R0BTRAIN's Badass Cinema: 2016 Movie Marathon Challenge
Hey everyone! I'd like to welcome you to my first Badass Cinema column since 2011! I started the "RBAC" for Insidepulse.com in October of 2004 when we founded the "movies" page for the site, after my writing submission was chosen from a group of 50 entries. I was so proud because I'd never published any work before, but had a deep passion for film and pop culture and I couldn't wait to share my thoughts with the world. It's that same passion that keeps driving me to get better and better here at Genresquad, as my voice gets blended into the awesome chorus of writers we have here at the site. I'm humbled to be able to try and help build this website from the ground up with this group, and I'm excited for the future ahead of us.
As for the column itself, I'm hoping to make it pretty regular, but with writing lists, my TV column, and my comics column, we're just going to have to see. It's exciting though, because my "Badass Cinema" writings are where I'm going to talk about all my cinema passions. Action films will probably be my main focus (surprise!), but as you'll see in today's column, I'm also planning on throwing in plenty of horror, thrillers, cult flicks, and anything else I can think of. My love for film goes deep and wide, and there are very few types of movies that I'm not automatically open to. Now on to today's festivities...
2016 Movie Marathon Challenge!
So, how often do you and your friends like to have movie marathons? For my buddies and I, marathons are an essential ritual we try to partake in as often as possible, which unfortunately is not as frequent as it used to be. When we were younger, it was simply a fun way to pass the time, as well as serve as a great excuse to get together. You get to share the films you love in big blocks or you can go the cinema and catch up on a bunch of stuff you haven't seen yet. When you're a big film fan and don't have a lot of responsibilities, there are very few things better than to waste a day with your favorite people and the artform you love.
For my friend and fellow Squad-mate Shaun Stidham, all he wanted for his bacherlor party was to eat some steaks and watch every Friday the 13th movie in order. In other instances, two different friends have thrown marathons where we watched Ninja movies all night. I've also been lucky enough to have several weekends where my buddies and I just sat in theaters all day, taking in the likes of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Non-Stop, Wanted, Hellboy 2, Dragon Wars, The Incredible Hulk, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Avengers, Shoot'em Up, and many many more. As you can see, we didn't always end up watching the "best" movies, but that seemed to make the good ones we did get to watch even better, and the communal experience of taking in cinema made up for any times that seats got uncomfortable or the popcorn was stale.
Now that we're older, working full-time jobs and raising kids, it feels even more special to be able to take a day off and watch a few movies together. Instead of the norm, it's a huge treat, and that's why I was so elated when I got a text from my friend Robert Kirkman (yes, that Robert Kirkman) asking if I'd like to take the day off work and attempt to break our previous record of four movies in a day. Robert's my oldest friend, and we've been doing film outings since high school, but try as we may, we'd never been able to break the barrier of four movies for whatever reason. So, with that in mind, I got in my car to meet him on the day of, and the challenge was on.
So with introductions out of the way... It's Clobberin' Time!
Movie 1: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, and Margot Robbie
Directed by David Yates
I've been watching Tarzan flicks since I was a little kid. My father, who is probably the biggest fan of the character I've ever known, watched the old black and white films of the 30s and 40s constantly, and thanks to him I believe I knew the name Johnny Weissmuller before I ever heard names like Christopher Reeve or Harrison Ford. I remember that signature Tarzan yell and his chimpanzee named Cheetah, and I recall Maureen O'Sullivan's dark hair as she often played Jane to Weissmuller's earnest and heroic king of the jungle.
Even more memorable though, were the shelves filled with paperbacks by Edgar Rice Burroughs. They had these wonderous covers by Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo that absolutely made my young mind run wild with imagination as you saw Tarzan wrestling with exotic animals or dinosaurs or pirates. The images evoked a feeling that made you long to be in that fantasy world the same way Frank Frazetta does for Conan or Ralph McQuarrie for Star Wars. As good as those books were, and Burroughs is one of my favorite writers, nothing in those tomes could quite match the majesty of those covers.
That's why it's also been unfortunate that no Tarzan film has ever made me feel the way those covers did. Weissmuller's films always took place on a studio backlot and Greystoke from the 80s was too self important and made the mistake of relying on the acting abilities of Highlander's Christopher Lambert. The only film that's even come close to giving me the same sense of enchantment was the Disney animated Tarzan from the late 90s, even though the Phil Collins' soundtrack (while pleasant) doesn't really scream "mysterious fantasy adventure".
So with the history of Tarzan pitures and an already unfavorable critical consensus, my expectations were quite low going into David Yates' The Legend of Tarzan, but I'm happy to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by what we found. This is a straight-faced, pulpy, red-blooded version of Burroughs' hero. Just like the similarly derided John Carter, this new Tarzan seems to be made from a place of love and a desire to bring forth the same spirit of those original paperbacks I stared at as a child.
It helps that David Yates has crafted an exceptionally beautiful movie. From 19th century London to the jungles of the Congo, those old Neal Adams covers come to life onscreen as Burroughs' hero battles apes, leopards, natives, and colonials while swinging through the jungle or on the beaches of the Congo. Yates and screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer also smartly construct the picture as if it were the second or third movie in the series, which adds to its pulpy feel. Tarzan is already a member of Parliament living back in England, married to his beloved Jane (Margot Robbie), when he's coaxed into returning to the Congo as a ploy by the film's villain Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a diplomat who has nefarious plans for our hero, including capturing him for a local tribe wanting revenge on the Apeman. Like Batman Begins and Man of Steel before it, the screenplay allows the picture to breath by initially skipping one of the most well-known origin stories of all time, and then slowly parsing it out for dramatic effect when the story needs it.
Of course none of this would work if the film's acting fell flat or if you didn't buy into the film's vine-swinging hero. Thankfully, Alexander Skarsgård jumps off the page and brings Tarzan to life, portraying a nuanced physicality and thoughtfulness the character has never had in live action before. There's a bit with his hands where they talk about how his bone structure is different because he crawled on all fours for most of his life. It's a small moment, but I found it to be indicative of how this adaptation was trying to be more contemplative with what has been one of the more elastic characters in history. When Skarsgård is onscreen, I completely believe he's Tarzan, and I can really pay him no higher compliment.
In fact, everyone across the board comes off pretty well. I'm not used to Samuel L. Jackson not being the most badass person onscreen, but he's pretty terrific here as Tarzan's sidekick George Washington Williams (who was apparently a real person and adventurer). Williams initially conveys the impression that he's over his head as the action begins, but acquits himself nicely as the movie progresses and Jackson's uncontrollable charisma takes hold. The actor really seems to be having fun, and as his character gets swept up in the proceedings I couldn't help but get carried away with him.
Also having a good time are Margot Robbie and Christoph Waltz. Robbie isn't bringing a ton of reinvention to Jane, but she's solid through and through, bringing plenty of energy to a role that doesn't give her a lot to do. It's fortunate she's matched up against Waltz for most of her scenes as the actor is at his slimy best; chewing up scenery with every fiber of his being. With weird ticks and a fun secret weapon, Waltz manages to make Lom creepy and memorable where other actors would have just appeared bland next to Skarsgård's heroics.
The Legend of Tarzan won't win any Oscars or make many Top 10 lists at the end of the year, but as someone who appreciates pulp heroes like Conan, John Carter and Remo Williams, I love what David Yates and crew have done with this storied character. This is a solid action movie that tries to be somewhat thoughtful but plays its story earnestly with reverence for its source. It's not perfect by any means, but the kid who loved those paperback covers couldn't be happier right now.
Movie 2: The Shallows (2016)
Starring: Blake Lively
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
So full-disclosure here: sharks are absolutely one my deepest fears. Like I'm sure it is with many of kids who saw Jaws at an inappropriate age, simply looking at a shark at an aquarium or footage on The Discovery Channel sends shivers down my spine and instantly triggers my fight or flight response. The fear of the creatures themselves coupled with being out in the unknown of the ocean is simply my worst nightmare, which made sitting through The Shallows quite an endurance test.
While Jaume Collet-Serra normally crafts overly complicated, but entertaining B-movies such as Unknown, Orphan, and Non-Stop, The Shallows is utter simplicity. Blake Lively plays Nancy, a surfer girl simply wanting to get away from it all after losing someone close to her. She finds a secluded beach and is out in the water when she stumbles upon the feeding ground of a great white and all hell breaks loose. That's about it for plot, but what Collet-Serra does with it is pretty mesmerizing.
Stuck on an island with a lone injured seagull (credited at Steven Seagull), Nancy has to battle for small victories as the giant predator circles the small band of rocks she uses as a makeshift island. Lively does good work here, but this is Collet-Serra's show, as the director ratchets up tension by giving you the ticking clock of high tide while watching the girl's island of safety gets smaller and smaller. Taking a page from Spielberg, the shark is also kept under wraps pretty well, only coming out to strike in short bursts, but when it does it's appropriately terrifying.
Though sharks are some of the most frightening creatures on the planet, almost every film about the animals other than Jaws are pretty much terrible. The Shallows learns those lessons and applies them with great style and patience. Jaws made you afraid to go to the beach, and The Shallows wants to make sure you'll definitely never want to go surfing ever again.
Movie 3: The Purge: Election Year (2016)
Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, and Betty Gabriel
Directed by James DeMonaco
I wasn't sure what I'd make of The Purge: Election Year when I saw it. A lot of major horror series as of late (Saw, Paranormal Activity, Insidious) had seen a lot diminishing returns with their sequels and the addition of making the series' more political themes more overt this time around seemed like an odd choice. Turns out though, I was totally wrong, and wasn't quite giving the flick its fair shake.
The action moves from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. for this entry as Frank Grillo's Leo Barnes from the second picture is now a secret serviceman watching out for a Senator (Elizabeth Mitchell) who is running as an anti-Purge candidate, saying the annunal event where crime is legal only ends up hurting the poor so elites can cut down on social services and stay rich. The only problem is, the duo have to end up survivng the annual Purge event before they can even get to Election night in order to make changes.
While it's far from a masterpiece, this third Purge film works well by really doubling down on its whole look and feel, turning D.C. into an "instant science fiction dystopia". Also, bringing its political subject matter to the forefront gives the movie a more Escape from New York kind of feel that I enjoyed quite a bit, and Frank Grillo is a natural fit for a no-nonsense Punisher or Snake Plissken-type while the movie pours it on with a ton of shootouts and action sequences. I still don't feel like this series has reached its full potential, but Election Year is well worth it for fans of this series.
Movie 4: Swiss Army Man (2016)
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
I'm in a weird position when it comes to talking about this film because the less you know about it going in the better. Before watching the movie I had seen the trailer, but I had not read any reviews in detail and I had avoided most stories about it other than one about its very divided reception at Sundance. I went into this about as cold as possible and I'm so glad I did.
I will say this; if you see one movie about a suicidal loner who ends up bonding with a farting corpse, make it this one. Swiss Army Man is bizarre, funny, sad, life-affirming and kind of creepy. It makes me recall the magical realism of the best of Michel Gondry and made me uncomfortable like the work of Jody Hill. I say with no irony at all that Daniel Radcliffe, who plays the farting corpse, deserves a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
By many accounts this has been one of the worst movie summers of all time, and if you're tired big, dumb CGI-filled sequels and remakes, Swiss Army Man may be the movie you've been looking for.
Movie 5: Free State of Jones (2016)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell, Mahershala Ali
Directed by Gary Ross
So our last movie of the evening was Free State of Jones, which looked like an interesting enough story of runaway Confederate soldiers and slaves who drive out the local slave-owners in their region to form their own bondage-free territory. I may end up doing a full review of the film on my Letterboxd page, but I will say that this is a watchable, but not great movie with solid performances from many involved, especially Matthew McConaughey, who gives his usual 110%. If you're lover of local Civil Wars re-enactments or a "McConaissance" completist, then this movie may be for you, otherwise I'd wait for home video, Netflix, or cable.
So in the end Robert and I went 4-1 for our Movie Day, which is an exceptionally solid day at the cinema, and we finally broke our single day record! With one new classic under our belt (Swiss Army Man) and three entertaining spectacles you couldn't ask for a much better way to spend a day at your local Cineplex. With many big budget letdowns coming out this summer, you may have a little harder time finding something you like, but if you look hard enough, there are still good movies waiting to be found.