Tag Archives: Forest Whitaker

Southpaw (2015)

15 Aug

Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the World Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion, enjoying a life of celebrity and wealth with his beautiful wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). Billy’s life soon spirals out of control however, soon after losing his wife in a bizarre act of violence spurred on by a competing boxer.  The stakes are raised when Billy’s child is taken into custody by Child Protection Services, and it’s up to Billy to piece his life back together if he wants his daughter (yawn) back.

Southpaw is a gritty boxing film that tries to examine the lengths a father is willing to go to win back his daughter’s love; it sort of works. Starring alongside Racheal McAdams, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent, and Naomie Harris, is Jake Gyllenhaal – a lumbering towering figure of muscle and pure rage. As always, Gyllenhaal makes for a captivating screen presence. With him, Southpaw makes for a watchable but barely enjoyable film; without him, the haphazard storytelling, and trite emotional punches bring the film to the ground faster than a KO’d novice boxer.

For such a cookie-cutter role, Gyllenhaal really does give a solid performance. It’s obvious he has completely sucked himself into the role, and everything from his cautious mannerisms to his accent-ridden, quavering voice bring sincerity to even the sappiest bits of dialogue. Unfortunately, there is too much sentimentality here to go around, and Southpaw dissolves into an enjoyable piece of melodrama at its best, and a formulaic lifetime-movie at it’s worst. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) is no stranger to violence or melodrama, but he seems to have outdone himself here. Thanks to lots of quick edits and dramatized chiaroscuro lighting, most of the action feels more like an uninspired music video than an effective way of advancing the plot.

Bottom Line:  While Gyllenhaal is surely worth watching, the majority of Southpaw spends too much effort building up an emotionally over-exhausted story. 

Rating: 5/10 

Film Recipe: Glory Road (2006) – Basketball + Rocky (1976) + “Believing in yourself”

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Dope (Sundance 2015)

7 Feb

What do you do if you are a black kid growing up in a black neighborhood (Inglewood CA to be precise) who is into white culture? For Malcom (Shameik Moore),  the protagonist of Sundance Film Festival film Dope, the answer isn’t so easy. Malcom is self-descirbed as a huge 90’s hip hop fan. Him and his two best friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolri) play in a punk rock band called Oreo. He also gets good grades and wants to go to Harvard after he graduates. One night, a chance encounter at a local drug dealer’s party leads Malcom down a series of crazy adventures as he tries to evade law enforcement and rival dealers.

Dope is a terribly exciting mash-up film of several themes and ideas that dominate today’s pop culture landscape. An envelope pusher for sure, Dope brings all sorts of cultural issues to the forefront including racial bias, party culture, LGBT issues, drug abuse, and the need to stay relevant in an increasingly viral society. The story is told through shifting perspectives that highlight multiple events reminiscent of films like Pulp Fiction or Run Lola Run. Featuring a healthy dose of snappy dialogue, Dope starts off with a bang and builds upon itself until the film’s final act. It’s so tempting to caught up in the rush and energy of this thing, that it’s easy to forget how bad parts of it are. Most of the characters are one-dimensional stereotypes you only see in the worst kind of comedies, and the story jumps around from place to place without much explanation. But there was this inexplicable charm from Dope that kept me intrigued, even as the film tragically falls of the rails during it’s last half (about the point where our main trio sporadically decide to become drug dealers in order to impress a Harvard alumni).

Dope then turns into an atypical R-rated stoner comedy fueled by sugarcoated pop songs by Pharrell Williams, cameos by ASAP Rocky and Zoe Kravitz, and some Morgan Freeman-esc narration by Forest Whitaker. Too ambitious for its own good, the film reaches some major pacing issues during its last half hour and is in desperate need of a skilled editor’s cut. As it stands, Dope is a fun, fast-paced mashup that will be loved by the internet generation, but a possible disappointment for those looking for something more substantial. As a potential mainstream crowdpleaser though, the film sold at an unusually high amount at Sundance to Open Road Films (somewhere around 7 million?), and should have a very healthy theatrical release sometime this summer. Keep your eyes peeled.

Rating: 6/10 

Similar to: Dear White People, Pinapple Express, The Lego Movie