Quick Reviews: Detroit, Bushwick, Stronger, American Assassin, Lady Macbeth, Ingrid Goes West, The Glass Castle

By | December 31, 2017

7 films of wildly varying quality that you can now pick up on DVD and in “Bushwick”‘s case stream on Netflix…

Bushwick…A director’s triumph as most of this pivotal event (in which Bushwick is invaded by mysterious black-clad soldiers) unfolds in flowing, technically-astounding long takes. Anyone who enjoyed the climax of “Children of Men” or the best episodes of “Mr. Robot” will likely enjoy this, which means I ate it up. And Dave Bautista adds to his excellent 2017 (stealing scenes in “Guardians of the Galaxy 2,” and his affecting opening scene in “Blade Runner 2049”), showing real dramatic chops here as a veteran dealing with PTSD that is horrified to find the war in his backyard. Who this mysterious army is isn’t revealed until deep into the second act, so I won’t spoil it here, but obviously movies about a divided nation aren’t exactly behind the times. Grade: A-

Detroit…Solid, if not exactly dazzling, it follows the 60’s Detroit riots but especially a heinous event involving Detroit cops (and a national guard unit) and the mistreatment of some black men whose real crime appears to be socializing with white women. Much has been made about whether a white woman like Kathryn Bigelow really should’ve directed this movie, but that somewhat-ironically-dehumanizing question almost misses the point: which is that Bigelow’s specific style (fly-on-the-wall military dramas) is both allegorical in that the war has come home, but also a little wonky for this material. [Like an animated opening scene that provides critical context for the events in a way that sceams “PBS for dummies.”] But Bigelow’s unemotional eye lets performances breathe so that Will Poulter’s villainous cop is all the scarier for being so clear-eyed in his actions. His true feelings are buried so deep into his “job” that you can almost see how he’s convinced himself this is business as usual. Grade: B+

Stronger…In recent years, Jake Gyllenhaal has been delivering fantastic performances that no one really cares about. In a perfect world, he would’ve been nominated for “Nightcrawler,” and in the conversation for “Southpaw,” and definitely a contender here for his great work as Boston marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, who became something of a hometown hero after helping identify the bombers from a hospital room where he was adjusting to life as a double-amputee. But “Stronger” isn’t interested in the rah-rah rousing minor-celebrity Jeff became, so much as the real emotional toll his wounds were taking on him at the exact moment he was being asked to become a hero. Plus, this has Tatiana Masley and an ace cast of Bah-ston regulars like the hilarious Lenny Clarke or “Smilf”‘s Frankie Shaw. Grade: B+

The Glass Castle…What a fantastic year for Woody Harrelson, the guy who almost single-handedly saved “LBJ,” and was terrific in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “War for the Planet of the Apes” delivers more great work here. In an alternate universe that’s just and fair you’d see Harrelson in the conversation with Gyllenhaal for Oscar-noms this year, but we’ll just settle for the one where he saves this otherwise miscast biopic (Naomi Watts is too young for her role, as is Brie Larson, who is a great actress but not totally convincing as a fiery Southern redhead). The film comes alive in its flashback scenes, and maybe I have a soft spot for movies where people from the rural South do all right for themselves in NYC. Grade: B+

Ingrid Goes West…Aubrey Plaza delivers further evidence she’s a star in the making as a troubled young woman so desperate for friendship, that she uses the inheritance she gets from her dead mother to move to L.A. and practically stalks a social media “star” until they become friends. Elizabeth Olsen nails a certain type of L.A. phony—who posts quotes from books she’s only pretending to have read along with her mindless Instagram product placement—and Wyatt Russell is subtly good as her faux-“deeper” husband who’s really just jealous of more successful artists. [His idea of pop art is putting “Squad Goals” on a picture of horses running together.] A solid, low-key indie that builds real characters, and the ending reveals the painful truth that there is no longer a bad way to get famous…as we’ve seen. Grade: B+

Lady MacBeth…What starts out as an emotionally-void, generic tale of an awful white woman committing horrific crimes (which some critics have been tone-deaf enough to label social commentary or empowering in any way), eventually becomes one of the worst films of 2017 with one of the most painful child murders I’ve ever seen in a movie, and a casually racist one in ways that probably reveal much about the filmmaker. [Yes, this movie is supposedly based not on Shakespeare’s work but on a little-known Russian novel—of course, the Russians—but would that child have been bi-racial and the product of a love affair between a wealthy Russian man and a black woman? Doubtful.] By changing the race of a character who gets murdered in such a brutal fashion—which some reviewers have doubtlessly been clueless enough not to notice or, worse, think is somehow diverse casting—this film neatly fits into one of the worst trends out there: casually cruel hipster racism. If the joyless and somewhat exhausting first-half hasn’t convinced you this is a bad movie, then surely letting a white female monster get away with bi-racial child murder and framing a black maid for those crimes would do it. Of course, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so, naturally, this film has its rapid fans who think Florence Pugh—as blank-faced and one-note as a Sofia Coppola protagonist—is Oscar-worthy. Grade: F

American Assassin…Michael Keaton does solid work as the mentor/trainer of Dylan O’Brien’s would-be assassin, and between this and his stellar work in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” it’s clear he can class up any project and has no intentions of sleepwalking after his “Birdman” comeback. Plus, I enjoyed Shiva Negar as O’Brien’s co-spy and quasi-love interest, and can’t wait to see bigger things for her. And even though this is a decent action film with solidly-choreographed sequences (like a training exercise in a copy of an Ikea store), you likely won’t remember much about it the next week. Still, DVD or streaming is the ideal format to watch this, and now you can. Grade: B-

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