June 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons
Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa (“Our Family Wedding”)
Written by: Rick Famuyiwa (“Our Family Wedding”)

Rather than set his movie in the culture of hip-hop during the 90s, writer and director Rick Famuyiwa did a smart thing and made his characters fascinated with 90’s culture. Something about seeing a teenager in a modern setting with a hi-top fade and terrible fluorescent clothing is amusing and also serves as a nice bit of nostalgia for those who feel like they grew up in the wrong era. In “Dope,” Famuyiwa creates a love-letter to the 90’s era, wrapped up in a story of teenagers in over their heads.

Growing up in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles, self-described nerd Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a good student trying to get into Harvard. But when he gets caught up in trying to chase a girl in his social life, him and his friends find themselves way over their head when Malcolm’s backpack is used as a hiding spot for some dangerous items. Confused, scared, and with a lot on his plate, Malcolm must do things he never dreamed of to get himself out of the jam.

As a coming-of-age, slice of culture film about nerdy teenagers in a rough neighborhood, the early moments of “Dope” flourish. Hilarious lines about liking white stuff like “Donald Glover,” and especially the secondary character performance of actor Tony Revolori, really hit. These characters are a lot of fun to be around. Shortly after, however, “Dope” gets a little too ambitious and complex and as a result loses a lot of its focus.

It’s simply a classic case of overstuffing. Our main characters are given far too many character quirks and side plots that never seem to have much of a payoff. Elements such as them being in a band, for example, has no real reason to exist. Beyond that, the film’s narrative takes it down different paths that stretch it way too thin.

As the teens find themselves in a deeper hole, the jump that the audience is supposed to make is a little extreme as the film shifts into its drug dealing story. These scenes feel like almost an entirely different movie with different characters. Even within these moments, segments take weird detours, bringing in oddly placed social media aspects that don’t make a lot of sense. Mix these complexities with an ending that feels rushed and tied together with a pretty bow and you have a film that, despite its good qualities, feels haphazardly thrown together and confused.

As a side note, “Dope” spends a pretty significant amount of time devoted to Bitcoin, which ends up being a rather huge part of the plot. Unfortunately, it misses on the seemingly gargantuan task of explaining just what the hell Bitcoin actually is. Let’s face it. Does anyone really know?

“Dope” is a film with a serious identity crisis. At times, it tries to be way too many things at once, and unfortunately, does none of them exceedingly well. But give credit where credit is due. It’s occasionally quite funny, and frequently entertaining, if not a bit messy and about half an hour too long. There is, admittedly, a lot of charisma between its cast members though despite these things, “Dope” just barely misses the mark.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody
Directed by: Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom”)
Written by: Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom”)

If filmmaker Wes Anderson simply isn’t your quirky cup of tea – the handmade look and feel of his sets, the subtle and oftentimes dry humor, the eccentric overall nature of his characters – not much is going to change your mind with his latest opus, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” For fans of his authentic and whimsical work who really don’t understand what everyone else is missing, a trip with Anderson to the fictional Republic of Zubrowka (because in Anderson’s world Hungary would be just too square) is like an inclusive tour of his 10-year-long career. From his 1994 film “Bottle Rocket” to his prior art-house success, 2012’s Oscar-nominated “Moonrise Kingdom,” Anderson seems to have taken elements from his past work to fashion together another satisfying creation. It doesn’t top some personal favorites (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”), but even Anderson’s middle-of-the-road entries should never be described as such.

In “Grand Budapest,” Anderson uses an assortment of flashbacks cutting from the 1980s to the 60s and again to the 30s to tell the story of how Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the hotel’s aging owner, came to take possession of his fine establishment after working as a lobby boy there decades ago. Under the tutelage of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes in a role unlike anything he’s ever done), a faithful concierge employed during the hotel’s glory days in the 30s, a young Zero (Tony Revolori) gets mixed up in family affair when Madame D (Tilda Swinton), one of the wealthy female hotel guests Gustave takes special care of (wink), dies and bequeaths to him a priceless painting much to the chagrin of her extremely serious family (Adrien Brody plays her irate son). When Gustave is accused of actually murdering Madame D, he and Zero set out on a mission to prove his innocence, which includes evading an evil assassin (Willem Dafoe) and the local police (Edward Norton plays Inspector Henckles). It also features an outrageous jail break that could only be invented in Anderson’s head.

As silly as Anderson’s past films are, “Grand Budapest,” with its crime-caper narrative, feels even more madcap than, say, a group of stop-motion mammals digging underground escape tunnels in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The “Keystone Cops”- atmosphere, however, isn’t a bad thing to see in an Anderson film. If anything, it keeps the story moving swiftly and on edge. So, along with the pastel-colored designs, the dollhouse appearance, and detailed imagery, Anderson packs his film with kooky chases and vaudevillian-esque comedy.

Finding some of his vision from the work of German American director Ernst Lubitsch, Anderson can take the most random film references and styles and build on them to mold his own cinematic flair. It might feel typical to those who can’t differentiate between Anderson’s more entertaining albeit mature storytelling, but there are plenty of new nuances in “Grand Budapest” that continue to elevate his filmmaking charm and spark more artistic inspiration.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.