Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

 

The makeup effects in the original PLANET OF THE APES film were revolutionary in 1968. The Tim Burton-helmed remake, now a decade old, pushed the art as far as it could go under the masterful control of Rick Baker. Now the newest “Apes” movie, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has taken things a step further with visual effects from WETA. The apes look just like apes, act just like apes, but are digital creations that can do things that you probably couldn’t train an ape to do on film in a million years. Besides, training apes seems kind of cruel.

The appeal of these makeup effects in the original as well as the sequels is that the performances of great actors could burst through those ape faces. Many people would associate PLANET OF THE APES immediately with Charlton Heston, but those who have affection for sequels such as “ESCAPE,” “CONQUEST,” and “BATTLE” would unflinchingly tell you the franchise truly belongs to Roddy McDowell, who played Cornelius and Ceaser to great effect. The guy was a fantastic and skilled actor but he could also really ape it up. It was a winning combination and it made the series stand out. But the days of makeup and McDowell are over, and now for the most recent “Apes” film we have CGI and Andy Serkis (no stranger to playing simians), which isn’t a bad trade-off at all.

 

 

It’s sort of a prequel to the 1968 film. But the timeline became so messed up and so full of paradoxes that this could precede that film, it could stand on its own as a complete fresh start, or, Hell, you could probably place it somewhere in-between in an alternate universe. With all the time-and-space-bending presented you could probably even fit in Burton’s film into the continuity somehow. But if you want to say, “hey, this is what happens that led to what we see in the first movie,” then that’s agreeable, and there are some hints scattered about that would fit that frame of mind in place.

The movie begins innocently enough, with scientists experimenting on animals to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease but things don’t go exactly as planned (which is exactly the same plot of DEEP BLUE SEA by the way). The formula doesn’t work too ideally on humans but it takes to apes very nicely, causing advanced intelligence. Enter Caesar.

We have James Franco in the movie, we have Frieda Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Draco Malfoy, but make no mistake: Andy Serkis is the star. Caesar is the main character, the story is about his struggle, and it is a deeply facsinating study of a primate endowed with extraordiary intelligence; who is blessed and cursed with cognition and self-examination of a man, wondering how and why he is, recogonizing he’s an anomoly, and feeling some entitlement to be a little higher on the food chain.

 

 

It’s not as sci-fi heavy as some of the other movies in this series but it gets the drama right and treats the material seriously and cautiously, avoiding anything too silly. I wouldn’t say there’s much racial or social allegory going on here but it tells the story of the ape uprising very well. You could argue that maybe the intentions of the little revolution shown here aren’t incredibly justified, like, why would the apes turn and mistrust all of mankind just because a few assholes at an animal shelter gave them a hard time? Well, I don’t think that’s entirely the point. Sometimes movies like this just consider what it would be like if our time staying as the most dominant beings on the planet were through. Could be aliens, could be apes. But it’s fascinating since apes are so similar to us, seeming just a little removed from the evolutionary line, so why couldn’t there be an alternate universe where they were in charge and we were the ones in cages? If apes are as similar to us as we think they are then we’d know they wouldn’t want to share the rule of the world.

 

 

A good story was told with modern effects that were very convincing and the drama was very well played out. Andy Serkis was incredible and pulls off a wonderful performance as Ceaser. The references to the original films are fun and not too overbearing, and it pays a much better service to the franchise’s fans than the remake did. It has the same kind of spirit as those movies but it is a fresh take on the general story so whether you’ve seen every single one and know the overall plot detail by detail or whether this is your first venture into the series it successfully satisifies in just about every area. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t the best one, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d love to see more.

Movie Review: The Expendables (2010)

THE EXPENDABLES is an action masterpiece. It’s up there with the big boys. It’s an instant classic. Really. It has all the ingredients for such a film, including the macho moralities of camaraderie, loyalty, betrayal, and unflinching badassness in the face of danger. I was expecting to have fun with the movie, but it thoroughly impressed me a lot more than I thought it would. It features its well-known cast of action stars, but it’s not content simply with that. This is a movie with something to prove. This is a movie that doesn’t take the audience for saps. It’s wise enough to know that the novelty of having such a cast could only get it so far, and the characters are well fleshed out. At least, as well fleshed out as a film of this kind can allow. There’s a sense that these characters have a real history and truly occupy the world of this film. This isn’t some weekend fun pet project for these actors. This is serious business.

I really appreciated how The Expendables wasn’t some silly 80’s throwback. It’s very much a modern action film, but it’s on Stallone’s own terms. There’s the shaky cam and snappy editing, but you won’t find an overabundance of CGI, or slow motion, or bullet-time, or any crap like that. The action scenes are fairly practical, aside from some digital blood splatter and green screen, and you can actually believe that the action really is taking place, with real stunts and real explosions. It’s not wall-to-wall scenes with underwhelming visual effects. It’s refreshingly coherent action, and it really is awesome. The plot is fairly simple as well. It doesn’t throw an overly complicated story at you, with ridiculous twist and ridiculous twist; most of the time when you see a movie like that, it’s really just covering up for the fact that it’s shit. The Expendables has enough confidence in its story and its characters to not pull the rug from underneath you with any contrived gimmicks. What you see is what you get. You might just say that this movie is the answer to everything that’s wrong with action these days. Stallone is a fun action actor, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t have a certain understated gifted eye for filmmaking to boot.

The cast is great and everyone has their own little moments, but the two actors who occupy the screen most are Stallone and Jason Statham. They make for a pretty great team. They have the kind of buddy stuff that you’d expect like the clever banter back and forth, and some good-natured rivalry. Eric Roberts plays the villain, and he is deliciously slimy in the role. And, yes, they were even able to fit in one of those little “we’re not so different” speeches. There’s also some fun, not-kept-so-secret-seeing-as-how-they’re-in-every-fucking-advertisement-for-the-movie cameos by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. That was great to see, and provided the biggest laughs of the movie.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: Mickey Rourke is in it, as well. He really makes the most out of a small role, and nearly steals the show halfway through the movie when he delivers a surprisingly moving monologue about being haunted by a young woman’s suicide. It was one of the stand-out moments of the film. Now, just stop and think to yourself: how many action movies would bother to completely stop dead in its tracks amidst the action to provide a scene like that, with a genuine, sincere purpose, too?

Trailer analysis: Yogi Bear, and Thor

If you need further proof that Hollywood has become a parody of itself, then by all means check out the teaser trailer for Yogi Bear. Be sure to feast your eyes on the trailers for the Smurfs movie and the Jack Black version of Gulliver’s Travels while you’re at it.

The special sneak preview of the the upcoming live action Yogi Bear movie hit the net last night. Needless to say, it looks fairly by-the-numbers. Let’s see:

  • Live action blended with horrendous CGI? Check!
  • Genuinely talented actor taking a paycheck by voicing the titular character? Check!
  • B-Grade talent in the human roles? Check!
  • Animals dancing and shaking their butts to pop music? Check!
  • Tedious slapstick humour? Check!
  • In FUCKING 3-D?? Check and mate!!

I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of the Yogi Bear cartoon, but I’m pretty sure taking your kids to see this should equate to child abuse. It looks like absolute garbage, and will probably kill your kids’ brain cells. You may as well toss them a bottle of Jack Daniels and tell them to have at it.

Do kids really like seeing these shitty-looking CGI animals dance to pop music so much? Like, really? Teach your kid to read, participate in team sports, plant a fucking tree for God’s sake, or at the very least just stay at home and watch the original cartoon! How can they possibly fill an entire movie with picnic basket stealing gags? It’s filler, fodder, junk food for the brain. Any kid going into this movie is going to walk out of it a little dumber.

The trailer may as well contain a voice over saying: We think kids today are stupid. We’re going to take a beloved cartoon character and shit out a lousy movie with him, fill it with pretty colours, lots of dancing, and lame jokes, because today’s kids just love that stuff!

Kids aren’t that stupid, are they? Take them to see the Pixar stuff, take them to Harry Potter, they can handle that. But this movie looks like it will be shit. Stop taking kids to see this worthless trash and they’ll stop making it!

Ugh. Whatever. It’s a stupid kids movie. Not the first. Not the last. But I’d never take my (theoretical) kid to see something like Yogi Bear. I’d have too much love and respect for my offspring.

It breaks my heart to see Anna Faris in this movie. I do think she has talent, and she’s really hot, too. It’s  also disappointing to see Dan Aykroyd sell out with voicing Yogi the bear, and not doing all too great of a job of it, either.  He’s a gifted actor, writer, and comedian. He’s one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live, a true comedic pioneer, he’s an Oscar nominated dramatic actor, he’s a Ghostbuster for God’s sake, and hey, his wine brand is pretty good, too. So it’s really come to this, huh?

In addition to the exciting Yogi Bear news, some leaked footage of a 5-minute Thor trailer has been popping up as well. Good luck finding it, though. It gets pulled as soon as it gets uploaded. I can’t say I’m a big Thor fan or anything, my familiarity with the character really only extends to the “BY THE HAMMER OF THOR” line repeated so hilariously in various TV shows and films, namely Anchorman. Ha, ha. Personally I can’t really see the appeal of a space viking that has a big hammer as a weapon, but whatever.

Some thoughts on the trailer:

  • It’s never occurred to me until right now how much Anthony Hopkins sounds like Marlon Brando, and his role gives off a Superman/Krypton opening kind of vibe.
  • I have no idea who the actor playing Thor is. He must be new. I’d swear he was an ex-wrestler or something if it weren’t for the fact that he’s British and can apparently act without grinning into the camera.
  • “For a crazy homeless man, he’s….pretty cut.” Tee hee, funny line.
  • Natalie Portman alone should get my ass in the seat.
  • The best thing about the trailer was the Iron Man reference.  Oh boy, I can’t wait for Iron Man 3. When’s that coming out??
  • The costume design is impressive, but not too surprising considering the film is helmed by Kenneth Branagh, director of Shakespearean adaptations such as Henry V, Hamlet, and As You Like It. I’d say Branagh’s involvement in the project would be an encouraging factor, but then again, this is the same guy who voluntarily acted in Wild Wild West.

So I’m sure the verdict isn’t quite in yet. Some folks are hella excited for this movie and died of nerdgasms upon viewing the trailer, but I think a lot of people are still waiting to make up their minds. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if Thor is any good or not.

Movie Review: Inception (2010)

Inception is a very impressive movie in that it works spectacularly well as a big action/thriller blockbuster with plenty of awesome, edge-of-your-seat sequences, and as an original, thought-provoking science fiction film. All too often a film like this may scrap its ideas and resort to mindless action, or fall under the weight of its own story. Inception presents an extremely ambitious plot and follows through with it admirably, not once taking any shortcuts or cheating the audience. It was immensely satisfying from beginning to end.

The cast is fantastic, featuring some of the best actors working today: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, and Ken Wantanabe. When you think about it, they’ve all taken on thankless roles here. It’s not as if most of them have the opportunity to show their skills as actors with a variety of emotions or long, dramatic monologues, which they are all perfectly capable of doing. They accomplish something arguably much more difficult: they guide us through this world that Nolan has created and make ideas that must have seemed a little silly on paper completely believable. These are real people at real risk. But, then again, maybe they aren’t? Yeah, Inception will no doubt inspire endless theorizing, especially about its ending.

Leonardo Dicaprio plays the main character and he has the meatiest part. He plays a complex and truly tragic character, as we learn more and more about him as the movie goes along. He was incredible in his role and reminds us once again why he is one of our most talented actors. It would be terrific to see his work here recognized come Oscar season as one of the nominees for Best Actor. It might not happen, but you can be sure that the movie itself will find its way on to the list of the Academy’s 10 best films of 2010.

So, yes, Inception lived up to the hype. Yes, it was worth the wait. Yes, Christopher Nolan has done it again. It is definitely one of the best science fiction films of our time. The best works of science fiction are all about ideas, whether they explore where we’re going with technology, or the possibility of life of different planets, or alternate realities, etc. Nolan’s film makes the bold choice of exploring the mind, and the mind is absolutely infinite.

Movie Review: Predators (2010)

If you’re a big fan of movies where characters speak softly and dramatically and try to explain everything that is happening, then PREDATORS just may be right up your alley. But I personally found it to be exhausting. 90% of the dialogue is tedious exposition: characters explain, explain, and EXPLAIN, what’s going on, what their plan of action is, who everyone is, and why everyone is there. But why bother trying to explain who these characters are? Any audience member with half a brain will expect most of the characters to be dead by the end anyway, and even with all the long-winded explanations, we really don’t get a better idea of who these guys are than we already could assume just by looking at them. Here’s a helpful hint for any screenwriter: WHIPPING OUT WALLET PHOTOS OF YOUR KIDS DOES NOT COUNT AS CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. We already figured this out with the first Alien Vs. Predator movie, which shockingly had more interesting characters, and- dare I say?- was more entertaining.

I wonder if someone who has never seen a Predator film will find this to be a good movie. As a person who is familiar with this series, I wasn’t sure why the Predator creatures would kill unarmed men. I may have nodded off during one of the many exposition-spewing monologues, but I recall something about there being two different kinds of Predators on the planet, with different creeds and codes locked in a civil war of sorts, so maybe there’s an answer there. That’s a small complaint, though.

What bugged me the most was, well, the entire thing. In Predator 1 & 2, you figure that the Predators didn’t hand-pick Arnold Schwarzenegger or Danny Glover to hunt, but they just stumbled upon them or something. Each and every character in PREDATORS was chosen for specific reasons to go on that planet to be hunted, but why are these creatures going through all this trouble? If they’re going to elaborately capture them, parachute them onto the planet, just to pick them off seemingly at random, why not just hunt on Earth? Seriously, what the fuck? It makes no sense.

Should I have just turned my brain off and enjoyed the action? I mean, it’s not like the original 1987 film with Schwarzenegger is known for its impeccable writing, right? But PREDATOR has its fun, while this movie does not. It is dead serious. The characters play it completely straight, which is more than you could say for good ol’ Arnold, who was practically winking at the camera the entire time. The only person I could see having some fun with their character was Laurence Fishburne, who really livens thing up, but is in the movie briefer than you may expect.

There were some decent action scenes I guess. I liked it when they were gunning apart those dog-like creatures and there is a cool sword fight. Like, seriously guys, if the Asian mob guy finds an ancient sword and DOESN’T use it later in a big dramatic showdown, I would ask for my money back.

Maybe as a fan of the Alien and Predator movies I was expecting too much. It’s not like this one movie could singlehandedly redeem an entire series, but what kind of victory is it for a fan when a movie you’re looking forward to doesn’t suck completely, but isn’t all that good, either? PREDATORS was not the redemption I was hoping for, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s not a terrible movie, but I wouldn’t say it was all that good, either. It was kind of stupid.

And the ending. Don’t get me started on the ending. Boy, talk about your piece-of-shit endings. As the screen cut to black, I was almost expecting a giant middle finger to appear on the screen, or maybe a disclaimer stating: “We couldn’t figure out a way to end this movie, so we’re going to let you draw your own conclusions.”

Movie Review: Kick-Ass (2010)

Kick-Ass is more grim of a movie than I thought it would be, and not as much of a laugh-riot satire that I expected. It has the teenage situations, potty mouth, and pop-culture references of something like Superbad, but gradually takes a nose-dive into the morose, blood-lusting atmosphere of The Punisher.

Two stories collide in the movie. One is that of the title character, Kick-Ass, who doesn’t like the wrong that’s going on in the world and is tired of being passive, and being a comic-book geek, naturally his logical solution is to become a super hero himself. I liked this half of the story. It was unique, and very funny. The other half of the story, with heroes Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, is the typical self-righteous hero getting revenge on a mob boss plot. Can you really call them super heroes at that point? How about just murderers in capes? They’re not fighting any crime per se, just doing everything possible to make this mob boss’ life miserable. Killing everyone on his payroll. Burning down warehouses. Crushing a defenseless henchman in junk compacter. You know, the average super hero stuff. If they’re going through all this trouble, why not just skip all the theatrics and sneak into the mob boss’ house and slit his throat while he’s sitting on the john? Sometimes you gotta ask yourself: what would Batman do? Batman would not be happy with these guys.

And that really brings us to one undeniable fact: any movie released after 2008 that is even remotely related to super heroes will no doubt be compared to the quality of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. When one comic book adaptation does everything so well, naturally you’re going notice glaring flaws in other comic book adaptations. One huge flaw in the movie, to me personally, were the villains. Mob bosses? Really? The Super hero chain of challenge usually goes from petty thieves, to professional thieves (the mob), to super villains. I can understand that. It’s practically sacred scripture. But seriously, the main villain played by Mark Strong is not compelling whatsoever. The role is so undemanding it could have been played by a cardboard cut-out. Hell, that goddamn, greasy Russian in The Dark Knight had more personality than any villains in Kick-Ass! The entire rogues gallery in this movie is about one step away from being the type that trips over wacky traps set up by Macaulay Culkin. When the most intriguing bad guy is played by McLovin, you know you have a problem.

But relax, the movie is still pretty good. Despite all of its flaws, it works. And the characters are a hell of a lot more likable than they have the right to be. The acting is good too, particularly Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass and Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl. Consider Kick-Ass the revelations of these two actors, who will surely have great careers ahead of them in hopefully better movies. Nicolas Cage and his wacky Adam West impression are a welcome addition to the movie as well, and rest assured: Cage was able to work in some hilarious, hammy screaming scenes. “SWITCH TO KRYPTONIIITTTTTEEEEE!!!!”

I liked Kick-Ass. But I didn’t love it. The plot is a little stupid but it at least tries to give new twists on old ideas, but the main reason to see the movie is the action. I suppose I liked the icing better than the cake itself. The action scenes rock, especially when you see Hit-Girl kicking some serious ass. It’s absurd, hilarious, and just awesome. I predict that when the movie hits home video there will be a lot of chapter skipping just to the action scenes.

Kick-Ass finds itself somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to super hero movies/comic book adaptations. There are better ones out there, but there are also much much worse ones, and the fact that Kick-Ass is so un-apologetically off-the-wall with its violence and bad language is something to celebrate. It’s a wild ride. It’s funny, action packed, and features an 11-year-old girl mercilessly slaughtering bad guys. Fun for the whole family!