Deadshirt Screening Room: Indiana Jones, The Purge: Anarchy and Monster Squad

Here are at Deadshirt, we watch a lot of movies. In The Deadshirt Screening Room, we talk about new stuff in theaters, flicks that just dropped on Blu-ray, or just whatever we’re nodding off to on Netflix right now.

Max Robinson is watching…

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The Purge: Anarchy

Directed by James DeMonaco

Starring Frank Grillo, Michael K. Williams and Zoe Soul

2014

I got a wild urge to check this out on HBO Go a few nights ago. DeMonaco’s original Purge is apparently a pretty whatever home invasion flick (I haven’t seen it) but I was really taken with Anarchy, which gives you pretty much everything you’d want out of the premise “all crime is legal for 12 hours” (which, in the world of the film, is pointedly not quite true).

The Purge: Anarchy is basically a horror movie in which the 1% (and some enterprising individuals with flexible scruples) hunt poor people for sport thanks to a new legal holiday instituted by the U.S.’s “New Founding Fathers.” (We don’t really find anything out about this new government regime of 2023, which gives them a cool sense of shadowy menace.) The movie follows an unlikely crew of strangers who get thrown together on the worst night of the year and have to survive the night with the aid of the mysterious Sergeant (Frank Grillo), who is basically The Purge equivalent of The Punisher. We watch them dodge or fight off everything from the apron-wearing, Gatling gun firing “Big Daddy” to creepily masked teenage human traffickers to a jilted girlfriend with a gun. Grillo’s performance is really solid, and the reveal of his whole deal (highlight for spoiler: He’s trying to make it to the house of the drunk driver who killed his son so he can seek some legal payback) does a nice job of throwing viewer expectation off balance. Sergeant’s moral ambiguity (highlight: we never actually find out if he kills the man or just brutalizes him) doesn’t quite get enough room to develop for my taste, but I’m glad Grillo will apparently be reprising the role for the upcoming sequel.

The Purge: Anarchy feels like a modern update of mean, bleak late ’70s sci-fi downers like Rollerball or Conquest of the Planet of the Apes: a well crafted B-movie actioner with some occasionally interesting stuff to say as it lays down suppressing fire.

Dylan Roth is watching…

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, and Shia LeBoeuf

2008

This past weekend a couple of us Deadshirt folks decided to revisit the oft-maligned fourth Indiana Jones movie, which I personally hadn’t seen all the way through since theaters. I remember having an alright time upon my first viewing, but I think I let the Internet hate machine sour my opinion of it over the years. Giving it another look seven years later, it’s easy to see why it’s such a target of ridicule, but it’s also not nearly as bad as its reputation.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a very watchable adventure film that’s punctuated by a few godawful moments. The infamous “nuke the fridge” sequence—in which Dr. Jones survives an atomic bomb test by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator—is pretty stupid, particularly because it serves absolutely no purpose in the story and could be excised with zero consequences. The protracted jungle chase scene has some fun, exciting moments, but those are diffused by unconvincing digital effects and the baffling inclusion of dumb CGI animals. There are definitely scenes or lines of dialogue you can point to and say “see, this is where it all went wrong.”

But despite these low points, there’s a lot to like about Crystal Skull. While we all enjoy making fun of former famous person/current nutcase Shia LeBoeuf, I actually find his performance as Indiana Jones’ heir apparent “Mutt” Williams very endearing. It took guts on the part of Spielberg, Lucas, and screenwriter David Koepp to introduce a presumptive successor to Indiana Jones who truly feels like a completely different character. I’d actually be curious to see a film that follows Mutt on a classic Indy-style adventure, just to see how he’d cope given his totally separate skill set. Sadly, given the fan base’s rather vocal dislike of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I don’t expect to see Mutt in the inevitable Disney-produced fifth Indiana Jones feature, and I think that’s a real shame.

Patrick Stinson is watching…

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Monster Squad

Directed by Fred Dekker

Starring Andre Gower, Robby Kiger, Stephen Macht

1987

I only saw this movie a few years ago, and this was my first revisit. It’s a weird little film that seems like it was conceived to be a cult classic. Imagine The Goonies meets one of the Universal “monster mash” movies of the ‘40s. Dracula and his vassals Wolfman, Gill Man, the Mummy, and Frankenstein’s Monster descend on a suburban town to destroy the amulet that embodies Good, which is the only thing holding them back from taking over the world…somehow. It can only be destroyed once every hundred years, and Van Helsing foiled them last time. Now there is nothing to stop Dracula, except a loose gang of monster-movie fanatics who just happen to find Van Helsing’s old journal.

The plot doesn’t make a great deal of sense; it actually feels like large chunks were gouged out at a late stage of editing. But the plot is just an excuse to get a bunch of foul-mouthed adolescents to tangle with the classic monster stable. Even with my meager Universal monster knowledge, I recognize specific callouts to shots from Frankenstein (1931), and the Wolfman character is very easily imagined as Larry Talbot still clinging to his cursed existence. Duncan Regehr’s Dracula is a standout performance; he gamely assumes the burden of carrying every monster scene for his latex-shrouded co-stars. He also gets an action sequence near the end of the film that recovers every bit of dignity this original vampire has ever lost over the years. (He loses it a scene later, but that’s just the kind of movie this is.)

There’s a devoted crowd who prefers this to Goonies, but this later effort fails to capture its timeless magic. The meaner edge given to the kids supplies some laughs, but dates the film. A scene of outright sexual blackmail with an innocent victim is played entirely for laughs, and you can practically see the screenwriter (Shane Black of all people) wink and nod at the sexist, homophobic, fat-shaming language the kids spew—I can’t argue with the verisimilitude, but there’s no positive message to counterbalance it. In fact there’s little positive message in the movie at all, beyond “root for the people who aren’t the embodiment of evil, I guess” and your basic Boo Radley story that’s been done a thousand times, and better. The idea of this movie is so brilliant that there’s always going to be something I love about it, but it’s ultimately not strong enough to compel my attention the way other campy coming-of-age movies have.

That’s what we’re watching right now, how about you?

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