Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I'll be the first to admit; I was not looking forward to seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It seemed like the definition of pointless. Can't Hollywood ever just let a good thing rest? But the fact is I am a big fan of the series. Yes, I even loved the 2001 Tim Burton remake. I still think that movie was great.
But Luckily, I get to admit that I was wrong. Rise of the Planet of the Ape, directed by Rupert Wyatt, is a roller coaster ride of a movie. Is it a reboot, a prequel? Who cares? The movie is being advertised as a prequel but that only makes sense if you ignore the original's sequels; Escape from Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes both covered a lot of the same ground as Rises. But the fact is; it doesn't matter. This movie is awesome, stands on its own and for once, the possibility of a sequel doesn't feel like a threat.
As it is often the case, the story begins with the good intentions of a well-meaning scientist. When will they learn? (the road to hell is paved with good intentions right?) Will Rodman (James Franco) is a San Francisco scientist searching for the cure for Alzheimer's. His father (John Lithgow) suffers from the disease so Will sees it as justification to testing on apes. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, things go wrong and Will and his team are forced to put down all of the apes that have been experimented on. But a lone baby ape named Caesar is saved and Will takes him home.
This is where the movie really gets interesting. To say that Caesar is the star of the show is a titanic of an understatement. Caesar makes the movie come alive and allows you to overlook the wooden performances by almost all of the human actors. Aside from a couple of touching moments by Will's dad, it seems like everyone is sleepwalking through their roles. I didn't think it was possible but Franco is even more boring than he was when hosted the Oscars.
But that's not really fair because to be honest, the movie doesn't really give the actors a lot to do. It's Caesar's world, everyone else is just living in it. To watch Andy Serkis bring Caesar to life is a true wonder of modern cinema. All of those naysayers who claim technology is taking the soul out of filmmaking might have to rethink their stance. Serkis gives an incredibly nuanced performance that captures Caesar as a precocious child, troubled teen and eventually the leader of the apes.
The performance-capture technology that brings the apes — chimps, orangutans and gorillas—to life is really amazing and it makes it impossible not to be enveloped in the action. Serkis has brought similar magic to his roles as Gollum in Lord of the Rings and as King Kong and if there is any justice in the world, his performance as Caesar should finally get him some Oscar recognition.
But Caesar doesn't just drive the action of the movie; he is also the heart of it. In one scene, after seeing a dog on a leash, Caesar asks Will, using sign language, if he's a pet. This is just one of the many moving scenes in the movie and proof that technology doesn't have to rob the heart of movies. There is more emotion on Caesar's face than many of the so-called real actors working today.
One of the inherent problems of a prequel is that we all know how it's going to end but that doesn't take the joy out seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes unfold. Watching Caesar plan the getaway with his fellow primates by teaching them sign language and the climactic showdown at the golden gate bridge are as thrilling as it gets.
In a summer filled with predictable movie fare, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a rare surprise that leaves you wanting more.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: Captain America

This has been a good year at the movies for us comic book geeks, especially if you're a Marvel fan. Now Captain America: The First Avenger, directed by Joe Johnston, is here to close out the summer and it does so in a very kick ass fashion.
The movie is set during World War II, as Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is trying desperately to join the war effort. The problem is that he's a 90 pound asthmatic who keeps failing the recruitment tests. The movie uses the same digital wizardry employed in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to turn Evans into a scrawny weakling and the results are marvelous. If you didn't know what Chris Evans really looked like, you wouldn't even notice that it was fake. But It's Evan's performance that really makes the character stand out. Evans doesn't usually get a lot of credit for his acting but maybe that's because he hasn't been in a lot of good movies. He was great as The Human Torch in both Fantastic Four movies but the first one wasn't very good and the second one was terrible. But he's a real live wire as the scrawny Steve Rogers. Evans fills the character with energy and heart. It's almost impossible not to cheer for him. In fact the firs half hour might just be the best part of the movie.
But soon enough Rogers is coming out of a high tech chamber as a super soldier and right away the action kicks into overdrive, almost as if it's trying to make up for the relatively quiet beginning. He's barely out of the oven and he's already jumping into action. There was a German saboteur who tried to blow up the American lab and Rogers chases after him. It is without a doubt an awesome scene and it's really cool to see Rogers run after him and not be in full control of his new body yet.
Unfortunately the Doctor was killed and the US Army was not able to duplicate the formula. But Rogers is finally about to get a chance to serve his country...just not the way he imagined. He is given the name Captain America and send on a tour to help raise war bonds. I loved this part, it was funny and a total surprise. We even got to see Cap in his old uniform with his old shield.
But before you know it, Captain America, sets out on a rogue mission to rescue some American soldiers. After succeeding in his rescue, he dons his new uniform and is ready to lead the soldiers. From here on things get a little predictable and the movie becomes standard action fare but it is still thrilling and entertaining.
It might not be perfect, but it is a great way to introduce the character to the big screen. The movie is filled with great performances by Hugo Weaving as The Red Skull, Stanley Tucci as the doctor, and the shining star of the movie is Chris Evans as the Captain.
Captain America has all of the action you'd expect and a surprising amount of heart and humor. This movie one hell of a ride and if it's any indication of what The Avengers has in store for us next year, then the fun is just starting.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Review:Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2

As much as I love Harry Potter, I have to admit; I wasn't too fond of the last two movies. I thought The Half Blood Prince focused on all of the wrong parts of the story and cut out the most interesting ones. I understand that sometimes stuff needs to be trimmed from an adaptation for time constrictions but in this case they cut out stuff and just added stuff that wasn't even in the book...or entertaining. And although The Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 had some entertaining moments, it was basically a two and a half hour commercial.
But Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, directed by David Yates, hits the ground running. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has just gotten the wand he believes will make him indestructible. His plan is to find Harry and kill him. At the same time Harry, Hermione, and Ron are on the run hunting down horcruxes to stop Voldermort. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then this movie's not for you. Yates assumes you've done your homework and doesn't hold your hand through the action. And there is plenty of action. Wand fights have the potential to look really dorky, it is essentially people point little sticks at each other, but the movie makes it look thrilling and dangerous. There are explosions, fight scenes and even an awesome flight on a dragon.
But it's not just the action that makes this movie worth watching. Like always, it's the characters that matter the most. After a decade of following this series, it's really cool to see how much they have grown. It also makes you care about them a lot more.
As always, the acting is really strong. All of these actors have really grown into their roles and embody the characters perfectly. It's also really great to see some of the supporting cast get their turn to shine. The seemingly evil Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) gets a great sendoff. And his reveal is handled perfectly. It was also really cool to see headmistress McGonagall (Maggie Smith) kick some ass. But one of the most moving moments goes to Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) who has been the unsung hero of the series. And when they all stick by Harry's side, in the face of an ultimatum, it's hard not to get a little teary eyed.
Harry Potter has been a global phenomenon, on screen, for a decade now, and it has now come to a glorious end. There's enough action to keep you on the edge of your seat but Yates balances the adrenaline with pathos. And the short epilogue set 19 years into the future is a perfect way to end this saga, with our heroes living happily ever after. Now we just have to hope that the academy finally opens its eyes and gives Harry Potter some Oscar loving.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Review: Super 8

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that I was really excited about Super 8, directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg. In the beginning of the year I wrote about the movies I was looking forward to the most and Super 8 was number one. So I guess it's safe to say that I had high expectations for this movie and maybe they were too high because I was definitely left disappointed.
The movie is about a group of young friends who are out making a movie during their summer vacation. One night while filming at a train station they happen to witness a train being derailed and with their camera they catch a mysterious creature escaping from one of the carts. Before you know it, strange things begin happening and the boys have a feeling they know what caused it. Dogs and people begin disappearing and the town is gripped with panic. Of course the young friends set out to solve this mystery as the town is embroiled in the chaos. The army is called in and the town is put in a state of emergency with all of its residents being relocated.
What follows is extremely predictable, in fact the whole movie is. While watching it, I kept thinking OK now I'm watching Jaws, now it's ET, now it's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, now it's The Goonies. The movie tries so hard to evoke old Spielberg movies that it doesn't even try to have its own identity. Even the characters and their relationships are tired. Do we really need to see the whole absent father, lonely son routine that Spielberg has used a million times before? I'm not saying its wrong to show a strained relationship between a father and son but at least try to put your own spin on it. I even thought the dynamic between the group of friends was a carbon copy of The Goonies and the other movies that Super 8 is ripping off...sorry I meant to say paying tribute to.
I thought the team up of Abrams and Spielberg was a dream come true but instead they brought out some of the worst in each other. Maybe Spielberg shouldn't have produced a movie that's essentially a love letter to his own work. Whatever the case Super 8 just turned out to be a self indulgent let down. If you have the urge to see it, just put on The Goonies or any of the other movies Super 8 is desperately trying to be.

Review: Midnight in Paris

I have to admit, I've never been a big Woody Allen fan. He does so many movies sometimes I feel like he's just bored. I also don't really like that he's always the protagonist in his movies. (Well at least he used to be.) I just didn't buy him as a romantic lead to some of the beautiful actresses he picked to star in his movie. The level of wish fulfillment just seemed a bit too distracting to me.
When Midnight in Paris came out I didn't really think twice about it. I had no interest in seeing it until I read about its premise. Gil, (Owen Wilson) is in Paris with his fiancee and her parents. One night he stumbles around Paris and finds a pretty peculiar spot. At this spot at midnight, a car comes along that takes him to Paris in the old days. There he winds up hanging out with a lot of famous dead people like Picasso, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and many others.
It's a pretty neat idea and the movie and actors have a lot of fun with it. Of course when Gil tells his fiancee, (Rachel McAdams) she thinks he's crazy. She'd rather be out dancing with an old flame. But Gil becomes in love with the ability to travel back to the time that he idealizes so much and to interact with his heroes. There he also meets a beautiful woman who he falls for.
Wilson is great in the role of Gil and all of the actors portraying the famous artists and writers are great as well. Actually McAdams was the only person I thought was miscast. Midnight in Paris might not have anything significant to say but it is a really entertaining, funny, and beautifully shot film.

Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

When Kung Fu Panda came out in 2008, I was completely shocked by it. I was expecting just another talking animal computer animated movie with pop culture references. Instead the movie was moving, funny, and dealt with some heavier stuff like one's search to find a place to belong and it even dealt with the concepts of life and death. But when I heard there was going to be a sequel I was worried this decision to keep the story going was merely financially driven, the first one did make over $600 million worldwide.
It turns out I shouldn't have been worried at all because Kung Fu Panda 2 still has the emotion and humor that made the first one so good. The story begins with Po (Jack Black) living the good life. He is now embraced as the Dragon Warrior and is part of the furious five. He is a celebrity and happy. But as things go, trouble soon arises, in the form of a new villain, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) who has a special weapon he intends to use to conquer China.
But things won't be so easy. Po soon realizes that Lord Shen has some mysterious ties to his own past that might hold the key to the answers he longingly seeks. This provides some of the major drama in the movie as Po is overcome by doubts. His teammates, especially Tigress (Angelina Jolie) see this as a hindrance to stopping Lord Shen. Po is so concerned to finding out what happened to his parents that he is not able to be the leader the team needs to stop Lorde Shen.
This provides our hero with a pretty challenging obstacle to overcome. It also provides the movie with some genuinely moving moments. Po is haunted by the memory of his past and little by little these memories begin to come back. Seeing Po as a baby as he is separated from his birth parents or how Mr. Ping (James Hong) came to adopt him are really great moments that make Kung Fu Panda 2 shine. They don't just serve to add pathos to the movie but it also makes you care about all of the action.
And believe me there is plenty of action in this movie. I was actually surprised how well choreographed and thrilling all of the action set pieces were. I think they can challenge and in most cases, they are better than anything you will see in a Transformers or any other big budget live action movie.
I can't leave off how amazing the graphics look. This is an expensive movie and it shows. everything in Kung Fu Panfa 2 is beautifully rendered. And in a summer filled with overcooked, under thought would be blockbusters, it's nice to see a movie that has heart to compliment its action.

Review: Bridesmaids

The Premise is simple, The Hangover with girls, but these ladies will have you laughing until it hurts. Bridesmaids, directed by Paul Feig, isn't shy about trying to recreate The Hangover formula but it more than stands on its own as probably the funniest movie of the year.
Annie (Kristen Wiig) is chosen to be the maid of honor at her best friend, Lillian's wedding.(Maya Rudolph) But as soon Annie hears the news, she starts thinking about her own life and the fact that she's single. Like a house of cards, her life soon begins to crumble and she starts to lose it when she should be happy for her friend. Annie also can't deal with Lillian's perfect new friend Helen (Rose Byrne) who she thinks is trying to replace her as Lillian's best friend.
This is without a doubt Wiig's show and she shines in a star making performance. She is completely, effortlessly hilarious. But there is also pathos to her performance. Annie never comes off as a jealous bitch. We get to see and understand why she feels the way she does. Above all else she's afraid to lose her friend, being left behind and unsure if she'll ever find the happiness that her friend has.
But even though there are surprisingly moving moments, the movie knows the audience is looking for laughs and it provides it non stop. Some of the highlights include the scene on the plane, the dinner scene, the tennis scene, actually pretty much the whole movie is a highlight.
The only thing that comes close to a complaint is that besides Annie almost all of the other characters get lost in the shuffle. Melissa McCarthy is the only other female character that registers as an obvious attempt to recreate zach galifianakis's performance from The Hangover. As for the guys; Jon Hamm scores some laughs in his man whore role and Chris O' Dowd is winning as a charming Irish cop who has the hots for Annie.
Bridesmaids is a hilarious movie that provides plenty of laughs regardless of your gender. If more female driven comedies take notice, the term chick flick might not be so scary.

****PS. Happy 200th post! Pop the bubbly bitches!!!****