Wednesday, August 23, 2017

DETROIT (2017)

Written by Mark Boal

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Where & When: TCL Chinese Theatres 6, Hollywood, CA. August 6, 2017 6:30 PM

The team of screenwriter, Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, who previously brought us "Zero Dark Thirty" and the 2010 Best Picture Oscar winner, "The Hurt Locker", have once again delved in to challenging and troubling subject matter based on actual events with "Detroit", a disturbing, racially motivated incident that happened at the Algiers Hotel back in 1967. The issue of race and any discussion on race relations in cinema has always been precarious. Ms Bigelow has stated that she was inspired by troubling current events between the Black Lives Matter movement and the police to tell this little-known story (I had never heard about it and I moved outside of Detroit as a child a few years before). Bleak, brutal and intense, the director has skillfully crafted a frightening recreation of this tragic event yet fails to offer anything much deeper than that. We are shown the terror of the situation, the helplessness of the victims and the cruelty of the law enforcement officers but the drama exudes little emotional clarity.

It was during the early morning hours of July 23, 1967 when police raided an illegal after-hours club on 12th Street that began what is now referred to as the Detroit riots. Tensions between the African-American community and the police had been building for quite a while and finally reached a boiling point. Looting, arson and attacking the police and innocent bystanders took place throughout the city. A curfew was put in to effect but that hardly brought an end to the violence which eventually went on for five days. The Governor at the time, George W. Romney called in the Michigan National Guard to try and restore peace while President Johnson sent in U.S. Army troops to help.

Two days later, The Dramatics, an aspiring soul group, were waiting for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas to finish their set at the Fox Theater so they can take the stage. Lead vocalist, Larry Reed (Algee Smith) is counting on this moment as a chance for them to break-out but the theater has been order by the police be cleared out due to the riots near by, leaving him devastated. As their tour bus tries to get them home, they are stopped by the violence of the rioters and head out on foot. The group get separated during the chaos with Larry and his friend, Fred (Jacob Latimore) deciding to spend the night at the nearby, Algiers Hotel until morning.

Bored and restless, Larry and Fred decide to check out who's at the hotel when they stumble upon an unexpected sight; two white girls from Ohio, Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever), hanging out by the pool. They chat and flirt before the girls take them to meet some friends. Several people are in a room, including Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell) and Aubrey Pollard (Gbenga Akinnagbe), that are drinking and trying to have fun despite the curfew. Frustrated and tired of the continuous police presence, Carl foolishly fires a starter pistol in their direction. As some police officers had previously been fired upon by snipers during the riots, the sound of gunfire causes an overreaction and they return shots back on the Algiers.

Three police officers are the first to arrive on the scene, lead by Philip Krauss (Will Poulter in one of the film's best performances), a young and particularly vicious aggressor who needs little incentive to pull his trigger. All of the eight occupants that remained in the hotel (which includes an honored Vietnam vet, played by Anthony Mackie) are dragged out of their rooms, lined up to face a wall and then must endure a long, horrific and incredibly cruel interrogation in search of who fired the gun. By the time this harrowing ordeal is finally over, three of them are dead.

Ms Bigelow uses her film to point out the social and economic injustices for African-Americans that lead to this explosive uprising and how we as a society, after all these years, have still failed to properly address these issues, causing them to remain unresolved and repeated. At over two hours, "Detroit" is exhausting and emotionally draining yet the astonishing performances help make it worth the challenge. The kinetic camerawork by Barry Ackroyd also adds to create a tempo that dramatically jolts and unsettles throughout the drama.

Mr. Boal thoroughly researched this calamitous incident, examining court documents and interviewing many of the survivors that were involved yet it's quite clear that much of the dialogue and some of the chain of events were invented by the writer. While his compelling, detailed script (with some names of the victims and the police involved changed to protect the privacy of the innocent and the guilty) takes us deep into the terror and anxiety that the participants surely felt, the minimal backstory of each makes it difficult for them to fully come to life.

John Boyega, the British actor who shot to instant fame with his turn in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" plays Melvin Dismukes, an African-American security guard (who worked nearby and came to the hotel to try and help) that finds himself a part of this tragic situation. Forced to remain a passive witness, Dismukes unwillingly became the moral center of this story, feeling compelled to follow the police orders while helplessly unnerved by the horror of what was happening.

After the riots are over and word of this event at the Algiers became known, there was a trial largely because of two of the officers confessing to the crime under interrogation. Dismukes was also charged after being identified by Julie Ann as being present. There shouldn't be much of a shock about the outcome of the trial when the judge rejects the use of the confessions as evidence.

Not surprisingly, there has been controversy and criticism leveled at "Detroit" for the lack of substantial African-American female characters and the question raised of whether Ms Bigelow was even the right person to direct this incendiary story. Perhaps some of these claims may be valid while others are just noise but these questions distract from what this director has managed to accomplish with "Detroit".  While this terrible incident occurred over fifty years ago, the film sadly brings in to clear focus that not much progress has been made between the continual friction and mistrust between the African-American community and the law enforcement that is supposed to protect them. "Detroit" is far from perfect but hopefully it may inspire serious conversation and thoughtful dialogue that could help bring an end to the senseless tragedies that are still happening today.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


When Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway came out at this year's Academy Awards to present the final award of Best Picture, they were there as Hollywood royalty and to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of the release of their classic film, "Bonnie & Clyde". The duo caused unintended chaos (although no real fault of their own) with the announcement of the (wrong) winner which put a bit of a damper on their appearance. Now it's time to put all that Oscar drama in the past and focus on their groundbreaking movie which almost single-handily changed how stories can be told in American cinema with the merging of traditional gangster movies and the French New Wave.

"Bonnie & Clyde" was released on August 13, 1967 and was met with some harsh criticism for it's apparent glorification of ruthless criminals and the depiction of graphic, bloody violence. One very vocal critic was Bosley Crowther of the New York Times who wrote multiple bad reviews and felt the film was just appalling and tasteless.

However, there were some critics who found this crime-thriller (based on the real-life Depression-era bank robberies and murders by the young lovers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow along with their gang) visionary and innovative like Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael and Joe Morgenstern (at the time the critic for Newsweek and now with the Wall Street Journal) who reviewed it twice, first with a pan and then after seeing it again, showering the film with glowing praise.

But it was the public, truly the most important audience, who embraced "Bonnie & Clyde" and made it one of the top grossing movies of the year. The film also received eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and won two for Best Supporting Actress (Estelle Parsons for her role as Blanche Barrow) and Best Cinematography.

"Bonnie & Clyde" remains an influential classic and an important milestone in cinema. If you haven't seen this film (and even if you have), you now how the opportunity to see it on the big screen in celebration of it's anniversary with screenings at select theaters across the country.

Click below to purchase tickets and the location of a screening on August 16th of this classic on the big screen at a theater near you:

Bonnie & Clyde 50th Anniversary Screening

Thursday, August 10, 2017


With 2015's "Mad Max: Fury Road" along with the recently released summer flicks, "The Fate of The Furious" and "Atomic Blonde", Charlize Theron is now embraced as a tough, ass-kicking action star, a relentless lethal weapon that you clearly don't want to mess with. Yet she is also a respected serious actress capable of creating emotionally complex characters as seen in her work in "The Cider House Rules, "North Country", "In the Valley of Elah" and "Monster" with her astonishing portrayal of serial killer, Aileen Wuornos earned Theron a Best Actress Oscar in 2003.

Since her first major film role back in 1996 with "2 Days in The Valley", the former dancer and model has become a formidable screen presence. Her striking good looks may have initially caused people to underestimate her talent but she proved that she was more than capable of handling all genres of cinema with skill and conviction.

Vulture has taken a look back on most of the film performances by Ms Theron and have ranked them from her least successful to her all-time best.

Click below to read:

Every Charlize Theron Performance Ranked From Worst to Best

Thursday, August 3, 2017

JEANNE MOREAU (1928 - 2017)

What I loved about Jeanne Moreau, the French actress who passed away on July 31st at the age of eighty-nine, was her expressive, penetrating eyes which effortlessly conveyed everything she needed or wanted to say. While not well known to the average American movie-goer, I would say she would be comparable to the great Hollywood star, Bette Davis (although I'm sure many millennials would have no idea who she is either). Like Ms Davis, she did not possess a conventional look usually associated with actresses performing on the big screen and she is the polar opposite of the icy beauty of her French acting contemporaries like Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot yet Moreau had a commanding presence that was undeniably fascinating to watch.

Moreau began her career successfully on the stage and when she was given a chance to work before the camera, they tried to transform her in to a typical screen siren. But it was director Louis Malle (who would later become one of her admiring lovers) that saw her potential and presented her in a more natural state in his feature debut, the 1957 crime thriller, "Elevator To The Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud )". This film effectively launched both their careers and Moreau would go on to work with such great film makers like Roger Vadim ("Les liaisons dangereuses"), François Truffaut ("Jules et Jim"), Michelangelo Antonioni ("La Notte"), Luis Buñuel ("Diary of a Chambermaid"), Jacques Demy ("Bay of Angels"), John Frankenheimer ("The Train") and Orson Welles ("Chimes at Midnight"). She would even get behind the camera herself and directed three films including a semi-autobiographical 1976 feature, "Lumière" and a 1983 documentary on actress, Lillian Gish.

It's not surprising that this passionate actress attracted the attention of many suitors throughout her life and in addition to Malle, she had affairs with directors Truffaut and Tony Richardson, actor, Lee Marvin, musician, Miles Davis and fashion designer, Pierre Cardin. Moreau was married briefly twice; first to filmmaker, Jean-Louis Richard with whom she had a son, Jerome and later to American director, William Friedkin.

Jeanne Moreau came at a time when cinema was changing from the glossy, perfect images from Hollywood to the realism, experimentation and youthful rebellion of French New Wave in the '60's. As an important figure during this era, she gave us many inimitable performances that will continue to mesmerize and exhilarate audiences for many years to come. I have included a few trailers to highlight some of her memorable screen appearances:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


"Dunkirk", the recent WW II drama from filmmaker, Christopher Nolan, has surprised everyone as it has unexpectedly managed to top the U.S. box-office chart for a second week in a row. This well-reviewed film has so far amassed over two hundred million dollars worldwide. I don't know why this is so shocking as I seem to recall twenty years ago there was another very expensive period drama about a couple falling in love on a doomed ocean liner that people said would never find a big audience.

An audience for this big-budgeted film did appear to be limited due to Americans having little knowledge of this event, the rescue of almost half a million trapped British and Allied soldiers on the shores of Dunkirk, a French fishing village, and that millennials have displayed little interest in movies set in the past. However, Mr Nolan had faith and a vision, using a non-linear narrative to create a tense, disturbing yet moving drama that covers three different locations and periods of time. It's a remarkable achievement and brilliant example of how cinema can be elevated to an art form.

While Nolan is best known for "The Dark Knight" trilogy, he began his career more modestly with the micro-budgeted, 1998 crime-drama, "Following" and his breakthrough hit, "Memento", a psychological thriller from 2000. The forty-seven year old director has surprisingly only made ten films to date and Vulture has decided to evaluate his impressive cinematic output so far (all receiving rave reviews and none have lost money), ranking them from not-as-successful to outstanding.

Click below to read:

The 10 Films of Christopher Nolan Ranked

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Written by Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers

Directed by Jon Watts

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. July 8, 2017 5:45 PM

With the announcement that Spider-Man would finally be joining the cinematic Marvel Universe, the question that immediately came to my mind was do we really need another re-boot of "Spider-Man"? In the last fifteen years, there have been five features made with two actors (Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) in the role and combined have grossed almost four billion dollars globally. So I guess we know the answer to that question.

The latest revival has surprisingly been given to Jon Watts, a relative newcomer to film whose previous credit is the well-reviewed yet little-seen 2015 road-thriller, "Cop Car". But Watts had a clear plan and with "Spider-Man: Homecoming", he brings a refreshing and thrilling spark to the series. He returns to the basics of the history of this character with a high school kid trying to figure out and come to terms to what the phrase "with great power comes great responsibility" really means.

As the third guy in the spider suit, Tom Holland, the twenty-one year old British actor who made an impressive film debut in the 2012 feature, "The Impossible" and also appears in this year's "The Lost City of Z", delivers a fresh take on Peter Parker, making him filled with all the anxieties, insecurities and raging hormones of a true teenager right down to a voice going through pubescent change (in a flawless American accent).

Thankfully we have been spared another origin story with this film beginning shortly after Spider-Man's brief cameo in last year's "Captain America: Civil War" which featured a major battle that caused a lot of destruction in New York. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his crew had been assigned to clean-up the city but Anne Marie Hoag (Tyne Daly), head of the U.S. Department of Damage Control, informs him that Tony Stark's company will be taking over the removal of the debris. Enraged by losing much needed income to a very wealthy man, Toomes decides to keep some of the alien technology left behind he had collected.

A few years later, Peter anxiously wants to become one of the Avengers but Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) doesn't feel he's ready to take that on full-time yet. He suggests he stay in school and "Happy" Hogan (Jon Favreau), Stark's driver and bodyguard, will contact him when needed. But the impatient Peter decides to put on the Stark-designed suit and go through the city fighting crime on his own.

One night on a practice run, Spider-Man witnesses a robbery of a bank's ATMs in progress and decides to intercept. However, these men are not only armed with standard guns and fire back on him with advanced weapons that can take down a building. After escaping, they return to their leader, Adrian Toomes who has created these powerful weapons to use in their crimes, sell to other criminals and even crafted an elaborately armed, flying costume for himself which he uses as "The Vulture".

I was concerned when I saw six names involved on the screenplay (including director, Watts) yet I was pleasantly surprised to find a cohesive script that tells a clever and witty story which is sharply focused on the awkward teenager struggling to become the crime-fighting hero he dreams of being while fighting against a disgruntled average guy who turns to criminal misconduct mainly to support his family.

There is stronger emphasis on Peter's life outside of the suit and we meet his best buddy and fellow nerd, Ned (Jacob Batalon) who discovers his secret identity. Ned wants to tell everyone at school so they would be cool but Peter is wise enough to know that would not be a good idea. If he was going to be tempted to reveal himself, it would be to take on Eugene "Flash" Thompson (Tony Revolori), a rich, school bully but also attract the attention of Liz (Laura Harrier) a pretty senior that Peter has a crush on. And we have Oscar-winner, Marisa Tomei playing a younger and hipper Aunt May who is quite concerned about the odd bruises and increasingly strange behavior of her nephew.

With Ned's help, Peter is able to study one of the weapons left behind to understand it's advanced power source and locate Toomes, with a tracking device he placed on one of his henchmen, to be able to get one step ahead of him. After discovering that his Spider-suit is set on training wheels, he also has Ned help override it's settings to release it to full capacity. Not a great plan since he doesn't completely understand all it can do but fortunately, much like Stark's Iron suit, there is a calm, disembodied voice (played by another Oscar-winner, Jennifer Connelly) to take commands and give advice on how best to solve any impending situation.

Now it wouldn't a super-hero movie without the requisite action sequences and "Spider-Man: Homecoming" has several big numbers, including the final battle between Spidey and The Vulture, that are all visually impressive yet ultimately generic. But what makes this film really noteworthy is how it makes this long revered character fun and interesting again by simply bringing him back down-to-Earth, filling him with youth, inexperience and uncertainty.

By the end of "Homecoming", we have a transformed Peter Parker and even Spider-Man, for that matter. He has matured somewhat, learning how best to use his extraordinary power to not only help mankind but also himself. No offense to any of the previous films but this is one thoroughly enjoyable Spider-Man adventure that will be remembered and long praised.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Grand Jury Awards

U.S. Grand Jury Prize: "Signature Move"

U.S. Narrative (Special Mention): "195 Lewis"

U.S. Narrative Jury Prize Best Actor: Luka Kain, "Saturday Church"

U.S. Narrative Jury Prize Best Actress: Ever Mainard, "The Feels"

Best Screenwriting in a U.S. Feature: Eliza Hittman, "Beach Rats"

International Grand Jury Prize: "The Wound"

International (Special Mention): "Body Electric"

Documentary Grand Jury Prize: "Chavela"

Documentary (Special Mention): "Girl Unbound: The War to Be Her"

Best Narrative Short: "Goddess (Devi)"

Best Documentary Short (tie): "Bayard & Me" and "Jeanne Cordova: Butches, Lies & Feminism"

Audience Awards

Best Narrative Audience Award: "The Chances"

Audience Award for Best First U.S. Narrative Feature: "A Million Happy Nows"

Best Narrative Short Audience Award: "The Real Thing"

Best Experimental Short Audience Award: "Pussy"

Best Documentary Feature Audience Award: "Chavela"

Best Documentary Short Audience Award: "Little Potato"

Now, here's a few brief reviews of films I caught at the fest. Touko Laaksonen, or as he is better known as "Tom of Finland", is now a national hero in his native country and even received first-class stamps issued in 2014 that feature his hyper-masculine, homoerotic images. That was not always the case for Laaksonen as we learn in the bio-pic from Finnish filmmaker, Dome Karukoski. Pekka Strang stars as Laaksonen who we first see as a solider in WWII. This traumatic event not only haunts him throughout his life but also shapes his sexuality and art. With homosexuality a crime in Finland, he would secretly draw illustrations of physically-enhanced construction workers, lumberjacks and bikers geared towards gay men and sell them underground under the pseudonym, "Tom". His work eventually found it's way around the globe and brought him a certain amount of fame and fortune. Laaksonen efforts to bring a sense of normalcy to his sexuality, at a time when the world told him it was wrong, was challenging and brave yet he wasn't trying to be a heroic. He simply wanted to creatively express himself through eroticism.

"The Pass" stars Russell Tovey and Arinze Kene as two rising star UK footballers who share an intimate encounter in hotel room before an important match that could make-or-break their careers. While Mr. Tovey delivers an impressive performance, this overly talkative drama, based on a play from John Donnelly, never shakes it's theatrical origin. Director Ben A. Williams, adding no cinematic flourishes, seems to have simply just filmed the play, even breaking the movie up literally in three acts.

Jeffrey Schwarz, the director who previously brought us documentaries on important figures in gay history, has delivered his latest with "The Fabulous Allan Carr", which examines the flamboyant producer/agent whose garish tastes brought him fame and infamy in all areas of show business. As an overweight kid growing up in Chicago who loved musicals, Alan Solomon had dreams of somehow making it big in Hollywood. He soon transformed himself in to "Allan Carr" (rhymes with "star") and got his first break as a talent coordinator for Hugh Hefner's local television show, "Playboy's Penthouse". After landing in Los Angeles, Carr began an extreme roller-coaster of a career. He first began a talent agency which he represented a diverse list of stars like Marlo Thomas, Dyan Cannon, composer, Marvin Hamlisch, "Mama" Cass Elliot and Ann-Margaret who was his first big client. This lead to a chance to produce and one of his biggest successes was a film version of the musical, "Grease". Carr's follow-up films, The Village People musical, "Can't Stop The Music" and a sequel to "Grease" had the opposite effect with them being labeled the worst movies of all time. He make a dramatic comeback on the New York stage producing an American musical remake of the French gay farce, "La Cage aux Folles" which won six Tony Awards in 1983 including Best Musical before falling from grace once more producing the infamous 1989 Academy Awards. This is a fascinating profile on a one-of-a-kind showman that doesn't really exist anymore.

Another compelling documentary, "Kevyn Aucoin: Beauty & The Beast in Me" features another person I had almost forgotten about. The late Aucoin, adapted as a baby to a loving family from Louisiana, found great fame as a celebrity make-up artist in the '80's and '90's . Director Lori Kaye, a friend of Aucoin, was able to get her hands on hours of video footage that he shot of behind-the scenes during photo-shoots with the models (Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Andie MacDowell, Paulina Porizkova) and performers (Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Liza Minnelli) that he transformed and brought out their natural beauty with his skilled hands. But despite all of his success, he was still haunted by memories of being tormented for being gay by his school peers and the desperate search to find his birth mother.