Alright! We’ve made it to the end of all the movies that I’d meant to put up last month! And, to bring us on home, I’ve got the excellent David Brothers as my special guest this week! I’ve long been an admirer of David’s work, always filled with very thoughtful and deep consideration (so why’s he on here?), plus he’s someone who I know respects the value of a good joke and some ignorant shit (oh that’s why). Anyway, I’m very excited to have David on here!
The First Purge (2018)
SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: DAVID BROTHERS
I am incredibly bitter about the election of Donald Trump. Like, to the death of me bitter. I dream of him accidentally burning down his future presidential library, which would not only be in the gutted, sweaty shell of a former Hooters but would definitely have just one copy of Mein Kampf, a collection of Jason Whitlock essays, and a year’s worth of New York Posts he received by accident and pretended he knew how to read. I desperately need an outlet for this pettiness before it eats me up inside. (I want to sit outside his Oval Office door for weeks at a time, wasting away to skin and bones while running down every insult structure I know. Ya mama’s this and that, you an ol’ melted GI Joe lookin boy, saying his first name in increasingly insulting tones, repeating everything he says iN A moCkINg TOne oF VOIce, and so forth.) I REALLY need an outlet, y'all, so when I found myself frustrated at all the usual indignities of traveling across the country via plane one night, I wanted to watch something that would either make me feel great or let me bleed some hate...luckily, I had rented The First Purge for my trip.
The First Purge, written by The Purge writer/creator James DeMonaco and directed by Gerard McMurray, is a prequel to the other (much more so-so) entries in the series, detailing what happens when a far-right political party decides to test drive their Purge idea one night in an impoverished neighborhood with the nearly full cooperation of the locals. Citizens have two choice: sign up to purge and get paid or get out of town and live. Or they can stay and be purged. Three choices, I guess.
This one opens on the kind of drug addict that America has nightmares about (black, imposing, screaming directly into the camera to make white people afraid) and I immediately got worried. It was such a striking choice that I immediately paused the movie and took to Google to see how many black people were involved in the production. Like, yeah, I'll watch your murder movie or whatever, but if you're gonna invoke certain things I need to at least have a hunch you're not gonna go about it in an extremely racist way, you know? The First Purge's IMDB page said it had a white writer and a black director...I decided to risk it.
It paid off huge. I have a firm idea in my head about theater-movies and home video-movies. Fist Fight, with Ice Cube and Charlie Day? Home video, once for me and once with the homies. Transformers: The Last Knight in IMAX 3D and whatever else? Theater, and then never again. The First Purge is a straight-up theater movie, something best enjoyed in a group of people who find the idea of bloody retribution paired with a pessimistic (or realistic...) idea of what America has been and could be. It's beautiful and ignorant and violent in extremely entertaining and terrifying ways, a movie that'll put you on edge and then pull you back from it with some old fashioned ultraviolence.
This movie hit me coming and going. The violence and ideology expressed in the movie dovetailed in such a way that it felt like a movie built for me. This is a movie where police officers beat up black men on baseball diamonds (what's our national pastime again? congrats to the Red Sox btw, enjoy your White House visit!), where international mercenaries are brought in to cleanse non-white neighborhoods, where klan robes are a hot accessory that can take your police uniform from drab to beautiful...and where a white man in a blackface mask gets strangled to death in a project stairwell by your boy Daniel from Insecure in a shockingly well-staged final series of action scenes. You can infer military training on the part of some of the characters by how they use a gun, and there's a good bit of my favorite action movie trope: Hero Stalks The Bad Guys Through A Dark Building.
As it turns out, The First Purge was exactly what I needed to see. I still hate ol' wassname, of course. It's hard to see an upside to politics nowadays, and the idea of the guilty being punished as they deserve is basically a pipe dream to me. But The First Purge provided so many stand-ins for rage that it felt like a lot of specifically black wish fulfillment, a proper post-President Barack Obama black action movie. Cookie cutter characters (the aforementioned addict, the community activist older sister, the innocent-but-vulnerable younger brother, the drug dealer who loves his hood and his people, naive scientist Marisa Tomei, a mighty white politician) convince you of the urgency, but aren't so fresh or new that you can't call who's going to be alive at the end and who's not ten minutes into the movie. Everyone shows up and the cookie cutter characters are familiar enough to have some baked-in sympathy, but the parts that caught me weren't the performances so much as how ruthless it was in pursuit of an idea: American domestic policy hurts the poor and non-white first, but luckily a lot of these poor brown folks have gotten extremely good at murdering their oppressor.
I think The First Purge is a comforting murder movie, for a very specific value of comfort. This is a movie for people who like hot black people with big muscles, better outfits, and no hesitation when it comes to bopping klansmen on sight. A feel-good prelude to dystopia.
(Also, rap star Desiigner of "Panda" fame is in this for a moment, like he was in Ocean's Eight for a moment. You're two-for-two, my guy. Keep on pushing!)
David Brothers is a writer, editor, and podcaster who was born in Georgia and lives in Oakland. You can find him sitting by the dock of the bay, watching time roll away.
Scream! Scream rules! Remember when Cabin in the Woods (2011) came out and there was all this talk about how cool it was that Joss Whedon made a metatextual deconstruction of horror movies? Had any of those people seen Scream? It’s a million times better than Cabin in the Woods! Cabin in the Woods had this smugness about it and I feel like all of its metacommentary pretty much amounted to characters pointing at a thing from horror movies and saying, “That’s a thing” with nothing else to add. (Although, credit where credit is due, the scene where Chris Hemsworth rides his motorcycle into an invisible force field was very funny to me!) It’s one of those movies for people who don’t really like horror movies, whereas Scream has a real affection for horror movies shining through. Scream comments on the slasher genre, deconstructing it while simultaneously indulging in it. Scream doesn’t see itself as above the trappings of horror movies, it’s celebrating the rules while testing their boundaries in an attempt to push things further. Sorry for ragging on Cabin in the Woods so much, what I really wanted to do was talk about how much I love Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard as murder buddies. That last bit where they explain their plan and start stabbing each other is the height of teen horror movies for me!
Scream 3 (2000)
You may be asking, “Wait where’s Scream 2?” Well, I didn’t get around to it! I like Scream 2 just fine, by the way, but I’d never seen Scream 3 and it was finally time I guess. I’d been hearing that this is one of the lower-tier Scream movies, and I guess that’s true, but there are a lot of very weird, very fun things in here. First off, shoutout to each Scream movie’s dedication to featuring a celeb cameo in the opening minutes then murdering them, though I will say that while I love Liev Schreiber, it does seem a dip in star power from the first two’s Drew Barrymore and Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps. Secondly, I thought Sidney’s whole situation was pretty cool. I love the idea of Scream’s Laurie Strode stand-in being a recluse who’s isolated herself out in the woods and whose only contact with other people is her volunteering on a Women’s Helpline. I don’t think we really get enough of a look at that as Sidney isn’t really doing anything in the movie until the last act, but the good (?) news is that for the majority of the movie what we do get is this weird Dewey and Gale buddy cop situation. The two are in a bit of a fight, but they’re both constantly running into each other, trying to get to the bottom of the murders that are happening on the set of the latest Stab movie (the movie within the movie based on the events of the first Scream movie), plus Parker Posey (!) is tagging along as this weird alternate version of Gale (she’s playing her in the Stab movie). Is it a commentary about how as sequels progress, they get stupider and weirder? I don’t know for sure, but it’s bizarre, and I’d be interested to see what it would have been like if Scream 3 had just leaned further into the idea of a ridiculous murder mystery set in a backdrop of a show biz metatext about a metatext.
The Birds (1963)
I’d never seen this one before, and I was not prepared for how wild this movie was going to be. Tippi Hedren is some San Francisco socialite/prankster and as her latest show of commitment to a bit, she follows this guy out to his family’s house on Bodega Island to secretly deliver a gift of a bird to him (It’s a long story). She delivers the bird, then gets found out, eventually they’re hanging out like old chums with a crush on each other, then for some reason (which remains completely unexplained, hell yeah) every single bird on the goddamn island goes nuts and starts attacking people. It obviously sounds very goofy, but there’s this great scene at the local diner where all the townsfolk have gathered to speculate about whatever the fuck is going on, and someone puts in perspective just how many birds there are in the world (a lot!) and how fucked we would all be if they were all mad at us at once for some reason. The Birds was surprisingly violent in some spots, I was actually pretty impressed by how scary a big flock of birds swarming a house could look. Plus, that last scene where all the birds are perched around the driveway while our main dudes are tiptoeing to their getaway truck is so tense! All because there are like 200 birds just eyeballing you! Birds! Who knew?? A nice example of one of the things that great horror movies can do, making everyday things seem frightening.
Ahhhhh I had a lot of trouble watching this one! There’s a frequent occurrence of the threat of eye damage/mutilation and boy do I always find that incredibly hard to watch (If any of my enemies are reading this, please do not exploit this, thanks in advance). Potential eye damage aside, I wasn’t super hot on this one. This might be dumb, but honestly what I wanted was more opera. Maybe not exactly more shots of opera happening, but I think I mean I wanted something more operatic? I thought the way that her memories are called into question was pretty cool. We see glimpses of scenes from her past, but we’re not sure if they’re dreams or if they’re memories or if they’re happening on a different part of this timeline, etc., but when it all comes together for the last act, I felt a genuinely satisfying “A-ha! I get it!” moment. That scene where they set the ravens loose in the opera house was pretty exciting too, but with the exception of that the whole thing feels kind of low-stakes and I’m not really sure why we’re meant to be rooting for our main girl to make it out of this one aside from the fact that she’s our main girl. I don’t know, maybe I’ll give it another shot sometime. Tessa was telling me that Argento made it because he hated the ending of Manhunter (1986) and he thought he could do better, so I have a lot of respect for that, I think spite is an incredible reason to make a movie (though I love Manhunter and I do think it’s perfect, I also think doing creative things out of spite rules).