I’ve brought four movies to the table this week, plus some new writing from my good friend and fellow Gone Girl (2014) fan, Aubrey Bellamy! Let’s start off with that one, since I’m sure this is what you came here for!
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: AUBREY BELLAMY
Something I know about 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) that I love to bring up at parties is it wasn’t written to be part of the Cloverfield franchise. I didn’t know this when I first saw the movie in the theater, but I don’t know, now I’m questioning my compulsion to include the info here. Was I supposed to know? Like, maybe I missed an announcement on Deadline, a publication I have repeatedly told Hollywood I do not read, and by the way?? Text me back.
So when the film starts with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) hurriedly packing and knocking over pictures of her looking happy with a man, every tipped frame ominously punctuated by a heavy droning score, the assumption her rush is inspired by the monster (?) weknow killed (??) all of the heroes (???) in Cloverfield (2008) is an easy one. Immediate context clues reveal that shit might not even be on her radar and likely it is “just” a relationship she’s escaping. “How could someone not know about a monster ravaging their city?” you ask. “I don’t know, maybe try being completely in your fucking feelings for once!” I answer, yelling.
Like most cinematic fits of dramaaa, all this leads to a car accident. You know how in a horror movie sex inspires death? Action movies punish attention paid to emotion with their own particular brand of crunched-metal violence. Michelle goes from being on the road, ignoring the face of her now-ex intermittently flashing on an iPhone 6 to waking up with a broken leg, chained to a basement wall. Imagine thinking you made your way out of one box only to immediately end up in another, and this one has the gall to be extremely literal. “No, yeah, I get it” — me if I was in this situation
Michelle’s captor Howard (John Goodman) arrives after she wakes and says lotsss of stuff to make it hard to trust him on a whole bunch of levels. For one, he’s who slammed into her on the highway and fuck it, TWO, he brought her home and chained her up afterward. We, the audience, know things are pretty fucked outside and Michelle definitely shouldn’t be out there, but … being trapped inside this dude’s doomsday bunker doesn’t exactly scream best case scenario. Listen, we all have, at one point or another, felt like we were being held captive by a system created by someone who believed they were correctly interpreting the world and decided on (with no input from the concerned party) a logical way to survive. Howard is society, is what I’m saying.
After Michelle is told there is no way out and no point in trying (which she does anyway, a couple times) she meets her bunk(er) mate, dumb Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.). When I say “dumb” I mean like… “nice and unmalicious in his simplicity.” He views Howard through the eyes of someone who has definitely never been tricked by (here we go again, sorry) the keepers of society — also, he has his own less manic firsthand account of the disaster that appeals to Michelle and now everyone is on the same page, to an extent, about what is up. Ultimately, he isn’t necessarily the ally Michelle deserves, but he’s the one she gets, and he’s fine.
Once all attempts at a breakout are exhausted, the trio settles into a routine that under different, less oppressive circumstances would be pretty idyllic. There’s “family” dinner, there’s puzzles, there’s crafts; Michelle gets to sit down and finish a damn book for once. It’s basically an Airbnb Experience™. Emmett and, more importantly, Howard ease into this life while, let’s not get it twisted, Michelle assimilates. *extremely “that guy” voice* It’s different. Michelle leans in. She learns every nook of the bunker and examines the contents of every drawer, not to mimic the creature comforts of home, but to eventually manipulate her escape.
Not a single second of 10 Cloverfield Lane goes bywhere it’s not completely clear Michelle has no intention of allowing the rest of her life play out inside. She was never going to abide by the devil she knew unless the devil was her own damn self. If she was going to choke on toxic air, get eaten by a monster from space, or meet her end in just a regular-ass way, it was going to be because she’s the one who broke the lock.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but I don’t think I was quite expecting what this was. I had an ex-girlfriend who told me that this was one of the hottest movies she’d ever seen and that this was the sexiest James Spader had ever been, and now that I’ve finally seen it I can one hundred percent do the biggest shrug I’ve ever done. Like, I get it, the sex and power and dom/sub relationship is very hot if that’s your thing, but I can’t make that leap with you when you see James Spader and your brain is like, “Yeah, yup, that guy’s a dom.” And, fine, maybe I don’t “get” James Spader, so take this with a grain of salt, but how would James Spader in this movie being a dom even work? His hair is bad and he’s always wearing such a shitty suit and he’s whispering everything! Aren’t good dom/sub relationships built on communication? You can’t even hear him half the time, you’d have to ask him to repeat whatever order he’s been giving you a couple times before you realize he said some shit like “get on the desk and put on this saddle,” and I dunno that just seems like it would throw off everybody’s vibe or whatever.
I’m goofing a bit on Spader, but the contrast between his reluctant/ashamed dom Edward and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s willing sub Lee is actually really compelling. We’re able to kind of understand the appeal of her unexpected relationship with Edward since we spend so much time with Lee and her interior life, but we don’t really get as much of that with Edward. Through most of the movie his interior life is kept mysterious. We get the sense that he’s done this before and it’s typically ended poorly, but that’s about it, which means all we really know is that this could be trouble for our girl Lee. She’s really beginning to feel love and fulfillment from her relationship with Edward, who for all we know is just some jerk who’s getting ready to push her away like he has with however many others. His ordering her to sit at his desk and not move seems as much a test of Lee’s love and devotion as it is a test of his own ability to love and be devoted to someone. That it’s all done through the lens of a BDSM relationship obviously works to subvert conventional audience expectations, but that moment they share at the end where she asks, “Where did you go to high school? What was your mother like? What was her name? What did it say under your senior yearbook? Who was your first love? When did your heart first get broken? Where were you born?” ends up being just as big a moment as when Edward first spanks Lee over his desk, even if it is less sexually charged. It’s this truly banal line of questions but in the context of what they’ve been putting each other through, it’s a weirdly sweet moment revealing their interest in each other as more than just the other half of their BDSM kink. Their relationship is more than just power and control, it’s now in that moment become about being open and vulnerable, making the relationship more complete. WEIRDLY NORMATIVE ENDING THERE, SECRETARY, WHAT IS THIS AN APATOW MOVIE?? jkjk I liked it, it’s fucked up to be vulnerable around someone.
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
I liked this one a lot and it made wonder why James Mangold didn’t just make another straight up western instead of repeatedly insisting that Logan (2017) was a western. 3:10 to Yuma is legit — there’s a wagon heist barely ten minutes into the movie (then just after the ten minute mark someone shoots a bandit who’s carrying a bundle of dynamite and he and his horse explode *chef’s kiss*), Ben Foster plays this loyal and vicious terrier of a henchman, Russell Crowe is one of those steady-talking, charismatic bad guys that we apparently weren’t sick of yet back in 2007 — it’s great and it’s exciting and it is deeply, deeply macho.
At its core this movie is about masculinity and what a man would do for $200 (I will not be adjusting for inflation because 1) It’s funny, and 2) even in modern times I’m sure we’d all be willing to do something ill-advised for $200, no one who doesn’t need $200 right now reads this blog I guarantee it). The two men in the thick of it are Russell Crowe’s Ben Wade and Christian Bale’s Dan Evans. Wade is the usual cool western outlaw, one step ahead of everyone, has a loyal crew, sweet talks the women, has an interest in art, etc., etc. You know the drill. He has a respect for his enemies that makes him seem enlightened and above whatever inklings of society are hanging around the wild west, but he’s also the kind of guy who will kill you with a fork in your sleep if he’s got a mind to do it* (*he always has a mind to do it). Things are great for him. He’s rich, he’s infamous, he lives by his own rules.
Evans, by contrast (because westerns are about contrasts), is a Taurus. He’s stubbornly trying to live his life by doing the right thing, sticking with his principles, and trying to be a good role model for his kids, and what does he have to show for it? A sawed off leg, a pile of debt, and a son who thinks he’s a big pussy. So when he signs up to help escort Wade to the train to the prison in Yuma, it’s no big stretch to see that he’s not just doing it for $200, he’s doing it to prove to himself and his shitty son that he can be a man who provides for his family. The stakes are raised when his son joins up with the escort mission later down the line and Evans sees that his son probably wishes his father were more like that cool outlaw Wade.
The final act is of course where everything comes to a head. Ben Foster’s Charlie, Wade’s number one henchman, offers up $200(!) to any man that kills the man guarding Wade, effectively turning the whole little town they’re holed up in into a killing force (just like in S.W.A.T. (2003)! Remember S.W.A.T.??). As they’re running, Wade decides that he’s done playing this game and he tries to kill Evans, but he stops when Evans reveals that the only reason he was doing this in the first place was because he’s never told anyone that the real reason he lost his leg was because he was shot as he was trying to desert the Union during the Civil War. He’s a big time dishonorable coward, and he needed this to redeem himself in his own eyes and to show his son what it is to be a good man. Wade helps Evans up and they make a run for it, only for Evans to finally get him on the train and then get shot in the back by Charlie, who was not around for all the character development that had been taking place. Wade responds by angrily shooting his entire gang and then voluntarily boarding the train to Yuma. Honestly kind of a raw deal for Charlie, murdered for his unflinching loyalty, but I don’t know, what is loyalty to another person in this western if not an eventual death sentence? Charlie’s loyalty to Wade ends up getting him killed by Wade, Evans’ loyalty to his principles ends with him getting shot in the back. At least his son was impressed. He’ll grow up fatherless and struggling, but hey who wasn’t struggling out there in the old west? Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked here — what I was getting at is that the contrasting models of old west masculinity and the question of whether to live for yourself or your legacy presented in Wade and Evans’ relationship is an interesting theme in westerns. It’s certainly not wholly original (it’s a remake lol), but its exploration here is compelling and satisfying. Gaining a sense of mutual, grudging respect for your worthy enemies is probably the manliest thing a stoic old west man could do short of raising a good Christian family on his own plot of land. That or riding around free, living by no man’s law but your own. I don’t know, it’s tough, masculinity is confusing. Let’s say mutual respect among worthy enemies is definitely in the top 3.
Violent Cop (1989)
Violent Cop is a weird one. Much of the violence in it feels almost dispassionate — these men kicking and punching artlessly because it’s either their job to hurt someone or just because they’re stronger than the other guy and that’s how they’re going to get their way. There are a few times when the violence is backed by a real desperation or passion, like with the criminal with the baseball bat escaping on foot, or Azuma sticking a pistol in Kiyohiro’s face when he talks about his sister, for example, but what really stuck with me was the casual cruelty of these characters who are just inflicting violence because that’s how they interact with people. Azuma kicks around his sister’s boyfriend and his rookie partner the same way he’d kick around any drug dealer or pimp. That’s just how you have to deal with people in the world of Violent Cop.
I think an interesting thing about this movie is that there seems to be a lack of catharsis or a sense of release that I’d tend to expect from a typical loose cannon cop/vigilante movie. Is the expectation of violent catharsis in a cop/vigilante movie a particularly American thing? I’m not so sure, but I’m not so well versed in international movies and other countries’ feelings about vigilante justice. Sorry :(
Azuma’s violence feels like watching a kid pull the wings off a fly. Takeshi Kitano’s face is perfect for this. His glassy, unfeeling shark eyes make it look like he’s always watching to see what you’ll do next, to see if you’ve got it in you to fight back. Even when his violent methods are used for justice, it never really feels like justice, more like anger that can’t be contained or a way to show that you’re stronger than anything the other guy can throw at you.
When the movie does present moments of violence stemming from real anger and passion, we’re meant to see it like these characters are losing control and going crazy. At the end of the movie it’s that dispassionate, calculating brand of violence that prevails. Azuma and Kiyohiro, the two characters who have most descended into their emotions are on a collision course. Azuma kills Kiyohiro, then he kills his own sister who was kidnapped and turned into a heroin addict (maybe Azuma sees it as a mercy, maybe as an ultimate punishment that only he can deliver), but in the end he won’t make it out alive, and maybe he never intended to. At the end, the crime boss Nito’s second in command steps out of the shadows and kills Azuma in retaliation for killing his boss earlier. He looks over the dead bodies and he says, “Everybody’s gone crazy.” AND THAT’S WHY THEY’RE DEAD, BABY! An epilogue shows that this guy is now the main boss, and Azuma’s rookie partner, whom we’ve up til now been meant to see as a total wiener, is now his bought and paid for dirty cop. Seems he learned that being a violent cop like Azuma will only get you killed. The real winners aren’t the ones who are the most violent and strong, they’re the ones who stay alive to be a real piece of shit the next day.
You can file this under the “I guess I just had to see it for myself!” category. This one was a real turkey of a movie, everyone was right to dunk all over it. Unbelievable that we’re meant to not only root for Chris Pratt’s character and his complete unwillingness to understand the very concept of consent, but that we’re also meant to see him as some salt of the earth everyman?? Randy_Jackson_thats_a_no_for_me_dog.gif. Seriously, placing an entire third of this movie on the idea that Chris Pratt will charm you seems ill-advised. Maybe if he were chubby and funny Chris Pratt. MAYBE.
Jennifer Lawrence similarly logs in a lazy performance that’s meant to be relatable, but to be fair she does get to go flex as an over the top, mean (and rightfully so!) wronged woman. I loved watching her flip out and punch the shit out of Chris Pratt in his sleep and also her cardio brooding. If we have to get Jennifer Lawrence in movies let’s let her get mean!
Everyone was rightfully up in arms about Chris Pratt’s intentionally sabotaging Jennifer Lawrence’s hypersleep or whatever, thus dooming her to a lifetime of being alone with Chris Pratt, and the demand that you see this as a love story, but can we also take a minute to talk about Jennifer Lawrence’s character’s completely ridiculous career plan? She’s a journalist who wants to write about the people who go on this centuries-long journey to live and work on another planet. She’ll take the journey, live on the new planet for a year, write up this story, then travel back to earth to share her story. Pratt asks her how long all this is going to take and she tells him due to the travel time and relativity and other science 250 years will have passed on earth by the time she gets back.
250 YEARS?? HOW DO YOU EVEN KNOW THAT THE EARTH AS YOU KNOW IT WILL BE AROUND IN 250 YEARS?? LET’S SAY THAT IT IS THOUGH AND THROUGH SOME MIRACLE THE FUCKING NEW YORK TIMES OR WHATEVER IS STILL AROUND. WHO WOULD POSSIBLY GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THESE ASSHOLES WHO LEFT EARTH 250 YEARS AGO?? WHO ARE YOU GOING TO BE STAYING WITH BTW?? YOUR HOME IS DEFINITELY LIKE A FUTURE AMAZON DISTRIBUTION CENTER OR SOMETHING. WOW OR IT’S UNDER WATER BY NOW.
Honestly the worst thing about this movie was that it dangles these seeds for more interesting movies. Like yeah I’d love to get to the bottom of what’s up with this mysterious corporation that’s sending people to new planets and sinking them into debt with the cost of space travel (is it all a scam? yes.), or damn maybe I’d like to know why lower tier passengers don’t have access to the same breakfast as gold tier passengers. I mean, I know why (capitalism, class stratification, etc.), and I know that would basically be Snowpiercer (2013) (also bad), but I’d rather spend some time with that than watching Chris Pratt agonize over whether or not he’s going to leave some unassuming woman alone (he won’t). At least in that one we get a different Chris agonizing over eating delicious babies. I truly only have myself to blame for watching this movie, and I am sure I will not be learning from my mistake.