by     Posted 42 days ago


[This is a re-post of my Wish I Was Here review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  The film opens in limited release this weekend.]

It’s been ten long years since Zach Braff directed a feature film.  Those that fell hard for Garden State—myself included—looked forward to seeing another directorial effort from Braff, and now the time has finally come with Wish I Was Here.  Written by Braff and his brother Adam Braff, the story explores late-blooming maturity through the eyes of a struggling actor living in L.A. with his wife and two children.  Braff weaves in plenty of themes about loss, marriage, and parenthood throughout the film, but he throws so much into the pot that not all of it sticks.  The result is a disappointing mixed bag, with some of the film hitting just the right note while the rest of it falls completely flat.  Read my full review after the jump.


by     Posted 42 days ago


[This is a re-post of my I Origins review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  The film opens in limited release this weekend.]

The debate between science and religion has been going on for centuries.  It’s a struggle that not only manifests itself in the physical form of heated discussions and protests, but it also takes place within ourselves.  Writer/director Mike Cahill explores this issue on an intimate scale in his new dramatic sci-fi film I Origins, which delves into themes of love, relationships, science, and the afterlife to hauntingly beautiful results.  It’s a highly emotional film that connects on many levels, and while Cahill comes very close to packing too much into the story, it crescendos with an emotionally powerful conclusion that resonates deeply.  Read my full review after the jump.


by     Posted 43 days ago


2013′s The Purge had a mish-mash of good ideas.  It was important socioeconomic commentary, but smothered by the confusion of its genre trappings.  The overt commentary was out of sync with the stakes of the story’s moral drama, and the audience ended up identifying more with the violence than the message about economic inequality.  Director James DeMonaco has returned for the sequel The Purge: Anarchy, and although he hasn’t dropped the commentary, he’s reconciled himself to a tight action-thriller that may not be particularly thoughtful, but at least it’s exciting and holds few pretensions.


by     Posted 43 days ago


One would think that a movie entitled “Sex Tape” wouldn’t have a problem being raunchy.  Sadly, director Jake Kasdan‘s latest picture can’t seem to find the balance between a sweet relationship and salty dialogue, and mostly goes with the former at the expense of the latter.  Even more baffling is why the movie constantly feels the need to justify its premise as it reiterates plot points, character decisions, and the technological chicanery involved in the story’s inciting event.  There’s always more emphasis on explaining what’s going on instead of going all the way.

THE BOOK OF LIFE Footage Review: Jorge Gutierrez and Guillermo del Toro’s Animated Film Looks Outstanding

by     Posted 46 days ago


Just yesterday I was doing a news update on Guillermo del Toro’s potentially upcoming Haunted Mansion and found myself marveling at the amount of projects he has in the pipeline, either as a director or producer.  And, as I was listing them off, I totally forgot to include The Book of Life.  That won’t be a problem now since I just got back from a footage presentation (along with a Q&A with del Toro and director Jorge Gutierrez) on the Fox Lot.  This movie is now on my radar in a major way.  Normally I’m not into footage presentations but this one was far enough ahead of release to get behind.  It was also largely fantastic, priming me for the full experience in October.

The Book Of Life revolves around three childhood friends—Manolo (Diego Luna), Maria (Zoe Saldana), and Joaquin (Channing Tatum)—who find themselves in a love triangle as the gods wager on who will win Maria’s heart.  Manolo is the central character of the story, as he dreams of breaking his family tradition of bullfighting to become a guitar player.  Over the course of the fantastical story, audiences are taken to The Land of the Living, the Land of the Remembered, and the Land of the Forgotten as Manolo seeks to live a complete and fulfilling life that is remembered by the living.  Hit the jump to for more on The Book of Life footage presentation.  The film also features the voices of Hector Elizondo, Christina Applegate, Ron Perlman, Danny Trejo, Ice Cube, and Placido Domingo.  If you haven’t seen the trailer you can fix that here.  The Book of Life opens in 3D on October 17th.


by     Posted 49 days ago


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

Boyhood is a miracle. It is truly unique. It is a masterpiece. It is one of the best coming-of-age movies ever made. These superlatives may seem grandiose or even hyperbolic, but Richard Linklater’s 12-year project is a work of art unlike any other. More importantly, it’s a work that hits a thoughtful and emotional core. It is a movie that not only draws us into the lives of the characters, but also causes us to reexamine our own lives. Boyhood is both intimate and epic, subtle and overwhelming, and an absolute marvel.


by     Posted 50 days ago


Now having watched all of the Planet of the Apes movies, it’s fascinating how the series views not only history, but trying to understand why civilizations rise and fall.  While there are always the broad strokes of good (Caesar, Cornelius, Zira) and bad (Hasslein, Breck, Aldo), there’s always a concern of how these figures are followed or abandoned.  History will always have charismatic leaders and people who are motivated by fear, so how to these people guide the evolution or dissolution of a society?  Matt Reeves‘  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes perfectly captures this question by creating a microcosm of two civilizations reaching an inevitable clash and how their futures are both conflicting and intertwined.  The movie manages to take almost all the best aspects of its predecessors to create a summer blockbuster that is heartfelt, exhilarating, tragic, and profound.

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

by     Posted 51 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 52 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.

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

by     Posted 53 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 54 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 55 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 56 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 56 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.

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

by     Posted 57 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.

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