Quick Takes: Ride Along, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Afternoon Delight

ride_along_xlgRide Along (2014)
threestar

Starring Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Callen, Laurence Fishburne, Dragos Bucur, Gary Owen, Jacob Latimore, Jay Pharoah, Benjamin Flores Jr.
Directed by Tim Story

Like many action comedies, it would be easy to rip Ride Along for having a dumb plot and sequences where our heroes would never survive if it were real life. But action comedies aren’t real life, so as long as I’m laughing more than I’m not, I’m happy. Ride Along made me happy. Ride Along has gotten fairly dismal reviews from almost everyone, and while I can’t defend it as some great piece of cinema, it’s definitely more fun than the consensus makes it appear. What it comes down to is that I think Kevin Hart is funny, and I also love me some Ice Cube. Together they make a great comedy duo. The action could have been shot better, but this is a small complaint in a quick, fun, entertaining movie. Clear your mind for a night and just ride along with it.

a92058kywgvRise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
threehalfstar

Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Tyler Labine, Jamie Harris, Ty Olsson, David Hewlett
Directed by Rupert Wyatt

I love the original Planet of the Apes films, but after seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes I think it might be hard to go back. I’m shocked how much I enjoyed this one. You really couldn’t ask for a better modern take on the Planet of the Apes saga, although I do wonder if they’ll stick with CG for the more evolved humanoid apes if they continue the series. I suppose they will, but Rick Baker’s makeup from Tim Burton’s 2001 remake was so good I kinda wish they’d do that again. Anyway, if you’ve been on the fence for the last few years, definitely watch this one! By focusing the story on a single ape, we are able to feel for the character, right down to the point of cheering the apes on during the film’s climactic (and awesome) final act. I can’t wait to see the sequel!

afternoon-delight-posterAfternoon Delight (2013)
threestar

Starring Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch, Jessica St. Clair, Michaela Watkins, Josh Stamberg, John Kapelos, Keegan Michael Key, Annie Mumolo
Directed by Jill Soloway

Afternoon Delight walks a thin line between drama and dark comedy, delivering both very well and remaining engaging throughout. At least for me. I can imagine this one will split people, as it’s pretty much nothing but spoiled white people problems. They are problems nonetheless, and something as life affecting as being unhappy in a relationship shouldn’t be trivialized. Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is the unhappy one in question, and her life changes course when she visits a strip club with her husband and another couple. Rachel becomes somewhat obsessed, or at the very least highly interested, in getting to know McKenna (Juno Temple), the stripper she connected with. One thing leads to another and McKenna is living in Rachel’s spare bedroom. What makes Afternoon Delight so interesting to me is how much director Jill Soloway seems to be saying with the film, without actually saying it. There’s so much to dissect about the character relationships, revealing insightful takes on truth, trust and the relationships that shape our lives. Kathryn Hahn is superb as Rachel, giving a raw, emotional performance that deserves acclaim, and Juno Temple is a perfect, confident complement to Hahn’s nervous energy. Very good, but definitely not for everyone.

The Players Club (1998)

the-players-club-movie-poster-1998-1020196466Starring LisaRaye, Bernie Mac, Monica Calhoun, Jamie Foxx, Chrystale Wilson, Adele Givens, Anthony Johnson, Faizon Love, John Amos, Charlie Murphy, Montae Russell, Ice Cube, Samuel Monroe Jr., Alex Thomas, Terrence Howard, Luther Campbell, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Michael Clarke Duncan

Directed by Ice Cube

Expectations: Moderate. I know next to nothing about this.

threestar


First and foremost, The Players Club is a movie by and for black people. I’m not trying to generalize and I don’t mean that in any way other than descriptive, but my mind kept returning to this fact while watching the film. It never congealed into a deep, coherent thought because I was always entertained with the brewing drama occurring between the characters, and there was never really a down moment to ponder this.

In today’s society we hear a lot about how racism is dead, or how we’re living in a post-racial world, but that’s all bullshit. One look at the popular entertainment produced by Hollywood will show you that actors of any color skin other than white better be ready for a whole lot of supporting roles. But for a long time, probably since the Blaxploitation movement in the ’70s, there has been a small but thriving black filmmaking community. The films very rarely crossover to mainstream audiences, but they’re out there doin’ their thang, producing films for a select audience of people.

Continue reading The Players Club (1998) →

Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)

936full-something-from-nothing -the-art-of-rap-posterStarring Ice-T, Grandmaster Caz, Afrika Bambaataa, Big Daddy Kane, B-Real, Bun B, Chino XL, Chuck D, Common, Dana Dane, DJ Premier, DMC, Doug E. Fresh, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Ice Cube, Immortal Technique, Joe Budden, Kanye West, Kool Keith, Kool Moe Dee, KRS-One, Lord Finesse, Lord Jamar, Marley Marl, MC Lyte, Melle Mel, Nas, Q-Tip, Raekwon, Rakim, Ras Kass, Redman, Royce da 5’9″, Run, Salt, Snoop Dogg, Treach, WC, Xzibit, Yasiin (formerly known as Mos Def)

Directed by Ice-T (with Andy Baybutt)

Expectations: High.

fourstar


During Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap, the point is made that rap is not given the same respect as other American musical genres such as jazz and blues, one of the reasons being that people just aren’t listening to it the right way. This is a simple point, but it is a profound one. Something from Nothing isn’t about beats or bling, it’s strictly focused on the art of the rhyme. Rap is perhaps the most misunderstood of musical genres, but as time goes on, its effects and staying power will be undeniable. Like parents who told their children in the early part of the 20th century that jazz was the devil’s music, hip hop has been similarly derided. It’s an inherently more violent and vitriolic music, yes, but it’s a reflection of the streets that it originates from, and this power and honesty is what people respond to. Rap is a musical language like any other genre, and if you’re coming from a place where that type of music doesn’t immediately hit you viscerally, it requires a certain warm-up period to acclimate to it, just like jazz and blues before it.

And like rap itself, this film must also be approached from a specific vantage point. Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap doesn’t seek to chart the genre’s progress from street corners to Madison Square Garden, nor does it seek to illuminate newcomers on key tracks or albums they should pick up. Instead, the film focuses on what makes rap unique and intoxicating: the lyrics. And not just the lyrics, but the craft of writing those lyrics and the power they can possess. This is a movie seeking not only to paint rap as an art, but as a skill, and as such it’s going to play best to people inclined to write songs of their own.

Continue reading Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012) →

Trespass (1992)

Starring Bill Paxton, Ice T, William Sadler, Ice Cube, Art Evans, De’voreaux White, Bruce A. Young, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson, T.E. Russell, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Hal Landon Jr.

Directed by Walter Hill

Expectations: As the final film of Ice Fest, I’m excited and a little sad it’s all over.


As soon as Trespass started, I couldn’t contain my excitement. The opening scene seemed designed specifically for me in this moment, as the second line in the film is spoken by Ice Cube, quickly followed by a line from Ice T. The scene is a series of close-ups as Ice T and his associates watch a video of one of their friends being murdered, intercut with the credits of the film. The structure of the scene builds excitement as you start piecing together the story that will play out for your enjoyment, but obviously for me there was another, more pressing agenda. Seeing Ice Cube and Ice T together in one film after eight solo films was too much for me to handle. No matter what the dramatic weight of the scene was, I couldn’t help myself. I had the biggest grin on my face and I was hooting with glee. The two Ices had finally joined forces. “Life is good,” I said to myself. And the best part of this story is that the movie that followed this pure, giddy joy was awesome.

After this opening scene we meet our two main characters, a couple of firefighters played by William Sadler and Bill Paxton. While attempting to save “Ted” Theodore Logan’s dad (Hal Landon Jr. for the non-Bill & Ted’s fans) from a burning building, Paxton acquires a package containing a golden Celtic cross and a newspaper clipping about an old Catholic church robbery. There’s also a map inside, so Paxton shows his buddy and they decide that treasure hunting for a million dollars worth of gold sounds a hell of a lot better than slaving away at the firehouse for the rest of their lives. The only caveat is that the building the map leads them to is deep in the bad part of town, and the situation quickly escalates to violence.

Continue reading Trespass (1992) →

Dangerous Ground (1997)

Starring Ice Cube, Elizabeth Hurley, Ving Rhames, Sechaba Morojele, Eric Miyeni, Greg Latter

Directed by Darrell Roodt

Expectations: Low, it’s supposed to be pretty bad.


While selecting films for Ice Fest, it was tough to come up with titles in the Ice Cube filmography that would fit into the categories I desired. As Ice T has loads of low-budget action films, I wanted the series to represent a couple of “mainstream” films, as well as a couple of low-budget ones. That’s kind of my whole thing with this site, and Ice T’s films present a perfect opportunity to explore this in microcosm. Cube’s films don’t really fit in the same mold, so I was stuck picking All About the Benjamins and Dangerous Ground as the “trashy, low-budget action movies” of the series. Dangerous Ground is trashy and it feels fairly low-budget for a studio movie, but action-packed it’s definitely not.

Ice Cube plays a South African who — OK, stop laughing and let me get through this plot synopsis. Where was I? Ice Cube plays a South African who was sent to live in San Francisco (coincidentally very close to the Cube-favorite Oakland Raiders) when he was a kid to avoid being killed during the apartheid riots. Ice tells us through his opening narration, that he’s an African at heart, but he returned home an American. He comes back to South Africa via a credit montage with a poppy African song laced with ’80s keyboard synths that would be right at home opening up a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. This built up way too many expectations of dope fights and action sequences I would never get, but regardless the song is so great that I made a recording and I present it below for your listening pleasure.

Continue reading Dangerous Ground (1997) →

The Glass Shield (1994)

Starring Michael Boatman, Lori Petty, Richard Anderson, Michael Ironside, M. Emmet Walsh, Ice Cube, Elliott Gould, Bernie Casey, Don Harvey, Sy Richardson, Natalia Nogulich, Wanda De Jesus, Victoria Dillard

Directed by Charles Burnett

Expectations: Moderate. Corrupt cops usually makes for a good movie.


I tried to research these movies a bit beforehand to avoid this, but apparently, unlike the characters in this film, I didn’t dig deep enough. The Glass Shield may showcase Ice Cube at the forefront of every poster, DVD cover and promo material I came across during my evidence gathering phase for Ice Fest, but he’s literally only in it for a few minutes and has just as many lines. Argh. It’s not just frustrating because of Ice Fest, it’s also frustrating because Ice Cube plays a man on trial but we don’t know anything about him. Pretty much all we know is that he’s innocent and wrongly accused by some corrupt cops, so that’s probably why the movie revolves around his trial and not around his character.

Deputy Johnson (Michael Boatman) is fresh out of the Police Academy (No, not that Police Academy) and is assigned to a station full of mustachioed white men who immediately treat him as an outsider. He finds a friend in Fields (Lori Petty), the previous outsider of the force and the only women assigned to that station. One night, Johnson assists another officer when he arrests Ice Cube at a gas station while he ain’t doing a got-damn thing but filling up his VW Bug with gasoline. Ice admits to having a gun under the front seat for protection and is immediately arrested by the officer. This starts the tangled web of corruption and murder trial proceedings to follow, and while I’d love to say that it’s a joy to unravel it, it’s more of a chore.

Continue reading The Glass Shield (1994) →

All About the Benjamins (2002)

AKA Good Boys (Japan), All About the Money (Denmark)

Starring Ice Cube, Mike Epps, Tommy Flanagan, Carmen Chaplin, Eva Mendes, Valarie Rae Miller, Anthony Giaimo, Jeff Chase, Roger Guenveur Smith, Gino Salvano, Tony Ward, Dominic Chianese Jr., Anthony Michael Hall

Directed by Kevin Bray

Expectations: Low.


I took a gamble on All About the Benjamins. As a modern film it could go either way, but I surmised that the trashy nature I supposed it had would be enough to override any negatives brought about by my distaste for this era of mainstream filmmaking (not that this is exactly mainstream). When the opening scene brings together the Looney Tunes, hot pants, shotguns, a Grandma with a handgun, and a Taser blast to the balls, I thought we might have a verified winner on our hands. Unfortunately, All About the Benjamins does not live up, but one thing is for sure: this movie, and the characters within are all about the benjamins… to a fault. Our heroes are so focused on getting paid at any cost that they aren’t especially likable, but that’s OK, the script is just being true to its characters (and the film’s title), so really I can’t ask too much more of them.

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who’s on the hunt for Reggie (Mike Epps), a repeat offender and all-around hustla. After an awesome foot chase through the streets of Miami and at least one Thai restaurant (called Try My Thai), Epps ducks into a mysterious gate that resembles the opening “down the barrel” section of the James Bond films. Ice tries to follow him but a couple of killers were on the roof scoring $20 million in diamonds and they don’t want any witnesses. From here the film jumps off on a non-stop ride with Ice and Epps trying their damnedest to get what’s theirs, and a piece of what’s not.

Continue reading All About the Benjamins (2002) →

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