The Purge: Election Year (Full Review)

Despite having a unique premise, the first Purge movie did little to establish itself as anything more than a more gruesome reboot of Panic Room. But 2014’s Purge: Anarchy made the necessary improvements to make the series standout, mainly by expanding the characters and scope while also hammering home the underlying political allegory. The Purge: Election Year seeks to continue that good fortune and keep this popular film franchise from falling back into the mediocre doldrums of most modern day films in the horror genre.

The_Purge_Election_YearYou don’t have to see the previous Purge movies to get what’s going on. In the near future, America has an annual twelve hour period known as the Purge, where all crime including murder is legal. The horrendous act is sanctioned by a government ran by elitists known as the New Founding Fathers. In Purge: Election Year a senator (Elizabeth Mitchell), whose family was murdered during the Purge when she was a teen, is threatening to win the upcoming Presidential election and end the violent practice. This obviously makes her the target of the New Founding Fathers, and they set out to eliminate her during the Purge. Her only protection is her bodyguard (Frank Grillo reprising his role from Anarchy), and a few everyday citizens.

There is plenty to like about this movie if you’re in to the action-horror genre. The action is intense and anything but boring and most of the characters involved are likeable even if they are relatively generic. There is no greater example of this than Mykelti Williamson’s performance as store clerk, Joe Dixon. The entire character’s arc follows a wholly predictable pattern, but the endearing performance makes every cliché line feel genuine and humorous more times than not. The likability of the characters is just barely enough to get through some of the more cartoony moments of the movie.

The biggest problem with The Purge: Election Year is that it just isn’t different enough from Anarchy. Once again, a skilled battle weary character has to navigate through violent streets with the aid of every day citizens. Even the ending feels too familiar to the previous film. The too often over-the-top moments make it feel a bit less authentic than the previous installments as well. But while the leap in quality doesn’t match the gap between Purge 1 & 2, there’s enough here to be entertained. And it’s also worth noting that the inevitable sequel has a half-decent set up.

FINAL GRADE: B-

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Captain America: Civil War (Full Review)

Just over a month ago, DC/Warner Bros. released a movie about superheroes fighting superheroes… sort of. Now, along comes the superhero film Goliath that is Marvel to one up them. Captain America: Civil War is an adaptation of one of the most popular comic storylines ever, pitting two of their most iconic heroes against each other. Loosely based on the source material, this cinematic version serves as a sequel to 2014’s phenomenal Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well as being a quasi Avengers 2.5.

Captain_America_Civil_War_posterIt’s been a year since the Avengers stopped Ultron from destroying the earth and now Captain America (Chris Evans) leads a new team featuring assassin turned heroine, Natasha “Black Widow” Romanov (Scarlett Johansson), intelligent android, Vision (Paul Bettany), sorceress, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), winged soldier, Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie), and Iron Man bestie, James “War Machine” Rhodes (Don Cheadle). After a mission to stop a vengeful terrorist (Frank Grillo) goes horribly wrong, former Hulk adversary and current U.S. Secretary of State, Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), brings down the Sokovia Accords: a doctrine forcing all heroes to adhere to the United Nations rather than act as an independent force. While guilt causes Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) to support the new law, the ever weary Captain America refuses to serve a government agenda, causing things to get dicey when Cap’s former best friend turned brainwashed assassin resurfaces (Sebastian Stan). The conflict splits the Avengers in two, with half siding with Iron Man and the others with Captain America.

All of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films aren’t great, as some might have you believe. Some are mediocre (Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and others I just flat out don’t like (Any Iron Man movie after the first one). But the Captain America films have always stood out to me over the rest. This is due in large part to deeper subject matters and more intricate storytelling. Civil War is no different, in fact, it may be the MCU’s most earnest film yet.

Let’s start with the conflict, unlike with March’s Batman v Superman, this film’s budding rivalry has had several years to brew. So when things go downhill, it feels genuinely heartbreaking to see the two comrades and former friends warring against each other. An exceptional script that does a solid job sharing the two perspectives without condemning either one, makes this film feel more realistic than any Marvel movie to date. Both sides are right just as much as they are wrong, and this aspect drives the entire film and gives it more emotional weight than anything else in the MCU.

A stellar cast helps. Casting is perhaps the greatest strength of the MCU, and here everyone shines, even characters like Hawk Eye (Jermey Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) who are only on screen for a few scenes. As for the newcomers, they make their mark and prove that they are worthy additions to an already impressive roster. Chadwick Boseman portrays vengeful Black Panther with a regal fervor while Tom Holland is perfectly witty and exuberant as the new Spider-Man. Both make you excited to see them in future films. And while the MCU hasn’t always given us the best villains, Daniel Bruhl is stellar as the film’s sneaky antagonist.

The film drags a bit in its final act, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo deserve a ton of credit simply for managing to effectively juggle the massive horde of characters involved. It never feels like too much or too little, and when the titular battle goes down, it feels like something out of nerd heaven for fans of the genre even in spite of a few noticeable patches of spotty CGI. But visuals are only one part of making a memorable film. Captain America: Civil War isn’t great simply because of its action. Its captivating subject matter and emotional core are what make it one of the best superhero film’s ever crafted. So regardless of whether you’re Team Cap or Team Iron Man, you’ll come out of Marvel’s latest film feeling like a winner.

FINAL GRADE: A

July 2014 Quick Reviews

New movies are coming out left and right. I’m just trying to keep up. Here are a few quick reviews from some recent July flicks I’ve seen…

Tammy

Tammy_posterBy now you should know all about Melissa McCarthy’s antics. And, by now, you should know whether or not you’re a fan. I, personally, have found her hilarious just about every time she is on a screen, whether it be movie (Bridesmaids, The Heat) or television. She is both quirky and lovable and even when her characters are abrasive, you can’t help but admire their gusto. But some scripts are even too dull for Melissa McCarthy to save (see IdentityThief). In the case of Tammy, there just isn’t enough here to make this film about a down on her luck woman going road tripping with her grandma (Susan Sarandon) worth sitting through. Did I laugh? Sure, a few times. Will you laugh if you like Melissa McCarthy? Probably. But the majority of the best chuckles can be found in the trailer, so there’s no point in sitting through a boring plot when that’s the case. FINAL GRADE: C-

Sex Tape

art-streiber_sex-tape-movie-posterAs the title suggests, Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal star as a married couple who make a sex tape in order to recapture their once intimate relationship. After the video is mistakenly uploaded to iPads belonging to their friends and family, the couple go on a quest to cover up their blunder as well as find a mysterious texter who has already seen the tape. Jack Black has a fairly comedic cameo and Cameron Diaz still has a very nice body in her 40’s. That’s probably the only positive things I can say about this forgettable raunchy comedy wannabe (and even the latter complement is negated by Jason Segal nudity). I found myself checking the time and waiting for this one to be over, several times. There is barely any chemistry between the two leads and the force fed heartfelt moments fall flat. Even if you found moments in the trailer funny, I doubt there is much more that you’ll crack a smile at. FINAL GRADE: D  

The Purge: Anarchy

the-purge-anarchy-2014While the first Purge had its share of twists and turn, it left a lot to be desired. With such a broad premise; annual government sanctioned murder used to cleanse our sinful country in the near future, it doesn’t make much sense to have all of the action confined to one family in one house. Anarchy luckily takes the audience further into this world, giving more characters and perspectives about this twisted society than the first film ever dreamed of. If you’re going to have a movie about legal mass murder then take us where the action is. The film follows a mother (Carmen Ejogo of Sparkle), her overly inquisitive daughter, a stranded couple going through separation, and a gun toting rogue out to avenge his child (Frank Grillo of Captain America: Winter Soldier) as they try and navigate their way through murderers, rapists, sick rich people, and even the treacherous government themselves. While the film does go through flashes of dryness and, like the first film, some characters are boring, overall the film is a solid upgrade from its predecessor and does a much better job hammering home the underlying political allegory. FINAL GRADE: B