Film Review: White Boy Rick (dir by Yann Demange)


Last night, as a part of my attempt to get caught up with the films of 2018, I watched White Boy Rick.

As you might guess from the title, this film is about a white boy named Rick.  It’s based on the true story of Richard Wershe, Jr., who grew up on the streets of Detroit.  His father sold guns out of the trunk of his car and, by the time he turned 14, Rick was running with drug dealers and street gangs.  (The fact that he was white while all of his friends were black is what led to him getting his nickname.)  Rick became an informant for the FBI and, according to Wershe, the government helped him build up his reputation by supplying him with the drugs that he would then sell on the streets.  When the FBI eventually decided that Wershe was no longer a useful asset, he was arrested for dealing and sentenced to life in prison.

The story seems like one that has the potential to say a lot that needs to be said about not only the economic realities of life in a dying city but also about the role that race plays in America’s often misdirected “war on drugs.”  Unfortunately, the film falls flat because, with the exception of a few scenes, it never really convinces us that Rick was really worthy of being the subject of a film.  While the film surrounds him with interesting supporting characters, Rick himself remains something of a cipher.  Rick is played by a young actor named Richie Merritt.  Merritt’s has the right look for the character but you never get the feeling that there’s anything going on underneath the surface.  Rick comes across as just being a moron who got lucky and then, eventually, not so lucky.

The supporting cast fares a bit better.  For instance, Matthew McConaughey plays Rick’s father with just the right amount of manic energy and Bel Powley has a few harrowing scenes as Rick’s drug addicted sister.  Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie don’t get to do much as Rick’s grandparents but it doesn’t matter because they’re Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie.  (All Bruce Dern has to do to make a character interesting is look at the camera.)  Jennifer Jason Leigh plays one of Rick’s FBI handlers with the perfect hint of subversiveness.  You’re never quite sure whether she’s messing with Rick’s life because she’s incompetent or because she’s enjoying it.  Unfortunately, the supporting characters are often so interesting that Rick often gets overshadowed.  He’s a bystander in his own story, which may have been the film’s point but, from a storytelling point of view, it hardly makes for compelling viewing.

Admittedly, there are a few memorable scenes to be found in White Boy Rick.  At one point, Rick goes to a wedding at the mayor’s mansion and he’s a sight to behold in his blue tuxedo.  In another scene, it’s explained to Rick why, when it comes to being arrested, charged, and incarcerated, the stakes are very different when you’re black than when you’re white.  In scenes like that, you kind of get a hint of White Boy Rick could have been if it had been centered around a more compelling character.

As it is, though, White Boy Rick is well-made but kind of dull.  It’s definitely a missed opportunity.

 

The Boston Society Of Film Critics Honors If Beale Street Could Talk and Lynne Ramsay!


Earlier today, the Boston Society of Film Critics announced their picks for the best of 2018.  Along with selecting If Beale Street Could Talk as best picture, they also gave best director to You Were Never Really Here‘s Lynne Ramsay.

Best Film: If Beale Street Could Talk
Runner-up: Shoplifters

Best Director: Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here)
Runner-up: Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)

Best Actor: John C. Reilly (Stan & Ollie)
Runner-up: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)

Best Actress: Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Runner-up: Sakura Ando (Shoplifters)

Best Supporting Actor: Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Runners-up (tie): Brian Tyree Henry (If Beale Street Could Talk) and Steven Yeun (Burning)

Best Supporting Actress: Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Runner-up: J. Smith-Cameron (Nancy)

Best Ensemble: Shoplifters
Runner-up: The Favourite

Best Screenplay: Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Runner-up: Tamara Jenkins (Private Life)

Best Documentary: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Runner-up: Three Identical Strangers

Best Animated Film: Isle of Dogs
Runner-up: Ralph Breaks the Internet

Best Foreign Language Film: Shoplifters
Runner-up: Cold War

Best New Filmmaker: Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade)
Runner-up: Ari Aster (Hereditary)

Best Cinematography: Alfonso Cuarón (ROMA)
Runner-up: Lukasz Zal (Cold War)

Best Editing: Tom Cross (First Man)
Runner-up: Bob Murawski and Orson Welles (The Other Side of the Wind)

Best Original Score: Nicholas Britell (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Runner-up: Justin Hurwitz (First Man) and Jonny Greenwood (You Were Never Really Here)

Black Panther Dominates The Black Reel Nominations


The Black Reel Nominations were announced today, with Black Panther picking up a record 17 nominations!  Coming in second was If Beale Street Could Talk, which received 14 nominations while Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman received 11 nominations.

Here’s a full list of the nominees:

Outstanding Motion Picture
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
Widows

Outstanding Actor
Chadwick Boseman | Black Panther
Stephan James | If Beale Street Could Talk
Michael B. Jordan | Creed II
LaKeith Stanfield | ​Sorry to Bother You
John David Washington | BlacKkKlansman

Outstanding Actress
Viola Davis | Widows
Regina Hall | Support the Girls
Kiki Layne | If Beale Street Could Talk
Zoe Renee | Jinn
Amandla Stenberg | ​The Hate U Give

Outstanding Director
Ryan Coogler | Black Panther
Barry Jenkins | If Beale Street Could Talk
Spike Lee | BlacKkKlansman
Steve McQueen | Widows
Boots Riley | ​Sorry to Bother You

Outstanding Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali | Green Book
Brian Tyree Henry | If Beale Street Could Talk
Russell Hornsby | The Hate U Give
Michael B. Jordan | Black Panther
Daniel Kaluuya | Widows

Outstanding Supporting Actress
Danai Gurira | Black Panther
Regina King | If Beale Street Could Talk
Simone Missick | Jinn
Lupita Nyong’o | Black Panther
Letitia Wright | Black Panther

Outstanding Screenplay
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
​Sorry to Bother You
Widows

Outstanding Ensemble
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
​Sorry to Bother You
Widows

Outstanding Documentary
Amazing Grace
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Quincy
Whitney

Outstanding Foreign Language/ World Cinema Motion Picture
Green Days by the River (Trinidad & Tobago)
Lionheart (Nigeria)
Rafiki (Kenya)
Vaya (South Africa)
Where Hands Touch (UK)

Outstanding Voice Performance
Mahershala Ali | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Taraji P. Henson | Ralph Breaks the Internet
Brian Tyree Henry | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Samuel L. Jackson | Incredibles 2
Shamiek Moore | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Outstanding Score
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Creed II
The Hate U Give
If Beale Street Could Talk

Outstanding Original Song
“All the Stars” (Black Panther) | Kendrick Lamar & SZA
“I’ll Fight” (RBG) | Jennifer Hudson
“Love Lies” (Love, Simon) | Khalid & Normani
“Pray For Me” (Black Panther) | The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar
“We Won’t Move” (The Hate U Give) | Arlissa

Outstanding Independent Feature
A Boy. A Girl. A Dream.
Jinn
Monsters and Men
Roxanne Roxanne
Yardie

Outstanding Independent Documentary
Basquiat: Rage to Riches
Lorainne Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/ Feeling
Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me

Outstanding Short
Funk Force | Desmond Levi Jackson
Hair Wolf | Mariama Diallo
Jump | Kofi Siriboe, director
The Tale of Four | Gabourey Sidibe, director
WTFIMH: What the F*ck Is Mental Health | Kofi Siriboe, director

Outstanding Emerging Director
Idris Elba | Yardie
Reinald Marcus Green | Monsters and Men
Rashida Jones | Quincy
Nijla Mu’min | Jinn
Boots Riley | ​Sorry to Bother You

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male
Daveed Diggs | Blindspotting
Winston Duke | Black Panther
Donald Glover | Solo: A Star Wars Story
Brian Tyree Henry | If Beale Street Could Talk
John David Washington | BlacKkKlansman

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female
Cynthia Erivo | Bad Times at the El Royale
Laura Harrier | BlacKkKlansman
Kiki Layne | If Beale Street Could Talk
Zoe Renee | Jinn
Letitia Wright | Black Panther

Outstanding First Screenplay
Blindspotting
Jinn
Monsters and Men
Roxanne Roxanne
Sorry to Bother You

Outstanding Cinematography
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
Widows
A Wrinkle In Time

Outstanding Costume Design
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
Sorry to Bother You
A Wrinkle In Time

Outstanding Production Design
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Wrinkle In Time

Film Review: Hotel Artemis (dir by Drew Pearce)


Oh, Hotel Artemis.

I had such high hopes for you.

Hotel Artemis, you may remember, was initially released way back in June and, at the time, it was advertised as being some sort of nonstop action thrill ride.  The commercials made it look totally over-the-top and exciting, which was I wanted to see it.  Of course, I didn’t see it because …. well, actually I don’t remember what was happening in June that kept me from going to the movies.  But there had to have been something going on because I not only missed seeing Hotel Artemis in the theaters but I also missed Ocean’s 8 and Hereditary as well.

Well, regardless of why I missed it the first time, I did finally get a chance to watch Hotel Artemis earlier this week and, unfortunately, it turned out to not be anything special.  It’s certainly not terrible.  It has its moments and the film looks great but, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel somewhat let down by the film.  Hotel Artemis has promise but much of its goes unrealized.

The film takes place in one of those vaguely defined futures where there’s a lot of rioting and a lot of militaristic cops.  In fact, the film opens with Los Angeles in the middle of one such disturbance.  The riot scenes attempt to go for a Purge-style intensity but, for the most part, they just kind of fall flat.  There’s a lot of scenes of people yelling and occasionally, a police transport rolls by but, for the most part, there’s no danger to the film’s riot.  It’s all just a bit too obviously choreographed.  You never get the feeling that things could just randomly explode.

The Hotel Artemis is a combination of a hotel and a hospital.  It’s run by Jean Thomas, who is better known as Nurse and who is played by Jodie Foster.  Jean was once a doctor but, haunted by the death of her son, she became an alcoholic and lost her license to practice medicine.  Severely agoraphobic, Jean has spent 22 years inside of the Hotel.  She only treats criminals and other people on the fringes of society.  Helping her is Everest (Dave Bautista), who helps to keep order in the often chaotic hotel.

All of Jean’s patients are given codenames, based on which room their occupying in the hotel.  There’s Acapulco (Charlie Day), who is wealthy and short-tempered and who is waiting for a helicopter to come pick him up.  And then there’s Nice (Sofia Boutella), an international assassin who gets to beat people while wearing this red gown that is absolutely to die for.  There’s also Wakiki (Sterling K. Brown), who is a bank robber who is worried that his partner, Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), is going to die from the wounds that he suffered during a robbery-gone-wrong.  Further complicating things is a gangster named The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) and Morgan (Jenny Slate), who needs Jean’s help but who also happens to be a cop.  Zachary Quinto is also in this film, playing the Wolf King’s son, because you really can’t make a pretentious genre film without giving a role to Zachary Quinto.

Anyway, there’s a pretty good action sequence towards the end of the film but it takes Hotel Artemis forever to get there.  Before that, you have to deal with a lot of talking but, unfortunately, none of the conversations are particularly interesting.  Hotel Artemis may clock in at 94 minutes but it feels considerably longer.  On the plus side, the cast is big and interesting but, on the negative side, nobody really seems to be that invested in their role.  It’s fun to watch Charlie Day play a bad guy but otherwise, the majority of the actors struggle with their thinly drawn (though certainly verbose) characters.  The majority of them struggle to convince us that they’re anything more than a group of talented actors slumming it in an action movie.  The fact that Jodie Foster received a good deal of praise for her performance in this film has everything to do with the fact that she’s Jodie Foster and little to do with anything that actually happens in the movie.

On a positive note, the movie looks great.  Visually, the Hotel Artemis is a fantastic creation that combines the decaying luxury of The Shining with the claustrophobic sterility of an underground bunker in a Romero zombie film.  (I’m thinking of the original Day of the Dead in particular.)  The Hotel itself is so fascinating that you can’t help but kinda resent that the film seems to be more interested in the boring people inside of the building than with the building itself.

Despite the superior production design, the film itself is slackly paced and never quite as a clever as it seems to think that it is.  Hotel Artemis is not a terrible film but it is a rather forgettable one.  It’s hard not to feel that it could and should have been a hundred times better than it actually was.