Planet of the Apes REVIEW
Director – Franklin J. Schaffner
Cast – Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, Linda Harrison, James Daly, Robert Gunner, Jeff Burton
– followed by Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes is based on a book by Pierre Boulle, who is also famous for writing The Bridge Over the River Kwai. It is about an astronaut in the future who crash-lands with two comrades on a planet where apes are the dominant species. Here, humans are stunted and stupid, and can easily be hunted by the apes.
Charlton Heston as Taylor (the lead role) is quite cocky, even arrogant as the movie opens. His companions, Landon and Dodge, are more reserved. I would have liked to see a bit more of them in the movie, but we see enough of them that when certain developments occur we feel the necessary impact.
Taylor’s character arc through the movie really propels it along marvelously. When he is captured by Apes he is really defeated, but when he realizes a couple of Apes do not “tow the party line” (that humans are inferior and are to be treated as such), he grasps onto this straw and attempts to convince an Ape court that he is from a distant solar system, and that he is intelligent. This is not easy, especially as his throat is damaged when he is captured, and he can not talk.
Conflict then comes from the Apes High Court, who hold a kangaroo court to condemn both Taylor as inferior and the friendly apes as heretics. Taylor eventually breaks out of prison and tries to journey to the Forbidden Zone, where he believes there is a secret which the Apes superiors are trying to hide. This leads to a climactic confrontation and battle of wills at an archaeological dig, where there is possible evidence of humans having lived on this planet about 2,000 years before. After escaping the Apes, Taylor and Nova, a human he has befriended/fallen in love with, ride away from the area, expecting to find a lush jungle on the other side of the Forbidden Zone. Instead, what he finds shows the whole movie in a different light. I won’t reveal the ending here, just in case anyone reading this doesn’t know it, but let me say it does indeed come as a brutal sucker punch, but in a good way.
This movie is an allegory for two things in general. The main attack of this movie is focused against man’s treatment of his world and other species on it. Man doesn’t want to be treated as animals, yet we treat other species in an inexcusable manner. The apes are shown doing this, and it is obvious what we are being told. Some of the language used by the Ape court (talk of heresy, etc) is deliberately that of religion, but the other point of contention which this movie has is not with religion but with closed-minded thinking in general. The Ape court is reasoned with by Taylor, and yet they refuse to listen to what is brutally obvious. It is said that the screenwriters added this bit as a reference to the McCarthy Hearings of the 1950’s. If that is the case, that would certainly be a good example of the film’s message.
An important thing to note is that despite the movie’s philosophical bend, Planet of the Apesis a fast-moving adventure story at heart. Its subtle and yet well stated way of dealing with fairly serious issues is icing on the cake, not the cake itself.
Planet of the Apes is a great science fiction in the classic mold. The story has real resonance, and it is shot beautifully. Granted, some of the indoors sets look a little like the sets from the 60’s Star Trek show, flimsy and painted, but the outdoor scenes are wonderful, and all things considered this is a great example of this particular era in movie making. With a good message, special effects that (while not quite holding up today) were great for their time, and a strong story and characters, this is a movie that really should be seen.
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Director – Christopher Nolan
Cast – Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine, Dileep Rao, Pete Postelthwaite, Lukas Haas
Inception, Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to his mega-successful The Dark Knight is a large and convoluted film, stuffed full of plot twists, flashbacks, and back peddling. It’s ideas are refreshingly original, and the usual Nolan trademarks are trotted forward. Many have hailed it as a masterpiece, but I have to say that I think it is overrated. It is a good film certainly, but there is always danger in giving in to hype. To do so works the film up in the prospective viewers mind, inevitably leading to a feeling of being let down.
Inception tells the story of Cobb, who deals with stealing ideas and knowledge from people’s minds. However he is hired to implant an idea in the mind of a young CEO, played by Cillian Murphy. This process is called inception, and is very hard to do, and is largely theoretical. Cobb and a few of his nefarious friends attempt to do this, fighting shaky dream structure and hostile “subconscious security.”
The movie is too tangled for its own good, but many of the ideas that we are presented with are very cool. There is the concept of setting up dreams within dreams within dreams, time going slower in each level, the whole idea of setting someone up to think they thought of an idea themselves through dreams… these were all wonderful to watch unfold. It did, however, take a while to get to the unfolding, I must say. The first roughly 45 minutes of the film were very disjointed. This resolved itself by the end of the first act, but then towards the climax of the movie, set within one of the myriad dream worlds being traversed by Leo and Co., it started to get tangled again.
As for the infamous final shot… Well, let me just say we are presented with two possibilities. The camera cuts to black before either happens, and we are left to guess which option occurs. We are given a hint as to what might have happened, but nothing definitive is shown. If one thing happened (what was hinted at) then the movie ended wonderfully, perfectly complementing the optimistic ending. However, if the second thing happened… well it changed the entire movie, or at least the last half, and will require several trips online hunting through forums to understand what it could mean. This is extremely frustrating, and could easily have been solved if Nolan had shown what would happen. The way he did it was lazy, cheap, and felt thrown in as a possible final twist.
The action is (with the exception of a couple of astounding sequences) fairly average. Nolan has never had a flair for action, and what we get here is decent, but nothing more. When we go to a Nolan movie, we go for the new ideas, the twists on genres long considered stagnant, the fresh thoughts. We don’t get enough of that here, and what it is replaced with is really vague exposition and complexity disguised as sophistication.
A quick word on the casting, which is excellent. Leonardo DiCaprio is perhaps getting a bit typecast as an anguished career man, but he does well. Joseph Gordon-Levitt more than holds his own against Leo, and Marion Cotillard does what she can with an underwritten part. The standout for me though was Tom Hardy as a loose, smart, and sarcastic man who doesn’t get along with Gordon-Levitt. His humor was dry and funny, and he is convincing as a gun-toting action hero. I found the roles underwritten in general, but the actors are of such good quality that they carry it along.
Inception‘s unique vision and intriguing premise is threatened by its over-complicated plotting and overdone emotionality. However the acting is good and the material is compelling. It certainly is not a masterpiece, but it is a pretty solid movie. Nolan’s best movie remains The Prestige, but this will do for Nolan fans, and even to the general public, as long as they’re willing to have to think about it a bit.
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The Incredible Hulk REVIEW
Director – Louis Leterier
Cast – Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson
The Incredible Hulk, directed by French action director Louis Leterrier, continues the slew of superhero movies we’ve been getting recently. It is set in the same Marvel Universe as Iron Man, and the upcoming movies The Avengers, Thor, and Captain America, but we do not know that until the end. This is not a sequel to Ang Lee’s 2003 movie Hulk, but is a reboot of the series.
Edward Norton takes the role of Bruce Banner, a scientist who accidentally exposes himself to massive amounts of radiation while undergoing an experiment. Unable to control the beast that he can periodically become when angry as a result of the accident, he flees the country. The father of his fiance, General Ross (played admirably by William Hurt) chases him, wishing to find a way to make a weapon out of the Hulk.
Edward Norton is effective as always, but I have never been as huge a fan of Norton as others seem to be. William Hurt is excellent as the General hunting Banner down, but the true standout in the movie is Tim Roth as Blonsky, a soldier working under the General. He eventually injects himself with a serum, attempting to recreate the effects of the Hulk, and he becomes a beast known as the Abomination. Roth retains his British accent for the role, and is natural, menacing, and entirely believable.
The movie itself is gritty and tough. The new Hulk is a darker shade of green, and a little oily looking. (This may be a reflection on the slightly “off” CGI used with the Hulk though.) The movie in general seems to have been tinted slightly green, as a recognition of its main character, and that look works very well.
The Incredible Hulk really tries to get to the heart of its main character, to display some feeling and create empathy. It tries but ultimately fails to do this, or at least in as lofty a manner as it wants to, mainly because it sticks to the tried and true formula of this type of movie. There is not much here that we could not have guessed beforehand that we would see. Banner doesn’t like being this uncontrollable, check. His girlfriend has moved on and he doesn’t like it, check. He forces himself to fight the Abomination at the end, check. I sometimes think that when you can’t get the level of emotional intensity needed by focusing on the characters (Fantastic 4 is a perfect example), you shouldn’t try. Directors should remember that these characters already come with a certain level of emotional investment, and shouldn’t push for too much of it in their films if it doesn’t come naturally.
The action in the film is good however, it is quick, clean, and often brutal. Once or twice it may get a bit fanciful, mainly after Blonsky gets a low dose of “super soldier” serum (or something). I think the main problem with the movie is that whenever there is not an action scene the dialogue often feels draggy, unfocused, and repetitive. I don’t want to speak of what I do not know, but after hearing of Norton’s constant script meddling I can’t help but wonder if this comes from him? Maybe?
The Incredible Hulk is strong when it comes to action, but the whole thing comes off as tired, mainly due to its meandering non-action scenes. A little less of the repetition and less cliché would have produced a lean, mean little movie. This one is fat and mean, and could have done with some trimming. However the effective action and the superhero universe references let me recommend this, but mainly to superhero fans. And hey, it’s better than Ang Lee’s Hulk.
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Despicable Me REVIEW
Director – Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin
Cast – Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Will Arnett, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, Julie Andrews, Danny MacBride
Despicable Me features the voice talents of Steve Carell as comic super-villain Gru who, after adopting three children so he can use them against an enemy, finds himself falling for the children’s charms and innocence. His heart starts small, but grows three sizes, to paraphrase Dr. Seuss.
The comparison to the Grinch is apt, as this character borrows heavily from him. The movie itself borrows from many movies, and its plot, that of a group of kids changing an old grump’s heart, is certainly not new. While it is certainly new to tell the story with a super-villain locking horns with a new up and coming super-villain (at least until Megamind comes out), this movie definitely does follow a tried and true path. As Frost said, it is certainly nice to go the route less travelled by once in a while, but it also doesn’t hurt to tread down memory lane once in a while.
While the movie may arguably lack huge amounts of originality, it more than makes up for it with its sly sense of (sometimes dark) humour and its swift energy. The manic (and over advertised) little yellow “minions” of Gru’s are the stuff kids movies are made for. They are stupid, adorable, and can be blown up and damaged with no real ill effects. Perfect cannon fodder for the young ‘uns.
This is without a doubt a kids movie, about kids and for kids. This is not to say that adults can not enjoy it as well, but it does lack the all round appeal of a Pixar film for example. The world is self-contained, which I like, meaning it does not rely on in-jokes and parody as much as the Shrek films.
Despicable Me, as I said, borrows heavily from the tried and true formulas we know, and that does stop it from reaching its full potential. It does veer from the truly sappy though, for the most part we really belive in and cheer for Gru’s gradual love for his “children”. It is quite touching, evem cute, and enjoyable to watch. I hear news of a sequel, and while the sequel trend is something I am not a huge fan of, I wouldn’t mind revisiting this pleasant little world. I think Gru will gradually become a favorite character of children. Expect a whole bunch of Halloween costumes based on him. And why not? It is a testament to Carell’s voice talents (and good writing) that such a villainous (granted, comically so) villain could be so endearing. At the end we want to do nothing more than pat him on the back and say “You’re not despicable, Gru.” Not at all. Not at all.
Despicable Me is quick, funny, and even genuinely touching at times. Steve Carell puts in a great performance, and the rest of the cast backs him up solidly. The animation is vivid and captivating, and the only thing stopping this from becoming a classic is the slightly “been-there-done-that” feel to it all. However what it does it does well, and is a remarkably solid children’s film. Very much recommended.
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Twilight: Eclipse REVIEW
Director – David Slade
Cast – Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jackson Rathbone, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli
– follows Twilight: New Moon
The Twilight franchise has of course inundated our culture in a way not seen since the Harry Potter series. Team Jacob or Team Edward have become catchphrases, signifying which of the two male leads you think the lead female, Bella, should end up with. Now I have never seen the first two movies, nor have I read the books, so this review is from a Twilight outsider. Now, to get right to it.
The first two “acts” of the movie are slow and a bit unfocused. Each and every scene and line is treated as if it is the most important part of the movie. Vampires stoicly recite, and werewolves passionately overact, with poor old Bella in between them. Bella is played by Kristen Stewart, who does her best with the material (and even elevates it considerably), but she can not in the end save it from its navel gazing. Robert Pattinson as Edward the vampire reminds me somewhat of Orlando Bloom as Legolas in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Both have matinee great looks, both are very wooden actors, but both of them are still oddly suited to their characters.
Director David Slade (previous credits including 30 Days of Night) does deliver in the final act however. There are even a couple quite good scenes. One has Edward and Jacob trying to talk over their differences (and similarities), and is edited, acted, and even written well. The battle at the end is good as well, and the concluding scene is touching and not without a quiet sense of humour. The CGI is adequate, but not astounding.
All this is good but Eclipse can’t really get over its opening acts. If they had been written or performed at different levels (so to speak) it may have gotten by. Instead we are given the same emotional pitch all throughout. The actors (with the exception of Kristen Stewart) don’t seem to know how to read beneath their lines. They instead read each line straight, right off of the page. Subtext be darned.
Twilight: Eclipse has a decent lead in Stewart, but she fights an uphill battle with the rest of the cast, who deliver their lines dryly or with over the top sincerity. The tone is too constant, but the third act of the movie does start to deliver some decent material (at least decent compared to the first two acts). I was wavering between a 2.5 and a 3 out of 5 rating, but in the end went with the lower score, mainly because of the unfocused and fairly dull first two-thirds. I think Twilight fans (who have more invested in the characters) will get a bit more out of it than I did.
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The Last Airbender REVIEW
Director – M. Night Shyamalan
Cast – Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Cliff Curtis, Seychelle Gabriel
Shyamalan has professed to be a fan of the series. Frankly, I can’t see how anyone with even a passing interest in any TV show could create a movie which treats its material in such a dull and lifeless manner. The dialogue is awfully wooden, painfully expositional, and repetitive. The actors do the best they can, but I don’t think Laurence Olivier himself could have spiced this up or made it feel natural. Even the music, composed by James Newton Howard, is derivative and lifeless.
Despite what others say, I think the CGI was well implemented here. It was not extraordinary, but it blended well with the natural environment. The ships of the villains, the Fire Nation, were gorgeous to look at. I found myself waiting for their next appearance, hoping for one of those spinning shots, as done from a helicopter.
That, of course, is a sign that the movie is incredibly dull. The ironic thing is that the potentially most interesting parts were skipped over, replaced with dull narration. If I had to hear one more example of “…and they became great friends.” or “He then trained in the art of blablabla, becoming well versed…” I was going to leave the theatre.
The actors, though doing their best, are generally miscast, and not because of their ethnicities. Cliff Curtis, who is rapidly becoming the go-to guy for random ethnic parts, is dull as the head honcho of the Fire Nation, and Noah Ringer comes across as a chubby, whiny little brat rather than the supposed saviour of the world. The only actor I can say I enjoyed was Aasif Mandvi. He appears regularly on The Daily Show, and is mainly known as a comedian. Here he plays a general of the evil Fire Nation, and we get from him the sense of a more rounded character. Everyone else seems relegated to “Glowering Villain”, “Youthful Hero” or “Conflicted Bad Guy”. With a few more natural and rounded performances such as his we might have gotten a better movie. As long as the script was better. And the pacing. And the music. And the direction…
The Last Airbender is a dull, derivative, and badly paced. The acting is lazy and the fight scenes are barely adequate. The biggest sin is the screenplay however, which reeks of wooden dialogue and painful exposition. Where has the Shyamalan of The Sixth Sense and Signs gone? Will he ever return?
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Director – Adam Shankman
Cast – Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Zac Efron, Brittany Snow, James Marsden, Amanda Bynes, Queen Latifah, Elijah Kelly, Jerry Stiller
Hairspray, an adaptation of a Broadway musical which was itself an adaptation of a John Waters picture, may not seem very promising. We certainly have seen adaptations and remakes thrive recently, certainly commercially but usually less so when it comes to the critics. Well, we know which one trumps which usually…
Hairspray however, is one of the better remakes/adaptations, and some say one of the best films of the year of its release (2007). Personally I will go as far as to say that it is among the best musicals of the decade. A small category to be sure, but I stand by it.
The strength of Hairspray is two-fold. First off is the boundless energy and optimistic spirit of the whole thing. The movie tackles race issues, yet never feels preachy or sad. The movie is set in the 60’s and even though it lampoons (to a degree) the social values and wholesome attitudes of the time, in some ways the movie revels in them. The kids are all squeaky clean, and everything can be fixed if we all work together and be happy. This could easily have been overbearing, but I found this attitude refreshing and impossible to resist.
The second greatest strength of this movie is its cast. The star, newcomer Niki Blonsky, has to be the happiest looking kid I’ve ever seen on-screen. Zac Efron and James Marsden (as a couple of the stars of local variety TV show “The Corny Collins Show”) are lively and energetic, Christopher Walken as Niki’s father is perhaps a bit dry, but he carries it off, John Travolta in drag as Walken’s wife is perfect, and a cameo by Jerry Stiller as the owner of a local clothing store is a welcome dash of colour. The greatest performance in the film I think is Michelle Pfieffer. She plays the villainous, racist, and self-important producer of the “Corny Collins Show”. She sings well, she dances in a slinky, smarmy sort of way, and we love to hate her every moment she is on-screen. What more can we ask?
The movie is perhaps a bit long, about 15 minutes or so. A little subplot with Pfieffer’s character attempting to seduce Walken’s character was added by the director just for this film, and I think that could have been comfortably left out. It does however lead to a delightful almost campy little duet between Walken and Travolta, which is one of the movie’s best moments, so we must forgive it. The ending is a bit pat perhaps, but with this type of film anything else would have felt out-of-place. We knew all along that it would end happily, and we’d have it no other way.
Hairspray trips along nicely despite dealing with a fairly heady subject. The acting is great, the energy is abundant, and its attitude and positivity is irresistable. The dancing and choreography are top-notch. I dare anyone to feel depressed after watching this. Definitely recommended.
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