Short takes: Straight Outta Compton, The Gift, Mission: Impossible 5 & more

Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton – F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A. biopic is an occasionally thrilling chronicle of the rise of the West Coast hip hop group that sadly devolves into brand management.  That’s to be expected when the film’s producers, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, are also two of its subjects.  Straight Outta Compton is a wonderful showcase for its three core actors (Corey Hawkins as Dre, O’Shea Jackson Jr. as his father Ice Cube and especially Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E), but it could have been so much more.

Compton’s focus on police brutality is incredibly relevant, and the early scenes where the artists are subjected to violent, unwarranted stops by law enforcement are among its most powerful.  N.W.A.’s concert in Detroit, where they perform “Fuck tha Police” after being intimidated by officers before taking the stage, is filmed with undeniable urgency and energy, as is the follow-up where undercover officers charge the stage and arrest the group.

Like the other concert performance scenes, the energy of the crowd is contagious, and the movie’s biggest shortcoming is in its failure to address the female half of those excited crowds. N.W.A.’s misogyny is largely unconfronted, as is Dr. Dre’s abusive history with women.  This  has already been written about at length by people with more authority on the subject than me, but the watered down history of the movie’s second half is noticeable and hurts it.  Gray’s direction is beautiful and powerful in equal measure, and the sweeping images of ’80s and ’90s Compton — dirt bikes cruising down the street in the sunset, decked-out old cars bumping to music in the neon-colored streets, gangs uniting against police violence.  I can’t help but think there was more to tell here, though; that an unrestrained history, or even a 5-hour miniseries, would have done the story more justice.  Grade: C+

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REVIEW: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Written by: Stephen Chbosky (screenplay & novel)
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Paul Rudd

The high schoolers in The Perks of Being a Wallflower are much, much cooler than you.  They are trapped and also largely defined by their pasts just as much as their pop cultural tastes, and so is the movie.  It is an earnest, emotional journey to the beginning of identity, and while it is engaging and at times beautiful, it occasionally bogs itself down with pretension.

It helps that it was adapted and directed by the same man who wrote the original, seminal ’90s novel, Stephen Chbosky.  The dimmed, warm look of many of the evening social scenes lend his movie version an ominous glow.  Many high school movies, especially comedies, are drained of almost any visual element, but not Wallflowers.  Some of the school scenes feel a little tight and generic by comparison, but that may be intentional.

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REVIEW: We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
Written by: Lynne Ramsay & Rory Kinnear (screenplay), Lionel Shriver (novel)
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller and Jasper Newell

Mothers are a fixture in many serial killer canons, in real life and in film.  Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is probably the most infamous momma’s boy killer, though she never makes an actual appearance.  We Need to Talk About Kevin, a startling fever dream of a movie from Lynne Ramsay, examines the mother of a boy who locks his school up and kills several other students.

That mother, Eva Khatchadourian, is played by Tilda Swinton with exactly the kind of wayward complexity and urgency you expect from the great actress.  Ramsay assaults the viewer with a kaleidoscope of terror, as Eva’s life switches from her short-haired days raising her son Kevin (played as a troubled child by Rock Duer and Jasper Newell and as a creepy teen by Ezra Miller) to her mid-length days living in shame after his crime.

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