DVD Reviews Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Underworld: Blood Wars (2017)

The age of vampires is nearing its end.  Their oldest and deadliest enemies, the lycans, have all but eliminated the remains of vampire society.  New factions in both the vampire and lycan worlds begin a hunt for Selene, whose blood may be the key to ending the war.  Anna Foerster directs Underworld: Blood Wars, with the screenplay written by Cory Goodman, and stars Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, and Lara Pulver.

The Underworld franchise always made for an easy joke about the laziness of franchises due to its over-reliance on blue photography and lore-heavy dialogue.  When I watched Underworld: Evolution back in my theater days I was supremely grateful for a night vision goggle shot to fill the screen with green instead of the overwhelming blue.  Now, in 2017, the Underworld franchise has chugged along with different directors that hasn't made as complicated a web as the Mummy franchise, but still has its own prequel sequels followed by sequels to prequels to sequels.  Given my dislike of previous entries, and a near 15-year trail of films, I wasn't expecting much from Underworld: Blood Wars.

I wanted more.  Dammit, at the end of Blood Wars, I wanted more movie - which is the opposite of what I expected reading the most basic descriptions of Blood Wars.  The photography is as dark as ever, to the point where I needed to rewind a couple of times to figure out just what the hell was going on in some scenes.  The dialogue is similarly leaden, with grave tones imparting words of covens, different factions both overt and secretive vying for power, and Kate Beckinsale tasked with saving the day once more.


The Salesman (2016)

Late night destruction throws Emad and Rana from their home.  Emad grows distracted from Rana as he has to help find a new place to live, continue his job teaching, and star in a production of The Death of a Salesman.  After Rana is attacked, Emad's scattered focus becomes more violently intense, and creates a rift between him and his wife.  Asghar Farhadi wrote the screenplay for and directs The Salesman, and stars Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti.

The Salesman embarks on a series of firsts for Iranian master writer/director Asghar Farhadi.  It's the first of his movies I've seen where the complex sprawl of characters with their own ethical spaces pared down to primarily focus on one.  That one, Emad (Shahab Hosseini), works hard as a teacher and lead performer in a production of Death of a Salesman.  This leads to another first where the pressures of life on Emad, and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), have a tidy in-universe parallel between Farhadi's look at Emad's anxiety and Emad's role as the titular salesman.

A bit too tidy for my taste.  Farhadi's earlier movies have a unique propulsion as we get fly on the wall glimpses into the lives of each player on his board and watch as their private impulses staggered out into unavoidable conflict.  Grounding The Salesman so thoroughly into Emad's internal ethical conflict does make things a bit "easier" to follow compared to Farhadi's other work.  It also means that the universal conflicts of faith, culture, and class winnowed to a parallel with one of the most overused fictional works of all time.


Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Billy enlisted in the army after getting into trouble protecting his sister - now he's coming back a hero.  He was caught on-camera in a suicidal attempt to save his wounded sergeant and now everyone wants a piece of the heroism they think he embodies.  Ang Lee directs Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, with the screenplay written by Jean-Christophe Castelli, and stars Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, and Garrett Hedlund.

A little over halfway through Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Billy Lynn moving forward), after Billy (Joe Alwyn) has taken the titular walk, his unit sits in different degrees of shock on the bleachers.  Some joke, one is shaking and crying uncontrollably, and Billy watches in silence.  A member of the maintenance crew tells Billy's unit to leave in a crude way, which prompts the floor security to show up and tell both the maintenance crew and the soldiers about his disappointment, and finally the Dallas cheerleaders make an unlikely save to defuse the tension and lead the soldiers away arm-in-arm.

Watch this scene, and tell me who's in "the right."  Everyone - from the soldiers on to the cheerleaders - has a job and someone they have to answer to.  No one is "free" to make their own decisions because they're all trapped by the same need for money and acceptance.  The soldiers are barely in their teens and traumatized by war, but the maintenance crew has to pick up after wannabe prima donnas all the time, the security guards keeping the garish entertainment running, and the cheerleaders part of the spectacle.  When the sparklers die out someone has to pick up the pieces.  Everyone carries the weight of society's expectations on them, and what was heroism two weeks ago is a fading memory for the history books today.

Ang Lee's Billy Lynn is a spectacle with frighteningly clear vision into PTSD and the partisan divide over the second war in Iraq.  By avoiding a clear political stance and focusing so specifically on Billy's deployment nightmare playing out in his mind at home, Lee makes a broader emotional case.  The poor fight our wars, clean our mess, keep the peace, and expose themselves.  The rest of us are free to shoot fireworks, listen to Destiny's Child, argue loudly about the second Iraq war, and ignore the needs of those that keep the debris of our excess from cluttering up the next spectacle.


Central Intelligence (2016)

Calvin was on top of the world in high school, doing backflips, winning elections, and thinking of a bright future with his girlfriend.  Now he's got the stable job, the car, and the beautiful wife, but he's feeling empty.  With his high school reunion approaching, Calvin receives a message from Bob - who Calvin showed kindness to in high school - and their growing friendship intertwines with an international crisis with Bob at the center.  Rawson Marshall Thurber directs Central Intelligence, with the screenplay written by Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ike Barinholtz, and David Stassen, and stars Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.

In my freshman year of college I got a call from someone I had not given a thought to in years.  The guy wanted to talk to me because he felt bad about how he had teased me in high school, and I spent most of the conversation trying to figure out some polite way out of it as I flat-out did not remember this or have many great memories of the friendship.  When I told another friend of mine about the call he said, "You've got to treasure those people."  Now I'm not friends with either of them and by all accounts our lives are moving on just fine.

Central Intelligence plays like the hilarious nightmare version of the conversation I had and the bizarre communal experience that is high school.  The raging hormones and tight quarters of the classrooms caused some memories to bond with greater strength than others.  If someone as overbearingly positive as Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson), who carries his own baggage, barged back into my life I'd be about as excited as Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) - screaming, "I'm not in," to a man way too invested in my livelihood to listen.  I value my privacy way too much to share my space with anyone but my wife, let alone a random person I showed kindness to in high school.


31 (2016)

A cheerful crew of traveling carnies becomes fodder for a deadly game overseen by murderous clowns and southern aristocrats.  The carnies have 12 hours to survive or become a dead decoration for the metallic corridors that may be their tomb.  Rob Zombie wrote the screenplay for and directs 31, and stars Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, and Richard Brake.

I can thank Rob Zombie's movies for ridding me of some of my snobbery.  Some - not all - as now his movies have become so niche in the overall cultural hierarchy of cinema that my love of his work has become a weird form of specific snobbery all on its own.  When I sat down to watch Zombie's 2007 reimagining of 1979's Halloween I left furious at what I felt were unnecessary changes.  That's because I wanted his Halloween to be more faithful to the original and I missed the point of what a reimagining entails.  I returned to Zombie's Halloween and 2009's Halloween II with fresh eyes and found a great appreciation for his treatment of PTSD.

There's little doubt 2007's Andrew would have a lot of negative things to say about Zombie's latest film 31, but that Andrew was an idiot in many ways.  31 may not have the creeping dread of Halloween II or The Lords of Salem, but that's because 31 isn't a horror film.  Zombie's work is more in debt to the cheapie grindhouse circuit of the late '60s and early '70s with the overexposed film stock to boot.  He's never been shy about wearing his influences on his sleeve but when the results are this much fun I don't care.