Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Straight Outta Compton

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  Wasn't it hilarious when the studio released this as the latest Paul Giamatti film?  Ha ha, institutionalized racism is real and very depressing.



Straight Outta Compton – 4 out of 5

I’ll be honest, I’m not a gangsta rap fan but, like all genres of music, there are always songs here and there that I dig.  Regardless of my feelings towards rap ("California Love" is amazeballs, though!), I was completely sold the instant I saw this trailer for this and was definitely interested in seeing Straight Outta Compton.

"We're going to bring this next one down.  It's called "Fuck Da Police."

In the mid 80’s, five friends; Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), gather together under the leadership of their manager; Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), to offer up a brand new sound that speaks to a group of people who have yet to have a voice in the world of music.  With that, a revolution is created in the form of rap group N.W.A. and the story follows the men on their meteoric rise to fame, the controversy their music created and the drama that resulted from their egos and all the money that was born from their creations.

So, how scary was it for the guy playing Suge Knight?  I mean, if he gets the
performance wrong...I actually don't even want to finish that thought in case
Suge stumbles upon my blog.

Never thought I'd see the day when I would say, "Hey,
did you see Paul Giamatti in that gangsta rap
movie?"
The first thing that struck me about the film is the fact the cast is scarily accurate to the real life counterparts.  Sure, Ice Cube is played by his actual son but that doesn’t change the reality that nearly everyone in this film not only looks like the person they are playing but perfectly captures their mannerisms and ticks.  It really made for some impressive performances.  I also really enjoyed Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller but, thanks to the marketing campaign that emphasized that he was in the film, I can’t help but wonder if his inclusion in cast was done for no other reason than name recognition and a backhanded way of expressing a lack of faith in the product or the cast.  I get it that the sad reality is that the general public won’t blindly leap into products that don’t offer up some sort of comfort in the form of brand recognition but having Giamatti really smacked of an executive saying, “We need a star.  People won’t see it without a star.”  Still, he was great in it but the real stars were the likes of Jackson Jr., Hawkins and Mitchell as Ice Cube, Dre and Eazy-E.  Those guys were incredible to watch and made the movie more than just a run-of-the-mill bio-pic.

It had to have been weird for Ice Cube's son to be playing Ice Cube and then
have a scene where he talks about having a kid which was him.  Strange.

The film also tells an absolutely captivating story about the rise of these men.  Like all bio-pics, elements of the story are altered (like the absence of Arabian Prince in the group), dramatized or even out-right left absent (like Dre’s spousal abuse issues) but I’ve come to accept bio-pics as stylized entertainment based on real events and not really a documentary-style approach to actual events. Liberties with what happens is expected and not really a problem for me when it comes to these films.  They are especially not a problem when the product is well made and this certainly applies here.  We don't hold the supernatural films to the same standard when they claim they are "based on a true story" so why should we expect 100% accuracy with our bio-pics?

Hawkins was pretty awesome as Dr. Dre.

Director F. Gary Gray really did something amazing with Straight Outta Compton.  The editing and music is fantastic but what I really enjoyed was the use of dynamic camera angles.  There is really some great camera work and shot composition that helps keep this film from being a formulaic, point-and-shoot style bio-pic that you would see anywhere else.

Okay, come on!  That's not an actor playing Tupac.  That really is Tupac.
I knew he was still alive!

The only real downside I had for the film is the fact that the story did drag during points when the film hit the second act and the group started to fall apart.  Additionally, the story has a habit of making leaps in their career and, while most of these jumps worked out just fine, there were a couple of them that felt slightly awkward but not all together distracting.  Aside from these small bummers in an otherwise perfectly crafted film, the story delivers on some amusing moments, flows beautifully through the amazing careers of these men, and really packs a punch with its drama and emotion.  Hell, it was hard not to tear up when Eazy-E succumbs to AIDS.

Thankfully, the film skips over all the conspiracy theories about how Eazy
had AIDS.

Straight Outta Compton is a compelling and very entertaining tale of a group who redefined what rap music was.  It features some amazing feats of technical know-how with its filmmaking, has a captivating and viciously entertaining story, and some truly awesome performances.  It does have a considerable running length and bio-pics aren’t usually the type of film that I come back to very often but I was very pleased with the final product that was this film and very impressed with everyone involved in making it.

The Witch

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! In case you're wondering, yes, they do try to pull the whole "based on a true story/inspired by true events" nonsense with this one.



The Witch – 3 out of 5

I’ve seen far too many horror films in my life.  Add in the fact that I went to school and studied the rhetoric of films and the filmmaking process and this has resulted in the fact it is very hard to scare me.  Not to mention that the horror genre is one of those categories that are a magnet for low budget filmmaking and it has caused me to sit through a lot of poorly made horror films that are too cheap or predictable to be considered scary.  Finally, I’ve also fallen trap to the over-hyped horror films that are told to be the scariest thing in all of existence and I sit down with too high of expectations and I get disappointed.  (It Follows comes to mind with that instance.)  So, needless to say, I didn’t sit down with The Witch (or should I type it in the stylized way of The VVitch?) with the highest of expectations.  The movie was getting a helluva lot of praise (Stephen King even said it scared the hell out of him) and I started to worry if the film was just all hype.  Well, it kinda/sorta was.
The twist is this all took place on a stupid forest preserve.

In 1630, a Puritan family leaves their church behind for a life on a small farm in the middle of the woods.  The father William (Ralph Ineson) is bound and determined to make their situation work and relies on his unshakeable faith to do it.  However, tragedy strikes when their youngest son mysteriously disappears.  This leaves the mother (Kate Dickie) distraught and the oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) to do her best to keep the farm running and to take care of the twins.  However, after her brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) disappears only to reappear sick and suffering from madness, the family begins to turn on each other and feel that they are cursed by witchcraft and that a user of the dark arts is residing in the surrounding woods.  Or, even worse, that Thomasin herself is the witch…

And they think she's a legit witch--like praise the dark lord and curses kind of
witch.  Not the kind of witch that people think they are in order to
rebel against their Christian parents after they visit Salem, Massachusetts.

Personally, I feel The Witch was marketed completely wrong.  The film was sold as a completely terrifying horror film. However, viewing it as a horror film, I found the feature to be completely disappointing.  I didn’t find anything about it scary or even creepy.  There’s some great tension in it but it was derived from the family dynamic and not really from the moments that should have been spooky.  In fact, during the moments that were supposed to be the scary moments, I found myself laughing at how silly they were.  And there was no point that made me giggle harder than the end.  No Spoilers but that ending looked like it was created by Monty Python. 

Can I see Kate Dickie in something where she's not breastfeeding someone?
Well, at least this time around it's a baby and not an adolescent child.

So, as a horror film, I think the film was a failure but that isn’t to say I didn’t like the film.  I just didn’t think it was scary.  Where I felt the film was immensely successful was in the dialogue, performances, and the drama of the family.  With the films locations and the incredibly well written dialogue, The Witch really succeeds in transporting you to the 17th Century and really helped immerse me into the reality the story took place in.  I was also super impressed with the performances of every character.  The cast is all incredibly talented and, as a dude who performs in a Shakespeare troupe, I know how hard it can be to make dated dialogue sound like it makes sense but these performers all nailed it and nailed it incredibly.  The illusion was fully realized in this film and it really felt like the era was authentic.

They say you shouldn't work with kids and animals but the kids in this film
were amazing!

One major concern I had very early on in the film was the music.  Music can often make or break the atmosphere and tone of a horror film.  One element that is once again becoming increasingly popular in scary movies is the use of overpowering music.  Heavy crescendos, unnecessarily loud striking tones used in place of mood-setting music were used heavily in the golden era of slashers to highlight the activities on screen and have, since then, been used to set-up fake scares in a lot of movies now.  This latter usage was seen in the early moments of the film and I feared I would have to sit through a film that pumps in stupidly loud music during mundane scenes in order to give the illusion that something horrifying was happening.  Thankfully, this doesn’t come into play beyond a few scenes at the beginning.  It was nice to not have this but it also made the film feel unbalanced as this element just feels thrown away and forgotten; like it was considered and then discarded without going back to edit that out.

But thankfully, the sexy appeal was unrelenting.

The final aspect that really sucked me into the movie was how interesting the family dynamic was.  The isolation, their faith in their God being questioned, and their family structure being torn asunder from paranoia and fear was epic, enthralling and really made the film interesting to watch.  One thing I really enjoyed was how the family turned against each other when they thought Thomasin was the witch.  This aspect was so rich and intriguing that it had me feeling that maybe this should have been how the movie unfolded.  Perhaps ambiguity should have been the name of the game and the viewer never should have known whether or not there was a witch lurking in the woods and, instead, you’d question if there was a witch at all and whether or not it was Thomasin.  However, that’s just me and just a desire I had because I wasn’t too thrilled or impressed with the horror elements of the film.

This goat is Black Phillip.  He has an important role in the story...
but that didn't stop me from always wanting to call him Captain Phillips.

Overall, I dug The Witch but can’t say I was super impressed with it either.  While well made as a tension-filled drama movie, the film just wasn’t that interesting as a horror movie.  The family dynamic and acting is incredible to watch but the film lacks a horror film tone and I felt no creepy atmosphere at all throughout it.  The film is incredibly well made and there are elements of the story that I thought were just awesome but just found it didn’t work as horror film.  On that front, that’s where I felt the film was all hype and no substance.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! So, was a pizza the prize in the Hunger Games?  I'll be honest, I haven't been paying attention at all with all these films.

 

The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay – Part 2 – 4 out of 5

Okay, so my history with The Hunger Games films has been rocky at best.  I didn’t care for the first one and found it a tad silly.  The second one I enjoyed much more but was less than thrilled with the first half of Mockingjay—hell, I’ll just say it, I was bored with Part 1.  So, I’ve finally got around to watching The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay – Part 2; the last film in the franchise, and how does it compare to the rest of the series or even the first half of this story?  (Like I always say when I pull this type of question:  Just pretend you didn’t already see the score.)

What the what?!?  Brienne of Tarth is in this?  I love her!

The Girl on Fire; Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence),  is still the symbol of rebellion and the revolution still seeks to use her to inspire all the Districts to turn against the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland).  She wishes to be utilized on the front lines but rebellion leaders—especially Alma Coin (Julianne Moore)—thinks she will accomplish more as a media image than an actual fighter.  So, armed with a camera crew, a childhood friend and fellow fighter; Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), fellow Hunger Games winner; Finnick Odair (Sam Clafin) and some nameless soldiers, they set out to inspire the populace on the battlefield.  Also along for the ride is the man Katniss has confused feelings for; Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).  Peeta was recently reprogrammed by the enemy and it’s unclear if he’s out to help the woman he says he loves or kill her.  Can Katniss lead the armies to overthrow the tyrannical rule of the system or will she fall?

Yep, he looks like he's about to give the old "We're not so different, you and I" speech.

One of my biggest complaints about Part 1 was the seemingly fact it felt like they were actively deciding to not show any action.  It made the film feel like it was dragging too often and made the entire feature feel like it was just an extra-long first act and partial beginning to a second act.  This time around, the film does not hesitate on the action (well, it does sometimes) and the set pieces that it delivers on are intense and immensely satisfying—except for when the film kills off one of my favorite characters.  WHY?!?  You leave Peeta alive but not him?

I don't know if I can forgive this movie for what it did to Finnick Odair.
He was my favorite character, you monsters!  This isn't Game of Thrones, for
crying out loud!
All the residents of the Capitol are trying to get
tickets to Hamilton.
This brings me to my next point:  I still don’t understand the appeal of Peeta.  One constant I’ve had throughout this franchise is the fact I don’t feel anything but contempt for this character.  I’ve asked my friends who have read the books and questioned if he is better portrayed in the novels and so far all I’ve heard is that he is.  For me, Peeta has always felt like Katniss’ physical manifestation of weakness.  All I’ve seen is him holding her down and make her weak in resolve and even weaker on the battlefield.  Her feelings for him have always felt forced or felt like a complete mystery to me and, in this final installment, my questions over Peeta have not been made clear and he still feels like an anchor weighing down the potential of a truly badass character.  It sorta feels like the writer is saying that Katniss can’t be a great character without someone to love because that’s what females do.  Things are only complicated by the fact that Peeta was reprogrammed and is now a potential threat to Katniss.  I had a hard enough time buying the feelings she had for this character before and matters are made only worse when I took into consideration that I have no clue how she would ever feel truly comfortable around the man.  You never truly know if he's reprogramming is now gone.  Ultimately, though, I’m not entirely sure if my troubles with this character come from the way he is written or by weak performance of Josh Hutcherson.

I will never understand this character or why he matters!!!

On the performance end, the cast is all doing a great job—with a few notable exceptions.  I’ve never been too fond of Hutcherson’s performance and once again found him to be “meh.”  I was also a little disappointed with Jena Malone in this film.  Normally, I’m a big fan of Malone but I found she was laying it on pretty thick in this one.  She looks a tad cheesy.  Finally, Jennifer Lawrence was doing fairly well for most of the film but there were definitely times where she didn’t look too committed to the scene.  Was she tired getting tired of this role by this point?  I don’t know but there were definitely times where it felt like she wasn’t caring.

You know who was clearly caring very much about their job?
Whoever did her make-up.  That is on-point!


Like any film set in a very rich and established universe, there always comes a time when you find that you have a lot of characters—maybe even too much.  Mockingjay Part 2 does suffer from this to a small extent as you get the usual nameless soldiers who act only as potential body bag fillers for the story but there are characters that get introductions that make you feel like they are going to play some role in the goings-on.  Sure, you still know that they are just around to die but there’s still a sense that gives you the sense that they might be developed in some way. Sadly, they aren’t.  This isn’t exactly an issue and didn’t really kill any entertainment value but it definitely felt like a cliché issue that is seen in a lot of big franchise features.

God dammit.  I miss you, Philip Seymour Hoffman!

Mockingjay - Part 2 is very entertaining and a fairly decent conclusion to the story.  There’s some great action, it gets terribly dark at times but not needlessly so (it felt warranted, not dark-for-being-dark’s sake like BvS), and I really enjoyed the way the story showed the use of media and propaganda to sell the war.  The way both sides would showcase Katniss as either a hero or a menace really made for something that was beyond the usual tween dystopia story that involves the “chosen one” taking down the oppressor.  However, the biggest issue I had is the fact the ending just doesn’t feel satisfying.  It already suffers from the same curse that The Return of the King suffered as it has several endings as it attempts to tie off all the loose ends that the films established but none of these endings really felt like it was that satisfying of a conclusion or really solidified why this journey was warranted.  While the hero achieves her victory, the blandness that is just sorta lethargically produced on the screen as the final moments twirl down really made for an ending that was just sorta okay.

The franchise may be done but I'm still open to the idea of a spin-off that's
entirely about Haymitch Abernathy.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay – Part 2.  I had some issues with it and was pretty luke warm with the ending but it was still a very exciting and entertaining film.  It’s pretty crazy that I came around on this franchise the way I did.  I mean, I gave the first film a 2 out of 5 and here I am giving the finale a 4 out of 5—even after I admitted I didn’t care for the ending.  I’m growing as a human being, I guess.  Not all heroes wear capes.  I'm not saying I'm a hero but I'm not NOT saying I am...but I'm totes a hero.