August 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”)
Written by: Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”)

As well directed and emotionally charged as Oscar-winning filmmaker Katheryn Bigelow’s true-life film “Detroit” is, it also plays as a one-note exercise in how to trigger outrage from an audience. “Detroit” is upsetting and disheartening and puts the ugliness of racism at the forefront, but it also needed to be a little more enlightening to capture the full essence of exactly what we’re witnessing in the harrowing drama. With “Detroit,” Bigelow and Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal place us at the center of the civil unrest that took place in the Motor City in 1967, but do so in a way that sensationalizes the entire narrative. It would be like watching “Selma,” and the entire film was the Bloody Sunday scene on the Edmund Pettus Bridge stretched into a feature.

Triple 9

February 26, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie
Directed by: John Hillcoat (“The Proposition,” “The Road,”)
Written by: Matt Cook (debut)

There’s a compelling desperation to much of John Hillcoat’s work – a seething, a clawing, a straining-to-survive in a world that seems indifferent and unforgiving at best and actively predatory at worst. “Gritty” suggests itself. “Ruthless” does nicely. His protagonists, set-jawed, tired-eyed men often caught between two irreconcilable inevitabilities or in the tangles of an impossible decision, strive against wounds corporal, emotional, and psychic in a landscape swaddled by corruption, murder, and greed.

Pairing Hillcoat, then, with “Triple 9” – a twisting, ensemble yarn of doublecross and dirty-coppery in which good is often bad and bad is almost invariably worse – would seem a sound and promising (ahem) proposition. Whereas the director’s previous outings have been set in past or projected timelines, alternate or isolated realities that may at best only invite pointed comparisons with our own, the Atlanta-set, aggressively “real” “Triple 9” marks Hillcoat’s first opportunity to spin a tale of human frailty that’s happening right here, right now. As is often the case, the extent to which the narrative lands or not may depend at least partly on the viewer’s expectations sitting down.

In Georgia’s apparently-crime-ridden capital city, here doing its best approximation of “Robocop”-era Detroit, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Michael Atwood leads a sub-rosa gang of police, ex-police, and ex-military mercenaries obliged to pull off a pair of increasingly tricksy, increasingly high-stakes, occasionally pyrotechnic data thefts to sate the desires of the Kate Winslet(!)-headed Jewish-Russian mob to whom they are in hock. Very soon, it becomes apparent that certain of said gang (a trigger-happy Collins, Jr.) are more comfortable with the particular brand of carnage and casualty required than are others (Mackie, as an active-duty gang-unit officer named Marcus). Ties begin to fray when the first job goes a bit screwy thanks to the sloppiness of junkie-loose-cannon Gabe (Aaron Paul), and, with the police force now alerted and a near-impossible mission to break into Homeland Security (beat THAT, Ocean’s Eleven), the crew decide to buy time for the heist by creating what the film tells us is the ultimate calling-all-units distraction: the titular “triple nine,” or 999 – police code for “officer down.”

Enter Chris Allen (Casey Affleck): idealistic, new to the force, and Marcus’s new partner. He gnaws gum, meets everyone and everything with an unflappable Mona Lisa smirk, wants “to make a difference.” He is, it is summarily decided, the perfect mark. What then unfolds is a somewhat Byzantine cat-and-cat-and-mouse-and-more-cats-and-other-cats-dressed-as-mice game, as the appointed time approaches, various dramatic arcs play out, and the important questions (Will Mackie do it? Since they’ve got Ejiofor’s kid, he’s kind of a good guy, right? Are those fake teeth on Woody Harrelson?) are blurred, come into focus, and get re-blurred again.

With Hillcoat at the wheel and a humiliation of casting riches, “Triple 9” rolls into town behind prohibitively towering expectations. The fact is, it’s a serviceable crime drama, with solid set pieces and some nice acting moments (Mackie and Affleck forge a genuine and endearing chemistry; Harrelson adds some characteristic oddball charm; Michael K. Williams does much with a brief but vibrant cameo), but it seems to fall short of what its pedigree might suggest. Some acting beats miss marks, some plot turns are foreseeable, some dialogue feels like frank exposition. The result, alas, is conventional: something like a pulpier “Heat,” or a less-kinetic “The Departed.” Which, depending what you’re up for, might be fine.

The Night Before

November 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie
Directed by: Jonathan Levine (“50/50”)
Written by: Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”) and Kyle Hunter (debut) & Ariel Shaffir (debut) and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad”)

As Christmas rolls around every year, three buddies – Isaac (Seth Rogen) Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Chris (Anthony Mackie) – convene to hit up different traditional Christmas things around New York City, like the Rockefeller Center tree, FAO Schwartz, et cetera. It’s a tradition they started 15 years ago to cheer up Ethan after the tragic loss of his parents to a car accident, but as they’ve grown older and acquired careers and families of their own, they mutually agree to shut the celebration down after one last drug-fueled blowout culminating in a mythical Jay Gatsby-level party known as The Nutcracka Ball.

Look, it’s not as if “The Night Before” is without laughs, but they are all centered on Rogen’s character, tripping balls throughout the night on a box of drugs given to him by his wife (Jillian Bell) as one last hurrah before their daughter is born. Gordon-Levitt’s Ethan is saddled with the maudlin story of a lonely man-child and a half-cooked relationship backstory with former long-term girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan), and Anthony Mackie’s Chris – apparently a star NFL player! – spends the majority of the runtime doing things no person of his caliber of fame could or would do, like walking around NYC almost unnoticed and buying weed from a small-time drug dealer. Its Mackie’s story that draws into relief the biggest problem with the film: it just doesn’t go as far off the deep end into insanity as it should. Flashes of absurdity, like the ultimate resolution of Michael Shannon’s creepy pot merchant or the welcome, weird narration from Tracy Morgan, are nice touches that pepper a rushed, unfocused narrative.

Director Jonathan Levine, who expertly weaved comedy and drama together with Gordon-Levitt and Rogen in 2011’s excellent “50/50,” seems intent on turning in a mash-up of that film and “Pineapple Express,” and the result is about as messy and scattershot as you would expect from that description. Hilarious hallucinogenic freak outs are butted up against would-be poignant scenes of a young man dealing with his parents’ untimely death, only to be followed by another hilarious and inadvertent conversation about dick pics. But with the clashes of tone, a narrative that makes too little sense and has too few laughs to bail it out, “The Night Before” arrives under the tree as a big box of not enough of what anyone wants.

The Fifth Estate

October 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie
Directed by: Bill Condon (“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2”)
Written by: Josh Singer (debut)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been no stranger to the spotlight in recent years. Seizing seemingly every opportunity he has to strip away the layers of secrecy from some of the world’s most powerful institutions, Assange has, for better or worse, personally embodied WikiLeaks’ truth-telling mission. Though the saga is still very much ongoing, Hollywood has churned out a dramatization of the birth, growth, and prominence of Wikileaks and its eccentric founder in “The Fifth Estate.”

With an agenda of releasing the world’s most tightly guarded secrets, computer hacker Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) forms WikiLeaks, a website which anonymous whistleblowers can upload information and reveal dark truths about governments and corporations to anyone who desires them. In an effort to grow, Assange teams up with Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl) who shares his values in the freedom of information. After years of substantial leaks, the two find themselves sitting on one of the biggest information leaks in history. From there, it’s a battle of opposing views on whether releasing sensitive information is worth the potential endangerment of the lives of thousands of people.

The character of Assange proves to be fertile ground for Cumberbatch. He absorbs the role and is by far the strongest element of the film. He commands the screen every second he appears and effectively conveys the larger-than-life persona that Assange has cultivated, all while getting details such as his voice down to perfection. Bruhl is also strong as Daniel Berg, serving as somewhat of a moral compass to the WikiLeaks mission. Unfortunately, his character is bogged down by an unsatisfying romantic plot.

“The Fifth Estate” features a rather kinetic storytelling device that is scatterbrained and unnecessarily confusing. Besides globe jumping, the narrative of Assange is regularly interrupted by the introduction of smaller storylines and characters. Further complicating things is a subpar script that most frequently finds the Assange character speaking in maxims without providing any true substance behind his insistence on the freedom of information. There is also a visual device in the film that fails in its execution where this fantastical idea of Assange running the organization by himself materializes into scenes where Assange is found behind various nameplates in a warehouse of desks.

There will undoubtedly be a lot of comparisons to another WikiLeaks film that has been released this year, Alex Gibney’s documentary “We Steal Secrets.” As another exhaustive look at Assange through the years, Gibney’s film hit its most interesting points when touching on the topics of the leaks of the U.S. military bombing of civilians by Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea) and the subsequent Afghan War Logs, the name given to the biggest U.S. military intelligence leak to date. “The Fifth Estate” barely touches on the fascinating look at Manning and his motives, and also ignores Assange’s accusations of sexual assault, the main reason that he currently remains sequestered in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. It is no surprise that the most engaging and riveting sections of “The Fifth Estate” come in the wake of the release of the Afghan War Logs, which makes the decision to devote such a small section of the film to it even more puzzling.

The debate on the morality and stance on WikiLeaks and the war on information is a divisive one, and one that continues to this day. Regardless of your stance, the details of the sources of the leaks are fascinating topics that this film merely glosses over. “The Fifth Estate” strives to get into the motives, ego, and eccentricities of Assange but never does. Cumberbatch is fantastic here, but those looking for true insight and the full story of Assange and WikiLeaks are better off searching out the documentary instead.

Gangster Squad

January 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”)
Written by: Will Beall (TV’s “Castle”)

As enjoyable as director Ruben Fleischer’s 2009 film “Zombieland” was (and to a lesser extent “30 Minutes or Less” in 2011), his foray into the criminal world of the 1940s with “Gangster Squad” is far from having the entertainment value a cast of this magnitude demands. It’s a glossed-over crime drama that feels like it’s been pulled straight from the Sunday funnies.

Hamming it up for the camera is two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn as gang leader and former boxer Mickey Cohen (an over-the-top role much like Al Pacino played in “Dick Tracy). If you need to know anything about Mickey, it’s that he owns everything in the Chicago area. You want guns? Go to Mickey. You want drugs? Mickey’s your man. You don’t play by the rules? Guess whose sending his tommy gun-toting goons to fill you with holes. Mickey.

On the right side of the law is Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), who is given the task of recruiting a team of renegade police officers to do what very few lawmen would be brave enough to do: cross Mickey and his thugs and shut down his mob syndicate. Nevertheless, Sgt. O’Mara (with the help of his concerned wife, who “hand picks” the men she feels would best suit the job; a ridiculous notion) finds his men. They include Officers Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his right-hand man Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), and Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), the latter of whom has started to bed Mickey leading lady Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) because he can.

Aside from wishing it could be just as enticing as Brian De Palmas’ 1987 film “The Untouchables” (or any other acclaimed film in the genre of the last 75 years for that matter), “Gangster Squad” is not much more than a collection of talented actors playing dress up in their parent’s closet. Although the story based on true events, it’s diluted by Fleischer’s style-over-substance approach, which worked well in “Zombieland,” but not so much here. Will Beall’s screenplay also leaves much to be desired in character development. Each member of the skeleton crew Sgt. O’Mara fashions together is thinly-written.

What is a bit meatier, however, is Fleischer’s eye for ultra violence, which is bountiful throughout “Squad”  but ultimately gives the narrative minimal boost. If Fleischer and Beall focuses as much attention to the relationships and characters arcs as they did ripping a guy in half between two classic cars, “Gangster Squad” could’ve been a contender…at least in the amateur ranks.

The Hurt Locker

March 19, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow (“Strange Days”)
Written by: Mark Boal (debut)

Director Kathryn Bigelow (“Strange Days”) transports audiences into an intense sequence of wartime heroics set in Iraq in “The Hurt Locker.” In the film, SSgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) plays a hotshot solider on an Army bomb squad that is in harms way every single day on the job. Without a heavy-handed political message about the war, the characters in “Locker” are easier to relate to as we watch them put their lives on the line for the greater good. Renner is great as William, but it’s the direction of Bigelow that is the real gem here. Not only will she be the first woman since Sophia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”) to earn an Oscar nomination in 2003, she definitely has a viable chance to be the first to actually win. Along with the extreme combat situations, the film also delivers an effective message about a soldier’s addiction to danger that cuts to the heart of the deep issue of commitment to country and family.