Review: White Boy Rick

In the mid-1980s, a young man named Richard Wershe Jr. was approached by the FBI and the Detroit Police Department to aid in the crackdown on narcotics in the Motor City by acting as an informant. He was ultimately arrested for drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison shortly before he turned 18. His story is chronicled in the new motion picture White Boy Rick.

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Image by Columbia Pictures

Newcomer Richie Merritt stars in director Yann Demange’s film, methodically exploring and detailing the many facets of Rick Jr.’s story ranging from his family life in Detroit, with his father, played by Matthew McConaughey, his sister Dawn, his grandparents, friends and how he was roped into becoming the youngest FBI informant in American history-turned-drug kingpin.

White Boy Rick tries so hard to be a big time flick, but ultimately falls utterly short of any and all expectations to be nothing more than a throwaway film that may have been better off for television. Watching this film, I felt so bad for the talents that took part in this bland picture, especially McConaughey and Merritt who are practically wasted in this boring hustler feature.

Demange’s approach to this story is straightforward and he does what he can to give this movie some depth and detail to say the least but there is just no gravitas, no energy and it’s muddled in its execution. The writing, courtesy of Andy Weiss and Logan and Noah Miller, takes the elements of Rick’s history and doesn’t go anywhere exciting with it. The film plays out like a forgettable college lecture.

The acting in this movie, I reiterate, is wasteful. Richie Merritt does a solid job, Matthew McConaughey, the main selling point of this film, tries to salvage this film but can’t, the only other standout performer is possibly Bel Powley, who plays Dawn Wershe, but from Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bryan Tyree Henry, Rory Cochrane, R.J. Cyler, Jonathan Majors, Bruce Dern, Piper Laurie, Eddie Marsan, Taylour Paige, Raekwon Haynes, Kyanna Simone Simpson, this cast just practically phones it in.

With how the plot slowly and achingly drudges along, the performances essentially fade to the boring background with some signs of life appearing every now and then but definitively, it’s so bad that an actor of Matthew McConaughey’s caliber can’t save it; that alone should give you an idea of how easily you will forget about this picture.

Tat Radcliffe’s cinematography doesn’t do any favors to give this film any aesthetic value, Chris Wyatt’s editing is pedestrian, Max Richter’s music doesn’t leave a lasting impression, Stefania Cella’s production design is satisfactory, Audra Avery and Bryan Felty’s art direction is fine, Jon J. Bush’s set decoration is average and Amy Westcott’s costumes design is passable. The overall technical quality of White Boy Rick is sedative to be succinct.

You’re not missing anything when it comes to White Boy Rick. To be honest, if this movie didn’t have Matthew McConaughey, I bet it would a straight-to-digital or television movie or miniseries that may have gained a possible following but ultimately would be just as forgettable.

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Review: BlacKkKlansman

It’s been a while since I saw a good Spike Lee joint and his latest flick is based on what he calls, “some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t!”

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Image by Focus Features and Legendary

In the late 1970s, Colorado Springs Detective Ron Stallworth, the “Jackie Robinson” of the Colorado Springs Police Department if you catch my drift, is chomping at the bit to make his mark on the force and he sets off a powder keg of an investigation when he finds contact information in the local paper and puts in a call to the local chapter of an organization that is very particular about its members. Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer, launches an investigation into the Colorado Springs Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

His strategy? Establish contact with the chapter president over the phone, then when it is time to meet with the Klansmen-or as they like to call themselves, “The Organization”-his partner, Detective Flip Zimmerman, will meet with the chapter as Ron to infiltrate the chapter, gather information on any possible attacks on the black community and stop it from happening. The course of the investigation even lead to the encounter of none other than the Grand Wizard of the Klan-or as they prefer “National Director of the Organization”-David Duke himself.

This is essentially, the summarized plot of Spike Lee’s joint BlacKkKlansman, one of the most impeccable, stylish, methodical, intelligent, relevant films I have seen so far this year. Lee has probably delivered his best work to date since Do the Right Thing as BlacKkKlansman touches on political and societal topics that are as alive and thriving today as they were more than 50 years ago, if not more, and tells an unbelievable story with expert flair.

The way Lee told this story, the way the film echoed into what modern society in America has become and how the film touches upon the topics of policing in America, what it means to be black, the depiction of white privilege and white supremacy and how these themes have resonated into the modern American landscape, it’s practically genius! He wanted this film to be a movie for our time and he nailed it. Plain and simple.

Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott adapted Stallworth’s book, recounting how he and his investigative team infiltrated and hoodwinked the Klan and successfully stopped some of their members from carrying out a heinous act and they did more than just alright with it. The skill that went into the writing of this picture? What more can be said than “right on!”

The cast was dynamite! John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Michael Buscemi, Laura Harrier, Corey Hawkins, Ryan Eggold, Jasper Pääkkönen, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Ken Garito, Robert John Burke, Arthur J. Nascarella, Frederick Weller, Harry Belafonte, Alec Baldwin, top to bottom, this movie has an stellar cast of actors who are nothing short of terrific in their roles whether they chant black or white power in the film.

The style and detail that went into the production of this picture is phenomenal to say the least! Chayse Irvin’s cinematography is solid, the editing Barry Alexander Brown is superb, Terence Blanchard’s music is great, Curt Beech’s production design is outstanding, Marci Mudd’s art direction is fantastic, Cathy T. Marshall’s set decoration is great and I loved the costumes of Marci Rodgers.

If you were like me and have been anticipating BlacKkKlansman for months, I can assure you that you will not be disappointed in the slightest! Spike Lee’s new joint should be heralded as his greatest achievement to date and should rest at or near the top of the better films of 2018.

My Thoughts on A Quiet Place

*Disclaimer: this is not an official review but it is my thoughts and perspective on a film of interest that I saw in 2018.*

Last night, I finally caught up on a film that garnered a lot of attention earlier this year, but I didn’t bother to see it in theaters due to a lack of interest on my part. By the time I did take an interest in seeing it, it ended its theatrical run, so I was left with no choice but to wait and rent it. The film I’m talking about is, A Quiet Place.

Synopsis:

Two parents do what it takes to keep their children safe in a world full of creatures hunting every sound they can hear. Not a sound can be heard from the family hiding in silence, but all it takes is one noise and everything can go wrong.

Directed by: John Krasinski

Written by: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski

Cast: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cade Woodward and Leon Russom

Crew: Marco Beltrami (score), Charlotte Bruus Christensen (cinematography), Christopher Tellefsen (editing), Jeffery Beecroft (production design), Sebastian Schroeder (art direction), Heather Loeffler (set decoration) and Kasia Walicka-Maimone (costume design).

What did I think?

A Quiet Place was very intense! The film was rich with suspense and Krasinski was in the driver’s seat of a compact but concrete thriller that held my attention from start to finish. That intensity was the product of a very technically sound picture that thrived off the power of silence and sound to make a killer impression. The tension from the film had my heart racing.

Does it live up to the hype as one of the best films of 2018?

Most definitely can I say that John Krasinski has a serious hit on his hands. He’s not exactly someone I follow with a great degree of interest but A Quiet Place is certainly a picture that is excellently crafted and very easy to follow. I was impressed by the cast, Krasinski’s vision, the plot, the visuals, especially the use of sound and how that was put a the forefront of the spectacle. I have to give credit to Krasinski for helming a very smart film.

What did I enjoy most about it?

Obviously, I loved the fact that sound was the film’s main appeal and how Scott Beck and Bryan Woods built this post apocalyptic world where the slightest sound can kill someone and the lengths this family went to in order to survive; from learning sign-language, Morse code, signals, sand, how to soundproof. I loved how the tension and suspense from the action just bleed off the screen, I loved the chemistry and cohesion from Krasinski, Blunt, Simmonds, Jupe, the pacing of the picture, the camerawork, editing, the fact that it was made on a low-budget; A Quiet Place was very well done.

What flaws did I notice?

I wish this movie didn’t have a score. In my experience, movies that are built on tension, thrive ten times more without the implementation of music accompanying a scene or sequence. No disrespect to Marco Beltrami, but A Quiet Place may have reached higher levels of fear and suspense without a score. Also, I wish more of this post-apocalyptic realm could have been further explored and the origins of these creatures. Maybe this could be explained in a possible sequel or spinoff but that’s for another time.

Any final thoughts?

I’m not sure A Quiet Place will go the distance to Awards Season the way Get Out went the distance to Awards Season, but there is definitely a lot to like about it. I was impressed by Krasinski’s talents as a director and screenwriter and the technical aspects of this film are high caliber to say the least. Is this a movie I wish I could have seen in theaters? I would say yes to that question. I’ve seen my share of very good movies in 2018 and I think A Quiet Place has earned its place among being counted in those very good movies.

Review: Sorry to Bother You

Stop me if you’ve heard this before but if a certain film has been generating positive hype for some time, I make it a mission to see it for myself. Remember the name Boots Riley for his debut as a writer and director is a trip that will leave you flabbergasted by the end credits. This is a dream-like picture of telemarketing, unionizing, evocative artistry, embellished and ritzy slave-labor, white-voices and a disturbing new definition of the term “workhorse” in the ghastly dimension of Sorry to Bother You.

The film’s protagonist is Cassius Greene, a survivor in this alternate universe trying to make ends meet when he lands a job in the fast-paced and exciting field of telemarketing. When a co-worker offers him a tip to really land some sales, the golden elevator doors open for our down-on-his-luck hero to an opportunity that will really change his worldview. I’d go into detail further, but I don’t want to spoil the film and I don’t think you’d believe me if I went into detail.

If I had to come up with one word to describe this picture, it would be “unforgettable.” Boots Riley has an imagination so vivid, delirious and freaky, it does bother you and doesn’t apologize for doing so and I believe this picture revels in being completely unapologetic and entertaining.

What really impressed me about this picture is not only Riley’s vision and the attention to detail that went into the execution of this film but how this was written with so many cultural references, and commentary that connects with modern day society. Riley is not only imaginative but his intelligence was on full display with this film and I couldn’t help being captive to this film. There were times when I thought that this movie just ran wild and lost its direction but to my surprise it was just tied together in a way that came full-circle and I was all the more impressed with what this picture turned out to be.

The cast was great! Lakeith Stanfield was awesome in the lead role of Cassius Green, Tessa Thompson continues her rise to superstardom as the leading lady and Cassius’ love-interest Detroit, Jermaine Fowler, Terry Crews, Steven Yeun, Danny Glover, Kate Berlant, Omari Hardwick, Michael X. Sommers, Robert Longstreet, Arnie Hammer and the voices of David Cross, Patton Oswalt and Lily James all added to the mosaic madness of this picture.

Sorry to Bother You is low-budget but it has bang to its buck for the technical acumen of this film is stupendous! Doug Emmett’s cinematography is awesome, Terel Gibson’s editing is probably the best I’ve seen this year, Deidra Elizabeth Govan’s costume design and the work that the costume and wardrobe department is contributed is striking and beautiful, Stephen Dudro’s art direction was eye-candy, the production design by Jason Kisvarday is impeccable, the set decoration by Kelsi Ephraim is superb, the music, the visual effects and the animation was revelatory! This was a well-assembled motion picture.

Going into Sorry to Bother You, I knew nothing, I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know who the players behind this were but coming out, I felt that I saw a spectacle that would stay with me for long-time. Sorry to Bother You definitely lived up to the acclaim it has received and I would encourage you to see it if you believe you have a strong enough constitution!

Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Essentially, the concept for Ant-Man and the Wasp was derived from the first Ant-Man feature.

In the last film, Scott Lang had to shrink down to microscopic size and unintentionally entered the Quantum Realm. His mentor, and the original Ant-Man, Dr. Hank Pym originally theorized that there was no coming back from the Quantum Realm but that theory was shattered when Scott returned to full-size.

The last person to shrink between the molecules before Scott, was Janet Van Dyne, Hank Pym’s wife, Hope’s mother and the original Wasp and she was lost to the Quantum Realm and never returned but if Scott could come back, perhaps she could be saved.

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Image by Marvel Studios

The events of this film pick up two years after Civil War and perhaps days or weeks prior to the events of Infinity War. Ant-Man and the Wasp essentially answers the question of where Scott was while Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were clashing with the Mad Titan and what he was up to.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is essentially a race against time rescue flick. If Hank, Hope and Scott are to enter the Quantum Realm to rescue Janet, they have to evade the FBI, the ruthless Sonny Burch and a mysterious adversary with indirect ties to Hank’s past called The Ghost before the opportunity to save her expires.

This film isn’t the best work under Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but it is enough to be likable. Payton Reed crawls the fine line between superhero feature and comedy well enough but the plot is crammed with so many subplots and characters, it’s hard to keep track of what is going on and the feel of the film shifts so uncomfortably between the tones of serious and funny.

I was also disappointed that this film walked away from the appealing heist film elements of the first film but I can see why because Reed wanted to allow Evangeline Lily’s character to flourish with a plot that is more connected to her character than Paul Rudd’s.

The writing team of Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari and star Paul Rudd do a good job at taking from previous features to shape this story while incorporating new and creative ideas into the texture of the film but I honestly feel that the film is more funny than anything. Outside of the comedy, I believe this film’s greatest strength is its ability to play to the strengths of its stars.

Paul Rudd is well into his comfort zone as Ant-Man and Evangeline Lily is finally allowed to grow into the badass audiences saw glimpses of in the first Ant-Man and she shines as the Wasp. Other strong performers include Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie and Michael Peña as Luis. Hannah John-Kamen isn’t the best villain Marvel has produced but she doesn’t do a bad job. The rest of the cast including Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Randall Park, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer and Michelle Pfieffer are either completely underutilized as characters or completely awkward to watch.

The visual effects are sharp, Dante Spinotti’s cinematography is good, Dan Lebental and Craig Wood’s editing is good, Christophe Beck’s music is rather generic compared to other Marvel scores, Shepherd Frankel’s production design is rather safe, the art direction is pretty solid, Gene Serdena and Christopher J. Wood’s set decoration is impressive here and there, and Louise Frogley’s costume design is good when you really get down to it.

I liked the first Ant-Man well enough and I can say that I liked Ant-Man and the Wasp well enough as well but when you compare it to the slate of films in the Phase Three lineup of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it doesn’t exactly measure up to the high caliber of work Marvel Studios has produced in the past.

Review: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Three years ago, audiences were pulled into the battle the United States is facing at the border when an idealistic FBI agent was recruited to a very proactive task force led by a CIA spook named Matt Graver. Graver’s objective: anarchy against the Mexican drug cartels with a man named Alejandro acting as his tip of the spear.

Now, the battle at the border intensifies as suspected Middle Eastern terrorists are being escorted over the border to significantly harm the U.S. and the joint chiefs look to Graver’s methods to determine a viable solution. Graver and Alejandro return to create chaos for the major Mexican drug lords in Sicario: Day of the Soldado.

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Image by Lionsgate and Black Label Media

Of course I ventured to see this movie as I held the original Sicario in such high esteem in 2015. What we get in Day of the Soldado is another thing entirely as Stefano Sollima steps in to direct Taylor Sheridan’s follow-up.

Here we see Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro’s characters getting down and dirty with the cartels and thrust into unfamiliar situations compared to what we’ve seen in the first picture. We see Del Toro’s Alejandro’s backstory and protective nature come to the forefront as he takes a guardian role to Isabella Moner’s character and Brolin’s Graver put in a situation where his way of getting the job done is turned against him and he’s put in a situation he does not want to be in.

I’ve been wrestling with what I take away from Sicario: Day of the Soldado and I’ve come to the conclusion that the best word that I can use to describe it is: synthetic.

This movie goes to tremendous lengths to thrust audiences back into the explosive and relentless tension that is so staple to the first films success but the step-down in overall quality compared to the first feature is apparent.

Sollima does not have the expert vision and storytelling prowess that Denis Villenueve possess. Many of the major players from Sicario were missed, such as Emily Blunt, Roger Deakins, the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, Joe Walker and Patrice Vermette and while the cast and crew tried to elevate Sheridan’s plot to the heights of the first Sicario, it just wasn’t good enough in my eyes.

In fact, I had a hard time trying to find the point of why Sheridan wanted to come back and build upon an already epic story. I could not exactly wrap my head around the plot and the movie left itself unresolved so that it could all be told in a potentially third installment; Sheridan’s script was a little lost on me, I must admit.

It was interesting to see new twists on Brolin and Del Toro’s characters, Isabella Moner was good, Catherine Keener was decent, Elijah Rodriguez, Matthew Modine, Shea Wigham, Jeffery Donovan, Howard Ferguson Jr., Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Bruno Bachir, Jacqueline Torres; the cast was respectable as a whole.

Technically, this film lacked the gravitas and the power to live up to the first film’s standards. Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography is average, Hildur Guðnadóttir’s music is okay, Matthew Newman’s editing was clunky, Kevin Kavanaugh’s production design was stale, Marisa Frantz and Carlos Jacques’s art direction was good, Meg Everist and Daniela Rojas’ set decoration was respectable and Deborah Lynn Scott’s costumes were average.

I wanted to like Sicario: Day of the Soldado, but I felt like it was remarkably wasteful. Sicario, like Pacific Rim and Now You See Me, did not need a sequel, but got one and it pales in comparison to the original.

Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

You would think that they would have learned. After 25 years, after all of the carnage, the savagery born from idle splendor, the lesson would have been learned that mankind and the great beasts that roamed the Earth almost 65 million years ago were not meant to coexist, but NO!!!!! The fallout from the Jurassic World three years ago bears fruit in the form of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

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Image by Universal Pictures

Isla Nublar is ready to blow; the island’s volcano has become active and the island’s prehistoric inhabitants are in danger of going extinct once more. The government is grappling whether or not to intervene and save these creatures or leave them to die and while debates are ongoing, Claire Dearing is approached by Eli Mills, an associate of a former colleague of the late John Hammond, to mount an expedition to save the dinosaurs from Isla Nublar’s fate.

Claire must enlist the aid of her ex-boyfriend, Owen Grady, the raptor-trainer, to return to the now ruined Jurassic World site, track the dinosaurs down and spare them from Isla Nublar’s fate but does anything run according to plan when dinosaurs and the people who have an interest in exploiting them are involved? Of course not!

I recall being remarkably lukewarm/indifferent to the original Jurassic World three years back. I felt that writer/director Colin Trevorrow was beating an extinct horse trying to pay homage to the Spielberg’s groundbreaking sci-fi/disaster flick. Now J.A. Bayona is in the director’s chair working with a script penned by Trevorrow and Derek Connelly and they take the franchise into new territory with Fallen Kingdom while still holding tight to the familiar traits and tropes of the original Jurassic Park features.

Yes mankind is depicted as the stupidest animals in the feature but I honestly found a higher degree of fun watching this installment of the franchise than the last one. The craftsmanship is more sturdy with Bayona at the helm but it is still discernably flawed in its makeup.

The film is more exciting and does have a greater degree of suspense but I felt that it was too focused on the central human characters like Owen, Claire, Eli Mills, Maisie, while other characters are just relegated to background or insufficient noise.

Do I like how Trevorrow and Connelly wrote this story for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom? For the most part, I do because I felt that the film was a step-up from the last film. Do I like what Bayona brought to the film as a director? Yes because the tone of the picture is more of what I was hoping for.

I thought Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard were more engaging in this film compared to the last one. The cast as a whole, could be categorized anywhere between decent, misused and completely underutilized. Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Isabella Sermon ranked as decent, didn’t care much for Justice Smith’s character or Ted Levine, Daniella Pineda, Jeff Goldblum, B.D. Wong, Geraldine Chaplin were among the underutilized.

The visual effects and Michael Giacchino’s music were excellent, Oscar Faura’s cinematography and Bernat Vilaplana’s editing was good, Andy Nicholson’s production design was solid, as was the art decoration and the set decoration of Tina Jones and Carolyn Loucks, and Sammy Sheldon’s costumes were alright.

What do I take out of this? Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is built atop the fossils of its predecessor and it is an improvement but while it does take the franchise in new territory, it still offers the usual in what you’ve seen out of Jurassic Park; frights, head-scratching examples of human catharsis and great visuals. It’s like a new attraction in a theme park that is known for only one thing.