Tag Archives: Zoe Kravitz

Dope (2015)

dope_ver2

I’m certain I’m the first person in the world to come up with this original line: Dope is a dope movie.

Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa (Talk to Me, Brown Sugar) and starring up-and-comers Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons and Zoe Kravitz, Dope is a fresh, smart and energetic coming-of-age comedy about a clever high school senior named Malcolm (Moore) who lives in a run-down part of Los Angeles. While attending a party, Malcolm and his friends somehow get mixed up shootout involving drugs, kicking off a wild adventure full of laughs, wackiness and insights into modern black culture and racial and social politics.

I had a blast with Dope despite going into it thinking that it wasn’t going to be my kind of movie. Famuyiwa does a fantastic job of creating characters we can root for and infusing the narrative with a sense of originality mixed with a retro feel.  The beginning scenes of the film made me think that it was set in the 80s — Malcolm has a retro haircut and listens to retro music and wears retro clothing — but soon you realise that he’s just a geek who appreciates the good stuff.

There’s a sense of craziness  and mayhem to everything that happens in the film, though Famuyiwa never loses control of the material as the story shifts seamlessly between comedy to drama to crime to action to romance. There’s just never a dull moment in this entertaining movie. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and twists and turns in the plot so you never know what is coming next, though things can get a little complicated towards the end if you don’t pay attention to what’s going on.

The soundtrack and the performances are kick-ass. Moore delivers a star-turning performance as the likable protagonist, while Kiersey Clemons is also a standout as his tomboyish friend. She’s set to be in the Flatliners remake next year and DC’s The Flash the year after.

All in all, Dope is intelligent, fun and refreshing. While it’s not without problems, I applaud its ambition, confidence and cheerful, optimistic vibe. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it one of my favourite movies of the year, but it absolutely is one of my biggest pleasant surprises.

4 stars out of 5

PS: I didn’t know this before, but the film is produced by Forest Whitaker and executive produced by Pharrell and Diddy.

Movie Review: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max

It’s kinda shocking that I’ve never seen any of the original Mad Max films with Mel Gibson. Too campy? Too 80s? Too Aussie? (All baseless assumptions, by the way). Whatever it is, I’ve never really felt the urge to watch them. And so I wasn’t all that hyped up when I heard the the franchise was receiving a reboot 30 years later, surprisingly with original director George Miller returning and the super likable Tom Hardy replacing the now-super unlikable Gibson.

But rave reviews and strong word of mouth got me thinking that, against all odds, Mad Max: Fury Road might actually be a good film.

Well, I was wrong. Because Mad Max: Fury Road is a bloody modern masterpiece. In my memory it will surely go down as one of the best movies of 2015, one of the best action movies of the decade, one of the best Aussie movies of all-time and one of the most visionary post-apocalyptic movies ever.

You don’t need to know anything about the previous films; you don’t even have to know the premise or who Mad Max is. That’s the first fantastic thing about the movie — almost everything about the world in which the story is set is revealed by showing as opposed to telling. There’s no narrator, no scrolling introductory text — and yet from the very first scene it manages to immerse you into this strange and terrifying new future. The opening sequence introducing us to Mad Max is insanely tense and horrific, but it’s also a slick lesson in world-building and storytelling.

And so I won’t say much about the plot except to note that the narrative focuses on three main characters. There’s Max Rockstansky (Tom Hardy), a loner constantly battling inner demons and fighting for survival. There’s Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a warrior on a deadly mission of redemption. And there’s Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a pale-skinned “War Boy” brainwashed into worshipping a ruthless dictator (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who apparently played a different character in the original trilogy).

In an era when most action movies are predictably conventional and follow familiar arcs — whether it’s superheroes, long-running franchises or Taken/Bourne imitations — Mad Max: Fury Road stands out for being something completely different. The film is essentially a long, exhilarating car chase with one jaw-dropping action sequence after another. That said, don’t be mistaken in thinking it is anything like the Fast and Furious franchise, which relies on a mix of old and new star power and having to constantly one-up itself in the crazy stunt stakes. Fury Road is more raw, more strangely grounded despite its over-the-topness, more brutal, more unabashedly bizarre, and far more creative. Frankly, I’d never seen anything like it, and the film’s combination of thrills, suspense and horror blew me away.

That said, Fury Road also turned out to be a lot more emotionally involving than I had expected. Granted, it’s still predominantly style over substance, but there’s something about it — whether it is the strong characters, the brilliant performers or the construction of the narrative — that elevates its dramatic elements above your average action flick.

Speaking of performers, George Miller hit the jackpot with the trio of Hardy, Theron and Hoult. Max is a man of few words and spends a good portion of the movie in a face-blocking mask, making Hardy’s performance even more impressive. To be fair, he has had some mask experience after playing Bane, but it’s the quiet magnetism and emotions he exudes that turns Max into a hero you can easily root for.

As good as Hardy is, Max is actually more of a sidekick to Theron’s Furiosa, who absolutely owns the movie. Apart from sporting the best shaved head since Sinead O’Connor, the Oscar winner turns Furiosa into the heart and soul of the movie, a badass whose quest for redemption drives everything that happens.

And if you thought Theron had uglied herself up for Monster, then you ought to see Hoult as Nux — powdery skin, bald head, skeletal features and perpetually chapped lips. Amazingly, he still looks better than most people, though the sacrifice for his art is impressive. Without giving too much away, Hoult’s charm and willingness to do whatever it takes makes Nux an unusual and intriguing supporting character that might not have been nearly as interesting without his jittery, frantic performance.

As for the rest of the cast, the physically imposing Keays-Byrne leads a cast of grotesque villains, and balancing them out is a group of hot models led by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Zoe Kravitz. It’s good to see other Aussies such as Nathan Jones, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton and Megan Gale getting some burn. I like that Miller just let everyone speak in their native accents (maybe no one can do the Aussie accent properly), and yet the diverse mix of pronunciations is never jarring or feels out of place.

In all, Mad Max: Fury Road is a revelation. It’s one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in a long time, from the sandy Australian landscape to the visceral violence and the uncomfortable characters to the gritty machinery. While I’m sure there are plenty of special effects involved, the CGI never overwhelms like it does for many action films these days. The performances are top notch, and the story is simple but effective. At exactly two hours, the length is close to perfect for a film of this kind, though there were times when I felt a little burned out from the endless sand and moving parts. Minor quibbles aside, this is an unexpected masterpiece. It’s hard to see how the planned sequels could top this experience or provide something fresh to prevent familiarity fatigue, but after what I’ve just witnessed it’ll be hard to bet against George Miller again.

5 stars out of 5