ASSASSIN’S CREED (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence and Action, Thematic Elements and brief Strong Language

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Directed by: Justin Kurzel

Written by: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper & Bill Collage

(based on the video game ASSASSIN’S CREED by Ubisoft)

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams, Ariane Labed & Matias Varela

Before diving into the nitty gritty of this review, it should be noted that I haven’t played a minute of the ASSASSIN’S CREED video games and am judging this purely as a film. To be perfectly honest, I walked into this movie blind and didn’t know what to expect from the plot at all. I simply went into theater wanting a cool action flick with some neat ideas. Though there are definitely a few neat ideas at work and three stellar action sequences, ASSASSIN’S CREED suffers from never reaching its full potential and wasting great talent (both on the screen and behind the scenes).

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Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is a murderer facing his execution by lethal injection…only to awake in the mysterious Abstergo facility after he’s “died.” This strange corporation is heavily guarded, shrouded in secrecy and has a bunch of violence-prone individuals being subjected as human guinea pigs to a genetic scientific experiment. Scientist Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) wishes to use Callum to discover the key to world peace. She hopes to accomplish this by unethically forcing Callum to relive memories of a long-dead assassin ancestor in 1492 Spain and then using that knowledge to recover an ancient artifact known as “The Apple of Eden.” However, Sophia’s father Alan (Jeremy Irons) may have nefarious motives for possessing this powerful device. As Callum lives out centuries-old genetic memories, he finds himself becoming slowly gifted with extraordinary abilities and realizing that a creed of ancient assassins is still very much alive.

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From what I can gather, this film follows a similar structure to the ASSASSIN’S CREED video games. However, this cinematic version of the story has a difficult time balancing the present and the centuries-old past storylines. This is especially a bummer, because both narratives have potential in different ways. The present-day scenes disappointingly come off as exposition-crammed filler between the past’s action that showcases a major conflict between the assassins and the Spanish Inquisition. If this movie had taken place entirely in the past, it might have been a hundred times better in quality. The three flashbacks/genetic memories are easily the film’s highlights, with the middle portion being a stellar chase sequence and sticking out as the best scene in the movie.

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To further add insult to injury, CREED wastes a significant amount of time in repeating information that has already been shown to us. Even though it repeats certain plot points to the peak of annoyance, the script somehow manages to remain frustratingly vague in other key details of the storyline. We are told about the Apple of Eden in an opening text crawl, then it is reiterated in a prologue (rendering the opening text as totally useless), and then this information is repeated about three more times in the Abstergo building. Once or twice would have been enough to inform the viewer of this literal plot device, but this repetitive approach managed to make me feel like I was being treated like an idiot. The same can be said of Callum’s character, whose entire development hinges on a single incident from his past and a throwaway line of dialogue detailing the reason for his execution. The former is harped upon for about 15-20 minutes of screen time. A single memory doesn’t make for a well-developed protagonist, especially when his past ancestor is far more interesting.

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The annoying repetition of information also occurs during the film’s (mostly) stellar action sequences, which feel the need to frequently cut back to Callum in the Animus (the genetic memory machine). Though this may have worked in the games(?), it feels like we’re just watching Callum play an extreme virtual reality game…as opposed to reliving memories of his long-dead assassin ancestor Aguilar de Nerha (also played by Fassbender). This effect slightly diminishes the enjoyment of the action scenes at hand, constantly reminding the viewer of their purpose as opposed to simply letting us enjoy the lethal mayhem.

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The script’s frustrating vagueness mainly involves a shadowy group of villains, known as the Templars (based on actual history), and these antagonists are barely mentioned with any sort of context. The biggest issue with this lack of detail is that the Templars play a huge role in the story and newcomers know next to nothing about them. There’s also an eye-rolling leap into supernatural territory towards the last third that may outright lose viewers who were enjoying the film up to that point, mainly because there was no hint or explanation of why the plot would suddenly move into that genre. On a similar and yet slightly unrelated note, ASSASSIN’S CREED really drops the ball in its finale that seems to feature a ton of build-up to a very weak pay-off that ultimately ended with an obvious cliffhanger for a sequel.

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Most of this review has been spent with me writing about the action-packed pros of the past plot and the many cons of the present plot with no mention of acting, cinematography, soundtrack, and other details. Well, that’s because all of those things are well above average for your typical video game movie. Fassbender, Cotillard and Irons add a classy sense that ASSASSIN’S CREED is trying to set itself apart from past game-to-movie misfires. The film’s visuals, set design, action choreography, effects and rousing score kept me interested in the proceedings. However, these good qualities only further show how 99% of the film’s impossible-to-ignore problems stem from the sloppy script.

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At the beginning of 2016, many moviegoers were hoping that this year would change the bad reputation of video game movies. WARCRAFT was being touted as a summer tentpole and ASSASSIN’S CREED was something to look forward to in the holiday season. In true 2016 fashion, both of these films let folks down. Neither of these movies are truly terrible in my opinion, though I definitely enjoyed WARCRAFT more than ASSASSIN’S CREED, but they only serve as okay entertainment at best. With better writing, ASSASSIN’S CREED really could have been something special. Instead, this movie is just another messy attempt to bring the excitement of a video game to the big screen and not quite pulling it off.

Grade: C+

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Supernatural Action and some Crude Humor

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Directed by: Paul Feig

Written by: Katie Dippold & Paul Feig

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Cecily Strong, Andy Garcia, Neil Casey & Charles Dance

I wasn’t looking forward to 2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS. It’s not that the 1984 classic was a huge part of my childhood (it wasn’t) or that I’m a sexist chauvinistic jerk who bashes anything with female leads (I’m not). It’s just that the film’s marketing was piss-poor. This is especially true of the painfully bad trailers, with every joke falling flat and the overall film looking terrible. Sony’s response to claim that every outspoken critic was an automatic “sexist” or “immature man-child” was also infuriating and ridiculous. I was not up for seeing or reviewing this film, until I received impromptu free movie tickets. Suddenly, my curiosity was ignited enough to give this GHOSTBUSTERS remake/reboot (whatever the hell you want to call it) a shot. Having finally seen one of the most talked about movies of 2016, I feel this new GHOSTBUSTERS is not good or bad…or worthy of its already established controversy. This horror-comedy is a middle-of-the-road experience with positive qualities and an equal amount of negative qualities.

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Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a college professor on the verge of getting tenure, but the resurgence of a paranormal book she co-authored with her ex-best-friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) threatens her livelihood. Through a strange set of circumstances, Erin and Abby become besties again…along with quirky inventor Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). The trio discover an actual ghost and decide to become professional paranormal researchers. However, their newly chosen career is met with understandable skepticism. The ghost-busting business starts booming when strange supernatural entities pop up around New York City. Evil genius Rowan (Neil Casey) is trying to unleash a ghostly apocalypse. With the help of streetwise Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), the four women unite to become the Ghostbusters and try to stop Rowan’s evil plans of paranormal pandemonium.

Gertrude the Ghost in Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.

The GHOSTBUSTERS reboot/remake is a mixed bag through and through. This is especially evident in the main performances. Kristen Wiig has been funny in the past and so has Melissa McCarthy (SPY was one of the best comedies I saw last year), but both play serious straight-women to the wacky Kate McKinnon and loud-mouthed Leslie Jones. As a result, Wiig and McCarthy didn’t really deliver any jokes that worked. All the laughs I got out of the main cast actually came Kate McKinnon’s Holtzmann and Leslie Jones’ Patty, two characters that looked annoying in the previews. Though McKinnon and Jones have their share of wooden moments, they mostly succeed as their colorful characters.

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The new GHOSTBUSTERS really drops the ball in its side characters. Besides a few show-stopping cameos from original cast members (one of which was hilarious and contributed to the main plot), the only notable supporting roles are Chris Hemsworth as a dim-witted receptionist (receiving big laughs) and forgettable bad guy Rowan. Neil Casey’s villain is a bland antagonist, who’s only motivation is that he was bullied in school. I know this because he wouldn’t stop monologuing about it. Rowan is boring and his final showdown is eye-rollingly obnoxious (repeating a tired trope that was seen in the other two GHOSTBUSTERS films). Though they only make up a combined screen time of five minutes, Charles Dance got some chuckles as an uptight college professor and Andy Garcia is slightly wacky as the nervous mayor.

Melissa McCarthy;Kristen Wiig;Kate McKinnon;Leslie Jones

For a movie that clocks in at just under two hours, 2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS feels like it’s constantly going to get fun and exciting, but never kicks off into fully being either of those things. Aside from one sequence at a concert and another moment in which the crew test out newly invented equipment, the ghostbusting is sparse in this reboot. The effects-heavy climax is a bit of a mess with a repetitive blaster battle between the Ghostbusters and a never-ending horde of apparitions. While one moment was distinctly cut due to studio meddling and can be seen as a deleted scene in the credits, turning a goofy plot point into a gaping plot hole.

Slimer in Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.

Concerning the ghosts themselves, the film’s effects resemble the campy, cartoony animation from last year’s highly enjoyable GOOSEBUMPS. There are a couple of creature cameos from 1984’s GHOSTBUSTERS, with Slimer being a huge plus, but the apparitions mostly consist of generic pilgrims, pirates, and a giant monster that was eye-rollingly stupid. There’s also a dragon in this movie. Though it’s in one of the film’s best moments, I was really curious as to why this monster was considered to be a ghost…because it’s a friggin’ dragon. Maybe, I’m just nitpicking, but this supernatural creature really bothered me as its presence is never commented on for, you know, being a mythical creature and not strictly a ghost.

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2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS is watchable and has a few legitimately good moments worth mentioning. Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth are standouts, while one particular cameo is great. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and the lame villain are dull and the movie never fully kicks off into the fun ghost-hunting adventure that it should be. Half of the jokes hit (one running gag kept me laughing) and the other half miss (did we really need a queef comment or a “kick him in the balls” scene?). In the end, 2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS is a thoroughly middle-of-the-road experience.

Grade: C

THE GAMBLER (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, and for some Sexuality/Nudity

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Directed by: Rupert Wyatt

Written by: William Monahan

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael K. Williams & Jessica Lange

I skipped THE GAMBLER when it hit screens last December for a number of reasons, but mainly because of the poor reception and lame marketing. This movie looked as generic as its title, not to mention that it’s also a remake of an acclaimed 70’s film. On a passing whim, I decided to shell out a dollar to rent THE GAMBLER from a Redbox and I’m pretty surprised by how much I actually liked this film. It doesn’t deserve to win awards and it definitely isn’t for everybody, but 2014’s THE GAMBLER is a decent crime-drama that left me satisfied.

THE GAMBLER, Mark Wahlberg, 2014. ph: Claire Folger/©Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Jim Bennett is a college literature professor by day and a compulsive gambling addict by night. His inability to control his addiction leads to him owing a lot of money to three very dangerous people. Jim tries to find solace in a burgeoning relationship with one of his students, but finds that his gambling habits may result in him meeting an untimely death and those around him possibly meeting similar fates. Jim tries to concoct a plan to pay off these three loan sharks, but will he be able to pull it off or walk away clean?…

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THE GAMBLER takes a little while to get going. There’s an assured style to the whole film, even if it might seem misguided in a couple of areas during the first act. The visuals are slick. The costumes look nice. There are also a number of really cool song choices on the soundtrack. This movie definitely looks good on the technical side of things, but struggles with messy pacing that sputters to a start and only really takes off in the second half of the movie. The plot as a whole is predictable, but fun to watch nonetheless. There are a couple of points that get unceremoniously abandoned throughout the film, including Jessica Lange being totally underused as Jim’s mother. The script also cheats in a few ways offering easy outs, but I was entertained in spite of these silly coincidences.

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The real reason you should watch THE GAMBLER is because of the performances. Mark Wahlberg does a solid job of establishing Jim as a really hateable character at the start and then turning him into someone you can root for by the end. At the beginning of the film, I really didn’t like this self-destructive protagonist at all and was worried that I would hate the film as a result, but Wahlberg injects pain and honesty into this man suffering from harmful habits that are hard to break. As mentioned before, Jessica Lange is underused, but shines in what brief screen time she does receive (including an honest and heartbreaking moment). Brie Larson is okay as Jim’s love interest, but there’s not a whole lot to her character. Finally, John Goodman and Michael K. Williams shine as two of the villains. This is especially true of Goodman who delivers the single best monologue in the entire film (going on about having a “Fuck you” position in life and using it). Williams is good as a loan shark. Even if his character falls prey to a pit of clichés, he still comes off as threatening despite his familiar character type.

THE GAMBLER, Mark Wahlberg, 2014. ph: Claire Folger/©Paramount Pictures

Overall, I have to give THE GAMBLER credit. This movie was a lot better than I was expecting it to be. On the negative side of things, it’s predictable, has a fair share of clichés and easy-outs, and moves at an uneven pace. On the positive, the performances are pretty great from nearly everyone involved and it winds up being an entertaining crime-drama as a whole. This might not reinvent the wheel of this genre (it’s a remake after all), but THE GAMBLER serves as a decent flick that you can kick back and kill some time with. Not perfect or necessarily great, but still a pleasant surprise.

Grade: B-

INHERENT VICE (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Drug Use throughout, Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity, Language and some Violence

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Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

(based on the novel INHERENT VICE by Thomas Pynchon)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom, Maya Rudolph & Martin Short

Paul Thomas Anderson is known for making unique films, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted him tackling a stoner noir comedy. Yet, INHERENT VICE (nominated for one Golden Globe and two Academy Awards) is currently in theaters. This movie plays out like CHINATOWN by way of BIG LEBOWSKI. Unfortunately, a damn near incoherent script and lengthy running time kill some of the momentum that this hippie mystery had going for it. I can see it gaining a possible cult following, but INHERENT VICE’s big problems weigh it down. At least, the film is a somewhat entertaining mess.

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The 60’s have come to a close and the 70’s are killing the hippie movement. Doc Sportello is a pothead private investigator who receives a mysterious visit from his ex-girlfriend, Shasta. Doc’s ex, now lover to a powerful businessman, informs the hippie detective that there’s a complicated plan at work and she might be in danger. Before you know it, Shasta has disappeared and Doc is on the case. His search begins with three seemingly unrelated disappearances that lead to a huge conspiracy and much craziness. I must attest to not completely understanding everything in the plot at the end of the day, but dare anyone to explain the whole movie to me in a way that makes any plausible sense without having to pull out a notepad and pen in order to map the whole story out. At one point in the film, Doc does exactly that on his wall and I couldn’t help but feel totally lost with him (in a bad way).

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How does INHERENT VICE function as a comedy? It definitely has its fair share of very funny scenes. The best of which have not been given away in the trailer. However, there is also a semi-serious attempt to lace all of these laughs into a mystery that becomes far more irritating than entertaining. For the first hour, I had a pretty good grasp of the plot as the web of lies, murder, and drugs spun faster and faster. However, with a certain plot twist, the movie completely lost me and never regained my interest in the actual story at hand. Part of this might be entirely blamed upon the source material itself as the 2009 has been said to be polarizing. Some call it a hugely entertaining hippie noir, while others see the whole affair as an aimless bore. I’m somewhere in the middle in my opinion of this film. The biggest detriment to the movie is the overlong running time that drags in quite a few places and ends with a shrug.

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Doc is a totally wooden protagonist. Joaquin Phoenix blends right into the role of a hippie who happens to be a private investigator on the side, but there’s nothing much to this character other than him wandering through a variety of random situations (some of which work, while others fall flat). The other characters wind up serving little to no point, including Reese Witherspoon and Benicio Del Toro popping up for about 5 minutes of screen time. Not to mention that Martin Short’s entertaining role is underused. There is one exception to these shallow cartoon characters played by A-listers. That’s in the performance of Josh Brolin. Brolin plays a cop bearing the nickname of Bigfoot. This character is fuelled by an extreme prejudice against hippies, but also remains a friend (of sorts) to Doc. Brolin steals every scene he’s in and received the biggest laughs out of my theater audience (myself included).

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Even though it bores in places and is ultimately underwhelming, INHERENT VICE does have an air of solid filmmaking around it. It’s very well-shot, has great moments and sports a fantastic soundtrack. There’s a sense that what you’re watching might just be a drug-addled hallucination projected onto the theater screen (in a similar way to FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS). There are definitely positive qualities to be said for that effect. I’d almost recommend seeing the film just for the weird, funny atmosphere it brings (as well as Brolin’s scenes).

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INHERENT VICE is a one-of-a-kind movie in its concept and execution, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. There are laughs to be had, but also a running time that limps along. The A-list cast is mostly wasted and Josh Brolin walks away as the best part of the entire movie. I imagine that INHERENT VICE would play a lot better if you were high (not that I’m advocating that at all). As someone who saw the film without drugs, I think it’s just an okay flick.

Grade: C+

KILL THE MESSENGER (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and Drug Content

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Directed by: Michael Cuesta

Written by: Peter Landesman

(based on the book KILL THE MESSENGER by Gary Webb & Nick Schou)

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Barry Pepper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta, Paz Vega, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Richard Schiff, Andy Garcia, Robert Patrick & Michael K. Williams

There are plenty of reasons why KILL THE MESSENGER is a “good” movie. It addresses huge important issues and features a standout performance that ranks among Jeremy Renner’s best roles. Other talented faces pop in and out of the story as well. There are plenty of great moments as well. It’s a shame that bad pacing fumbles up the overall experience. For those interested in corruption, ignored history, and one of the earliest whistleblowers before Snowden, then MESSENGER is a worthwhile watch.

KILL THE MESSENGER, Jeremy Renner, 2014. ph: Chuck Zlotnick/©Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collect

In the mid-90’s, Gary Webb got an interesting tip that led him to publish a series of three articles known as “Dark Alliance.” Webb interviewed many drug dealers and criminals in order to unveil a conspiracy that led to a discovery of CIA officials who knew full well about cocaine being used to fund Nicaraguan rebels in the 1980’s. It was a crooked way of fueling a conflict that wasn’t getting full support from Congress. Obviously, Webb shedding light on a top-secret story wasn’t exactly what the CIA wanted. A massive smear campaign was launched against the man to discredit him rather than focus on genuine points in his articles. KILL THE MESSENGER is based on Webb’s entire ordeal with a conspiracy thriller vibe thrown into it for good measure.

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The two biggest reasons to see KILL THE MESSENGER are the true story behind the film and a knockout performance. If there’s anything this film gets completely right, it’s that I wanted to read up on the actual story about Gary Webb’s articles and get multiple points of view. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of this plot though. Sometimes, it feels as if certain angles were prettied up in order to automatically see Gary Webb as a perfect hero figure (despite his past sins). It’s a tad manipulative and offering a more complex/flawed view would have made for a more challenging/realistic movie. Jeremy Renner knocks it out of the park as Webb! The actor pours so much emotion into his role that it’s great to watch him pretty much carry a decent movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Webb’s editor), Oliver Platt (Webb’s boss), Robert Patrick and Andy Garcia (drug dealers), Michael Sheen and Ray Liotta (government agents) all deliver in their scenes, even if they only appear for a mere five minutes of screen time.

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The biggest killer of momentum in the film is the pacing. There are interesting scenes that totally work within the context of the movie, but also a couple of godawful stretches that border on tedious. There’s not a solid reason why this movie should run at nearly two hours. 20 minutes could have easily been snipped out for a tighter flick. Some of these include family dynamic clichés that failed to flesh out the story further or give any emotional weight to this movie version of Webb. Also, the insertion of clips (interviews with government officials or stock footage) as montages feels like a cheap technique of transitioning from scene to scene. It’s almost like a documentary approach was inserted into an otherwise traditional narrative and it’s as jarring a decision as it sounds.

KILL THE MESSENGER, Jeremy Renner, 2014. ph: Chuck Zlotnick/©Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collect

KILL THE MESSENGER did a good job of pissing me off and rightly so about at the upsetting true story at the core of the film. Jeremy Renner almost single-handedly makes the movie work with a great performance, while other capable actors make their presence known. Bad pacing really kills the building momentum. There are definitely standout plot points that needed to be kept, but a few unneeded clichés felt cheap. I am glad I watched KILL THE MESSENGER if only because it shed some light on a troubling story and got me interested enough to read up more on the facts behind the film. I can’t imagine ever watching it again, but it’s a decent flick.

Grade: B-

THE PURGE: ANARCHY (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Disturbing Violence, and for Language

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Directed by: James DeMonaco

Written by: James DeMonaco

Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul

THE PURGE made a big splash in the box office last summer, so much so that a sequel was green lit three days after the its release. However, many people (including myself) took issue that the movie wasted a great premise (crime being legalized for one night a year) on a standard home-invasion movie that was like every other home invasion movie ever made. It seems that writer/director James DeMonaco listened to the complaints, because THE PURGE: ANARCHY is a considerable step up in almost every way. It’s far from a perfect movie, but I enjoyed this twisted little film for the sheer creativity that held my interest from frame one.

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THE PURGE: ANARCHY begins two hours before the annual Purge commences. This newly founded holiday legalizes crime (including murder) for 12 straight hours. It’s meant to be a sort of cleansing of the country and allows people to release their darker urges during one blood-soaked night every year. ANARCHY follows a three separate storylines that eventually merge into one. Eva and her daughter Cali hide in their apartment as the night begins and quickly find that their defenses are no match for an army of heavily armed intruders outside. Shane and Liz are a troubled couple who experience car difficulties, which leaves them stranded downtown as the Purging citizens begin wreaking havoc. Finally, there’s Leo who has armored his car, strapped on Kevlar, and armed himself to the teeth in order to get revenge on the man responsible for the death of his son. These characters wind up meeting and struggle to survive as they encounter new dangers with every step.

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Much like the first PURGE, the deeper commentary in ANARCHY is completely transparent and delivered in an extreme manner. There’s also a side message about revenge not being the answer to any problem, which has also been seen in plenty of other vigilante stories. One obvious bit of social satire that I liked was the idea of a rebellion brewing on the sidelines as seen in the videos of a Spike Lee lookalike rambling about how corrupt the government is. We never see any of this fully erupt, but it could be an obvious direction to take in THE PURGE 3 (this series has a likely chance of becoming the next SAW or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise). The more tedious bits involve annoying speeches about a citizen’s legal right to Purge. All the viewer needs is one moment that indulged this idea. I got sick of seeing some of these dialogue bits repeated throughout. The almost prayer-like chant that psychopathic wealthy people deliver in the name of the “New Founding Fathers” is also overly silly, which is one factor I didn’t like in the first film.

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Frank Grillo is the best actor here and was the only character worth caring about. His motivation and reasoning may be heavily borrowed from Jeff in SAW III (a series that is very much in the same vein as THE PURGE), but Grillo delivers his performance in such a style that makes one wonder how he didn’t wind up as an 80’s action hero. None of the other characters are completely horrendous with one exception: the rebellious teenage Cali. She was aggravating. Part of it is from the terrible delivery of the actress, but part of it really falls on her being a bratty girl. I was rooting for a possibility of a slow, painful death for her from the first scene. Stupid decisions on the behalf of certain characters doesn’t necessarily garner sympathy for these idiots either. One moment involves the married couple trying to hide from a group of vicious bikers and being disgusted at the prospect of spending the night in a dumpster with a bloody corpse. I’m sorry, but if it comes down to hiding in a garbage bin with a dead body for a few hours or being brutally beaten to death myself? I’m picking the first option.

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There are plenty of silly and dumb moves in THE PURGE: ANARCHY, but this sequel did a wonderful job of fleshing out this world far better than its predecessor. This time around, the audience gets to see the mayhem breaking out on the street. Little details go a long way. One scene in a quiet district provides a sinister memorable moment involving the hanging corpse of a banker. It only goes to show how many possible stories can be told with this premise of a nationwide period of legalized chaos and bloodshed. I wouldn’t mind seeing a new film in this series every year, if they are all as creative as this one was. Lots of chases, gunfights, and even surprising bursts of violence in seemingly ideal situations make for a movie that kept me entertained in the same way that I enjoy watching a good slasher. The cinematography is remarkably well shot too.

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The best stretch of ANARCHY comes in the last third of the film which involves an auction (briefly skimmed in the trailer) and goes straight into MOST DANGEROUS GAME territory. I thoroughly enjoyed this bit and thought the ending was far more satisfying than the lackluster conclusion of the first entry. This second PURGE takes the action away from the confined quarters of a house and throws the viewer straight into an urbanized hell hole. I was interested the whole way through and enjoyed the vicious imagination on display. There are definitely flaws, mainly in some bad characters and worse acting, but I had a good time with this film and would probably enjoy it even more on a second viewing. THE PURGE: ANARCHY feels like a modern Grindhouse classic. It’s delivers on the gory goods. I wouldn’t mind revisiting the world of THE PURGE a third time as this sequel far outdoes the disappointing first entry.

Grade: B-

ROBOCOP (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action including Frenetic Gun Violence Throughout, brief Strong Language, Sensuality and some Drug Material

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Directed by: Jose Padilha

Written by: Joshua Zetumer

Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel & Aimee Garcia

Very much in the same situation as the TOTAL RECALL remake, ROBOCOP is a reboot of a cheesy action sci-fi film that was directed by Paul Verhoeven. In the exact same marketing tactic, the studio took what was once a gratuitously violent R-rated film and remade it as a PG-13 flick to attract the widest possible demographic. What was stripped out of the already ridiculous premise is the insane level of gore and in its place is a much more rushed pace of storytelling that attempts to add something new to the mix, but winds up being treated as a mere afterthought. ROBOCOP is not a good film or even a tolerable time-waster. This is a remake that sports a big budget, but feels like it belongs as a Saturday night movie on the Syfy Channel.

Joel Kinnaman;Michael K Williams

In the near future, technology has advanced a point where robots aren’t out of the ordinary. OmniCorp is the company behind the design of robotic soldiers that identifies threats and neutralize them. The robots are stationed in plenty of other countries (as seen by an entirely pointless prologue set in the Middle East), but the USA has made it illegal for a robot to patrol the streets of any city in America. The marketing department and president of OmniCorp are desperate for anything to fight this law, which in turn would make them extremely rich.

Joel Kinnaman;Gary Oldman;Aimee Garcia

Enter Alex Murphy, a clichéd cop stereotype in the disguise of a real character with a name. Not surprisingly, his last mission went terribly wrong and landed his partner in the hospital. The drug lord that he attempted to bust plants a car bomb. It explodes and leaves Alex with very few options of living. OmniCorp takes Alex and rebuilds him. Keeping only his head, a set of organs, and a single hand, Alex is becomes a machine. He’s a Robocop (for lack of a better word) and patrolling the streets to keep citizens safe. The drug dealer may not be the only one that Alex must be wary of, because OmniCorp has some sinister dealings behind closed doors.

Gary Oldman;Michael Keaton

Allow me to address the good things about this movie before diving headlong into what sucks about it. The effects are pretty stellar in most scenes. The character of Robocop looks badass and some of the other machines are equally cool. There was an element added (which I won’t spoil) that tries to take the remake in a bit of a new direction for a while. It succeeds on some levels, but there simply wasn’t enough time dedicated to telling this piece of the story. Some of the cast members are familiar and do well in their roles. Gary Oldman is quite good as the scientist who builds Alex’s robotic body. Samuel L. Jackson plays a Bill O’Reilly-esque figure and is fun to watch. Abbie Cornish is decent as Alex’s wife. Then there’s Jackie Earle Haley playing one of the villains and he’s the best performer in the entire film. He oozes bad guy and seems to be having a lot of fun.

Joel Kinnaman;Abbie Cornish

On the other side of the coin, the character of Alex isn’t compelling at all. It could be attributed to writing, but Joel Kinnaman isn’t charismatic and seems to be basing his acting off stuff he’s seen in many other police thrillers. The rest of the cops are walking and talking clichés. To be fair to Kinnaman, the scenes with him training to be Robocop and adjusting to his new life are where he really shines. Otherwise, I could care less about if he lives, dies, and becomes a robot. Michael Keaton (once known for playing Batman) seems to slumming it here. The villain is tired and (again) basing his performance on other villain roles in better movies. The usually hilarious Jay Baruchel is grossly miscast here. If you want to see Jay in a good serious performance, watch GOOD NEIGHBORS. He’s out of his element in the ROBOCOP remake!

Samuel Jackson

Since the story has been adjusted from a hard R-rated 80’s flick to a modern PG-13 would-be summer blockbuster, some changes were obviously made to the original’s material. The most notable of which come in Alex being blown up by a car bomb (instead of shot up by a gang), Robocop’s black armor (as opposed to silver), and a significant lack of good action sequences. There aren’t a lot of action scenes in this ROBOCOP movie (already a bad sign) and two stand out for horrible reasons. An early flashback is shot with such off-the-wall shaky camera work that I couldn’t make out who was shooting at what. Then what could have been the film’s highlight is ruined by being shot in the dark (making for confusion with various gun blasts from unseen foes) and split between two different night-vision lenses. The problem with the latter is that these looked like a visuals from Super Nintendo video game.

Joel Kinnaman

ROBOCOP is a remake of a silly 80’s action flick, but never captures what made that original film so entertaining. The characters range from enjoyable to downright one-dimensional (especially in the case of Robocop himself). Most of the action scenes are downright incomprehensibly messy with obscured or shaky visuals, instead of bloody violence. The soundtrack is mighty annoying. Rushed pacing is engaged on the more interesting parts of the film, but way too much time in spent in the boring moments. At one point, Jackie Earle Haley’s character refers to Robocop as “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar.” The same can be said about this film. Some good things aside, ROBOCOP isn’t worth a cent of your hard-earned cash. Wait for late night cable and prepare for it to put you to sleep. That’s where this tired remake belongs.

Grade: D+

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence/Cruelty, Some Nudity and Brief Sexuality

12 Years poster

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Written by: John Ridley

(based on the book 12 YEARS A SLAVE by Solomon Northup)

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garrett Dillahunt, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’O, Sarah Paulson & Brad Pitt

It’s so easy to overlook the past and pretend that atrocities didn’t happen. Some people say that slavery has been overdone in films, but those who don’t learn from the history are doomed to repeat it. Slavery was an abomination and it sickens me to no end to think that it occurred less than two centuries ago. This was a dark, scary piece of American history. This was a period of time where certain people weren’t considered to be human, based solely on the color of their skin. To make matters even worse, no one was safe from this horrible crime against humanity. It gave cruel plantation owners an excuse to be dehumanize others. 12 YEARS A SLAVE is an unflinching, disturbingly realistic film that is based on a true story that took place before the Civil War, when slavery was at its peak.

12 Years 1

Solomon Northup is a free black man living in upstate New York. Upon meeting some gentlemen, Solomon agrees to travel with them in the hopes of making some extra cash to support his family (a wife, a son, and a daughter). It is in Washington, D.C. that Solomon is deceived. Waking up in chains, Solomon has been kidnapped and sold into slavery. Given a new name and a fake past, Solomon does what he must to endure and survive this terrible ordeal. With prejudice and potential death lurking around every corner, Solomon serves 12 years that are split between two very different plantations. One is run by a Baptist preacher (Benedict Cumberbach from STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS), while the other is run by a cruel drunk of a man (played by Michael Fassbender) and his equally cruel wife (played by Sarah Paulson).

12 Years 2

12 YEARS A SLAVE wisely shows roughly two title cards explaining what the time and place is. This decision pretty much throws us into the disoriented world with Solomon as he struggles to find some footing and retain some of his dignity, along with his life. Early on in the movie, a fellow slave says to Solomon that if he wants to survive, he should try not to stand out. Later on, resigning to his current predicament, Solomon tells a grieving mother (separated from her children) that he doesn’t want to survive, he wants to live. Determined not to let grief and despair get the best of him, Solomon does what he is asked and also finds the courage to stand up when something completely unfair is occurring.

12 Years 3

The production values of the movie are top-notch and the A-list names add even more talent to display. This is Michael Fassbender’s most frightening performance and Benedict Cumberbatch is a marvel as a slave-owner with a touch of kindness. Paul Dano is despicable as an obnoxious carpenter, using the idea of slavery to further his own power-hungry ego. Paul Giamatti and Brad Pitt aren’t in the movie for too long, but when they are they stand out as characters unlike any they’ve played before.

12 Years 4

The real show-stopper is the relatively unknown Chiwetel Ejiofor (who has been in many other films, but isn’t a standout face). It was a smart move for director Steve McQueen (who also directed SHAME and HUNGER) to cast an unfamiliar face in the role of Solomon Northup. If it had been a blockbuster actor like Will Smith, things could have easily gone downhill and become cheesy. Ejiofor gives a performance that feels real and being thrown into his position, we genuinely feel for his actions and understand his motivation to keep moving on and his fear to disclose his true identity to anyone, for fear of repercussions. We never leave Solomon’s side at any point in the movie. This is the struggle of one man through a dark period of inhumane history.

12 Years 5

The film is hard to watch and brutally real, but the experience is a rewarding one. It’s a history lesson that bears repeating over and over. Steve McQueen is not afraid to transport us back to the dark times of slavery and never once does he restrain from any of the honest tragedy of the entire situation. It’s unflinching, heartbreaking, and incredibly moving. Expect to emotional for a long time after the credits have rolled. 12 YEARS A SLAVE is a modern classic, if there ever was one.

Grade: A+

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