Monthly Archives: September 2018

“Mission: Impossible- Fallout” Movie Review

Here are some facts everyone should be able to agree on: Tom Cruise is an absolute weirdo in real life. Also, he is still to kick all kinds of ass at an age most would retire at. This critically acclaimed action spy thriller was released worldwide on July 27th, 2018, grossing over $777 million at the box office in the U.S. and across international waters. Despite the apparent collapse of MoviePass, nothing seems to be stopping casual viewers from going out to see this, making it the highest-grossing entry in the franchise thus far. This is likely due to the outpouring of gushing critical praise it has received from all walks of film criticism, whether from major publications or smaller independent labels. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the film marks the first time a director has made a return to the series, having helmed the previous installment Rogue Nation. Although it initially hit a stumble due to a dispute over the star’s salary, McQuarrie promised he was returning because he wanted to do something very different than had been expected thus far from the franchise. Aside from overlapping with another actor’s schedule, which triggered an unwanted Internet sensation, it’s also worth noting that Cruise managed to break his ankle while filming- and kept on going anyway. Roughly two years after the events of Rogue Nation, Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, a highly trained operative for the super-secret organization IMF. After a group of anarchists called the Apostles steal a large amount of plutonium, intent on reshaping the “world order,” Hunt and his team are tasked with tracking down the stolen devices. Meanwhile, they’re being monitored by a deadly CIA agent named August Walker, played by Henry Cavill, in case their mission goes awry. But they all soon realize that multiple other parties are interested in acquiring the plutonium and it becomes a race against time. I have been a big fan of the Mission: Impossible series ever since the third entry in 2006, directed by J.J. Abrams. While it has been around since the mid-90’s, it was at that point I really became invested in the franchise, which only got better from that point onward. So my expectations were not exactly low for Mission: Impossible- Fallout, especially after the high of Rogue Nation in 2015. In fact, when the film first started, I was actually afraid that it wouldn’t live up to any of the massive hype that it had received. And yet, my hopes and/or fears were absolutely supplanted because this is by far the best one in the franchise. However, after watching it, I’m a little bit concerned. Not whether it will win over other new audience members, that much is already guaranteed. Rather, I’m concerned about how this franchise, should it decide to continue onwards, will be able to match or top itself in the next installment. Where are they going to go from here? Up into space? Deep beneath the sea? I honestly don’t know. Not since walking out of Mad Max: Fury Road for the first time has a major studio action movie left me so completely gob smacked. Tom Cruise can be a good actor when he wants to be, and Fallout is perhaps his best turn yet as Ethan Hunt. As per usual, he gives absolute physical commitment to the role, able to pull insane on-screen stunts while still delivering on the dramatic heft. This time, he’s given more depth and much more to lose as we dive further into his characters psyche. While the regular members- like Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and Rebecca Ferguson -return to their respective roles, it’s the new players that really standout. Angela Bassett and Vanessa Kirby deliver badass, powerful women as CIA Director Erica Sloane and the White Widow, respectively. They each have their own agency and ways of going about their business, elevating beyond what could’ve easily been Bomd Girl stereotypes. And then there’s Henry Cavill as August Walker, the shadow agent for the CIA. Charismatic and physically imposing to a fault, it’s unclear what his motivations are but nonetheless creates exciting conflict. And yes, the famous Moustache Controversy with Justice League was worth it, as he gives off an everyman vibe. As always with the series, Mission: Impossible- Fallout is a complete technical marvel. Rob Hardy chooses to primarily shoot with a 35 mm lens, as well as IMAX cameras, which allows for many action scenes to actually be caught on-camera. The incredibly steady, confident movement throughout the film creates a certain fluidity missing in most films in the genre. There are at least 3 incredible stunt-filled set pieces that showcase how much Cruise and McQuarrie are committed, especially a 3-minute HALO jump taking place in real time. Meanwhile, the editing job by Eddie Hamilton is exquisite, creating enough space between shots to keep tension. This is highlighted in a violent brawl in a prestige bathroom, where it moves between each subject effortlessly. Without music to accompany that scene, you can feel every punch and jab delivered. Speaking of music, Lorne Balfe composed and conducted the best score for the franchise thus far- and that’s REALLY saying something. The use of heavy brass and string staccatos help to punctuate the urgency of the team’s mission. It’s also extremely percussive, using instruments such as bongos, jaunty snare drums, and other tools to add to the momentum. In many ways, it reminded me of some of Hans Zimmer’s earlier works, particularly The Dark Knight trilogy, in the best ways possible. There’s obviously the iconic theme from the original show by Lalo Schrifin, which both opens and closes the film. But overall, Balfe is able to make it his own, and is definitely listening to multiple times through. I haven’t felt this much of a adrenaline rush from a movie in so long. In a world that continually files genres away into subcategories, it’s riveting to see a straight-up action movie that delivers on exactly what it wants. Mission: Impossible- Fallout is a fantastic balancing act between all the essential departments of filmmaking. Not only does Tom Cruise and his death-defying stunts draw audiences in, they stay for the gripping manner in which Christopher McQuarrie tells the rather simple story. This is the best Mission: Impossible film by far, and worthy enough to rank among the best action movies I’ve ever seen in theaters. Believe the hype.

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“White Boy Rick” Movie Review

Well… Those were certainly some decisions. Both decent and bad. This biographical crime drama premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, followed by another screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. It later released on September 14th, 2018, after many pushbacks on the release date throughout the last several months. Thus far, it has grossed around $3.5 million against a $29 million budget and should be able to recoup its whole cost by the end of its theatrical run. Directed by Yann Demange, who previously the critically acclaimed thriller ’71, the story behind the titular criminal was largely unknown by the public until an article called “The Trials of White Boy Rick” by Evan Hughes in 2014. This quickly caught the attention of producer Darren Aronofsky, and in February 2015, Columbia Pictures picked up the spec script written by Noah and Logan Miller. Based on the true story, we begin in 1984 Detroit at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic in America. Richard Wershe Sr., played by Matthew McConaughey, is a struggling gun salesman attempting to keep his lower-middle-class family afloat while also wanting to steer them clear of lives of crime. His son Richard Jr., played by Richie Merritt, starts gaining a name for himself on the streets with other criminals his age. Nicknamed “White Boy Rick,” he soon becomes a drug kingpin and the youngest FBI informant in history- just at the age of 14 and 15. Although I have yet to watch ’71, I could tell just from the few clips I’ve seen that Yann Demange is a talented new filmmaker with a strong grasp on control. So count me among the people excited for his debut with a Hollywood studio, especially with such a relatively lowkey yet fascinating story. I had never even heard of Ricky Wershe Jr.’s story before watching the first trailer, so if anything this had the experience to be an entertaining learning experience. Unfortunately, while White Boy Rick is undoubtedly dealing with an incredible story and cast, there’s quite a bit missing that keeps it from being totally great and involving. I read a review a while ago that alleged how White Boy Rick was unintentionally racist in its dealing with various characters. Specifically, how Ricky, a poor white kid, and his family are drawn into shady things happening within a predominantly African-American setting and how the film treats him compared to the black characters. Sadly, I would have to agree with that sentiment, because the screenplay treats Wershe Jr. as the victim of an unfair, overzealous justice system as soon as the consequences for his criminal actions come up. But that’s not the main thing that keeps White Boy Rick from being a great movie; what keeps it from being a great movie is the simple fact that it chooses to address his involvement with crime and the FBI in a chronological order without much time to dwell on the implications of certain things that happen. And that’s just a bland way to go about something like this. For what it’s worth, newcomer Riche Merritt is certainly something of a discovery as the titular teenager. With an authentic Detroit accents and rugged looks, he does a fine job portraying a young man who went through more drama in his adolescence than most adults experience in their whole lives. The real scene-stealer is obviously Matthew McConaughey as Rick’s father, perhaps the most moralistic gun salesman I’ve ever seen. Profane and unhandsome, he does whatever he can to protect his family and is unafraid to lay down the law on both his children. The two of them are flanked by overqualified supporting talent that do the best possible. These include Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane as two pragmatic FBI agents, Bel Powley as Rick’s drug-addicted sister, Jonathan Majors as a major drug lord, and Atlanta star Brian Tyree Henry as a hotheaded narc. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of White Boy Rick make it easy to understand why Yann Demange is an exciting young talent. Tat Radcliffe’s stark, handheld cinematography is both disorienting and deliberate, creating a cinéma vérité style. It also makes use of some long shots to drag out some elements, such as driving an abusive boyfriend out of a home. With the pale, muted colors of the wintry Detroit, there are a number of instances where the filmmakers make it seem like we’re a fly on the wall, observing these events in person. The editing by Chris Wyatt is almost as shaky as the camera itself, moving between multiple shots and cuts in one scene after another. One of my favorite instrumentalists Max Richter, in his 8th film in 3 years, composes and conducts the film score. Like some of his best works, this soundtrack is very lowkey and minimalist in its approach, allowing the emotions to come out organically without feeling overly sentimental. Still, the steady synth melodies play off a sort of melancholic tone, as if prophesizing the eventual downfall of the titular character. The soundtrack also utilizes numerous obscure songs from the mid- to late-1980’s, most of which are dance songs played in nightclubs. However, I’d be a stone-faced liar if I told you I could remember any of the song names, or most of the original music for that matter. White Boy Rick is a sadly uninvolving waste of talent and powerful messages. Despite strong attempts from Yann Demange and the cast to keep things interesting, the bland structure and questionable portrayals just bury it under a pile of other fact-based pictures. What a fascinating story, what a problematic adaptation.

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“Come Sunday” Movie Review

In a world cluttered with God’s Not Dead sequels, Kirk Cameron after-school specials, and Nicholas Cage’s Left Behind, along comes a small little film that actually tries to treat faith and religion with respect. Keep in mind that the operative word here is “Tried.” This biographical drama from director Joshua Marston initially premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival to a generally mixed reception. It was later released worldwide on the streaming service Netflix on April 13th. Originally produced by filmmaker Marc Forster, the film is said to be adapted from a 2005 episode of the radio podcast This American Life, with the host Ira Davis hopping on board as a credited producer. The screenplay written by Marcus Hinchey has been in development supposedly since at least 2010, with several potential actors and directors moving in and out. Based on a true story, Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Carlton Pearson, a Pentecostal minister who went on to become one of the most prominent African-American priests in recent history. In the late 1990’s, he briefly becomes disillusioned with his own faith after the suicide of his uncle (Who he had every opportunity to save) and witnessing the Rwandan genocides on T.V. news. Looking to use his televised persona to help give people hope, he begins preaching the radical concept of universal salvation, which implies that all men and women will be forgiven by God in the end. This causes quite a stir within his own tight-knit household and the broader Christian community, particularly his mentor Oral Roberts. Come Sunday is a frustrating movie, but not in the sense of narrative or emotional involvement. After bashing some Netflix Original films earlier this year, here’s a movie that shows that they are still capable of producing higher quality drama. And the fact that they’ve released low-brow “comedies” (Game Over, Man!) and toxic sci-fi thrillers (Mute) instead of picking up more anticipated or acclaimed projects is simply frustrating to cinephiles like myself. And honestly, after a wash of borderline-propaganda films that try to shove Christianity down the throats of audiences, it’s nice to see one that attempts to explore the religion from a secular view. While Come Sunday is undoubtedly interesting and well-acted, there’s a lot left to be desired. Like Martin Scorsese’s Silence, having grown up in a religious household, there was a lot here that I definitely appreciated more. I knew little to nothing of the story prior to pressing “Play,” so watching a man of the cloth portrayed as a real human being was quite refreshing. Similarly, the movie never condescends on the viewer how faith is important to a lot of people, good or bad. There are some individuals who genuinely want to use their religion to help others, as is shown in the opening scene on a plane. The problem is that Joshua Marston gives the whole thing to the audience straight, lacking an emotional punch on the themes. He seems to work well with his actors, but the direction feels kind of bland and holds back on any power in storytelling. You can’t help but feel that the film would have been more satisfying and engaging if it were put in the hands of a more experienced and confident filmmaker. Thankfully, Chiwetel Ejiofor puts in great, subtle work as Bishop Carlton Pearson. Even without saying a word, we can see the deep conflict in his eyes, a good man who is tortured by his own devout faith. Also, Jason Segel is surprisingly great in a dramatic role as Henry, one of the church’s main financial backers. While it could be easy to paint him as close-minded, Segel does respectable work at making him feel understanding of Pearson’s intentions, even if they don’t see eye-to-eye. Similarly, Martin Sheen, who just seems born to play men of the cloth, inkles some sympathy out of Oral Roberts. He personally groomed Carlton for his career and is a constant, if sometimes a frictional voice of help and guidance on the matters at hand. Other actors like LaKeith Stanfield as the church’s closeted organ player, Danny Glover as the Bishop’s doomed uncle, and Condola Rashad as his unfulfilled wife all do great work but don’t quite leave the same impression. And when it comes to the technical aspects of the film, there’s something about it that just feels dry and uninspired. The cinematography by Peter Flinckenberg uses a lot of muted or crushed colors, helping to illustrate the dark reality this story takes place in. The only one that really seems to stand out that much is purple, which is a major part of the Bishop’s clothes and organization. The editing is pretty finely tuned to each scene, with some clever imagery shown here or there. The two elements come together remarkably well in the moments when Pearson is actually delivering his sermons to a diverse crowd. Given the fact that the Pentecostal ministers were being televised during their preaching sessions, it puts the audience right into the moment. Like we’re watching the man give a sermon right before our eyes, in person. Neither outright horrible nor groundbreakingly amazing in any sense, Come Sunday is a well-intentioned but uneven look at sacrifice. It is certainly leaps and bounds ahead of most Netflix Original films so far this year, but still not remarkable enough to give a definite recommendation. Films like these should be made more often, as they’re far better looks at faith and religion than what you might be used to. Director Joshua Marston and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s hearts are in the right place, but it sadly lacks the punch necessary for this story.

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“BlacKkKlansman” Movie Review

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more hit by a metaphorical truck than the opening and closing sequences of this film. Whatever you may read about beforehand, trust me when I say that you are not prepared for it. This biographical crime drama competed for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. Although it didn’t win the big prize, the film ultimately took home the Grand Prix, which is essentially second-place in the competition. It was later released by Focus Features in theaters on August 10th, 2018, grossing over $43 million at the box office against a modest budget of $15 million. Co-written and directed by Spike Lee, the spec screenplay Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinwoltz was originally written around 2015 after stumbling across the titular memoir. After many months of unsuccessful pitches to Hollywood studios, the project came to the attention of Get Out producers Jordan Peele and Jason Blum, who immediately wanted to get it made. Peele handpicked Lee to direct the picture, and production practically accelerated last year after the Charlottesville Unite the Right ally in mid-August. Based on an insane true story, John David Washington (Son of Lee’s long-time collaborator Denzel) stars as Ron Stallworth, the first black man to become a detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department in 1979. Following an inconsequential stint infiltrating a speaking event by Kwame Ture, he comes across an ad in the local newspaper asking for support for a new chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. On a whim, he calls the number and puts on the guise of a white supremacist, and actually earns their trust. He then assigns a white Jewish partner named Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver, to play the part in person as they advance further and further into the organization. I’ve read a great number of reviews for this film saying that it’s Spike Lee’s “best film in decades” or “his return to form.” Truth be told, I have only seen a handful of his films, and a couple clips from his Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It, so I can’t make either claim. I was very excited, however, to see this film mainly because of the director’s reputation and the absurdity behind the true story. It seemed impossible for something that started out as a hilarious skit by Dave Chappelle to have happened in real life. Yet time and again, truth can always be stranger than fiction. Which is why I can confidently say that BlacKkKlansman is my favorite Spike Lee joint thus far, and one of the best films of the year. There are a number of different aspects that work hand-in-hand in the film, many of which you wouldn’t expect to at first. Namely, how Lee is able to balance the very light with the very heavy. There are a number of hilarious moments, mainly which highlight the inherent stupidity of organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. But there are other scenes that extremely intense or dark, such as a scene where a character played by Harry Belafonte tells a sickening story of brutality. There’s also a very unconventional pastiche prologue that just didn’t quite click with me. John David Washington is on his way to being a star like his father, and his lead performance here proves as much. He’s extremely charismatic and intelligent, but not ignorant to the institutional prejudice he faces; he’s often wondering if he can make positive changes to what’s seemingly a broken system. By his side are Adam Driver and Michael Buscemi as his white partners on the investigation. While both have reservations- particularly with Flip’s sudden acceptance of his Jewish character -they are perfectly willing to go along with Stallworth’s plan to end the bigotry. Other notable players include Laurie Harrier as a fiery Black Student Union president, Cory Hawkins as the infamous Kwame Ture, and Jasper Pääkkönen as the most radical Klansman. But the scene-stealer to me is Topher Grace’s icy cold portrayal of David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Klan. It saddens me to say that he feels born to play the role, and it’s his best one yet. The conversations he has with Ron over the phone provide some great insight into his ideology. After all, he managed to make bigotry somehow more mainstream and sophisticated in modern day society. Meanwhile, Lee shows off most of his stylistic trademarks through some wonderful technical flourishes. Chayse Irvin is an inspired choice for the cinematographer, as he also photographed Beyonce’s Lemonade in 2016. We see a number of dolly shots, showing characters practically floating from one destination to another, creating a dreamlike feeling to the story. There are also a handful of shots that either carry out from curious dutch angles or from Steadicam drifts. Either way, it’s all captured on a glorious 35 mm lens. It meshes extremely well with Barry Alexander Brown’s quick and decisive editing skills, reportedly his fastest job in decades. Many of the phone conversations are given a split-screen treatment so that we can see reactions from both ends. It also manages to keep the story flowing in a clean three-act manner, which is apparently a rarity for the director. Jazz musician Terence Blanchard returns for his 15th collaboration with Lee to compose the musical score. It’s a real doozy, mixing a number of unique instruments to make a cool sound. With a central riff on the electric guitar and gradually building flutes and strings, it sounds almost as if it belongs in a major spy picture. It’s also curious how it mixes the percussion. One minute it’s a smooth beat on the drumset, the next it’s playing out on a marching snare as if we’re marching off to the war many characters prophesize. Regardless, the main theme sticks in your head and is the backbone for many tracks. Not to mention the sweet selection of 70’s dance songs, which help seel it’s homage to blaxploitation films of the era. And as I’m sure many of you have heard, the ending sequence right before the credits roll comes out of nowhere. I don’t necessarily see it as a spoiler, so I’ll just tell you: BlacKkKlansman ends with actual footage from the Charlottesville rally, and the reactions of officials afterward. Jarring, powerful, confrontational, and completely sincere. My jaw was on the floor and no one in my theater left with a single word said. BlacKkKlansman is a dynamic play on multiple genres with a sharp bite. It’s an extremely entertaining buddy cop story with a broad appeal, but also unafraid to run its audience over with a ginormous truck. Spike Lee not only crafts a thought-provoking and all-too-relevant meditation on brutality and perseverance, we’re left to question just how much has changed in the nearly 40 years since then. But it is worth noting that having that conversation isn’t only okay, it’s important.