Welcome to NICKPICKSFLICKS. I am your host for the evening, America's sweetheart, Nick Spake.
5 Stars= It's Simply the Best
4 Stars= Totally Rocks
3 Stars= Rad
2 Stars= Bad
1 Star= Terrible
Zero= Totally Sucks
Just Reviewed Unfriended-April 17th
Just Reviewed The Longest Rider-April 10th
Just Reviewed Furious 7-April 3rd
Just Reviewed Get Hard-March 27th
Just Reviewed Insurgent-March 20th
Just as “The Blair Witch Project” was far from the first movie to employ the found footage gimmick, “Unfriended” isn’t the first movie to be told through a webcam. We’ve seen this premise done before in “The Den,” “Open Windows,” and even an episode of “Modern Family.” Like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity,” “Unfriended” is likely to be praised for its “innovations” upon initial released. Then after getting overexposed, audiences are bound to label it as overrated. Hype and inevitable backlash aside, however, this is actually a pretty fun ride.
Shelley Hennig plays a high school student named Blaire. Again, is this movie trying to draw comparisons to “The Blair Witch Project?” While chatting with her BF and four BFF’s on Skype, a mysterious seventh guest joins the party. The unknown user has seemingly hacked into the account of Laura Barns, a party girl who committed suicide one year ago. As the friends receive more messages and videos, it becomes clear they’re not dealing with a run-of-the-mill hacker. As each person loses their connection, they also lose their life.
Director Levan Gabriadze does an exceptional job at portraying the mystical realm of the desktop, crowding every scene with Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Chatroulette, iChat, and email. The way Blaire is constantly typing one thing then rethinking her post before sending it is also a nice touch. Even the Universal logo leading into the film has a glitchy charm to it. As well made as “Unfriended” is, none of it would matter if the story had nowhere to go. Surprisingly, the film does amount to an involving narrative with something to say.
This premise provides a lot of inspired commentary concerning privacy, social media, the current state of human communication, and, above all else, cyberbullying. Most movies and TV shows aimed at teenagers strictly differentiate the good guys from the bad guys. As our protagonists are forced to share secrets with each other, though, we see that bullying can come from the most unexpected sources and people. In the end, there isn’t really a villain in “Unfriended.” There’s just a group of naïve kids that make some stupid choices via a tool that far too many people have utilized to promote ignorance.
Even with its underlying themes, “Unfriended” never takes itself too seriously like “The Purge” or “Saw” movies. The film knows that it’s an absurd popcorn flick, embracing its silliness with inventive frights, twists, and laughs. Some will call it groundbreaking while others call it just dumb. Much like Jason Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children,” it’ll be interesting to see how a film like this plays in another decade or two. For now, though, it’s a friend request well worth accepting.
Must resist "Brokeback Mountain" joke *1/2
Have you seen any of the other nine films inspired by Nicholas Sparks’ relentlessly popular novels? Then you’ve seen “The Longest Ride.” Seriously, it is astonishing just how cookie cutter each movie associated with Sparks is. Even the posters for his screen adaptations do nothing to hide the fact that these sappy melodramas all come off an assembly line. The only way to stomach a picture like “The Longest Ride” is by playing a drinking game. Of course if you take a shot every time the film recycles another generic cliché, you’ll probably have alcohol poisoning once it’s over.
There’s little reason to review a movie such as this. Let’s just delve into the plot and you’ll know why it stinks. Britt Robertson plays Sophia, a generic small town girl with big city dreams. She takes a break from studying art one night to see a rodeo show with her generic giggling sorority sisters. There she meets Scott Eastwood’s Luke, a generic blue-collar bull rider with a complicated past. Cue the generic scenes where the two leads go swimming in the lake, get caught in the rain, and make the audience want to throw up in their mouths.
Oh, and don’t worry if that doesn’t sound generic enough for you. “The Longest Ride” has two generic romances for the price of one. On their first date, Sophia and Luke save a generic grumpy old man named Ira (Alan Alda) from a burning car. Alda looks half asleep throughout most of the movie, but this kind of works to his advantage since Ira is bound to die by the third act. Via a series of generic love letters, Sophia and Luke learn about Ira’s courtship with a woman named Ruth (Oona Chaplin). It’s practically love at first sight, but the two are driven apart by a series of generic dilemmas such as war, infertility, and death.
Jack Huston plays Ira in these flashbacks and he at least shares some resemblance to Alda, which is more than can be said about James Marsden and Luke Bracey in “The Best of Me.” Compared to that infuriatingly awful Nicholas Sparks adaptation, “The Longest Ride” isn’t quite as pandering, manipulative, or, that’s right, generic. It has a couple minor saving graces. The actors all give competent performances and the leads have acceptable chemistry. We also fortunately don’t have to put up with any one-dimensional villains or disapproving parents. Still, the cons outweigh the pros here by a metric ton.
Being the tenth entry in Nicholas Sparks’ theatrical library, you should know exactly what you’re going to get with “The Longest Ride.” It’s a cheap soap opera. In all fairness, a daytime soap can either be trashy fun or unbelievably boring. This film strips away any insane plot twists and instead plays up the dull scenes where our lovers just lie in bed together. That might be tolerable for forty minutes. At well over two hours, however, this truly feels like the longest ride.
Lucky number 7 ****
When “The Fast and the Furious” came out almost a decade and a half ago, nobody probably thought it would spawn six sequels. While the franchise’s longevity is surprising, what’s even more unexpected is its boost in quality over the years. Most series officially run out of gas by the third entry. “Fast & Furious,” on the other hand, somehow manages to keep giving audiences exactly what they want in an inventive, well produced, and insanely fun manner. Rather than aging like convenience store beer, the movies have aged like convenience store wine. Maybe that’s because they had nowhere to go but up, although it’s at least more than can be said about “Transformers” or other soulless blockbusters.
Soul has actually become a key component of these “Fast & Furious” flicks. For a premise that essentially started as car porn meets “Point Break,” these characters have remarkably snuck up us. Okay, Vin Diesel’s Dominic and his rebellious crew will never be deeply analyzed in film classes. They do share a powerful family bond, though, that’s shockingly effective. For all the idiotic, mindless escapism these movies provide, they’ve also created people we genuinely care about. It’s truly saddening to think that “Furious 7” will be the late Paul Walker’s final ride as Brian O’Conner. He goes out on a high note, however, with the biggest, most over-the-top, and most involving “Fast & Furious” movie to date.
Considering his roles in “Crank,” “Death Race,” “The Italian Job,” and the “Transporter” trilogy, it’s a sin Jason Statham’s only just now appearing in a “Fast & Furious” picture. He’s right at home here as Deckard Shaw, the older brother of the previous film’s villain. Now Deckard wants retribution for his crippled bro and targets Dom, Brian, and the rest. Deckard even succeeds in offing Sung Kang’s Han, whose death has been preordained since “Tokyo Drift.” For a story that obviously wasn’t mapped out in advance, “Furious 7” does a clever job at bringing everything full circle.
Of course the story is the last reason why people are going to line up for this movie. We’re geared up for the mind-blowing car chases, fights, and stunts. With “Fast Five” and “Fat & Furious 6,” Justin Lin strived to be as shamelessly ridiculous as ever. Director James Wan defies all logic here as our heroes parachute their cars out of planes and drive out skyscraper windows. Whether the action set pieces leave you applauding or laughing hysterically, they’re clearly doing something right.
What keeps us invested in these cartoonish exploits is that the characters are so likable. Almost every major player from the previous films is given time to shine. The only one we could have used a bit more of is Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs, but he still easily steals the movie’s best one-liners and macho moments. We also get a few notably new additions like Kurt Russell as a slick agent without a name, Djimon Hounsou as a mercenary without a moral code, and Nathalie Emmanuel as the most beautiful hacker on the planet.
“Furious 7” ultimately remembers that this series all started with the friendship between Dom and Brian. While some of the CGI required to complete Walker’s unfinished scenes can be distracting, the film still leaves these two guys parting ways with a perfect final image. It’d be truly fitting is this was the final “Fast & Furious” film we ever got. Since the franchise has become an ironic metaphor for an endless road, though, we can count on plenty more ludicrous races, ludicrous heists, and Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges. And you know what? That doesn’t sound too bad.
It's a hard knock life ***
“Get Hard” is about as hit and miss as comedies get. Some jokes hit it out of the park where others crash and burn. This isn’t a movie people are going to be revisiting and quoting years from now. Actually, it’ll likely be completely forgotten over time. For a few sidesplitting scenes and two well-matched leads, though, it doesn’t deserve to be entirely overlooked. Assuming you’re in the mood for a comedy like this and have 100 minutes to spare, “Get Hard” is an enjoyably stupid waste of time. How’s that for a recommendation?
Will Ferrell is James King, who, like every character Ferrell plays, has everything going for him. He’s a millionaire, just became a partner at work, and is engaged to a smokin’ hot, yet despicable, woman played by Alison Brie. James’ world is turned upside-down when he’s framed for tax evasion and sentenced to ten years in prison. Desperate to survive in the big house, he turns to Darnell Lewis, an African American car-washer played by Kevin Hart. While James believes otherwise, Darnell has never been to the slammer. Since the businessman is offering 30 grand for tutoring, though, Darnell decides to play along.
Beyond that, there isn’t any plot whatsoever. The setup is just an excuse for Ferrell and Hart to engage in a series of outrageous scenarios and exchanges that don’t exactly play into a grander story. It’s all filler, but a fair deal of “Get Hard” will have you laughing out loud. The best bits include Ferrell mastering the art of hiding a shiv, a fake riot with all too real repercussions, and a lesson in oral sex. Some scenes aren’t as funny as they could be, like Ferrell trying to blend in with a ghetto gang. Other scenes aren’t funny at all, such as when the guys have a run-in with white supremacists. Although it’s often given the opportunity to be more, “Get Hard” doesn’t say anything new about race relations or incarceration.
Nevertheless, Ferrell and Hart are terrific together through the good times and the bad. Ferrell has such a natural gift for comedy that he can make horrible material mediocre and mediocre material passable. He has undeniable chemistry with Hart, who’s yet to star in a great buddy comedy. Regardless, “Get Hard” is a notable step up from “Ride Along” or “The Wedding Ringer.” Ferrell and Hart give it their all here and, in a testament to their talents, those efforts pay off. The two are kind of like Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy in “Trading Places” if that movie had a lot more needless rape gags.
If you require your comedies to have a little more substance and wit, stay home and rent an old classic from Woody Allen or a new classic from Wes Anderson. Oh, and of course “Trading Places” is always a safe bet. For the modest smiles “Get Hard” will provide, however, it’s just barely worth your ten dollars. See it, have a few laughs, and immediately move on to something else…assuming they don’t try to make a sequel. We really don’t need any more time added to this sentence.
Be an original...or at least be like The Maze Runner **1/2
It’s ironic that “Divergent” encouraged its viewers to stand out from the crowd when the film was so clearly trying to be like “The Hunger Games.” For what it was, “Divergent” at least had some striking visuals and a likable central character. “Insurgent” is another good-looking, well-acted entry to the series. The problem is that this sequel doesn’t just feel like more or less of what we already got in “Hunger Games.” It feels like a retread of the previous “Divergent” picture too.
Shailene Woodley is back as Tris Prior, a Divergent who’s been singled out in a society separated into five factions that only diehard fans of Veronica Roth’s novels can remember by name. She’s still on the run with her much older boyfriend Four, played by Theo James. They find an ally in Four’s estranged mother (Naomi Watts), who wants to start a rebellion against the corrupt Erudite faction. Oh yeah, because we don’t have nearly enough young adult adaptations about teenagers fighting the big, bad government. What the rebels don’t know is that Jeanine, the Erudite leader once again portrayed by Kate Winslet, has come into possession of a mysterious box that can only be opened by a pure Divergent. Gee, wonder who that could be?
Woodley is one of our most promising up-and-coming actresses and one of the few people on the planet who can pull off a pixie cut. Although she’s not given an extraordinary character to work with on paper, Woodley does bring a great deal sympathy, depth, and strength to the role. Her chemistry with James still isn’t anything breathtaking, but we fortunately don’t have to sit through any love triangles or will they/won’t they tension. The supporting cast additionally does fine work with Miles Teller as Tris’ rival Peter, who keeps switching sides, and Ansel Elgort as Tris’ brother Caleb, who also keeps switching sides. Sadly, they’re all stuck in a meandering story.
Most of “Insurgent” simply comes off as filler until next time. The same could be said about “Mockingjay – Part 1,” but the filler in that film did make leeway for some strong character development and political commentary. Here, you’re constantly waiting for the plot to take off when matters just keep going back and forth. There are so many pointless scenes, most of which come in the form of dream sequences that give the climax of “Breaking Dawn – Part Two” a run for its money. Even the virtual reality action set pieces, while exquisitely rendered, can get old rather quickly. At nearly two hours long, “Insurgent” easily could have been cut down to forty-five minutes.
It’d almost be worth sitting through the more redundant parts if the ending were full of shocking revelations. Without giving too much away, though, the big reveal is no different from the endgame twist we got in “Maze Runner.” Exactly how many other books can this franchise rip-off? Nevertheless, the film’s conclusion does leave things open for some potentially intriguing further adventures. Seeing how the narrative is already starting to feel dragged out, however, it’s hard to get especially excited about the next two chapters. If this series really wants to stand out from the crowd, maybe it should just produce one more sequel and bring back traditional movie trilogies.