“Why Cookie Rocket?” Looking Back at RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

by     Posted 22 days ago


[With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opening on Friday, July 11th, I'm taking a look back at the Planet of the Apes movie franchise. These reviews contain spoilers.]

The Planet of the Apes movies have always been interested with time.  The original movie opens with Taylor (Charlton Heston) explaining that his spaceship’s mission isn’t to explore the galaxy, but to use Einstein’s Law of Relativity to leave Earth and return in the distant future where it might not be such a shithole (Taylor was disappointed).  From there, Beneath carried the torch to extinction, Escape traveled back in time, Conquest took a twenty-year jump to begin the downfall of humans, and Battle has a prologue and epilogue that take place in 2670 AD.  So it’s fitting that the series’ reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, would restart the clock to unload the baggage of the previous movies rather than throwing us back into the middle of the madhouse.  While it didn’t carry the heavy commentary of the original saga, Rise took a new path by putting a strong focus on family and bringing a level of spectacle far beyond what any Apes film had done before.

“Never Send a Monkey to Do a Man’s Job”: Looking Back at the Remake of PLANET OF THE APES

by     Posted 23 days ago


[With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opening on Friday, July 11th, I'm taking a look back at the Planet of the Apes movie franchise. These reviews contain spoilers.]

Battle for the Planet of the Apes chose to end the original 5-film saga on a message of hope, and then the franchise lay dormant for almost thirty years.  Interest had waned, fans had grown up, and that’s usually the signal for a studio to dig back into the archive to try and reinvent a property—no matter how classic or untouchable—for modern audiences, i.e. male teenagers with disposable income.  Planet of the Apes had endured to where the mainstream was aware of the original insofar as the twist, the final shot, and “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”

But after watching the first five movies, I think the franchise’s most admirable trait is its tonal flexibility in service of various themes.  These movies were radically different, but they each had a distinct personality.  Tim Burton‘s 2001 remake “re-invented” the franchise by removing any personality whatsoever.


by     Posted 24 days ago


The problem with alternative comedy cuts is fairly self-evident: they’re made up of footage deemed less than what was actually released. Thus by their very make-up, they are less funny than whatever original preferred version preceded them.  Bad Grandpa .5 makes a valiant attempt to overcome these short-comings (at least for the first half) by being less a collection of unused footage and more a behind the scenes making of.  Hit the jump for my Bad Grandpa .5 Blu-ray review. 

“He Still Believes He Can Change the Future”: Looking Back at BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

by     Posted 24 days ago


[With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opening on Friday, July 11th, I'm taking a look back at the Planet of the Apes movie franchise. These reviews contain spoilers.]

Up until Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the series had taken a decidedly dim view of humanity.  Every lens—political, religious, social, historical, and philosophical—carried a fatalistic view of our species.  Even when the commentary wasn’t completely clear, like in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the tone was unmistakable: Things are going to end horribly for our species, and there is nothing we can do.  But after bumming audiences out over the course of four movies, Battle decided to take a different approach by being the first hopeful movie in the series.  Unfortunately, the film never earns its radical new direction.  In addition to superficially building on the previous films, it also comes to odds with an obligatory pessimism that undermines the movie’s belief in a better tomorrow.

“By the Slave’s Right”: Looking Back at CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

by     Posted 25 days ago


[With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opening on Friday, July 11th, I'm taking a look back at the Planet of the Apes movie franchise. These reviews contain spoilers.]

Even though the film mostly has an upbeat tone, Escape from the Planet of the Apes ends on a tragic note.  Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) are dead, and although their orphaned son Milo has survived, he now lives in hiding.  Furthermore, his mere existence signals the end of humanity.  “It is the unalterable will of God,” Armando says.  Rather than show a slow side towards our species’ demise, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is a powder-keg.  The political commentary of the first film has been reactivated with a vengeance, and the vengeance belongs to the apes.  We’re back inside the madhouse, and although the humans are the wardens, the uprising isn’t only inevitable; it’s imminent.

“How Much Time Has the World Got?”: Looking Back at ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES

by     Posted 26 days ago


[With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opening on Friday, July 11th, I'm taking a look back at the Planet of the Apes movie franchise. These reviews contain spoilers.]

After Beneath the Planet of the Apes destroyed the planet, the only way to continue the franchise was to leave not only time and space, but also tone.  Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a dramatically different film in all the best ways.  It’s intentionally comic, heartwarming, and empathetic while still remaining true to the thoughtfulness and ultimately darkness of the previous two movies.  The third entry in the franchise is a mirror, an inverse, and a necessary evolution that brought the apes to a fresh start but also a doomed conclusion.

“The Only Good Human Is a Dead Human”: Looking Back at BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES

by     Posted 27 days ago


[With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opening on Friday, July 11th, I'm taking a look back at the Planet of the Apes movie franchise.  These reviews contain spoilers.]

When your movie ends with one of the most dramatic and shocking conclusions in cinematic history, where do you go from there?  Revelations can lead to reconciliations, but Beneath the Planet of the Apes couldn’t even reconcile its two plotlines.  Where Planet of the Apes was able to tie the tensions of the 1960s to a greater look at the human condition, Beneath suffers from schizophrenia where it wants to say something, but lacks the cleverness, timing, and consistency to do so.  The film is still filled with interesting ideas and settings, but in its haste to make a grand, vague statement, Beneath forgets its greatest asset: apes.


by     Posted 27 days ago


[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Life Itself opens in limited release today.]

Roger Ebert was quite possibly the most revered film critic in history, and it’s not likely he’ll be eclipsed anytime soon.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer had a knack for penning his thoughts on a film in a way that was both illuminating and accessible, and his life had a massive impact on the world of film criticism as a whole.  Ebert championed many filmmakers throughout his career, including Hoop Dreams director Steve James, and Ebert is the focus of James’ latest documentary, Life Itself.  The film acts as a fascinating, loving, and ultimately heartbreaking tribute to the life and legacy of Roger Ebert.  Read my full review after the jump.

LONE SURVIVOR Blu-ray Review

by     Posted 27 days ago


‘Tis the season for red, white and blue patriotism, which finds perfect cinematic expression in the pro-American military thriller Lone Survivor, which recently debuted on Blu-ray.  Based on The New York Times bestselling book “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10,” Lone Survivor doesn’t stop to ask any big questions about what we’re doing in the Middle East, let alone offer any Kubrick-ian treatise on the nature of war.  Instead, it simply dramatizes with harrowing effectiveness the true story of four heroic Navy SEALs who fought against the Taliban to the bitter end out of unmitigated love of country and their fellow American soldiers.

Hit the jump for my complete Lone Survivor Blu-ray review.

“You Blew It Up”: Looking Back at PLANET OF THE APES

by     Posted 28 days ago


[With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opening on Friday, July 11th, I'm taking a look back at the Planet of the Apes movie franchise.  These reviews contain spoilers.]

Planet of the Apes, in addition to being one of the best and most enduring sci-fi films ever made, is also one of the genre’s most cynical, pessimistic, and depressing entries.  We tend to gloss over that aspect because it’s tempered with people dressed up as apes.  Wearing an ape costume really relives a lot of the tension, and turns Franklin J. Schaffner‘s classic 1968 film into a subversive piece of entertainment filled with action and suspense.  These elements are essential in a film that eviscerates not only the prejudices and conflicts of the 1960s, but the inequities and shortcomings we continue to experience almost 50 years later.

BLAZING SADDLES 40th Anniversary Blu-ray Review

by     Posted 29 days ago


Warner Brothers must have both wanted to capitalize and mock the release of Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, as they’ve just created a slightly new special edition of Blazing Saddles for the film’s 40th anniversary.  There was no way (and no offense to MacFarlane) that he could match or top Mel Brooks’ film, which is hard to call his masterpiece or even the best film he directed that year.  But that’s only because in 1974 both it and Young Frankenstein were released.  Which is the better movie boils down to preference.  That said, I prefer Saddles.  The film stars Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman and Madeline Kahn in this Western send up, and my Blazing Saddles Blu-ray review follows after the jump.

NON-STOP Blu-ray Review

by     Posted 31 days ago


Liam Neeson has become the go-to asskicker of late.  Even more so than Jason Statham, audiences have responded to Neeson’s world-weary charms and commanding presence.  So it should be no surprise that Jaume Collet-Serra’s Non-Stop was a modest hit earlier this year.  Neeson stars as air marshal Bill Marks, who is forced to act when he’s contacted on an international flight to deliver a $150 Million ransom or a passenger will die every twenty minutes.  My review of Non-Stop follows after the jump. 


by     Posted 33 days ago


[This is a re-post of my review from the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.  Begin Again opens this weekend in limited release.]

John Carney’s 2007 film Once was a surprising, touching musical about two musicians falling in love through their love of music. It felt authentic thanks to the naturalistic direction, and real-life musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who made their acting debuts and fell in love in real life. That kind of chemistry is lightning in a bottle, but it provided Once with a unique and vibrant feel that expertly wove together a love of music and a love between two people. Carney’s new film, Begin Again, returns to similar territory but with a more polished approach that diminishes the charm in favor of a more Hollywood-friendly feel. The movie is still funny, good-natured, and most importantly, stresses the joy of sharing music with others. It’s even a little acerbic in its tone towards the music business, but Carney’s film is guilty of the some of the same critiques regarding watered-down entertainment.


by     Posted 34 days ago


[This is a re-post of my The Internet's Own Boy review from the Sundance Film Festival. The film opens in theaters today in limited release, and is available on VOD.]

We live in a digital age, but in the grand scheme of things, the Internet is in its infancy.  It’s still relatively new territory where a massive trove of information is at our fingertips, and the world is trying its hardest to catch up.  Aaron Swartz understood that the Internet might not just be a way for us to watch cat videos while waiting for a movie to start; its wealth of knowledge has the power to literally change the world.  In director Brian Knappenberger’s illuminating, infuriating, and ultimately heartbreaking documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, we’re given a look at the life of a young prodigy who put his immense talent to use trying to enact real social and political change.

The film also explores how, in the ever-changing digital age, the government’s desire to “make an example” of Swartz had dire consequences that almost certainly deprived us of further good from this brilliant mind.


by     Posted 34 days ago


[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  They Came Together opens today in limited release and on VOD]

When director David Wain does his own thing, it may not be for everyone, but he’s also at his best. His more mainstream films, Role Models and Wanderlust, are entertaining, but his work on The State, Stella, and the classic Wet Hot American Summer is distinct, absurd, bold, and painfully funny. His latest, They Came Together, is Wain embracing his unique comic voice as he turns to mock one of Hollywood’s easiest targets, the romantic comedy. Despite the easily apparent flaws of that genre, Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter not only poke fun at the obvious tropes, but also let their delightfully twisted comedy burst through. Further supported by Paul Rudd brilliantly and brutally skewering his familiar leading man persona, They Came Together doesn’t bring the rom-com to its knees, but it does deliver a well-deserved gut punch.

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