Tag Archives: racism

Detroit – Review

9 Aug

In 1967, Detroit was shaken by the 12th Street Riots which lasted from July 23 to July 27. In just 4 days time 23 civilians were killed and 16 police and military members were also killed. The number of wounded on both sides go way into the hundreds. It was a very dark time in America’s past that was caused by racism, classism, and poverty and the tensions among the three being pushed to their very limits. In the middle of all this, an incident occurred at the Algiers Motel in which 3 people were killed under unknown circumstances. This is the focus of Kathryn Bigelow’s new film, Detroit, a shocking look at what has remained unseen for 50 years. While it’s true no one really knows what happened, it’s clear that Bigelow did a lot of research and investigating of her own, and Detroit will remain as one of the high points of film for 2017.

Amidst the 12th Street Riots in Detroit, multiple lives are affected while some are changed forever. Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is a private security guard and factory worker who is called to defend a small convenience store overnight, which is situated right beside a National Guard outpost. Larry Reed (Algee Smith), the lead singer of The Dramatics, and his friend Fred (Jacob Latimore) become separated from the rest of the group and end up at the Algiers Motel. It’s here that they meet Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) and try to hit it off. A prank involving a starter pistol attracts the attention of the National Guard where Melvin is and they all head over to the Algiers. It also attracts the attention Officer Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), a racist cop who believes he has complete authority over the streets of Detroit. At this convergence at the Algiers Motel, violence and hatred erupts which ends in the death of 3 people and a subsequent investigation that held the eyes of all in Detroit.

Detroit is a very intense movie that depict real life events, so it’s important that Kathryn Bigelow and the rest of her crew depict things in a very specific way. Luckily, Bigelow has shown herself to be just the person to portray very dramatic real world events with her other films The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. With Detroit, a sense of environment is very strong and it succeeds at putting the viewer right in the middle of things, regardless of how chaotic and disturbing something may be. There are times where this film is a marvel to look at and listen to. It feels so genuine and authentic at times that I actually felt like I was transported back to a certain time and place. Part of this has to do with the excellent cinematography. Handheld camera work is something that can be completely overdone nowadays, and it’s often used in movies where it’s unnecessary and is just something to be seen as “artsy.” It’s used perfectly in this film and it never feels out of place. There’s also a very heavy usage of close ups where character’s faces are held in full frame for a good amount of time. It’s a risky move for Bigelow and it requires her to also have found just the right actors for the parts.

The performances in this movie are so good it’s almost scary. In fact, in a couple cases it is scary. John Boyega isn’t in the movie as much as I thought he was going to be but he gives such a natural performance that feels completely unlike his role in Star Wars, which is a good thing since it’s practically impossible to compare these two movies in any way shape or form. Will Poulter, who plays Krauss, is a force to be reckoned with in this movie and it’s by far one of the best and most complex performances of the year. His character is a complete psycho, and the frightening thing is that he doesn’t see that he’s doing anything wrong. Poulter gives a performance that is as horrific as it gets. Finally, the breakout star of this movie is Algee Smith, who I’d say is more of the focal point of the ensemble cast. His IMDb only has in credited in some random things and a part in Earth to Echo, which I think MAYBE three people saw. He is outstanding in this movie and has a bright career ahead of him. Seriously, Hollywood, keep your eyes out for this guy.

Detroit also had pacing that I wasn’t expecting, but it’s really the best way the movie could have been done. When I saw that the run time was about two and a half hours, I was a little concerned that it would be overstuffed with useless plot elements that could have easily been removed to turn it into a two hour movie. I really had nothing to worry about, however. The first part of the movie sets the stage for the riots and the characters for a while. Once we get to the Algiers, however, we remain there for a very long time. The whole incident is shot in real time and during this whole event we hardly leave the premises of the motel. This goes on for a really long time, but it never feels boring or overlong. Finally, the third part is the aftermath which keeps the stress from the time at the Algiers raised high. I hate using this word, but the storytelling really was riveting and I couldn’t peel my eye away from the screen for more than a second.

This has been a pretty wild summer for movies. There has been so much great stuff that it’s hard to keep track of it all. Amidst all of the cinematic joy, Detroit stands tall as one of the best 2017 has to offer, and yes I realize how often I’ve been saying that. This is a powerful movie about a really dark and tense time in American history and Kathryn Bigelow has the hard task of dramatizing it. The performances and film making are all top notch in this movie and it has to be remembered come Oscar season.

Final Grade: A+

Get Out – Review

13 Mar

When Key & Peele first aired on Comedy Central, I didn’t think the show was going to go anywhere, but then I watched it and realized that the two stars had an incredible talent when it came to comedy and satire. I loved their movie, Keanu, and when I saw Jordan Peele was writing and directing a horror film based on racism I was immediately on board. I knew that it would be a blend of horror and sharp satire, and at times probably even be funny, and that’s exactly what I got. Get Out is a really smart, eerie, and subversive film that has many different ideas and perspectives while also telling a creepy, and sometimes even gleefully campy, horror story.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) are at the point in their relationship where it’s time for Chris to finally meet her parents. Normally, this would be a passably awkward experience, but Rose’s parents have no idea that Chris is black. Despite Rose telling Chris that her parents, while being typically eccentric, are nothing to really worry about. Upon their arrival to their suburban home, Chris is whole heartedly greeted by Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) Armitage. Over time, Chris starts to notice strange remarks concerning both him and the Armitage’s black housekeepers. Things only get stranger when Missy hypnotizes Chris during a late night conversation, a session which ignites a furious paranoia in Chris that causes him to investigate what is really going on in that house and the real horrors that lie beneath the surface.

There’s so much to say about Get Out that I don’t really know where to begin. When this movie was first previewed, there was a lot of backlash for it showing this overt racism directed at one particular race to another. The thing is that this movie is not as clean cut as that. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface that trailers can’t convey, and I’d be pretty upset if they did because the way this movie unfolds is riveting. While Peele does explore the overt racism towards African Americans, it doesn’t really stop there. The story also delves into the realm of paranoia and preconceived notions of both races that arise because of these problems. It also goes in a pretty cool direction where certain actions from people, while they claim they may be trying to help, are only making certain situations worse or changing nothing at all and coming off as condescending. While not giving anything away, the last third of the movie goes absolutely haywire and only makes things more complicated with certain unexpected twists that come out of nowhere… Twists that just so happen to be awesome.

While this is definitely a horror movie through and through, there’s a couple really cool things that kind of help Get Out step outside of the box and escape genre conventions. For one thing, this film can be super funny. Like gut busting funny, and a lot of that comes from the hilarious performance by Lil Rey Howery, who plays Chris’ best friend. We all knew that Jordan Peele was a really funny guy, but it’s impressive that he can so seamlessly weave his off the wall sense of humor into a genuinely unnerving horror tale. I mentioned that the third act just introduces a whole new layer in terms of thematic material, but it also really shakes things up when it comes to style and genre conventions. I’m not going to say anything about what happens, but any B-movie fan will appreciate the story taking a sudden turn into that kind of territory.

What would have been a major problem for this movie was if it was too obvious. If Peele whacked you over the head with the messages and points he was really driving at, the movie would feel too preachy. While there are a few moments that do feel a tad bit heavy handed, they are completely out shined by the subversive nature of the rest of the film. This is mostly due to Jordan Peele’s fantastic screenplay and direction, but credit also has to go to the actors. I had no idea who Daniel Kaluuya was before seeing this movie, but he was outstanding. He gives a very natural and level headed performance that can be both shocking and funny. The other stand outs are Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener as the older Armitages, who just seem to radiate the kind of eerieness this movie needs. I already mentioned Lil Rey Howery, but I just have to reiterate how funny this guy is and how essential he is to the entire movie.

I’ve been saying recently that we are living in a renaissance of horror, and Get Out only proves that point even more. This is a brilliant and wonderfully subversive film that gets under your skin while also succeeding at making you laugh. It has some really great thematic depth to it that will make any audience member with half a brain think about the characters and motivations, which is a great first step to making a great film. Add on some memorable scenes and a lead character that you can’t help but love and you have a winner on your hands. Get Out is a superb film that will challenge your mind as much as entertain you.

Final Grade: A-

Mississippi Burning – Review

5 Jan

In 1964, 3 Civil Rights activists went missing in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Foul play was suspected, so the FBI made their presence known and an official investigation began. Over time, a handful of city officials and other citizens were ousted as members of the Ku Klux Klan and sentenced to prison for the murders of the activists. This story shows a very dark time in modern American history and is a perfect incident to be dramatized because all of the themes and hostilities that it could explore. This is where Alan Parker’s 1988 film Mississippi Burning comes in. Parker isn’t one to shy away from controversial topics, and this film did spark controversy, but it also works well as a piece of hard hitting entertainment. There is just one major flaw that stands in the way of this being a truly excellent movie.

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When three Civil Rights activists go missing in Jessup County, Mississippi, two FBI agents are sent to investigate. The investigation is headed by the young and hardheaded Agent Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe), who is partnered up with the experienced yet brash Agent Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman). Upon their arrival they are warned by multiple city officials that nobody wants them there and that whatever happens in their town is their business. This is unacceptable to the two investigators who call in more agents to help with the search. This causes an uproar in the Mississippi town, and causes the KKK to become even more hostile to the African American community in this town. With more lives being threatened every day, the town suddenly seems to be at war with itself which forces the agents to change their tactics in order to achieve justice.

The strongest thing that Mississippi Burning has going for it is its fantastic cast.  Other than Dafoe and Hackman, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, and Michael Rooker all have supporting roles. This is one of the stronger casts I’ve seen in a movie in a long time and they all bring their best to the table. While everyone is great I have to focus the most on Gene Hackman. There are times when he really stands out and there are times where I don’t really remember him, but never is he bad. In this film he’s downright excellent and it may be my favorite performance of his I’ve ever seen. These performances work really well with getting me really into the story and into the time period, which is super important for any period piece.

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What also be remembered to get an audience into a time period are the production values and costume design. Mississippi Burning exceeds in these two areas. This is a fantastic looking movie and is well deserving of the Academy Award it won for Best Cinematography. There is a great juxtaposition of serenity in the film making mixed with much more harsh and unforgiving film making. This works great with the themes and story of the movie. The set design and costume design also looks very natural and very believable. Sometimes when a movie about the 1960s comes out, there can be some unnecessary flashiness like the film makers are trying to prove that it’s a different time period instead of trusting the audiences to see for themselves. This movie looks exactly what I’d expect a small Mississippi town to look like the mid-1960s. I wasn’t alive, of course, so this is just an assumption.

There is one major thing about Mississippi Burning that really gets under my skin and I didn’t really notice it as I was watching. It was only when I was thinking about it afterward did I realize that the representation of African Americans in this movie isn’t all that flattering. There’s mention of Martin Luther King and there are a couple of marches shown in the movie, but altogether they’re just portrayed as weak, helpless, and scared. Of course, that’s a part of history. It was a terrifying time to be alive for many people, but it was also a time to stand up for yourself and your basic human rights. There could have been more black main characters instead of just using them as mostly silent side characters. This isn’t something that made the movie any less entertaining as it was on, but it was something that kept eating at me afterwards.

Mississippi Burning is very close to being a great movie. The performances are amazing and the cinematography is worthy of the Academy Award that it won. The only issue is that there are no central black characters in a movie that is all about racism in the South during the 1960s. Even if there was just one main African American character to ground the film with that perspective, I would have been pleased. Still, Mississippi Burning is a very entertaining movie that is filled with tension, suspense, and realistic atmosphere.

Final Grade: B

12 Years a Slave – Review

12 Jan

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that spectacular time of year called award season is upon us. It’s a time when film lovers get together and argue or agree on the nominations and predicted winners of all the major awards. It’s also a time where I have to catch up on all the great movies of the year that I may have missed. This is where 12 Years a Slave comes in. Being nominated for over 100 different awards, this is a film that is getting some major recognition, and I was really excited to see it. Well, it was a really good movie that showed terrible things in an uncompromising way. While this may be required viewing, I have major problems with the artistic execution, and the flaws in its presentation made 12 Years a Slave more disappointing than I would have wanted it to be.

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Solomon Northup (Chiwitel Ejiofor) is a free black man living in Saratoga Springs, New York with his wife and two children. After two white men drug him and illegally strip him of his freedom, he is sold to William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) where he works on his plantations as a slave. After a violent altercation with one of Ford’s carpenters, Tibeats (Paul Dano), Northup is sold to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) for his own protection. Unfortunately, Epps isn’t as understanding as Ford. Epps is an alcoholic and violent towards his slaves, especially to Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), a slave woman who is constantly abused by Epps’ wife (Sarah Paulson). As Northup waits for his opportunity to free himself from Epps, he must watch and be subjected to the horror that was slavery.

It needs to be said that this is a great movie. There really is no doubt about it. The acting is the shining beacon of this entire things. Everyone, and I mean everyone, give amazing performances. Ejiofor carries the weight of his role was superb talent, proving that this part couldn’t have been casted any better. His facial expressions alone speak more words than any line of dialogue written. Fassbender deserves an Academy Award for his work as Epps, the character that strikes as much fear into his victims as Ralph Fiennes did in Schindler’s List. Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o has set a career in motion that I’d love to see blossom. These are just a few of this huge cast that struck hard with their performances. Without these believable and talented actors, 12 Years a Slave wouldn’t be as powerful as it is.

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Along with the powerful acting comes powerful imagery. Director Steve McQueen is no stranger when it comes to visual punishment. Hunger was not an easy movie to sit through, and Shame, although visually tamer, was no picnic either. Both are still fascinating films and great to look at, and 12 Years a Slave is no different. There are beautifully executed long takes, amazing nature shots, and other camera work that makes it feel like it is another character in the film. This is a really great addition to the film, but it’s also where 12 Years a Slave begins to fail.

When a movie with a storyline as moving, horrifying, and tragic as this one is, I expect the director to keep a focused eye on the plot. Unfortunately for this film, McQueen gets a little out of hand with showing the beauty of the South. There are way too many shots of trees and lakes and flowers, which only became a distraction as the movie went on. I understand his showing a beautiful South as a backdrop for such horror, but that only goes so far. By the third act, I was getting sick of the unnecessary shots of nature, and long takes for the sake of long takes. Some just never ended. These problems drag the movie down so much and make me really disappointed. These may seem trivial, but if you’ve seen the movie you may know what I mean.

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12 Years a Slave tells a story, not just of one man, but of the struggle of an entire race in a very dark time of American history. I applaud the movie and McQueen for showing such an uncompromising look at this time, and I also applaud the actors for giving such incredible performances, be they human or horrific. I’m still disappointed, and I really don’t want to be. This is in no way a bad movie, it’s a great movie. Unfortunately, the over-stylization of certain scenes make the movie slow down and lose focus of what is actually happening. I still stand by my point that this is required viewing, even with its artistic flaws.

Fist of Fury, Fist of Legend, and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen – Reviews

10 Dec

I’d like to call anyone who says that they aren’t in the slightest bit interested in the Kung Fu/Martial Arts genre a liar. It’s gone through so many different heroes, villains, transitions, and changes. The evolution from cheap film making with unknown fighters, to films with multimillion dollar budgets and big name fighters is as interesting as it is entertaining. What better way to observe this change than with the Chen Zhen films? These films has seen the likes of Bruce Lee, Jet Li, and finally Donnie Yen.

Let’s start with the 1972 film, Fist of Fury, aka The Chinese Connection.

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Chen Zhen (Bruce Lee) returns to the Jingwu School in the Shanghai International Settlement to find his master has been murdered, and the perpetrators belong to the rival Japanese school. This is a time of racism where the Japanese want nothing to do with the Chinese and will do anything to get rid of them. In response to the murder of his master and the pent up rage against racism, Chen Zhen begins a one man war against the rival school in search for vengeance and equality.

Bruce Lee is one of, if not the master of kung fu, and the exceptional choreography of the fight scenes (choreographed by Lee, himself) is stunning. My favorite scene involves Lee, a pair of nun chucks, and a whole dojo of Japanese students. Lee wields this weapon like there is hardly any skill involved. That along with his lighting fast arsenal of punches and kicks makes this character an almost unstoppable force.

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The themes of racism and social acceptance also brings much more depth to the story rather than a simple revenge tale. Zhen is fighting for more than vengeance, and this passion shows in the way Lee handles himself. He was known to be not only a martial artist, but also a philosopher, and these lessons of equality shine like glitter amongst the action.

Leaving out the horrible dubbing that I had to listen to, this is a kung fu masterpiece. The set design looks good, if not a little dated, but this adds to its retro charm. Its social commentary and outstanding fight scenes will continue to make this film an entertaining piece of Chinese cinema. Take it seriously. It’s a great movie.

In 1994, a remake of Fist of Fury was released starring Jet Le, Fist of Legend.

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I don’t really need to go too into detail with the story since it is very similar to the 1972 version. Chen Zhen returns to the Jingwu school in Shanghai, which is torn to pieces due to social inequality. His master is murdered and he then quests for revenge. The main differences is that there is a love story between Chen and a Japanese woman, and some infighting that takes place in the school. The villain is also a general and not master of a dojo.

Now, let me start by saying that the production values in this one are a hell of a lot better than the original. There’s a bigger cast of better actors, and the sets looks quite fancy, but I felt like Fist of Fury still pulled off the entire story and its themes better. Jet Li is still a very good Chen Zhen and he adds a new layer of quiet brutality to his fighting. Bones snap and foes are left as bruised as ever if they get in Chen’s way.

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One thing that is better about Fist of Legend is the suspense of the fight scenes. There are elongated battles that seem like they can’t and won’t end leaving the viewer doubtful as to what is actually going to happen. I do have to say that even though Jet Li is an excellent martial artist, I prefer the speeding bullet style fighting that Bruce Lee mastered. The love story is also a little too overbearing and I didn’t really care much for the rest of the supporting cast.

While this doesn’t top the original, I will say that it is still and excellent martial arts film and one to be respected. If you’re trying to decide between the two to watch, I would suggest Fist of Fury, but then I would follow up with the suggestion of watching both so you’re able to compare for yourself.

Finally, in 2010, a sequel to Fist of Legend was released, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen.

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After serving in World War I, Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) returns to Japanese-occupied Shanghai in disguise. He befriend a nightclub owner and buries himself deep in the underworld and the resistance in order to bring an end to the violence that is being cause by the Japanese. When night falls, Chen becomes the Masked Man and takes to the streets as a hero the city needs.

Hmmm. This is a strange movie indeed. Take everything you’ve seen in the previous two movies, throw it out the window, and brace yourself for a huge change in pace. This is a martial arts/spy/super hero movie with a plot as convoluted as it is different. There were time where I had no idea what was going on in the movie and more than once did I lose track of the characters. Most of this is due to the relentlessly quick pace of the movie.

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But, hell, I was certainly entertained the entire way through the movie. The action sequences are absolutely awesome with Donnie Yen, dressed exactly like Kato, flying all over the place and kicking people in the heads. It’s great. There is a lot of talking to get through before these scenes, so it’s a good thing that everything looks so cool. The nightclub, Casablanca, that a large portion of the movie takes place in is gorgeous with flashing lights and fun music. It’s like Boardwalk Empire: Shanghai.

Donnie Yen proves himself to be a great Chen Zhen, I’d say even better than Jet Li, but Bruce still is the best. The plot of this movie is a little too off the wall to be really respected and the pacing is way too quick, but the action and the overall style of the movie is awesome. This isn’t a great movie, but it sure is fun.

Chen Zhen is the epitome of martial arts characters and the themes covered in the movies can never be dated. They are also a true testament to the changes that this genre goes through over the decades. Check these movies out if you’re a kung fu fan, and if you’re new to the fu, this is a good place to start.