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

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REVIEW: “THE BIG SHORT” (2015) Paramount Pictures

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When Ryan Gosling’s character Jared Vennett asks the question to a room full of brokers.. “What’s that smell?” and answers it with “Opportunity” you know then and there to prepare yourself for a very different type of ride.

The film’s narrative is driven by four cynical, fringe Wall Streeter’s disgusted with the large banking institutions’ overriding greed for profits. Separately, but yet oddly together, they make the decision to capitalize on the ensuing housing market catastrophe and the financial meltdown of 2008 upon discovering the market frenzy is being driven by worthless collateral debt obligations.
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While I might never figure out how Director Adam McKay made deplorable humans, blinding fear, gut-wrentching outrage and delightful shaming so much fun to watch ~ He most definitely brought along his dark bag of laughs here, but planted them in such a way as to where we actually understood what was happening thanks to fun cameo explanations from the likes of Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, Anthony Bourdain cooking it right up, and even Selena Gomez gambling though her little monologue.

After a rather lengthy dizzying, yet delightful, character introduction, the film picks up pace as the drama begins to unfold. Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), an eccentric financial analyst, with complete autonomy of an investment fund, uncovers variables in his economic forecast indicating a massive housing market collapse. He informs his higher up, Lawrence Fields (Tracy Letts), of his discovery and creates a financial prospectus. In essence, he creates a commodity of selling short on bundled mortgages.
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The bankers laugh themselves silly as they willingly sell Burry all the “insurance” he wants. Word quickly spreads of Burry’s perceived madness in a after-work cocktail scene. With interest piqued upon overhearing the Wall Street gossip of the day, Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), scoops up the aspects of Burry’s move. Soon, he sells it to a group led by Steve Carell’s real-life character, Mark Baum and convinces them to buy in.

As the debacle is in full free-fall, Baum struggles with disbelief as he and his group have bet against their own umbrella entity, Morgan Stanley. The final team that has uncovered the impending financial crisis, made up of two Wall Street rookie wanna-be’s, Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) who along with veteran trader turned-conspiracist Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), also struggle with the imploding financial system caused by corporate greed and indifference
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With a mammoth cast, the acting in this movie is pristine with the whole ensemble cast being in top form. With that said however there were three stand out performances that somewhat break this mold.
Ryan Gosling might be the funniest as he narrates and embodies the fact that he’s a scum bag and just rolls with it, offering an entertainingly slick performance. Christian Bale let us feel his pain and lonely genius, stole the show in every scene he was in. The only genuinely relate able character in the lot, Bale conveys a great deal of sensitivity, making it one of his best performances to date. Steve Carell dug deep and came up with a persona that brings Baum to life, even if he does over act at times which I guess is how he really is in true-life form.
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It was also nice to see Marisa Tomei, Hamish Linklater, Billy Magnussen, Rafe Spall, Max Greenfield and talented others working at a solid supporting level.

With all the ‘truth’ films out there this year, “The Big Short” is one of the more important ones of this group and also one of the best. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time as the film warns us in a way, who knows what will be the next basic human necessity to be denied by those few who hold power.

Grade: B+
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Review Screening: Arclight Hollywood ~ Tuesday, December 8, 2015 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
In Select Theaters: Friday, December 11, 2015
NATIONWIDE RELEASE: Wednesday, December 23, 2015

“SELMA” (2014) Q & A w/Ava DuVernay,Common, Carmen Ejojo

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Yes, I should have done this review ages ago as it’s been a month since I attended an Oscar screening of this film along with an after-screening Q & A with Director: Ava DuVernay; Cast members Common, Carmen Ejojo, and Henry G. Sanders. Not even sure why I waited so long, but I will say I’ve thought some about it since then. Maybe it’s because the movie, while I’m not even going to pretend it isn’t a strong, powerful film, just missed a few things for me. And historical inaccuracies aside, as let’s be real, many prestigious movies take dramatic license with historical events and pretty much all bio-pics have them, I think I’ve just been trying to put my finger on what it was. Could be the slower pace of it or the fact that, some needlessly added small odd scenes, at times I thought I was watching a MLK biopic instead of a Selma one, or for me the too strong religious aspect of it. Yes I am fully aware and know MLK was REVEREND Martin Luther King..I am aware of the fact he was a religious man, but since they are taking liberties with some things, including re-writing the “I Have a Dream” speech, this would have been what I would have chosen to tone down some as some of it comes off unnecessary in parts. But whatever it was, I think a lot of it has to do with everything going on from Ferguson to New York to Paris, maybe I’ve been trying to come to terms with man’s atrocities against each other in every way and this film started that for me as it couldn’t have come at a more relevant time. Selma 1

As the opening of the film opens with a heart-wrenching explosion we move along quickly to the man “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” (David Oyelowo), pulling off a performance that seems true to the man without being a caricature or overly reverent. The film acknowledges that King was a man, with faults like any other, but in a way that makes him affecting. Oyelowo doesn’t look especially like King, but he does capture a good rendition of the heart & soul of the man. However, he’s only a piece of the puzzle, with this being a true ensemble film with at least a dozen good roles, from Carmen Ejogo as King’s wife Coretta, to pros like Wendell Pierce as “Rev. Hosea Williams”, musician/actor Common “James Bevel” and Martin Sheen “Frank Minis Johnson” as some of the allies King encountered along the way.
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The film does a great job portraying just how much the people in the march, from all walks of life, were risking their lives by participating, against a southern resistance ranging from ignorant yokels to devious politicians, to definitely more than a few sadists, who were so keen to inflict harm to the peaceful marchers that at times it’s painful to watch. There are scenes of people riding horses and brandishing whips, covering wood clubs with spoke-like wire to inflict as much damage as possible on the marchers. While some might think it’s puzzling as to where this hate comes from, but even more so in that the film tries to keep an even hand in showing both sides. Tim Roth as “Gov. George Wallace” could have easily played him as demonic, but he tries and somewhat succeeds to humanize him as much as he can, which is not easy when you’re playing one of history’s truly great evil bastards. Tom Wilkinson is very effective as “Lyndon Johnson“, who’s not above playing the good ol’boy card with Wallace, but also sympathizes with King, even if he’s reluctant to stir up trouble and makes a few horrible decisions along the way.
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In a cast of ‘names’ many of which I have been a fan of for a long long time, yes I’m looking at you Lorraine Toussaint “Amelia Boynton”, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi “Lee White”, Wendall Pierce, Tim Roth and yes, even Oprah Winfry as I wasn’t an ‘talkshow’ Oprah fan, but I am an ‘actress’ Oprah fan. My three standouts of this film that made me sit up and take notice are Stephen James as “John Lewis”, Trai Byers as “James Forman”, and lastly Alessandro Nivola as “John Doar”.

Hopefully the best thing about “Selma” that we can take away from it is that it’s not a movie about blame or hate. Rather, it’s hopeful in that it shows how people can come together and change things for the better in a non-violent manner ~ a message that should always be kept in mind when things get out of hand as they often do. Even with it’s faults,“Selma” is a strong film that sends a clear message to a new generation about what standing up against intimidation in any form is all about. It is a passionate work about a towering figure who left an enduring legacy, but one that, as recent events might indicate, is still short of completion. selma common 1

Additional note: I love Q & A’s after films with directors/producers/cast etc. They really give you insight sometimes into things about how the film got made or a fun antidote or two.. This Oscar screening was on Thursday, December 18th,2014 at The Landmark Theater with Dir. Ava DuVernay giving insight into that this project was really made because of David Oyelowo who took it and ran with it (which explains the large Brit casting also! 🙂 ) getting Oprah & her team including Brad Pitt & others involved, including picking her as the director, even though she didn’t have much experience and convincing everyone to get onboard. Also, reasoning behind not using the actual “I Have a Dream” speech..the rights to it are held by someone else who has never used them and they could not get them for this film so she ended up re-writing it herself. As for something I completely did not know, at the end of the film we see a shot of a bridge ~ it’s the “Edmund Pettus Bridge” ~ as DuVernay noted was named after the leader of the Klan back then..it’s name remains today.
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Grade: B-

REVIEW: “THE JUDGE” (2014) Warner Bros.

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Before I even start this review…I want to note that my heart & thoughts go out to Robert Downey Jr. who lost his mother this week and as he would usually be out promoting this film, instead he put out a beautiful tribute to her (http://www.eonline.com/news/583342/robert-downey-jr-s-mother-dies-read-his-moving-candid-tribute-to-elsie-ann-downey) in the wake of this movie opening, which in a weird twist of fate, has the plot starter of the loss of the mother bringing his character home for the funeral. #RIP

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Now down to the movie here. I’m just gonna say I liked it and thought it told a good story.  Could the pace of it have been better..yeah..did it have some spots that lagged.. yeah..but it told a good story. As it started off I thought ‘oh no, another dysfunctional family film, I’ve just seen one of those last week and it wasn’t so good (see review https://peggyatthemovies.com/2014/09/20/review-this-is-where-i-leave-you-2014-warner-bros/) but then the story starts to unfold and it’s you realize it’s much more than that.

The film starts off with “Hank Palmer” (Robert Downey Jr.) who is a very good lawyer, (and I gotta say, wears a good cut suit like no other here), though possibly not really a ‘good’ man as he knows the people he is defending are all pretty much guilty, but he has a knack for making ‘reasonable doubt’ happen and makes a boatload of money doing it. In the middle of a big trial, he gets called home as his mother has passed.  He hasn’t been home nor spoken to his father since before law school as seems he had gotten into a few to many scrapes as a kid/teen and was shipped off to a more disciplinary school type deal.                                                   judge 3

Still Downey makes this character likable and you begin to remember that yes, before Iron Man, he was a really good dramatic actor,can carry & hold his own and that says a lot about him here because while he is still his fun self, he’s also much more. As we delve into the main part of the story here where Hank’s father, “Judge Joseph Palmer” (Robert DuVall) the ‘Judge’ of the small town in Indiana where all of this takes place, is arrested.  The prosecutor, “Dwight Dickham” played by Billy Bob Thornton, makes it clear that in many ways, Downey Jr. and his accused murderer father are actually kind of the bad guys here. It’s up to the jury to decide in a fun scene with Downey Jr., & Dax Shepard, who plays the country bumpkin lawyer hired because initially the Judge doesn’t want Hank representing him in this case but in reality, the court case is really secondary and there’s no big mystery to be solved. It’s first and foremost a father-son story, the main hook being whether or not Downey and his somewhat unfriendly, estranged father will be able to come to terms with each other, and not whether he’ll be convicted and go to jail. The success lies in the fact that ultimately you are rooting for these two guys to sort out their issues with each other, even if both are headstrong and often exasperating.  judge billy bob

With that in mind, this movie is not a complete success in all the way around. For one, the characters of his older brother, “Glen” (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his younger, somewhat mentally challenged younger brother “Dale” (Jeremy Strong) are almost completely irrelevant to the story for exception of a bit of background in that Glen serves a purpose as when they were teens he was a star baseball player and got in a car accident with Hank, who was driving while under the influence of basically everything, was injured and never could play again which led to the estrangement between father and son. The same thing could be said for the character of “Samantha” (Vera Farmiga) who plays Hank’s old girlfriend/new possible love interest with a kinda icky sub-plot of her daughter “Carla” (Leighton Meester) whom Hank has a torrid make-out scene with, but whom could possibly be his daughter.  All of this, plus a bit more even, are the lagging parts I previously spoke about and easily could have been cut-down which would have made this movie a much more manageable watch time-wise.  There are a lot of sub-plots going on here as Hank is going through a possible divorce, wants to see his daughter more, Duvall’s character has numerous things going on all over the place and to get into detail about them all would not only be time-consuming, but spoil the movie for you.  Needless to say, they all get woven in together quite well I think due to the fact you have strong actors playing the two lead roles who also mesh well together on screen and in this movie.

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I don’t think “The Judge” is going to win any awards and I’ve been wrestling with my own ‘grade’ of the pic.. because I think it does tell a good story, has the makings to do somewhat well at the box office considering the star power of the cast, and it has that ‘feel-good/tug at your heart’ thing going for it. It also has definite entertainment value and it does work on a lot of levels.  With all that going for it, it is far from perfect but yet, is a crowd pleaser. With that.. I’m giving it ….

Grade:  C+  (above average)

(See grading scale)

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