Straight Out of Compton (USA, F. Gary Gray, 2015)
It’s not quite good but I liked it very much and it’s very affecting. The film depicts the rationale for the foundation of Niggaz With Attitude ‘N.W.A.’ – social oppression and police brutality of apartheid-like proportions – their subsequent career as recording stars, the various ways they broke up into solo careers, how they were cheated by their management, and the death of one of its founding members due to AIDS. The music is exciting, even if I can’t understand half of it, and the film brims with energy; it’s a great protest musical, though one in which women don’t figure except as sex things with guns. There are some excellent charismatic performances, particularly from Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre and O’Shea Jackson Jr, as Ice Cube. Paul Giametti as Jerry Heller is outstanding in a complex portrayal of a manager who believes, witnesses, supports but can’t stop his hand from dipping into the till. The Rodney King beating and subsequent riots figure centrally and will resonate strongly with contemporary viewers. Plus ça change….My over-riding feeling upon seeing this was one of sadness. Musicals were once all about joy, utopia, community, energy. This one is a weeping cry of fury and rage at what America’s become for black people; and it’s very affecting.
Legend (Brian Helgeland, UK, 2015)
The film’s not bad; it’s great to see those early 60s costumes and sets; it’s interesting to revisit the Krays; the storytelling sometimes ignites with black humour….But it’s just not good enough: it doesn’t tell us anything new about the Krays, doesn’t offer any new insights into the period or even fraternal bonds or what might make one a criminal or indeed even the pleasures derived from that criminality. Also, I can’t imagine a bigger fan of Tom Hardy’s than I; and he does get two showy roles here; and he definitely makes Ronnie and Reg distinct; but I also think the conceptualisation of the character of Reg is misguided; stiff, unemotional, without humour, seemingly inhuman and kind of wearing a Shrek-lite mask. It’s a risk a great actor takes but one in which he here fails; particularly in comparison with Jesse Eisenberg’s turn in The Double, where each of the characters seem to be human, to breathe. Emily Browning as Frances Shea, streetsmart but doe-like and fragile, is the character that comes off best. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to be said about the depiction of a homosexual milieu in early sixties London but that will have to wait for another time.
American Ultra (Nima Nourizadhe, USA, 2015):
Everything Jesse Eisenberg does in American Ultra is interesting; and he and Kristen Stewart are so endearing together — the ideal small-town stoner couple — that one hopes they’ll be teamed up again in a better film than this very interesting failure: the film is ok; it’s not offensive; and people were laughing in all the right places: it just didn’t soar (though it has its moments).
Irrational Man (Woody Allen, USA, 2015):
Irrational Man is a total bore, old hat and lazy, Joachin Phoenix is a blank onscreen for the first time even as he demonstrates he’s the least vain actor currently working in American by flaunting his endearingly big belly: the gut tells us more and better than his face. Woody Allen seems to have read no philosopher that wasn’t fashionable in the 1960s and his professors seem to live in houses that might be every adjunct’s dream but the reality of no one I know working in academia. Emma Stone is brilliant and the only reason to see the film. I’ve defended even Allen’s most uneven films in the past; and I do think he’s still one of the most interesting and formally daring filmmakers currently working. But you wouldn’t know it from watching this. Irrational Man feels like an illustrated short story he dictated to an underling; and it definitely feels phoned in. Also, I don’t know if it’s the film or the print I saw, but visually nothing was as pretty or as bright as the material demanded.
The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (Wes Ball, USA, 2015)
Who is Wes Ball and how did he get to direct a movie? The characters in the Maze Runner: Scorch Trials run and run but you don’t know where, and you have no clue what might save them, and eventually you don’t care. Lily Taylor, Patricia Clarkson and especially Aiden Gillen do bring a bit of zip and are all that prevents one from sleeping through the forthcoming apocalypse.
Transporter Refuelled (Camille Delamarre, France, 2015)
Transporter Refuelled is great fun: no dumber than the rest of the films in the series; just as stylish; great action sequences that make sense; and Ed Skrein is so handsome and moves so well he almost makes one forget Jason Statham. Plus it’s directed, very well, by a woman: Camille Delamarre. It’s a reboot that’s definitely ignited and I hope more will follow.