Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rise of The Planet of The Apes

A smart script and some terrific CGI work make this prequel a plausible and exciting explanation for the eventual "planet of the apes". James Franco stars as a scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer's by testing his drugs on chimps. When things go wrong with a test subject, he ends up raising the remaining baby chimp, whom he names "Caesar", at his home. It soon becomes clear that Caesar's mother has past on the genetic codes to make him super smart and things progress from there.

Mr. Franco and co-star Frieda Pinto are pretty much eye candy as the "good" humans and Tom Felton does his "Draco Malfoy" evil bit as a sadistic kennel worker. John Lithgow plays Mr. Franco's father who has just a few scenes but one that is very key to the story. Brian Cox is under-used as another "bad" human but in a film like this, all the "bad" guys get their due. The CGI work, as stated, is really is terrific but the real star of the film is the motion capture work done by Andy Serkis who bring remarkable life to Caesar.

There are some clever nods to the original film and the plot evolves naturally to set up the outcome we all know and expect.. The film does leave room for a sequel that can still fill in some gaps between the timelines but specific bits and pieces make the evolution pretty clear. The climax on the Golden Gate Bridge is very exciting enhanced by a strong musical score. The one unfortunate part of the film is the brutal mistreatment of Caesar and the other chimps which, while very important to drive the revolt, is hard to watch. It should also make you sad to consider how, in real life, some people continue to mistreat animals. In that respect, this science fiction can also be seen as a cautionary tale for mankind.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Devil's Double

This film is based on the true story of Latif Yahia, a soldier in the Iraqi army who was almost a perfect double for Uday Hussein (one of Saddam Hussein's sons). Dominick Cooper plays both roles and he is terrific as the madman, Uday and as the conflicted solider, Latif. Mr. Cooper plays Uday like an Iraqi "Scarface", living a life of sex, drugs and violence. If the screenplay is accurate, Uday was a complete psychopath who took and did whatever he wanted. He forces Latif to be his body double by threatening his family and Latif's life is no longer his own.

The facts and fiction play out against a backdrop of the first Gulf War. Malta doubles (no pun intended) for Iraq with wonderful cinematography and the film has a terrific soundtrack. The film co-stars Ludivine Sagnier as Uday's girlfriend, Sarrab, who becomes dangerously attracted to Latif.

Make no mistake, this film earns it's "R" rating. It is very violent and at times the depravity of Uday Saddam is hard to watch but it is necessary to juxtapose the actions of a good man thrown into a hellish existence.

I just can't say enough good things about Mr. Cooper's double triumph. This is by far the best work he's done on screen and while the story may not be for everyone, it's worth it just for his performance.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Guard

Writer/ director John Michael McDonagh has his brother's sense of dark comedy but lacks the skill to pull it off as brilliantly as brother Martin. Getting a top notch performance out of Brendan Gleeson and a subtle low key performance out of Don Cheadle is not enough to elevate this independent crime comedy to the level of an "In Bruges" (a far better mismatched black comedy starring Mr. Gleeson and Colin Farrel).

The story is almost an afterthought to bring attention to the wry use of language and Mr. Gleeson's portrait of a sly Irish small town policeman who gets involved with Mr. Cheadle's American FBI agent chasing drug smugglers. The whole film is low key and moves by in a lazy idle way much like the life in Mr. Gleeson's Irish hamlet. There are some good laughs, mostly at the expense of the American agent but the dark outweighs the comedy and is overall disappointing.

I'll stick with "In Bruges". A far better story, direction and chemistry between the leads.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Point Blank

This French import is a thriller that hits the ground running and never lets up. It is pretty much non-stop action that will keep you on the edge of your seat, even though the basic premise has been done many times before.

Samuel, played by Gilles Lellouche, is a loving husband who's pregnant wife is kidnapped before his helpless eyes. Innocent of any crime, he is forced to help a criminal escape from the hospital where he works as a nurses aide. Things escalate from there and Samuel finds himself a wanted man pursued by both the police and rival gangsters in a race to save his wife and unborn child.

The various chase scenes on foot through Paris will leave you breathless and sudden twists come unexpectedly so pay attention. Roschy Zem plays Sartet, the mystery man Samuel must help and both actors have great chemistry as they end up in an uneasy alliance to stay alive.

In French with English sub-titles, "Point Blank" is playing in New York only at Cinema 3 on the Upper Eastside or downtown at The Sunshine Theater on Houston Street. I would recommend The Sunshine which has stadium seating and a much larger screen.

If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, this is the movie for you.

Crazy Stupid Love

Stupid may be in the title but this is a smart script and a very enjoyable adult comedy/drama. In many ways, it addresses clich├ęs head on while at the same time managing to avoid them altogether. The cast is first rate and really sells the story.

Steve Carell and Julianne Moore play Cal and Emily, a couple who's life is turned upside down when Emily announces early on that she wants a divorce. When Cal meets Jacob, played by Ryan Gosling, at a local pick-up bar, Jacob takes him under his wing (complete with total makeover) to teach him the art of meeting and seducing women.

Multiple love interests are entwined among the various characters and they all come together in a most surprising way. The film has two directors, John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, both of whom do a great job balancing the subplots. The family, friends, kids, and strangers that all cross paths are very real characters dealing with the joys and anguish of love.

Emma Stone, as Hannah, continues to mature as an actor and holds her own in her scenes with Ryan Gosling (who shows a flair for comedy for the first time). Jonah Bobo plays Robbie, Mr. Carell's wise 13 year old son with love problems of his own and he is a standout. Mr. Carell does his best work yet balancing his silly side with some well done serious moments. Ms. Moore is good but becoming rote with too many similar characters. The same can be said for Marisa Tomei (but she's so good at her type of character).

This is a modern love story with a lot of heart and just the right touch of crazy.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

Take a high concept idea, mix it with stereotypic characters, throw in two action hero icons and how can you miss? It's a weak story but you can still have fun watching cowboy heroes defeat evil aliens and save the day.

Director Jon Favreau has developed a distinct action style. Many of the action sequences here reminded me of "Iron Man" but that's not necessarily a bad thing. He does a good job playing the high concept straight and keeping things dramatic despite the unlikely combination of the old west meets "Alien/Predator". He does show a flair for the visual with two scenes in particular. The first time the locals encounter the alien ship will remind you of Richard Dreyfuss in "Close Encounters of The Third Kind" but it still makes a visual impact (coincidently Steven Spielberg is an executive producer). The other visual standout is a shot of the Indians taking position among the bleached white rocks before the attack on the alien ship. It's a quick shot but looks great.

The screenplay's roots can be traced all the way back to "The Searchers" starring John Wayne (his grandson actually has a small part in the film). Rather than tracking his niece captured by Indians, Rancher Harrison Ford goes in search of his wayward son captured by aliens, here on Earth to mine our gold. Enter the mysterious gunslinger played by Daniel Craig (with a reasonable American accent) who teams up with the rancher, a gang of outlaws and the local Indian tribe to find their family members also captured by the aliens.

Olivia Wilde plays Ella, a woman with secrets of her own and the various other key characters are played by Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown, and Walton Goggins. With the exception of Ms. Wilde's Ella, everyone else is a stock character out of any western. Mr. Ford and Mr. Craig take everything very seriously and keep you engaged as the film progresses towards it's inevitable climax.

It's a crazy concept that works on the strength and conviction of it's cast. So while not the most intelligent script, "Cowboys & Aliens" is still a fun ride... whether on horseback or spaceship.