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.

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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?

STAR WARS, A review by Armond White

STAR WARS
Reviewed by Armond White
May 24th, 1977

George Lucas’ STAR WARS is essentially a B-picture amped up with state-of-the-art special effects, disguising itself as a big blockbuster, in an attempt to trump the success of the popular killer fish movie, JAWS. Audiences will no doubt revel in its escapism, though what Lucas has really done here is sell us trash painted gold.

The plot borrows elements from just about everything under the sun: 1950’s science fiction serials, Samurai films, and even The Wizard Of Oz. The story follows two robots, very obviously meant to represent black slaves. They are loyal, obedient, they cater to every whim of the white man, and only prove useful up to a certain point. The film is much more interested in the white men, a young boy named Luke and an older “Jedi” named Ben Kenobi, who retrieve important information from the slave robots- information crucial to protect the entire galaxy. What this information is to be exact, I’m not sure, it’s more a macguffin and an excuse to embark on Luke’s wondrous adventure through the galaxy, where we meet even more white characters (including the beautiful white princess), while vile, disfigured alien beings (the black man) are settled into the background. More decoration than importance to the preposterous plot.

It troubles me greatly that even with all the progress the black community has made with civil rights, Hollywood is still reluctant to cast a perfectly capable African American actor in the lead role of its big event pictures. What if instead of the rosy-cheeked all-American white boy playing Luke, they cast Fred Williamson or Billy Dee Williams? They’ve made names for themselves, and they could draw their audiences. Though maybe the wrong audience. God forbid suburban Drive-ins would start to look a little darker. No, an actor such as Fred Williamson would display too much confidence and self-awareness in the role. Having a young, white boy as the lead feeds audiences of white America exactly what they want to consume: a plucky, ignorant character, with a good heart, but apparently no soul. America is in trouble.

It offends me personally that the only actor of color included in the film is James Earl Jones, who does not actually appear on-screen, but rather as the voice of the villain, Dark Vader. Dark Vader is dressed head to toe in black, has a bad temper, and kills/assaults other characters at the drop of a hat. Naturally, it would only be deemed appropriate to have a black man voice this character. This character alone has pushed the black movement back decades.

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Its heart is not in the right place. It may win over young ones with its dazzling adventure scenes and loud noises, but be warned: when you approach that ticket booth, you’re not just handing over hard-earned cash, you’re exchanging your soul. Underneath its despicable racism and its shoe-string of a plot, STAR WARS also prides itself in its godlessness. No character believes in God, instead worships “the force”, energy that surrounds every living being and gives them power. Give me a break. Time magazine has stated that God is dead. With STAR WARS, I’ve seen the future, and it only gets worse.

The special effects may interest children and white men with low I.Q.s, but at the end of the day, it is a very disposable piece of distraction. The movie will make its money and be done with, making room for the next trend in shallow entertainment. I award the film 0 stars, it is an appalling mess that is easy on the eyes. I hated it. I was offended by it. God help anyone in line to see it this weekend. Instead, may I recommend John Boorman’s brilliant EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, a sequel every bit as good as the original. It is compelling, provocative, and allows James Earl Jones to actually show his face! It will be the more talked about and higher regarded film of the summer.

0 out of ****

©1977 The New York Press

If you’d like to learn more about Armond White, please consult your local Library or pay a visit to Rotten Tomatoes.

NOTE: This is not an actual review written by Armond White, just a mere tribute to his excellent logic and writing craft.

Movie Review: Splice (2010)

Splice is one of the few big movies out this summer that isn’t a sequel, spin-off, remake, re-imagining, or anything like that. However, I’d hardly say it’s original. We all know that the whole “scientist screwing with the laws of nature” concept has been done to death- going back as early as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Fortunately, the movie is well aware of this, and offers some fresh ideas. I was quite pleased at how quickly it breezes through the obligatory “They’re shutting our research down, let’s work on our project in secret” bullshit and goes straight to the creating of abominations of God. It goes through a very interesting process. Splice aims to fascinate rather than repulse, so don’t expect to be too grossed out. This is the kind of movie that Alien design creator H.R. Giger would be proud of. It’s the absurd, psycho-sexual theatre of oddities that something like Alien: Resurrection could only dream of being like (note the possible tip of the hat: the incubation machine is named the “BETI” and sports a similar pin-up to the ship in A:R ).

The strength of the movie, I feel, is in its creature effects. If you don’t have a convincing creature, you don’t have a movie, and I thought they pulled off this creature, “Dren,” very well. Not only did it blend CGI and makeup effects seamlessly, but the performance by Delphine Chanéac should be given a lot of credit for adding dimension to the creature. I didn’t see a special effect: I saw living being that thought and felt, and even schemed. I should hail the performances of Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as well, they added some credibility to the project and their characters are reasonably developed and well-rounded.

It delves a little deeper than the average creature feature. When the characters inevitably express their regret with toying with mother nature, I truly believed it this time around, but it’s certainly not limited to a preachy “Thou Shalt Not Disrupt The Natural Order”-type message. What the message is, I can’t really say for sure. If anything, it’s almost a twisted Adam and Eve kind of story, where the Godless characters abandon all that is good simply because- I suppose- they can’t get off on normal procreation anymore. They suffer the consequences.

The bad news is that while it does take a few steps above the norm (there are some truly bizarre moments that I can’t even begin to describe), it suffers from going by-the-numbers at times, particularly by the end. So it doesn’t exactly reach the heights it wants to, and at the same time, it doesn’t serve up nearly enough thrills for people looking for a mainstream scarefest, so I’m wondering if there’s even really an audience for this movie. Without giving anything away, I’ll tell you that one of the last lines in the film is the classic, fate-tempting question, “What’s the worst that could happen?” The answer: Splice 2, straight to video.

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!

Movie Review: Avatar (2009)

Spoilers herein.

I think what makes Avatar such an enjoyable movie is that it feels like an amalgamation of the big movies we already know and love. It’s like someone put Aliens, Titanic, Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and countless other things in a blender and it came out all multi-coloured and shiny. Its influences seem to be vast. You could argue endlessly about the film’s allegory: war in Iraq? War in Viet Nam? The story of Pocahontas? A rip off of Dances With Wolves? Take your pick, either way, the argument’s valid. Surely any hippy liberal college students who went to see this movie totally blitzed out of their minds will find the message of the movie to be really deep and really important.

My only gripe would be that despite being called Avatar, there’s very little attention given to explaining the actual Avatar technology. I had a lot of questions. There’s no real major existential problems suffered by our main character. When Jake is doing his video log he comments, “It feels like everything’s backwards. Like in there is the real world and out here is the dream.” Is this because he’s questioning his boundaries of reality or because he’s more content to live as a Na’vi? If he’s 100% physically and mentally active while in the Avatar and while awake as a human, is he actually getting any sleep? Wouldn’t he start to suffer from exhaustion? How much of a dream is this dream world anyway? If you die in the Avatar form do you die in real life? You know, like The Matrix? After wondering this for a while my question was answered near the end when the tall nerdy Jewish guy whose name I can’t be bothered to learn even though he’s in a lot of movies gets killed while in the Avatar. He lives. Good for him. I suppose at the end of the day these are just silly nitpicks and besides the point of the movie. You could argue the logic of time travel in The Terminator but you would be wasting your time because that’s not the damn point of the movie.

But I’m wondering what Avatar‘s over all point is. Spoiler alert: Jake decides to stay on Pandora as a Na’vi at the end and all of the “evil humans” are banished and sent home to their “dying planet.” That’s all well and good for the Na’vis but kind of a bummer for the entire human race, isn’t it? So is the message: humans are evil, be a Na’vi instead? That’s discouraging. Clearly not all humans in the movie were bad guys. Some stayed on Pandora in the end but it seemed like their choice was to Na’vi-up or go home. All of this confuses and slightly irritates me so let’s just say that the movie is a call to change and we’ll leave it at that.

My favourite character from Avatar would have to be Colonel Miles Quaritch. The guy is such a badass that it takes him a good 30 seconds to acknowledge that his arm is on fire. The guy’s real handy with the giant exo-suit, too. He’s a great antagonist and I really wish there was more of his character in the final product. My next favourite character has to be Dr. Grace Augustine, played wonderfully by Sigourney Weaver. I think that Weaver has earned her place among actors who can do no wrong whatsoever, and is an absolute joy to watch on screen no matter what she’s in. Her death scene in Avatar was more tragic than the deaths of Dumbledore, Aslan, and Optimus Prime combined. Sam Worthington is good enough as our hero, Jake, but he seems to really shine in the Pandora scenes alongside Zoe Saldana as Neytiri. Needless to say, the motion-capture acting is beyond impressive and one of the highlights of Avatar.

Oh yeah, and it’s in 3D. The 3D is really cool and it was a relief to find that it wasn’t pandering to the technology at all: it never stops the flow of the movie to show off some stupid effect and have us all oohing and aawwing and trying to grab something in front of us. Basically, it’s still great and all without the 3D. But I would definitely recommend seeing it in 3D if you can. At some point you just got to stop thinking about allegories and messages, and just put the 3D glasses on and enjoy the ride. This will surely be the turning point in home theatre technology because a lot of people will want to experience it in Blu-ray and finally break down and make the switch. I can’t wait to see how it looks on Blu-ray.

It’s a great-looking movie, it’s a spectacular experience, all colourful, pretty and blue. But yes, it could have used a little work in the story department. And the half-assed allegory doesn’t seem to help, either. But maybe we’re all getting that allegory stuff completely wrong. Maybe all that war and environmental stuff is completely inconsequential and Avatar is truly a comment on our own escapism. Some people live out their lives behind an Avatar, whether it’s a wizard or something on World of Warcraft or simply a chat handle. It’s you, It’s your traits, your personality, but it’s not really real. And maybe some people like it better than their regular old boring lives where there world is a cruel and evil place, feeling more sheltered and accepted that way. I’ve heard stories of people walking out of Avatar depressed because they were no longer in the amazing world of Pandora for those 3 hours and they had to get back to real life, so maybe this theory has some leverage. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, or maybe we’d all like to keep those 3D glasses on a little longer than we’d like to admit.

One more pointless thought to end this stream of pointless thoughts:I’ve noticed that Avatar is rated PG-13, yet there are quite a few scenes which show Sigourney Weaver’s character smoking. I thought it was an MPAA rule that if there’s smoking in a movie, it’s rated R. No exceptions. What’s up with that? Always leave a review on a strong note, kids.

A Nightmare On Elm Street Series Review

Above is my review for all of the Nightmare On Elm Street films…it’s kind of long, it’s about 40 minutes long split into 5 parts. It’s you’re a fan of the Freddy movies or you just have a lot of time to kill, then definitely check it out.

If you don’t have the time, then for your consideration I have provided the JIST OF IT below:

A Nightmare On Elm Street: A great horror movie. Wes Craven’s masterpiece.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge: A turd. Not really worth seeing if you’re not a big fan. Skip it.

A  Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors: Really entertaining. A Perfect sequel.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master: The plot is a little odd and complicated, but it’s still good fun. Worth checking out.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child: Even more complicated of a plot but this time not as entertaining. A big “meh” over all.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare: More of a comedy than a horror, also kind of “meh” but it is admittedly entertaining.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare: A great horror film, in worthy company with the original 1984 film.

Freddy Vs. Jason: Stupid, but really, really fun. Enjoy it for what it is.

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