Movie Review: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

Starring
Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Gary Oldman, Kirk Acevedo
Director
Matt Reeves

It’s always a great feeling to walk into a movie with low expectations and come out pleasantly surprised, as was the case with Rupert Wyatt’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a prequel that no one was really clamoring for apart from the franchise’s most diehard fans. And yet by proving that it was possible to make a great “Planet of the Apes” film, it raised the bar in the process, creating a whole new set of obstacles for any movie that followed, including whether it could live up to or even surpass its predecessor. But while “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” stands above and beyond the original films, as well as most of the other movies released this summer, Matt Reeves’ much darker sequel is unable to match the emotional resonance of the previous installment, although it certainly tries.

Set a decade after the events of the first prequel, “Dawn” opens in a very different San Francisco from when we last saw it. The Simian Flu (a contagious virus spread by the Alzheimer’s drug that James Franco’s scientist created in “Rise”) has wiped out most of humanity, while the apes continue to thrive in their forest community located on the outskirts of the city. But when a small group of humans (led by Jason Clarke’s Malcolm) accidentally wanders onto the apes’ home turf while searching for a hydroelectric dam capable of bringing power back online, their arrival re-ignites the feud between leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and right-hand ape Koba (Toby Kebbell), who have vastly different opinions on how to handle the trespassers. Caesar agrees to allow Malcom and his team to stay and repair the generator in order to keep the peace between mankind and apes, but Koba’s deep mistrust leads him to discover that the human survivors have stockpiled weapons in their downtown sanctuary, and fearing that they’ll attack first, he betrays Caesar and leads an all-out assault against the humans.

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Blu Tuesday: The Raid 2, Bad Words and Nymphomaniac

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Raid 2″

WHAT: In order to protect himself and his family from being targeted for retaliation, honest cop Rama (Iko Uwais) agrees to go undercover to find the source of corruption in the city’s police force. After making friends with the son of a respected crime boss, Rama is hired as an enforcer for the syndicate, only to find himself smack dab in the middle of a turf war between his boss and the Japanese yakuza.

WHY: It would have been all too easy for Gareth Evans to deliver a rinse-and-repeat sequel to his 2012 cult classic, so it’s refreshing to see the filmmaker take a risk with such a strikingly ambitious follow-up like “The Raid 2,” a slower, operatic crime saga with a lot more moving parts than its predecessor. The first movie was a non-stop action-fest with very little room for anything else, but while the added depth and drama is greatly appreciated this time around, Evans never forgets that he’s making an action film, sprinkling some bone-crunching, blood-spurting set pieces into each act. Many of the action scenes aren’t as memorable as the ones from the original, but they’re all ridiculously entertaining, including a fight inside a moving car that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Though the movie is a bit long at 150 minutes, the runtime is mostly justified considering the vast scope of the story. Some fans will undoubtedly be disappointed at how different it is from the original, but that’s exactly what makes it so great, because although “The Raid 2” may not provide the same adrenaline rush of its faster-paced, more contained predecessor, but it’s a richer and more sophisticated action-thriller that ranks among the best crime films ever made.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Gareth Evans, the Blu-ray release includes a short making-of featurette, a pair of more in-depth featurettes on location shooting and action choreography, a lengthy Q&A session with Evans, star Iko Uwais and composer Joe Trapanese and an ultra-violent deleted scene.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Bad Words”

WHAT: After middle-aged loser Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) uncovers a loophole in the spelling bee bylaws that allows him to participate in – and win – his regional tournament, he’s begrudgingly invited to the prestigious Golden Quill national spelling bee. But while Guy has ulterior motives for taking part in the competition, his endgame is threatened when he befriends a precocious 10-year-old contestant (Rohan Chand) willing to do whatever it takes to win.

WHY: If “Bad Words” sounds like the 2003 comedy “Bad Santa,” you’re not alone. But while the comparisons are inevitable, “Bad Words” isn’t nearly as crude or edgy as the holiday cult classic. That’s not to say that Jason Bateman’s directorial debut doesn’t have a mean streak, because it relishes every opportunity to be naughty, but the film also feels like it’s playing it safe at times so as to not completely alienate its protagonist. Guy is hardly a saint (his motives are not only selfish, but pretty juvenile), but he also isn’t as bad as he appears on the surface, as evidenced in the big brother-little brother bond that he forms with Chand’s pint-sized sidekick. The child actor is excellent opposite his director/co-star, but this is Bateman’s show, with Andrew Dodge’s script playing to the actor’s strengths so well that you’d think it was written specifically for him. It’s not easy making a jerk like Guy seem likable, but Bateman does a solid job of pushing boundaries without going too far over the line. That’s a credit to his work behind the camera as well, because although the story is a little undercooked and the big “twist” is entirely predictable, “Bad Words” delivers enough hilarious, foul-mouthed mischief to deserve its title.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by Jason Bateman, a making-of featurette and some deleted and extended scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Nymphomaniac: Volume I and Volume II”

WHAT: When she’s found beaten in an alley by a scholarly gentleman (Stellan Skarsgard) and taken into his home to tend to her wounds, self-diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recounts her sexually depraved life story, from adolescence to adulthood.

WHY: Split into two parts for its U.S. release, probably because it would have been unbearable to watch in one sitting, “Nymphomaniac” is almost maddeningly pretentious, even for a director like Lars von Trier. This is a film with its head so far up its own ass – stretching to draw parallels between Joe’s sexual misadventures and subjects ranging from fly fishing to music theory) that it’s hard to discern whether von Trier is just fucking with the audience. “Nymphomaniac” is neither as intelligent nor as darkly comical as it pretends to be, and it’s also surprisingly anti-erotic for a movie largely about sex, although in the case of the latter, that might actually be the point. Unfortunately, that message is lost amid the dense screenplay, the lack of a compelling protagonist and some terrible acting by Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater and others. Newcomer Stacy Martin delivers a fearless and assured debut as the young Joe, but she’s one of the few highlights in an otherwise ugly and uninteresting film. So when her character weepingly declares, “I don’t feel anything,” at the end of Volume One, it’s easy to relate, especially with another (and worse) volume still left to slog through.

EXTRAS: There’s a behind-the-scenes fluff piece produced for AXS TV and a trio of featurettes about the film’s characters, director and sex scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Movie Review: “Earth to Echo”

Starring
Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt, Jason Gray-Stanford
Director
Dave Green

“Earth to Echo” is the kid who has consumed so much pop culture that he no longer has any thoughts of his own. Everything he says and does is someone else’s idea, not necessarily mindless but rather overloaded by information. And yet, it’s strangely likable, in spite of the myriad of shortcomings it possesses. The leads are easy to root for; they’re good kids who are looking to take one last adventure together before they are separated. It’s a movie that acknowledges cynicism, but shows a more hopeful path. It’s hard to get too down on a movie like that, even a mediocre one.

The film is narrated by and documented courtesy of the recording devices of Tuck (Astro. Yes, the actor’s name is Astro.), who originally intends to film his last days with his closest friends Alex (Teo Halm) and Munch (Reese Hartwig). These are their last days because their sleepy Nevada town is mysteriously becoming the home to a superhighway, and the residents are forced to move elsewhere. The boys all pull the age-old tween trick of telling their parents they’re sleeping at each other’s houses so they can stay out all night. They’re doing this because their cell phones are all going bonkers lately, but in different ways. The patterns on their phone match a nearby map, so they follow the images on their phone, and discover an alien life form who’s trying to put the pieces to his equipment back together in order to go home. The boys are only happy to help. The “builders” of the superhighway, however, are less accommodating.

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Movie Review: “Tammy”

Starring
Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole, Kathy Bates
Director
Ben Falcone

Like pretty much anything that Melissa McCarthy does these days, your enjoyment of “Tammy” will depend entirely on how you feel about the actress as a performer. Those who can’t get enough of watching her play the same sloppy and obnoxious character over and over again will probably think that it’s the funniest comedy of the year. But for those who were already sick of her tedious, one-trick pony act after “Bridesmaids” launched the actress into superstardom, sitting through McCarthy’s latest movie is about as pleasant as a punch to the face. “Tammy” is so groan-inducingly dumb that it rivals some of Adam Sandler’s worst comedies, placing so much faith in its leading lady’s raucous, over-the-top antics that it doesn’t even consider it might not be funny.

McCarthy stars as the title character, a slovenly loser who wrecks her beat-up car, gets fired from her job at the local fast food joint, and discovers that her husband (Nat Faxon) has been cheating with their neighbor (Toni Collette), all within the same day. Desperate to get out of town for a while, she agrees to let her alcoholic grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon) – who has the two things that Tammy needs most: a working car and some cash – tag along with her on a road trip to Niagara Falls. But when they end up driving the wrong way, the two women decide to make the most of the mishap in an attempt to patch up their troubled past.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to July

july

After a mostly disappointing June that saw the release of very few summer tentpole films (and even fewer that were any good), this month seems poised to follow suit with an equally lackluster lineup. There are a couple blockbuster-sized movies on tap in July (like the follow-up to the “Planet of the Apes” prequel and Dwayne Johnson’s long-gestating Hercules film), but everything else feels very un-summery, including a Fourth of July weekend devoid of a big action movie. Instead, America gets to celebrate its freedom with Melissa McCarthy, and that’s pretty telling of just how poor this summer season has been.

“DELIVER US FROM EVIL”

Who: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn and Chris Coy
What: NY police officer Ralph Sarchie joins forces with a priest schooled in the rituals of exorcism to combat the possessions that are terrorizing their city.
When: July 2nd
Why: I know what you’re thinking: yet another horror movie that’s supposedly inspired by real-life events? But while the setup may seem more than a little contrived, Hollywood has proven on numerous occasions that you can still make an excellent horror film no matter how preposterous its claims may be. (Remember a little movie called “The Exorcist”?) Scott Derrickson is also one of the better directors currently working in the genre, and with a cast that includes Eric Bana and the underrated Edgar Ramirez, “Deliver Us from Evil” certainly has the potential to follow in the footsteps of last year’s “The Conjuring” as one of the surprise hits of this summer.

“TAMMY”

Who: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Dan Aykroyd and Mark Duplass
What: After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.
When: July 2nd
Why: Melissa McCarthy clearly didn’t get the memo that her 15 minutes of fame are up, because the actress (who’s essentially a less talented female version of Chris Farley) keeps plugging away with dumb movie after dumb movie. And to make matters worse, studios continue to green light these so-called comedies because they make obscene amounts of money. Then again, so do those god-awful spoof films and just about anything produced by Tyler Perry. If “Identity Thief” and “The Heat” weren’t evidence enough that McCarthy is one of the most annoying, undeserving movie stars in Hollywood, then surely “Tammy” (which she co-wrote with husband/director Ben Falcone) will finally put an end to America’s baffling love affair with her.

“DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES”

Who: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke and Kodi-Smit McPhee
What: A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier.
When: July 11th
Why: My expectations were pretty low going into “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which is why it was such a pleasant surprise that the movie was actually good. But while another installment in Fox’s franchise reboot was inevitable, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” seems to have lost a lot of what made the prequel so unique from the rest of the series. It still takes place well before the 1968 original, but now the apes are walking, talking and even riding on horses while firing machine guns. That’s a far cry from Rupert Wyatt’s more down-to-earth prequel, so here’s hoping that director Matt Reeves is able to retain some of the humanity from that film.

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