Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – A Movie Review

dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_poster_a_p

photo from hollywoodreporter.com

We’re living in a world reboots, re-imagining and recycled ideas. We might as well face it. When a good and original movie comes along (see Edge of Tomorrow my review HERE), it’s difficult for it to find a foothold amid sequels and continuations and branded properties. I know that I am part of the problem as I am eagerly looking forward to any number of sequels (see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Star Wars Episode VII, Avengers: Age of Ultron, et al) and am ready to watch the latest adaptation of Batman (see Gotham) on television. Like anyone else, I eat this stuff up.

I know that’s why I was looking forward to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I really enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes (re-watching it in anticipation of seeing the sequel reminded my how fun it was) and I had heard only good things about Dawn.

I wasn’t disappointed. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a very good, if not entirely original summer movie. Clearly it’s not original because it’s a sequel to a re-imaging of a film series (as detailed above, that’s not necessarily a bad thing) however, it’s also not original because… it’s just not that original. More on that later.

First, the real stars of the movie are, of course, the motion capture actors who play the apes. Andy Serkis is well-known for his work as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, and he deserves the notoriety. His Caesar, the protagonist of the movie and a holdover from Rise, is a fully realized character. Serkis involves the audience in Caesar’s story right away. From the mesmerizing opening shot – a pull back from Caesar’s expressive eyes – to the end shot, the apes are as real and, perhaps, more fully developed than the humans in the movie. Serkis’ Caesar anchors the story. His movements are arresting, his performance award worthy. If Caesar doesn’t work, none of the movie does. And Caesar works. Overtime.

The other ape characters, though they have less focus and screen time, are equally impressive. Tony Kebbel’s Koba holds his own with Caesar. He, too, was in the first movie and the filmmakers do something smart with him and with all the ape characters – they find a way to mark him or color him to delineate him from the other apes. I never lost track of Koba when he was on-screen and he gets two fantastic moments. First, as has been illustrated by the previews for the movie, Koba takes a ride through fire on a horse. Firing twin machine guns. It’s a pure, geek-out, summer fun moment. Second, there is a truly hilarious scene of Koba playing on the expectations most humans have of apes which I won’t spoil here. You’ll know it when you see it.

All of the apes are just stunning to watch and there is never a moment I didn’t believe that they are totally real. In fact, I was amazed by how much these pixel-created characters were able to make me feel emotionally. Completely differently from a Pixar movie or an animated movie where the audience is buying into a fantasy world that is constructed out of whole cloth, Dawn takes place in a version of the “real” world. This makes the feat of developing emotional resonance all the more impressive.  

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a fun summer movie. It’s been wildly well reviewed (91% on rottentomatoes.com as I write this). It’s a good way to spend a couple of hours and I look forward to the third installment (see, I am a sucker for a sequel) rumored to be called simply Planet of the Apes. But there’s really nothing in terms of plot happening in this film that audiences haven’t seen many, many times over. The plot is not particularly complex nor incredibly well executed. Though the movie treats the audience as if they are at least as smart as the apes – something I appreciate – the human characters and pieces of the story come off rather flat. The humans are stereotypes. In truth, the apes are, too, but it’s easier to forgive in the amazing apes than it is in the ho-hum humans.

I like the cast. Jason Clarke is on the cusp of something big (Indiana Jones re-boot anyone?). He is very solid and a great lead. He carries whatever gravitas the human part of this story is able to generate. Keri Russell is a welcome addition and she manages to make an impression in her limited scenes.  And the ever reliable Gary Oldman is on hand to provide some dramatic tension, but we really don’t get to see him flex any acting muscles. It’s a pretty one-note performance, but that’s not on him. That’s on the script.  It is only in their interactions with the apes that the human characters are at all engaging. I found myself in the scenes without the apes missing the apes. Without the apes, this movie doesn’t work, and that’s fine, because, after all, it does have apes.

But, here’s the deal: this summer has been pretty brutal for movies. They just haven’t been that good. I think we’re willing to give Dawn more of the benefit of the doubt than it deserves. We’re willing to say it’s excellent when it’s likely just very good.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES receives three and a half plate-glass windows out of a possible five.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie Review, Movies

Cinnamon Birthday – I Love You

Today, my beautiful, lovely, talented, wip-smart wife has a birthday.

Yes, my bonafides as someone unbiased in the area of assessing The Cinnamon Girl would, rightly, be questioned by any thinking person. Yes, I am utterly charmed by this amazing woman. Yes, I am completely under her spell. Yes, I stipulate to all of that, Your Honors.

But, facts are facts.

  •  The Cinnamon Girl is terrifically smart.
  • The Cinnamon Girl is brilliantly well spoken.
  • The Cinnamon Girl is a talented writer.
  • The Cinnamon Girl is a wonderful mother.
  • The Cinnamon Girl loves, loves, loves animals.
  • The Cinnamon Girl is the most supportive person I have ever encountered.
  • The Cinnamon Girl is one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
  • The Cinnamon Girl is insightful like an oracle!
  • The Cinnamon Girl cooks like you read about.
  • The Cinnamon Girl is (sorry kids, my mother and my mother-in-law if you’re reading this) the sexiest thing on two legs.

The world is a better place because my Cinnamon Girl is in it. My world is complete because she was born.

Jeff and Caroline

She’s a Dreamer of Pictures.

Each year that goes by, each birthday I am lucky enough to celebrate with her reminds me of that.

I’ve said it before, I’ll continue to say it: I can be happy the rest of my life with a Cinnamon Girl.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Food, Parenting

Guardians of the Galaxy – 11% Of A Review

Last night, The Cinnamon Girland I went to a free screening of 17 minutes of next month’s The Guardians of the Galaxy. It was in IMAX, I had to have popcorn and the clips left me wanting MORE.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-movie-poster-imax-preview-620x905

Photo from Marvel.com. Free posters were given out last night.

First, we knew in advance that this screening was just 17 minutes. Unlike many in line who thought they were about to be treated to an advance look of the entire film (because the information about the screening wasn’t clear enough, I guess, when it stated “see 17 minutes of Guardians of the Galaxy before it’s released in theaters!”), we knew what we were in for.

Oh, and let me take a moment to thank my lovely wife for coming with me to stuff like this. I feel bad for anyone in a marriage who doesn’t experience the support that I do on a daily basis.

The footage was RIDICULOUS and, by that, I mean ridiculously cool. Funny, smart and explosive, the scenes on display from Guardians of the Galaxy suggest that the movie itself is going to be fast paced, tongue-in-cheek fun. I will be both surprised and disappointed if it’s not.

When I first saw this film project announced, my initial take was “why this property?” Marvel has all kinds of different characters to put on film, why choose this odd and pretty obscure group to feature? Though, honestly, I knew I would see the movie (I am the guy who saw Green Lantern in the theater. Twice.), I didn’t think it would have broad appeal.

Watching the previews including last night’s footage, listening to the soundtrack, paying attention to the tone of the project, I begin to think that Guardians will be the hit of the summer.

My reactions to last night:

  • Chris Pratt is awesome as Peter Quill – Star Lord – and will be the perfect center of the movie.
  • The walking tree called Groot is cuter than the anthropomorphized Rocket (the Bradley Cooper voiced raccoon) and will steal every scene he’s in. It’s already destined to be Vin Diesel’s greatest role.
  • The action is very well done.
  • The movie – at least the 17 minutes featured last night – somehow has an Ocean’s Eleven feel. That’s a good thing.
  • Zoe Saldana wasn’t featured too prominently in the footage… I look forward to seeing what she does with Gamora.
  • There was a brief glimpse of Thanos… the big bad from Avengers. Very cool.

It’s been a weak summer for movies. The market is primed for Guardians of the Galaxy and I think it’s going to hit. Big time.

Marvel released a new preview – the final one, I am sure – last night.  Take a look.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Movies, Science Fiction, Superheroes

Man Of Steel Better Than I Remembered

Last summer the Superman reboot Man of Steel opened to much fanfare and mixed reviews. It was too gritty. The action bordered on disaster porn. Superman shouldn’t act the way he did. Superman shouldn’t kill. Ever.

Those reactions don’t sound too “mixed” do they? The mixed part is that someone must have liked the film because it made a ton of money and is the linchpin not only for a series of Superman movies but, as comic geeks and film nerds everywhere know, is spawning an entire universe of films starting with 2016′s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Again this week, director Zach Snyder’s vision stirred up the internets a bit when he posted a picture of the Man of Steel meant to evoke the tone of the new film.

Superman

photo from comicbookresources.com.

Perhaps it’s because this summer has been so disappointing in terms of movies  (for every X-Men Days of Future Past there is a Blended, for every Edge of Tomorrow there is a Million Ways to Die in the West). After Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is there another movie that you’re really interested in hitting on opening night this summer (until Guardians of the Galaxy?).

When viewed through this prism, last summer’s Man of Steel, is certainly a cut above much of the schlock of the Summer of 2014. But, in watching the movie again (you can see my original reviews HERE and HERE), I was struck by how much I really enjoyed it and how good it really was.

I, for one, am awaiting the next installment in Zach Snyder and David S. Goyer’s DC Universe films with great anticipation, greater now that I re-watched Man of Steel. 

Stream it. It’s better than 22 Jump Street or Transformers 4, I promise you that.

MONDO-MAN-OF-STEEL-TAYLOR-01

photo from aintitcool.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Movie Review, Movies, Superheroes

Gone Girl – A Book Review

Gone Girl

Photo from nytimes.com.

Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, has been interviewed many times about this book, her third and, far-and-away, her most popular. She has been asked about the protag/antagonists Nick Dunne and Amy Elliot Dunne. She has been asked about the narrative structure. She’s been asked about her influences. She’s been asked if the book is a treatise on marriage. She’s been asked to discuss the novel’s ending.

The heat around Gone Girl is about to pick up again as a film, directed by the marvelous David Fincher and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, is going to open this fall. We’ll be seeing Flynn everywhere.

And that’s a good thing. She writes a great story.

Gone Girl tells the story of Amy Elliot Dunne who goes missing on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary. Suspicion immediately lights on Nick Dunne, her husband. The reader is set up to think that the novel will cover a fairly standard arc of investigation and clues and discovery and punishment.

Flynn masterfully subverts all those expectations.

Rather than narrate the novel from a simple third person perspective, Flynn employs Nick and Amy as the book’s narrative voices. Nick is telling the story post-event. His narrative begins “The Morning Of…” as in the morning of the first day that Amy has gone missing and while his voice proceeds linearly from that point, Nick does flashback, where appropriate, to his earlier life with Amy.

Amy’s story, on the other hand, is told pre-event. Her narrative begins months before she goes missing and is presented as a series of journal entries. These proceed linearly providing a countdown to the day that she will, inevitably, go missing.

There is much writing discipline evident from Flynn. Each Nick chapter is followed by an Amy chapter and that routine is never broken throughout the course of the novel. More impressively, Flynn manages to make each chapter engrossing. In many books that employ similar narrative devices or, in fact, in any book that shifts it focus from a character or situation in which I am heavily involved to a character or situation in which I am not as involved simply to provide more information or other plot points, I often find myself skimming to get back to the object of my interest. Not so with Gone Girl. I was both interested and fascinated by Amy and Nick, even when it became clear that they were highly unreliable narrators.

I assume that Flynn had, by her computer as she wrote, an outline of how events in Amy and Nick’s lives really played out, how the day of Amy’s disappearance really went down, because a reader is not ever going to get the full truth from the interlocking narrative. Writing narrative from perspectives readers cannot trust is a very difficult thing to do. The author must make the reader invest in the narrative voices before illustrating that they cannot be trusted. Otherwise, there is a risk of the reader asking “what’s the point?” and putting the book aside.

I knew I couldn’t trust Amy. Or Nick.

And that is the fun of Gone Girl.

Not only didn’t I put the book aside, I devoured it.

The book is populated by interesting supporting characters from Amy’s parents (who’ve made a small fortune – and lost some money, too – on a series of children’s books based on their own daughter, the Amazing Amy series) to the cops investigating the crime, to Nick’s sister Margo (“Go” for short who is his twin and with whom he shares a significant bond) to Amy’s former boyfriend Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris will play him in the movie and I. Can’t. Wait.). All of the characters appear well drawn and avoid stereotype and most of their motives are as convoluted as Amy’s and Nick’s.

Too say much more about the plot would be to steal the fun and I am no spoiler. I won’t be spoiling anything. I will say that the book, thematically, has something to say about relationships and marriages and the perceptions – both of the outside-looking-in and the inside-looking-out variety – that people have about them. The book also has points to make about identity and the manner in which people build their own identities. It also touches upon a middle America that is struggling with economic collapse that makes it yearn for something else to capture its attention like a steamy husband-kills-wife plot.

I will say that I felt a little let down by the ending of the novel and I felt that let down coming. The Cinnamon Girl had read the book and had noted that she wasn’t crazy-nuts-in-love with the end, but my reaction wasn’t based on that, it was based on the growing idea that I felt there was no perfect way to end the novel. All of the conclusions of which I could think felt unsatisfying in some way and the one that the author reached did, too. Flynn has said that the film will have a different conclusion than the book and I look forward to seeing what she does with it.

I loved the book. I put aside things to read it. I made time in my schedule. I looked forward to returning to it each day. If that’s not a reaction every author wants readers to have, I don’t know what is.

Gone Girl receives FOUR AND A HALF AMAZING AMY STORIES out of a possible five.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Movies

1776 Reasons to Watch 1776 Today! (Okay, Only 10 Reasons…)

Entertainment Weekly has been killing it this week.

1776 is a terrific movie, one I remember well from a childhood, elementary school field trip. Was that you, Ms. Losty, who took us? If so, thank you! The Cinnamon Girl and I have shown clips of this to our US History/American Literature classes for years and, each time we do, I fall in love with the film even more!

Today, Entertainment Weekly published a list of the 10 Reasons to Watch 1776 today. You can read it HERE.

You SHOULD watch it. Now!

Leave a comment

Filed under Anecdote, Education, Holidays, Movies

We The People… Shatner Style

Star Trek takes place in a post United States future, but it’s one American show.

Its patriotic highlight? Right here.

Happy Birthday, America!

Leave a comment

Filed under Holidays, Star Trek