Not perfect, but damn close
Straight Outta Compton (2015): The group NWA emerges from the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, California in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.
Is it a surprise that I love this movie? Well, I do. And you will too. Because it is emotional. It is powerful. And it is epic. Straight Out of Compton raises the bar for musical biopics. From a phenomenal set design to masterful acting from everyone involved, Straight Out of Compton feels incredibly authentic. This isn't always in a good way though. There is one major problem with this film, and that is it's glorification of abusing women. There is one scene in this film that is incredibly uncomfortable to watch, as we get a long take of NWA in the middle of having sex with about 20 women as another guy looks for his "girl" amongst the women. This scene was incredibly uncomfortable, and will (and has) turned off a lot of women to the film. The film also conveniently forgets to mention Dr. Dre's near constant abuse of women, which has also upset a lot of people. Myself included. I guess really my biggest beef with the film is that it glorifies these people a little too much. That said, the film is still fantastic, and it features as much tension between NWA and authorities as a great drama might have. So, let's dive in, yes?
So let's talk about what this film does right. Aka almost everything. The set design is....absurd. Holy crap. This is one of the best set designs I've seen all year. The film covers a huge amount of ground, and each location feels authentic and real. Easily the best part of the movie, this film absolutely deserves a nomination for production design, as it will be hard to top it at any point for the rest of the year. The story is gripping. I was on the edge of my seat throughout entire sequences, mostly during NWA's time together, and I felt legitimately angry at the authorities as the events of the infamous Detroit show played out. Then I went from being angry to laughing my ass off as I discovered the true meaning of some of Ice Cube's early hits. One of the big reasons why I was with this film, even when the orgy scene occurred, was because of the acting. This film went with some lesser-known stars (including the bold choice of having Ice Cube's son play his father) and the film was significantly better because of it. The only well-known actor in the film was Paul Giamatti, and it was distracting whenever Giamatti was on screen. Had the film gone with some more popular actors to fill the roles of NWA it would have definitely been distracting. So kudos to the film going for staying true to story versus selling tickets.
Apart from the film's overlook/glorification of abuse, there are two other problems with this film. One is its runtime. At a lengthy 147 minutes, I couldn't help but feel that the story of NWA got a little too bloated. The pacing really suffered because of it. The pace of the film slows to a crawl right after NWA's breakup, but then it races to the finish in the final act. In this third act there are a bunch of cameos, but they felt forced because the film went from turtle speed to rabbit speed in about 30 seconds. The cameos, which are easy to miss if you're not paying attention, really felt like a way to allow fans of rap today to be like "Oh! He started because of NWA? No way!" and that's pretty much it. They are really surface-level cameos and nothing more. That said, this film is still awesome, and even though it glances over its treatment of women, I can forgive the film just because the rest of it is that good. If you're a fan of music, you owe it to yourself to check out this film. Well done, guys.
The Critique: While not without a few faults including and especially its treatment of women, Straight Outta Compton highlights the tension between African Americans and police, as well as the rise of gangster rap as a response to this, in a gripping and authentic manner. A must-see for our generation.
The Recommendation: Millennials and music fans? This is as much a must-see as any film this year.
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
Stylized, sexy, and Incredibly Fun
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015): In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.
This is what the modern action film should be. The Man from U.N.C.LE. has some flaws, but overall it is an incredibly fun and stylish experience. First off, can I please have Henry Cavill's wardrobe? Holy crap, guys. The wardrobe department did their job in this film with flying colors. Who knew you could make those 60's spectacles that Alicia Vikander wears look so damn good? But the fashion of this movie plays into the overall vibe of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in that it is stylish and sexy. Every aspect of the film screams style. To a fault actually, as at times the script is sacrificed for style. But I didn't care. So, let's jump into it, shall we?
First off, let's talk about what this film does right. The acting. While all these characters basically hit one note the whole time, (charisma) I loved Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill. These two actors are asked to do a lot in their hating-each-other-but-still-having-awesome-chemistry roles. Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki are fantastic as the female leads as well. Actually, I think Vikander and Debicki are the real stars here. Their acting is on point and their characters are well-written. The cinematography, costumes, and effects crew all showed up and did a fantastic job, and director Guy Ritchie filmed some amazing action sequences.
However, while the film looks sexy as hell, it definitely feels like an old-school Bond film. While I have no qualms with watching a modern interpretation of a From Russia with Love-style spy film, others may be disappointed knowing that the script and story itself is surface-level at best. But, while a film like MI5 has no problem being just a big stupid action movie, I couldn't help but feel like there was an attempt at morality by Guy Ritchie in this film. It's not content with being just a big sexy action movie, and that's where it fails. That said, I am more than willing to forgive this film's faults and just have fun with it. I want to see more, (and I hope you go out and support the film so they approve a sequel) because if we get another film where the filmmakers just accept the idea that their film is a big sexy action film and have fun with this premise, then that sequel could be one of my favorite movies of that year. The potential is their guys! It just falls a bit short this time around.
The Critique: Sleek, sexy, and fun, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. lays the groundwork for a truly phenomenal sequel, despite falling just a tad short this time around. A great film.
The Recommendation: If you like action, or any of these actors, or you're under 40, go see it. This film is absolutely worth your time.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
American Ultra (2015): A stoner - who is in fact a government agent - is marked as a liability and targeted for extermination. But he's too well-trained and too high for them to handle.
First off, damn is it good to see Jesse Eisenberg on the silver screen again. It's been a while. For those who don't know, Eisenberg is one of my favorite actors in the business. His first major performance with Kristen Stewart, 2009's Adventureland, is one of the most underrated films of the 2000s in my opinion. The film is a cult classic already, and raised the bar for me as I waited for Stewart and Eisenberg to hit the screen again here in American Ultra. Which made it that much more painful when I watched the very short 95 minute film and discovered it's......a mess. Just a mess. DAMN. JUST SAYING THAT MAKES ME SAD. I wanted to like this film so much, but there are just too many flaws here to make this film truly enjoyable. So, let's jump into it, shall we?
First off, I want to be happy. Let's talk about what this film does right. Eisenberg and Stewart. They are, once again, amazing. Not only is their chemistry undeniable, but they are both phenomenal at what they do. For you Kristen Stewart haters: stop. Just hush up. If you still think Stewart is a bad actress because she did Twilight, you haven't been paying attention to what she's done since. She more than holds her own here, even though her character is SO POORLY WRITTEN....nope. Deep breath. Keeping it positive. Ok. Of course Jesse Eisenberg is once again great. We all knew that he would be. But not only that, there's some decent cinematography here too. The fight scenes are shot well enough, (well enough to be mentioned at least) and there are a few good jokes too. However, this film is ultimately held up by Eisenberg and Stewart. If you're like me and really like Adventureland because of these two, this film is definitely worth watching. Just be prepared for almost everything else to be disappointing. Oh! John Leguizamo is fun as hell too. There's that. But then there's everything else.
Alright. Let's try to get through this in one piece. So! The negatives. The big one is the story. This entire story is ridiculous. Look. I'll forgive a comedy with a bad story when it's funny. But that's the other problem! This film is, well, not funny. Why? It is SO mean-spirited! The best punchline of this film is hey! Let's insult everyone and hide behind the veil of comedy! NO. That isn't funny. That's just mean. Let's talk about Kristen Stewart's character. There's a certain twist that sets her character up to be a female badass character in the second half of the film, but does the film go that route? No. Female power character? COURSE NOT. Just make her a damsel in distress! Shame on you, Nima Nourizadeh and Max Landis! There was an awesome opportunity that was completely wasted, and this certainly torpedoes the overall film. As a result, Stewart's character is sooooo poorly written it's insulting. A huge opportunity missed. Let's talk about the set design. It sucks. That's why I want to talk about it. This set design is so.....lazy! The CIA HQ is the most bland building I have ever seen here, and there's only 5 people who work there according to this film. Oh, and the head of the CIA runs the agency like a drug cartel. That's how it works, right? If you can't tell, I think the CIA in this film is so horribly written that it's almost a joke in and of itself. But not in a good way.
In short, there was potential for this film. Before the entire CIA adventure, I was really into this film. When it was essentially just Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart enjoying themselves, I was loving it. But then Topher Grace came in and ruined everything. There just had to be a story here. You know, I would be totally ok with watching Eisenberg and Stewart going about their daily routine for 90 minutes. Actually, that sounds amazing. You hear that, Hollywood? All you need is a house somewhere in LA, a movie backlot, and a bunch of extras. And suckers, like me, would go see it. And probably love it. But not here. Not this one. Better luck next time, guys.
The Critique: While Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart keep this film from being a complete disaster, American Ultra is a bloody mess.
The Recommendation: While most should stay away, if you liked Adventureland go see Ultra in theaters just to tell Hollywood you want more films with Eisenberg and Stewart together. Because sooner or later we have to get a good film that features these two great stars. Right?
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average
Yes I know my caption said painfully average and my verdict is below average. Shush.
Mr. Holmes (2015): An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman.
I'm so torn about this film. On the one hand, this is a good film. It has a well-written story, Ian McKellen delivers, the makeup department was fantastic, and the cinematography is excellent. But....there's just something missing. This film lacks resonance. I think the big problem is that it lacks personality. While this may be inevitable because of the age of the character, there was just a sinking feeling in my stomach that this film, when it was not talking about Sherlock's final case 30 years earlier, could've been about any old man trying to be happy in his final years. The film felt very un-Sherlock Holmes-like.
Maybe it's cause I've been spoiled by BBC's Sherlock. Maybe now I subconsciously expect more from a film that has the Sherlock name attached to it. But, when the film ended I just thought to myself, "Huh. Ok then." and moved on. I think a lot of people will agree with me that this film lacks the memorability that other Sherlock movies and TV shows have had in the last 10 years. I mean I already forget most of this film's plot, but I could still talk about the plot to 2009's Sherlock Holmes. And I know BBC's Sherlock TV Series so well I would probably quote it if I watched it again. But here.....not so much.
That said, it's.....fine. As I said it looks nice, and clearly a lot of passion went into making it. (More than can be said for Fantastic Four at least) Ian McKellen is outstanding, and is clearly enjoying himself as he checks off a character he probably wanted to play for years off his bucket list. And again....kudos to the makeup department. There's three or so stories in this film, and all of them take place at various points in Sherlock's life. So the makeup guys had their work cut out for them making McKellen look somewhat young and really really old, and they nailed it. That is the most memorable part of this film. It shouldn't be in a Sherlock Holmes film, but it is. I would still recommend seeing this if you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes, but you won't lose any sleep over waiting to see it when it hits Netflix.
The Critique: While well-made, Mr. Holmes lacks the the punch that you've come to expect from the franchise.
The Recommendation: Still worth seeing if you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes, but you won't miss much if you just wait until this film comes out on Netflix.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 7/10 Good
An unmitigated Disaster
Fantastic Four (2015): Fox realizes that their rights to Fantastic Four are about to run out and so they order another film be made. This monstrosity is the result.
F*****************ck. I had a sinking feeling that this film was gonna be bad, but nothing could prepare me for this. I mean holy crap. Fantastic Four.....is one of the worst films of 2015. Plain and simple. This film is corporate-directed filmmaking at its worst. There's no passion here. You can see it on screen. There is absolutely no passion that went into making this film. The actors are just going through the motions, with everyone short of Michael B. Jordan just phoning it in, and torpedoing their careers in the process. You know, that's the worst part about this: Miles Teller and Kate Mara's careers are over. The Internet does not forgive, nor does it forget. I mean can someone tell me what Andrew Garfield has done recently? Well, I sure hope all three of these guys got a massive paycheck, because otherwise a career at McDonald's is in their future. That.....that really makes me sad, because I looooove Kate Mara. I love Miles Teller. And I love Michael B. Jordan. Him I have at least a bit of hope for, because anyone who's actually seen the film will agree that he was easily the best thing about it as the Human Torch. But we'll see. Shame on all of them for being in this. And shame on Fox for allowing this film to exist at all.
I want to talk about where exactly this film goes horribly wrong. See, the first half of this film is actually mildly interesting. They set up some interesting dynamics between these characters, and in the first few moments after gaining their super powers, there was still hope that maybe there was some good left in this franchise. The way they actually get their powers (the interdimensional travel) was interesting. But the second half of this film is.....a complete mess. A steaming pile of sh*t, some might say. The whole part where they actually have their super powers....you know, the part of the film that should be the good part, is awful. Nothing makes sense. The film completely butchers Dr. Doom, one of my personal favorite super-villains, which I didn't even know was possible, but he's forced into the film and is given literally no backstory whatsoever. I mean, Dr. Doom from the first Fantastic Four is better than this, and we all know that Dr. Doom was very poorly written as well. HOW DID YOU EVEN MANAGE TO DO THIS, FOX? How could you make a superhero film this bad?????
You know who's going to escape the wraith of the Internet, though? Matthew Vaughn. Ya. The director of Kick-Ass, Kingsman, and X-Men: First Class, was one of the producers for this film. But he'll be sparred. If Teller, Mara, and Jordan are going down I think Vaughn should too, but I'm guessing that's a perk of not having to put your face on a film like they do. But seriously. Everyone involved in this film should be ashamed of themselves. There are corporate-directed films out there. Believe me. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. That whole Hobbit thing Peter Jackson did. F*CK YOU PETER JACKSON. WHY YOU DO THAT TO LOTR????? Sorry. But Fantastic Four is corporate-directed filmmaking at its absolute worst. This film has certainly killed any hope for the franchise, even once it inevitably falls back into Marvel's hands, and it will take down the careers of its actors in the process. About the only thing interesting in this film for me was the fact that the theater I watched this film in was completely empty. I think a post about my experiences in a completely empty theater would be more interesting than this film. Maybe I should do that.....
The Critique: Fantastic Four is a total disaster. One of the worst films of 2015, Fantastic Four lacks the passion from its creators that any film deserves, and is an insult to cinema.
The Recommendation: AVOID LIKE THE FREAKING PLAGUE
Rewatchability: Laughably Low
The Verdict: 2/10 Garbage
Image Credit: http://www.destroythebrain.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/fantastic-four-stance.jpg
The Best Popcorn Flick of the Summer
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015): Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate - an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.
I can already imagine people getting upset with me at that tagline. But, you have to remember what "popcorn flick" means. Does it mean the film is trying to create a heavy-handed, important theme? No. Does it mean there's some big story where you're supposed to feel for the characters by the end and the hardships they go through? Absolutely not. No. A popcorn flick is a big stupid action movie. But it's a big stupid action movie that is FUN. It's fun! And that's exactly what MI: V is. A big stupid action movie that is an absolute blast to watch. The film essentially moves from one action set-piece to the next, with some exposition spouted in between that's really just an opportunity for the audience to catch their breath. I mean I hardly remember anything about it already, and I just saw it yesterday. Apparently there's an anti-IMF out there hellbent on toppling world governments and responsible for things like the 2008 financial collapse that somehow the entire world's intelligence community, short of one nation and Ethan Hunt, have not even heard of? Right. Sure. But that's not the point of this film. This is not a Marvel film. You're not supposed to try and figure out the implications the film has in the "Marvel Comic Universe." You're not supposed to analyze Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Because as soon as you do, you'll see some pretty glaring flaws. No. This film is a film where you sit down, turn your brain off, grab some popcorn, and enjoy 131 minutes of mindless, but fun as hell, action.
Some of you might recall from my early days that I would use this same defense for mindless comedy films too. Well, here's the big difference between a mindless action movie and a mindless comedy: an action movie in 2015 is still held to a high standard of technical specification. There's editing, cool lighting cues, sound mixing, and of course, special effects in an action film. Comedies of today that are mindless are essentially lightly edited bits of improvisation. So, while there's absolutely no substance here in MI: V, the film is still technically creative and makes the overall experience much more positive visually. On top of that, there's some actual acting in this film. Yes, Tom Cruise is in it. Get over it. The man is right there with George Clooney and Tom Hanks today as being the closest thing we have to movie stars. Yes, there's obligatory Tom Cruise running scenes. Yes, there's an obligatory Tom Cruise-riding-a-motorcycle-without-a-helmet scene. But the man is still a freaking movie star, and his charm and charisma shine through and through here once again. And he fills out the roll just as well as he did in the original Mission Impossible (which is a TERRIBLE movie nowadays....it has not aged well even in the slightest) 20 years ago. But the real star here is Rebecca Fergusson. Her character is the only character with any substance behind them, and she does a fantastic job of being the "which side is she on?" agent. Director Christopher McQuarrie made a great find here with Fergusson, a complete unknown, as she more than handled herself alongside the likes of Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, and Simon Pegg. And while yes, there is plenty of unnecessary objectification of her character, Fergusson does make up for it by being a complete badass. She even owns Tom Cruise on more than one occasion, which made for some of the best moments of the film.
Finally, we have to talk about Simon Pegg. He is, to me, the biggest reason why these films have been flourishing in the last few years. Pegg does comedic relief in an action film right, which means finding a balancing act between being silly and smart. Pegg more than carries his own in this role, and even brings out some acting chops when called upon in the film. Freaking love this man. So, apart from having a paper-thin story, what else does this film mess up? Honestly? Nothing. The action set-pieces were great, and felt exactly like something I would see in a Mission Impossible film. Hey! It's almost as if that's exactly what I was watching WHOA. And as I said before, there are some great technical moments as well, which keep the film visually interesting. And the stunts are great! I really appreciated them getting the big stunt they've been marketing the crap out of out of the way right at the beginning, because it sets the tone for the film as opposed to having everyone sit there and say, "Ok, when is this going to happen?" And apparently it really was Tom Cruise hanging off the side of the plane so I'm glad he can cross that off his bucket list. Go see this film, guys. This is what every summer popcorn flick should be.
The Critique: the quintessential popcorn flick, MI: V combines a solid acting performances with breathtaking visuals to deliver the best summer blockbuster this year.
The Recommendation: a must-see for any fan of the action genre. Plain and simple.
Rewatchability: Very High
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
Oscar Talk: This film is almost a sure-thing for a Best Special Effects nomination. Calling it now.
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