He wrote, directed and starred in one of 2010′s best movies, The Town. Overnight, people loved Ben Affleck again. Then along came Batman vs Superman (2016) and it seemed like he was losing grip again. But a funny thing happened, he was the only good thing about the movie. Being the best thing in a movie can hold you in good steed for a movie or maybe two, but as Al Pacino knows, it won’t last. Ben needs to prepare for his future and prepare for the DC Crash of 2020.
In the first of a three-part series, the director of Training Day talks about making his first western with The Magnificent Seven, and his connections to this much loved but currently out of favour genre.
For our third trip into writer/director James DeMonaco’s near future world of government-mandated slaughter, the scope of Blumhouse Productions’ premiere franchise widens once again, embracing the political parody that has so far been more of an excuse than a raison d’etre – and just in time for the Presidential Debates, too.
For those who came in late, the titular Purge is an annual orgy of violence wherein all laws are suspended for a period of 12 hours and America is plunged into a bloody chaos that serves to keep the poor in their place and cement the class inequality that serves the needs of ruling cabal, the far right New Founding Fathers of America. Not everyone is happy with the status quo, though, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is campaigning to end the Purge, having seen her own family brutally murdered some 18 years back. Of course, Purge night is a perfect time for a deniable political assassination and it looks like Charlie is going to be a martyr for her cause. Luckily for the senator, her head of security is former cop Leo Barnes (the always reliable Frank Grillo), the MVP of the previous film and not a man to let something as trifling as a Neo-Nazi death squad ruin his night.
Intersecting this main narrative, we get the story of a convenience store owner (Mykelti Williamson) defending his store through the night, and a paramedic (Betty Gabriel) who works Purge Night in an armoured ambulance, trying to help people caught in the crossfire. It’s interesting to see the various little threads that make up the fabric of the Purge universe: the notion of Purge Insurance for businesses (skyrocketing premiums are what put Williamson on the roof of his shop with a rifle), so-called “murder tourists” travelling to the US to kill with impunity, even the ubiquitous Purge masks and their function as both disguise and fashion/political statement. Like its predecessors (and its Blumhouse stablemates), Election Year is realised on a tight budget, but a lot of thought has gone into presenting a world which, while not necessarily realistic, is at least textured and somewhat plausible by its own lights.
The action has been ramped up considerably, too, with our heroes on the run from not only masked marauders, but a hit squad with a cannon-equipped helicopter. You can feel DeMarco testing the limits of his film, both in terms of complexity and scale, milking every scene for everything it’s worth. Indeed, the film’s chief failing is that it goes too far in that direction, abandoning its exploitation roots in favour of something more high-minded. It’d be great to see a Purge movie successfully bridge those two poles, but this one doesn’t quite manage the trick. While the political satire lands solidly, the film often ignores the more base charms of its premise, and let’s face facts: while we might laud the film’s intellectual ideals, we’re also here to watch a variety of people die in enjoyably gruesome ways. Election Year often forgets this implicit promise.
It is the best of the series so far, though, and leaves the door open for a more expansive continuation down the track. The Purge series is one of those rare franchises that keeps getting better as it rolls on, from the first housebound siege film to this more thoughtful installment. Election Year is a B movie with brains, balls and blood, and that should be high enough recommendation.
The Purge: Election Year is screening at The 2016 SciFi Film Festival, which runs from October 19-23 at The Ritz Cinema, Randwick, in Sydney. For more on The Purge: Election Year and to buy tickets, head to the official site.
Iranian cinema? Need we say more? Always classy, always interesting. Iranian culture is a complex mix of modernity and superstition (or religious control) and this proves fertile ground for its many talented directors. Wednesday, May 9 is an honourable addition to this canon.
At the centre of the multi-strand story is the desire to gain redemption. Middle aged journalist, Jalal, wants to help others. He has suffered a great loss. What stays with him from that experience is that, if others had helped at the time, tragedy would have been averted. When he comes into a little money, he decides to place an ad in the local paper offering 30 million Rials to anyone who has good need of it. Leading up to, and overlapping with, this narrative, we have other strands that will eventually entangle. Leila – a single mother with a sick child – represents one strand. In another, we meet Setareh, a young woman who tries to make a love match with a slightly unsuitable guy, bringing down the wrath of two families upon her. Eventually, on the day announced by the ad (and also the title of the film), huge crowds turn up at Jalal’s office, presenting him with a heartrending set of decisions.
First time director, and co-writer, Vahid Jalilvand, shows early maturity in the handling of the strong cast, and in the emotional palette of the film. It is confidently directed, with many long, well written scenes in which the balance shifts again and again, involving us in the dilemmas from all sides. Everyone has a case to plead and, in many instances, a case to answer too. No one is innocent or guilty; it is always circumstance and human failing that ensnares us. In the true Iranian cinematic tradition, there is a strong humanist grounding to this. It enlists our sympathies in their ordinary struggles to withstand poverty or to fall in love freely without the controls of family or state and religious zealotry. As noted, Iran seems to have its many clashing world views within its borders. It is a fertile ground for artists.
If films like Wall Street have taught us anything, it’s that the financial world of FTSEs and investments is one big boy’s club, on the outskirts of which women are merely spectators. The latest film from Meera Menon (Farah Goes Bang), however, shatters that mythos by bringing the “fairer sex” to the frontlines.
Anna Gunn plays Naomi, an investment banker whose boyfriend, Michael (James Purefoy), is, unbeknownst to her, being investigated for insider trading by an old college friend, Samantha Ryan (Alysia Reiner). Meanwhile, her assistant, Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas), is perhaps showing too much promise of being the next big thing. Whereas Naomi had to conform and be one of the boys to get where she was, Erin appears, in Naomi’s eyes at least, to glide along on her femininity if not her talent.
All three women are strong in their roles, but this is Gunn’s time to shine, and nothing can take that away from her. She dominates the screen, marching down the corridors of financial gain, a woman clearly in control of her destiny if she were allowed to do so. When Naomi talks of money needn’t being a dirty word for women, Gunn savours what is clearly her Gordon Gecko moment.
Like most financial thrillers where the mighty dollar is God, discussions about hedge funds, IPOs and investments take on a Shakespearean quality; you might not completely understand every word, but you’ll certainly get the gist. Unfortunately, this take-no-prisoner dialogue contrasts sharply with the screenplay’s haphazard moments, where an outburst about a cookie becomes a stale metaphor for the patriarchy’s glass ceiling and doesn’t pack the punch that you want it to, considering its place in the narrative.
Produced by Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner’s own company, Broad Street Pictures, Equity is a mostly successful skewing of stereotypes that sets fire to the old red braces and cigars of yore.