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Detroit

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Released: 25th August 2017

Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow

Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter

Reviewed By: Menachem Rephun

“God!” the hunter exclaims to his cohort, his face soaked with sweat as he looks down at his fallen prey. “What a specimen he was!”

Had this flippant remark been made by a poacher on safari, we would likely not think too much of it. The speaker in this case is no big game hunter, though, but a police officer proudly sporting the uniform and badge denoting his profession. The officer’s “kill” is not an animal, but a human being, an unarmed black man shot in the back despite posing no threat to anyone.

This is the world of Katheryn Bigelow’s Detroit, a film which transports us to the nerve-wracking, racially-charged atmosphere of 1967 Detroit. It was a time when tensions between the city’s black residents and its white police force were running at an all-time high, resulting in violent clashes between angry African-Americans and DPD officers who bigotry was very thinly disguised.

Bigelow, who has proven herself a master of cinematic realism with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, clearly appreciates the famous “show, don’t tell” rule. With all of the history on hand, it would have been easy for the film to be expanded by another hour, at the very least. Aside from a brief, animated introduction establishing historic context, though, Bigelow does not allow her movie to become bogged down in exposition. Instead, the nightmarish, chaotic atmosphere is established through haunting imagery, like the shot of police officers silhouetted against a backdrop of smoke and flame.

As many have noted, Detroit is rife with painfully drawn-out sequences of terror and violence that are almost jaw-dropping. As its name suggests, the dramatic core of the film is an incident which took place at Detroit’s Algiers Motel on a summer night in late July 1967. The trailer for the film bills the incident as one of the most terrifying in American history, and after viewing this reenactment, it isn’t hard to see why.

The episode, in which three young black men were murdered, while several other hostages, including two young white women, were verbally and physically tortured by DPD officers, is an exercise in police brutality that transcends anything we have come to expect. The heart of Detroit lies in this sequence which makes up a good portion of its run time. The way that Bigelow presents the horror is truly unflinching, without a trace of histrionics or sentimentality. Most viewers will be as unprepared for the nightmare as its victims, creating a nail-biting anxiety and claustrophobia that would send Hitchcock back to the drawing board. Bigelow’s interpretation of what took place in the Algiers Motel that night is colder, more insidious, and more traumatic than anything Stanley Kubrick ever made. Despite its intensity, the violence never becomes numbing. Bigelow captures the tragic absurdity of the incident, which began when a young African-American man, Carl Cooper, fired a toy pistol out of his hotel room window as a prank, sending the police into a frenzy. It was a very stupid move, to be sure, but it paled in comparison to the Pandora’s Box it opened.

As horrifying as Detroit’s violence is, it would have much less impact without a compelling villain. In this respect, Bigelow has gone above and beyond the call of duty, creating a flesh-and-blood monster who undoubtedly deserves a spot on any Greatest Movie Villains of All Time list. That monster is Phillip Krauss, a young DPD officer whose childish, innocuous features give little indication of the sadism, cunning, and pure hatred underneath. It is Krauss who deals the first real blow in the movie, gunning down the above-mentioned unarmed black man during what should have been a routine patrol. The action, which results in the victim’s death, earns Krauss a reprimand from the top brass that is little more than a slap on the wrist, and it isn’t long before the rookie is back on the beat. When confronted over the murder by his superior officer, Krauss points out that Detroit is “a war zone.” He isn’t wrong. The city does look like a war zone, trapped in a state of lawlessness that makes it the perfect playground for an unhinged psychopath drunk on absolute power. Events soon conspire to bring that maniac (Krauss) to the Algiers Motel, where he becomes responsible for most of the insanity that follows.

After the dust settles from the night of terrifying violence (which really must be seen to be believed), it is the characterization of Krauss, portrayed with oozing, bone-chilling malice by Will Poulter, that most haunts me. A beautiful scene in which the young black musician Larry Reed (portrayed by Algee Smith), sings a powerful Gospel tune after surviving Krauss’s reign of terror, is obviously meant to be cathartic and cleansing. But the sting of the injustice refuses to be wiped away.

The performances in Detroit, particularly those of Smith and John Boyega as beleaguered black security guard Melvin Dismukes, are uniformly excellent. But, for better or worse, it is Poulter who steals the show. In his first appearance, we see Krauss riding by car through the ruins of Detroit, remarking to his fellow officers that the police have “failed” the black community. This phony compassion is shown for what it is when, moments later, Krauss shoots a fleeing black man in the back. It is an introduction that, in hindsight, strikes me as eerily similar to the first time we see Nazi Commandant Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List, as he arrives at the Plaszow labor camp by car. There is an extremely thin line between Krauss (note the Germanic name) and a young Nazi commandant. Krauss’s actor, Will Poulter, and director Katheryn Bigelow have confirmed that Krauss is a composite character meant to represent the officers present that night, and I doubt his German name was chosen at random. Both Krauss and Goeth are men better suited for a straitjacket and a padded cell than an officer’s uniform, but fate, tragically, handed them a weapon and the freedom to use it as they please. All that separates the Goeths and Krausses of the world is the uniform and the badge. And, perhaps most disturbingly, the Krausses and Goeths will always prowl among us likes wolves in human skin, smirking and confident knowing they’ll walk free.

Movie Reviews

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★

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Released: 20th July 2018

Directed By: Ol Parker

Starring: Lily James, Meryl Streep, Cher, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

The iconic Swedish pop group said ‘Thank You For The Music!’. An overjoyed studio said ‘Thank You For The Box Office!’.

Sure. Pierce Brosnan singing ABBA’s SOS had a hint of the Borat (Sorry Sacha!) about it. But the summer of 2008 bared witness to a cinematic juggernaut in ‘Mamma Mia’, a jubilant jukebox musical whose sense of joy and fun proved irresistible for audiences. Considering life’s too short. Ten years on we return to the sumptuous setting of Kalokairi Greece with ‘Here We Go Again’, as the sequel fleshes out the timeline, remaining keen to create more cinematic memories.

Content with her unorthodox triple father situation in Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) fierce determination to honour her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) dream of renovating her surroundings into a lavish hotel, coincides with the severe turbulence she’s enduring in her ongoing relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper).

Increasingly doubtful of her own capabilities. The dynamo duo of Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie look to bolster her confidence by delving into Donna’s past, as Lily James’ enthused younger incarnation of the character guides us through her eventful youth with the dungarees intact, reliving her initial encounters in 1979 with Sophie’s dads (Hugh Skinner/Jeremy Irvine/Josh Dylan).

Previously unapologetic in its ramshackle charm and high camp. Director Ol Parker to much relief resists applying restraint to its energetic, big-hearted song and dance numbers, whilst technically and narratively tightening up the deficiencies that perhaps plagued its 2008 counterpart for the purists, with a sharper focus on emotional engagement. As a result, it may not be as quick to overwhelm us with its blindingly sunny disposition like its predecessor, occasionally labouring in its first half with its time-hopping.

Yet when those glorious highs arrive like a new take on ‘Dancing Queen’ and Cher’s stellar firework-heavy rendition of ‘Fernando’, whose cameo evoked hearty cheers in the screening i was in. They are now armed with a poignant and reflective slant, reinforcing the ingenuity in how these timeless songs are integrated into the framework, in order to offer fresh interpretations.

Lighting up the screen as a young Donna Sheridan. Lily James captures the carefree spirit and mannerisms of the character superbly, proving a solid counterpart to Meryl Streep’s original performance and Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie in the singing stakes. Speaking of Streep, much has been made about her (lack of?) involvement in this follow-up. Without slipping into spoiler territory, her gorgeous screen moments this time around epitomise why many fans deemed her an instant hit in the first film. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters continue to provide fantastic farce, stealing much of the script’s zingy dialogue whilst Andy Garcia’s enigmatic hotel manager is a disarming and dashing addition.

It may not have been a sequel we were warming up the vocal chords for. Yet in striking a killer balance between emotive and euphoric. ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a truly wonderful follow-up that brims with sincerity and show-stopping splendour.

Dig out the spandex and unleash your inner ‘Super Trouper’…

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Featured Review

Hotel Artemis ★★★

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Released: 20th July 2018

Directed By: Drew Pearce

Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.

On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.

On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.

On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.

Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.

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Movie Reviews

Skyscraper ★★★★

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Released: 12th July 2018

Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.

Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.

Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.

Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.

In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.

It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.

 

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