Movie Review ~ The Old Man & the Gun


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker and his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public.

Stars: Robert Redford, Casey R, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Tom Waits, Elisabeth Moss

Director: David Lowery

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Hollywood legend Robert Redford has decided to call it quits (at least in the acting department) so The Old Man & the Gun can safely be considered his silver screen swan song.  And what a way to go.  Redford (The Company You Keep) stars as Forrest Tucker, a career criminal working with two other men (Danny Glover and Tom Waits) responsible for a series of bank robberies.  When he wasn’t breaking out of prison he was eluding the authorities, all while keeping much of his personal life a secret.  We meet up with Tucker in his later years as his bank robbing days are drawing to a close and he’s contemplating hanging it all up for good.  Helping him with this decision is a burgeoning romance with Jewel (Sissy Spacek, Carrie) who presents an alternative future for him that doesn’t have to involve constantly being on the run from the law.

Casey Affleck (The Finest Hours) is the police detective assigned to the case and we get a peek into his life at home as well, a nice benefit audiences usually aren’t afforded in these quiet types of movies.  Usually, if the family of a police officer is featured prominently in a movie it means they are in some sort of danger down the road but writer-director David Lowrey (A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon) has them in the picture to help give Affleck’s character the same depth afforded to Redford’s.

Redford skated so close to an Oscar nomination for All is Lost several years back and it’s looking likely he’ll miss the cut again this year.  His work is so good in The Old Man & the Gun that it would be a shame for it to go unnoticed because the film and the actor have quite a spring in their step.

Movie Review ~ Ride Along

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Fast-talking security guard Ben joins his cop brother-in-law James on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying Angela, James’ sister.

Stars: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Callen, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Tim Story

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Throughout the latter half of Ride Along I’ll admit to being totally zoned out and not paying attention.  Random thoughts kept floating through my mind….

Ride Along is asleep at the wheel.

Ride Along needs a jump start.

Ride Along?  More like Move Along. Nothing To See Here.

Where to begin with this one?

The buddy-cop comedy genre has taken a bit of a beating lately with 2013’s The Heat the latest casualty of writers that don’t know from funny and stars that trust those same writers to do a lot of the work for them.  On paper, I’m sure Ice Cube and Kevin Hart looked like a good combo to put together but in the poison pen of four (count ‘em FOUR!) screenwriters there’s less goodwill toward funny men and more musty cop jokes than you cake shake of box of powdered doughnuts at.

I’m not a huge fan of Kevin Hart to begin with which could have played a role in my feeling about the teeny-weeny comic’s manic energy threatening to vaporize everything left in his wake.  With many scenes winding up feeling like an extended set from his B-side comedy routines, Hart doesn’t have the instincts of the similarly wired Eddie Murphy at his age.  Murphy at least had several moments of silence in each of his films but Hart is non-stop – I halfway wondered if he kept on going so the editor would have trouble cutting away from him.

As Ben, a going nowhere security guard that spends his off work hours playing interactive videogames in a tony loft apartment he shares with his stunning girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter, Sparkle), Hart hits the ground running.   Though it’s never explained what Angela does, it has to be a high paying job in order for the two to afford the kind of rent the spacious brick faced dwelling would demand…because Hart’s low paying job isn’t cutting it.  He finds out he’s been accepted to the police academy and decides to kill two birds with one stone and impress Angela’s wary brother James (Ice Cube) who happens to be a hard-scrabble cop himself.  Make nice with the brother and get some advice…a good plan

James, on the other hand, sees an opportune moment as well…he can get Ben off his back and out of his sister’s life by giving him the kind of ride along he’ll never forget.  Over the course of the day they ride around Atlanta, assigned to 126’s…the most annoying cases no cop wants.  Each run in Hart has with a goofy cuckoo gets less and less funny…and it only makes him try harder and louder.

Ride Along has one scene in my new favorite movie location: The PG-13 strip club where no one is naked, everyone wants to get into, and women in bikinis have hundreds of one dollar bills stuffed in their get-ups.  Actually, the filmmakers don’t even fill their club inside with a lot of people…it looks like the kind of crowd that was recruited from a local dentist office.

Due to the fact that the one joke premise of James terrorizing Ben on a day long look into the life of a cop can’t last forever, the brilliant screenwriters toss in a taxing crime case for James that just happens to see a development on the very day that he’s potential brother in law is accompanying him.  Early on we see that a mysterious figure named Omar is involved with something really big (could be guns, money, drugs…who knows, I forgot) but since no one has seen him, no one can locate him.

The only thing they have to go on is a picture of Omar in the eighth grade…at which point director Tim Story makes the brilliant move of panning to a picture that looks so much like Laurence Fishburne (Man of Steel) that it’s not a spoiler to say…well…guess who plays Omar?  It’s these kind of dunderhead, “we’ll help you figure it out” hand-holding moments that make Ride Along not only not funny but mildly insulting as well.  The comedy is shoved in your face and then your good will is tossed aside until the film needs you to laugh again.

If Kevin Hart wanted to make a cop film about a guy going to the police academy…why not attach himself to the Police Academy remake that’s been talked about for years?  This movie is just incredibly lame, half-hearted, and clearly aimed to make a quick buck and pave the way for a sequel (it’s already been announced) rather than having any strong ambition to just make something funny.

The Silver Bullet ~ Ride Along

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Synopsis: Fast-talking security guard Ben joins his cop brother-in-law James on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying Angela, James’ sister.

Release Date:  January 17, 2014

Thoughts: Though the mismatched buddy cop formula has been done to death in countless films (most recently in 21 Jump Street), I guess there’s always room for one more.  The unlikely combo here finds Kevin Hart (Grudge Match) trying to impress his fiancé’s policeman brother (Ice Cube) by spending some time with him on the job.  While I find that a little of Hart goes a long way, this seems to be a nice fit for the wise-cracking comedian and one that will play nicely against Ice-T’s more deadpan style.  I’m not expecting much from this one and that’s usually the best way to go into a formula film…because you may wind up liking it more than you thought you would.  Here’s hoping.

Movie Review ~ Sparkle

The Facts:

Synopsis: Set in the 1960s, three sisters form girl group and soon become Motown sensations, but fame becomes a challenge as the close-knit family begins to fall apart.

Stars: Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Derek Luke, Mike Epps, Carmen Ejogo, Tika Sumpter, Omari Hardwick, Cee-Lo Green

Director: Salim Akil

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 116 minutes

TMMM Score (6/10):

Trailer Review: Here

Review:  There are two large shadows that loom mightily over this remake of the 1976 film of the same name.  The first is the obvious comparison to that other musical centering on a Supremes-like girl group in the 60’s: Dreamgirls.  If you look at the timeline carefully you’ll note that the original Sparkle came out a full four years before Dreamgirls opened on Broadway…thereby making it the first on the scene.  The parallels between the two are more than a little coincidental but Sparkle takes a harder edge in its latter half that would have seemed out of place in Dreamgirls.  Also, I’d say that Dreamgirls is an outright musical while Sparkle is a drama with the occasional musical number delivered from a stage, nightclub, or church.  The two may be similar in story but their paths diverge, making Sparkle less obviously about The Supremes.

The second shadow is more of a ghost like presence concerning co-star Houston who passed away in February just as the film was moving into post production.  It’s hard to say what kind of press the film would have received had Houston not died but it was her return to the screen after more than 15 years so a lot of attention would have been focused on this project anyway.  Houston also acted as executive producer of the film, having acquired the rights back in early 2000 with the intention to star alongside Lauryn Hill and Aaliyah.  When Aaliyah herself passed away the project was put on hold until now. 

Both of these shadows don’t sink the film that winds up being surprisingly pleasant even though it drifts a bit in the latter half.  It’s a fairly predictable flick and if you can’t see the pieces falling into place long before they do then you need your eyes checked.  Even with its telegraphed plot there is a winning quality to the film that keeps you invested based on the strength of the performances, production design and strong direction.

Like Dreamgirls, the star of the film is another American Idol alum making her screen debut and Sparks is mostly up to the challenge though she won’t be winning an Oscar for her efforts.  It’s not a star-making turn like Jennifer Hudson had in Dreamgirls but Sparks doesn’t embarrass herself, even if the role doesn’t quite fit her like a glove.  With her mega-watt smile the camera loves her and she fits the era well in terrific costumes by Ruth E. Carter.  Her Idol-tuned voice doesn’t truly fit the period (1968) however her vocals near the end have a rousing power to them. 

Speaking of the soundtrack, aside from music cues from actual popular music of that time none of the music sounds remotely late 60’s which is a shame.  Much of the new material was written by R. Kelly and its feet are firmly planted in contemporary pop music.  The music isn’t bad (especially the great “Running” sung by a secondary character played by musician Goapele) but authenticity flies out the window whenever the music starts to play.  Also, I would have bet the ranch that several of the actors had their vocals dubbed but careful inspection showed that everyone was doing their own singing…so basically they were just lyp-synching badly in the film.  Houston even struggled with matching her pre-recorded vocals when filming…which is surprising coming from an artist who famously perfectly lyp-synched The Star Spangled Banner at The SuperBowl.

While watching Houston onscreen I started to miss her presence all over again.  Yes, she struggled with addiction but there was no denying she had a voice that wouldn’t quit.  Her acting was spotty in her limited film career and had she made more films I believe she would have evolved…sadly it wasn’t meant to be.  In Sparkle, she’s the mom to the trio of girls that form Sister and Her Sisters and she takes care of business easily.  She’s the stereotypical single mom who has been-there, done-that and doesn’t want her daughters to follow in her footsteps.  At times, Houston plays the role a bit too nasty which makes the inevitable softening of her resolve at the conclusion harder to fully buy.  While Houston works through the material well she appears tired with her eyelids often at half mast and more than a few scenes played with her eyes totally closed.  Who knows what was going on during that period but for a highly hyped return to the screen (and as it turns out her final performance) she’s serviceable but doesn’t ace it. 

Brit Ejogo looks great and sings well as the lead singer of the group.  Without Sparks in the mix she would have (and probably should have) been the star of the show as most of the film revolves around her and the choices she makes as her star rises.  Ejogo has a pretty voice and at times looks an awful lot like Michelle Pfeiffer so you know my attention was rapt when she was onscreen.  Sumpter is probably the best actress of the group and gets to deliver some of the funnier lines as the worldly-wise sister that isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. 

The men in the film are a mixed bag and play their broad characters in support of the females – which is exactly what they should have done.  Epps and Luke play love interests to the Ejogo and Sparks characters and if neither actor gets to dig in deep they make consistent choices throughout.  If you’re going to see Green you’ll be in for a let-down as his appearance is strictly limited to the opening five minutes.  It’s nearly a walk-on role as he opens the movie with a song and then disappears.

Director Akil works from the screenplay his wife Mara Brock Akil updated and for the most part he’s delivered a good-looking, well-formed picture that should please fans of Sparks and Houston.  While some of the plot’s turning points are more convenient than believable (such as Bible-thumping Houston providing Sparks with the lowest cut Jezebel looking red dress this side of Mae West), it all somehow adds up to a harmless watch.