Dope (dir. Rick Famuyiwa)
Bursting with joyous cinematic energy, colour, pop music, pop culture we can't help compare Dope to the energy and verve of the first films of Spike Lee, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Dope finds us cheering for three n'er do well high school geeks trying to make it through a south central LA high school. In particular Malcolm (Shameik Moore) who continually fights against gang culture, racism, and in general low expectations from his teachers. But Malcolm wants to go to Harvard. How is he going to do it? Of course it's dope. Famuyiwa drags us through roller coaster ride through LA in the same way Tarantino directed us in Pulp Fiction. Like these other filmmakers Famuyiwa takes pleasure in his cinematic diversions - each individual scene, through comic tone, editing and the gorgeous cinematography are crafted with the attention of their own little films. This is the work of great cinema.
Slow West (dir. John Maclean)
Despite being lightyears removed from the American frontier the allure of the venerable American genre attracts all filmmakers for all nationalities. Maclean's British/Kiwi Western uses the simple yet effective concept of a young man traversing the land looking to reunite with the lost love. As a lovesick Scot right off the boat, Kodi Smit-McPhee's meek naïveté to the environment is matched by the grizzled pessimism of his guide played by Michael Fassbender (doing his best as the John Wayne lone gunman archetype). Idiosyncratic characters and humour differentiate the film the classical form, but part of the thrill of the genre are the expected conventions. The whole unfortunately is not greater than the sum of its part, resulting in an admirable but not memorable entry of the genre.
Mistress America (dir. Noah Baumbach)
Baumbach's roll of success continues. Once again matching up with her muse Greta Gerwig both as a star and cowriter Mistress America continues the examination of New York twenty/thirty something urbanites struggling to find self-satisfaction in the New York City hipster scene. If anything Gerwig is a another version of Adam Driver's character is When We Were Young, a scenester-extraordinaire with impressively eclectic tastes but a smokescreen to her deep rooted anxieties. We see Gerwig through the eyes of Lola Kirke her younger soon-to-be step sister and frightened Columbia student. Just like the idolization Ben Stiller gave Driver, Kirke sees Gerwig as the epitome of success and confidence. Gradually Gerwig's veneer dissolves over an entrepreneurial restaurant venture which goes sour. Comic dialogue flies fast and furious in the tradition of 30's screwball comedies. The throwback synth score and 80's rock, like Frances Ha, brings us back to career comedies of the 80's. Mistress America is not necessarily more accessible or conventional than Baumbach's previous two picture but more impressively neatly fitted into his cinematic voice at this stage of his career.