Straight Outta Compton
The End Of The Tour
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
August 20, 2015
Straight Outta Compton
(*** ½) R
Straight Outta Compton, the decade spanning saga of controversial late 80s rap group NWA, is a biopic to be sure but also a darn good one. It has all the elements that are expected in a film like this and uses them to great effect. There’s drama, sentiment and tragedy all played out on a most grand scale. Taken on the terms of cinematic entertainment it succeeds quite well and is likely to please even those who have no interest-or knowledge, for that matter-of late 80s gangsta rap. It packs a viscerally charged gut punch that is likely to remain long after the experience of seeing the film is over.
The film’s biggest obstacle may be in its playing loose with the facts. Charges of historical inaccuracy are likely to be lodged against the film but who cares? Everyone knows that musical biopics gloss over some facts while accentuating others for dramatic effect and Compton is no different from other similar musical biographies in that area, from The Buddy Holly Story all the way up to such fairly recent efforts as Love and Mercy.
It hits all the high notes-no pun intended- that one comes to expect in this genre of film. What is also impressive is how the film, clocking in at 147 minutes, still leaves you wanting more.
MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) and Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) in Straight Outta Compton.
Although it would normally be a long sit for most audiences it never feels, nor overstays, its length. I honestly could have sat through another thirty minutes and would have no complaints after doing so.
The film basically covers the years from 1986 until 1995. An introductory scene is used to illustrate the shady drug dealing that future member, Eric Wright a/k/a Eazy E (Jason Mitchell), was involved in before his participation in the group. We are then introduced in quick succession to other former group members, Andre Young a/k/a Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), attempting to get his DJ career of the ground, and O’Shea Jackson a/k/a Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) who is looking for a way to channel his anger at the system right from the start. These three, along with behind the scenes players MC Ren and DJ Yella, eventually come together to create quite a formidable powerhouse of talent.
The first hour of the film depicts the coming together of the group after manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti, in his second musical bio appearance this summer after Love and Mercy) decides to take them under his management wing. The group’s skirmishes with censorship and the authorities also take up a good chunk of this section. The second half mostly deals with the group’s undoing, mostly at the hands of the group’s manager. Ice Cube’s solo career and Dr. Dre’s relationship with Suge Knight (a towering and scary performance by R. Marcos Taylor) are also chronicled.
The film’s most sympathetic character turns out to be, surprisingly, Eric Wright (Eazy E). In the first half of the film he’s full of bravado and hard to take. By the final section of the film he earns our compassion as we watch him run out of money and resources and eventually lose his health. It’s an incredibly sad sight in a very powerful film.
The End of the Tour
(*** ½) R
David Foster Wallace was, I guess, as close to the equivalent to a rock star in the literary world as anyone that readily springs to mind. Literary rock stars, relatively speaking, are now a thing of the past but twenty years ago things were different. After the publication of his celebrated 1996 novel Infinite Jest, the writer became the toast of the publishing world and was high in demand on both the interview and book tour circuit. David Lipsky, a journalist for Rolling Stone, came up with the idea of following Wallace around on his final book tour and that forms the basis of The End of the Tour, a film that is, at turns, both funny and heartbreaking.
Lipsky never actually published his piece on Wallace during the author’s lifetime. He instead chose to publish a book on his experiences after Wallace’s unfortunate suicide in 2008. The film’s script by David Margulies captures the feel of what it must have been like to be in the late author’s orbit at such a crazy and confounding time and we come to feel as if we really know him.
Jason Segel is simply amazing as Wallace. We forget the Jason Segel persona of the actor’s previous films and TV shows and simply watch him disappear into the shoes of the late author.
Jesse Eisenberg & Jason Segel, The End of the Tour
Sadly, Segel’s performance is probably going to engender the most talk in terms of the film’s performances but I think it needs to be noted that Jesse Eisenberg, who portrays Lipsky, should also be equally commended. Eisenberg does not upstage Segel’s performance but he also doesn’t allow Segel to take front and center stage. This is a film that’s as much about Lipsky as it is about Wallace and it derives its conflict from the fact that Lipsky, a failed author, wants what Wallace has achieved while Wallace isn’t completely sure he’s happy at all with his achievements.
The film opens with Lipsky’s idea for the book tour and approval of the idea from his bosses at Rolling Stone. The action then shifts to Lipsky’s arrival at Wallace’s middle American home prior to the tour where the two men size each other up as they acquaint themselves with each other. There’s a thread of distrust between the two men right from the beginning that only worsens once the two are on the road and in the midst of the tour. It comes to a head when Wallace becomes suspicious of Lipsky using the writer’s celebrity to his own benefit in order to score with women. From there on out there’s an uneasy tension between the two men that never seems to quite resolve itself.
The End of the Tour is probably not going to appeal to mainstream audiences and in fact I heard a colleague of mine after the press screening remark that he wasn’t sure exactly who the film’s target audience might be. I think those who enjoy deep conversation and embrace big ideas will find the film quite appealing. It may be an acquired taste but it’s just the cleansing that some palates might need after a summer of loud summer blockbuster overkill.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
I should start this review by fully disclosing that I’m no fan of Guy Ritchie, the director behind The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the latest attempt to turn a 1960s television series into a profitable movie franchise. Ritchie made his name in the business by crafting stylish pictures that contain little to no substantive content. I understand that you have to do what you have to do in order to get noticed. Problem is that Ritchie hasn’t grown all that much, creatively speaking, since he burst onto the scene nearly two decades ago. His latest film is along the same lines as his recent two Sherlock Holmes films, which starred Robert Downey, Jr. The Holmes movies performed quite well, financially speaking, so I’m aware there are fans of what Ritchie does. If by chance they decide to turn up for TMFU, I’m sure they’ll be pleased. For me however the experience of getting through Ritchie’s latest endeavor was a trying one at best.
The film takes place during the swinging 60s period in which the original TV series aired. Henry Cavill, best known for essaying the title role in the 2013 film, Man of Steel, is Agent Napoleon Solo.
Cavile & Hammer in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
He’s been given the task of locating a missing German scientist with Nazi ties and who also figures prominently into a cold war plot involving nuclear warheads. Russian spy, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), has also been sent on a similar mission to find the scientist.
The two men loathe each other but eventually figure their best chance to accomplish their mission is to team up together, using the adage that two heads are better than one, I guess. The best lead the two men have is the scientist’s daughter, Gaby (Alicia Vikander), who plays coy with the two men as to the whereabouts of her father. She has her reasons, which are revealed during the film’s final act, which is obviously supposed to be a surprise but will likely surprise no one who’s ever seen at least one James Bond film.
The film does have a sense of elegance flowing throughout the proceedings and is certainly well photographed. The various exotic locales certainly summon to one’s mind the best spy films in the genre. There are also some humorous set pieces thrown about for good measure that actually manage to score some points.
As for the casting, the two male leads are adequate but their performances won’t really spring to mind once the experience of seeing the film has come and gone.
The real treasure of the film’s cast is Hugh Grant, who always manages to elevate even the most mundane film. His presence makes this film almost worth seeing. Almost, but not quite.
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