This week I ventured into theaters to see Kevin Hart (ugh) in Ride Along and Aaron Eckhart (yay?) in I, Frankenstein.

Ride Along
I repeat, ugh… I’m not a big fan of comedies in general, and as comedians go, I really dislike Kevin Hart. I’m not sure how anyone finds him funny actually. So with those biases in mind, I declare this an awful movie. Hart’s character is a man-child trying to convince his live-in girlfriend’s brother, played by Ice Cube, that he is a worthy suitor. Cube tests Hart with a ride along. Hart attempts to prove his worth both as a potential cop and potential husband and Ice Cube in turn attempts to submarine his efforts by having Hart deal with petty public nuisances all day. Eventually, they do get into a serious situation, finding out that Ice Cube’s partners are dirty and in the employ of Laurence Fishburne’s nefarious dealer, Omar. Hart saves Ice Cube by imitating the reclusive kingpin, but the bad guys escape and kidnap the girlfriend/sister. Hart and Cube have to work together to save her, they succeed, they accept each other, roll credits. Part of planning to watch 100 movies means seeing some films that are below your standards and fail resonate with you. Ride Along is both of those things for me, to an extreme extent. Not only was this movie’s plot predictable, the situations were not particularly funny and Kevin Hart is terribly not funny enacting them. Ice Cube’s grumpy, protective brother isn’t any good either. Fishburne’s reveal was about the only interesting development in Ride Along, and it most certainly was not worth watching the other hour and a half of Kevin Hart inanity.

Grade: D-

I, Frankenstein
Aaron Eckhart takes on the titular monster role in I, Frankenstein. Well… sort of. One thing that constantly bothers me about Frankenstein adaptations, expansions, and re-tellings is that everyone seems to forget that the monster doesn’t actually have a name. In this version, an adaptation of a graphic novel, Aaron Eckhart’s monster is caught in the middle of a war between Demons, led by Bill Nighy, and Gargoyles, led by Miranda Otto. The Demons wish to possess human bodies and rule the Earth; the Gargoyles, created by the Archangel Michael, watch over and protect mankind. The action truly takes off once Adam (the name given to the monster by the Gargoyle Queen) returns to the the Gargoyle’s sanctum and allows a police officer to get killed. Nighy and Otto’s followers battle multiple times while Adam is drawn further and further into the fray. One of Nighy’s scientists, played by Yvonne Strahovski, has been researching corpse reanimation for sinister purposes. Lo and behold, Adam ends up saving the day and lives happily ever after with this scientist. A bit messy, but, hey, at least, I, Frankenstein was entertaining. The gargoyle-demon battle scenes are well-done and engaging, particularly the ascension/descension effects which are beautiful. The characters have understandable motives. It’s most certainly not a great movie, but there are already several far worse choices, it’s still only January, I’ll allow it.

Grade: C-

After last week’s rise to “just barely below average,” Ride Along weighs down a mediocre I, Frankenstein and leaves us all the worse for the wear. Fortunately, there looks to be some relief in the near future! (And no, it’s not one of the hundred other movies in theaters starring Kevin Hart, who’s haunting me like a poltergeist.)

Welcome back for another installment of “My Week in Movies”. This week I managed to see two 2014 releases, Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan and Cuba Gooding, Jr’s Life of a King.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit stars Chris Pine as Tom Clancy’s CIA hero. We start the movie in London where Ryan is a student who watches the September 11th terror attacks on TV after stirring from a nap on a bench. We fast-forward a bit and Ryan is now a Lieutenant in the US armed forces and aboard a helicopter where he’s pressing a superior over the phone to read a report he submitted. the chopper is it by an explosive and we spend a chunk of the movie at Walter Reed where Pine works with Keira Knightly’s PT resident. Kevin Costner also enters the movie As a shadowy commander watching Pine from afar and considering his approach. He recruits Ryan to work as an undercover financial analyst on Wall Street and the movie starts rolling from action scene to action scene after that. I enjoyed this movie far more than I expected. It’s a bit slow in the early going but that’s mostly due to the introduction of Pine and Knightly as they setup for a multi-movie franchise. The plot falls apart once the action starts going. But nothing unforgivable. I wonder where the next installment will take us and if we’ll get more thriller or more action.

Grade: C+

Life of a King

Cuba Gooding, Jr. takes on the role of Eugene Brown, an ex-con and estranged father, who tries to improve his life and the life of some neighborhood kids. The movie starts off with Eugene being released after nearly two decades in prison. He struggles to find a job and re-connect with his family. Eventually, he lies on an application and gets a job as a janitor at a local school. He ends up taking over detention duties and teaching chess to his students. From here we drop into the very expected inspirational mentor mixed with tragedy plot. Life of a King will stick with me because of the vehicle used to inspire, chess, and the lead actor. But will end up mostly forgotten as an average film in a mass of movies I plan on watching this year. It’s “based on a true story” line doesn’t bother me too much here but the expected plot points make me think it’s been embellished quite a bit. This film can (and will) be safely ignored.

Grade: C+

This week ended up better than last week but still not a great week. Jack Ryan could prove to be a good start to a new franchise and Life of a King is touching but just another inspirational mentor story. Maybe next week will be better but I have my doubts, we’re still in the wasteland of the early year.

Welcome to a new year with the Culture Conquistadors! This year, we’re all planning (and hoping) to bring you new content more frequently. For my part, I’m starting a new series of movie reviews. Each week, I’ll write about a paragraph on each film with some plot synopsis and opinion. I’ll grade each film I see and then part with some general thoughts on the week.

The Legend of Hercules

My first movie for 2014: Legend of Hercules. As usual, I did not see this movie in 3D.1 The screening I saw was advertised as 2D, though it’s hard to argue that this film has more than one dimension. This 99 minute action flick was likely meant to be the beginning of a franchise but it’s inevitable failure at the box office got it re-titled and released in the January wasteland. I caught glimpses of a larger narrative arc, likely meant to be drawn out in subsequent installments, but as its own film, Legend of Hercules fails to string much in the way of good plot together. Hercules is sent away to Egypt to die at his earthly father’s behest. He and his company’s captain survive at mercy of their ambusher’s hands. They are quickly sold into slavery and fight their way back to Greece in hopes of saving Hercules’ love interest from an arranged marriage to his wimpy half-brother. Not much stands out in this movie except for the freeze framing of the fight sequences, meant to promote the 3D version that I never saw. The other thing that stands out is just how far they strayed from the mythological source texts. The only resemblance this Hercules has with the Greek Heracles is that they’re both supernaturally strong men.2 The names of the characters in the movie mirror the myth. Yet this movie could have just scratched off the serial numbers3 and used any name out of a hat for the story they tell. I might have been more willing to accept this movie as just a new Hellenic myth; instead it plies the name of Hercules in for marketing purposes. I’m honestly not sure it could be a worse film. Or that any other 2014 film could be worse. So it looks like I got my worst movie of the year out of the way early. Hopefully the other Hercules production later this year (starring The Rock!) will be better.

Grade: D-

I also happened to catch Mark Wahlberg in Lone Survivor this week, but seeing as that movie counts towards last year, I’m leaving it out of this post. Hercules was pretty bad and I think it will stay near the bottom of my 2014 rankings; fortunately, Marky Mark evened out the balance this week with his great 2013 performance.

  1. Podcast listeners will know that 3D makes me ill. 
  2. I’m fairly sure this is a far worse adaptation than even Kevin Sorbo’s television Hercules. Or Disney’s animated Hercules. 
  3. The use of a character, object or place and only renaming it. For example, as a RPG game master I need a diverse cast of enemies but I am often limited to a small set of usable monsters with approrpiate game mechanics. So I file off the serial numbers of an orc, removing all the exposition and description that makes it an orc and re-write it as if it were a goblin. I then use the newly minted goblin as an enemy instead even though, through the lens of game mechanics, it’s just an orc.