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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Keith Stanfield

War Machine (2017)

War is bad, m’kay?

Four-star General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) is one of the most respected men in the Army and it’s why all of the men that he surrounds himself with, not only just stand by every word he says, but also seem to have his back no matter what. Which is why when he’s sent to Afghanistan to bring the war to an end, they can’t help but do whatever it is that he asks of them. But it’s a rough situation McMahon and his men find themselves in; for one, they have to do the impossible tasks of stopping insurgencies for constantly forming and killing people. Second of all, they have to ensure that the politicians the U.S. wants in Afghanistan’s office, actually do get elected, so that they can promote “peace and tranquility”, despite the fact that the U.S. actually invaded Afghanistan in the first place. All that said, McMahon is a class-act and more than up to the task, but after a short while, even he finds himself on the receiving-end of all sorts of screw-ups that don’t seem to be coming from his directly, but somehow, he’s getting the blame for. When is he going to crack?

Grandpa?

War Machine is an odd movie in that it’s no doubt a satire on the war in Afghanistan, and how the U.S. clearly had no idea how to end its conflict without looking dirty, mean and downright brutal, but it’s also a movie that tries to go a bit deeper and ask us how we get there in the first place. In that sense, the movie doesn’t quite work; War Machine is a movie that’s far too enamored with its silly, sometimes off-the-wall characters and the situations they find themselves in, to really get all that involved with what really causes war and conflict between two nations to begin with. Sure, are those ideas played with here? Yes, they are, but they almost seem like they don’t go far enough to really stick the knife in and twist it, like all good satires do.

You know, like Three Kings, for starters.

But hey, War Machine isn’t Three Kings, which isn’t a good thing, or a bad one – it’s just a thing. They’re both satires that make fun of the war, as well as the people who find themselves wrapped-up in them, but the former clearly has a certain angle it’s wanting to take, getting down into the PR-side of it all. In fact, War Machine does work best when it’s trying to develop just how a country can look when they’re not just trying to end a war they sort of started, but just how they can do it all without looking like the evil and maniacal beings that they probably are. It’s an interesting conflict that already sits next to other interesting conflicts to be seen here, but it also makes me feel like War Machine could have been longer.

Then again, at two hours, the movie doesn’t feel long, nor does it ever really drag. It moves, even if it can’t always figure out a perfect tone to stick with, but that’s normal with most satires. Having fun and making jokes are easy to do, but when it comes to turning that other cheek and getting all serious, then yeah, it’s a little bit more difficult. That said, writer/director David Michôd does a solid job here transitioning between the many threads of plot and tone, even if by the end, it still sort of feels like it may have benefited from some more developing on certain ends.

Two worlds collide.

For example, while it was nice we got see some heart and humanity behind Pitt’s McMahon, where was everybody else’s in this insanely-stacked cast? After all, the movie does sort of pride itself on the fact that McMahon’s surrounded by this rag-tag group of goobers, who may also be efficient at their jobs, or may just be good enough that McMahon lets them slide on doing rather dumb stuff. In fact, a much more developed and concise movie probably would have kept the focus fully on this group alone and sort of had all of the other stuff go by the waist side. Because, yeah, when you have Anthony Michael Hall, John Magaro, RJ Cyler, Tilda Swinton, Ben Kingsley, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter, Griffin Dunne, Alan Ruck, Emory Cohen, Keith Stanfield, and hell, even Topher Grace here, feeling as if they’re maybe, I don’t know, a bit dumped around, it’s a shame.

But hey, at least Pitt’s good, right? As always? Right?

Well, actually yes. See, while all of the reviews have been criticizing his role as just another goofy and rugged take on Aldo Raine, but this time, older and with grayer hair, it actually worked for me. In a way, it was nice to see Pitt take on a role that was clearly meant for an older fella (which he is), in which he gets to be both charming, as well as a little stern. Some of his mannerisms are a bit over-the-top and maybe put-upon, but it’s hard to get annoyed by them after awhile, especially once we see this character away from the spotlight and just chatting it up with those around him, especially in the lovely, yet, rather sad scenes he has with his wife, as played by Meg Tilly. Pitt may be playing a character here for sure, but he tries to go deeper and the movie helps him in that regard.

Is it his finest hour? Nope, but hey, it’s still a joy to watch.

Consensus: Tonally uneven and a bit underdeveloped, War Machine could have benefited from some more time, perhaps, but thanks to a smart message and solid cast, it goes by easy.

6.5 / 10

Still muggin’ it, eh Brad?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Get Out (2017)

Stay away from the white ‘rents house. Always.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Alison Williams) have been dating for quite some time. So, this obviously means that it’s time for Chris to meet her parents – something they’ve both been holding off on, because well, Chris is black and knows how these sorts of things go. Rose brushes it off and it makes sense; her parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), both seem like well-intentioned white people who, sure, may not always say the best, most appropriate things, but love their daughter enough to know that if she loves Chris, well, he’s got to be something special. But Chris starts noticing some odd things going on around the house, like with the house-workers both being black and very odd, as well as some of the other black people in/around the area. It’s all very surreal to Chris, but maybe, maybe he’s just overreacting. Until he realizes that maybe something incredibly bad and dangerous is going on here, and it’s up to him to figure it all out, way before it’s too late and something bad happens to him. Whatever that may be, he doesn’t know. But he sure as hell isn’t going to stick around and wait to see what happens.

Young happy couple. Time to ruin their lives.

Young happy couple. Time to ruin their lives.

It’s crazy that someone like Jordan Peele had Get Out within him; all of those years of creating and writing some hilariously biting and funny satire, behind it all, there was a dark, rather sick and twisted soul who wanted to get his voice and vision out there for the whole world to see. It’s actually shocking how different Get Out is from what you’d expect from Peele, but to take it one step further, but also by how different it is from so many mainstream horror movies. It’s as if the movie was made on a hand-shake agreement between Peele and the studios, where he would give them the funny bits of his persona, only so that they would invest and allow his freak-flag to fly.

And yeah, it pays off. For the most part.

The one interesting aspect surrounding Get Out is that you never quite know where it’s going to go, both in terms of its story, as well as its tone. That can sometimes back-fire, but for the longest time, Get Out is a suspenseful, tense and rather exciting horror-thriller that doesn’t try to grab out at us with the big, loud and obvious shocks and scares that we’re so used to seeing with horror movies of this same kind (although there is that conventional scene early-on of the couple running into a deer for a jump-scare, but it’s easy to forgive). Instead, Peele shows a resistance in giving us everything we need to know about this story, and slowly builds this story, giving us small, itty, bitty clues and hints into where this story may be headed and what the overall shocker’s going to be.

It’s the kind of suspense-horror that the genre doesn’t quite utilize that much anymore – in a way, it’s as if Polanski’s influence has come and gone out the window, once it appeared like he himself left the genre in the back-burner. But Get Out does suspense right, never letting us forget where the story may head, as well as what it’s trying to say about numerous things, like race, gender, and the class-system in our country. But it’s interesting that Peele doesn’t quite hit us over the head with these points; you’d think that a movie about black people being practically whitewashed would be a lot more irate and angry, but instead, Peele uses it as a platform to discuss further more troubling issues about identity and losing one’s self-respect.

White parents. Nice and presentable on the outside, evil and heartless on the inside.

White folks: Nice and presentable on the outside, evil and heartless on the inside.

Oh, and yes, we are still talking about a horror movie here, folks.

So yes, Peele should definitely be commended here for taking the horror-aspect of the story and working it for all that he’s got. The only regard where Peele seems to lose himself and show a bit of a room to grow in his debut feature, is that he doesn’t quite nail the comedy down as much as he thinks he does. Lil Rel Howry – who is a scene-stealer in the Carmichael Show – plays Chris’ best buddy who is, for the most part, seen having phone-conversations and that’s about it. He’s funny and the scenes in the first-half that we get of him work and help break-up the tension every so often, but then it gets to become a little tiresome, with a whole ten or so minutes dedicated to watching this character make dick and sex jokes.

Howry’s timing is on-point, but the movie’s is not. It doesn’t do much but take away from the momentum that the movie has going for itself and just seems like cheap laughs, for no exact reason other than to have cheap laughs. Maybe in a far less serious movie, it would have been fine, but Get Out is not that movie. It’s very deep, very dark, very serious and very drab, and it deserves to be that way, with some comedy sprinkled throughout – not whole segments.

But hey, Peele’s just getting started and he’s constantly going to be creating. I’m excited to see just where he sets him ambitious sights next. Whether it’s in a comedy, or another horror movie, remains to be seen.

Can’t wait to see, though.

Consensus: Even with some narrative flaws here and there, Get Out is still a suspenseful, unpredictable and chilling horror-flick that also proves Peele to be a talent to keep a look on when he’s behind the camera.

7.5 / 10

White people will do this to you.

White people will do this to you.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Snowden (2016)

It doesn’t matter if you’re awkward and kind of nerdy – if you can type fast, the world is yours.

Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was just another typical, young dude from North Carolina who had an obsession with Ayn Rand and most of all, wanted to be in the Army and serve his country. However, due to a disability that made it so that any pressure applied to his legs would almost certainly cripple him for life, he had to opt-out for something that he was far better advanced and skilled in: Typing. That’s when he heads up to Virginia, where he learns a thing or two about network systems, hacking, and most importantly, how to maintain confidential information. And for Snowden who, at first, felt like he was doing a justice for his country, this was the perfect life to live; he was a patriot, a hard-worker, while making lots of money, as well as some sweet money with his supportive, but also incredibly liberal girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shaliene Woodley). This all begins to change for Snowden when he not only realizes that the government is using its resources to destroy the lives of, quite possibly, innocent people, but also spying on each and everyone of its citizens for reasons that he apparently doesn’t have the clearance to hear the answers to.

Edward Snowden. War hero?

Edward Snowden. War hero?

Did we really need a Snowden biopic after Citizenfour? Not really, but much like with Man on Wire and the Walk (yet again, another JGL flick), did we really need a movie about Philippe Petit? Probably not, but sometimes, it does help to get a little more info and attention on a subject who, for some reasons or another, may actually need, or deserve it. In Snowden’s case, this is especially true – while he will, in no way, ever be a forgotten person of our times, his cause and what he believes in still seems to be forgotten about, even when people seem to be putting more and more of an over reliance on WikiLeaks, despite all of the issues going on with that website and what it publishes to the rest of the world.

That said, Citizenfour is probably the go-to movie for finding out everything you need to know about Snowden, the person.

Or better yet, by checking out the web itself, even if the government is spying on you actually do it, that is.

But regardless, the tale of Edward Snowden, as done by Oliver Stone, isn’t all that bad. Sure, it’s by-the-numbers and rather conventional, but because the tale of Snowden, how he became someone we know about, why he got there, and where he had to go through, is actually very interesting. Even if you do a small Google search on Edward Snowden himself, you may find one or two things that you didn’t already know about, discovered here – but then again, you may not. Either way, it’s less that Snowden is a meaningless movie, it’s more of a movie that isn’t doing anything particularly ground-breaking, yet, doesn’t have to – it’s telling a story of a person whose life in the past decade or so, has become quite the compelling one.

And while Stone is typically known for the kinetic, sort of crazy outrage in movies such as these, believe it or not, he’s actually a lot more chill and relaxed here – rather than running off the seams, trying to tell us more and more about the paranoid state of mind one must be in while working for the government, Stone keeps everything on even-ground along with Edward, allowing for us to see, hear and think everything that he’s seeing, hearing and thinking at the same time. It actually works in the movie’s favor, especially since a lot of Snowden’s tale is, unfortunately, about a lot of inner-angst, depression and paranoia that only he seemed to feel and for us to feel as if we are one step closer to him, actually works with the movie.

That said, the movie does lack in actually giving us more to the characters surrounding Snowden, even including Snowden, too.

Love at first bit.

Love at first bit.

As Edward Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does the best that he can – because he’s playing someone with as much personality as a pebble, he has to dial down all of the charm and fun that we’re so used to seeing from him. However, even with the deep-voice and awkward twists and turns of his body, the performance still works; there’s not a whole lot of heavy-acting moments where he loses his cool and stops the whole movie dead in its tracks, but there’s still enough to watch and be compelled by, even when everyone and everything else around him seems not to be so up-to-snuff.

Case in point: Shaliene Woodley and her performance as Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. Of course, Woodley’s a great actress and lovely as all hell, but still, even her good looks and chemistry with JGL can’t help Mills from seeming like just a case for Stone to get all sorts of liberal opinions and views out there, and also challenge Snowden’s viewpoint and career. It’s too preachy to really work, but it does help that it’s all being done through Woodley, who is able to show some sort of heart and emotion with a character who, quite frankly, needed a whole lot more of it.

After all, she’s a real woman and is the love of Edward’s life. So why not a little more?

As for the rest of the heavily-stacked ensemble, they all fair fine, but once again, they aren’t nearly as developed as they should be. Zachary Quinto and Melissa Leo play the distraught but always interested Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, respectively; Rhys Ifans is hamming it up completely as Snowden’s seemingly evil boss; Ben Schnetzer has a good couple of moments as a fellow hacker within the CIA that teaches Snowden a thing or two and wakes his eyes up; and yes, believe it or not, with barely even ten minutes of screen-time, Nicolas Cage does a pretty solid job evoking a sense of pride, playing one of Snowden’s peers who, like everyone else around him, teaches him something about life. It’s cheesy, but hey, it still kind of works.

Consensus: Perhaps the movie we didn’t quite need, yet still actually get, Snowden is very much a play-by-play of what we can expect from a traditional biopic, but still benefits from an interesting store and a solid lead performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who, unfortunately, has to do a lot of acting, for a lot of people.

7 / 10

And he just keeps typing, and typing, and typing....

And he just keeps typing, and typing, and typing….

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Miles Ahead (2016)

He didn’t pee his pants, but he was still cool.

After taking over the world of jazz and music altogether, Miles Davis (Don Cheadle), for one reason or another, inexplicably left the public eye, left to scour and hang out in his apartment, where people couldn’t bother him, nor could they even ask him questions about the next album he’ll make. It was just Miles, his music, his drugs, his booze, and his occasional friend popping on through. One day, however, he gets a knock from Rolling Stone writer Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) who absolutely insists on getting a one-on-one story with Miles, if not just for the music, but for the sake of his fans around the world. While Miles doesn’t necessarily agree to a story, he does allow for Dave to hang around with him on these next few days, where he’ll go to his label, get in fights with high-as-hell college kids, and think hard and long about the past love he had with a woman named Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi) – someone he clearly still loves, misses and wants back in his life, even if she doesn’t want anything to do with him, or the drugged-up life he’s created for himself.

Pretty fly for a white guy.

Pretty fly for a white guy.

There’s no denying that Don Cheadle got to make the Miles Davis biopic he has been so clearly and passionately been trying to do for nearly his whole career. And thankfully, that kind of biopic isn’t the typical, run-of-the-mill pieces we’re all so used to and annoyed of. Sure, if you have an interesting enough subject to work with, I bet using the old formula of rags-to-riches may work, but for someone like Miles Davis, it doesn’t seem to fit. If anything, a biopic made about the man, the myth, and yes, the legend, needs to be as idiosyncratic, as unpredictable, and as wild as the man himself was.

And yes, Don Cheadle gets a chance to make that movie.

Does it always work? No, not really. But is it at least entertaining and a lot better than some of the yawn-inducing passion projects we’ve seen from Hollywood stars cut from the same cloth as Don Cheadle? Yes, and that’s perhaps its best attribute.

Throughout Miles Ahead, Miles Davis is seen as a bad-ass who takes his gun out, points it at people, kicks people’s asses, says what he wants, does what he wants, and doesn’t like to mince words or emotions with people he doesn’t care about, or at all. What Miles Davis wants to do, as we can tell from this movie, is just live the life he wants to live. That’s why, for the longest time, Miles Ahead plays very much like a toned-down, but relaxed character-study where, occasionally, we’ll get a random action-sequence with Miles Davis running for his life, or getting in a car-chase, or shooting random people, but we’ll still get those smaller, more humane moments of character where we get a chance to see Miles Davis as the man behind the legend.

Sure, we’ll see and get to hear a lot of what we expected from Davis, but at its heart, Miles Ahead wants to also show that there was a more painful and aching heart deep within Miles Davis that didn’t always shine through with the people around him, but was definitely around and made him the rough, tough and ragged some people obviously saw him as. That’s probably why, as Miles Davis, Don Cheadle was a great choice; Cheadle himself can do meek and mild quite well, as well being funny and gritty, all at the same time. Even when it seems like Miles Davis is a mean, almost despicable human being who doesn’t care for those who actually love and support him, Cheadle will show a small bit of humanity that will make us sympathize with this character a bit more, even while we’re laughing at everything he does.

That said, Miles Ahead is definitely an uneven movie.

There's always one lady to ruin a man's soul. This is that lady.

There’s always one lady to ruin a man’s soul. This is that lady.

You can definitely tell that Miles Ahead is Cheadle’s first movie as a director, because it doesn’t always tonally work. Certain sequences where someone’s shot, beat-up or severely injured, will be played for laughs, in a dark kind of way, whereas in the next scene, we’ll get a flashback to a time when life was lovelier and simpler for Davis. It’s good that we get these scenes and in a way, I don’t mind the scenes of violence and ass-kicking, but after awhile, you start to question what kind of movie Cheadle wanted to make. Did he want to make a heartfelt, detailed and emotional tribute to the man we all knew as Miles Davis? Or does he want to make a fun, exciting and wild tale about Miles Davis, someone who, yes made some great music, but also took plenty of pleasure in knocking people out when push came to shove?

Honestly, I never fully figured that out. However, I will give Cheadle credit for at least trying something new, fun and interesting with the biopic formula. Cause, if anything, I wished the movie would have been more about Davis hanging out/around with Ewan McGregor’s Dave Braden. McGregor, believe it or not, is actually quite charming here and gives Braden a personality that goes beyond just being an annoying, overly clingy journalist who just hounds Davis for answers to his questions. Together, too, they have a great bit of chemistry that is definitely unusual, but still works because they share something of an understanding that there’s a certain love of music between the two and therefore, they need a little excitement out of life. Even though Braden may not be a totally interesting character, he and Davis still feel like the oddest, if well-matched buddies ever put on the screen.

Especially in a musical biopic of Miles Davis.

Consensus: As Cheadle’s directorial debut, Miles Ahead works as a nice, well-acted change-of-pace from the typical biopic formula, but also feels a bit uneven and could have definitely benefited from a few reworkings.

7 / 10

Please let me drink with you!

Miles! I want to party with you!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

No Detox, but hey, at least we get a musical biopic!

Growing up as just a bunch of young bucks in Compton, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), all wanted to make a difference as the hip-hop group N.W.A. Sure, they wanted to rap, make money, party hard, and have a great time, but what they really wanted from life, was to have their voices be heard and, in some ways, maybe even change the world. Well, when music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) gets ahold of them, that begins to happen. With the release of their seminal album, Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A. became one of the most notorious and controversial groups; most of it had to do with the fact that they’re songs were great, but also because they were so racy, that they attracted plenty of attention from law enforcement who didn’t appreciate their songs about police brutality and violence. But even though they were on top of the world and absolutely loving it, too, personal problems began to come into the fray where certain members weren’t getting as much money as they were promised, respect, or wanted to do something else with their careers.

"Yo Dre?"

“Yo Dre?”

Basically, what happens to every band ever formed.

Everything about Straight Outta Compton is as generic as you can get with a musical biopic. The rusted, ragged roots; the first taste of fame; the money; the expensive cars; the lavish mansions; the wildly kick-ass bangers; the tension between members; the idea of “selling out; the break-up; and of course, the eventual reconciliation are all fine points of the musical biopic that are covered here and even then some. In other words, Straight Outta Compton is nothing more than a dramatization of a Behind the Music episode and while that sounds terrible, director F. Gary Gray surprisingly keeps it away from being so.

I say “surprisingly” not because it’s hard to make a musical biopic enjoyable; in all honesty, all you really need is good music, good acting, and a good pace, and everything’s all fine and dandy despite the conventionality of it all. But the reason I say “surprisingly” is because having seen Gray’s past movies, I’m surprised to see that he didn’t lose any sort of conviction with this story and how it handles each and every bit of it. While it would have been easy to just end Straight Outta Compton as soon as N.W.A. breaks up and fill-in the blanks with post-script (as most musical biopics do), Gray takes it one step further and focuses on what happened to each and every member after the break-up. It’s a wise choice on Gray’s part because half of the story of N.W.A. is how they went from being the best of friends, to openly dissing and ripping one another apart in harsh, but legendary diss-tracks, that nobody in their right minds would ever forgive somebody over.

And this is all to say that the movie is nearly two-and-a-half hours long and honestly, it does not need to be.

Though, the interesting aspect behind the long-winding run-time is even though it’s clearly long and definitely needs to be trimmed-down, the movie moves so quickly and enjoyably, that it’s hardly noticeable. There were plenty of moments in the later-half of the movie where I felt like they could have definitely wrapped things up more efficiently than they did, but all in all, the movie never had me checking my watch. Gray keeps the story moving and constantly interesting, even if it does seem to cover the same ground and get a little phony after awhile.

But like I said, it’s a musical biopic that went through all of the same hoops and holes that most others do, and still, it felt fresh, if only because it was actually fun. Even when the hearts and emotions get heavy by the end, the movie still never loses its sense of entertainment; which is to say that it’s a treat for anyone who has been clamoring for this story to be brought to the big screen. There are the occasional flip-ups where its obvious that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube had some influence over which light a certain occurrence was shown in, but overall, it seems to paint a full picture that makes you feel like you know why this group was so important to the world of music, why they didn’t last, and why their own respective members deserved to be praised until the end of time.

"What up, Cube?"

“What up, Cube?”

Hell, it’s even better than some documentaries I’ve seen.

And while I’m sort of on the subject of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube producing this, it should be noted that they did a nice job of getting a good cast in these roles, even if none of them really have to stretch themselves too hard. Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., is an absolute spitting-image of his daddy that you may have to wipe your eyes every so often to remind yourself that it isn’t actually Ice Cube up there on the screen, but his living, breathing, walking, talking and rapping sperm. Corey Hawkins is also a good fit as Dre, not because he looks a little like him (even with a slight hint of Asian), but because he handles the material well when we see the “true” Dre come out. And then, as Eazy-E, the heart and soul of the group, Jason Mitchell is very good and perhaps the most impressive of the young fellas, showing a huge level of depth to a person who would sometimes be classified as a “goof-ball” and all around “lady’s man”.

But whenever these guys are up on the screen next to Paul Giamatti, there’s almost no comparison. Clearly, Giamatti’s the most skilled actor out of everyone here and he shows that off, each and every scene he gets, because he’s constantly evolving into a human being you don’t want to believe exists, but sadly does. All problems with Jerry Heller aside, the movie paints him in a portrait that’s fair; Heller himself has even on occasion spoke of how he’s “just a man for money”, but the movie never makes him out to be sniveling, evil person that most of these movies like to paint the manager as being. He’s just another guy in California trying to make a quick and easy buck, no matter at what costs; sometimes, he’s nice about it, sometimes, he’s not. But he’s a businessman through and through, and Giamatti plays every side of that perfectly.

But poor Suge Knight! What did that guy ever do!

Consensus: Conventional and overlong, Straight Outta Compton feels like it could fall apart at the seams, but somehow, director F. Gary Gray keeps it all together in an entertaining way that makes it feel like the story of N.W.A. is, once and for all, complete.

7 / 10

"We've got somethin' to say."

“We’ve got somethin’ to say.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Dope (2015)

Kids, don’t do drugs, or sell them. But definitely listen to A Tribe Called Quest when you get the chance.

High school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is on the verge of graduating, figuring out of his major, getting into a good college, and getting the hell out of Inglewood. Though he will definitely miss his best friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori), he knows that this is what he needs to do to survive and make himself a better person, and not just a cliche of what everybody thinks as “the young, black kid in America”. However, all of his dreams and hopes get a bit blindsided when he’s at a party and things get out of hand – drugs are dealt, money is taken, guns are shot, bullets are flying. But, when it’s all over, somehow, Malcolm has a gun and a stash of drugs in his backpack, which seem to have gotten in there deliberately from the local drug-dealer, Dom (A$AP Rocky). Now, Dom wants Malcolm to take the drugs to a place to make sure that he’s able to get out of jail, but now, somebody very threatening wants the drugs, too and now, Dom, has no idea what to do! All he knows now is that he has to rely on both his book, as well as his street smarts to get him out of this terrible situation.

Oh, and of course he's got to be in an ironic punk band!

Oh, and of course he’s got to be in an ironic punk band!

Oh, and it all happens to the back-beat of some sick 90’s hip-hop jams; which, I have to say, is kind of strange considering that this movie, minus a few plot-points here and there, could have easily taken place in said decade. The movie very much feels like it’s trying to be the Boyz N the Hood for the new generation, but at the same time, still seems to be placed in the same time and place as that movie, that it can’t help but feel a tad bit like it’s unoriginal. But that’s the beauty of Dope: On the surface, it seems like you’re average, coming-of-age flick, but it somehow finds smart, interesting ways to spin itself that makes it feel fun, fresh and original, as if this were a story that was just being told to us for the first time, and excluding all of the other times we’ve seen movies about young drug-dealers just trying to survive.

Nope, Dope is something smarter and it wants you to know that, too.

Don’t get me wrong, though, no way in hell is Dope pretentious; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. While it’s a movie that seems to love and appreciate its characters, it still doesn’t shy away from the fact that they too, like all of us, make some incredibly terrible mistakes. Because Malcolm and his friends are so young, dorky, and closed-off from everyone else around them, it makes sense that they would only be able to react to a situation such as the one they’re thrown into, acting on pure ingenuity, regardless of what they think happens next. After all, they’re kids just acting like kids, so sue ’em!

But this is getting away from the reality that Dope is a familiar story, told exceptionally well by director Rick Famuyiwa. Even in the smaller, more intimate moments where it literally consists of two characters talking to one another about life, or what have you, there’s still a certain sense of energy behind Dope that’s infectious. While the movie takes place over a few weeks or so, it moves by so quickly and rapidly, that it literally could have been taken place in a single, hellacious day. And because of this, the movie never loses its muster; even if it is taken time to develop its characters a bit, there’s always a sense that there’s somewhere to go and that the plot needs to constantly unwrap.

Of course, by the end, the unwrapping gets a bit ridiculous. Though there’s a lot of eyebrow-raising coincidences that occur throughout a good majority of this movie, it’s the last-act or so where it seems like Famuyiwa loses a sense of this story a bit; then again, it seemed like it was inescapable. Because Dope is so swift and so willing to throw a twist and turn at us every chance it gets, it also suffers from the problem that it gets a bit too ahead of itself – even when it seems like we’re done with the whole drug-angle, the movie still continues to hammer away at it. Which is to say that the movie’s 110 time-limit could have easily been trimmed-down to at least 90 minutes and all would have been fine.

Then again, it’s hard to hate on a movie that’s having as much fun as Dope is.

Word of advice: Don't tell her about your band. She's probably heard a bit too much music in her lifetime.

Word of advice: Don’t tell her about your band. She’s probably heard a bit too much music in her lifetime.

Which, by a summer viewing standpoint, is exactly what you want. But at the same time, there’s still a message at the center of Dope that’s noteworthy and smart, and doesn’t try to cram down your throat (that is, until the last-act). Rather than being a tale about racism and how it affects our everyday landscape, Dope is more about how one person can get through that all and focus on what makes them better as a human being, rather than what it does for society. The characters in Dope realize that racism is indeed an issue, but they’re more or less concerned with how they’re going to get by in a world that constantly seems to be crushing them from both sides. Whereas some want to stay on the straight and narrow path of studying hard, getting a good job, and having a lovely life, others can’t ever see themselves doing that, so therefore, they stick to the streets where they deal drugs, rob people, and risk the chance of getting arrested and/or killed each and everyday. It’s a sad reality, but it’s the reality we live in.

And nobody knows this more than Malcolm, our main protagonist, played wonderfully by Shameik Moore. Malcolm is the 21st century definition of a “nerd”: While he’s definitely not the most popular kid in school, he’s far from being the dweeb. He dresses cool, isn’t too socially-awkward, and knows how the outside world works, even if he definitely gets picked-on by his confidantes because he’s smart and is able to use that to his advantage. Moore is great in this role because even though Malcolm seems to have it all figured out about what he wants to do with his life, he’s still far from growing up, or better yet, understanding everything there is to understand about life. He’s smart and inspired, but when he’s talking to girls or college counselors, he’s still a naive, 18-year-old kid that has an idea of what he wants, but when he gets right down to it, is still spacing out on all of the details.

Which we were all like at one point!

Playing Malcolm’s two buddies, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori do solid jobs at making their personalities seem more than just “loving side kicks”; they too, like Malcolm, have their own dreams and aspirations, and are more than willing to support Malcolm in this poor situation. But perhaps the one that I was most impressed with was A$AP Rocky as the drug-dealer who puts the drugs in Malcolm’s bag in the first place, Dom. Even though it doesn’t seem like Rocky has to stretch himself too much to really fit into this role, he still impressed me with how he was able to embody a character that you’re never too sure about. Does Dom really like Malcolm? Or, basically, is he just using him for his own personal gain? And if so, what will he do to Dom when all is said and done?

Either way, you never know and it goes to show you that the list of good rappers-turned-actors just got a bit bigger.

Consensus: Despite a problematic last-act and run-time, Dope still treads along fine enough to where it’s entertaining, funny, and most of all, heartfelt to the point of where it seems like it’s offering you a glimpse into a character’s life whose is worth glimpsing into.

8 / 10

Dare to dream, kid.

Dare to dream, kid.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Selma (2014)

Believe it or not, there’s actually more words after, “I have a dream“.

In 1965, racial tensions in the United States were very high, most importantly though, in the South. A region of the country in which, even though blacks were legally allowed to vote, they still had to jump through all sorts of law abiding rules and regulations that was obviously set out to make sure that their race, and only theirs, wouldn’t be allowed to vote and therefore, not have their voices be heard like any other citizen. This is when Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) decided that it was time to step in and allow for his voice to not only be heard, but acted on as well. Most importantly though, MLK travels Selma, Alabama of all places to arrange a march that would not only get the attention of everybody’s eyes and ears, but also President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson)’s, and would hopefully drive him to make some severe changes to the voting-process. Although, as one could expect, LBJ wasn’t always down to change certain voting restrictions, especially with the looming pressure of possible voters and fellow confidantes like George Wallace (Tim Roth), J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker), and Lee C. White (Giovanni Ribisi), among many others.

Every girl truly does go crazy for a sharp-dressed man.

Every girl truly does go crazy for a sharp-dressed man.

Contrary to what some may believe, Selma isn’t necessarily a biopic about MLK, his life, his achievements, and everything else that transpired when he was alive, and what soon followed afterwards. Instead, it’s much more of a film in which a good portion of MLK’s life is documented, yet, never fully chronicled to make it just his, and his own; there’s plenty more people apart of this story, helping out to create a larger, more thought-out picture than just being standard. The same could actually be said for the civil rights movement(s) that Selma seems to portray – it wasn’t just one person who is single-handedly credited with all of the accomplishments, it’s everybody who was there to help that one person out and make sure that his dreams were fulfilled, as risky as they sometimes may have been.

And in the world that we live in now, honestly, Selma couldn’t be anymore relevant. And to be honest, director Ava DuVernay fully knows this, which is why this movie hits as hard as it does, but without ever seeming like it’s pandering in any sort of way. Surely DuVernay sees and understands the civil rights movement as a significant time in our history (as well as she should), but rather than making it a simple and easy history lesson that any fifth-grader could teach to a class of hundred or more, she strives for something more difficult and ambitious. While DuVernay portrays the civil rights movement, and those behind it all, as smart and inspiring, she also shows that the tactics that would eventually land most of these participants in hot water, not just with the government, but with fellow members of their own race.

For white people who got involved with the civil rights movement, they suffered threats, day-in and day-out from fellow Caucasians who believed that it wasn’t their right to get involved. The black people suffered this, too, and definitely a lot more worse, but as the movie portrays it, it wasn’t just the white people that blacks had to deal with on a regular basis, it was actually some people of their own race. DuVernay shows this with the inclusion of Malcolm X, and as small as it may have been, it’s a smart move on her part to show that some people preferred to side with X’s way of violence solving any and all problems, whereas some others preferred to stick with MLK’s way of not fighting back and instead, using peace as the best medicine to ridicule those who use violence to their benefit. In a lesser film, each and every person of the same race would have gathered, hand-in-hand, and marched happily together, but in DuVernay’s much smarter film, sometimes, they’re at-war with themselves.

But this is just me getting further and further away from what Selma really does here, and that’s portray a brutal, yet significant time in our society’s history, without ever shying away from some of the more dark and dirty aspects that would push certain people away from seeing this. We’ve seen white cops beating on black people in movies (and sadly, in real-life, too) done before, but the way in how DuVernay shows the sheer terror and madness is not only disturbing, but downright terrifying. It not only opens our eyes a little more to what this film is setting out to do, but also puts into perspective what is really being fought for here, rather than just telling us and trusting that bit of info as is.

Like I mentioned before, though, there’s a good portion of this movie that likes to argue against what most of us may know, or think we know, about the civil rights movement and how all those apart of it acted. For instance, not every person in this film is a clear-cut good guy, or a bad guy; they’re, simply put, just people that had a foot in history and all had their own goals, whether they may, or may not be desirable to us watching at home. This is especially clear in the case of LBJ who yes, definitely seems like a racist, but is also a politician, meaning, that he knows he has a lot at stake here in terms of his voting numbers come re-election time. While it’s made clear to us that maybe LBJ’s morals aren’t in the right places, he is still trying to give MLK what he wants, just in his own way. They may not be perfect and they may not always get the job done, but they’re still efforts on his part and that’s more than he can say for many other white politicians during that time.

The same said for LBJ, could definitely be said for MLK, which is definitely surprising considering that you’d expect a piece praising the figure for everything that he did while he was alive, and the influence that still holds precedence in our society today. DuVernay instead dives a bit deeper into the man of MLK, what made him who he was, and how exactly he got through this tough time in his life. And with this, we see that he wasn’t always the perfect man; he was a shitty husband who fooled-around a bit too much, didn’t always step to the front-line like he had initially promised, and got a little big-headed for his own good. But nonetheless, MLK was MLK, a man who accomplished more than what anybody expected of him when he was alive, and it’s a true testament to the person he was, rather than the person people want us to see and believe in.

Round 2. Fight!!

Round 2. Fight!!

Doesn’t make him any less of a good person, it just makes him a person, first and foremost.

And as MLK, David Oyelowo is pretty outstanding. This isn’t too surprising considering Oyelowo has been churning out amazing performances for the past couple years or so, but it truly is great to see him tackle a role that so many people think we already all think we know of, and do something different with it. Because MLK isn’t made out to be the most perfect human specimen ever created in this movie, we see certain shades to his persona that we don’t get to see in his speeches; sure, the speeches are here and they are downright compelling to watch and listen to, but they aren’t what make this person. What makes this person is that he stood up for what he believed in and, at any cost, tried to make his dream a reality. He had many of bumps in the road, but ultimately, he prevailed in getting what he wanted, even if he definitely did gain some enemies in the meantime. Then again, who doesn’t?

Though there’s more to the cast where that came from and rightfully so, too. The previously mentioned LBJ is done well by Tom Wilkinson who fits perfectly into the role and constantly makes it seem like this man is going to explode at any second; Carmen Ejogo has a few strong scenes as MLK’s wife, Corette, and shows the painful side to being the one who is constantly left-at-home, when your significant other is off, fighting the good fight, and constantly allowing you and the rest of your family to be threatened; Tim Roth is pretty damn campy as the overtly-racist man that was George Wallace, although he does with it just enough scenery-chewing that there’s no need for the mustache-twirl; and honestly, plenty more where that came from.

In fact, so many more to talk about that to put one over the other would just be an absolute disservice to each and every performer who shows up here, ready to perform and give it their all with their roles, no matter how small or large they may be. But above all though, it’s DuVernay who deserves the most credit for handling this large ensemble and giving just about every member something substantial to do and add another layer onto a story that, quite frankly, is already very engaging to begin with. Although there are plenty of hiccups to be found on the road leading to the final-act here, DuVernay still brings us a solid depiction of the Selma marches, how they affected us as a society then, and how they do it to us now. Because seriously, the years may change, but the stories remain the same.

Who knows when the change will come. Let’s just hope it’s soon.

Consensus: Smart, powerful, and well-acted by just about everybody involved, Selma is a complex, detailed-look into the civil rights movement that knows it’s important, but never shoves it down its viewer’s throats.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

When they mean "strength in numbers"? Like, specifically, how many are we talking about here?

When they mean “strength in numbers”? Like, specifically, how many are we talking about here?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Short Term 12 (2013)

Next time, just hug it out. That always seems to work better.

Grace (Brie Larson), a twenty-something supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers, has a bit of a wild past behind her, but is looking bright and hopeful towards her future. For starters, she loves her job and loves dishing out advice to any kid who needs it; she also is happily in love with her boyfriend/co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), and looks to spend the rest of her life with him. On top of that, she’s just happy in general and is living the easy-going life like all young, twenty-year-olds should. However, when Grace finds out something that could alter the course of the rest of her life, she’s thrown a curve-ball as she has no idea what to do. And as if matters couldn’t have gotten any worse, well then, they do once things at the foster-care facility begin to get a bit shaken-up once a new, very troubled girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) shows up, and does not follow along with the rest of the other kids. But like Grace was and in ways, still is, there’s a lot more to the act that she uses as a front, and Grace will find the best possible way to get to the bottom of it, by any means possible.

Little flicks like this remind me why I love watching movies so much. Especially the movies you don’t know much about going into, except for the fact that it’s supposed to be good and that’s all. That’s exactly what happened to me going into this flick: I knew it was going to be good and I expected the best, and that’s exactly what I got. Except maybe a bit more. Like I said though, this is why I love watching movies; this is why I love not knowing too much before going in; and best of all, this is why I love having a movie blog where I tell everybody about little movies such as Short Term 12 because, let’s face it, most of you out there probably never have, and never will hear about this until it randomly pops-up on Netflix.

Well, that is until now. So consider this you’re wake-up call, fellow movie-lovers.

Want to REALLY help that kid? WEAR A HELMET!!

Want to REALLY help that kid? WEAR A HELMET!!

The balance this movie strikes between heart and humor is pitch perfect for many reasons, the main which being that it’s present in every scene. Watching these characters go about their day, say what’s on their mind and show what they feel or want to give to the others around them, is very interesting and touching, mostly because it all feels real and natural. A lot of this material has been touched-on before, but done in a way that’s almost like made-for-TV movie way. This time, it’s shown as painfully honest and as bleak as it can be, without any strings attached whatsoever. What you see is what you get with most of these characters, and some of them will take you by surprise with just how troubled and messed-up in the head they truly are.

However, such as is the fact with life, and it’s a fact that writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton doesn’t shy away from, nor does he throw in our face. He lets us understand these characters, the situations they’re thrown into, and gives them the circumstances for which they can choose to live by, if they have to. Cretton allows for this material to go into some very dark, disturbing places, but never lets go of it too far to where it feels like we’re watching a different movie. Don’t be fooled by words like “bleak” and “painfully honest” scare you away from something that’s actually more light-hearted and happy than it may sound; it just takes awhile to get to get you to realize how light-hearted and happy it truly is.

However, like I stated before: Such as is the fact with life. You never know when it’s going to make you happy, and you sure as hell never know when it’s going to make you sad. Sometimes it happens out of nowhere, and sometimes you can predict it, but just don’t have the right amount of power to stop it. And that’s not a judgement-call-of-character on you as a human-being or anything; it’s just the way we are wired. Cretton really shows us that being human, for all of its negatives and its positives, really is a beautiful thing that we should not take for granted. Some people don’t have the same type of life as you do, so stop bitchin’ about your WiFi not being located! Get out there, do something with your life, and make a difference!

Sorry if this review is sounding more like a preach, and less like a review, but that’s just what happens when I see a movie that allows me to think as much as this one did. But like I said, it’s a review, so on with the movie itself, folks!

I think where this movie really hits it’s sweet-spot is in the way it continues to hammer us down with emotion-after-emotion, and yet, never fully kills us to where we can’t watch anymore. Granted, by the end, it did get a bit too repetitive where I felt like I was watching the same conversation, happen with the same people, for the same reasons, but that’s just me being nit-picky. If I really wanted to judge this movie on it’s full merits, I’d tell you that it’s a very funny movie, that focuses on the witty interplay between it’s characters, but also doesn’t lose sight that most of them have, and still are, hurting to this day.

No other statement could have been truer for the character we have here of Grace, played so perfectly by Brie Larson, in a performance that I hope garners her more recognition and notice than just being known as “that Indie darling”. In fact, I have seen Larson’s face in quite a number of indies, most of them good, so it comes as to almost no surprise to me here that she’s great here, but the movie she chose is even better. Not only does the movie offer Grace all of the extra-baggage she needs to seem fully-dimensional and understandable in the way that she leads her life and why, but also allows Larson to show everything about her acting-ability that should make her a star by now. It won’t, but it’s worth a shine of hope I’d say.

"Are you even trying anymore with that facial-hair?"

Only thing in between them and their passionate kiss? His slacker/pseudo-hipster beard.

Everything about Larson is great here: She’s funny; she’s angry; she’s smart; she’s emotional; she’s dedicated; she’s a bit sexy; she’s sweet; and most of all, she’s hurting. Like all of us, Grace is hurting on the inside and rarely ever shows it. However, she does throw subtle hints to everybody around her and uses it as a way to connect with the kids she tends for, but not in a way to make her seem “cool” or “hip” with the kids; but more as a way to draw similarities between her and another person going through the same motions she went through. There’s a couple of beautiful scenes here where Grace really gets to the core of her character, as well as the others around her, but the best in my mind is when she gets a fairy-tale told to her from the newest, most troubled kid of them all. It’s a scene that starts off a bit funny, but gets very disturbing and sad by the end of it, where we see not only Grace’s true emotions come out, but the movies’ as well. We see Grace do all that she can to make everybody else’s life around her easier for the sake of mankind, and it mostly works. She forgets about herself sometimes and has to depend on herself for happiness, and like most of us, she can’t find it easily and usually tends to lash-out irrationally at the ones around her that mean the most.

In other words: Grace is like you or I. She’s a damaged soul, but she’s also very lovely to the ones around her and knows that with each and every smile you have and get a day, means a better life for you, and many more. Brie Larson makes Grace this thought-provoking, sweet and beautiful to watch, and if I don’t at least put her in my “Top Crush List” now, I don’t know what I’ll do.

And even though I may make it seem like this is just Larson’s show, and nobody else’s, don’t be mistaken, cause it isn’t. John Gallagher Jr. shares a loving, if sometimes playful chemistry with Larson and allows us to see him for a bit of a goof, but a charming one at that. Then again though, he’s not all fun and games. He does tend to get serious at times, and those scenes are probably the best of the movie because they’re more concerning him and Grace’s relationship, the type of movie-relationship that I really cared for, believed in, and was rooting for the whole time, even if it’s made evident to us that they’ve been together for quite some time and are happily in love. But still, you want them to stay together, forever. Kaitlyn Dever is also great as Jayden, the newest kid who’s brought in and causes a bit of a trouble, but is still smart, fresh, and funny enough to hold our interest. But, like with Gallagher Jr., her character isn’t all fun and games, and can get very touchy, and very sad at times, both of which feel earned and honest. Pretty much like this whole movie,

Consensus: Many will resonate towards Short Term 12, not because it touches those most affected by abuse and neglect, but because it teaches us all that having emotions, being inconsistent, laughing, crying, hugging, and feeling, are all apart of what makes us humans, and for that life-lesson, it’s a beautiful movie that deserves to be seen, especially for younger kids who need to see that they aren’t alone and can easily always look for help, if needed.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

"I'll help you. Stop listening to Jay-Z and Eminem, and try on some unknown, underground stuff. Then you'll toates be cool."

“I’ll help you. Stop listening to Jay-Z and Eminem, and try on some unknown, underground stuff. Then you’ll toates be cool.”

Photos Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net