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Can't Stop the Movies

Hardcore Henry (2016)

Henry wakes up in a lab with no memories and new cybernetic implants.  Estelle, his wife, said this had to be done to save his life.  Soon the lab is under attack by the telekinetic Akan and Henry, with his battery running low, goes on the run.  Ilya Naishuller wrote the screenplay for and directs Hardcore Henry, and stars Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, and Haley Bennett, with Henry played by Ilya Naishuller, Sergey Valyaev, and Andrei Dementiev.

My way of coping with the trials of daily existence is to intellectualize things.  That way, I can start sorting my various emotions and people's reactions to them while forming a list of potential reading or research needed to understand the world better.  I do this so naturally that it's sometimes difficult for me to really communicate how something makes me feel.  So, in the interest of pushing myself outside my comfort zone, here's how I feel about Hardcore Henry:

Hardcore Henry made me feel awesome.  So damn awesome.  Just when I thought the ridiculous escalation of violence and camerawork couldn't get any cooler, director/screenwriter Ilya Naishuller found a new way to make my face erupt in joy.  By the time the climactic fight rolled around, I couldn't contain my giggling anymore.  Each punch, each cut, each bit of chemical intake - it all made me so joyful I wanted to stop Hardcore Henry before the credits so I could watch it again.  I immediately started texting my cineaste buddies and folks I thought would appreciate the lunatic aweseomeness of Hardcore Henry - "Watch Hardcore Henry.  Now.  It's more than its gimmick.  It's insane."


The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Bartholomew Bogues has the town of Rose Creek in the grip of terror.  Either they'll sell him their land, or he'll kill them where they stand.  In desperation, the townsfolk gather what money they can with the aim of hiring help to take out the vicious Bogues.  Sam Chisolm, a drifter with his own past involving Bogues, takes the offer and starts assembling a team to free Rose Creek.  Antoine Fuqua directs The Magnificent Seven, with the screenplay written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk, and stars Denzel Washington, Peter Sarsgaard, and Chris Pratt.

Contrary to popular belief, The Civil War is still being fought.  Sure, the violence has scaled down considerably, but with each black church going up in flames or gathering of Confederate flag-waving Klansmen we get stark reminders that the scars of the Confederacy are deep in the DNA of the southern United States.  Then there are more subtle signs I was privy to going to school in South Carolina.  Talks of the "War of Northern Aggression", teasing "Yankees" out of class, and the too-often drop of the n-word from white fellas who have never had cause to use it.

There's nothing so brazen as the n-word in Antoine Fuqua's remake of The Magnificent Seven, which would have surprised me as Fuqua is the director whose action movies are filled with social commentary.  The "good guys" of Olympus Has Fallen would starve thousands of innocent people if they won, and Fuqua's direct stab at the "working class" always being white has a direct challenge in the tool-filled final action scene of The Equalizer.  A passing glance through The Magnificent Seven wouldn't be promising as Joshua (Chris Pratt) mocks his Mexican comrade, Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), in so direct and insulting a way that Joshua might consider running for President.  Throw in Joshua's tendency to refer to The Civil War as, "The War of Northern Aggression," and you'd be forgiven for thinking The Magnificent Seven as timely and kind to the Confederacy as Gone With The Wind.


Suicide Squad (2016)

Amanda Waller is assembling a team of the worst of the worst that she can control the next time a superhuman crisis breaks out.  With little planning, almost no direction, and a clear disdain for existence, the new team is thrown straight-away into a suicide mission.  David Ayer wrote the screenplay for and directs Suicide Squad, and stars Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and Viola Davis.

There's a quote from Orson Welles, about Orson Welles (one of Orson Welles' favorite subjects), I thought of often while watching Suicide Squad:

"I am Orson Welles -- director, producer; actor; impresario; writer; artist; magician; star of stage, screen and radio, and a pretty fair singer. Why are there so many of me, and so few of you?"

Director David Ayer is not Orson Welles.  That much is clear in the movies Ayer has directed including the excellent End of Watch and Fury.  But in Ayer's work I feel the same restlessness, the need to push whatever genre he's working in to the brink.  In a world where a homogenized superhero style has taken over the majority of blockbusters over on the Marvel Studios side of things, it's no small blessing Ayer takes the challenges he's given and runs with them.


Don’t Breathe (2016)

Rocky wants to get out-of-town and take her little sister along.  Only problem, she's living under an abusive mother and her only means of survival involves burglarizing homes that her friend Alex can get the codes to.  Rocky, Alex, and her boyfriend Money all have an opportunity to make a load of cash by stealing from a blind veteran.  As Rocky and the gang are about to find out, this vet isn't helpless, and he has plans of his own.  Fede Álvarez directs Don't Breathe, with the screenplay written by Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues, and stars Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto.

Back when Can't Stop the Movies was a quartet, I passed up the opportunity to write the review for Fede Álvarez's Evil Dead remake.  Why?  Because the red-band trailer had an image of a woman in silhouette licking a straight razor like it was a popsicle.  I know my limits when it comes to images and have had panic attacks watching some movies (the burial scene in Kill Bill Vol. 2 comes to mind).  There's no way I would have been able to give it a proper assessment when it was in the theaters because I doubted my ability to sit through it.

I'm both happy and nauseous to report Álvarez's Don't Breathe has its own straight razor moment.  The physical repulsion of the moment was, blessedly, less nauseating than seeing a woman lick a razor.  But I did gag, mostly due to the act involving a logical use for turkey basters, and because of the sheer potency of the image.  Don't Breathe features a number of excellent horror moments but it's the way the men react to Rocky (Jane Levy) that will stick with me the most.


Split (2017)

Kevin and Casey are slipping through the cracks.  His doctor mines his multiple personalities for academic success, and she is taunted by her classmates unaware of her trauma.  Neither can account for "The Beast", a rumored 24th personality within Kevin who needs a sacrifice, and Casey might be next.  M. Night Shyamalan wrote the screenplay for and directs Split, which stars James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Betty Buckley.

Considering the good with the bad, one thing I hope we can all agree on when it comes to the movies of M. Night Shyamalan is that he does not take marching orders.  Shyamalan has been connected to franchises like Harry Potter or Indiana Jones only to go back to doing his own thing.  His "own thing" has its share of ups and downs - I'm not sure any amount of cultural recontextualization can salvage The Last Airbender - but as his signature touches became widespread jokes he kept working.

Shyamalan's persistence is to our benefit as 2015's The Visit was a fun surprise about spoiled kids, and now Split showcases Shyamalan's goofy best.  It's important to remember for all the next Hitchcock/Spielberg hype Shyamalan received early on that he never graduated to "serious" productions.  All of Shyamalan's movies benefit from no small amount of camp distance, be it the ludicrous weightlifting scene from Unbreakable or the tinfoil hat jokes of Signs.  If you don't appreciate those moments then Split's going to be a tough sell when James McAvoy pops onscreen with a faux-British affectation muttering schoolmarm aphorisms to terrified teenagers.  I'm the kind of cineaste whose delight in writing that description is second only to watching McAvoy deftly maneuver through the many personas he has to inhabit.