As we barrel towards Labor Day weekend and all of what it portends, don’t let the urge to wring everything you can out of summer keep you out of the darkened movie theater! All of the movies releasing this week have their fingers on the pulse of our contemporary condition. Take prison break epic Papillon — did you know there is a massive prison strike happening across the U.S. right now? Or guy-on-a-rampage comedy Arizona — doesn’t the plot sound like it could be ripped from the headlines, give or take an assault rifle or two? Or The Happytime Murders (seriously), aka the puppet equivalent of Bright? Yes, it’s safe to say that with all of this week’s new releases, art is closely imitating life:
Between this and A Prayer Before Dawn, it’s shaping up to be quite a season for prison dramas. Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek stars in this remake of the 1973 stunner (itself based on a set of memoirs) set on the notorious Devil’s Island penal colony, as a counterfeiter enlisted to help a safecracker (Charlie Hunnam) escape after being framed for murder. Obvious comparisons aside, this ain’t no Shawshank Redemption. For starters, it’s a whole lot harder to get off of a rock surrounded by water. This isn’t Danish director Michael Noer’s first time telling a story about life behind bars — his first feature, R, from 2010, also traces the relationship of two inmates who meet on the inside. Can Malek and Hunnam do the original 1973 performances of Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen justice? It’ll probably be worth it to see them try.
The Happytime Murders
If anyone can go toe-to-toe with the darkest timeline version of Henson-style puppets, it’s Melissa McCarthy. And Maya Rudolph is there, too! Get ready to have your childhood straight-up desecrated, as every possible bodily function and the scatological joke is exploited through plush and stuffing. Created by Brian Henson (Jim Henson’s son), who was also the mind behind The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppets From Space (and the voice of Hoggle in Labyrinth!), The Happytime Murders was unsuccessfully sued by the makers of Sesame Street for referencing them in its tagline. We think it’s more than safe to say you should leave the kids at home for this one.
Danny McBride, with his laid-back “violent but nice” vibe, was the absolute perfect casting choice for this extremely dark comedy: He looks like a down-on-his-luck Guy Fieri and wields a handgun with a barrel so long that it’s basically a punchline in and of itself. Set in 2009, smack in dab in the middle of the recession and housing crisis, it makes hilarious, horrifying hay from the American Dream gone terribly awry. And is that Seth Rogen getting body slammed by McBride in a real estate office? Yes, it is. Round out the cast with consummate straight man Luke Wilson and Rosemarie Dewitt in the biggest role we’ve seen from her (at least lately), and this violent, satirical delight looks like a fun way to spend the weekend, indeed. In the grand tradition of Falling Down, it seems we may have a new entry into the robust canon of “white guy rage.” You know — Falling Down, Death Wish, etc.
We’ve been missing John Cho since this past spring’s Gemini, and he’s back in full effect as a father desperately investigating his teen daughter’s laptop, trying to find clues about her disappearance and realizing how little he really knows about her. Honestly, we might be witnessing the performance of his career to date. This movie basically says “hold my beer” to Unfriended: Dark Web and the release of both during the same season seems to point to the rise of a new form of storytelling — and actually, a new form of suspense — built from juxtaposing URL and IRL life, and created from contemporary forms of surveillance. Of course, we here at Fandor are already familiar with the “desktop documentary” genre of video essays, but it’s really cool to witness the techniques and aesthetics go mainstream.