25 November 2012

Movies: Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1748122/

Subdued comedy/drama/romance

Time: late summer, 1965. Place: 16 mile-long small island in New England
Sam is a 12 year-old orphan spending his summer with Khaki Scout troop 55. Considered "emotionally disturbed," none of the other kids like him. 12 year-old Suzy lives with her parents and three younger brothers across the island and feels completely misunderstood. Her only friends are her kitten and books she steals from the library. A year earlier Sam met Suzy backstage at a play. After exchanging a few words they started a pen pal friendship.
Sam runs away from the Khaki Scouts (with a reveal straight out of "Shawshank Redemption"), hikes across the island and meets up with Suzy. Together they run away.  Meanwhile the Khaki Scouts, the island police man and Suzy's parents try to track them down and bring them home.

A film by Wes Anderson of "Rushmore," "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," "The Royal Tennenbaums" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" fame. I watched this film solely because it's a Wes Anderson film. I've been a fan of his flicks since "Rushmore" so he gets an automatic watch. I'm usually in a state of mind prepared to like his films. I had expectations, and I wasn't disappointed.

Stars a couple of kids I've never heard of as Sam and Suzy*. The cast includes Bruce Willis as the island police man, Edward Norton as the Khaki Scout Troop 55 leader, Frances McDormand as Suzy's mom, Tilda Swinton as Social Services, and Harvey Keitel as Khaki Scout HQ leader.  That ensemble alone would make any film interesting. Plus Bill Murray (Suzy's dad) and Jason Schwartzman (Khaki Scout Hullabaloo Supplies and Resources manager) are in the cast, of course, as it's a Wes Anderson film. I say "of course" because both are Wes Anderson film regulars.

The film has indie film looks, but they're accomplished in a very polished manner. Certain camera shots harken back to compositions Anderson has developed in his previous films.  But the film's bigger accomplishment is how it looks and feels like a 1965 magazine spread. It's rather a neat effect - with the subdued color palette. It puts the viewer right in the proper era.
The kids deliver a matter-of-fact performance, their lines and actions are delivered more like they are reading a story out loud.  Usually that annoys me, but I think those performances are intentional. After I got used to it I found it contributed to the film's charm. Especially as the two actually get to spend time together and navigate awkward friendship beyond what they've developed as pen pals.
Wes Anderson pretty much captures what it is like to be 12 years old back in the '60s, misunderstood, on the cusp of discovering relationships and meeting a person that's in the same place and just 'gets' you.
Another thing I liked is that the events and performances weren't delivered to be viewed through the lens of 2012's perception, but one more tuned to 1960s-70s childhood. I almost felt nostalgic, so I wonder if folks from generations than mine will have a harder time identifying with the film?

The film has some amusing scenes, some scenes a bit more serious, some are surreal. Even has a thrilling chase sequence or two. It delivers a visual representation of embellished storytelling. There is even a period-appropriate narrator to provide big picture context and he looks like he stepped out of a 60's-era grade school history film. 

Like I said, I have a predilection for Wes Anderson flicks and he hasn't yet disappointed me, even though a couple of his films didn't quite do it for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, the wife bailed early on like she seems to do with most Wes Anderson flicks.  I guess I just like the quirky films more than she.

So, if you've not ever seen a Wes Anderson film this is as good as any to give him a shot. If you like it, check out his others.

* I've seen no mention of the classic Captain and Tennille version of the song "Muskrat Love" being any sort of inspiration for this film, even though the main characters are named "Suzy" and "Sam" and some story plot points could easily be seen as parallel to the song. Probably just accidental. 

21 November 2012

Movies: 4:44 Last Day on Earth

4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1707391/


It's the last day on Earth. The ozone layer is completely depleted and everything on Earth will begin to die at 4:44 AM EST.  We spend the final 12 or so hours with Cisco and his girlfriend Skye.

Stars Willem Dafoe as Cisco and some gal I've never seen before, Shanyn Leigh, as Skye.

Yeah, I chose to watch this 'cause of Dafoe. Guess I shouldn't just choose films like that without doing a little reading up. There was a brief appearance by Natasha Lyonne (American Pie series) and Paz de la Huerta (Boardwalk Empire). Although I didn't even realize that brief street encounter was de la Huerta until the credit roll.

I just couldn't "get into" this film. The premise sounded sort of appealing. On one hand it's a neat mental exercise to wonder how you'd spend your last 12 hours on Earth when you fully know ahead of time when it is going to end. On the other hand, especially in this instance, it wasn't so neat an experience to sit and watch the final 12 hours with this pair at the center. Drama? More like dryawnma. Oh yeah, and it also seemed like one long running commercial for Skype, and, to a lesser extent, Apple computers.

Not complaining about the cast or production, those aspects were fine. But the story and the film as a whole just bored me through to the end. I stuck around waiting to see if there would be some pay off to make it worth it. Nah. Never happened. I didn't like nor dislike the people, I didn't feel any need to care about them or their fate. I couldn't put myself in their shoes, and I didn't feel compelled to sit and watch them either.
Luckily the final 12 hours only took an hour and a half of screen time, although at times it was sort of feeling like real time. ugh. I'd more readily sit through the first half of "Melancholia" again before sitting through this one, 'cause at least "Melancholia" does have some rewards.

So, yeah, I'm sure there exists people who enjoy the film. I'm not one of 'em.

20 November 2012

Movies: Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1862079/

Idie drama/comedy/romance/sci-fi

Jeff. a writer from a Seattle-based magazine, pitches doing a story about whoever wrote the following advertisement:
"WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED"

He brings along two interns, Darius and Arnau,  to help with research. Jeff knows that the contact information is his old hometown, so in reality he just wants to meet and possibly hook up with his old high-school girlfriend, the story is an excuse to get a paid vacation back home. The interns stake out the post office and figure out who authored the advertisement, a guy named Kenneth. Jeff tries to approach the guy but Kenneth doesn't trust him and tells him he won't do. So Jeff sends intern Darius, because she's a girl and maybe Kenneth would be more receptive.

It's a quirky comedy with decent dialog and acting. It is based on an actual want ad. Really. The author had inserted it as a last minute space filler while laying out the want ads page for the magazine he worked for. It caught some folks' attention and was even featured on Leno's Tonight Show. Thus this film's inspiration.
But pay attention. Questions will be raised by conversational details seeming to change over time. Was Kenneth deluded? Was Darius telling a situational lie? But after you see the ending of the film, think about how those conversational details changed. Could it be...?

I recognize some of the folks in the film. Darius is played by Aubrey Plaza, whom I recognize from "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and especially "Mystery Team".  Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe in "24") makes an appearance as the magazine editor. Even Kristen Bell has a little cameo. The guy that wrote the original ad even makes a quick cameo.

I liked it. It has the look and feel of a low budget indie film. Competent camera work, good sound, coherent editing including the stereotypical indie-sounding music soundtrack. The major characters get developed about as much as needed to deliver the story, the supporting folks get just enough depth to keep them from being cliche cardboard props. Reminded me of other indie films like early Wes Anderson flicks or "Little Miss Sunshine". Just enough budget to put a solid film together but lacking that big-budget Hollywood spit and polish and overproduction. Which is good. It's an intimate film and the indie style keeps it intimate without production intrusion.

So, IMO, a decent flick for that lazy saturday afternoon when you'd like a little light comedy that's entertaining and put together well.

27 October 2012

Movies: God Bless America

God Bless America (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1912398/

Dark Comedy

Frank is a recent divorcee living next door to inconsiderate assholes. He calls his ex to coordinate a visit from his young daughter, but the daughter is a loud unappreciative disrespectful brat and refuses to visit.  Then Frank finds out he has an inoperable brain tumor that will soon kill him. While contemplating suicide he glimpses a reality TV show featuring a rich unappreciative disrespectful brat's 16th birthday party. Frank decides to put off suicide for a bit, steal his neighbor's car and drive to that girl's school where he shoots her dead. Roxy, one of the newly dead girl's classmates, takes a liking to Frank's "style" and begs to be Frank's accomplice on his newfound mission to rid society of its most repellant citizens.

Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Chances are knowing who he is depends on your age.

Stars Joel Murray as Frank. Even f you don't recognize the name you'd probably recognize the face. And yes he is Bill Murray's brother, but he's not that Brian Doyle Murray guy, he's a different brother. I don't recognize his sidekick Roxy, played by Tara Lynne Barr, because I've not watched any of her previous work. She does well and the two have a believable chemistry which really sells the film.

The film reminded me some of "Super" although its dialog was a bit preachier and wordier.  Plus Roxy in this film is quite a bit saner than Libby in "Super".  If you've had any exposure to reality TV shows over the past 10 years the thinly veiled analogs in the film are easily identified. This film's TV shows aren't likable and the people in them aren't likable, just like for reals.

The film is a simple comment on what seems to be the current dominant style of American television shows and their influence on pop culture and the general public, taken to a logically absurd extreme and wrapping up predictably. It is also entertaining enough if you enjoy bluntly obvious violent dark comedies.  I didn't mind watching it.

Not nearly as polished (nor as brilliant) as "Office Space" and "Idiocracy", but comfortably fits in the same general "commentary on society" genre.  If you haven't seen "Office Space" or "Idiocracy" I'd recommend seeing those more, but it wouldn't hurt to see all of these films.

26 October 2012

Movies: The Magic of Belle Isle

The Magic of Belle Isle (2012)  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1839654/

Drama (Feel-good family type)

Monte Wildhorn, once an author of western novels, spends the summer in Belle Isle, a lakeside summer vacation town. His books are out of print, he has almost no income, his nephew set him up with a deal to stay in a cabin rent-free in exchange for taking care of the owner's dog for the summer. Monte plans to sit in his wheelchair and drink the summer away. Next door lives a recent divorcee and her three daughters. After the middle daughter learns Monte is a writer she "hires" him to teach her how he writes stories, how imagination works.

Stars Morgan Freeman as Monte, Virginia Madsen as next-door-neighbor Charlotte. Appearances by Fred Willard, Kevin Pollak and Kenan Thompson, although their characters only show up briefly and just to move the story forward in places. Directed by Rob Reiner.
Basically I watched the film specifically because it is a Rob Reiner film and Morgan Freeman is in it.

It is a feel-good family friendly film and it benefits from Reiner's directorial sensibilities. Good enough story, although a story seen played out before where curmudgeonly guy's stone cold heart is melted by a curious youngster and her family. But Freeman delivers just as one would expect from Freeman - spot on and fit for the role. The brief appearances casting of Willard, Pollak and Thompson work well in the context of the story because by seeing those actors you know their characters about without the film spending much time fleshing them out. Madsen does believably well and the kids playing the daughters capably fill out the film and make it feel real and unforced. The cast chemistry is perfect for the story. Some times the dialog sounded a little off from how people actually talk, but I think it was an intentional affectation to sell that local small sleepy summer town "magic" feeling.

Watching the film takes no effort, has no surprises and leaves you feeling warm inside.

22 October 2012

Movies: The Immortals

The Immortals (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1253864/


Way back before mankind walked the Earth, Zeus and his followers fought then imprisoned the Titans below Mount Tartarus. King Hyperion hears tell that the Epirus Bow could free the Titans, so of course he decides to find it and release them because somehow he'll rule the Earth afterward.
Theseus is chosen by Zeus to fight King Hyperion to prevent him from unleashing the imprisoned Titans.

Directed by Tarsem Singh, who directed "The Cell" and "The Fall". Both are visually stunning films so I had high expectations going in to this film.
Stars names Mickey Rourke, Henry Cavill, Steven Dorff, Freida Pinto, John Hurt and some lesser-knowns. Still, with a cast like that, one also builds expectations.

The film was visually ... something. It looked somewhat like "300" meets the "Clash of the Titans" remake, except more artificial, oversaturated and underlit. Completely not what I was expecting from Singh.
And the story. Ugh. Again with the borrowing of names from Greek mythology and completely rewriting the stories into a mess that is vaguely, but not much if at all, related to the source material.

An uncompelling crap pile, especially considering the cast and director. 40 minutes in the wife quit the film, she couldn't watch any more. I understand why she did it, the story was underwhelming so far, the cuts from character to character, designed I'm sure to just introduce you to the players, was more confusing than informative.  I was disappointed for other reasons, partly for the reasons she quit watching, but also due to its stealing from mythology then ignoring the source material to the point the story was unrecognizable. I figure if a film is going to do that, at least make it entertaining. We stopped the movie there, I figured I'd pick it up later when she was busy doing other stuff.  After a couple days I really didn't feel like going back to finish the film. The time invested didn't seem to warrant continuing on.
So yeah, I never finished watching the film so this is a really terrible review. Who knows, maybe the film redeemed itself later on?

Movies: In Time

In Time (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1637688/

Dystopian Future Science Fiction (ish) Thriller

In this future "time is money" has become literal. That is, all people have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25 years and live for one more year after that. Sortof starting off with 365 days in the 'bank'. All commerce is conducted by trading portions of your remaining time, and labor is rewarded by adding to your time. If your personal clock hits zero, poof, you're dead. This world is also separated in to 'time zones,' except the zones are more like separating those with decades and hundreds of years from those with mere days on their clocks. Basically separating the 'time rich' from the 'time poor'.
Will Salas and his mother are living day-to-day, scraping together just enough time to pay their bills and have enough left over to make it through tomorrow to earn a bit more. Through a chance encounter Will saves a man named Henry from thugs that were going to steal his time. While hiding out from the thugs Henry bequeaths over a century of time to Will as he sleeps, then Henry goes off to die. The police think Will killed Henry for his time and start chasing him. And we're now in the thriller portion.

Okay - I said Science Fiction (ish), perhaps Fictional Science is more appropriate. Hardly any explanation is given to exactly how the biological clocks work or how the time can be added and removed, we just have to accept that it can. But that is really okay for this film, it is the largest demand for suspension of disbelief and easily done. The film really is a thriller and it is set in a dystopian future. The science-y bits just accept as part of the package. It's the MacGuffin that drives the plot, in the purest sense.

Stars Justin Timberlake as Will, Olivia Wilde as Will's mom, Cillian Murphy as the Time Cop chasing Will, Amanda Seyfried as a naive time-rich girl that gets caught up in Will's troubles. Johnny Galecki (Big Bang Theory) has a supporting role in the film as Will's friend.
I have to say I was impressed by Timberlake in the leading role. I had no idea he could actually pull  off a leading character role. Apparently I have seen him in other films, but it's been a long while since I've seen "Alpha Dog" thus I barely recall him being in it, and I can't recall at all what part he played in "Black Snake Moan". I suppose I should watch those films again. Not because I want to see Timberlake, but because I remember I liked both films and it's been long enough since I've seen them they might seem like new. An odd benefit to getting older I suppose. Mixed blessing?
Anyhoo, I didn't have high expectations for Timberlake in a leading role and he exceeded them. I guess I'm trying to say he did good.

It isn't a great film, it isn't terrible. It's okay and entertaining enough. No real surprises from the script. Some really nice locations were found for a few scenes. Mediocre expectations met with low disappointment.
So, yeah, if you like dystopian future films this one might work for you. I suppose there is sort of a "Logan's Run" tang to the story, though I suppose one might argue this is an alternative to the end-result of the "Logan's Run" world.  And OH MY GOSH there is a "Logan's Run" remake in the works with Ryan Gosling cast as Logan.

Movies: Safe

Safe (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1656190/

Jason Statham Action Thriller

That's right. Jason Statham gets his own category of action thriller.

If you've seen any of "The Transporter" films, or most any other action film starring Jason Statham as the central character that has to get from point A to point B, kick ass along the way, and save someone else's life in the process, you've seen this film.

The safe in the title "Safe" refers to a young Chinese girl named Mei that is a photographic-memory-math-wiz employed (as in utilized, not hired) by the Triads to keep all their transactions in her head instead of on a computer. After Mei is given a coded message the Association of Corrupt N.Y. Cops and the Russian Mob are very interested in getting her to get said message from her brain.
So, of course, Jasan Statham puts his life as a cage fighter on hold to save Mei from all three bad organizations.

Seriously this could have been a Transporter sequel. All they'd have to do is change up a little bit of Statham's character's back-story. Sequel or not, it is way better than "Transporter 2", even though "Safe" and "Transporter 2" are basically Statham saving a young kid from bad guys.

What's left to review? Nothing, really. It's a stock Statham action thriller flick. You get what you anticipate. Easily a 7/10 on the Statham scale, using "In the Name of the King" as the baseline worst Statham flick.

14 October 2012

Movies: Melancholia

Melancholia (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1527186/

Science-fiction(ish) Drama

We first meet newly married and laughing Justine and Michael as their stretch limo tries to navigate a narrow twisty driveway to Justine's sister's house for the wedding reception. At the reception Justine tries to put on a happy face, especially for her sister Claire considering Claire and her husband paid for the wedding and reception. But try as she might, she just can't maintain the facade.
Meanwhile a newly discovered blue planet dubbed Melancholia is approaching Earth on a very close vector. But you won't really find out about that until halfway through the film.

The film basically contrasts Justine and Claire and how the approaching planet impacts those characters as individuals and their relationship.  So it is science-fictiony in that a planet is on a near-miss vector vs. the Earth, but it is more of a drama in that it explores the sister's relationship. I suppose the sister interaction is sortof metaphorical for the planetary one, or vice versa.

Stars Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman's Mary Jane, the cute little vampire Claudia in "Interview with the Vampire") as Justine and Charlotte Gainsbourg as Claire. We're also treated to the presence of both Stellan Skarsgard (tons of stuff) and his son Alexander Skarsgard (Michael), who most folks will recognize as Eric Northman from HBO's "True Blood". Additional castmembers include John Hurt and Keifer Sutherland. Yes, this film is rather strong in the cast department and benefits greatly from their performances.

I remembered seeing Charlotte Gainsbourg in "Antichrist".  Interestingly enough this film is directed by Lars von Trier, who also directed "Antichrist".  I noticed a lot of stylistic similarities between "Antichrist" and "Melancholia", especially the way dialog scenes are cut sometimes mid-sentence. The sets and visuals, as in "Antichrist", are quite stunning. Actually "Melancholia" is a bit more visually stunning at times, but that is more due to needs of the story.  Thankfully it is also a heck of a lot less visually disturbing than "Antichrist". As in opposite ends of the scale different.

By the film's end I came around to the realization that I enjoyed the film. But boy, that first hour of the film - yeesh.  Not 'yeesh' as in bad, but more 'yeesh' in the sense of slowly dragging along and not having anything to do with the approaching planet. Its existence is hinted at, at best.

The first part is titled "Justine" and we spend the first hour and ten minutes of the film watching Justine's wedding reception and transformation from happy bride to a gal spiraling into mental breakdown.  My wife got bored and quit watching the film because of that whole hour on the reception and nothing involving nor explicitly mentioning an approaching planet, just vague hints.
I think I could have got to the same level of understanding Justine's state-of-mind a lot quicker if that had been edited down to, say, fifteen to twenty minutes, or even skipped altogether. I'm not sure what von Trier was going for with that whole hour spent there, although I do have my suspicions that the viewer is supposed to hold the first part of the film next to the second part and draw analogies and stuff, but for me watching part one got tiring and old fast.  Also, in retrospect, perhaps the familial interplay and nuptial unraveling was all tied in with them knowing a planet is on the way.
Then again, he's making the bucks, I'm not, so what do I know?
I must point out that had this part of the film been cut down we would miss out on some very fine acting from strong actors, even if it is rough to make sense of it. Still, if a section of the film feels like it drags that much I tend to get annoyed.

Regardless, I was determined to finish the film, so I stuck it out. Glad I did.

The second part, titled "Claire", is the meatier part of the story. We see the end product of Justine's meltdown. We now know about and see Melancholia on its Earth-orbit crossing journey. We see the interplay between the sisters and how the planet's approach affects the balance of their relationship.
Aside from the opening sequence before the (seemingly odd and visually out-of-place) title card, the second part of the film has the more stunning visuals. Especially considering during the first part we're basically trapped in a wedding reception.  And for the record by "stunning visuals" I'm not making some leering stealth reference to Justine (Kirsten Dunst) laying naked on the creek bank bathed in the light of Melancholia.

Another thing that niggled at me was how different Justine's accent was from the rest of her family. Her mother, father and sister all had UK accents, whereas Justine had a definite American accent.
I also had trouble with the film's physics involving the approach of Melancholia: it's orbit, it's affects on the Earth, etc. I had a real rough time suspending disbelief where those details were concerned.

Nutshell review: Despite a tortuously long first half and facepalming physics the second half the end result payed off enough to make an enjoyable film. I suspect it is possible to watch only part two of the film if all you want to see is the science-fictiony bits and not feel as if you missed anything. It'll certainly feel like a shorter film. Then again by doing so you don't get the director's vision of the film.

Would I recommend it to others? Not so sure about that. I have no way of predicting someone else's tolerances or preferences, so any sort of recommendation would probably have to be made on an individual basis.  Probably best to not watch if you go stir-crazy watching films that don't have explosions, frenetic action, spaceships, guns, flashing lights, animated characters and whatnot.
I do think my wife would've liked the last hour of the film had she stuck around for it, however all attempts to talk her in to watching it have failed.


I also have to take a moment to mention I was reminded in some ways of "Another Earth", mostly because that film also dealt with another planet suddenly showing up and approaching Earth and its effects on people and their relationships. Although "Another Earth" went in a wholly different direction story-wise, at least the other planet featured a bit more prominently throughout the film.  Of the two which did I like better? Can't really say, both have their strengths and weaknesses. Plus over nine months have elapsed between seeing "Another Earth" vs. "Melancholia", so my memories of "Another Earth" are somewhat dulled by time. 

11 October 2012

Movies: The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1259521/

Five friends decide to spend a weekend at a remote cabin in the woods. They are, of course, the cliche five consisting of the jock, the jock's hot girlfriend, the hot boyfriendless friend, the intellectual brought along as a potential romantic interest, and the stoner fifth wheel. As they drive to the cabin they stop to get gas at the station manned by the cliche tobacco-chewing crazy-eyed redneck that warns them against going further, who they obviously ignore. At the cabin they discover it has a cellar, find an old diary and read aloud an incantation from it, which unleashes a zombie family upon them.
Yep, stereotypical horror film setup with stereotypical horror film beats.
You also get snatches of scenes at some secret high-tech monitoring facility with tons of lab-coats running about, making plans, coordinating stuff and apparently watching the fated five.

Yes, "The Cabin in the Woods" might be like many a horror/slasher/thriller film you've seen in the past, but it also is not. It turns that genre of horror film on end and bequeaths upon the viewer an interesting grander story that encompasses and somewhat explains the purpose behind the existence all those past  .

Story penned by Joss Whedon (Avengers, Firefly, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and co-written and directed by Drew Goddard who has quite a wealth of experience as a writer/producer of many Buffy, Angel, Alias and Lost episodes. In a nutshell Goddard is a bastard love-child of both Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams.  So yes, we are treated to the sort of Whedon-esque dialog one would expect as well as the great story sensibilities one would expect from a Whedon/Abrams alumni. And for a directorial debut Goddard did smashingly, he obviously learned a lot working with both production masters.

Casting - spot on. Thor/Avengers fans will recognize Chris Hemsworth. Dollhouse fans will be pleased to see Fran Kranz. "Greys Anatomy" fans get some Jesse Williams. If you were a Power Rangers Jungle Fury fan there's a bit of Yellow Cheetah Ranger Anna Hutchinson.
Plus the ever-castable Richard Jenkins and some great bit parts for Whedon-verse alums Amy Acker and Tom Lenk. I didn't notice any glaring acting mistakes or casting weaknesses. Everyone did well.

For me as a Whedon/Abrams show watcher there was plenty of meta enjoyment. The grander story works quite well too.  It makes a great nod to the "teens in the woods" slasher format, adds its grander component, and makes many references to slasher/horror/thriller films from the past without making obvious parody-style fun of them.
And what's even better is the film doesn't even hide anything. They tell you exactly what is going on as the story unfolds, and if you still don't realize how what you've seen adds up, they spell it out for you without taking shortcuts or breaking the trust of the film viewer.

Smartly done film, quite entertaining and enjoyable, and easily recommended without snark.

08 October 2012

TV Series: Arrested Development

Arrested Development http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0367279/

Arrested Development was a Fox TV series from 2003-2006. Three short seasons, around 53 episodes in all. It won multiple Emmy awards during its short run. It is one of those shows that got great reviews by the critics, has a very devoted fanbase, but just couldn't get enough viewers for the television production machine to justify keeping it on the air. Lots of viewers = lots of advertising $$. Not enough viewers = cancellation.

Over the years I've watched as fans have continued to call for "Arrested Development"s return and asking for a movie. And rarely do I see any discussion about television comedy that doesn't pair the title "Arrested Development" with "best comedy on TV since Seinfeld". Now many folks might argue they didn't think Seinfeld was that great, but Seinfeld was innovative comedy TV regardless of their opinions. There's been many articles written analyzing and defining groundbreaking, trailblazing, genre-defining television shows and their arguments are sound.  "Arrested Development" is generally included in those discussions with laudatory language.

Me? I never did watch the show when it was on Fox. Honestly I don't recall hearing about it until after it was canceled, probably just me filtering out chatter. Well that and my attention was completely elsewhere due to my career at the time and such. After my schedule lightened up (I retired) I suddenly had a lot more time to waste on pointless endeavors like watching films and old television shows. Luckily for me the timing coupled with the ability to actually do that as granted by services and technologies like the internet, DVDs, TiVo and Netflix.

Plus I realized that some "Arrested Development" alumni went on to work "Community". "Community" is a show I discovered late into its second season and immediately sought out the first season to see what I missed. I figured as much as I grew to really like "Community", and considering it is in similar dire straights that "Arrested Development" encountered during its brief run, I thought I should give watching "Arrested Development" a chance sometime.

Recently I read news that Netflix backed the production of another season of "Arrested Development". Six years after the cancellation of that series it is being revived with the same cast and a lot of production crew returning. The next season is due out on Netflix in 2013.  This is unheard of in TV. Very occasionally a TV show might jump from one network to another. We've seen quite a few effective and not-so-effective show reboots over the years (especially recently). But something like this, where six years later the original cast and production is able to assemble and revive a series, that is very rare.

I thought with all these accolades for the show, all these things coming together for the show and a new season on the visible horizon plus its available for streaming on Netflix I should take some time and watch the show, see if any of the buzz is anywhere close to reality.

The show is about the Bluth family. The patriarch of the family, George Bluth, owns and runs a residential development company. He is arrested on multiple charges and sent to prison. His son Michael not only has to try to keep the company afloat but he takes it upon himself to keep the family together during these trying times. The series documents all these familial interactions and explores each member's faults, denials, manipulations, selfishness, serious dysfunction and occasional flashes of true humanity.
The series is very serialized, basically each new episode continues where the previous episode left off and follows storylines that either extend through the seasons, arc over a couple of episodes, or happen during the one episode but gets references and callbacks in later episodes. I can understand if someone tried to start watching the show mid-season they might feel a bit lost when those callbacks occur and find it a bit rougher to pick up on the lengthier story arcs.
It's shot almost in a documentary style, but just short of the cinema verite style seen in "The Office". "Community" is a bit closer to the "Arrested Development" storytelling style, although as serialized as "Community" happens to be it isn't quite as "from season one dependent". Conversely, just as with "Arrested Development," "Community" makes much more sense and its callbacks are much funnier if you have seen previous seasons.

It took me a couple of episodes to warm up to the show, but I liked it well enough to keep watching. I found, though, as the episodes progressed into the show's second and third seasons I would watch more episodes per sitting. Granted, each episode is only 20-some odd minutes in length, however I would find myself sitting for hours watching show after show. And it was over too soon.

So, in the end, I found that yes, all those accolades are well deserved. I can understand why the show is considered a groundbreaking show. I can understand the fan's hunger for more, and I can understand why the next season is highly anticipated. I can also see "Arrested Development's" influence on "Community".  And it's a shame that it is likely "Community" is facing its final season.

26 September 2012

Movies: Meeting Evil

Meeting Evil (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1810697/


John returns home after being fired from his real estate job. He checks the mail, throws away all the past due bill notices. The house seems empty, so he pours himself a drink. His wife and kids jump out and yell "Surprise!" which scares him into dropping his scotch. He's not in the best of moods so his wife takes the kids to the park. After they leave there's a knock on the door. A man named Richie says his car stalled in front of the house, could John give him a push to get it started?  Nice non-confrontational guy that he is, John gives the car a push, but the backfire from the car starting rips into his leg. Richie offers to drive John to the hospital, but instead takes him on a killing spree.

Stars Luke Wilson and Samuel L. Jackson. I bet you can guess who plays John and who plays Richie.  But that works for this film because you don't have to learn much about their characters to know their characters.
My guess is that production blew their casting wad landing Wilson and Jackson for their roles. It was money well spent.  Luke Wilson plays the everyman as he does so well.
But the icing on the cake is Samuel L. Jackson at his Samuel L. Jacksoniest.

Sure the John character lets himself be put into situations that make you want to slap him for being so stupid as to put himself in to those situations in the first place. A lot of the dialog, especially from the supporting cast, just left me wondering, "who actually talks like that?"  But so what. I enjoyed the film more for the performances and wanting to see how everything works out through to the end. I wanted answers to the questions, especially why the heck did Richie just show up and drag John along on a killing spree. We get those answers. And we even get a great double "Checkov's Gun" from the moment John gets home and takes a look in his backyard.

So yeah, maybe a bit iffy on some dialog and some plot points and casting Wilson and Jackson telegraphs what those characters are about. But at least the plot is consistent through to the end and the performances from Wilson and Jackson make up for the rest.  An entertaining thriller especially if you enjoy watching Samuel L. Jackson make those crazy eye scarey faces and ooze batshitinsansity from every pore of an otherwise calm exterior.

15 September 2012

Movies: The Grey

The Grey (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1601913/

Thriller plus

A contract transport full of returning Alaskan oil workers crashes in the Alaskan (or possibly Canadian) wild. Only a few survive the crash. One survivor is the huntsman that is contracted to protect the oil workers from dangerous wildlife while they work. While the survivors try to get what they can together to survive the elements while awaiting possible rescue things go from bad to worse. A pack of wolves comes to the crash site and start attacking them.

Stars Liam Neeson as the oil worker protector guy, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, and others you may or may not recognize. Various amounts of beardiness and bits of ice and snow frozen on the faces sort of interferes with cast recognition. I didn't even recognize Dermot Mulroney.

I'm rather split on my opinion of the film. The film trailers did make the film seem more like an adventure thriller than it actually happens to be.
It does have some really good scenes, great locations, good plane crash effects. However other parts of the film just left me wondering what the hell are these guys thinking?
It is a Thriller sort of film, but the "plus" part is a greater existential message being played out in the film above and beyond just watching some guys try to survive the plane crash and then wolves. Not sure how well that's going to go over with the general movie audience. In some ways it works, others, not so much.  It isn't really a hidden message. I just haven't yet decided if it strengthens the film or not.
One part left me groaning at its obviousness. It plays out a very heavy handed allegorical parallel of Alpha supremacy. By heavy handed I mean that sort of in your face in case you just don't get it. Here, look, there's an Alpha fight in the wolf pack, and one in the surviving people pack too. 

Also I think I would not look to this film for lessons in how to survive in the Alaskan wild after a plane crash. Their decisions seemed to go contrary to what would be the logical things to do if you were hoping to be rescued.  Plus there was the solution to overcoming a geographical hazard scene which made no sense to me, especially considering the wolves seemed to have no problem avoiding said hazard. The wolves must've known a much easier, faster and less dangerous route.

So yeah, enjoyable in some ways, other ways, not so much. Probably my fault, allowing my expectations to get in the way. I couldn't help but have expectations. It has Liam Neeson. Ridley and Tony Scott are producers of the film. It was directed by the guy who directed "The A-Team" and "Smokin' Aces". Ah well.

I suppose some folks might be reminded of the film "Alive." If you aren't, don't worry, one of the movie characters  brings it up. I just ignored it, though, because this is nothing like "Alive." One film is about the triumph of mankind's will to survive, overcoming nature and the odds after a disastrous plane crash in the freezing mountains, and the other is "The Grey."

I was more reminded of the film "Frozen." I had to chuckle when I realized my reaction was sort of the opposite of my reaction to "Frozen."  I liked "Frozen" more than I thought I would and liked "The Grey" a little less than I thought I would. The only reason I was reminded of "Frozen" was the whole "freezing temperatures, snow, wolves" bit.

So, nutshell. Some ways good, some ways not so much. Enjoyment levels might wholly depend on your mood at the time. Clocks in at almost 2 hours, which is a bit longer than it really needs to be. The story could've been easily told in an hour. I was fatigued at an hour fifteen. 
Also - there is one last bit of film after the credits, in case the ending wasn't satisfactory enough.

11 September 2012

Movies: Carnage

Carnage (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1692486/


In the opening sequence we see, from a distance, a group of kids at a park. Apparently some words are exchanged, a little bit of shoving between two boys, and as the boy carrying a stick walks off the other comes after him, only to be smacked across the face with the stick. The rest of the kids back off.
That just sets us up for what follows. Alan and Nancy Cowan, parents of stick wielder Zack, are at the apartment of Michael and Penelope Longstreet, parents of stick-eater Ethan. Together they composed a statement for the insurance companies* about the incident. Alan asks for a word change, Penelope makes the correction. Everyone seems on the same page, but some words said as the Cowans start leaving the apartment bring on a conversation that brings them back in to the Longstreet apartment.

Stars Christoph Waltz as Alan, Kate Winslet as Nancy, John C. Reilly as Michael and Jodie Foster as Penelope.  Waltz was Col. Hans Landa in "Inglourious Basterds", so of course I couldn't help but recall that great scene ending in him yelling "Au revoir, Shosanna!" as she ran across the field.  Everyone who's seen "Titanic" remembers Winslet. One would have to have lived under a rock to not know who Foster is. When I saw that Reilly was the fourth castmember I thought, "odd casting him with them." But as the film unfolds I realize he was perfect casting for that character. All four did great in their roles.

This film is adapted from a stage play, and it shows. Almost the whole film takes place in the apartment between the two sets of parents. The only things that happen outside that apartment, the brief park scenes involving the two boys, bookend the apartment conversation.  They set the events in motion, then show the resolution and, actually, give contrast to the resolution achieved by the parents.

Now, a bit early on in the film as the Cowans are impatiently trying to leave the apartment and close the conversation, I felt their impatience. I was impatient for them to leave too, knowing if they did the film would be over in under half an hour. I don't know if their projected impatience rubbed off on me or what. But just as they stuck it out, so did I. I can understand some viewers consider the film to be boring, but one sort of has to be in the mindset to sit and watch a one room stage play taking place on film.
Technically no complaints. Despite my initial boredom it either actually picks up or I just got used to its pace. Probably a bit of both. And at about an hour and fifteen minutes or so it isn't a long film.
And direction? Directed by Roman Polanski. He may be scum, but he is a good director. I can't think of a film he's directed that I haven't liked. Then again I've only seen maybe six of 'em.

Overall, I liked the film. I found the dialog, the shifting allegiances and, basically, how everything plays out to be amusing and enjoyable. No details brought to our attention are wasted, everything pointed out gets used (Chekov's gun principle, though no gunfire takes place). But, as I mentioned, you sort of have to be in the right mindset. If you don't enjoy bottled up in one room dialogfests I dunno if this film would change your position.

As for re-watchability -- heck if I know if I'd watch it again. I guess I'll find out someday when I'm randomly checking out what's on. Heck, I randomly came across "30 Minutes or Less" the other day and watched it again. Just 'cause.

* Note: I'm actually not sure if the letter was for their insurance companies or not. I don't actually remember because I wasn't paying close enough attention to catch that detail. I made an assumption. Heck it could have been for the kids's school or something. Whatever- the letter is actually inconsequential except as fodder for the discussions that follow, much like the hamster.

28 August 2012

Movies: Retreat

Retreat (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1410051/


Martin and Kate take a trip rent the only house on an isolated island off the coast of Britain. They were there years before when they were young and in love. This time they've returned to try to overcome a personal tragedy and rekindle their marriage. While dealing with their issues a man named Jack washes up on shore. They take him inside and try to call for help on the radio, but can't get any response. Jack awakes and tells of a highly communicable and deadly disease that is ravaging Europe.  Jack is in the army and he basically takes control of the house, boarding it up against anyone trying to get in to keep the disease away. There is no way for Martin and Kate to verify the story, which begins to cause conflict with Jack as well as amplify their personal issues.

Stars Cillian Murphy as Martin, Thandie Newton as Kate, and Jamie Bell as Jack. The only other folks you see are Doug, the owner of the island, who ferries the couple across the water, and Mrs. Doug.

Everything takes place in basically one location, the island and the house. Sort of like in the thriller "Dead Calm" where the cast is isolated on a boat, or "Phone Booth" where the entire film takes place in a phone booth.

Acted well, great location, tight story, good thriller that will probably keep you guessing to the end.

Also, if you're shopping for such films, go ahead and check out "Dead Calm" and "Phone Booth" as well. Different stories, but similar thrills stemming from isolation, claustrophobia, hopelessness and tension.

25 August 2012

Movies: Lockout

Lockout (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1592525/


Set in 2070-something, the U.S. has built a massive Maximum Security prison (MS One) set in orbit around the Earth. The worst of the worst are warehoused there in 'stasis' (which is a fancy way of saying 'coma' I suppose). The President of the U.S.'s daughter travels to the station to see first-hand if the reports that the stasis the prisoners are placed in causes mental breakdowns. So of course the prisoner awakened for the interview is probably the least stable psycho they have on hand, and, of course, he escapes and releases all the other prisoners, who soon take over the station.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, an ex-military (non-specific secret agency) operative named Snow is accused of murder and selling state secrets and is going to be sent to MS One. When word comes down that the inmates on MS One have escaped and have taken President's daughter hostage they make a deal with Snow to locate her and help her safely escape the station,

Stars Guy Pierce as Snake Plisskin Snow, Maggie Grace (Shannon on Lost, other films) as the President's daughter Emilie. Also has the great Peter "Pancakes House" Stormare in the cast, and perhaps a couple few other recognizable folks.

There's actually a bit more to Snow's backstory than my mini-intro-summary contains, a backstory that is mostly a Macguffin to tie the film together from start to finish and provide motivation for Snow to agree to the rescue.

The Snow character is amusing. Maggie Grace does well in her role. Stormare brings life in to an otherwise shallow two-dimensional character. Actually almost all the characters in the film are shallow action film stereotype caricatures, the only thing breathing life in to any of them are the actors in the roles. 

As hinted at above, the premise of this film is nothing short of "Escape from New York" redressed in a space station. The story is based on an idea of Luc Besson. Luc Besson's name is promoted all over this film as 3rd credit on the screenplay and executive producer. Which basically means his idea written and directed by a whole other crew. Yeah, I knew that going in. I'm not fooled by the ol' bait-and-switch that Luc Besson's name has become. Ultimately, this film could easily have been inserted in to the "Escape from..." franchise by changing "Snow" to "Snake Plisskin". Heck it probably was conceived as such.

Overall - a fun film if you enjoyed "Escape from New York". Turn off expectations of any resemblance of reality, sit back and watch it happen.


The negatives. I'm doing this wholly separate from the near-accolades above because, my gosh, there is so much that is wrong, or off, or just plain cheating in the film. The film can be enjoyed despite these negatives, and sometimes I really had to work to watch around them, but I can't ignore they exist either. Keep in mind this is just a small sample of some of the more glaring issues.
How the mentally unstable prisoner is able to escape in the first place - the series of events that lead to his escape are, well, dumb. Predictable and dumb and pulled straight out of "Con Air".
As mentioned before all the characters are stereotypical caricatures with little to no depth. And, again, the only thing that makes them watchable are the cast.
There's a chase sequence that is obviously all CG with Snow either pasted in blue-screen or rendered. It looks like a videogame chase sequence. The most obvious of the CG footage in the film and somewhat distracting, though thankfully brief and not repeated.
The film ignores physics practically every chance it gets. How 'gravity' is provided not only on the MS One station, but in the transport vessels and such, is of course ignored. But what really makes it obvious happens when Snow has to cross an expanse in the center of MS One, which actually might be the station's "gravity generator". If you watch the film and see the scene you'll understand. In a nutshell - nothing is too sacred to be sacrificed in the interest of getting from point A to point B.
There's another scene, near the end, that is even more over-the-top wrong. I won't say what happens, but you'll know it when you see it.
Some things happen for no reason at all. Specifically the International Space Station crashing in to the MS One prison. I suppose they explain it because they mention without the maintenance crew constantly controlling the station's free-fall MS One moves out of its orbit or something, but no, that doesn't just happen in the time frame the film takes place. It happens, then nobody mentions it again, which basically tells me if they never had that crash happen it wouldn't affect the story one bit.
The biggest head-smacking "duh" of the film? The concept of having a prison in space in the first place. I mean, come on. Was there not a more expensive prison solution imaginable? They could warehouse them all in abandoned salt mines or under the sea or something for incredibly less than it would cost to build a space prison. The payload costs of launching that much material and that many people in to space alone would pay for the salt mine solution many times over.  I realize that there is no story if it isn't a prison in space. How else could Luc Besson one-up Carpenter's walled up Manhattan or Los Angeles?

So how is this different than, say, "Shoot 'Em Up"? Well, out of the gate "Shoot 'Em Up" tells you exactly what sort of lampoon of over-the-top action films it is going to be. "Lockout", on the other hand, is more like "Live Free or Die Hard", where a seemingly acceptable "suspension of disbelief" universe is repeatedly shattered by improbability stacked upon improbability stacked upon implausibilities and impossibilities to the point where it collapses under its own weight.  Sure, "Shoot 'Em Up" does the same thing, but they tell you ahead of time it will be that way, so it's okay. "Lockout" doesn't, it just cheats whenever it needs to cheat to move the story to the next scene or 'go big' for a bit to wake the audience.
None of that means I didn't enjoy watching the film. I liked it, just as I liked "Live Free or Die Hard" for what it was. But liking them doesn't excuse their faults.

23 August 2012

Movies: Attack the Block

Attack the Block (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1478964/

Sci Fi Comedy with light action

While a group of young teenage hoodlums mugs a nurse as she's walking home to her apartment block, a meteor-thing crashes in to a nearby car. The nurse takes the confusing opportunity to escape. As the hoods check the car for valuables something attacks and scratches Moses, the 'leader' of the small gang. The thing, which looks like a hairless grey monkey, takes off running, the kids chase it down and beat it to death. They take it to the local pot dealer because they know he watches National Geographic all the time and they figure if anyone can identify it, he can. He has no idea what it is, so they all assume it's an alien. About that time more 'meteors' start hitting all around the area. The hoods take off to kills some more 'gremlins' and find the new arrivals are much larger, furrier and have glow-in-the-dark teeth. Scarier and more savage. Of course the kids run at this point.

Stars mostly a bunch of British kids I don't recognize as the hoods. Nick Frost ("Shaun of the Dead", "Hot Fuzz", "Paul" etc) makes an appearance as Ron the pot dealer. Edgar Wright, writer/director of those same films is an executive producer on the film, but I'm unsure how influential his role was in the making of the film. This was writer/director Joe Cornish's first feature film.
The film's premise is sort of like if "Signs" happened in the rough neighborhood of South London's government housing blocks, to paraphrase the director.
Tell you what, for a film starred by and written/directed by mostly unknowns they did quite good. The production looked a lot more mature than I'd expect out of first-timers. Most of the special effects were practical with very little CGI, which added to the realism of the scenes. The crew did an amazing job with the creature effects. Didn't look B-movie at all.

Sure, the hoodlums are not very likable at first, but there is some character growth as the film progresses. So just as nurse Sam's heart softens toward the kids through to the end of the film the viewer is inclined to start rooting for the hoods as well. 

Overall the story is amazingly tight and coherent, especially for a first-timer film. Things happen for a reason and those reasons are doled out as the story progresses. No obvious hanging threads nor wasted scenes. The cast even provides a plausible explanation as to why this alien invasion seems to be concentrated in a South London apartment block.
Even though it got right in to the story early on it did seem to be on the edge of dragging a little up front, but it really gets going during the second invasion and barrels to the finish. So I'm thinking that early on dragging feeling is a bit unavoidable as everything that happens during the opening act pays off later in the film.

I suppose it sort of fits in the same genre of amusing comedy homage films as "Shaun of the Dead" did for zombie flicks, "Hot Fuzz" did for buddy cop films and "Paul" did for close encounters films, except it isn't an Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost film. But it stands in good company.

So, if you're in the market for an amusing alien invasion flick this one should be worth fitting that bill.

19 August 2012

Movies: Jesus Henry Christ

Jesus Henry Christ (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1393742/


Young Henry James Herman is something of a prodigy. He has a photographic memory, very high IQ, started talking at 9 months old, etc. He lives with his mother and wonders why he has no father, but mother won't talk about it. For his 10th birthday Henry's grandfather gives him a newspaper clipping about Henry when Henry was a baby, a history that Henry's mother has hidden from Henry his whole life. From that clipping Henry finds out he's a test-tube baby, so Henry sets out to find out who is his biological father.

It stars Toni Collette as Henry's mom, Jason Spevack as Henry, Michael Sheen as Dr. O'Hara and Samantha Weinstein as Audrey O'Hara. I've not seen Spevack nor Weinstein in anything before but they did well in their roles, even though I thought they both looked familiar I didn't recognize anything they've already been in, so (shrug). Collette and Sheen are much more recognizable. Sheen was Lucian in the "Underworld" films and Collette has been in tons of stuff.

This is one of those quirky indie comedies, but quite cute and heartfelt. Its solid core cast really makes this film work well. Yes, it is a feel-good film. It is amusing, entertaining, has its funny moments. Probably a decent enough family film. The title makes sense by the time you get to the last act of the film.  It sort of fits on the same shelf as "Little Miss Sunshine", which if you haven't yet seen is worthwhile, especially if you enjoy good cute feelgood indie comedies. It is just coincidence that Toni Collette is also the mom in "Little Miss Sunshine".

So yeah, recommended for amusing lighthearted comedy night, as is "Little Miss Sunshine" if you haven't seen that either.

18 August 2012

Movies: The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1596365/

Horror drama

Set in the early 1900s young realty company worker Arthur Kipps is sent to a remote village to prepare Eel Marsh House for sale. A widower, he leaves behind his son with the nanny, they are scheduled to come visit a week later. When Kipps gets to the village the locals try to discourage him from staying, treat him shabbily, warn him to stay away from Eel Marsh House and try to rush him back to London.  Kipps stays on to do his job, but the past of the house begins to interfere with his duties.

Stars Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) as Kipps. The fine actor Ciaran Hinds is Mr Daily, the only local friendly to Kipps.
The film is based on a 1989 TV film of the same name, shown in the UK. Interesting tidbit - the actor that played Harry Potter's dad was in the original version of this film and played the same role Radcliffe plays.

As a recently released ghost story film "The Woman in Black" does quite well. In some respects it reminds me of "Ghost Story", which was a fine modern ghost story film in its day. I was also reminded of "The Others", not so much plot-wise but moreso in that it was also a fine ghost story film in its day. It is refreshing to see interesting ghost story films that don't resort to cheap startle tactics and overproduced CGI to get responses from the viewers.

The opening sequence - only about 3 minutes long or so - was such a great opening scene I was ready to watch the rest of the film. I did a mental "oh yeah! fist pump" because it made me ready to see how the story played out.
The story plays out by dribbling bits of details from here and there, hints from things the townspeople say coupled with things Kipps finds among the house's contents. By the final act of the film you know the history and why things are happening. The story pieces fall together quite nicely. The end of the film is intentionally telegraphed to us viewers, and we're even reminded immediately beforehand in case we missed it. Usually I gripe about telegraphed endings, but it is integral to this story as told so I didn't mind.

I enjoyed it, it was a decent film. Although seeing Radcliffe in a non-Harry Potter role is going to take some getting used to, after a short time I was caught up enough to stop Expecto Patronuming to help young Harry deal with stuff, which I'm sure my wife appreciated. So yes, sometimes I even mock films I like.

14 August 2012

Movies: Killer Elite

Killer Elite (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1448755/

Action thriller espionage film, historical drama

Set in the 1980s, Retired British SAS member Danny is contacted when his mentor Hunter is taken captive by an Omani sheik.  When Danny talks to the sheik he finds out in order to free Hunter, Danny will have to hunt down and assassinate three SAS agents that killed three of the sheik's sons . Meanwhile another shadow group of retired intelligence and SAS members takes it upon themselves to stop the assassinations.
Apparently based on a tell-all book that claims to be the truth about British black ops back in the day, although the British government will not confirm anything. So basically the author claims the book is true, the film is based on the book and, of course, things are punched up and condensed and whatnot to make a film.

So lots of action, killings, fighting, etc. Stars Jason Statham as Danny, Robert De Niro as Hunter, Clive Owen as Spike the shadow group guy, bunch of other folks.

The film is pretty much what you'd suspect it would be. Sort of a more actiony Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy type film.  Good production, well shot and edited, no acting surprises out of anyone. Entertaining and enjoyable, although pretty much what one would expect. Sit back and enjoy.

12 August 2012

Movies: The Flowers of War

The Flowers of War (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1410063/

Fictionalized Historical Drama

Set during the Rape of Nanking in 1937, American mortician John Miller entered the city to bury a recently deceased priest that lies in state a church. Dodging stray gunfire and escaping pursuit by Japanese soldiers he stumbles upon and is able to safely deliver two student girls back to the church. Once there he finds more girls hiding in the church, along with the priest's adopted son George.  John just wants to bury the priest and be on his way, however a stray mortar had already landed on the priest's body and blew it away, so John decides to stay the night and try to head back to the safe area the next day.  A bunch of local prostitutes make their way in to the church grounds to hide from the Japanese soldiers and George hides them in the church's basement. When the Japanese soldiers storm the church John decides to pose as the priest to turn the soldiers away and protect the schoolgirls.

I'm not sure what the "based on true events" announcement at the start of the film entails, if it is just the historical context or if an American mortician did actually pretend to be a priest and step in to save a dozen schoolgirls, or what. Regardless, it is a good story.

Christian Bale plays John Miller, the rest of the cast are Chinese and Japanese folk. Bale and some of the cast speak English, but other conversations are in Chinese or Japanese with subtitles.
This also marks the second film that I know of that involves Christian Bale playing a character in China when the Japanese come ripping through. The first being the very good "Empire of the Sun". If Bale has been in more, I dunno.

A very good film. Plenty of tension and drama. Technical aspects of the film: sets, direction, lighting, costumes, sound, etc. are all excellent as well. Definitely worth watching.

Movies: Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0448694/

Puss in Boots, from the Shrek series of films, is back in his own film. We learn about Puss' origins and adventures before his Shrek days. We find out that Puss and Humpty Dumpty grew up together at an orphanage, that Humpty has obsessed his whole life about obtaining the magic beans that lead to a giant's castle in the clouds and owns a goose that lays golden eggs, and the falling-out then reunion between Puss and Humpty.

So yeah, we're mashing up Puss in Boots with Humpty Dumpty, Jack and the Beanstalk, with a little bit of Jack and Jill. The story is nothing like the original Puss in Boots fairy tale, Humpty is nowhere near his rhyme, Jack and Jill are nothing like you'd imagine from the nursery rhyme, and as for the Jack and the Beanstalk bit? That's actually closer to the mark than the rest, but still a bit distant. But J&tB gets a pass because this occurs after Jack's famous trip to the clouds.

Antonio Banderas once again supplies the voice for Puss. Selma Hayek voices Kitty Softpaws. Zach Gallifanakis (the bearded man-child of the Hangover films) voices Humpty. We also get Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris voicing Jack and Jill.

The voice acting - couldn't ask for better. I was wondering how well Gallifanakis would work in a voice acting role after watching him in his most recent films and his stand-up routines, but my fears were assuaged. Good job by all the cast.
The animation was good too. Dreamworks has come a long way from their early films, they've gotten better with each feature.

Story-wise? It works. That odd mash of stuff works together. It's coherent, entertaining, and surprisingly (and thankfully) doesn't just reuse the Shrek storytelling model with Puss as the focus. They let Puss be his own lead in his own film.

Easily recommended if you like the Shrek films, like good storytelling in animation, have children, etc.

08 August 2012

Movies: Chronicle

Chronicle (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1706593/

Sci-fi Fantasy Thriller Drama

Three high school students develop telekinetic powers after standing too close to a glowing mysterious crystal thingamabob.  The more they play with these powers the stronger they become, pretty much superheroic powers. But with great power comes great mistakes. Yeah you thought I was going to say 'responsibility'. But these are teens. Their brains still haven't developed the ability to process risk vs. reward efficiently* and their extra powers just make 'em a little more extra dangerous. * Now that is brain science - look it up.
One of the kids uses his camcorder to document everything they discover they can do, although some footage is cut in from other sources. We're basically seeing the coherent edited-together story.

Yeah, sure the powers come from some mystery thingamadoober of possible alien origin buried underground, but that don't make it sci-fi. Just clarifying why I crossed out sci-fi up there.

I began watching the film expecting it to be a not-so-good teen film with an obvious and absurd exploration of teens suddenly having super telekinetic powers. Well, it was still sort of teen-angsty, but it was a bit better of a film than I anticipated.  I liked how the three handled their newfound powers in different ways and with different levels of maturity. Now the third kid Steve, well, his character was slightly less developed than the cousin-friends Matt and Richard. He seemed a little less like a third pillar to hang the film on than a supporting prop inserted for a plot point.

Regardless of some of the film's flaws it is an enjoyable watch. And thankfully it isn't any sort of X-Men+Twilight mashup either. Less comic-booky than most new-found-superhero-powers-films.

04 August 2012

Movies: The Hunter

The Hunter (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1703148/


Martin is a mercenary/hunter hired by biotech company Red Leaf to go to Tasmania. The company had been informed of two confirmed sightings of a Tasmanian Tiger in the wild and wants blood and tissue samples.  The Tasmanian Tiger has been considered extinct since the late 1930s, so locating one is significant. Martin poses as an University researcher studying Tasmanian Devils in the area as a cover story, and spends days in the wild trying to locate and track the animal based on last known whereabouts. He experiences friction with the locals who think he's out there to shut down logging in the area. Coincidentally the house that Red Leaf arranges for Martin to stay at is owned and occupied by Lucy Armstrong and her two children. Her husband had disappeared in the wilds about a year and a half before Martin shows up, he too was tracking the possible existing Tiger. In addition to friction with the locals, Red Leaf begins getting impatient with Martin's seeming lack of progress in tracking the Tiger down.

Stars Willem Dafoe as Martin, Sam Neill as local guide Jack Mindy, Frances O'Connor as Lucy Armstrong, the lady of the house he stays at. By now everyone has seen Dafoe and Neill in tons of stuff, Frances O'Connor you might recognize as the Mom in A.I.
A notable supporting cast member is Sullivan Stapleton, if you happen to be a fan of Cinemx's "Strike Back" series, in which he plays Sgt Damien Scott. 
Also notable  was the performance of young Morgana Davies as Lucy's daughter Sass Armsrtong - she did great in her role.

Good things about the film - great location shoots throughout Tasmania, a neat  premise for a film in tracking down an extinct animal, top notch acting. Dafoe has to carry this film without saying much and, of course, delivers as Dafoe so expertly can.
However it was a slowly paced film. It's being advertised as an adventure film sort of sets one up for expecting adventure and thrills but its pace doesn't deliver. There is a couple of thrilly-like moments, but they are few and far between. Like I said - slowly paced film. Enjoyable enough, but leaves one wanting a bit more if you're expecting an adventure drama. Also some of the CG effects are "off" enough to detract from the scene.

If you enjoy well acted films or the cast, by all means watch it. If you want to see some wild Tasmanian flora, terrain, and a couple of cancer-free Tasmanian Devils (while they still exist) you'll get some of all that in this film. Don't watch it expecting a thrilling adventure story, though. It's way more sober in pace and slightly predictable in some story threads.

30 July 2012

Movies: Safe House

Safe House (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1599348/

Action Espionage Thriller

Young Matt Weston is a CIA agent that spent the last 12 months uneventfully managing a "safe house" in South Africa. After rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost turns himself in to the U.S. consulate, Matt finds himself in a position to do more than just answer the phone.  Soon after Frost arrives at the safe house armed gunmen storm the place looking for Frost. Weston escapes with Frost in tow, trying to deliver Frost safely to CIA control.

There's a bit more going on in to spur the story along, but I'll leave those details to the viewers. Those details do provide an engine to drive this story.

Stars Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern, Blade 3, Buried, Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Van Wilder, etc) as Weston. Denzel Washington (all kinds of good stuff) as Frost. Plus Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter's Mad-Eye Moody) and Vera Farmiga (Source Code, Orphan*, etc).

Technically - very good film. Good camera work, good settings, great action and fight sequences, very admirable car chase scene. Acting - out of the park. Reynolds can really deliver a performance when needed and held up well next to Washington. The story - most folks can probably figure out the way things are going to go and who's behind what, but it doesn't detract. We've just seen too many films that work out that way.

A good choice for an action or thriller film mood.


* Note: I haven't reviewed Orphan but I'm going to take a moment to plug it. See the film. It's bonkers.

06 July 2012

Movies: Ghost Rider + sequel

Ghost Rider (2007) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0259324/

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1071875/

Comic adaptation Action

Johnny Blaze sells his soul to the devil and becomes the devil's bounty hunter.  He has a flaming skull - flaming with the fires of hell - and rides a souped-up chopper that leaves a trail of fire behind.
The first film covers Johnny's origin as the Ghost Rider, the Devil sending him to fight the Devil's son to prevent him from establishing Hell on Earth, and how he turned down the chance to give up being the rider and instead made it his life's mission to work against the devil.

The second film the Ghost Rider is trying to save the Devil's son from the Devil. Not the same son as the first film, this is a human-born son that the Devil plans to 'empty out' and occupy. Something about the shells the Devil occupies in our world can't handle the Devil's power, but the human-born son of the Devil can, so the Devil is gonna scoop him out so he live be more powerfully here.

The second film is every bit as good as the first film, if not slightly better.

And by every bit as good as the first film, well, let me say this. I didn't particularly like the first Ghost Rider and I'm not especially jazzed by the sequel.  I did make a point of re-watching the first film before the second, just to be fair, even though I hadn't planned on watching Ghost Rider ever again. Curiosity got the better of me.

Ghost Rider:
Peter Fonda as the Devil - obvious stunt-casting to refer to his Easy Rider role.
Eva Mendes as Johnny Blaze love interest Roxanne. :/ I'll just say her acting was much better in "Training Day" (awesome must-see film)  and I don't remember "We Own the Night" well enough to recall how she was in that.
Sam Elliott as a previous Ghost Rider dude - he's Sam Elliott and does what exactly what Sam Elliott does and is great at doing in films - being grizzled mustachioed Sam Elliott.
Nick Cage as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider. Okay. I suppose. Not any particular reason why he had to do it, but if they wanna pay out that sort of cash, okay.
Special effects were okay. It's an okay comic book adaptation action film, but not especially a must see film.  Worth it once, sortof like watching fireworks.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
The second film is a sequel to the first, in some ways. Except it ignores everything from the first film. The only thing in common with the first film is Nick Cage as Johnny Blaze.  They ignored the "Team Blaze" support folks from the first film, they ignored his love interest. They pretty much ignored the existence of the first film, even his choice to continue to be the Ghost Rider.
The second film does spend a short bit of time to remind folks how Johnny Blaze became the Ghost Rider, which they should, except instead of using clips from the first film and references to the mythology the first film establishes, it made comicbook-like panels for the flashback and redid the whole soul-selling sequence. They even replaced the Devil for the flashback.  Now, I could accept the Devil has taken on a new skin to occupy as he seems to wear them out. Except the flashback uses the new skin for the soul-selling event, and uses the new skin's name (Roarke) instead of the first film's name (Mephistopheles).
Nick Cage's portrayal of Johnny Blaze in this one is way in the 'off his rocker' territory, unlike the first film where he seemed a bit more in control. The Ghost Rider was not especially under Johnny's control in this one either. They sort of try to explain it, I guess. Johnny is all ready to get out from under the Ghost Rider's curse again, like he was during the first film.
Ciaran Hinds as the Devil (Roarke) is perfect. That guy can play anything effectively. There's also a bit of Christopher Lambert in the film.  Sort of an odd mix of well known American actors, lesser-known-to-us foreign actors. Folks seemed to do fine.

The Ghost Rider special effects were a bit better in the second film, I think. Much darker. The camera work was completely different than in the first film. A lot more wide-angle shots, noticeably so. Grittier too. I liked the locations used in this film a lot better - more real, more organic.

Regardless, there's nothing special about either film to warrant the money they spent on some of the bigger name cast members. Lesser-knowns could probably have effectively delivered the same scripts.  I never did read the Ghost Rider comics, so I have no clue if either film's story is anywhere close to how the Ghost Rider comics worked. I'm not especially inclined to care either.

So, if you're in just one of 'those moods' the films might be entertaining enough and all, if you have any sort of passing interest in comic book adaptation films, or seek out Nick Cage films. Nick is still a hit-or-miss actor, he didn't do anything especially great or awful in either of these films. I'm still reminded to question why he bothered making "Drive Angry". I swear that guy's just cashing paychecks. Hey, at least it wasn't the Wicker Man remake again. I'm still fighting off the urge to watch the original and remake of the Wicker Man to compare them. Seeing both of 'em once already was enough.

05 July 2012

Movies: The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0983193/

Animated action adventure

Tintin is an investigative reporter, has a white fox terrier named Snowy, is friends with Thomson and Thompson, police detectives. While the bumbling-ish detectives try to track down a pickpocket, Tintin purchases a model ship. Another man named Sakharine (yes, phonetically the artificial sweetener) wants to buy the ship from Tintin, who refuses to sell it. So of course after Tintin puts it in his apartment, someone breaks in and steals it. And a world-running adventure begins involving ships, airships, desert treks, whatnots.

If you've not watched the animated series or read the comics growing up, as I haven't, you'll be coming in to this film with no cultural frame of reference. However that won't stop one from enjoying the show.

The animation style - a close to realistic 3D thing that's far removed from the original Tintin comics style - was annoying to me at first. It is square in uncanny valley, especially as they take care to put nose hairs in Captain Haddock's nostrils, little short hairs on people's necks, stubbles, etc. But I got over it. Once you can get past and watch it for being a movie the animation really is top-notch. The 'camera direction' made a point of doing things real cameras with real actors couldn't possibly do. Almost like they're showing off. Especially one very long action sequence done in 'one take' that would be impossible with live action. It sort of straddles the suspension of disbelief one grants animation vs. live action, and at times that bugged me, but like I said I got past it.  I'm probably too ingrained in oldschool animation to be quick to feeling comfortable watching some of the newer computer generated styles.

The voice cast did well, they fit their characters instead of insisting, "hey it's ME voicing this part, can't you tell". Especially when you have names like Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg working it, just to name a few.

Aside from my animation style gripes, it really is an enjoyable film, an enjoyable story. Good direction too, you can see an experienced live action director had their hands in directing this film.* It has good action sequences, should go over well with the young'uns. As for how real Tintin fans receive the film? I have no idea. But I liked it.  Good film.

* After I wrote that sentence I took a look and saw that Steven Spielberg himself directed the film. I dunno how I missed that in the credits, I figured he just produced or something. I also see that the writing credits go to Steven Moffat (of Doctor Who and Sherlock fame) and Edgar Wright (of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs the World and other stuff fame). So yeah - some very talented folks behind this animated film, and it shows.
The John Williams score was, well, exactly like one would expect for an animated adventure film. But that's the thing, it didn't sound like John Williams, it sounded like every animated adventure film. Sort of on the fence on whether that's a brilliant thing on his part or not.

25 June 2012

TV Series: The Great Escape

The Great Escape on TNT http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1942995/

TV series

TNT brings us a new reality series from the folks that brought us "The Amazing Race" called "The Great Escape".
In a nutshell, three two-person teams compete to complete multiple tasks and avoid guards to "escape" their location. First team to complete all tasks and escape wins $100,000.

The first episode was escape from Alcatraz.  The next one is escape from USS Hornet.

Here's the thing. They advertised it as "from the producers of The Amazing Race". And the show is basically just like the final episode of an Amazing Race season, without the travel. Someone wins, they get money. Other teams don't. We see the teams try at the tasks, hear them complain about their teammates and the other teams, have the post-completion interviews (basically the "yay we won" speech and the "sucks that we lost" speeches).

Thing is, there is nothing about this series that makes it exciting, nothing that makes me want to watch the show. With Amazing Race the viewers get weeks to watch a bunch of teams compete. Viewers become emotionally invested, they develop a  a sense of which teams they like and which teams they hate, they cheer when teams they like succeed and gripe when disliked teams keep winning out. With "The Great Escape" the teams show up, compete and are done all within one episode. There is no time to develop favorites to root for. They're just as much strangers to the viewer at the end of the hour as they were at the start.

There's no chance to develop any emotional investment in the outcome of the show, and because of that I find this show completely boring. So, sorry TNT, nice try.


The show isn't much different in spirit than ABC's "Take the Money & Run". Same problem with that show as this one, in a one hour format there is no time to develop any reason to root for the participants. Although "Take the Money & Run" actually was a neater concept for a show, IMO, I still found it to be as boring.


The only reason I even bothered writing up this show is because it was so spectacularly disappointing.

17 June 2012

Movies: The Hangover Part II

The Hangover Part II (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1411697/


The groom-to-be, two of his friends and the bride's brother all pile into a car and head to Vegas go to the beach and drink one beer for the bachelor party. They get a suite at the hotel, have a toast on the roof to commemorate the evening, then they wake up in the hotel room the next morning after an apparent wild night, which leads to a weekend they'll never forget.

Yeah - I copied that straight out of my "The Hangover vs. Bachelor Party Vegas"review and edited it just a tiny bit. Because that's all they did with this film - took the script from The Hangover, used global replace to change "Vegas" to "Bangkok", changed "baby" to "monkey", changed "car trunk" to "ice machine" and altered a couple other minor details, slapped on "Part II" to the title and Viola! Brand spanking new moneymaker trading off it's predecessor's name.

That said, I still laughed at some scenes. I knew what I was in for. I had no expectations for the film to be anything more than just like "The Hangover". I saw it. I laughed. I deleted it from my DVR.

PS Mike Tyson can't sing worth a crap. We know. But did they have to ruin that song with him? Really?

16 June 2012

Movies: In My Sleep

In My Sleep (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0326965/

Mystery Thriller

Marcus has had parasomnia his whole life, which is a fancy way of saying he's a sleepwalker. You know, stuff like he awakens naked in a cemetery, awakens post-coital with his best friend's wife, awakens covered in blood next to a bloody knife. The usual sleepwalking stuff people do.
Actually those incidents were quite terrifying for him. So he does the logical thing and begins attending sex-addicts anonymous meetings and asks his upstairs neighbor Becky to handcuff him to the bed at night.

Stars Philip Winchester as Marcus, Lacey Chabert as Becky, and quite a few other folks I don't really recognize. Chabert I recognize as being cast member Claudia of Party of Five - a show I never watched but am aware exists. And Winchester I recognize from "Camelot" and "Strike Back". And although I've not reviewed "Strike Back" I would recommend it as an entertaining enough action series involving super secret spy strike force mayhem guns explosions fighting. It's a series on Cinemax, so you know it also has lotsa butts and boobies.

Back to "In My Sleep". This is one of those films that's a production quality step above B-movie fare yet doesn't have the star power box office crushing might of A-list films. The cast did okay, the script wasn't groundbreaking, the music is a bit grand and intrusive, production and locations are effective. Which is fine. It is an entertaining enough film, throws enough misdirections your way to keep you guessing. 

Not a bad choice for something to watch when in the mood for a relaxing and non-taxing mystery thriller.

14 June 2012

Movies: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1268799/


Stoner comedy sequel to "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" and "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay".
It doesn't make much sense to watch "Christmas" if you haven't yet watched "White Castle" and "Guantanamo". I suppose you could, but what's the point?

Nutshell: This film takes place a couple few years after "Guantanamo". Harold and Kumar have gone their separate ways and haven't talked in years. A package addressed to Harold is delivered to Kumar's apartment, so Kumar has a friend drive him over to deliver it to Harold's house.
Then we're left with what seems to be a mash-up of a Harold & Kumar style film with a Christmas hijinks/caper-style film, that is, Harold and Kumar mashed up with "Jingle All the Way".  Yes, a film that rips itself off while borrowing heavily from other similar Christmas-themed farces.

Again, if you've not ever watched a Harold and Kumar film you probably won't exactly understand what that means. The thing about the H&K films - you'll either hate them or like them. In ways they are bad films, but done in a terrific fashion. Even this film is a bad film done in a brilliant way, one that captures the gooey heart at the center of all the H&K films and still grosses us out and still goes for drug use and lowbrow humor.  Although it does seem this film hits the lowbrow bits even less than its predecessors. This film more hit certain notes just to make a point of making a callback to events in the previous films as opposed to relying on them to make the film. They almost seemed out of place more than anything. I know why they put them in there, but they really weren't necessary, but they were just to emphasize what makes a H&K film an H&K film.
Plus this was a 3D film, which they made a point of abusing the 3D process every chance they got. Another example of making a bad film in a brilliant way.

So yes, if you've enjoyed the previous films you'll probably not have any trouble with this one either. I liked it, a worthy successor to the franchise.

Highlight: Neil Patrick Harris returns! You thought he was dead after being shotgunned in the back by the madame at the whorehouse in "Guantanamo"? If you watched "Guantanamo" past the credits you'd know NPH got up off the ground and walked away.
Bonus: In this film NPH's fiancee David Burtka shows up playing David Burtka, just as NPH is playing NPH. NPH basically states his "coming out as gay" is all a ruse to nail more chicks, keeping one foot in "Harold and Kumar" NPH and the other in actual events in NPH's life. Burtka is basically playing the part of fiancee and NPH treats him like hired crap. Nice touch.

Additionally: There was another couple nods to what's been going on in Harold and Kumar's real lives. I mean, the actors behind Harold and Kumar.  There was a reference to John Cho (Harold) playing Sulu in the "Star Trek" reboot, and there was a reference to Kal Penn (Kumar) taking a bit of time off of acting to work in the White House Office of Public Engagement as an Associate Director.

12 June 2012

Movies: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1318514/

Action Sci-Fi

Dr Will Rodman is working on a cure for Alzheimer's and testing it on chimpanzees. After a seemingly disastrous failure the program is shut down and all the chimps are destroyed. Except one, one they didn't know existed, a recent newborn of one of the test subjects. Dr Rodman smuggles the infant and ends up raising it himself. As the chimp grows it becomes apparent that the testing on the mother has passed to the child and is succeeding beyond Dr Rodman's expectations.
And, as it is titled "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" you probably can guess where this goes if you know anything about the Planet of the Apes series of films.

I was wary about watching this film,  especially after Tim Burton's 2001 film "Planet of the Apes". Just mentioning that film irritates me. The makeup effects, the acting, most of the sets, all superb. The script and dialog and events and rewrites that differ from both the book and the 1968 film were so disappointing that I almost completely lost faith in Tim Burton's ability to make films. Then TB released "Big Fish" and it almost made up for PotA. Almost. But I'm getting way off topic here, I didn't come here to gripe about the PotA remake or Tim Burton. I only mention it because it made me really hesitant about watching this film.

The "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is probably most like 1972's "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" in that it covers that moment when the apes get smart enough and band together enough to begin building their planet of the apes. However how this comes about is completely different between the two films. There really is no comparison between the two.

Anyone who has watched the original Planet of the Apes film series will probably catch some of the references this film makes back to them. As familiar as I am with the original series of films I didn't catch all the references. I caught the most obvious ones, but the more subtle ones escaped my attention.

I have to admit I did enjoy this film. I enjoyed the reworked story, I thought they did a great job  putting everything together. CG rendered characters still aren't always completely natural looking, but they are good enough. WETA does a great job, just as they did in Lord of the Rings and King Kong (and other films).

If you're a fan of the original films from the 60s and 70s you don't have to avoid watching this film. It is different enough to stand on its own. Sure it rewrites the origin of the apes taking over the planet, but overall it is a much better film and plot than "Conquest's".  And it eliminates the paradox introduced by "Escape from the Planet of the Apes" as continued in "Conquest".

Chances are if  more "Planet of the Apes" films revisit the series I won't be near as wary about watching them. Heck if the same team re-remade "Planet of the Apes" I would probably give it a watching.  And, if you were paying attention to news reports taking place in the background, there very well could be a sequel in the works that just might end up being an analogue of "Planet of the Apes".

Yes, Roddy McDowall is missed, he always will be when it comes to Planet of the Apes films.

Ah, young Tom Felton. We get it. You were a great and very hate-able Draco Malfoy. This role didn't help distance you from that image. Hopefully your future roles distance you from that box.

Yes, some script and plot issues did not escape my attention. Things like how the heck did the lab not know one of their test subject chimps was pregnant. Even if she was pregnant before being captured and sent to the lab - she carried the thing to full term and delivered the baby under the shelf. I mean, come on. Seriously? There's others, but that's the biggest thing the whole film hinges on.