‘Apes’ prequel proves itself an action-packed thriller

August 5th, 2011
Caesar from "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Caesar, a super smart chimpanzee, contemplates stealing a deadly virus in the science-fiction prequel “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a thoughtful, action-packed science fiction thriller, works best if you think of it as a prequel to Charlton Heston’s original 1968 “Planet of the Apes,” and not Tim Burton’s disappointing 2001 remake with Mark Wahlberg.

“Rise” not only fits in nicely with the mythology generated by the original series of five “Apes” movies, it does exactly what smart science-fiction features do: reminds us that it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, and that there can be major repercussions for scientific hubris.

Like wiping out humanity.

“Rise” also represents a major leap for the art and craft of performance-capture technology by WETA, the New Zealand company that has amazed us with its character work on James Cameron’s “Avatar” and Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Still, performance capture has a way to go. Despite the high quality of the performance-capture animation in several close-ups, many other computer-generated primates have the same problem as the kids from “The Polar Express” — there’s something a little unsettling and creepy about them.

“Rise” gives a virtual starring role to Andy Serkis, who lept to international stardom by portraying the mysterious Gollum in Jackson’s trilogy.

Here, Serkis portrays Caesar, the chimpanzee that develops super intelligence after being exposed to an engineered virus that scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) hopes will become the cure to Alzheimer’s disease. (Read more…)

Crassness trumps cleverness in ‘Change-Up’

August 5th, 2011
Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman in "The Change-Up" Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), foreground, and his best friend Dave (Jason Bateman) get their wishes to have each other’s lives in the comedy “The Change-Up.”

“The Change-Up” wastes no time in establishing just how low it will go to make us laugh.

Or wish we hadn’t just purchased that candy bar.

In the middle of the night, a sleepy Dave (Jason Bateman) changes the diaper on one of his twin babies when a projectile bowel movement hits him square in the face.

Twice.

It’s a shame that “The Change-Up” has so little respect for audiences and its own story that it traffics in hit-and-miss comic vulgarity, then tries to redeem itself with sentimental scenes so forced they make our ears bleed.

“The Change-Up’ could have been so much more than director David “Wedding Crashers” Dobkin thinks it is.

Dave and Mitch (erstwhile Green Lantern, Ryan Reynolds) have been best friends since third grade. (Dave apparently forgets this and has to be reminded.)

Dope-smoking single wild man Mitch envies boring Dave’s nailed-down world as a father, husband and big-shot attorney at a large law firm. Dave envies Mitch’s freedom and never-ending supply of sexual partners.

One night while plastered, the two relieve themselves in a public wading pool lorded over by a mysterious, frowning statue. (Read more…)

Miscast star mars fun, effects-laden ‘Cowboys & Aliens’

July 28th, 2011
Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig in "Cowboys & Aliens" Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), left, and Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) take on some critters from outer space in the genre-busting action film “Cowboys & Aliens.”

The joys to be appreciated in Jon Favreau’s genre-smashing action film “Cowboys & Aliens” are numerous:

Harrison Ford’s hilariously surly cattle baron.

Daniel Craig’s stoically Eastwoodesque outlaw.

Vintage 1950s flying saucer invasion paranoia.

Top-notch special effects with excellent, eardrum-puncturing sound.

A restrained sense of humor.

But … Olivia Wilde’s miscast, misguided Wild West woman resembling a Mabelline model who packs a six gun strapped around a tight and shimmering pearl-colored outfit?

She looks out of place, talks out of place and acts out of place. The screenplay poses a reason why she seems so different, but the rules against spoilers prohibit me from saying anything further.

I can tell you that there comes a scene where Wilde’s character, Ella Swenson, takes “Cowboys & Aliens” out of spoof mode and drags it into sheer, off-the-charts dumbness, a scene that triggers the movie’s quick erosion from a fascinating mystery into a noisy, bloated, special effects and cliché extravaganza. (Read more…)

‘Crazy, Stupid, Love.’ a wise, funny rom-com

July 28th, 2011
Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell in "Crazy, Stupid, Love." Lady-killer Jacob (Ryan Gosling), left, gives dating advice to a nerdy separated family man (Steve Carell) in the smart and funny comedy “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”

“Crazy, Stupid, Love.” believes in the miraculous power of romance to transform schlubs into studs and reduce cocky Lotharios to puppies.

Yet, it also understands how this unpredictable force can wipe out reason and turn ordinary, sane people into blithering basketcases operating on embarrassing impulses and obsessive whims.

“Crazy, Stupid, Love.” constantly surprises us. Then it surprises us more.

It loves all of its flawed and flailing characters with equal abandon and celebrates the ability of love — we’re talking true love, mind you — to triumph over thoughtless and hurtful actions.

This is a very smart, fresh, funny and endearing comedy that tells us love means you always have to say you’re sorry, because forgiveness is a useful weapon in the fight for personal happiness.

Cal (“The Office” refugee Steve Carell) thinks he’s been happily married to his junior high crush Emily (Julianne Moore) for more than two decades when she blurts out “I want a divorce!”

Now in a single apartment existence, Cal tries the bar scene, but his Velcro-closure wallet, bad haircut and dingy New Balance Model 407 runners (the 700 and 800 series are far superior) prove to be instant chick repellents.

A lady-killer bar denizen named Jacob (Ryan Gosling) watches Cal drink his berry-flavored vodka from a straw and loudly lament how his wife has been seduced by her office mate, David. (Read more…)

‘Pooh’ still a honey of a tale

July 21st, 2011
Characters from "Winnie the Pooh" Kanga, Roo, Owl, Tigger, Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore and Rabbit must depend on Piglet to rescue them.

Walt Disney didn’t mess it up!

No computer-animated Piglet. No 3-D Hundred Acre Wood. No rap songs for Christopher Robin to sing.

A.A. Milne’s beloved literary creation Winnie the Pooh returns to the silver screen as a 2-D, water-color-inspired animated comedy with new songs sung by a zesty Zooey Deschanel and a splendiferous voice cast that pays homage to the performers who brought the same characters to life a generation ago.

As the lovable Pooh, Jim Cummings, as he has in earlier projects, suggests the raspy delivery of the great Sterling Holloway from Disney’s 1977 feature “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.”

Bucky Luckey voices Eeyore the donkey with the same deep, downer resonance that Ralph Wright brought to the character 34 years ago.

Pooh and Eeyore join other denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood — Piglet, Owl, Kanga, Roo and Rabbit — in a whimsical, vignette-based plot distilled from three Milne stories. (Read more…)

Harry embraces his destiny in stirring final chapter

July 21st, 2011
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2" Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), right, leads his pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) through a perilous battleground during “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2.”

And so it ends.

The film series that began through a child’s innocent and optimistic eyes now concludes through a tested man’s view of a sad and battered world rife with death, destruction and the high cost a young wizard must pay to do the right things.

David Yates’ “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” proves a worthy and fitting final chapter for the eight-film series that has stretched across a decade. “Part 2” sends Harry off in grand fashion with a satisfying blend of character and action guaranteed to bombard our senses and touch our hearts before sending us into the real world with quiet hope for a waiting future.

The good news is that “Part 2” moves like a Michael Bay action film compared to the narrative malaise and studied, icy landscape montages in “Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” which covered the first half of J.K. Rowling’s novel.

Nonetheless, you can feel the “Part 2” filmmakers (particularly Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves) prodding the story along at a brisk clip, struggling to keep as much of the book’s dense details intact without sacrificing the movie’s momentum. They succeed most of the time. (Read more…)

Boring cast further sickens ‘Phase 7’ horror film

July 21st, 2011
Image for "Phase 7" “Phase 7” director Nicolas Goldbart strives for a mixture of suspense, thrills and dark comic relief, but he fails to muster sufficient levels of any of them.

Maybe I’m becoming disenchanted with hackneyed horror films where frightened people hole up in an isolated high rise building to avoid catching a virus.

How many clones of “Mulberry Street,” “Quarantine” and “[Rec]” can a person take?

The newest virus horror tale is a Spanish language production titled “Phase 7.”

It takes place in Buenos Aires, a city apparently populated only by two types of people: boring and psychotic.

The boring ones are a young man named Coco (Daniel Hendler) and his pregnant wife Pipi (Jazmin Stuart), who’ve just moved into the building when ominous news reports about a virus start coming in.

Soon, the health authorities seal up the building where the couple resides, along with a few other inhabitants, among them a wacko survivalist named Horacio (Yayo Guridi), a shotgun-wielding nutcase named Zanutto (Frederico Luppi) and some assorted nefarious types that you might accurately assume will be dispatched early in the story. (Read more…)

Comically abused workers plot against ‘Horrible Bosses’

July 8th, 2011
Charlie Day and Jennifer Aniston in "Horrible Bosses" Dental assistant Dale (Charlie Day) can’t stand sexual harassment from his nymphomaniac boss (Jennifer Aniston) in the comedy “Horrible Bosses.”

This is the chortle-inducing comedy that “The Hangover Part 2” should have been: a wild, unpredictable romp riddled with sex, violence, vulgarity and characters too intelligence-inhibited to do much beyond hanging on for their diminished lives as the icky stuff hits the fan.

Seth Gordon’s succinctly titled “Horrible Bosses” offers an inebriated story that winds all over the narrative road, bumping into mistaken identities, peanut allergies, sexual indiscretions and quasi-dark jokes that, frankly, don’t go far enough to milk the insane and ridiculous premise for all it’s worth.

Yet, “Horrible Bosses” has high points of hilarity provided by its trio of well-wrought office villains and the charismatic snap between its three principal protagonists, none of whom will ever win points for good judgment.

Reasonable, subservient company man Nick (Jason Bateman) can’t believe that his insensitive boss (Kevin Spacey on acerbic overdrive) would dangle an office promotion in front of him for months, then take the job (and extra pay) for himself. (Read more…)

Predictable ‘Zookeeper’ embraces absurd premise

July 8th, 2011
Kevin James in "Zookeeper" In the romantic comedy “Zookeeper,” a kindly zookeeper (Kevin James) gets dating advice from a gorilla, plus other animals under his care.

Frank Coraci’s comedy “Zookeeper” contains more clichés than animals.

Neither grouping is particularly wild.

Nonetheless, “Zookeeper” embraces the absurdity of its crazy premise and isn’t afraid to venture into abject stupidity when the script calls for it.

It’s hard to believe how far computerized talking animal movies have fallen since the classic “Babe” hit the silver screen.

Then, a cute talking piggy tried to find his life’s purpose and a little self-actualization along the way.

In “Zookeeper,” talking animals exist merely to bicker with each other while ladling out romantic advice to the responsible zookeeper who protects them and takes care of them.

He’s Griffin Keyes, played by Kevin James as if mall cop Paul Blart suddenly decided to become Dr. Doolittle.

At the start of “Zookeeper,” Griffin proposes to his very blonde and vacuous girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), who flatly turns him down because he’s a mere zookeeper, and she really thought he’d be doing something important with his life by now. (Read more…)

‘Monte Carlo’ packs mixed moral message

July 3rd, 2011
Katie Cassidy, Leighton Meester and Selena Gomez in "Monte Carlo" Emma (Katie Cassidy), left, Meg (Leighton Meester) and Grace (Selena Gomez) get involved in a case of mistaken identity in the comic romance “Monte Carlo.”

Of all the filmmakers who worked on “Monte Carlo,” only composer Michael Giacchino actually gets what the movie should be: a crazy Blake Edwards farce where nutty things happen (like lightning striking a character or two) and all the cast members are in on the joke.

That’s why the best part of Thomas Bezucha’s wilted romance is Giacchino’s music — a bouncy, brassy, ebullient score that would feel right at home in any of Edwards’ wacky “Pink Panther” movies from the 1960s and 1970s.

By turning “Monte Carlo” into a broad farce, Bezucha could sidestep the moral dilemmas his movie and characters try to ignore — hey, aren’t the three female leads lying, cheating and stealing for their own benefit? — and pump up the film’s woefully deficient humor quotient.

The story — entirely revealed in TV commercials and theatrical trailers — involves three young Texas women who go to France, where one of them gets mistaken for a rich and snooty, look-alike heiress.

Graduating senior Grace (Selena Gomez) has been saving money for years for the trip. Her considerably older best friend Emma (Katie Cassidy) plans to go with her, despite that her longtime boyfriend Owen (Corey Monteith) wants her to stay home.

At the last moment, Grace’s dad (Brett Cullen) insists that Grace’s nasty, pessimistic stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester) go with them. (Read more…)