August 24, 2015

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Ice Cube's son O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller, and a guy who looks nothing like Snoop Dogg



This movie couldn't have come at a better time. Between the #BlackLivesMatter campaign, this Confederate flag bullsh*t, and whatever the hell is still going on in Ferguson, this country feels like it's on the brink of another riot circa 1992 LA. This movie does a good job of showcasing just a taste of what it can be like growing up black in a poor neighborhood. Is this a movie? Yes. Do I feel their experience with law enforcement is exaggerated? Not one bit.

I didn't grow up black. Nor did I grow up poor. Or listening to rap music, for that matter, so I don't have quite the same connection to N.W.A's music as I'm sure many other people do. But I can say that I'm not sure I've ever felt quite so hyped in a movie than when they sang F*ck Tha Police in Joe Louis Arena after being explicitly told not to. I have a lot of strong opinions about social justice and the treatment of minorities in this country and I felt like this one moment in the movie encapsulated the frustration, anger, and defiance of our corrupt system so many of us feel. I'm not saying the rappers in the movie are necessarily heroes or role models--but they were in that moment.

The movie covers a lot of ground, so some of the finer details are missed. For instance, how does Dre suddenly know how to use a producer's sound board? How did Eazy-E suddenly learn how to rap in the span of one day? Did they all drop out of school? What happened with the FBI case? Where the hell is Dre's baby mama? How did Dre even know Suge Knight? If anyone watching this didn't already know the broad strokes of N.W.A's history, I imagine some of this would be rather confusing. Then again, I'm not sure if anyone who wasn't already at least acquainted with N.W.A would watch this in the first place.

Biographies are tough. They are even tougher when the subjects of them are still alive. It's sort of obvious that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube produced this movie because they managed to make their characters with the least amount of flaws. To be fair, Ice Cube does seem to the cleanest of the three, with no history selling drugs like Eazy-E or beating up women like Dr. Dre. And considering his recent image of an All-American family man in ridiculous movies like Are We There Yet?, it's almost strange to see him back in the 80's and 90's as an angry, sometimes violent teenager. (Side note: Ice Cube is portrayed by his son, who looks so much like him I didn't realize it wasn't actually him until the movie started and noticed his son lacks Cube's signature angry eyes.)

Dr. Dre is another matter. He has a sordid history of violence toward women, beating up three I can name off the top of my head. Did the movie mention this? Of course not. The worst the movie shows is Dre watching Suge Knight beat someone with the butt of his gun over a parking spot. Then continues to work with Suge. Sure, sure, they split up later (and if my own memory serves correct, quite contentiously), but being a quiet accomplice to Suge Knight's insanity is not on the same level as slamming a reporter's head against a wall because you're displeased with an interview she did. I mention this incident because the director's excuse for not including it was because he thought it was a "side story" that didn't fit with the overall plot. Except that this interview was right after Ice Cube left NWA and would have fed directly into the plot when the artists were releasing dis songs about each other. But you know, distractions.

It's hard to know just how accurately Eazy-E's story was portrayed, since he's not around to confirm or contradict it. But what is clear (to me, anyway) is that Ice Cube was the most talented one and also the one who got the most screwed. So I guess I forgive him for making three Friday sequels because hell, I'm happy he's making as much money as he is. He deserves it. 

Final word: Maybe it's a vanity piece, but it's one worth watching--especially right now.

August 20, 2015

Chappie (2015)

Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver


Hmmm... what was the stupidest part of this movie? Was it the name? The ridiculous wannabe gangster vibe of the villains? Hugh Jackman's haircut? The entire plot? When I watch a movie like this, I just have to wonder: did anyone making the movie actually watch the whole thing through?

There are charming parts, I suppose. Chappie himself, despite a terrible name, is a very sweet character. It is entertaining to watch him develop and his transformation from a essentially a toddler to a rebellious teenager is pretty creative. It differentiates his character from other intelligent robots in other movies, like I, Robot.

But pretty much everything outside of Chappie himself is a disaster. Dev Patel (who I fully congratulate for crafting a Hollywood career for himself from one movie) is fine, but it would be nice to see him in a non-geek role. It's so typical to see him as some kind of engineering genius (ahem, The Newsroom) that it hardly even seems like acting at this point. I'm starting to believe that's just who he is as a person.

The "bad guys" are supposed to be over-the-top ridiculous, I'm guessing, because otherwise I can't figure out who wrote their lines. Their entire character is literally unbelievable. I don't believe anyone would dress like that or have those haircuts (even in a sci-fi movie). I don't believe anyone can shoot accurately with the gun cocked to the side. I don't believe three people that idiotic could come up with such a complicated heist plan. And while Yolandi (aka Mommy) was a lot less offensive than Ninja (aka Daddy), I think we're scraping the bottom of the barrel when the comparison is against someone named Ninja. I mean, seriously.

But even the weird wannabe gangster bad guys are tame in comparison to Hugh Jackman, whom I am convinced was blackmailed somehow to appear in this movie. Looking past his mullet (which killed any possible sex appeal he might have gained from being Wolverine) and his bizarre camp counselor outfit, his character is so ridiculous I can't believe this movie isn't a spoof of some kind. His motives are hard to believe, his tactics even more so, and the lack of internal controls and awareness of other employees at a military company of that size are not even remotely possible. Look, I get that people don't watch an action movie about robots for its believability factor, but I really cannot think of the last movie I watched that had a plot this far-fetched. And I'm including Divergent. I just--*smh*--can't even. 

Final word: This movie might even be worse than that other fighting robot one with Hugh Jackman.

August 14, 2015

Inside Out (2015)

Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black


I went into this already semi-annoyed. I mean, who only has 5 emotions? It turns out, all of us. There are only 4, actually. The fact that anger and disgust are basically the same helps me reconcile the poor voice acting done by Mindy Kaling on behalf of disgust. I expected more from her. I'm pretty sure any 13-year-old could muster up more distain than she managed. Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith, was at least accurate, but her character was irritating. Why did she have to be the Screech, always messing everything up? And Joy, the main character, was extremely grating. Like, Pollyanna-level annoying. Even Riley, the girl in whose head these characters reside, wasn't impressive. She was sort of droopy looking and not anyone I wanted to represent the great state of Minnesota.

Also, not to get nit-picky, but why were all the emotions one color, except Joy? Disgust was green, anger red, fear purple, and sadness blue--all logical choices. So why is Joy basically flesh toned with a yellow-green dress and blue hair? Why does her character get to be more complex than the others?

But as the movie went on, I started to appreciate the creativity of the movie. I mean, Joy is supposed to encapsulate only the emotion of joy. So of course she would be annoying. Think about those sunny optimists in life who always encourage you to "find the silver lining" or "look on the bright side" or whatever other annoying jargon they can come up with. If those people make me want to punch something, it's only reasonable that I sort of hoped Joy would be sucked into the dark abyss of the mind and forgotten about. And yes, I realize I'm still talking about an animated children's movie.

The way in which Pixar represented the different facets of our minds was reminiscent of the creativity shown in Monster's Inc with its complex door system. Pixar is genius at taking concepts we relate to and crafting a fun backstory for why those things operate in that way. Except Cars. I don't understand the purpose behind that one.

I also appreciated the mature nature of the movie. By having a slightly older main character (Riley is 11), they are able to tackle a wider and more complex range of emotions because Lord knows how tumultuous middle schoolers can be. And I was relieved that they finally got around to the message that sadness isn't bad. So even though there were perhaps themes that weren't entirely appropriate for my 2 and 4-year-olds, I would still rather have us watch this again than Cars any day of the week. (Disclaimer: I've never even shown my kids Cars because I hate it so much. I can't risk them liking it and wanting to watch the sequels. Yes, I said sequels. As in plural. As in they're making another one.)

Final word: Intellectually excellent, but not my favorite to watch.

August 6, 2015

Pixels (2015)

Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad


Once upon a time, Adam Sandler was a comedic god. He made ridiculous movies that were juvenile but hilarious and people paid to watch, like Billy Madison, The Wedding Singer, and (my personal favorite) Happy Gilmore. Then his fans grew up, and he was still making juvenile movies that were no longer hilarious, but people still inexplicably paid for, like Grown-Ups (and it's disastrous sequel), That's My Boy, and Jack and Jill.

In a way, I don't fully blame him for all the horrible movies he's put out. For one thing, someone keeps financing them. For another, people obviously still pay money to watch him do the same schtick with weird voices and childish toilet humor. If McConaughey can do Lincoln commercials for the money, why can't Sandler make terrible movies? After all, someone's got to keep David Spade employed. 

This movie marks a departure for him. Not in a wildly different (and tragic) direction, like Punch Drunk Love, but in a way that manages to be entertaining to people with an IQ above 70 points. I wasn't a gamer as a kid, but I certainly enjoyed the occasional Pac-Man game and my aunt and uncle had an Asteroids arcade machine in their basement. I know enough about video games to appreciate the nostalgia this movie invokes. I also watch enough movies to recognize and appreciate an original idea when I see one.

This movie is creative. Wildly, I daresay. Video games attacking the Earth? Light guns as weapons? Kevin James as president? Adam Sandler finally playing a part that doesn't ask us to pretend he's a successful doctor? It's all pretty out there. And without Sandler's trademark tangent jokes and without Rob Schneider, this movie manages to be pretty good. Sure, he still has himself snag a girl that is beyond out of his league, and it's completely creepy to watch Josh Gad make-out with well, anyone, especially a video game character, but hey, these are the guys for whom anime porn was created!

Final word: If you can overcome your hatred for Sandler, you might actually enjoy this.