The American Dream: The Bad Batch Review

It’s common, while watching Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, to have the thought, “yep, I just saw that.” This statement could refer to a number of things. It could refer to brief moments of intense gore, ridiculously beautiful cinematography, or bemusement at the sheer camp stumbled upon in an otherwise brutal and dry story.

You could call The Bad Batch a survivalist movie. You could call it a cautionary tale. You could call it a love story, though I’m personally ambivalent towards that reading. It’s a terribly simple movie that’s also terribly strange. If Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was Iranian noir, then The Bad Batch is sunburnt Americana — the most cliché American characteristics stretched out to their maximum and stripped down to their basest levels.

At its core, The Bad Batch is about Arlene (model-turned-actress Suki Waterhouse) getting cast out into the desert as one of ‘the Bad Batch’, people deemed not rich, healthy, contributing or just good enough for America. Once in the desert, she’s immediately kidnapped by cannibals and loses an arm and a leg to their meals. She escapes, is found by a scavenger and brought to a makeshift town called Comfort, where other Bad Batch castoffs try to survive with the help of The Dream (a cultish Keanu Reeves.)

Suki Waterhouse as Arlen in The Bad Batch. Photo source.

Those in Comfort are fuelled by The Dream’s drugs and his nighttime desert raves. Comfort is filled with satirical images America — from the raver decked out in a Statue of Liberty costume to a one-legged pole dancer wearing a big t-shirt with an American flag bikini on it. Everywhere there are signs referring to The Dream, be it the drug or the man — clear references to The American Dream —, that pointed fingers at America, saying “this is what you want” or “this is who you are.” It’s not subtle, but little in this movie is, save for the sparse use of dialogue, something I’m beginning to consider as an Amirpour technique, just like her long takes and rack focus.

Keanu Reeves as The Dream in The Bad Batch. Photo source.

In the first twenty minutes of the film, barely any words are said. The audience is left to parse through what they can see to try and figure out what the hell is going on and why people are being forced out into the desert. While hosting a rave, The Dream paints a clearer picture of a post-apocalyptic world that likely doesn’t have the resources for its entire population. The survivalist aspect of the film combined with the desert setting does give off a Western vibe, much like A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night did. Both films have female protagonists, in place of a John Wayne type of character, battling their enemies and they are neither perfect nor nice. They are both killers and they are both alone. Or at least, they’re alone until a guy steps in.

Jason Momoa as Miami Man in The Bad Batch. Photo source.

When I was first looking into the film, I saw that it was described as a love story. This was confusing to me both before and after watching the movie. The love story here is one between Arlen and one of the cannibals, Miami Man (Jason Momoa trying out a Spanish accent for a cuban character). Arlen and Miami Man are brought together by Miami Man’s search for his daughter, Honey, who was taken by The Dream after Arlen brought her to Comfort. Momoa is as brooding and hunky as ever, and maybe I’m just traditional, but I would be hesitant to start romancing with a fella that may or may not have eaten part of my leg for dinner.

How you want to define The Bad Batch is entirely up to you. I personally liked it. However, the two hours of a lot of walking and not a lot of talking garnered mixed reviews from the public. In that bleak desert and with so little speech, the audience is left with an uncomfortable amount of space and silence where they must sit with their thoughts. It leaves so much open to interpretation, so many questions unanswered in this short timeline that barely scratches the surface of the dystopian world it inhabits. In that space we could also find what the movie is and what it might be expected to be.

What it is not is an action-packed thriller. It is not a love story, or a comedy, or even a drama. It’s not a blockbuster, but not a complete indie-house movie either. It plays at being an examination of the human condition in dehumanizing environments when the characters themselves let so little of their person be revealed to each other, let alone the audience.

So what is The Bad Batch? 

I’m viewing it more as an experiment — of what could happen in a very near future, of how we would react to something like that happening, and how we react as an audience to a movie like this that doesn’t sit comfortably into any genre and doesn’t give the audience exactly what they want.

Whether opinions on the film are good or bad, I see Amirpour as a strong directorial voice. As this is only her sophomore feature film release, I’m keen to see what else she has in store and where else she may take us.

The Bad Batch is now playing in select cinemas and is available on iTunes and Amazon. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Five Fall Television Premieres to Watch Out For

When you think about it, September is the kick-off point for the prime binge-watching time of the year. Temperatures outside are dropping, making the image of staying at home in sweatpants, with that half-finished bottle of rosé, the most alluring it has been in the past five months. And let’s be honest with ourselves, with all the family gatherings about to happen, we’re all about to become a lot less concerned about our waistlines, at least until the deep-seated feelings of regret come in January. So, as you begin to kick back for hibernation season, we have taken the liberty of listing off the television premieres that we feel are going to make the biggest splashes this Fall.

Westworld (2 October)

westworld-3-2
Photo Credit: IMDB

HBO has been teasing audiences about this release since late 2014, when the first set of photos were posted online. This was soon followed by news that production was shut down, as the writing for the show began falling behind schedule. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the production has been quite troubled—not surprising, considering the trailers released this year make it seem hugely budgeted and ambitious. The original 1973 film, written and directed by Jurassic Park novelist Michael Crichton, centres around a resort comprised of different worlds, each being an artificial society populated by nearly-flawless humanoid robots, with Westworld being a replication of the old west. Rich vacationers were able to go and live in these societies, however they pleased, that is until the robots unexpectedly turned violent and uncontrollable by those in power. This television adaptation, which boasts a cast that includes Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, and Thandie Newton, seems to have added and fleshed out many of the characters, both in Westworld, as well as those in the rather sinister looking control room where the robots are created. And where the original film slowly builds tension, as the feeling of security amongst the vacationers is slowly lost, this series looks to be going for a creepier, psychological thriller vibe throughout. Moments in the trailer between Hopkins, playing the creator of the resort, and Wood, a Westworld robot, feel reminiscent of scenes in Inception and more recently, Ex-Machina. Brief hints at the shootouts and chase scenes suggest action sequences of blockbuster movie calibre. With a list of producers that includes Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher) and J.J Abrams, this has potential to be the biggest hit of the Fall. Fingers crossed! Watch the trailer here.

 Luke Cage (30 September)

luke-cage-poster-featured-4
Photo: Marvel TV/Netflix

Daredevil offered awe-inspiring action direction and choreography, that quickly allowed the series to stand toe-to-toe with other popular superhero shows like The Flash and Arrow. Jessica Jones soon followed, immediately setting itself apart as a thriller, with flourishes inspired by classic detective fiction tropes.  This new addition to the Marvel Netflix universe, judging from the trailer, seems to be a superhero show taking inspiration from such inner-city crime dramas as The Wire and Southland—a show that creator Cheo Hodari Coker also produced. The series is set to follow the title character, played by Mike Colter, who develops super-strength and invulnerability after being experimented on, while in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He then escapes, and begins to clean up the streets of Harlem. Early reviews are beginning to be shared on social media, and like its predecessors, they are roundly positive. And of course, there will be plenty of easter eggs and hints for what’s to come, as the already invested die hard fans are surely looking ahead toward the 2017 release of Iron Fist and the eventual team-up series. Marvel has proven themselves to be as adept in handling these more tortured, complicated characters, with the same degree of respect and emotional depth as those that populate their brighter cinematic universe. And with each show providing a distinctive style and tone, they are likely going to continue to attract a wider, more mature audience that may not be fully aware of all the possibilities the superhero genre has to offer.  Watch the trailer here.

Crisis In Six Scenes (30 September)

crisis-in-six-scenes
Photo: IMDB

To label this Amazon series, created by Woody Allen, as a “curiosity” would feel like a massive understatement. Allen first inked a deal for a half hour series with Amazon when, according to him, he was not yet sure as to what the show would be. Furthering public scepticism, he later spoke in a couple of interviews about his hope that executives will not be disappointed with the end result, his struggle of fitting the filming of the show around his regular movie schedules, and his feelings of regret concerning the whole endeavour. Such remarks have subsided, and since then, we have been given a clip of a scene involving Allen, playing a neurotic author in a barbershop, and a characteristically vague plot summary. Starring such names as John Magaro (The Big Short), Elaine May (Small Time Crooks), and Miley Cyrus, the series will be a period piece set in the 1960’s, and will centre around a middle class family whose lives are disrupted by the emergence of an unexpected guest (Allen?). Even if this experiment turns out to be a trifle on his filmography, it will hopefully be more of the Radio Days or Mighty Aphrodite variety, showcasing his ability to deftly blend his affection for eccentric characters, clever writing, and occasionally screwball scenarios. As long as it doesn’t feel like a tired rehash of old ideas (looking at you, Scoop and To Rome With Love), the opportunity to see a cinematic titan adapt for an ever-changing digital landscape, will likely be too tempting to refuse, and will surely provide interesting water-cooler discussions for cinephiles.  Watch the clip here.

Transparent (23 September)

transparent-2-744x515
Photo: Amazon Prime Video

The show that announced to world that Amazon is a force to be reckoned with, when it comes to quality serialized drama, is coming back for a third season. The series follows the Pfefferman family—siblings, Ali, Josh and Sarah, and their mother Shelley— as they navigate their own relationships and personal issues, while coming to terms with the shock of their father’s confession that he has always wanted to live his life as a woman. The writing has been frequently superb, veering from laugh-out-loud to uncomfortably real territory, with ease and authenticity. And the deeply resonant performance by Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the patriarch-turned-matriarch of the family, Maura, is something to be marvelled over, as he can move effortlessly from playing unapologetically confident to frustratingly narcissistic to tragically bewildered. The first season was met with a bevy of accolades at the Golden Globes and Emmy’s, mostly for series creator Jill  Soloway and Tambor. By the time the second season premiered, it had won a Peabody, which acknowledges excellence and merit in the television, radio broadcasting, and online media industries. This is no surprise. Transparent hits a sweet spot, where the subject matter feels of a niche, as it magnifies the common experiences and prejudices of those in the trans community, while also exploring themes of otherness and the apprehension towards expressing one’s true self, in ways that feels infinitely relatable. After a few episodes, these characters will feel like equally welcome houseguests as your own family. Watch the trailer here!

Better Things (8 September)

better-things-pamela-adlon
Photo: HITFIX

Pamela Adlon is one of those actors that everyone loves—they just may not be aware of it. She was the voice of Bobby Hill from King of the Hill, as well as multiple characters on Bob’s Burgers and Beavis and Butthead. Her acting roles are also nothing to scoff at either, as she stole pretty much every one of her scenes in Californication, and many others in the Louis C.K.-produced shows, Lucky Louie and Louie. Now, it appears as though C.K. is helping her finally obtain that leading role that she has long-deserved, by producing her show on FX, which she also has writing and directing credits for. Better Things will be heavily inspired by her own experiences as a single mother taking care of three daughters, while also being a working actor in Hollywood. The trailer shows tender moments between herself and her daughters that feel true, while also bluntly illustrating the struggles of having a sex life in one’s 40’s, and having kids who may be more culturally savvy than their parents. Coupled with Adlon’s seemingly-innate ability to play fiery, “not-taking-any-of-your-crap” women, this show should hopefully be able to stand alone from the other Louis C.K.-centric work she has done, and cement her status as an actress to watch out for.  Check out the trailer here.