Tangerine

July 21, 2015 at 10:15 am | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

This raw, nervy film careens along at a pacing in keeping with the almost-out-of-control lives of its subjects. It’s Christmas Eve in L.A. and transgendered woman, Sin-Dee Rella, has just gotten out of a  stay in jail. She is sharing a celebratory doughnut with her best friend, Alexandra, when she let’s slip that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend Chester has been cheating on her. Sin-Dee takes off like a shot and the film begins. Over the course of one long day, we watch her attempt to track down the girl Chester is cheating with and then Chester himself. Along the way, we get what feels like the most realistic look into the daily lives of modern urban “working girls” that I can remember. This is a comedy, first and foremost, and it is almost endlessly funny. But, it’s worth noting that the humor comes from the sharpened defense mechanisms of these girls; they are all tough hides and sharp claws. We can laugh at their wit and candor and vicious cattiness but it’s hard not to notice what’s underneath. I think that is what fascinated me most about this film. It is ostensibly a comedy but, because it seems to real, it get’s under your skin. Writer and director, Sean Baker (“Greg the Bunny,” of all things), has such affection for these two girls, it’s hard not to see them as wholly real people underneath all that bravado. The two trans women leads are first time actors but, what they lack in experience, they make up for in the vulnerability and rawness they bring to the screen. This was a film that made me laugh but also unnerved me a bit. And that’s a good thing.

Ant-Man

July 21, 2015 at 9:46 am | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊

In some ways, this film seems like the natural step in Marvel Studio’s progression of superhero movies and that worries me. As I have mentioned before, Marvel and DC have taken very different approaches to bringing their characters to the screen. DC has gone the darker route, deciding that it could best deal with the inherent hokeyness of costumed characters by making them grittier and more flawed. We see this in the “Dark Knight” trilogy, the new Superman movies, the upcoming “Suicide Squad” and in their TV shows “Arrow” and “Gotham.” Marvel, on the other hand, has chosen to embrace the bigness and brightness of comic books, offering up story lines that are (with the exception of Netflix’s amazing “Daredevil” series) fun, over-the-top romps. To this end, “Ant-Man” embraces the inherent silliness of the character with a tongue-in-cheek, winking at the camera approach. Paul Rudd, who has made his career as a supporting actor in films like the “Anchorman” movies and “The 40-Year Old Virgin,” finally get’s his opportunity to lead and seems the perfect fit. He has an aw-shucks, everyman appearance but his default expression is a sort of mischievous half smile that seems perfectly suited to the film’s tone. The humor is sometimes a little hidden, like when one of the characters is whistling, “It’s a Small World,” but it is never subtle (“It’s a Small World,” get it?). And often the humor falls into lazy pratfalls and stereotypes, like the too-incompetent-to-really-be-funny cops or the happy-go-lucky, big-hearted but kinda dumb Hispanic guy. These are cheap and clichéd jokes that mostly fell flat for me. In fact, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the film was relying too much or not-so-funny humor to fill it for it’s not-so-fun action scenes. Admittedly, it’s hard to make the sort of grand fight scenes Marvel is famous for when the main hero is just a dot on the screen. They try hard but this film lacked the wow that their best ones have. I have to also express a bit of a pet peeve here. I can allow for sci-fi or superhero films to play it loose with basic physics but I do feel like a film should play by its own rules. The whole idea of Ant-Man is that, when he shrinks, he remains as dense as he was when full-sized (hence all of his abilities). However, inanimate objects (such as blocks, electronic equipment, toy trains and real tanks) all play by their own rules; some of them retain their original density but others do not, as it best serves the joke of the moment. In fact, the film wants to have it both ways, often moments apart, as when the Thomas the Engine toy runs into the shrunken bad guy and then just topples over because it is so light and he has remained his normal density. It’s a funny sight gag but, a few minutes later, the same toy is enlarged to real train size and suddenly smashes through a wall because, apparently, it’s density does change. I get the funny image of a giant toy train lying in the street but it’s lazy humor because they want to have the joke both ways. Maybe that wouldn’t bother me (probably it wouldn’t) if the film had been enjoyable enough in other ways but, as I said, it seemed to rely more heavily on its humor than anything else. This worries me a bit because, if Marvel intends to continue to plumb the recesses of their archives for film opportunities, they need to not be so lazy in how they develop these characters. The Marvel films that have worked best have always had humor but have been entertaining action films first. Let’s hope they get back to that with the inevitable sequel.

 

Dope

July 13, 2015 at 6:12 pm | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

At first blush, this is a film we have seen many versions of before: “good guys” get caught up in the “bad guy” world through some improbable chain of events and now have to stay one step ahead of everyone while they extricate themselves. If the film is a drama, don’t expect it to end well. If it’s a comedy, as this one is, you can expect all sorts of hilarity to ensue. However, while this film follows that formula by the numbers, it is also doing something slightly more subversive. Malcom (Shameik Moore), Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) are nerds stuck in 90s fashion, slang and music attending high school in Inglewood and dreaming of college when, through a Rube-Goldbergian chain of events, they end up with a backpack full of MDNA and a variety of interested parties making demands. Where things get interesting is in the sly social commentary about race and class that is getting made here. At one point, our protagonists visit a guy who makes knock off designer fashion. He shows Malcolm two bags and asks which one is real. The right answer is that it depends on who’s carrying it; either bag is real for a wealthy white person and, if Malcolm were carrying it, it could have the receipt and it wouldn’t matter. In other words, your validity is in the perception of others. This is a powerful and evocative message, especially as it applies to race, and could not be more timely. But it is most effectively presented here when it is applied with a light brush. At times, the film gets too expository, as either Malcolm or the narrator (Forest Whitaker) feel the need to spell out the message for the audience. Perhaps it is needed. Perhaps most viewers would miss it otherwise. But, for me, it felt a bit too much like a hammer where none was needed. Directed and written by Rick Famuyiwa (“The Wood,” “Brown Sugar”), this film has a host of notable executive producers, including Sean Combs (whose son is in the film), Pharrell Williams and Whitaker. Rappers A$AP Rocky, Tyga and Casey Veggies (who’s music is cleverly mentioned in one scene) all have parts, along with Zoë Kravitz (daughter of Lenny and Lisa Bonet). It’s clear why folks wanted to be involved in the movie. Scratch below its formulaic surface and there is definitely something more going on here.

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