Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope is a film about life in Los Angeles as seen through the eyes of three teens in the suburb of Inglewood. High school life has long been a popular theme in youth fiction, especially with the trials and adventures of being teenagers in middle-class, White America. But this film takes all mischief and hijinks and  recasts them in a rich and complex story about the after-school lives of three African American young people.

Malcom (Shameik Morre) and his two friends, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kersey Clemons), have formed a punk band, are picked on by bullies, and show to be pretty good computer hacks, as well — all styled with 90s hip-hop. This combination brings a rare mix of ironies that make for a compelling plot. We get to know generally happy kids that live in what is called “the hood,” with rich experiences, complicated lives, romances, and anxieties of teen years, but without the sanitized world of Happy Days.

The film doesn’t fall back on social and sexual stereotypes of becoming a teenager, but it unpacks them as the rich and complicated slices of life they are. Instead of Middle Class White kids hanging out at a mall, this film has well-intentioned African-American teens who get caught in a battle between drug-dealers. They become wise quickly, however, and pull off a solution that seems as clever as something from Ocean’s 13.

This film would appeal to most anyone, but its sexual references and violence are not for kids. Nevertheless, go see it!

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Jurassic World

Movie poster
I read fair-to-good reviews of Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, but judging by the size of the audience for an early screening, tonight, I believe this will be a very popular film. The story takes place 22 years after the original Jurassic Park failed. Scientists have genetically engineered a new breed of dinosaur, when suddenly everything goes wrong.

The plot in this film is not unusual. Many films have creatures of science — Frankenstein, for instance — that become a danger to their creators. And in Jurassic World such drama is exploited on a monumental scale.

It is true that convincing, hyperrealistic, creepy reptiles render mere humans powerless in both films (Speilberg’ Jurassic Park and Trevorrow’s production); but the current film comes off as more consciously political than the first one.  Spielberg’s film evoked a sense of wonder, seen through the eyes of children and somewhat well-meaning scientists who underestimate their creations.

In the second film, however,  Spielberg’s “innocent wonder” is gone and dinosaurs and science have become merchandise for a resort. Trouble emerges in corporate complacency  embodied mainly in the executive manager of the resort, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and  a defense contractor with ulterior motives, Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio). The one sole voice of conscience (and sanity) is Chris Pratt’s character, Owen, who appears to be a veteran of military special forces, who humanizes the story. Telling more would set off a spoiler alert.

The Second Jurassic film is so different from the first that I believe many viewers won’t be disappointed, but there will be a striking difference between the two. The tremendous visuals and CGI dinosaurs (and their “acting”) is worth the price of admission. Get your tickets early!

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Aloha: Another Beach Movie without the Beach

film poster for Aloha
I loved the trailers for Cameron Crowe’s Aloha and I bought a ticket based on what I believed is a great cast. The tropical setting of Hawaii, military romances, and characters with ulterior motives are a romantic mix for this comic melodrama. Bradley Cooper plays a military contractor who returns to Honolulu for work, but he finds himself caught between a former lover and a new romance.

In the course of things, military secrets are revealed and Cooper is caught between following the military plan or exposing potential catastrophe. A sleaze vibe would have carried this subplot, like the one in American Hustle (you could admire and be annoyed with characters simultaneously), but such dynamics don’t surface in this film. The problem is that moral dilemmas emerge in predictable ways. The nice-guy Cooper, endears his audiences as he usually does, and even struggles with a torn conscience, but we never quite believe that he could be truly devious with every hair in place.

Other rolls by John Krazinski, Alec Baldwin and Bill Murray are small parts in the film that could add complexity, but they remain flat characters. Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone, however, ease into their rolls better than Cooper, although Stone has drawn criticism for playing a Hawaiian of Asian descent.

All said, when I saw the trailers, I wanted Aloha to be a great film. There are moments of suspense, passion, and drama that come off as entertaining; but compared to Cooper’s other films, like Silver Linings Playbook, and American Sniper, Aloha falls short. Better luck on the next one.

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