Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Woody Allen and Straight Outta Compton

Well I keep forgetting to write my review of Irrational Man and am finally manning up now; but even more recently I saw the distinguished film Straight Outta Compton and so we now have this amusing double post of two wholly unrelated movies. Alternate titles include: Philosophy Guy finds his true passion, Murder and Ice Cube really doesn’t like the Police. We’ll begin with Irrational Man, I’ll do my best to write a belated review.

Woody Allen’s 50 billionth film begins with Joaquin Phoenix plays Abe, a disaffected yet somewhat distinguished Philosophy Professor, who has just moved to a new university. The problem is he’s just in a depression haze the entire time and really can’t seem to find anything of worth in his existence. He meets Emma Stone and some promiscuous older Professor lady and they lounge about for a bit. Eventually Emma and Joaquin wind up overhearing a conversation in a diner, a wonderful and ubiquitous device in movies to be sure. Said conversation entails just how villainous and pure evil a Judge is and how utterly ruined these (total strangers) people are as a result.

Without ever talking to the other people Abe decides it is his profound duty and charge as a good human being to murder this judge who he has never met before on behalf of these other people that he doesn’t know. As Abe thinks and plans the murder he becomes a totally energized person and has a new and wonderful passion for life, a passion for murder. This is of course a very Woody Allen usage of irony in a movie plot. With that in mind you can sort of see where critics fall out with this movie.

However since the movie is about philosophy I still find it interesting fundamentally even if the specific case handled in the film is ludicrous. What is the John Stuart Mill Utilitarian value of a human life, and what is the prospective value of the loss of that life on others; is there a possible situation where murder becomes justified if it saves enough other people in the process? When one commits a heinous act in the hopes that it prevents another heinous act does it redeem his actions? Can even the most evil act be resolved if the prospective target is Keyser Soze himself? Yes, the fabled Hitler question. Personally I think there is such a point and I doubt many other sane people would disagree, however Abe’s proclivity for murder eventually leads to some shall we say “relationship troubles.”

This is a film I have trouble criticizing, for the same reason I can’t really criticize the Counselor; I like the director, I really like the lead actor and actress, and I like pretty much all the conversations they have. You add a side of an interesting philosophical notion and suddenly I’m even more invested. So yes even though the plot itself is relatively shallow and/or stupid I really enjoyed the movie and if you have any interest in a massive amount of dialogue thrown at you in a short timespan from two good actors then you should definitely go watch it.

On to the blockbuster film de jour. Straight Outta Compton is a really fascinating movie about a really fascinating subject. This is coming from someone who has virtually no affinity for rap but still a driving interest in the culture that produced it and the subsequent impact on society; as well as the decline of the music industry into a corporate mess which in some sense is attributable to Jerry Heller, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre.  The film begins in 1986, everyone’s in Compton (including Red Bull’s Snake Eyez) and the police are a bunch of assholes.

Pretty much every scene at this part of the movie is fucking incredible, like super compelling from beginning to end, and the film holds this up for about an hour up to the formation of NWA and some events which may or may not have happened in real life (I have no idea to be honest) but are definitely awesome in the context of a movie. And yeah, it turns out Rap wasn’t so bad once upon a time and maybe even had a fundamental and useful message for a short time. However as these things go money becomes an issue and Eazy E and Paul Giamatti have it, while the rest of the group has somewhat less of it. Eventually enough becomes enough and Ice Cube splits from the group; leading to a feud and beefs and so forth.

At this point the film starts to slow down a bit, instead of being about how awesome the group was it’s about how shitty the individual lives of everyone other than Ice Cube were at certain points in time. Dr. Dre is still successful when he eventually heads over to Death Row, but he has to deal with the incredibly compelling psychopath Suge Knight now instead of the relatively reasonable Jerry Heller. This section of the film reeks of danger that never happens, a compelling climax that is entirely absent. And the reason for this is simple: the most interesting thing to happen in that era was the Tupac Biggie Smalls feud; and that is outside the scope of the movie.

Instead we’re treated to realizing that Eazy E is very sick and the eventual revelation that he has HIV/AIDS. The scenes involving this are very well done but it’s still kind of funny that the man with “Bitches Galore” wound up being done in by his own vice. That seems to be the general message of the film; there’s a strong anti-Police sentiment (because why wouldn’t there be in this day and age) but it is quickly overwritten by a dichotomous sentiment that the real Gangsters (i.e. Suge Knight and Eazy E) get fucked and the people that turn into businessmen become successful.

The problem is that music sucks because of big business, but businessmen like Jerry Heller enabled NWA to exist in the first place. It’s a bizarre catch 22 and I don’t think the film is unaware of this fact. Hell the movie is nostalgic ABOUT ITSELF. Man we could’ve had so many albums if it wasn’t about the fucking money, damn I wish I could’ve wielded my baseball bat in Jerry Heller’s office instead of hilariously acted Priority Records guy’s office. Eazy E was just trying to get the band back together then AIDS came up and bit him in the ass. Everyone is an idiot for trying to confront Suge Knight without bringing a fucking battalion along.

If you want to hear my aural thoughts about Compton (while I play Mortal Kombat, naturally) here’s a link, the bit at 12:17 is pretty good.