Wednesday, 19 August 2015
When you grow up black in Los Angeles, in a suburb colloquially known as The Bottoms, not much is expected of you. So it should come as no surprise when Malcolm (a terrific Shameik Moore) is literally laughed out of the office of his high school principal when he tells him he's aiming for a place at Harvard.
But Malcolm is not your typical ghetto youth. He has no gangsta affiliation; he studies hard; has an obsession, along with his best buds, Jib (Tony Revolori), and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), with 1980s geek culture, and also plays in a punk band with them.
Malcolm is also deceptively ambitious, and it's this characteristic which all of the adults in his life -- said principal (Bruce Beatty); Dom (Rakim Myers), the neighbourhood drug pin; Jacoby (Roger Guenveur Smith), the criminal lawyer whose more the former than the latter -- underestimate when he and his pals come into possession of a bag full of drugs.
Those drugs belong to Dom, as does Nakia (Zoe Kravitz), who inspires Malcolm -- whilst also fueling his hormones -- to take charge of a very dangerous situation and make it work to his advantage.
Not that Dope, from writer-director Rick Famuyiwa, is a heavy-handed, hand-wringing cinema verite look at life in the 'hood. It's essentially a buddy comedy with its trio of fresh-faced leads keeping things light. (And 10 points if you can name the last American teen film where none of the protagonists were white.)
Issues of race, gender and education are raised but they're done so, for the most part, with a gentle hand; a coda where Malcolm reads his Harvard entrance essay to the audience is, however, unsubtle and unnecessary. (So, too, is producer Forest Whitaker's infrequent narration.)
And if Dope doesn't manage to sustain the fun-filled pace of the first half -- Malcolm's plan for the drugs getting the film bogged down and convoluted -- the charm of Moore and his cohorts remains winning. You'll be cheering for them, and unlike the school principal, you'll be laughing with, not at, Malcolm.
Monday, 17 August 2015
In spite of the tendency for melodrama in Kurt Sutter's screenplay, and the inherent cliches in any boxing film, Antoine Fuqua's Southpaw manages to be an engaging bout -- due in no small part to Jake Gyllenhaal's bulked-up performance -- if not a TKO.
Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope (as in, The Great White), a middle-heavyweight boxer whom we meet on the night of his biggest win. His wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), a childhood sweetheart who, like Billy, came up through the foster care system, thinks it's time he hung up the gloves and enjoy the spoils of his victories. And given his post-fight state -- a swollen face, blood dribbling from his mouth -- it's easy to see why.
His manager, Jordan Mains (Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson), however, wants at least another three fights -- and a multi-million dollar pay-for-view contract -- out of his man, including a bout with the world champ, Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez).
But events conspire to bring Billy to his knees and financially undone. They also see his bright young daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence), removed from his custody and into foster care. Billy needs to win her back but he needs to be a winner again first. Thus Southpaw becomes a story of both redemption and a comeback, as Billy takes a job as night janitor in a downtown gym operated by trainer, Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), a no-nonsense guy who doesn't tolerate swearing or self pity.
Of course, where Southpaw goes from here is never in doubt. That we care about that outcome is in great part to Gyllenhaal's performance of this broken man who wants only to be with his daughter and knows only one way to get what he wants in life: to fight for it. It's another impressive performance by Gyllenhaal, the physical transformation as startling and extreme as the one which saw him lose weight to creepily embody a sociopath in Nightcrawler (2014).
Billy's relationships with both Tick and Leila make the cliches at work in Fuqua's film bearable (the film having lost much of its energy when McAdams departs), and thankfully Southpaw isn't all dour and downbeat; there's some much needed humour in Billy and Tick's to-and-fro, including an excellent gag about Whitaker's infamous eye. (Naomie Harris is there, too, as Leila's sympathetic case worker but sadly she's not given nearly enough to do.)
Southpaw doesn't bring anything to the ring that you haven't seen before: it's a scrapper not a contender.
Friday, 7 August 2015
Amy Schumer is so hot right now. Her stand-up shows are sell-outs, clips from her Comedy Central TV show, Inside Amy Schumer, go viral on a regular basis, and she's all over the media decrying sexist stereotypes and defying mainstream expectations of what a female celebrity should be. (And given recent unfortunate events in the US, she's also become an unlikely anti-gun advocate.)
Schumer now brings that same level of crass though sharply-tuned humour and love-me-or-fuck-off presence to the big screen in Trainwreck, a rom-com penned by the comedienne and directed by Judd Apatow (of Knocked Up fame).
She plays Amy, a writer for a men's magazine (S'Nuff), who drinks like a fish, is partial to weed, wears clothes that would seem to be a size too small, and who enjoys an active sex life. But Amy doesn't do sleepovers or repeats, though she is sort of seeing someone (John Cena) but not exclusively which comes as a surprise to him.
Yes, Amy is the traditional male character in this scenario. And the female? That's Aaron (Bill Hader), a sports surgeon who's nice, sincere and a tad on the dull side but whom Amy, upon being assigned by her editor (a shiny-shiny Tilda Swinton) to do a feature article on, falls for (after first falling drunkenly into bed with him).
Yet in spite of the Schumer's brand of humour, and yes, her "non-traditional" leading lady attributes, Trainwreck still subscribes to the rom-com tropes. And somewhat disappointingly, that includes the female character changing for and acquiescing to the male character's ideals.
But before that disappointing denouement, Trainwreck is an hilarious comedy and one of Apatow's better films (although like most of his work, it could still afford to lose 15-to-20 minutes). It doesn't reinvent the genre, but it does announce the arrival of a new comic voice and most welcome screen presence.
Tuesday, 4 August 2015
THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT raises the stakes for Tris as she searches for allies and answers in the ruins of a futuristic Chicago. Tris (Woodley) and Four (James) are now fugitives on the run, hunted by Jeanine (Winslet), the leader of the power-hungry Erudite elite. Racing against time, they must find out what Tris’s family sacrificed their lives to protect, and why the Erudite leaders will do anything to stop them. Haunted by her past choices but desperate to protect the ones she loves, Tris, with Four at her side, faces one impossible challenge after another as they unlock the truth about the past and ultimately the future of their world.
Thanks to Entertainment One, we have 3 INSURGENT prize packs to give away, including a DVD copy of INSURGENT plus a key ring. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed (@TheLennoXFiles) for your chance to win. Note: competition open to Australian residents only.
INSURGENT is available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD August 12.