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Furious Seven (2015)
Furious 7, simply put, is one of the best popcorn films of all time.
Over the past 14 years, the Fast & Furious franchise has certainly come a long way. Over the course of seven films, the characters went from hijacking trucks in East L.A. to high-tech espionage missions in Abu Dhabi. It's quite obvious that the cast and crew wanted to make Furious 7 the best and biggest film in the franchise. Considering the many obstacles they had to overcome, to say they succeeded in the end would be a gross understatement. Furious 7, simply put, is one of the best popcorn films of all time.
Picking up where the last movie left off, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), finds out that Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew severely crippled his villainous brother. As a result, Shaw makes it his mission to harm Toretto's "family" in any way he can. After killing one of Toretto's close friends, Toretto decides to go after Shaw. Meanwhile, the CIA plans to use Toretto's vendetta against Shaw as leverage to help them stop a dangerous criminal (played by Djimon Hounsou) from threatening national security with a high- powered computer chip.
Some may call this plot a mess, but I felt that a crazy plot like this was suitable for a film that is intentionally over-the-top and silly. When you combine an outlandish plot with a generally light- hearted tone and lovable characters, you get the perfect example of escapist entertainment done right.
Many action films make the mistake of putting bland, stone-faced characters in outlandish set pieces. The result is usually a film that looks good, but isn't worth seeing again. Just like most of its predecessors, Furious 7 avoids this mistake and gives audiences some amusing, badass and heartfelt characters to root for. Whether it's Tyrese Gibson's cowardly-lion-type character or Michelle Rodriguez's mentally-vulnerable but kickass character, fans of the franchise will be more than happy to see their favorite characters return to the big screen.
Even the new characters stand on their own as fine additions to the series. Nathalie Emmanuel and Djimon Hounsou add some flare to the film and Jason Statham has his best role yet, playing a villain that you'll love to hate. In a career of mostly heroic roles, it's actually a nice change of pace to see him play the villain.
Vin Diesel is as excellent as usual, playing Dominic Toretto with a smooth personality that's occasionally pushed over the edge when his family is threatened. Paul Walker, in the scenes shot before his tragic death, shines one last time as Brian O'Conner, an ex-FBI agent with all the right moves. It is quite bittersweet seeing these two characters interact this time around; it is the last time that they will be together, but the actors give the necessary heart and effort to make their characters work.
In regards to Paul Walker, with the exception of a few choice shots and angles, it is almost impossible to tell when he is on screen or when it is his CGI double. Those fearing an awkward uncanny valley situation will be pleased to know that the CGI in this film is first-rate and practically un-riffable. Even when it's obvious which scenes were added to write off Paul Walker's character, the way they wrote him off of the franchise is both respectful and touching. Kudos to Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop for giving Paul Walker a proper farewell.
Now it's time to address the heart of the movie; the main reason why people come in droves to see this: the INCREDIBLE set pieces. I think it's pretty clear to see that the filmmakers put their all into this, and director James Wan does an excellent job calling the shots. The cars are as slick and gorgeous as ever, and seeing them crash through buildings and fall from the sky is sure to please.
There's something about the way the action is shot that really makes it worth watching. Unlike some more subpar action movies, the set pieces are comprehensibly edited and allow the audience to get immersed in what's going on. In an Imax movie like this, immersion is extremely important, and audiences are sure to be thrilled to the edge of their seats.
This movie never falls short on the cheesy thrills. Some intentionally hilarious but nonetheless awesome scenes include driving a car between three skyscrapers, Dwayne Johnson flexing out of an arm cast, dropping cars out of a plane, and Jason Statham putting on his sunglasses as he walks from an explosion. It doesn't get more lovably cheesy than this. This movie is like a giant ice cream sundae: sweet, deliciously thrilling, and perfectly aware of how over-the-top and awesome it is.
The only real drawback I had to this film was that they didn't really get a chance to tie in the third film. Yes, an event from the third film is revealed to have fueled the plot, but it was kind of an odd choice to have Lucas Black show up for a minute before disappearing. I wasn't really a fan of his character in the third movie, so I was hoping they could redeem the character by having him join Toretto's team in this movie. That unfortunately didn't happen, so his cameo felt like a waste.
Overall though, Furious 7 is a triumph in every sense of the word. It's a triumph for the franchise, it's a triumph for action movies, it's a triumph for the cast and crew, and Paul Walker would be proud. Great job guys!
Not for the Squeamish
"Oculus" is one of those horror films that you rarely see in recent years: a wide-release scary movie with an actual sense of dread and horror. This along with last year's "The Conjuring" and "You're Next" could easily signify an improvement in Hollywood horror.
Starring up incoming actors Karen Gillan (appearing this summer in Guardians of The Galaxy) and Brenton Thwaits (appearing in this summer's "Maleficent"), Oculus tells the disturbing tale of two siblings going face-to-face with a supposedly haunted mirror that haunted them as children. After the brother Tim (Thwaits) is released from a mental institution, his arguably more unstable sister Kaylie (Gillan) recruits him to take part in an experiment to prove that an antique mirror is responsible for the death of their mother when they were kids.
In the wrong hands, this plot could have been handled haphazardly and poorly. However, writer/director Mike Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard do a fine job in crafting a genuinely unsettling but well-made experience. The structure of this film is fantastic. While other films like "Twilight: Eclipse" and "Man of Steel" poorly execute flashbacks into the main story, "Oculus" actually uses flashbacks to its advantage. Throughout the movie, the audience is shown what happened to the main characters as children. Instead of showing all of the events chronologically, the writers make the wise choice of interspersing the events of each story (the past and the present) in a parallel fashion. For example, what happens at the beginning of the past's story is shown back-to-back with what happens at the beginning of the present's story. The events are shown in a way that both stories reach full circle by the end. In many ways, the structure itself is symbolized by the mirror; the past and present are reflected and shown parallel to each other.
Moreover, the sheer unpredictability of the plot makes the terror even more effective. Considering that the characters are both mentally traumatized by the events of their childhood, it isn't sure at the beginning whether or not the mirror is actually haunted. Before the answer to that question is revealed, the main characters constantly have disorienting hallucinations. Whether it's suddenly finding themselves in another room or seeing people that aren't there, the story is reminiscent to a nightmare where nothing you do can stop what's going to happen. No matter what the characters do, there is always a sense of not knowing what really happened and what didn't. The Grade-A editing of this film certainly helps its effectiveness too.
Something else that makes this a superior modern horror film is the lower-than-average emphasis on cheap gore. While there are some bloody, grisly scenes in "Oculus," their sporadic appearances make them even more terrifying when they show up. The violence is mixed perfectly with the creepiness to ensure a much more terrifying experience than the average moviegoer would expect. It is perhaps the first time in quite a while where I could take gory scenes seriously. The same goes for the performances.
Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaits elevate a fine script into a masterful film with compelling, honest performances that make the film much more raw and fear-inducing. I for one am looking forward to seeing their blockbuster debuts this Summer; with performances like these, I'm sure they will make it to the big time in no time.
While I'm not expecting "Oculus" to do HUGE numbers at the box office, I sincerely hope a sequel is made (a theatrical-level one, not a poor direct-to-DVD one). Without spoiling the film, the plot is tied up nicely at the end, a fine franchise could certainly be made of this. If you're a fan of disturbing, creepy, competent horror films, I'd highly suggest checking this one out. Be prepared though; I can honestly say it is one of the more disquieting films I've seen in recent years.
One of The Best
For more reviews, visit cinegrade.org
In the past few months there have been many reasons to be excited for the sequel to 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger." From Black Widow's promised prominence in the plot to the intrigue of how Captain America himself will adjust to the modern world, the hype for this movie has been overwhelming to say the least. On top of that were the glowing early reviews, some of which saying that "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is even better than "The Avengers." I'm sure the question on everyone's minds is: "does this live up to the hype?" You bet.
The sheer amount of suspense and political intrigue in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" would make it a fine sequel on its own. However, not only does this film manage to surpass the excellent first installment, but in some ways surpass "The Avengers."
Taking place after the events of 2012's "The Avengers," Captain Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans reprising his role) struggles to adapt to a world shrouded in fear and obsessed with security. Now working for the government organization S.H.I.E.L.D, Rogers faces the conflict of being ill-informed of his recruiters' ulterior motives and hidden agendas. The retro, simplistic era of the 1940s is far behind him, and Rogers must use his skills and wits to take down a possible conspiracy inside of S.H.I.E.L.D. Coming along for the ride are Black Widow (played reliably well by Scarlett Johansson) and newcomer The Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie of "Pain and Gain"). Together they must take down a force none of them expected to face.
Unlike previous Marvel films like "The Avengers," and "Thor," the plot of this movie is much more down-to-Earth. In today's world of NSA controversy and outright paranoia, many plot elements in this film give it a very modern and relevant feel. In many ways, this is a stark contrast to the retro, swashbuckling feel that the first "Captain America" gave off. This is a perfect way to tell the Captain's story; Steve Rogers has been thrust into the modern day against his will, and after the fantastical events of "The Avengers," he is just now starting to be affected by today's mentality of security. It's indeed very interesting plot foundation for a superhero film.
As well as being a fine continuation of the first film's story, the new elements that this film brings to the "Captain America" series are quite good enough for the film to stand on its own. Even those who didn't care for the first movie could get a kick out of them. Among the new characters is The Hawk, an ex-military superhero introduced in this film. This character is immensely likable, partly because of Anthony Mackie's fine performance, but mostly because they introduce him from the very beginning and flesh out his character.
Also joining the cast is veteran actor Robert Redford as the sinister Alexander Pierce. Redford is the type of villain that is rather refreshing to see in a superhero film: villains unaided by superpowers or violence and who carry the story with wits and malice alone. He doesn't need a mech-suit or psychic abilities, but he is a fine menace for the First Avenger to go up against.
In addition to the fine new characters, every action set piece in this movie is both exhilarating and an absolute thrill to watch. What makes them even better is that they are accompanies by a gripping story with plenty of shocking and even emotional twists and turns. Even after seeing aliens invade New York in "The Avengers," this movie's more grounded approach to storytelling gives a sense that the stakes are higher than ever in the Marvel Universe. Fear not though, this movie is far from a dark one, and there is plenty of that good ole' Marvel humor to give some levity. I'm pretty sure that audiences won't be prepared for how intense the story alone is.
It's not very common that audiences get an April movie that's not only great, but exceptional. "Captain America: Winter Soldier" is indeed a masterpiece, and as much of a bold statement as it seems, it is one of the best superhero movies I have ever seen. The amount of sheer quality it possesses makes it an absolute must-see.
Need for Speed (2014)
A Bumpy but Fun Ride
While this movie certainly does have its flaws, it is far from the disaster it could have been. I dare even to say that with the delay of the next Fast and Furious movie, this is a pretty decent holdover for vehicle-based action fans.
"Need for Speed" tells the story of a driver and mechanic named Tobey Marshall (played by Aaron Paul of "Breaking Bad"). Marshall seeks to avenge the death of his brother by defeating his slaughterer, millionaire car-enthusiast Dino Brewster (played by Dominic Cooper of "Captain America: The First Avenger"). Not wanting to be bested, Brewster places a bounty on him, and it is up to Marshall to get to the race before Dino's goons kill him.
Let me start out by saying that I have not played any of the "Need for Speed" video games, even as a kid. I'm personally more of a fan of the Midnight Club games. Nevertheless, I'm at least sure that fans of racing games in general will love the set-pieces in this movie. Many of the vehicle stunts use real cars, and the near-flawless cinematography fits the high-octane race scenes perfectly. Viewers will certainly be on the edge of their seats with every crash and tight turn. The cars themselves are also pleasing to look at. From Ferraris to Lamborghinis to Mustangs, every vehicle is sleek and a pleasure to watch race on the track.
The race and chase scenes themselves are were this movie really shines. With every set piece come the sounds of revving engines and screeching tires, set perfectly to fine camera work and editing to give a truly exciting experience. While I am not one to complain about the use of CGI, the lack of it in the film's production gave a much more believable look to the crashes and races, especially when the film cuts to go-pro- filmed footage of the airborne vehicle. To me, the use of the go-pro gave me the same exciting, immersive feeling that I felt while watching the barrel scene in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." When used well, I can honestly encourage filmmakers to use the go-pro camera to film
A common criticism of the plot is that it is completely ridiculous and not in any way plausible in the real world. While this is certainly true, I feel that in an action/eye-candy oriented film like this, that it is best to leave your complaint notebook at the door and immerse yourself in the film's world.
When the suspension of disbelief is applied the story itself is not half bad. "Need for Speed's" story was conceived by Academy-Award nominated screenwriter John Gatins and his brother George. Without giving anything away, the plot provides plenty of interesting events to keep the story moving and even bothers to throw in some character development. It's far from an all-out character study like "Her," but there are still a decent amount of scenes that bother to get the audience to care about the characters. Each character is given a decent amount of screen time, and I actually walked out remembering some of the characters. From the brooding but sincere Tobey Marshall to the comic relief of his friend Benny (played by musician Scott Mescudi a.k.a. Kid Cudi), I felt that the fleshed out characters really added some meat to the action.
Though the story and characters themselves are not too shabby, I had a lukewarm opinion on the screenplay. Unfortunately, John Gatins only helped conceive the story. His brother George wrote the screenplay by himself, and his results are mixed. In films like "Fast and Furious 6" and "Iron Man 3," the screenplay is well balanced with good humor and light drama to blend well with the fun factor. Here is a different story; the film's tone will often switch from humorous antics (one such scene involving streaking at an office) to borderline-melodramatic scenes (such as one hospital scene). It is quite jarring and it feels as if Mr. Gatins was trying to take the film more seriously than it should have been taken.
Another thing I have to say is that this film felt a tad too long. Clocking in at over two hours, "Need for Speed" does contain some scenes that feel like they could have been cut and are there just for filler. While I did admire the development of the characters, some of the dialogue simply repeats what was already stated, leaving me to say "OK, I get it" a few times in my mind. Perhaps if the film was trimmed about 10-20 minutes short, then it would have been much smoother to suit the sleek action sequences.
This film is far from perfect, though to be honest, I was honestly entertained by it. While it's impossible to deny that Hollywood has had a bad reputation adapting video games into movies, this was honestly a pretty good attempt. It's not the saving grace of video game adaptations, but in my mind it is absolutely a step up from busts like "Resident Evil: Retribution" and "Silent Hill: Revelation." If you love thrilling races and colorful cars, I can almost guarantee that you'll be entertained.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014)
Worth Your Time
After the February smash hit: "The Lego Movie," "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" certainly does have a tough act to follow. Despite this, "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" certainly does bring another high-quality piece of family entertainment to the big screen.
Surprisingly, the film's story is quite strong. Based on the retro cartoon of the same name, "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" centers on a highly intelligent dog named Mr. Peabody (excellently voiced by Modern Family star, Ty Burrell) who adopts a young boy named Sherman (also excellently voiced by 8-year-old Max Charles). Peabody takes Sherman on adventures through time with his super advanced time machine known as the "Way Back". After a series of incidents, the duo must travel to different time periods and eventually have to fix a potential hole in the space time continuum.
Many recent films based on retro cartoons (such as the abysmal "Scooby Doo" and "Smurfs" films) have failed to provide a good screenplay to accompany its animated hijinks. This film, however, is packed with witty dialogue and good morals about unconventional families, fatherhood, and childhood struggles. Mr. Peabody and Sherman are surprisingly deep characters. The fact that Sherman has been raised by a dog does eventually cause a rift between the two. In the beginning of the movie, Sherman is teased at school and called a "dog" because his father is one. Also faced with his own maturing, Sherman wishes to do more things on his own. Peabody, meanwhile is apprehensive of Sherman doing things on his own, as he fears inside that Sherman will outgrow him. This is quite a lot of conflict for a "kid's movie."
Luckily, the thematic elements are interspersed with charming humor and exciting visuals. Each time period is filled with beautifully animated landscapes and enjoyable characters with top-notch vocal performances. In 18th century France, Marie Antoinette (voiced by Lauri Fraser) is portrayed as a bubbly, naive, cake-obsessed aristocrat who is constantly stuffing her face with dessert. In ancient Egypt, palm trees, pyramids and towering statues show a clear rose gallery of effort from the animation team.
It's also worth pointing out that this film has some of the finest voice acting I have ever heard in an animated feature. Ty Burrell and Max Charles bring believable emotion and jocularity to Peabody and Sherman respectively. Burrell gives Peabody a suitably intellectual and clear sounding voice, giving an extra jolt of likability to the character. Max Charles shows an excessive amount of talent for an 8- year-old (probably younger when the dialogue was recorded), making Sherman a believable young boy with a roller-coaster of emotions throughout. An all-star supporting cast including Steve Colbert, Ariel Winter, Stanley Tucci, Patrick Warburton, Dennis Haysbert, Allison Janney, Leslie Mann and even Mel Brooks are certainly a treasure to listen to as well.
In regards to its historical accuracy, though this film does certainly have its share of jarring anachronisms (such as heart-printed underwear and an actual working flying machine made by Leonardo da Vinci), there is certainly a decent amount of informative elements in the historical scenes. Kids may actually be delighted to learn about how Marie Antoinette helped ignite the French Revolution and how George Washington didn't really cut down a cherry tree. The film makes the wise decision of being a colorful family adventure film while still having some informative elements. LA Times' film critic Betsey Sharkey recently criticized this movie for being "too smart for its own good," saying: "Mr. Peabody's "teaching moments" will sail right over the heads of kids while requiring adults to pay attention." With all due respect, Ms. Sharkey, I feel like the "teaching moments" are what make this movie stand out from other family fare. The fact that the filmmakers bring some education to the screenplay really shows that they have faith in a kid's ability to watch a movie.
In all fairness, one common criticism I do somewhat understand is the film's somewhat convoluted second act. Without giving anything away, I do have to admit things get pretty hectic. However, after many years of watching movies with time travel, I've learned to put down my complaint notebook and enjoy the movie. Let's face it: it's pretty much a guarantee that a movie involving time travel will have at least a couple of plot holes. Even excellent time travel films like "Looper" and "Back to the Future" have plot holes. However, those discussions are for another day.
At the end of the day, "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" is a beautiful, funny, and even heartfelt film that families from every background will get a kick out of. It is enjoyable to watch, and I dare even say it's one of Dreamworks' best efforts to date.
Enjoyable Eye Candy
It's pretty much impossible to say that "Pompeii" is a flawless film. It's love story is clichéd and and its lighting at times leaves much to be desired. On the other hand, I believe the term "guilty pleasure" fits perfectly here, as I certainly enjoyed this movie enough to recommend it.
"Pompeii" tells the story of the legendary natural disaster that covered the Italian city of Pompeii and its residents in ashes, preserving their bodies for eternity. Like "Titanic," "Pompeii" mixes in a star-crossed lovers story into the disaster genre. Following the rich- girl-loves-poor-boy trope, a wealthy woman named Cassia (played by Emily Browning of "Sucker Punch") falls in love with an enslaved gladiator named Milo (played by Kit Harrington of "Game of Thrones"). When Pompeii's volcano erupts, it is up to Milo to save Cassia from being left to die in the eruption (there is more to the story but I don't want to give anything away).
Admittedly, the love story is by far less convincing than the one in Titanic. The two leads Cassia and Milo spend a bare minimum of time getting to know each other and their relationship lacks development. However, in a disaster movie that focuses more on providing audience- pleasing thrills, this is much less of a problem than it could have been.
On the contrary, Milo's relationship with a fellow slave named Atticus (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje of "Thor: The Dark World") is surprisingly well developed throughout the film. In the first act, Milo learns that he must face Atticus, a man who has been promised freedom after one more battle. Several scenes of dialogue in a prison cell and action in the arena they are forced to fight in give the audience a good feel for who these characters are and give a good enough reason to root for them. Considering that this is a disaster movie made by Paul W.S. Anderson, both characters have a substantial amount of substance to them, and the actors give good enough performances to make their friendship believable.
On the subject of Mr. Anderson, I have never really been a fan of his work. "The Three Musketeers" was mediocre at best and his "Resident Evil" movies are absolutely dreadful. Here he seems to have improved his ability to tell a story, though there are a few flaws here and there that carry over from his other works. Much like "Alien vs. Predator," Anderson struggles to properly light a few nighttime scenes, casting what could have been a great looking shot into 50% blackness. In addition, his editing can occasionally be choppy, but compared to something like "I, Frankenstein," it's nowhere near as jarring.
To his credit, which I believe is often overlooked, Mr. Anderson certainly knows how to stage and take advantage of an action setpiece. One scene involving gladiators fighting soldiers chained to a spiked pillar made full use of its environment, and will likely have audiences entertained. Something else worth nothing are the special effects; they are very well done and it is clear that the VFX team put a lot of effort into bringing the legendary eruption of Mt. Vesuvias to the big screen. What's even better is the 3D; lately 3D has been sorely mediocre in Hollywood films, but in this case it is very effective. From volcanic ashes to falling beams of wood, "Pompeii" succeeds in taking full advantage of the 3D technology with stunning results.
The last act of the film is among one of the most thrilling disaster scenes I have ever scene in recent years. Fans of disaster movies will likely be pleased by all of the mindless carnage and destruction, and like "2012," the visual grandeur is seat-grippingly epic.
"Pompeii" is nowhere near a high-quality film, nor is it free from typical Hollywood clichés. However, this was not a film that left me feeling insulted or just jaded. Rather, this was actually a memorable disaster/action period piece that I could easily recommend taking some friends to see. The experience alone is pretty damn cool.
I, Frankenstein (2014)
Not Worth A Rental
To say that "I, Frankentein" was a waste of time would be an understatement. Much like "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters," "I, Frankenstein tries to re-invent a classic tale for the action audience with little success. Though to be fair, "Witch Hunters" at least had some moments of memorable silliness and creative set pieces. "I, Frankenstein" has neither, nor does it present its audience with decent writing or memorable thrills.
The plot itself is a mangled-up mess and a failed attempt to re-invent Mary Shelly's classic character. In this film, Frankenstein's monster (played by the seemingly disinterested Aaron Eckhart) somehow gets involved in an ongoing battle with demons and gargoyles after the events of the classic story. Everything from his backstory to the motivations of the demons and gargoyles is told in rushed exposition and gives absolutely no time for the audience to care about any of the characters. It doesn't help that the editing and pacing is extremely choppy, often skipping hours and years into the future with no reasonable transition.
In the span of what feels like five minutes, the film tells Frankenstein's backstory, introduces the demons and gargoyles, explains their ongoing war, shows a training montage of Frankenstein learning to use the gargoyle's weapons, and suddenly cuts from the 18th century to present day. Nearly all of this is done in cheap narrated exposition and it kills the possibility of the audience getting attached to the characters.
Now, I'm sure many people can overlook a lackluster script if a movie has "good action." Unfortunately, this movie fails in this department too. All of the fight scenes are bland and dull with redundant, badly executed CGI. Perhaps the most frustrating example of this is that every time a demon is killed on screen, it turns into a swirling fireball. This effect looked cool for about a minute and it quickly got stale, especially when the demons are dying left and right and the effects start to look like they've been copied and pasted.
The PG-13 rating also takes away the possibility of even a little gore to entertain the horror buffs. This is especially a shame because there are some very sleek and polished weapon designs that look like they could have been used for some good ole hack-and-slash fun.
Little effort seems to have been put into this film, and even a big-time star like Aaron Eckhart can't elevate the material. Here he seems dazed and bored, almost as if this film was just a project to waste some time. In fact, none of the actors seem interested, and with the exception of maybe two awkward line readings, there is nothing to laugh at either.
Like many films released in January, "I, Frankenstein," comes across as filler and it is not even worth a view on Netflix streaming. Between the poor script, the dull characters and the bad effects, there is next to nothing here worth enjoying. After watching this, I actually appreciated "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" more; at least it had some effort put in it.
Ride Along (2014)
A Not Great, but Enjoyable Ride
Fresh off of his hit stand-up comedy film, "Let Me Explain," Kevin Hart returns to the big screen with "Ride Along." While it may be far from the most memorable comedy, I can't help but admit I enjoyed sitting through it.
Kevin Hart plays Ben, an eccentric man who wants to marry the love of his life, Angela (played by Tika Sumpter). Before he does, he seeks to get the blessing of her brother James (played by Ice Cube), a tough, loose cannon cop. In order to prove he's worthy of marrying James' sister, Ben must join James on a day on his job as an officer. Eventually, the two get wrapped up in a case neither of them were expecting.
As expected, the film plays out like a typical buddy-cop comedy: a cop teams up with someone he doesn't like or agree with and the two have to attempt to get along. While this basic plot line has indeed been done to death, this film makes the fortunate decision to skip out on many movie clichés. There is no third-act-breakup, no mopey montage, and no "you're off the case" or "you're fired" scene. While a lack of these clichés does hamper the conflict, it is quite refreshing to see them absent from the film. On the other hand, the script lends itself to other flaws. Several scenes seem to be included for the sole purpose of filling time (such as a random cameo by Jacob Latimore that amounts to nothing). Moreover, the story can be very predictable at time, even with a couple of random and nonsensical plot twists thrown in. Still though, there is a lot of good to this film.
The dialogue, while far from quotable, is consistently funny and is almost guaranteed to keep the theater laughing. The jokes are delivered on a regular basis and never stray too far into campy or mean-spirited territory. Unlike films like "Identity Thief" and "A Madea Christmas," the tone of the film never strays from a comedic romp and always keeps the laughs coming.
Kevin Hart's performance itself is arguably worth the price of admission. Hart's lines are delivered with the impression that he is enjoying making this movie, and his high-energy presence is sure to please his fans. If you are a fan of Kevin Hart, you will most likely enjoy his screen-presence and his great chemistry with Ice Cube even if you find the script to be lacking.
"Ride Along," may not go down as a comedic legend, but in my eyes, it is certainly worth checking out at least as a rental. The flawed script can indeed be overlooked by the gleeful dialogue and Kevin Hart's enthusiasm. I'd say give it a shot, it wouldn't hurt to check it out.
Another Disney Champion
The holiday season is here once again, and I cannot think of a better way to spend it with your family then taking them to see "Frozen," Disney's newest animated masterpiece. Returning to the musical renaissance style that was explored by 2010's "Tangled," "Frozen" to tell its version of Hans Christian Anderson's classic story, "The Snow Queen." Despite its loose relation to the source material, Frozen still manages to be a charming, heartfelt musical event that families of all ages will enjoy.
In the magical kingdom of Arendelle, a young princess named Elsa (Played by Idina Menzel of "Glee") possesses the power to freeze anything and conjure snow and ice with her mind. After nearly injuring her younger sister Anna (Played by Kristin Bell of "Veronica Mars" and "Hit and Run") as a child, her powers are kept a secret from the kingdom, and Anna's memories of her powers are erased to protect her. This introduction scene is short but sweet, and it really gives the audience a good sense of Elsa and Anna's relationship. Elsa is forced to shut Anna out of her life despite how much she loves her, and Anna just wants to spend more time with her sister, and can't even know why she can't for her own protection.
When Elsa finally becomes old enough to be coroneted as queen, an incident at the ceremony reveals her powers to the whole kingdom. Fearing that she will be persecuted by the other kingdoms and her own people, she runs to the mountains in hiding, building herself an ice castle to spend the rest of her life in. In her despair, she brings an eternal winter upon Arendelle. In a rather progressive plot point, Anna bravely decides to venture out on her own to find Elsa and bring summer back to the kingdom. For a princess, this is quite a movement from the days of princesses waiting for their prince to save them.
Anna is an extremely well developed female lead. In addition to her interesting back story and progressive nature, she is far from a flawless Mary-Sue type character. She is rather clumsy and awkward, and is willing to fall in love with a man she just met as evidenced in the song "Love is An Open Door." The latter trait at first comes across as cliché, but luckily, the film acknowledges the latter flaw to let her develop throughout the film.
On her journey, she will meet the bulky but immensely likable Kristoph (played by Johnathan Groff of "Glee"), a male lead that is just as clumsy as Anna. He is joined by his reindeer, Sven, an adorable character that charmingly falls into the "All Animals Are Dogs" trope that honestly never gets old. Also joining the troupe is a snowman Elsa and Ana made as kids named Olaf (played by Josh Gad of "The Book of Mormon"). Many Disney films have a comic relief character that is there "for the ride," however, Olaf is perhaps one of the most useful and likable comic relief characters I have ever met. Throughout the film, Olaf helps the characters on their journey and does a lot more than make jokes. He is even given a bit of depth, having his own song, "In Summer" that details his comically ironic curiosity for summertime.
In addition to the witty, smartly written script, the musical numbers are all charming and smile-worthy. From grand-scale numbers like "Let it Go" to charming, character-building numbers like "Fixer Upper," Frozen provides plenty of musical splendor to please the whole family. Expect a sing-a-long version to pop up soon.
On top of this, the animation is stunning to say the least. From the droplets of frozen rain on the trees to the ice-built castle of Elsa, viewers will be astounded by the scenery and beauty of the world introduced to them.
Frozen is a wonderful experience to add to Disney's legacy full of quality entertainment. Almost every cliché it faces can easily be brushed aside and it is certain many will adore it. There is no doubt in my mind that this film will be adored for generations. Good show Disney, good show.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
A Visualized Novel (Minor Spoilers)
When I first heard about writer/director Luhrman's return to film; I was actually pretty excited; his visual thrills and his mixing of modern pop culture and period drama made Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge two of the most aesthetically memorable films ever. However, Many people reasonably questioned his ability to bring F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby; one of the biggest novels of all time to the big screen. The book put more of an emphasis on character drama and conflicts in society than artistic grandeur. Having just seen it, I can honestly say that his direction was as much of a success as it was a problem.
The film centers around Nick Carroway (Played by Toby Macguire of Spiderman and Brothers), a former writer, telling the story of how he met the infamous Jay Gatsby (Played by Leonardo DiCaprio- see below); a small town man who turned his life of low income and misery into a wealthy life of parties and liquor. Throughout the film, Nick gets caught in the middle of a series of scandals including his married cousin Daisy (Played by Carrey Mulligan of An Education) and Gatsby's secret romance. What follows is a slew of chaotic events that could destroy everyone and everything including Nick, who didn't want any part of it.
As one can imagine, this film about the roaring 20's contains a lot of drama, betrayal, lust and intensity. All of these elements ad more are expressed through the film's use of colorful sets and costumes as well as its refreshing use of modern music from artists like Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey. All of these qualities really enhance the story and Luhrman's vision of the classic tale is quite admirable. From the sleek custom cars to the sparkling flapper outfits, there is always something gorgeous to grab your attention.
As expected from a Baz Luhrman film, the cinematography is flawless as well. The use of fabric to symbolize happiness and the wide shots of people eating, partying and enjoying themselves added a lot to the film and honestly, it all looked incredible.
On the other hand, I did have a problem with this high emphasis on visuals. The party scenes and set pieces do their job, but sometimes they keep going on longer than they should, leaving less time for character development. For example, the character Myrtle (played by Isla Fisher) is show to be very important by the film's end, but we hardly see her on screen or get a real sense of who she is.
I didn't really care for the dialogue half the time either. For the most part it was tolerable, but at some points it seemed rambling and a bit unrealistic. I'm not really sure if this is just my problem though; I'm personally a fan of crisp, realistic dialogue and don't really like scenes of lengthy explanation. It may not bother you but it was a bit of an issue for me.
As for the performances, Leonardo DiCaprio and Carrey Mulligan steal the show. Both actors give a real, almost method portrayal of their characters and never hesitate. DiCaprio has been trying for years to win an Oscar and while such an award is not necessary to leave a legacy, he has a bright future if he continues his career with performances like this.
So would I recommend this film? Well in my opinion it was pretty decent, but as with Luhrman's Moulin Rouge, I feel like this movie is a love-it-or-hate-it experience. One thing that is for certain is that people who don't like surreal "artsy" visuals or modern music will be annoyed by the movie. It's been a while since I've read the book, so I'm not sure how faithful it is, but I still recommend fans of the novel to check it out and make their own judgement.