‘Fist Fight’ Review

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Director: Richie Keen

Writers: Van Robichaux and Evan Susser

Cast: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Kumail Nanjiani, Christina Hendricks, JoAnna Garica Swisher, Alexa Nisenson, Dean Norris and Dennis Haysbert

Synopsis: When one school teacher gets the other fired, he is challenged to an after-school fight.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

After school fights, we’ve probably seen them or heard about them (maybe been part of one?), but it’s usually between students and not teachers. That is what leads us to Fist Fight. While the sounds like a descent idea, some aspects of the movie do go over board, which yeah, it’s a movie, but seriously – this film is just a tad over the top.

Fist Fight takes place at Roosevelt High School on the last day of school, so everyone is a little hyped out as you can imagine. However, the students as his school take it to the next level by do insane pranks on teachers and school property. That’s where we meet Campbell (Charlie Day) and Strickland (Ice Cube), Campbell is by-the-books teacher who has a child on the way, and one set to make a big performance at a school talent show, while Strickland is the no nonsense, tough and mean teacher in school. It doesn’t help that the school is cutting down the budget and firing teachers, so when a brave soul decides to pull a prank on Strickland, he goes overboard and gets a fire ax to destroy his desk with Campbell seeing the whole thing. When they’re questioned, Campbell sells out Strickland, which prompts Strickland to challenge Campbell to a fight after school. What follows is Campbell trying to get out of the fight.

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The premise behind Fist Fight is as ridiculous as the movie is, maybe more. Again, the film takes the level of what these school kids do to the max. So much so that you have to really suspend your disbelief that these kids can and could get away with half the stuff they are pulling off. Once you get pass that, you can start to enjoy the film and all the jokes, which are pretty much nonstop once they start rolling, and of course some fall flat while others are great.

When it comes to the characters, Day and Ice Cube really nail there respected part. Ice Cube could play the tough and mean looking character all day and in his sleep, but there is a little more to his character that I wish was pushed more to the forefront. It’s mentioned in passing and near the end, but I wish there was more of that instead of his just being angry all the time. Charlie Day’s Campbell is the guy with no backbone, and spends the whole day trying to get out of the fight as much as possible, and while Day has incredible comedic timing, his actions get him trouble.

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The supporting cast is really hit-and-miss. Jillian Bell as the school guiding counselor, Holly isn’t really all that great at her job and is one of Campbell’s go-tos. Tracy Morgan plays Coach Crawford, who gets dragged into Campbell’s situation, Kumail Nanjiani plays security guard Mehar, who has some solid scenes and Christina Hendricks, who plays Ms. Monet is kind of wasted here, as she plays a character who’s too weird, even for this movie.

Surprisingly, the actual fight is rather impressive and almost felt out of place with the whole film. It’s also longer than I thought it would have been, but a credit to the stunt team along with Day and Ice Cube for even going through with it.

All in all, Fist Fight really tests your notion of the final day of school, even at a troubled and verge of closing school. However, some of the humor is spot on and the cast mostly work well together.

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Fist Fight

3 out of 5

‘Straight Outta Compton’ Review

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Dir: F. Gary Gray

Writer(s): Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff

Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, R. Marcos Taylor, Marlon Yates Jr. and Paul Giamatti

Synopsis: The group NWA emerges from the streets of Compton, California in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

N.W.A aka Niggaz Wit Attitudes was one of – if not the – most known group and popular rap groups in the late 80s and early 90s. The success you could argue was because of the time and place they formed and got popular, but it doesn’t take away anything they have done or their talent. However, Straight Outta Compton feels like a mix of gritty drama, road movie, and behind-the-music. Moreover, the film touches on the racial tensions back then, but you can’t help but feel the connection to the present with all the racial tensions today as well. But of course the question is, is Straight Outta Compton any good? Or is it a water down biopic on a highly successful and beloved group? It’s a mix of both.

 

I’ll be honest; I’m not the biggest N.W.A fan out there. I do like a few of their songs and knew some of the history coming in to the movie, so for the most part I can in as a clean sponge ready to soak in everything about the group that I didn’t know and how they formed. Of course, you should know that the film does take some liberties with the history of the group. For one, some things don’t line up in history timeline, but that could be because the film was originally three and a half hours and it was cut down an hour for the theater cut. The other is some events in the groups history were completely taken out and not even mentioned, but I’ll leave that for you to find out what. Straight Outta Compton isn’t a complete biopic, but it is a good one that focuses on the group’s three major players: Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins).

 

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Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, and O’Shea Jackson Jr.

 

The film starts off showing us the lives of the three live before they became the notorious group. Eazy-E is selling drugs, Dr. Dre wants a better life for himself and is confident about his abilities, and Ice Cube is writing lyrics and also wants a better life. Enter in Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby (Neil Brown Jr.), Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson (Aldis Hodge), and The D.O.C (Marlon Yates Jr.) and the group hit it off and make a hit song. Soon they get the attention of manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who gets more exposure for the group and eventually makes them one of the biggest groups on the planet.

 

Once the group starts touring and becoming more and more popular, the group starts becoming a little splintered, due to contracts. It’s Ice Cube that sees Eazy-E and Jerry are getting the better end of the deal than him and goes off to do his own thing, while Dr. Dre realizes’ it and goes off to produce his own music with Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) to start their own company in Death Row Records. Eventually, everything starts to fall apart and everyone starts to look back at what was and could have been.

 

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Like I mentioned earlier, Straight Outta Compton drives more its focus on the group as people and where they came from to what happened after the success. Of course, not everything in the group history is in the movie, but the performances and tense drama is enough to overlook all that – at least when you’re watching the film – but even some stuff in the film seems biased only because you know they are not going to put everything into the film.

 

The performances are really what make the film pop and worthwhile. Jason Mitchell’s Eazy-E is both tragic and charismatic and is one of the most defined characters in the film. Corey Hawkins’ Dr. Dre is probably the second most defined as we see his struggle with leaving the group and dealing with Suge Knight’s antics at Death Row Records. Finally, O’Shea Jackson Jr. gets to play his own father and it really is like seeing a spitting image of him. Jackson Jr. actually holds his own in his own scenes to the point you can tell he actually put in work and wasn’t just given the role because he looks the most like his father. Finally, there is Paul Giamatti’s Jerry Heller. Giamatti is as reliable as always and his best scenes are arguably with Mitchell’s Eazy-E, especially one of these last scenes together.

 

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The rest of the cast is really just along for the ride, Brown Jr.’s DJ Yella and Hodge’s MC Ren are really just background characters that get only a few moments to shine or do a little more, but get lost in the shuffle. Marlon Yates Jr.’s The D.O.C doesn’t even get a lot of screen time or lines for the matter, he’s easily the most forgettable character of the group until he’s mentioned in one particular scene. R. Marcos Taylor’s portray of Suge Knight hits a little more closer to home considering what is currently going on with him, but believing all the stories is a lot more easier once you see what happens in the film.

 

Director F. Gary Gray put a lot of thought into how the group finally comes together and the performances. Each one has its own vibe to it and nothing ever repeats itself. The big one is of course the famous concert in Detroit. I won’t go too much into it, but it is definitely one of the highlights of the film. Even the way the group supposedly got the inspiration for one of their hit songs, “Fuck Tha Police” was extremely well put together and had every bit of drama and tension that made that scene powerful in every way.

 

If there is one thing I didn’t like about the film, it would be the length. I’m not one to complain or even bring up the length of a film, only because it feels nit-picky. However, Straight Outta Compton could have taken out some scenes to cut the runtime and it wouldn’t have hurt the film in any way. I do get why the scenes were in there, but some of the previous scenes did the job well enough. However, knowing that the film Gray wanted to put out was originally three and a half hours long, and then had to cut down an hour, it makes sense some scenes feel a bit out of place. Moreover, there are “cameos” by artists by Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (Marcc Rose) that feel forced and out of place, but again, knowing that the cut was originally longer, I guess it makes more sense.

 

All in all, Straight Outta Compton is a great film. The movie is surprisingly more dramatic and tense than you would think, but it’s the performances by the three main leads in O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell that makes the film worthwhile. Paul Giamatti is also a major player in the supporting cast role. The film does lose a lot of steam toward the end of the film, but gains it back a bit before the credits role. The film may not have the group entire history, and could be a bit biased, but there is no question to say the film isn’t good.

 

Straight Outta Compton

4 out of 5

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‘The Book of Life’ Review

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Dir: Jorge R. Gutierrez

Cast: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Pearlman, Christina Applegate, Kate del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, and Ice Cube

Synopsis: Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart, embarks on an adventure that spans three fantastic worlds where he must face his greatest fears

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

The Book of Life is a great tribute to Mexican culture and its Day of the Dead (which the movie was originally going to be called) celebration – I’m not going to say holiday because it seems off to me. But who better to bring the culture to the big screen than producer Guillermo del Toro and first time director Jorge R. Gutierrez.

 

The movie start with a group of detention kids who end up taking a trip to the museum and find their tour guide (voiced by Applegate) that relates the story of the movie to them while also giving them, and the audience, a lesson in Mexican traditions.

 

The Book of Life follows three childhood friends – Manolo (Luna), Maria (Saldana) and Joaquin (Tatum) – who are caught in a love triangle end up becoming the subject of a wager between La Muerte (del Castillo), who oversees the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. If Manolo, La Muerte’s champion wins Maria’s hand in marriage, Xibalba must stop interfering in human affairs, but if Xibalba’s champion of Joaquin wins then he gets to rule both worlds.

 

After the three do something that could have harmed the people of the town, Maria is sent away by her father and leaves Manolo and Joaquin to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. Joaquin’s late father was a great soldier that protected the town from a deadly outlaw, while Manolo hails from a long line of famous bullfighters, but proves to be a disappointment to his father (voiced by Elizondo) because he can’t kill the bull and would rather be a singer.

 

Joaquin (Channing Tatum) and Manolo (Diego Luna)

Joaquin (Channing Tatum) and Manolo (Diego Luna)

 

Of course, Maria returns to town many years later and Manolo and Joaquin go back to fighting for her heart. Manolo’s attempts eventually lead to the heavy advertised journey to the Land of the Remembered – with all you eat churros! – and where Manolo meets his ancestors and of course learns valuable lessons.

 

Zoe Saldana as Maria

Zoe Saldana as Maria

 

I will admit, I didn’t think the movie would be as good as it turned out. The Book of Life has a lot of humor for adults and kids and is visually amazing to look at. The team really did a great job of making every setting having its own unique look and feel to it. The Land of the Remembered is easily the best looking setting in the movie with all the vivid and bright colors that pop in every corner. The animation might throw some people off but wooden look to the characters when they are in the town as opposed to the skeleton look in the other worlds is handled in an effective way.

 

While visually the movie is great to see, its plot does feel pretty predictable with two guys in love with same woman. But it’s the way the story is told that is important and luckily the movie is engaging and the characters are endearing and funny. Diego Luna really makes us root for Manolo. Channing Tatum gives Joaquin a goofball/showoff quality that thankfully doesn’t make you hate him, but also makes you feel for him consider who his father was. Zoe Saldana’s Maria isn’t really a damsel-in-distress, as she shows throughout the movie that she can take care of herself.

 

While they are the main focus of the movie, the relationship between La Muerte and Xibalba is, arguably, a bit more interesting. Del Castillo and Pearlman sound like they are having a lot of fun playing the characters. While in theory Xibalba, and maybe even La Muerte since her name is Death, they are villains, they have these really sweet moments together and don’t act like villains at all. I’d have to say one of the weakest voice casting is Ice Cube as the Candle Maker. Nothing against Ice Cube, because he does have some fun/funny moments, it just feels like they casted him to a have another “celebrity” voice against the mostly Hispanic cast.

 

La Muerte and Xibalba

La Muerte and Xibalba

 

The rest of the voice cast that includes Hector Elizondo as Manolo’s father, Danny Trejo as Manolo’s grandfather, and Gabriel Iglesias and Cheech Marin as mariachis do their part and have some great moments as the supporting cast.

 

Since the movie is based around The Day of the Dead, it does address the meaning of it and does deal with the death of loved ones which some – if not all – Hollywood kids movies avoid. The other great thing the movie does is it takes modern songs and adds a mariachi flare to them (I think you won’t hear “Creep” by Radiohead the same again). Some of the songs – like Creep – add to the tone of the scenes, but some others add to the humor of the film.

 

All in all, The Book of Life is a ton of fun to watch. The Day of the Dead aspect of the movie is great to see on the big screen and done with respect.

 

 

The Book of Life

5 out of 5