The Morning After: May 19, 2014

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Purge


My interest in this film was minimal when I first saw the trailer. I thought it might be interesting, but I didn’t have a lot of interest in seeing it. When I saw the trailer for the sequel, I became quite a bit more intrigued by the premise, so I cheated and pushed it to the top of my Netflix queue (I managed to get three in last week, so I got a whole slate of new releases this week. Therefore I don’t feel so bad).

The film takes place a decade in the future when the U.S. government has established a 12-hour period once a year called The Purge where all crime is legal, including murder, and emergency services are shut down. Those with money can afford to buy protection for their homes while the poor must hope that they don’t become the targets. When the son of a man who sells expensive security systems opens the house to an unknown man running from people trying to kill him, those young murderers threaten the man and his family unless they turn the poor man out to them setting off a cascade of horrors inflicted on everyone.

It doesn’t have the same appeal as the sequel’s trailer, but the concept is enough to drive the action forward and a darkened house narrative is enhanced by the realistic depravity of human beings and those they try to protect. There are comments on Class Warfare, white privilege and familial love mixed into this breezy horror film that doesn’t shy away from the bloodshed, but is still an engaging, thought-provoking film.

Saturday Night Fever


John Travolta’s iconic performance as a Brooklyn Italian paint store worker whose weekend dreams revolve around dancing on the disco floor, cruising for women and living his life to the fullest. In Saturday Night Fever, the 1970’s disco scene is immortalized in a fascinating time capsule.

It’s been nearly forty years since Saturday Night Fever became a box office hit, it’s depiction of the New York discotheque scene forever immortalized as a depiction of grandeur, exuberance and panache. The joy in these kinds of dance moves is conveyed beautifully by an incredibly skilled Travolta and his various partners. Travolta fits into his role as Tony Manero fairly well, though there are too many scenes where his vacant glances foreshadow his decline as an actor within the last two decades.

Exploring the life of a dance floor player whose mundane 9-to-5 life is punctuated by a dead-end job, a bickering family and impossibly high standards. The world he lives in pales in comparison to the one he lives on the dance floor and that dichotomy threatens to destroy his attempts at a different life beyond his thug friends and fawning, sycophantic girlfriends.

Director John Badham may have captured one of the most brilliant periods of American history, but he does so with light flourishes and lethargic camera. It’s a film with no master’s touch behind it that survives largely for its content, not for its directing. The Bee Gees have more to do with the success of the film than anyone, showering the audience with some of the most ecstatic, complex and engaging dance beats ever recorded.

Neighbors


Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) have a young child and are settling into their quiet suburban lives when the house next door is sold to a college fraternity. While they try to make peace with them early and encourage them to keep things quiet for their child’s (and theirs) sake, it’s entirely unsurprising when their good intentions fail to make it through.

Zac Efron and Dave Franco lead the fraternity in their attempts to become important figures in the college party universe by mounting a legendary party at the end of the year that will mount them and their brothers on the wall of fame of their house. Mac and Kelly threaten that potential and when things escalate between them, a war begins.

Neighbors is incredibly funny, but has some interesting things to say about parenthood, growing up and moving on. Mac and Kelly see Teddy (Efron), Pete (Franco) and their brothers as symbols of their disappearing youthful freedoms. Teddy and Pete see Mac and Kelly as their square, lifeless futures. The war becomes a battle between youthful exuberance and growing up, a battle with no winners. Mounting this comedy had many challenges, many of which were exceeded. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s incredibly fun nevertheless.

Godzilla


A mix of monster movie and disaster flick, Godzilla resurrects the grandfather of all monsters, an ancient creature whose arrival portends dark times.

The film is set 15 years after an accident at a nuclear plant. An engineer at the plant loses his wife in the disaster. In the present their son, coming off a short tour of duty, arrives home to spend time with his family. When he’s called to Japan to get his father out of jail for trespassing in the quarantine zone, he becomes part of a chain of events that threaten to break his family apart again, battling a beast that feeds off nuclear energy.

The original film was an allegory for Japan’s uneasiness with nuclear war after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This film has some faint anti-nuclear overtones, but they are largely subsumed by the vast amounts of property destruction. This moves the film firmly into disaster territory with an uneasy and frequently terrifying series of scenes. It’s a thrilling, sometimes exhausting romp that is buoyed by emotionally impacting events peppered throughout the narrative. It’s the consummate popcorn flick. It’s a Michael Bay film with a coherent narrative that doesn’t treat women like car-draping supermodels.

Stage Fright


Ever since the Rocky Horror Picture Show successfully blended horror, science fiction and musical elements, films have been trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to replicate the formula in the intervening decades. What might be a suitable heir to that legacy arrives in the form of a horror comedy musical about kids at a musical theater camp run by the Greaser from the Freezer of Rocky Horror fame.

Meatloaf plays the ex-boyfriend and paternal figure to a pair of young children whose mother was brutally slaughtered on the opening night of a new Broadway musical. The Haunting of the Opera, an obvious spoof on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, becomes the backdrop for the new musical theater camp production of that production. This production soon becomes plagued by a harrassing spirit conjuring up memories of the fateful night their mother died with her daughter playing the lead in the new production.

The performances aren’t Shakespearean in depth, but they are entertaining enough to give the film forward momentum. The musical numbers are surprisingly well written, though not always perfectly performed. It’s a perfect storm of genres that work surprisingly well together with several laugh-out-loud moments and plenty of general fun. It’s a film that deserves to become a cult hit.

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