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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.

Bettie Page Reveals All

By: Addison WylieBPRAposter

I appreciate Academy Award nominee Mark Mori wanting to “reveal all” about pinup model Bettie Page with his new doc literally titled Bettie Page Reveals All, but I feel as if he may have gone too far right out of the gate.

The documentary gives viewers a confidential look into Page’s life whilst using vintage privy interview answers from the model herself to string along narration.

The documentary’s structure could – and sometimes does – work wonders for Mori to bring truth to his work, and to rightfully respect Page’s life and image.  My problem with his execution is his underdeveloped knowledge of how to work this filmmaking angle.

Bettie Page Reveals All begins with lots of famous faces singing praise for Page’s “naughty but nice” influence on pop culture.  Burlesque performers and fashionistas join in as well.  This is a good enough start.  These scenes are here to foreshadow how subversive Page’s playfully sexual work will become.

These clips are then followed by cutaways from Page’s funeral service, where we see close friends and family in mourning.  These scenes are only here to establish that the film’s iconic subject has passed on.  Wasn’t there an alternate way to depict this that didn’t feel so…nosy?

Already, Mori oversteps as a documentarian.  I can’t speak for everyone but personally, these segments made me feel as if I was intruding on something very personal.  I know Mori has to live up to his title’s name, but private functions like these should be off limits.  It’s an unwritten rule.

The next few scenes give movie goers an unsheltered look at Bettie Page’s life before the fame.  Hearing a deceased Page describe the abuse she was put through as a child and through her budding life in New York is supremely tough to listen to.  The audio track Mori is sampling from also sounds as if it’s eroding, which makes us have to lean in and listen more carefully to Page’s unsettling recapping.

As someone who knew very little about Bettie Page’s life and career before entering Bettie Page Reveals All, Mark Mori actually does a decent job informing.  The condition of the audio gradually cleans itself up, making Page’s narration easily attainable.  The journey is straightforward and memorable, and that feeling of being an intruder is shown the door.

What doesn’t measure up is how technically inadequate the actual doc is when placed beside its subject’s vital life.  It hurts the film’s credibility.

Mori has obviously been inspired by 2002’s film adaption of Robert Evans autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture.  He takes pictures from Page’s past, and animates them to her speech.  However, The Kid Stays in the Picture found an ebb and flow with Evans’ readings.  Mori’s doc, on the other hand, feels too much like a slideshow – a cheap one, at that.

The doc doesn’t have the appearance of a movie that’s been thoughtlessly slapped together, but the condition of Bettie Page Reveals All is in critical shape.  Different uses of footage ranging from degraded footage to cartoons don’t find an even balance with the material, and a fair amount of images don’t play well when blown up.  Graphics and subtitles look flat and unappealing as well.  This is an example of a slipshod doc that desperately needed more post-production polishing.

But, just like Mori’s boundary misstepping, the doc eventually fixes itself and turns in some strong work.  Unfortunately, the quality control shapes up just as the film is winding down.

The filmmaker’s wisest decisions are with the inclusion of outsiders lending their perspectives on Page’s sexual significance.  Most of these opinions pop up during the latter part of the film, which breaks up the doldrums and adds a refreshing change of pace to the documentary.

There’s no denying that with more time, Bettie Page Reveals All wouldn’t have looked and felt so shabby.  Luckily, there’s enough content in the doc to avoid it being a write-off altogether.  But, how much technical clumsiness will audiences endure in order to get to the centre of this craggy Tootsie Pop?

Alan Partridge

By: Addison WylieAPposter

North Americans have Will Ferrel’s Ron Burgundy, an on-camera anchorman who’s self-centred arrogance has him chewing down on his own foot often.  In Europe, the Brits have Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge.  Partridge is an egotistical radio personality obsessed with a celebrity image and a winning smile.

Where Burgundy can read on screen as a pompous jerk with a heart of gold steeped in spoof misogyny, Partridge is more endearing.  He always finds a way to slip into the spotlight, and try to have others sympathize with him or view him as an inspirational icon.  However, he’s just as easily flustered and frustrated when he isn’t included.

Steve Coogan’s amusing character takes a step away from real life airwaves and his UK Television show I’m Alan Partridge to star in his first leading vehicle self-entitled Alan Partridge.  The film is better known as Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa across the pond, but it’s a title that may have had others scratching their head over its otherwise silly meaning.

That adjustment is what’s going to make Alan Partridge’s overseas success interesting to observe.  I think it helps outsiders taking a chance on the film to know a little bit about Partridge before paying for a ticket.  His fumbled muttering, and his self-absorbed attitude may have the general North American movie going public growing irritated.  However, if they have that initial information or can quickly jive with the lead doofus, they may have themselves as good a time as us fans.

Personally, I found Alan Partridge to be a good comedy that met the goals it set out to achieve.  Director Declan Lowney manages to do what most SNL flicks have difficulty doing – taking a sketch character and having him carry a film all the way until the end.  It also helps that Coogan is still playing the cocky host splendidly.

Alan Partridge plays out as a movie Mike Myers would’ve jumped at the chance to star in.  I wouldn’t call Lowney’s film a laugh-out-loud riot as Myers’ past comedies have been (pre-Love Guru, mind you), but there’s a consistent flow of titters and chuckles that will have you pleased with most of the material.  Although, a scene featuring Alan getting caught with his trousers down will definitely shock you into hysterics.

The story of a disgruntled, newly fired radio personality taking the station and its employees hostage doesn’t feel rote, as does the decision to make Coogan the hero despite the role’s narcissism.  Partridge, being the unctuous goofball he is, manages to find fame in dire circumstances.  He completely understands the danger of the takeover, but is strangely complimented when he’s chosen as a messenger for the police and a co-host for a radio show during the malicious siege.

Lowney’s modest comedy will satisfy the Alan Partridge fan base as well as fans of Coogan’s dry wit.  The main question, however, still stands: how the hell is this going to perform outside the UK?

I won’t be surprised if Alan Partridge doesn’t drum up new anticipation during its North American theatrical release, but I won’t be disappointed if this type of movie finds cult life on VOD.

The Suspect

By: Addison WylieTheSuspectPoster

You can’t say The Suspect was mismarketed.  All that spectacular stunt work that’s flashed in the film’s trailer is there, and it’s still enthralling in context.  What the trailer doesn’t capture is how overblown Won Shin-yun’s film is.  Maybe that’s for the better since the lethargic narrative is a major turnoff.

First, the film’s key strength: Shin-yun knows how to map out an action sequence.  There are more than enough car chases and crashes in The Suspect to get anyone’s adrenaline pumping.  The pursuits are no where near as compelling as the ones movie goers will see soon in Need for Speed, but the chases in The Suspect wet our whistle well.  Same goes for the hand-to-hand combat and the gunplay.

My only suggestion for Shin-yun is he shouldn’t feel the need to present his work as anymore generic as clichéd American action fests in order to capture some sort of recognizable excitement.  The camera work in The Suspect is either too closed in, shaking around like crazy, or both – which causes some of the fine choreography to be lost in translation.  The sloppily choppy editing is also to blame.

There are way too many add-ons set on driving up the film’s intensity.  Shin-yun is trying too hard to convince the audience what they’re watching is impressive and energetic.  That said, Shin-yun could possibly be shovelling on more of these contrivances to cover up how dull Im Sang-hoon’s revengeful script plays on screen.

Sang-hoon has a very hard time adding onto his characters or the nature of getting even.  Instead of building off of his own material, he plunks a lot of “stuff” on top of unfolding events and the emotional characters – none of which are interesting or thrillingly intriguing.  He attempts to add twists and new motives, but inverts his characters in a way that make each person on screen become more complicated than they need to be.

The Suspect lacks confidence.  The film has the appearance of a movie that knows how baggy it’s getting, and is constantly vying to win back its audience while trying to make ends meet with its own story.

The Suspect does have the look and feel of a smart thriller.  As I often drifted into a dazed state, I found myself wondering what a Bourne endeavour would look like through Won Shin-yun’s filmmaking vision.  In time, I think he’ll follow the same steps as Fast and the Furious filmmaker Justin Lin and grow to have what it takes to direct a franchise.

Unfortunately with The Suspect, Shin-yun finds himself spinning a number of plates. It’s neither enjoyable for him nor his spirited audience.

Wylie Writes’ Ten Worst Movies of 2013

March 1, 2014 1 comment

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By: Addison Wylie

As the Oscars approach this Sunday, the time is finally here to reflect on 2013 through a pair of lists – my picks of the best and the worst.  Let’s get the duds out of the way to make way for the flicks that’ll be remembered for years to come.

2013 introduced me to a new type of “bad”.  It was a sub-version spawning off of the type of hatefulness I only save for my bottom three choices.  These films treated its audience like imbeciles and expected us to lap up what they were serving and laugh our faces off – no questions asked.  Instead, they were either smug or flat-out negative.  You can expect to see those soiled diapers at the end of this role call.

Even though I have a main “bottom ten”, I made sure I included some dishonourable mentions in order to cover those who thought they were saved by the odd late entry.  However, there were plenty of stinkers that fell off that additional listing as well.  So, let’s talk about them.

I appreciate filmmakers wanting to be brave with how to tell their film’s story, but some approaches left me befuddled.  In The Wagner Files, someone thought it was a good idea to portray composer Richard Wagner’s life through a broody soap opera with CSI inspired cutaways.  With Thursday Till Sunday, the idea of realistically showing a crumbling family through a mundane road trip backfired immensely because, well, it made the film a bore as well.

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Mainstream films took weird chances too, thinking the audience would applaud their efforts to connect to movie goers.  “Audiences loved Wedding Crashers and adore the Internet, so let’s make a movie called The Internship and have Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson work at Google.  Hilarity is bound to ensue, right?”

This logic also applied to smart aleck genre bending films.  Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters flopped because it wanted to have its cake and eat it too by offering audiences a parody of what movie goers would expect and balancing it out with Resident Evil inspired action sequences.

Funny or Die’s iSteve, an attempt to make a satirical biopic about Steve Jobs, was amusing for the first few minutes, but soon ran out of steam as each joke was pounded into submission.

Children weren’t safe either.  Disney’s haphazard cash-in on the Cars franchise Planes was a wreck without a single sign of creativity in sight.  From Up on Poppy Hill had the visual zest of a vibrant family film, but managed to lull it’s audience into a nap with miscast dubbing and laboured storytelling.

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I won’t lie.  I kind of wished my list would have a Lindsay Lohan triple play.  It would just make matters a bit more interesting with an added novelty.  Unfortunately, I saw worse things than Paul Schrader’s confused drama The Canyons.  Lohan does, however, make two appearances on my bottom ten.

So, without further wait, let’s take a look at the worst of the worst.  Just remember filmmakers, this was a year where James Nguyen made a sequel to his unintentional cult hit Birdemic: Shock and Terror.  Notice how I haven’t mentioned Birdemic 2: The Resurrection until now?  Nguyen made a better movie than all of you.  Think about that for a moment.

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Overrated Movies:

The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Conjuring
Fast & Furious 6
Frozen
When Jews Were Funny

Dishonourable Mentions:

#15. Pain & Gain
#14. The Great Chameleon
#13. Jack the Giant Slayer
#12. The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology
#11. InRealLife

Wylie Writes’ Ten Worst Movies of 2013

#10. G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Trying to piece together the film after watching it is a mission in itself.  Trying to follow it as it unfolds on screen is damn near frustrating.

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#9. Adriatico My Love

Nikola Curcin’s romance is unjustifiably cruddy and a cross between a travelogue and a family vacation home video circa 1992.

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#8. Peeples

Peeples is an atom bomb of a comedy and one of the worst Tyler Perry productions movie goers have seen yet.

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#7. Scary Movie 5

Scary Movie 5 is not a funny movie.  I have a hard time justifying this rush job as “a movie”.

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#6. The Frankenstein Theory

Getting a deservedly short theatrical run, The Frankenstein Theory is an uninspired and stupefyingly obvious play-by-play of 1999′s The Blair Witch Project.

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#5. Fondi ’91

I feel embarrassed for Fondi ’91 and for all who were involved with its ill-fated production.  This is a prime example of a movie that needed more rehearsals and more pre-production planning before heading into its slapdash shooting.

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#4. After Earth

Hollow and wooden, with very little to latch on to.  I can’t comprehend After Earth and I’ll never understand it.

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#3. Grown Ups 2

Grown Ups 2 has a neanderthal brian.  It’s another one of these movies where it eventually turns into the cinematic equivalent of Sandler looking at himself in the mirror and winking.

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#2. Identity Thief

Identity Thief is a recipe for disaster – and the movie has no idea.  Who thought it would be a good idea to generate laughs from an irksome, hoarding, annoying, selfish sociopath?

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#1. InAPPropriate Comedy 

Infomercial spokesperson Vince Offer has somehow managed to weasel his racist tirade into cinemas for the world to endure.  Or, for those masochists who boldly seek ways to stress out their patience.  It’s a movie that makes you angry at everyone involved.  It’s not bold or audacious-  just terribly crass and stupid.

If Movie 43 is the worst movie you’ve seen all year, then you’re not ready for InAPPropriate Comedy.  And, I say that because I care about you.

VinceOffer

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‘Ten Worst Movies of 2013 ‘ Artwork by: Sonya Padovani

Solo

March 1, 2014 1 comment

By: Addison Wyliesoloposter

Solo starts out on an “A” game, but ends up finishing with a generous “C” grade.

Isaac Cravit’s independent thriller is a straight-up campfire story – and, the filmmaker knows it.  Gillian (played by former Degrassi: The Next Generation co-star Annie Clark) needs to prove herself to be a capable camp counsellor in order to obtain a summer job.  The newbie needs to pull a “solo”, a two-night experience on a secluded island that will test her survival skills.

Cravit, directing and writing his first feature film, is having a lot of fun playing with the conventions of a campfire horror.  The filmmaker even has fellow councillors telling Gillian rumours of haunted activity that took place on the island before she embarks on her trip.

These moments don’t feel like Cravit is pushing too hard for the audience to recognize what the film is trying to be and he sticks his landing well with these scenes of eerie dialogue.

When Gillian arrives at the island and is forced to investigate mysteries in the woods at night, Cravit nails the creepiness.  As the camera slowly moves around a freaked out Clark, we can’t help but get sweaty palms as we feel ourselves growing more anxious.  What’s better is that there aren’t too many of these moments, making these quiet pressure cookers enunciate strongly when they happen.

Cravit is also having a ball throwing red herrings at his audience, including possible antagonists that may have more to do with the island’s history than we realize.

Solo reveals more, including what’s overlooking Gillian.  The routes the film travels on is all a matter of subjectivity.  I watched Solo with my wife, who enjoyed where Cravit took his scary movie.  I, on the other hand, thought these decisions made the film less effectively stimulating and increasingly mundane.

Without spoiling the main course, Cravit’s screenplay makes the right choice to make delirium the main evil in Solo.  The problem is – for me, at least – he chooses the wrong type of crazy.  Solo would’ve been better off as something more psychological than being so literal.

Solo is typical enough to get by.  Some gory effects towards the end are appreciated and certainly help matters tonal wise.  But, part of the joy of watching these smaller scale horrors/thrillers is finding steady specialties that make movie goers gush to others about the film – resulting in consecutive views.  I just didn’t get that with Solo.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014: In the Shadow of the Sun

February 27, 2014 Leave a comment

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By: Addison Wylie

I find myself in a predicament trying to review Harry Freeland’s documentary In the Shadow of the Sun.  Prior to the film, I was oblivious to the subject matter and found myself perplexed by the harsh reality that stalks Tanzanian albinos.

In the Shadow of the Sun is a perfectly fine documentary, but I keep feeling as if I’m rating Freeman’s doc on the content represented rather than the film the material resides in.  That isn’t the fault of Freeland’s wholehearted filmmaking, however.  The subject is just that powerful.

After a rumour circulates claiming that albinos are a rare form of future fortune and wealth, impoverished individuals or those simply seeking a good luck charm set out to retrieve parts of albinos to keep – resulting in nasty slaughters and diminishing hope for those born differently.  Besides the grisly tragedies, Tanzanian albinos are viewed as useless people who should be shunned.

You can see how it’d be easy to get sucked into this distressing situation, and shift focus away from the film itself.  Fortunately, audiences will still be able to appreciate In the Shadow of the Sun’s picturesque cinematography and the valuable minimalist filmmaking.

It’s important to note that Freeland doesn’t shy away from any details.  That description of the doc’s rawness shouldn’t entice you, but instead warn those who are faint of heart.  Movie goers will see the lengths others will go through to obtain a piece of “luck”.  Although, the uncensored look is helpful, these images are some of the most graphic content I’ve ever seen and will undoubtably make audiences queasy during their sympathizing.

The film’s core centres around Josephat Torner, an outspoken albino who wants to bring awareness to the effect this terrible rumour is having on his life and those around him.  He bravely takes to the road and speaks to multiple groups about the issue.  He gets them involved by asking questions and hearing them out before stating his opinion on the matter.  Smartly, Freeman steps back and lets his camera roll on Torner and the crowds during these passionate talks.

The doc is a little too long as it reaches the homestretch, and – understandably – becomes a bit of a broken record as Freeman tries to figure out how to make the main message take forms that offer variety to his project.

Otherwise, In the Shadow of the Sun is clear, concise, and a mannerly marvel.  Much like Josephat, Harry Freeman has made an meritable documentary successfully enlightening audiences around the world of these unfair circumstances.

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Catch In the Shadow of the Sun at Toronto’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival on Friday, February 28 at 6:30 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.