REVIEW: “21 BRIDGES” (2019) STX Entertainment

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“21 BRIDGES” opens with a young Andre Davis (Christian Isaiah) at the funeral of his police officer father who was killed by some drug dealers and the clear effect it has on him. Scroll ten years forward to an adult Andre (Chadwick Boseman) who has grown up to be a cop himself, but one with a notable tendency to shoot first and ask questions later.  This leads to him being called up in front of Bureau of Internal Affairs.  As this is happening to him, what is supposed to be a small time drug heist, goes down and several police officers are coldly gunned down by the two criminals who blundered into this unexpected disaster, Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and Michael (Stephan James), both war veterans and extremely loyal to one another. Ray is the typical villain while Michael, although loyal to him, has more sense and compassion and wanted to walk away once things were clearly not going to plan.

Police Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) now has a bunch of cops out for revenge for their fallen officers. In a rare move on this mission-almost-impossible, he decides to pair up Andre with narcotics officer Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller), a tough as nails undercover with a mind of her own – though you get the sense there is more to her than meets the eye.  As the two criminals take to the streets of Manhattan on the run, and with the FBI breathing down their back to take over, Andre makes the decision to shut the entire city of Manhattan down all exit/entries closed hence all 21 bridges leading in and out of the city. Shaken by the loss of eight of his officers, Capt. McKenna continues to hint to Davis to live up to his reputation and take no prisoners.  But Davis’ intuition kicks in as very early on, it becomes clear that dirty cops are involved with all the incidents seemingly pointing to a conspiracy of sorts, and Andre doesn’t know whom to trust. With that, Andre has just one night to solve the case and catch the killers before they escape the city of Manhattan.

Not going into full detail of the entire plot which, needless to say, has many twists and turns sort of running parallel are a police procedural and a crime story from the POV of the criminals. Yet the twists are obvious and predictable with the dialogue being somewhat routine. With a decent character development ’21 Bridges’ should be Boseman’s vehicle, yet it’s Stephen James who is the stand out here. Not only does his character feel like the one with the most to lose, but he’s got a story behind him that conflicts with his actions and he plays it well enough to the point of actually wanting to see him to get away with it all at times.

Nothing super new here story-wise, but the camera work and action scenes were marvelous. Although the plot is not original, the story was fine with good editing, however the script could have been better and acting was average at times. It’s still a decent bang for it’s buck.

Grade: C

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, November 20, 2019 ~ Courtesy of STX Entertainment

“21 BRIDGES” IS OUT NOW IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE

REVIEW: “AMERICAN SNIPER” – Warner Bros.

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You know those stories where you might not really understand who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? In which the lead character is a possibly a hero, but also a human being not without problems. That is the story of Chris Kyle, American Sniper.

I went into this film knowing a ton of fuss is being made about it – from all sides. And I won’t lie, points of this film can make it a very hard movie to watch at times. It’s the story of a man with formidable military qualities, doing something completely out of the ordinary to most of us in that he spent three years in the war doing things the vast majority of us could never really possibly imagine doing. It describes the kind of irresolvable moral dilemma undergone by a sniper in the war, and left to imagine what kind of consequences it could have on a human being to spend those years with only one ‘job’ to do and that job is killing people whether it be men, women or children if they are making a situation threatening to your fellow soldiers. american-sniper 1

But Chris Kyle was not someone who returned from the war with all his problems settled with a visit to the VA psychiatrist. The problems were not simply being afraid of sudden noises: for one thing, he drank, to name another, he had been arrested several times mostly for assault. He said he went to New Orleans during Katrina and he shot those who plundered the abandoned houses. He said he had killed two who wanted to steal his pickup. These stories and many more are in the autobiography of Kyle, that inspired this story. Even the way Kyle managed at some point to straighten his life helping veterans in trouble as he was a piece of history; also the complicated life of Eddie Routh, the guy who killed him, is all a piece of said history.
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Putting all my political thoughts aside regarding the “what if’s” of Chris Kyle..it’s clear he truly believed in what he was doing was the proper and right thing at the time. The point comes across to us by the fact he kept wanting to go back as he thought he could do more there than here, even though he kept leaving his family. It also speaks volumes during the scene where he runs into his younger brother “Jeff Kyle” (Keir O’Donnell) on the tarmac, Chris coming in for another tour, yet his brother just wanting at all costs, to get the hell out of dodge. The fact that we were dragged into a war against a country that never even attacked us as we all found out later..is not the story here..and wondering if those “what if’s” could have changed everything that happened is something we will never know as we can’t change the facts here. The problem is not that Clint Eastwood made ​​a film of “military propaganda”, as some say because he is a Republican & was a staunch supporter of Bush and the war; on the other hand the answer is also not simply that Clint Eastwood has just told a story. This is not even that the film isn’t always faithful to the real story, not that American Sniper should be a documentary, but take the story of Chris Kyle and tell it like it is, flaws and all, is just another idea. If we just stop and look at the movie as it is ~ a well-done film by Eastwood, though not by far his finest work. American sniper 4

Standouts here are really Bradley Cooper who embodies Chris Kyle completely down to that fact that, yes, he physically fits the role, like Will Smith in Ali, and brings some layers of complexity to an emotional depiction of a veteran and his what his life and family life can entail. Sienna Miller plays Chris’s wife, “Taya”, while not a bad performance, started to somewhat annoy me when it seemed all we heard from her was “You’ve changed” or ” I want my husband back” coming off in what could be deemed whiney when let’s just be real here, you do know what you’re getting into when you marry a Navy Seal. There is also a decent supporting cast, taking note for me is Luke Grimes as “Marc Lee” as Kyle’s most notable combat partner during some tough scenes, Cory Hardrict as “D/Dandridge”, Eric Laden “Squirrel/Case” and Jake McDorman as “Biggles” to name just a few.

There are the parts where the movie lacks direction. We all know Chris Kyle lied and made up a boatload of crazy stories – truth be told, the only one that really irks me is how he said he donated all the money from his book, but yet in actuality kept a huge portion of it. That one is a pisser..and yes.. we’ve all lied and made up stories, but for most of us, not to the extent that Chris did. But did anyone stop to think for a moment what all those killings actually might have done to his psyche? I shouldn’t even say ‘might have’ as unless your a complete socio/psychopath, having to kill that many people would have to affect anyone. But how most likely he was truly messed up in the head with major PTSD is barely even brought up here. And the fact that he was shot by someone who CLEARLY was carrying loads of PTSD luggage, yet it’s reduced to one small title screen at the end of the film. Me personally, I would have liked to have seen more of that story.
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I also have a bit of a problem with the way his ‘rivalry’ is shown with “Mustafa” (Sammy Sheik) is shown. This guy was an Olympic Gold Medalist-turned sniper, though Syrian, not Iraqi, and while the most human moments of him are when he is with his family or in his Olympic photos, we see nothing else except the hunt/cat & mouse game these two play with each other. His slo-mo death is also done a bit on the cheesy side for what purpose, I’m not sure. Yet the closing scenes of the film are also very powerful, and I don’t care who you are, you will be moved by it.

The film to me was a well made movie that shows the horror of war and what it does to people. Or can do. While I might think personally that Chris Kyle is more of a hero for what he did when he came back from war and helped other veterans, I do like it when a film actually makes you think or feel something that you can only imagine otherwise. And lastly, a huge point here, if you can’t separate the political from this and what it all entails and look at it from the viewpoint of ‘is it a good movie or not’ that not-withstanding what you may or may not feel about it personally, then your best bet is probably just not to see it. Though I think you will be missing something by doing so.

Grade: B-
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“FOXCATCHER” (2014) ~ REVIEW Q & A w/Steve Carell & Dir: Bennett Miller

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I am not going to even pretend that this movie didn’t disturb me somewhat. I purposely didn’t read too much about the film so as not to spoil anything before I went to the screening and I would suggest to all to not do so either because even though it’s easy to look it up and see what happens, not knowing was mind-blowing to say the least. That being said, I knew it was about wrestling..that much was plainly apparent. Having being a wrestling-stat girl in high school (whooohooo 🙂 ) gave me a helping hand as I understood and could follow that part of the film along well which was a plus. But to describe this as simply a ‘wrestling’ movie would be doing it a complete dis-service as it’s more a characterization film than anything else.

“John du Pont” (an unrecognizable Steve Carell) is a very rich man..heir to the du Pont fortune, with some very clear ‘mommy issues’. He is obsessed with all sorts of odd things; birds, trophies, military grade weapons, tanks ~ pretty much anything but the horses his mother likes, and wrestling..Olympic style wrestling to be precise. He is also a man who calls himself ‘Eagle’ or ‘Golden Eagle’ all clearly for his own benefit as no one actually calls him this as it’s really a moniker that he made up for his own ego. foxcatcher 2

In this obsession with wrestling steps in Gold Medalists and brothers “Mark Schultz” (Channing Tatum) and “David Schultz” (Mark Ruffalo). We can see from the start that Mark Schultz is a monosyllabic loner, interested only in wrestling. He sticks out his jaw in neanderthal-like fashion and mumbles his way through a speech for a bunch of elementary school kids, talking about patriotism. It’s when the school secretary makes out the check that we realize that it was supposed to be Dave giving the speech all along. In contrast to Mark’s hulk and bulk, Dave is small, affable and completely at ease with himself and with others. As they train together it is clear that the older brother’s job is that of father, trainer and anger manager. Their lives are inextricably linked all the while being poles apart.
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Alone in his dingy flat, Mark receives a mystery phone call from someone on behalf of John du Pont inviting him to Pennsylvania. With the world championships looming and the Seoul Olympics three years away, Mr. du Pont offers Mark an incredible opportunity to train and live on his estate. Mark snaps up the offer, but Dave declines. This is where the sinister du Pont sees his chance to mold and corrupt his oh-so-naive and seemingly dim-ish protege. Giving him luxuries never before experienced, but also turning him into a addicted cocaine & alcohol abuser, finally taking his control freak persona too far by slapping Mark in the face when he fails to follow his commands. And of course rebellion ensues at that point from Mark as it would with probably anyone at that point. foxcatcher 4

Much has been written about whether Carell could escape his comedy persona for this out of the box role, but he really steps up to the plate here and completely embodies du Pont with the perfect amount of creep and mental instability. With his prosthetic nose, tiny teeth and grey skin, he looks as if he could have been poisoned by the chemicals that made his family’s fortune. This tiny friendless man lives under the thumb of a clearly dominate mother “Jean du Pont” (Vanessa Redgrave), whose goal of trying to impress and aim to please her constantly falls short. du Pont seems to be an in-the-closet rich, mentally unbalanced gay man, whose interest in wrestling is the creepy way he craves the physical contact he enjoys with the other team participants and the control he can exert over it all being their benefactor of sorts.
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Foxcatcher shows us the corruptive, toxic and devastating power warp side of how some people with money can take advantage of that situation in all the wrong ways. When Mark states that his brother can’t be bought, we watch du Pont digesting this information. Not long after, lo and behold, Dave and family are there comfortably ensconced on the estate, just as Mark is on his way out. But throughout his time with du Pont, Dave never sells himself and he is the one character for whom the allure of money holds no power, while Mark turns and almost on purposely loses a treasured spot in the Olympic trials in his own way of pissing off the now hated du Pont. While Ruffalo is good here, I felt he was a bit too old to make the role convincing for me. If Mark states he is only 27 at the beginning and even by say a much older brother standards, Dave could be 37..So Ruffalo, at real age 47, while still a good performance, just doesn’t come off right for me in this role whereas Tatum & Carell both really blow me away.

While Foxcatcher has slow drawn out parts and pauses, there are also many aspects that combine to make this a very good film: the three leads’ performances, the design, as du Pont’s home gradually empties of his mother’s equestrianism trophies and fills with eagles and arms; the sounds of grunting wrestlers, birds and helicopters – and the long paused out silences. This film takes us on the Schultz brothers’ journey and leads us to the terrible ending denouncement in this subtle and horrifying and true-story parable of what money can and can’t buy.foxcatcher SC 4

Having a follow-up Q & A with Director: Bennett Miller & Actor: Steve Carell was not only eye-opening insight into the film, but yes, with Carell you know you are always going to have a bit of a laugh no matter the hard-line subject matter of the film. While Miller had some good notes to share including the fact that “the full story is even stranger, Miller said; in fact, he noted, the movie “dials it back” in scenes that showcased du Pont in full freak mode, firing guns on his estate and otherwise behaving erratically.” He came off as a bit abrupt in annoyance almost to the point of rude at times even interrupting Carell during his answers. But lightening the mood some was Carell with his opening answer to the moderator Sneider who asked about the artistry behind Carell’s dramatic transformation into his characterization of du Pont, to which Carell jokingly replied, “There was no hair and makeup.” 😀 Then noting a few points: “The weirdest thing about it was not necessarily watching it happen and then looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Ooooh, I’m a different guy,’ but it was how other people reacted to me once I was in all of that stuff,” Carell said, recounting how his driver was disturbed by him in the du Pont makeup. “He would tell me on the drive back to the hotel, ‘Man, I just don’t like being around that other guy.’ foxcatcher SC 1
“Du Pont had a very specific manner about him and a very specific physicality, and those things, I think, conspired to push other people away from him. He was off-putting, and it had the same effect with me naturally on set — I generally ate lunch by myself — but I think it ultimately was a good thing to have that kind of separation from the other actors.”
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All in all I liked the film. But more so than that, I liked the performances again, especially strong by Tatum & Carell and that will have me giving a higher grade overall to the film.

(Wrap Oscar Screening on December 11th at Landmark Theatres (Westwood) Foxcatcher is playing in theatres nationwide).
Grade: B
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