Yup, the Q&Ds are back. Got a lot of 'em this time, so let's just get to it.
Ride Along 2
(2016)Down in Miami. Hacker A.J. (Ken Jeong) steals a bunch of money from the really rich and really crooked Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt) whom he also works for. Back in Atlanta, Ben (Kevin Hart), who is fresh out of the police academy, and James (Ice Cube), a detective, are trying to bust a drug dealer in a scene that looks like an homage to the Fast and Furious franchise. After a lot of commotion they fail to get the guy, but do get a necklace he was wearing that happens to have a flash drive on it that was encrypted by none other than A.J. Obviously, this means James is on his way to Miami. Ben desperately wants to go to prove he’s worthy of being put into the detective program. James agrees to take him, only to prove once and for all that Ben isn’t cut out for it. Buddy cop hijinks, shenanigans, and mayhem ensues. More specifically, the same exact movie as the first Ride Along plays out, only with Ken Jeong in tow for much of the movie. Also shoe-horned in is Olivia Munn as a local Miami cop. Her character is a female version of James and provides him with an extremely G-rated love interest. There are a few funny bits as the comedy is kinda hit-and-miss. That said, there is one downright hilarious moment revolving around ringtones. It’s one of the funniest instances of product placement I’ve ever seen. The action scenes are recycled from every buddy-cop flick that came before it, but there are plenty of them. If you saw the first Ride Along, use your feelings about that to decide if you should watch this one. Either that, or just know your own tolerance level for Kevin Hart and Ken Jeong since both just give us more of the same personas for which we’ve come to know them.
(2015)John Connor (Jason Clarke) has now been leading the resistance against the machines for years. We are finally at the point where the entire Terminator series comes full circle as John is deciding on who to send back to 1984 to protect his mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) from the original T-800. That role is now handled by CGI Arnie. Unless you’ve somehow never heard of this franchise, you know John decides to send his protégé Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney). When Kyle gets to 1984, things are much different than he was initially led to believe. For starters, not only is the T-800 after Sarah, but so is one of the liquid metal T-1000s (a wasted Byung Hun Lee) from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sarah already knows all about the angry robots trying to kill her and why. Lastly, she is protected by a friendly, but old looking T-800. That one is played by Real Arnie, AKA Mr. Olympia, AKA my governor from another mothernor, AKA Arnold Schwarzenegger. The movie gives us some nonsensical explanations for how all this happened, including the reason Terminators age like humans. Then a bunch of stuff happens. None of that makes any sense, either. To make matters worse, the first half of Genisys works extremely hard to undo everything in the franchise’s original film. The second half of Genisys blindfolds you, spins you around three times while repeatedly whacking you in the head with a mallet, then turns you loose in a dark room you’ve never been in before with no light switch, tells you there’s a hundred dollar bill in there somewhere that’s yours if you can find it under a minute. By the way, the room is filled with furniture. Black furniture. Good luck.
Real Arnie may be too old, but he still plays his part well. Courtney is a pretty cool Kyle Reese. As for the other two major roles…I dunno. Jason Clarke isn’t terrible as John Connor, but he’s too cold at the start to be the leader and champion of humanity we’ve always been told he is. What happens to him later is so ridiculously written he couldn’t possibly save it. Emilia Clarke fares even worse as Sarah Connor. She’s far too post-Hunger Games/YA novel/cutesy-tough to pull off the role. Oh well, at least there are some pretty decent action scenes along the way.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
(2015)The "Me" in the title is Greg (Thomas Mann), a high school student entering his senior year. He also serves as our narrator. Unlike teens in most other movies, he has no designs on climbing the school's social ladder. He's content to have crafted a cloak of both diplomacy and invisibility. To full the diplomacy part, he makes sure he spends a few moments with every clique in the building making innocuous small talk. That way, he's cool with everyone even if none of them consider him a friend. To achieve invisibility he refuses to put himself in situations where all of these groups converge, such as the cafeteria. He eats in one of his teacher's offices with Earl (RJ Cyler) whom he calls his co-worker, not his friend, because the two have made over forty movies together. Like Mos Def and Jack Black in ..., they make their own versions of actual films they like. Greg's world is turned upside down when his mother asks him to hang out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a classmate of his who has just been diagnosed with leukemia. He does so begrudgingly. His reluctance is understandable given that he not socialized with her since they were both really small children. He feels it will come off as phony and unwelcome pity. He's right. Still, he goes through with it and the rest of their senior year ensues. Earl's, too. It's all a rather pleasant watch with its heart in the right place, for the most part. As expected, Greg and Rachel develop a deep, meaningful relationship as her condition deteriorates. Through this she teachers Greg profound lessons about living. This is fine, but by now it has been done to death. Yes, the pun is intended. Nothing new is brought to the table with regards to their friendship and the rest of it is not strong enough to overcome its derivative nature. Things that might pass for new are either extraneous or drowned in cliche. Katherine C. Hughes, as pretty girl Madison is the extraneous one, wholly irrelevant to the plot and merely the source of a couple gags about guys getting themselves in situations they don't want to be in because of such girls. Anything she does of any relevance could have been done by someone else without it making any difference, whatsoever. Earl is the walking cliche. He's your fairly typical Magical Negro sidekick mixed with a healthy portion of black kid from the hood. Despite how it sounds, I don't hate this movie. I actually enjoyed it while it was on. This is a credit to the performances of our young cast. I'm just not hailing it as a triumph in filmmaking. In other words, it's okay.
(2015)Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) realizes his family is in a rut. He seeks to shake things up and get them bond the way his dad did many years ago in National Lampoon's Vacation. He loads them up in the car and heads for the world's greatest theme park, Wally World. Yup, reboot. It's not as terrible as I've been led to believe. In fact, I think the first half of it is rather funny. Some of the setups are too obvious, but still work, often enough. The car Rusty rents for the occasion is the biggest culprit in this regard. The Chris Hemsworth scenes work particularly well. However, there are two halves to a movie. A little beyond the midpoint, this one just completely loses steam and limps towards the finish line. This, of course, includes the obligatory cameos by Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo. Fans of the original might be a bit perturbed because Ed Helms appears to be doing an impression of Chase from the original rather than a grown-up Rusty. They might also note the humor this time around feels more mean spirited. Still, the first half is solid enough that it's not a total waste.
(2015)Before September 11, 2001, The Twin Towers were one of the most recognizable parts of the famed New York City skyline. In a rather literal fashion, they were also a symbol of America’s prosperity and the opportunity to achieve the upward mobility that makes the country attractive to outsiders. Before they were even completed, Frenchman Phillippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) made it his mission in life to rig a tightrope between them, from one roof to the other, and walk across it. In case you didn’t know, both buildings stood 110 stories making the idea an off-the-charts level of insanity. Since this is also be highly illegal, emphasis on “highly,” it requires a stealthy operation. As viewers of The Walk, we get to watch it unfold. It’s a film that runs for 124 minutes. We can chop off a few for the closing credits, giving us roughly two hours of actual movie. For roughly the first ninety of those minutes, it did absolutely nothing for me. I imagine the problem is I’ve already seen Man on Wire, the brilliant documentary on the same exact event. The Walk offered very little in the way of things that are both different from the doc and interesting. Other problems lied with the film itself. The biggest culprit is the seemingly constant narration by our protagonist. It is both unnecessary and overbearing. What makes it so is that it commits the biggest sin of movie narrating: it tells you what’s happening while it’s happening. Just pick one, movie. Preferably, trust your audience and show us without the intrusive and annoying voice-over. If you just have to give your star even more chances to show off the French accent he’s adopted for the film, fine, do that instead. Never do both. Speaking of our star, Gordon-Levitt is pretty good, but I wouldn’t call it one of his best performances.
The latter portion of the film shines largely because it gives me the one thing the doc could not: actually seeing Petit walk the wire. The doc contained still photos of him doing this, but no footage. Here, the eponymous moment is recreated in breath-taking fashion. The CGI on display is amazing, save for a cartoonish looking bird that may have been done that way on purpose. It truly feels like you’re with our hero over a thousand feet above the ground with no safety equipment of any kind. This leads me to the conclusion if you haven’t seen Man on Wire, you’re probably in for what amounts to a pretty good heist movie. If you have, then much of The Walk is just a long wait until the good part.
Ip Man 3
(2015)Back we go into the life of legendary master of Wing Chun Ip Man (Yen). Once again he’s trying to live a nice, quiet life when trouble intervenes. It comes in the form of American real estate developer/gangster Frank (Mike Tyson). It so happens that the school Ip’s son attends is sitting on a piece of land Frank wants pretty damn badly. Hordes of Frank’s goons go after Ip, giving us plenty of fight scenes. Another Wing Chun master, Cheung Tin-chi (Zhang Jin), may or may not be Ip’s ally in this whole ordeal as he also has a son attending the same school. Finally, Ip’s wife Wing-Sing (Lynn Hung) has fallen ill leaving Ip simultaneously fighting two very different battles. The fighting is marvelous, as it was in both of this film’s predecessors. The highlight is Ip’s eventual battle with Frank. It’s a magnificent scene showcasing the contrasting styles in heart-pumping fashion. The various strands of the story all work well enough that we’re not bored between action scenes. Another strong performance by Donnie Yen greatly aids this. Yen himself is helped by Zhang Jin in the ally/rival role. As for Mike Tyson doesn’t fare too well, coming off cartoonish most of the time. Good thing he has that fight scene. In all, it’s another solid entry into the series, but the weakest of the three. At this point, calling them biopics is a loose designation, at best. That really doesn’t matter, though, long as the fighting is on point. It is.