Mile 22

Jon Rutledge

This film suffers from a lack of understanding on how action films work to engage the audience. Timing issues and heavy-handed storytelling coupled with poor casting choices cause this movie a lot of self-inflicted problems.  It’s not all bad there are a few top-notch scenes but it’s too long of a walk to get to them. It has the director’s (Peter Berge) feel to the gritty nature of the film but it loses its way along its route to the end.  

James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) is a leader of a black ops team. His mission is to get the package, Li Noor (Iko Uwais) a defecting police operative, to the military airport 22 miles away. There is a corrupt security officer, Axel (Sam Medina) of the random South East Asian town they are in. Axel is throwing all his military resources at them to ensure that Li Noor does not make it to the plane.

On paper, this looks like a great film however they are trying to tell several different sides of the same story and it’s not effective. One story is events as they are happening, another is an after-action interview. The problem is that they don’t blend them together well. Using the interview to break up the action was distracting and did nothing to move the story forward. You should not spoil your own story halfway through the second act and the interview interludes give away the climatic end.  

James Silva is supposed to be the cornerstone of a new Ethan Hunt-like franchise. Problem is that Silva is a completely disagreeable and unlikable character.  His not only abrasive to the people on his own team he has this gimmicky “on the spectrum” habit that makes him snap a rubber band on his writ whenever his mind races out of control. It is way overused we not only see it constantly when he is on screen they also add it in as a sound effect when we hear him snap off camera.  
There are endless barking monologs that Wahlberg performs perfectly but are still uninteresting to watch after the first few of them. His fight scenes did not have the same elegance as his counterpart. In contracts to Silva, Li Noor was incredibly engaging, mysterious, skilled and way more enjoyable to watch on screen. He barely spoke but completely engaging because of his impressive skill. His fight scenes were outstanding and what this movie was sold on.

Also, how do you have Ronda Rousey in a film and her not single-handedly take down a room of three bad guys with her hands? She is such a powerhouse she needs more physical work, she was great and looked good at executing the military tactics, but it was a missed opportunity. Lauren Cohan had way more physical stuff and she did awesomely, it looked great and the tension in the fight felt real.
This was packaged as a gauntlet type film; plucky heroes fight their way every inch of the 22 mile journey. It turned out to be grumpy people grousing at one another along the way. Mile 22 felt like 22 thousand miles.


The Happytime Murders

Khaleel Herbert

LAPD officer turned private-eye detective Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) gets more than he bargained for when takes Sandra White’s (Dorien Davies) case. In a world where puppets and humans live amongst each other, puppets from the famous ‘90s sitcom, The Happytime Gang, get slaughtered one by one.
The crime begins when Phil goes to a local porn shop to get clues for Sandra’s case. He runs into Bumblypants (Kevin Clash), who only wants a carrot dildo and some porn DVDs. When Phil goes to the back of the store to collect files for evidence, Bumblypants, the owner, and a squid and a cow getting freaky in the back (don’t ask) are killed. Puppet fuzz is everywhere.

The LAPD get involved, reuniting Phil with his old partner, Detective Edwards (Melissa McCarthy). They squabble over a case they worked on together in the past that went horribly wrong. But Lieutenant Banning (Leslie David Baker) wants them to work together to crack. Phil and Edwards go on crazy misadventures to bring the puppet murderer to justice.
Try imagining The Happytime Murders as a classic Humphrey Bogart detective flick mixed with the comic stylings of Saturday Night Live and the sexuality of Fifty Shades of Grey in a Muppet-like world. That’s pretty difficult to explain and even weirder to watch. Although there’s a solid story, it’s weird to see puppets cuss, do drugs and have sex like real people. It’s like you’re sucked into a Twilight Zone state where you almost forget these characters are puppets, but you know they’re not human, like the sex scene with Phil and Sandra in his office.

McCarthy taps into her Diana and Mullins tough-girl vibes from The Heat and Identity Thief, but the puppets steal the show. They just do. McCarthy does get wild when she snorts some candy cocaine and has a few one-liners here and there.   

Maybe The Happytime Murders is also one big spoof of puppet shows and movies we grew up watching. Brian Henson, who has directed The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island and a few episodes of Muppets Tonight, has apparently worked with puppets before. But this film truly lives up to its slogan, “No Sesame. All Street.”
The Happytime Murders is not for everyone (and definitely not for children). You need a dirty mind and/or a fetish for puppet sex to truly enjoy this film.



Khaleel Herbert

Peppermint begins with Riley North (Jennifer Garner) as the typical working mom who adores and cares for her daughter and husband (Cailey Fleming and Jeff Hephner), although she wants to punch the lights out of her boss and snobby mom.
When her daughter’s birthday goes sour, the trio ventures to the Christmas carnival for frolic, fun and ice cream. Like Job, Riley’s world is flipped when her family is murdered drive by-style by a Mexican drug cartel led by Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba who sort of resembles John Travolta’s Ryder in Taking of Pelham 123). Riley was injured, but alive. When she identifies the murderers and testifies, the justice system lets them walk free. Enraged, Riley goes on a five-year hiatus. When she returns to Los Angeles, she’s back with heavy artillery and her radar on Diego.

Garner taps into her action days of Daredevil, Elektra and Alias. But this time, she’s unhinged and uncensored. She’s a bad mutha clucka who isn’t afraid to blow up Piñata shops, scare alcoholic dads and make snobby moms (Pell James) pee themselves. Like Denzel Washington’s Equalizer 2, Man on Fire and Magnificent Seven, she shows no mercy on her path to seeking justice.

Sure, Peppermint may be a rehash of vigilante movies like Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde and Angelina Jolie’s Salt and others, but who cares? What stories are truly original anymore? It’s all about the uniqueness in the genre. While Crazy Rich Asians and Mission Impossible 24 (or however many of those bastards are out now) dominate the box office, Peppermint is a numbing thrill-ride that shows a powerful female kicking booty with nothing to lose. This smashes The Rock’s Skyscraper because the ending doesn’t insult the audience and Garner is raw protecting the weak on her vengeful road.
Like Salt, the ending leaves audiences yearning for a sequel. Maybe Riley doesn’t have OCD, but she’s a woman who isn’t afraid to break her nails or get her hair messed serving up justice and a can of whoop-ass. The name isn’t catchy. Why not simply call this Riley North or Gun Angel? It may not be number one at the box office or get the highest score on Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s not a rom-com like Crazy Rich Asians or has weird sexual antics like The Happytime Murders for Christ sake! You can’t go wrong with Jennifer Garner.


White Boy Rick Director Yann Demange Hooked on Father Son Interactions
By Samantha Ofole-Prince

It’s a true story of the youngest FBI informant in history and for British director Yann Demange, who earned global accolades for his debut film ’71, what attracted him to the script was the multi-generational father and son story.
“I saw that as a chance to take this true story and tackle the themes of the struggle for the American Dream in the face of poverty and the opportunity through a family trying to succeed against dire odds. That’s what excited me, even more than the informant story,” he shares.

Set in 1980s Detroit at the height of the crack epidemic, it tells the story of Rick Wershe Jr., a 15-year boy who was initially recruited by the FBI as an undercover drug informant and ended up becoming a neighborhood drug dealer.
Brilliantly portrayed by newcomer Richie Merritt, the film chronicles three critical years in the life of a baby-faced, street-savvy teen Rick Wershe Jr. as he rises from teenage to infamous drug dealer before ultimately becoming a pawn to some of Detroit’s most powerful and corrupt politicians.

The film opens in 1984 as Rick Wershe Jr. and his father, Richard Sr., a self-styled business hustler and gun dealer, played by Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey, are at a gun show. Fast forward a couple of scenes later and we meet his older sister, Dawn (Bel Powley), a rebel with a drug addiction and learn that Rick’s mother left the family years earlier in a bitter divorce. Demange briefly introduces this world of domestic dysfunction and the crack cocaine epidemic that plagued Detroit during that era, before jumping in to the nitty gritty of Rick’s recruitment as a confidential undercover informant.

Although he is not involved in drugs at the time, Rick knows many of the players in his racially mixed neighborhood and his initial assignment, which he reluctantly accepts, is to infiltrate the Curry Crew who dominate East Detroit’s drug scene. He befriends the youngest Curry brother, Rudell “Boo” Curry (RJ Cyler), and soon enters the Curry’s dangerous world of fast cars, after-hours nightlife, mink coats, gold jewelry and, when necessary, violence and moves up within his organization.

With Rick’s relationship with his own father beginning to deteriorate, Curry becomes like a father figure to his young protégé and Rick rises rapidly in the area’s drug scene earning his own street nickname, White Boy Rick, all the while still under the guidance and encouragement of law enforcement until his downward spiral and ultimate incarceration.
It’s an ambitious miscarriage of justice tale for Demange who visited the real Rick Wershe in prison and spoke with him on the phone on a regular basis.

“The development phase was a long process because I had never done a true story, so it was imperative for me to see the real Rick in jail. That was part of my decision process, to figure out whether I could actually do this because initially there wasn’t a clear narrative – there were many ways to tell the story of Rick Wershe but, as I said, I wanted to focus on the family. And then there was the ethical questions – am I doing the right thing by this man? Am I exploiting a life story just to project the themes that influence me onto a film? It took about three years and it was a real process of not taking liberties with his life and distilling it down to the facts and its emotional core,” Demange explains.

The film also features Jennifer Jason Leigh (Hateful Eight) and Rory Cochrane (Black Mass) as the FBI agents who begin working with Rick as a confidential informant, and Brian Tyree Henry (FX’s Atlanta) as narcotics Detective Jackson. Bruce Dern (Nebraska) plays Rick’s grandfather, rapper YG and Jonathan Majors round off the cast as local dealers.

There’s humility and humor in the film, which does not take a moral stance, but certainly exposes the mandatory sentencing and drug laws that decimated the African American community in particular, but also the poor and disenfranchised in general.