Film reviews 75: “Straight Outta Compton”, “Vacation”, “Manglehorn”, “Hot Pursuit”, War Book” and 15 others…

do the right thing spike lee

This month: “8 Mile”, “Barbershop”, “Barbershop 2: Back in business”, “Le dernier métro”, “Do the Right Thing” (pictured above), “The Father of My Children”, “Hamlet Goes Business”, “Hot Pursuit”, “The Jerk”, “Last Days”, “Manglehorn”, “Mistress America”, “My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument”, “No Distance Left to Run”, “Semi-Pro”, “Short Cuts”, “Something Wild”, “Staten Island Summer”, “Straight Outta Compton”,“True Story”, “Vacation” and “War Book”.

For highlights of what I wrote elsewhere, I wondered if “2015 is the year of dubious journalists”, I sat down for an “Interview with Cara Delevingne, Nat Wolff and John Green”, I hypothesised “How not to ruin Beetlejuice 2” and argued that “Paul Giamatti is the ultimate manager actor

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8 Mile
(2002) – 4.5/10

Director: Curtis Hanson
Writer: Scott Silver
Starring: Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer
“Yeah, they call me Rabbit. This is a turtle race.”

8 mile eminem marshall mathers brittany murphy

Eminem loves to laugh – it’s the chorus of ‘Just Lose It’ – but 8 Mile is a humourless biopic that’s more Marshall Mathers than Slim Shady. Stoic with macho posturing, Eminem is only saved by Brittany Murphy’s energy and the rap battles – which, by the way, seem awfully rigged to favour whoever’s second.

(2002) – 6/10

Director: Tim Story
Writers: Mark Brown, Don D. Scott, Marshall Todd
Starring: Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Troy Garity, Michael Ealy
“Are you stupid, simple, or slow? Which one?”

barbershop ice cube

When I get my haircut, I pray (not literally) that I’m picked by someone who won’t talk to me. But things became tougher recently as my local barbershop was co-opted by Apple and Microsoft, both of whom are experimenting with Her-esque apps inside the scissors. Rather than small talk about what I do (“Have you met George Clooney?” “No – have you cut his hair?”), I hear ScarJo’s voice going, “Snip, snip, snip.”

Barbershop 2: Back in Business
(2004) – 4/10

Director: Kevin Rodney Sullivan
Writer: Don D. Scott
Starring: Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Troy Garity, Michael Ealy
“Which leads me to rule number three: no loud talking.”

barbershop 2 back in business ice cube

Should have gone down the route of Aliens and Terminator 2 with more barbers, more hip-hop cameos, more apple juice, and Arnie as a pair of scissors to save the world.

Le Dernier Metro
(1980) – 6.5/10

English title: The Last Metro
Director: François Truffaut
Writers: Jean-Claude Grumberg, Suzanne Schiffman, François Truffaut
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Jean Poiret, Heinz Bennent
“I’m not judging you… but try to keep your love life outside of the theatre.”

the last metro francois truffaut catherine deneuve

Almost a wartime Day for Night. Paris is occupied by the Nazis, forcing play director Lucas (Bennent) to hide in his theatre’s cellar. Only his wife Marion (Deneuve) knows, and she visits in the mornings and nights, but otherwise his time ticks and tocks away as he scowls at the radio, trawls through literature, and eavesdrops on the stage though a hole in the wall.

Truffaut twists expectations by keeping the war at bay – even though everyone’s aware of its ominous impact, and Nazis occasionally march into the theatre – and internalises the drama within the building’s walls. Not even the Germans can’t prevent audiences from flocking to shows starring Marion and handsome newcomer Bernard (Depardieu). Stewing in the darkness is Lucas, listening in with frantic paranoia that his wife is falling in love with a co-star, but still a firm believer that the show must go on.

When German officers wish to inspect the cellar during a performance, Marion negotiates with the guards in between scenes – keeping with Truffaut’s register that The Last Metro is an off-stage drama. An uneasy chill breathes through its creaky corridors as anyone could be a conspirator, and everyone seems to have their own secrets anyway. But the storylines fit a little too tidily at times, as if the whole action is taking place in a larger play to please an audience. Although that’s technically the case, Bernard and Mario’s supposedly sizzling flirtation completely passed me by – even if I greatly admired the film, that missing detail suggested I was watching something else.

Do the Right Thing
(1989) – 9.5/10

Director/Writer: Spike Lee
Starring: Spike Lee, Rosie Perez, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Giancarlo Esposito
“That’s the triple truth, Ruth.”

do the right thing spike lee samuel l jackson radio dj ruth

Rewatched because, for some reason, I remembered an infuriating New York Times Vulture article that claimed “it’s obvious that Lee’s Mookie doesn’t do the right thing at the end of the film.”

The Father of My Children
(2009) – 7/10

Original title: Le père de mes enfants
Director/Writer: Mia Hansen-Løve
Starring: Michaël Abiteboul, Alice de Lencquesaing, Chiara Caselli
“Why didn’t he tell us he was so sad?”

the father of my children mia hansen-love

What we talk about when we talk about Løve is the inner pain that’s so easy to hide from friends and relatives, even when they’re present day and night, making small talk about daily routines or haircuts. Abiteboul’s protagonist is the closet depressive who locks the sadness inside, disguised by a talkative demeanour rarely away from a mobile phone or movie business terminology. His children may feel betrayed at his secrecy, but discarding the key could also be his way of expressing love.

When he stares at the computer screen reflection – don’t we all do this – it sums up what it’s like to working every day, wondering when it’ll end. For a Daft Punk comparison, it’s the downtrodden realisation that “Discovery” is over, leaving only the remixes left in the playlist. Well, he’s not suffering anymore.

Hamlet Goes Business
(1987) – 6/10

Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Writers: Aki Kaurismäki, William Shakespeare (duh)
Starring: Pirkka-Pekka Petelius, Esko Salminen, Kati Outinen, Kari Väänänen
“Badly formulated sentences full of lies.”

hamlet goes business aki kaurismaki

What else can be done with a Shakespeare play reworked by everyone from Disney to English lit students with a creative writing assignment? Kaurismäki does it the Kaurismäki way, finding something rotten in a boardroom. Hamlet, holding a 51% stake, drolly listens to rock n’ roll and breaks the heart of Ophelia. Beyond the familiar nods – both to Shakespeare and Kaurismäki himself – it isn’t clear what more these are supposed to be. Or not to be. That is a question not asked.

Hot Pursuit
(2015) – 2/10

Director: Anne Fletcher
Writers: David Feeney, John Quaintance
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Sofía Vergara
“I have kissed you. I have seen your underwear. I know everything there is to know about you.”

hot pursuit reese witherspoon sofia vergara

I’ll Walk The Line between The Good Lie and declaring This Means War, but Hot Pursuit – from Reese Witherspoon’s production company should be sent on an Overnight Delivery down the Freeway to A Far Off Place. I’m sure Reese set out her Best Laid Plans, not Cruel Intentions, for what’s a Devil’s Knot of a crime comedy but the Vanity Fair poorly sets up her Legally Blonde police officer character for Wild shenanigans pieced together with Mud.

The Jerk
(1979) – 7/10

Director: Carl Reiner
Writers: Carl Gottlieb, Michael Elias, Steve Martin
Starring: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, M. Emmet Walsh
“I know we’ve only known each other four weeks and three days, but to me it seems like nine weeks and five days.”

the jerk steve martin

When Cindy Sanders professes to not finding The Jerk funny, it prompts Sam to wonder if they still be together. The divisiveness comes from Steve Martin’s wilfulness to take silliness to its silliest extremes, without ever losing sense that he’s a seasoned stage entertainer who can drop the persona at any moment. When Martin sings a duet with Bernadette Peters, a tiny romantic capsule is created against all odds, foreshadowing the hugely underrated LA Story.

Some of the humour – especially its racial riffs – is horribly dated, as are its running gags about cruelty towards animals. But the absurdist twists are consistently entertaining in a Preston Sturges mould, shaping up into an optimistic idiot’s guide to the American Dream.

Last Days
(2005) – 3/10

Director/Writer: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Michael Pitt, Lukas Haas, Asia Argento, Scott Patrick Green
“I’ve been stuck here with no apples.”

last days gus van sant michael pitt

Much in the way Paranoid Park swirled in the one-track mind of an accidental killer, Last Days is consumed by the disconnection felt by its Kurt-ish central figure, a spirit embodied by Pitt The Rocker. Exhausted with a rock n’ roll lifestyle, he hides in the trees and in front of TV, which Van Sant achieves on a physical, not emotional, level. As dull as most of Nirvana’s music. Nevermind.

(2015) – 8/10

Director: David Gordon Green
Writer: Paul Logan
Starring: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine, Chris Messina
“You pop in, you pop out. Every time I see you, it’s like changing channels. Most of the time, it’s static.”

manglehorn david gordon green al pacino

As a companion piece to Joe, Manglehorn continues Green’s green streak in mining the sadness of formerly great American actors. That doesn’t mean Nicolas Cage’s Joe would be a companion to Al Pacino’s Maglehorn, a locksmith descending into an elderly Jon Arbuckle; Pacino’s cat whispering is the most captivating thing he’s done for decades.

Still torn up from a past broken heart (as demonstrated by Zodiac-ish wallpaper), Manglehorn is a barely lovable curmudgeon is Larry David without the jokes. Closed off from his son (Messina), he just about tolerates a sleazebag acquaintance (Korine as an energetic scene-stealer), and is a jerk to potential love interest Dawn (Hunter).

Why Dawn would fall for Manglehorn, the film can never truly justify. But my reading is it’s the allure of Pacino, whose face – especially in close-ups – is still a Shakespearean soliloquy on its own. He’s surrounded by a world of colour (thanks again, Tim Orr) and colourful people (thanks again, Holly Hunter), but is blinded by an old flame. Walking past a breakdancing competition, he looks on admiringly, before stepping away. Just when he thought he was out, it’s an Antonioni reference that pulls him back in.

Mistress America
(2015) – 9/10

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
Starring: Lola Kirke, Greta Gerwig
“I’m into compressed MP3s. Just joking.”

mistress america noah baumbach greta gerwig lola kirke reading short story

After embodying Charlie Brown in Frances Ha, Greta Gerwig is in Lucy van Pelt mode for Mistress America, a deft screwball comedy exhibiting the humour and empathy absent from While We’re Young. Following the Frances Ha formula – Noah Baumbach directs, Gerwig stars, they both write – their latest is distinctly lighter but faster, bursting with life as characters pop in and out of the frame to pile on the zingers.

Wrote a thousand words about it here.

My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument
(1996) – 7/10

Original title: Comment je me suis disputé… (ma vie sexuelle)
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Writers: Arnaud Desplechin, Emmanuel Bourdieu
Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos, Emmanuel Salinger, Marianne Denicourt

My Sex Life... or How I Got into an Argument Comment je me suis disputé... (ma vie sexuelle) Mathieu Amalric Arnaud Desplechin Marianne Denicourt

On paper more befitting of a TV series than a three-hour film, but its mood is cinematic: a young person’s film (no idea if it actually is) in which encounters are heightened by desire and self-discovery.

No Distance Left to Run
(2010) – 4/10

Directors: Dylan Southern, Will Lovelace
“I didn’t even want to be there, and then he didn’t turn up.”

no distance left to run film damon albarn blur live

A Blur doc with less insight than Starshaped or scanning the lyrics of Think Tank for mentions of Graham. The tantalising history of conflict – not the TOTP rivalry with Oasis – is glossed over with lies: Graham’s exit from the band is treated like a minor blip that no one can remember; the exile of someone referred to as a “brother” who needed rehab and was kicked out through miscommunication? The glimmers of true emotion come from Damon, who admits he resented having to record Think Tank.

Usually these docs are just for fans. In this case, it’s for casual fans with no knowledge of 90s pop culture.

(2008) – 3/10

Director: Kent Alterman
Writer: Scot Armstrong
Starring: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Maura Tierney, André Benjamin
“Total pandemonium.”

semi-pro andre 3000 outkast basketball

Exeunt, pursued by a bear, ad infinitum.

Short Cuts
(1993) – 8.5/10

Director: Robert Altman
Writers: Robert Altman, Frank Barhydt, Raymond Carver (short stories)
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore, Chris Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins
“There are no more birthdays.”

short cuts robert altman clown Anne Archer

Anthony Jeselnik speaks of his brief phase as a novelist obsessed with Bret Easton Ellis, only to be told by a college professor that too many students believe it’s an easy style to imitate. That, I believe, is also true of Carver, a writer whose prose is unflashy but modestly poetic, speaking and not speaking from the heart of America.

Transferring Carver’s characters to Los Angeles may be what ensures Altman can stay true to the original stories, while finding flexibility in a city about performance – where an ensemble and their bundle of lies spread through the neighbourhood, tangled in A-listers on their A-game. Too many to mention, of course; just make sure you watch all three hours in one go.

I’m thinking of making my own Short Cuts about the Harry Potter books, where all eight stories happen at the same time. It’s also set in LA.

Something Wild
(1986) – 7.5/10

Director: Jonathan Demme
Writer: E. Max Frye
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffiths, Ray Liotta
“Remember, no matter what, it’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion.”

something wild jeff daniels melanie griffith jonathan demme

From its opening “wanna ride?” getaway, Something Wild is a giddy trip of urban fantasia, running out on a cafe bill and hopping into a stranger’s passenger seat. Pretending to be a married couple, despite just meeting, Daniels and Griffiths have fun lying at a school reunion, but they’re also swapping fibs – as revealed by the deliciously disturbing arrival of Ray Liotta, a firecracker that speaks with flames.

In a change of pace, the second half deals – as expected – with the notion that liars are, more often than not, lying to themselves. It’s a fun ride, even after the gear change.

Staten Island Summer
(2015) – 3/10

Director: Rhys Thomas
Writer: Colin Jost
Starring: Graham Phillips, Zack Pearlman, John DeLuca, Cecily Strong, Bobby Monynihan, Ashley Greene

staten island summer Graham Phillips, Zack Pearlman, John DeLuca, Cecily Strong, Bobby Monynihan

Really an SNL movie, but not advertised as such because it’s 2015, Staten Island Summer is a very obvious retread of Superbad – if the Jonah Hill-esque co-lead didn’t give it away, there’s the irresponsible cop duo (one of whom, as in Superbad, wrote the script). The best joke: a lifeguard gets erection from observing his crush in a bathing costume, but suddenly is called upon to rescue a drowning 8-year-old. Give it a miss.

Straight Outta Compton
(2015) – 6.5/10

Director: F. Gary Gray
Writers: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti
“Ayo, Dre – stick to producing.”

straight outta compton nwa

I usually skip the third verse of ‘Straight Outta Compton’, which is a strategy I’d consider for a second viewing of Gray’s biopic – two acts of blistering fury and passion, culminating in a finale of fury and passion over paperwork.

Speaking (not rapping) as an N.W.A fan, I was happy enough with glimpses of the group’s dynamic and studio process. Sure, the details may be heavily rigged in favour of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre (both producers), but The World’s Most Dangerous Rap Group existed in a pre-internet era (and, more importantly, an era before me) which only piques my curiosity. As on the nose it may be, I’m a sucker for clichéd biopic scenes like Dr coming up with the keyboard riff of ‘Nuthing But a G Thang’ while Snoop just happens to be passing by in time to deliver the first verse out of nowhere. Elsewhere, the events leading up to ‘Fuck tha Police’ are what justify the film beyond a mere celebration of men who became wealthy off a groundbreaking album.

What’s missing – aside from a reminder that Dre doesn’t write his lyrics and his headphones are overpriced garbage – is the group’s misogyny. It’s unsurprising, given Cube and Dre’s involvement. Yet, if they did feature, say, Dre’s famous incident with a female journalist, it’d also have to include Dre’s perhaps more shocking non-apology, which could be seen as glamorising violence (or am I wrong about that?). And if they did an 8 Mile and inserted an in-character acknowledgement of their wrongs, it’d be rewriting history. Still, I’d rather it was addressed in some form.

Final thoughts: 1) Does MC Ren have more than three lines? 2) The film didn’t answer my biggest query: what does Yella actually do, aside from occasionally making it accapella? 3) The best scene, by far, is Eazy E and Jerry Heller listening to Ice Cube’s diss-track ‘No Vaseline’. Damn this review was [not a review of the movie called] dope.

True Story
(2015) – 4/10

Director: Rupert Goold
Writers: David Kajganich, Rupert Goold, Michael Finkel (book)
Starring: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones
“It’s okay. Tell him I’m from the New York Times.”

true story james franco jonah hill

True Story – a rather dull crime tale that’s probably embellished enough to no longer be a true story – sees the Apatow disciples in serious mode. And also seriously in a rush, given how it all feels like a first-take. The potential cat-and-mouse dynamics are more like a cat yawning next to a mouse rushing its lines because it’s got another Faulkner movie to direct the next day.

(2015) – 1.5/10

Directors/Writers: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Starring: Ed Helms, Christian Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steel Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth’s prosthetic penis
“Can I give you a rimjob?”

vacation ed helms christina applegate

Netflix has an analytics function that dictates its original programming solutions. For instance, House of Cards came from a crossover of users watching American Beauty and the original BBC’s House of Cards. I suspect Venn diagrams were brought out when pitching Vacation, an unimaginative reboot of an already-unimaginative 80s movies from the directors of Horrible Bosses.

Also in the PowerPoint presentation would be Ed Helms, again steering the wheel (as he did in The Hangover, We’re the Millers and Cedar Rapids). He isn’t funny, he isn’t memorable, he couldn’t drive a Formula 1 car. He’s just reliably inoffensive, which is more than can be said about a film that’s possibly more dated in its humour than the original.

The original Vacation is the kind of VHS-era comedy that only appeals to nostalgic viewers in the vein of Helms’ character – by which I mean misguided. In 2015, the road trip spins through mishaps like gay panic and bumping into Chevy Chase. In a scene whereby the family literally swim in shit, the instantly forgettable flop makes it too easy for reviewers.

War Book
(2015) – 6/10

Director: Tom Harper
Writer: Jack Thorne
Starring: Adeel Akhtar, Nicholas Burns, Ben Chaplin
“You’ve given me serenity.”

war book

A stagey re-enactment of what would happen in a stagey re-enactment of a potential WWIII. I heard a lot about it during London Film Festival from noisy journalists verbally subtweeting others for skipping the press show (I think to see Wild) because it was “finally, a real, proper film”. Well, it’s “a real, proper play” – almost like plucking some fine theatre actors to read out comments written under Guardian news stories. Some of the The Thick of It-isms (eg throwaway gags on Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference sandwiches) are strained.

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About Nick Chen

26-year-old journalist who's written for places like Total Film, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Complex, SFX Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Grolsch Film Works, London Calling, Vice, and a bunch of other places. Why pencils have razors. Based on a book. Screenwriter. Buzz word. London. Twitter: @halfacanyon. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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1 Response to Film reviews 75: “Straight Outta Compton”, “Vacation”, “Manglehorn”, “Hot Pursuit”, War Book” and 15 others…

  1. Pingback: Kenicky’s 2015 film roundup | HALF A CANYON FILM BLOG: A traffic jam when you're already a plate

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