Tag Archives: Frank Grillo

The Purge: Election Year

“The Purge is Halloween for adults!”

For me, The Purge is one of those surprising little films that defied a lot of expectations. Lumped in with a load of crap *cough*horror*cough* films, it was quite unfairly labelled as another cheap shocker designed by studios to maximise profit.

Now I’m not saying that it wasn’t like that; I’m just saying its a bit unfair. For all its faults, The Purge was actually a really fun, reasonably well put together little movie that built a brutal dystopian vision for the future with some wholly original ideas and confidence in what it wanted to say.

That was 2013. One year later, the sequel upped the ante in every aspect. The Purge: Anarchy took Purge night to the streets and made it a social and political satire that starred diet Frank Castle, played by Frank Grillo. Both he and this sequel blew us all away and quite rightly has been brought back for the third in the trilogy, The Purge: Election Year.

The young survivor of a Purge night that saw the rest of her family killed, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) has worked tirelessly to get where she is today. A presidential nominee running on a platform with a strong anti-purge message, the senator has made some powerful enemies getting here. Not least of all, she’s pissed of the people that invented The Purge, the people that have been living off of the money generated by it, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA).

When the senator gets closer to the White House than the NFFA would like, they decide to use the cover of The Purge to do something about it. Changing the rules of their own game to make it OK to kill politicians, Roan has definitely had the cards stacked against her this year. Luckily, her ace in the hole is Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) the man that not only survived the purge the year before, but has personally found salvation on purge night. The former police sergeant has to fight against odds greater than he could have ever imagined to keep her alive.

The Purge, as a series, has never had subtlety on its list of traits. Its satire is like a sledgehammer to the groin when it gets to its point and this third entry in the series may be the meatiest sledgehammer yet. In an actual election year where Americans get to choose between a woman for President and a semi-psychotic orange badger with a god complex, the lady vs the establishment isn’t just obvious, it’s basically been advertised as the presidential race we all want to see.

From the beginning writer and director James DeMonaco has had something to say. He’s pushed the point that the poor are true targets of the purge while the rich swim in the money generated by it. But here, everything that the media shows us has a metaphor – for want of a better word – on screen. And it’s all anti-Donald Trump.

Redneck, gun toting Neo-Nazis in hunting parties chasing the senator; crazy foreigners inviting themselves to the country to enjoy the rights and freedoms of Americans; kids, teenagers, who have been brainwashed into thinking this is the right way to go about things and an entire country blindly defending their “rights”. Nothing is off limits in this dialled-up-to-eleven sequel.

The problem with that is while this film is pushing its agenda at you, whether you agree with it or not, it is screaming very loudly without actually saying anything of real substance. Plenty of “Black Lives Matter” references and all the images of old white men trying to keep the status quo they created isn’t going to make your point for you if there isn’t real substance to your movie.

That’s not to say it’s a bad film, far from it, but a couple of black guys mowing down a gaggle of purgers all dressed like former presidents draped in red, white and blue not only doesn’t quite make the point you were hoping for, but takes a lot away from the actual fun of the film.

But overall, The Purge: Election Year is a very good film when it allows itself to have its fun and just have its cool concept put on screen. It’s a roller coaster. I can even get behind its preachy message and none-too-subtle support for getting a lady president when it kicks its action up a notch, getting back to the action thriller roots we love so much. But mainly, I just wanna watch Frank Grillo kick ass, take names, and kick a little more ass. It’s what made the sequel so great, turning it into a low budget Punisher flick, and those are the best bits of this three-quel.

In the grand scheme of things, I would say this latest Purge film does a lot of what its predecessor did right, even if it is starting to wear a little thin. Not as good as the second film, but better than the first, Election Year is a fun, if slightly overlong and over preachy addition to the Purge series. If, as I hope it is, this is the last one, then it’s a fitting end to a series that has been a ton of fun to watch.

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Captain America: Civil War

Civil War

“Sorry” might always seem to be hardest word, Elton, but “accountability” might be the most unsexy. Particularly so if you’re trying to build a 147 minute long action movie around such a concept.

Let’s chuck in a few more terms, shall we? How about “legislation”, “treaty” and “U.N.-Accord”?

Captain America: Civil War could easily have suffered from dry, phlegmatic, po-faced earnestness, wallowing in miserableness as a collection of dumbfounded superheroes sit on the naughty step and think about what they’ve done.

Instead, fresh from the Sokovia fallout of the dreary misstepping Avengers: Age of Ultron, our eclectic band of merry super-powered chums begin the third instalment of Marvel’s Captain America trilogy with a skirmish in Lagos. As perpetually happens around these unregulated vigilantes / brave protectors (delete as applicable), chaos, destruction and collateral damage is never too far behind.

Just as they were after the hundreds of deaths from the New York alien-attack in Avengers Assemble, the crashing helicarriers in Washington DC during The Winter Soldier, and of course the omni-shambles of Age of Ultron‘s Sokovia rescue, it’s the Avengers who are held responsible for the loss of innocents’ lives in Nigeria. Thus begins a slow dissection of the role played by a group existing outside of the law, punctuated by enormous and often exceptionally well paced inter-fighting punch-ups.

Policing the planet as they see fit in this fantasy world of magic crystals, impenetrable metals and super soldiers, it takes no time at all for General Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt) to step in on behalf of a world scared half to death by a rogue, unregulated group of suited, walking, fighting nuclear bombs, tick-tocking their way towards a potential armageddon.

Although in name this is a Captain America sequel, it certainly feels much more comfortable as the Avengers follow-up many hoped for last year. Returning after a successful stint helming The Winter Soldier, directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s wizardry with a camera has thankfully kept consistency in tone with the franchise, as Civil War continues to be a hard-hitting, politically-charged commentary with genre-defining action sequences and equally solid performances from a cast slotting back into place like a well-worn suit made of iron with a robot friend called Friday inside of it.

Friends and ideologies clash frequently during the blockbuster – and only some of the time by using their words and not their vibranium inventions. OK, most of the time the hullabaloo breaks out into bouts of armour-clad blows, rather than democratic discussions. But it’s still much more “talky” for a blockbuster than perhaps one is used to. And, crucially, it just isn’t boring. It’s full of engaging and often thought-provoking dialogue. Quips and visual gags worm their way into some of the more serious conversations, but it still attempts to raise some tough topics.

Just as Mark Millar’s 2006 comicbook series (upon which this film is loosely based) dealt with a post-9/11 society, fearing a self-appointed world-police, too powerful to stop – or even if stopping them was the right or wrong thing to do – so too does the Russo’s version relate events to the real world. Civil War could quite passably be an analogy for gun control in the US, amongst other things.

For example, on one side, there’s Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr) position as the man doing his best to negotiate a fair deal for his pals, arguing that the best way to arm is to disarm and sign the UN’s proposed Sokovia Accord (akin to the “superhero registration act” in the comics). On the opposite side is Steve Rogers’s (Chris Evans) team who feel it’s their duty to step-up whenever they need to, operating without the bias of any government agendas.

It could be argued that one side represents the regulation and control of firearms, with the other in support of the people’s right to bear arms (albeit briefly). The moment that the two teams clash in an epic showdown – the likes of which we haven’t seen performed as accomplished as this since Whedon’s Phase One concluding team-up some four years and six movies ago – puts paid to this exact notion from that point onwards. But there’s still a lot to be read into this movie. Prepare for more astute observations crossing your path in the weeks and months to come from thousands of other bloggers and writers.

Anyway, let’s take a quick look at the teams on either side of the scrap:

Team Cap
Against the idea of becoming United Nations controlled agents, restricted to fighting only the causes upon which they determine suitable

  • Captain America / Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – Leader of the movement and the main protaganist for whom the film’s perspective is mainly viewed from. Evans appears to be having a blast and his enthusiasm is infectious – but my God those are some seriously intimidatingly large muscles.
  • Falcon / Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) – Cap’s best friend and winged companion has an increased role in Civil War and benefits greatly from it. The first time that Falcon has been more than a bit-part character and Mackie handles the responsibility with aplomb. He actually appears to have a purpose on the team rather than being Cap’s fluffer.
  • Winter Soldier / Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) – Previously the ex-Hydra assassin was a feared villain, but Stan’s portrayal of the man, turned into a complex and emotionally fragile victim with an edge of danger, sees him sit comfortably alongside his former buddy in Rogers’ motley crew.
  • Scarlet Witch / Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) – The only Sokovian in the Avengers; traumatised and emotionally scarred by the events in her home country and those in Lagos, Wanda adds an extra dimension to the story, even if it is somewhat unrealised potential.
  • Hawkeye / Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) – Thank Christ there’s no longer any weak attempts to puff out Hawkeye’s background with side-plots about his family that go nowhere and add nothing. He’s about as close to writer Matt Fraction’s version of the character that we’ve had so far and, although brief, is Renner’s best turn as Hawkguy yet.
  • Ant Man / Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) – Continuing to surprise, despite only a small (excuse the pun) part to play in Civil War, what Rudd does, Rudd does well. Fantastically well, even. He’s a highlight in what was already the best scene in the entire movie.

Team Iron Man
In favour of the UN’s Sokovia Accord, ensuring the Avengers are regulated by defence experts in order to limit the civilian casualties from their endeavours to save mankind

  •  Iron Man / Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) – For all intents and purposes, RDJ might as well share equal billing. It’s as much Iron Man 4 as it is Captain America 3. His role shows just how much the former weapons manufacturer has developed since first outing himself as a superhero in 2008’s Iron Man, bringing things full circle.
  • War Machine / James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) – If Falcon plays the role of Captain America’s sidekick, then War Machine fits as Iron Man’s. Provides the logos to the debate relative to Falcon’s pathos. But man, Don Cheadle is looking old.
  • Black Widow / Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) – The cynical may say Black Widow is only on this side of the fence to balance the teams’ female quotas. Nevertheless, the role she plays provides a contrarian narrative and further develops her relationship with Rogers from The Winter Soldier.
  • Vision (Paul Bettany) – The suave-voiced red-skinned being is reduced to the role of babysitter for much of his screentime, but twice Bettany gets to show off his acting talents with moments of profundity that keep the near God-like being grounded and relatable.
  • Black Panther / T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) – Making his debut, the Prince of fictional African country Wakanda is forced to pick a side in his pursuit of vengeance. Boseman’s suitably unplaceable accent aside, he makes as much of an impact as one could hope for (if not more) in such a role. Bring on his solo film in 2018!
  • Spider-Man / Peter Parker (Tom Holland) – Yes. Yes, yes, yes. This is how to do Spider-Man. It’s only taken 14 years, but this is it. Holland is perfect as the web-slinging wall-crawler in a larger role than perhaps expected. Currently in pre-production ahead of release next year, Homecoming looks set to be the fun adventure that the character deserves, if Civil War is any evidence to go by.

Regardless of the fact that we already have twelve characters squished into the two-and-a-half-hour long film, some people might be wondering where the other chaps are. Where’s Thor, Hulk, Fury, Maria Hill, Phil Coulson (still) – heck, why are Ant Man and Spider-Man being invited to the big leagues but Daredevil, Jessica Jones, et al left un-namechecked?

It’d be pure speculation to suggest answers. It could have been a creative decision made by the Russo brothers or writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, with Thor and Hulk especially deemed too over-powered for a film like this.

It could have been Marvel big cheese Kevin Feige laying down the law. Ruffalo and Hemsworth might have been too busy with other projects. Who really knows? The same principle applies as it always does in these situations: It really doesn’t matter. These are the characters selected. This is all you’re getting. Deal with it, as the meme goes.

The biggest issue lies not with who isn’t in it, but with who it does include. Incorporating Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo (an arch-nemesis of Captain America’s in the comics) structurally speaking makes a lot of sense when you lay out a blueprint for the entire movie.

However, the motivations behind his actions are at best understandable and at worst weak, predictable and a disservice to the character’s history. Also, he doesn’t wear purple pyiamas. What’s up with that?

Oh, right, yeah. It’s a bit naff.

Realistically, Zemo is somewhere in between the two, languishing around the “ordinary” mark. Hats off to Brühl for a competent account of himself as an actor, but Zemo is far from necessary in a film already overstuffed with characters. He adds nothing that couldn’t have been done equally well with, say, the returning Frank Grillo in a beefed up role as Crossbones.

Either way, it’s irrelevant as Captain America: Civil War is still very much worthy of your time. With a larger cast than any previous Marvel film, it somehow manages to balance screen time to an extraordinarily even degree, putting much of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to shame.

Yes, it may gradually escalate towards a big climactic fight scene, as happens in every Marvel superhero comic book action film ever, but the route it takes to get there combined with the rationale behind it makes the deciding brawl more meaningful than your average crash-bang-wallop finale.

Civil War is interesting, exciting, often fun and slightly unconventional. It goes straight into the top tier of the studio’s output and will doubtless only improve on future rewatches.

The Purge: Anarchy

An immense step-up from the original, if nothing else, The Purge: Anarchy is a trashy, violent and disposable B-movie.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Film Review The Purge Anarchy2013’s The Purge was one of the most frustratingly terrible movies to come along in damn good long while.  The golden premise: it’s the near-future and the United States government has been overtaken by a party dubbed The New Founding Fathers.  Under their stead, crime is down to an all-time low, poverty is near non-existent and the country is in an economic boom.  Their secret?  The Purge: an annual event where, for one twelve hour period, all crime is legal.  The idea being that the citizens of America can let out all of their frustrations without fear of reprisal, getting it all out of their system, but in reality it seems a lot like the rich get to use the night to switch their figurative preying on the lower-classes into literal preying on the lower-classes.  You could have touched on so much with this excellent premise and The Purge used it for… a home invasion horror movie.

That is not just blowing a fantastic premise; that is actively wasting my time.  And it wasn’t even a good home invasion horror movie!  It had no characters, nothing new or interesting to add to the home invasion sub-genre, nothing to say despite having a premise ripe for social commentary and satire and, most damningly, it wasn’t even the least bit scary.  Fortunately, the goldmine premise got out unscathed and I was willing to give this second go-around the benefit of the doubt before seeing it.  So, the good news: The Purge: Anarchy is an immense step-up from the first film.  It has “character arcs” and something to say and actually decides to explore its premise in an attempt to get its message across.  The bad news: the film’s writing still isn’t particularly good and, at the times when this pulpy and trashy action flick decides it wants to pay lip service to its horror roots for a brief moment, it’s still pathetically non-terrifying.

Taking place on The Sixth Annual Purge, we take to the streets of Los Angeles to follow a group of five people.  There’s a husband and wife (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) who, on their way to her sister’s house to wait out the purge and announce their separation, get stranded outside when a roving gang of masked psychos tamper with their car, having designated them as their prey for the evening.  There’s a nameless man (Frank Grillo) who has chosen to take part in The Purge in order to take revenge on the man who killed his son.  And then there’s a woman and her younger sister (Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Saul) who were safely locked inside their home until what looks a lot like a government death squad shows up to cart them away, most likely for a spot of murdering.  Circumstances bring the five folks together and the nameless man (who, let’s not mince words here, is basically The Punisher) takes pity on the civilians enough to try and get them to safety, whilst still hoping for enough time in the night to be able to get his revenge.

Right, first things first, this is not The Purge Again.  Whilst the first film was a horror, this one is a schlocky action flick with the occasional jump scare (I counted five total and they all prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, that writer/director James DeMonaco is utterly abysmal at crafting scares).  That means that you can expect lots of blood, a tight and fast pace, competent but not mind-blowing or original action scenes, and a conspicuously constrained budget (seriously, for a film with Anarchy right in the damn title, there seems to be very little anarchy on the streets of Los Angeles).  It is what it is, a pulpy b-movie.  It’s not going to set any worlds on fire and it’s not an especially high quality b-movie, either, but it is good at what it does.

For one, there are actual characters and character arcs, this time.  Whereas The Purge had static one-dimensional characters at best, Anarchy has clear definitions in its cast, individual characteristics if you will, and, and you may want to hold onto your head for this bit because I may just blow your mind here, actual character arcs!  Characters start the movie in one place and then come out of the end of the night as legitimately changed people for whom their experiences have had a positive or negative effect upon!  I know that this comes across as damning with faint praise, and that’s because it is, but the total lack of this stuff in the first film makes its appearance here all the more noticeable.  Helping matters is that Frank Grillo is actually really good in the lead role.  He has a very expressive face that also permanently looks weary, as if he is just completely tired of this sh*t at every opportunity.  He imbues his character with charisma and he puts effort into his performance, when it comes time for his pivotal scene I was genuinely surprised by how interested I was in proceedings purely down to his full interest.  The rest of the main cast get the job done, acting scared and out-of-their-depth most all the time, and the side cast get to indulge in their hammiest impulses, but Grillo is the draw, here.

As for the action, it is pretty good.  Again, it is noticeably constrained by the miniscule (by Hollywood standards) $9 million budget, but DeMonaco does have a very good grasp of how to stage and shoot an action sequence.  Remember that bit in the first film where Ethan Hawke fought off three of the masked intruders in a scene that was absolutely ridiculous given the context of the film it occurred in and the characters it happened to, but was at least admittedly decently shot and well-staged?  Add a bit, but not an incomprehensible amount, of shaky-cam to that and you have Anarchy’s action scenes.  Grillo’s (I’m just going to keep calling him by his actor’s name because he goes nameless for the whole film bar one little reveal) initial takedown of the death squad van is pretty cool and there’s a pretty good scene where the group are heading down a subway tunnel whilst pursued by crazed maniacs riding ATVs wielding flamethrowers, but proceedings don’t start approaching tense and great until the final sequence, in which the group is thrown into a hunting ground and forced to survive.  If DeMonaco was willing to be a bit more original in the execution of said scenario, it could have been a very memorable and original scene.  Instead, it’s basically what you’re expecting, but it’s a pretty damn good one, if nothing else.

You could throw the originality argument at the rest of the film, too, if you wanted, but at least DeMonaco really does actually do stuff with his million dollar idea, this time.  Anarchy takes on a kind of episodic structure, where its cast wander into and out of various different scenarios that showcase various different aspects of The Purge and life on Purge night.  You can probably figure out most of the scenarios without even seeing a second of the film and, yes, they all do still involve murder in some way (annoyingly), but the film gains something by not fixating for too long on any one bit.  It gains pace, for one, direction, for another, and it all ends up building into the film’s overall message.  A much better film would probably have found scenarios that don’t always end in blood and guts, but the film still does enough to make it not feel like my time is actively being wasted.  People selling their lives to the wealthy during The Purge, psychopaths justifying their actions with scripture and how The Purge is their God-given right, non-Purge households, the possibility that maybe people aren’t actually as into The Purge as the government likes to claim they are… stuff like that and it’s all executed strongly if a bit uninspiring.

And it all feeds into the film’s overall message.  Yes, Anarchy is an angry film and wants to say something with that something being this: “F*ck capitalism.”  And, by Jove, is it not in the slightest bit subtle about it.  Remember that bit in the first film where the preppy kid in the blazer stood in front of the camera and literally went on about how The Purge is his right because he is rich and the lower-class are scum and all that for a good two and a bit minutes?  No?  Well, here’s a brief reminder link for you.  Seen it?  OK, now, take that one scene, stretch it out for 103 minutes, and you have Anarchy’s message, with a bit of general anti-gun stuff for good measure.  This is a film that quite literally has a sequence in which a woman with a redneck accent stands on top of a building, firing her assault rifle in the air and screaming through a megaphone about how she is “the left hand of God” and how purging is “her god given, constitutional right”.  This is a film that quite literally has Michael Kenneth Williams burst in at one point and scream “F*CK THE NEW FOUNDING FATHERS, F*CK YOUR MONEY, AND MOTHERF*CK THE PURGE!!”  This is a film in which every single member of the oppressed lower class is represented by a person of colour and every single member of the entitled and predatory upper class is represented by a white person, most often old.

Subtle is not Anarchy’s way of doing things, and I applaud it wanting to, and being so eager to, say something, if nothing else.  There are only two problems.  1] I don’t think you’re going to find any member of your target audience who doesn’t already subscribe to your “f*ck capitalism” newsletter, movie.  Sorry to disappoint.  2] The writing of this stuff is bad.  Instead of having these ideas predominately come up through detail and world-building and such (you know, organically), Anarchy brings them up near-exclusively by having characters outright state the themes of the movie and how bad everything is.  At one point, an evil character rationalises their life choices by outright stating multiple times that they’re doing it for the money.  The upper class quote scripture before commencing killing.  Michael Kenneth Williams, incidentally, plays the leader of the resistance who plan to use The Purge against the New Founding Fathers and he gets a lot of screen time.  Screen time used to A) speechify about just how evil the NFF are and how abhorrent the idea of The Purge is and B) to walk around with a giant neon sign that reads “WE WILL PAY THIS OFF IN THE SEQUEL”.  Look, I understand that some anvils need to be dropped and all that, but it takes strong writing to not make it feel like I’ve spent the last 100 minutes being lectured about the obvious (see Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes for what happens when you pair that path with strong writing) and the writing here is, well, barely B-movie quality, to be honest.  Yes, movie, I know that capitalism sucks and that the wealthy prey on the poor to make themselves richer.  I’ve known that for a while, actually.  Have you got anything else you’d like to talk about?  Or at least find a more nuanced way to get your message across?

But, eh, I can’t complain too much.  The Purge: Anarchy is a trashy B-movie and it’s good at what it does.  I still don’t think that The Purge concept is being used to its fullest potential, but if pulpy violence is the way we’re going to go down then Anarchy does a damn fine job at making the most of it given the restrictions.  If nothing else, it’s a monumental step-up from the terrible first film because this one is at least good at what it does and the resistance idea seems like something that genuinely will be properly paid off in the sequel.  There is a great movie in The Purge somewhere and this one gives me hope that we may reach it a lot sooner than expected.  As it stands currently, Anarchy is a good trashy B-movie.  I can think of a lot worse ways to pass the time.

Callum Petch needs someone to love when the chips are down.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!