Some movies, good and bad, conveniently provide the vocabulary with which to criticize them. When reviewing a bad one, like the action-comedy “American Ultra,” a small amount of generosity is required because my job has been made a little easier. So while I didn’t hate the film, about a hapless stoner who turns out, to his surprise, to have once been a lethal government operative, I found it to be half-baked. Despite a few potent hits of the good stuff — solid performances, a tender romance — what “Ultra” offers is mostly synthetic. My advice: pass this blunt.
Each of the main characters in “Straight Outta Compton,” a ferocious new biopic about the beginning and the end of the seminal rap group N.W.A, is introduced, needlessly, with his real name and stage name superimposed on the frame. These people required no introduction. For as long as I can remember, they’ve been household names: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, MC Ren (Okay, maybe not him so much). Yet the conceit is still appropriate, and kind of awesome. Self-affirmation has long been a trope of hip-hop (“I’m Slim Shady, yes I’m the real Shady”), a reactionary genre of music born out of black people being denied personhood by oppressors. That was certainly the case for the 1988 hip-hop album after which this movie is named. Like that album, this film directed by F. Gary Gray is a booming, thunderous celebration of free speech and creative identity.
So it was the set photographer, Lenny Osterman, who killed Caspere! He had popped up only once earlier this season, and was revealed in the finale to be one of the orphans whose parents were killed in the 1992 diamond heist for which Caspere was partly responsible. I greeted this news in the same perfunctory way that Ray and Ani solved the case: cool. This season of “True Detective” never really was about its plot.
Detractors of this season of “True Detective,” those who’ve claimed it’s too slow, too self-serious, too obsessed with its own uninteresting characters — their bad dialogue, their daddy issues — should find much to love in episode seven, a tightly-plotted, murderous and downright cinematic entry in an otherwise stagnant show.
My Florida vacation coincided nicely with the release of “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” the fifth entry in the franchise. Both promised to be escapist retreats from the humdrum responsibilities of real life. It is no coincidence, however, that I wrote some of this review at 34,000 feet above sea level, aboard a jetliner elegantly, and just as often turbulently, defying the laws of physics. I wanted to feel what it was like to be Tom Cruise, who, as an action star, has a similar relationship with the natural world. In his latest outing as super spy Ethan Hunt, he clings effortlessly to the exterior of a cargo plane during takeoff, and for a considerable amount of time after it, all before the opening credits. His team members, especially the tech wiz Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), who several years ago in Dubai watched Hunt climb the world’s tallest skyscraper, strain to believe it. Even I, a kindred daredevil, was impressed.