All Eyez on Me (2017)

Director: Benny Boom Cast: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Danai Gurira, Dominic Santana, Kat Graham, Annie Ilonzeh

Long time, no activity on ScreenSnap. Apologies for the hiatus- it’s been a hectic few months but what better way to ease back in than to review the biopic of one of my all time fave humans, Tupac Shakur. All Eyez on Me follows the story of the legendary rapper from his early childhood to his death in 1996, exploring the relationships and experiences that made him who he was.

As I’ve mentioned, I love 2pac and I was excited to see how his life would be represented on screen. On the whole, I was pretty pleased- people often underrate what a good writer and poet he actually was, (by tarring the whole hip-hop genre with one brush) and the movie did a good job of showing these aspects of his life, for example exploring his time at the Baltimore School of the Arts. For someone watching the film who didn’t know much about his life, I think this part would surprise them positively and I was glad they showed these more unknown bits.

Unfortunately though, the structure of the film made the whole thing a bit bitty and I felt like some scenes that could have gone somewhere were cut off, while other scenes lingered for too long. The first half of the film is structured mainly with flashbacks, with the present being an interview with Tupac while he’s in prison. Then once the flashbacks catch up with the present (prison), the rest of the film just follows a linear timeline. This felt a bit random- I felt it should have been one or the other, and it meant that the flashbacks were shorter and ended just as they were getting interesting, while the second half of the film felt like it went on and on. Consequently, some parts were missed and others were too over-the-top.

The stand-out character was Afeni, Tupac’s mother, and I was pleased that they did spend quite a bit of time exploring her story and their relationship, as this was essential to understanding the person that Tupac became. I was definitely most convinced by the performance of Danai Gurira (of The Walking Dead fame), who played Afeni. Following Straight Outta Compton, in which all the characters were cast superbly and the actors captured their characters almost flawlessly, All Eyez on Me wasn’t quite as good at this. The guy who played Tupac looked almost exactly like him and captured his mannerisms pretty well, but the others just weren’t quite as good. After watching Straight Outta Compton I came away amazed at how well they managed it, but this one didn’t have quite the same effect.

I would recommend this to people who already know a bit about Tupac and who are already fans, but generally if you’re not interested already it will probably be quite boring. As far as biopics go, I don’t think it would convince people to find out more about his life or music (whereas I thought the opposite about Straight Outta Compton). A solid effort but nothing outstanding. The soundtrack is pretty good though.

2.5 stars

ScreenSnap Goes Global: Universal Studios, LA

The Delorean from Back to the Future
The Delorean from Back to the Future

Following the raging success of my German Cinema Museum post, I thought I’d share some further experiences of my forays into international travel (film-related, of course). Universal Studios in LA is a theme park of sorts actually at the studios where they film Universal movies. Before going, I was under the impression that it was just a theme park with rides based on Universal films- while there are such rides, there’s so much more to see and I learnt a lot more about how they make movies there than I thought I would.

The absolute highlight is the studio tour, which involves hopping on a small bus with open sides, with a guide who takes you around the studio lot. On the tour you can see loads of real sets used for famous movies, such as Jaws, Psycho and Jurassic World. The guide tells you anecdotes about how they filmed it, and it’s amazing to learn about how what’s in front of you is transferred to the big screen. Just keep your wits about you when you go through the Jaws set.

Set from Jaws
Set from Jaws

As I mentioned there are also quite a few rides also based on movies, such as Transformers and The Mummy, which are not white-knuckle kind of rides but for the most part are family friendly. There’s also a small museum which houses the original Delorean from Back to the Future, among other props and objects.

If you love movies this is definitely a must-see if you’re in the area. It’s not nearly as niche as the German Cinema Museum and I would be shocked if there wasn’t a film that you’ve seen represented in some way at the Studios. It’s a little pricey once you’re in there for food and things, but the ticket itself isn’t bad and is worth it for just the studio tour alone.

Photos my own.

Nightcrawler (2014)

Ⓒ Bold Films
Ⓒ Bold Films

Director: Dan Gilroy Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed

In LA, unemployed loner Lou Bloom finally finds work filming segments for local TV news, and selling them to the news stations- a practice called “nightcrawling”. He earns quite a reputation due to his camera skills and ability to get to the scenes of crime or tragedy before anyone else. One night, he witnesses first-hand a triple murder and is the only one who can identify the perpetrators.

First thing to note, despite the title this is not a superhero film (disappointingly for some, I know). Instead, Nightcrawler is a strange, dark thriller which is really quite sinister at times. Jake Gyllenhaal is great at playing a weirdo, his deadpan lines delivered to a T combined with a rather manic grin. There aren’t many characters and really, once you think about it, the plot is straight-forward and basic. There’s not really a massive climax towards the end: there’s a peak in the plot, but it doesn’t really play out in a hugely dramatic way. I quite liked this aspect, because it made me feel unnerved which in a strange way made the film more enjoyable. Throughout the whole thing, the film just gave off an odd vibe, without anything particularly odd or dramatic actually happening. In a clever, understated way it had me gripped from start to finish, playing on the mildly anxious feeling I had throughout to keep me entertained, rather than a plot filled with action or terror.

There’s no doubt that Nightcrawler is a strange film, and it’s lack of overt action might make some audiences bored. However it’s successful in always moving the plot forwards, and as I said there’s just something about it that doesn’t quite sit right, and makes you intrigued. I’d definitely recommend it for people who like quirky stuff, or who are looking for an alternative to a traditional blockbuster.

4 stars

Die Hard (1988)

Ⓒ Twentieth Century Fox
Ⓒ Twentieth Century Fox

Director: John McTiernan Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald Veljohnson

New York cop John McClane (Willis) finds himself at the centre of a terrorist takeover at the office building where his wife works in LA, on Christmas Eve. McClane is the only one inside the building capable of taking on the bad guys, while outside the local police are totally inept, minus the efforts of officer Al Powell, McClane’s man on the ground. Explosions, fights, and lots of climbing around in lift shafts ensue.

The second in my Christmas Crackers series, Die Hard is (tragically) not considered by many to actually be a Christmas film. But, it takes place at Christmas, has a Christmas soundtrack, features plenty of tinsel and Christmas lights, plus Santa hats (look out for the terrorist in the lift…)- which all add up to festive fun in my book. Die Hard is probably up there with my favourite Christmas films, because it makes a change from cringey Christmas cheer, and adds a bit of action to an otherwise sickly-sweet genre of film. It’s great fun, with all the elements you’d want in an action movie, except with the added bonus of seasonal festivities. There a funny moments, Alan Rickman plays an excellent baddie (of course), and for those who still aren’t convinced that it’s a film for Christmas, it has the classic storyline of forgiveness and reconciliation that we all like at this time of year.

I know that a lot of people find Bruce Willis annoying, but this is easily his most iconic film and he fits the role of action hero perfectly. He brings a bit of humour to the part, and I like that he’s not super sleek and polished- he is amusingly clumsy at times. The beginning of the film is also effective in building tension, for example when McClane first enters the building: by this point we know that there’s going to be some kind of drama going down, but we just don’t know when or how it’s going to play out, and the large, echoing entrance hall (with no soundtrack in the background) feels quite tense.

So, Die Hard is absolutely a Christmas film and ideal for those who are tired of predictably happy and twee seasonal movies. It’s probably not really appropriate for young kids, but it works well as a Christmas film for adults.

4 stars