‘The Purge: Election Year’ Review

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Director: James DeMonaco

Writer: James DeMonaco

Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Josepeh Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Brittany Mirabile, and Raymond J. Barry

Synopsis: Years after sparing the man who killed his son, former police sergeant Barnes has become head of security for Senator Charlie Roan, a Presidential candidate targeted for death on Purge night due to her vow to eliminate the Purge.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

The Purge films have evolved since the beginning. The first film was set within a home, with Anarchy opening up to the streets, and for the better. Now, with Election Year the action is back on the streets, but this time with political overtones, and arguably fit into today’s political field. But, Election Year doesn’t forget what it is, and goes back to the streets in a gritty and violent fashion.

The Purge: Election Year takes place two years after the events in Anarchy, and brings back hero Leo Barnes (Grillo), now as the head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Mitchell), who is running for President, and a Purge survivor, on the platform to eliminate the Purge. Of course, this makes her a target for the New Founding Fathers of America – or the NFFA – that want to use the Purge to kill her. Meanwhile, a grocery store owner Joe Dixon (Williamson), his co-worker Marcos (Soria), and friend Laney Rucker (Gabriel), who runs a triage van that helps people during the Purge, get sucked into the mix after purgers go after Joe’s store, and revolutionary Dante Bishop, from the past two films, is leading a charge to put an end to the Purge as well.

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I have to hand it to director and writer James DeMonaco, who constantly changes the world with every film. Anarchy opened the world up and was a great addition to the series. Election Year keeps the action out on the streets, but puts more of the story into the political side of things. That might drive some people away, and it is heavy-handed at times, but DeMonaco does a descent job of not letting the two stances – the Purge being bad and, well, keeping the film true to itself – in check. It does make the film battle itself, but overall Election Year is a good addition to the series.

When it comes to the characters, Frank Grillo’s character doesn’t have the same great arc like Anarchy, but he’s still an unstoppable killing machine when need be to protect Roan. Elizabeth Mitchell’s Senator Roan is the idealistic one that wants to change the world for the better, even after finding out the NFFA wants her dead. Mykelti Williamson and Joseph Julian Soria are arguably the best part of the film. Their chemistry is great together and once they get into the fold with Leo and Roan, it adds a great deal of levity and fun. Betty Gabriel’s Laney has a history that is mentioned in passing, but nothing really happens with the exception of one quick scene.

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Edwin Hodge returns to the series, this time with an actual name in Dante Bishop. For those that don’t remember, Hodge was the Stranger that was in the first film, and had a brief role in the second film at the end. Now, he’s here essentially taking over the Michael Kenneth Williams’ role from Anarchy as the revolutionary trying to stop the Purge, but in a more grand fashion. Terry Serpico plays the leader of a militia group set to kill the Senator. Another interesting cast tidbit, is this is the first time we see the New Founding Father’s of America. They’ve been mentioned in the past, but this is the first time we actually see them, and they are about what you suspect.

The cinematography is great once again, and the Purge events in the film are horrifying as ever with the crazy character costumes and production design. I won’t say that Election Year is better than Anarchy, but with this film going back to more of its horror genre roots, Election Year does set itself apart.

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All in all, The Purge: Election Year is another great addition to the Purge films. While its political tones get a bit heavy handed at times, and get a bit mudded with the overall tone of the film, Election Year is still a hell of a lot of fun.

 

The Purge: Election Year

4 out of 5

‘Captain America: Civil War’ Review

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Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely

Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Bruhl, Frank Grillo, Martin Freeman, Marisa Tomei, and William Hurt

Synopsis: Political interference in the Avengers’ activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: I think it goes without saying, stay for the credits*

 

After all the buzz, hype, and anticipation, Captain America: Civil War is here! And boy was it worth the wait. The concept is, of course, taken from the popular storyline in the comics that inspires the events in the film, but not a direct adaptation considering Marvel doesn’t own the movie rights to all their characters, and it would be really, really busy. However, that doesn’t change how great Civil War is, and how it handles its busy lineup.

Captain America: Civil War now follows Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) with his New Avengers in Falcon (Mackie), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Olsen), and Natasha Romaonoff/Black Widow (Johansson) on a mission in Lagos as they hunt down Crossbones (Grillo) who’s trying to steal something. However, an accident happens that, to the world, is the final straw for The Avengers and causes the UN to create The Sokovia Accords. The Accords is a law that would make The Avengers essentially government agents who will go where they send them, and that’s it. No more Avengers going to a foreign land and acting as our saviors, if they sign, they will go where the UN sends them.

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This causes a rift between the team, more specifically, between leaders Captain America and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.). Stark believes the Avengers need to be put in check and the cost of innocent lives has become too high, while Cap thinks that the “safest hands are still our own,” and that the Avengers should be free to go where the danger is instead of others. The argument becomes more of an issue when a deadly attack happens and Bucky/Winter Soldier (Stan) looks to have done it. Cap, of course, jumps at the opportunity to protect his old friend and save him despite the circumstances and the Accords. With all that going on, a mysterious figure in Zemo (Bruhl) appears, and has his own plan in mind.

Despite the crowed feel and look to it, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and directors Joe and Anthony Russo really make Civil War work. Even with the inclusion of two new big characters in T’Challa/Black Panther (Boseman) and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland), they give every character their moment to shine, without making it feel forced or unnecessary. That’s a pretty big achievement considering this isn’t really an Avengers movie, but a Captain America movie.

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“Hey everyone”

Not only that, but the concern that many people had when the movie was announced about the Avengers not really having a fight, but just a “disagreement” that would resolve itself by saying “sorry I hit you so hard, man,” is not really there. There are consequences for the actions these characters make and the dynamic has certainly changed among the team, and even the public, just like the events in The Winter Soldier did. Sure there is the quirky back-and-forth between Hawkeye (Renner) and Black Widow during the big brawl, but you kind of suspect that from these two, well, at least I could.

However, here is the big thing McFeely/Marcus and the Russo’s where able to do, that was extremely important for Civil War to work. They were able to make us – the audience – see both sides of the argument. You understand where Tony is coming from and why he decides to sign The Accords, and you can see why Steve doesn’t and chooses to fight them. There is no black and white, there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of grey. Nothing feels forced and everything has its place. Even if you’re Team Cap or Team Iron Man, you can feel yourself being persuaded to switch sides. Neither side is more right than the other, that’s why the film works on the drama and political side of things. It also helps that we’ve come to know the characters. After all these years, you kind of hate that everyone is fighting each other, but that same time, you may not be too surprised. Obviously, the first time we saw Avengers together, they fought each other.

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So when it comes to the cast, everyone is on their A-game. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is still the same Tony, but he’s more matured and headstrong than we’ve ever seen him before. Evan’s truly is Captain America at this point, if there was ever any doubt, it is going to be squashed after watching this. Chadwick Boseman carries T’Challa/Black Panther which such ease, that you forget for a minute that this is the character’s debut. Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo is likely, and already, being called one of Marvel’s great villains in sometime, which is hard to argue. His reasoning isn’t revealed until the very end, but everything he does up until that point is very slow and when it’s revealed why he’s doing what he is doing, you find it a bit genius, and leads to one most impactful moments of Civil War.

Everyone else, like I said that’s their moments, but this is a Captain America movie, so they don’t completely steal the show. Unless you’re Spider-Man. Tom Holland, who has a descent amount – not too much – screen time is great. You get a good feel for what we’re going to expect in Spider-Man: Homecoming. We should save our judgment for what we think of Holland as the character until we actually watch Homecoming, but so far, I really like what we have so far.

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All right, so the big brawl that has been promoted in all the ads was pretty damn great. Matter of fact, all the action in the film is pretty top notch. Not only that, all the action sequences feel and are very personal. I won’t get into why, but watching the film you’ll know why. But the big brawl that happens at the airport is one of the best parts of the whole film, and one of the best action sequences in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are a lot of surprises in there as well, which I obviously won’t spoil here, but as a fan, I didn’t think they would go there. However, after the brawl, a lot of steam and momentum gets sucked out of the film, which to me, is the only real misstep of the film.

All in all, Captain America: Civil War is one of the best films that Marvel has done. It also shouldn’t have worked with all its moving parts, but what a tremendous job by everyone involved to make it work, to make it fun, and make it emotionally challenging to watch. There a only a couple of missteps, but overall, I would not hesitant a minute to put Captain America: Civil War on my top five best Marvel films of all time. Maybe, even the top five comic book movies of all time.

Missing Spider-Man of course

Missing Spider-Man of course

Captain America: Civil War

4.5 out of 5

‘The Purge: Anarchy’ Review

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Dir: James DeMonaco

Cast: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul, Jack Conley, and Michael K. Williams

Synopsis: Five strangers find themselves trying to survive the night during the most dangerous night of the year, The Purge.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

When The Purge came out last year many people, myself included, thought the movie had a great premise but lacked the real execution that the movie needed. The Purge: Anarchy delivers the same premise but this time puts us outside a confined space and on the streets of Los Angeles. Does the setting change give us a better movie? Does it still make an underlying political commentary? More importantly, is it any good? Short answer, yes.

 

Although the movie is technically a sequel, it does have the feeling of being a different movie, expect with the return of one Edwin Hodge’s character in a very small role. Still set in the world where crime is legal for 12 hours we follow a new group and are placed outside in the gritty streets of Los Angeles. We get are introductions early on of all our characters. We have the mother daughter duo of waitress Eva (Ejogo) and Cali (Soul), married couple of the edge of divorce Shane (Gilford) and Liz (Sanchez) and our real main character Leo (Grillo).

 

Eva, Cali, Shane, and Liz are innocent civilians who get stuck on the street during The Purge, and Leo, although he’s on a mission of revenge, reluctantly decides to help the group.  He agrees to take them to a safe location, but first they must survive the violent street gangs (including the ones that are featured heavily in the ads), random psychopaths, and heavily armed troops wandering outside and chasing them.
 

It can’t be said enough, the best part about the sequel and probably what makes it better is DeMonaco takes the action outside this time around. Although there is nothing wrong in a home invasion or close quarters movie, Anarchy has the advantage of going to multiple places making the tension and thriller aspects of the movie stronger. You genuinely feel afraid for these characters because danger can come out of everywhere. The other great thing, even though it is cliché is what DeMonaco does with silence in the movie. There are a few pop-up moments but they don’t feel cheesy or dumb, they are actually done in a manner that’s okay.

 

Again, The Purge had some commentary on social issues that are relevant and DeMonaco still retains the commentary but this time he’s content to play it as loud as the action sequences rather than try to skillfully weave it into the story. Anarchy introduces Carmelo (K. Williams), a militant rebel leader that wants an ending to the Purge by breaking one of its unwritten rules: Don’t prevent others from purging.  He’s also one of the voices questioning the system rather than accepting the harsh reality.  He tries to make people rise up. But of course that’s the cruel twist because there’s no way to stop the violence until the leaders are brought down through violence. By the way, in case you don’t know who rules and is most protected during the Purge, it’s the rich.
 

The cast is pretty great here. Ejogo and Soul serve as the audience surrogates with their characters have a humanizing effect on Leo. They deliver believable performances as a mother and daughter thrown into this dangerous situation. The film’s other pair of Gilford and Sanchez are less effective (even though they are married in real life), serving more as a young couple in danger, although they do have one standout moment. Even Michael K. Williams character, who is really more of a cameo, has ups and downs and Williams is usually reliable.

 

But the movie belongs to Frank Grillo. I don’t think I’ve talked much about Grillo in reviews and it’s a damn shame. Grillo is one of my favorite actors and one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, so it is nice to see him getting more attention in movies like Warrior, The Grey, and most recently Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Anyway, Grillo looks the part and grounds the movie in a gritty reality. He could have been a one-note vigilante, but Grillo finds this interesting and nice balance of being an anti-hero. He could be another older actor ready to take over the action genre like Liam Nesson in Taken. But the other thing that got to me, and this will be very nerdy, is that Grillo’s presence in the movie really made me think he’d be a great Punisher. He’s got the charisma, the look and the talent.

 

All in all The Purge: Anarchy does a lot of things better than the first. It’s got some great action sequences and a pretty impressive cast. Blumhouse Pictures is known for doing small budgeted movies and I’m amazed at how they got away with in Anarchy. Instead of a heavy handed political commentary or complex moral questions – even though there are some – it chooses to go the route of bloodlust.

The Purge: Anarchy

4 out of 5

‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ Review

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Dir: Anthony and Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Maximilano Hernandez, and Robert Redford

Synopsis: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review. Also, (of course being a Marvel movie) stay for the credits, both of them.*

 

 

Loosely based on the Ed Brubaker arc The Winter Soldier, Marvel raises the bar and scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Russo Brothers-directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The movie follows super soldier Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Evans) and Black Widow (Johansson) working for/with Nick Fury when they discover that S.H.I.E.L.D. may be compromised. Unsure of whom, if anyone, to trust, they must uncover a hidden threat before everything they know it torn apart.

 

The movie is one of, if not the strongest individual installments to date. Besides being a superhero/comic book adventure the movie is also, in many ways, a character journey with elements of a spy action thriller. The Winter Soldier hits all of the right notes and gives us the best of what comic book movies have to offer. The scale of the film alone is a huge and ambitious take for Marvel. Not only is it a great sequel but it also feels like a sequel to The Avengers in some way too. However, the ambitious take of this is the fact the movie has some major repercussions will change the Cinematic Universe and should be interesting how they manage that in the future movies.

 

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo managed everything close to perfection. The movie moves at great pace and never once does it seem like the time is wasted. Car chases, hardcore hand-to-hand combat, aerial dogfights and intense gun battles are interwoven that combines elements of at least three genres. But, another thing they do great is the humor. The movie even starts with a joke and though the plot is filled with serious themes and plenty of drama, it never forgets to make us laugh.  They’re not ironic laughs or defensive ones.  They’re just good-hearted, clever jokes, and they’re yet another example of why the movie is successful.
Not only does the film potentially shake-up the structure of their entire cinematic universe, but the creators understand the political thriller enough to get that if they’re going to do one, and do it well, then they’re going to have to introduce a strong point-of-view about something that is relevant to our world – and that they do. The Winter Soldier offers a strong perspective about a current political hot button issue – the cost and meaning of freedom. The execution isn’t hitting us over the head but is gone in a graceful way. There are ideas to think about, if you are into that, but at its core, the movie remains a fast paced piece of entertainment.

 

All that being said, usually character development gets lost when trying to expand the plot but with The Winter Soldier, character isn’t sacrificed. The big and small moments are equally filled with tension and there is some powerful development in this film. Of course the big one is Steve Rogers, the man out of time. There is a sequence early on in the film that hits the nail with the hammer, and is a bit sad to see but really shows the vulnerability of Rogers in this film. But, even with that said, early on and throughout the movie, we see him Rogers as a real badass. The shield is even utilized more as an offensive as much as a defensive one.

 

If Chris Evans didn’t prove himself to anybody that he is Steve Rogers or Captain America, then this will surely prove it. Evans brings a depth to the character that has not been seen yet. But, it’s Cap’s partner Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow that also has an arc here as well. Scarlett Johansson has played the character as many times as Evans and it isn’t until now that we get to know more about her. She is given a ton more to do than just be eye candy. Evans and Johansson have tremendous chemistry, and their witty banter or confrontations only adds to that.

 

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury also gets more time to shine this time around. He plays a major role in the events of the movie but also brings in more humor and emotion than any of his other appearances.

 

New addition to the cast is Anthony Mackie, who plays Sam Wilson aka Falcon. A former solider himself, he now works at the VA helping soldiers who come back from war. Mackie brings in a good sense of charisma as Cap’s sidekick but has a great, possibly scene-stealing action sequence. Emily VanCamp’s Agent 13 will make some comic book fans happy, and give them a possible hint of things to come even though she doesn’t really do too much in the movie.

 

Then there is the odd one out of the bunch, Robert Redford who plays Alexander Pierce. Of course Redford has his share of spy-thrillers but in a way it also brings the spy thriller of this movie out in front. He brings the weight of his cinematic legacy with him, which also helps us to immediately buy into his character’s power and authority.

 

Finally, there is the man himself, The Winter Soldier. It’s arguable that Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier is – other than Loki – Marvel’s most successful, and terrifying, villain to date. Of course, if you are an avid comic reader than you know who and what The Winter Soldier is. His background is given in the movie as his history through time until now. Stan plays him in a heartbreaking and legitimately chilling way. He is relentless, feels unstoppable, and will do anything to complete his mission. Whenever he shows up, you are genuinely worried for anybody standing in his way.

 

All in all, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a game changer in every sense of the word. It’s funny, thrilling, action packed and above all, it’s entertaining as hell.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

5 out of 5