The Purge: Election Year-Movie Man Jackson

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I’m fairly certain our original Founding Fathers didn’t pass the Second Amendment for this particular purpose. Two years after stopping himself from taking vengeance on Purge Night, Sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) now finds himself as head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) in Washington, D.C. Roan has pledged, if elected as the next President, to eliminate the annual holiday that “cleanses” America and all of her ills. It’s personal to her, as she lost all of her family on this very night as a child.

On this Purge Night of 2025, the Senator makes a decision to stay at home under airtight surveillance by Leo and his team. Unfortunately, someone on the inside doesn’t agree with Charlie’s mission, and doesn’t want her to survive the night. A betrayal forces the two to take to the streets, which is the absolute worst place to be when the sirens sound.

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As far as premises go, The Purge franchise has featured one of the more original ones in recent years. Yes, it can get picked apart for some terrible execution like the first exhibited, but Anarchy, not without its issues, did more with its story mythos than its predecessor. Now The Purge: Election Year has arrived during a year in which real life America is undergoing quite the bizarre election process. Does the third continue the upward trajectory that two seemed to indicate?

There’s good and bad with director James DeMonaco’s third feature. The good? The Purge once again gets taken to the outside and isn’t confined to a centralized location. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the right sentiment to use. Despite the large shift from horror invasion to action horror-lite, the few scares are still more effective only because the purge world is realized as a place one doesn’t want to be in the middle of when everything hits the fan.

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The bad? This does feel, structurally, a little too much like its predecessor. That is not a complete bad thing; DeMonaco films some tense action sequences, probably the best of the trilogy. But, it all is reminiscent of its predecessor, and disappointing only because there appears to be a real opportunity that isn’t used for a powder-keg moment that would resonate in today’s state of affairs.

To be fair, this entry does delve deeper into the political side of the purge, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), the racial implications of the night, violence for violence’s sake, etc, and some of it can be held up to today’s America, albeit obviously more distorted and probably more black-and-white—literally—than it is. For yours truly, and not sure how exactly, I would have loved to see a different story structure that combined the outside element of Anarchy while still charting a different path.

To keep this world and its movies interconnected, some returnees are back, mainly badass Frank Grillo. Though it is sad that he’s not the focal point like he was before and falls more into the cast (his story is already told), he still brings the hard edge with some heart. Really, the whole cast is likable enough, built more around ideals than real full characters, but it works enough. At times, they are saddled with some pretty bad dialogue that aims to bring more humor to the proceedings; I guess one can assume that the movie has fully embraced its B-movie 80’s/90 feel. Their dialogue doesn’t compare to one character’s monologue about candy, however, which is likely to be a YouTube staple with how bad her lines are and the actual delivery of them.

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Money talks, but at this point after three movies, it would be hard to envision a 4th coming out of The Purge franchise with the way Election Year ends without it being an obvious cash grab. If the Purge commencement has sounded its siren for the last time, at least we can say we made it relatively unscathed.

C+

Photo credits to go dayandadream.com, cromeyellow.com, and moviepilot.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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Captain America: Civil War-Movie Man Jackson

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Bob Marley was quoted one day saying that “Your worst enemy could be your best friend, and your best friend your worst enemy.” The recent events of the Avengers are going to test that quote to the fullest. Anytime the Avengers protect and serve, they also seem to bring unintended, but significant, collateral damage. First in New York, then with the total collapse of the city in Sokovia, and now the situation in Nigeria that leads to multiple deaths of innocents. Many in the world now do not see the Avengers as superheroes, but vigilantes.

The powers that be determine that these superheroes need to be held accountable via the Sokavia Accords, a document that basically gives power to the government to ascertain when and where the Avengers should be deployed. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a proponent of the Accords, still feeling responsibility for many of the incidents. Joining him on his side is Vision (Paul Bettany), Rhody/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

Aligning with Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) on the side of freedom is Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd). The two viewpoints make a showdown all but a certainty. However, growing underneath the tension is an unforeseen threat, one who wants to make The Avengers pay for their past actions.

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As soon as Captain America: Civil War was announced back in late 2013 and everyone knew what the Civil War would consist of, everything that came before it has really been leading up to this film. And that is for bad and good. Bad, because in a way, other films that would normally be huge events on their own (i.e Avengers: Age of Ultron) kind of lacked the memorability and importance such a film should command. However, it is good because CA:CW is, more or less, what Age of Ultron should have been: Important, memorable, and extremely entertaining. And the build-up throughout that time is a big reason.

The latest entry to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe makes no concessions to those who haven’t followed along over the years. But with the box office returns being so high, most know all about these characters, so why should it? As stated, Marvel has been building to this moment for a while now, especially in the interactions between Stark and Rogers, and as such, it makes it much more easier to fall into the story and buy everything the writers tell us. Compare this to, say, Batman V Superman (it’s just too convenient not to!), where characters, their relationships and plot threads are thrown into one movie instead of allowing them to be gradually introduced to us.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s second superhero feature following The Winter Soldier is written about as well as one could generally hope, especially with the amount of characters making appearances. It isn’t all perfect. There are a few lulls, one in particular being right after the highest point of the movie. This definitely feels a full 136 minutes during the end. The main villain, even with sound motivation and a good performance by the talented Daniel Brühl, suffers simply because he isn’t all that interesting. It would have been nice to see more of Frank Grillo’s Crossbones, but at least he owns it while he’s on the screen.

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But, the lack of a compelling traditional villain isn’t felt as much in Civil War because the true opposition comes from within, obviously from the opposing viewpoints that Captain America and Iron Man support. It’s important to note that neither one, no matter what “team” you may be on, is all that vilified, though Iron Man has always been a guy who possessed heelish tendencies and as such, feels slightly like the bad guy. Both men have good reasons for carrying the ideologies they carry, and a cool extra layer exists under what side they support. Personality-wise, Rogers is as orderly and straight-laced as heroes come, compared to the brash and free-wheeling Stark. So, the fact that Captain America refuses the order and the government and Iron Man readily accepts it despite what their personalities would suggest is something yours truly found intriguing.

With 12 notable characters on the screen, one would think that some characters would naturally get the shaft. While some shine brighter than others, all have their moments, not just in action, but in non-physical interplay with one another, like Vision and Scarlet Witch (dropped accent and all), or Falcon and War Machine to name a few. Sometimes the interplay is emotional, sometimes it is funny, but in all cases, it adds to the characters, which in turn adds to the action.

Once again, though this time assisted by John Wick directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, the Russo brothers film action as practical as they possibly can. A little shaky in a few spots, but overall it’s about on par with their work from Winter Soldier. Much like the first Avengers, which has the scene everyone remembers with the panning of our new superhero team, this one has that similar moment as well, setting up an action sequence that could stand as the best of the year when all is said and done.

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Captain America: Civil War achieves where Age of Ultron didn’t. It’s as big but more focused. It’s more emotionally satisfying. There are actual changes that should carry sizable ramifications. And above all, it’s more fun. If every movie in Phase 3 will be this good, in the words of Captain America, “I can do this all day.”

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to collider.com, comicbook.com, and forbes.com.

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End of Watch: Movie Man Jackson

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“This is where the forces of good prepare to fight the forces of evil.”

Every time a police officer puts on their uniform, they are taking a big, but accepted, risk that puts their livelihood in danger. Every time said officer makes it to their End of Watch, or shift, that is a thing to be thankful for. Officers and best friends Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), and Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), make a strong and morally sound tandem in the Newton division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Their unbreakable bond for one another is the natural result of so much shared time in the squad car, locker room, crime incidents, and more.

To fulfill an assignment for film class, Brian decides to film their daily grind through camcorder and small cameras attached to their uniforms, making for unique point-of-views. While going through common disturbances, gang matters and house fires, a routine car stop and big-time arrest by the two ends up putting them on a treacherous road that stretches well beyond the unfriendly criminal scum of Los Angeles.

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Recently, one of my favorite websites in Grantland published a piece about a month ago written by Brian Curtis regarding what “gritty” really means. The effort to define gritty is more from a sports standpoint, but still, the article got yours truly thinking: What is “gritty” as it pertains to a film? Sometimes the word is thrown around so much, and I’m probably guilty of it just as much as anyone, that it loses its impact. Not every film that features gritty subject matter is automatically a gritty film. Most definitions of the word involve a descriptor of unflinching yet grounded realism and toughness. Regardless, whatever gritty means, End of Watch is undeniably it.

Immediately from the opening monologue delivered by Jake Gyllenhaal’s character to accompany a chase sequence, the movie wastes absolutely no time in getting the audience into this dangerous world and setting by seeing the action through the eyes of a cop—literally. This is the first of many unique camera angles director/writer David Ayer (Fury, Street Kings, writer of Training Day) decides to make use of. The storyline reason (somewhat flimsy) that Brian gives about recording this for school gives Ayer free reign to do whatever he pleases with the lens. Sure, it is the handheld style that is often derided, but it is employed quite well here save for a few scenes, and does break down the barrier between the audience and the movie. Is it needed? Maybe, maybe not.

About the only real issue that can be had with the style is that Ayer never completely commits 100% to it. For about 98% of the film he does, but a few moments exist (and confirmed in the director’s commentary) where instead of being hooked into the realism of what is being shown, yours truly was left wondering who exactly was holding/manipulating the camera, as it looked too traditionally shot for something so gritty. This does take the attention away from the events in End of Watch, but only ever so briefly because it is so rare in occurrence.

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No matter how this is shot, the performances and superb chemistry of the leads are what drive it. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena absolutely immerse themselves as officers Taylor and Zavala. The months of training and field observation pay off amazingly. So many people play cops and don the uniform in movies but Gyllenhaal and Pena may be some of the few, if only two, who absolutely give off the feeling like they could go into the force, hit the streets, and make them a safer place. So natural together they are that is is hard to believe that it apparently took some time for the actors to get a feel for each other.

They definitely walk the walk and talk the talk as officers, with a major emphasis on the latter. Much detail is found out about this duo in conversations (mostly improvised) that occur in the police cruiser. Some are about nothing, others are about serious matters, but all serve to build two well-rounded characters that feel extraordinarily real, which gives the film’s events more high stakes. Taylor and Zavala are two righteous and gifted cops with a lot of bravery, knowledge, and street smarts, but Ayer does a great job at injecting every scenario the team comes across with a sense of unease. For as skillful as these guys are, there is always the idea that something can go horrifically wrong. They aren’t superheroes, just individuals who make a living in a tough profession.

The rest of the cast does provide strong backup though. Frank Grillo is always a strong presence in just about anything he finds his way in. America Ferrera and Cody Horn are the female equivalent of Zavala and Taylor, just with way less attention given. Both are still convincing. After the well-recognized praise of the Jake and Michael, the best work may be turned in by those who serve as their better halves in the film in Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez.

They both play absolutely critical parts that give End of Watch another level of emotion, in spite of their limited screentime. Out of the whole cast, the only performers that come off as ungrounded are those who portray the main antagonists. While possibly over-the-top, if Ayer’s sole goal was for them to be repulsive, he, and they, succeeded.

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End of Watch is something that sticks in the mind long after the credits roll. Or at least it is sticking in mine. Not because it is deep or profound, but because it is so effective, and gritty of course, at showing what many have verified is an accurate representation of the everyday life of officers. Just hearing the word police conjures a lot of negative connotations in this current day and age, but this film shows that they are just people who decide to protect the prey from the predators. People who, as Taylor states at the beginning, bleed, think, love, and can be killed, like you and I.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to impawards.com, imfdb,com, and youtube.com.

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The Purge: Anarchy: Movie Man Jackson

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“It’s my right! Granted to me! By the new Founding Fathers!”

When the crazies are able to play, you best stay away. Why are they able to play? A little event known as The Purge. The next installment of this franchise goes back to Los Angeles a few moments before the yearly American tradition, in which all crime—including murder—is legal for 12 continuous hours, commenced by the sirens at 7pm. Despite the outright inhumanity and bloodshed it champions, the new Founding Fathers-created Purge has proven to be a necessary and beneficial event, as it has shown to stabilize the economy and reduce poverty rates.

This year’s annual event is personal for police sergeant Leo (Frank Grillo). One year ago, Leo suffered one of the worst experiences a parent could have, and he has tagged this night for vengeance. On the other side of town, young lovebirds Shane and Liz (Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez) are looking to get home before sundown, until they are forced to venture out in the purge-invested streets when their car breaks down. Lastly, mother and daughter Eva & Cali (Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul) are safely tucked away in their apartment, but are forcibly removed from their safe haven by a shady group. Improbably, all five of these people come together and must focus on one objective: Survive the night.

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2013’s The Purge was a film with a lot of potential, armed with an intriguing premise and relative star power in Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey. Unfortunately, that potential went untapped in many areas, mainly due to terrible characters/pitiful acting from all involved (save Headey, Hawke, and the main baddie), and a misstep in marketing that made the film look like a predominant horror, but was actually more of a science fiction thriller with slight horror tinges. Still, it made a ton of money off a 3 million budget, and a sequel was immediately greenlit. So, does The Purge: Anarchy rewrite all of the fails of the first? Not exactly, but it is much better in comparison.

The same premise found in the original is found here, and to some, there is no accepting the “fact” that this mayhem somehow makes the world a better place. At this point in time, this fact is what the franchise is built upon, and if you are unable to suspend disbelief, save your time and watch something else. Part of the reason why the first failed, in my opinion, had nothing to do with the premise. Instead, the failure was a direct result of funneling its juicy mythology into nothing more than a home invasion setting. Luckily, Anarchy avoids this mistake by taking to the streets.

With the change to an outdoor setting, we finally get a feel as to how the Purge may play out for those unlucky enough to find shelter. Immediately, this makes the event more intriguing and more frightful, because it is ever-changing, compared to a static setting. The movie is definitely not a horror, but more tension is present here as opposed to the first, simply due to the shift in surroundings. This truly feels like an unique event.

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The story at the core of The Purge: Anarchy is one of survival in the face of an extremely undesirable situation, but there are a few societal issues it touches upon, some more heavy handed than others. Class warfare, government secrecy, nonviolence, vigilantism, and more are clearly referenced here. It can get tired in points, only because it has been seen before, but it isn’t a huge deterrent to the film. But, there are some missed opportunities within the story that could have solidified this as a compelling piece of science fiction thriller.

There is a huge resistance, led by a man named Carmelo (Michael K. Williams), who evokes some of Malcolm X mixed with a bit of Jim Jones. He and his organization initially look to be a sizable part of the happenings in the film, but end up just coming and going, and it is a damn shame. What is also sort of disappointing is the (slight SPOILERS) lack of anarchy. For one night, The Purge would appear to “level” the playing field, so to speak. Instead, it is more of the same, which is probably the point the movie is trying to make, but I can’t help but wish that it went another direction (END SPOILERS).

Though the movie follows five characters, the singular one that makes the movie worth viewing is Frank Grillo’s. Leo is a man that is driven by revenge, and it would have been really easy to make him an unlikable character with no redeeming qualities. Thankfully, Grillo plays the character essentially from a chaotic good alignment, and unequivocally nails the uneasiness his character has during the Purge, while simultaneously realizing that the only path to vengeance is dependent on eliminating his target. Additionally, he brings a real physicality and grit to the role that meshes perfectly with the urban locale. There have been better performances this year in cinema, but Grillo’s deserves recognition.

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The rest of the cast? Well, they are more of a mixed bag, ranging from OK to subpar. Generally, the females fall in the former category, not truly able to add any substance of note aside from being scared or snapping back verbally. They are not bad performances, but not ones that you will remember either. One that will be remembered for all of the wrong reasons is the man who plays Shane (Zach Gilford). Shane for the bulk of the movie comes off as an aloof jerk and smartass with no real motivation as to why. Definitely a misstep by the writer, but the actor does himself no favors as well. The movie does attempt to redeem his character, but it is too little too late.

Anarchy is primarily written and directed once again by James DeMonaco, who manages to effectively flesh out the world and the Purge itself. Everything is just more tighter in this installment, from pacing to back story. Not to be forgotten about are the surprisingly solid action set pieces. Whether hand to hand or firearm based, the scenes are filmed with great precision and sound just like they should, all while not being overly gratuitous.

Its premise may always be cooler than its end result, but it is clear that The Purge: Anarchy really is a step above its predecessor. mainly because it finally carves out its own identity. So enjoy your right to purge, it’s more memorable this time around.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to joblo.com, fansided.com ,& turntherightcorner.com.

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The Grey: Movie Man Jackson

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“Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.”

As long as Liam Neeson is on one’s side, he or she has a puncher’s chance of surviving anything, and that anything includes a pack of ravenous wolves. In The Grey, Liam Neeson is Ottway, a skilled marksman/huntsman with personal demons whose job is to protect oil workers in Alaska from native creatures, namely wolves. It is business as usual until Ottway and the oil drillers board a plane back home, presumably to the contiguous 48 states.

Suddenly, Ottway awakens from a short slumber to find the plane succumbing to turbulence by way of a violent blizzard. He and the plane go down, and upon waking from an undetermined amount of time being knocked out, he finds the aftermath of the crash. Only he and seven others have survived the calamity and many of these survivors have suffered substantial wounds. The wintry elements themselves are nothing to scoff at, but even then, the weather becomes a secondary concern when a bunch of grey timber wolves are biting (literally) at Ottway and company’s heels.

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To be honest, The Grey felt like two distinct halves of film. The first half, in my belief, is what was expected when seeing the trailer. Some disaster occurs and people are stranded with little to no hope of survival in punishing conditions, all while having to contend with animals protecting their den. This half appears to be more focused on the wolves attacking and has little in the way of plot or character development, outside of survival. It is not necessarily a bad thing, as more or less it felt like Taken with wolves and a few differences. Sure, the factuality of wolves attacking is not true to real life, but this is a film, and it did an adequate job of explaining why they would behave in such a way. The attacks come out of nowhere often and become weirdly funny, but by and large it was entertaining.

As for the second half, the tone shifts. Survival is still of importance, but the movie begins to expound on characters and themes, such as religion, atheism, existentialism, loss, family, and ultimately what pushes a man to his breaking point. The shift does force a viewer to think about certain things, and kudos to the filmmaker for leaving the ending open to interpretation. With all of that said though, this half should have resonated more, instead of inducing a too-little, too-late feeling. Some characters go on and on about their lives and beliefs and it becomes a chore to listen to, feeling unneeded and shoehorned. It is here that The Grey becomes somewhat of a bore.

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The second half would have been more effective if the characters were more thorough, and their failure to be largely falls on the writing. Eight survivors is a lot, and some do not last that long. But for those who did, it is a struggle to even remember their names, which is a problem. Most of the survivors just take up screen time and it sort of becomes a predicting game as to when they will get picked off. It should be a bigger moment when a wolf eliminates someone, but since the characters are faceless, it results in an “on to the next one” sentiment for the viewer. No one is particularly memorable, and even Ottway is uninteresting for a large portion. One would think that Neeson’s character would have the biggest development, but it ends up being someone else, previously thought to be a cliched one, that has the most powerful moment in the movie.

Liam is obviously the star here, and it is quite clear he has found a semi-niche in these types of roles. He is very convincing as a wily and gritty elder man with a bit of vulnerability dashed in. Does that make his character intriguing? Not entirely, but Neeson does lend credibility. As for the rest of the cast, no one’s acting is offensive but it unfortunately just blends in after a while with the environment. I did appreciate Frank Grillo’s character of Diaz. He starts off as grating and idiotic, but transforms into something more and ended up as the only individual to truly click.

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The cinematography ends up being the best thing about this movie. Shot in Canada, director Joe Carnahan captures the bleakness and drab of being left for dead in extreme conditions. It just looks like (cold) hell. But, there are some truly picturesque frames as well, mainly in the last third that serve as a testament to technical precision. However, not all is praise worthy. The wolves are much more menacing from a distance; the scene around the fire that reveals not one set of eyes but multiple is well done and creates some uneasiness. But when the wolves are close up and begin to attack, they end up looking fake and unfrightening. Furthermore, most of these attacks and fights are hastily edited and shaky camera-ish, so a visceral element is lacking.

Though lacking in emotion, appealing characters, and occasional logic, The Grey all in all is respectable. Honestly, some people may love it more than others just off of the fact that Neeson is battling wolves. While it did not connect with me, it could very well do so with others.

Grade: C+ 

Photo credits go to movieinsider.com, http://www.tribute.ca, and upcoming-movies.com

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