REVIEW: War on Everyone

4 02 2017

war-on-everyoneWar on Everyone” is writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s second film involving politically incorrect and raucous law enforcement agents. If this could become some kind of series … sign me up!

The beer-guzzling, coke-snorting duo of officers Terry (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob (Michael Peña) wheel around Albuquerque framing perps and taking names. Their genius lies in getting away with the unethical deeds they so fondly commit. The stumbling blocks come from their frequent ineptitude and inflated sense of power. The team finally meets something resembling their match when they try ripping off a strip-club manager whose power extends far deeper than anticipated.

I watched the ’80s classic “48 HRS” a few months ago and have to imagine that the Skarsgård-Peña pairing has to be somewhat akin to the sensation of watching Nolte-Murphy. The two actors always match each other in self-deprecation and pithy dialogue, lighting up the screen at every opportunity. McDonagh utilizes their commitment to wonderful effect in “War on Everyone” as he toes the line on some touchy subject matter without ever overstepping the boundaries. There’s a sense in a lot of raunchy comedies these days that these lines only exist for their crossing, irregardless of who gets hurt by doing so. McDonagh makes this off-color humor work with in the parameters established for his irreverent characters, and the taboos bend without breaking. B+3stars

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REVIEW: Creed

25 11 2015

For many people, the sounds of Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” or Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” can pump them up and spur them onto achievement. They can see Rocky Balboa jumping, fists raised, at Philadelphia’s City Hall and feel a surge of inspiration.

I, on the other hand, roll my eyes and laugh.

Sports movies clearly calibrated to trigger a feeling of uplift very rarely work on me, perhaps in some part because athletics were always an arena of disappointment and embarrassment in my personal life. (Give me a tortured artist or woebegone writer flick, though, and we’re in business.) Something about the way they contrive practically every move from a calculated playbook always bores me far more than it excites me. If something were really that moving, why not achieve it organically?

So Ryan Coogler’s “Creed,” as nicely mounted it might be, felt dead in the water for me the moment I started recognizing all the expected beats in this passing of the “Rocky” franchise torch. Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Johnson, the son of the great Apollo Creed, looks to become a professional boxer by training with the great Rocky Balboa. And to do so, he apparently has to go through all the same plot points as his mentor: the training montages, the preparatory fights, the tacked-on romance (with Tessa Thompson, a tremendous rising talent who deserves better).

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REVIEW: Selma

7 01 2015

Selma” is not a Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic.

Or, I should say, “Selma” is not just a Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic.  It is so much more than just the story of one man.

Director Ava DuVernay and writer Paul Webb create their “Lincoln,” a film concerning the premier orator of his era set in the twentieth century’s ’65.  This man, standing with little more than ideology and conscience, must work against a political establishment stacked against them.  What is right, in the minds of these officials, must take a backseat to what the voting public is ready to accept.

But DuVernay, thankfully, disposes of Spielberg’s hagiography of Honest Abe that reeked of cinematic mothballs.  She opts for a portrayal of Dr. King that focuses on who he was and what that allowed him to accomplish.  In a way, not receiving the rights to use King’s actual speeches makes “Selma” a stronger movie.  Whether organically or out of necessity, he becomes so much more than a collection of recognizable catchphrases that trigger memories of a high school civics class.

“Selma” certainly does not shy away from some character details that the history books often elide, such as his vehement opposition to the Vietnam War and his marital infidelities.  Dr. King, as portrayed by David Oyelowo, does not always don his shining armor, either.  The film’s most powerful display of racially motivated violence takes place when hundreds of protesters attempt to cross Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, only to be brutally attacked by a cabal of police and townsmen alike.  King is not there with them.  He is at home, trying to smooth over a marital rough patch with his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo).

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