Detroit: Movie Man Jackson

It was once a great American who stated that “…riots do not develop out of thin air.” In America, circa 1967, The Civil Rights Movement is a major fabric of everyday life. The Long Hot Summer of 1967 comprises numerous race riots across the nation. From Newark to Tampa, the disenfranchised and overlooked African-American populace is tired of their voices being unheard.

None perhaps more so, than those who reside in Detroit. Sunday, July 23rd is the initial day of the five-day chaos, but the chaos peaks in the third day at the Algiers Motel. Shots ring out of the hotel window, which draw the local—and mostly white—police force to the scene to neutralize the situation. Here, they will make life an unbearable hell for all—mostly black individuals—who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Could we be entering into a period of historical movies that desire to focus on the event first more so than the people who make it up? Just a few weeks ago of this writing, Dunkirk released, focusing all of its attention to the event with little in the way given to the characters who are involved in it. It certainly is an interesting and respected decision, though one that made it hard to really get invested into for some. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark ThirtyDetroit is predominately concerned with an unnerving singular event, but also chooses to give some attention to a few characters before and after said event. In turn, going this route makes Detroit one of the toughest, yet strongest, watches of the year.

There’s been much discussion on whether Bigelow, a white female, was the right person to direct this film. My opinion? The experience on set her cast seems to outline paints the process as a collaborative one. Also, talent is talent, and Bigelow’s proven herself to be a sound director regardless of race or gender. Aside from a clunky and animated opening that sort of assumes the audience is a little dense, Kathryn’s style brings everything together. The handheld aesthetic and minimal score brings a noticeable rawness and unfiltered grit to everything that occurs in the film, but of course is most noticed in the prolonged 2nd act that is the Algiers Motel interrogation. Many words can be said about this entire act, but I’ll just leave one that doesn’t do it enough justice: Tense. Extremely…tense.

Detroit’s 2nd act is complete perfection, but its first and third acts, far from failures, aren’t nearly as flawless. In the first act, Bigelow and writer Mark Boal weave in and out of some of the main characters’ lives who will later be trapped in Algiers. This hopping around isn’t seamless, but, it does give the audience an opportunity to connect with some of these people, some of whom have more meat than others.

The final act simultaneously provides closure and foreshadows to the future. It could be a movie of its own, which is its biggest flaw because it doesn’t get the attention needed to resonate. Instead, these court proceedings and controlled interrogations end up feeling a little tacked on. However, one has to take into account that some of the specifics are imagined due to a lack of hardcore facts, and the movie doesn’t hide that in showing an end card that states this. With that in mind, the writer/director tandem team have done a largely impressive job of making this feel real and not overly Hollywoodized.

From a performance perspective, there isn’t one that qualifies as weak. From Jason Mitchell to Anthony Mackie to John Krasinski, everyone brings weight to their roles, even if the writing for their characters takes a backseat to the event. As stated, the event is the character itself. But, there are three characters that stand above the others and as such, three acting roles that could get some possible awards buzz. Algee Smith is probably the breakout star of Detroit as The Dramatics lead singer Larry Reed, a person with all the talent in the world that is too shook go back to what he did before. John Boyega as security officer Dismukes grapples with trying to maintain order while being looked upon as a sellout by his people of color. The emotion he shows when interrogated later in the movie is outstanding. Lastly, officer Krauss (a combination of many officers during this period) is played by Will Poulter. It’s a nasty, frightening performance that never veers into cartoon territory.

Real life or stuff that reminds us of real life isn’t something we always want go to the movies for. It’s one reason why Detroit is polarizing and not being experienced by a wide audience, and honestly, that’s perfectly OK. But those willing to check into an uncomfortable moment of The Motor City’s history will likely be moved.

B+

Photo credits go to narniaweb.com, comingsoon.net, and shadowandact.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Captain America: Civil War-Movie Man Jackson

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Bob Marley was quoted one day saying that “Your worst enemy could be your best friend, and your best friend your worst enemy.” The recent events of the Avengers are going to test that quote to the fullest. Anytime the Avengers protect and serve, they also seem to bring unintended, but significant, collateral damage. First in New York, then with the total collapse of the city in Sokovia, and now the situation in Nigeria that leads to multiple deaths of innocents. Many in the world now do not see the Avengers as superheroes, but vigilantes.

The powers that be determine that these superheroes need to be held accountable via the Sokavia Accords, a document that basically gives power to the government to ascertain when and where the Avengers should be deployed. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a proponent of the Accords, still feeling responsibility for many of the incidents. Joining him on his side is Vision (Paul Bettany), Rhody/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

Aligning with Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) on the side of freedom is Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd). The two viewpoints make a showdown all but a certainty. However, growing underneath the tension is an unforeseen threat, one who wants to make The Avengers pay for their past actions.

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As soon as Captain America: Civil War was announced back in late 2013 and everyone knew what the Civil War would consist of, everything that came before it has really been leading up to this film. And that is for bad and good. Bad, because in a way, other films that would normally be huge events on their own (i.e Avengers: Age of Ultron) kind of lacked the memorability and importance such a film should command. However, it is good because CA:CW is, more or less, what Age of Ultron should have been: Important, memorable, and extremely entertaining. And the build-up throughout that time is a big reason.

The latest entry to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe makes no concessions to those who haven’t followed along over the years. But with the box office returns being so high, most know all about these characters, so why should it? As stated, Marvel has been building to this moment for a while now, especially in the interactions between Stark and Rogers, and as such, it makes it much more easier to fall into the story and buy everything the writers tell us. Compare this to, say, Batman V Superman (it’s just too convenient not to!), where characters, their relationships and plot threads are thrown into one movie instead of allowing them to be gradually introduced to us.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s second superhero feature following The Winter Soldier is written about as well as one could generally hope, especially with the amount of characters making appearances. It isn’t all perfect. There are a few lulls, one in particular being right after the highest point of the movie. This definitely feels a full 136 minutes during the end. The main villain, even with sound motivation and a good performance by the talented Daniel Brühl, suffers simply because he isn’t all that interesting. It would have been nice to see more of Frank Grillo’s Crossbones, but at least he owns it while he’s on the screen.

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But, the lack of a compelling traditional villain isn’t felt as much in Civil War because the true opposition comes from within, obviously from the opposing viewpoints that Captain America and Iron Man support. It’s important to note that neither one, no matter what “team” you may be on, is all that vilified, though Iron Man has always been a guy who possessed heelish tendencies and as such, feels slightly like the bad guy. Both men have good reasons for carrying the ideologies they carry, and a cool extra layer exists under what side they support. Personality-wise, Rogers is as orderly and straight-laced as heroes come, compared to the brash and free-wheeling Stark. So, the fact that Captain America refuses the order and the government and Iron Man readily accepts it despite what their personalities would suggest is something yours truly found intriguing.

With 12 notable characters on the screen, one would think that some characters would naturally get the shaft. While some shine brighter than others, all have their moments, not just in action, but in non-physical interplay with one another, like Vision and Scarlet Witch (dropped accent and all), or Falcon and War Machine to name a few. Sometimes the interplay is emotional, sometimes it is funny, but in all cases, it adds to the characters, which in turn adds to the action.

Once again, though this time assisted by John Wick directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, the Russo brothers film action as practical as they possibly can. A little shaky in a few spots, but overall it’s about on par with their work from Winter Soldier. Much like the first Avengers, which has the scene everyone remembers with the panning of our new superhero team, this one has that similar moment as well, setting up an action sequence that could stand as the best of the year when all is said and done.

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Captain America: Civil War achieves where Age of Ultron didn’t. It’s as big but more focused. It’s more emotionally satisfying. There are actual changes that should carry sizable ramifications. And above all, it’s more fun. If every movie in Phase 3 will be this good, in the words of Captain America, “I can do this all day.”

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to collider.com, comicbook.com, and forbes.com.

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Triple 9: Movie Man Jackson

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Make a bomb go off, the police are there at the location in three minutes. Do a 999—on the other side of town—and you got all damn day to do whatever you please. On the mean streets of Atlanta, a trio of three men: ex military officers Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul), and Russell Welch (Norman Reedus), combine with a duo of corrupts cops in Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins, Jr.) to form a squad of five, pulling heist jobs around the area. They work for a Russian Israeli mob boss named Irina (Kate Winslet), who pays them handsomely in return for what she receives in some vital pieces to bring her brother home from exile.

While the crew is ready to leave the game forever after their recent job, Irina forces them to pull one more to get what she needs. This one is impossible however, because roughly a 20 minute window is needed. To get this window, a plan is hatched to execute a Triple 9–police code for officer down. The mark is Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), a good cop with a family who doesn’t deserve this fate.

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Think about cop/heist movies (combining the two subgenres here) and there always seem to be a few on top of the list with regards to the best. Training Day, Heat, End of Watch, and Reservoir Dogs are just a few that come to mind. With the cast that director John Hillcoat (The Road, Lawless) deploys here, a lover of the genre couldn’t help but get giddy at the prospect after seeing the redband that Triple 9 could be in that stratosphere. After watching, is it? Not at all. But, is it a solid entry into the genre? Absolutely.

Whether by virtue of the lack of features he’s helmed, the type of features he’s helmed, or for other reasons unbeknownst, John Hillcoat isn’t a household name. Yours truly isn’t saying he should be yet, either. But, what I am saying is that Hillcoat is a master at creating an intriguing and compelling world in his films, and Triple 9 is just the latest example, with this time a modern but grimy setting being at the forefront. Even when the story can occasionally bog down, and they sometimes do in his works, there’s reason to continue watch because the production is of such high quality.

But yes, the actual plot of Triple 9 is not bullet-proof. As mentioned, a few points exists in which it feels like nothing is really going on, and this is where the movie can slow down to a crawl. I want to say that that this is for character development, but that necessarily isn’t the case, although some characters and relationships do get more meat. And honestly, this can all be a little—wait for the magic word—predictable. Not 100% predictable; there are a few third acts surprises that one may not see coming, but without spoilers (hopefully), let’s just say it can get a little bit like clockwork.

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Where Triple 9 shines is in its three big set pieces for each third of the movie. These scenes are dressed to the nines with tension and unpredictability, outfitted with a score by Atticus Ross. And, they aren’t action scenes where slugs fly freely into the wind. No, many of the scenes are methodical, and each shot out of a weapon actually means something more than not. Simply put, it is edge of the seat material.

Ensemble casts can be great, but when they are so big, it can become hard to give everyone the requisite attention they deserve. Such is a little of the problem here. Most cover the swath of genre characters, but that doesn’t mean that the performances aren’t what is expected from the talent assembled. The true standout would probably have to be Anthony Mackie, who easily has the most complex character and as a result, gets the opportunity to flex some acting muscle. It’s fun to see Chiwetel Ejiofor play a baddie, as he’s shown in Four Brothers and Serenity that he’s capable, and he has some dark moments here.

Casey Affleck is a sound protagonist, and does his job, but to say he’s asked to do a ton is misleading. In an otherwise serious movie, Woody Harrelson occasionally brings a little bit of lightness to a grim affair, though he can feel a little caricature at times. What is it about crime movies that require an European character to be the big bad henchman? That role falls to Kate Winslet, who doesn’t have a ton of screentime, but is as cold as they come. Speaking of limited screentime, Gal Gadot and Teresa Palmer play the same nondescript role as lovers of the lead characters, just on opposite teams, and Norman Reedus at least looks cool in his minor role. Wrapping the all-star cast up is Aaron Paul, who is rather sympathetic but very “Jesse-ish”, and Clifton Collins, Jr., a chameleon who works in about any role.

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Triple 9 is a B movie with an superb cast, which can be a little disappointing with all the talent brought on and the clear directorial skill of Hillcoat. But something so tense, well acted, and produced still should be enough for anyone who is a diehard fan of the genre.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to euronews.com, filmonic.com, and fastcocreate.com.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Movie Man Jackson

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“This isn’t freedom. This is fear.”

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, and perhaps no movie (at least in recent memory) better reflects this famous quote more than Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel’s new Phase II installment reintroduces us to Steve Rogers, Captain America himself. It has been a few years since the New York incident, and Steve is now living in Washington D.C. and working with the S.H.I.E.L.D. While still defending America from dastardly threats, it is quite clear to everyone and Rogers himself that this is not the same America he fought for in World War II. As a result, his acclimation to this new age America is rocky.

Unbeknownst to Steve and S.H.I.E.L.D figurehead Nick Fury, there is an organization-shattering situation incoming from within. Missions become compromised, and people cannot be trusted. What is worse is the mysterious appearance of an assassin known only as The Winter Soldier, who seemingly exists for one objective: To end Captain America. Nothing makes sense, but Captain America and friends must connect the dots before America in any form is eradicated.

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If you read the previous thoughts of the Captain’s first installment, you will find that I thought it was overall solid, but lacking in places. Complete 180 for this sequel incoming in 3, 2, 1. Captain America: The Winter Solider may be Marvel’s best standalone film, and one of the better superhero films ever. Caution when I say standalone. While it can still be enjoyed without any prior exposure to The First Avenger, that film almost certainty needs to be seen before this one. There are enough callbacks and direct references to the first, and while The Winter Soldier does a respectable job in getting those uninitiated with the first in these “flashbacks,” more connection to the characters and situations will be had if the previous film was viewed.

As far as Marvel movies go, the story here ranks as one of the best. Only slight is that it occasionally feels convoluted, but I believe that is more a reflection on me that would be remedied with another watch. The short synopsis was intentional as to not give away too much. Elements of deception, espionage, terrorism, and many others are present here. And yet, it never feels like it is stretching itself too thin, or collapsing under the weight of everything. And the tension! Truth be told, there were times where I doubted how Cap and his crew would get out of things. Surprisingly tight script that dare I say feels relevant to issues today in our world. This gives off a somewhat darker and realistic tinge than many Marvel movies, but it is so meticulously well crafted that it worked wonderfully and did not feel odd. Even with the darker tone, the film has good, unforced humor. Not outright laugh out loud pure comedy funny, but genuine laughs that do not feel forced. In a nutshell, this did what Iron Man 3 attempted to do with humor and tone, but miles better and without the inconsistency.

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Chris Evans is Captain America. I was a probably a little hard on him in the first movie, but he is so comfortable in the role now. He of course looks the part but should also get more acclaim for his portrayal. The Cap is not a tour-de-force role as most comic book heroes are not, but I do think it invokes more emotion than the other titular characters, and Evans nails it. Steve Rogers is an stranger in the strange USA land served in this story, and Evans sells us on his character’s uneasiness and overall naivete in this “new” setting. Consequently, we connect with his internal strife. He and the Black Widow Scarlett Johansson possess great chemistry as well, as much of this does require them working as a duo.

The addition of Anthony Mackie as Falcon is a wise one that gives Marvel another character to possibly branch off with in the future. He holds his own with the aforementioned two and gets enough time to shine. Additionally, he provides a good chunk of the humor but not in an over the top sense, but rather a deadpan-ish way. Samuel L Jackson gets more to do here, and delivers. Lastly, Robert Redford has been doing this acting thing for a while, and is pretty good at it (understatement) to say the least. The only small but true issue this reviewer had was the inclusion of The Winter Soldier. He is a menacing character…when on screen. For a movie that features the character in the title, it feels a little unwarranted when I sat down to think about it. Not a reflection on the actor though, just the execution, and again a small issue.

The editing and direction deserves praise in bunches. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo were committed to a minimal reliance on CGI, and it is prevalent. The action scenes and fights namely feel more in your face than anything else Marvel has done, which aids in the hyper-realistic feel of the movie once again. Everything just feels fluid and tight. The score to this needs to get the appreciation it deserves. So many standout music tracks that support The Winter Soldier in scale and overall feel.

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Not often that sequels do it better than their original counterparts, but here that is exactly what has occurred. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not only a great sequel, or a great standalone Marvel film, it is just a great movie, period. Others may find issues that were not present in this review but by and large I truly feel that the flaws are minuscule and to some even nonexistent. We go to movies especially during blockbuster season to be entertained first and foremost, and entertain it did. Who needs the Avengers to assemble when Captain America can do it himself?

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to chicagonow.com, comicvine.com, and geekreview.com

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