Okay so let’s face it: summer movie reviews are played out. The whole process is stale—you have got your previews (which have gotten far too long by the way), mid-point previews, wrap-ups, look-backs, and sneak peaks. It is unoriginal and it is boring. I get it. But, I wanted to try, so bear with me.
Before we start, I want to explain the format. There will be three parts to this article. Each will consist of two superlatives. The latter will be a serious review while the former decidedly less serious (though still informative).
Without further ado:
SUMMER MOVIE REVIEW PT. 1:
MOST UNNECESSARY SEQUEL:
Summer is a time for the franchise; ‘tis the season when we witness them shamelessly birthed and, two-to-three years later, grow. However, this summer—though abundant with reboots—really lacked a solid offering of sequels. While I saw Thor, Captain America, and X-Men and could have done without them, I am not labeling them as “unnecessary sequels” because I must admit I found them a bit enjoyable. Their cinematic quality is undeniable, especially X-Men’s.
The Contenders: The Purge: Anarchy, Transformers: Age of Extinction
Let me start by saying that I dislike most movies that have a colon in the title. Granted, neither of these movies made the ill-fated choice of including such punctuation in their first iteration (sorry, Percy Jackson), but it is still, generally speaking, a bad sign. It screams “I’m only in this for the money.”
Let’s begin with The Purge: Anarchy. Just right off the bat, stupid premise. I am usually not a stickler for “realism” in film but come on. For those unfamiliar with the premise of The Purge, it is one night a year where there are no laws. Not even against murder. Everyone gets out their pent up angst and frustration so they can live happily and comfortably for the rest of the year. Now I understand that there are certain allegorical purposes (governmental policies that maintain existing social arrangements) for this premise, but if we do accept that it serves the purpose of social criticism, can’t we agree that it’s ham-handed at best?
Aside from the basic premise being fundamentally flawed (good start), the sequel to the 2012 surprise hit shakes up the premise of the original almost entirely. I get not wanting to rehash material you have already worked with, but James DeMonaco (writer and director) seems to have entirely changed the genre of the film. The original was a home-invasion thriller ala Panic Room. This one changes the game and sets the main characters out on the mean streets. It kind of looks like Escape from New York; except not fun. I only liked Escape from New York because it was fun. And because of Kurt Russell. Purge: Anarchy has neither of those.
Then we have Transformers: Age of Extinction which is a blatant cash-grab. It is a prime example of the trend in action movies over the last decade or so to be disguised as if made for American audiences, but they are actually just for the international audience. Explosions translate without subtitles. The plot is not hard to catch on to. Yet, for some reason, I am kind of okay with it in this case because of the fact that it does indeed grab a shit ton of cash (over $1 billion as of this writing); and they replaced Shia LeBouf with Mark Wahlberg—who was okay in The Fighter and The Departed—so I do not hate him.
Verdict: Purge: Anarchy
Now for the serious bit.
Life Itself is a documentary about Roger Ebert. It is an interesting choice of subject as he was a celebrity that was never exactly famous. People knew of him. They may not have read any of his reviews but they were aware he was important. But Roger, the man behind the critic, was ignored.
I always had the sense that Ebert was simply a mild-mannered man. Essentially an elder statesman of film. One of the vanguards of a movement responsible for popularizing a critical approach to movie going, even if it did result in the terribly reductive “thumbs-up, thumbs-down” system of rating film.
The arch of the film is interesting in the way that it subtly mirrors the arch of Ebert’s life and relationship with the public. As a younger man the view of the public was manufactured, filtered by the producers and such behind his review show At The Movies. However, once medical complications took his voice and ended his career in front of the camera, he began to interact with moviegoers in a more authentic manner through his presence online and with social media.
Similarly, the first half of his life is covered somewhat distantly with only scant cracks made in his façade. Then once Steve James (the director) was actually present and filming live, the façade is outright shattered. He is emotionally naked. There is one scene in particular where he is having his mouth and throat cleaned that made me completely forget the image of Ebert that I once had of him: that of the smiling older gentleman on the film’s poster.
All told, the film painted a complete picture. One that you would want to know. However, it never shies away from showing either the hard-to-watch moments that challenge this perception. Life Itself achieves the goal of humanizing its subject. It shows his good and bad. The result is powerful. 7/10.
by Jeff Bernstein