‘Unhinged’ Doesn’t Let Its Foot Off the Senselessness Pedal

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Unhinged (PHOTO CREDIT: Skip Bolden)

Starring: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson, Austin P. McKenzie

Director: Derrick Borte

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for A Massive Overreaction

Release Date: August 21, 2020

Unhinged is basically the Book of Job but like if Satan’s preferred form of torture were the most outrageous case of road rage ever. Although I must admit that this comparison isn’t perfect, as harried single mom Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorious) is far from as perfectly righteous as Job was. But the inciting incident that she perpetrates hardly calls for the hell that she endures. While trying to get her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) to school on time, she slams on her car horn at the truck stuck in front of her at a green light. The fact that she didn’t instead offer a quick courtesy honk is all the justification that Tom Cooper (Russell Crowe), the driver of that truck, needs to go on a violent spree of making bad things happen to good people.

My biblical reference may sound like a rather high-minded interpretation for such a pulpy film, but I don’t know how else to process this senselessness. Tom says that he’s “been kind of having a hard time lately,” but we never really learn what that is all about. The implication is that he’s finally snapped after being mistreated himself for too long and that he’s now going to take out his anger on whoever’s in his way. But since we learn essentially nothing about his backstory, he registers more as an anonymous agent of evil than an actual person. In that way, Unhinged is like a high-speed, wide-open version of The Strangers, as society is invaded by meaningless destruction disguised as some guy wearing the mask of road rage.

The opening credits feature a montage of traffic accidents, thereby suggesting that Tom’s revenge is the ultimate consequence of a selfish American driving culture. But Tom is too undefined to actually feel like a product of that backstory. He strikes me as more of a piece with the motiveless killers that were in vogue in 70s horror landmarks like Halloween and The Last House on the Left, which The Strangers is a clear descendant of. Nevertheless, I think the viewers who most enjoy Unhinged will be the ones whose blood pumps at one-man-pushed-to-the-brink thrillers like Death Wish or Falling Down. Unlike in those flicks, though, the focus here is on the mom who fights back against that guy and summons the strength to protect her cub. That doesn’t really make the carnage any more palatable, though it does at least make it less likely to linger with a sour aftertaste in your conscience.

Unhinged is Recommended If You Like: Taxi Driver but because you want to fight back and teach the Travis Bickles of the world a lesson

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Cases of the Mondays

This Is a Movie: Lucas Hedges Wades Through the Lies of Gay Conversion to Find Truth and Love in the Unsettling and Fulfilling ‘Boy Erased’

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CREDIT: Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Troye Sivan, Xavier Dolan, Joe Alwyn, Flea

Director: Joel Edgerton

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for Intense, Sexuality-Focused Material

Release Date: November 2, 2018 (Limited)

Boy Erased demonstrates the dangers of putting the unqualified in charge, or pretending that it is possible to be qualified for something that nobody can possibly have experience with. With the suspensefully assured hand of director Joel Edgerton, it plays like a horror film in which the villain is the storm of forces that try to convince you of something that you know in your core not to be true. The setting is a gay conversion therapy program, which is basically the epitome of trauma born out of the most distorted of good intentions. Every story I have ever heard about gay conversion suggests that those involved with running them are either gay themselves or relatives of gay people. Boy Erased very much underscores how terrifying a curriculum designed upon internalized homophobia is.

The film is based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, with Lucas Hedges playing Jared Eamons, an adapted version of Conley. This isn’t the first gay conversion gay conversion-focused film this year, with The Miseducation of Cameron Post having arrived a few months earlier. Boy Erased manages to make a stronger impression thanks to heavier dramatic stakes. Whereas Cameron Post‘s protagonists were so strong-willed that they just ignored the program, Jared actually cares about satisfying the people who want him to go through with it. That especially includes his Baptist preacher father Marshall (Russell Crowe) and his fiercely protective mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman). But at a certain point, he realizes that the so-called adult experts do not know what they are talking about if what they are asking him to do is ripping apart his soul. That means he must push back against head therapist Victor (Edgerton), a man who is frighteningly skilled at hiding internal conflict, and instead listen to the people who only offer him unconditional, recognizable love. It all leads to reconciliation scenes that you hope never have to be necessary for anybody but are all the more fulfilling for how genuine they are.

Boy Erased is Recommended If You Like: Heart-wrenching true stories, Familial reconciliation, Dramas that are secretly horror movies

Grade: 4 out of 5 White Dress Shirts

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Mummy’ Reboot is Lifeless Except for the Rare Moments When It Embraces Its Goofy Side

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Russell Crowe

Director: Alex Kurtzman

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Getting Ur Freak On with Death

Release Date: June 9, 2017

I laughed derisively when the Universal globe logo spun around and gave way to the “Dark Universe” logo, but the joke was on me, as the best parts of this new interlocking cinematic franchise are the ones setting up its upcoming entries. More fundamentally, the reason the joke was on me was because I held out hope throughout The Mummy that something unique or especially thrilling might happen.

As far as reboots go, once again resurrecting the Egyptian tomb-dwellers is far from an outrage. This undead crew is part of the cinematic and larger cultural collective unconscious, so there is plenty of room for new generations of storytellers to add their spin. But this particular version of The Mummy is maddening because it never establishes a convincing reason for why it should exist in the first place.

There is a fairly clean setup in which the Ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) makes a deal with Set, the god of Death, but then is defeated and laid to rest thousands of years to become the title villain. Then Tom Cruise swoops in as low-rent Indiana Jones Nick Morton and slips open her tomb, thus unleashing the Pandora’s box of the Dark Universe. So far, so reasonable. But then the story gets bogged down in mythical mumbo-jumbo about daggers and prophecies and whatever. Universal so obviously wants to copy the success of Marvel, but it is not going to do that by following its worst habit of focusing way too much on the MacGuffins. Are there mythological nerds out there who actually care about this minutiae?

All this plot-centric gobbledygook can be forgiven if The Mummy can provide the genre thrills, but the results in that department are mostly meh. Cruise is as game as always, but the action, while competently shot and coherently edited, is not especially memorable. The one mildly saving grace comes from the stabs at horror. Boutuella’s snake-like body and shadowy face provide a canvas for some decently scary images, as her pupils split into two pairs and her corpse decomposes into a dusty pile of bones (reminiscent of the effects of drinking from the wrong grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

Alas, that is all inconsequential, because the real purpose of The Mummy is prologue to a series of tales in which Dr. Jekyll is the de facto Nick Fury. Russell Crowe plays the good doctor with a motivation apparently split between defeating monsters or assembling them. That dichotomy is potentially interesting and fits the character, but it is a distraction from the actual movie it is in.

At the beginning of this review, I said that I was somehow excited for the rest of the Dark Universe, but mulling everything over, I should probably temper my anticipation, though I still hold out a smidgen hope. The Mummy’s conclusion indicates that the next entries might actually kick back and have more fun by giving extra screen time to characters like Morton’s partner Chris Vail, brought to screeching, howling life by Jake Johnson (New Girl fans will be confused every time he calls Cruise “Nick”). For its lead character, The Mummy could have really used with more off-kilter energy. Cruise can be edgy, but he is too straightforward to match the hysterical, almost Abbott and Costello-esque vibe that Johnson employs to intermittently resuscitate this DOA franchise to life.

The Mummy is Recommended If You Like: Tom Cruise-related schadenfreude, Jake Johnson (though you must be able to endure long stretches without him)

Grade: 2 out of 5 Decompositions

SNL Recap April 9, 2016: Russell Crowe/Margo Price

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SNL: Margo Price, Russell Crowe, Kenan Thompson (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in April 2016.

It has been a while since Russell Crowe has been making headlines for throwing phones at people, so his personal life does not provide much fodder for his “SNL” debut. Instead, he has to rely on how well he can fit into the show’s routine, which he seems pretty confident about after seeing his “Nice Guys” co-star Ryan Gosling pull it off. It is hard to say how hosts who do not have much live performing experience will do, but Russell can follow the precedent of Alec Baldwin, Christopher Walken, and Jon Hamm, who repurpose their intensity from drama to comedy. In this episode, he ultimately does know how to deploy his acting chops as needed, but he could be utilized more frequently.

A Message from Hillary Clinton – Hillary’s recent stretch of primary losses allows Kate McKinnon’s impression to be even more desperate than usual, though it is worth questioning the soundness of this premise. With her delegate lead remaining quite high, do these losses matter all that much? That is the nature of a comedy show covering each bump in the election cycle instead of just the overarching narrative. Besides, this skid is enough fodder to ramp up Hillary’s freakouts, and the upcoming New York primary provides enough culture (New York “Meats,” “tumblr parties”) that she can use to struggle to connect with voters. B

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