FlixChatter Review – Judas and The Black Messiah (2021)

The script of the life of Fred Hampton has been floating around Hollywood for many years but it never got made into a film until now. Hampton was one of the leaders of the Black Panthers movement and the youngest of the group back in the 60s and his assassination by the FBI is well known and that’s probably the reason the film of his life has had trouble making it to the screen. Maybe, because of our current political climate we’re living in now, his life story is finally being told, and I think it’s more relevant than ever.

The film starts out with an interview footage of the real Bill O’Neil in 1989 and then flashes back to 1968 when the young O’Neil (LaKeith Standfield) poses as an FBI agent to steal cars from locals in Chicago. One night, his antics got him arrested and while being held in the interrogation room, an actual FBI agent named Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) showed up and offered a chance to turn his life around. Since O’Neil likes to pretend to be someone he’s not, Michell offers him to be a mole for the FBI.

He tells O’Neil that the Black Panthers are terrorist groups, and he’s needs an inside man to be his eyes and ears in order to bring them down. Of course, O’Neil doesn’t have a choice, if he doesn’t take the deal then he goes to prison. He reluctantly accepts the offer and goes undercover and meets Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), a young charismatic leader of the Chicago Black Panthers division. Once O’Neil became part of Hampton’s group, he realized that the Black Panthers aren’t the people that Michell told him about. They’re a group that tries to give a better life to the black community in the rough part of Chicago. But because O’Neil doesn’t want to go to prison, he keeps feeding the FBI information about the Panthers’ activities that eventually led to Hampton’s assassination.

I actually watched a documentary about Hampton’s life a couple of years ago, so I knew the story and while I’m sure some of the events has been alter for dramatic purposes for this film, it’s still pretty accurate account of what happened. The screenplay is written by Will Berson and Shaka King, the latter directed the picture. It’ a well written story and I wish the actual film is longer. At only 2 hours long, I feel there’s so much we don’t know about Hampton and O’Neil and I would have liked to see more of their lives explored in the film. I’ve never seen any of King’s work but I’m very impressed with what he did with this film. The only negative thing I see here is how he depicted the FBI director Hoover (Martin Sheen in poorly prostatic makeup), he’s like a cartoonish Bond villain and I don’t think that’s very accurate.

Performances were excellent. Standfield, who I think looks a lot like a young Dave Chapelle, is very good as the conflicted person who sees the Panthers as a group of peaceful activists who wants to better the lives of black people. But he knows that he can’t back out of a deal he’d made with the FBI. Kaluuya is excellent as Hampton, a passionate man who sees himself as peacemaker but knows what the authority sees him as a threat. Dominique Fishback (who was terrific in Project Power) continues to impress me with her performance, here she plays Hampton’s lover. As mentioned earlier, I wish the film were longer, so we get to see more of their relationship. Plemons is always good, and he’s great here as the father figure to O’Neil. He uses O’Neil to impress his bosses at the FBI and also advances his career. At first, he acted like a friend to O’Neil but when he didn’t get what he wanted, he became a very nasty person who holds a lot of power.

This is probably one of the better films I’ve seen in the early part of 2021, I just wanted it to be a bit longer. I feel it’s too condensed, but it’s very well made with great performances by the lead actors.

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So have you seen Judas and the Black Messiah? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – The Midnight Sky (2020)

The success of GRAVITY back in 2013 led Hollywood to fall in love with the sci-fi space adventure genre again. I’m talking about non-Star Wars and Star Trek related films of course. Within the 2010s, there were some great space films such as INTERSTELLAR, THE MARTIAN, AD ASTRA and FIRST MAN. But there were also some clunkers like PASSENGERS, LIFE and THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX. The latest space adventure is THE MIDNIGHT SKY directed by and starred George Clooney.

In the year 2049, a catastrophic event has caused the earth to become inhabitable. A lone scientist named Augustine (Clooney) decided to stay at his post at the Barbeau Observatory in the Arctic Circle while everyone was order evacuate the area before the “event” happened. A few months later, Augustine realized that he might be the only survivor living on earth. He soon learned that a group of explorers on a spaceship called Aether are heading back to the now dangerous earth. He needs get in contact with the ship and tell them to turn around. While on Aether, the crew lead by Captain Adewole (David Oyelowo), Sully (Felicity Jones), Sanchez (Demian Bichir), Maya (Tiffany Boone) and Michell (Kyle Chandler). The crew is worried because they haven’t had any communications from earth in a long time.

Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo

Augustine is unable to communicate with Aether from his current observatory. So he needs to travel to another station that’s more well equipped, but things got complicated when he discovered a child named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) who was left behind during the evacuation. Now the two lone survivors on earth must make a long trip through the freezing temps of the arctic in order to reach another observatory station. The crew on Aether also ran into their own trouble as the trip back to earth was thwarted by some unforeseen dangers.

Based on an excellent novel called GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT written by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the screenplay by Mark L. Smith stays pretty close to the source material. Smith did change a couple things up, like the names of the crew of Aether and added some set pieces that didn’t exist in the novel. I loved the novel and appreciated that the filmmakers decided to stay true to the source, but I think this is where I think they should have taken some liberties and change the story to make it more exiting and cinematic. I feel like there’s not much urgency in the story to make people care about the characters’ survival. I get that Clooney wanted to make a slow-paced character study piece, but I don’t think he’s talented enough to pull it off. What worked in the book doesn’t mean it’s going to work on screen. I think a more talented filmmaker like Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Afonso Cauron or David Fincher could’ve turn this into something special.

Even though he fell short on the storytelling part, Clooney and his cinematographer Martin Ruhe shot a beautiful looking film. I’ve said many times before, most of Netflix’s films tends to have that made for home video look to them but with a high budget of over $100mil, Clooney and his crew delivered a stunning looking film. Kudos also goes to composer Alexandre Desplat who composed a very beautiful and haunting score.

Caoilinn Springall

Performances by the actors really saved this film for me. Jones, Oyelowo and the rest of the supporting actors are memorable in their respective roles. Clooney whose character is in his 70s in the book, decided to lose a lot of weight for the role to make himself look older and I thought he’s great here. Also, in a memorable role is Ethan Peck as the young Augustine in flashback scenes. But the scenes stealer belongs to Caoilinn Springall and she only has one line of dialog in the entire film. Her performances consist of body language and eye contacts, for such a young actress, she’s quite excellent here. I predict she’ll have a long career in Hollywood.

Netflix is obviously hoping this will their big Oscar film this year, but it seems most critics and audiences don’t really care for it much. If you’re a fan of the novel or enjoy sci-fi space adventure, then I think this is worth your time.

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So have you seen MIDNIGHT SKY? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – 21 Bridges (2019)

Before the superhero genre dominated the box office, super cop action thrillers were the blockbusters of the 80s and most of the 90s. Films such as Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and Beverly Hills Cop spawned several sequels and earned millions back in the days. 21 Bridges tried to bring that genre back to the big screen and it starred the late Chadwick Boseman as the action super cop.

The story takes place in one night in NYC as two low level criminals Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and Michael (Stephen James) decided to steal some cocaine from a local mob restaurant. Things didn’t go as planned when the cops showed up and a shootout ensued. Ray ended up killing several cops at the scene and he and Michael was able to escape. Police Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) is furious and wants justice for the fallen officers, so he called in Detective Andre (Chadwick Boseman) to track down the two criminals. Andre is forced to partner up with another cop named Frankie (Sienna Miller).

Knowing that Ray and Michael are still in Manhattan somewhere, Andre order all of the 21 bridges in the island to be closed. As the night progresses, it’s a cat and mouse game between Andre his new partner Frankie and the two criminals. To anyone who’ve seen this kind of genre before, the story is pretty simple and most the audience will figure out what’s really going before the hero does.

Stephen James & Taylor Kitsch

The screenplay by Adam Mervis and Mathew Michael Carnahan started out pretty well, it has the potential to be a great action thriller with the real time chase element. But as the story progresses, they couldn’t help but to bring in eye-rolling clichés that’s been done in several cop action thrillers of the past. Also, not helping was how the climatic sequence was written, it’s basically something out of a Steven Seagal’s films of the 80s and 90s. My guess is that the scene was probably a reshoot after test audience didn’t like the original ending.

Director Brian Kirk did a decent job with keeping the story moving along with some good action sequences and didn’t try to make it into some super serious action thriller that plagued too many action films in the last decade.

Being that the script was kind of weak, Boseman was good as the action hero even though he didn’t really have much to do except to chase the criminals. Same can be said of Sienna Miller’s Frankie, although her NY accent was pretty bad. As for the rest of cast, they played their part well but nothing spectacular.

This is a good example of a film that has good ideas, but the execution just wasn’t there. Probably another round of rewrites of the script would help. I think with a better talented group behind the scenes, it could’ve been a really good suspense and thrilling action film.

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So have you seen 21 BRIDGES? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – Netflix’s PROJECT POWER (2020)

With the pandemic still ravaging throughout most of the world, the summer movie season has pretty much been non-existent. Thanks to streaming services, we’re able to keep entertained with shows and movies while in lockdown. Netflix in particular has been busy churning out big movies throughout the summer season. Their latest is another take on the superhero genre and it’s also the lamest title for a movie that I can remember in a long time.

In New Orleans, a drug called Power has been going around the city giving its users superpowers for about 5 minutes. The head of the distributor is named Biggie (Rodrigo Santoro), the pills is growing popular with criminals around the city and local cop named Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is fed up and wants to put an end to the madness. He enlisted the help of a small-time drug dealer named Robin (Dominique Fishback), not only is she helping him taking down small time criminals, she also supplies him with the Power drug to enhance his abilities to fight the bad guys.

One day Robin is kidnapped by an ex-ranger named The Major (Jamie Foxx), he wants Robin to take him to the head of the drug operations. As it turns out, The Major is looking for his daughter whom he believes is somewhere in New Orleans and he ended up begging Robin for help. Things didn’t go as planned when they connected with one of the top drug dealers and The Major ended up saving Robin’s life. Now that she’s knee-deep in the whole scandal, she decided to help The Major and Frank even came along to take down the mysterious corporation that’s producing the drug and it’s being led by a doctor named Gardner (Amy Landecker).

The screenplay by Mattson Tomlin is sort of an allegory to how African Americans are being treated by the government here in the States. By setting the story in New Orleans, I assume he wants the audience to remember what happened to the residents of that city when hurricane Katrina destroyed it back in 2005. Tomlin also understands that people who’ll watch this film will want to see the actual power of the drug and there’s no shortage of that. If you’re a fan of superhero films then you’ll recognize some of the powers from other superhero films that’s being shown on the screen.

Before this film, I’ve never seen any previous work of duo directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Their style is nothing new, they pretty much copied the look and feel of Michael Bay’s films. Lots flashy cuts and heavy saturated colors on the screen. This is an action film, but I thought the action were kind of lame. Joost and Schulman tried to be “creative” when they shot the action scenes but when people watches action films, they want to see the action and not trying to figure out what’s happening on the screen.

The performances by the actors were pretty good. Dominique Fishback is the actress to keep an eye out for. Robin is the heart and soul of the story and I thought Fishback was a delight to watch on the screen. Since they’re both veterans, I thought Foxx and Gordon-Levitt did a fine job in their respective roles.

Of the recent big action films that’s been released by Netflix, this one maybe the most forgetful one to me. It’s not bad but it could’ve much better. If you’re bored on a Saturday afternoon, then you might want to check it out.

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So have you seen PROJECT POWER? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – Netflix’s EXTRACTION (2020)

Netflix is trying to take on the big Hollywood studios by producing quite a bit of pricey original films within the last couple of years. While their more prestigious films such ROMA and THE IRISHMAN received rave reviews and decent amount of views. Most of their original action/adventure films didn’t do quite well, for example last year’s very expensive TRIPLE FRONTIER was a dud. EXTRACTION is their latest action film that became their biggest hit to date, viewership wise anyway.

As the story begins, we’re introduced to Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), he’s the son of a ruthless drug lord named Mahajan (Pankaj Tripathi). Mahajan is in prison but still very powerful within the crime syndicate of India. While out partying with his friends at a night club, Ovi is kidnapped by men working for Amir (Priyanshu Painyuli), Ovi’s father rival. Upon learning the news that his son has been kidnapped by his rival, Mahajan orders his right-hand man Saju (Randeep Hooda) to do whatever it takes to get his son back alive. Saju hires a mercenary team whose leader is Nik (Golshifteh Farahani), she recruits her old teammate Tyler (Chris Hemsworth) to join the team in rescuing Ovi from danger.

At first Tyler wasn’t interested because he’s still grieving the death of his son. But when Nik told him that the fee is very high, Tyler decided to join her. They traveled to Dhaka to get Ovi and once Tyler found the boy, things went south real fast. He realized that his team has been double crossed and he will need to use all of his skills to keep Ovi and himself alive from the local police and henchmen who’re all chase after them.

Based on a graphic novel named Ciudad written by Ande Parks and The Russo Brothers. The screenplay is credited to only Joe Russo and it’s decent script for an action film. The story is pretty simple and quite predictable. It did try to get too serious for its own good about half way through the story but thankfully it didn’t linger on that too much.

The biggest draw for this film of course is the action and first-time director Sam Hargrave delivered the goods. Being that Hargrave was a stunt coordinator for many of the big Hollywood blockbusters, he knows how to shoot action scenes properly. There’s a “one shot” action sequence that will blow you away, one of the best action scenes I’ve seen in recent years.

Hemsworth hasn’t had much luck in films outside of the MCU but he seems to be a good fit in this role. His 6’2″ muscular frame makes him more believable that he can take on several foes at the same time than say someone like 5’5″ Tom Cruise. There’s not much that was asked of him for the role but Hemsworth did try to give a more personal performance. Being that his character lost a son and now he’s being a father figure to a kid he doesn’t know but trying to save his life. Unfortunately, none of the supporting actors really stood out for me, they were okay in their respective roles but pretty forgettable to me.

It appears Netflix has found a franchise and a sequel has already been moved into pre-production. If you’re a fan of the John Wick franchise, then you’ll enjoy this film.

3/5 stars

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So have you seen EXTRACTION? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – ARKANSAS (2020)

Directed by: Clark Duke
Written by:
Clark Duke and Andrew Boonkrong 
Cast:
Liam Hemsworth, Clark Duke, Michael Kenneth Williams,
Vivica A. Fox, John Malkovich, Vince Vaughn

Crime thriller is one of my favorite genres and I’ve seen countless films and TV shows based on the Italian mobs and drug cartels in South America. But there aren’t many films about the crime lords in the Southern States of America. Arkansas is a new film that tells the story of low-level crime syndicate in the deep south. It has the same spirit as some of Quentin Tarantino’s and The Coen Brothers’ crime films.

Just like Tarantino’s films, Arkansas breaks its story into chapters. In chapter 1, we meet two low level drug dealers named Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) and Swin (Clark Duke). They’ve been assigned by their boss named Frog (Vince Vaughn) to move drugs into a new location. On their way to their destination, they ran into a park ranger named Bright (John Malkovich) who ordered them to follow him to his home. Bright tells them that he’s actually their new boss, this is the order from their big boss Frog. Under Bright’s orders, the Kyle and Swin must do the drug dealings in the southern state areas such as Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia. While out to do their business one day, Swin met a pretty young nurse named Johanna (Eden Brolin). Kyle warns Swin to not get involved with anyone who might disrupt their rise to power in the syndicate but Swin fell for Johanna and the two became an item. After a drug deal with one of their contacts went wrong, Kyle and Swin must figure out ways to stay alive and keep Frog happy. In the next chapter, we get to see how Frog rose to become one of the biggest crime lords in the south. As anyone who’ve seen Tarantino’s films, you’ll eventually see how things will tie together and culminate in a violent ending.

Based on John Brandon‘s best-selling book of the same name, the screenplay was written by Andrew Boonkrong and Clark Duke, the latter also directed the picture. I’ve never read the novel but this is a well written screenplay and I really enjoyed the dialog from each of the characters, but I wish they didn’t try to copy too much from Tarantino’s films. There’s so much good material to be told in a new way but Boonkrong and Duke decided to structure the story that’s been done too many times before. Maybe another round of rewrite by an experienced writer could’ve made the script even better. Some of the characters needs to flesh out a bit more.

This is Duke’s debut film and I was surprised that the producers actually let him direct it. He didn’t do a bad job of directing this film, he just copied style from other more experienced and talented directors. Maybe Duke’s skills will grow as a director with more experience, but I think this one should’ve been directed by someone else. I believe that with a script this good, a more polished and experienced director could’ve elevated it to an excellent picture. This is a material meant for talented directors like David Fincher, Chan-wook Park or Bong Joon Ho.

Clark Duke with Liam Hemsworth

Performances by the actors were pretty good, I’m still not sold on Liam Hemsworth as a leading man material and unfortunately, he didn’t convince me in this film. It’s probably not fault since his character needs to be flesh out a bit more. For a lead character, we don’t really know much about him. Also, his southern accent wasn’t convincing at all. Duke wrote himself a better role and he’s more of the comic relief character and kind of sympathetic one too. Even though he has smaller screen time, Malkovich was a hoot as the small time crime boss. The most well thought out character in the film is Vaughn’s Frog, heck he’s actually the main character of the story. Vaughn gave one of his best performances here, but his southern accent needed a little work. Unfortunately, the two female characters in the film didn’t really have much to do. Johanna is an interesting character and I wanted to know more about her, but she ended up just being the love interest. Same with Vivica A. Fox’s Her, she has history with Frog and the script should’ve expanded on their relationship.

Despite by quibbles, I still think it’s a good crime thriller. If you’re a fan of QT’s or The Coen Brothers’ thrillers, then you’ll enjoy this one. I just think it could’ve been an excellent film with a more polished script and talented director behind the cameras.

3/5 stars

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So have you seen ARKANSAS? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – Bad Boys For Life (2020)

The original script of Bad Boys was written for Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz, for the youngsters out there, Carvey and Lovitz were quite popular comedians back in the 80s and 90s. Surprisingly, both actors weren’t interested and with the rise of hip hop music in the 90s, the script was rewritten for then young and hip comedians, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. Producers Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson were in a time crunch, they needed to turn the script into production in just a few months or Sony was going to pull the plug on the project. Most well-known directors at the time weren’t interested in directing the film, so they decided to hire an unknown music director by the name of Michael Bay. The film opened in the spring of 1995 and it’s a big hit considering its very small budget of about $20mil. Personally, I thought the series was going to have like 6 or 7 sequels by now, but a sequel didn’t come out until 2003 and now we’re finally getting a third sequel.

As the film opens, Det. Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) became a grandfather while his partner Det. Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) still enjoy living the single life. Unbeknownst to Mike, Marcus had decided to retire from the Miami PD. He’s trying to convince Mike to settle down, get marry and have children. But Mike still considers himself the cool cop in Miami and wants to keep taking down the bad guys as long as he could. One night while out celebrating the birth of Marcus’ new grandson, Mike was gunned down by an assassin. The person behind the assassination attempt is Isabel (Kate del Castillo), wife of a deceased drug cartel leader from Mexico. She wants vengeance on those who caused her husband’s demise and Mike happens to be on top of the list. Helping Isabel taking out her enemies is her son Armando (Jacob Scipio).

Joe Pantoliano back as Captain Howard

Of course, Mike survived the attack and after spending six months in recovery, he wants revenge. Hoping his partner would be more than willing to help him track down the assassin but Markus told him he’s retired from the Miami PD and that he can’t be part of the “Bad Boys” team with Mike anymore. Now feeling betrayed and angry, Mike decided to beg his captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) to let him investigate his own assassination attempt. So Howard decided to let Mike be involve with the AMMO team that’s in charge of the case and Mike needs to follow the order of its leader Rita (Paola Núñez), as it turns out Rita and Mike were once a couple but broke up because Mike’s fear of falling in love. That’s pretty much the set-up of the story, this being a buddy cop action picture, you’ll get the usual car chases and shoot outs.

The screenplay was credited to three writers, Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan. Carnahan was actually tapped to direct the picture, he left because of the constant delays in production but still gets credited as a writer. There’s nothing really new in this sequel, instead of having Mike and Markus battling drug dealers like the previous films, this one is more personal to Mike. But the film still contains elements of the last two films. What’s kind of refreshing to me was that the story took its time before unleashing mayhem on screen. Since we’re now living in a more PC world, the gay jokes aren’t there anymore and the racist and sexist jokes have been tone down a bit. With both Smith and Lawrence are now in their 50s, the film contains more old people’s joke than other offensive ones.

I consider BAD BOYS 2 to be one of the worst films of the 2000s. It’s a loud and obnoxious film with no redeeming quality whatsoever. Basically, it’s Michael Bay’s first journey into Bayhem. So, I was glad he decided to not return and direct this one. Taking over the helm are two unknown and untested directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. While the look and style of the film is very similar to Bay’s, the two directors did tone down the flashy camera works and fast editing that Bay seems to love incorporating into his films.

Unfortunately, both Arbi and Fallah just couldn’t shoot proper action scenes. There were two big set pieces that should have been exiting but they were so badly staged and shot that the scenes looked like some film student actually shot them. Now if the film was a low budget production, then I can give it a pass, but with a reported budget of $90mil, it’s inexcusable to me. I think maybe they should’ve hired Bay just to shoot action scenes. Say what you will about the man, he does know how to set up proper action sequences and make them look exciting on the screen.

The two leads w/ supporting cast Charles Melton, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Paola Núñez

Performances were fine all around. Smith and Lawrence always have a good chemistry, and there are some of their scenes together in the film that made me laugh out loud. In order to attract younger audiences, young actors Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig and Charles Melton were part of the action and of course they’re there to make fun of Mike’s and Marcus’ old age.

While I wouldn’t call it the “best” in the series, this three-quel was definitely an improvement over the last film. It’s less mean-spirited and has more laughs. If you’re a fan of the series, then I think you’ll enjoy this one. It’s just a shame that the action scenes were the weakest part of the film.

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So have you seen Bad Boys For Life? Well, what did you think?