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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Thoughts on Dope and Breaking a Monster

I saw two movies at BAM yesterday as part of their film festival BAMCinemaFest. The first was Dope, directed by Rick Famuyiwa which, is showing in both indie and mainstream theaters. Dope centered on a teenage black male nerd named Malcolm (Shameik Moore) who was a 90's hip-hop head in present-day Inglewood, CA, and dressed like a cross between Dwayne Wayne and the Fresh Prince. He has nerdy friends and works to maintain his identity while mingling with local street folks. He gets involved in a drug-dealing scheme through a convoluted set of circumstances, and uses his nerdy image as a cover to avoid detection.

I was mixed on it, liking the characters and style, but not so much the story. I liked the throwback hip-hop soundtrack; the heroes being black nerds; the story being influenced by Superbad and Friday; an awesome shout-out to the underrated coming-of-age movie The Wood; a funny performance by model Chanel Iman as a cokehead rich girl; Zoe Kravitz' performance as a young woman studying for her G.E.D. and dealing with both her drug dealing friends and the nerd protagonist, caught between wanting to be seen as more than just a sexy hookup but not leaving her past behind; and the nerds gaming the drug dealing system through their tech and science skills. The characters were complex and I liked the depth that was given to their personalities and attitudes. However, I didn't like the slapstick, silly parts; the gratuitous female nudity, the heavy-handed, melodramatic final monologue that was an anvil spelling out everything that was already shown in the film earlier, and the hero becoming a drug dealer, even if he had clever ways of distributing it. It isn't a bad movie, but it felt shallow sometimes.

The other movie I saw was Breaking a Monster, directed by Luke Meyer, a documentary about three adolescent black boys from Brooklyn (Malcolm, Jarad, Alan) who were a metal band called Unlocking the Truth. They started out as street performers, got discovered and got a major Sony record deal, but kept struggling to understand the music business while being barely 13 years old themselves. They just want to play music, make an album, and get paid, while their manager is trying to handle the business end and get the boys to act more mature in meetings and showcases. The movie was really funny (often due to the boys' frank honesty and lack of a filter), and they are really talented, like guitar-shredding, drumming talents who have since opened for Metallica, Motorhead, Guns 'N' Roses, Queens of the Stone Age, and Marilyn Manson. There often was talk about the boys standing out as black kids playing metal, and being accused of being a gimmick or a token act. The kids have serious metal influences, and already so skilled at 13, they will likely just get better with more life experience and training. It was really cool to see.

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