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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Kong: Skull Island: Movie Man Jackson

The king stay the king. In 1973, the Vietnam War is winding down, and the United States is beginning to pull all of its assets out of it. While this is going on, a small government organization known as Monarch makes a pitch to its higher ups about exploring an uncharted territory known as Skull Island. Monarch’s leaders William Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have their reasons for wanting to go, but all they’ll say is that this is for geological purposes.

Going to a place no one has traversed before means Monarch is going to need an expedition squad. Led by former British military operative James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and Army Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his unit, Monarch is able to make their way unto the island and conduct research. Immediately, King Kong himself appears, defending his home from these intruders. Little do these people know, Kong is actually protecting them, for what lies on the island is just as dangerous—if not more so—than Kong is.

 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or in Hollywood’s case, hoping to make money. Having a shared universe is all the rage now, starting with Marvel’s first stab at it almost a decade ago and now Warner Bros’ attempts with the DC Extended Universe and a “MonsterVerse.” Why a universe needs to exist for what only looks like two main characters in King Kong and Godzilla, I’ll never know, but we have it. Kong: Skull Island is here, and…it’s a passable, relatively entertaining, blockbuster.

Even though the two share a genre and now a universe, in many ways, Skull Island is the inverse of the Godzilla we saw in 2014. That monster movie was so methodical in its approach, it almost wasn’t a monster movie, and it chose to hide its star well into the runtime, which divided some people. For those looking for mayhem immediately, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers on that front quickly.

Kong smashes. Kong pounds his chest. Kong causes massive collateral damage. Simply put, Kong does what one expects him to do, and he does it well, he’s rendered well, and it looks well. The fictional island serves as a good playground to showcase Kong, despite its lack of verticality. Not all of it looks stunning; some of the monsters Kong does battle with look a tad cheap, and a massive set piece hazed in green fog gets a little wonky, but as a whole, Kong: Skull Island features solid cinematography.

The script, penned by Nightcrawler writer Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly, is another story. No, it’s not deplorable, but it’s hard to tell if they wanted the story to be more than it is. Which isn’t much. On one side of the prism, Kong: Skull Island aims low, simply providing a vehicle in which a 30-something foot tall behemoth can wreck things, people, and other large creatures, with some mostly poor attempts at humor thrown in for good measure. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are moments where it feels like this movie is aspiring to be in the vein of Apocalypse Now, Platoon, etc., and it doesn’t possess those movies’ narrative/character impact.

Many of the characters that land on Skull Island are rather bland, which is surprising for a cast that features such big names in Hiddleston, Goodman, and Larson, along with up and comer Corey Hawkins. Not to mention other fairly notable names such as John Ortiz, Toby Kebbel, and Shea Whigham who end up being fodder or take space. Three characters that stand out a little are Samuel L. Jackson (refreshingly not in complete SLJ mode until arguably the end), John C. Reilly (great backstory), and Jason Mitchell, mostly due to his charisma. Unfortunately, the glut of characters featured gives Skull Island a feeling of overstuffedness. Just five or six less could have given more attention to the ones that mattered.

As it stands though, Kong: Skull Island does its part in laying a nice base foundation for The Eighth Wonder of the World, placing him on a collision course with The King of the Monsters.

C+

Photo credits go to birthmoviesdeath.com, toofab.com, and movieweb.com

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Keanu: Movie Man Jackson

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Keanu is a F-B-I agent!  Okay, not quite. Keanu is a kitty cat who has wandered the streets of Los Angeles before making his way on the doorstep of Rell (Jordan Peele), a stoner who is going nowhere. Right on cue, all of the frustration and sadness in Rell’s life is taken away after one look at the irresistible feline.

However, after one night hanging with his cousin, uptight and semi-pushover Clarence (Keegan Michael Key), Rell comes back to a broken-in apartment with no sight of Keanu. Their only lead leads them to hardened gang-leader Cheddar (Method Man), who has possession of Rell’s baby, and is willing to give it back. But, only if the duo, mistaken as two legendary hitmen, is willing to carry out some jobs to further Cheddar’s criminal empire.

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Since the conclusion of Chappelle’s Show, the world (and by world, I really mean Comedy Central) has looked for that one comedy sketch series that could match Dave Chappelle’s apex reach on popular culture and national relevance. And to be honest, the station has failed with attempts like Kroll Show, Mind of Mencia, and even Inside Amy Schumer, even though Schumer is one of today’s “It” girls. The long and short of it is that the popularity of Chappelle’s Show will likely never be replicated. But, out of all shows to follow Dave’s, Key and Peele seemed to be the “closest” to it as it pertains to cultural relevance and popularity. With their show now ended, it’s only fitting that the talented duo make a movie in Keanu, their first full-length feature together.

Most fans (I’m one of them) of the style that Michael Peele and Keegan Michael Key put out should be right at home in this movie. Hell, director Peter Atentio has even directed multiple sketches from the show, and the beginning looks exactly like the beginning of one of their bits. With that said, fans may be a little disappointed when it is all said and done. The story is very much of the fish out of the water variety, with a little bit of a John Wick element thrown in for good measure.

It isn’t completely stretched, and seeing everyone put everything on the line for this adorable kitten is amusing, but it is drawn out very thin in places.  It does get better as it goes on, however, after a lukewarm start. Perhaps a few easter eggs that reference a few of their notable sketches could have been implemented, and anyone who remembers Strike Force Eagle 3 will see a massive opportunity to use a call back there in the climax. I know, doing that may be derided as lazy; I suppose it is just impossible to not see moments where they could have been used. One has to believe that the two have much stronger material to delve into down the line. Maybe this is the case of leaving your audience wanting more?

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Aside from artist George Michael being present in the way that other artists/icons of yesteryear are used for neverending jokes in R rated comedies, (seemingly starting with Ted), just about all of the laughs come courtesy of Key & Peele. Whether they are moonlighting as hardcore gangsters with a healthy love of the N word, or suburbanites who have no place in the criminal underworld, they are consistently funny, Once the script allows them to toggle back and forth between what they are and aren’t, the hilarity comes more frequently. Their comedic chemistry is second to none, and they deliver the humor in multiple ways, which isn’t always easy.

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Compared to many of their short sketches, the 98 minute runtime of Keanu lacks the potency and flat out hilarity. Still, there’s more than enough here that shows that Key & Peele are comedy cats that are going to be around for as long as they want to on the silver screen.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to collider.com, esquire.com, and rollingstone.com.

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Straight Outta Compton: Movie Man Jackson

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“We NWA. They Ruthless.”

This is the auto biography of the E…and Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella. Straight Outta Compton, California rises a few young individuals: Dope dealer Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), lyrical master O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), up-and-coming producer Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins), rapper Lorezo “MC Ren” Patterson (Aldis Hodge), and disc jockey Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby (Neil Brown. Jr.).

Together, they make it out of the rough environment by forming a rap supergroup known as N***az Wit Attitudes, or N.W.A for short. Quickly, the unit finds massive financial success and popularity in addition to national controversy as a result of their reality rap lyrics. Success breeds success, but it also breeds contempt. Not just from the outside, but within the group itself.

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Ask any hip-hop/rap aficionado about some of the most important acts in the musical genre’s history and there’s basically no doubt that N.W.A will come up. Loved or hated, whether one likes rap or not, the group was important and did much to spearhead the genre. Why shouldn’t they have their story told in the form of Straight Outta Compton? 

Straight Outta Compton is an entertaining look at the explosive N.W.A. supergroup, from its members’ origins to their triumphs to their failures and aftermath. Only hearing the story before through books and tidbits, it is intriguing to peek into what largely went down behind the scenes, which, to yours truly, is more compelling than the national controversy everyone knows about. With that said, the story is told with the massive influence of executive producers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.

Clocking in at almost three hours, the pair have managed to pack in a lot of content. Not all of it is needed (more than a few indulgent parties), and that which doesn’t make its way in the runtime was. A lot worse could have been done in how they painted themselves, but still, there are moments that indicate an idea of the duo maybe believing that they (N.W.A) were more important than they actually were in the grand scheme of things. Other moments, like the beef between Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, are barely touched upon. No Real Muthaph***in G’s? Fans who came to only see MC Ren or DJ Yella are going to be disappointed. They are very much the background personnel to the three-man troika that is Eazy, Dre, and Cube.

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Regardless, there is real energy in the story, told traditionally, with no narrators or any weird timeline-hopping. The length is felt in the last act, however, with the heavy drama and mending of fences, some works and some doesn’t. If anyone is coming for the music, it will be a shock if they leave disappointed. Anytime when the group is dressed to the nines in black gear performing, it is something special. All of their musical staples exist here and are mixed wonderfully during the concert scenes, with only one odd flub occurring when the performer Eazy-E is clearly shown to be lip syncing. Otherwise, the production and editing is masterful.

The biggest surprise of Straight Outta Compton is easily the acting. Only Paul Giamatti as the divisive manager Jerry Heller is an established force in Hollywood. Everyone else is a relative unknown, which works well and makes it easier to see only the character that actor is portraying. The casting department, and to an extent the costume department, deserves a lot of credit for selecting and outfitting the performers to look like pretty much carbon copies of the famous figures, from the stars to the brief one-offs. Of course, that only goes so far, and thankfully most resembling these famous figures have the goods.

Jason Mitchell’s Eazy-E gets the most to do from a character evolution standpoint, and he even steals a scene or two from Giamatti at the end. As Dr. Dre, Corey Hawkins is the more reserved and even-keeled of the trio which sometimes doesn’t make him stand out like the other two, but he is good. Rapper O’Shea Jackson, Jr. plays his own father in this, and in his first acting role he never looks overwhelmed. Like the elder Ice Cube who has many notable mannerisms and a distinct voice, the son draws on all of the experience of being around the father his whole life, even appearing to use his own voice in many of the musical performance scenes. If not, he is very convincing in how it looks and sounds.

Collectively, they and the other guys playing MC Ren and DJ Yella have a nice dynamic and really click, solidifying the group aspect. There’s humor, tension, uncertainty, and more that plays out among the members. The weakest performances come from other side characters who end up coming off as more caricature than an actual person.

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Word to the mother. Straight Outta Compton does sweep stuff up under the rug, like a lot of biopics do. As runtime goes on, it isn’t as unflinching as the lyrics featured in many of the group’s songs. But what is told of the story of “The World’s Most Dangerous Group” should be entertaining for N.W.A superfans, and potentially even more so for newbies.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to nydailynews.com, Associated Press, and dailymail.co.uk.

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