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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Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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star_wars_posterSTAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
(USA 2015) Top 10 *****
Directed by J.J. Abrams

Review by Gilbert Seah

The film world has finally gone crazy. Disney and Lucasfilm has enforced a world embargo on film reviews at 3.01 (yes, to the very second) on Wednesday December 16th. The film premiered Monday evening in Hollywood and for press, which includes this fortunate reviewer, Tuesday morning. No one had any idea of the venues for Monday’s screenings (3 separate theatres) till the last minute. Sales on Amazon of the old STAR WARS films rocketed 400%. Pre-sales of tickets have not seen numbers like this since the beginning of time, in a galaxy far, far away!

The hype on TV and anticipation have been great. The studios made press hush up on spoilers. And after seeing the film, one will respect those wishes. But there are a lot of surprises and twists in the plot, none that make little sense, and revealing them will would definitely spoil the film’s entertainment value.

The story is short and that does not mean much as the film is more character and action driven. It is set approximately 30 years after the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI where the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire have become the Resistance and the First Order, respectively, and follows new heroes Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) alongside characters returning from previous Star Wars film. Rey, a scavenger finds a droid who holds a map that has the key to finding Luke Skywalker. The dark side wishes to bring down the resistance and thus goes all out to capture the droid and thus the map. Lots of exciting battles result culminating with a climatic sabre to sabre combat between the heroes and villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

The film succeeds in all departments from acting, to the grand music, scored again by maestro John Williams to the costumes, creature and robot designs to sets, spectacle and cinematography. Iceland and Abu Dhabi, where the film was shot add to the grandeur from the desert to the icy mountain landscapes. Rey’s outfit is perfectly designed, a greyish fabric that flows so that she looks elegant while fighting or tracking in the desert. The sets of the dark force, in red and black, looks (humorously) like something taken of of a North Korean dictatorship rally.

Director Abrams, best known for the STAR TREK reboot takes over the reins from George Lucas, who admitted the series needed new blood. Abrams is smart enoguh to put in lots of new blood in the form of new characters like Rey the main female protagonist, Finn an ex-trooper who moves to the good side because it is the right thing to do and Poe while not forgetting the importance of legends like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) and of course, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). New ‘robots’ like the droid also meet old time favourites R2D2 and C3PO. Abrams knows how to work the audience. When Princess Leia and Hans Solo reunite and hug, the scene will bring tears to the audience’s eyes. And there are no embarrassing kissing scenes but lots of hugs that get the same message across.

If one wants spectacle there are lots of it. The blowing up of a star fighter that eventually sinks in quicksand, the flight/fight segment between the freighter commandeered by Rey and Finn and the star fighters and the shootouts are just a few examples. And it is one well-orchestrated action segment after another. Abrams knows how to pull back his camera to show the full action spectacle while also engaging in the closeups of the characters’ faces. Lots of smart dialogue as well, with too many quotable lines to include in this review.

The hype and wait are worth it. Abrams’ film is as amazing as you will hear. And it is definitely the best action film of the year, best to be seen in 3D and IMAX.

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Great way to get your story out: http://www.wildsound.ca/logline.html

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival:www.wildsound.ca

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