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Ride Along

March 11, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison WylieRideAlongposter

Here’s the thing.  I’m not mad at Ride Along.  I’m not even frustrated with Tim Story’s buddy cop comedy.  I’m not miffed, put off, or even slightly perturbed with it.  I’m just kind of numb.  Barely laughing in a comedy will do that to a person.

I’m writing this review moments after watching the thing because I’m worried I’ll start forgetting portions of it.  This vehicle for Ice Cube and Kevin Hart is slowly dissipating from my head and into thin air.

Ride Along is harmless, but it also doesn’t meet its comedic mission statement.

Story’s film came close to making me heartily chuckle.  I mildly snickered before the jokes were needlessly stretched by Hart’s incessant motor mouth and Cube’s raised brow.

Hart didn’t amaze me with his stand-up comedy in last year’s Let Me Explain (which Story co-directed), but I think he’s a performer who works better with another person on screen.  He appears to be more self-assured with his deliveries when paired with someone to bounce zingers on and off of – nothing wrong with that at all. He just needs stronger material.

My light giggles happened when Hart’s do-gooder character, James, was thrown into a situation where he’s left to flounder.  Like Hart has shown in his stage routine though, he doesn’t know when to stick his landing and wrap up the tomfoolery.  Story, who’s supposed to know this comedic timing even more, lets Hart ramble until the script calls for an interruption.

Cube usually knows how to play a good straight man, and he continues to prove this in Ride Along.  In the film, he plays a protective older brother to James’ girlfriend and is willing to test James to see if he’s “man” enough to be welcomed to the family.  Cube, who has shown recently that he loves playing these amusing intimidators, is able to hold his own next to Hart’s frantic personality, and he’s able to competently keep the scene on target despite Hart swinging on tangents.

What cripples Ride Along is its formulaic script and Tim Story’s uncaring attitude.  Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi (that’s right, four writers!) provide the skimpy set-ups and then rely on their leads to jumpstart the comedy that’s supposed to ensue.  This system may please those who are attending Ride Along to see Hart “have at it”, but the situations don’t provide a heck of a lot of groundwork for these charismatic actors to spring off of.

Cube, who is also attached as one of the film’s producers, looks as if he’s always waiting for more in a scene.  As a producer, you would think he’d take this opportunity to bring the writers and Story aside to figure out ways to punch up the material.

Story doesn’t exactly have a great directorial track record when it comes to action flicks (Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Taxi).  With Ride Along, Story doesn’t add any originality to shoot-outs or car chases, and he doesn’t elevate the quality above any miscellaneous early-2000’s action/comedy starring Martin Lawrence.

There’s not a whole lot going for Ride Along in the realm of booming action or side-splitting comedy.  All it has are two leading men trying to do everything they can to make this fluff into something noteworthy.  But, when the lifeless odds are stacked as conventionally as they are against Hart and Cube, I’m surprised the actors didn’t surrender altogether.

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AKP: Job 27

February 20, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison WylieAKPposter

When the only bad thing about your feature film debut is its marble-mouthed title, it’s a sign that your ambitious film is close to being sublime.

When you get past that weak title, AKP: Job 27 is a really good time at the movies.  It treads trodden ground by being centred around a private hitman on a mission in unfamiliar territory (the territory being Toronto), but its Michael L. Suan’s vision of the story that brings it into a league of its own.

Suan takes a leap of faith by making AKP: Job 27 a modern day silent film.  The closest the film gets to using dialogue are screams when our shadowy lead is on the clock and firing off his gun.  As the writer/director, Suan gives himself the task of justifying why the film is void of dialogue – he does a good job with doing so.

Very rarely does it feel like the silence is unmotivated.  Early group confrontations make us wonder why these people aren’t breaking the ice.  Same goes for quick questionings when our no-named hitman is looking to be rightfully directed.

That said, Suan actually covers himself quite well.  Music accompanies the feature ranging from instrumental tracks to classics to contemporary remixes.  When our lead is asking questions, we see his mouth move but club music drowns him out.  This shows us that Suan isn’t senselessly feeding his audience.  He knows there will be skeptics out there, and he confidently wants them to relax.

Aside from the tastefully and artistically portrayed violence, the hitman is constantly haunted by a lost love that he was responsible for.  He tries to fill in the personal gap, but is always reminded why those prior feelings are irreplaceable.  He does start falling for a wayward prostitute, who strikes an uncanny resemblance to his departed beloved.

That’s Roxanne Prentice playing both the roles of the unspoken love and the prostitute.  Prentice does a fantastic job at balancing both key parts, and has an array of expressions to flawlessly communicate to the audience.  She’s a natural in the silent film genre.

Tyce Philip Phangsoa plays the hitman with preserved heartbreak while also maintaining focus on his acquitted tasks.  It’s a performance that would be daunting to any actor.  They have to convey a softer side while keeping their potent intimidation at the forefront.  Phangsoa does so, masterfully.

Michael L. Suan’s flick starts off in Japan and fluently transitions to the Canadian environment.  He doesn’t outdo himself with trying to make iconic Toronto landmarks evident, but is wanting to show that this crime underworld can be easily hidden and can exist anywhere.  Movie goers will often forget that AKP: Job 27 takes place primarily in Toronto – that’s a good thing.

The film briefly gets carried away with itself.  For example, the film’s look is stunning, but every so often the inky mood will make the visuals too dim.  And, Suan (who is also the editor, along with Biko Franklin) could’ve trimmed some sequences.  There’s ten minutes scattered in AKP: Job 27 that could’ve been easily shaven.  Luckily, these instances always find a way to move onto stronger material.

I hope AKP: Job 27 isn’t the only project we’ll get to see from this filmmaking newcomer.  Suan shows that he’s perfectly capable of representing hard-edged fortitude and tantalizing sexiness without overvaluing his talents.  To make a silent film like AKP: Job 27 takes courage and stylistic spunk.  Suan has succeeded with these attributes in – what’s sure to be – one of the greatest independent films you’ll see this year.

The Frozen Ground

October 1, 2013 1 comment

By: Addison WylieTFGposter

The Frozen Ground tells a harrowing true story in a plain Jane conventional way.  The emotional weight and stress in the hunt for a notorious Alaskan serial killer rings, but its narrative formatting is determined to make it unmemorable, placing Scott Walker’s film awash in a homicidal sea with other generic crime thrillers.

The Frozen Ground feels dialled back regarding its aggressiveness towards the audience and its lead performance from Nicolas Cage playing Sgt. Jack Halcombe, who’s paired with the grisly case which slowly becomes something more personal as he seeks out seemingly pleasant Robert Hansen.

The muted factors in how Walker handles his script (to which he also wrote) could be because he’s aiming his film towards an older audience – the A&E crowd – that easily eats up mysteries such as the one that occurred in Anchorage.

As for Cage, maybe he’s reeling in his audacity because he wants to do justice with his portrayal for accuracy reasons.  So, to all those who have been wanting Cage to yell and mug less in his movies: The Frozen Ground may win you back.

The rest of the cast is filled out with character actors who all do a very good job – even if they are not necessarily leaping out of their comfort zone.  However, John Cusack plays the criminal on the loose.  Cusack pulls off a stellar creepy performance to which will always have your skin crawling.  It’s great to see an actor as talented as he is show movie goers that he’s even more capable than we thought.

Most of all, I see The Frozen Ground as a terrific vehicle for Vanessa Hudgens to show audiences that she can tackle more adult material. The High School Musical star has been making a shattering transition to more mature work with this year’s polarizing Spring Breakers and now with Walker’s flick.

Walker knows how to direct her well and Hudgens is dynamite portraying Cindy Paulson – a fearful but jagged victim of Hansen’s who luckily escaped.  The role is the heaviest she’s played yet, but she effortlessly shows audiences that she is on the right track to becoming a full fledged movie star.

While The Frozen Ground may not score points for originality, the absorbing acting and Walker’s eerie utilization of the film’s crisp, cold Alaskan backdrop earns it some merit and will meet any undemanding expectations.  It, or the story it’s based on, shouldn’t go forgotten.

TIFF 2013: Compelling, Cookie Cutter Cop Drama

September 9, 2013 Leave a comment

McCanickstill

By: Addison Wylie

In terms of being a worthwhile cop drama, McCanick won’t astound movie goers, but it certainly does the trick.

The problem with McCanick is that it has a really hard time trying to escape the shadow of other more successful cop dramas like Training Day and more recent middle-of-the-road fare brought to us by Antoine Fuqua.

Josh C. Waller’s film allows David Morse to take a break from being a quirky supporting character and take the stage as the renegade title role.

Daniel Noah’s screenplay utilizes many tired clichés unfortunately, which dampens the intimidation the film and McCanick are supposed to give off.  Morse is still nerve-wracking as an unstable loose canon, but anyone can be scary when they’re randomly pointing a gun at thugs – asking the audience to question who the real villain is in a scene.

However, a lot of McCanick is saved by its riveting performances.  The characters may lack originality, but the powerful acting by Morse and the remaining cast pack a successful punch.

Waller and Noah’s edginess is introduced during the final stretch, and the film becomes interesting and provocative; offering hidden intentions with tons of ambition on the filmmaker’s part.  I also liked the film’s greasy cinematography – adding a layer of grime to the shadiness.

Finally, Monteith’s last performance is exceptional and bittersweet.  It’s a well-handled role for the actor, making a sensible transition to more adult features with real consequences.  It’s a strong reminder that Monteith could’ve easily been a contender.

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McCanick has its world premiere at TIFF on September 9 at 7:15 p.m. at Scotiabank Theatre as well as an encore screening on September 10 at 10:15 p.m. at Isabel Bader Theatre.

Rating: 14A
Language: English
Runtime: 96 minutes

Realted Links:

For more information on the festival, visit the official TIFF webpage here.

Check out the McCanick TIFF page here.

Buy tickets here.

More TIFF13 Coverage:

Read my Wylie Writes review of Don Jon here.

Read my Film Army review of Faith Connections here.

Read my Film Army reviews of RolandParadise FallsAnatomy of Assistance, and We Wanted More here.

Read my Film Army review of The Dick Knost Show here.

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

TIFF: @TIFF_NET
Film Army: @FilmArmy
Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

My Brother the Devil

June 29, 2013 1 comment

By: Addison WylieMBTDposter

A film flying in from the UK called My Brother the Devil is sure to catch North American audiences off guard.  It’s a compelling piece of work and an exceptional feature film debut from writer/director Sally El Hosaini, providing plenty of challenges for her characters as well as for her audience.  Movie goers will be glued to the screen as a pivotal event changes the lifestyles of those driving Hosaini’s story.

Brothers Rashid and Mo (played incredibly well by James Floyd and Fady Elsayed) may live in the same house, but they both live their lives in different ways.  Rashid hangs with a tougher crowd who protects their territory from other gangs, while Mo imagines what life would be like to walk in his older brother’s shoes.  Mo tries to get himself involved with the dealings Rashid dabbles in, but his older kin refuses.  Rashid loves Mo too much to involve him with his social life.

When a gang member is killed, Rashid and Mo observe the situation from two different perspectives.  Rashid realizes the level of frightening danger in his life while Mo feels the need to step up, assist in getting even, and fill the voids his shocked brother isn’t tending to.

The two actors take their characters down unsuspected paths, offering lots of ideas and motivations for the audience to breathe in.  Mo’s progressive aggressiveness becomes alarming and scary and Rashid’s retrospective leads him to invite other unfelt emotions towards others.

I find it hard to call these surprises in the screenplay “twists” because they aren’t there to game change in a gimmicky way.  Each choice feels concrete and while the results may be jarring in Rashid’s case or upsetting in Mo’s case, we believe why they would feel the need to do the things they do.

This film is very careful with how and when it uses violence and realistic bloody effects.  Hosaini only utilizes these moments a few times, which adds to the discomfort when they all of a sudden take place – just as writer/director David Lynch did with obscenities coming out of antagonist Frank Booth in Blue VelvetMy Brother the Devil’s sporadic moments of provoked rage is the proper dose of reality existing behind the tough guy personas.  A dose of reality that these angry adolescents forget is there.

Hosaini’s film looks at male machismo and that instinct to prove something.  Given the rough nature of the subject matter, Hosaini handles her characters delicately and highlights the innocence and curiosity beneath the tough guy, go-getter attitudes.  She shows that while these thugs are tough in large groups, they’re very vulnerable when left by themselves.  Even Mo – who starts off very naïve and skimming on becoming a loner – has these same unguarded moments, but instead, these instances show how lost he is without his guiding brother.

The film deals with a focused, authentic brotherly relationship.  However, I didn’t pull a hard hitting story of brotherhood from My Brother the Devil.  I think that’s the point though, and that’s what I liked about Hosaini’s film.

The cinematic route of “brothers stick together through anything and everything” is a well known track to follow.  To present a story of two comfortable people who are trying to figure out the direction of their lives while making drastic adjustments they were unprepared to make is a real gem of a story featuring lots of risks.  Hosaini could’ve taken a very run-of-the-mill approach to her own material, but the allure of these two contrasting personalities in these shady settings makes My Brother the Devil stand on its own.

Sally El Hosaini and her skilled cast and crew should all be extremely proud of themselves.  My Brother the Devil is absolutely gripping with every turn in this character study that’s an offspring of Stephen Chbosky’s winner The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Shane Meadows’ unruly This Is England.

The Hangover Part III

By: Addison Wylie Hangover3poster

As the Hangover series comes to a close, it’s wild to look back on the three successful comedies and reflect on how a jaw-dropping sleeper hit eventually became a three-part franchise that has split audiences – especially the second installment which many called “too dark” and “a complete rip-off of the original”.

As for myself, I’ve enjoyed where this series has gone and am one of the few who appreciates the The Hangover Part II.  While I enjoyed the first outing with the Wolfpack, I found the second adventure cleaned up some qualms I had about the first Hangover.  It was familiar territory for the cast and crew but a fitting do-over.

The third is, once again, making people frown whilst making me chuckle.  It’s about as much of a tonal shift as Part II was, but this time around writer/director Todd Phillips and co-writer Craig Mazin lavish in the fact that this is the last installment.  Part III isn’t a spoof on climactic trilogy endings but it sure has fun playing with those ideas and towering stakes all accompanied by a booming score provided by Christophe Beck.

After stewing on the thought that this once simple premise about recollecting drunken memories has now evolved into this manhunt for an international, coke snorting criminal Mr. Chow (played, of course, by Ken Jeong), maybe this inflation in plot is what’s making those naysaying movie goers turn the other cheek towards this once popular comedy juggernaut.

Just as comedy is, The Hangover Part III is subjective to taste.  Those who weren’t hot for Part II are only going to like this chapter slightly more because everything comes full circle in a satisfying way.  Other than that, they’re most likely going to have that same knee jerk reaction to the film’s jarring twists and turns.

Now, I ask for all those who have “gone with the flow” to lend their ears.  If you are open to the fact that Part III adds more gravity to this story that was seemingly surface deep, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised.

The three leads (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis) still keep their likeable on-screen chemistry as they bounce back and forth to solve the mystery at hand.  This time, the search for Chow has gotten riskier due to a heftier, intimidating drug dealer getting involved in the chase.  This gangster named Marshall is played by an amusing John Goodman, who sounds as if he replaces C’s and K’s for G’s when he’s dropping the F-bomb.

As the story progresses and our lead characters try to locate Chow, not once does the strand of events seem overwrought.  It borderlines on becoming a cartoon – and sometimes does – in some scenes featuring random humour, such as a nerve wracking sneaky scene where Chow and Stu have to emulate dog-like maneuvers in order to trick security cameras.  But, it’s all bizarrely funny, especially with this particular scene knowing how to use Chow’s abrasive attitude towards Helms’ straight man routine.

The Hangover Part III always keeps our interest while trying to make us laugh while also trying to integrate past characters from other movies.  These moments featuring Heather Graham’s Jade and Mike Epps’ Black Doug are fleeting, but this goes to show that Phillips and Mazin don’t want to pound these throwbacks into the ground.  They want to keep this adventure moving.

By the end of the film, I was pleased with how much I laughed and how much I was surprised by how Phillips and Mazin tried to go about things differently and go against the grain.  It might not sit well with a lot of viewers, but those who are willing to take in this last outing with an “anything goes” frame of mind will walk away from the movie feeling fulfilled.

Pain & Gain

May 20, 2013 2 comments

By: Addison WyliePainAndGainposter

There’s something ingenious about the idea of Michael Bay helming a project about celebrating a shallow American dream.  Who better to direct a story about a team of musclebound knucklehead criminals chasing the implausible than a guy who almost always has explosions take the lead role and lets T&A share the second billing.

The film’s Miami setting takes on a “look good, feel better” attitude as all the characters are in some way self-obsessed.  Everything and everybody is strictly based on face value and everyone seems ok with that.  The film has to take on an arresting approach to really capture that hollowness and lack of human emotion and you almost have to admire Bay for taking such an ambitious swing.  It’s a story that’s certainly out of his element.

But, as ambitious projects can sometimes be, Pain & Gain strikes out in the most irritating of ways.

Imagine you reading the true story of which Pain & Gain is based on in a newspaper.  The film Pain & Gain is like having a bad dream about the news story you read that gradually turns more nightmarish over the span of two hours.

Bay’s stab at something new is loud, overblown, and revels in violence and sexual leeriness.  This may sound like usual fare you’d expect from the boombastic director – which is a deal sealer to some readers – but, this is so much worse compared to previous works from Bay because Pain & Gain has an interesting “true story” and has the ingredients to make a memorable movie.  Instead, it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Here’s a tip for Michael Bay and his screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely: Just because the subjects of your movie are dimwitted and idiotic doesn’t give the film – or the filmmaker or the screenwriters – permission to act as dimwitted and idiotic.

Pain & Gain’s script is a frustrating endeavour to listen to and watch unfold.  Just as the story earns a smidgen of interest from the audience, it throws a sex gag or constant profanities over top of what we find so compelling.  It definitely doesn’t help that Bay (who also produced) indulges in the juvenility and highlights just how hilarious it is – or is supposed to be – in glaring close-ups; sometimes utilizing showboaty camera techniques.

It also appears that Michael Bay watched Man on Fire and Domino before directing this fiasco and barged onto the set thinking he could emulate what Tony Scott displayed in those balls-to-the-wall action flicks.

That’s a style that some to this day still argue about.  Scott milked the freneticness in those movies and even I – who liked those movies – thinks the director barely got away with it.  To have an inadequate and overly-confident director like Bay try and copy those visuals and that insane pace while he and his screenwriting buddies cackle away with a frat boy mentality makes Pain & Gain a very, very, very difficult watch.  It’ll test your patience.

Pain & Gain’s “true story” is a crazy one and it needed a steady hand to balance the shocking content as well as give the film it’s own stand alone voice and unique vision.  Bay, Markus, and McFeely could’ve had that steady hand, that original vision, and quick-witted voice but it appears they’re too busy pointing at homosexuals, gawking at boobs, and relentlessly screaming “balls”.