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Straight Outta Compton (2015)
A riveting soundtrack of life
I've seen about 30 movies this year, but this one is by far the best. As somewhat of a movie aficionado, I know it's very easy for a film to fail. Some have a good story but bad casting, or vice versa. Some are good stories but have a bad director. This movie is excellent in all three areas. I don't know how director F. Gary Gray elicited such great performances from his cast of mostly unknown actors, but he pulled it off. He also shows restraint when it comes to the gratuitous violence another director might resort to, considering the subject matter. Straight Outta Compton is not a PG movie by any means, but it uses stellar storytelling, solid performances and a sprinkle of humor as its vehicle. I'm not a big hip hop fan by any means but I enjoyed it as the producers pulled back the curtain and revealed how some hit songs were inspired and also gives insight into the music industry, where greed and intimidation are as commonplace as lyrics and videos. Lastly, I cannot forget the performance of Jason Mitchell as Eazy E. What a wonderful job this guy did of capturing a multi-dimensional man, bringing grit, humor and vulnerability in a totally believable display that is Oscar-worthy. As someone who has been a movie fan all my life, I always know when I've seen a good one. Because it stays on my mind for days after I leave the theater.
Tyler Perry officially jumps the shark
There are many things to admire about Tyler Perry. His ascent in the entertainment industry is incredible, and he has used his power effectively to give a voice to the African-American experience the same way Woody Allen has for the Jewish experience. He gives opportunities to young African-Americans actors and veterans such as Cicely Tyson who would struggle to find work elsewhere. Perry is a shrewd, powerful businessman. But he's a horrible director and mediocre writer. His latest project "Temptation" is his worst to date. The premise not only straddles the lines of implausibility, it's downright ridiculous. A girl-next-door-type (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) who is married to a man she has known since they were both 6 years old suddenly decides to have an affair with one of her clients. She also starts to snort cocaine and hang out in seedy nightclubs. A subplot involving actress/singer Brandy is also dumb, and the plot twist at the end is the icing on the cake to this mess. When the credits began rolling, the reaction in my theater felt like a collective "Are you kidding me?" Perhaps it only makes sense that Kim Kardashian is in this movie. Remember in algebra class when we learned that a negative and a positive always equal a negative? That's what the scenes between Kardashian and Smollett-Bell produce. One can act, one can't. You do the math. Perry also needs to stop with the pointless close-up shots and phony eye-drop tears. Although with this flop, it's the audience members who paid $10 who should be crying.
A Bronx Tale (1993)
Honest film tugs at your heartstrings
The first thing A Bronx Tale should be commended for is getting a stellar performance out of what at the time was an inexperienced cast. Aside from Robert DeNiro (and a cameo by Joe Pesci), most of the players were novices, with several in their film debuts. But DeNiro managed to get A+ performances from Lillo Brancato Jr., Francis Capra and Taral Hicks. I thought Chazz Palminteri should have garnered an Oscar for his role. The fact that this was his screenplay, it was evident that he poured his heart into the role, and he was thoroughly believable as the neighborhood boss Sonny. Nuances are very important in a film, and DeNiro manages to capture the turbulent 60s perfectly. One particular scene is especially memorable. In the first conversation between the teenage Colagero and Jane -- when he's walking her home from school -- I'm not sure if the actors were allowed to ad-lib, but the dialogue was perfect, because it epitomized the awkward interaction of young love. Aside from that, the movie is honest about gangster life, racism and loyalty. The movie isn't preachy, and it doesn't have the feel-good ending of an afterschool special. What it does is show that even the worse people have good in them and that our choices are what ultimately decide our fate. A film with very few flaws.