Kings We Tell (Weekly Links)

Hawke's nest, The Purge

Hawke’s nest, The Purge

Links to reviews I wrote this week for the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

The Kings of Summer. (Link broken; review below:)

By Robert Horton

Maybe it’s a lingering childhood memory of the classic book “My Side of the Mountain,” or a weakness for a certain kind of afternoon-daydream movie, but “The Kings of Summer” fell directly into my sweet spot. The movie doesn’t exist in a real world (please don’t waste energy trying to reconcile psychological motives or social logistics) but in the enchanted realm of a teenage summer.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts understands this charmed mood, which is why he layers the film with dewy inserts that would not be out of place in a Terrence Malick picture. The result is a nicely bittersweet ode to killing time and patching up differences. We must begin by buying into screenwriter Chris Galetta’s implausible premise. Three high-school lads build a ramshackle house of their own, in a clearing in some woods outside their suburban Ohio hometown. Joe (Seattle native Nick Robertson) has had it with his ill-equipped father (Nick Offerman); both are working through hostilities connected to the death of Joe’s mother. Joe’s friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is almost as disenchanted with his parents (Megan Mullally and Mark Evan Jackson), and so he joins his bud for the adventure. A nerdy classmate named Biaggio (Moises Arias) also takes up residence in the forest pad. Biaggio is not their friend, exactly, but he helps them construct the house, and he’s just…sort of…always…there. An intensely bizarre lad given to disconnected one-liners, Biaggio is typical of the movie’s odd vibe: He could not exist in real life, yet he’s completely recognizable as a certain kind of kid.

A few weeks go by, the situation with Joe’s crush Kelly (Erin Moriarty) becomes very complicated, and parents search for their boys. This missing-child scenario isn’t played in the elfin, stylized mode of “Moonrise Kingdom,” but it’s not realism either. Whatever it is, Vogt-Roberts is onto something.

You may have noticed the names of some TV comedy regulars in the supporting cast. “The Kings of Summer” tosses the ball to these pros with gratifying regularity, which generates some of the jitterbugging rhythm of the “30 Rock” school without sacrificing the wistful undertones of the piece. At times Vogt-Roberts—whose previous work has been in TV and shorts—catches the bounce of a Richard Lester-directed Sixties comedy, and he already knows where the camera should be for a joke to pay off. Added bonus: With its tale of breaking away, the movie supplies its own metaphor as a quiet respite in the hustle and bustle of a blockbuster summer at the movies. For which, much thanks.

The Purge. (link broken; review below)

By Robert Horton

Yes, of course: You’ve just seen someone shot dead in your home on the night designated as a nationwide lawless spree during which nobody will be held accountable for their violent actions, plus a stranger burst into the house a moment before the gunplay and is loose on the premises. You could stick with your family and their weapons supply. But no, by all means, go off alone and see what happens. Makes perfect sense, right?

Pity “The Purge”: Every time this movie comes near something truly eerie in its concept, it reverts to behavioral stupidity to keep its plot going. And in the course of its single-location 85 minutes, it really needs to keep its plot going.

It’s the year 2026, and America has adopted the Purge. This is a single night of unrestrained, unpunished violence, most of which is aimed at people who can’t afford to barricade themselves inside homes with security systems. Sounds crazy, but the Purge keeps the country at peace the other 364 days of the year. We’re going to spend this night inside a well-appointed mansion in a wealthy gated community, where a family has deployed their steel doors and settled in to watch the show on their surveillance cameras. In fact, patriarch James (Ethan Hawke, maintaining the besieged vein of last year’s “Sinister”) makes his money selling home-security systems, so there’s irony in his house turning into a target for the night. He and his wife Mary have two kids, neither of whom acts in sensible ways. Because Mary is played by Lena Headey, from “300” and “Game of Thrones,” we have a reasonable expectation that she will summon up some fierceness during the night. The family is going to need it, because a gang of weirdies is outside, demanding blood.

Even if the idea might not hold a lot of real-world credibility, writer-director James DeMonaco is aiming at some interesting ideas about the outlets of violence, and the complacency of this sheltered family, and the thin veneer that separates civilized behavior from barbarism. An uncomfortable sequence involving the restraint of a hostage really drives this home. Yet “The Purge” can’t play fair with its own premise, or even with its limited set. Time after time, the characters behave in the way most likely to get them purged. Although gun battles break out after the mansion is breached, nobody seems to hear shots going off in other parts of the building.

And if you’re going to stage an entire movie inside a house, it would be useful for the audience to know where things are. Instead, “The Purge” is a jumble of scenes in different rooms, completely disconnected from each other logically or spatially. Not the way to survive the most chaotic night of the year.

Stories We Tell. “This scrupulous approach is welcome in an era of sometimes navel-gazing ‘personal’ documentaries.”

No KUOW appearance this week; back on schedule next week.

I’ll be part of one of those panels at the Seattle International Film Festival; this one’s Saturday afternoon, June 8, at 1 p.m., and is called “The Media and the Movies: In Cahoots or at War?” Location is SIFF Film Center; more info here.


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