One Minute Review: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014) [4.5]

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DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Release Date
11 July 2014
Director
Matt Reeves
Screenplay
Scott Z. Burns
Rick Jaffa
Amanda Silver
Action, Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language
130 minutes

09fourhalf-stars– 4.5 out of 5 stars

“Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” is the perfect sequel. Not only does it introduce new and exciting characters that refresh the world in which it is set, the entire piece feels like a completely new entity, with Caesar the ape (motion captured by Andy Serkis), some of his followers including Koba, Rocket, and Maurice, and their backstory being the only connective tissue to “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes,” the first film in this series. Between the first and the second film, the airborne disease which killed Robert (Tyler Labine) and was passed onto Franco’s neighbor, who also turned out to be a pilot, which is dubbed the Simian Flu, is passed on and takes out most of the world’s population. The apes have started a colony in the redwoods outside San Francisco, where they were escaping to at the end of “Rise”. With Caesar as their leader and the humans dying off, they leave a peaceful existence, as Caesar and others start families of their own. Until one day, when Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes and Rocket’s son, Ash, stumble across a human on their way back from fishing. The human is the hot-headed Carver (Kirk Acevedo), a man that fears the apes because he does not understand them, and in that ignorance, he shoots before speaking.

Replacing James Franco as the main ape sympathizing character is the impeccable Jason Clarke as Malcolm. By Malcolm’s side are his son, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his girlfriend, Ellie (Keri Russell), as well as a crew of men, including Carver. There mission into the redwoods stems from power running out down in the post-apocalyptic San Francisco below. Their generators are almost out of juice, but there is a functional hydroelectric dam that just needs some finesse to offer the city below the power it needs. The problem: that dam sits in the heart of the new ape colony, and the humans and the intelligent apes have had zero contact since the outbreak. That all comes to an end when the small group of humans faces off with the entire colony of apes, being told to “go away and never return”. Guess what? They return. Leading the group of humans actually is not Malcolm, it is Dreyfuss (all the Spielberg names are not lost on me) played by the unequivocal Gary Oldman. Happy to oblige Malcolm in his peaceful actions with the apes, he also keeps close tabs on the military arms warehouse they have at their disposal, with an even bigger obligation to the surviving humans looking to him for leadership.

Caesar has the situation under control but the apes and gorillas around him are not so certain they are safe. Koba is the biggest antagonist of the group, breaking away from Caesar’s orders constantly, filling Blue Eyes with doubt in his father, and picking fights with the humans he comes into contact with. Eventually these actions, mixed with the actions of Carver bring the peacefulness to an end, leading to the war that is promised in the trailer and the print advertising for the film. As with “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes,” the visual effects are unmatched, with motion capture offering some of the best CGI-acting I have ever witnessed. This begs the question whether the Academy will soon be creating a new category for performances like Andy Serkis’ who brings a talking ape to life, emoting some of the most heart-breaking acting in any film. In 2011, there were talks of Andy Serkis getting nominated for his role, and there are talks again this year, but with the Best Actor category always filled to the brim, it is hard to see this getting the recognition it deserves. Someday Andy Serkis will get an honorary Oscar for his motion capture work in both this and “The Lord Of The Rings” but for now we will just have to appreciate his amazing work ourselves. Continue reading

One Minute Review: The Giver (2014) [3.0]

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THE GIVER
Release Date
15 August 2014
Director
Philip Noyce
Screenplay
Michael Mitnick
Robert B. Weide
Science Fiction
Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence
94 minutes

06three-stars– 3 out of 5 stars

Even Jeff Bridges cannot save “The Giver” from being a young adult retread that comes off even less inspired than its predecessors. The problem is, the Lois Lowry novel actually came out in 1993, fifteen years prior to the first “Hunger Games” novel and eighteen years prior to the first “Divergent” novel. That means this classic should have been the first out of the gate over a few decades ago. By holding off, the film actually becomes extremely derivative despite the novel being the catalyst to the entire young adult science fiction genre. To top it off, the film also waters down most of the story in order to make it completely consumable by all generations. Rather than challenging audiences with morality issues like class systems and imperialism, “The Giver” settles for black and white boundaries, where no one is actually even aware of the wrongs they are perpetrating.

The scope of the story is minuscule, following a city with a heavily medicated population whose memories beyond a certain point are non-existent. Everyone speaks properly, there are no altercations, and as portrayed through imaginary, there are no colors. Brenton Thwaites (“Oculus”, “Maleficent”) plays the lead, Jonas, just as he and his friends, Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush), reach their coming of age where they are then divvied up into their workplaces. Many aspire to be nurses, teachers, or military, but Jonas finds himself being selected as the “Receiver of Memory,” the only one to carry the knowledge of human history. The Receiver becomes an adviser to the Elder counselor, led by the quietly villainous head, played by the mega-talented Meryl Streep. Opposite her is the current Receiver, known only as the Giver, played by Jeff Bridges, whose cranky old man routine is on full display here as he passes down the world’s history to Jonas. Taylor Swift also makes an appearance in the film, as one of the strangest casting choices of the year and truly showing the studios hand in trying attract that particular age demographic.

The deck is stacked against the Receiver, as he must continue to live a normal life all while knowing what no one else knows, all while the black and white around him becomes color, and all while the unbearable emotion of what has happened in our sordid history comes swilling back after each session with the Giver. Among those emotions are feelings for Fiona, who does not know what feelings even are. How the Receiver can be expected to act natural when everything is changing around him is completely unrealistic. Jonas’ mother and father are played by Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård, who might as well be robots, projecting no real emotion throughout the entire film. What ends up even flatter is the mission Jonas sets off on to bring the memories back to everyone in the city. One part “Pleasantville,” two parts young adult science fiction, “The Giver” would have benefited greatly from being released ten or twenty years ago. However, a valiant and committed effort from most of the cast and a soundtrack with original popular music from OneRepublic and Capital Cities, Lois Lowry should be at least somewhat proud of her vision finally being brought to the big screen.

One Minute Review: The Expendables 3 (2014) [2.5]

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THE EXPENDABLES 3
Release Date
15 August 2014
Director
Patrick Hughes
Screenplay
Sylvester Stallone
Creighton Rothenberger
Katrin Benedikt
Action, Adventure, Thriller
Rated PG-13 for violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language
126 minutes

05twohalf-stars– 2.5 out of 5 stars

Sylvester Stallone continues to help write and star in his bombastic action series, this time delivering the first PG-13 endeavor, “The Expendables 3”. Overloading the cast with even more action stars and even poking fun at that fact in the trailer, Stallone has officially outdone himself. With almost all of the former cast returning, including Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Jet Li, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger, at least the this offers some consistency. The film opens with the team on a mission to free one of its former members, Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) from a Somalian prison in one of the best action sequences out of these films yet. But upon finding out that his arch-nemesis Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) is still alive and failing a mission in which Caesar (Crews) is severely injured, Stallone’s Barney Ross decides to disband the aging group of thrill seekers despite their reluctance to retire.

Enter Harrison Ford, taking over Bruce Willis’ role as the Expendables’ government handler, with the next mission set on finally taking out Stonebanks. Ross is then sent off to put together a younger and fresher Expendables team with the help of Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammar). The new team consists of Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, and despite not being younger or fresher, Antonia Banderas, who offers most of the film’s comedic relief. The story is exactly what one would expect from these mindless action flicks, with the new team getting captured and the old team being brought back to save the day. “The Expendables 3” lives and dies by its ensemble cast as well as its action-filled set pieces, to which there are three or four major ones, including the finale, which is set in an abandoned high-rise building rigged to explode in Uzmenistan. With none of the stars truly stepping out or producing anything notably new, the returning cast is really the only reason to even anticipate these films at all. What Stallone needs to do next is let the dust clear a little bit before returning with this group of buffed up guys.

One Minute Review: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (2014) [3.5]

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SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR
Release Date
22 August 2014
Director
Robert Rodriguez
Frank Miller
Screenplay
Frank Miller
Action, Drama, Thriller
Rated R
102 minutes

07threehalf-stars– 3.5 out of 5 stars

A decade ago, films like “Sin City” and “300” were revolutionary, delivering cinematic sequences straight from the pages of graphic novels with a style over substance monicker that made them thrilling to watch. Fast-forward ten years and those stylistic choices have been heavily explored, especially by “300” director Zack Snyder, whose films “Watchmen” and “Sucker Punch” both pushed some visual boundaries. So when “300: Rise Of An Empire” and “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” were released this year, many people thought, “too little, too late,” as in, unless these films had a comprehensive revamping, displaying not just eye-popping imagery but high-end performances and richer, deeper narratives, who is still going to be anticipating these sequels. And with that, both of those films ended up being slightly watered down versions of their former selves. For the most part, the same creative people were involved, as Snyder executive produced “300: Rise Of An Empire” and Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller both returned to direct “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” and yet nothing new and exciting was produced, proving to be more of a lateral move rather than any forward momentum. There is nothing wrong with lateral moves, especially in the serial sense, but in an industry where audiences are constantly waiting for the bar to be raised, anything that stays the same feels redundant and misguided.

“Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” did benefit from having some extremely talented actors and actresses jump aboard, including Josh Brolin, who took over Clive Owen’s role, Dwight, from the original, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who garners his very own solo story, and, exactly like “300: Rise Of An Empire,” Eva Green graces us with her presence, turning even the worst written lines into a siren song of seduction, as I could watch her in just about anything. Not to mention small standout cameos by Christopher Lloyd and Juno Temple, among others. Beefing up their roles this time around, the returning cast is made up of Rosario Dawnson, whose S&M clad Gail pairs once again with Dwight, Mickey Rourke as Marv, the thick-skulled maniac who weaves his way into everyone’s story, and Bruce Willis and Jessica Alba continue their storyline from the original, this time with Alba taking on the more highlighted role. One has to wonder, however, if this film were made, say, five years ago, if people like Clive Owen or even Michael Clarke Duncan (may he rest in peace) would have reprised their roles rather than being recast. Regardless, the impressive cast in place does nail their exotic roles, fitting into this dark, monotone world quite nicely.
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One Minute Review: 22 Jump Street (2014) [4.5]

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22 JUMP STREET
Release Date
13 June 2014
Director
Christopher Miller
Phil Lord
Screenplay
Michael Bacall
Action, Comedy
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence
112 minutes

09fourhalf-stars– 4.5 out of 5 stars

Remember that kid who got picked on in middle school? (I do, because I was one.) Now, remember how eventually they just owned the names that they were being called until it was no longer enjoyable for the other kids to make fun of them? Well, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord took a page out of that kid’s book by making their latest comedy “22 Jump Street” critic-proof. Making good on Ice Cube’s promise made at the end of “21 Jump Street,” Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) head to college in this latest installment. A new drug called WhyPhy (pronounced “wifi”) has lead to a death on campus and if you think this sounds reminiscent of the original premise, you are not alone, as every character returning from the original film makes this painfully clear. The directors are unabashed in poking fun at themselves and the fact that Hollywood loves sequelsl (“don’t they know it’s always worth the second time around”), that these two guys definitely do not belong in college (“you look 45 years old”), and that the premise is being repeated (“find the dealer, find the supplier… it’s exactly like last time”). But in all honesty, it is not exactly like last time.

In “21 Jump Street”, Jenko was the fish out of water, the former high school jock that does not fit in with the new version of popular kids; the eco-friendly nerds to which Schmidt was akin. This time, however, Jenko makes friends with the quarterback of the football team, Zook (Wyatt Russell), and, in the process, drives a wedge between himself and Schmidt, to which both relationships reach levels of almost homoeroticism. Schmidt eventually uses his newfound freedom to hook up with an art major named Maya (Amber Stevens), who later drops a huge comedic bombshell that has to be seen to be believed. Most of your favorite characters are back from the original, with Rob Riggle reprising his role as Mr. Walters, now in jail and without a penis, thanks to the finale of the first film and Nick Offerman back as Deputy Chief Hardy, delivering some of the film’s more meta lines. Some new faces include Peter Stormare offering up his best villain performance as a drug dealer nicknamed The Ghost and Jillian Bell providing one of the comedic highlights of the film as the college antagonist and Maya’s roommate, Mercedes, who tries her best to blow Schmidt’s cover with her pointed observations about his age. The epic fist fight between Mercedes and Schmidt is one for the ages.
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