Sunday, May 29, 2016

Quick Review: GHOST STORY (1981)

Original Theatrical Poster
A dreary adaptation of Peter Straub's Ghost Story, one of the most popular and critically-praised horror novels of the past 50 years. The film benefits from having a cast of old pros, led by a charming Fred Astaire, but suffers greatly from an incoherent script, a deathly slow pace, a miscast Alice Krige, and uneven direction. Despite the film's faults, though, the film's ending improves upon the novel's.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Review: KINDERGARTEN COP 2 (2016)

First things first: I am a huge Dolph Lundgren fan. Ever since he made a big splash in Rocky IV (1985) as the evil Russkie who kills Apollo Creed, I've watched almost every film the guy has been in (even the dreadful Johnny Mnemonic (1995) and a couple of straight to video disasters that are best forgotten forever). What I like most about Lundgren is his ability to take any project, however lame the script is, and turn it into a watchable, occasionally terrifically entertaining, movie. His breezy charm, his mastery of martial arts, and his tongue-in-cheek approach, make him one of the most reliable action starts of the past 30 years.

And that brings me to Kindergarten Cop 2 (2016), the official sequel to the 1990 Universal/Ivan Reitman hit starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, this is a low-budget, direct-to-video movie. Yes, some of the comedy feels canned and too marketing department-vetted for my taste. But damn if this movie doesn't have charm! Thanks to Lundgren, a game supporting cast, and a terrific pace, this is one entertaining action-comedy. The first 15 minutes or so are surprisingly bland, with a ludicrous action sequence taking place in cheap, darkened sets. But once Lundgren starts interacting with the children, everything clicks into place, making Kindergarten Cop 2 one of the better big studio comedy sequels I've seen in a while. Dare I even say that Kindergarten Cop 2 is better than the original? Well, yes!

The original had Schwarzenegger, director Ivan Reitman, and a big budget, but, for some reason, something about it always felt a bit off to me. Kindergarten Cop 2, although a much more modest effort, is faster, more effective, and, yes, funnier. A must see for fans of the original, 80's action-comedies, and the Dolph.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Music Review: PRINCE: Hit N Run: Phase Two (2015)

As a loyal Prince fan for almost twenty years, and as someone who was devastated at the news of his death, I am reluctant to admit that the bulk of Prince's output in the past ten years or so hasn't really moved me that much. In my opinion, the last good Prince album was 2007's Planet Earth.

Strangely enough, a couple of months prior to Prince's passing, and for the first time in years, I got into a Prince groove and started listening to his albums in chronological order. I also managed to grab a copy of Ronin Ro's biography of him, titled Prince: Inside the Music and The Masks, which proved to be a fascinating read. By the time he died, I had reached 1996's Emancipation, and by then, I had remembered how awesome an artist Prince really was. My obsession with his music wasn't a nostalgia-addled trip down memory lane after all. Even older and wiser I still think Prince is a genius and a singular artist who was truly one of the greatest musical integrationists who ever lived.

Which leads me to Hit N Run: Phase Two (2015), Prince's last released album prior to his death. From the stunning and moving opener "Baltimore" about the 2015 Baltimore/Freddie Gray riots, to the original and joyful "Big City", these 12 tracks are some of Prince's funkiest, liveliest, most heartfelt tracks in almost a decade. There's great guitar playing, impressive songwriting, and some of the best horn arrangements you're likely to hear in a long while. This is Prince at his best, at his most mature. This is Prince ebullient. And with songs including riffs from "Take me With U" and "Kiss", this is Prince coming full circle.

I still believe that Prince's best work was in the 80's and 90's, but Hit N Run: Phase Two proves that even in death, Prince went out on top, with an album that truly honors his legacy.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.