Ryan’s Summer At The Movies, Part 1

movies

If you’re a regular follower of Wickipedia, then you’ve undoubtedly noticed that I haven’t posted a movie review on here in quite some time. I’ve learned the hard way this summer that Cleveland just doesn’t have as many advance screening opportunities as Chicago. Combine that with summer jobs, and my summer movie-going has been a little erratic. I only like to post full reviews on the days that movies actually come out, so that they can be of benefit to anybody interested in seeing those films that weekend. However, I have been a more traditional audience member this summer, and therein lies the dearth of recent reviews.

Now that it’s August 1st and my summer is officially halfway done (7 weeks down, 7 to go), I thought I’d give you guys a brief recap of what I’ve seen this summer and I how I have rated them. I will keep my commentary brief in the hopes that this article will be of comparable length to all the others I’ve posted. Please note that with my limited time this summer, I have been more selective of what I watch. Thus, my ratings are likely to skew a little bit towards the positive side, since I chose not to see movies like TransformersTammy, and Deliver Us From Evil.

I hope you enjoy these mini-reviews, and look for Part 2 of this series (which will feature BoyhoodGuardians of the Galaxy, et al.)  in the middle of September before I head back to school. I look forward to returning to my regular Friday movie review column upon my return!

22 Jump Street

Ryan’s Rating: 3 Stars out of 4

Containing just as many laughs as its predecessor, I found 22 Jump Street to be a more than adequate follow-up. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill continue to be a great team, and it’s remarkable to see the transformation that Tatum’s acting has undergone in the past five years. Although I did find some aspects of the film to be too over-the-top, particularly the movie’s bashing the audience over the head with self-reflexive dialogue about the basic plot points of sequels, I still found plenty to laugh about. I was a big fan of the end credits sequence, which used other forms of education to lay out the next 10 or so sequels. I’ll still prefer 21 Jump Street because it was a much simpler and more well-contained movie, but 22 went for broke and connected on a great deal of setups.

How To Train Your Dragon 2

Ryan’s Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 4

Seeing HtTYD2 with my cousins (aged 4 to 12) and their mom, I can vouch that all of us had equal levels of amazement and enjoyment while watching this other highly-anticipated sequel. The voice-acting was once again top-notch, particularly with Cate Blanchett’s addition to the cast and Gerard Butler’s Stoick receiving much more character development and emotional investment. The visual effects were likewise stunning, in the way that they made each dragon a unique creature worthy of wonder and gave each Nordic landscape a breathtaking aerial view. The story was exceptionally deep for a kids’ movie as well, bringing family issues to the forefront, as well as the overarching theme of the special bond between man and animal. If the first HtTYD was a rollicking good time, the sequel was a more intense, more emotional ride that showcases the best of the strong franchise.

Jersey Boys

Ryan’s Rating: 3 Stars out of 4

I’ve never seen the Broadway musical, but Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of it certainly has increased my desire to do so. In using the Broadway cast members (plus a perfectly cast Christopher Walken), Eastwood’s darker take on the rise to stardom of the Four Seasons proved to make just as accessible a movie as a musical. The same live singing process that was used in Les Miserables was used to good effect here, bringing forth a bevy of toe-tapping hits. The juxtaposition of joyous musical numbers with dark underpinnings in the surrounding dialogue made this a multi-faceted, albeit occasionally jarring, behind the scenes look. Many critics and moviegoers criticized the movie’s length and dark tone, but I felt that made the songs pop and take on a function of a layered facade.

Earth to Echo

Ryan’s Rating: 1.5 Stars out of 4

I saw this one at an early test screening back in May, so some effects-based pieces of the film may have changed by the time it was officially released in July. Nonetheless, Earth to Echo‘s problems extend much deeper than visuals. Right from the getgo, the plot is a not-too-subtle retelling of E.T., only this time with cell phones, GPS, pop music, and all those wonderful 21st century things! The children actors try their best to carry the proceedings along, but the barely 80 minute runtime gives them little time to develop beyond the clichéd infusion of bravery as the events take course. The worst mistake this movie makes though is to use shaky cam throughout the entire film, not even resorting to a traditional camera for establishing shots. This made the movie a literal headache, and I guess that made me a little more cranky and unwilling to buy into the flimsy storyline.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Ryan’s Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 4

Easily the strongest blockbuster of the summer thus far, Apes took the promising setup from Rise of the Planet of the Apes and hit the ground running. It’s rare to see a “humans vs. creatures” tale give the creatures the most exciting character development and screen time, but that’s exactly what happened here. The human element seems a little blasé, but I think that’s because I was so invested in the wonderful world created for the intelligent apes. Andy Serkis puts in the best performance of his career (there, I said it. And yes, that includes his excellent turns as Gollum), and this could very well be the role that finally inspires the Academy to lift their unwritten ban on motion-capture acting considerations. His subtle and nuanced performance carried the whole movie, and made Caesar arguably the most dynamic character of 2014 cinema thus far. Combine the taut drama with world-class CGI production to create the world of the apes, and you have everything a summer blockbuster should be.

Sex Tape

Ryan’s Rating: 2 Stars out of 4

If I had to describe Sex Tape in one word, it would be “forgettable.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with the film: Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel have fun as the couple scrambling to preserve their dignity on an antic-filled night, and there are some jokes and cameos that hit pretty solidly. However, there are almost no subplots to speak of, making this a 95-minute exercise about one very specific plot device. This makes an hour and a half feel quite a bit more drawn out, and makes the time between jokes much more noticeable than the laughs. As I said, I enjoyed my time watching Sex Tape, but I feel no desire to see it again, and it will probably have passed out of my memory by the time I write the second installment of this article.

Hercules

Ryan’s Rating: 2.5 Stars out of 4

I’ll call this the biggest surprise of the summer so far. I wasn’t going to see Hercules at all, but I was late to the theater one night to see Lucy, so I instead had to settle for Dwayne Johnson’s latest. However, I was actually reasonably entertained throughout by this “fresh” take on the Greek hero. Even though the Hercules story was already explored in January’s truly awful The Legend Of Hercules, Brett Ratner’s take was much more palatable. First and foremost, the choice to treat the mythology as heavily exaggerated campfire stories and focusing on the human element and motivations of the character was a bold one, and I think it paid off well. This movie was funny, it had pretty good action, and it actually had supporting characters who were more than comic relief or shirtless stand-ins. And that’s a lot more than I can say for the vast majority of this decade’s swords and sandals movies.

Lucy

Ryan’s Rating: 3 Stars out of 4

I don’t know exactly what I saw when I saw Lucy,  but I think I liked it. The 88 minute runtime flew by, and I was swept away in the flurry of special effects and Malick-esque metaphorical cutaways of animals and nature. Scarlett Johansson plays the titular heroine with a polished level of control, giving her a mesmerizingly vapid portrayal as she transforms from an unwilling tool in a drug exchange to the first human being to access 100% of the brain’s capacity. If this sounds like Limitless to you, it’s a thousand times more trippy, and is about as polarizing a movie as you’ll see this summer. I don’t know if I would able to rebut anything negative that people might say about this movie, because it’s definitely the sort of thing that you either love for its zaniness or hate for its style-over-substance. I was pulled into the former camp, and I thoroughly enjoyed the quirky touches that made Lucy the most bizarre Box Office #1 I think I’ve ever encountered.

Begin Again

Ryan’s Rating: 4 Stars out of 4

Far and away the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2014, Begin Again perfectly blends music and love without letting one dominate the other. Mark Ruffalo is in peak form as the disgraced record executive desperate to make an album that doesn’t conform to the manufactured contemporary norms, and Keira Knightley is excellent as the talented singer/songwriter who begins to step out of the shadow of her famous rockstar ex-boyfriend. This movie works so well because the main characters embark on a journey which doesn’t require them to fall in love along the way. They bond over their failures in relationships without letting these relationships define their plot arcs, and that gives Begin Again an authentic feel unmatched in most similar movies. In addition, the soundtrack is simply phenomenal, and the songs sung by Knightley and Adam Levine are sure to garner some Oscar buzz in the music category (“Lost Stars” is my bet for Best Original Song). All in all, this comedy with heart served as the perfect antidote to a summer full of sequels and special effects. Cleveland was late in the game to get Begin Again, but I’m grateful that I was able to see it during its limited run.

Thanks again for reading these mini reviews! I’ll see you again in September for Part 2!

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