Saturday, June 20, 2015

"Dope" Review


"If I told you I killed a nigga at 16, would you believe me?
Or see me to be, the innocent Kendrick you seen in the street
With a basketball and some Now-and-Laters to eat,
If I mentioned all of my skeletons, would you jump in the seat?
Would you say my intelligence now is great relief?
And its safe to say our next generation maybe could sleep
With dreams of being a lawyer or doctor, 
Instead of a boy with a chopper, that hold the cul-de-sac hostage?"

That verse from Kendrick Lamar's "mAAd city" shows off the inescapable duality of the black youth--the one that allows us to be viewed through one set of eyes as the "good" or "safe" kind of black through our personalities or manner of speech, while an entirely different pair could see us as merely gangsters or thugs just for our clothing choices, even though more often than not we all have similar backgrounds, and any of us could be forced at any time to do less than savory things in order to survive in our surroundings.

It also shows off the incredible versatility of the characters in the film "Dope".

"Dope" is the story of Malcolm Adecombi, a geek...and a bit of a hipster.  He's awkward, and wears clothes twenty years out of date because he's obsessed with the nineties.   He wears a high-top fade, and spends his free time in music shops buying albums on wax and watching old episodes of "Yo! MTV Raps". He even owns a Super Nintendo, even though a kid his age would've been born two years after the Playstation-era would've started. His friends--an Indian kid named Jib and tomboyish lesbian named Diggy--are the same way, which leaves them ostracized and bullied.  After a chance invite to the party of a drug dealer named Dominique (played by rapper A$AP Rocky), the three find themselves in over their head when a drug raid leaves them escaping the party with a backpack full of MDMA (or "Lily", as its come to be known later in the film)...which they're forced to sell to avoid "accidental" death by the drugs' owner.  The rest of the film consists of the hijinx involved in getting rid of  the backpack full of "Lily", all while Malcolm prepares for a potentially life-changing interview in order to get into Harvard.

What I liked most about "Dope"--aside from its excellent soundtrack--is its refusal to adhere to stereotypes.  Though the film is ostensibly about a trio of geeks, they're all street smart (and actual smart) enough to avoid being caught (or killed) by the cops, or by the seemingly endless amount of gangsters and/or drug dealers found in the film.

And while the film is meant to be a coming of age story, most of the major tropes that would be found in a coming of age film are downplayed to a degree that they're barely noticeable, or turned on their head.  There's a love interest, but she isn't the driving motivation for every single change the main character undergoes in the film.  They don't magically gain the respect of everyone in the school after some "heroic" moment that makes their senior year "legendary"--though they do gain the respect of some Piru gangsters after a night that could very well have gotten them all killed.   Make no mistake though, this is absolutely the story of a boy becoming a man...it just takes some unfamiliar paths and a few detours to get there.

That said, the film isn't without its flaws as its an incredibly "busy" movie.  Characters are barely introduced before they're shuffled off-screen, which becomes amusing when so many "coincidences" cause characters to be re-used in so many different parts of the film.   It's also a bit too light-hearted--the laughs are still coming long after their lives are put in danger multiple times.  The only one with a proper character development arc is Malcolm.  And the film runs a small risk of being a bit too modern--the crux of the film centers around Malcolm having people buy the drugs off him using the highly volatile cryptocurrency Bitcoin, and claims that the currency will eventually take over the global economy.   The claim's a bit farfetched, and to be honest I kept waiting for the film to take a hard right on the guy and tell him that the bottom fell out on Bitcoin and all the "currency" he'd gotten from selling drugs was suddenly worthless.

And since the movie's tone was basically all over the place, even after he'd figured his way out of the predicament I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and see one of them get killed or something.  Fortunately that never quite happened, and the film gets a (mostly) happy ending.

But despite all that, Dope still stands a chance of being my favorite movie of the year.  Definitely my favorite so far.  The soundtrack mixes classic 90's hip-hop, old soul tracks and even some catchy punk rock tunes in a way that always seems to fit perfectly.   And the film is extremely topical.  From multiple discussions over white people's increasing familiarity with the n-word, to the duality I was talking about at the beginning.  By the end of the film, Malcolm has been forced to make a number of questionable decisions.  He's got known ties to drug dealers and other people of shady professions, he's still the teenager with the straight A's, trying to make it into a prestigious college and bring his mother out the 'hood. So which is the real Malcolm?

It's this question, being posed at a time where blackness itself seems to be coming under fire in America (figuratively and literally), that makes this film for me.  Dope's closing speech questions the idea of "good" or "bad" blackness--dragging the absurdity of the notion itself into question.  And there's a very purposeful choice made during the speech that resonates with some of the more unfortunate treatment of black youth lately that tied the whole thing together for me.

"Dope" is what one might call a flawed masterpiece.  It's by no means perfect, but it deserves at least one, if not multiple, watches.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rating the Conferences: Square-Enix

If Sony hadn't taken it, these guys would've gotten the best in show.  Easy.




Rating: A-



Sometime last year, I did this enormous post on NeoGAF talking about all the games we could see during that E3.  I did a ton of research for that, and during that time I realized how easy it would be for Square to do their own conference if they wanted to.

Well, lo and behold here we are a year later and Square has popped up with the strongest conference from a non-console developer.  (They topped Nintendo too, but I’ll get to that in a second.)   Square’s probably the most well-rounded developer making video games right now.  No other developer could’ve offered you as many big budget titles from so many different genres and settings.  

Barely two weeks ago, I was calling Square the equivalent of a significant other that’s a jerk—they ignore you for weeks, refuse to do anything around the house, but then just when you’re almost out the door they show up with roses explaining how they want to have dinner at the place you had your first date.  I think my opinion’s changed a bit.   Now I think they’re more like a best friend who keeps playing practical jokes on you for cheap laughs but always has your back when it actually counts. Maybe that’s a bit of a lengthy metaphor, but let’s think for a moment about the way they rolled out Kingdom Hearts 3.  They bring up Kingdom Hearts…then show off a mobile game.  Then they specifically bring up KH3…then do a developer interview.   Then they bring it up again…only to point out a dude cosplaying as a KH character, before finally unveiling gameplay.    I don't think there's another developer quite as skilled at trolling as these guys.

Just about everything here was a heavy-hitter.   There were a handful of mobile games, to be sure.  But we also got the new Hitman, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Just Cause 3, Kingdom Hearts 3, and Star Ocean 5.    And yeah, we’d seen Final Fantasy VII: Remake the night before, but how mad can you honestly be about that?  If I were Sony I would’ve nabbed that to show off too.  The only thing I’m even slightly annoyed about is how they couldn’t be bothered to get another CG trailer to show off.  It might be too soon for gameplay, but you could’ve at least given us that.

Even my opinion on World of Final Fantasy changed.  Knowing we were getting “real” FF titles, I was open to the idea of playing through a cutesy version of this franchise while I wait on VII and the VI remake that’s probably happening but hasn’t been confirmed yet.

And oh man, does Star Ocean look beautiful.  One of my favorite PS1 franchises beside Suikoden and Lunar, I was ecstatic when they revealed I’d finally get a fifth incarnation of this title, and so far it looks to be living up to expectations.  Seamless battles look great and the larger cast seem like they work together well.

The only drawback this show had were some minor pacing issues when going from game to game.  But considering it’s their first conference in like ten years or so, I’ll give that a pass.  Hopefully they’ll be back next year with a better idea of how to handle a conference and another look at all their major games, as somehow I think they’ll have just as much to show off then.

Rating the Conferences: Nintendo

I definitely wanted this one to be better.

Rating the Conferences: Sony

Uh-oh.  The "big dog" has arrived...




Rating: HOLY F- (A++)

If you paid attention to the internet scuttlebutt the night before, you knew there was a possibility of what happened.   I said: “Sony can only disappoint, or break the internet” roughly two hours before their conference started.  Fortunately, Sony decided to go for the latter.

We should’ve known they weren’t fucking around when they started on time for once.  They wasted absolutely ZERO time and kicked things off by re-introducing The Last Guardian.   Though I didn’t care about it when they revealed it in 2009 (and care even less now), it was a beautiful reveal and a great way to start things off.

But they weren’t done.  Horizon, the game I’ve been talking about for ages, was next and it looked jaw-droppingly beautiful.  Boasting a unique setting, hauntingly beautiful music, and a bad-ass female protagonist hunting down ROBOT DINOSAURS, Guerilla Games may have generated more hype for an IP in that one showing than they have the entire time Killzone’s been in existence.   That’s still my most hype game of the show, and I hope it comes out in the early second half of the year.

But they still weren’t done.   With some expect trolling lessons pulled straight from the Square-Enix book of trolling, they brought up Final Fantasy.   By then the rumors had spread, and you could hear the crowd erupt with excitement…but what we got wasn’t what we expected.  Instead, it was World of Final Fantasy, a cute title whose existence on PS4 alongside Vita all but proves portables are dead.  The excitement tampered down…could the rumor have been a cruel joke, and were we condemned to what was already a great, but unfortunately not quite “legendary” E3?  

NOPE.  Just fucking with you, Sony said—here’s Final Fantasy VII: Remake.   And as if pulling all their ideas for new games from deep within the bowels of core gamer forums, pulled a Shenmue 3 Kickstarter out of their hat.   

Last Guardian.  Final Fantasy VII: Remake.  Shenmue 3.  All in one conference.  I legitimately thought I was dead for a moment and went to some strange gamer heaven.  If Suikoden VI had been announced I legit would’ve started calling people to make sure I was still alive.  

Fortunately, not long after that the excitement started to ramp back down as they reminded us about app talk, the FPS twins (CoD and Destiny), games that really shouldn’t be at E3 anymore (Arkham Knight), and the now-staple indie sizzle reel.  But it was a fantastic 45 minutes or so, and I’m not the least bit upset about how it ended—they earned the right to talk about all that junk after that.
They even ended with a trailer for Uncharted 4.  Sure the game crashed at first, but after such a beautiful conference I wasn’t even mad.  Just reminded that “Oh, on top of all this legendary stuff, UC4’s coming.”  

Bravo, Sony.  Fucking bravo.  I know I’m a Sony fanboy, but I like to think I call them on their shit—I still think Microsoft beat them out last year—so I can’t help congratulating them when they get it right.

Rating the E3 Conferences: Ubisoft

LANA!!!!!

Rating the Conferences: EA

The second conference of Day 1.  This isn't quite as....light as it should be.

Rating the E3 Conferences: Microsoft

Back with the official "Day One" of E3's conference.  Let's go.