Monday, September 21, 2015

Brief Reviews of every new movie I've seen in the past month

These are pretty much pulled from my letterboxd account. I always had the intention of writing longer reviews here, but I just haven't had time. But, just for safe keeping, I'm re-posting them here.

Straight Outta Compton

At 150-minutes, the amount of ground this film attempts to cover is most certainly ambitious. Unfortunately, due to the film spanning over 9 years, the characters suffer greatly. You don't really see as much growth as you should, except with Eazy-E whose arc feels the most thorough among the bunch.

There's a lot of elements to "Compton" that goes through the standard biopic route, but it's still supremely enjoyable. The performance scenes are packed with energy and, considering what these characters go through during their youth and the raps Ice Cube writes, the movie feels just as relevant today as when the events took place.

Simply put, NWA's journey is fun to watch. From their rise to their breakup. More could've been explored during the downfall, instead of checking off random moments throughout Ice Cube and Dre's history. Still, it's hard not to get a little emotional when you realize Eazy-E died just as he was trying to get the group back together. Not even sure how true that is, though Cube and Dre were producers on the film so the script must've gotten their "ok" before it went into production. So, that adds even more weight and sorrow to his untimely passing.

It's a fun 2 1/2 hour ride. It has its problems. We may have seen Paul Giamatti in this type of role (as NWA's manager) a few too many times, but I really liked it a lot and wouldn't mind watching it again in the near future.

Grade: B

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Definitely one of my favorites of the year thus far. It's a story that could easily go in so many bad, cliche directions, but writer/director Marielle Heller does such a stellar job of giving Minnie such humanity. Even when she's at her worst, you can't help but feel invested in her. She's just a very curious, naive teenager wanting to explore her sexuality and it gets her into all kinds of trouble.

The movie's centered around Bel Powley and she's so expressive, her face just grabs your attention immediately. More than that, for a low budget indie, the movie successfully pulled me into this girl's world of mid-1970s San Francisco. I was captivated. And charmed. And at times, moved.

From my experience, growing up with an older sister, yes, this really is "the diary of a teenage girl" at least to me. For better or worse. In its naive charm and beauty and its raw ugliness. This is not your average coming-of-age story. It goes way beyond that. Just a lovely movie.

Grade: A-

Mistress America

First of all, take this review with a grain of salt. I saw this early in the afternoon today and there was an old couple who were incredibly distracting during half the movie. That might've stopped me from fully enjoying the movie and I really want to give it a second look in the next few months.

Coming from someone who loves Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, I just couldn't fully get into "Mistress America." I dug the soundtrack, I liked Lola Kirke, and it's hard not to admire Baumbach's attempt at making a manically paced screwball-ish comedy.

But the speedy delivery of the one-liners felt too choppy at times, instead of there being a natural flow. And Gerwig, I hate to say this, her character was a bit too grating from the beginning. She never charmed me and while I was mostly jiving with the film during the first half, the screwy back-and-forth that takes place during that whole rich Connecticut house sequence --- it really didn't work for me.

Again, maybe I was in a bad mood because I even like Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding. I love Frances Ha. There's much to like about MIstress America, I just found the execution to be a bit off.

I'll visit you again, Mistress America. But the first go-around was not as fun of a ride as I'd hoped.

Grade: C+

Sleeping with Other People

Consistently engaging, often very funny. What takes it down a peg is a third act that's rife with odd tonal shifts all leading to a conclusion you know is inevitable from the start. I appreciate Headland not going the overly obvious route to get to that inevitable ending - but don't think it was executed as well as it could've been. Still a well-made romcom. I think I even liked it a little more than Trainwreck to be honest.

Grade: B

Black Mass

Johnny Depp is fine. Edgerton is great. Most of the performances are great and are the reason why I ultimately found the movie to be decent. But this was a potentially interesting story told in a very dry, by-the-numbers manner. There's a certain point where the movie realizes that it cares more about John Conolly's arc (played by Edgerton) than giving Bulger any sort of arc at all. As a result, Bulger is a bit of a dull character and despite Depp having a tight grasp on the role, he doesn't really do anything with the character that feels different than Jack Nicholson in "The Departed."

He may have gotten the look down, but I'm not sure he really put his own stamp on the character. Maybe Bulger isn't that interesting of a guy? Cooper, and the film's screenwriters, don't give Depp much to do beyond making him look and sound really intimidating. By contrast, Edgerton brings a lot of nuance and depth to his character, FBI Agent Conolly. His struggle to remain loyal to his childhood friend ultimately winds up being his undoing, and it's that story that kept me hooked through to the end.

But being "hooked" doesn't necessarily mean "emotionally involved" or "deeply invested." I simply felt nothing for this movie despite the positives. It merely feels like a "series of events that happened" as opposed to a gripping rise-and-fall, classic gangster film.

Grade: C+