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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Review

16 Jul

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My sister’s birthday was this past Saturday. In an effort to “keep it classy” we decided to do a traditional English tea at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel followed by watching the re-imagining of a classic – Planet of the Apes. Growing up, I loved Planet of the Apes, but my love was nothing compared to my sister’s. She remembers things about the series that I forgot long ago.

When Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out in 2011 starring James Franco and John Lithgow, we were convinced it would be a disaster of epic proportions – think Cutthroat Island and Waterworld. By the movie’s end, I was openly crying and my sister was misty-eyed. The plot was surprisingly well laid out and it actually made you think a little while being entertaining. Three years later, we sat in the theatre eagerly waiting to catch up with our favourite primates.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a different tone than its predecessor. In Rise, we see Caesar’s growth, struggles and his eventual fight for freedom. In Dawn, its 10 years after the Simian Flu has wiped out almost all of humanity. Caesar (Andy Serkis) has become a leader and established a community of apes. The apes believe humanity’s extinct until they come across a group of survivors in their forest. The humans want access to a dam on ape land that can provide electricity to their small city. Caesar is forced to make decisions that could result in war.

The re-emergence of humans creates a divide between the apes. Caesar wants to help the humans and hopes that one day; they can all live together peacefully.  His second in command, Koba (Toby Kebbell), was experimented on in a lab and wants nothing to do with the humans. On the human’s side, it’s almost a parallel storyline. Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his girlfriend Ellie (Keri Russell) trust Caesar, while their leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) is more than willing to kill off the apes if they cause a problem. The theme that runs throughout the movie is how similar the apes have become to humans and that they’re capable of making the same mistakes in the future. Viewers have to decide whose side they’re on.

The CGI is seamless. The battle sequence where the apes storm the human city is amazing and has a bit of everything – guns, horses, fires, explosions, tanks…you name it. The apes’ faces and bodies are highly detailed and you can tell the characters apart easily.

Andy Serkis’ and Jason Clarke’s performances drive the movie. The patriarchs try to do what’s best for their communities’ despite their mutual respect and sympathy for one another. Serkis is at his finest. His movements and expressions give Caesar dimension while keeping everything subtle and subdued.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes needs a third installment since the Apes series is only getting better.

Hail Caesar!

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Godzilla – Review

4 Jun

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Ohh Godzilla. He first appeared in Ishiro Honda’s 1954 movie of the same name and has gone on to become the most famous movie monster of all time and a cultural phenomenon. There are more than 28 Japanese movies starring Godzilla and an American movie released in 1998 that was disappointing, and thankfully, forgotten.

Here we are in 2014 and an American studio has made its second attempt to reinvent the franchise. The film starts in Japan in 1999, where nuclear physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) detects seismic activity in the Philippines that eventually leads to several deaths at his nuclear power plant, including his wife (Juliette Binoche). 15 years later, Joe still investigates the strange readings that killed his wife much to the dismay of his adult son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Ford’s wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen). After Joe is arrested for trespassing at the old nuclear power plant, Ford is forced to go to Japan and realizes that something strange and ominous is happening.

The first hour of the movie doesn’t show Godzilla, but director Gareth Edwards attempts to develop his characters. The most likable and relatable character is Joe. Despite having a fairly good cast, Cranston steals every scene he’s in and pulls off the confused heartbroken man very well. Second best is Ken Watanabe, who plays a scientist investigating Godzilla’s origins and believes that the monster “brings balance” to the world.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen round out the main cast. Olsen is a great actress, but she gets lost in the shuffle and destruction of the movie. Taylor-Johnson seems to be a new leading man in Hollywood. Unfortunately his performance is flat and lifeless. His reactions to the deaths and chaos around him are disingenuous and wooden. By the time Godzilla appears, you lose interest in the cast and you just want the monsters to kick some ass.

Godzilla and the creatures he fights look amazing. The special effects are awesome and they did a great job of making Godzilla new, while still maintaining elements from the original Japanese movies.

Godzilla isn’t without its problems. There are some huge plot holes and hilarious one-liners, but it’s an entertaining summer movie and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

 

The Man With the Iron Fists: Review

13 Nov

Presented by Quentin Tarantino, The Man With the Iron Fists is the directorial debut of Wu-Tang Clan leader, RZA. The story takes place in Jungle Village during the 19th Century. Our protagonist is the Blacksmith (RZA), a man who’s forced to create elaborate weapons of death for the various clans vying for power. Add a shipment of gold to the mix and the whole village is consumed by violence and greed.

If you’re a fan of Quentin Tarantino, you know anything presented by him will have a heavy dose of violence, pulp and bizarre dialogue. The Man With Iron Fists is no exception, but unlike Tarantino movies you don’t develop a serious attachment to any of the characters. Considering the martial arts theme and warring clans, it’s obvious that almost everyone is going to die in some horrific way.

That being said there’s a lot to like about this movie. One of the best things about The Man With the Iron Fists is the diverse and interesting cast which includes Byron Mann and Cung Le as the treacherous villans Silver and Copper Lion; David Bautista as the ruthless Brassbody; Lucy Liu as sensual brothel owner Madame Blossom; Russell Crowe as the Englishman Jack Knife and of course, RZA as the Blacksmith.  All the characters have distinct qualities that match their names and/or skills.

RZA knew exactly what kind of movie he was making and doesn’t take it too seriously. The first time director concocted a convoluted plot – this character hates this character and that character wants to avenge this character…blah, blah, blah. Character development is pretty non-existent, but I found myself looking forward to enemies fighting Mortal Kombat style.

Lucy Liu and Russell Crowe were definitely my favourites. Lucy Liu spent the movie flitting around in gorgeous costumes and conspiring with the Lion Clan, while Russell Crowe spent the first 45 minutes of the movie banging beautiful prostitutes and spying on the other warriors.

The biggest problem with the movie is actually RZA himself. As the Blacksmith, RZA is somber and boring with a capital B. Of all the warriors, he is by far the least interesting and he constantly looks ready for a nap. Even the scenes that could add some dimension to the Blacksmith are painfully boring. I leaned over to my husband in the middle of one and asked “When’s the killing going to start again?”

Considering RZA’s musical genius, there’s surprisingly not enough music. Any music featured is controlled and doesn’t pump you up for the fight scenes. I don’t want to be too hard on RZA because his mistakes are forgivable since it’s his first movie.

Though enjoyable, The Man With the Iron Fists isn’t anything special. Don’t rush out to a theatre to see it, wait for DVD or On Demand. It’s not the type of movie that you’ll feel strongly about either way, but I promise that you’ll be quoting it for weeks – GEMINI STANCE!

Looper: Review

31 Oct

 I’ve always liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt whether he was an alien, one of Micheal Myers victims, a high school detective or a love-sick greeting card writer, and 2012 has been a good year for Tommy Solomon. He’s landed leading roles in two highly anticipated movies, The Dark Knight Rises and in the sci-fi movie, Looper.

When I saw ads for The Dark Knight Rises, I knew that Levitt would be playing Robin or Nightwing. He has the perfect look, but I wasn’t sure how he’d fit in with such a serious and seasoned cast. Considering the other actors, Levitt did a great job of holding his own and making his character stand out in the Nolan’s final Batman movie. I think the end of The Dark Knight Rises left fans hoping that DC would push for a Robin or Nightwing movie.

Levitt’s second big project of 2012 was Looper – a sci-fi thriller starring Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt. Looper centres around Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a mob hitman in the year 2044. In the future, if the mob wants to have someone “taken care of” the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun waits. Eventually, the mob decides to “close the loop” by transporting back Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) for execution. Unfortunately, Young Joe loses his future self and must track him down before the mob finds him.

After escaping Young Joe, Old Joe hunts for the Rainmaker – a powerful man who is closing all the loops and has single-handedly taken over the future’s criminal organizations. Old Joe’s mission is to find the Rainmaker as a child and kill him to prevent future events. Young Joe manages to figure out part of Old Joe’s plans and heads to one of the addresses where the Rainmaker may be living. There Young Joe meets Sara (Emily Blunt), a single mother who lives with her son Cid. Young Joe stays to protect Sara and Cid and to kill Old Joe when he shows up.

From the trailers, you’d think that Looper was a sci-fi action movie and we would eventually see Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis team up in a Die Hard style killing spree. Guess what? The trailers are misleading – incredibly misleading. If anything Looper is a sci-fi drama which is something I haven’t really seen before. Of course there are sci-fi elements – time travel, telekinesis, but the focus is really on character development.

When you’re first introduced to Old Joe, all your sympathy lies with him. You see what he experienced for the past 30 years and you understand his motivations. Young Joe looks selfish, stupid and greedy in comparison. As the movie progresses and Old Joe starts carrying out his plan to kill the Rainmaker, your sympathy shifts to Young Joe and you get a glimpse into why he behaves the way he does.

Bruce Willis fits the role of Old Joe perfectly. Willis seems to only pick better roles and become more successful with age. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does all the heavy lifting. He’s amazing as Young Joe and even when he does morally questionable things you know why. His ability to imitate Bruce Willis and mimic his mannerisms is uncanny. My favourite scene of the movie is where the two Joe’s meet at a coffee shop and have a conversation about what’s going to happen now and in the future.

Writer/Director Rian Johnson is a bit of an oddball. He wrote the role of Young Joe specifically for Gordon Levitt as the pair previously worked together on the teenage film noir Brick. Johnson seems to focus on minute details and tries to have all his bases covered.

Even so, there are flaws in the movie. The prosthetics used to make Levitt look like Willis aren’t really necessary. I’ve talked to a few people who said they couldn’t get used to Levitt’s look. The face change feels like a bit of a gimmick and Looper stands well on its own.

A couple of characters should have been written out of the screenplay. If they don’t add anything to the plot, there’s no reason for them to be there and even though I love him, Jeff Daniels is not an intimidating villain. Sorry.

Overall, Looper is a unique and interesting movie. It’s definitely worth seeing if you’re a sci-fi fan because you may never seen anything like it again.

Seven Psychopaths: Review

22 Oct

On Tuesday night at about 9pm, I decided it was a good idea to go to the 10:30pm show of Seven Psychopaths despite having to be at work for 8am. The movie follows Marty (Colin Farrell), a struggling screenwriter with a drinking problem who gets caught up in his friend Billy’s (Sam Rockwell) dog kidnapping business. Billy steals the wrong shih tzu and it forces him, Marty and his partner, Hans (Christopher Walken), on the run from the shih tzu’s owner, a psychotic mob boss (Woody Harrelson).

When I first saw ads and trailers for Seven Psychopaths, I wasn’t too impressed. That’s not to say the trailers weren’t funny, but I suspected that whoever cut the trailers put all the best clips in them. When I go into a movie expecting it to be crappy, it’s always a pleasant surprise when it turns out to be decent or have interesting elements. Seven Psychopaths isn’t just decent, it’s pretty awesome.

The casting is amazing. This is Farrell’s second film with director Martin McDonagh and I hope the pair continue to work together. This is one of Farrell’s better roles since his first project with McDonaugh – 2008’s In Bruges.  Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken provide the majority of the comic relief and their character’s actions keep you guessing how the movie will turn out.

What I really love about Seven Psychopaths is the interconnected narrative – think Love, Actually times 10. I don’t want to give too much away, but there are a few surprises throughout the movie. All I can really say is Seven Psychopaths is a unique action/drama/comedy that’s definitely worth seeing!

Here Comes the Boom: Review

15 Oct

Director Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer, Click, Zookeeper) brings us Here Comes the Boom starring Kevin James, Salma Hayek, Henry Winkler and Bas Rutten. James plays disenchanted biology teacher Scott Voss who spends his days sleeping in and ignoring his students. At a school meeting, Principal Becher (Greg Germann) announces that due to budgeting constraints the music program will be cut and music teacher Marty (Henry Winkler) will lose his job. In order to save Marty’s job, Scott promises to raise the $48,000 that it would cost to keep the music program running.

Since Scott has a wrestling background, he decides that Mixed Martial Arts can earn him some real money and it might impress sassy school nurse Bella (Salma Hayek). Through a night citizenship class he teaches, Scott meets Nico (Bas Rutten) a seasoned MMA fighter who agrees to train him.

Kevin James isn’t one of my favorite actors or comedians. His jokes aren’t especially funny and he has the acting range of Kristen Stewart. In Here Comes the Boom, he was bearable and occasionally had a funny one liner. Salma Hayek is adorable as the love interest, but her character’s never fully flushed out and her presence isn’t really necessary.

Surprisingly, Henry Winkler and Bas Rutten steal the movie. As Marty, Winkler looks adorable in a series of old man sweaters and vests. His character is charming and flighty – he spends most of his time fixing instruments and making his own apple sauce.

Rutten has his own charm. If you’re a fan of MMA, then you probably know Rutten’s history or have at least seen his hilarious self-defense videos (see below). In Here Comes the Boom, Rutten teaches MMA, but also works at a gym teaching women’s yoga, disco street fighting and disco spin classes. For such a huge tough man, it’s nice to see that he can have fun and laugh at himself.

Several MMA personalities play themselves including Joe Rogan, Mike Goldberg and Chael Sonnen. What I find strange about Here Comes the Boom is that it’s marketed as a family movie despite the potentially violent content. The potential violence could alienate some moviegoers who think that MMA is all blood and gore.

At the same time, it’s smart of the UFC to get involved with a family friendly movie. Warrior was a fantastic MMA movie and drama that failed financially, but excelled critically. The second time around the UFC is appealing to a broader audience and featuring family friendly actors like Kevin James and Henry Winkler.  It’s a good strategy – well-played Dana White.

Overall, Here Comes the Boom is good family fare, but it’s not memorable…not Bas Rutten self-defense memorable anyway.

The Raid: Redemption

11 Sep

Knee to the face!

In 2011, Gareth Evans wrote and directed the Indonesian action film, The Raid: Redemption. The movie follows an elite SWAT team that raids a dilapidated building in Jakarta. By the way, the building is an impenetrable safe house for the city’s most notorious criminals and it’s run by the ruthless drug lord, Tama.

The protagonist, a young SWAT member named Rama (martial artist Iko Uwais), battles his way through the building, but appears to be looking for someone other than Tama. We get glimpses into Rama’s life like when he cares for his pregnant wife and visits his ageing father. All these moments are supposed to lead to a shocking revelation about Rama, but the revelation isn’t shocking at all – just painfully predictable.

Like most action movies, The Raid lacks a solid and cohesive storyline. The director tries to include some subplots, but the smaller storylines don’t turn into anything meaningful or add to the movie. For example, Wahyu, a fellow SWAT member, is obviously a crooked cop. Evans tries to flush out Wahyu’s relationship with Tama and his thugs, but it never adds up to anything important. So really…who cares?

But what The Raid lacks in plot, it makes up for in ass-kicking. Choreographers and stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian focus on the traditional Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat. I’ve never heard of Pencak Silat, but is it ever awesome to watch. For 90% of the movie I was on the edge of my seat yelling things at the screen like “Tune that guy!”and “Kick his ass.”  After the movie finished, I had the urge to look up numbers for different martial arts centres for classes and take the C-Train  at 1 am just to beat up all the weirdos on it.

Welsh director Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais collaborated in 2009 on Merantau, which I must find and watch immediately. A third film Berandal is in the works and it’ll serve as a direct sequel to The Raid. If you’re a fan of action movies, you have to see The Raid. Check out the clip below for an awesome action scene.

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