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Straight Outta Compton (2015)
If you're interested, then this movie will be interesting; at least for a while (more or less the first 90 minutes of this 2 ½ hour bio-"epic". "Straight Outta Compton" tells the story of revolutionary rap group, N.W.A. (Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren, Dj Yella). Kicking off on the streets of Compton, California 1986 and documenting the groups rise as the pioneers of "gangsta rap", their tumultuous break up, allegedly due to underhanded management from Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) and introducing branches of rap legends which expanded from the N.W.A. tree, e.g. Snoop Dogg, Tu-Pac, etc. Problem is (much like that last sentence) the movie is just too damn long! And once Eazy-E starts coughing, the whole thing turns into an after school special, primarily due to an overarching repetitive atmosphere which director F. Gary Gray (Friday, Set It Off) seems to choose over subtlety more often than not.
There were a few sequences that made me lean forward in my seat (The live performance of "F--- the Police", for one) and the script itself from Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center) does its job; even going above and beyond at times, inserting a few "audience winks" throughout (I mean, there's even a "bye Felicia" joke thrown into the mix). But it was the acting which was undoubtedly the stand-out aspect of this movie, highlighted by a performance from Ice Cube's own son, O'Shea Jackson Jr., who, in his first ever acting gig, hits it out of the park playing his father.
Here's the problem: The difference between "Straight Outta Compton" and an actual N.W.A. album is one carries a gritty, raw authenticity, and the other stars Paul Giamatti.
Not to say that there aren't guns in this movie (or drugs or police brutality for that matter) but the fact that "Straight Outta Compton" looks so cinematic is an issue.
When comparing this to a movie like "Boyz n the Hood", which while "fiction", portrays an honest and personal look into the streets of Los Angeles during a similar time frame, I can safely say that I remember finding myself absolutely immersed in John Singleton's depiction of said setting; to the point where by the end I felt as if I knew the neighborhood without even setting foot in the neighborhood. In retrospect this form of direction aided in my bond with other aspects of the film, acting as the connective tissue between me and the characters on screen.
"Straight Outta Compton" portrays true to life characters, all who actually grew up in Compton, but Gray's glossy (and viciously repetitive) direction really gives viewers more of a distracting XD version of a story that deserved a grittier presentation. Final Thought: It is obvious that Gray has a talent for music video direction and the cinematography here is technically perfect; just not for this movie, and thus curbing my viewing experience and creating a disconnect which resulted in me getting bored after the 90 minute mark.
By the way: Everyone who isn't dead, in prison or white gets out of this film scot-free. And while I am not an expert on the breakup of N.W.A. (I was around 5 when it actually happened) the fact that this film took 10 years (as stated by Ice Cube himself) to make, leads me to believe a multitude of financial parties had to come to an agreement as to what could be shown and what past actions could do damage in the court of public opinion, and thus would need to be left on the cutting room floor. So, just a heads up: this is not a scathing expose detailing Dr. Dre's abuse towards women, or anything like that. That said, this fact should not be held against the film itself, as it really has no bearing on ones viewing experience. Still, I believe that audiences have the right to know before entering the theater.
Goes from bad to worse
My mini reaction to - Scream: Episode 3: Verging on forgettable, this episode sees "Scream" slip behind MTV's "Ridiculousness" in terms of watchability. The teens continue to be interchangeable and impossible to connect with. And while the killings continue to be brutal, they aren't as creative as they need to be in order for us to alternatively root for the killer. Furthermore, a new annoyance has reared its ugly head; the acting, which at times is so "teened up" to 11, that it's getting harder and harder to gauge a character's on-screen reaction. Did she just get stabbed or break a nail?
Is anyone still watching this?
My mini reaction to - Scream: Episode 2: After the pilot episode, is anyone still watching? Well, if you're not (due to characters that are nearly all interchangeable, or due to uninspired direction which provides more gore than actual scares) then...it's probably not worth coming back for the second episode. That said, if you're still mildly interested, this is the episode that will tempt a weekly viewing. The characters are still annoyingly plain (except for all of the grown ups; which is an awful sign for a show that is on MTV) but an actual storyline has now emerged and hell, if it isn't sort of interesting. Plus, the final 5 minutes of this episode is the closest this misguided show has gotten to Wes Craven's beloved films.
Ballers: Heads Will Roll (2015)
The season starts here!
My mini reaction to - Ballers: Episode 4: Still not as gritty or salacious as it needs to be (due to obvious restrictions by the NFL) this episode sees the biggest leap forward in character and plot development. And I'm curious to see how far the new concussion storyline goes, with the heavy criticism the NFL has gotten during the past decade. Overall this was the best episode of "Ballers" so far. That said, it's still undeniable that for a semi-pointless 30 minute show, this Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson vehicle was never going to completely fail.
True Detective: Down Will Come (2015)
Boring in the best way possible
My mini reaction to - True Detective: Episode 4:
While continuing to be filled with Emmy worthy performances and fascinatingly dark characters spouting poetic dialogue (with Vince Vaughn's Frank Seymon now emerging as the most interesting one) there seems to be a pattern growing: one extremely deep, extremely paced, but savagely uneventful episode, followed by the same kind of episode, but with a shockingly action packed ending. And while a slow and steady jog is the name of the game with this particular series, episode 4's blood bath of an ending did leave me antsy for next Sunday.
Funnier than "Spy"
The gang is back!..I hate reviews that start like that. Anyway, I'll make this quick since my review is coming out way too late for anyone to care.
Originally (and very loosely) based on Mark Wahlberg's early experiences in Hollywood with his own circle of friends, "Entourage" the television show (in its heyday) was sort-of the "Sex and the City" for men; filled with episode after episode of sex-fuelled, upper class, machismo entertainment. This HBO vehicle followed the trials and tribulations of young Hollywood star, Vincent Chase, his agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) his half-brother, Johnny "Drama", his best friend (and manager) Eric (E, for short) and perpetual hanger-on/driver, Turtle. And to be quite honest, it was an entertaining show. That is until season four, when the premises became repetitive, with only the consistent cameos pushing the episodes forward. Sadly, this show went on for 4 more years after that, ending in 2011.
So suffice to say, this 2015 big screen reunion may garner a box office draw which only consists of the loyal viewership; especially since the film is nothing more than an extended episode; though one does not need to have seen an episode of the original series to find something to like here.
The plot of this extended episode follows mega movie star Vinny Chase, who is set to make his directorial debut, Eric and his girl problems, Drama still trying to get an acting gig and (undoubtedly the most entertaining plot line) Turtle and his romantic pursuit of MMA superstar, Ronda Rousey.
I will repeat, all "Entourage" (the movie) is, is a 104 minute episode. That said, as a stand-alone episode, writer/director Doug Ellin has done such an excellent job of putting it all together for the big screen (with only a few loose ends, plot-wise) that it should rank up there as one of the best episodes since season 2. Now, what you personally think of these one-dimensional (misogynistic) characters is another thing. But if you came into this film expecting anything other than a film about privileged, good looking men, trying to get laid and make movies, then I feel bad for you.
Final Thought: As vapid as this story was, I was (for the most part) entertained. I found myself laughing pretty consistently at the sophomoric one-liners, as well as the creative ways Ellin plugs in the multitude of cameos (lead by the charismatic, Ronda Rousey, who appears to be having the successful film career Gina Carano never could obtain) which continues to gives "Entourage" that little extra something. And also, the genuine comradery (the reason anybody watched the show in the first place) between this tight knit group of guys was not lost in the transition to the big screen. And that's why, though not memorable in the long scheme of things, "Entourage" is a film worth checking out over an over-hyped comedy like "Spy".
Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)
This third installment in the "Insidious" franchise sees Quinn, a teenage girl, attempting to deal with the death of her mother by going to a psychic named Elise (the old woman from the last two films). But when things go horribly wrong and something insidious answers the psychic's call, Quinn finds herself being hunted by this malevolent entity, with Elise being her only hope.
Taking place years before "Insidious" chapters 1 & 2, this story thankfully introduces a fresh set of characters (a new family) while bringing back beloved side characters from its previous installments; highlighted by the performance of Lin Shaye, as the elderly psychic who can communicate with the dead.
First time director, Leigh Whannell (the writer of "Insidious", "Insidious: Chapter 2" and a couple of "Saw" films) takes over the directorial reigns from James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring, Insidious: Chapter 2) fairly seamlessly, delivering that familiar unsettling and slightly goofy atmosphere unique to a Wan horror flick. But where Whannell's talent really shines through is in the script's dialogue (as he also wrote this chapter).
Where Whannell's vision suffers is when he seemed more concerned with tying this chapter in with its predecessors, than delivering a higher quantity of scares, and during Chapter 3's anti-climactic ending. There was also an issue with the main "monster", who becomes less and less intimidating the more it was shown; which really muted an oddly hurried climax.
On the other hand, there were at least 8 scares throughout "Insidious: Chapter 3" that I can remember just off the top of my head, which should be enough to garner some kind of praise in the horror genre. And though many of these scares seem to follow a formulaic outline consisting of: Lights go off, things go silent for a couple of seconds and then .BOOM, the scares are still well deserved and worth a date night viewing.
Final Thought: Is this the scariest movie of the year? Of course not! But the repetitive scares are more than enough to lean forward in your seat for and (as every critic has stated up to this point) for a "part 3", "Insidious: Chapter 3" works as throw away, yet effective entertainment. But I enjoyed "Insidious: Chapter 2", so what do I know?
Review from a Paul Feig hater
Before I stepped into the theater, it was impossible to avoid the accolades this film had been getting; some calling it the funniest movie of the year, so far. So, suffice to say, my expectations were high.
Allow me to cut to the chase (something I'd wished "Spy" would've done"). For the first 45 minutes I didn't laugh at all. And it wasn't until the arrival of Rose Byrne (ONE HOUR INTO THE MOVIE!) that I felt "Spy" hit any kind of consistent comedic stride. And even then, when later sequences would lack the McCarthy v. Byrne argumentative visual, this Paul Feig comedy left much to be desired.
Synopsis: Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is a charismatic CIA field agent and Susan (Melissa McCarthy) is in the friend zone and also, technically a CIA agent, although relegated to the office. But when all of the field agent's names become public knowledge, Susan gets a chance to save the day by becoming an actual field agent. And then "comedy" ensues. "Spy" is a James Bond satire. From the spot on opening credits to the extremely well choreographed fight sequences, Feig has done his homework here, leaving no doubt that he could direct a 007 film if ever called upon. But those who proclaim this to be a comedic gem the caliber of an "Austin Powers: International man of Mystery", are very much fooling themselves.
Problems arise rather quickly as the initial myriad of running gags fall flat; first and foremost, a reoccurring vermin infestation joke which didn't work the first or 50th time. After that, this movie's downfall can be more evenly distributed between an actress named Miranda Hart, who plays the annoying best friend/sidekick, and writer/director Paul Feig's comedic joke telling abilities; or lack thereof.
Even though McCarthy has transformed into the female equivalent of Will Farrell (with her character remaining the same from film to film) she is not the problem here. The main problem seems to stem from a combination of bad joke writing and leaving her as the main focal point on screen for too long. Here's the thing: Just like Farrell, McCarthy works best as a sidekick or at the very least, paired in a duo. And thus, when Byrne comes on screen, she becomes that lifesaver which rescues this film from drowning a very quiet death. But if Feig already knew (having worked with McCarthy on "The Heat" AND "Bridesmaids") what we (the audience) already knew, why does it take so long for her to get any help? Why must we watch McCarthy flounder about in open water for a cringe-worthy amount of time?
Final Thought: I may get some flak from people who claim I am some kind of Paul Feig hater, as this is his third film in a row which has received a lukewarm response from this reviewer. And though I do believe there is an audience for Feig's repetitive (watered down Judd Apatow) form of slapstick; it is now my belief that this filmmaker uses the women empowerment/strong female lead angle as a crutch to mask the fact that his movies are simply not that funny; in the same way Tyler Perry uses minorities as his leads and heavy Christian themes, in an attempt to mask the fact that his stories are exploitative trash. That said, "Spy" still contains comedic pockets which rise above the norm. It's just a shame that "Spy" is a perfect example of "too little, too late."
Get Hard (2015)
Kevin Hart is nothing more than this generation's Chris Tucker, but
Stop me if you've heard this one before: A rich white man, oblivious to anything pertaining to African American culture, must team up with a financially struggling black man and comedy ensues. Well not only is that the premise of the majority of 70's and 80's comedies, it's also the premise of "Get Hard", the newest film starring Will Ferrell; this time teamed up with Kevin Hart.
Now this is going to be a film which the vast majority of critics will not look upon favorably solely based on the fact that it's a comedy which premiered in March. And while this isn't the funniest thing in the Ferrell filmography, it is undeniable that Hart and Ferrell make a superb duo, even if the "rich white guy, poor black guy" comedy trope has been done to death. Complementing each other like (no lie) Gibson and Glover, there are a plethora of moments when, despite the early negative critical response, had me wildly surprised with the level of comedy (no matter how tangential and sophomoric) "Get Hard" operated at.
That said the film does begin to fall apart during the third act when the story leans a bit more towards the dramatic. As this happens the plot (or lack thereof) stands completely naked; essentially exposing the below average direction from Etan Cohen, as well as the simple fact that without the snappy chemistry from the two leads, "Get Hard" would've been virtually unwatchable.
Final Thought: Highlighted by more than enough moments of high caliber comedic banter, "Get Hard" will never achieve the level of memorable "comedy classic" since the story itself seems rehashed, even though "Get Hard" is funnier than "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" and leaps and bounds above "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (a movie hipsters and journalists alike incessantly quote and foolishly claim to be the funniest movie ever made).
God is a Dolphin?
The reason I had stopped watching SpongeBob SquarePants the television show in the first place (after the third season) wasn't because by then I was a grown man, but more so that by 2005 the show had all but lost its offbeat comedic luster due to a shift to more remedial style of joke telling better suited to a Nickelodeon audience. I would say, 2004's "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" was pretty much the final straw for me.
And so "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" was my first true venture back into this world in ten years and boy were my expectations low.
Synopsis: When pirate Antonio Banderas steals the top secret Krabby Patty formula, SpongeBob SquarePants (the one who lives in a pineapple under the sea) and Plankton (the archenemy of Mr. Krabs) must team up and venture onto land (into the world of live-action, 3-D animation) in order to retrieve it before a patty-less Bikini Bottom (the place where they all live...under the sea) becomes a scene of out "Mad Max".
While this sounds like (for lack of more inspired verbiage) a totally-awesome premise worthy of being labeled as vintage SpongeBob, the movie doesn't rise above the realms of the occasional chuckle, until its weirder time traveling sequences near mid-point; and then again during a 3rd act which felt as if it took forever to get to, as director Paul Tibbitt finally gives his audiences all of the "out of water" stuff that we were promised.
Final Thought: About 50% of this movie is psychedelic, Meta, Adult Swim-esque humor which had me rolling, but had most of the children in my screening staring at the screen with puzzled gazes. The other 50% is what those who are unfamiliar with SpongeBob would suspect it to be; a movie for children. And therein lies the problem. The 50/50 split is so unevenly distributed that long stretches (especially the initial 30 minutes) had me almost embarrassed that my low expectations were being met with such childish one-liners and remedial humor. But then again, I did pay to see a cartoon whose trailers pandered to the under 12 demographic.