Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Tree of Life MOVIE REVIEW

The Tree of Life is the latest critical hit from the well-respected director Terrence Malick, known for his reclusiveness and long spans of time between movies (it took nearly twenty years to get from Days of Heaven to The Thin Red Line).  I have no idea how the guy gets his films produced, but he’s lucky enough to have all the pictures in his tiny filmography adored by [most] movie critics.  This latest film is his ambitious, ambiguous, artsy-fartsy answer to what the meaning of life is (or possibly better termed as the non-answer).  Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain star as husband and wife, with three children (one of whom grows up and kind of narrates the film – played by Sean Penn in more of a cameo role than a full fledged character).  The film has a disjointed, non-narrative structure, and juxtaposes two main things together: this family growing up and maturing in 1950’s Texas with often beautiful images of nature and the universe (jellyfish, trees, nebulas, volcanoes – it’s almost like watching the Discovery Channel).

It’s clear that Malick is a visionary director, and I believe watching this film that he meticulously planned and executed every shot exactly the way he wanted.  Because of this, the film could not possibly be “flawed,” so I’m just spouting off what I feel about it.  Personally I would’ve liked there to have less time spent in “awe” of everything.  The film takes itself with way too much egotism and breaks out a religious-toned operatic soundtrack as if to force us into loss of breath.  The images are beautiful, yes, they are more often than not wallpaper worthy – but simply showing us pretty thing after pretty thing gets tiresome.  What I got from the bookend montages of mother nature is that we are all somehow connected with the universe, and it is kind of interesting to talk about in a post-watch conversation, but actually sitting there, looking at the eighteenth long take of a galactic cloud poof I wanted to go to sleep.

As for the main plot line, it was mostly just meandering nostalgia (Malick was born in Texas in this same era) mixed with a skewed coming of age story.  We see many different, unconnected events (at least plot wise) concerning this family that help to define how we see the world around us, all the while affirming that we are just microcosms of the universe (cue the “Galaxy Song” from Monty Python).  This story, although it is the one thing with characters and anything resembling a plot, was not enjoyable to me.  There was very little dialogue, most likely due to the “sensory” aspect of the film, and most of the words are spoken in hushed voiceovers by a couple of the characters.  For one, this made it hard to hear what was being said, and two, it didn’t help to hold my attention.  The movie dragged on and on, with unanswerable questions and a trying-real-hard-to-be-poignant “haunting” narration.

Lots of critics have been endlessly praising The Tree of Life, many saying it may be the best of the 2010’s (it was handed the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, its highest award).  To me it seemed more like an art school student’s first attempt than a masterpiece.  I did love the cinematography (as I do in all of Malick’s films), the acting (especially from the kids; newcomer Hunter McCracken is way too intense-looking for a kid, but in a good way) and the ambition of giving pieces of the universe a connective tissue, but I just can’t help that it slowly lulled me towards counting sheep.  Towards the end of the film I kept thinking ‘This must be the last scene’…only for four more to spawn.  It’s destined to be released on the prestigious Criterion Collection, and philosophy professors will probably be quick to show it to their incoming students, but I personally find The Tree of Life to be overrated bullshit on a stick.

Rating: D+

Monday, August 29, 2011

TOP TEN: Horror Soundtracks

After having fun compiling a “Top Ten Horror Remakes,” I thought I would make a list of what I consider the best overall horror scores of all time.  Take into account that I picked these on overall scariness, how much the score helps the movie, and how good the music is on its own.  A tough one I skipped over was The Exorcist – I didn’t put it in because for one, I only really remember “Tubular Bells,” and two, that song didn’t occur during the parts where I was scared.  Anyway, hope you have fun with the list, listening to the tunes, and hopefully discovering some great movie music!

10.  A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Belonging to the last generation of kids that grew up with movie rental stores, the “horror” section was always enticing to me as a little one.  Although I knew what nightmares lay inside those VHS cases, I couldn’t help my curiosity.  Like many kids, the ‘Nightmare’ series was always skin crawling because Freddy Kruger was not only a creepy, burnt up serial killer with metal claws, but he took over you while you were sleeping.  The score reflects this dream-like horror that gave many people goose bumps when the film came out (and still to this day).

9.  Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Exploiting the common fear of childbirth, Rosemary’s Baby is a very scary movie that will probably remain so for as long as us humans watch horror flicks.  The theme to the movie is a haunting, but beautiful piece that evokes images of a mother singing a lullaby to their child.

8.  Dawn of the Dead (1978)

I love pretty much all of Goblin’s scores, and since Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorite horror movies I have to put it on the list.  I can’t say the movie is really scary anymore (in fact even when it first came out George Romero intended for it to be a bit campy – ‘satire,’ in his words), but the Italian prog-rock group Goblin plays an eerie, foreboding score that promises a zombie apocalypse is not far off.

7.  The Sixth Sense (1999)

Little did I know that after renting this film years ago from the local library (I know…renting movies at a library; hey, reading takes longer) that I would be totally blown away.  Back then I was na├»ve and was not spoiled as to the ending, and it was a shocker.  Although in recent years Shyamalan has gone downhill, at least he has made a masterpiece for us to enjoy for years.  The score is just as haunting as the film, and it’s always good when a musical piece for a horror film starts to make you paranoid while you’re listening to it.

6.  Children of the Corn (1984)

I saw this movie in kindergarten.  It gave me nightmares.  The music had a lot to do with it (and possibly the kids hanging on crucifixes, kids stabbing people to death, and pure evil ground lumps).

5.  Halloween (1978)

Need I say anything?  This is one of the most popular scores in the horror genre, and it was composed by the director himself, John Carpenter!

4. Stephen King’s It (1990)

This was one of the first horror movies I watched as a kid and it was pretty scary!  Although the kid-half of the film is far superior than the second, adult-half, Tim Curry is terrifying as the child-killer Pennywise the clown and the music is frightening as well.

3.  Psycho (1960)

One of the most well respected film scores of all time, and for good reason.  Bernard Herrmann composed many of cinema’s greatest scores, including North by Northwest, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Taxi Driver.  In Psycho he limited himself to string instruments only in his orchestra and the effect is pure horror!

2.  Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Cannibal Holocaust is one of the vilest, most disgusting movies ever made. It was one of the first “found footage” movies, where a documentary crew goes out into the jungle and gets eaten by cannibals.  The director, Ruggero Deodato, was sentenced to court after the making of the film because he was thought to have actually killed his actors in the making of it (because the special effects were so life like).  It’s still up in the air how much of the movie is really staged, especially considering he used REAL cannibals in his film.  The score is brilliant, however; Riz Ortolani composed one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard as the opening of the film, an extreme contrast to the events about to unfold.  And for the scary scenes, a highly disturbing synth/violin combo does the trick for an ultimate uneasy feeling.

1. Suspiria (1977)

The film itself has not aged well, but the soundtrack sure has!  Another great score from the Italian group Goblin, I must have listened to this score 50 times.  It’s so weird, eclectic, and strangely catchy.  The thing goes from haunting bells to smooth jazz to rock.  There’s a little of everything in here and it’s not only my favorite horror score, but also my all-time favorite score for any movie.

Thank you for reading, and I hope whoever out there reading this will feel free to comment, leave your thoughts, and read my other entries!  I appreciate anything, from a simple thumbs up to hardcore brutal criticism! - P. Waters

Friday, August 26, 2011

Midnight in Paris MOVIE REVIEW

Although it has brought me some guilt being a filmmaker/critic, I’ve never really understood Woody Allen.  Besides The Purple Rose of Cairo (the only movie of his that I highly enjoyed), I’ve found most of his films to be meandering and overly philosophical - yet irregularly amusing.  I’ve only seen a small chunk of his filmography, and I’m not trying to sound like an expert, but I can’t seem to “get into” his movies.  They’re niche films and I guess I’m not the target audience.  That being said, I do like to expand my film knowledge and I will watch anything and everything, especially if the people involved are highly regarded from industry professionals.  Midnight in Paris has been getting a lot of buzz from critics, touting it as being one of Allen’s best in recent years – I’m no artsy fartsy scarf-wearing intellectual, but I figured I’d give it a shot.

The movie stars Owen Wilson as a Hollywood writer, spending a vacation in Paris with his wife-to-be (Rachel McAdams), alongside some friends (including Michael Sheen) and her parents (Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy).  Wilson’s biggest dream is to have lived in Paris during the 1920’s where what he considered the best art and literature was produced.  He wishes to stay and live in Paris to finish off a novel, but McAdams and her parents detest the idea and want him to keep his secure job writing low-shelf Hollywood productions.  Wilson, while walking on his own through the city, is invited into an antique car as bells toll, confirming it is midnight.  From there the film takes a slight sci-fi turn and he is taken on an introspective journey meeting some of his past idols, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, learning about himself in a semi-It’s a Wonderful Life manner.

While I did like that ‘Twilight Zone’ element to the film, I found the movie as ponderous and answer-less as any other of the Woody Allen films I have tried to appreciate.  Even though the movie brings up some ‘heavy’ themes (self-discovery, true love, etc.) I found it to be plodding and boring.  Owen Wilson is a dull lead, and we see too much of him walking around the city, wondering what the meaning of his life is.  I did like to see all the different “celebrities” portrayed by some great talents (Adrien Brody, Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston, and Kathy Bates all turn in interesting performances, alongside Marion Cotillard, playing a lost girlfriend of Pablo Picasso), but after a while it became tiresome; after the fifth or sixth time we meet a famous personality I wished it would stop.  I also found this film’s attempt at humor to be disappointing – I can at least say Allen’s early work (like Bananas) had a lot better laughs than this.  One routine in ‘Midnight’ between Wilson and McAdams involving a lost earring tried to come off as a comedy-filled bit, but I just sat there awkwardly hoping for the next scene.

I’m sure real Woody Allen fans will love this movie, and those that never really “got” him in the first place won’t be converted now.  In a way it’s commendable that he is still making movies (at such an old age), and still making them the same way he used to on his “classics” such as Annie Hall and Manhattan – the way he wants it.  He’s a guy who, love him or hate him, has a vision and knows what he’s doing.  Even though I personally find it difficult to enjoy this love note to Paris, I wouldn’t say it is a “bad” movie because of that.  I couldn’t possibly give a rating to this movie, because I just don’t click with this kind of thing right off the bat.  And those unfamiliar with Allen’s work should probably not use this as a starting point.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


*Note: I’m a supporter of spoiler-free reviews and the following contains as few spoilers as possible.

Fright Night started as a 1985 vampire cult classic; while it may not have held any true scary moments, and watching it now it’s fairly dated, the film is still a highly enjoyable experience and the special effects are great.  Now, I haven’t seen the original in a while, but I do remember the main points and thankfully this remake doesn’t simply “copy and paste” the entire first film (like Quarantine and Funny Games), but modernizes it for a contemporary audience.  Some of these changes I loved, some I found interesting, some I hated, but Fright Night (2011) is still entertaining – in my opinion not as much as the first, but still fun.

Anton Yelchin plays a high schooler that for the first time in his life is in the “in-crowd,” ditching his nerdy best friend (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka McLovin’ from Superbad) for his hot new blonde girlfriend (Imogen Poots).  Moving in next door to Yelchin is Jerry (Colin Farrell), a vampire who is feeding on all the neighbors in this small desert town just outside of Las Vegas.  With the help of vampire expert Peter Vincent (played by David Tennant, a former Dr. Who), his friends, and his mother (Toni Collette), Yelchin must fight off the vampire and save his town!

Even though I prefer the Peter Vincent in the original Fright Night, I loved what they did to his character in this one to make it relevant to today.  I also really enjoyed many of the big action setpieces (one involving Jerry getting a shovel, another taking place in Jerry’s basement).  The effects were so-so; there was too much CGI blood and gore that took me out of the experience.  Don’t get me wrong, some of the visuals were pretty awesome (there’s one scene where a character literally blows up out of nowhere that is probably the best moment in the film), but overall the picture had a “made-in-a-computer” feel.  The acting, I felt, was weak also.  It’s not to say the acting in the first movie was award-winning material, but I found it hard to simply get behind some of the characters.  Mintz-Plasse is still essentially playing the same goofy character he always does, and Anton Yelchin, even though it is written in the script, is an asshole.  His girlfriend is also an uninteresting character - at least she doesn’t resort to the typical ‘damsel-in-distress’ dumb bimbo category.  I did love Colin Farrell in his role of Jerry the vampire – particularly one scene in which he tries to borrow beer from the Yelchin household; it is fairly scary and tension-ridden (and a great product placement opportunity for Budweiser).  Tennant’s Vincent, a character that was not really necessary to move the plot forward, was still enjoyable to me as well.  If not for Tennant and Farrell, the film would have been a tough sell for me.

Even with all its shortcomings, I prefer the original over the remake, but Fright Night (2011) is still fun.  Fans of the genre should get their money's worth.  In this era where Twilight has dictated what many people think of as vampires (and is referenced in this film), it’s at least nice to see a movie like this that shows vampires for what they truly are: bloodcurdling intimidating murdering sexualized badasses.  Also, this film has one of my favorite end credits sequences I can think of from recent memory. If it's possible tough I'd suggest seeing this in 2D and not 3D. The majority of the film takes place at night, so it became extremely dark and hard to see.  Besides a few gimmicky pop-out moments, the 3D isn't even used that often.  So catch it in 2D if you can, and have a bloodsucking good time!

Rating: B-

Monday, August 22, 2011

30 Minutes or Less MOVIE REVIEW

Ruben Fleischer’ first film, Zombieland, showed a lot of promise.  It was the perfect blend of a buddy comedy, zombie movie, and action flick.  It had a fresh and unique style with an appropriate hard rock soundtrack, a quirky and fun “rules” system, and some of the best uses of slow motion in recent memory.  Fleischer’s sophomore effort, 30 Minutes or Less, sadly lacks all the cleverness and charm of his debut effort.  The film stars Jesse Eisenberg (also starring in Zombieland) as a pizza delivery guy trapped in a mundane life.  During a delivery he is taken hostage by two bumbling criminals (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) and they strap a bomb around him and force him to rob a bank – all in order to get money to hire a hitman to kill McBride’s gruff ex-Marine father (Fred Ward) who won the lottery in an effort to get his inheritance.  All the while Eisenberg rounds up his best friend (Aziz Ansari) to assist him on his robbery; Eisenberg also happens to be in love with Ansari’s sister.  The plot is surprisingly convoluted for an 80-minute film, I must say.

I love most of the actors involved with this film, but I just didn’t find any of them likable here.  Swardson and McBride were supposed to come off as funny by their buffoonery I suppose, but almost all of their lines were just swears and “playground humor” (‘that’s what she said’ is uttered more than once, never landing a laugh).  Eisenberg is pretty much doing his thing in this one, but it’s his friend, Aziz Ansari who is possibly the only one in the film who gets any real laughs.  That said though, they were another pair that I just didn’t care about.  Early on in the film the two are having an argument over sleeping with a girl; at this point we haven’t been introduced the characters at much length, and it’s just like ‘who cares?’  Their many “arguments” throughout the film feel unnatural and written, alongside Eisenberg’s “distress” of having a bomb attached to him and having to rob a bank.  Plus, he talks his friend way too easily into helping him break the law – after a short and sweet “pretty please” he jumped right on board with little apprehension.

The biggest crime this action-comedy commits is that it basically has no jokes.  Ok, that may be an exaggeration, but for the most part it seriously doesn’t.  The movie relies only on the ludicrousness of the situation to make you laugh.  You must think: “Oh, wow.  This is one crazy situation! This is funny because they are underprepared to rob a bank!”  It’s more through its absurdity that you may chuckle, but when thinking back, I barely remember any set-up, punch line jokes in the entire film.  It’s sad considering Zombieland seemed to be brimming with the wit lacking in this film.

30 Minutes or Less is hugely disappointing.  I did like some of the music choices and I enjoyed (as Fleischer’s work seems to always have) the great opening titles sequence, but in a comedy, first and foremost it has to be funny.  Of course taste in comedy changes from person to person, but I think I fall under this movie’s intended “male geek” demographic (Friday the 13th, rock music, the Contra code – all included) and since I found it to be a mess, I feel I have the right to say it’s a stinker.  Could’ve been great, ended up ‘meh.’

Rating: C-

PS: Be sure to stay AFTER the credits because you get a snicker-worthy look at what happens to some of the characters.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Being black in a 1960’s Mississippi was kind of a drag.  Unfortunately for the maids in the Tate Taylor film The Help, they are exactly that.  Constantly on the verge of upsetting their white, snooty housemasters, they earned a hard living having to obey the commands of truly racist, prejudiced people.  Fortunately Emma Stone, playing a curly haired aspiring writer, was there to tell their stories to the masses through a hush-hush interview process with some of the maids, to hopefully be published into a book.  That’s basically the gist of it, and the rest is basically an excuse to have an acting showcase (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

Even though the plot was simple and the themes of racism weren’t as hard hitting as they should have been, the cast is so chock full of talented actresses that The Help is an entertaining film regardless.  Emma Stone gives a quite strong performance as the woman on a mission (her mission: a successful printed book, a decent job, and total black desegregation).  Also lining the long list of heavyweights is Bryce Dallas Howard, playing an easy-to-hate maid-owner, Allison Janney, Stone’s sickly mother, Sissy Spacek, Howard’s aging mother, Jessica Chastain as the giddy Celia Foote, Octavia L. Spencer, funny as always playing one of the maids, and best of all Viola Davis.  I really hope she gets an Oscar nod for her role because she really does make the film.  You can feel all of the restrained hurt, anger, frustration, and exhaustion her character faces in her performance.  While the film has way too many emotional scenes, Viola Davis makes each one of them feel real and important.

My biggest complaint is the over-sentimentality of the picture.  It seemed like in every scene someone ended up on the verge of tears.  While the material may call for that, it just made the movie lack a dynamic feel.  There are some nice bits of comedy (the pie joke is great – at least until the film keeps reminding us of it), but I just wish there would’ve been more “action.”  This was a harsh, violent period in America where black people were subjected to some terrible stuff, but the movie kind of glosses over that.  We see touches here and there, and moments of true horror are described, but with what we see in the actual film, I don’t think the stakes were quite high enough for my taste.

I did really enjoy The Help.  The ensemble cast is amazing and although the story isn’t really anything special, it did hold up my interest.  The standouts for me were Viola Davis and Emma Stone - both of whom I hope will see long and successful careers in the future.  If you can get over its sentimentality, it’s a solid picture.

Rating: B-

Saturday, August 20, 2011

TOP TEN: Horror Remakes

This weekend a remake of the great campy vampire flick Fright Night arrives, so in anticipation of that (planning to see the film on Tuesday, expect a review!), I've decided to list off my top ten horror remakes - of course limited to both those of which I've seen and those that I consider a horror movie (King Kong and The Mummy fall more under action) AND a remake (one could argue Evil Dead 2 is a remake, but I left it off since it is typically defined as a sequel).

10. House of Wax (2005)

So horror remakes always seem to suck, therefore audiences typically groan and loathe the sight of a familiar property set to be rehashed for a quick dollar; when it was announced that Paris Hilton, of all people, was to star in the remake of the beloved Vincent Price classic House of Wax, a palpable level of hate had already manifested in most people.  It’s too bad many cinema-goers couldn’t get past the terrible-at-first-glace feeling because I personally found this to be a genuinely creepy and thrilling film.  And I don’t see where the Paris Hilton haters (aka the majority of the population) are complaining, because she dies a graphic and glorious death in this one. 

9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers property is not shy with remakes, with a total of three altogether.  Even though I have yet to see the 1993 version, the Donald Sutherland 1978 remake is my favorite of all the ‘Invasion’ films.  The special effects are well done, and still I have yet to see a film repeat some of the plant-like visuals [especially at the beginning].  Plus there are so many familiar faces in here, including a young Jeff Goldblum, Spock himself Leonard Nimoy, and Kevin McCarthy, essentially playing the same role he played in the original Body Snatchers as a raving lunatic screaming at cars.

8. Piranha 3D (2010)

Ok, so this may not be the highest caliber of filmmaking here, but it’s a wild, fun ride and the end of the movie is pure relentless killer fish madness.  The movie knows exactly what it is, so it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  With a brilliant cameo by Christopher Lloyd, a sky-high body count, and three-dimensional severed genitals eaten by a fish, it’s an amazing X-Rated Gremlins with fins.

7. Halloween (2007)

Rob Zombie had created two films that I consider among the best in contemporary horror pictures with House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, so for him to handle a Halloween remake was at least a little calming seeing as at least he understood the genre.  Although the second half of the film feels a little too much like the original, I do think Zombie created a remake worthy to have been made.  The white mask wearing, silent killer Michael Myers had been driven to the ground with countless sequels and heavy merchandising, but Rob managed to bring some scares back into the series.

6. The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

Another Alex Aja production [dir. of Piranha 3D], this remake takes the original film and cranks it up to 11.  I’ll never forget when I saw the film upon its release, in a packed theater, after the first big scary scene, a nameless member of the audience commented loud enough for the rest of us to hear: “This movie’s FUCKED.”  He sure had that right.  This movie came out right at the perfect time when I was first really getting into horror movies, and the film’s location and atmosphere and freakazoids all had my brain lighting up in freakish excitement.  

5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

This one gets a LOT of hate from remake naysayers, but I personally find this film a great addition to the Chainsaw series.  R. Lee Ermey is fantastic as the town cop, and with so many weird characters (that fat lady was creepy as hell) and scary moments, I can’t see why all the hate (although I do suppose it may be because this film was kind-of sort-of what kick-started this tidal wave of horror remakes we’ve seen for the past ten years…but that’s just a thought).  

4. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Although the idea of running zombies totally disgraces the idea of George Romero’s living dead series and what zombies are in general (that is, rotting undead corpses), I can forgive Zack Snyder’s remake because it’s a total crazy scary thrill ride!  From the first scene it’s clear the film will be intense, and it has possibly one of my favorite opening credits sequences of all time.

3. The Ring (2002)

This film is on the list due to the fact that it really freaked me out when I first saw it – specifically when we get to see what’s on the videotape.  All it took for me to shit my pants was a lady combing her hair and looking directly over her shoulder at ME.

2. The Thing (1982)

What can I say?  Really it’s just some of the best damn special effects of all time.  Kurt Russell is great, John Carpenter is great, Rob Bottin’s creatures are great.  

1. The Fly (1986)

If you haven’t seen this film, go out and see it.  It’s a classic that surpasses the original by so much that when I think of The Fly, I immediately think of Jeff Goldblum and his escapades with teleportation.  A science fiction horror tale that will remain a favorite.

Thank you for reading, and I hope whoever out there reading this will feel free to comment, leave your thoughts, and read my other entries!  Also, please leave feedback if you would like to see more of these "top ten" lists! - P. Waters

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes MOVIE REVIEW

*Note: I’m a supporter of spoiler-free reviews and the following contains as few spoilers as possible.

I’m a huge fan of the original Planet of the Apes but have not [as of now] seen any of the other movies in the series.  Having heard that the most recent remake was called quite the stinker from both audiences and critics, however, I was leery of a prequel to the long-running franchise.  Not only is it a prequel, but it has possibly one of the worst movie titles of recent memory; why in holy hell did someone decide to put two “of the”s in there? Maybe they couldn’t think of anything else since “begins” was taken (by Batman Begins), and simply “The Planet of the Apes Rises” sounded too much like next year’s Batman finale, The Dark Knight Rises - who knows?  Besides the title though, I found myself beyond pleasantly surprised with this seventh film in the “apes” franchise (less pleasant, more like amazingly surprised).

The story follows James Franco, who is on the verge of developing a permanent cure for Alzheimer’s.  To experiment with the new drug, chimpanzees are used as test subjects, but one escapes and the entire project has to be scrapped.  Franco does manage to take one baby chimp home with him though, and he continues his work under the radar in order to one day perhaps cure his mentally deteriorating father (played by John Lithgow).  As it turns out, the miracle drug gives the ape a human level of intelligence, and Franco acts as a teacher/surrogate parent towards Caesar. As the title suggests, Caesar begins to have the desire to be outside and “free” with other apes – but in order to gain that freedom, a chimp’s gotta do a little dirty work.

While it definitely falls under the B-movie category, I found this to be completely engaging as a summer blockbuster.  In much the same way last year’s Splice did (a movie I suggest all sci-fi/horror fans check out), the relationship built between scientist and experiment is much deeper than normal.  Franco convincingly pulls off this emotional connection with Caesar and the bond is more like a father and son than a pet and owner.  I also loved much of the supporting cast, among whom lots of familiar faces spring up: Tom Felton (better known as Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series), Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire co-star who is underused but still solid), and Brian Cox (you’ve seen him before – what isn’t he in? – and as always he’s great).  My biggest surprise though, is that my favorite performance in the film was from the ape himself, Caesar.  The emotion and level of character derived from simple facial gestures was unbelievable; it reminded me of the first time I saw Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films.  In fact, Andy Serkis, the motion-capture actor responsible for Gollum is the one responsible for Caesar! With a plot as crazy as “a computer-generated monkey leads an uprising against humans to return to the wilderness,” it’s brilliant how much the performance and special effects lead you to buying into it completely.

I hate how the current trend in action movies is to cut like a madman during action scenes in order to make it more “intense” (I would use the word unintelligible).  I can happily report that the eventual “rise” that occurs is exciting and very much intelligible. The camera work with the monkeys is fluid and easy on the eyes; when Caesar and friends are swinging and climbing swiftly through trees I thought of Disney’s animated Tarzan, with his fast acrobatics through the jungle.  The apes themselves were for the most part nearly photo-realistic.  Even though at times it was obvious the humans were interacting with a created character, often I forgot completely about it and I was sold.  Enough can’t be said about Andy Serkis; you will just believe in this monkey.

The movie doesn’t rely on a previous knowledge of the series, but for those fans out there, the groundwork for the original is laid out – along with a possible “Rise of the…” sequel on its own.  I never thought I’d be saying this, but I really think the two best movies of the summer are prequels (this and X-Men: First Class).  For a solid, entertaining blockbuster with great special effects, an interesting story, a never slow pace, and action scenes that don’t make you reach for an ibuprofen, Rise of the Planet of the Apes comes highly recommended.  You’ll go bananas for it.

Rating: A-

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens MOVIE REVIEW

Cowboys.  Aliens.  Two of the most cherished and awesome things in all of genre cinema.  And what happens when we finally see them together on screen?  A messy, barely competent, yawn-inducing bore-fest is born.  The movie starts out promisingly enough; a silent-but-deadly Daniel Craig wakes up in the desert with a painful slash in his chest, a metal arm band/death beam shooter attached to his wrist, and no recollection of who he is and how he got there.  After procedurally beating up some drifting thieves about to kill him, he sets foot in a small town to treat his wounds. In this town, Harrison Ford plays an iron-fisted colonel alongside many other notable actors including Paul Dano, the colonel’s immature son, Sam Rockwell, the pub owner, and Clancy Brown, the local priest.  One night, aliens come down and start to raise heck, the townspeople must band together to fight back, and for two hours nothing inventive or interesting happens.

Although Craig’s stern mysteriousness, evoking the spirit of Clint Eastwood’s classic role in the “Dollars trilogy,” keeps the film interesting up to a point, there’s not much substance to the characters or the plot.  The first half of the movie is an alright western, nothing special, and the second is the equivalent of watching a 14 year old play a bad video game. And even though all the “proper” western characters were present (gruff sheriff, “badass” cowboy, saloon-keep), none of their roles were memorable and there was not one person I truly cared about. Among the cast, the worst performance had to be Olivia Wilde, who as far as I’m concerned should stick to modeling.  She doesn’t even look like she belongs in this picture because she’s nearly always perfectly clean and spotless – this is the Wild West we’re talking about here.  Everyone else is covered in mud and shit, but she’s smiling away with Crest pearly whites and hair via Head and Shoulders. 

Both sides of the respective cowboy and alien plots are given the bare-bones essentials and little else.  Personally, I was hoping for an original, crazy take on the premise.  The movie is painfully bland; although the special effects weren’t “bad,” they weren’t fresh or attractive either.  The aliens (which were kept surprisingly secret in the trailers and ads) are basically big hulking idiots whose agenda for havoc is not clear at all.  The movie tries to give a motivation for their destruction, but it comes off as odd and really doesn’t seem to make sense.  The action scenes were OK at best and the finale did not have the proper “epic” sense of proportions a summer blockbuster needs (especially one called Cowboys & Aliens).  All the action seemed really forced as well since the aliens clearly had the technology to completely blow the humans away (save for Daniel Craig and his arm-laser), but in order to make a fair fight, the writers had to basically come up with excuses as how to convincingly have the townspeople use their guns, spears, and lassos to kill the invading brutes.

Cowboys & Aliens may not be outright terrible, but with a premise as simple and promising as this, it’s a shame there was nothing “wicked awesome” to report back about.  It’s good to see Harrison Ford not acting in a passive manner for once, and like I said before, Daniel Craig does have a decent intensity about him, but their characters alongside all the others are unlikable and have little personality.  There’s an added waste of potential considering Lost co-show runner Damon Lindelof has a writing credit as well (to be fair, the guys behind Transformers and Eagle Eye were also on the writing team).  Catching this film on TV or as a matinee time-waster I don’t think would be too offensive, but it’s still much more fun to think of what this film could have been than what it is.

Rating: C

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