Movies Reviews

‘Sorry to Bother You’ Could be Refined Better, but Ultimately Succeeds in Telling a Bold and Eccentric Tale of Late-Stage Capitalism

Sorry to Bother You
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes
Director: Boots Riley
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Steven Yeun, and Armie Hammer

Black high-art has been making a huge splash in pop-culture as of late. Evident with movies like Dope (2015), Moonlight (2016), and Get Out (2017), and TV shows like Atlanta (2016-) and Insecure (2016-), Black filmmakers and their unique artistry are becoming more and more “mainstream.” This year that heightened buzz centers around rapper and political activist Boots Riley’s freshman feature film Sorry to Bother You, and while my experience with the film was not as starry-eyed as it’s critical reception would suggest, the film’s moments of genuine wisdom and bold subversions are so well conceptualized that I can painlessly forgive it where it falters.

Sorry to Bother You follows Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a down-on-his-luck, quirky Black man struggling to earn an income for him and his eccentric girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Living in his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage with Detroit, Cassius takes on an entry-level telemarketing position at RegalView, a subsidiary of a nefarious company WorryFree, that has recently announced a new class of employment that ultimately brings slavery into the present day. Cassius struggles to make any sells until a fellow coworker suggests he use his “white voice” (voiced by David Cross). Cassius’ “white voice” is so effective at making sells, that he quickly rises the ranks into the coveted position of “Power Caller,” where the real money is made. All the while, Detroit and Cassius’ fellow RegalView co-workers are attempting to unionize and express themselves in defiance and dissatisfaction of the status quo. Cassius must choose between his newly-earned economic status and the dignity of having his lover’s and his friends’ backs. As you can probably tell, the allegory that the plot establishes is topical to say the least, but don’t be mistaken into assuming Sorry to Bother You offers little nuance in its discussion of Capitalism’s woes.

Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) forfeits almost everything in his life to become a “Power Caller”

I’m not familiar with director Boots Riley’s prior artistic endeavors, but Sorry to Bother You definitely proves that he’s cut from the same cloth as a Donald Glover or a Barry Jenkins, if not only in his thematic confidence. Lakeith Stanfield, who has been making waves for his supporting roles for years, brings his now-trademark down-to-Earth quirkiness to the role of Cassius Green, proving that he is capable of carrying his own movie, the right story notwithstanding. Tessa Thompson’s been everywhere lately and she’s been good everywhere; her performance here as Detroit is no different. Thompson’s character often comes off haphazard or random, and normally it would come off as pompous and obnoxious, but Riley enacts enough restraint with her character to keep her from ever becoming a gimmick and instead uses her to signify perhaps the film’s most scathing commentary on artistic assimilation in the modern age. Armie Hammer steals the show as Steve Lift, the charismatic CEO of WorryFree with a hidden agenda that’s equal parts bizarre and horrific. Lift isn’t in the film very much until near the third act or so, but when he does show up and the film’s twist is revealed, the film takes a disturbing turn not so much because of the twist itself, but because something just like it could plausibly happen in our society in the not-so-distant future if we see the current trajectory of complacency in exploitation to completion. While I appreciate the parable on display, Sorry to Bother You suffers from some noticeable pacing and editing issues. Often times scenes will begin and end awkwardly in such a way that it sometimes undercuts the narrative momentum that was built just before; however, since this is Boots Riley’s first feature, it’s expected that such a film would have some cosmetic unpleasantries here and there.

Sorry to Bother You isn’t the masterpiece the trailers made it out to be, but a compelling social commentary and entertaining ensemble work well enough together to warrant a viewing from any open-minded movie-goer who isn’t turned off by the film’s pronounced weirdness.



Movies Reviews

‘Fallen Kingdom’ Dares to Subvert Expectations, and Just Barely Clears the Bar

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 hours 8 minutes
Director: J.A. Bayona
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, and Daniella Pineda

Star Wars isn’t the only internally disgraced legacy franchise to put out a new film this summer. The Jurassic Park franchise is back once again after 2015’s impressively average Jurassic World with a follow-up to the creatively safe box-office behemoth, this time with a tried-and-true auteur in the director’s chair. But in a post-Last Jedi fan-scape, how well does the latest highly-anticipated legacy blockbuster fare? Perhaps I’m conflating my enjoyment of AMC Dolby theater I saw it in with my enjoyment of the movie a bit, but I have to say, it fares well enough.

Claire (Howard) and Franklin (Smith) have an unlucky dinosaur encounter during a volcanic eruption

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is directed by sleeper auteur J.A. Bayona, known for The Orphanage (2007), The Impossible (2012), and most recently A Monster Calls (2016). Three years have past since the collapse of the Jurassic World theme park after a highly aggressive, experimental dinosaur, the Indominus rex, wrecked havoc on a fully populated park. Since then, the dinosaurs of Jurassic World have been living freely on the abandoned park estate; however, with the island’s volcano on the verge of eruption, the US government contemplates authorizing a rescue operation to save the last dinosaurs from another extinction. When they ultimately decide against the rescue op, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), Jurassic World’s old operations manager turned dinosaur activist, connects with John Hammond’s former business partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), to organize a privately-financed dinosaur extraction from the doomed island. Before leaving for the mission, Claire must recruit former velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), from the previous film, to help her track down Blue, the last living velociraptor and the number one priority for the extraction effort. Once on the island, Claire and Owen race against the clock to locate Blue and rescue as many dinosaurs as possible before the island explodes. Fallen Kingdom is not a “good” movie in most senses of the word; but what it lacks in originality and narrative risk is more than made up for in theatrical presence.

Bayona is no stranger to cinematic spectacle (made apparent in his last two features), and here he makes a handful of effective creative choices – a surprisingly poignant sequence centered around a doomed brachiosaurus (long-neck dinosaur) being the most notable of them. The way he depicts the dinosaurs as empathetic creatures worthy of the emotions that the film wants us to feel does so much to enhance the engaged suspense in the film, enough for me to personally overlook a lot of the annoyingly trite tropes littered throughout the  screenplay – and there sure are a lot of them.

jurassic world
As absurd as it can be at times, Fallen Kingdom makes an admirable attempt at having something to say

Claire (Howard) and Owen (Pratt) are as serviceable here as they were in the first Jurassic World, but the new supporting cast is especially lousy. Almost every character is a trite archetype you’ve seen in a thousand other blockbusters before: the evil business man who shamelessly compromises ethics for profit, the backstabbing mercenary guy just looking for the next job, and the snarky punk chick with a conveniently useful skill set. However, while the characters are shamelessly cookie cutter and their decisions just as predictable, the central question of whether or not the final surviving dinosaurs should be spared or left to die was surprisingly handled with some genuine nuance, drawing some poignant existential parallels to the current ethical crisis at the US-Mexico border.

At the end of the day, Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is not quite as creatively mute as its predecessor, and while it suffers greatly from “generic script”-itis, Bayona’s grand sense of spectacle and ability to pull some nuggets of real emotional resonance from the otherwise lifeless material ends up making for a perfectly enjoyable summer blockbuster with a little bit of something to say.