Sunday, August 3, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Directed by James Gunn
Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro

    This was, without a doubt, the biggest gamble that Marvel has taken thus far. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the bigger unknowns that they have at their disposal and runs the risk of coming off as halfway original, which is something that audiences, no matter how much they claim otherwise, don’t like to pay to see (see the box office income of Edge of Tomorrow versus that of Transformers: Age of Extinction for more on this phenomenon). There was a very real chance that this could be the first box office failure for Marvel Studios. Fortunately, thanks to a collection of excellent performances from an extremely likable cast, great writing, and a spot-on sense of humor, Guardians of the Galaxy is liable to be one of the most fun films to come out of this year.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver
Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, and Kodi Smit-McPhee

    Rise of the Planet of the Apes was without a doubt one of the more surprising movies of the last few years. What could have been a pointless reboot of a property with one failed reboot already under its belt became a legitimately terrific sci-fi movie with strong writing, effects, and an astounding central performance from Andy Serkis. Naturally, a sequel was put in the works, and here we are three years later with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: one of the rare sequels that improves on its predecessor in every way.
    Dawn takes place a decade after Rise, with Caesar leading a utopic colony of intelligent apes located in Redwood National Forest. After a chance encounter with a group of humans leads to the accidental wounding of a young ape, tensions begin to rise between the two parties. Malcolm, the leader of the group, manages to talk Caesar into letting them work on a nearby hydroelectric dam so the nearby human colony can regain power, and the two gain a mutual respect of each other through their work together. However, Koba, an ape who was heavily experimented on by humans in Rise, grows distrustful of the humans and, eventually, even Caesar, and sets in motion a chain of events that inevitably leads to a clash between the human colony and Caesar’s apes.
    Rise of the Planet of the Apes was all about family and finding a place in the world. This was personified by Caesar’s struggle: he was raised by humans but can never truly be accepted by them, and he is rejected by apes due to his intelligence. And while Dawn definitely keeps the themes of the importance of family and home as the motivations for the two protagonists, it has a lot more in common with the classic movies from the sixties and seventies. It may be hard to grasp through the oodles of (still impressive) ape make-up, but the original Planet of the Apes was all about the self-destructive tendencies of man (and sentient ape), and how the innate selfishness of our actions will always, without fail, lead to our own destruction.
    Dawn is no different. From the beginning, it’s obvious that these two civilizations are poised to clash. We’re watching with baited breath as they walk the thin line between peace and all-out war. The humans are distrustful of the apes because they blame them for the flu that wiped out most of humanity. The apes distrust the humans because of the experimentation that we did pre-apocalypse. And its precisely because of the prejudice, unwillingness to forgive, and fear of the unfamiliar on both sides that things escalate in the way that they do. This is a movie all about how the hatred that is an inextricable part of human nature will eventually lead to our doom. In that way, Dawn is dark but highly thought-provoking entertainment.
    Of course, the story and its themes are assisted by the cast and their performances, which are terrific all around, but I’d be lying if I said that Andy Serkis wasn’t the obvious standout. I mean, will someone please give this man his frickin’ Oscar already? If you set aside the fact that he basically pioneered the art of motion capture acting with his scene-stealing role as Gollum in Lord of the Rings, that he brought new life to an iconic role in King Kong, and that he carried the first movie in the Planet of the Apes reboot series with ease, his work here as Caesar is still phenomenal. He is nothing less than enthralling in the role as he tries to keep the peace between his community and the humans. Most of the performance is given through facial expressions because Caesar uses dialogue sparingly, and it’s all the better for it. When things start to go wrong and his world starts falling apart around him, it’s heartbreaking to watch. I’m not gonna lie, I was near tears at some points. I eventually started to feel bad for Jason Clarke; the guy is obviously trying his best and gives a really good performance as Caesar’s human counterpart, but he just couldn’t hold a candle to Serkis.
    Besides Serkis’s performance, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was also incredibly intense throughout. The first half of the movie builds and builds with the occasional, obligatory ten seconds of action, but it's at the beginning of the back half that s*** just starts to go down. At the halfway point of this movie, everything I thought I knew about the direction that it was going to go just went out the window and I had no choice but to sit back and watch the horror unfold. The trailers and marketing hinted at the big showdown between the humans and horseback riding, machine gun toting apes and, thanks to some superb direction from Matt Reeves, those scenes do not disappoint.
    Obviously something has to be said about the effects, which are incredible to the point of awe. Seriously, there are times watching this movie where you completely forget that those are actual actors with mo-cap gear. Part of that, again, has to do with the performances, but there’s no use arguing against just how excellent these effects are and how much they add to the movie without *ahem* being the thing it relies on.
    If there’s one problem with the movie, it’s that, in the first act, a lot of the dialogue comes off as unnecessarily expositional. It’s obvious that these lines were written with the express purpose of getting as much information across as possible without having to devote larger amounts of the runtime to it. Some of it is forgivable, but a lot of it feels clumsy and just plain unneeded; it’s stuff we didn’t need to know in the first place, but we find it being shoved down our throats anyway. It’s not a big problem in the long run, but it makes an otherwise strong first act a little weaker.
    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the few sequels to actually improve on its predecessor, standing tall amongst the likes of The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back, T2: Judgment Day, and Aliens. Its effects are top-notch, the screenplay has a surprising amount to say about human nature, it’s rivetingly intense, and it’s all anchored by what may be a career-best turn for Andy Serkis. It’s first act may lose points for its sometimes unwieldy dialogue, but that does incredibly little to slow this movie down. Dawn isn’t just a great Planet of the Apes movie; it isn’t just a great sci-fi movie; it’s a great movie period.

Rating: ✮✮✮✬
(3 ½ / 4 stars)

Various Stuff and Such:
-Remember to comment with your own thoughts on the movie and follow the blog if you enjoyed the review.
-A lot of the cinematography, particularly towards the climax, was surprisingly great. I tip my hat to you, Michael Seresin. Good work.
-I gotta throw in a little something about this movie’s opening sequence, which is similar to the credits of Rise as it follows the spread of the disease that wipes out most of humanity. There’s news footage and radio broadcasts thrown in for good measure to get the scale of the epidemic across, and the result is simultaneously chilling, bleak, and captivating.

-Jeremiah VanderHelm
Wannabe Movie Critic

Friday, June 27, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

Transformers: Age of Extinction Review

Directed by Michael Bay
Produced by Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and Ian Pryce
Written by Ehren Kruger
Based on Transformers by Hasbro
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Sophia Myles, Li Bingbing, Titus Welliver, T.J. Miller, Melanie Specht, Victoria Summer, Peter Cullen, and Frank Welker
Released: June 27, 2014
Runtime: 2 hr, 45 min
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, and brief innuendo

    This movie is two hours and forty-five minutes long. That is almost three hours. Three hours of everything that is wrong with a modern Hollywood blockbuster. Three hours of character stereotypes, awful dialogue, wooden acting, idiotic product placement, and boring action. Three hours of audience-insulting, mind-numbing stupidity. Three hours of using strong effects to mask the fact that there’s no story. Three hours of what Michael Bay calls “filmmaking.” And while some of Bay’s other movies can at least be called “dumb fun,” Age of Extinction doesn’t even have that going for it. It looks nice, but that’s all that can be said, as even by Michael Bay standards, Age of Extinction is an awful, awful movie.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review

Directed by Dean DeBlois
Produced by Bonnie Arnold
Written by Dean DeBlois
Based on How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
Starring Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Djimon Hounsou, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Kit Harington, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig
Released: June 13, 2014
Runtime: 1 hr, 42 min
Rated PG-13 for adventure action and some mild rude humor

    Without a doubt, How to Train Your Dragon is one of the best animated movies of the past several years. With its wonderful writing, beautiful animation, and battle sequences that verge on epic, it’s a dang near perfect movie. Now, about four years later, all of those characters are returning, and while How to Train Your Dragon 2 may not be quite on the same level of excellence as its predecessor, it’s still a great movie bolstered by the same writing, humor, and animation that made the first what it was.

Friday, May 23, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

Directed by Bryan Singer
Produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker
Written by Simon Kinberg (screenplay; story), Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (story)
Based on Days of Future Past  by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart
Released: May 23, 2014
Runtime: 2 hr, 11 min
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language

    I went into this movie thinking that it was going to be another comic book movie. I wasn’t really anticipating it much, because the X-Men movies have never really resonated with me. Don’t get me wrong, X-Men is responsible for the resurrection of the superhero movie genre after Joel frickin’ Schumacher killed it dead, X2 is a classic of the genre (dat opening scene), and First Class was a good time (dat Wolverine cameo), but I was never really as into them as so many people seemed to be. They were fun enough and had some great characters; I just never loved them. So, I went to the theater, got my ticket, sat down, finished my Mountain Dew and half my popcorn before the opening credits rolled...and I didn’t breathe for the next two hours. Hoe. Lee. Crap.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Godzilla Review

Directed by Gareth Edwards
Produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, and Brian Rodgers
Written by Max Borenstein (screenplay) and David Callaham (story)
Based on Godzilla by Toho
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Bryan Cranston
Released: May 16, 2014
Runtime: 2 hr, 3 min
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem, and creature violence

    Well, it’s now been a solid sixteen years since Roland Emmerich crapped out his interpretation of Godzilla, almost singlehandedly destroying the kaiju genre in America in an impressive two hours and nineteen minutes. And in America, as we all know, sixteen years means the property is long overdue for a remake. That said, expectations kind of did a 180 on this movie a while back. For a while, people figured that it was going to be a shameless cash grab that only milked a franchise that hasn’t been at it’s height in America in years. Then that first teaser trailer dropped. And good sweet (expletive removed involving fornication)ing (expletive removed involving feces), was everybody and their grandmothers blown away. And since that moment, every single trailer and tidbit released about this movie has done nothing but increase expectations. This is Godzilla like he hasn’t been seen in a dang long time. Dark, intense, frickin’ scary. In the span of a couple months, expectations for this movie went to astronomical levels. Now that the movie is finally out, does it hold up? (deep breath) Abso-frickin’-lutely not.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

Directed by Marc Webb
Produced by Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach
Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner
Based on Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane Dehaan, Colm Feore, Felicity Jones, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Paul Giamatti, and Sally Field
Released: May 2, 2014
Runtime: 2 hr, 22 min
Rating PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence

    Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the 2014 summer blockbuster season! Kicking this years summer off is the sequel to Marc Webb’s...halfway decent-ish The Amazing Spider-Man. If you remember right, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original, even though I gave it a decent grade because it’s a hard movie to say you straight up don’t like, though I acknowledged that the sequel was giving off a “the sequel’s going to be better” vibe. Was I right? Well, it pains me greatly to say “No. No, I was not." Despite the return of the original’s outstanding cast as well as great direction and effects, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is bogged down by it’s incredibly uneven tone and far too many elements that are incredibly rushed, including a thrown together third act.