Purge: Election Year, The (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
“The Purge: Election Year,” written and directed by James DeMonaco, has the potential to become a thoughtful horror-thriller, given our current political and societal climate, but instead it relies on the same old tricks, within the genre and its predecessors, to generate superficial suspense and thrills. As a result, the picture, for the most part, suffers from the law of diminishing returns: its bite is less potent, its attempts to shock more predictable in terms of execution and final result. It is clearly an inferior installment.
The plot revolves around a returning character, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), now a bodyguard for Senator Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a politician determined to end the annual Purge once and for all because she believes the event is merely a ploy for the rich to control the population of the poor, especially poor minorities. Since they have less means to protect themselves, they are killed at an alarmingly disproportionate rate. She has used this platform to propel herself to become the next president of the United States. Her rivals then aim to use the Purge to eliminate the competition.
Out of the gates already showing off great level of energy, it is a great frustration that much of it is depleted less than halfway through. It can be argued that standout scenes take place in a deli where owner Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson) and his friends (Betty Gabriel, Joseph Julian Soria) trade humorous banters and comment on the politics shown on television. Although they are all on the same side, they actually sit on different points of the political spectrum. If the writer-director had chosen to strive a little higher or dig a little deeper, their differences ought to have been more amplified. It certainly would have made Joe, Marcos, and Laney more interesting; we would have cared about them more.
Shootouts from afar receive more time to unfold than violence that feels personal. Such is a misstep that takes away the effectiveness of the premise. While necessary because the plot involves multiple attempts of political assassinations, thrills should not rely mostly on these impersonal long distance kills. What makes the original film so haunting is that by the end we discover that even one’s neighbors wish to hurt, maim, or kill another because of their jealousy, envy, or belief that one doesn’t deserve one’s successes and accomplishments.
Here, although there are politics that relate to real-life issues such as the 1% working the system or finding loopholes in order to take advantage of the 99% and a politician’s popularity being rooted in hatred of the Other, the script fails to put the outrage into meaningful, shaded context that it inevitably rattles us but makes us think at the same time. Instead, it chooses to focus on people shooting at each other as if it were a generic action flick.
The closest it gets to the sheer insanity of the previous films involves schoolgirls (Brittany Mirabile—whom I would love to see more in other projects—and Juani Feliz) wishing to kill Joe and destroy his deli during Purge Night simply because they were caught shoplifting the day before. This dragged out conflict stems out of stealing candy but not being allowed to get away with it. (Even though the owner chose that the cops did not get involved.) What makes it a solid subplot in this particular horror-thriller is because it is able to match the madness and energy of the premise. If only the rest were written as thoughtfully and creatively.
★★★ / ★★★★
I was deeply touched by this biopic about a supermodel named Gia Carangi (Angelina Jolie) back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Throughout the picture, I felt that her story was very personal because we got to see her evolve from a rebellious kid who was abandoned by her mother to a stunning supermodel who everyone wanted to worked with. At the same time, we also got to see her cocaine addiction, failed relationships and connection with others, and the eventual decline of her health because of AIDS. I’m glad that this film did not particularly glamorize the fashion world. In fact, I got a feeling that it was almost against it–as if it was one of the main reasons to blame that finally drove Carangi over the edge. Gia was far from a perfect person and therefore not free from blame but she had crucial moments when she took responsibility because she really did want to change. I admired the scenes when Jolie was posing in front of the camera looking extraordinary but such scenes also had voice-overs of what the photographers, the crew, and the other models’ real thoughts about Gia. It shows that something beautiful on the outside doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s on the inside, which I thought culminated when one of the women confronted Gia with such anger during one of the drug addiction sessions concerning the lies–on how to look like, how to act, and how to live one’s life–presented by the glossy fashion magazines. I also enjoyed the fact that Gia’s relationships were highlighted throughout the film: the mother who uses her as an accessory, who’s always there when things are good but almost never there when things are bad (Mercedes Ruehl), the loyal friend she met right before she was discovered and was there with her until the end (Eric Michael Cole), the agent who she saw more as a mother-figure (Faye Dunaway), and her on-and-off girlfriend who always wanted Gia to be the best she could be (Elizabeth Mitchell). While most people I know chose to see this for the nudity by Jolie, I have to say that this film goes beyond issues of the flesh. There’s a very real story and powerful lessons to be learned here; in fact, to be honest, the “sex” scenes are not that shocking to me because I’ve seen all kinds of movies with all kinds of sexual acts. For me, the sole purpose of watching this picture for the nudity is a sign of disrespect for Jolie’s acting abilities and Gia’s memory. Directed by Michael Cristofer, “Gia” is a triumph on multiple levels (especially Jolie’s acting) and should be seen with an open mind and sensitivity.