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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The Revenant: Movie Man Jackson

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Who needs winter weather when you have The Revenant? In 1823, the wilderness is very much an uncharted place, harsh and unforgiving. Explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and fellow hunting party members John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) are on an expedition for fur. After being attacked by some vengeful Native Americans, the expedition turns to one of pure survival.

If that weren’t enough, Glass is absolutely mauled by a wilderbeast known as a grizzly bear, and left to perish out in the cold by his group. Down, but not out, he sets out to brave the relentless elements and find vengeance on those responsible for their selfishness.

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Directed by Birdman auteur Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant is the magnificent result of a director, in addition to the entire cast, pushing his limits as to what can be shown—and how it can be shown—on film. When people talk about filmmaking being dead, this would be a film to counter that argument. What Iñárritu, along with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, have done here is capture some of the best cinematography in cinema history. This is an amazing production.

There are few better than Iñárritu at this point in time. He, not DiCaprio, is the star of the movie. The way he sets up a shot, holds it, and keeps it moving is the stuff of legend, aided by the decision to shoot with natural lighting. Surely this had to be difficult for everyone involved, but it pays off with everything competing together in an extremely visceral way. Many times, yours truly wondered just how he was able to get a specific shot, or who he had to sell his soul to in order to pull off such amazing wizardry. He even has nice little visual touches such as staining the lens with blood for specific encounters that break the barrier between camera and subject. It all equates to an brutally unflinching view.

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I understand Tom over at Digital Shortbread is unwilling to jinx Mr. DiCaprio, but I’ll take the blame if his name isn’t called after “And the Oscar goes to…” in the Best Actor award. In a semi-weak field (compared to the Best Supporting Actor category), Leo is by far and away the favorite in the clubhouse. Those who maintain that his recent roles like Gatsby, Belfort, and Cobb aren’t all that stretching can’t use that argument this go-round. His commitment to the Glass character is something that has to be seen, because it feels so real. He’s just as convincing in another language as he is in English. The audience feels every fall, attack, and step taken by Hugh on his arduous journey.

It’s fair to say that Hardy wasn’t the star in Mad Max: Fury Road compared to Charlize Theron, despite playing the titular character. It’s wrong to say that he is the acting star here, because he isn’t. However, he does come close to stealing DiCaprio’s thunder at certain times. Hardy’s role is clear, and his character does everything in his power to make life miserable for Hugh in one fell swoop. Talk about a guy getting under your skin and that character is Hardy’s Fitzgerald. It’s hard to definitively see a nomination only because that field is so tightly packed, but he’d be deserving of one. Work turned in by Domhall Gleeson (a part of many great films in 2015!) and Will Poulter is not to be forgotten, either.

Earlier in this piece, it was written that The Revenant is an amazing production. Those words were chosen carefully. This is a great movie inspired by real events, but on the story front, I did expect to be blown away. Unfortunately, the script is a little bit of a letdown. Seeing Glass’ refusal to give up is riveting, but seeing predicament after predicament that has to be overcome can get a little old, akin to Southpaw. The survival aspect works tremendously. It’s just that at times, thematically, it appears to be going for more profoundness which hampers the storytelling. Minor flaw, as eventually, one realizes that The Revenant isn’t telling a story. The film itself is the story.

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What is the title of a film that has a reported $135 million budget, and still feels like a independent passion project? That would be The Revenant, a revelation for anyone who appreciates push-it-to-the-absolute-limit filmmaking and acting.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to aceshowbiz.com, and giphy.com.

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The Maze Runner: Movie Man Jackson

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“Who knows where this might lead us.”

Most people who wake up with absolutely no memory of anything wake up anywhere but an all-boys community. Yet, that is what happens to Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), in The Maze Runner. He is the latest boy to be dropped into this mysterious place called The Glade, a place where these boys have learned to make their own society and fill specific roles for the betterment of it.

Like Thomas, all have been dropped into this world in the exact same manner, but so many years have passed by and this place is accepted as home. The secret to escape could lie in the form of a monolithic maze, to which little is known as to what exist when in those walls. Societal “runners” are the only people to truly know, but none have survived to tell others about what is in there. If Thomas wants to get out, becoming a runner is a good place to start.

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Praise goes to director Wes Ball for at least bringing some freshness to the young adult movie genre in The Maze Runner, taken of course from the novel with the same name. It is a movie where, taken as a whole, is probably better than even the most harshest of YA movie genre haters would have believed. Even with the problems, which manifest more as the runtime goes on.

Right from the jump, a short but attention-grabbing opening puts one right into the film’s world. Just like Thomas who is trying to piece together what exactly is going on, we too as the audience are doing the same. Everything is shrouded in mystery, with enough but not too much information given that does push along the story. The first 30 -45 minutes exist and deliver as a very hooking, Lord-of-the-Flies-ish setup.

It can be compared to The Hunger Games, sure, but without the battle royal aspect and an even darker (both literally and figuratively) tone. This extends itself to the action, or more like the running sequences. Though most are cloaked in darkness, they are shot well enough. If only what the characters go up against were cloaked in darkness for the whole film. They are the types of things that sound scarier when not shown in full, but look dumb when fully revealed.

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Unfortunately, it is around the middle point of The Maze Runner where the mystery starts to become less intriguing, if only because a sizable chunk of it can be put together. That isn’t to say every detail in the mystery can be nailed, however. It is just that the general mystery as to why they are down in this situation can be nailed. Even with this mild predictability, the movie still carries intrigue, but the reveal found at the end damn near tears all of the positives of the initial start of the story down. It doesn’t help that everything is so serious, despite the movie not really bringing anything thematically to the table.

With yours truly’s thoughts on TMR coming much later than the actual release of the movie, I have heard of the ending being less than satisfactory, and it absolutely is. When the exposition begins, each line only serves to complicate matters, while setting up a sequel, and throwing in a farfetched character appearance that makes no sense whatsoever when only 10 minutes ago matters were bleak for the respective character. Perhaps the ending makes more sense in the book, but it doesn’t translate to the movie.

Thankfully, the bad ending does not mar the generally good acting turned in by the cast. Nothing is really found out about their characters to flesh them out, but their actual thespian work is better than what is often found in the genre. Dylan O’Brien initially looks like the general handsome guy that all of these films seem to have, but he gets chances to prove he isn’t just a handsome face as Thomas. His opposition is Will Poulter, who is the strongest performance-wise in the movie as “Gally,” representing a young man trying to keep order in the wake of the curiosity and change Thomas brings in.

Some of the others, while sort of interchangeable, are fine, with a kid by the name of Blake Cooper sticking out (for good) because he is so different aesthetically from the rest and has a real emotional core that other characters do not have. The only real weak link is Kaya Scodelario, who comes in midway and doesn’t add anything to the plot except being lifeless with a fading American (?) accent.

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With a strong start and a surprisingly good cast, The Maze Runner is a more entertaining watch than most it shares similarities with. The aforementioned problems prevent it from being a very good film instead of one that is just good for its genre, but the fact that it isn’t Twilight or Vampire Academy is a plus.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to bloody-disgusting.com, hypable.com, and slashfilm.com.

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