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

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Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash

Director: Damien Chazelle Cast: J.K. Simmons, Miles Teller, Melissa Benoist

A drummer at a top music conservatory in New York is taken under the direction of a highly demanding tutor, who humiliates and terrifies his students when they don’t meet his high standards.

The plot synopsis of Whiplash doesn’t really sound like it offers mainstream appeal, as is so often the case with Oscar nominated films. However it won three Academy Awards in total (including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons who I have loved ever since he was in underrated HBO series Oz), so I thought it was worth a watch. The plot isn’t thrilling and fast-paced by any means, but it progresses quickly enough to keep attention throughout- although perhaps at the expense of some characterisation, as we don’t really know a lot about the background of the protagonists, which may cause a lack of sympathy especially in the case of Andrew, the student.

Having said that, the performances are highly intense and as someone who’s not hugely into music, I was still absorbed into the world of a music conservatory despite not usually having an interest in that type of thing. Fletcher, the tutor, is absolutely terrifying and J.K. Simmons was excellent at making him one of the least likeable characters I think I’ve ever witnessed on screen. Towards the end of the film when Andrew is hurrying to get to the concert on time was extremely tense, and it culminates in an intense final scene (although his drum playing did go on a little too long).

Whiplash is unlikely to be enjoyed by everyone, but for those looking for something a little more art-house and less mainstream it’s ideal. I would say that it requires a little more commitment from the viewer to sit through it (it’s not a film one can watch passively as it’s so intense), so probably better for an intentional Saturday evening movie night.

4 stars

Footloose (1984)

Ⓒ Paramount Pictures
Ⓒ Paramount Pictures

Director: Herbert Ross Cast: Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, John Lithgow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chris Penn

Teenager Ren (Bacon) moves from the city to a small town where rock music and dancing have been banned due to tragic past accident. As the senior prom is approaching, the teenagers led by Ren campaign to get music back, while at the same time bring back an element of fun to a stiff and repressive town.

One of the classics from 1980s cinema, Footloose combines a great soundtrack, an easy-going plot, fun clichés, and Kevin Bacon. It’s not cinematic genius for sure, but it has the correct balance of plot highs and lows, which keeps the audience entertained even if it’s obvious that it will have a happy ending. The scene when Kevin Bacon dances out his frustration in the warehouse is an absolute classic, not because it’s Oscar-winning but because it’s made Kevin Bacon a proper legend. I did find Ren’s love interest, Ariel, irritating beyond belief, but to be honest although she’s one of the main characters I didn’t find that the plot actually spends too much time lingering on her non-issues. The film is now over 30 years old so obviously the fashion and music choices are now fairly old, but for me it’s more a case of it being “classic” rather than dated.

The plot isn’t complex but it kept my attention throughout, so I’d say Footloose is a good option for lightweight, family viewing. All round, an easy-to-watch, amusing, and enjoyable movie.

4 stars

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Ⓒ Circle of Confusion/Cube Vision/Legendary Pictures
Ⓒ Circle of Confusion/Cube Vision/Legendary Pictures

Director: F. Gary Gray Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr, Aldis Hodge, Paul Giamatti

Straight Outta Compton is the official biopic of legendary hip-hop group N.W.A, named after their ground-breaking debut album. The story begins with the group forming, laying down their early tracks, and finding management, up until the untimely death of founding member Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Mitchell).

I absolutely loved this movie. Firstly, it’s worth noting that I am an N.W.A fan and already knew a fair amount about their back story, so I probably got more out of the film than, say, someone who didn’t know a lot of their music and was just interested in the story. What I appreciated most in the film was the casting: each group member as well as other supporting characters fitted their role perfectly, and the all-important chemistry between the group was spot on and significantly contributed to the believability of the band’s experiences. I really got a sense of who each member was and what kind of role they played in the group, both as musicians and as friends. Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr, played Ice Cube himself, and at certain points it was hard to notice the difference between the two. You can see how choosing the real life son to play the father might be gimmicky, but Jackson Jr was excellent in his debut acting role. I also thought that the story was pretty well balanced- given that both Ice Cube and Dr Dre had a hand in producing the film, there was a risk of a biased point of view, but in fact nobody came out looking perfect nor did anybody come out looking all bad.

Like I mentioned, I think fans of N.W.A will get more out of the film but that’s not to say that it’s not for everyone. The film is, after all, a true life story and covers real issues such as African Americans and police brutality, music industry greed, HIV and AIDS, and importantly life in America’s poor neighbourhoods. The soundtrack is absolutely cracking, of course featuring some of the group’s hits as well as classics from Run-DMC, 2Pac and Wu-Tang Clan, among others. Plus, I loved the cameo-type appearances of other hip-hop artists such as 2Pac, Warren G and Snoop Dogg- the actor of Snoop Dogg was absolutely on point, and had him down right to his accent, mannerisms and walk. I reckon this film is a must-see and many people would enjoy it despite perhaps being put off by the fact it’s about a rap group, due to its portrayal of real issues.

5 stars