If you read only one blog full of ranting and raving about sports (local and otherwise), movies, TV shows, miscellaneous pop culture, life and other assorted flotsam and jetsam, make it this one!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Quick Reviews: Straight Outta Paper Towns Ultra!

You may find this funny...or disturbing. A week ago I hopped on a bus that leaves from Frankford Ave and Knights Rd (just down the street from the house). The route heads along Bristol Pike (which is Frankford Ave once you cross into the suburbs), and, after you pass the shopping center that includes the AMC Woodhaven multiplex (more than halfway through a major renovation -- the new theaters now have recliners!) the bus turns onto Woodhaven Rd and stops at Franklin Philadelphia Mills before continuing along the route. I was planning to see American Ultra and had decided on the 3:00 show at the AMC Franklin Philadelphia Mills, instead of the 4:00 show at the AMC Woodhaven.

Except I had a brain cramp. I got off the bus at the Woodhaven theater stop, only to realize my error when I saw the list of showtimes.

Not having any time to get to the other theater, and not wanting to wait for over an hour, I ended up seeing the 3:15 showing of Straight Outta Compton, which I was planning to see the following week.

And Straight Outta Compton, thanks to America's continuing inability to deal honestly with racism, poverty and injustice, turns out to be a timely tale. It's the story of N.W.A., the hip-hop group whose controversial lyrics (particularly on "F--k tha Police") angered many but spoke truth to power for many others. As it was co-produced by N.W.A.'s Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, as well as Eazy-E's widow, it's an authorized tale, to be sure. It shows some of the flaws of the protagonists, but the misogny and homophobia that mars so much hip-hop is glossed over or ignored. In addition, I did not need to see Paul Giamatti as their sleazy manager so soon after seeing Paul Giamatti as Brian Wilson's sleazy psychotherapist in Love and Mercy. But O'Shea Jackson, Jr., playing Ice Cube, his father...amazing. (And he has a line at the end of one scene that is either an in-joke or a possible origin for one of today's most-quoted lines from a certain film whose title is a day of the week.) The music is a huge plus, and the stage performances are on point, but the film becomes a standard music biopic as it gets bogged down with business dealings (see Giamatti above) and the decline and death of Eazy-E from AIDS. My grade: B.

As for American Ultra, when I did finally see it, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. The story of a stoner convenience store clerk (Jesse Eisenberg) in a small West Virginia town who suddenly finds he has mad killing skills, It seemed like it would be nothing special, from reviews and box office reception, but not only did it make me laugh, it has a few surprising twists and gave me a new appreciation for Kristen Stewart. She plays the girlfriend here (as in the Twilight films) but she's more than that, as it turns out. It's not perfect, as some of the plot doesn't quite connect and Topher Grace, as a CIA agent running an operation, seriously overacts. But don't let that deter you. My grade: B-plus.

Paper Towns was a little too lightweight. Like a paper town. They kept hammering that theme. A "paper town" is a made-up town that mapmakers use to catch copyright infringement. Orlando, where the high school seniors whose final weeks of school are central to the plot, is a paper town, says Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) to childhood-friend-who-still-has-feelings-for-her-but-they've-drifted-apart Quentin "Q" Jacobsen (Nat Wolff), after she takes him on her mission of revenge one night. The next day she disappears, and while her parents just assume she's run away again, Q feels there's something more to it and sets out to find her. It's interesting to a point but everything sort of fits together too neatly, and there's just something that bothers me about a high school girl being played by a supermodel I've only heard of because of my time watching TMZ. And if Margo Roth Spiegelman isn't a paper name, well... My grade: C-plus.

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