Friday, June 14, 2013

Double Feature: Frances Ha and The Purge

This weekend is going to be a great one, I can just feel it in my bones. This is the End has already come out. Man of Steel arrives today. And expanded showings of Before Midnight and Much Ado About Nothing, plus the inclusion of The Bling Ring mean that there will be no shortage of movies to watch in the coming weeks. But I'm still playing catch-up on the movies I've already seen, so here are two about which I just don't have much to say.

Frances Ha is a title that makes no sense until the last few moments of a movie that clocks in at 85 minutes but feels much, MUCH longer. It's the story of Frances (Greta Gerwig), a mid-twenties woman trying to make it in New York City as a modern dancer. In the beginning, she lives with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) and everything is great. But when Sophie moves in with someone else, it throws Frances for a loop, and she spends the rest of the movie moving from place to place trying to find both a permanent residence and a secure life for herself.
Worst. Fight. Ever.
There is certainly a bit to appreciate here, but most of the movie is dragged down by a lack of momentum and the fact that Frances is almost unlikeable as a character. Let's be clear: Greta Gerwig is adorable, and her take on a not-so-young woman who still hasn't found her way in life is pretty much spot-on. Unfortunately, while Frances is at times impeccably introspective (when faced with the faux pas of not having a credit card, her revelatory response is "I'm not a real person"), she makes decisions that make you either hide your face behind your hands or want to reach into the screen and strangle her. The good news is that she's occasionally surrounded by very talented actors who make the waiting more bearable. Unfortunately, this is still a one-woman show that feels lazily directed by her boyfriend Noah Baumbach (Greenberg, The Squid and the Whale), and it seems to be willing to ignore any faults in our heroine while not really making her all that impressive in exchange.
Yeah, I need a drink too.
Frances Ha turns out to be one of those artsy-type films that plays great with reviewers (it's got a freaking 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) but most people won't really be able to get into. I can appreciate the sentiment of the movie, and the finale was definitely the happy ending that both Frances and the audience deserve. However, there's way too much boring stuff here to make it all that worthwhile, and so unless you watch nothing but independent movies, this is one you can safely skip.

The Purge, meanwhile, is another in the vein of "human vs. human" horror flicks. In the year 2022, our country has somehow been "reborn" and our new founding fathers have created a new plan to fight poverty and crime. Called "The Purge", it is one twelve hour evening in which all crime - including murder - is made legal, and all emergency services are suspended for that time, as an act of catharsis for the American public. It certainly seems to work; unemployment is at just 1%, and crime outside of the Purge period is at an all-time low. This year, the Sandin family's plan is to stay at home, lock the doors with the latest in home security, and get through the 12-hour period without attracting any attention. But one mistake results in them being targeted by a group of masked intruders, and when state-of-the-art security can't stand between them, the family discovers what they must do if they want to survive the night.
Killing rich whitey; this movie is like the 99%'s wet dream
Director James DeMonaco may have little feature film experience (his only other movie is 2009's little-seen Staten Island), but he definitely paints pretty imagery, especially when you take the idyllic gated community in which our family lives and compare it to bleak, dark nightmare of when the sun goes down. As a the man behind the camera, DeMonaco certainly seems to have an eye for imagery and how he wants to shoot a particular scene. His moods are energetic, and he definitely keeps The Purge at a quick pace on his way to telling of his intriguing concept.
Now I'm going to be seeing a ton of these masks come October.
Unfortunately that's all that's going for The Purge, a horror film that fails at scaring its audience even remotely. There are a few tense moments, but all in all the horrific bits are quick and painless, and never leave anything akin to a lasting impression. That's often because the characters themselves are irritating and unlikeable. Though there are a couple of recognizable B-listers here in Ethan Hawke and Game of Thrones' Lena Headey, the rest are unknowns and act like it, failing to improve upon the uninspired dialogue and ridiculous character designs. It's hard to feel bad for character who make the most ridiculous and idiotic decisions, and that's what happens here far too frequently. The social commentary is also extremely weak. The idea of 12-hours of illegality to battle crime is an inspired concept, especially in the argument it makes that the poor are still at a distinct disadvantage while the rich can hide behind bullet-proof windows, but it fails to hold up over the course of an entire feature. Combine that with a "WTF" ending that is more hilarious than it is frightening, and you can see why this wasn't released in the Fall with the more effective horror titles.
There really isn't much in the way of scary moves due out right now, with the better-looking ones (including Insidious: Chapter 2, the Carrie remake, and You're Next) not due out for at least a few months. The Purge's job was to fill that empty void until the new stuff came along, and from the box office receipts last weekend it looks like it served that purpose. It's just too bad that it's best recommendation is that it's the only game in town, as it had an idea that would have benefitted from a more polished script to tell its tale.

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