Tag Archives: paul giamatti

Go Straight to the Theater to Check Out ‘Compton’

Straight_Outta_Compton_posterWell aside from that sad excuse for a Fantastic Four reboot, August has been uncharacteristically good to us so far this year.

“Straight Outta Compton” tells the real-life tale of the Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) and Eazy E (Jason Mitchell), and the rise and fall of their 1980’s rap group, N.W.A. Paul Giamatti also stars as F. Gary Gray directs.

I have been excited for this film ever since I saw the trailer in February (I don’t think saying I’ve watched it over 30 times since would be an exaggeration). It gave me the chills seeing rap legends’ names on screen, while at the same time getting me pumped up hearing all of N.W.A’s classic songs. So needless to say, I had high hopes for this movie, and it met if not exceeded near every one of them.

Right off the bat, “Compton” got its casting perfectly. I don’t think a casting director has ever gotten a shout-out in a movie review, but here’s giving one Cindy Tolan props, because she nailed it. Every actor in this film, most of them making their starring role debuts, looks like, sounds like, and full on becomes the real-life person they’re portraying. O’Shea Jackson, Jr. is Ice Cube’s son in real life, so saying this was the role he was born to play may be a bit of an understatement. Jason Mitchell also kills it as Eazy E, and carries two of the film’s most emotional scenes.

The first half of this film is some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year. It is filled with such energy, and following the group around in their early stages is both engaging and interesting. There are several concert scenes that you almost have to restrain yourself from standing up and joining in on the mosh pit of people swaying along to Ice Cube singing “F tha Police.”

Which brings me to my next point: much like “Selma,” this film, despite being set in the past, is very relevant to today. What N.W.A started from was the desire to voice their frustration about police brutality against minorities, and while the film certainly has its viewpoint on the subject from 20 years ago, it gives just enough food-for-thought about today’s society.

Side-compliment: I know only film junkies like me may care about this, but there is one scene inside a hotel room that is entertaining in its own right (including a hilarious one-liner upon its conclusion), but after the scene was over I noticed that it was all one take. So major kudos to director F. Gary Gray and cinematographer Matthew Libatique for pulling that off, I loved it.

The biggest flaws that “Straight Outta Compton” have are that of almost every musical biopic, but they’re less glaring here than in other pictures. While the rise and even the fall of the group is a fun ride, we then follow one artist in particular, and that is nowhere near as entertaining as when the band’s all together (think “Jersey Boys” only less love songs, more gangs). Also there are a few plot points that go completely untouched, such as Dr. Dre saying he needs to provide for his girlfriend and baby, and then we never see or hear about them after the 20-minute mark.

I really liked “Straight Outta Compton.” Like kind of a lot. The first half is darn near perfect filmmaking, and while the second half stops to take a few breaths (which is understandable, given the brisk pace of the first act) it never drags until the very last minutes. I think there is something in this movie for almost everyone, and if you don’t go out and see it you are honestly missing out. “Straight Outta Compton” is not just one of the best movies of the summer; it’s one of the best films of the year.

Critics Rating: 8/10



‘San Andreas’ a Rock-Solid Disaster Flick

San_Andreas_posterWell, my California summer vacation plans may have just have taken a hit.

“San Andreas” follows Dwayne Johnson as a rescue-helicopter pilot who must travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco with his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) to save their daughter (Alexandra Daddario) after the San Andreas Fault causes largest earthquake of all-time. Brad Peyton directs.

Contrary to what you may think, it isn’t easy to make a dumb, fun disaster film; Roland Emmerich has been trying and failing for years. But “San Andreas” manages, for the most part, to be an engaging and visually awe-inspiring tale of mayhem and natural destruction, thanks to a charismatic lead and some steady direction.

On paper, “San Andreas” looks like just another Emmerich film, ala “2012” or “The Day After Tomorrow”. You have a huge, unstoppable natural disaster that is going to wipe out important cities, and a father figure must race through the chaos to save his child. However there is one thing this film has that no Emmerich film ever has: a larger-than-life lead actor holding everything together.

Dwayne Johnson is the perfect actor for this role, and the film needed someone charismatic and physically dominating like Johnson at its center, as half the film is him driving, whether it is in a helicopter, truck, or plane (he eventually rides a boat, too, to complete the “Will The Rock Drive Every Type of Vehicle?” game). Of the flaws this film has, certainly none of them are Johnson’s…fault. [drops mic]

[picks up mic in order to continue the review]

From a visual perspective, Peyton and his crew deserve major props. We’ve seen earthquakes tear down towers and tsunamis wash out major cities before, however there was just something about the way “San Andreas” is shot that really makes you feel the magnitude (ha. Puns) of the situation. There was one shot in particular (it’s in the trailer but no less awesome) of Los Angeles literally rolling like a flag on a windy day. It’s a massive shot, but intimate all at once, as if you look at specific parts you see buildings exploding or palm trees falling.

Now as much as I have talked this film up, let’s get one thing straight: this is still a dumb disaster film. The dialogue is cheesy, the plot and characters are cookie-cutter, and some narrative points are lacking. Example of all three:

Dialogue: when Paul Giamatti’s scientist character realizes the quake is about to strike, his colleague asks who they should call. Out loud I said “please don’t say ‘everyone’”. But of course he said it, and all that was missing was him turning to the camera and removing glasses before delivering the line.

Cookie-cutter: there is the resourceful daughter, the reluctantly divorced dad, the jerk new boyfriend; you name it, and the character is in here. And they all live about how long you think they will in a movie like this.

Narrative: both LA and San Francisco are rocked by massive earthquakes simultaneously. Instead of implementing real-world post-earthquake problems like fires, looting, or lack of supplies, the film decides it will double down and announce to the audience (thus erasing even the element of surprise) that an even bigger quake is coming, just so it can showcase more destruction (and it starts to feel like an afterthought by the film’s climax).

For what it is, I really enjoyed “San Andreas”, even as a single tear rolled down my face watching my precious Los Angeles being torn apart—er, I mean, as I got pumped with testosterone watching things blow up. Look, here’s the bottom line: if you are able to overlook the scientific impossibilities of the film (which start early on as the Hoover Dam is destroyed by a 7.1 earthquake despite being built to stand up to an 8.0—just saying), then this film is for you.

It isn’t art and it won’t rock your world (THAT WAS A DWAYNE JOHNSON *AND* EARTHQUAKE PUN!), but if you can overlook its clichés and by-the-numbers storytelling and look at it for what it is, “San Andreas” is solid. Rock solid.

Critics Rating: 6/10