[Early Review] Detroit (2017)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie

Screenplay: Mark Boal

143 mins. Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language.

 

Folks, I just saw Detroit the other night, and I have to talk about it.

Detroit is the newest film from acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) and her frequent screenwriter Mark Boal. It offers snapshots into the Detroit Riots of 1967, specifically the events that took place at the Algiers Motel over the course of a very dangerous and bloody evening. Security Guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Circle) simply attempts to offer coffee to his fellow armed forces, but he is quickly forced into a situation where he does not know the right call to make, or if he is even able to make it. Racially-charged officer Philip Krauss (The Revenant, War Machine) finds himself taking multiple people hostage at the Algiers Motel, including singer Larry Reed (Algee Smith, Earth to Echo, Let It Shine), whose night quickly turns from dream to nightmare.

While the events of the Detroit riots are known to this writer, I wasn’t particularly aware of the Algiers Motel incident until just recently, and Kathryn Bigelow expertly handles the story in a respectful but unforgiving manner. This is not an easy movie to watch, but I found myself unable to look away when I was exposed to the atrocities committed. At the screening I attended, an elderly African American woman frequently sobbed during the disturbing altercations between the white cops and their hostages.

John Boyega’s turn as Dismukes is amazing, and the way his character handles the situation with careful attention is shocking and difficult to witness. His scenes with Poulter are definitely powerful, as Poulter steals the screen with every scene. But it is Algee Smith, who plays Larry, who has the most compelling story of the film. The heartbreaking and nuanced performance Smith gives is unforgettable and should garner him some attention come award season.

I cannot say anything bad about the performances in this movie, and I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t recognize the great work from Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island), John Krasinski (TV’s The Office, 13 Hours), and Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War, All the Way) in supporting roles. The film is just that good. It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, even with the lengthy runtime.

The only true flaw in the film is the reliance on shaky-cam cinematography, something that Bigelow has notably used in her most recent films, and it does tend to distract at times here. Overall, this isn’t a film-killing amount of shaky, but it does detract.

Detroit is in many ways like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, also released this year, in that it chooses to take a major event and boil it down to the characters, the people, that lived it. This isn’t grandiose filmmaking but personal storytelling. Bigelow’s film shows heroes and villains on both sides of the racially poignant film. Detroit is indeed a film you need to see, but it isn’t one you will necessarily want to see again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2017oscardeathrace] Arrival (2016)

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma

Screenplay: Eric Heisserer

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Adapted Screenplay [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]

IMDb Top 250: #143 (as of 1/24/2017)

 

Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) is essentially on one hell of a streak as a director. He has, time and time again, come to the table with an excellent film, the latest being last year’s Arrival.

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Louise Banks (Amy Adams, Man of Steel, Nocturnal Animals) remembers exactly where she was when they arrived. Large ships at several strategic points around the globe have come to a stop, floating a few stories off the ground. Louise is asked by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker, Platoon, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) to come aboard a team tasked with establishing first contact with the extraterrestrials. She is brought to Montana and meets Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker, Captain America: Civil War), a theoretical physicist. As tensions arise from other groups stationed around the world, Louise and Ian must work quickly to ascertain why the beings have come to Earth while also avoiding putting the planet’s safety in further jeopardy.

It’s hard to talk too much about Arrival without coming across spoilers, but I’ll try my best. Simply put, Arrival is the best science fiction film of the year and one of the best of all time, but it’s also much more than that. Arrival is the story a mother. It’s the story of a relationship between a mother and her daughter. Yes, there are aliens, and yes, there’s a lot to breathe in, but thanks to Villeneuve’s masterful work behind the camera and Adams’ affecting and powerful work in front of it, Arrival stands as one of the more captivating experiences you are likely to see.

The visuals of the film are incredible, due in no small part to Director of Photography Bradford Young, a name many in the film community have come to love after this and other previous work. His upcoming work on the Han Solo Star Wars film have put many a fanboy at ease on the shaky project. Coupled with the excellent sound design for the film, Arrival’s merits come to much more than just acting but rather a true cinematic experience.

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I don’t want to spoil it for you, but Arrival is absolutely incredible from start to finish. If you missed this film in theaters, it is coming out on home video soon so do not hesitate this time. Arrival stands as a simple tale of love and family while also being a complex and weaving story that doesn’t dumb itself down for its audiences, trusting them to come to the incredible revelations it offers. The one flaw I had was that I came to the conclusion perhaps before I was supposed to, but it didn’t hamper my experience too much to come out breathless. See this film before it is ruined for you.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

All the Way (2016)

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Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, Frank Langella, Stephen Root

Screenplay: Robert Schenkkan

132 mins. Rated TV-14.

 

In the newest film from HBO, Bryan Cranston (TV’s Breaking Bad, Get a Job) takes his award-winning performance from the stage to the screen. But does the play become a movie? Let’s find out.

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All the Way, from director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Trumbo), covers the role that Lyndon B. Johnson (Cranston) played as President after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Events from Johnson’s work with Martin Luther King Jr (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Captain America: Civil War) are shown as well as Johnson’s bid for reelection during the following campaign.

All the Way has so many great performances. In fact, it’s what holds the entire film together. Led by the powerhouse work from Bryan Cranston and the incredible makeup work done to bring the President to life is stunning. He is nearly matched by Melissa Leo (TV’s Wayward Pines, The Fighter) as Lady Bird Johnson. I also liked Frank Langella (TV’s The Americans, Frost/Nixon) as Senator Richard Russell and Stephen Root (TV’s King of the Hill, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) as J. Edgar Hoover.

For flaws, All the Way suffers one of the most common issues of translating a play to the screen. It loses a lot of momentum as it moves. Jay Roach, an extremely capable director, struggles to keep the pacing up and moving throughout, and it shows near the final act of the film.

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Overall, All the Way is a perfect showcase for its cast (I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Bradley Whitford’s work as well), but it just can’t stand on its own legs as a true film. Not enough was done to properly adapt the work as Robert Schenkkan (TV’s The Andromeda Strain, The Quiet American) adapted his own work. Thankfully, the performances keep the film strong and evocative for most of the film. Still worthy of viewing? Most definite.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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Director: Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgard, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Joss Whedon

141 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive content.  

2012’s The Avengers was something of an anomaly. A film which combined several superhero franchises into one mega-franchise shared universe successfully…that doesn’t happen. But with writer/director Joss Whedon (TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Much Ado About Nothing) at the helm, it did. And it was good. Billion-dollars good. It jumpstarted Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and continued a winning franchise for years to come. Now, we see if the official sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, can continue that tradition.

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The Avengers have been looking for an end to the villains before they start. When billionaire genius Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., The Judge, Chef) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, Shutter Island, The Normal Heart) create Ultron (James Spader, TV’s Boston Legal, Lincoln), an artificially intelligent being created to be Earth’s mightiest defense system, but Ultron quickly realizes that the biggest threats to the world are humans and decides to do away with them. Now, the Avengers must assemble to defeat Ultron, who has allied himself with two very special twins: Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass, Godzilla) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, Martha May Marcy Marlene, Oldboy).

Avengers: Age of Ultron had a bunch of set-ups. The biggest flaw comes from realizing that it has very little payoff. The entire film felt like its function was to tie up the loose ends of Phase 2 and start unpacking the storylines to Phase 3. Was it entertaining? Mostly, yes. But was it good? I really don’t know. I liked a lot of this film but I was scratching my head at times wondering why certain events were kept in the film while so many other moments were kept out. The film has Whedon’s classic dialogue, and its characters are further fleshed out, but the film felt like too many puzzles pieces from too many different puzzles that just won’t fit together.

As far as performances go, the films newcomers are pretty great additions to the shared universe, specifically James Spader’s menacing Ultron and the Vision, played by Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Mortdecai) in a new role. The film also features a plethora of previously introduced characters back in the fray, like James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, TV’s House of Lies, Crash) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, Million Dollar Baby, Black or White). The returning Avengers cast have all grown closer and you can feel the comradery when needed. The Hulk and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Lucy) in particular have grown much closer since we last saw them together.

There are some particularly great sequences here, such as the moment when we are introduced to mind control due to Wanda’s abilities. We get a chance to dive into these characters’ psyches a bit further Joss Whedon even plays with our expectations that this film is going to be exactly like the previous film, opting to give more important screen time to Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker, Kill the Messenger). We also get our first look at Hulkbuster (named Project Veronica, as a play on Betty & Veronica, the Betty being Bruce’s previous love interest from The Incredible Hulk).

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Avengers: Age of Utron is the first Marvel film that absolutely cries out for an extended cut. There is just too much missing here, and its noticeable. There are numerous plot threads that don’t get the resolution they need. The film is explosively entertaining, but perhaps the most noticeably flawed Marvel film yet.  

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe  

So what did you think of Avengers: Age of Ultron? Did it assemble a perfect viewing experience or leave you wanting a different Vision of the superhero team? Let me know!  

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a powerhouse that needn’t even be tested right now. After DC/Warner Bros. release their own cinematic universe lineup to follow last year’s Man of Steel, Marvel Studios unleashed their Phase 3 plans involving more films from Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers, along with a bunch of new properties that will likely destroy most other contenders. With all this news, it is tough to focus on specific individual films, which is a shame, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the perfect Marvel movie, as it not only tells a compelling story that works as both a genre film and a superhero movie, and it also stands alone while fueling plot threads for multiple avenues for Marvel to take on in future productions.

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The Winter Soldier follows Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer, What’s Your Number?) as he continues to adjust to life in the present, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Lucy) under the tutelage of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, RoboCop). Meanwhile, a plot to attack S.H.I.E.L.D. from within is unveiled and the addition of new foe The Winter Soldier adds multiple new threats to Cap. Rogers is going to have to use new help from Sam Wilson aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Runner Runner) and fellow agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, TV’s How I Met Your Mother, The Lego Movie) to take down the Winter Soldier and save S.H.I.E.L.D.

This movie was awesome. It felt like a separate film much more attuned to 70s espionage and political thrillers than a superhero comic book adaptation. New to the Marvel Directors Club, Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree) saw the film through a unique lens and decided to forgo CG in favor of practical effects whenever possible (and it shows). The cinematography is engaging and the visual literally POP off the screen (even in 2D). The pacing is perfect. I never once found myself reaching for my phone.

We also get some incredible performances from new Marvel family members Frank Grillo (Warrior, The Purge: Anarchy), Anthony Mackie, and Emily VanCamp (TV’s Revenge, Carriers) as Brock Rumlow, Sam Wilson, and Kate, respectively.

I needed to take a moment to talk about Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All is Lost). He just knocks his role out of the park. He plays a very important character, Alexander Pierce, the man in the big office of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he just nails it. For a man without a ton of screentime, Redford makes this film official, and I loved every minute of it.

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In short, Captain America: The Winter Soldier would be a great movie even without all the superheroics. It would be a great mystery on that alone. Add in all the Marvel greats that make this franchise what it is and you have a recipe for not only a great installment (easily among the high points in this franchise) but a damn great time at the movies. Better get two tubs of popcorn, because this popcorn flick is something not to miss!

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Did you suit up or defect? Let me know!

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

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