The Purge: Anarchy
Dir. James DeMonaco
If you go back and read my review of the first Purge film, I mention that the world DeMonaco and Co. built had potential to work in a sequel if they expanded the universe beyond just one house. The sequel to last year's surprise summer hit does just that: we actually get to see what it's like on the street during the 12-hour period of modern American lawlessness, where all crime (mostly murder) is legalized to keep people from breaking the law the other 364 days of the year. With a large city as the filmmakers' playground this time around, this "open-world" film could have been amazing given the right script, and couldn't have come at a better time of release - our actual world is unfortunately reflecting this movie right now - but alas, the lazily-titled Purge: Anarchy is a bland, if ambitious, horror b-movie.
What I liked about the movie though was its sheer ambition. What's most disturbing about The Purge 1 and 2 is just how closely they resemble society today; I could easily imagine certain people who would love to "purge" themselves in this gun-crazy culture where mall shootings and terrorist bombings are just commonplace. I did think there was some tension in the film, the whole idea that there's danger in every direction was unsettling, and I like that this franchise actually aspires to be something greater than yet another "supernatural" or slasher exercise, but all that being said I think DeMonaco fumbled the ball again. With such a poorly conceived script that doesn't flesh out any "inside-baseball" details (which is what the underrated Hostel Part II managed to do), and insipid characters you want to see die, the incredible (but illogical) world of The Purge doesn't have any impact.
Dir. John Carney
Back in 2006, John Carney would unknowingly direct one of the breakout indie hits of the 00's, Once, a super-low-budget, no-name-filled musical that went on to win an Academy Award for Best Song and was later adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical. You'd think after striking gold Carney would be quick to return to the genre, but he chose to wait 8 years to tackle the musical again. Begin Again stars Mark Ruffalo as a down-on-his-luck A&R man out to look for a new talented singer and Kiera Knightley as the girl he has his sights on. After hearing her song in a bar, Ruffalo, despite having just been fired from his job, wants to work out a deal and record an album with Knightley. Using a rag-tag group of musicians, they try and break through without "selling out" or changing their image, recording their songs all across New York City for an "authentic" feel. Though the film's message is all about authenticity, ironically Carney's first feature Once felt more grounded and realistic (he employed a telephoto lens so the actors didn't always know when they were on camera, whereas this film is more "traditional"), but Begin Again is still a satisfying, if slight, modern take on a musical.
Having written the part with Ruffalo in mind, I think Carney gets a lot of milage out of his lead actor. He has a distinct look, and adds a certain "likable jerk" quality to the role. Kiera Knightley is also very solid in this film, and actually sings herself (I wasn't sure of this until the credits read 'Kiera's voice trainer'). As he did in Once, I'm glad that the songs here were performed in full, and although they may not be the type of music on my personal playlist, I still enjoyed listening to them in the film. Begin Again is a warm, pleasurable movie that lacks the impact or sheer originality of Once, but has credible performances and a number of fun music numbers (the best being when Ruffalo imagines all the instruments coming to life in a drunken moment of "clarity").