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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Jernard Burks

Imperial Dreams (2017)

Like Poetic Justice, except not at all.

Fresh out of prison for a gun-assault charge, Bambi (John Boyega) is ready to make a change in his life. However, the life that he left behind isn’t willing to let him go. With his son’s mom (Keke Palmer), in prison, there’s no one really to care for him, which leaves Bambi up to the task. But taking care and keeping watch over your son is one thing – keeping a stable roof over him, is a whole other completely. After Bambi refuses to help his cousin go to Portland and beat out an assault charge, his uncle (Glenn Plummer) kicks him out of the house and on the street, where Bambi and his son will have to make due with what they’ve got. In this case, it’s the car, so they begin to start calling that home, while Bambi is out looking for a job. And since Bambi is an accomplished poet, he hopes that he’ll be able to make it big somehow through that. Little does Bambi know that the streets are unforgiving to you, no matter who, or what you are.

What a swimfan.

Imperial Dreams is a movie that’s clearly set in today’s day and age, very relevant, and deals with a lot of important issues of race, gender, class, wealth, and economics, that are very hot-button now, as we speak. So why does it feel like a product of the 90’s? It’s odd, because while the “hood” subgenre of film isn’t necessarily a dated one, but it still feels like something of yesteryear, when G-funk and Dr. Dre was blasted on every car-stereo. But now, many, many years later, Imperial Dreams, while feeling like a movie made, and taking place in, the 90’s, still hits the right emotional spots that it means to, mostly because the world hasn’t changed all that much.

Okay, maybe it has. But not in the important ways it’s supposed to, anyway.

See. with Imperial Dreams, co-writer/director Malik Vitthal gets across the notion that it doesn’t matter if you’ve changed your act and have decided to become a full-fledged, law abiding citizen – if you’re young, black, poor, and ever been convicted of a crime, then guess what? There’s no future for you. Sorry. It’s a shame and it’s a sad world that we live in, but of course, it is the world and it’s one that many young, black, and/or poor ex-felons face.

But it shouldn’t sound like Vitthal is preaching here, because rather than getting on his soapbox and letting the world know his thoughts and feelings on classicism and the way the government continuously lets down its black and impoverished citizens, he tells a story that may seem to descriptive and specific to really connect to anyone, but it still somehow does. Bambi’s story involves a lot of heartbreak, death, sadness and most importantly, anger, but it doesn’t ever seem like it wants to be about any of those things, as much as it wants to be about just not giving up and trying your absolute hardest to fulfill your dreams. Sounds cheesy, I know, but in the context of the movie, it works and it makes you feel more and more for Bambi altogether.

Which is also to say that John Boyega is quite good in the role. While we have yet to fully see his talents on-display yet in a movie dedicated to exposing them, Boyega shows that he’s got a certain presence to him that keeps him interesting, even when it seems like his character could lapse into convention. Through the whole movie, Bambi remains an angry, frustrated and sometimes tortured soul, but he keeps on trying and there’s something about that spirit of his that’s, at the very least, inspirational. But like I said, it’s not as corny as I make it sound and it helps that Boyega is here to help this character out when he needs it the most.

Unfortunately, Bambi’s about the only character here that isn’t a total and absolute cliché and it’s what brings the movie down a whole notch.

Yup. Sons look like fathers. Shocking.

See, while the movie is smart about knowing and understanding these conventions of a hood movie, the characters seem to prove otherwise. For instance, Bambi’s brother is a young kid who’s future’s looking bright and beautiful, with a college scholarship and close relationship to the church. But for some reason, the movie changes its tune about halfway through and decides to make him something of a hard-ass that doesn’t want these things anymore and is, all of a sudden, ready to ruin his life for one stupid act. Doesn’t make much sense and eventually, all of the flip-flopping around gets confusing.

Same goes with Bambi’s uncle, as played by Glenn Plummer (in an obvious nod to South Central), who seems like he was ripped out of Don’t Be a Menace, thrown in here, and never told that what he was working with here was meant to be serious. It helps that Plummer’s a talented actor, but even some of the lines he has to work with, don’t always connect and seem genuine. They just seem like notes and beats these kinds of movies are supposed to touch on and use and well, it’s a bit silly.

Still though, there’s a heart and soul here that, above all other flaws, still gets itself across.

Consensus: With a good performance from Boyega in the lead and a heartfelt message about overcoming all adversity, Imperial Dreams gets by on its heart, as much as it gets taken down by its sometimes conventional and formulaic script.

7 / 10

“Listen to me, son. No spoilers.”

Photos Courtesy of: Collider, High Snobiety, Slash Film

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Street Kings (2008)

Don’t mess with Johnny Utah. Ever.

Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a veteran member of the LAPD who has definitely seen better days. While he does still do his job and take down the bad guys that need to be taken down, he also does so by sucking down bottles of vodka. He does this because he is still mourning the loss of his wife and as is such, has alienated a lot of those around him. One person in particular is his former partner, Officer Washington (Terry Crews), who now looks back on his time with Ludlow in disgust. Ludlow knows this and doesn’t like it, which is why he decides that it may be time to get Washington to shut up, before certain people start listening in on to what he has to say. But wouldn’t you know it that when Ludlow does get a chance to shut Washington up, Washington is gunned-down in what happens to be a random corner-store robbery. Feeling some echo of guilt, Ludlow decides to set out and find out who did this to Washington, but unfortunately, the more he digs up, the more dirt begins to show.

That Forest Whitaker eye is not to be messed with.

That Forest Whitaker eye is not to be messed with.

David Ayer can handle these types of dirty, gritty and violent thrillers about corrupt cops and politicians being, well, just that, corrupt. However, there does come a point where eventually, all of the same things that you made your name on, can get to be a bit too old, especially when you’ve got nothing left to say. Sure, a movie like Street Kings should resonate more so now, than it ever has before; police corruption is at an all-time high and people seem to really be demanding questions more than ever, but for some reason, it’s the kind of movie that brings these hard and questionable figures up, without ever seeming to bother to really say much more about it.

Instead, Ayer is more interested in shooting things and throwing blood anywhere he can set his sights to.

That’s fine because Ayer can handle action well. The best parts of Street Kings, actually, are when it’s just a few characters sitting in a room, expecting there to be some violence occurring soon, with their hands firmly on the trigger’s of their guns, not knowing when the other shoe is going to drop and people are going to have to be lit-up. It’s why some of the best moments of Training Day, were the ones where you had no clue exactly what was going to go down, even if you had a general idea.

Problem is, with Training Day and countless other flicks that Ayer has attached his name to, he’s become a tad too conventional. Street Kings feels like the kind of cop flick that would work somewhere back in the mid-90’s – ideas like these weren’t new, but they were still sustainable for entertainment. You could make the argument that Street Kings is sort of working with the same environment, to just be fun and nothing else, but when you have brothers in blue, who are literally doing terrible, immoral things, or getting killed, left and right, there’s a feeling that maybe, just maybe, someone needs to ask, “why?”

In a way, it’s almost like Ayer has a responsibility to ask those questions and get, at the very least, an idea of an answer. To just service your plot with cops and criminals getting shot and killed, without ever saying anything else about it, seems wrong. Trust me, I’m all for the down, dirty and immoral action when push comes to shove, but Ayer doesn’t really have his flick placed in any sort of fake world, or universe – it’s a real world/universe, where cops are meant to stop bad people, from doing bad things.

In fact, it’s the world in which we live in now.

"Uh. Hey. Freeze, man."

“Uh. Hey. Freeze, man.”

But honestly, besides that, Street Kings can be fun, when it actually cares to be fun. There’s a lot of the same stuff seen before, especially from Ayer’s pen, and you can tell that he’s trying to change everything up, yet, fall back on  the same conventions that have made cop-thrillers, such as his, hits in the first place. Ayer is a good director and writer when he wants to be, but here, it feels as if he’s just moving along, steadily, not trying to rock the boat and rely on what he knows best, without trying to change up any sort of format.

The only opportunity Ayer really gets a chance to liven-up things in Street Kings is with his wonderful ensemble, all of whom are having a great time. Keanu Reeves is actually quite good as Ludlow, mostly because the guy doesn’t always have to say something – some of the times, he just backs it up with his gun, or his fists. This suits Reeves just fine, just as it suits him playing the mentor-role to Chris Evans’ young, hotshot rookie character, both of whom work well together. Evans, too, in an early role before he truly broke-out into stardom, seems like the heart and soul of this cruel, dark and upsetting world, which works, until the movie decides that it cares less about him and more about just shooting people’s heads off.

Once again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but there comes a point where it’s overkill.

Others randomly show up like Common, the Game, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, John Corbett, and Terry Crews, and all add a little something to the proceedings. You can tell that Ayer likes to cast these known-actors in roles that you least expect them to work with and it actually works in his favor. However, had he given more screen-time to Hugh Laurie and Forest Whitaker, equally the best parts of this otherwise mediocre movie, all would have been right with the world. The two play opposing chiefs who may or may not be as evil, or as good as they present themselves as being. Ayer always treads the fine line here between these characters and it makes me wish that he decided to do more with the other characters, or even the plot.

Consensus: As conventional as cop-thrillers can go, Street Kings boasts an impressive cast and some fun moments, but ultimately seems to concerned with blowing stuff/people up, and not ever asking why.

5 / 10

"Let me give you my card. And no, I'm not playing that cynical doctor this time."

“Let me give you my card. And no, I’m not playing that cynical doctor this time.”

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert.com, IMDB, Deep Focus Review

Starsky & Hutch (2004)

Probably the tamest movie I’ve ever seen that says “coke” about 15 times. And I’m not referring to the soda, although if it were the late 1800’s, I would be referring to both I guess, right?

Detective David Starsky (Ben Stiller) is all about following the rules, getting the job, and having the law come out on-top, at any means necessary; Detective Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) is far different in the way that he’s so cool, calm, relaxed, and mellowed-out, that he doesn’t really care if he gets the job done or not, he just wants to look cool and smokin’. They’re polar-opposites, but they get strung together somehow and have to solve a drug-ring of coke on the streets, lead by millionaire Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn). Together, they have their fair-share of problems, but together, through the insistence on getting along and the help of their ears and eyes of the street, Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg), they finally realize that the law always prevails. Or something of that nature.

It’s strange to think that a man who has been known for his fair share of R-rated, raunch-fests, Todd Phillips, would ever stoop so low as to go for a PG-13. But somehow, with this, he did and his struggle with actually trying to keep to that rating without over-stepping it at all. As I said up-top, there’s plenty uses of the word “coke” and nothing but; girls make-out with other girls; the F-bomb is dropped once (and randomly); partial-nudity is seen (sort of); and the word “shit” gets dropped about 5 or 6 times. It’s just strange because we know that when Phillips turns on the dirty-jets, he has a fun time and lets loose like no other, but what we mostly know is that when he does get down and dirty: he’s a lot funnier as well.

Whatta fun time!

Whatta fun time!

And trust me, it’s not that this flick isn’t funny, because it sure as hell does have it’s moments of comedic-inspiration that are more than likely going to win you over; it’s just that the tone itself is a bit uneven. What I mean by that is that the flick tries to go for a satire of an episode of the original Starsky & Hutch, and at other times, seems like it’s trying to be a straight-forward comedy that makes up it’s own jokes, is in it’s own little universe, and doesn’t even know about the other show. Hell, it even plays out like a failed-pilot of the original, except with more knowing-humor and a switch-up of the lead characters.

Since the movie never seems like it knows what it wants to be, or how for that matter, some comedy hits and some of it misses. More of it hits than actually misses, but knowing what Stiller, Wilson, Vaughn, Ferrell, and even Phillips are capable of, it comes as a bit of a disappointment. The jokes they use get a bit stale after awhile, especially the part where Starsky is high on cocaine and gets into a dance-battle, even though he doesn’t know he’s high, and become the same old, “70’s-fashion-was-so-corny”-type of humor. Nothing as witty or as smart as Zoolander or even Old School here, just a bunch of repetitive jokes made towards the decade it’s apparently supposed to take place in, even if it feels like we’re just watching a bunch of current-Hollywood stars play dress-up and act like their in the 70’s. I don’t know if being a tad bit anachronistic was the movie’s point or not, but if it was; it probably would have been a lot smarter and funnier in that case.

But in all honesty, I can’t discredit this movie too much cause the cast seems to be having fun and is mostly the reasons why we find ourselves laughing at times, despite it seeming a bit desperate at times. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are seemingly playing Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. They both seem to be enjoying themselves, not having to stretch their acting-muscles all that much, and getting a chance to dress in some fine, sexy 70’s digs. Together, they’re a bunch of fun and keep this movie cracking, but after awhile, you start to think how much of this movie was made because they really wanted to make a Starsky & Hutch movie, or how much of it was made as an excuse for the two to pal-around with one another? One has to wonder, and sometimes, it feels like the latter-aspect. It’s fun to watch them, but it feels like their having a bit more fun than we are and that poses a problem, especially when they’re trying to steal the laughs out of you.

Come on! Gimme more!

Come on! Gimme more!

On paper, having Vince Vaughn do his spastic, fast-speech act and Jason Bateman do his dead-pan act, team together, and play the smart, but slightly off-kilter baddies in a movie would seem like comedic-brilliance, but it never musters up any of the courage to really keep them funny or relevant all that much. Vaughn seems like he’s bored being serious and conning, whereas Bateman actually seems like he’s bored, and isn’t just using that to his and his character’s advantage. He actually seems like he’s bored and wants to get his check, so he could get the hell home and get ready to film another season of Arrested Development. Also, any movie that has thew chance to showcase Juliette Lewis and her comedic-talents as the dumb, trashy-chick in the movie, but squander that potential, has seemingly all but lost points from yours truly. The girl is not only a foxy mama, but she’s pretty damn funny, especially when she’s given the chance to be.

Others in this cast that show up do what they can like Snoop Dogg, who actually has some of the funnier-moments in the whole flick of funny people; Carmen Electra and Amy Smart show up to only make-out and provide some sex-appeal for a movie that didn’t need any, and when it finally got it’s chance to showcase it, made it seem more misogynistic than titillating; and actual cameos from the original guys, David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser, who made it funny just being there, but once I got to thinking about it, made it almost seem like the film was making fun of them and how hell-bent-out-of-shape they seem to have gotten. Poor guys. Oh well, they probably got a nice, healthy paycheck from this. Just like Bateman. Although, needless to say, he probably made that paycheck last.

Consensus: Bits and pieces of Starsky & Hutch seem inspired enough to transpire plenty of inspired moments of comedy, but not too many as the flick struggles to make up it’s mind of what type of comedy it wants to be, or even make us laugh at all.

6 / 10

"1, 2, 3 and to tha 4, Huggy Bear is at tha doe."

“One, two, three and to tha foe, Huggy Bear is at tha doe.”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au