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The Best Movies of 2017

No getting around it: 2017 was a slog. But, to get us through the stress of life, at least we could escape for an hour or two into some of the most amazing worlds.

It’s also been an amazing year for the comic book movie and, indeed, all blockbusters. This year the genre really grew up, with complex and challenging fare that deconstructed some of our favorite characters and took them to the next level.

I had a hard time paring it down to just a top 10, so I’m presenting a somewhat more expanded list of things worth seeing and celebrating in 2017. Never before have I had a hair’s breadth separating my top 5, and my top 20 are all worth checking out.

So I’m going to give you the best and then the rest– my top 10 and then the rest of the movies that made my list. Where I reviewed the movie for Graphic Policy, I have also provided a link. To those from before I joined the site or didn’t get a chance to do a full review, oh well. You’ll just have to take my word for it. Oh, and if you care about such things, my bottom 10 list is here.

10. Coco — This is one of Pixar’s best and one of the movies most likely to make me cry. While it has some second act problems, its universal themes of family and remembering are as beautiful as the animation and music here. This is also the first movie in my top 10 with an amazing soundtrack — a common theme among 2017’s best movies.

9. Baby Driver — A musical with car chases. The only problem with this movie is its opening fifteen minutes are so perfect it rarely meets that same level again. This is the movie Edgar Wright did after breaking with Marvel over creative differences about Ant-Man. We are so much the richer for having both of these movies, especially Baby Driver. With career-best performances by some of its cast, it’s a perfect blend of editing, directing, acting, and sound. And it’s just a load of fun.

8. Wonder Woman – Patty Jenkins should be put in charge of the entire DC movie universe. She understands her characters, she understands the gravity and importance they hold for people, and managed to deliver THE iconic moment of 2017 in cinema: the “No Man’s Land” scene.

It’s that moment– when she wears the costume, embraces her powers and her purpose — that we see her origin story in a way rarely ever so fully expressed on screen. Sure, the movie had some problems– a weak villain and a somewhat predictable climax — but it was important in a way few other films in this list were. And it showed that the DCEU could be everything that the Marvel Cinematic Universe could. It’s not only one of the best comic movies of 2017, it’s one of the best of all time.

7. Atomic Blonde — Technically, a comic book movie. And the movie with the best soundtrack of the year, during which we see Charlize Theron kick all sorts of butt. It’s heartfelt, funny, and undeniably cool as they try to out-John-Wick John Wick. Give me more of this, please, perhaps in a shared universe where Charlize and Keanu throw down and then invariably team up.

6. The Shape of Water – What a beautiful film about love among outcasts. The entirety of this film is about noticing the silent people, the forgotten ones, and recognizing the humanity in each of us. Also, sex with fish-people! This is a masterpiece by Guillermo del Toro and worthy of all the nominations and buzz it’s been getting.

5. War for the Planet of the Apes – This is true for basically every other film in my top 5, but this film showed us that effects-driven blockbusters could have intense heart and meaning. It’s unfathomable to me that Gary Oldman will be nominated for acting awards for wearing a fatsuit and portraying Winston Churchill, but Andy Serkis will be snubbed yet again for his creation of an amazingly real character in Caesar. It’s unclear where the Apes franchise goes from here — and writer/director Matt Reeves is setting his sights next on righting The Batman (which makes me all sorts of excited) — but whatever happens, they created an amazing trilogy with a phenomenal third act. Perhaps the only downside is that the social commentary that hits so close for 2017 (humans building a wall as well as other not-so-subtle jabs at Trump) may not age particularly well.

4. Logan – “A man has to be what he is, Joey. Can’t break the mold. I tried it and it didn’t work for me. There’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand sticks. There’s no going back. Now you run on home to your mother, and tell her… tell her everything’s all right. And there aren’t any more guns in the valley.” James Mangold gave us a perfect western that just happened to have Wolverine and Professor X in it. And Jackman and Stewart are amazing. Ok, I lied about Coco. THIS is the most likely thing to make me cry in any movie in 2017.

3. (tie) Your Name – Normally I won’t give in to a tie, but since there is some doubt whether or not this is even a 2017 release (I go by date of wide US release, so that puts us in April of 2017), I’ll go for it. Already the #1 animated film of all time in Japan (with good reason), I’m not sure why this hasn’t become more popular in the US. But that’s what year-end lists are for, right? A story of (literal) star-crossed teens in Japan who seem to be switching bodies becomes the most interesting story of identity, love, and wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey time travel ever. It made me cry at least three times. It’s an amazing film and one which would’ve been in my top 3 for 2016 if I’d known of it then. If that disqualifies it from this list, then my #3 spot goes to. . .


3. (tie) Star Wars: The Last Jedi – It’s amazing. You know this. I love it for all the ways it blows open the Star Wars universe into something even bigger and more important. Plus, porgs. It, Logan, and Apes all showed that blockbuster filmmaking could be thoughtful and not just deliver a rehash of the expectations of the franchise. Star Wars is my favorite thing of all time, and this delivers in ways I didn’t know were possible. I’m greatly anticipating both Episodes IX and the new trilogy Rian Johnson will deliver to us.

2. Get Out – Usually a movie will come out early in the year and become a high water mark for me for the year. Then every film I see after I’ll just ask, “Was this better than [Get Out]?” Few movies made it close, but it stands strong at the end of the year as the most important movie of 2017 and only a hair’s breadth off of my #1. This was such an amazing effort from Jordan Peele. It was an atmospheric, psychological thriller and the most biting social commentary of the decade– and exactly what we need to hear in 2017. Unfortunately, the people who most need to see and understand this film never will.

1. Blade Runner 2049 – I’m still not sure why this failed to resonate with audiences. It was supremely beautiful, important, thoughtful—in essence, the opposite of the Spirit of 2017, so I guess it makes sense. It’s shameful to see this getting forgotten in so many year-end lists and awards considerations. If Roger Deakins doesn’t win a cinematography Oscar for this, we have failed as a society.

So, that’s it. Here’s the rest of my list:

11. A Monster Calls — All the tears for this gorgeous and touching film that somehow never caught on.

12. Detroit — If Blade Runner hadn’t flopped at the box office, this is my vote for most underrated movie of 2017.

13. Spider-Man: Homecoming – This was the Spider-Man movie we needed, with John Hughes meets the MCU. Let’s hope Sony and Marvel’s partnership continue to yield such spectacular results.

14. The Big Sick — The best comedy of the year, Kumail Nanjiani’s true story of clashes of cultures and medically induced comas is amazing and worth everyone’s time.

15. Beatriz at Dinner — This should be renamed “Micro-aggressions the Movie” as massage therapist Beatriz (an impeccable and Oscar-worthy  Salma Hayek) ends up at a dinner party thrown by one of her high end clients facing off against a Donald-Trump type developer (an equally impeccable Jon Lithgow). It’s amazing and the ending will depress the hell out of you.

16. The Greatest Showman — Hugh Jackman took the money he made from Logan and used it to produce this musical ostensibly about PT Barnum but in reality about the strange and wonderful family among society’s outcasts and “freaks” that make up his circus. If I could put the historical revisionism aside, this would end up in my top 10, but Barnum was a monster. But as a story about putting people of all shapes, colors, and abilities up on screen and seeing them as people? This is tops. Keala Settle, who plays the bearded lady, deserves an Oscar nomination. And this will get multiple nominations for best song, from the people who brought you La La Land last year.

17. Brigsby Bear – What if you were kidnapped as a child and the only media your reclusive parents let you watch was a specially-made-for-you childrens’ program? This film from the mind of SNL’s Kyle Mooney then becomes a unique, innocent look at the pure joy of fandom and sharing something you love with new people and the lengths you’d go to do it. Also featuring a supporting role by Mark Hammil, this is another great little film that flew under the radar but is worth your attention.

18. Thor: Ragnarok — This is Thor’s best movie to date and one of the most fun movies ever in the MCU. Some people complained the movie had “too many jokes,” but making a buddy comedy with superheroes is something that was long overdue and sorely needed late in 2017. Whatever writer/director Taika Waititi is doing next, I’m watching it.

19. The Disaster Artist — The movie that launched a thousand terrible reaction gifs finally gets its Ed Wood treatment. The Room is awful, but somehow James and Dave Franco make us fall in love with it and its mysterious director Tommy Wiseau. For that, and their loving shot for shot recreations of some of the film’s most heinous scenes, this was incredibly fun. It’s also the type of movie Hollywood loves– a movie about making movies.

20. Molly’s Game — A superserving of Sorkin will hit all the right notes for his fans.

21. Okja — If The Disaster Artist is to The Room what Ed Wood is to Plan 9 From Outer Space, then this satire from Bong Joon-ho (thanks to Netflix for making it) is the Dr. Strangelove of global agribusiness and capitalism. It took this movie a while to take off, but when it did, it became intensely satisfying. When it wasn’t skewering the corporation that totally wasn’t Monsanto, it was also just a tender story about a girl and her giant genetically modified pet “super pig.”

22. The Post — Steven Spielberg’s latest is perhaps the most important movie for the turn of 2017 to 2018 about the decision to print the Pentagon Papers by The Washington Post. Buried in the Oscarbait is an important story about the freedom of the press and a rogue White House intent on crushing it. I just wish it was told slightly better and that 80% of the time I wasn’t wishing I were watching All the President’s Men or The Fog of War. 

23. The Lego Batman Movie — A movie about family, a movie about feminism, and just the greatest mishmash of toy mayhem ever seen on screen. This was the best Batman we saw on screen all year.

24. Dunkirk — I won’t lie, I had some problems with Dunkirk. Mostly I thought Nolan was spending too much time showing us how clever he was instead of just giving us a good movie. But I can’t deny the artistry and pure filmmaking prowess that went into this. I still think the best way to illuminate my problems is to compare it to Detroit, which I did in my review here. 

25. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!” may be one of my favorite moments on screen all year. And then, that ending was just too perfect. This movie had a lot going for it, but the fact that it ended up at #25 is a testament to just how good so many movies were this year.

26. IT — This was everything we needed in the fall of 2017. Funny, smart, and incredibly scary, it also gave us one of the best comedy moments of the year, too, with an SNL skit of Kellyanne Conway as Kellywise the Clown trying to lure Anderson Cooper into the Trump Sewer.

27. John Wick Chapter 2 — Sometimes sequels really deliver, and this was one instance of that. Once again, we get the beautiful ultra-violence of this universe and without all of that boring exposition or deeper meaning. Sometimes you just want to watch the world burn, and for that, there’s always John Wick.

28. Power Rangers — This might surprise people, but I liked the Power Rangers movie far more than it deserved. Never a fan of the original, this still brought me in with it intense heart and third act action sequence that dared you not to smile from ear to ear. Oh, and also Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa was a thing of beauty. Say it with me: “Krispy Kreme.”

29. Wind River — Taylor Sheridan knocks it out of the park again with an amazing script about a murder mystery and the intersection of the oil industry and reservation life. How does one get justice in the face of corporate coverups and mixed jurisdiction? The scene with Jon Berenthal is one of the most gripping and brutal things I saw all year.

30. [tie] It Comes at Night — Speaking of inhumanity and suspense, we get a case study in minimalism of just how much a director can do with basic sets and a basic premise: a plague wipes out most of humanity and one family must make decisions about whether or not to trust strangers to guarantee their survival. The title is misleading and don’t get snookered into thinking anything more supernatural is happening. There’s no monsters. Just death. Just people. And that’s the true horror.

[tie] Ingrid Goes West — Again, I hate ties, but I feel like this provides a great counterpoint to It Comes at Night. Except in this case, the monster that haunts us is social media, stalking, and depression. Aubrey Plaza is perfect as Ingrid, who moves to LA and ends up stalking an “Instagram celebrity” played by Elizabeth Olson to try to find her way into her life. O’Shea Jackson (Jr.) shows up as a Batman-obsessed would-be screenwriter. The final reveal of the film almost feels like the end of a slasher movie when we see the killer supernaturally rises from where we thought we had killed it. Fun and thoughtful.

So, yeah, that’s a lot of movies. To be fair, there were a few I missed, so apologies. But what about you? What did I miss? What did I overrate? What did I underrate?

Let us know, and here’s hoping we have as amazing a 2018 as we did a 2017– at least in movies. And from Black Panther in February to Mary Poppins in December with Avengers: Infinity War, Solo, and Incredibles 2 in between, my expectations are set abnormally and unreasonably high.

Let’s see what 2018 gives us.

Movie Review: Detroit

Kathryn Bigelow‘s newest shows off her impressive talent as a director capable of creating relentless tension, but her cast and the social message are the real stars here.  This is, unfortunately, one of those great movies that all the people who really need to see it and understand it never will. (See also: Fruitvale Station)

Set against the backdrop of the 1967 Detroit riots, this tells the true story of the police raid on the Algiers Hotel where several people were shot and police accused of misconduct and brutality. This has been described as a horror movie where the unkillable monster is racism, and that is about the perfect description.

But even better, it depicts racism not as just a character flaw of a few bad apples, but as a systemic oppression that disadvantages people of color at every turn. So, the monster is not just specifically the bad cops– it’s the whole system. And so even though this is a movie about what happened 50 years ago, it’s a movie about what’s happening yesterday, today, and tomorrow as systemic racism continues to plague us. It’s also a morality lesson about what happens when a director like Bigelow, who is white, uses the privilege she has to elevate the stories of others and speak out against these injustices.

A director at the top of her craft

Kathryn Bigelow is amazing here. All of her ability to craft tension and human drama that we’ve seen in previous outings like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty are on full display here.  Most of this centers around the major focal point of the movie: a situation at the Algiers where the police line up everyone against the wall and interrogate them about who has a gun and who was shooting at the police.

She also expertly draws out amazing performances from her cast. John Boyega plays Melvin Dismukes, a security guard who gets caught up in the raid on the Algiers and is stuck between worlds as he tries to de-escalate the situation. Algee Smith is Larry Reed, lead singer of soul group The Dramatics, who was at the hotel along with his friend and the band’s manager, Fred. Smith also lends his singing voice to the film, which provides some amazing color to an otherwise stark, bleak depiction of those days. He also appears on the soundtrack with Reed himself to provide a sort of musical denouement for the film. Some final scenes showing his life in shambles after the incident also show the after-effects of this brutality, and his performance is on point.

Anthony Mackie (Captain America:Winter Soldier, Civil War; The Hurt Locker) also delivers a stellar performance, but both he and Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton, Keanu) are drastically underutilized. In fact, neither of them shows up until halfway through the movie. But given how the film was marketed and Mackie receiving top billing, you might expect more screen time. But that expectation will be unfulfilled. But what it lacks in quantity, it amps up in quality. Playing a recently discharged Army vet, you can see the wheels in his head turning: “I risked my life in ‘Nam for this?!?”

What you can say, though, is that each actor gets their due, gets their moment to shine, and it all plays in to making the main story a cohesive whole. Bigelow knows not only how to extract every ounce of tension out of these scenes, but also Oscar-worthy performances from several of her actors.

The movie’s major flaw that is also its biggest strength

But, this movie has some problems. I mentioned Mackie not showing up until halfway through. That’s part of it. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to the following conclusion:

My wife and I recently celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. (WHAT?!) It made me think back of the time of ring shopping and what a process that was. But we ended up getting a great deal on the main diamond in her ring because it had this giant inclusion, or flaw, in the middle of it. But somehow that little hollow space made the gem sparkle even more brightly.

Detroit has a problem like this. We don’t meet any of our main characters until almost 20 minutes into the movie. Our opening scene is the incident that sparks the Detroit riots, as police raid a club operating without a liquor license, and we’re introduced to Officer Frank (Chris ChalkGotham, Homeland), the only black officer in this all-white police squad.

His story is then abruptly dropped and we don’t see him again.

As the riots begin, we see a young Congressman John Conyers speaking to an angry crowd and calling for peace.

And then we never see him again.

And Mackie and Mitchell don’t show up until halfway through the movie.

The audience gets a sense of violent whiplash as we’re thrown new characters and left wondering exactly whose story we’re supposed to be following.

This is a problem, but when you look at it again, it is brilliant.

One of the things Bigelow does best is she inherently sides with the rioters. A riot is a grim, irrational and desperate act. But the opening of the film serves to put us in that mindset and gets the audience to take part of the mob mentality where it truly does seem like the only solution is to start smashing and burning things.

It hurts the cohesiveness of the story, but I think the payoff in tone and theme is a good trade-off. But, it’s still a flaw in what is otherwise a really good film.

The race issue and using your privilege in a positive way

So, a lot has been said about Bigelow, a white woman, making this movie so specifically about racism and police brutality.  In a post film Q&A livestreamed to Alamo Drafthouse locations nationwide, Chris Chalk mentioned that this was the way it was supposed to be: Kathryn Bigelow could choose to make any movie she wanted to, and she chose to tell this story. That’s how you use your privilege — to lift up others’ stories and others’ voices.

She’s not appropriating the story, nor making it about white characters, nor telling it from their point of view, as is often the case with so many movies about race (Mississippi Burning, for example).

And perhaps most importantly, she isn’t telling a story just about racism and racism as a personal flaw. She paints it as systemic and woven into all of the various ways a black person may interact with the system.

This centers specifically on her depiction of the police and the other law enforcement involved. On the micro-level, we have our three main cops who are eventually charged with the murders and assaults at the Algiers. And we see three very different types of people– I will call them the Three Little Piggies.

WARNING: The rest of this section contains plot elements/historical elements that some would consider SPOILERS. If you don’t want to know more, skip to the next section until after you’ve seen the film.

The first pig built his house out of straight-up racism. But even he doesn’t think he’s a bad guy– he sees people burning down their community and asks “How is this America?” He sees this as a failure of the government to smack down bad behavior– that the police need to come in with a strong hand and take out the bad guys. (Sound like anyone we know?)

The Second Little Pig isn’t necessarily racist, but he’s working the system pretty hard. When The First Little Pig says he shot someone because he was reaching for his gun and had a knife, he corroborates the story, “Yeah, I heard him say ‘Drop the knife.'” Good cop covering for bad, and is indifferent about race, or at least not inherently anti-black.

Our Third Little Pig is really nervous and probably isn’t malicious at all. But because he isn’t playing the same game the other two are, ends up using their same tactics to even more brutal effect.

Pigs 2 and 3 eventually squeal, because they know their actions were bad, but then their confession is thrown out because they were deprived of their union lawyer before they were questioned. The system worked to protect all three cops under a code of silence where they all cover for one another.

And so it doesn’t take every cop being a racist to cause a problem. The system is the problem.

One of the other problems was the lack of accountability or oversight by other law enforcement. The raid on the Algiers took place because National Guard troops thought they were under fire from that vicinity, and fired back. National Guard and State Police personnel were on the scene, but eventually left when they saw what a shit show it was becoming. A Michigan State Police officer saw how bad it was, and walked out, telling the three white Detroit PD members, “this is a local police issue.”

And there were other failures– ones all too common today, yesterday, and most likely tomorrow. There was the all white jury. There was the slick lawyering that made the case that we couldn’t be sure who shot whom at the Algiers. And then there was the sea of faces in the courtroom– the front rows filled with white faces in blue police uniforms, and the back rows filled with black faces. Again, Bigelow’s eye for detail here helps show how even these more subtle nuances create a tone for the system and set it up to fail to deliver justice.

Again, in this whole narrative, there only had to be one guy who really hated black people. But the system literally allowed him to get away with murder.

I’m not so naive to think we can ever get rid of racial prejudice, (nor should we try to legislate this), but I do hope that we can take a hard look at our systems and ask how they might perpetuate inequalities and oppression.

Detroit vs. Dunkirk

It’s hard to talk about Detroit without referencing its peer, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.  Spoiler alert: (not really) I’m giving both films the same rating– a solid 4 out of 5 stars. But when I wrote my review, I noted how white and male-centric Nolan’s choices were and why that rubbed me the wrong way.  Others have weighed in on whether telling the story this way whitewashes history, eliminating the contribution of non-white soldiers.

No matter where you come down on this argument, I want to make one thing extremely clear: these are artistic choices, and especially when you have directors like Nolan and Bigelow who have a large amount of creative control over the film (in the case of Nolan, he was acting as writer, director, and producer), these choices are worth pointing out and asking why.

Whenever a director makes a film that is completely white and completely male, that erases from the historical record the contribution of non-whites and non-males and contributes to a culture that says that white and male is standard, and everything else is an aberration.

That is not to say that Dunkirk is racist, or Christopher Nolan is racist. But they are films designed to do well at the box office by portraying white male heroism at its best, just as in hundreds of previous movies about white male heroism in World War II. And they are designed to be awarded by the Academy and other groups who judge films. It’s not that individual Oscar voters are racist– but there’s a reason #OscarsSoWhite was a thing, and it’s that a film like Dunkirk is designed to please that section of the audience. It is a movie that is everything we are told makes a movie great.

Let’s also be clear– Detroit is also designed to be that same sort of Oscar-bait, but for a completely different reason. When people talk about Hidden Figures, 12 Years a Slave, Fences, or Selma, they don’t bring up the same things a person brings up first when praising Dunkirk. They immediately go for talking about the racial aspect of the film and how heartbreaking it is, etc, etc.  It’s simply not the same sort of meritocracy we expect, or want, out of our prestige pictures. Even in judging the relative merits of movies, we hold movies with a racial element to a different standard. And that’s the difference between personal racism (let’s be clear– no one who needs to see this movie to understand what’s happening in terms of race in this country is going to see it or have their minds changed by it) and systemic bias. Oscar voters didn’t need to be personally racist to snub Ava DuVernay for best director for Selma and instead nominate Bennet Miller for Foxcatcher. (Yes, I’m still mad about that. Probably always will be.) But systemic biases can be in place that cause these outcomes.

As for directors’ choices, Nolan chose to make a war movie about World War II– a story that anyone who paid attention in history class knows about. He chose for his heroes archetypal British stiff-upper-lip types, especially the people he loves to work with, and did great with them!  Bigelow chose to make a movie about an incident largely forgotten, and also largely prescient in terms of the current state of affairs in 2017 with the Black Lives Matter movement responding to the murder and assault by police of hundreds of  African Americans across the country. She chose a story with a diverse cast and diverse characters. And even though there were two white women who were brutalized by the police as well, she never makes the story about them.  (As an aside, there are still not enough female roles in this film, especially not enough for women of color. Despite history being history. . .  well, I’m just tired of Samira Wiley showing up in a walk-on supporting role and not getting to do more– you know what I’m saying?) And she told her story in a gripping way that never lets the audience go. And despite the film’s dropping characters in a jarring and unsettling way, it serves the tone and theme of the film.

Nolan took an easy story to tell– one that has been told before in dozens of different ways– and made it intentionally hard with a chopped up timeline and continuity. Bigelow took a hard to tell story and delivers it seared and sizzling to the plate, but still raw and bloody in its center– “black and blue” as you would order it at a steak joint. Nolan chopped up the story and timeline to show off how smart and skilled he is. Bigelow chose to drop characters and make the audience uncomfortable for the sake of making them uncomfortable and in the mindset of what it must have been like to be in Detroit in 1967. They’re both ultimate craftsmen at the top of their game. But the reason they’re making unconventional choices is a world of difference.

So both of them are excellent films with a few flaws, but the context of why they are the way they are is all the difference.

Final thoughts

It’s pretty clear how much I liked this movie. I am still not perfectly comfortable with its problems, but I think it was a good way for Bigelow to get what she wanted. Again, this is one of those unfortunate films that everyone who needs to see it never will. And those who will probably already know– but hopefully this will fuel their passion to maybe make real changes in how we do things in our country. Bigelow might be preaching to choir, but someone needs to be passing out hymnals. And this is as good of a song as we’re going to get.

4 out of 5 stars

Detroit Steel and American Patriotism


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This Wednesday sees the release of Iron Man #25 and a new villain in Detroit Steel.  In the story, Hammer Industries introduces the armored baddie as a private security product marketed to governments and corporations.  The high-tech armor is piloted by a former Air Force pilot.

By why the connection to Detroit?

According to Alejandro Arbona of Marvel Entertainment shared by email to the Detroit Free Press the name was chosen to:

“evoke traditions of industrial and technological innovation in this country and to appeal to the red-blooded, patriotic American corporations and military-industrial complex that would be their customer base.”

Detroit Steel

Zeismic