Spotlight on Indie Duo, Superhero, Mummified Princess

By BILL GEIGER | Jun 28, 2017

Violence can be its own reward, or it can serve as a release, a catharsis, an unburdening of the soul. Violence is the common denominator in our three films for this week, although in two of the three, the term “violence” might best follow the word “cartoon,” since the use of the violence is not necessarily perilous to the other characters – not even, it would seem, to the one on whom the viciousness is perpetrated.

In the third, though, it’s just plain violence, pure and simple. And it hits you right between the eyes.

“The Mummy” and “Wonder Woman” come out of the “superhero” tradition, and although “The Mummy” does not yet have a recognizable superhero name (Tom Cruise’s moniker in the film, Nick Morton, does not evoke any mention in the Marvel or DC Comic universes), the film’s ending certainly leaves room for several more like it.

This is the first production from the Universal Pictures “Dark Universe” company, so expect more like it as Universal would like to break into the Marvel or DC comic book hero market. It’s off to a pretty good start.

“Wonder Woman,” on the other hand, is recognizable and has a history, so we can understand how violence can work within the world created by this film, which takes place back in World War I (somewhere around 1916). While the thought of Israeli beauty contestant Gal Gadot running with that sword and shield in her hand across No Man’s Land certainly stirs the soul, there’s a heck of a lot more going on in this film, and hands down, it’s one of the best of these super hero films to come along in a long time.

Plus, it’s directed by Patty Jenkins, and is the first female-directed film to best $100 million in box-office receipts on its opening weekend. We’ll have much to say about “Wonder Woman.”

But first, let’s tackle the violent one. That would be the indie “Vincent N Roxxy.” This is one of those films which, truthfully, I really did not know too much about before I had the chance to screen it. Vague ideas, really, bits and pieces from reading various accounts of the “indie” films I like to mix in with those “big” summer flicks. “Vincent N Roxxy” would probably be playing in one of those cineplexes that have 20 or more theaters, which keep one or two small theaters for just these types of films.

Gary Michael Schultz directed “VNR,” which begins with a brief flurry of violence, then descends into an extended stretch of exposition and story, then ends with the film’s major expression of violence. Schultz (2013’s “Devil in my Ride”) knows how to pace a film, and the initial explosion occurs after main character Vincent (Emile Hirsch), a thoughtful kind of guy, witnesses a car crash at a seemingly innocent intersection while waiting for the traffic light to change.

After the crash, a purposeful attempt at stopping Roxxy (Zoë Kravitz), who was running from a crime boss, Vincent sees the aggressive car’s driver get out and start beating Roxxy. He attempts to help, runs and tackles the guy, but the guy pulls a gun, points it at Vincent, then hits him in the face with the gun.

Roxxy makes a run for it, with the guy in hot pursuit. Vincent jumps into his car, follows the pair into an alley and hits the aggressor with his car, knocking him flat.

The two take off, and Vincent explains that he can help Roxxy, but all she wants to do is get away. He tells her about a farm he and his brother have, and says she can hide out there until everything blows over, but she will have none of it and the two part company at a bus terminal.

Vincent eventually goes to that farm, where he searches for his brother amid a frenzy of young people having a major bash, trashing rooms, having sex in every nook and cranny of the house, and generally drinking way too much. Vincent eventually finds his brother, JC (Emory Cohen), playing cards in a converted garage.

There are hints that Vincent left the farm a while ago, and JC wants him back to help run things. JC’s girlfriend, Kate (Zoey Deutch), has been assisting him with the farm, but she also works at a local bar, and that’s where she makes her money. There is some quiet exposition in the farm scenes, and the first real revelation about Vincent occurs here, that he’s the best car mechanic that JC has ever seen. Soon the brothers have opened a car repair shop.

Eventually, Roxxy shows up at the shop, and Vincent invites her to stay at the farm, in an Airstream trailer that Vincent says he used to live in. Kate invites her to get a job at the bar, and the four settle into what looks like a very spare version of the American dream, as Vincent N Roxxy begin to fall in love. But violence doesn’t stay buried for long.

The first occurs when a local tough starts making a play for Kate. JC intervenes, Vincent manages to stay out of it, and it looks like the four take round one. Then the tough retaliates by shooting out the window in the pickup truck that JC drives with a BB gun, which escalates to JC pouring cleaning fluid into the gas tanks of the tough’s family’s cars. More retaliation, as a group of the tough’s friends descend onto the farm and beat up JC.

Vincent comes home to find this, then goes on a berserk rampage, finding the tough and his friends, dispatching some of them with one punch, then taking the tough, beating him down to the ground, then breaking his hand by slamming his car door on it repeatedly. This is the revelation that drives the film, and the reason for Vincent’s quiet reflective comportment (perhaps he’s been trying meditation to help with the violent behavior?) and why he wasn’t at the farm for a long time.

Things go downhill pretty quickly from here. The crime boss, Suga (Scott Mescudi), that Roxxy was fleeing catches up with them, finds the farm, and wants the money, some $40,000, that Roxxy’s brother owed him. Probably nothing stirs up violence more than money owed someone, and revenge and retaliation plunge the end of this often quiet and calm flick into the black abyss.

“VNR” passes the verisimilitude test without even trying, and is as true to life as it gets. Is it worth the money? I think so. The rap on this flick is that it takes too long for the story to unfold, or for the feces to hit the fan. Maybe, but if you want a flick to keep thinking about, this one is it. I saw it a fortnight ago, and it still haunts me.

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“Wonder Woman” is unlike any other superhero movie that’s come down the pike, and the money it has made over the last few weeks bears that out. People like it. It doesn’t have a conflicted hero, a la Batman or Superman, or a wise-guy hero, like Ironman or Spider-Man, or someone flawed and vengeful, like Deadpool. It is not a robot (Transformers), or a Norse god (Thor), or a normal person who puts on a super-power ring (The Green Lantern).

It’s a good movie, this story of Diana (Gal Godot), princess of the Amazons, a legendary (ah, there’s that word again!) group of female warriors who live on the island of Themyscira, a fictional, mystical wonder of a Greek isle in the Aegean Sea. Created by Zeus as a place for the Amazons to live and train, Themyscira was given a protective fog to keep visitors out and sits amid the many islands between Greece and the Anatolian peninsula.

Diana’s mother, the Amazon queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), hinted that her daughter was formed from clay and given life by the goddess Aphrodite, but there is another well-known story that Zeus, that philandering playboy, dallied with Hippolyta and their union brought forth Diana. The latter theory bears some fruit given Diana’s powers. But more on that later.

Hippolyta did not want her daughter to grow up a warrior, but her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright), sees promise and begins to train her in the art of battle. Much to her mother’s distress, Diana is a natural, and soon becomes Antiope’s best student. When she begins to learn the extent of her powers, and learns how to use the two gauntlets she wears on her wrists, she’s finally able to defeat Antiope in training, and this causes her great distress because she loves her aunt. Antiope, who loves her niece, is delighted, though.

Diana runs off and heads toward the cliff that commands a great view of the ocean that surrounds her protected island. She glimpses a biplane blasting through the protective fog and crashing into the ocean. Without a thought, she dives into the water and discovers the pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who is unable to open his safety belt and get out of the cockpit. She helps him and brings him up to the surface, where she sees a German ship approaching and two boats of soldiers heading toward their island.

Major battle between the Germans and the Amazons. No contest, really. Those women really know how to fight. Diana and newly revived Steve Trevor help out, and soon the Germans are dispatched. This was Diana’s first taste of real battle. Trevor tells the women that the Germans have a very powerful chemical weapon, a very potent form of mustard gas, that a particular general named Ludendorff is overseeing, and if they should use it, thousands could die.

When things seem inevitable, Hippolyta shows Diana the sword Zeus had forged, called the “God Killer,” which he gave to the Amazons. He hoped the sword would be used against his son Ares, the god of war, who defeated all the other gods in battle and even, according to this legend, ultimately defeated Zeus himself.

Diana figures Ares is alive and kicking, particularly in this war, hoping to watch the sides battle it out. He may even be behind the chemical weapon. Diana wants to go fight Ares, so she takes the sword and shield and the magic lasso and heads out to fight the Germans. She takes Trevor along, since he seems to know where the war is.

He does, but first he has gather his team together for Diana to meet, a rag-tag band consisting of Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), the spy; Charlie (Ewen Bremner), the marksman; and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a native American who also happens to be a smuggler. These three accept Diana into their midst, especially when they see her fight. Since she’s Diana, princess of the Amazons, she takes the name Diana Prince when she’s in the world of man.

Diana leads a charge across No Man’s Land in an effort to get to the German side of the front and find out where they are making that mustard gas. This chemical enterprise is spearheaded by German Gen. Erich Ludendorff, and Diana begins to think he may be Ares. She’s wrong a couple of times, but the real Ares is quite a surprise. No spoilers here, though.

There are some funny moments in “WW.” There is also a poignancy to the story, especially as Hippolyta realizes it’s time to let Diana find her own way in the world, that she can’t keep her sheltered on the Themyscira forever. Still fired up by fighting the Germans and listening to Steve Trevor’s stories about that super mustard gas, Diana knows she has to leave and carry on the fight.

She leaves with Trevor, and Hippolyta tells another Amazon that Diana can’t learn who she really is, or else Ares would be able to find her more quickly and instigate a fight. Diana has to find Ares out on her own.

It’s an interesting way to describe World War I, as a war instigated by Ares. If you think about all the wars that have happened since ancient times, we think we know the historical causes for them, but what sparked the idea in that first man to consider war? It could have been Ares. And if it was, then it stands to reason that there’d be a group of warriors present to defend the defenseless. We just didn’t know they’d all be female.

And Diana Prince is the modern embodiment of them all.

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“The Mummy” has had a checkered cinematic history. It began its life in 1932 in Boris Karloff’s very capable hands, and has had resurgences in 1942 (in “The Mummy’s Tomb” with Dick Foran and John Hubbard in the lead roles, and one Lon Chaney Jr. as the Mummy), and in 1956 with “The Mummy,” starring Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee as the Mummy.

From there we jump all the way to 1999 and “The Mummy,” again, with new stars Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, and with Arnold Vosloo as the title character. Fraser made two more Mummy films, “The Mummy Returns” in 2001 and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” in 2008. That one co-starred Jet Li, by the way.

So we go almost 10 years, and we have a reboot of the franchise, this time with Tom Cruise as the lead character, who has two franchises already on his plate – Ethan Hunt of the “Mission Impossible” movies, and Jack Reacher of the “Jack Reacher” movies. Is there room on that plate for all these franchises? Apparently so, for as we said earlier, this film, also titled “The Mummy,” has a definite open-ended conclusion, allowing for more films to tumble out of its larder.

And that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, since this one was pretty entertaining. Cruise is not the mummy, though. He’s a soldier of fortune, Nick Morton by name, working sometimes for American interests, but mostly for his own as an antiquities dealer (read “thief”), and he is a man of dubious character. He’ll bed women if they can give him something he’s looking for, he’ll team up with special ops Army or Marine units if they can get him near a prize package, and he’ll even join a secret society if he thinks it will help him in the long run.

But none of this prepares him for the evil he encounters this time around. The mummy he finds is a real doozy. She would be Ahmanet (Sofia Butella), a princess of Egypt, being groomed by her father the Pharaoh to rule the land, until wife number two gives birth to a boy, who would then be destined to be Pharaoh.

So Ahmanet makes a pact with Set, the god of death, kills the baby, her father and his wife, and prepares to sacrifice her lover to Set until she herself is captured by the Pharaoh’s priests, mummified alive, and her sarcophagus sent far away from Egypt so she would never be found.

Leave it to Nick to find her. He and his sidekick Army sergeant Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are in the desert, looking to move into a town that is full of insurgents. This would be somewhere in Iraq, where there is no order, so he rides in, begins to snoop around, and the insurgents return and are hell-bent on shooting up these two Americans.

After running all over town trying to avoid bullets, Vail finally calls in an air strike, and the resulting crater where the insurgents used to be gives way to a burial site, deep underground. This would be an antiquities bonanza, so Morton, Vail and archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) go down to investigate. They find a very elaborate burial chamber, with lots of things set up to limit disturbance. But that doesn’t stop Morton.

He unleashes the mummy and the evil therein, and he somehow is implicated in Ahmanet’s plan to unite with Set and become very powerful. Halsey should have known better, but she belongs to a secret society run by Dr. Henry Jekyll (yes, that Henry Jekyll – played with glee by Russell Crowe), charged with looking into any manifestations of evil. Obviously Ahmanet goes back to ancient Egypt, but Crusader knights buried deep underground in 12th-century London are involved, too, and Jekyll knows just how all this fits together.

He needs his shot of the special serum so he doesn’t turn into the monster Edward Hyde, and he runs a powerful office known as Prodigium, buried deep beneath the Natural History Museum in London. Its job? To find and either contain or root out all evil. As the film moves into its third reel, all the evil forces focus on Jekyll’s Prodigium and on the buried Crusader knights, with Morton and Jenny along for the ride.

That might be the best way to describe this “Mummy,” since it is a pretty wild one. Is there verisimilitude? No, not in real life, but in fantasy movies like this, we can forgive a purple patch or two. So its verisimilitude depends on whether you can tolerate superhero cartoon violence and whooping flights of fancy.

Is it worth the money? I would say so. I think it entertains, and it may leave you with a thirst for more – especially since Morton and Vail ride off into the sunset, like all good cowboys.

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