Film Review: DETROIT (USA 2017) ****

detroit.jpgAmidst the chaos of the Detroit Rebellion, with the city under curfew and as the Michigan National Guard patrolled the streets, three young African American men were murdered at the Algiers Motel.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Stars: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith

Kathryn Bigelow also known as that rare female action director has never failed to impress. Her breakout movie NEAR DARK was a genre bending vampire western only because she could not get funds to make a western which was the reason vampires were brought in. She beat her ex-husband James Cameron for the Oscar for Best Picture THE HURT LOCKER over AVATAR and many of her box-office flops (BLUE STEEL, STRANGE DAYS) have been hailed as minor classics. Now, audiences will see Bigelow, a white female make an angry pro- black riot movie.

DETROIT is a period police crime drama based on the Algiers Motel incident during Detroit’s 1967 12th Street Riot. The film was released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the event. The film begins with a brief history of riots as depicted by drawings before settling on the raiding of an after hours booze can, where the Blacks were arrested and hustled into police vans in the open. Director Bigelow convinces that these angry incidents are sufficient to incite the riots that lasted quite the few days including the incident at the Algiers Motel.

The film benefits from very strong performances, the best of these from 24-year old white British actor Will Poulter. Poulter who has proven his acting mettle in films like SON OF RAMBOW, THE REVENANT and THE MAZE RUNNER is outstanding as the racist angry cop that is guaranteed to anger audiences. John Boyega as the security guard is equally effective and Anthony Mackie is convincing as the soldier caught in the crossfire.

The end credits are quick to inform that the incidents depicted in the film are concocted and are of course, not fully true. But what an angry story writer Mark Boal has given his audiences. And masterfully executed by Bigelow, as if an African American directed the entire project.

Though good a movie as DETROIT is, some African Americans will complain that this film was made by a white or that the two lead actors John Boyega and Will Poulter are British. The same went with the straight rendering of the gay story PHILADELPHIA with a straight director and straight actors. Audiences should be just glad that these stories that need be told are told, no matter who tells them. But Smith’s character of Larry who refuses to sing in his group, believing that he should provide music for white folk to dance is not totally convincing. One flaw that does stand out is the cardboard (both black and white characters), either all bad or all good.

Still , Bigelow achieves her aim in creating one angry and absorbing movie, out of incidents based on true events. She must be commended for eliciting great performances from all her cast including the relative unknowns (particularly the two white girls beaten up at the Motel) s well as the effective creation of the60’s era complete with music by James Newton Howard.

DETROIT is the third successful collaboration between Bigelow and Mark Boal who also wrote and produced the film, after THE HURT LOCKER and ZERO DARK THIRTY. More to come from these two, hopefully.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVCk0YVm3ao

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Happy Birthday: Anthony Mackie

anthonymackieAnthony Mackie

Born: September 23, 1978 in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

“I was flabbergasted. Everybody knows when you’ve got a role in a Spike Lee movie, you’re gonna blow up. But I happen to be the only person who’s had the lead in the two Spike Lee movies nobody saw. It was a humbling experience, but Spike taught me more about how to fall on my face in this business than anybody else.” (on the attention he didn’t garner after being in Sucker Free City (2004) and She Hate Me (2004))

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Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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captain_america_civil_warCAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Bruhl, Frank Grillo

Reveiw by Gilbert Seah

Judging from the box-office successful but critically panned BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, audiences love to see their super heroes battle one another – never mind the reason, never mind who wins, and never mind anything else. In this latest Marvel superhero movie, there are lots more of the same. It is a dream come true for current action fans as there is a full 15 minute action fight scene during which two factions of super heroes battle it out with each other.

The film begins with establishing the reason for the formation of the two factions. It is a world disaster in which innocent people are killed in Nigeria following a criminal being pursued by the Avengers. As a result of the collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps, one led by Steve Rogers aka Captain America (the handsome hunk Luke Evans) and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s Ironman (played by Robert Downey Jr.) surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.

This is an AVENGERS film despite the Captain America title. Other Marvel heroes on display here include Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Winter Soldier of the film title (Sebastian Stan), Falcon from the IRONMAN films (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye with his arrows (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany), Spider-man (Tom Holland) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) the latter two providing most of the humour in the film. But the script by a multiple of writers includes many one-liners that only Marvel fans will find funny, or whoever is in the mood. But the one-liners are quite mediocre and no match compared to those found in other action films like the DIE HARD or TERMINATOR films.

So there is one faction led by Ironman with Spidey, Faclon and Spider and the other by Captain America, Winter soldier and Hawkeye. There is an extended fight scene between the two leaders as well but no one really comes out the outright victor. The heroes use their powers like Spidey his web, America his shield and Hawkeye his arrows.

The film running at almost two and a half hours is surprisingly short on both story and character development. The script contains lots of repetitions on the need to control the Avengers i.e. to substantiate the rivalry between the two groups. All this tends to be a tad boring after a while, not to mention that the matter is never resolved at the end and the film set up for a sequel.

Not much is demanded in the acting department for an action film of this nature except for the actors to look good. And they all look very bulked up or pretty as the case may be. This reviewer never liked Robert Downey Jr. as an actor (in Sherlock Holmes, IRONMAN and other films) or in person for his wise-cracking smart-ass attitude. So, the best line in the film delivered by Black Widow to him: “Are you incapable of letting go of your ego for one Goddamned second?” gave me a big smile.

CAPTAIN AMERICA is a film that would delight action Marvel fans, but those serious in their taste of cinema – might want to take all this with a pinch (or rather, heap) of salt.

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Movie Review: TRIPLE 9 (2016) ****

triple_9.jpgTRIPLE 9 (USA/UK 2015) ****
Directed by John Hillocoat

Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Gal Godot, Kate Winset, Aaron Paul, Teresa Palmer, Michael Kenneth Williams

Review by Gilbert Seah

No stranger to violent films, director John Hillcoat’s (LAWLESS, THE ROAD and his best film THE PROPOSITION) latest entry into gangster genre proves himself apt at serious comic book sensibility. TRIPLE 9, the code for ‘officer down’, plays like a ‘real’ serious adult comic book version of DEADPOOL.

It takes a while for the film to settle on its bearings. The script by first time writer, Matt Cook is clever enough not to reveal all the plot points, but keeps the audience always one step behind what is happening. An example is the bank heist. Who are the robbers working for? What is their aim? One point is a bank officer removing a safety deposit box from the vault. As far as I now, it requires two keys, one from the officer and the other from the customer to open a box. It is a good tactic. For example, the audience is aware that one officer is going down, but never sure which one or for what reason. The characters are also individually distinct and eccentric all aided by superlative performances from a eclectic cast.

The key performance comes from Casey Effleck (brother of Ben) who has proven his acting mettle in previous films like THE TOWN. His character is the only uncorrupt one, and the key one that puts the whole story into prospective. The good must always prevail. The script contains a few too many close calls for his character. As for the ambiguous baddies, there are too many too count. Interesting enough, many do good for the wrong reasons. The true baddie appears to be the Russian moll, Irina played by Kate Winslet , complete with Russian accent and is barely recognizable in her makeup.. She is also doing bad for a good reason, to aid her crooked husband escape.

Hillcoat keeps the action and fury fast and furious and nonstop. Be prepared to be glued to your seats! The film alternates between highly charged action and drama sequences. For the action segments, the bank heist at the film’s start is hard to beat. The robbers show no mercy and show they mean business. They do not shout warnings. They fire and beat up the victims, and talk later. All this makes the heist even more gripping. Hillcoat also realizes that the devil is in the details. On the highway, a robber points his rifle at a car, only to have it rammed from behind and the robber moving backwards to avoid being hit. The camerawork is excellent, the best example being the one where the camera pulls back during a car chase showing where each in on the maze of highways in the city.

Hillcoat does not skimp on the violence as evident by showing a bag of bloodied teeth at another point in the film. The characters are always angry, screaming at each other but not without reason. Every character is desperate. Every character is ready to kill.

Stay for the end credits. The 1980’s song ‘Pigs” (called so for obvious reasons) by Cypress Hill is inventive, catchy, hilarious and totally appropriate. The song can also be played on YouTube.