Spotlight: Wind River

Spotlight: Wind River

Taylor Sheridan, writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water, takes on double duty of writing and directing his chilling new thriller Wind River. The month is April, but no one told the state of Wyoming. They’re still in the thick of winter, and it’s anything but a wonderland when Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a game tracker, finds the body of a local native girl face down in the snow. Mother nature murdered her, but who was she running from in subzero temperatures in the middle of the woods?

The FBI is called in to investigate, sending their seemingly most unprepared agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). Aware that she’s completely out of her element, Agent Banner asks for Cory’s assistance is navigating through the snow and the red tape involved in a murder on a Native reservation. In the vein of a more serious Coen Brothers film, Wind River‘s current is strong, sending you around some surprising bends and delivering you to the mouth of an unexpectedly intense finish where no one is safe.

I really enjoyed this film. It’s beautifully shot and shines a light on reservation life and the complexities that come with the territory. If you loved Sheridan’s two previous features, this third American Frontier-set thriller should be on your watchlist. Although, I don’t expect Wind River to be a strong box-office performer (so many movies to see, so little time) it’ll be a perfect rental or streamer when that time comes.

*I do not own this image. Courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

**My SPOTLIGHT reviews are meant to shine a light on the films in a more limited release that are worth viewing.

 

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Detroit

Detroit

Academy Award winners Kathryn Bigelow (Director, The Hurt Locker) and Mark Boal (Writer, The Hurt Locker) bring their acute attention to the 1967 Detroit rebellion and racial turmoil that ignited the streets like a wildfire. The filmmakers focus in on the outrageous police brutalities against African-Americans and a cold-blooded murder scene at the Algiers Motel. You can’t help but see our own reflection staring back at us in the glass that frames this ugly portrait hanging in the museum that is American history.

Detroit is not a pleasure to watch. It’s a hard look at the systemic racism of 50 years ago that still exists today. Bigelow’s use of handheld cameras delivers an authentic feeling of moving through a city under siege. The filmmakers do an incredible job setting an unfortunate stage for an equally incredible ensemble of actors to come in and fill out the story with some of the most raw and a realistic performances I’ve seen. I would love to see these actors nominated for the Best Ensemble prize at next year’s SAG Awards.

Detroit is an unrelenting, harsh, visceral blow to your senses. And even though the filmmakers take some unnecessary liberties with the story, they succeed in making you as uneasy and angry as we all should be. What’s worse is that this story is not just a part of our past, but a part of our present. No comfort is provided here in this timely work of art, only an embarrassing and infuriating glimpse into the horrifying Detroit riots.

Film: Detroit
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Runtime: 143 mins
Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, and Anthony Mackie
Rating: R
Ry View: A Highly RYcommended work of art that needs to be seen.

  • I do not own this image. Picture courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.

Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde

I now know what I wanna be when I grow up. CHARLIZE THERON.

Atomic Blonde is an explosion of neon and smoke against a chilly Berlin at the end of the Cold War. Directed by stuntman David Leitch in his first time at the helm in an official capacity (previously uncredited for co-directing John Wick), the film’s fight sequences are outstanding. What’s even more impressive is Theron taking on most of her own stunts proving once again she’s a world-class movie star.

Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent heading to Berlin to followup on the death of a fellow spy (and her lover). Most importantly, she must also recover a list of double-agents that would be disastrous in the wrong hands. Always a joy to watch, James McCoy is Percival, an MI6 operative stationed in Berlin and Broughton’s only contact. But in this web of espionage, who can she really trust? The film weaves between the electric pulse of Berlin and the harsh lights of an interrogation room where MI6 and CIA bosses (Toby Jones and John Goodman respectively) question Broughton on the outcome of the ultraviolent mission.

Grab some popcorn (or if you’re me Chocolate Covered Almonds) and sit down for an almost two-hour fight to the finish. Atomic Blonde pops off the screen with style and a fun 80’s mix to bop to along the way. And DON’T BE SURPRISED when you leave the theater and find yourself hiding around corners pretending paranoia because your friends have double-crossed you and are trying to infiltrate your top-secret mission!

Oh. No? Just me? Cool.

HIGHLIGHT: Girls Trip

HIGHLIGHT: Girls Trip

Girls Trip was the perfect bookend to my busy little weekend. It’s raunchy, irreverent, and the most I’ve laughed at the movies all year! I was obviously not the only person who thought so, it took the number two spot at the box office this weekend with a $30 million haul (biggest live-action comedy opening of 2017). The four leads have amazing chemistry and a star is born with the breakout performance of Tiffany Haddish (check out her hilarious interview on Jimmy Kimmel).

When Ryan Pierce (played by the hilarious Regina Hall…a personal favorite of mine btw) is invited to be a keynote speaker at the annual Essence Festival, she brings along three of her lifelong friends for a fun, unforgettable weekend in New Orleans. But none of the girls (maybe minus Haddish’s Dina) have it as together as they try to present on their fresh, pretty surfaces. With cheating husbands, empty bank accounts, and self-confidence issues, NOLA becomes the perfect place for these old pals to let loose (or “turned” as Kate Walsh’s annoyingly hilarious Elizabeth calls it). Jada Pinkett-Smith is terrific as Lisa, a single mother who worries about her kids needs and never about her own. The wonderful Queen Latifah plays Sasha, a journalist turned online gossip columnist. And Tiffany Haddish really brings the funny as the rowdy Dina.

If you wanna REALLY laugh at some funny, funny women, go see GIRLS TRIP. No, it’s not the best or most original comedy of all time, but these ladies make it work. They’ll have you wanting to join in on all the fun. I hope we’re all invited back!

 

***I do not own this image. Copyright UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. Photo by Michele K. Short

Dunkirk

Dunkirk

400,000 Allied soldiers await evacuation on the beach of a small French town, Dunkirk. A master at playing with time, Director Christopher Nolan makes the most of his 106mins and gives the best picture of the year so far. THIS MOVIE WILL BE NOMINATED FOR BEST PICTURE, GUARANTEED. The film is epic, but it’s told in a very intimate way through a few different accounts and spans of time (a week, a day, an hour). From start to finish, it’s a tense, breathtaking journey of survival and one of the best war films of all time.

Honestly, if more war-time films were told like this, I might actually be a fan of the genre. But I’m sure my love of this film has more to do with my admiration of it’s captain, writer/director Christopher Nolan.  In Dunkirk he has crafted four different accounts of the same experience. The film’s lead focus is on Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a young British soldier who joins up with Gibson and Alex to find a way on to one of the boats taking soldiers home across the short 26 mile stretch of the English channel. The channel is too shallow for large vessels and therefore will require multiple smaller ones to pick up the vast number of soldiers stranded on the beach. We meet Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) on The Mole, a docking station for the boats picking up the soldiers. Oscar-winner Mark Rylance is a civilian boater who, a long with his son and a young friend, ventures into dangerous waters to aid in the rescue. And in the air flies Farrier, played by a very Bane reminiscent Tom Hardy, patrolling the skies and picking off enemy planes. As the movie moves, it becomes clearer how the different passages of time are working together towards a triumphant finale.

In the hands of any other director, this would be a heavy two-and-a-half to three hour crawl, but Nolan keeps it tight. Minimum dialogue. Zero backstory. No one waiting at home. He keeps us in the experience of surviving Dunkirk. And you won’t find a nazi baddie anywhere either. They’re kept at a distance, but still very much present in their planes or through their gunfire.

The intensity, dread, and hope are all heightened by the brilliance of Hans Zimmer’s score. Is it really a Christopher Nolan film without Hans Zimmer? I don’t think I ever want to find out. The film also features some of the most incredible sound design and editing. With bullets popping and fighter planes diving, the sounds of Dunkirk bring you off the edge of your seat and into the horror. Side-note, between last weeks War for the Planet of the Apes and Dunkirk this week, I’m feeling very blessed to have never experienced such terror and grateful to the people fighting for good and for our safety.

For as much popcorn fluff as summer ’17 has offered, I think we’ve received equally as much substance (especially from Warner Bros. who gave us Wonder Woman earlier this summer). Dunkirk is a substantial piece of cinema told on land, sea, and in the air. Nolan’s story of skill, bravery, and sheer luck gives us a real taste of what it takes to survive. This is one of the must see films of the year and Oscar will soon be knocking.

Film: Dunkirk
Director: Christopher Nolan
Runtime: 106mins
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hardy
Rating: PG-13
Ry View: Best Picture of the Year…so far. Highly RYcommended

***I do not own the image used in this review. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Copyright 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC and Ratpac Entertainment, LLC, Syncopy.

 

Going Ape for “War”

Going Ape for “War”

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is a wonderful, thoughtful conclusion to this prequel trilogy. Stunning cinematography and terrific motion-capture performances fill this Oscar-worthy picture. No, it’s not your normal summer blockbuster fare. Yes, you have your action, explosions – the drama of it all! But you leave with something much deeper – thoughts on war and fear.

Director Matt Reeves, who co-wrote this moving piece of cinema with Mark Bomback, places us right in conflict at the very start and it doesn’t let up from there. Tragedy strikes the Apes after a nighttime assassination attempt on Caesar (Andy Serkis), the leader of the Apes, led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) of a surviving U.S. Army troupe. Broken and afraid, the Apes need a new sanctuary. Caesar needs revenge. He and a few loyal followers set out on a quest for vengeance. Along the way, they pick up a human girl, Nova. She is mute, a victim of the simian flu, a degenerative disease that has been wiping out the human race. And then comes Bad Ape played by Steve Zahn quenching us with some comedic relief we so desperately thirst for in this otherwise depressing feature. I don’t mean depressing as a negative. War is inherently depressing and sad.

The performances are mostly mo-cap and I don’t mind. Led brilliantly by the king of mo-cap, Andy Serkis delivers a wonderful final performance as Caesar, the merciful leader of the Apes. The motion capture effects in this film are amazing and sure to be recognized come Oscar season. Like Summer Oscar babes of the past, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is on the same level as THE DARK KNIGHT and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

This is the final act of a war story. This a tale of revenge – a quest for peace. If you’re not on the side of the Apes in this film, you and I probably have fundamental differences and would not get along. I love it when a big budget studio film can be more than popcorn fluff. It proves that there’s always room for thoughtfulness. While this is a visually stunning film, it has something to say. And we should all listen.

Did you miss the two previous films in this rebooted franchise? Well, do yourself a big favor and have a little movie marathon with RISE and DAWN. After that, march on down to your local cineplex, get yourself a ticket to WAR. You won’t regret it.

Film: War for the Planet of the Apes
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hrs 20mins
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Toby Kebbel
Ry View: HIGHLY RYcommended

YES, I know that’s a silly image for such a serious movie. LOL

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming

It’s only been 15 years since the first Spider-Man film swung into theaters and we are already on our second reboot and third Spider-Man. This time they really got it right. Finally, Spider-Man feels like the kid he’s supposed to be, a fifteen year old Peter Parker played by the petite and spry Tom Holland. Peter’s just returned from a little training camp with the Avengers (see Captain America: Civil War) and he’s ready to help save the world (or at least he thinks he is). Don’t worry though, Iron Man/Tony Stark is around to remind him he’s still too young and should remain a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” – for now. With his Stark designed spider suit, Peter continues his training for Avenger status by performing his “internship” (as he calls it) duties of patrolling the neighborhood. It doesn’t take long before he finds exactly what he’s looking for…trouble.

Yes, Spider-Man: Homecoming is an action movie, but it’s also a fantastic teen comedy with some super talented young actors. Ned (Jacob Batalon) brings the funny as the nerdy best friend whose idea of a good time is building a lego model of the Death Star. Zendaya proves she’s a master of sarcasm and dry wit as Peter and Ned’s smart, made-down, but like still beautiful Academic Decathlon teammate Michelle. There are so many terrifically funny bit parts that I could be here all day talking about them. The entire cast of Spider-Man:Homecoming is diverse and wonderful and a great example of the direction in which Hollywood needs to shift.

Tom Holland is the absolute best Peter Parker that has graced the silver screen. He’s likable, awkward, handsome, and – most importantly – believable! We were introduced to Holland’s Spider-Man in the most anticipated scene from last summer’s Captain America: Civil War. They promised us Spider-Man and they delivered. To be quite honest, I was not looking forward to another retelling of Spider-Man, but gracefully the filmmakers skipped over Peter’s well-documented backstory and threw us right in to all the Spidey goodness.

Famous for playing the caped crusader, Michael Keaton steps over to the dark side to take on the role of Adrain Toomes, a.k.a. Vulture. Keaton is fantastic as the engineer/illegal arms dealer who’s not about to let some silly Spider-Man get in his way. I am absolutely here for the renaissance of Michael Keaton. The phrase “never meet your heroes” feels like a good suggestion when I see him deliver that unmatched intensity that has the DC and Marvel worlds shaking in their boots.

This is the Spider-Man we didn’t know we needed. I enjoyed the previous films, but I loved this one. The Spider-Man films of the past focused on the deaths that surrounded Peter, forcing him to grow up too fast. Homecoming pumps the brakes and allows Peter to be the adolescent that he is. The wonder of youth is a central theme in this film and it’s a joy to watch and let yourself swing along for the ride. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a refreshing entry in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a star-making performance from Tom Holland who I hope suits up for years to come.

Film: Spider-Man: Homecoming
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Zendaya, Marissa Tomei
Director: Jon Watts
Runtime: 2h 13min
Rating: PG-13
Ry View: RYcommended