CVIndependent

Sat09232017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) directs Detroit, an uneven yet occasionally powerful account of the 1967 Algiers Motel incident, part of a race riot that put the city of Detroit under siege.

When a man fires off a pistol from his hotel window during intense riots, the police and National Guard converge on the Algiers—and a terrible night ensues. It results in three men shot to death, with others psychologically and physically tortured. As for the judicial rulings in the aftermath … they’re the type that are far too commonplace when it comes to law enforcement violence against people of color.

John Boyega plays Dismukes, a security guard who finds himself entangled in the bloody events perpetrated by racist policemen led by Krauss (a legitimately scary Will Poulter). The men and women held captive at the Algiers are played by a strong ensemble cast, including Jason Mitchell, Anthony Mackie, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, Nathan Davis Jr. and Algee Smith.

The film feels a bit too fictional in spots. In an odd move, Bigelow incorporates real stock footage along with scenes meant to look like stock footage, much like Oliver Stone did in J.F.K., further confusing fact and fiction. She’s going for a documentary feel, but the script sometimes calls leads to cartoonish caricatures of its bad policemen. No doubt, some of the policemen at the hotel that night were monsters, but the portrayals of them (beyond that of Poulter) feel too cliché and, in some cases, aren’t well-acted.

There are enough strong performances to make Detroit worth your while. While some of the details seem manufactured, this is a true story that needed to be told, even if the film seems tainted by fiction at times.

Detroit is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Netflix’s original film War Machine is all screwy. Brad Pitt plays Gen. Glen McMahon (clearly based on real-life General Stanley McChrystal), put in charge of the war in Afghanistan during the Obama administration.

McMahon is just Pitt’s Inglourious Basterds character without a mustache—but this time, Pitt never seems relaxed in the part. Instead, he seems lost in a movie that doesn’t really know where it’s going. It’s military satire, and then it’s a serious depiction of men at war, and then it’s a straight-up comedy, and then it’s a political intrigue movie, and so on.

Writer/director David Michod tries to wrangle this mess with the ultimate movie crutch—the voiceover, provided by a character based on the real journalist who wrote the article and later the book on which the film is based. The late Michael Hastings (depicted here as a character called Sean Cullen and played by Scoot McNairy) wrote the Rolling Stone article that eventually inspired the book, The Operators. It also brought down McChrystal, depicted here as a bit of a nut—but a lovely, friendly nut who cared about his men, but wanted to win, win, win.

While trying to win, he leaked classified info and messed with the president. The film also tries to be a condemnation of American activity overseas, with a not-so-nice depiction of Obama, played here by a mediocre Obama impersonator (Reggie Brown).

A strong cast including Anthony Michael Hall, Will Poulter, Alan Ruck and Meg Tilly can’t save this schizoid film.

War Machine is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in Reviews

The Revenant didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, but it damn well should have.

Leonardo DiCaprio won a much-deserved Oscar for playing the legendary Hugh Glass, a real man who actually survived a bear attack and sought revenge from the men who left him to die.

Director Alejandro G. Inarritu (winner of the Best Director Oscar two years in a row) made a film that doesn’t stick to Glass’s actual storyline all that much. (The real life guy was actually too tired to do anything to the guys when he eventually found them.) His script works in a Native American son (Forrest Goodluck) and a deranged trapper (Tom Hardy, also nominated) along with Glass’ insatiable revenge lust. DiCaprio doesn’t say much with his mouth in the movie, but he says an awful lot with those eyes. His performance is a masterwork.

Equally good is Hardy, who portrays John Fitzgerald as a man operating under what turns out to be a rather naïve sense of justice. It’s his best work to date. Other supporting performances worth noting are Domhnall Gleeson as the leader of Glass’ expedition, and Will Poulter as a fellow trapper with a good heart who winds up getting into a lot of trouble.

It’ll be interesting to see what DiCaprio does next. This is a hard act to follow.

Special Features: The Blu-ray includes a near 45-minute documentary containing behind-the-scenes footage and great interviews with DiCaprio, Inarritu and others.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

For the second year in a row, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has delivered the year’s best film.

Inarritu was responsible for last year’s Birdman, and the best movie of 2015 is The Revenant, an eye-popping Western thriller that gives Leonardo DiCaprio the role that should finally score him his first Oscar.

DiCaprio gives it everything he’s got as Hugh Glass, a scout working with fur traders on the American frontier in the early 19th century. Glass, while doing his job, gets a little too close to a couple of bear cubs—and mama grizzly is not happy about such an occurrence.

What follows is a lengthy and vicious bear attack during which Glass tangles with the nasty mother not once, but twice. Inarritu, DiCaprio and some amazing visual technicians put you right in the middle of that bear attack—minus the searing pain of actually having a bear’s claws and teeth rip through your flesh. It’s an unforgettably visceral moment when that bear steps on Glass’ head.

With Glass seemingly at death’s door, the remaining party—including a conniving, paranoid trapper named John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy)—is left to decide what to do with him. Fitzgerald wants to put him out of his misery, much to the chagrin of Glass’ Native American son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and the expedition’s leader, Capt. Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson).

Henry decides to soldier on without Glass, leaving him behind to die with Fitzgerald, Hawk and young Bridger (an excellent Will Poulter). Fitzgerald takes matters into his own hands, with Glass eventually buried alive and left for dead. This doesn’t set well with Glass, who slowly recovers from his wounds and sets out to exact revenge.

Yes, this is a revenge tale—and a rather simple one at that. Those looking for a spiritual and psychological examination of revenge containing long monologues need not see this. The Revenant is about the forces of nature, stunningly photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki, trying to take down one man as he sets out on a killing mission. An uncaring wilderness throws everything it can at Glass to stop him in his tracks.

Some of what Inarritu does in the film’s few quieter, more-meditative moments reminds of the work of Terrence Malick, and that’s a good thing. For the most part, the movie is less about beautiful running rivers and more about surviving neck wounds while fending off attacking Native Americans and antsy fur trappers. What Inarritu and company achieve during these attack sequences is monumental: No movie has ever looked or felt like this. Throw in that bear attack, and you have a movie that will forever dent your skull.

DiCaprio doesn’t have much spoken dialogue. The majority of his performance consists of grunting, contorting his face and crawling on the ground (something he did memorably in The Wolf of Wall Street). His character has very few moments to smile, but when he does, it’s like having a warm blanket and hot cocoa after a week in sub-zero temperatures: It’s a major relief from the torment. 

Hardy and Gleeson, two of the hardest-working men in Hollywood right now, are magnificent in the film. Given the notoriously long and nasty shooting schedule they had to endure for The Revenant, I have no idea how they managed to appear in those other films. (They both appeared in four major 2015 movies.) They have truly mastered the art of scheduling events and tasks on their iPhones.

The Revenant is a masterpiece, and I suspect DiCaprio will finally get his Oscar. I also suspect camping numbers will take a plummet in the next year, while bear-repellent sales spike.

The Revenant is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The maze in the title of The Maze Runner is a fun spectacle full of shifting walls and weird spider robots. When the movie is in the maze, it is good. When it’s out of the maze, it stinks.

Dylan O’Brien plays Thomas, a teenager who is placed in a camp surrounded by a large, constantly shifting maze. The camp is inhabited by other teens, including Alby (Aml Ameen), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Gally (Will Poulter). None of them have any idea why they were put there, and they don’t know how to escape, so they send a squad of “runners” into the maze to map it out and search its outer reaches. The searches are fruitless—until the mysterious Thomas takes charge and makes things happen.

The mystery of the maze is intriguing, but the payoff is blah. The Lord of the Flies-style drama between the leads is typical, boring stuff. I liked the design of the maze, which turns out to be the film’s most interesting character. (Second place goes to Poulter’s Gally; the actor is a long way from the comic territory he staked out in We’re the Millers.) Too bad the rest of the movie feels like a patchwork of many films we’ve already seen before.

The Maze Runner is playing in a variety of formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

In We’re the Millers, Jason Sudeikis plays a small-time drug-dealer who gets in over his head and is forced by his boss (Ed Helms) to smuggle drugs into the U.S. from Mexico. Realizing that border agents seem to go easy on families, he hires a fake family to make the trip in an RV.

The family includes a wife (a stripper played by Jennifer Aniston), a daughter (a homeless girl played by Emma Roberts) and a son (a hapless neighbor played by Will Poulter).

The film has a Chevy Chase “Vacation” movie vibe; Sudeikis is charming in a way in which Chase was for a brief time in his career. Aniston plays a mighty-good stripper; she has another calling in case the whole acting thing doesn’t work out. Roberts gets perhaps her best role yet as Casey; she delivers some great eye-rolling moments. As for Poulter, he steals scenes nearly every time he speaks, and his encounter with a tarantula is priceless.

Sure, the movie gets a little gooey and sentimental by the time it plays out, but we’ve come to like the characters by then, so it’s OK. This is not a grand cinematic effort by any means, but it does provide some good laughs, with a fair share being quite shocking.

Special Features: The “extended cut” has an extra nine minutes or so of stuff. You also get a behind-the-scenes segment, deleted scenes, outtakes and more. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing