Tag Archives: Open Road Films

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 

Nightcrawler (2014)

16 Nov

Jake Gyllenhaal has hit a hot streak.

Coming fresh off a “renaissance” period of high-profile roles (Prisoners, Enemy, End of Watch, and Source Code), Gyllenhaal plays our leading man in Nightcrawler, Lou Bloom, an unemployed LA native looking for his next gig.  Circumstances allow him to become a self-employed photojournalist, capturing horrific and often gruesome incidents on video which he then sells to the highest-paying news station.

Like its title would suggest, Nightcrawler is a dark, slimy film that brings out the best acting work from Gyllenhaal. His performance as a self-motivated entrepreneur is no doubt the film’s highlight, though the story also provides some pretty fascinating commentary on the seedy activity of modern city life.  The script is mostly dialogue-driven, and director Dan Gilroy keeps the few action scenes tight and suspenseful. Darkly-lit cityscapes and warbling guitars add to the film’s pervasive atmosphere and create a drab background for our characters to fill. Supporting Gyllenhaal are Riz Ahmed as Lou’s assistant Rick, and Rene Russo in an excellent role as Nina, the egotistic head of a local news station.

Despite the great performances, the script does feel a bit chunky at times; exchanges about the narcissistic nature of capitalism start to lose their edge about halfway through. The prevailing themes about power-hungry corporate culture become less subtle and more satiric as the film progresses.

Thematic elements aside, Nightcrawler moves at a fast and fluid pace. Audiences barely have time in between sequences of brutal news footage and car chases to comprehend the full weight of Lou’s gutsy (and often unethical) actions.  The film has it’s moments of dark humor too, most often with the contrast of charismatic Lou and his passive sidekick Rick.  A scene where Rick tries Lou’s negotiating tactics against him is particularly brilliant.

Visually, the film looks incredible; gorgeous shots of nighttime city streets give the film a slick, noir feel reminiscent of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive. It becomes clear by the end of the film however, that even the most glitzed and stylish among us have a dark underbelly waiting to be explored. Or Exploited.

 

Rating 7/10 

Similar to: Taxi Driver, Killing Them Softly, American Psycho