are oft overlooked in favor of just seeing what happens in a movie.  Discovering how the story plays out is only part of a film-watching experience and a strong performance can be incentive for re-watching a film over and over throughout the years following its release.  Here are my Top Five Standout Performances from January through June of 2016.

 

5.  Emilia Clarke – Me Before You

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Yes, I might be a little bit in celebrity-love with Emilia Clarke.  But that doesn’t get her a spot on this list.  The fact is, after owning it on Game of Thrones, she needed a role to like this to show her versatility and avoid typecasting as her career progresses.  But, once she landed the role, she still had to put that potential versatility on display.  And she did that.  She was charming and funny and is largely to credit for the movie being as successful with audiences as it has been.  Me Without You without Emilia Clarke would have been flat and heartless.

4.  Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool

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Nothing was more integral to the success of Deadpool than the casting of Wade Wilson, himself.  Of course, it was well-known long before the cameras rolled that Ryan Reynolds was going to be the man.  And without his dedication to the role and the project, Deadpool would have probably never even seen the light of day.  And, if it had, it likely would have failed.  He provided the humor and heart necessary for the character to translate to a mass audience and lots of people at 20th Century Fox owe him a great deal of gratitude.

 

3. Mary Elizabeth Winstead/John Goodman – 10 Cloverfield Lane

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This is probably cheating.  But it’s my list and they’re my rules.  And I can’t in good conscience mention either one of these two without the other.  Both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman turned in powerful and memorable performances that took a well-written project and elevated it into a nerve-shaking experience.  With both actors injecting layered nuances and subtleties into their characters, the audience was allowed to let themselves be sucked into the narrative and live vicariously through the talents as they left it all up on the screen.  As exciting as the events in the film are, Winstead and Goodman are the main attraction.

 

2. Tom Holland – Captain America: Civil War

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After two previous film versions of Spider-Man and the mixed response to the more recent of the two, no actor had a tougher job at the movies thus far in 2016 than the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Tom Holland.  That job was to introduce the new version of the iconic character to audiences within the safe and protected cushion of a larger project whose success didn’t hinge on audience’s acceptance of his incarnation.  But even though the success of Civil War was not reliant upon the execution of Spider-Man, that didn’t preclude future projects from being dependent upon Holland’s performance and Marvel’s new vision.  Well, Holland stepped up and killed it.  His version is the definitive take on the character, far superior to anything we’ve seen on-screen before.  The previous actors who inhabited the role, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, both had their strengths and weaknesses, but Holland was all strength.  He had the weight of an entire universe, not just a world, on his shoulders and he came through with flying – sorry, swinging – colors.

1. Blake Lively – The Shallows

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Blake Lively was the clear winner from the start of this column.  Though many will unfairly refer to The Shallows as “the shark movie”, it really should be called “the Blake Lively movie”.  As cool as the shark was, the entire project was riding on Lively’s shoulders and on her ability to communicate the experience to the audience.  If we couldn’t believe Lively, we wouldn’t believe the shark.  She projected heart, intelligence, power, and strength in the face of abject terror and did it all so convincingly that we actually cheered for her and not for the shark.  Sony was counting on her and it paid off, literally, as the opening weekend haul was more than twice the studio’s high-end expectations.  The shark probably got a lot of people to the theater for the first couple of days.  But it’s Blake Lively that will keep bringing them back.

50/50, Part 1 – The Top Five Standout Performances

50/50, Part 3 – The Top 5 Underperformers

Under-Performers

Welcome to Part 3 of the 50/50 series of lists for the first half of the year in movies!  Don’t miss Part 1 or Part 2!

It’s always fun to see a film connect with audiences and break out, earning far more money than expected and rewarding the filmmakers for their efforts.  But it’s also sad and frustrating to see the opposite – a well-made film that underperforms at the box office.  This can be due to unfairly bad reviews, poor marketing, or – most often – little to no marketing at all.  The following is a list of films from the first half of 2016 that quite frankly deserved to earn more money than they did/have relative to their respective costs.  Here are my choices for the Top Five Underperformers from January through June of 2016.  (Box office figures courtesy of Box Office Mojo and wikipedia.)

5. Alice Through the Looking Glass

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Production Budget: $170 million
Worldwide Gross: $249 million

Those numbers don’t look too bad at first glance.  But what some may not realize is that a film typically has to gross about twice its production budget in order to break even.  And that’s a best-case scenario because sometimes they have to earn more than that.  So, Alice Through the Looking Glass is about $80 million short of the 2X mark and that would be considered the bare minimum acceptable outcome.  Really, North America was the problem as the film has only grossed $74.6 million there.  That’s compared to the $334 million domestic gross of its predecessor.  And that’s not fair because Through the Looking Glass is a much better film.  It’s more fun, it’s better paced, the art direction is amazing, and the focus is on the right character.  People just didn’t care for the first one, so they didn’t see this one, despite a different creative team being behind it.  And that wouldn’t be the first time, this year, that would happen.

4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

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Production Budget: $135 million
Worldwide Gross: $154 million

This was an even bigger shame.  Out of the Shadows was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie we’ve always wanted.  The problem?  People wanted it last time.  And, again, when they didn’t get it, they rejected the follow-up, even though, as with Alice, it was by a different creative team.  Researching films is important so that, if one chooses not to see a particular film, it’s for a fair reason.  This movie was unfairly ignored and the worst part is that, now that the studio has finally cracked the formula to a proper TMNT movie, we may not see another one.

3. Gods of Egypt

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Production Budget: $140 million
Worldwide Gross: $143 million

Ah, yes.  Gods of Egypt was the film that everyone hated before they saw it.  It actually ended up being harmless, inventive fun with a game cast and crew who got summarily punished by the public for making an entertaining film.  After all, to reward them would involve the admission of being wrong.  This box office result was largely due to audience entitlement and immaturity.  I still see people on comment sections (ugh.  Why do I even?) claiming that this was the worst thing to ever happen to cinema while most of them still haven’t even seen it.  And many who have just regurgitate the criticisms they heard from others before the film was released.  Look, it’s not going to win any Oscars.  But it was a fun couple of hours and a treat for the senses that deserved to make a profit.

2. The Family Fang

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Production Budget: Unknown
Worldwide Gross: $262,766

Okay, so I could find no information regarding the cost of The Family Fang.  And you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  Because it’s only made $262,766 as of June 16.  Look carefully; that’s $262 thousand, not million.  Now, yes, the release was extremely limited.  But not so limited that most people couldn’t have found it if they looked.  And that was the problem here.  It wasn’t easy or readily available, so people didn’t see it or, in most cases, even know about it.  I think it’s important to look into what movies are out there and not to solely rely on the advertising that happens to cross one’s path.  With smartphones, it’s simple, as there are so many apps out there that will tell a person all of the films playing within x miles of their current location.  If a film comes up that isn’t immediately recognized, one more tap will inform them all about it.  In this case, we have a movie made by and starring recognizable talents that has gotten virtually no attention due to a limited budget.  And it’s a great film, so that’s a real shame.  As I say over and over, stop saying that there aren’t original films out there.  They’re there.  Most people just don’t really care to see them.

1. A Hologram for the King

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Production Budget: $30 million
Worldwide Gross: $7 million

This is the biggest shame of all.  The greatest actor of the last thirty years stars in a mass-appeal comedy/drama based on a best-selling novel that gets enough advertising to attain TV spots and trailers and yet it only grosses approximately a quarter of its cost.  There’s no good reason for this.  A Hologram for a King is quality enough to make $100+ million but, again, it wasn’t easy, so people didn’t turn out.  And what a disappointment.  I suppose that’s okay as long as audiences understand that, in order to get films like this, they have to actually go see the ones that get made.  Otherwise, there’s nobody to blame but themselves.

50/50, Part 3 – The Top 5 Underperformers

49. The Family Fang

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Here we go again.  Here we have another movie that, much like A Hologram for the King, would have had pretty strong mainstream appeal if not for its virtually nonexistent shoestring budget and, therefore, invisible marketing campaign.  The Family Fang has everything casual moviegoers like in their lowkey alternatives to big-budget fare.  It’s got comedy, drama, mystery, recognizable faces, and a palatable runtime.  Plus, it’s well-balanced and a pretty great film on top of it.

The Family Fang is star Jason Bateman’s sophomore directing effort (if we’re only counting films).  He’s come a long way since Silver Spoons and Teen Wolf Too.  I truly admire Bateman and his ability to stay relevant for such a long time.  He is professionally self-aware, knowing and embracing his strengths yet also willing to venture outside of his comfort zone.  He does a little of both here and he succeeds in both his directing effort and his turn as co-lead.  As director, Bateman injects a relatable humanity, as we all know what a struggle it can sometimes be to deal with family.  Here, though, several additional layers are added into the mix, making this particular family anything but average.  As costar, well . . . nobody does dry humor better than Jason Bateman.  He is the unequivocal master of it.  But, as Baxter Fang, his internal plight breaches the surface as well and he serves perfectly as an audience surrogate.

One of the primary reasons that I made a point of seeing The Family Fang is the other co-lead, Nicole Kidman.  I’ve been a fan of hers for a long, long time (I mean, come on.  As much as I love Jim Carrey, she was pretty much the best thing about Batman Forever and the strongest incentive to re-watch it, nowadays.) and I wanted her to be a part of my 2016 March to 100.  Playing Annie Fang, an actress who’s having trouble staying at the forefront of her profession as she ages, I imagine that Kidman found something to sink her teeth into here.  She plays it perfectly, very restrained and subdued until Annie reaches her natural breaking point.  It’s an unforced, organic process and Kidman’s effortless honest performance really sells the entire film to the audience.  I would love to see her in more roles (I’m going to try to see Genius if my schedule permits) because she’s still among the best in the business.

Then, we have Christopher Walken.  As long as he’s been in Hollywood and as many excellent roles as he’s had, I can’t help that my first thought of him always goes back to the greatest non-Michael Jackson music video ever made (and, yes, I just paused writing this for four minutes to watch it, again).  But he never fails to entertain and he’s perfectly cast in Fang.  In my last post, I talked about a director who put himself (the artist) ahead of his art.  Walken plays a man who puts his art ahead of everything else in his life, including his family.  Walken projects the perfect combination of callousness and insanity in order to pull it off flawlessly.

The Family Fang falls under the umbrella of what I’ve often referred to (rather uncreatively, I suppose) as a Life Movie.  Life isn’t just a comedy or a drama or dialogue or action but a combination of all of these things.  And that’s what I call a “Life Movie”; it’s a film that imitates life in the sense that it can’t be easily classified as, or pigeonholed into, a single genre because it incorporates several of them into one coherent, flowing package.  If this film had been advertised in any significant way, whatsoever, I have little doubt that it would have found an audience.  I suggest you try to see it.

“But I can’t go the movies!” you say.  “I don’t have time!”  “The schedule doesn’t work for me!”  “It’s too expensive!”  “Another excuse!”  Okay, hey, no problem!  I’ve got you covered!  You don’t have to go to the local theater to see The Family Fang because it’s available digitally right now!  So, go (or stay?)!  Watch!  Support the small little films made by top talent that just don’t have the money to advertise during Monday Night Football or whatever sport is going, right now.  I think you’ll enjoy yourself.

49. The Family Fang

48. The Neon Demon

The Neon Demon

Here’s a peek behind the scenes.  In almost every instance, I write up the first two or three paragraphs of these posts before I see the movie.  Those paragraphs usually just deal with my thoughts and expectations going in and getting those typed up first speeds things up a little bit after I see the movie.  I always reread what I’ve written and edit, if I feel like I need to after the movie.  But usually, I get a head start.

Not this time.

I had so little of a clue as to what to expect from The Neon Demon that I couldn’t even write up a pre-viewing intro.  I wasn’t even sure what genre this film was going to fall into.  And after seeing it . . .

I still don’t.

The Neon Demon is the latest effort from director Nicolas Winding Refn, probably best known for the Ryan Gosling vehicle Drive from 2011.  That film was a dark character study on what motivates a person to go to extremes.  The Neon Demon is slightly more impenetrable.

There is an unquestionable message behind Demon.  And there is plenty of symbolism to drive that home, all centering around how women are the tools of a male-driven society.  Okay, no problem.  I’m all for subtext in film.  But there has to be an initial context for the subtext to be under.

Instead, what we get is an exercise in ego.  Refn clearly thinks highly of himself and, again, that’s not a problem in and of itself.  If someone doesn’t believe they’re good at what they do, then they shouldn’t be doing it.  But it does become a problem when a director constructs a film in such an extremely personal way that the audience and everyone else who worked on said film are left on the outside looking in.

And that’s what happens in The Neon Demon.  I asked myself while watching the film who the primary target audience is and the answer is pretty clear: Nicolas Winding Refn.  The aforementioned subtext is blatantly more obvious than what actually occurs on the film’s surface.  And the entire film has a tone of hostility and discomfort, which is admittedly appropriate due to the content and story, but also oddly self-fulfilling as Refn is so concerned with making the film artsy that he neglects his primary objective of storytelling.

What’s really a shame is that the solid and hard work of everyone else involved in the production is overshadowed by Refn’s selfish presentation.  Even the cast and art departments, whose contributions can’t be hidden away, are mired down in the fact that the audience has to exspend its energy wading through Refn’s mucky waters and therefore can’t give the rest of the film the attention and respect it deserves.

The film, I think, is being marketed as horror.  But that’s misleading.  It takes so long to get to the point of the narrative that, by the time it does, it’s over.  And I was left thinking that I watched a whole lot of nothing masquerading as film.

Refn wants to be David Lynch and he wants The Neon Demon to be his Mulholland Dr..  But while Lynch has his own unique, disturbing style, similar to what we get here, he always prioritizes the art over the artist.  Refn even includes his initials under the title of the film during the opening credits.  That says enough to me.

If you want to see The Neon Demon, see it. If you’re on the fence, I urge you to see The Shallows or The Conjuring 2, instead.  Those are thrilling, well-made films with the audience in mind.  The Neon Demon is a pretentious, self-fellating ego trip designed to satiate the director’s sense of security.

48. The Neon Demon