Sunday, June 28, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Review

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, whose previous work includes Director of the FX Networks “American Horror Story” for four years, now takes his directing skills to the big screen in the independent drama – slight comedy film called “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl”. Yes that is the title (winner at the Sundance Film Festival) and it tells the story about 3 slightly off beat high school seniors in a small suburban homogenous community outside of Pittsburgh, PA.

The story picks up with one of the central characters named “Greg” played by actor Thomas Mann. Greg (who does voice over narration throughout the film) is a smart but underachieving student who is not unlike many young men his age - he’s on auto pilot breezing through life and yet is ambitious enough in that he wants to achieve something to contribute something meaning to life.

One day while sitting in his room working on his lap top computer his overly well intention mother comes into his room unannounced to inform him that a class mate named “Rachel” played by actress Olivia Cooke was just diagnosed with leukemia. Greg’s Mom insist in so many way that he go down the street to see her and essentially be her friend. Predictably Greg, looks upon his Mom request as both odd and awkward. He knows of Rachel from school as in they are acquaintances but far from being “hanging out” friends. Still, Greg’s Mother is certain that if he does this he will one day be glad he did and with some additional positive encouragement by his Mom eventually Greg reluctantly goes to Rachel’s home.

Initially awkward Greg and Rachel predictably goes from going through the motions to actually having real conversations with each other – they blossom into bosom buddies. And without it turning into some predictable standard messy teen romance they evolve into a strong bond with each other, especially when Greg shows her his extensive library of bad film remakes he and his “associate friend” Greg have made over the last few years such as “Sock Work Orange”, “My Dinner With Andre the Giant”, “Rosemary Baby Carrots” and “Senior Citizen Cane” to name a few.

PROS: If you saw West Anderson’s phenomenal film about young love “Moonlight Kingdom”, there are similarities in terms of the odd quirky humor mixed evenly throughout the film while in this films case having a much more serious subplot of dealing with a serious illness. There are scenes that are just weirdly funny and others poignantly moving – funny.

CONS: The quirky humor a few times seemed to be disconnected and misplaced to some scenes that clearly needed more seriousness and introspection or just edited out altogther.

CONCLUSION: First I would not reveal if Rachel lives or dies, the ending may surprise you. And while there are some reasons to find "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl," a little too unusual, what it has working for it is a core that is sweet enough, smart enough, and honest enough to overcome these odd ticks for all of the right reasons. Those being it is a generously smart film dealing with something real in life and facing it head on. It is also about being young and learning to grow as meaningful friends that helps one grow in life itself by going through such an emotional journey together.  A journey’s lesson that helps one care deeply about someone no matter how agonizing and upsetting that path maybe.

I thought the last 30 minutes of 1:40 minute film was as touching and moving as anything you will see all year. “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” has real charm, real humor and while it has the word “dying” in its title the film itself is full of real life.

3 -1/2 Stars

Monday, June 22, 2015

Dope - Review

“Dope” – Review

‘Dope” is a drama comedy produced by Academy Award winning actor Forrest Whitaker and Sean ‘Puff Daddy “Combs, with original music by Pharrell Williams. The film was a huge hit and a critically acclaimed favorite at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival with the audiences there telling the modern story about a high school senior named “Malcolm” played by new comer Shameik Moore.

From the onset we see Malcolm with the support of his mother and two close friends has taken great care of managing his life away from drugs, teenage pregnancy and crime all the while navigating the daily perils of basic life in a tough neighborhood and school life in Los Angeles.

Malcolm is a geek and generally confident and proud about his geeky perception, which is visually reinforced by his antiquated look in the form of a high flat top haircut. He makes the most of his days by always doing the right things and has a genuine earnestness to himself. And while he has an odd quirky affinity for old 1980’s early 1990’s rap hip hop music, Malcolm is a decent kid, juggling college applications, academic interviews and the upcoming SAT test with the working hard goal of getting into Harvard.   

One day while trying to get home on his bike with his two close friends he has a chance encounter on a street corner with a personable drug dealer who asks him to do him a favor. He asks Malcolm to go to a young lady’s home down the street named “Nakia” (Zoe Kravitz) to invite her to his underground birthday party which Malcolm reluctantly does. Later that same night when Malcolm, his two friends and eventually Nakia all arrive at the party, all is well until masked gunmen come crashing to the party with guns blazing on the tip that the drug dealer birthday boy has 6 kilos of drugs at the party club. What happens next leads Malcolm and friends on an adventure that could allow him to go from being a dismissive geek to someone very cool, someone who goes to jail or someone who could be dead.

PROS: In the beginning of the film a scrawl comes across the screen to give three standard definitions of what the word “Dope” means in the dictionary and with that moment the film metaphorically lays the frame work of how it will develop its story as a comedy with dramatic moments throughout. The director wants these characters to be seen not as stereotypes but as real human beings prone to making both serious decisions as well as silly and comical ones. But whatever course of actions they take they do so with the appearance of being real life decisions that are true, sincere with authentic vulnerabilities and consequences at stake and with the right mix of humor blended in for our cinematic viewing ride.

It also makes a great effort with its screenplay to be both funny and smart simultaneously all the while rooted to the generational unique ways teenagers communicate with each other but never so cryptic as not to be understood by any generation watching this film. 

The cast of young actors in this film have real credibility from the opening scene as they execute their characters uniquely developed personalities with crisp sharpness and wit, along with some verbal exchanges between them that were simply hilarious.

CONS: The director has made a very good film that works for most of its 1:55  running time, but there were a few scenes that didn’t work for me. The first involved a woman who had a weird personality that manifested itself with an always being naked obsession. It also didn't help she was not a very good actresses as well. The other scene involved the initial meeting between Malcolm and his Harvard mentor. Their dialog in the meeting seemed to be by design was meant to be a bit cryptic and mysterious. But from my view point I thought it was a bit too mysterious and too clever to its own detriment. In essence I knew what was happening here, but listening to their exchange with each other I wasn’t absolutely sure what the two were actually trying to convey to one another. 

Finally, if you hate the “N” word, then stay at home. It’s in the film a lot, but uses it within the context of natural conversation. There was also a moment where the word came up as a focal point of debate executed with a mix of seriousness and humor about its usage as a matter of social acceptance or not. Bottom line, this is not a criticism of the film by me, rather I am letting every know it is in the movie often and was used by the director (my estimation) to make the film feel it was honest and “keeping it real.”  

CONCLUSIONS: "Dope" is currently and probably permanently in limited release. Still it is a must see film for 2015 as it will remind you structurally as a mix of Tom Cruise’s “Risky Business”, Ice Cube’s “Friday” and Matthew Broderick’s “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. It makes clever fun of itself, fun of the environment of which these characters reside in and fun at the circumstances that sometimes befall on them that often were not of their own making. It also works hard to talk about modern big city African American life while adroitly being anti-stereotype about the culture as a whole. In addition it deals honestly with the anxieties and complexities of the inner city and its day to day intended - unintended offerings, especially for young teens that don’t always get their stories told in thought provoking books, edgy newspaper stories or the six o’clock news. And while it has some story line hiccups along the way, “Dope” is a vibrant, freewheeling, funny and forceful film that is both entertaining and very believable.

3 – 3/4 Stars



Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jurassic World – Review

Jurassic World – Review

Colin Trevorrow directs the epic action-adventure sequel called “Jurassic World” which is largely based on the characters created by author Michael Crichton and was previously Directed by Steven Spielberg as “Jurassic Park”. That original 1993 film which was nominated for Best Picture was made for the small sum by today standards for $63 million and grossed $1,029 billion worldwide. Spielberg returns in this installment as Executive Producer; which mean he advised and wrote the checks for this $150 million dollar project.

The story picks up 22 years since the infamous T Rex went nuts causing the surviving characters to evacuate Jurassic Park. As you recall those who made it off the island in the helicopter all had somber – reflective looks on their faces that maybe collectively they learned a valuable lesson that no matter how well intentioned the idea (profitability) of bringing these extinct animals back to life, to quote the character Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) …… “Your scientist were so preoccupied with whether or not they could they never stop to think if they should”.

Well, apparently 22 years is enough time not to get greedy and stupid again as we see from the opening few minutes they did not heed Ian’s advice as “Jurassic World” is bigger, more technological advanced and has all the trapping of a new modern Disney World amusement park, only in this park the entertainment can and will eat you. But hey, what can go wrong this time with all of the new high tech devices, state of the art visual monitoring security, human para - military personnel security at the ready and safety protocols abound to account for every single contingency. Again, what could go wrong? Well something has to otherwise you don’t have a movie to go see.

The crux of this plot is arrogance and greed has take hold of common sense again as lead scientists have been developing new genetically cross matched dinosaurs with made up convoluted names not worth repeating. However, when you see their latest creation (and they make a point to revealing its existence early on in the film) the only thing that comes to mind is a T-Rex hybrid mixed strung out on caffeine, adrenaline and steroids. This new puppy want to eat and kill everything. And with that small revelation you can figure out the rest.  There are thousands of tourists on the island and this new monster managers to get loose. So, let the running, chasing, screaming and half eaten people scenes begin.

PROS: “Jurassic World” has one good thing going for. Its very fun to watch as the pace of this film is executed very well, so much so you don’t have time to ask probative subconscious questions through out as I tend to do. You are a part of this ride with lots of endless action scenes with some clearly designed to replicate itself from the 1993 original sequences as well Alien and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Also, Chris Pratt is the new hot guy in Hollywood and he has immediate on screen charm and charisma. For the most part he is the central reason the movies holds together as well as it does given the believability of the plot per se.  

CONS: Clich├ęs abound. When you see a rumbling over weight security guard eating a cookie you know he will be eaten. When you have a pudgy corporate executive in the film who see’s nothing but greater opportunity to expand he will eventually do something stupid. As much as Chris Pratt was the glue to the film I could not but smirk a bit at him being some kind of “Raptor Whisperer”. And finally when you see a member of the parks senior management be the pilot lead on a helicopter assault with trained military personnel, well you get it again something bad will happen. Oh did I mentioned that they establish early in the film that he doesn’t fly a helicopter that well. Duh?

Finally, Bryce Dallas Howard plays a character named Claire Dearing who is the day to day manager of this multi-million dollar facility. I have her seen in other films and she always gives a solid performance. However, the writing of her character’s personality seem less grounded to the idea of her actually being capable of managing this kind of facility with all of it complexities and more like some self-involved semi smug “House Wife of Beverly Hills”. Though it didn’t happen it would not have surprised me in the middle of her being chased by a dinosaur she would stop to use her phone to make reservations next week at some five star restaurant.  

Conclusion: “Jurassic World” is more like the Fast and Furious franchise with just a tiny bit more of its story in tune with some element of reality. Just as long as you have countless reimagined dinosaurs to chase and eat and you don’t try to analyze things too much beyond that.

All in all, “Jurassic World” is very fun to watch, especially the last 40 minutes involving 4 Raptors. The film is visually stimulating and never has a real single boring moment throughout and after all with thousands of people on the island at one time there are far more innovative ways to kill them and they do to entertain you.

3 – 1/2 Stars

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Spy - Review

Spy – Review

Actress Melissa McCarthy takes another spin in the comedy genre with a twist on the spy - James Bondish stories of fancy cars, international spies, nuclear bombs, diamonds, casinos, knife fights, slick jets, guns, martinis, handsome men in tuxedos and pretty women in evening gowns in the pleasantly entertaining film simply called “Spy”
McCarthy plays a CIA agent named Susan Cooper who has an unassuming desk job as a “live” analyst. “Live” meaning that she sits in a bunker in Langley, but through advances of drone like optic technologies she can navigate the steps of the field agents through rooms and hallways; essentially keeping them from harms away by being the eyes above of what is bad coming around the corner.

When one of the CIA's top agents is lost in the field and the other top agent’s identity is compromised, Susan is the CIA’s only alternative to investigate the perpetrator of the lost agent as well as follow up on the case he was working on of infiltrating the world of a deadly arms dealer.

PROS: Written and directed by Paul Feig, who previously directed McCarthy in “The Bridesmaids” and “The Heat”, Feig throws a lot of visuals, plot points and an endless amount of strange characters on the screen. But the results are they all work, especially the hysterical egomaniacal exaltations of CIA spy played by Jason Stratham as well as the debonair stylish presentation of CIA spy played by Jude Law. And even though they never tried to hide their British accents it’s not an issue to the story all. There also is a range of other cast members giving funny performance including Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, and Miranda Hart.

But the real star of this film is McCarthy as she is in virtually every frame of this 1:55 running time film. And like the great comedic actress Lucille Ball, McCarthy performance and timing was spot on funny and charming. She also when required made her character genuinely serious and reflective as well as unafraid to make the jokes about her with effective humor. She also showed some real fearlessness to mixing it up in various fight scenes with good effectiveness.

CONS: None really. You need to know going in this is a comedic spy story and the sense of urgency and threat is low key.

CONCLUSIONS: With a great opening musical score to start the film off I was thoroughly entertained and laughed at the upbeat and contemporary humor put up on the screen in “Spy”. The tone of the film is endearing, appropriately sexist as hell, with lots of solidly executed mild action and overall a comedy with a nice breezy feel to it all around.

McCarthy in my estimation is Hollywood’s equivalent to an ATM machine, you put her in it and money comes out – she is always funny and I believe capable of doing anything. Mark my word when someone figures out the right dramatic role for her one day, she will be walking up the stage one day to accept her Oscar; she is always that good.

3 – 3/4 Stars