|by Peter Sobczynski
Please enjoy short reviews of "The Bad Batch" and "The Exception."
A couple of years ago, filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour made one of the most striking debuts in recent memory with ''A Girl Walks Alone At Midnight,'' an absolutely mesmerizing riff on the vampire genre that featured a young Iranian woman as the creature in question--this was a film that not only was astonishingly assured from a technical standpoint but which also managed to infuse the inherent cliches of the genre with enough ingenuity and intelligence to make them actually feel fresh again. With her eagerly awaited sophomore effort, ''The Bad Batch,'' Amirpour once again shows that she has talent to burn but this time around, both she and audiences might have been better served if she had just lit a match to the entire proceedings and walked away. In the near future posited by this dystopian saga, America has chosen to get rid of its undesirables but banishing them to a no-mans-land past the Texas border dubbed ''The Bad Batch'' that is ruled by two perpetually warring gangs--the cannibalistic bodybuilders of The Bridge and the drug-fueled hipsters of Comfort. As the film opens, Arlen (British model Suki Waterhouse) has just been banished to the Big Batch and has only been there for a few minutes when she is attacked by members of the Bridge, who proceed to cut off her right arm and leg for dinner. With the help of some ingenuity and a skateboard, Arlen escapes and eventually makes it to Comfort but is not entirely enchanted with them as well. While out scrounging for supples one day, Arlen comes across a Bridge denizen and her daughter and proceeds to kill the former and take the latter with her. What she doesn’t realize is that the girl is the daughter of Miami Man (Jason Momoa) the leader of the Bridge and he vows to find her at all costs. At the same time, the girl has been taken in by the leader of Comfort, known as The Dream (Keanu Reeves), an oily-looking creep who lives in a fabulously appointed mansion with a virtual harem of pregnant women all wearing shirts that say ''The Dream Is Within Me.'' Needless to say, things do not go down in a quiet and refined manner.
Borrowing liberally from everything from ''Mad Max: Fury Road'' to the filmography of Alejandro Jodorowsky, ''The Bad Batch'' is a film striving for cult film canonization in practically every frame. One could even argue that Amirpour achieves that goal during the admittedly hypnotic opening section, in which we follow Arlen's harrowing introduction to her new surroundings, that she stages almost entirely without dialogue in an engrossing example of pure visual storytelling. After that, however, the whole thing quickly descends into a mean, ugly, grotesque and oftentimes repellent stew of grisly violence, self-consciously ironic humor (especially in some of the music choices used to score moments of brutality) and a storyline that no one could possibly care about that ends up centering largely around whether Arlen will wind up with Miami Man (which could be uncomfortable since his people cut off her limbs and ate them) or become another one of the women soaking in the comparative luxury that comes with being with The Dream. Some have gone so far as to charge Amirpour with being racist in regards to some of the imagery that is presented her, though I would have to disagree on the basis that the film as a whole is too idiotic to support any kind of ideology, let alone one as hateful as that. (Trust me, it pretty much has contempt for all of its characters, regardless of race or gender.) As the center of the film, Waterhouse, while not exactly a strong actress by any stretch of the imagination, demonstrates a certain amount of charisma in the early scenes, though, much like the film as a whole, she becomes progressively less interesting as things go on. Pretty much the very definition of ''the sophomore slump,'' ''The Bad Batch,'' while undeniably ambitious, is more of a bad botch and while I still hold to the notion that Amirpour is a talented filmmaker, here is hoping that she got all of her terrible ideas out of the way this time around and cleared the decks so that her third film can live up to the promise demonstrated in her debut.
If you ever wondered what ''Black Book,'' Paul Verhoeven’s jaw-dropping film combining a dangerous and erotically charged love affair, clandestine spy work and Nazis, might have been like if it had been made by a slackwit who had absolutely no idea of how to properly juggle its various audacious narrative threads, ''The Exception'' should prove to be right up your highly questionable alley. Set in 1940, this very silly film stars Jai Courtney (which should be a warning sign right there) as Captain Stefan, a Nazi officer who sort of feels bad about the whole Nazi thing who, after disgracing himself in Poland when he proved reticent toward murdering women and children, is reassigned to Holland as part of the safety detail for the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) and charged with ferreting out the spy that the Dutch resistance has supposedly managed to get inside the house. Although forbidden to fraternize with the staff, Stefan almost immediately begins a kinky affair with housemaid Mieke (Lily James), who turns out to have a couple of secrets of her own. For starters, she is Jewish and more importantly--well, I am fairly certain that you will figure out her other secret long before Stefan does if you haven’t already done so.
As told by director David Leveaux, the film is dumb as dumb can be--the kind of vaguely distasteful film that trucks in something as weighty as the Holocaust in order to try to add some degree of dramatic heft to what is essentially a trashy soap opera. The film does generate a certain amount of interest in the early scenes depicting the affair between Stefan and Mieke because of the surprising degree of explicitness (on both sides) on display that stands in contrast to the essentially neutered nature of most films made these days. However, once the erotic content simmers down to virtually nothing and we are just left with the characters baring their emotions, it falls apart because the two main characters are ciphers and neither one of the actors is able to make anything out of them--James (who acquits herself much better in next week’s brilliant ''Baby Driver'') is the more successful of the two while Courtney looks like he just wandered in from playing Rolf in an extremely dubious production of ''The Sound of Music.'' Speaking of that, the best thing about the film is Christopher Plummer's cheerfully scenery-chewing turn as the Kaiser--he knows he has a cheesy and historically questionable role in a cheesy and historically questionable film and just decides to make the most of it. ''The Exception'' may be instantly forgettable junk in practically every aspect--the kind of film that might have come across as borderline offensive if it weren’t so stupid--but Plummer's performance proves to be the single exception.
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originally posted: 06/23/17 10:27:53
last updated: 06/23/17 15:08:49