Tag Archives: John Boyega

Jaeger Bomb

Pacific Rim: Uprising

by George Wolf

I like to think it went down this way…

After hours, in a dimly lit Hollywood bar, the makers of Pacific Rim: Uprising met up with Michael Bay and his crew (let’s call them the Bay-o-nettes) for a good old-fashioned excess-off. As the final challenge was accepted, Uprising director/co-writer Steven S. DeKnight had agreed to break the record for use of the phrase “save the world,” AND include a bit of the “Trololo” viral video guy.

Done and done. And there’s some Transformer-type robot fighting.

This unnecessary sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s lackluster original picks up 10 years after the invading kaiju were defeated by giant Jaeger robots and their skilled pilots. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) died cancelling that apocalypse and now Stacker’s son Jake (John Boyega) and his frenemy Nate (Scott Eastwood) must whip a rag-tag bunch of new recruits into shape just in time to battle a brand new threat and …pause for close up and crescendo…save the world (ding!)

After a number of TV projects, Uprising marks DeKnight’s feature debut, and it shows. Most every frame succumbs to an invasion of empty dialogue and the cliche of least resistance. The actors pose more than they move, and even the cheapest of attempts at emotional manipulation seem too much for this film to handle.

But hey, who cares, we’re here for the robot throwdown, amirite?

Probably, but even that, minus Del Toro’s stylish pizzazz, becomes a confusing and repetitious snooze. Seriously, the guy down the row from me at the screening was snoring (which was confusing at first and then repetitive).

Too bad, he totally missed the part when Pikachu showed up and slaughtered everybody.

Okay, that didn’t happen.

Dammit.

 

Day for Knight

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Did The Force Awakens simply recycle our Star Wars memories and sell them back to us? It did, but not simply, damn near brilliantly.

Then we got the sneak attack from the surprisingly deep Rogue One, a highly effective prequel that only strengthened our bond with the original Star Wars trilogy, and our confidence in the filmmakers now at the helm of this historic franchise.

The Last Jedi makes any letdowns seem light years away. With a deft mix of character-driven emotion, high stakes action and mischievous fun, it waves a proud flag for the legacy of this cinematic universe while confidently taking big strides toward crafting a new one.

Visionary talent Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) now has the con as both director and sole screenwriter. His affection for the franchise, coupled with an innovative sense of character arc and storyline, combine for a freshness that respects nostalgia even while priming you to move beyond it.

Like J.J. Abrams, Johnson revisits iconic images and bits from the predecessors, but even with much more screen time for Mark Hamill’s Luke, Last Jedi feels less indebted to the original trilogy than did Force Awakens. You’ll find more humor (an opening “on hold” bit is a riot), more action and more Kylo Ren.

As Rey, Leia (Carrie Fisher in a bittersweet appearance), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Bodega) gather their scrappy troops to resist the First Order’s plan for pasty-faced, black-clad tyranny, the yin and yang of the film pits Adam Driver’s dark Ren against the spunky light of Daisy Ridley’s Rey.

Force Awakens gave Ridley plenty of opportunity to claim her spot at the center of the franchise, but Last Jedi allows Driver the chance to fully expand into the role of series villain. A true talent, Driver delivers a Ren who is emotionally manipulative and yet sincere (so emo!), needy and conflicted as he struggles to prove himself more than the “child in a mask” derided by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis – aided by improved CGI).

Last Jedi also completes the transition of Poe into the courageous, never-tell-me-the-odds “flyboy” we knew was his destiny since the fist moments of Force Awakens. Isaac never disappoints, and it’s a joy to see him buckle this swash so Han-dily (sorry).

While we meet some great new characters, too, there is little exposition and a near constant barrage of action which renders the extended running time meaningless. It might get a little too cute once or twice, but there’s enough social commentary here to be relevant, enough visual glory to look wondrous, and more than enough spirit to be confident in its vision.

Things happen to characters we care about and to others we just met, and nearly all of those things carry the emotional heft of torches being passed.

And The Last Jedi makes it feel not only right but necessary, and all the more satisfying.

Just Comply

Detroit

by George Wolf

Detroit burns with a flame of ugliness, rage and shame that simmers well before it burrows deep into you. It is brutal, uncomfortable, even nauseating. And it is necessary.

Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, the Oscar-winning duo behind The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, bring craft and commitment to the story of Detroit’s infamous Algiers Motel Incident.

In July of 1967, during days of rioting from civil unrest, a riot task force raided an annex of the Algiers amid reports of sniper fire coming from the building. After hours of beatings and interrogation, three young African American men were dead.

Bigelow and Boal wrap this tragedy in their meticulous brand of storytelling, and it bursts with an overdue urgency. Layering timelines, characters, and bits of archival footage, the filmmakers achieve the stellar verite effect that has become their calling card. We become part of these events through an authenticity that brings terror to you, takes the breath from you and quickens your pulse. In conveying atrocities now decades old, the film builds its lasting power from how it makes us confront our present while depicting our past.

John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) carries the film’s soul with thoughtful nuance as Melvin Dismukes, the black security guard at the scene for assistance. In one of the film’s most quietly powerful scenes, the gravity of his situation begins to hit Dismukes, and he quietly trembles. It’s one of the many instances the film deepens its feeling by letting events speak for themselves.

Ironically, it is precisely the subtle and organic nature of Detroit’s truths that call attention to the few moments of heavy-handed overreach, more from surprise than their effect on the overall narrative.

With a chilling, award-worthy turn, Will Poulter (The Revenant) makes the sadistic Officer Krauss all the more terrifying for how casually his violence erupts. There is excellence throughout Bigelow’s ensemble cast, and from Anthony Mackie’s embodiment of African American veterans denied the very rights they fought for to Algee Smith (The New Edition Story) as an aspiring R&B singer whose life is forever altered, sharply defined characters are revealed regardless of screen time.

Concerns about the voyeuristic nature of running this brutality through a white filmmaker’s lens are legitimate, but Bigelow also delivers a level of sensitivity that is palpable and frankly surprising for a tale so inherently savage. The strive to get this right is felt in nearly every frame, down to the end title card explaining the need for dramatic license.

Intimate in scope but universal in reach, Detroit shows a shameful part of the American experience, one rooted in white power and black fear, that continues to be perpetuated.

It is not a pleasant film, but it is necessary.

Verdict-4-5-Stars