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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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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Movie Review: “Begin Again”

Starring
Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, James Corden
Director
John Carney

It’s incredible what can be achieved when you combine music with film, and John Carney exploited that perfect pairing with his musical drama “Once.” It’s been eight years since the small indie walked away with an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and in that time, the Irish-born writer/director made a couple films in his native country that flew so far under the radar that they never saw release here. So while it may seem a tad desperate of Carney to mark his Hollywood debut with another music-driven relationship drama, he’s simply playing to his strengths. “Begin Again” doesn’t quite have the same magic of “Once,” but it’s a sweet and cuddly crowd-pleaser highlighted by a pair of great performances and some catchy tunes.

Mark Ruffalo stars as Dan Mulligan, a self-described “selfish, depressed prick” who’s just been fired from the very record label he helped found. While on a bender later that night, he stumbles into a bar hosting an open mic event and is immediately moved by an original song performed by Greta (Keira Knightley), a British singer-songwriter who’s just had an equally bad day after being dumped by her rock star boyfriend (Adam Levine) following his first taste of success. Determined to share Greta’s indisputable talent with the rest of the world, Dan convinces her to record an album with a live band in different locations across New York City in the hope that he can convince his former business partner (Mos Def) to sign Greta to their label and rescue his job.

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Movie Review: “How to Train Your Dragon 2″

Starring
Jay Baruchel, American Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harrington, Craig Ferguson
Director
Dean DeBlois

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” does something simple yet amazing: they allowed their characters to age. That is unheard of in animated films, but it’s a savvy move here, for two reasons: it gives the writers the opportunity to truly make a man out of Hiccup, and it also allows them to be more forthright about the romance between Hiccup and Astrid, because watching two 15-year-olds kiss on screen, real or CGI, is kinda icky. Twenty-year-olds, totally different story.

Kung Fu Panda 2” seems to be the blueprint for the story (and that makes sense, since they’re both DreamWorks properties), in that it raises the stakes about the importance of what Hiccup has accomplished, and it develops Hiccup’s family. Sadly, it doesn’t work as well as it did for “Panda.” It’s entertaining and gorgeous, but disjointed, veering between wildly emotional scenes on both ends of the spectrum without much thought for how they should flow together.

Five years after the events of the first film, Berk is doing remarkably well now that the residents have embraced the dragons (and vice versa), and the tribe’s chief Stoick (Gerard Butler) plans to swear in his son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as the new chief. Hiccup isn’t sure if he’s ready for that much responsibility, but he forgets about becoming chief after he runs across dragon trapper Eret (Kit Harington), who works for a madman named Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who is building a dragon army. Stoick knows Drago and prepares for war. Hiccup, however, wants to try and reason with Drago, and receives some help in the form of someone who’s known him since the day he was born: his long-lost, presumed-dead mother Valka (Cate Blanchett).

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