Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ride Along (2014)

JohnnyTwoToes cant find any redeeming qualities in this insipid buddy cop comedy!

Ride Along was a hit with viewers and for the life of me I don't see why. It has its few, scant moments and the two leads, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart are engaging chemistry but Ride Along is so inept and run of the mill it ends up being a mess of a movie. 

Kevin Hart is Ben, a security guard at the local high school who dreams of being an Atlanta police officer. He is living with Angela (Tika Sumpter) and is getting ready to propose to her. Enter James Payton (Ice Cube) , an Atlanta police officer who happens to be Angela's brother and her only family. "Prove you are worthy to be with her," James tells Ben. "How?" Ben asks. "Ride Along," James quips with a smile on his face, and here is our movie.     
Ride Along has an unusually simple but interesting premise and there could have been tons of material to make it exciting and original, but sadly this film is a tired retread of tired retreads. There is not ONE thing that happens in Ride Along that you won't see coming. NOT ONE. This is unbelievable since the film has four...that's heard me...FOUR scriptwriters and there is not one original moment in Ride Along. How does THAT happen? Did the filmmakers think they were going to coast on man chemistry alone between the lead pair ? 

Hart is no doubt a likable and funny star. He reminds me of what I saw in Eddie Murphy when he busted on through with Beverly Hills Cop. Undeniably, Hart and Ice Cube are both solid in this film. I have always maintained Ice Cube is a good actor and he does well in Ride Along, too. But the rest of the cast, although they are competent enough, their characters are so one dimensional that they only slow an already insipid plot. But when you have such electrifying performers like John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Bryan Callen and a rather miscasted Laurence Fishburne, why waste them on a cheap dime store plot? Of course, the lead cop is always investigating a case that has him at odds with his CO and Ride Along, in predictable fashion, is no different. Something about running guns or illegal passports....I could not have cared less. Trust me, you won't care, either. 

Tim Story who has worked with both Hart and Ice Cube on other films fails MISERABLY with Ride Along. Story who was responsible for garbage like the Fantastic Four films also directed vibrantly funny and observant films like Barbershop (with Ice Cube) and Think Like A Man (with Kevin Hart). So he knows what is needed to make a funny film with an eye and an ear on how people talk to each other. With Ride Along, he makes a witless, pointless romp, derivative of better films like Lethal Weapon with about half of the smarts and almost zero of humor. The climax of the film seems to be directly lifted from Analyze This only Ride Along's version is not funny and seems to drag on FOREVER. 

I really wanted to like Ride Along. Its two leads have lots to say and do but nothing works despite their presence and a few brief.....BRIEF smiles that might cross your lips. Ride Along is just dumb and uninteresting from start to finish. Since it WAS a hit at the box office romping over $153 million against a budget of $25 million, there is a sequel planned for release in 2016. I hope and pray to God, they do a better job in that film. Bring back Hart and Ice Cube but, next time around, give them something to do! Do I even need to say this is one of the year's most disappointing films? Ride Along-* out of 4

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Christmas, Hanukkah & Kwanzaa !

Wishing all of you Lotsa Joy & Happy Holidays! 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hairspray (1988)

The most accessible movie John Waters ever made!

Cult filmmaker John Waters makes a cameo appearance in Hairspray and you would ask why not? Unlike his usual X rated films that were the bane of the censors, Hairspray is so clinically safe, even a grandmother could have appeared in it. Even Sonny Bono could (and does). Even the 300-pound transvestite Divine...but don't worry, Waters makes a PG-13 film here, certainly a characteristic departure from his many past efforts, one of which was famously filmed in "Odorama” which could only be truly appreciated with the aid of a scratch-and-sniff card. 

Divine made five other films with his high-school friend John Waters: Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1971), Pink Flamingos (1973), Female Trouble (1974), and Polyester (1981) but this much deserved and critically acclaimed breakthrough comedy sadly contains Divine's last performance. He died on March 7, 1988 just 3 weeks after this movie's release. 

Hairspray was the last film for Divine (real name: Harris Glenn Milstead), who stars as a lovable mom whose daughter, the ebullient Ricki Lake, lands a spot as a dancer on the local “Corny Collins Show" in early '60s Baltimore. Waters evidently has a special reverence for his hometown, and in the early '60s, Baltimore was not only popular for its dance obsession but also unmistakably a place where a girl's popularity was directly proportional to the height of her bouffant hairdo. This bright, bouncy early '60s look at dance crazes, racial tensions and integrationist sympathies is a pure delight, from Ricki Lake's memorable debut performance as a chubby teen who breaks all the boundaries, to Divine as her surly but sweet mom. 

Besides the never disappointing Divine, Ricki Lake is a stand out. Waters casts the hefty teen as Tracy Turnblad, the rotund daughter of the even more rotund Divine. She is a nonconforming 60s teen with an idiosyncratic attitude who impulsively wants to compete in a dance show. It's not so much the dance as the attitude and it shows when she’s about doing the Madison, a dance step that eventually wins her a coveted job as a dancer on the "Corny Col¬lins Show". Apart from the lead two, watch out for the strong supporting cast including Pia Zadora, Jerry Stiller (as Divine's husband), and Debbie Harry

Hairspray was a moderate success on release and a dramatic departure of Waters’ usual style. However, it is now considered both a sleeper hit on video and an undeniable John Waters cult classic even fetching Waters’ a Grand Jury prize at Sundance and Empire magazine calling it one of the 500 greatest movies of all time. Still, if the acting of Divine and Ricki lake doesn't impress you; the music, songs, candy colors and dances are all heaven and make it a must watch. A true John Waters treat like no other.

Note – If you like Divine as I do, you must watch Lust In The Dust (1984), a freakish western satire directed by Paul (Eating Raoul) Bartel, and Trouble in Mind (1985), where Divine actually plays a guy, alongside Kris Kristofferson, Genevieve Bujold, and Keith Carradine. Ricki Lake fans should checkout Cookie, directed by Susan Seidelman and co-starring Emily Lloyd and Peter Falk, Working Girl with Harrison Ford, and german director Uli Edel's Last Exit to Brooklyn co starring Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Filth (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes highly recommends this underrated & twisted downward spiral

Made over a year earlier, but not getting a release until April of 2014, Filth was completely missed by the mainstream audience in America sadly releasing in just 5 theaters. This perhaps explain why in spite of a stellar performance by James McAvoy, crisp direction by Jon S. Baird and rave reviews by both critics and the public, it still did not get the attention it deserved across the US. 

Based on a best selling novel by Scottish crime writer Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) , Filth is the story of a Scottish police investigator who is assigned to investigate the death of a Japanese student beaten to death by a gang. That is all I can say without divulging too much and since I am recommending this movie, I can say this is one of the best films of the year. 

James McAvoy is the lead character, DI (Detective Inspector) Bruce Robertson, a loathsome man if ever there was one. A corrupt, alcoholic, drug addict who is sleeping with wives of his fellow officers, bucking for the prized promotion that he thinks will make his life all the better. "The games are always being played and usually, nobody plays the games better than me. Same rules apply." is his narrated mantra and his justification for his vile behavior. 

McAvoy is at ease here playing the bipolar lead who is excellent at the games as he pits on officer against the other in clever fashion while sinking into a cauldron of booze, women and drugs. He is a backstabber, a liar and unapologetic for any of his transgressions and McAvoy makes Robertson so viciously reprehensible that you would wonder how anybody could still root for him. But I did. McAvoy is THAT good. He is able to take this character and STILL make you root for him to get his life in order. This is no small feat. You get to see that there is still good in Robertson but he tries to stamp it back down. It only makes it worse for him. 

McAvoy's performance is Oscar worthy, but since not many have even HEARD of this film let alone seen it, this would be long shot. Too bad. His performance is the best of his career, probably the most difficult to play, as well. He has done some incredible work with Danny Boyle's Trance, also a great film and of course the young Professor Xavier in the X-Men franchise. But Filth is all McAvoy. 

Credit also goes to director Jon S. Baird for creating a cinematic visual treat to go along with McAvoy's screen shredding performance. The visuals pop off the screen as Robertson's mental state starts to unravel. The script, also by Baird is savagely funny and there is never a dull moment here. Sharp, engaging and intelligent, it never dumbs any of the material down for the viewer. Baird's direction is masterful too and unflinching. He never stops pushing the envelope and neither does McAvoy. 

The supporting cast is terrific as well. With Imogen Poots as his only female competition for his promotion and the best candidate; she is smart, sexy and classy. Jim Broadbent is having fun as Robertson's therapist, too. Brian McCardie, Emun Elliot, Gary Lewis, Eddie Marsan and the ever wonderful Jamie Bell round out an outstanding cast that is excellent, as well. Clint Mansell provides another graceful score that punctuates Robertson's battle with himself. 

Filth might have come and gone quickly, not received ANY attention, but don't let that dissuade you from seeing it. Filth is a wild and funny ride and worth tracking down. It is witty, hilarious, sad, filled with surprises and one of the best film's of the year. It is NOT a film for kids, however. Adults only, I'm afraid. Robertson would want it that way, "Same rules apply." Filth-**** out of 4

Friday, December 12, 2014

Hum - Downward is Heavenward (1998)

Undeniably one of the most underrated alt rock albums of the '90s

Hum, were a critically acclaimed Illinois based alternative rock band of the '90s  who had their 15 minutes of fame with their "Stars" hit single and Downward is Heavenward, their fourth and last album released in 1998 was expected to sell more than its 1995 predecessor -  You’d Prefer an Astronaut which quietly sold over 250,000 thousand copies on release mostly on account of the Stars hit track.

Unlike what was commercially projected, this album fared poorly but was appreciated by both fans and critics so much that its still ranked amongst one of the best alternative rock albums of the 90s. 

Evidently, the band’s fourth effort was a dramatic step forward and finds Hum here at the peak of their songwriting and musicianship. Hum’s music has been described as hardcore, psychedelia, and almost everything in between. The musical references here are numerous and diverse, including outfits such as Helmet, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, and even a touch of R.E.M. (just listen to the melodies on "Ms. Lazarus" or "Comin’ Home" for proof of this). 

It would be unfair to label Hum as a hardcore band just because they have some heavy handed guitar lines here and there. Hum also has a soft side, a pop side, a shoe-gazer side, and a psychedelic side that each appear from time to time on this album. Despite the ferocious guitar lines on many of the songs on Downward is Heavenward, lead singer Matt Talbott never really sounds angry. He actually sounds a bit introspective and reserved. The odd pairing works, though, making Hum more interesting than many of the hardcore bands playing similar music of those days. This is a slice of genuine 90s alt rock that you all msut listen to.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Beastie Boys : The Sounds of Science (1999)

Greatest hits, B-sides and Rarities from the Hip Hop Rap Rock Superstars! 

Most fans and critics would agree that few rap bands shaped the course of music in the '90s as much as the hip hoppers Beastie Boys. In the '80s, the  radical Beasties Boys trio comprising of Michael "Mike D" Diamond, Adam "MCA" Yauch and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz  introduced rap to white high school kids when their Licensed to Ill broke down the barriers between rap and rock. Then, on the critically acclaimed follow-up, Paul's Boutique, the trio took sampling and rap song structure to brand new heights. Since then, the band fashioned a rap style that drew its inspiration from a multitude of musical genres - a distinctive sound that was comfortable borrowing riffs from just about any source, whether it be Cannonball Adderly, Zamfir, or even AC/DC. 

On their greatest hits compilation The Sounds of Science, the Beastie Boys packaged most of their  biggest hits along with a few new tracks and some rarities. Though it did well commercially, by trying to appeal to both die-hard and casual fans, the group ended up satisfying neither party. Casual fans didn't give a flip about hearing the insipid "Country Mike" material, while die-hard fans really didn't want to hear "Fight for Your Right" again. It's also a safe bet that only a small portion of the band's followers actually enjoyed their excursions into hardcore punk. The band would have been better off releasing The Sounds of Science as two separate CDs – one with the rarities and new tracks and one with the hits. 

As a collection of hits, the only noticeably absent tune was "No Sleep 'til Brooklyn." Perhaps the band was still bothered by the drug references in that song. As a collection of rarities, it's a shame that neither "Rock Hard" or "Spam" were included on The Sounds of Science. These songs had popped up on bootlegs for a while, and I'm sure many fans would loved to have clean recordings of these songs. Instead, they got a cover of Benny & the Jets that features a vocal by Biz Markie. It's funny the first time, annoying after that. 

From the start, the Beastie Boys knew they could never make a definitive "Greatest Hits" album. This is mainly due to the fact that their fans held widely varied opinions about which songs were/are actually the group's best. Some claim that Licensed to Ill is the band's best record, others argue that it's their worst. Knowing this, the band decided to let their fans even make their own custom CDs too. 

Whatever your reason, this anthology (in spite of all its inconsistencies) is a must for any fan of the 90s especially the hip hop genre that this uncustomary rap rock band truly redefined. 

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