Review: Detroit

Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s newest picture, or should I dub it a docudrama, is a hard-hitting take on the events that transpired in the Motor City in 1967. Detroit follows the individuals and actions that lead to the horrible shootout that took place at the Algiers Motel, where the police shot and killed three African-American boys suspected of firing shots at National Guardsman and the aftermath of their actions.

detroit_xlg

Image by Annapurna Pictures

Detroit is a culmination of three subplots carried by a security guard named Melvin Dismukes, a Detroit police officer named Krauss and an aspiring Motown lead singer named Larry and his friend Fred. Each of them are eventually drawn to the Algiers where bedlam, fear and senseless violence take place after the police arrive and take drastic and dangerous steps to determine who fired the suspected gun.

Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have worked together to deliver two of the hardest hitting dramas echoing current cultural and societal issues. Detroit is no exception to the standard as it definitely packs an impact upon viewing it, but unlike The Hurt Locker and unlike Zero Dark Thirty, I found Detroit a mess.

I couldn’t get past the constant shaky Steadicam work. The cinematography of Barry Ackroyd was very unsteady to watch; I get that Bigelow wanted to go for authenticity and I respect for that but the camerawork was so over the top, I couldn’t find a way to settle.

I also found flaws in how this was written. Mark Boal is talented but I can’t help but think that he may have overdone it; especially after the film concluded and Bigelow wrote in a statement stating that a lot of the information about the events of this movie was incomplete. I understand how filmmakers can take certain liberties to enhance the appeal of a film, especially if they are based on true events but it just raises the questions how much of this film was influenced by the modern day news stories about black men killed by police for little to no reason at all.

Also I found that the script left some things unresolved by some of their characters like Dismukes, Krauss, Greene and whoever else was involved in this ordeal and managed to survive; this movie, felt incomplete primarily because of how it was written.

Bigelow made her intentions clear in Detroit and I can definitely see why she was drawn to make this movie; the problems relating to race and police violence are just as relevant and important today as they were back then and the system has not made a difference. The problem is that this film has problems and those problems dragged this film down; the writing muddles the impact and the camerawork hinders the editing of William Goldenberg and Harry Yoon, which felt very sloppy transitioning between Dismukes, Krauss, Larry and the guests at the hotel for a while.

What I can’t say is that the cast and the acting were not a problem. John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Anthony Mackie, Nathan Davis Jr., Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever and Jason Mitchell all do a fine job with their roles.

James Newton Howard’s music was fine, Jeremy Hindle’s production design was bold, the set decoration by Dennis Colvin and Kathy Lucas was sharp, the art direction by Greg Barry and Jim Wallis was good, the make-up and sound effects was top notch and the costume design by Francine Jamison-Tanchuck was very precise.

There were times where I tried to force myself to pay attention to this movie and that has never happened to me before with a Kathryn Bigelow movie. Detroit is an impactful film, it is, and it is worth seeing because it has relevance but it also has problems that are difficult to ignore and ultimately, it is disappointing.

Review: Dunkirk

The man who gave audiences Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, The Prestige and Interstellar returns to take audiences back in time to a small, but not insignificant chapter in the history of World War II.

Nazi Germany has enveloped 400,000 French and British soldiers to the beaches of Dunkirk and the possibility of escape is practically perilous in every direction. Pinned to just one location, the enemy takes their time picking off their forces and destroying whatever hope of escape in their wake. Land, sea and air, the Allied Forces are in a bind, and the British government at the order of Prime Minister Churchill has little alternative but to requisition and commandeer civilian water craft to travel across the channel and bring their boys home.

Christopher Nolan’s take on these accounts is segmented into three perspectives on this account of history. The Mole follows a young French and British soldier navigating the beaches trying to find someway back home; The Sea features a father and son and a friend in their sea vessel crossing the channel upon hearing the order to rescue as many men as they can; The Air follows two fighter pilots soaring through the skies above the madness, shooting down German fighter planes bent on sinking anything that floats. These three perspectives all tie together to illustrate the power of the human instinct of survival. These three perspectives are the crux of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

dunkirk-poster

Image by Warner Bros. and Syncopy

Nolan told this story in three parts; I will describe this movie in three words: elegant, explosive and unyielding.

Going into this movie, I was concerned that Nolan’s take on this war story would be too clean and that might hinder its appeal as a war movie when compared to a classic war dramas such as Saving Private Ryan, The Hurt Locker or last year’s Oscar winning Hacksaw Ridge because those movies truly captured the essences of war; the gore, the graphic imagery, the bloodshed, the need to illustrate that war is hell upon seeing it unfold all around the characters for the audiences to witness themselves. Dunkirk was my boom or bust movie of the year and after seeing it, in IMAX which is the way it was intended to be seen, this movie went BOOM! A loud, resonating BOOM upon the senses that did not let up in the slightest!

My concerns going into this movie? Decimated as I watched it unfold before my eyes! Just because Nolan didn’t go excessive on bloodshed, doesn’t mean he hindered this movie; you don’t need blood or grandiose practical effects to illustrate the horrors of war! Every time a bullet fired, I jumped. Every time I saw a bomb go off or a missile or a torpedo down a ship, I was jolted. Every time a dogfight happened in the sky, I held my breath! Every time the situation became more and more dire in these three arcs, the tension just kept building and building and the suspense was as remorseless like the wind and rain in a hurricane! Nolan just brought his strengths as a filmmaker and storyteller to depict a “back against the wall” situation where individuals had to use whatever resources they could to see tomorrow and the need for bodily harm or horror was not necessary in the slightest to accomplish that.

What’s more impressive about Dunkirk is that the enemy’s presence is felt rather than seen. From the first frame, audiences see the little fliers floating from the sky onto the soldiers saying “We surround you!” you don’t see the enemy, but the presence of danger is felt every second and the tension of this film feeds off that tension for strength.

Nolan intended for Dunkirk to be seen as a story of survival and he wrote and executed this core aspect of the picture with extraordinary distinction! The focus of Dunkirk was never about winning, it was about bringing these soldiers home from extreme danger and knowing that in surviving, they were victorious! I had my doubts whether or not he could pull this off but with this powerful script, impeccable execution, the stunning cinematography of Hoyte van Hoytema, the awesome music of Hans Zimmer giving this picture atmosphere where dialogue is scarce, the sound effects, Lee Smith’s editing which came together beautifully as the film went on, Nathan Crowley’s production design, Dunkirk is an outstanding achievement in filmmaking and should become the crown jewel in Christopher Nolan’s body of work so far.

This movie isn’t so much about the actors but what the actors do in the film, in these roles. The collection of Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Tom Glynn-Carney, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy and Harry Styles all do a solid job with the parts they have been given, but the true star of the show is the suspense and the tension that fills up the screen when all of the technical aspects behind the camera come together.

Dunkirk is elegant is how it is shown and heard on screen but the subject matter is brimming with explosive technical execution, resulting in an unyielding cinematic experience that should not be missed! It is the most phenomenal experience I have had this year at the movies!

Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

To be honest, I was going into War for the Planet of the Apes with an idea of what I was in for. Based on what I’ve read, what I’ve seen and heard about the film up to that point, I thought audiences were going into a film where Caesar would be leading his species in an all out assault to preserve their survival against what is left of mankind, yet I was unprepared for what really was in store.

apesposter

Image by 20th Century Fox

Essentially, War occurs two years post-Dawn and well distant from the events that transpired in Rise but not totally disconnected. After Caesar suffers an unimaginable loss that rocks him to his core, he takes it on himself to journey across the wintery wilds to find a man called The Colonel and kill him. Caesar is aided by his most trusted simian companions, Maurice, Luca and Rocket and pick up a few stragglers along the way in the peculiar Bad Ape and a mute girl who is later dubbed Nova; this journey to find the Colonel fills Caesar with inner turmoil to hold on to the principles he held so dear to him or embrace the darkness within himself to exact his vengeance, like Koba did. This inner battle within the first super ape is the War that takes center stage in the film.

Matt Reeves, the director and co-writer of the film, impressed me in bringing Caesar grand story to a stirring finish in the fashion that he did. Reeves and Mark Bomback have crafted a story with heavy biblical references to allow their protagonist to shine in the brightest way they could and truly cement his legacy as his story comes full circle.

Essentially, the Planet of the Apes franchise in its entirety is a story about hubris; how living creatures create their own undoing and there is a success in how this story, Caesar’s story, was told. In War, Caesar wrestles with his darkness brought on by immense grief, he suffers like Christ suffers, he led his species to freedom as Moses did, every action he takes in this movie, shapes the course of his future and the future of his apes and this story leaves a profound and thought-provoking experience with audiences and it resonates when they leave the theater.

I especially took pleasure in how the film handled Caesar’s relationship with Nova. Before the two meet, Caesar dives right into his inner demons to the point where he is almost apathetic, remorseless and bloodthirsty but Nova reminds him of the humanity inside him and how that humanity has kept him from becoming Koba; in a way that theme of humanity and hubris tied all of the films together.

Andy Serkis’ performance is once again, high caliber! The CGI visual effects are just a costume but he breathes life into his characters and audiences are taken for an emotional ride with his performance as Caesar. From the moment, Caesar makes his presence known in the picture, everyone becomes invested; Serkis commands the screen as this character and doesn’t let up for an instant!

Woody Harrelson is as good as I’ve ever seen him as the vicious and bloodthirsty Colonel. Steve Zahn is a hoot as Bad Ape, Amiah Miller is terrific as Nova, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer, Ty Olsson, Sara Canning, Aleks Paunovic, Devyn Dalton, Max Lloyd-Jones, Alessandro Juiliani and Toby Kebbell were all outstanding in the roles they played.

Michael Giacchino’s score, Michael Seresin’s cinematography, James Chinlund’s production design, William Hoy and Stan Salfas’ editing were all very satisfying. The visual effects were as elite as you might see all year.

I went into War for the Planet of the Apes expecting something totally different but I was completely washed away by how emotionally resonating, thought-provoking and creatively assembled this movie was. You won’t be flat out excited by it, but you will be immersed in how Caesar cements his legacy and how his tale comes to a close.

The Planet of the Apes franchise finishes on a very strong note.

Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

I went into Spider-Man: Homecoming similar to how I approached Guardians of the Galaxy years ago. With this character getting a third cinematic reboot, with another actor portraying him, I felt that this was getting exhausting; Spidey needed a break from movies and I felt that audiences needed a break from Spider-Man movies but when Kevin Feige seized a chance to integrate the character into the highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe-the Avengers Initiative-I thought “what the hell?”

And so, Tom Holland made his web-slinging debut in Captain America: Civil War and did a great job I might add, which led him to Homecoming, a film by Jon Watts chronicling Peter Parker’s efforts to prove himself to his mentor/benefactor Tony Stark that he is hero enough to stand with Earth Mightiest. This teenager, takes it upon himself to thwart a string of robberies orchestrated by a disgruntled and disillusioned superhero-mess cleaner named Adrian Toomes, armed with advanced weaponry derived from the Battle of New York from so many years ago.

spider_man_poster

Image by Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures

For the weeks leading up to this, I tempered my expectations for this movie because every live-action Spider-Man movie from the woefully executed Spider-Man 3 to the underwhelming failure that was The Amazing Spider-Man franchise highlighted that the wall-crawler has indeed hit a wall when it comes to movies. Coming out of the theater, I acknowledged that I truly underestimated this movie and the players involved in shaping it; Tom Holland, Jon Watts and the screenwriting team including Watts, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers won me over; this movie made Spider-Man great again!

The approach to actually have a teenager portray a teenage superhero paid off; the influence of classic 1980s cinema like Ferris Bueler’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club was felt; the fact that this film knew its place within the grand scheme of the Avengers Initiative was very playful and overall, the writing and execution of Spider-Man: Homecoming was authentic, fresh, relatable and fun!

Tom Holland made a believer of me when he swung into Captain America: Civil War in the red and blue suit and when the spotlight shined on him, he didn’t shrink away; he embraced this role and delivered as Peter Parker. The supporting cast of Michael Keaton, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Marissa Tomei, Abraham Attah, Laura Harrier, Donald Glover, Hannibal Burress, Michael Churness, Logan Marshall-Green, Bokeem Woodbine and familiar faces such as Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Chris Evans and Gwyneth Paltrow all got in on the fun in this movie.

Michael Giacchino’s score was thrilling, Salvatore Totino’s cinematography was crisp and savvy, Debbie Berman and Dan Lebental’s editing was very good, Oliver Scholl’s production design was rock-solid, Louise Frogley’s costume design was excellent, the visual effects were amazing and convincing, the story and script was sharp and smart and overall, I loved how this movie was shaped and constructed.

Spider-Man: Homecoming was funny, thrilling, creative, relevant and relatable to audiences and I thought that this movie really did justice by its title character in a way the previous films could not. Spidey set out to prove himself that he could hang with the Avengers and establish himself as a true hero and in this movie, credited to writer/director Jon Watts and star Tom Holland, he accomplished just that. Very well done and very well recommended!

Review: Baby Driver

When people start talking about a movie, particularly a movie that is getting a lot of praise, I feel compelled to look into it myself to see if it is worth all that it is receiving. That is the case this week since Edgar Wright’s new film has rolled into theaters and I managed to attend a screening of this film about a boy in the fast lane, slowed down by a pretty face, steered onto a rough road by shady characters and racing towards a sunset. Here’s a quick look at what Baby Driver has to offer.

That’s right! A heist thrill ride with a sharp cast, savvy writing, bold execution, killer chase sequences, driven by a sweet sense of rhythm and swagger with an eclectic soundtrack as its engine. Edgar Wright is in the driver’s seat of one of the most original and entertaining flicks of 2017!

Baby Driver stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, the best getaway driver in the ATL who rides blaring his own playlist and drives in the services a crime boss named Doc, whom he owes a debt. Baby is set to get out of the life when he meets a sweet waitress named Deborah and they make plans to ride out of the lives they know and never look back but Baby is compelled by Doc to pull off one last job before he makes his getaway.

From the starting line to the finish line, Baby Driver is a slick flick with great characters, a story with plenty of twists and turns, and impeccable attention to detail! This movie held my attention throughout and I couldn’t have been more impressed by it!

This is a standout cast of actors playing very cool characters. Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Lily James, CJ Jones, Lanny Joon and Flea round out one of the best acting ensembles I’ve seen in the movies this year!

The music by Steven Price and the soundtrack steal the show! Almost every frame had a song in the background that just fit the moment to a tee! Whether it was “Easy,” “Nowhere to Run,” “Brighton Rock,” “Tequila,” “Debra,” “Egyptian Reggae,” or “Bellbottoms” when there was action or a scene or sequel that was pivotal to the plot, the right song gave the film a great sense of atmosphere for that moment and I’ve never seen anything like that before in a motion picture.

The camerawork and cinematography by Bill Pope was stellar and the editing by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss was dynamic and precise to the point of picture perfect! Visually, nothing felt lost or out of step in this movie!

I also give credit to Marcus Rowland and his production design, Nigel Churcher and Justin O’Neal Miller and their art direction, Lance Totten and his set decoration and Courtney Hoffman and her costume design. More importantly, I must give credit where credit is due and that must go to the writer and director of this wild, original and masterfully executed thriller. Edgar Wright delivered a masterpiece!

I didn’t go into Baby Driver with much of anything but after bearing witness to everything it had to offer, I came out pleased! This is perhaps, the best film I’ve seen so far this year!

Review: The Mummy

I bet there was a time or two in your life when you and your family made an excursion to your local museum, paid the price of admission to get in, passed through the Ancient Egypt exhibit and saw an actual mummy in a sarcophagus encased in an airtight encasing. I’m also willing to wager, that while you were gawking at the decomposing dead person and his/her fancy-schmancy coffin, you were probably thinking “wow. A dead person. What fun!” in the most sarcastic manner while you were on looking.

This reboot of The Mummy is as exciting as looking at a mummy, in its coffin, gathering dust, in a glass case at a museum. Director Alex Kurtzman takes audiences on an expedition across three countries in the span of thousands of years centering on two individuals from different eras bound together by a sinister plot to bring the ultimate evil on Earth.

Tom Cruise is Nick Morton, the unsuspected and unfortunate fool who unearthed Princess Ahmenet, played by Sofia Boutella, a disgraced Egyptian princess who was eager to get into bed with the god of death in order to assume the mantle of Pharaoh in her time but she was stopped before her designs were set into motion. When Ahmenet is freed, she binds Morton to her with a curse in order for him to do her bidding and complete her plans.

the_mummy_28201729

Image by Universal Pictures

If this movie were made maybe 30 years ago, it may have had a higher impact on audiences but this new mummy is so old-fashioned its practically dead on arrival, emphasis on dead!

Writers David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman did their hardest to incorporate some old-fashioned monster movie nostalgia in a modern-day setting to jumpstart what Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll calls “A new world of gods and monsters” but with the clichés, flimsy characters, ridiculous plot holes and straining story, this “new world” in this “Dark Universe” looks very bleak.

I’m not exactly a fan of Tom Cruise as it is, but he certainly didn’t do any favors himself in this movie. He’s a reputable action star but he just doesn’t excite me as a leading man and his character is just so poorly constituted as well.

Some players never really had a chance to flex their chops in this movie themselves such as Courtney B. Vance, while others were left at the mercy of bad writing and execution like Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson and Marwan Kenzari. The only actor who actually held interest for me while watching this flop was Boutella.

Ben Seresin’s cinematography was mediocre, the editing of Paul and Gina Hirsch and Andrew Mondshein was all over the place, Bryan Tyler’s score was unspectacular, the visual effects were so cheesy, it hindered whatever appeal this film had going for it, I didn’t mind the production design courtesy of Jon Hutman and Dominic Waktins, and I especially liked the make-up applied to Boutella’s character.

To say that I was unimpressed by this film is an understatement. The Mummy was better off in its sarcophagus and left beneath the sands.

Review: Wonder Woman

I’ve had a good reason to be hard on the efforts of the DC Extended Universe over the past few years; especially last year considering my thoughts on their previous two pictures: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. This year, the producers of the DC Extended Universe look to turn the page on last year and seek to do so with their first superhero adventure starring Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

ww_poster_poster

Image by Warner Bros. and DC Comics

The film opens with Gadot as Diana Prince who receives a parcel from a new friend that compels her to reminisce on her earlier years. From her upbringing on the island of Themiscyra, home to the Amazons, where she was raised by her mother Queen Hippolyta, trained by her aunt Antiope, and encountered a man named Steve Trevor, who would guide her to the world of man on a journey that would change her life and the world at large forever.

To reiterate: I’ve been hard on the DC Extended Universe and I had good reason to be so. Their previous films have compelled me to set the bar low on their films going forward and I had to go into Wonder Woman with a low set of expectations. That being said, I must be blunt: THIS. MOVIE. IS. GOOD!

I must give credit where credit is due. Producers Geoff Johns, Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Charles Roven, director Patty Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg crafted a solid origin story with coming-of-age themes that culminated in a very engaging, charming and the most entertaining DC movie to come out in years! I was satisfied with how they handled this movie; it wasn’t perfect but this was a great effort that really paid off!

I thought that the strength of this movie lied solely with Gadot’s performance meshed with Heinberg’s script and Jenkins’ execution. Wonder Woman is basically looking at the outside world with the perspective of childlike innocence, guided by a man who exposes her to the good and bad that a world at war has to offer someone who doesn’t exactly need to help.

If Gadot’s introduction in Batman v. Superman didn’t sell you on her ability to embody this iconic character, than this movie will most assuredly convince you! It was a treat watching her carry this movie and her on-screen chemistry with Chris Pine is splendid! Whether Diana is trying ice cream for the first time or feels concern or sympathy for the wounded soldiers on No Man’s Land, she just embodies the strength, compassion and innocence in this iconic character and she is relatable to audiences.

While I enjoyed watching this film, I only wish that the film could have done more with the supporting characters such as Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremmer, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Danny Huston and David Thewlis. I also hoped that the film would take more time to explore and examine Themiscyra, the Amazons and their cultures.

The cinematography of Matthew Jensen was solid, Rupert Gregson-Williams’ music was satisfactory, Martin Walsh’s editing was solid, the production design of Aline Bonetto was good, Lindy Hemming’s costumes were very good, the visual effects were to my liking and technically Wonder Woman was very well put-together to give this character the strength to stand on her own.

Wonder Woman clearly raised the bar for films coming from the DC Extended Universe because what separates this movie from the films that came before it: fun! This movie allowed itself to have its own natural fun and that allowed the audience to have fun watching it; this is leaps and bounds better than any DC film that came before it!