Friday, July 25, 2014

THE PURGE: ANARCHY (2014) - One Of The Most Terrifying Nights In Cinema!

When you think of films where people are caught on the streets at night and things are about to go down; classics like Escape From New York, The Warriors or Assault on Precinct 13 may come to mind.  Although these legendary films have a great following, a new entry has been brought to the screen and could easily garner a cult all its own - THE PURGE: ANARCHY.

I can't say that Anarchy will become a classic as other films of the same kind.  But I feel like it has several moments of craziness to get there.  For those that don't know, The Purge: Anarchy is the sequel to The Purge.  A story set in the near future where a new US government has been established by the 'New Founding Fathers'.  An annual event called The Purge was created to allow citizens to unleash all the aggression and murderous tendencies during 12 hours on a single night.  Every crime is legal including murder.  There are no police, no fire and rescue, no public assistance of any kind.  If you're rich you can afford protection for your home.  That was shown in the first film.  But if you are on the not-so-rich side, you just have to try to live through the night.  And you certainly don't want to be on the street during these 12 hours, unless you want to participate in the purge.

I appreciated the concept of first film, but The Purge was missing a few things. Mainly that it didn't show the ramifications that such a dystopian future would foster.  The Purge: Anarchy took care of all of that!  The film starts out with three different points of view of people preparing for the purge.  One is a couple that's traveling to a relative who has a safe home to wait it out. Another was a waitress and mother who can't afford heavy protection for her, her daughter, and her elderly father in their small apartment.  The third player is a man that wants to participate in the purge, though his reasons are not as simple as some of the maniacs that show up later in the film.

I appreciated most of the actors and performances in this film.  Particularly Frank Grillo and Carmen Ejogo who sold their symbolic roles representing the two sides of the purge, those of predator and prey.  And to his credit writer / director James DeMonaco created a few villains that would be great choices for Todd Toys.  Keith Stanfield as 'Young Goul Face' definitely deserves a figure. Just another word about Frank Grillo - I could easily see the influences of Snake Plissken, Mad Max, and for a spit second, even Terminator.  It's been going around the net that Grillo could even be The Punisher if they decide to make another film.  If he bulks up, I'm all for it. 

What makes this film work is how DeMonaco blended the visuals of rats caught in a maze with the feeling of constant danger around every corner.  Tension never really let up because even when you thought the characters were safe, you had the uneasy feeling that things weren't quite right.  DeMonaco turned the cityscape into a night-lit jungle filled with beasts great and small.  Adding to it was the unfolding of the true nature of the purge.  Who was the purge really for? The general population? Or was there a more sinister purpose?

But as much as I liked certain things about The Purge: Anarchy, there were some predictable moments that played a little cliche.  Not that the story could go in too many directions, but there were some things that could have been thought out more.  Not a big deal though, because the film delivered some nice little surprises. 

As you watch The Purge: Anarchy a terrifying thought might come to mind.  If the government fell into the wrong hands, this crap could possibly happen! It's the constant warning of all Sci-fi dystopian stories that we that have a conscience need to keep our asses vigilant, and not let small and power hungry groups take over.

Geek Soul Brother gives it 3.75 out of 5 Cosmic Afros. 364 Days until the Next Purge! Your Government Thanks You.

GSB Film Review - LUCY (2014)

Lucy doesn't kick too much gangster ass. But she does kick Reality's ass on many levels!

In the beginning of the film we see an image that one wouldn't expect from a Besson film - a prehistoric cave woman sitting by a river drinking.  If you watched the trailer at all you know that this story involves the evolution of a girl's brain to the use of 100 percent.  After the initial imagery I figured this wasn't going to be Luc Besson's usual shoot'em up female action film.  I didn't even know the half of it.

There is no real character setup, initially.  We are simply introduced to Lucy, played by Scarlett Jo-hotness, I mean Johansson - a student living abroad that has a shady boyfriend who wants her to deliver a briefcase to some 'people'.  In minutes she's swept up into a world of organized crime, bloody fresh corpses and unwilling drug smuggling; all orchestrated by a Mr. Jang played by the exceptional Min-sik Choi.  And the drug that she was carrying was some crazy blue stuff that even Walter White couldn't have cooked up in his lab.  Breaking Bad? No?  You should get on that!  Through a painful event, the drug gets into Lucy's blood stream and she starts becoming more than your average girl.

Another thing I didn't expect from Besson was the periodic inter-cutting of metaphoric scenes like a cheeta and gazelle chase during Lucy's initial interaction with the goons of the mob.  I immediately got a sense that Besson was expanding his way of storytelling as well as his subject matter.

As for Johansson, I loved her in the role.  Besson's signature closeups took advantage of Scarlett's waves of emotion she expressed in the first act of the film.  And that's good.  Because once Lucy got the drug in her system she didn't express much emotion through the rest of the story.  We did get to see Lucy become an expert killer with a gun though.  But the action didn't last too long as the story started evolving as fast as Lucy's neurons in her brain.  The cool gun-play was replaced with cool telekinesis, mind reading, and really fast typing. That always means a person is really smart in science fiction.

There was an urgency to the film, but the resolution to the story didn't seem to equal it.  I can't quite say it was anti-climatic, but I wish it was more impacting.  This could be because of one - the film catapulted into a cool episode of Morgan Freeman's Through The Wormhole TV series and left the Columbiana action behind.  Or two - because Lucy was so powerful early on in the film that nothing seemed to be a real threat to her anymore except to reach her goal in time.  It's just that the goal seemed less important than the journey, which was kind of incredible by the end of the film.

There were a couple points in the story that needed more of an explanation, but it didn't hurt the telling of it.  Just some choppy moments.  This may also have been because of Besson's choice of film style that went along with the inter-cuts I mentioned.

Just another mention of the cave woman in the beginning; the scene was very reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  And the film swiftly unfolded like 2001, but with the subplot of mobsters.  It was a unique polarity expressed in the nirvana like journey of Lucy and the lower-man efforts of the crime boss to get his drugs and kill this young woman.  If you're going to mix a story about a girl, the Asian mafia and Quantum Physics, this is about the best you can do.  I tip my afro-antenna to Besson in that his was a deep and thought provoking existential message based in a science fiction story.  But it needed a more delicate execution which other classic films were able to achieve.

I'm hard pressed to give this a rating because I can't put my finger what the general scifi audience will not like about this film.  But if you like theories about the purpose and existence of life, matter and the universe more than a hot girl with guns and telekinesis, then you might think that my rating of 3.25 out of 5 Cosmic Afros is too low.  The trouble is I like both too.  But if you want to see super-powered Johansson kick major ass from beginning to end then you're going to be very disappointed.

Side Note: I think that soon Scarlett will want to write her own science fiction story.  This is the forth film in the last year that she's done that's based in science fiction.  And 3 of those were hard scifi wrapped in some human experience - HER, UNDER THE SKIN, and now LUCY.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Afro Commentary: Stop Worrying About Guardians of the Galaxy

Ever since Guardians of the Galaxy was announced at the San Diego Comic Con Marvel panel two years ago, there has existed some skepticism amongst both the geek community and Hollywood analysts at large. How could a space movie – a genre that does not perform well in the theaters unless it begins with Star and ends with either Trek or Wars – be a success in an already tepid summer movie season? After looking at everything that has been released, combined with the early buzz and reviews, I have a good feeling that Marvel Studios will have another hit on their hands.

I admit I was one of the concerned at the beginning when they first announced Guardians. Despite Marvel’s vast cosmic roster of characters and storylines, (a good portion which may or may not be tied up due to the Fantastic Four rights over at Fox,) their first step was a group of misfits who end up becoming one of the universe’s best protection forces (after the Nova Corps, who sanctions the team.) A film directed by a relatively unknown who's claim to fame is scripting the Scooby-Doo live action movies and the Dawn of the Dead remake, not to mention helming the cult movie Super. Yet, the more I saw what James Gunn was doing with Guardians and the comments made by him and Kevin Feige (President of Marvel Studios), I became comfortable with the idea. Even with my reservations with some of the casting (I still want a Rocket with a gravely, Cockney accent dammit) I still held out hope; which was well placed when the trailers were released.

Yet, with all the promotion media presented for Guardians, there is still doubt on how well it will do. It may even be quite understandable, especially with the box office being down this year. Yet, I feel there are many factors that will help this film succeed.

1. It's Marvel, Dammit!
You can call Marvel many things, but at the end of the day there is only one adjective that describes them best: shrewd. They may be open to new directions and concepts for their characters (except for Fox's plans for Fantastic Four), but you cannot accuse them of making moves that do not have the brand or their IP's at heart. They will not hesitate to cut someone from a project if the person does not have either aspect in mid. There are many examples of this (anyone remember Ed Norton Jr?), however the most recent one is probably the best one. Fans were crushed that Edgar Wright had left the Ant-Man project, feeling he was wronged for the fallout over the script and direction. Up until that point, it had seemed both sides were on the same page with the concept and overall visual feel. It was a shock to many that Wright and Marvel butted heads; however some creative relationships just cannot co-exist, especially when one party is justifiably protective of their brand.

How does this fit in with Guardians? Simple: Marvel wouldn't have dipped their little piggies into the space portion of their portfolio if they weren't sure money could be made while keeping the brand intact. They have enough experience with movies - with a proven track record, mind you - to gauge what will work in their strategy. They are confident to the point of being bat-ish crazy that this concept will work.

Speaking of bat-ish crazy...

2. It Is Such A Crazy Idea, That It May Actually Work!

As I said before, Marvel is not afraid to try new things with their properties. Some bad (everyone remember Spidey wiping his marriage away to save Aunt May?), but many turned out good. Whether it is the comics or the movies, many of their ideas look crazy on paper but work out when put into place. After the initial excitement over the announcement of the Phase 1 of movies would lead up to The Avengers, many people became skeptical. A lot of the "How will they make this work" kind of questions began to be asked. People became hesitant, almost fearing the final result of the project. Fast forward a few years later, and the film became the undisputed film of the year, breaking several box office records and grossing $1.51 billion worldwide.

During a Twitter discussion on the recent news that Falcon would be taking over as Captain America, one thing that resonated with me is that Marvel is a lot smarter than fans give them credit for. They know the treasure trove of material they have at their disposal, and are apparently not afraid to use it. Some of it so crazy - such as Guardians of the Galaxy, where you have an assassin, a being whose sole purpose is to kill Thanos, a mercenary rodent, his deciduous friend and a rogue thrown together to be heroes - that with the right people, it will work on screen. They have both Feige - who has been with Marvel Studios since its inception in 2000 and an overall comic geek - and Joe Quesada at the helm; both men willing to take calculated risks. The company itself converted the comic’s division, beginning with “The Ultimates”, into a testing ground for concepts and storylines for motion pictures and television, while staying true to putting out quality material. They also used the One Shot stories as potential jump off points for other projects such as Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter. They are giving the fans what they want to see while experimenting with things that can be used in multiple formats.

This organized, yet reckless abandon approach has paid off for the House of Ideas. For the last 15 years, barring stunt issues that DC frequently throws out, Marvel has been #1 in comic sales as a whole. They have consistent success in the theaters ever since the studio arm released their first film, Iron Man, seven years ago. Their only weak link right now is their television/animation division, and this is something that could be resolved with the replacement of an individual or two.
The company knows what it is doing, and if the early buzz heading into San Diego Comic Con is any indication, Guardians should do well. And why shouldn't it? It appears to be a fun romp that many of the films this year are lacking.

3. Hollywood Predictability
I know it sounds like an incredibly douchy response as an outsider looking in, but think about it. Why else would you release a movie at a time when you throw most of your junk in? Most Hollywood analysts had come to the conclusion months ago that Marvel slotted Guardians in the August 1 release slot because they did not have much faith in the film.

I'd have to disagree with that assessment.

I feel that the decision was equal parts desperation and opportunity. Okay, desperate may sound harsh, but not without its merits. Ever since Marvel announced that they planned to release two films a year, I feel an ever increasing problem arose for them. There are now so many movies jammed packed into the traditional summer blockbuster schedule, that slotting Guardians in a release date where it would stand out most likely became an issue. This year you had Transformers: Age of Extinction, Godzilla, Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, X-Men: Days of Futures Past and others that took the prime spots of the season. With Hollywood's currently mentality of barraging people with "blockbusters", the conventional scheduling of films becomes useless.

Leave it to Marvel to do the unconventional. I am sure somewhere along the scheduling process, someone asked "Why not August", with question receiving "Yeah, why not August" as a response. August through September is considered a dumping ground, where studios usually send movies they are not too sure about to die a quick death in obscurity. The logic to put Guardians at the cusp of the summer dumping ground gives Marvel an advantage. They have already experimented placing projects on months that are considered awkward for films (April for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World in November) with great success. Each time, neither film had any competition for weeks, allowing them to rake in a combined $465 million domestically. The company has already proven that if you put out a product people are interested in, they will go to the theaters.

Guardians only competition in early August is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which has not been well received so far. Guardians also has the added weight of the post-San Diego Comic Con buzz as well. Marvel is expected to focus on promoting the project heavily in addition to announcing future ones as well. Yes, Disney may be concerned with Guardians tracking (which has resulted with the intensive advertising campaign), but I feel between Marvel’s strategy, experience and the word of mouth, The House of Ideas will have yet another great film that will be number one.

Ultimately, I could be very well off-base in my logic. Guardians could be Marvel Studios first goose egg, which will make Feige and others re-evaluate their entry into the space genre. Many of the company’s future plans could be affected by what could be a turd in a can for them. It is a scenario that can happen come August 1.
However, after everything we know of this film, Marvel’s track record and just the sheer potential of more Marvel stories in space (Kree/Skrull war, anyone?), I feel confident in saying that Guardians will perform well. I welcome your thoughts on the matter. How do you think the film will do going into SDCC? I want to know!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Another Summer Horror? JESSABELLE (2014)

When did summer become a time for horror films? When you think about it they play at different times of the year.  But October is usually the month for the serious horror flick.  Still, between THE CONJURING last year and DELIVER US FROM EVIL earlier this summer, I think the studios want their box office payoff sooner rather than later.

JESSABELLE doesn't look like it will be the best horror film this year, but it does look like it will be comparable with INSIDIOUS and recent others (same producers).  It's about a girl that goes back to her childhood home only to be met by an evil spirit that wants whatever evil spirits want from a young girl. Most likely her soul, but who knows.  Oh, and she's in a wheelchair from a car accident, so that probably makes the ghost fighting a little more of a challenge.  The trailer actually doesn't look bad. Coming to theaters August 29th.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


I never really looked into the story of Vlad the Impaler.  I just knew like most people that he seemed to be a bad dude in the annals of history, with all the impaling and everything.  And that the myth of Dracula was based on him.  But recently I did hear that Vlad's more famous acts of violence were attributed to his love for his son when he was taken away.  DRACULA UNTOLD seems to be a retelling of how Dracula came to be with more historical facts blended in.  The trailer looks pretty decent. It does play a little long though.  Luke Evans looks cool in this role also.  Look for the film in October.