A teenage rites-of-passage comedy and Christian drama
DOPE Every generation has a teen comedy that speaks perfectly to the time it was made, whether it’s Sixteen Candles, Clueless, or Mean Girls. Dope, written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa (Our Family Wedding) is yet another update of the familiar formula, where a bunch of nerds have their revenge and eventually come into their own, defeat the jocks, rule the school, and get the girls who would be way too pretty for them in real life. This comedy/rites-of-passage drama, produced by Forest Whitaker and executive produced by Pharrell Williams and Sean Combs, has a subversive edge. It chronicles the misadventures of Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a nerdy high-school student in Inglewood, a city south of LA. Malcolm spends his spare time listening to 1990s hip-hop and performing in a band but studies ferociously hard to go to college. After a chance encounter with a local drug dealer, who uses him as a go-between to pass messages to the girl (Zoë Kravitz) he is wooing, Malcolm winds up with a backpack full of drugs. Bonus Feature: A behind the scenes featurette
90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN Inspired by Baptist minister Don Piper’s bestselling account of his lengthy and arduous recovery from a 1989 auto mishap so serious that he initially was declared dead at the scene, this inspirational indie earns points by being more bluntly realistic than many other faith-based dramas in its depiction of an ordeal that likely would challenge the faith of even the most devout Christians. Piper has testified that he got a glimpse at a warmly inviting afterlife, and actually came tantalizing close to passing through the Pearly Gates, during those long minutes when first responders considered him deceased. But while the movie respectfully accepts Piper’s claim as fact, writer-director Michael Polish (“Big Sur”) wisely refrains from depicting the near-death experience until well into his third act. Instead, he concentrates more on the struggles that can be part of life after a miracle — not unlike Peter Weir’s “Fearless” — and by doing so, fashions a modestly compelling narrative that may attract a crossover audience in theaters and home-screen platforms. Bonus Features: A making of short and Meet The Real Pipers.