Review: “Mudbound” (2017) NetFlix

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Dee Rees upcoming release ‘“MUDBOUND”, which has come with much film festival acclaim behind it – came off as a cliched and deathly slow-paced film about racism in post-WWII Mississippi. And while I’m not going to say it doesn’t make some great hard-to-watch storyline points, it also misses a lot.

We’re on a mud-drenched farm, owned by Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) a racist and small-minded man and wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), whose marriage was basically an arrangement as she was unmarried in her 20’s, which in this time & place, was almost as unforgiveable as being African-American. They come to live there with their two daughters, and his cruelly racist but caricatured ‘Pappy’ (Jonathan Banks), while the youngest brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), is off fighting in Germany. Also living on the farm are the black tenant farmers, The Jacksons, the father Hap (Rob Morgan), wife Florence (Mary J. Blige), along with their children, whom also have a son off fighting in the war, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell). And from what we gather, Ronsel is experiencing far more freedom than he ever found in the USA, which I kinda have to call horsepucky on as truth & history be told, they really didn’t.

The plot of the story, such as it is, sees Jamie and Ronsel return from WWII to completely different receptions from the town and begin to form a friendship through their shared trauma. Clearly nothing good is going to come of this due in a huge part to this being 1945 and in the backwoods of ALL backwoods in Mississippi, which is run entirely by the KKK and in due course we get a searingly violent scene set to a beautiful gospel hymn. In fact, it seems to kinda be an unintentional irony of this film that all the really truly horrifically crappy stuff happens either in church or when set to a hymn. There are some moments of absolute terrifying horror that I am sure really did happen to many who defied the KKK ruling back in those times. These parts of the story are the ones that break you and actually make this film come out of it’s slow draw into actual story-telling drama. I think the ending is meant to be uplifting, nonetheless, but I found it all rather patronising and fantastic – made to be as if Germany post-war was an utopia of racial harmony when nothing could be further from the truth.

Overall, this is a long drawn-out film, whose paper-thin characters can’t stand up to the weight of history thrust upon them. The stand-outs of those characters though are Hedland & Mitchell, both of whom make this film a better by their performances. Mulligan’s character comes off as superficial, annoyingly whimpering at times, but does redeem herself by showing her character to actually have a heart. I was completely looking forward to Mary J. Blige’s performance, but as such, found it to be glaringly at odds with the time frame of the picture as she wears a pair of designer sunglasses throughout most the film. Probably one of the best parts of the film is the cinematography by Rachel Morrison, as it’s crisp, gritty and very believable. Mostly though, the film comes off as an unvarnished understanding of the unglamorous, subservient pragmatism needed to survive as a black man in ’40s Mississippi, but it just isn’t very compelling or convincing as such.

Grade: C+
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Media Review Screening – Thursday, October 8, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Emmanuel Bates Communications & NetFlix
“MUDBOUND” will be out in selected theaters and available on NetFlix starting Friday, November 17, 2017

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REVIEW: “DETROIT” (2017) MGM Pictures

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With “DETROIT” Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s new turn at making another hard-hitting film, just doesn’t connect completely. Though again, Bigelow takes on delicate subject matter with the expertise of a great filmmaker, and it is a very good film – for about 60 minutes of the 2 1/2 hour run time.

‘Detroit’ takes place in 1967 during the midst of the riots after a black owned Blind Pig bar where patrons were kicked out due to lack of liquor license and eventually leads to the towns people rioting and destroying the nearby businesses, even with tags of “Soul Brother” as a way to try to protect their black owned business. However, most of the film centers around the several young men and 2 women staying in the Algiers Motel. Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell) has a starter pistol which he shoots in the air, and police mistaken it for a sniper, and begin to surround the Algiers and harass and intimidate the guests beyond recovery.

‘Detroit’ is filmed wholly hand-held, and the shakiness that comes along with that direction choice is effective and not the nausea-inducing type that can sometimes happen with this type of filming, The opening scenes before the riots even start and as watch them proceed brought a note of flashbacks for me, having been through the L.A. riots, it’s not something you easily forget. The storyline that follows is where the weakness of the film sets in. If I didn’t know that this was actual history, I would have thought this part to be made up as you get introduced to the characters Larry (Algee Smith), Michael (Malcolm David Kelley), Morris (Joseph David-Jones), Jimmy (Ephraim Sykes) and Fred (Jacob Latimore) who make up the singing group the Dramatic’s. Once they are told to leave the stage before their biggest performance to date, because of the riots is where the film really starts to kick in. This is where the shocking nature of what takes place really begins and you will be set on edge throughout the next 60 minutes by what unfolds in front of you. It’s also where we meet the rest of the characters to whom this appalling and disturbing event happens to.

Dismukes (John Boyega), the security guard who witnesses everything that happens, though honestly, I don’t think he was in the position to stop what was happening. Julie (Hannah Murray) & Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) are the two white girls who happen to be at the hotel also, partying with their African-American male friends Green (Anthony Mackie) Aubrey (Nathan Davis Jr.) and Lee (Peyton Alex-Smith), which in the 1960’s still was not accepted. This alone creates tension that is only ratcheted up little by little as the film progresses. At this point we also meet the police officers involved Karuss (Will Poulter), Demens (Jack Reynor) and Guardsmen Flynn (Ben O’Toole) who along with the terrifying nature of the situation, help make this feel like what happened is something out of a horror film.

Every actor here gives a near flawless performance. this is actually a film without a standard Hollywood- style star. These actors are treated as equally important details in a larger event. The performances here are emotional, powerful, but most of all, real and feel instead as though each actor embodies the real life people that lived through these events and that let you get to know them as people, allowing you to genuinely care about them.

While this is a great film, it is a hard watch. This is an emotionally grueling film for the most part. With that being said, the two and a half hour run time of this film is exhausting and the length is something that can really work against this film. While I do recommend it as a watch because of it’s intrinsic value that it carries, it’s not as brilliant of a watch as I expected it to be.

Grade: B-
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Review Screening – Wednesday, August 2, 2017 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Film Group
“Detroit” will be in theatres nationwide on Friday, August 4, 2017

REVIEW: “KONG: SKULL ISLAND” (2017) WARNER BROS.

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**IMPORTANT NOTE: Stay for the credits — You won’t regret it!

Is it just me or does it just seem like writers might be a bit bored these past few years and are perhaps running out of ideas? Hasn’t this been done already and then done again? Or did the box office success of movies like Jurassic World inspire studios & producers to opt for remakes instead of the road not taken. Well I don’t have the answer to all those questions BUT…I didn’t hate this remake in all it’s CGI super-glory.

To be clear – Kong: Skull Island is not simply a remake of a film that has been re-made time and time again. It is kind of what you could refer to as an ‘re-imagination’ of the original. If you ever lost sleep at night wondering what it would have been like if King Kong was not sedated and taken to New York to be pointed and laughed at and swatted away little planes with a Faye Wray or Jessica Lange or hey..even Naomi Watts, in his possession. Well fret no more, as that is exactly what this film explores.

The premise here is it’s 1973 this time and a group of eager-beaver scientists discovers what they thought was an uninhabited island a LandSat (land mapping satellite) has taken pictures of. An elusive island called – you guessed it – Skull Island, that although rumoured to exist it’s never been proven to…until now. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) are eager to be the first to explore and geologically map the island, so they persuade the US government to back the expedition by supplying them with the support and expertise of some US Army soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his team, Chapman (Toby Kebbell), Mills (Jason Mitchell), Cole (Shea Whigham), Slivko (Thomas Mann), to name a few of the supporting crew, who are conveniently just leaving Vietnam and can stop on over. They also pick up a British ex-special forces “tracker” James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former British Special Air Service Captain and an “anti-war” photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

They start the mission by dropping bombs on the island to map the bedrock, ostensibly to look for mineral deposits. That’s when Kong shows up to smack the helicopters out of the air, and generally wreak mayhem on the team. The scattered survivors then have to survive on an island filled with oh-so-many-monsters and have to try get to the extraction zone. One group finds Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who brings a well-done dose of humour to the production and who has been stranded on the island for 29+ years with all the non-speaking island natives where KONG is ‘god’ and most definitely King of this island.

And that’s about all I’ll say about the story, so as to avoid serious spoilers. The story line is fairly conventional with very little arc to the characters except just as in the past, you ARE cheering once again for KONG. In many regards it actually sets up more like a horror movie than action/adventure movie. In fact, there are numerous jump-scares and other basic horror movie devices throughout the movie. Sorta of reminded me of the old school Godzilla vs. whomever monster films and while KONG might be the main guy, he is definitely not the only monster in town here.

In some ways, it felt like the movie couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be between a monster movie and a horror movie… Or was it an action movie with an anti-war theme? It’s a toss up. There are also numerous characters who seem like they were intended to play more significant roles but then don’t. For instance they bring along a biologist, San (Tian Jing), who does no absolutely no biology (or good acting) at all and seems to mainly appear to allow another character to give a statement of sorts. Similarly most of the LandSat team seem to be around for comic relief, even if it is just horror movie style comic relief. Even some of the major characters do little aside from provide a single plot piece and I’m sure you can already guess, no one is going to be winning any awards for acting from being in this pic.

As for KONG himself, I think they could have spent a bit more time developing him, partly as a character as again, his name is in the film’s title after all. The CGI was quite good not only for KONG himself, but his fellow monster buddies as well.

I think there might have had just too much going on, and not enough time for this movie to be really good. As it is, it’s an entertaining enough of a movie that is fun, if you go in with a somewhat low-bar intention, so I enjoyed it completely on that level alone.

Grade: C+
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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, March 7, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
NATIONWIDE RELEASE: Friday, March 10, 2017

REVIEW: “STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON” (2015) Universal Pictures

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Art comes in many forms. A Masterpiece for instance is usually a word used in the art world as a painting or portrait that is brilliantly done and is usually invoked by inner thoughts and feelings of so many emotions. That could sum up the feeling of this story and what a story it is. This film has everything you see invoked in a masterpiece painting. Love, war, death, money, drugs, power, sadness, happiness and most of all, music. It’s a story about art in the truest sense of the word. These 5 young men –
Andre ‘Dr Dre’ Young,
Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright,
O’Shea ‘Ice Cube’ Jackson,
Lorenzo ‘MC Ren’ Patterson, &
Antoine ‘DJ YELLA’ Carraby
changed the world with what they did and this more or less, is their story.

Director F. Gary Gray takes us through the years from the group’s origin in 1986 to Dr. Dre’s founding of Aftermath Records in 1996 and while it’s the N.W.A. story..it’s mostly a three-man show focusing on Dre, Cube & most especially Eazy-E. It does justice in recreating a Compton from back in the day so perfectly and dare I say it, beautifully, as if the time & place and what the street life of the city truly was like, came straight out of a time machine. This is a big plus throughout the film.
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Opening with a drug deal gone bad for Eric ‘Eazy-E’ might seem somewhat cliched way to enter the story but is actually quite fitting especially since Eazy is the truly the main focus of the first half of film. He was the money, albeit it was from those deals, that enabled them to get studio time to record “Boyz in the Hood” and it was that song that attracted and brought manager ‘Jerry Heller’ (Paul Giamatti) to them. Heller knocks on the doors and pounds the pavement to connects them to their 1st label, Priority Records and we all get a laugh when we find out from that the only group ‘Bryan Turner’ (Tate Ellington) and the company had ever recorded before signing N.W.A was the California Raisins. Yep..you have dig real deep and go way back to remember that one!! But cash those checks from that Turner did, enough to land the company N.W.A. As we watch the group go from playing skating rinks to huge massive arenas across the nation. Meanwhile, Jerry also manages to finagle himself into part of starting up Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records where we see everyone but E get underpaid & overlooked.
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This leads to acrimony between the guys and while on tour Ice Cube, reminding everyone that he is the one who has written most of the music, departs the group. But before he leaves though we do get the anthem that penned the groups title as ‘the world’s most dangerous group‘ mainly because they scared the bejesus out of middle America with their anthem “F**K the Police” which comes straight from Cube after we witness multiple scenes of humiliation and harassment of not only him, but the group, their friends, their neighbors for just basically being.
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The movie clearly focuses on the big three of the group, ‘Dr. Dre’ (Corey Hawkins) and ‘Ice Cube’ (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) with ‘Eazy-E’ (Jason Mitchell) taking the lead, with ‘DJ Yella’ (Neil Brown Jr.) & ‘MC Ren’ (Aldis Hodge) getting only minor attention. They easily brush right over their misogynistic lyrics as women here are barely given the time of day and only the wives or girlfriends of the moment get a few lines at best. Though as with most bio-pics, while we might not be getting the complete story here – it’s still a very good story.

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We see bits of the infamous East Coast/West Coast rivalry that started up. And once Cube is gone we get right in the middle of his lyrical riffs with the remaining members of the group badmouthing each other back n forth through their music giving us surely what is only a glimpse into this and then with Dre also going his own way with the ever and still unscrupulous ‘Suge Knight’ (R. Marcos Taylor) – showing the forming of and his subsequent abandonment of Death Row Records.

We catch beginning snippets of ‘Tupac Shakur‘ (Marcc Rose), ‘Snoop Dogg’ (Keith Stanfield) (or as his character notes – that’s Snoop D. O. double G.), ‘Jimmy Iovine’ (Mark Sherman) & the beginnings of Interscope Records. Along with this, we get clever allusions to what is to come – Everything from Cube’s films ‘Boyz N The Hood’, ‘Friday’ and it’s sequels, to Dre when walking out on Knight, almost cheesily referencing Aftermath. The film closes with updates on the band members careers post-1996 with various interview clips in large focusing on Dre and Cube’s successes, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and 50 Cent, among others, paying homage to Dre showing the fruition of what both his and Cube’s visions came to be. Also, the sad and untimely passing of Eazy-E from AIDS. Noticeably absent are updates on DJ Yella and MC Ren.

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For all it’s small flaws here and there, this is still a hellava story to be told. N.W.A helped to change the musical culture of the time because they actually told the world what was happening in their own backyard through their music. And in doing so they succeeded in making themselves one of the most powerful groups of the time.
Oscar buzz? Probably not. But fan favorite (and one of mine) – definitely.
RIP Eazy-E.

Grade: B+
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Screening: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 – Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Nationwide release: Friday, August 14, 2015