On DVD & Blu-Ray: October 21, 2014

Having re-watched the first Purge before going to see this quickly developed sequel I was reminded of what a good premise had been so messily squandered in execution. The idea of focusing in on one situation or opening up the world and giving a more well-rounded view is a difficult dilemma. Had the writer/director of both films, James DeMonaco, done with his premise the first time what he's done here he might have been criticized for trying to do too much. After having seen the sequel though it is clear that with such a layered and complicated world the possibilities might have been overwhelming to DeMonaco who chose to keep things simple the first time around. With the first film becoming a financial success though the studio was quick to greenlight and push into development a follow-up less than a year later which can, presumably, only boost a guys confidence. With that confidence DeMonaco has opened up his slightly futuristic world into what his one lawless night a year might be like not only for different individuals, but different classes of people according to society's structure. Given expectations weren't high for The Purge: Anarchy I'll try not to get too excited about how much better it is than the original while hopefully reinforcing the fact it's still not a great or exceptional piece of cinema. Instead, this is a film that knows its end goal and accomplishes those goals well and does in fact deliver more on the promise of its interesting premise than its predecessor. From the advertising to the blatant acts of violence described as patriotism these films have always had a commentary in the back of their minds on the class systems of society and where our current situation may lead us. In this vein of thinking these films are more science fiction than horror in the way they preach non-violence with violence and describe how escalating violence and economic issues brought the country to a breaking point that resulted in this annual event. These are naturally the more interesting aspects of the film and in Anarchy DeMonaco plays each of them up as he highlights the experiences of different groups of people from different ethnic and economic backgrounds creating a more captivating story and strong jeopardy we can all relate to. Full review here. C+

Sex Tape came along at a point in the summer movie season when we not only got what we expected, but where those expectations seemed to be filled out of some sense of obligation rather than an organic idea. If you have been reading this site for any period of time you know I tend to be kind to comedies as I seem to have a soft spot for them and their actors; a wishful kinship if you will. That this kind of relationship exists makes it difficult when I know a movie isn't great (or even very good) but the fact I still found moments to laugh at forces me to want to give it more credit than it's due. Expectations likely play a role in this slight bit of sympathy for Sex Tape as anyone might tell you not much of them existed for this film. I always secretly hope that these raunchy, ridiculous comedies will be better than audiences and critics expect and will do their best to prove them wrong, especially those including anyone from the long lost its steam Frat Pack or Judd Apatow's gang of misfits. This latest collaboration with director Jake Kasdan (Orange County, Walk Hard) though has Jason Segel seeming more on auto-pilot than ever. Segel is a naturally funny guy and a better writer than he gets credit for as he is able to tap into those "that's so true" moments with such ease, but he is doing nothing more than his typical shtick here. The last time Kasdan and Segel met-up was the not-so-much better Bad Teacher, but Segel was used to such minimal effect there it felt like a bit of an inside joke that he could show up, do his thing and retreat into the background. Kasdan was having fun with the heightened reality of the premise and Cameron Diaz owned the titular role to the point it drew crowds given the comparison it was basically Bad Santa with a sexed-up Diaz. In Sex Tape, the trio attempt to deliver that same kind of raunch with a broad and outlandish premise, but the well runs dry about halfway through because it never takes off in the way it should or even could have. Full review here. D+

Earth to Echo is a critic-proof film in that it will live or die on home video by the amount of children and pre-teens that latch onto it. Save for a few of the more visually impressive moments I don't remember much about the film though. In a film that is banking on the nostalgia of parents and the innocent mentality of their children this is a film that should be nothing short of a memorable experience, but in a market saturated by science fiction stories and an audience that finds no "out of this world" value or surprise in alien invasion stories anymore you need something different than E.T. The problem is we've all seen the story before and no one cares if you've decided to update it by conveying the narrative through more current technology and by adapting the "found-footage" style that itself is beginning to go out of style. Earth to Echo can be interesting for its look at the way in which kids of today communicate more efficiently (but not necessarily better or less awkwardly) and how smart phones, Face Time, Go Pro Cameras and video chat have enabled them to capture the events of a night such as this documents. Still, the fact it is more relevant than something like Super 8 doesn't mean we get to know the characters better or invest in them and it most definitely isn't an excuse to re-hash a story we've seen countless times before without adding anything new. The film does have a few character moments, I will give it that, because it isn't completely devoid of innovation. The friendships being pushed to the limits here create some drama for the audience to connect with, but it isn't nearly as compelling as it should be given the child actors (mainly Teo Halm as Alex who is given the more emotional baggage) aren't all that convincing. Regardless of if I am too out of touch with adolescent culture to know if this will connect with them or not (I hope I'm not, I called Despicable Me right out of the gate) or if I've seen one too many movies recycle this same catalyst to precipitate the events that occur this all just feels too tired to be worthy of consideration. Full review here. C-

What Snowpiercer has to its advantage more than most standard action or post-apocalyptic films these days are its interesting ideas. From the opening moments of the film where the audience is exposed to a flurry of exposition placing us in a world where man has attempted to control nature and in return has damned our earth to a frozen eternity I was hooked. The only survivors being locked within a speeding train, built and engineered to last forever, traveling the same course over and over again, completing the circle around the globe once a year. We learn of the passengers at the back of the train, those who are treated on a sub-human level and the few within the beaten and battered group that are planning a resistance, a revolution. This may instinctively conjure up comparisons to Elysium wherein the rich and poor are so distinctively separated that it seems convenient for the film to be interpreted as some type of propaganda, but director Joon-ho Bong never allows his film to slip into this kind of piece. Instead the throughline of Snowpiercer remains an unrelenting and unforgiving journey from one end of this locomotive to the other wherein our protagonist Curtis (Chris Evans) not only discovers the layers and the societal structures of those who live ahead of him, but how easily they have forgotten what is taking place not three cars away. Where many a post-apocalyptic film will maintain the focus on how society has come to work in the wake of failing and in turn sacrificing character development both this and The Rover prove that it is the actions and mentalities of the characters you create that define the rules of the world and not the mounds of exposition you have them spurting so that we understand those rules. Snowpiercer wastes little time explaining things, it trusts its audience and it gives only a brief amount of set-up before diving into the narrative that Curtis, his second in command Edgar (Jamie Bell) and their wise old leader, Gilliam (John Hurt), are setting in motion to push forward. What follows is a layered and engrossing series of obstacles that avoids feeling like a video game by creating these characters and dynamics between them to where we can't help but become invested. Full review here. B+

Life After Beth gets off to a strong start. From the trailer or even the awkward glare of Aubrey Plaza (Parks and the Recreation) on the poster that features the pun of a title there was a glimmer of hipster cool to this play on the zombie genre. Besides the casting of Plaza the inclusion of Mr. Indie himself at the moment, Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), speaks volumes to the kind of tone and atmosphere that first time writer/director Jeff Baena (who is Plaza's boyfriend) was attempting to capture in order to convey his attitude on this somewhat satirical, somewhat personal account. The sardonic aspects of the film are meant to function solely as a method of heightening the rather typical main narrative that follows the relationship of a boy, a girl, their break-up and how sometimes the saying "you don't know what you got till it's gone" is a bit of a false heading. I sound a little jaded though, I realize, which mainly comes from the fact that Life After Beth seems to believe it's both smarter and hipper than it actually is while almost counting on the public persona of its two leads as a way to convince audiences of both its intelligence and cool factor. In truth, the film feels oddly flat and struggles to collect any kind of coherent tone as the story goes off the rails early and is never able to find its way to anything resembling substance. Let's get back to that strong start though, because things certainly looked promising when the films score by the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club roared into play as the title card filled the screen and we were then taken into a small, often forgotten little moment that perfectly encapsulates the types of moments this film should be filled with. DeHaan's Zach Orfman stands in an aisle of a grocery store looking at the paper plates and napkins trying simply to find black ones. He has been to a number of stores, that is clear, yet has failed to come across the only color that might be suitable for a post-funeral gathering. When an uninformed employee suggests he try a party store as that color napkin is more of a seasonal item for Halloween we understand the confliction Zach is feeling and the dark humor in the observation. It is a moment we don't think of until we experience it ourselves or see it unfold in this fashion. We understand what is being reached for, but the remainder of the film fails to live up to these small, simple hopes I held after this gem of a moment. Full review here. D

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