Review of reviews: Film
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
A city erupts, and only some pay.
Kathryn Bigelow’s latest drama is “tense, excruciating, and entirely necessary,” said Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. The Oscar-winning director of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty has entered another kind of war zone, capturing the 1967 Detroit riot with “jagged, you-are-there ferocity.” Bigelow focuses on the nightmare that unfolded in the Algiers Motel, where police killed three unarmed black teenagers and tortured nine others while searching for a gun that didn’t exist. It’s hard to sit through the “unrelieved, claustrophobic intensity” of the interrogations, staged here with the “disquieting intimacy” of a horror-thriller. “The performances are strong across the board,” said Adam Graham in The Detroit News. Will Poulter is “a revelation” as a sadistic, racist cop. John Boyega plays an earnest security guard who tries to mediate, and Algee Smith shows “the makings of a star-to-be” as a charismatic Motown singer caught in the fray. Unfortunately, Detroit “loses its steam” after the gut-churning motel scenes, becoming a routine courtroom procedural. Still, witnessing the all-white jury acquit those murderers “reminds us that stories of police brutality haven’t changed much,” said Rafer Guzman in Newsday. “Detroit leaves us feeling like victims, too: shattered, angry, and helpless.”
Directed by Dave McCary
A man-child’s sheltered life is upended.
Kyle Mooney has found “the big little boy he was born to play,” said Andrew Lapin in NPR.org. The Saturday Night Live cast member co-wrote this weird, warm comedy about an emotionally stunted young man raised in an underground bunker. When we meet James, he’s spending every day watching a show about a spacefaring teddy bear he’s been obsessed with since childhood. Too bad the movie turns “overly earnest” about halfway through, because until then, Mooney deadpans on a Peter Sellers level while dramatizing how the entertainment industry can make viewers complacent in their own imprisonment. Mooney’s too nice to remain dark, said A.A. Dowd in AVClub.com. Once his character learns that Brigsby Bear was created by the couple who kidnapped him in infancy, he rebounds by enlisting his whole town in shooting a Brigsby movie. In effect, Mooney “has wrapped an affecting premise in a protective layer of Indiewood cotton candy.” Still, “this is a film that is asking trickier questions than it would ever let on,” said Emily Yoshida in NYMag.com. Ultimately it’s about how mythologies shape each of us, and that feels “uncomfortably real and of the moment.”
Directed by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana
Native Americans who ‘rocked the world’
Maybe Chuck Berry gave us rock ’n’ roll, but Link Wray invented the power chord, and all rockers since them “owe him big,” said Glenn Kenny in RogerEbert.com. The Shawnee guitarist, whose 1958 instrumental hit “Rumble” popularized surly guitar distortion, looms large in this “mostly well-done” and “frequently moving” documentary about Native Americans’ unsung contributions to pop music. Some featured musicians—like Jimi Hendrix (part Cherokee) and the Band’s Robbie Robertson (half Mohawk) are well known. But the movie also “goes down byways you might not have expected.” Though “overstuffed and scattershot,” Rumble “makes a vital argument,” and backs it with sonic evidence, said Alan Scherstuhl in The Village Voice. Take 1930s jazz singer Mildred Bailey, whose phrasing influenced Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Or Charley Patton, whose Delta blues united African and Choctaw elements, inspiring Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf—and, by extension, all the blues-rock bands of the ’60s. “If you couldn’t name two Native American musicians at the beginning of the documentary, you’ll remember at least a half dozen after the end,” said Ken Jaworowski in The New York Times. “And it’s a good bet you’ll be searching for their albums, too.” ■