Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (B). I liked this movie’s predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a lot, and although this one isn’t as good I still thought it was a solid piece of sci-fi-action cinema. (If you haven’t seen Rise, this review does contain spoilers.)

So, the plague that was unleashed at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes has done its work, killing something like 99.8% of the world’s human population. Several years have passed, and the intelligent apes have built a civilization in the Muir Woods. They haven’t seen a human in two years—and suddenly, some humans appear in their domain. Some plague survivors have banded together in the ruins of San Francisco, and their sources of power are running low. So a small party, led by the wise Malcolm (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty) has gone into the woods to see about possibly restarting a hydroelectric plant in a dam—deep in ape territory. Head ape Caesar (motion-capture work by Andy Serkis, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) is still the leader of the apes, but the suspicious and vengeful Koba seems to want war with the humans. And some humans return the sentiment. I thought it was a perfectly good movie, but it didn’t really grab me the way the first one did. It should be showing up in the dollar theaters soon, if you want to catch it on the big screen.

What If

A new review from The Movie Snob.

What If (B-). This is a fairly standard romantic comedy, elevated slightly in my estimation by the winsomeness of the female lead, Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks). Our male lead is a pallid, cynical fellow named Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe, from those interminable Harry Potter movies). Wally dropped out of med school after breaking up with his cheating girlfriend, and now he has a dead-end job and lives in his sister’s attic. But then he goes to a party and meets a quirky gal named Chantry (Kazan) (yes, her character’s name is “Chantry”). Before you can say “Zooey Deschanel,” the two hit it off and he walks her home—to the home, he unhappily discovers, that she shares with her boyfriend of five years, Ben (Rafe Spall, Prometheus). But the emotionally unavailable Chantry still wants to be friends with Wallace, and after a second encounter with Chantry the obviously smitten Wallace decides to live in the Friend Zone and see how things go. It’s decent, as rom-coms go, and I like that the filmmakers didn’t go the obvious route of making Ben some sort of hideous jerk. But on the other hand, the cutesy scenes comes off as contrived, and the supposed-to-be-clever dialogue is occasionally coarse and seldom clever. So, call it an average movie with an above-averagely appealing female star.

Calvary

The Movie Snob is perplexed.

Calvary.  It is very rare that I find myself unable to give a movie a grade, but this is one of those times.  This movie held my attention.  It seemed competently made, and the acting was generally good.  But when it was over I felt like I had suffered something of a beating, and not in a cathartic sort of way.

Tough, gruff Brendan Gleeson (Edge of Tomorrow) is Father James, a Catholic priest in a small Irish town on the coast somewhere. In the very first scene of the movie, he is hearing confessions, and someone we can’t see enters the confessional and starts talking to Father James.  It’s a man, and he’s not there to confess.  He tells Father James that as a child he was repeatedly raped by a Catholic priest, now dead, and in seven days he’s going to kill Father James–to get attention and make some sort of statement.  That’s grim enough, but the rest of the movie is basically just following Father James in his usual routine over the next several days, and it is nightmarish.  Father James is hardly perfect, but for all we can see, he is a quite decent man; yet, virtually all the townspeople treat him and his faith with mockery, dislike, and/or contempt.  (His grudgingly respectful altar boy is a notable exception.)  On a perhaps related note, the town is brimming over with sinful and squalid behavior, much of which the perpetrators deliberately and shamelessly fling in the priest’s face.  It kind of reminded me of the painting The Torment of St. Anthony, on display at our own Kimball Museum, in which the saint is plagued by all sorts of hideous demons.  Anyway, I found the movie dark and disturbing.  But different people will take the film different ways, I think.  A Los Angeles critic calls it “a serious-minded, lightly comedic rumination on life, death, faith, and community.”  A blurb on an ad for the movie calls it “an inventive whodunit with a pitch-black heart,” which I think is closer to the mark.  (Although it’s a “who said it,” not a “whodunit,” and that aspect of the movie didn’t seem all that inventive to me.)

The cast was mostly unknown to me, but I did recognize Kelly Reilly (Heaven Is For Real) as Father James’s daughter (no scandal there; he was married, then a widower, before he became a priest) and Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) as a local butcher who may or may not be guilty of smacking his wife around.

Not recommended.

The Good, the Bad, and the God-Awful: 21st-Century Movie Reviews

The Movie Snob reviews a colleague’s work.

The Good, the Bad, and the God-Awful: 21st-Century Movie Reviews, by Kurt Loder (2011). Did you know that MTV’s Kurt Loder is a movie reviewer? Me neither. Since I like to see what my movie-reviewing competition is up to, I picked up this compendium of Loder’s work, and I hereby give it two enthusiastic thumbs up. It helps that he sticks to the current century, so the great majority of the movies under scrutiny are ones I have seen or at least heard something about. But then again, he doesn’t really need any help, because he is an engaging writer who keeps the reviews short and sweet—about two pages long, on average. And the reviews in the last chapter, which is devoted to recent work of Nicolas Cage, were laugh-out-loud funny. Loder publishes his reviews online for Reason magazine, and I have added a link to his webpage to this blog’s list of links. Look him up!

Sorcerer

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Sorcerer (B+).  Many years ago, someone recommended this 1977 release to me.  This past Tuesday, the Magnolia Theater in Dallas showed it as part of its classic film series, so I jumped on the opportunity.  It’s about four men from different parts of the world who need to disappear for a while and wind up in the same backwater village (in Nicaragua, I think).  The movie takes its time introducing the characters and establishing the setting.  Low on funds and desperate to get out of the dumpy village, the four men sign up for a suicide mission–an oil company needs to have some dynamite hauled through 200 miles of jungle to extinguish an out-of-control oil-well fire.  Catch #1 — the dynamite is old and dangerously unstable.  Catch #2 — the trucks have to be cobbled together from several rusted old junkers.  Catch #3 — the trip is 200 miles through Nicaraguan jungle.  Although the movie is decidedly low-tech, director William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) does a good job ratcheting up the tension, especially in the famous scene in which the trucks try to cross a raging river on a fraying old rope bridge that I wouldn’t have even wanted to walk across.  Roy Scheider (Jaws) plays the only American in the quartet, and I thought he did a great job.  Unfortunately, the movie opened right around the same time as Star Wars, and it flopped at the box office.  It’s definitely worth seeing if you ever get the chance.

Guardians of the Galaxy

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Guardians of the Galaxy  (B).  I did not have particularly high expectations for this sci-fi special-effects extravaganza, so that may have helped me enjoy it all the more.  I’m afraid a plot description will make it sound a little flat: a bad guy is searching for an ancient artifact of immense power that will help him rule the galaxy, and a band of misfits (the Guardians of the title) must try to stop his genocidal plans.  But it’s more clever than it sounds, and it’s generally a pretty light-hearted romp.  Likeable everyman Chris Pratt (The Five-Year Engagement) stars as Peter Quill, a Tomb Raideresque scoundrel who is really hoping his self-proclaimed nickname “Starlord” will catch on.  Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Into Darkness) is his enemy-turned-ally Gamora.  Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) has many of the best lines as a roguish raccoon named Rocket who has somehow acquired the power of speech and the ability to fly spaceships.  Other notable faces show up, such as Glenn Close (The Stepford Wives), John C. Reilly (Walk Hard), and Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams).  The film is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi action and violence and for some mild language.  I guess that’s about right, although I don’t really think mature 11 and 12-year-olds would have a problem with it.

22 Jump Street

New from The Movie Snob.

22 Jump Street  (D).  Mercy sakes alive, I saw this movie a week ago and I’m just now getting around to reviewing it?  This won’t be easy, because 22 Jump Street was not really designed to be a memorable movie-going experience.  If I had to guess, I’d say it was really designed to hoover up lots of dollars out of the wallets of average joes like me who enjoyed 21 Jump Street decently well.   Anyway, IMDb.com is helping me remember that in this sequel, goofball cop partners Schmidt (Jonah Hill, This Is the End) and Jenko (Channing Tatum, Side Effects) go undercover, posing as college students in order to find and bust the supplier of a new and dangerous drug.  They embrace their secret identities a little too thoroughly, causing a rift between them that they really need to heal before the climactic bust.  It’s pretty much same as the first movie, only not very funny.  Most of the laughs come from a palpably miserable college student named Mercedes (Jillian Bell, The Master), who does a couple of funny extended riffs (a la Melissa McCarthy) on how Schmidt looks way too old to be a college student.  And Ice Cube (Three Kings) was pretty funny as the perpetually-angry police captain.  He probably had to have that scowl surgically removed after this shoot was over.