Thursday, April 9, 2020

Catch Up, Part 1: The Horror of it All

When I became a father, there wasn't really time to go to the movies anymore. Not the end of the world, but I missed both the experience and sharing my thoughts - turns out this review stuff is addictive. I kept watching movies, mind you, but they weren't new movies, so I figured no one would really care all that much. Still, I kept some notes, because I like having a record of what I thought.

Then civilization ground to a halt, and now no one can go to the movies. So... I guess there's no reason not to post this stuff. These certainly won't be as in-depth as my usual reviews - just some brief thoughts.

First up, let's talk horror. This really isn't my usual go-to genre, but to be honest I've seen so many animated series and kid's movies recently (thanks, Disney+) that I've been craving something a little darker as a chaser.

I'm skipping over anything I saw in time to include on my end-of-year wrap up, as well as anything set at Christmas (you know where you'll find those). As usual, I'll try and keep spoilers to a minimum.

Look, I know this is all outdated, so if any of you want to skip this series, I'll understand. Of course, this is a one-time deal: normally, all Middle Room articles are mandatory reading for anyone on the internet, but for now I'll make an exception.

Mandy (2018)
This might have instantly become my favorite Nicholas Cage movie.

First things first. If you like any of the following, you should track this down without reading any more, because the fewer spoilers you have going into this, the better: Nicholas Cage, horror, revenge flicks, heavily stylized film making, genre tinged with the 1970s (that goes for horror, science fiction, or fantasy genres, incidentally).

God, even that list is a spoiler. Not as much of a spoiler as if I'd alluded to Heavy Metal comics or heavy metal album covers, but still more than you should know before watching.

The movie is bizarre and surreal, outright taunting you with the line between what's real and imaginary. It's a revenge fantasy where the main character seems more driven by a fear of having to confront his loss than by anger. It's one part dream, one part nightmare, and seventeen million parts acid trip. Supernatural beings show up and are treated as if they're barely worth mentioning. Or maybe it's all a hallucination: the movie makes a point of not answering any questions. It doesn't even treat them as important.

As an experience, it's at times quirky, disturbing, funny, touching, sickening, and confusing. It's a piece of art that wants to be felt without being understood. I recommend it to anyone willing to take it on its own terms.

Overlord (2019)
I'd heard good things about this mostly overlooked action/sf/horror WWII war flick. Honestly, I'd have tracked it down sooner, but I expected it was going to be more unpleasant based on some blurbs. But while there's definitely some gore and body horror, I didn't find any of it hard to watch, at least not on the small screen. Maybe I'd have felt differently in the theater, or maybe I'm just building up a thicker skin - either way, I wasn't grossed out.

All in all, I enjoyed this as a fun, weird genre flick, but I felt like it needed something more. I know this is heresy, but I kind of wish it had been part of some shared universe or another - the elements were interesting, but I felt a little cheated by the sense that's all there was to the story. I know there was a time this was potentially going to tie into Cloverfield, and I might be alone in wishing it had.

But it was still fun as a (let's be honest) unofficial Wolfenstein adaptation. I'm glad I watched it, but I don't feel like I missed anything by skipping it in the theaters.

Us (2019)
I'm going to start by saying I really enjoyed this. As an exercise in creating a sense of unease, it's phenomenal. It's terrifying and beautiful at the same time. It's an extremely well-directed, well-written, and well-edited film. In other words, it's a really good movie.

Then there's the third act, which...

Okay. Side note: I'm rewriting this for maybe the third or fourth time because I'm constantly reassessing, second-guessing, and completely changing my opinions about what the movie means, whether the symbolism and structure work, and whether any of that really matters.

Frankly, there's an argument to be made that all a piece of entertainment needs to do is entertain, and the straightforward genre elements of Us are a home run. But you also get the feeling this doesn't just want to be entertainment. It wants to be about something and mean something. It wants to be profound.

And maybe it is? There are several ways to interpret the film: as a commentary on class structure, as a meditation on the nature of unity and fascism, as a statement on the politics of the 1980s, today, or both...

And some of these interpretations lead you to some really interesting places and ideas, while others just kind of get confusing. At first, I fixated on class implications and felt the movie was unintentionally insinuating that poor people are remorseless killers (some of those earlier write-ups were less favorable). But the more I thought about the movie and read other interpretations, the more I drifted away from that reading.

I still think the movie's themes interfere with its story rather than enhance it, and I do think that's an issue. However, while those themes may occasionally detract from the film, they never derail it, unlike some other movies I could name. Us may be trying to be a little too intelligent for its own good, but that doesn't prevent the movie from being good. And while I'm not 100% sold that the ideas come together, there's no denying they're intriguing enough to stay with you.

The Mummy (2017)
I liked it? I know. I'm surprised, too.

I don't want to oversell this: it absolutely had some major pacing and editing issues. The movie is dumb, and not just in the ways it's intentionally being dumb. But at the end of the day, this is a campy, absurd, comedy-adventure that feels way closer to the Brendan Fraser installments than I expected. I had fun watching it.

I realize most people (particularly critics) did not. I think a big part of the disconnect was in the visual style: the Fraser movies (well, the first two - let's just pretend the third doesn't exist) resemble Indiana Jones, while this looks like, well... basically like every bleak, CG-heavy grimdark exercise in melodrama Hollywood's produced over the last decade.

And, yes, it's bad the movie looks like that. Add that to The Mummy's faults. But if you can ignore that for a moment, the nonsense is actually funny. Not funny in a "so-bad-it's-good" sense, either: this was supposed to be comedic. Sure, some of its best jokes are stolen from An American Werewolf in London, but... hey, thieves steal from mansions for a reason.

More than that, the world this sets up is really neat. If you were familiar with Vampire: The Masquerade and the World of Darkness back in the '90s, you probably have an idea where this was headed. I honestly would have liked to see that play out. Russell Crowe's Jekyll/Hyde was particularly entertaining. Did he feel like he'd been superimposed on a movie he didn't belong in? Definitely. Would I watch another dozen films with him as an unnecessary supporting character? In a heartbeat.

This is a weird, fun movie with a lot of faults. The movie opens with a brief shot of a knight being buried with a MacGuffin that comes up later but feels laughably (in the bad way this time) random and meaningless, and the editing doesn't get much better from there. And, yes, there's a big super-powered CG fight at the end that's boring and pointless even compared to other boring, pointless super-powered CG fights.

But for all its faults, it was an enjoyable, pulpy flick. Think of this more as an improved version of the Underworld movies and less as a failed blockbuster, and you won't be disappointed.

No comments: