Dope (Rick Famuyiwa, 2015)
The antithesis of the uninteresting and chokingly sugar-loaded Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Famuyiwa’s Sundance favorite evoked the adjectives of “stylish” and “well-written” on the surface, but underneath, the density of this film lies in its disturbing depiction of being a non-black, black teen. What Shameik Moore’s Malcolm goes through in the film is what in real life would be a no-win situation. The film is fictional and it’s a hopeful account, so Malcolm comes through in the end, but his letter to Harvard University really dispells what a rock-and-hard place it is for black teens who actually thoroughly seek the opportunity to succeed and escape from poverty via their academics. We have developed this notion of urban black youth as alienated and suffering due to poor schools and neglect from their fathers and set up to a “professional athlete or bust” highway, but even those who overcome all of that to still shine academically are still searching for their voice to be heard… and this is not simply through the notion of a percieved racial bias towards black from white folks, but as Fumiwuya aslo nugdingly suggests, it is also the alienation via black “counterculture” that proves a detriment to these children, because getting good grades, liking rock music, and being a virgin doesn’t really fit the stereotype of a kid growing up in the projects. It’s everyone’s fault, and Dope is really about that, but to keep us watching and refrain from being a finger-pointing angry lecture, it also wraps and laces itself intelligently and slyly in a giddy, twisty, and downright cool-with-a-capital-C polish.
Everest (Baltazar Kormakur, 2015)
Everest is the type of summer popcorn flick that I like. Well, this movie released in September, but it should’ve really released during the summer to help drown out the horde of sequel-prequel-remakequel crap with something that manages to pack a punch in both thrills and storytelling, but also in its emotion. The Everest disaster was truly tragic, and that’s probably what stopped this film from hitting the real zeitgeist… it’s a depressing story, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from enjoying and taking in the arduous journey up the tallest mountain on Earth. Kormakur doesn’t waste his time with much overt melodrama here, instead, he quietly mounts a sizeable backstory on each of the characters through their conversations with each other and a sense of believable bonding from a team that could very well die together. It works well, because we root for the whole team’s journey up the mountain and as the disaster of the storm rains down on them and starts to pick them off one by one, we root for them individually and are reminded the unique circumstances and goals they are fighting for. Everest is a non-franchise Hollywood thriller with a soul, and our summers could use a bit more of that.
Trumbo (Jay Roach, 2015)
Trumbo is Hollywood, and by that I mean that this film lays out all the tricks and turns you’d expect in a Hollywood drama. It’s formula like that which comes in a baby bottle and its fed to us piece by piece with not a single moment left to our imagination. I can’t say I expected much from Jay Roach in his first forray into Oscar-bait drama, but I can say that while the narrative is completely bereft of particularly memorable moments, at least for cinema-geeks the movie is laden with plenty of little gifts here and there… a sequence with King Bros. motion pictures (with an incredibly hilarious John Goodman as producer Frank King), a lunch meeting sequence where Trumbo’s anonymous script is revealed to be the classic Roman Holiday, and John Wayne being John Wayne.
Partisan (Ariel Kliemann, 2015)
This is the second film, after Chappie, this year which I liked a lot more than everyone else. So let me use this to dispell one common argument against this film: its ambiguity. I will warn, Kleimann doesn’t bother to explain anything. Why are these children being raised in a renegade counter-society by a ruthless patriarch who impregnates multiple women? Why are they sent out to murder people on a whim? The ambiguity is really what drew me into this film. Many times, the questions we ask for explanation of such blatant frustration and horrific violence and power are anyways unexplained. What we do unquestionably witness in the film is a rebellion, and like all rebellions it is formed via a sense of compassion of one upstart individual who seeks to find retribution for another individuals mistreatment. Partisan acts as the microcosm example of how leaders are overthrown, when they step outside their boundaries, when their smoke and mirror lies are ultimately taken away to reveal a most horrific truth.
Macbeth (Justin Kurzel, 2015)
Before I get labelled an “uncultured swine”, I’d like to say that no… it’s not that Kurzel chose to use actual Shakesperean “speak” as all of the dialogue in the film that turned me off. Instead, what makes this film a completely forgettable Shakespear adaptation is that it offers absolutely nothing original from which to evoke new emotion on the bard’s work. Trailers are misleading in this case… it suggested from the way Kurzel marketed this film that he has instilled a thumping, legendary tag onto Macbeth, one which transformed the film close to a subtly artistic yet swashbuckling rendition like Sergei Bodrov’s Mongol. Rather, this movie takes Shakespear from Sparknotes and plasters it on screen with tons of voice-over and a visual canvas that mixes both the serene psychosis of Marketa Lazarova but draped with the self-indulgent slow-motion dicking-around of Zach Snyder.