“Straight Outta Compton” – An Affecting Music Biopic with the depth of Wikipedia

Straight Outta Compton, the biopic about West Coast Hip-Hop groundbreakers NWA (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Ren) is one of the best made music biopics in years. It also manages to create an affecting snapshot of a particular era and place in culture. Unfortunately, the movie has the depth and nuance of a Wikipedia entry.  Of course, that’s not to dismiss the movie’s accomplishments. The movie’s mere existence constitutes a kind of cultural triumph. It may seem silly to us now with Dre selling headphones and Ice Cube starring in family-comedies but once upon a time these artists were considered by many on all parts of the political spectrum to be “dangerous” and “subversive.” It once seemed impossible to imagine a Hollywood film about a group that called itself “Niggaz With Attitude.” The cultural perception of rappers has since changed from terrors and trouble-makers to chic accessories of a pop food group. What was once “terrifying” about N.W.A  (their first album was the first ever slapped with the “Parental Advisory” label) in the late 1980s and early 1990s hasn’t become “safe,” so much as palatable and profitable by the mainstream. Thus there’s a conundrum with a movie like this especially when Cube and Dre are in charge behind-the scenes. Do they tell an unflinching & honest portrait of themselves or do they celebrate their significance? Fortunately or unfortunately they went “halvsies” on both making a final product that feels at times brutally earnest yet dramatically inert at the same time.

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“The Man from UNCLE” – Light, Breezy 60s Swagger & Spies

Few filmmakers understand how to make “style over substance”, not in any way a negative, the way Guy Ritchie (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, RockNRolla) can. His films are shallow, but since they’re only concerned with making you smile you almost don’t mind how empty they are. In the case of The Man from UNCLE, Guy Ritchie’s creates a laid back and frisky take on a forgotten ’60s spy series is pure empty fluff…and yet so undeniably stylish and fun. This movie is light on its feet, utterly inconsequential, but it is so charming, witty and stylish that the unpretentious sights & sounds make for a truly sublime pleasure to look at and listen to. Less concerned with the prestige of the Daniel Craig-era James Bond films or the stunt showcase of the Mission Impossible movies or the satirical bite of Kingsman, this movie coasts on showcasing the untapped charms of new-blood actors Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki. This movie is a fetish piece for anyone who loves the pop side of the ’60s, and I couldn’t help but enjoy it thoroughly.

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