Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Time to go Ape with Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Article first published as Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes on Blogcritics.

When you go to watch a summer blockbuster, you expect a popcorn flick that doesn’t really stimulate the brain beyond bringing about pleasure, joy and excitement. With Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this movie stimulates far more, if you’re open to listening and receiving what is being said. Rarely do we get a popcorn flick the makes us question moral values, explore the relationships between humans and animals, deliver a compelling story and still toss us into an exciting action film. This movie has all of that.

A prequel/reboot to the popular Planet of the Apes franchise, this is easily just the latest chapter that could become a whole new series of movies if they keep the formula used for Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Will Rodman (James Franco) has a dream to cure the deadly disease Alzheimer’s. The disease plagues more and more people every year, including his father. Using apes as the test subjects for a fresh new drug, it shows great promise to become a cure for this fatal disease. But after a mishap in the lab, the plug is pulled and his dreams crushed, until he finds an unlikely surprise. A baby ape named Caesar (Andy Serkis) whose mother passed the drug to him before birth.

Will brings Caesar home to join his family and meet his father, John Rodman (John Lithgow), who is the source of Wills determination and drive to find a cure to Alzheimer’s. We get to experience much of Caesar’s life as he grows from baby ape to adult. Will later falls in love with a woman, Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto), who becomes a major source of support for Will.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a very enjoyable movie as I was pleasantly surprised with almost every aspect of the film. Being a fan of Planet of the Apes since the very first movie, I had expectations for this film to be just as good. What I was met with was a surprise that wasn’t expected.

The movie isn’t simply a sit down and enjoy movie as most summer films, but rather a movie that makes you think. Testing of drugs on animals, is it right or wrong? Is it ok to do these tests if it means saving millions of human lives? Are we prepared for the potential consequences of these tests? You find yourself asking these moral questions amongst others as the story unfolds.

Before the movie ends, all of your moral questions you may be asking yourself are met by one harsh realization. What has transpired in this movie could honestly happen. The movie really does take the time to be much more than the typical summer action film and is successful at every turn.

If you are a fan of Planet of the Apes, you will be pleased with the many moments in the film that reference back to the original movie. From quotes to events in the story that link it to the first film. The question is do you have the eye to catch it all? This made the movie a lot of fun for me, as it was an obvious nod from the creators. They didn’t go for a prequel/reboot that ignored what’s already there, they embraced it.

The special effects in the film are top notch. From beginning to end, you will be surprised at just how realistic the apes look, move and interact with one another. The effects make the apes so life like that if you are an animal lover it is a little heart wrenching to see one die, even though you know it’s a CGI creation. This adds to the emotion of the movie as it hits you like you wouldn’t expect.

One of the biggest successes of the film is turning what was the antagonist of the previous films, into the protagonist. If you love animals like I do, you’ll find yourself cheering for the apes wanting them to win. And I wasn’t the only one, which was made apparent by the loud applause from the rest of the theatre I was in.

The movie is a huge hit on what could have been a disastrous miss. I loved every moment and would definitely spend the money to see it in theatres again. With compelling story telling, great action, and moral dilemmas, Rise of the Planet of the Planet of the Apes will bring you in, hit an emotional chord and leave you happy with how it all wraps up. I highly recommend seeing this film, and if you’re an animal lover, you definitely won’t regret it.

The west gets wilder with Cowboys & Aliens

Article first published as Movie Review: Cowboys & Aliens on Blogcritics.

Mixing movies has been a hit and miss in the movie industry. Some combinations have worked out quite well and others not so well. Now we have a fresh new idea of genre mixing that looks like it could be a sure fire winner, even if the outcome seems one-sided. Take a Western, a gritty genre of cowboys battling at high-noon, robbing trains and chasing Indians across the wide open plains of the west and mix it with other-world visitors bent on our destruction.

What you get may very well seem like a one-sided battle, considering modern day settings of plotting human V.S. alien puts us in a bad situation. Sure, we almost always win but we’re given a stern beating in the process. I know how to fix it. You give the protagonist a weapon that belongs to the aliens, capable of destroying their vessels in a single shot!

Welcome to Cowboys & Aliens.

The latest attempt at alien invasion, based on a graphic novel of the same name, stars Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, The Golden Compass) as Jake Lonegren, a man with no memory of who he is, or where. The movie begins with Jake awakening in the desert, confused as to his whereabouts. Within moments, he’s met with a group of unsightly men, whom he quickly dispatches. It is from this moment we understand that Jake does indeed know how to defend himself.

He staggers his way into a small Arizona town by the name of Absolution, controlled by the ruthless Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde, played by Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones, Air Force One). Jake soon meets a spineless bartender by the name of Doc, portrayed by Sam Rockwell (Iron-Man 2, The Green Mile) and a mysterious woman, Ella, played by Olivia Wilde (TRON, House).

For the first portion of the movie, it plays out like a western. We have dirty, gritty men, horses, small town and a tyrant who controls it. Let’s take a little dash of extraterrestrial and toss it into the mix and you end up with a fairly decent movie. It doesn’t take long for the aliens to begin their assaults on the denizens of Absolution, and we soon learn people are being abducted.

From here we go on a chase to save those abducted and bring peace to the old west. The movie is a joy ride through a new genre with a lot of potential. Sadly some of the potential is missed. Some elements of the story I felt could have used a little more explanation to help immerse the audience even deeper. I’m one to rarely complain about story in a blockbuster movie, considering most are intended to be watched for enjoyment. But I could not shake the feeling that at the end, something was missing.

What was missing though? I’m not completely sure, as the movie itself is pretty complete and satisfying. Plenty of action, plenty of explosions and enough entertainment value for me to see it again and again, yet something was missed. Perhaps the graphic novel could hold the key to what is missing. I just felt the aliens didn’t get quite enough explanation behind them and their true purpose here.

The ending was also a negative highlight for me. It felt wrong. The ending felt like it was one of many potential endings and it wasn’t the right one for this film. Granted, most westerns end with cowboys riding off into the sunset, and that wasn’t what this movie needed to end with. For me, the ending was a bit too serene considering what transpires at the end of the film. This goes right back to the reasoning of the aliens being here, it felt like a bit more explanation of their purpose was missed that could have been answered in a small scene. Though I must admit, I didn’t wait till the end of the credits so perhaps Favreau had a scene there I missed that I can catch up with on the blu-ray.

One of the biggest highlights for me in this movie is the Indians. Not only does Favreau do a splendid job portraying them, they play a very important role. Most movies will make a play on the abilities of a medicine man to heal the hero, or someone he loves, and then they are on their way. Favreau makes them a very important part of the story. I was pleased to see so many Native Amercians in the movie with very prominent and important roles to the story.

Beyond these small, minor details, I found the movie to be more than pleasing. The movie is an exciting trip through the wild-west while being chased by aliens. Favreau continues to please with his movies and understands what an audience wants. He brings us excitement and adventure yet leaves enough room for our imagination to run while watching a great action flick. It’s an exciting adventure with cowboys, Indians, and for a fresh change of pace, aliens!