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.

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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.

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Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The magical genius that is J.K. Rowling has captivated readers and audiences the world over with her enchanting tale of boy wizard who lived in a closet under the stairs who would grow to legend. The story of Harry Potter is finished, but that hasn’t stopped Rowling from introducing audiences to a new era of magic that occurred long before Harry was born.

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Image by Warner Bros.

Inspired by one of Harry’s textbooks while he was enrolled in Hogwarts, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes place in 1926 New York, a time of great upheaval and struggle thanks to an infamous dark wizard before Tom Riddle took on his preferred name and rose to power. The story follows magizoologist Newt Scamander who arrives in the Big Apple to conduct his research on American magical creatures but his plans go awry when his magical briefcase is accidently switched with a briefcase belonging to Jacob Kowalski, a No-Maj (the American term for Muggle or non-magic folk if you prefer).

Long story short: several of Newt’s beasts escaped and are roaming free in Manhattan, causing chaos and significantly raising the threat level of exposure of the American wizarding community. It’s up to Newt, Kowalski, ex-Auror Pompetina Goldstein and her sister Queenie to dodge the community of witch-hunters, The Second Salemers, stay a step or two ahead of MACUSA, the Magical Congress of the United States of America, and bring Newt’s escaped creatures back into his magical briefcase and out of harm’s way.

As a fan of the books and the films, I must say that nothing and I repeat NOTHING will ever come close to the marvelous Harry Potter franchise but I do admit that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a very good start to a new era of magic from J.K. Rowling and director David Yates.

The most magical aspect of this picture has to be the protagonist, portrayed very comfortably by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne. Newt is a character that audiences can relate to very easily because going into this film, for people who’ve read the Potter series and watched the films as I have, they enter with a considerable degree of knowledge and familiarity with the subject matter but the audiences explores this new terrain with Newt; he and audiences are exposed to the American wizarding community and its customs while taking a crash course in magical creatures like Nifflers, Thunderbirds, Occamies, Demiguises, Bowtruckles, Erumpants, Obscurials and so much more! I think that this character and how he develops in this film is an amazing testament to the genius of Rowling expanding her already extraordinary universe.

Rowling’s writing and Yates’ direction were undoubtedly exceptional and the acting by the cast was pretty solid. Redmayne was obviously the star, Dan Fogler was funny, Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol were very good, the rest of the cast including Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Jenn Murray, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Samantha Morton, Ronan Raftery, Josh Cowdery, and the surprise late addition of Johnny Deppall chip in a significant piece to this story.

James Newton Howard’s score was as magical as ever, Phillipe Rousselot’s cinematography was solid, the editing or Mark Day was precise, Stuart Craig and James Hambridge’s production design was remarkable, the art direction was astounding, the visual effects stole the show, but I may complain about the sound quality; there were times when the sound of dialogue felt a tad muddled and I would have liked to see that aspect of the film cleaned up more prior to release.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a very good start to a new era of magic in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world and I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish. I encourage fans of the Harry Potter franchise to venture out and see this film because this movie opens the door to new worlds that transcend that of the Boy Who Lived and perhaps has a hand in shaping it in the films to come. We’ll see!

Review: Concussion

I took a serious interest in professional football five years ago. My first roommate in college was an Indianapolis Colts fan and because he watched NFL games regularly, I got into the habit myself, declared my allegiance to the San Diego Chargers and here I am today, avid fan watches games every Sunday, or Monday night or Thursday night and truth-be-told, I still hold the same philosophy on football even after walking out of the theater after a screening of Concussion: fun to watch, dangerous to play.

Image by Sony Pictures

Concussion stars Academy Award nominee Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a brilliant pathologist whose character strikes an eerie comparison to Ducky, from the hit television program NCIS, he speaks to the dead in order to understand how they lived and make the connections to how they died. One day, Omalu begins an autopsy on a man named Mike Webster, a man the city of Pittsburgh knows so well and the findings of that autopsy will trigger an avalanche that will completely engulf the NFL and shake the foundations of Dr. Omalu’s resolve.

Mike Webster was a Pittsburgh Steeler legend, Professional Football Hall of Famer and one of, if not the best center to ever play in the NFL during his 18 year career, but a glorious career resulted in catastrophic consequences as his life after the game spiraled into ruin ultimately leading to his untimely demise in 2002 at his own hands. No one could explain it until Dr. Omalu conducted an autopsy, did extensive research and came to the conclusion that the repetitive head-trauma that Webster endured over the course of his professional career led to irreversible brain damage that affected his behavior, rationale and psyche.

Writer and director Peter Landesman’s film chronicle’s Dr. Omalu’s crusade in bringing the National Football League to face the reality of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and the damage that players have endured playing this sport creates lasting consequences such as this frightening disease that has already taken the lives of players such as Mike Webster, Dave Duerson, Andre Waters, Justin Strzelczyk and also recent cases such as Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and San Diego Chargers legend Junior Seau. Concussion aim was to bring this topic home to the audience and spectators of NFL and educate them on the dangers of this sport and the questionable ethics of the NFL in confronting this disease.

What Concussion does is educate more than anything else. I won’t say that it vilifies the National Football League nor will I say that it sanctifies Dr. Omalu rather it pits the two against each other in a David versus Goliath confrontation; in discovering CTE Omalu practically hurls a slingshot at the forehead of the NFL and causes significant damage instead of kill and the NFL fought back hard but eventually succumbed and faced the immutable truth: playing football is dangerous and it can kill players in the long-term.

The movie itself is practically tame, but it is effective in its educational approach. The main selling point is obviously Will Smith who delivers an excellent performance as Dr. Bennet Omalu.

Even when surrounded by a solid ensemble featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Arliss Howard, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, David Morse, Richard T. Jones, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson, Smith outshines everyone with his prowess and his presence. Smith ranges from sentimental, when he is communicating with the dead, to downright fearless when he is confronting the league who lambasted, shunned and ignored Omalu for his findings in the beginning.

Landesman wrote and directed a nice picture that will definitely resonate with the target audience of Concussion, which is based on Jeanne Marie Laskas’ GQ article. Through Will Smith’s genuine and powerful performance and Dr. Omalu’s sincere story audiences will be enlightened but frankly the way people will see the game of football, speaking from personal experience, won’t change.

The way this film is directed and written is very straightforward. I found Peter Landesman’s film to be honest in how Omalu confronted the NFL and the backlash directed towards him, but in the end I came away with a “what’s done is done” impression and as a viewer of NFL football I do believe that more precautions are being taken within the league and Omalu’s findings have made a significant difference.

James Newton Howard’s score is decent, Salvatore Totino’s cinematography is very fluid, William Goldenberg’s editing is crisp and clean, the production design by David Crank is firm, this is a low-budget, low-brow production that doesn’t exactly knock anyone out, nor will it sedate, it simply educates with a strong speaker discussing a profound topic on a relevant issue.

I hope that Will Smith is recognized by his outstanding performance in this film and I hope that Concussion educates and enlightens its viewers on the subject at hand.

Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingay Part 2

And just like that, The Hunger Games film franchise comes to a close. The final installment, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, brought the journey of Katniss Everdeen to a resounding finish.

Image by Lionsgate

When we last left the Mockingjay, played by Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, she nearly had the life choked out of her courtesy of President Snow’s new weapon, her ally and closest friend Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson. Although Katniss is the face of the rebellion, she is determined to bring this war to an end and resolute in one objective: killing President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland.

The tyrannical Snow won’t make it easy for Katniss. He’s held up in his mansion and with the help of sadistic military strategists and gamemakers he’s turned the Capitol into an elaborate deathtrap with pods and booby traps at every corner of the city.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 presents the opportunity to say goodbye to these characters as the story reaches its end, in a particularly steady and respectable approach. As a fan of The Hunger Games series, Mockingjay being my personal favorite of the three books, I quite liked how they ended the franchise with this film.

When I read Mockingjay a few years ago, halfway through I reached the moment where I could barely recognize the characters anymore; Katniss evolved from the brave young woman who volunteered to take her sister’s place at the Reaping to this warrior who was hellbent to stop Snow no matter the cost, Peeta went from this lovestruck baker’s boy to this mentally tortured timebomb that could go off at any time, Gale became consumed by the war and conceived immoral ideas to stick it to the Capitol and Mockingjay Part 2 stayed true to that characteristic of the book. I truly respected that.

Essentially, I all did while watching Mockingjay Part 2 is just sit back and let it wash over me. While I wasn’t exactly thrilled, I was satisfied with what the film ultimately became.

My review of the previous Hunger Games movie, glowed because I felt that Francis Lawrence and Simon Beaufoy finally captured the right look and tone for The Hunger Games and while this movie didn’t exactly up the ante, this movie stayed consistent with that tone and what made the franchise special by sticking to the core compelling moments of the Mockingjay story.

I won’t say I was disappointed because this movie couldn’t really set itself up for disappointment in light of the fact that at this point, we’ve become accustomed to who these figures are, what they’re doing where they came from, what’s going to happen, I can’t say I was disappointed.

Maybe what I’m trying to say is that I was underwhelmed. I knew, or at least had a general understanding of what was coming regarding Danny Strong and Peter Craig’s screenplay, I knew what this cast brought to these roles, I knew that Francis Lawrence was up to the job to bring this home, and there was really no surprise in this for me. The saving grace is that I found enough of the feature to be enjoyable.

Lawrence, Sutherland, Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Stanley Tucci, Willow Shields, Natalie Dormer, Mahershala Ali, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Gwendoline Christie, the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the entire cast can bid adieu to these characters whose depth is a testament to the literary brilliance of Suzanne Collins.

By Kurt Kulac, via Wikimedia Commons

At this point, it is probably unnecessary to evaluate the performances because these actors have had years of experience with these roles and they don’t exactly go outside the box with what they are given. There is nothing particularly different about the acting; everything comes off as familiar enough to know what you are getting into.

In terms of technical acuity, I render that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is quite standard in the sense that nothing really jumps out at you. The visual effects, James Newton Howard’s score, Jo Williams’ cinematography, Alan Edward Bell and Mark Yoshikawa’s editing, the sound effects, Kurt and Bart’s costumes, Philip Messina’s production design, I don’t believe anything in particular truly grabbed my eye and lingered. Perhaps I was so wrapped up in the overarching resolution of the franchise I may have taken the technical makeup of the film for granted.

My verdict for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is that it is a practically safe but solid cinematic outing and it does enough to send Katniss Everdeen and The Hunger Games out on enough of a high-note. My ruling on The Hunger Games franchise is that it was a strong franchise that did enough justice to its literary counterpart.

Image by Lionsgate

So, here we are. The post-mortem Hunger Games world. May the odds be ever in our favor.