This week I have mostly been watching…

Straight Outta Compton

F. Gary Gray manages to avoid many of the normal pitfalls that come with musical biopics with Straight Outta Compton, his look at the rise and fall of notorious gangster rap group, N.W.A. Admittedly it bares the all-too-familiar rags-to-riches tale we’ve become accustom to in the genre, but there is a lot more going on here. Gray uses his three main protagonists to highlight the different skills of the group; Ice Cube’s lyrical genius, Dr. Dre’s flair for finding the right beat, and former drug dealer Easy E’s business acumen. This approach allows for an insightful look into why the group were so popular in the first place, as well as highlighting the differences that would eventually tear them apart.

The real trump card for the film is it’s depiction of the social conditions facing these young, black men in south central Los Angeles in the late 1980’s/early 90’s. The injustices they face from the police, both before and during their stardom provide the most engaging moments in the film. Sadly the points the film makes about police treatment towards minorities is as relevant today as it was back then. It is these scenes that really elevate the film above other recent biopics.

It is a shame then, that when the film moves away from these issues that it falls into some of the common tropes in the genre. It’s frustrating that a film with such a powerful message, leans so heavily on the ‘eureka’ moments to highlight major real life events. It makes the film feel more like a direct to tv film and hugely detracts from the gritty social commentary. It leaves Straight Outta Compton feeling fairly off balance when it could have been a real contender for film of the year.

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Hitman: Agent 47

The latest in the ever increasing line of movies adapted from popular video games, and certainly not one that proves the two medias are in any way compatible. That being said, Agent 47- which is second cinematic outing for the popular IO Interactive character- is nowhere near the worst example of video games brought to the big screen.

The plot is certainly clunky, and largely inconsequential, but there are glimpses of a watchable film nestled amongst the dross. For one Rupert Friend is just about the best choice you could make for the title character. He embodies the role, and while there is nothing in the film approaching the quality of his performance, in the opening scenes there is a shadowy sleekness to the way he is filmed, as if the pixellated character was brought to life.

The film does at least try to use the best elements of the source material, using a variety of weapons and booby traps to create some enjoyable action set pieces. The fundamental flaw with this series stems from a character like Agent 47. As a killing machine raised to essentially be a human Terminator, the character exhibits little charisma, giving you very little reason to care about him. Sadly, this is also the case for the secondary characters, which are poorly written and badly performed (keep an ear out for Hannah Ware’s wandering accent, which begins somewhere in Eastern Europe, and finishes up in London’s East End). It leads to a dull and limp offering, that has flashes fun thanks to well choreographed action and a strong lead performance.  But it could have been a whole lot worse.

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Edge of Tomorrow

The great under performer of last year’s big budget summer releases, and criminally so, as Edge of Tomorrow (or Live, Die, Repeat to give it it’s alternative, awesome title) represents one of the more original, interesting and well executed blockbusters of recent years.

The action is suitably crisp,  with the film’s selling point being that Tom Cruise- who’s character is given Groundhog Day-like powers allowing him to repeat the same day over and over again- and Emily Blunt have to battle their way through impossible numbers of alien hoards on a beach in France. These sequences play out like a video game (but not in a Hitman: Agent 47 kind of way), using what are essentially extra-lives and save points, with our main characters trying to avoid dying so they can advance to the next stage of the battle. It puts a different spin on typical action set pieces, with the repetition creating a comedic effect rather than purely building tension; it makes for a nice change.

Cruise does his part too. After a couple of decades doing these big budget films you would be forgiven for thinking he might be phoning them in at this point. Not the case, here he shows suitable range as his Major Cage benefits from his hundreds of lives to transform from a boot-licking, Captain Darling-esque, front-line dodger, to the alien ass-kicker his name suggests he would be. Throw in a refreshingly strong role for Blunt’s female lead, and a relationship that doesn’t interrupt the plot for some sentimental hand holding, and we have a fun slice of popcorn cinema that shows that maybe the future doesn’t lie with sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots.

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