jason o'toole

Detroit. There's a Riot Goin' On

There’s a race war in America.

It’s hard to sit through this movie. Kathryn Bigelow is just as mad at the institution as everyone else. Detroit is an angry movie about a system that does not protect the people of America and still doesn’t. This movie is uncomfortable in what it shows you, but it’s necessary. While I have to grapple with the fact, that as a black man, I could be killed by a police officer at any moment for any reason, this film unflinchingly shows just how far we have not come.

After police raid and arrest an illegal bar of the black patrons that owned it, riots start over the arrest. As the riot rages on, multiple souls end up at the Algiers Motel to wait out the riot. As with each passing minute more violence ensues, things reach a head when after reports of shots fired from the Algiers Motel leads to a horrific night of events.

Bigelow has used the documentary style of filming making to great effect of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty with Mark Boal’s matter of fact scripts with those almost fly on the wall points of view, here this is like watching a historical document. Part of that is due to the use of stock footage and photos, but the biggest aspect of this is the use of a smaller aspect ratio. Not only does that match the footage of the riots, but it also makes the film feel claustrophobic. When it comes to the more brutal parts of the film, there is nowhere else for you to look other than what Bigelow wants you to look at. It’s a testament to the filmmaking involved that this movie, which is two and a half hours, feels like it’s much shorter than that.

From what the film has been promoted as, you’d think that John Boyega is the main character. He is playing Melvin Dismukes, a real life security guard, who throughout the night is trying to do the right thing, without getting himself killed. I’m conflicted over Melvin. He’s referred to as an Uncle Tom when intervening and trying to help a young man from getting killed before the Algiers incident. But then as I watched Melvin navigate the incident, I felt he could’ve done more. He pretends to interrogate one of the young black men only to tell him that he needs to survive the night. There were ways Melvin could have intervened or tried to stop it before they died. Boyega is great in this film no doubt, but he’s overshadowed by two others.

The “main” character of this film is Algee Smith as Larry Reed. Larry is a tragic character who has big dreams of his R&B/Soul group The Dramatics to make it big. To watch him become disenfranchised by that dream and see his hopes erode is heartbreaking. Algee Smith is a revelation who sells every moment he’s on screen. If this is the real-life Larry Reed’s story, then I want to go to Detroit just to give him a hug. Algee shares the spotlight in most of his scenes with the equally powerful Jacob Latimore as Fred. Fred has a conviction to him that shines through with Latimore’s earnest performance. These two are the beating heart of the film and the tragic events that these two endure set them on two different paths.

The three officers played by Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, and Ben O'Toole could be any corrupt, trigger happy cop from any era. Including today. Every time I turn on the news or go on Twitter, it’s always another black man or woman being shot and/or victimized by the police. I can tell you first hand that there’s nothing more humiliating than being stopped and frisked by a cop who has so much hate in his eyes in front of people walking down the street. The only thing more painful are the bruises they leave. The three actors are some I’ve seen in different films, and here they completely sold me on who and what they portray that it’s gonna take me a while to see them in other things just like Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave. And make no mistake Detroit is just as visceral and stomach turning as that film was.

Bigelow also makes sure to show just how persecuted women were and still are as well. Hannah Murray as Julie and Kaitlyn Dever as Karen are berated and humiliated by the police. Karen is fondled and groped as Julie is beaten and stripped of her clothing. The misogyny that happens with the characters is something the film doesn’t gloss over including the fury the officers had that these women chose the company of black men. In fact, interracial relationships are still frowned upon in both black and white communities, sadly.

This is an important film and one that will stay with you. And no, it doesn’t portray all white cops as evil as much as the justice system fails each and every one of us. If you need more proof of this, look no further than our current acting President trampling everyone’s civil liberties. This film is dangerous in all the right ways possible. To be honest, this should be required viewing in schools. I’ve seen complaints about this being solely focused on the Algiers Motel incident. That is such a pivotal moment in the riots that how could it not. The film covers many events before Algiers though, particularly how everything built up to those events. Detroit is not only one of the best films of the year, but the best film in Bigelow’s oeuvre so far.

There’s a race war in America.

If you haven’t seen the Detroit Movie, GO

I’ve never seen a movie captivate so much emotion as that one. The actors did a phenomenal job, and it’s such an untold story that makes you feel like you’re there, in 1967, WITNESSING IT.

I cried several times and had an anxiety attack to the point I had to walk out of the theater. Kathryn Bigelow did a a phenomenal job casting this movie and telling the story.

And if you didn’t leave this movie upset, you missed the entire point.

Go watch, it’s well worth the money. 

"STARDUST" (2007) Review

“STARDUST” (2007) Review

When I first saw the poster for the 2007 movie “STARDUST”, I could not drum any interest in watching it. In fact, my interest remained dormant after viewing the trailer. Then someone suggested that we see it, considering there was no other movie in the theaters we were interested in seeing. I said “no thanks”. However, it did not end there. This “someone” literally had to coerce me into seeing the film. And you know what? I am glad that he did.

Directed by Matthew Vaughn and based upon Neil Gaiman’s novella, “STARDUST” tells the story of a young 19th century Englishman named Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox), who becomes in involved in a series of adventures in magical kingdom located beyond the wall of his hometown of … Wall. His adventures resulted from his love of a young neighbor named Victoria (Sienna Miller) and his desire to find and retrieve a fallen star named Yvaine (Claire Danes) in order to prove his worthiness as a future husband. Tristan has no idea that his mother (Kate Magowan) is not only a citizen of this magical kingdom, but is also a royal princess who is enslaved by a witch named Ditchwater Sal (Melanie Hill). He does not realize that his two surviving uncles - Prince Septimus (Mark Strong) and Prince Primus (Jason Flemyng) - are in search of a ruby that will give either of them the throne to the kingdom. A ruby that had caused Yvaine to fall from the sky and is now worn by her. And Tristan is also unaware of a witch named Lamia who seek Yvaine. With the latter’s heart carved out, Lamia and her two sisters will be able to regain their youth and power.

I do not think I will go any further into the story, because it is simply too damn complicated. It is not confusing. Trust me, it is not. But I do feel that in order to know the entire story, one would simply have to see the film. I have never read Gaiman’s novella, so I have no idea how faithful Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn’s script was to the story. But I do feel that Goldman and Vaughn’s adaptation resulted in an exciting, yet humorous tale filled with surprisingly complex characters and situations.

The acting, on the other hand, was first-class. It could have been easy for Charlie Cox and Claire Danes to fall into the usual trap of portraying the leads, Tristan and Yvaine, as a pair of simpering and and over emotional young lovers - a cliche usually found in many romantic fantasies over the years. Instead, Cox and Danes seemed to be having a good time in portraying not only the ideal personality traits of the two lovers, but their not-so-pleasant sides through their constant bickering and mistakes. Vaughn filled the cast with some of his regulars like the always competent and dependable Dexter Fletcher and Jason Flemyng, along with Sienna Miller, who did a surprisingly good job of portraying Tristan’s bitchy object of desire, Victoria. Henry Cavill gave solid support - in an atrocious blond wig - to portray Tristan’s pompous rival for Victoria’s hand, Mark Strong was excellent as the ruthless and sardonic Prince Septimus.

Robert DeNiro did a surprising turn as Captain Shakespeare, a flaming drag queen who pretends to be a ruthless and very macho captain of a pirate ship in order to maintain his reputation. DeNiro was very funny. But by the movie’s last half hour, the joke surrounding his deception threatened to become slightly tiresome. But the movie’s true scene stealer turned out to be Michelle Pfieffer as the evil and treacherous Lamia, the oldest and most clever of the three sister witches. At times seductive, funny, malevolent and creepy, Pfieffer managed to combine all of these traits in her performance, allowing her to literally dominate the movie and provide one of the most creepiest screen villains to hit the movie screens in the past decade. Margaret Hamilton, look out!

As much as I had enjoyed “STARDUST”, I had a few problems with the movie. I have already pointed out how the joke surrounding Captain Shakespeare’s sexual orientation threatened to become overbearing. I also found the movie’s running time to be a bit too long. This problem could be traced to an ending so prolonged that it almost rivaled the notoriously long finale of “LORD OF THE RING: RETURN OF THE KING”. And the fact that the movie’s style seemed to be similar to the 1987 movie, “THE PRINCESS BRIDE”, did not help. Another problem I found with the movie was its “happily ever after” ending that left me feeling slightly disgusted with its sickeningly sweet tone. But what really irritated me about “STARDUST” was Jon Harris’s editing. It seemed so choppy that it almost gave the movie an uneven pacing.

But despite the movie’s disappointing finale and Harris’ editing, “STARDUST” proved to be a very entertaining movie. Using a first-class cast and an excellent script, director Matthew Vaughn managed to pay a proper homage to Neil Gaiman’s novella. He also proved that his debut as a director (“LAYER CAKE”) was more than just a fluke. And he has been proving this ever since … so far.

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