Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My Youthful Heart is DOPE

Dope is the type of movie I wish had come out when I was a teenager.  Watching as a 40-something black woman, there were moments when I wondered whether I was too old to appreciate such a film anymore. [My tolerance for stoner comedies and gratuitous use of the n-word have declined over the years.] The movies available to me as a tween and teen were those trifecta of John Hughes films Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club.  And while those films resonated with my feelings on the inside, nothing on the screen was depicted to coincide with my outer reality, including characters who looked like me.  

Dope, which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, tells the story of Malcolm, a straight-A high school senior looking forward to applying and going to Harvard.  He and his two sidekicks, Diggy (a girl) and Jib, are nerdy teens who like girls, computers, playing in their punk band, and 90s fashion and hip-hop.  [When was the last time you saw a Cross-Colours shirt or hat?]  But life for Malcolm and friends is not easy as they navigate the streets of Inglewood, California where dangers lurk in the form of gangbangers and drug dealers.  Things go awry when Malcolm unwittingly ends up with a bag full of cocaine and has to get rid of the drugs, while also nailing his entrance interview and recommendation for Harvard.  If I had to compare Dope to any film of my generation, it would be Risky Business, minus the prostitutes, tighty whities and that old time rock n’ roll; but just as full of all the angst and exuberance that young people experience when coming of age in the modern world.  Thrown in with the comedic elements is some consciousness of the times, as Malcolm dons a hoodie, looks into the camera and asks, “Am I a geek or a menace?”

So Dope speaks for a generation that is not me anymore, but syncs up to my youthful heart just the same--and, unlike then, has characters who look like me. As icing to the cake, Dope also features a catchy 1990s soundtrack which put a big smile on my face.  If you don’t come out of the theater doing the Humpty Dance, then something is wrong with you.  Check it out.

P.S.  I need someone to make a "Dopeified" version of Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Malevolent Robot

The first thing I thought after watching Ex Machina was that I needed to disengage myself from all of my social networks.  Did I do that? No (of course not).  But just what is being done with all that data?  Surely there must be a use for it beyond just trying to sell us stuff.  What if all that data was being funneled and archived to create the most sentient artificial being imaginable?  This question is one of the thought-provoking premises addressed in Ex Machina.  The story follows Caleb who has just “won” the opportunity of a lifetime to spend a week with his reclusive employer Nathan.  Nathan is some sort of coding prodigy who has built a social networking empire called BlueBook.  [Really? Facebook much?  Not only is this the partial name of a car-buying guide, but it’s also the name of a legal citation guide published by my alma mater.  A big fat D for originality on this bit.  But I digress.] Nathan asks Caleb to test his latest and greatest creation, Ava, an artificially intelligent robot, to gauge her human-like qualities.  But like all dystopian thrillers, Nathan isn’t quite what he seems and neither is Ava.  And Caleb, to his detriment, is the last to know.

It occurred to me that in many stories about intelligent machines, the circumstances of human beings take a turn for the worse.  Is this because all machines are inherently evil or because machines inevitably take on the worst characteristics of the human beings who build them?  Pinocchio was a liar before he was a real boy, after all.  Are we gods creating superior gadgets, or are we men creating flawed apparatuses?  The Terminator series of films answered similar questions with sturm und drang; Ex Machina, in contrast, is quiet and subtle, but just as dire in its examination.  In a year that has so far been unsatisfying in its cinematic offerings to date, Ex Machina is a welcome respite from mindless fare cluttering the cinemaplex.  
[In addition, the  visuals are quite striking, including the Norwegian mountainside used as the site of Nathan’s home.  Also, listen out for echoes of the chords from Close Encounters of the Third Kind throughout the score.]

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Thief in the Night

In the first five minutes of Nightcrawler, we meet Louis Bloom who is in the middle of stealing a wire fence to sell it for scrap.  While he's at it, he also attacks and steals a watch from a security guard who catches him in the act.  So right off the bat, we know that Louis, as embodied by a eerily emaciated Jake Gyllenhaal, is not the most scrupulous person on earth.  Yet Louis is not content with being a petty thief as he repeatedly asks any and everyone he encounters for a job.  But no luck--he is a bit creepy and a thief, after all.  But then he stumbles upon a profession he actually has a knack for--riding around L.A. at night and trolling the police scanners to get video footage of crime scenes and accidents to sell to a television news producer played by Renee Russo. As Louis gets more successful at "nightcrawling" and his business becomes more lucrative, the lines between documenting the news and creating the news begin to dissipate.  Indeed, Louis is not above blackmail, sabotage, obstruction, and murder to get the best footage first.  As Louis states, if you see him hovering about, you're probably having the worst night of your life.  I thoroughly "enjoyed" Nightcrawler as a dark character study of a talented "twerp" with no moral compass and a perverse view of the world.  [Just imagine if Bill Gates had used his genius for evil; you'd get someone like Louis Bloom.]  Nightcrawler is also somewhat of a critical social commentary about the television news media.  Nina, the t.v. news producer played by Russo, is convinced her viewers only want to see violent suburban crimes with rich white victims and horrific accidents.  Is that all we want to see or is that all we're shown?

Nightcrawler is currently playing in Atlanta at Phipps Plaza.