Film Review: Detroit (2017)

Release Date: July 25th, 2017 (Fox Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie, Samira Miley, Chris Chalk, Chris Coy

Annapurna Pictures, First Light Productions, Page 1, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 143 Minutes

Review:

“I’m just gonna assume you’re all criminals.” – Krauss

John Boyega has been getting a lot of work lately, which is great, as I have been a fan since Attack the Block. Will Poulter, who I really only know as the virgin teen from We’re the Millers just made his entire career off of the back of his performance here.

Detroit has been released fifty years after the 1967 Detroit riots that it showcases. I’m not sure if that was intentional or just a convenient coincidence. Either way, the film shines a light on an incident that needed to be told and unfortunately, still has relevance today.

The movie uses its first hour to focus on the riots and the social and political climate around them. Although, if you are still alive and well in America today, it isn’t hard to understand. In fact, it makes you wonder how far we’ve actually come in half a century but the reality of the answer to that question is just depressing.

After the first hour of setup and character development, the film really picks up and gets to the story that was the main focus of the film’s trailers. Racist, psychotic police officers storm a hotel and discover two white girls in a building full of young black men and are offended by this. During the process, the main psycho cop (Poulter) shoots and murders a black man as he was running away through the building. The rest of the people in this part of the hotel are rounded up and put against a wall, as the cops threaten them, beat them and even kill some.

Following the hour or so with the cops in the hotel, the movie shifts to their trial and the aftermath of the situation for those who survived it.

Kathryn Bigelow, who is one of the best directors working today, proves, once again, that she can tell an exceptional and emotional tale that is relevant to what is happening in our world today. She also doesn’t box herself in with a traditional plot structure, as this film has three very different acts yet they all work in unison and weave a tale bigger than just the central incident of this film.

Getting back to Will Poulter, his performance as the racist piece of shit cop Krauss, was one of the best on screen villains in a long time. The kid has acting chops that go far beyond anything I could have expected, only having seen him in We’re the Millers. He has a unique look that can play virginal and innocent or intense and psychotic. He has the gravitas to pull off just about anything and I can’t wait to see where his career goes, as this should certainly open up a lot of doors. Based off of his look alone and his sly and sinister smile, I’d rather see him as the Joker than Jared Leto… just throwing that out there.

Detroit is not a perfect film or the best film that I have seen this year. However, it does what it sets out to do and it does it in a tasteful way that is hard for naysayers to argue against. While a lot of people want to turn a blind eye to how cops and the system have historically treated black people in this country, you can’t turn away and be disaffected by this picture. I hope it, at the very least, this opens some eyes.

I also hate the fact that it is 2017 and we still have to have these conversations.

TV Review: Gotham (2014-2019)

Original Run: September 22nd, 2014 – current
Created by: Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart-Jones, John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Morena Baccarin, BD Wong, James Frain, Jessica Lucas, Chris Chalk, Drew Powell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Michael Chiklis, Maggie Geha, Benedict Samuel, David Zayas, Cameron Monaghan, Richard Kind, Natalie Alyn Lind, Peyton List, Crystal Reed

Primrose Hill Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 66 Episodes (thus far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2015, near the end of season 1, plus additional updates written later.

I was going to wait until the end of the first season before reviewing this show, as I do with most new shows. I just can’t get that far and don’t think that waiting till the season ends will change my assessment. I’ve tried desperately to get this to work for me. I’ve tried a hell of a lot harder than most of my friends and Batman fans, who all gave up on this a long time ago. I saw some promise here and there but this show fails in just about every way. In short: it is pretty goddamned awful (*note: I no longer feel this way as revealed in the final update).

There are actually only a few things that this show has going for it but I’ll get to those shortly.

If you barely know anything about the Batman mythos and you find pleasure in watching mediocre cookie cutter detective shows, I can see where you might find this watchable. However, if you are a Batman fan and love and respect the franchise, this is a very painful experience.

On one hand, the producers are trying to spoon feed the audience with fan service in every episode but it is forced, poorly executed and unnecessary. In fact, it feels as if the producers read a couple Wikipedia articles about Batman and thought they had an intimate grasp. And the way they handle certain characters, goes to show that they don’t understand them at all.  At times it just feels like a cruel joke and it is Fox trolling the shit out of their audience.

For instance, Edward Nygma doesn’t need to speak in riddles every scene, Harvey Dent doesn’t need to display a split personality every other appearance, you don’t need to have constant Joker teases across multiple unrelated scenarios, you don’t need to show a little ginger girl playing with plants every time she’s on screen and Selina Kyle doesn’t need to parkour off of every object whenever she makes an entrance. I also don’t need to be reminded every five minutes about how Jim Gordon is a good cop and every other cop on the force is tainted by something. It is fucking overkill.

The acting is questionable, the writing is more often than not atrocious and despite the over abundance of horribly executed fan service, the show is just plain stupid on its own. It is an obvious attempt at being a cash cow and a ratings grabber and somehow it has worked in that regard, as it is coming back for a second season.

The whole premise of the show makes it a failure from the get-go.

To start, the worst part about most live-action superhero adaptations is the origin. The audience usually finds themselves roughing it through the early bits in an effort to get to the comic book action. Also, how many times has Batman’s origin been told? Now we are given a show that is an overly extended version of the lamest part of Batman’s tale. Who knows how long this could stretch: ten seasons, maybe? Hell, one has been enough.

The other main part of the show, is Jim Gordon trying to “save the city” and destroy corruption. Well, he’s doomed to fail because if he were to succeed, why would Gotham City need the Batman?

As far as characters, Bruce Wayne is okay and I like him being a little shit challenging authority and taking on the evil adults of his world but it isn’t enough to anchor a need for him on this show. Selina Kyle is awful and pretty much a caricature that just happens to look like a young Michelle Pfeiffer. The Poison Ivy character is unimportant and so far useless. All the villains who show up are poorly done and easily defeated. Barbara Kean is the worst character on television. Where did Renee Montoya go? Fish Mooney is sometimes great but mostly terrible. However, I don’t blame these actors, I blame the atrocious writing.

When it comes to positives, Robin Lord Taylor is amazing as the Penguin. In fact, at first, I hated that he was way too skinny to be the Penguin but he’s so good in the role that I don’t care. He is by far, the most interesting part of the show. Almost as good as Taylor is Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. Then again, when isn’t Logue anything short of great? Ben McKenzie does a solid job as Jim Gordon and I do like Cory Michael Smith as Nygma, the man who will become the Riddler – even though the writers force riddles into every situation he finds himself in. Lastly, Sean Pertwee makes a fine Alfred Pennyworth and is my favorite live action incarnation of the character. Pertwee also looks a lot like his father in his older age and seeing him in action reminds me of the Third Doctor from the classic Doctor Who series.

The show is often times too distracted by its own mess and diverts away from characters with potential to focus on too many small parts in a machine that is too large for its own good. When the show is at its strongest is when the Penguin is on screen, Alfred is kicking ass or when it focuses more heavily on the crime families of Gotham City. The episodes pitting Sal Maroni against Carmine Falcone with a little Fish Mooney and the Penguin mixed in are the best that this series has offered up so far.

I still watch this show because I want to buy into it, I just can’t. The good parts keep me engaged but they are too far and few between. I don’t believe that the show will get better but there is enough good stuff to expand on and save it from being the generally uninteresting mess it is currently. But I probably won’t watch the second season on a weekly basis, as I do now. I’ll wait a year for it to be over with and then binge watch it over a weekend. If it picks up steam and corrects itself, consider me reinvested. If not, I’ll find better ways to spend my time.

Update:

Season 2 of Gotham has been infinitely better than the first. The shows is finding its footing and it now knows what it is trying to be. I like that it is creating its own world and veering away from being trapped by the expectations from an already established Batman mythos. The show is doing its own thing and honestly, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Wayne is killed off before even becoming Batman.

Update 2:

At the end of Season 3, the show has corrected a lot of its early mistakes.

Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome Valeska, who may or may not be the Joker but is probably the Joker, is the best version of Batman’s greatest villain I have ever seen in a live-action story. The kid is magnificent and really captures the magic of the comic book version of the legendary character better than anyone I have ever seen. Yes, he’s better than Heath Ledger and he has the same spirit as Mark Hamill who has voiced the character for decades.

Additionally, the show just becomes more interesting as it rolls on, even though it has some dumb plot threads. But when you don’t take this show seriously and just embrace its insanity, it works.

Most of the villains have evolved solidly, especially the Penguin and the Riddler. I also really liked the Mad Hatter story, as well as the plots that focus on Hugo Strange.

Gotham is far from a perfect show but it bounced back, in my opinion. It also works if you just take it for what it is and don’t try to force it into the box that is the already established comic book mythos. I see it now as an Elseworlds Tale, which is a title DC Comics gives to their stories that take place in different realities.

I’m glad I stuck with it as long as I did. For others who have, their dedication has paid off.