The Buzz: The Purge has too much violence and Roadies too much Cameron Crowe

On this week’s The Buzz, we look at a political allegory that is bloodier than a Trump rally, a show made with the spirit of rock and roll, for better or for worst and look forward to a movie starring one of the most exciting young actors today. We also pay tribute to several luminaries in filmmaking and literature who have sadly passed away in the last week.

Film: The Purge: Election Year: The 70’s was the pinnacle for allegorical B-movies. People came for the violence and sex but left with moralistic satires on the state of America. The Purge: Election Year, the third film of the profitable Purge franchise, aspires to grand messages of systemic governmental manipulation of economic disparity while also being a gritty horror-thriller.

Frank Grillo returns from the last movie as former police sergeant Leo Barnes. This time he is the head of security for presidential candidate, Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), whose platform for president is the abolishment of the annual Purge; the one night in the year when all crime is legal (yet the only crime that is ever committed seems to be murder. I guess white collar crime is not interesting film subject matter). Her rhetoric of overhauling this new governmental system does not go over well with the political elite, called collectively as the Founding Fathers, so they set out to kill her on the night to stop all palpable changes that could come with her potential win. The violence begins and Roan and Barnes find themselves in a deli owned by a troubling jive-talking Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson) and his right hand man Marcos (Joseph Soria). Thankfully for Roan, they are believers in her cause as they try to help her survive the night from trained professional killers and tourists from other countries who came to participate in American “patriotism.”

A movie like this can only be made when there is a tangible anger. Death Wish, Joe, Taxi Driver were all released in reaction to the 70’s when people were angry at the Vietnam War, the age of the hippies and the Watergate scandal. The Purge: Election Year is made with a similar anger. This has been a very strange election cycle when two candidates who appeal to different demographics and have very different policies are both capitalizing on the same sense of anger within people.

James DeMonaco, the man behind the franchise, is fueled by that mindset but he cannot have his cake and eat it to. That is the paradox of these types of B-movies. Death Wish was made on the premise that there is a vicious cycle of violence that needs to be broken by virtuous people, yet the film is sold on its aggressive violence. For all of The Purge’s evangelizing of restraint of violence, it revels in the blood and sex that it is sold on. The way the camera lingers on, within the context of the film, female high-school student bodies in slow motion is pure exploitation. Her face is blown off and the audience cheers.

There is no question the most entertaining parts of the film is the bloodshed but smug satisfaction oozes off the film with its real world parallels it tries to make. It is built to get the audience riled up, thinking it is the first movie to expose the problems of economic inequality. But, this film has such a superficial understanding of racial and economic injustice that it is saying nothing at all. Even if it was making a statement, the statement is made useless with the incredibly backwards character of Joe Dixon. From the start the movie sets him out to be a sacrificial lamb to draw on any empathy from the audience. He is the “too old for this shit” wisecracking sidekick of the white, more fully developed (but barely) leads. It’s a regressive character made in a context of a movie that is pretending to be poignant.

The Purge: Election Year is made with the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders wrapped in the anger of Trump supporters. There is a great B-Movie to be made here in the likes of John Carpenter but this is not it. It has a clear message but besets it with gory sex and violence in a way that hinders it its goal. Maybe I’ll just wait until the next election cycle for a B-Movie to satisfy me intellectually as well as primordially.  

Television: Roadies: There was a period of time when Cameron Crowe was the fresh voice of his generation. Fast Times at Ridgemeont High, Say Anything, Singles, Jerry McGuire, Almost Famous, all felt fresh and truthful. Crowe with his background in journalism was able to capture perspectives and personalities. But, for the last 15 years, Crowe has not been able to come close to making a generational landmark like he did in his prime. Last year’s Aloha was disastrous in tone and bombed in the box office. Now Crowe has turned to television with his new show Roadies on Showtime.

Crowe returns to familiar ground focusing on (as a title card says) “The people who make the show happens”; roadies. Luke Wilson is Bill, the tour manager of an arena rock band (who for the best is never seen actually playing music), as the show begins to go through a restructuring as the tour is now joined by a “money guy” (Rafe Spall) who is looking to cut as much costs as possible from the tour. This is a workplace dramedy for the most part, so the rest of the cast is rounded out by a slew of wacky characters led by the-always-better-than-the-part-she-is-given, Imogen Poots as Kelly Ann.

The show does not work because middle age has caught up to Cameron Crowe in the worst way. Like the recently cancelled Vinyl, Roadies is a show made by Baby Boomers who long for a time in music that has passed them by. Crowe, who should be able to knock this type of show out in his sleep, is so stuck in this idea of the glory of the comradery of rock and roll that he forgot to actually put on a show with compelling characters and actions. But, the soundtrack is good I guess.

Roadies represent the worst of the modern prestige television series. It unambiguously from a white, middle-aged, male perspective who is running on the fumes of a director/creator who is being stretched too thin by a series concept. Crowe always had a female problem in his movies. These are characters who are made to help change the troubled, underappreciated males. In the first episode, Kelly Ann is celebrated for her devotion to the band. She was going to quit her job to join NYU Film School only to run back (set to a sappy montage of movie scenes that involves running) last minute to help out with the show because of her love of the music. But, what is this self-sacrifice but a condescending message of giving up a dream of betterment to celebrate a band.  

This is a show that acknowledges the existence of the behemoth that is Taylor Swift but never understands how music has changed since the mid-70’s. Crowe longs for a time of his youth but it has never felt so old before. Crowe needs to evolve and if he doesn’t then his fate will end up like rock and roll.

Coming Soon: Bleed for This: Boxing movies are back. After last year’s Southpaw and Creed, this year has two major release boxing movies on the docket (The other being a Robert De Niro movie called Hands of Stone). Bleed for This is the true story of Vinny Paz whose boxing career is seemingly ended by a car accident. But through determination (and other sports clichés, I’m sure) makes it back to the boxing ring. There are two reasons to watch this movie. One, Aaron Eckhart is wearing a bald cap and looks like you never seen him before. He is also using a gruff voice like he is Mickey from Rocky. It’s the type of over the top performance I live for. The second reason to watch this movie is Miles Teller. He is a modern day De Niro or maybe Nicolas Cage. There is an unpredictability to his acting choices in each role and frankly that is very exciting.

Bleed for This is set to be released November 23rd which is a prime Oscar Spot.

In the Loop: RIP: It has been a sad week in the entertainment world.

Famed writer, holocaust survivor and Noble Prize winner, Elie Wiesel had passed away at the age of 87. He has written over 50 books most famously the memoir Night. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his work to fight for the repressed inspired by his experiences in Auschwitz concentration camp. The Nobel Committee wrote of Wiesel as being, “a messenger to mankind; his message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity.”

British film director, Robin Hardy has died at the age of 86. His film The Wicker Man, released in 1973 is an influential cult classic in British horror.

Michael Cimino passed away at the age of 77. Cimino was a screenwriter and film director during the New Hollywood period which many call to be the greatest period in American cinema. His most famous work is the three hour epic Vietnam film, The Deer Hunter which won Cimino a Best Director Oscar. He, however may become most known for his work on Heaven’s Gate, whose trouble production and flop at the box office has been attributed for the end of the New Hollywood era.

One of my favorite filmmakers passed away this week. Abbas Kiarostami died suddenly at the age of 76. One of the biggest names in the Iranian New Wave movement, Kiarostami was famed for his experimental use of narrative in his filmmaking. Constantly playing with what is true and fiction in his films, Kiarostami became an international film darling winning Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999 with The Wind Will Carry Us. In recent years, he had stopped making films in Iran working with actors such as Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy.

Rest in peace to all those who were instrumental in culture and in art.