The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

Purge AnarchyReleased: July 18, 2014. Directed by: James DeMonaco. Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford. Runtime: 103 min.

After last year’s The Purge disappointed, my expectations were virtually non-existent for The Purge: Anarchy. The quick production of the sequel also contributed to my low expectations, because I appreciate a strong production value.

The film opens with three different chapters that intersect within the first 30 minutes. The first chapter is an average working mother Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo), and her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul). They represent the lower-class citizens, and they’re forced out onto the streets when a small army infiltrates their urban apartment building. Another chapter follows a police sergeant (Frank Grillo) who is out on purge night on his own accord, searching for vengeance. The third follows a middle-class couple (Liz and Shane, Kiele Sanchez and Zac Gilford respectively) whose car breaks down on the highway in downtown Los Angeles. When all of these characters intersect, a simplistic A to B plot is introduced.

 Writer/director James DeMonaco improves on the original in a lot of ways. Most notably, the high concept works better as an ultra-violent action flick, and the original’s horror aspirations just made it weaker. With a decreased amount of pop-up scares, this seems to aspire to be an action film with horror undertones – as it would be freaking scary to be out on purge night. It’s a high-concept from the mind of DeMonaco where annually each year, crimes – including murder – are completely legal for twelve hours. Of course, you can’t use weapons over Level 4 (rocket launchers would be out of the question) and you won’t legally be able to assassinate the President.

 The idea is designed to render the crime rate non-existent and to lower the unemployment rate. It’s a way for Americans to let off steam, or to “release the beast,” a right they are given by the new founding fathers of 2023. It’s also a way for the corrupt government to allow the murdering hunters to thin the herd by killing those who cannot defend themselves – the homeless and the poor. It’s also a way to control the American population, like hunters do to control the animal population.It’s also another way for Americans to be Number One in lowest unemployment rate and lowest crime rate.

 One unbelievable aspect is that people still won’t be imprisoned on non-Purge day. I don’t buy that there still won’t be money laundering or bank robberies. One thing that DeMonaco failed to take into consideration is the desperation of humans; because if they’re desperate enough, they’ll still steal or rape. Especially if they’re mentally ill, they’ll probably still kill because they could just snap. Even if they do wait until Purge day, it’s just not logical – because the justice system is what would be keeping that anger, or crazy urge to kill someone, in line.

Never-mind one’s morals or anything. There’s a bit of a more moral argument brought into this film through certain characters. One is a young woman named Cali (Zoë Soul) who is fascinated by an activist’s beliefs in the immorality of the Purge. This man, Carmelo Johns (a great Michael K. Williams), wants to fight back – because it’s legal, baby! Cali’s brief lectures to another character about the immorality of it all makes it a bit more in your face than it should have been in an average horror movie, but it adds a layer that the original was missing.

Another thing that is fascinating is the fact that some wealthy families actually purchase martyrs for Purge night. They go through sick and poor people, desperate enough to be bought out for a sum of $100k, which could help their families in great ways. It’s an intriguing little concept within the Purge mythology.

The film has good pacing and a strong third act. The characters are underdeveloped, but that’s fine with everything else going on. Since DeMonaco brings his story onto the streets of the purge night, it has much more depth and possibility of events than the first had, which was a limited home-invasion thriller with long stretches of yawn-worthy cinema. He knows where to improve and that’s great for a young filmmaker. Perhaps I enjoyed this because my expectations were non-existent, but if this is the direction the low-budget franchise is headed, it’s looking pretty good.

Score: 75 out of 100

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Sparkle (2012)

SparkleSparkle

Release Date: August 17, 2012

Director: Salim Akil

Stars: Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo, Whitney Houston

Runtime: 116 min

Tagline: Celebrate the legend

Sister and Her Sisters? More like the Hussy and Her Sisters.

Sparkle is a performing arts drama set in the 1960s. It follows three sisters: Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), Sister (Carmen Ejogo) and Dolores (Tika Sumpter) who mend a girl group and they soon become local sensations with major label interest, but fame brings turmoil and further struggle to the tight-knit family.

Sparkle is a fully mediocre story that simply borrows its delightful concepts from other, better films. It may be filled with clichés and owns a very predictable premise, but it is thoroughly entertaining, and I never found myself bored. However, I did find myself fairly irritated at some points in the film.

While Sparkle is the titular character, for a good majority of the flick, she does not feel like the focal point. She is mainly a reserved character who wants her music to be heard, but she is much too timid to sing them herself. The band’s manager, Stix (Derek Luke), is one character who wants her to break out of that shell. And because of all of this, Sparkle is merely placed as a background singer – and subsequently, a usual background character (with the exception of the last twenty-five minutes, or so) since she is often drowned out by waves of sub-plots.

There is a sub-plot also worked into Sparkle’s character; she does not believe in herself, but partly due to the fact that her mother (Whitney Houston, in a great last performance) does not believe in her either. The mother almost had a music career when she was younger, but it ultimately failed. She does not want to see her daughters go down that same road, but she doesn’t know of their constant sneaking out for the majority of the film. There’s a petite sub-plot of Dolores (a.k.a. Dee) only joining the music group to make enough money to go to Medical School.

However, the largest sub-plot (and really, the main plot point) is Sister’s wrestle with fame. She is also one of the main reasons of the family’s struggle. She is a character that is so enveloped by the fame of it all, that she cannot see a good man who cares for her right in front of her eyes, and one who will care for her, Levi (Omari Hardwick). Instead, she chooses the incredibly lame and annoying comedian, Satin (Mike Epps). He leads her down a road of drugs and physical and mental abuse (like no one’s heard that story before). Basically, the characters of Sister and Satin affected my enjoyment of the film. I may have never been bored, but those two characters made me feel a certain loathing. Also, they made me feel skeptical to opening up to any other characters.

Sparkle is a mediocre and average performing arts drama. It is entertaining, but it isn’t anything memorable or special. It has a great debut performance from Jordin Sparks and a great last performance by Whitney Houston. The characters of the mother, Sparkle, Stix and Dee are great; but the characters of Sister and Satin are not easy to appreciate. It’s a predictable ride, but it is nonetheless a fairly good, but forgettable, one.

63/100