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.

Red Heat (1988)

redheat_10Red Heat (1988)
AKA Red Bull

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Belushi, Peter Boyle, Ed O’Ross, Laurence Fishburne, Gina Gershon, Richard Bright, J.W. Smith, Brent Jennings, Gretchen Palmer, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Mike Hagerty, Brion James

Directed by Walter Hill

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


Rising to fame during the 1980s, it was only a matter of time before Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast in a buddy cop film. Studios were green-lighting buddy cop movies in the ’80s like I wolf down tortilla chips (which is to say, nearly constantly and compulsively). Red Heat follows the classic buddy cop structure as well, taking two cops with very different styles and smashing them together against their will. One of the cops is usually out of their element, too, leading to laughs and/or misunderstandings that endear the characters to us. But while Red Heat hits all the buddy cop hallmarks, it’s still just an OK buddy cop movie. Yes, even with Arnold in the lead role.

As I see it, the main problem is Jim Belushi. He plays Chicago cop Art Ridzik, a reckless, insufferable asshole — I don’t think there are many actors better at this than Belushi — but he’s not a likable, insufferable asshole; he’s just insufferable. He doesn’t mix well with Ivan Danko, Arnold’s character, either. It’s like a romantic movie without the spark. You never get the feeling that Danko and Ridzik gives two shits about each other, so when we get to the end of the film and suddenly there’s some buddy-buddy feelings, it’s really hard to buy into.

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Man of Steel (2013)

manofsteel_1Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Kevin Costner, Ayelet Zurer, Laurence Fishburne

Directed by Zack Snyder

Expectations: I’m so excited.

twohalfstar


When they announced Man of Steel as a darker, Nolan-influenced take on Superman, I rejoiced. The Christopher Nolan Batman films were great! So this would be too! What I failed to think about was that by darkening the character and his world, it inherently changes a lot of what I enjoy about the Superman films. This is definitely a better stab at Superman than audiences were given in 2006 with Superman Returns, but even that film had something of a sense of fun. Man of Steel is virtually devoid of fun, and in that I found it to be one of the least enjoyable films I’ve reviewed throughout my Superman review series.

Man of Steel is considered a complete reboot of the series, but in a lot of ways it’s something of a streamlined remake of Richard Donner’s Superman I and II. The film opens with a lengthy sequence on Krypton, setting up an interesting dynamic between Jor-El and General Zod, as well as the traditional “baby Supes blasting off of the dying world” that everyone expects. This begins something of a pattern with the film where it doesn’t exactly feel as unique and fresh as they’d like you to think it is. Imagine The Dark Knight containing scenes featuring the “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” lines from Tim Burton’s Batman, and you’ll feel something of what I felt during this film. This is something they probably couldn’t avoid too much when trying to tell the story of General Zod, but I could have done without another version of Zod landing in middle America and smashing up a small town. There’s even a scene that’s very reminiscent of Supergirl‘s “flying ballet.”

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Predators (2010)

Starring Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Mahershala Ali, Carey Jones, Brian Steele, Derek Mears

Directed by Nimród Antal

Expectations: Low. I pretty much hated this the first time I saw it.


[Editor’s note: I unapologetically spoil everything about this movie.]

The good news is that now I’m able to enjoy this movie for what it is. The bad news is that I still think it’s kind of boring and not a good Predator movie. I first saw Predators about a year and a half ago and was completely underwhelmed. I specifically chose not to review it, as my feelings were so dark that I decided it was for the best if I kept them to myself. I had heard it lived up to the original Predator, paying homage in subtle ways that took the series back to what made it work in the past. While it is true that this one is set in the jungle, and it features many, many echoes of the original film, it forgets one huge thing that makes Predator great: the hunting… specifically the Predator hunting the humans. It’s also missing the feeling of dread that should be there when a group of people are being hunted by an alien race known for hunting and killing every other race in the universe.

The big reason why there’s no tension in this is that it always feels like Adrien Brody is on the offensive. He never feels like he’s got his back to the wall, as Arnold did when he took a Predator blast and then careened off the waterfall. The final act was a terrifying series of events in which Arnold won through sheer dumb luck and a whole lot of ingenuity. In Adrien Brody’s final confrontation, it feels like he’s the one bringing the Predators to his planet to hunt. It’s no fault of Brody’s, who does a fine job selling himself as a larger-than-life action hero, but it definitely doesn’t make for a compelling Predator movie.

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Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., Morris Chestnut, Ice Cube, Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, Tyra Ferrell, Angela Bassett, Redge Green, Dedrick D. Gobert, Baldwin C. Sykes, Tracey Lewis-Sinclair, Alysia Rogers

Directed by John Singleton

Expectations: High. I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to watch this.


Boyz n the Hood is hands down one of the best films of the ’90s. The fact that writer/director John Singleton was only 23 when he made it makes that fact all the more incredible. Jumping out of the gate with both feet running, Singleton creates one of the richest and thought-provoking inner-city films of all time. It might be boring to read a glowing review of a 21-year-old film, but I simply won’t be able to control myself. Boyz n the Hood is a masterpiece, plain and simple.

Boyz n the Hood is great because of its characters and the way Singleton treats them. I’ve always been a vocal supporter of black filmmakers telling black stories because I feel that it’s the only way to get to the heart of the matter. If a white man made Boyz n the Hood, he simply wouldn’t come at it from the same angle. I know I’m making broad, general statements and everyone is an individual, but all I’m trying to say is that I would rather invest my time in a story about a group of people if it’s coming from a member of said group, that’s all. Schindler’s List is Schindler’s List because of Spielberg’s personal connection to the material and Boyz n the Hood is no different.

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Contagion (2011)

Starring Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, Sanaa Lathan, Elliott Gould, Anna Jacoby-Heron

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Expectations: High, I have a good feeling about this one.


I’m not a huge Steven Soderbergh fan, but I respect him immensely. Where most Oscar-winning directors are happy to stay sheltered within the studio system once they receive their acclaim, Soderbergh is not one to be shackled to any one genre or tied to any specific type of film. He consistently makes the films he wants to make, casting unknown actors in one film and then following it up with a slickly produced Ocean’s Eleven film. If there’s one style that has become synonymous with his name though, it’s the ensemble cast drama, even if he hasn’t really made too many of them. Traffic was clearly his defining film for most people (and me as well), so going into Contagion I had an idea that it would be “Traffic with germs”.

That’s pretty much what I got, but that’s far too simple of a way to put it. It both sells the film short and fails to convey the triumph that Soderbergh has achieved with Contagion. There have been lots of viral epidemic movies throughout the years, but never have they been as hyper-realistic as this. Contagion methodically moves from day-to-day, tracking the course of the outbreak across the world. It focuses on a number of people in various locations around the world, and together their stories weave into an overall picture of the epidemic story that is Contagion. It’s like a disease procedural, so if you zoned out or got bored during this paragraph, then perhaps this film is not for you. If, on the other hand, this sounds interesting and up your alley, then definitely give Contagion a shot.

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