War On Everyone Review

One of my all-time favourite films is Calvary, a dark black comedy about a priest in Ireland who is sent death threats by a particularly broken parishioner. The film was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, so when I heard about his new film, War On Everyone, I was pretty excited. Does it hold up with his other works?

War On Everyone stars Michael Pena, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James and Tessa Thompson and is written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. The film follows Bob (Pena) and Terry (Skarsgård), a pair of corrupt cops who blackmail every criminal they come across. But one day they threaten the wrong criminal (James) and things turn sinister.

The opening scene of the film is Bob and Terry chasing a drug dealer dressed as a mime artist. Bob turns to Terry and asks “If you hit a mime does it make a sound?” before running him over with their car. That’s the sort of humour that War On Everyone has. It’s vulgar, callous and abrasive, but that’s its charm and had me nearly in stitches at places. All the characters are despicable, even the two leads who we are rooting for. Within the first couple of minutes you’ll know whether you’ll either enjoy the film or walk out due to disgust. The jokes ease up as we go through, replaced with dance numbers (set to an excellent endless playlist of Glen Campbell) and outrageous gun and fist fights bordering on slapstick, but they are always there in the film’s hip pocket if time comes for a punchy quip.

While the film is set in the modern day, it has an affinity with the look and sounds of the 1970s. Bob and Terry’s car is a classic, wheel-spinning, drifting muscle car, the collars are wide and the hair is bad, the aforementioned ever-present musical accompaniment of Campbell and the colour palette is garish, it all adds up to a film that has a great feel about it. It’s reminiscent of things like The French Connection and Dirty Harry, which is magnified by our heroes acting more like violent thugs than actual cops.

Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgård are great as the duo of slightly bad cops. Pena is a great screen presence and ever charismatic, whether it be having deep, introspective talks with his wife or throwing out one-liners completely deadpan. Skarsgård is doing his usual boring, brooding role, but it’s just so funny watching this tower of a man strut around in a sharp suit, dishing out his own odd brand of justice.

The problems though are two-fold. First off, while the script is bitingly funny, the story is non-existent. I managed to figure out it was something to do with bank robberies and the porn industry, but not much else. It’s hardly a plot, more just a succession of scenes. We have many parts dedicated to the main bad guy and his minions, but they are not as interesting our main duo and ultimately, a lot less funny. Every time the film would cut to them, I got a little bored, just waiting for the film to head back to Pena and Skarsgård. Secondly, even though the film is only 97 minutes, it feels incredibly long. Again, there are a few too many moments that aren’t as funny or compelling as others. I am really hoping for a sequel though. To see these characters again would be a blast, hopefully they can sort out a good story for next time.

In the end, War On Everyone is a great romping ride. While it’s comedy will turn off many potential viewers for being so on-the-nose and cutting, this one is definitely going to be a cult classic. I just wish that it held together a bit more.

Score: 7/10 Deplorable, irresponsible and offensive, but damn if it isn’t funny.

Creed Review

Rocky is one of the most recognisable film franchises in the world. It’s the film that was one of Sylvester Stallone’s first major roles and arguably his best-known role (with Rambo being his second). But now a new film steps away from the Rocky title, ready to make its own legacy using new characters from the Rocky world. That film is Creed.

Creed stars Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad and is written and directed by Ryan Coogler. The film follows Adonis Johnson (Jordan), the son of Apollo Creed, who decides he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and enlists Rocky (Stallone) to train him.

Ryan Coogler was the director of one of my Top 10 favourite films, Fruitvale Station and for a first film it’s a solid entry. Now with Creed, he’s showing that he will be soon be one of the most sought-after director’s working today. Coogler is already an expert at crafting a story and has a very good eye for composition and camera work.

Michael B. Jordan (who worked with Coogler before on Fruitvale Station) shines as Adonis Creed. The actor obviously bulked up and trained hard for the role and it pays off, he looks every part the fighter Creed would be. Sylvester Stallone is just Rocky again (you get what you pay for) but manages to add a lot more complexity to the role, with small scenes like him visiting the graves of loved ones or the little mementos of his family around his house adding to the character. Tessa Thompson (who was here last year in Dear White People) as Adonis’ love interest Bianca is a good addition, even if sometimes I didn’t quite think there was a lot of chemistry between her and Jordan.

The boxing fights, while not the main focus of the film, are punishing and bloodied. While there are only two full matches, Coogler and his cinematographer Maryse Alberti capture the gladiatorial bouts perfectly. The first fight, which looks like it was shot in one take, is breathtaking. The camera dances around the ring with our fighters, and it still manages to be engaging despite not having any noticeable edits in it. Edits help keep the pace up in a fight sequence, but all we have here is a very well choreographed scene with two actors who can sell the hell out of beating each other up. The final fight scene, while more traditionally edited than its earlier counterpart, is still very enjoyable, even if it has a weird edit where rounds are cut down to ten second montages.

The sound design in the fights is what sells it though. We hear every punch and every block, with some of the more heavy blows making me wince at the sound of it. It’s a film where you feel as if you are in the middle of the fight, almost to the point where you are about to start shouting along with the crowd. It’s hard not to get a contact high from it. It got to the point where I thought that the guys on screen facing Jordan weren’t actors but full-blown boxers they just got for the film (and then I went and looked it up for the review and found that is opponents were actually boxers).

I’d already addressed the main problem I had, that of the chemistry between Thompson and Jordan, but I’ll broaden it out a bit more. While they have some good scenes together, including a “first date which isn’t an actual date”, their blossoming relationship isn’t really expanded upon to any great length, which is a shame. It would have been nice to see these two together in more scenes and break away from the usual classical Hollywood tropes of romance subplots.

In summary, Creed is a breath of fresh air in a series that should have been dead a long time ago. To paraphrase what the old man said, “It’s not about how many films you make, it’s about how many you can make and still make them fun.”

Score: 8/10 Good, solid entertainment.

Dear White People Review

It’s a sad fact that the black community is severely underrepresented in Hollywood and filmmaking. With only old hats like Spike Lee and Tyler Perry being said to market the majority of their films to the black community, it falls to a new generation of black filmmakers to make movies for the underrepresented. Does Dear White People start a new trend of catering to the target demographic?

Dear White People stars Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Brandon Bell and Dennis Hasybert and is written, produced and directed by Justin Simien. The story follows Sam White (Thompson) at Winchester University, where her radio show “Dear White People” starts to raise race tensions amongst the students and the staff.

First off, Dear White People is one of the newest and funniest films I’ve seen this year. Don’t be fooled, it’s not a haha, laugh-out-loud funny. Instead it is a deeply smart and commentary, steeped in pop culture and referencing recent racially insensitive media events. As a film student I got most enjoyment from the repeated jokes about film, with small conversations devoted to what can be considered a “black” film, aversions to Tarantino, a sly updating of the racist 1916 film Birth Of A Nation and a comparison of the film Gremlins to black culture. It’s a film that knows it’s history and how blacks were once and sometimes still are portrayed in mass media and sets out to change it.

While being a film mainly about race and racism, Dear White People picks up on a few more hot topics, including homophobia, class divides and nepotism. While the film sometimes isn’t able to fully flesh out these stories and instead goes into a small amount of clichés and caricatures (and including one that goes absolutely nowhere apart from one extra scene), the majority of the other themes are resoundingly brought in and out of the film expertly. These four themes each have their own central character and worldview and the film seamlessly switches between them all, and in the end manages to bring them all together for a third act finale which is actually inspired by true events, showcasing the ugly underside of racism that is still around today.

The film is not without it’s problems though. While the film is around the one hour fifty minutes mark (which is around the average length of a film in the 2010s), Dear White People for some reason feels a tad too over long and drawn out. There could be a number of reasons why the film feels overlong, but I think it just comes down to the film getting pulled around by many different characters. For example around the halfway point we start spending more time in the film with side characters that really aren’t anything more than a walking point-of-view, a symbolic representation of an argument or debate. This makes some of the characters look like 2D cardboard cutouts next to the main leads of the film, who actually have more rounded personalities and conflicting ideals. Another problem I had with Dear White People was the ending. While I understand it’s meaning and what the film was trying to say in it’s final few scenes, I did feel that it was rather hollow and tacked on, a forced “happy ending” that seemed to negate an earlier character arc and argument.

In summary, Dear White People is a refreshing film from a promising new director. It’s a film that manages to be ABOUT something and explores those issues, rather than being superficial like most other films that are based on a taboo subject. This is definitely not one to miss.

Score: 7/10 An intelligent, funny and sharp new voice in film.