R.I.P.D.

R.I.P.D. is basically Men in Black crossed with True Grit, crossed with Power Rangers. Sadly, despite some fun dialogue and some clever ideas and great visuals, it’s not all that good. Mainly that’s because the writers forgot to put in interesting characters.

To have any hope of liking R.I.P.D., you ought to have enjoyed:
any Men in Black movie
Blade 3
The Other Guys
The Three Stooges

What with the great effects and the good actors, it’s a shame that R.I.P.D. isn’t any more enjoyable than a bland sandwich without mayo.

Here’s a trailer:

Doesn’t that look fun?

The deets:

Released July 19, 2013

Written by Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, and David Dobkin. Based on the comic by Peter M. Lenkov

Directed by Robert Schwentke

Starring Mary Louise Parker, Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Stephanie Szostak, Kevin Bacon, Robert Knepper, Marissa Miller, and James Hong

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Nick (Reynolds) is a cop who perishes in a firefight at the beginning of R.I.P.D. He is immediately taken to some purgatory-like place whose mission is to keep the bad lingering spirits of the dead from taking over the world of the living. They do this with some interesting technology and with some interesting constraints and rules.

First off, they’re dead. Apparently this means that being beat up and getting hit by a bus hurt, but just don’t kill you. Second, they use weapons, but without any interesting explanation as to what these weapons are and why they do what they do. Third, the bad spirits can physically transform into big, ugly creatures that can do actual damage to the real world. Fourth-

I’ll stop there. It gets more and more absurd as you go along thinking. This isn’t a thinking movie.

Nick is assigned a new partner named Roy (Bridges). They answer to Proctor (Parker). She is dry of humor and is actually pretty humorless.

Roy is basically Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn, but with more humor. Sadly, the humor just seems too carefully written– it doesn’t seem natural. Instead, it is simply delivered because it’s on the page.

Then you have Hayes (Bacon), who is a truly bad guy. Nick and Roy have to stop Hayes before Hayes unleashes a terrible evil which will destroy the world. At the same time, Nick has to deal with his beloved slowly making her way into danger as she is taken advantage of in her grief.

Critique

Critiquing R.I.P.D. is pretty simple. It’s far too much like Men in Black without refreshing the tropes and cleverness and humor. The characters have nothing interesting at all about them, which is a shame, because Reynolds, Parker, and Bridges are all good actors. The dialogue is intermittently funny, but is usually groan-worthy because we know exactly what’s going to be said when it comes to zingers.

This isn’t a bad movie, but it’s certainly hard to understand why such an obvious retread of Men in Black was found to be necessary.

For a movie about dead but not really dead cops who mete out vigilante justice, R.I.P.D. is strangely lifeless.

Content warnings: Comic/fantastic violence throughout, some mild swearing.

Writing: 2          Acting: 3.5          Overall: 2.5

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The Croods

The Croods is a truly fascinating surprise. It seems like it might depend too much on physical humor and low-hanging fruit punchlines, but it tosses in a few very unexpected surprises. Then, when you realize that the main character is actually the dad, the movie takes off and really delivers.

Plus, Nicholas Cage should only do voice-over work now. He’s marvelous.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released March 22, 2013

Written by Chris Sanders, Kirk De Micco, and John Cleese

Directed by Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders

Starring Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Nicholas Cage, Clark Duke, and Ryan Reynolds

Rated: PG

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The Croods are a tight-knit family led by hyper-paranoid Grug (Cage). All of their other caveman neighbors have died, but because Grug has rules like “Never not be afraid” and “Never leave the cave,” the Croods are still alive. But his daughter Eep (Stone) is chafing at the restrictions and doesn’t consider not dying much of a life. His wife, Ugga (Keener) does her best to keep the peace, while his son Thunk (Duke) is rather incompetent but fiercely obedient and loyal to his dad. Rounding out the family are Ugga’s mother Gran (Leachman) and the nutzo baby, Sandy.

One night, Eep notices some strange light and follows the glow until she comes upon Guy (Reynolds), a more evolved fellow who has fire. Guy tells Eep that change is coming to the land and that he can help her find a way to safety. When Grug discovers Eep has left the cave, he flips out, but before any reprisals can happen, the earth around them erupts in massive tectonic activity.

Now Grug has to lead his family to safety, learn to trust the far too smooth Guy, and find a way to keep his family close, despite his paranoia and fear of anything new. Meanwhile, the family finds that they are spreading wings they never knew they had.

Yes, this is a film about evolving cavemen.

We get some nice story twists and great character surprises– all of which leads to a final moving scene where Grug has to sacrifice everything for his family.

But is that really where it ends? Stick around– this flick has a very fine, surprising ending that delivers a solid emotional resolution.

Critique

While The Croods sometimes depends a little too much on easy punchlines, particularly with the mother-in-law jokes, it is overall very well written. It’s no Up or Finding Nemo, but it tells an excellent, moving story about characters who are very familiar to us and who have needs and hopes like all of us. The humor is generally fresh and clever and the family dynamics are just wonderful. And the way the characters solve their problems requires imagination and humility.

The voice acting is great. Nicholas Cage is a great choice for Grug, with his expressive voice and ability to flip out unexpectedly. Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds also do a great job.

Lastly, the animation is just wonderful. Truly imaginative visuals and deep layers to the world that this family travels through make the film experience totally involving.

Viewers of The Croods will generally be pleasantly surprised by the sense of wonder and life in this film, and will be warmed by a story that shows that we are capable of anything to keep our family and loved ones safe.

Content warnings: Some cartoon action and violence– mostly to comic effect.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4.5

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Safe House

Safe House for being a film about rogue spies, is strangely by the book. That said, it’s carried well by intense, engrossing performances and generally breathless pacing.

Got previews?

The deets:

Released February 10, 2012

Written by David Guggenheim (not DAVIS)

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

Starring Vera Farmiga, Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Brendan Gleeson, Nora Arnezeder, Robert Patrick, and Sam Shepard

Rated: R

*     *     *     *    *

There are moments of such intensity in Safe House that the viewer’s heart gets a’thumping and the muscles tense up. Those moments are not the best moments of the film, but they’re close.

Story

Safe House starts with Matt Weston (Reynolds) hitting a punching bag. He is a bored, low-level, rookie CIA operative on assignment as a ‘housekeeper’ in a CIA safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. He’s aching to be reassigned to somewhere with a little more excitement. We later find out that he had a rough-ish childhood, ended up at Yale, is middling when it comes to most spy-craft stuff but was excellent at the more visceral tradecraft of shooting and such. His boredom is well established, while his times spent with his lovely girlfriend, Ana (Anezeder), are tender and deeply felt.

Pan to Tobin Frost (Washington). He’s a highly-skilled rogue operative running some kind of deal. He acquires a file that presumably has some very high-value information. Turns out it’s got dirt on lots of people. He wants to sell it. But somebody wants to stop him. He spends the entire movie on the run.

Frost gets in a sticky situation and ends up having to turn himself in to stay alive. He shows up at the safe house run by Weston, accompanied by some CIA operative guards. Robert Patrick plays the head of this group and does a nice, if brief, job.

Frost’s opponents show up, although they shouldn’t have even known where the safe house was. They do this a lot and it becomes clear that they have someone on the inside directing their movements. It might be Linklater (Farmiga) or it might be Barlow (Gleeson), who happens to be Weston’s mentor. It might even be someone else, like Deputy Director Whitford (Shepard). Whatever the case is, all of these CIA types want Frost and they have to depend on Weston to keep him under wraps and safe, all while dodging some relentless mercenaries.

The central premise is now established. What the filmmakers wanted to do differently was have Frost be very sympathetic, very smart, and still be pretty much self-interested. This turned out well in one way: They got Denzel Washington to play Frost.

Safe House rollicks along, with Weston fighting to keep up with Frost and keep him under control. There are intense car chases, visceral fights that suffer from the inconstant and shaking camera, and lots of gunshots. You can predict every twist that comes along and the ending is pretty pat, if also quite a throwback to the ‘everybody’s good’ ending of spy movies from the ’90s.

Critique

Safe House is a good movie. It’s perfectly well diverting and is acted well beyond the pretty workaday script. The script really is where the heart of the problem abides. It’s been done, better in many cases, and really had no surprises. We’ve seen the characters, seen the conflicts, seen the betrayals, and seen the ending.

That said, the production designer did a fine job in helping the audience experience the familiar in a loud, raw, engaging way. Washington and Reynolds also breathe humanity into the familiar characters they inhabit. They deliver the tired dialogue so well that it even perks up a bit. These performances are like a shot of caffeine during the daily, 2 o’clock stretch of most people’s afternoons. The stretch happens every day, we know it’s going to happen, so we grab an energy drink.

Unfortunately, viewers don’t want to see their 2 o’clock afternoon stretch on screen.

All in all, Safe House delivers spectacular action set pieces, very good performances, and a story we’ve seen before. As action fare, it’s good, particularly for the time of year, but Chronicle is better. If you want to see Denzel turn in a great performance, Vera Farmiga put on a clinic, and Ryan Reynolds prove that he really can act, all in an action vehicle, go for it.

Somewhat recommended, mostly for fans of the actors and lovers of action films.

Content warnings: Mid-high level profanity, tons of violence, suggestive partial nudity, painful-looking wounds, and moments of extreme intensity.

Writing: 2          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3

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Green Lantern

My friends, don’t be fooled. Green Lantern is not as bad as these ‘movie critics’ are saying. It’s by no means on the level of X-Men: First Class, or Spiderman 2, or even Thor, but it’s still mildly and intermittently entertaining.

This is because we can be entertained by predictable characters doing mostly predictable things while surrounded by marvelously done special effects and saying some pretty great lines. The film isn’t going to change anyone’s paradigm (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), inspire swooning (The Notebook), or have people cheering at the end of it (Goonies), but it will keep you mostly engrossed and there are some very nice gems.

Emeralds, you could say.

The deets:

Released on June 17, 2011

Written by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green (appropriate, no?), Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg.

Directed by Martin Campbell

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Tim Robbins, and Michael Clark Duncan’s voice.

*     *     *     *

The movie begins with a long-ish unfolding of the back story of the Green Lantern folks. This, unfortunately, is a sign that the movie you are about to see may struggle a little. It’s like a lengthy prologue. My rule: If it’s necessary to your story, either change your story or put the prologue IN THE STORY. The prologue ends with a red alien who is part of the Green Lantern corps crashing to earth after a rough battle with Parallax, who is a being that uses fear to increase and wield his power.

The red alien, Abin Sur, sends the energy in his Green Lantern ring to go choose someone who can wield the ring worthily. The prerequisite is that they be fearless. The ring chooses Hal Jordan.

Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is a cocksure test pilot who begins the film by showing off his skills as a pilot, then freezing up due to a tragedy with his father, and barely surviving. This is very cliche. This is really fine, too. It’s done perfectly well and, although it’s no surprise, the film is committed to the cliche.

After his fall from grace, he is grabbed by the power of the glowing green ring and deposited next to the crashed alien, Abin Sur, whereupon Jordan begins the saga of becoming a true hero who overcomes his worst fear. See, it turns out that the ring didn’t select a fearless person, but instead selected a person who could overcome his worst fear. This is a little silly, and is one of the several plot contrivances/holes that ding the overall experience.

Hal then commences training after figuring out how to use his new ring. His training takes place on a different planet, which houses the center of the power of the green superheroes. He is sardonic and quick and seems like a real person, which is nice and is one of the excellent things about this film. Sure, the people are cliches and stereotypes, but they’re REAL cliches.

The story rolls on with Hector Hammond (Sarsgaard), the son of a well-connected senator, getting possessed by the evil Parallax and undergoing some funky transformations. He’s got some wonderful lines and Sarsgaard really brings a lively wickedness to the movie. He’s a charming and enjoyable villain.

And the film rolls along as the scalawag Hal faces more than he thinks he can handle, wants to throw in the towel, is encouraged by a lovely lady, Carol Ferris (Lively), and because he is a superhero who isn’t Batman, wins. Now, truth to tell, I’m not sure why Lively is so famous. She’s attractive, but my wife is beautiful and Hotness is not famous. And my wife is a far better actor than Blake. It’s hard to understand.

I found the journey to be mostly entertaining. The fringe characters add somewhat to the piece, with Jordan’s pal having a particularly fun and fresh reaction to Hal’s new abilities. The second act lags somewhat, mostly because there’s nothing too unexpected happening.

And then there are the effects and the comic-book feel. Lovers of comics and those familiar with the Green Lantern comics will absolutely appreciate the shapes and such that Hal forms with his mind/will when he is wielding the power of the ring. The effects are quite nice, with only a few of them being too transparent and obvious.

All in all, the film is an entertaining ride. Certainly better than Transformers 2. You will enjoy the clever dialogue and the excellent final set-pieces.

One serious problem is that of all the greenies, there were apparently no females. We see a total of three ladies in this film: one for 5 seconds who is in Hal’s bed, one is a doctor whom he saves, and one is Blake Lively, who is a pretty strong character, despite Lively’s lack of ability.

Green Lantern is #6 for the year so far. It’s better than Source Code and Limitless because it does what it meant to do.

Pens (writing): 3

Cameras (acting): 3

Screens (the entire experience): 3

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