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.

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.

2015 Oscar Predictions Part II

The 87th Oscars are on the horizon and the time has come for predictions

Last week, I made my predictions on several categories of interest in this year’s Academy Award nominations. Today, part II of my Oscar predictions will be revealed. Let’s get to it.

Best Original Song:

  • “Everything is Awesome”-The Lego Movie
  • “Glory”-Selma
  • “Grateful”-Beyond the Lights
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”-Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
  • “Lost Stars”-Begin Again

I predict that the Oscar will go to: “Glory”-Selma

Best Score:

  • Alexandre Desplat-The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Alexandre Desplat-The Imitation Game
  • Hans Zimmer-Interstellar
  • Gary Yershon-Mr. Turner
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson-The Theory of Everything

I predict that the Oscar will go to: Jóhann Jóhannsson-The Theory of Everything

The music that accompanies the beautiful love story between Jane and Stephen Hawking

Best Film Editing:

  • Joel Cox and Gary Roach-American Sniper
  • Sandra Adair-Boyhood
  • Barney Pilling-The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • William Goldenberg-The Imitation Game
  • Tom Cross-Whiplash

I predict that the Oscar will go to: Tom Cross-Whiplash

Damien Chazelle’s electrifying music drama couldn’t have been done with the exquisitely precise film editing of the year

Best Cinematography:

  • Emmanuel Lubezki-Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Robert Yeoman-The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski-Ida
  • Dick Pope-Mr. Turner
  • Roger Deakins-Unbroken

I predict that the Oscar will go to: Emmanuel Lubezki-Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Unlike the Seattle Seahawks, Emmanuel Lubezki will win back to back top honors, but for the best cinematography of the year

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • Jason Hall-American Sniper
  • Graham Moore-The Imitation Game
  • Paul Thomas Anderson-Inherent Vice
  • Anthony McCarten-The Theory of Everything
  • Damien Chazelle-Whiplash

I predict that the Oscar will go to: Anthony McCarten-The Theory of Everything

It took a decade for Anthony McCarten to adapt Jane Hawking’s story for film. It was worth it.

Best Original Screenplay:

  • Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Armando Bo and Alexander Dinelaris-Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Richard Linklater-Boyhood
  • E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman-Foxcatcher
  • Wes Anderson-The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Dan Gilroy-Nightcrawler

I predict that the Oscar will go to: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Armando Bo and Alexander Dinelaris-Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The amazing team of writers crafted one of the most ingenious films of 2014

Here is part one of my predictions and the full list of nominations are where they are supposed to be. Next week is the final installment of predictions. Stay tuned.

The nominees are in!

The Academy Award nominees have been announced.

What the hell, how the hell and why the hell? Those are the questions I’ve been asking myself once the Oscar nominations telecast ended over two hours ago. I might blog about my frustrations regarding the 87th Academy Award nominations sometime soon, but anyway, here they are:

Foreign Language Film:

  • Ida (Poland)
  • Leviathan (Russia)
  • Tangerines Manderiniid (Estonia)
  • Timbuktu (Mauritania)
  • Wild Tales (Argentina)

Documentary:

  • Citizenfour
  • Finding Vivian Maier
  • Last Days in Vietnam
  • The Salt of the Earth
  • Virunga

Visual Effects:

  • Captain America: the Winter Soldier
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Interstellar
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past

Animated Feature Film:

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Boxtrolls
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Song of the Sea
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Costume Design:

  • Milena Canonero-The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Mark Bridges-Inherent Vice
  • Colleen Atwood-Into the Woods
  • Anna B. Sheppard-Maleficent
  • Jacqueline Durran-Mr. Turner

Make-up and Hairstyling:

  • Foxcatcher
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Guardians of the Galaxy

Original Song:

  • “Everything is Awesome”-The Lego Movie
  • “Glory”-Selma
  • “Grateful”-Beyond the Lights
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”-Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
  • “Lost Stars”-Begin Again

Original Score:

  • Alexandre Desplat-The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Alexandre Desplat-The Imitation Game
  • Hans Zimmer-Interstellar
  • Gary Yershon-Mr. Turner
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson-The Theory of Everything

Production Design:

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Interstellar
  • Into the Woods
  • Mr. Turner

Film Editing:

  • Joel Cox and Gary Roach-American Sniper
  • Sandra Adair-Boyhood
  • Barney Pilling-The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • William Goldenberg-The Imitation Game
  • Tom Cross-Whiplash

Cinematography:

  • Emmanuel Lubezki-Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Robert Yeoman-The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski-Ida
  • Dick Pope-Mr. Turner
  • Roger Deakins-Unbroken

Adapted Screenplay:

  • Jason Hall-American Sniper
  • Graham Moore-The Imitation Game
  • Paul Thomas Anderson-Inherent Vice
  • Anthony McCarten-The Theory of Everything
  • Damien Chazelle-Whiplash

Original Screenplay:

  • Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo-Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Richard Linklater-Boyhood
  • E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman-Foxcatcher
  • Wes Anderson-The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Dan Gilroy-Nightcrawler

Actress in a Supporting Role:

  • Patricia Arquette-Boyhood
  • Laura Dern-Wild
  • Keira Knightley-The Imitation Game
  • Emma Stone-Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Meryl Streep-Into the Woods

Actor in a Supporting Role:

  • Robert Duvall-The Judge
  • Ethan Hawke-Boyhood
  • Edward Norton-Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Mark Ruffalo-Foxcatcher
  • J.K. Simmons-Whiplash

Actress in a Leading Role:

  • Marion Cotillard-Two Days, One Night
  • Felicity Jones-The Theory of Everything
  • Julianne Moore-Still Alice
  • Rosamund Pike-Gone Girl
  • Reese Witherspoon-Wild

Actor in a Leading Role:

  • Steve Carell-Foxcatcher
  • Bradley Cooper-American Sniper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch-The Imitation Game
  • Michael Keaton-Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Eddie Redmayne-The Theory of Everything

Direction:

  • Alejandro González Iñárritu-Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Richard Linklater-Boyhood
  • Bennett Miller-Foxcatcher
  • Wes Anderson-The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Morten Tyldum-The Imitation Game

Best Picture:

Reminder: I will see American Sniper in the next few days, so until I post my review, I will hold off on predictions. I will voice my disagreement with the nominations though, so keep an eye on that. The 87th Academy Awards will be hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and will be televised on February 22nd.

Review: Unbroken

Director Angelina Jolie brings the incredible true story of Louis Zamperini to the big screen in Unbroken

They simply don’t make men like Louis Zamperini anymore. He survived being the youngest child in an immigrant Italian family, he survived to become a remarkable Olympic athlete, he survived WWII, being adrift at sea for nearly a month and two Japanese POW camps under the supervision of a sadistic commanding officer.

His story has been adapted into a major motion picture directed by Academy Award winner Angelina Jolie, in her feature length directorial debut, and written by the Coen Brothers, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book. Jack O’Connell plays Zamperini the soldier, the survivor, enduring the hardships and against-all-odds circumstances that led him from being the Olympic track star who made history in Germany to the plane-crash survivor adrift with his brothers-in-battle Phil, played by Domhnall Gleeson, and Mac, played by Finn Wittrock, for more than a month, to internment in a Tokyo POW camp under the cruel watch of a man called The Bird, played by Takamasa Ishihara.

They simply don’t make men like Louis Zamperini, however Unbroken takes certain cues from films about survival recently released and though it is a rather familiar film, it has its certain strengths to warrant itself as commendable.

For Jolie’s first try at directing a major picture, she did a decent job at conveying how strong Zamperini was in mind, spirit, body and conviction and she did this well in collaborating with cinematographer Roger Deakins, the editing team of William Goldenberg and Tim Squyres, Jon Hutman’s production design, the art direction of Charlie Revai, Bill Booth and Jacinta Leong, the make-up design team and costume department; this film carried itself on the ambition to be as authentic as possible in service to Zamperini’s legacy and memory.

The cast of the film are certainly not superstars but they are convincing. O’Connell is the star, the leading man and character who spurs the film along and he has a good leading man opposite in Ishihara, the supporting cast including Gleeson, Wittrock, Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney, John D’Leo, Alex Russell, C.J. Valleroy are all given relatively limited time on camera but they are marginally convincing to say the least.

Where Unbroken falls short is its familiarity to other recent films about survival against-all-odds and tremendous adversity in trying to get back home and never giving up. It is quite generic in terms of tone and theme.

For instance, take the lost at sea portion of the film. While Zamperini, Phil and Mac are adrift in the Pacific in the two lifeboats after surviving the plane crash and are at the mercy of sharks and tidal waves and resorting to eating birds, fish and sharks, there wasn’t a moment where my mind went to Life of Pi and how that character tried to make ends meet with the boatmate that was the Bengal tiger. I thought that one could easily detect the stylistic and narrative similarities between this film and the Oscar winning feature from two years ago.

Then we get to the POW portion of the film, there is a serious 12 Years a Slave vibe going on. Zamperini is a Solomon Northrup substitute and the Bird is the new Edwin Epps and there is a scene in the film that plays eerily similar to a scene in the Oscar winning feature where both pairs of characters have this tense and creepy moment that reads as a ceasefire, meaning there is no brutality on display on the surface but the incarcerated character has to skate on eggshells to avoid setting off a powder-keg of cruelty. I’m not really familiar with the concept of torture-porn, but that is a term that was used to describe 12 Years a Slave and I believe that term is appropriate for Jolie’s film; I’m not sure if Jolie is into that personally but I found it appropriate to surmise this film. O’Connell’s character takes a beating…constantly.

Jack O’Connell would make Louis Zamperini proud in his portrayal in Unbroken

The movie culminates in this grand moment, where he has to lift a beam over his head after enduring back-breaking physical labor in order to avoid being shot. Zamperini stares at the Bird, finds the motivation to lift the beam even if he is out of steam, screams his head off, gives his fellow POWs hope, if anyone is reading this review, they should know the scene in question that I’m talking about. It projects itself as this scene of, I guess I would call it revenge where he lives this motto given to him by his brother, “If I can take it, I can make it,” telling the Bird, I can take your crap any day of the week; somehow, I went back to 127 Hours, where Aaron Rolston had to sever his arm in order to escape his situation. A classic “don’t give up” moment, that is satisfying enough to say the least and it works to bring the film together.

It is unclear whether or not Jolie wanted to draw inspiration from other notable and recent survival stories on film or sheer happenstance in attempting to be as faithful to Zamperini’s story as possible. I doubt that she wants this film to be like other films of this quality and caliber, but perhaps she is striving for the same recognition these movies have received.

For those who survive a screening of Unbroken, they will witness a story about how a man went through hell and back and made it home whole. They will witness an imperfectly crafted and familiar motion picture that is worth appreciating and has a nice message for the holidays.

I believe this movie is the right movie to end this blog on 2014. Like most of the film released this year, it isn’t perfect, it tries to live up to the standards of movies past, it doesn’t but it’s enjoyable. I didn’t love it, but I liked it enough.

Review: The Imitation Game

A few weeks back, I wrote that The Theory of Everything was perhaps the most endearing British film to be released in recent years. I still stand by that statement, however if the term endearing applied to The Theory of Everything, then perhaps the term enthralling applies to its fellow British feature The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

World War II is raging and Nazi Germany has the Allied Powers, especially Great Britain by the short and curlies because of Enigma, a complex encryption device that codifies every German communication applied for military purposes. France, the United States and especially Great Britain have been attempting to crack Enigma for years, only to come up a step behind because every day, Germany alters the codes necessary to decrypt their own messages; the British military and MI6 are playing a game in which they have to constantly race around the clock to break the code and every day they don’t, the death toll rises.

In order to break the most complex code the world has ever seen, Naval Commander Denniston, played by Charles Dance, and MI6 operative Stewart Menzies, played by Mark Strong, reach out to genius mathematician Alan Turing of Kings College, Cumberbatch, and request that he collaborates with fellow cryptologists Hugh Alexander, played by Matthew Goode, Peter Hilton, played by Matthew Beard, Joan Clarke, played by Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley, and John Cairncross, played by Allen Leech, to decrypt Nazi messages at Bletchley Park.

Benedict Cumberbatch is aces as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game is essentially a story that chronicles how Turing constructs the machine that eventually decodes Enigma and how the team of code-breakers helped turn the tide of battle in the latter years of World War II and how their involvement had to be classified by MI6, while simultaneously the film peers into Turing’s personal life and background because shortly after the war, Turing was exposed as a homosexual, convicted of indecency and committed suicide a year into his sentence.

The Imitation Game is a riveting piece because it shed light onto a subject of World War II that is somewhat obscure from common knowledge. This is a movie for underdogs, outcasts, the misunderstood and the wall-flowers because the central character of Turing happens to be the ultimate underdog who accomplishes something extremely profound.

Director Morten Tyldem and screenwriter Graham Moore adapt Andrew Hodges’ book and concisely structures the film to accomplish two feats. The first is to demonstrate the impact that scientists and mathematicians can have during times of war; because of Turing and his team and the fact they did decrypt Enigma, it is estimated that the war was shortened by two years. The second was to get a glimpse as to whom Alan Turing was as a person and professionally and Benedict Cumberbatch was exemplary in this leading role.

Though the film is subtle in dealing with Turing’s sexual orientation, it definitely doesn’t shy away from how harsh society can be towards homosexuals in general or at that time and credit must go towards Tyldem and Moore for shaping such a socially conscious motion picture designed to inspire those who are different, those who are misfits and outcasts while possessing significant entertainment value for mainstream audiences. Particularly, Moore should be recognized for his adaptation that never stops connecting Turing’s past from his present, but does so in such that it is cunning and sharp; from the moment that the film begins Cumberbatch’s off-screen narration informs audiences that this movie will be an intelligent story and whoever is watching needs to pay attention and I think technique such as that is quite bold and it pays off handsomely.

The cast of the film all receive high marks across the board. Goode, Knightley, Dance, Strong, Rory Kinnear, Alex Lawther as young Alan Turing and Jack Bannon as Christopher Morcom, all give absolutely sturdy performances to give this film weight to add to the stellar performance of Cumberbatch.

Composer Alexandre Desplat also contributes to the film with another resonantly beautiful film score to give The Imitation Game a broader sense of dimension, William Goldenberg’s film editing is carried out with precision and the cinematography of Oscar Faura is quite grounded and stable enough for Tyldum to make his mark.

The Imitation Game is a film that plays on the familiarities of other notable motion pictures that tackle themes of injustice and inequality such as Milk or 12 Years a Slave and yet it could also be argued that it is the first true expertly crafted biopic to be released in years that actually spans from childhood to death.

The Imitation Game is an enthralling motion picture with great acting, a great lesson to learn and an overall great experience to witness. The Imitation Game deserves to be in the discussion as one of the best films of 2014 and should find itself in contention for several Oscars including Best Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, perhaps Best Actor and Best Director (both categories are going to be very crowded but it wouldn’t surprise me if both Cumberbatch and Tyldum were left out) and Best Picture.