This Week's Film Reviews (July 11, 2014)

10 Jul 2014

The Ape movie DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES breaks into theatres this weekend.  Other openings include the documentaries LIFE AGAIN and DOC OF THE DEAD.

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Directed by John Carney


Writer/director John Carney is the wonder behind the small budget hit Irish movie ONCE that went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song “Falling Slowly” that also spawned a Tony Award wining musical and a documentary  about the film.  ONCE celebrated the romance between two musicians united by their love of music.  the actors were new, they wrote the hit song and their performances demonstrated sincerity and honesty.

BEGIN AGAIN follows in the footsteps of ONCE and might be appropriately be entitled TWICE.  Again, the two leads are musicians both caught this time with bad relationships.  They find each other with romance slowly blooming, and again the relationship united by the love of music.  But this time, the story is set in NYC instead of Dublin and the film features big names stars Kiera Knightley and Mark Ruffalo in the leading roles instead of unknown songwriters.  They do a good job though they lack the sincerity of the unknowns in ONCE.

BEGIN AGAIN, as the title implies tells of the story of starting over again.  The film devotes equal time to the two leads Gretta (Knightley) ,a Brit songwriter/singer in NYC after a breakup with Dave (Adam Levine).  While performing a song at a pub, she meets Dan (Ruffalo), an out of luck music label executive separated from his wife (Catherine Keener).  It does not help yo include an estranged relationship between Dan and his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) into the already cliched plot.

Besides telling an already familiar tale, BEGIN AGAIN offers none of the freshness of ONCE.  The songs Knightley croons are also nothing memorable or catchy.  The result is a a boring romantic drama about a couple no one really cares about.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTRCxOE7Xzc

Directed by Matt Reeves


The third in the reboot of the PLANET OF THE APES films, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES exist in the series quite different from the original series.  (The third one was ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES).   DAWN takes place 10 years after the last RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, where the human race was threatened at the end of the film by a deadly virus while the apes escaped to the Muir Woods in northern San Francisco.

Everything in the RISE movie is gone in DAWN, except for a found video of the human character (that does not look like James Franco) nursing a baby Caesar.  DAWN begins with a rather clumsy assembled footage explaining the current apocalyptic state of the human race. The human race disappears like the lights of a training aid going out.  The footage is mixed fake and genuine CNN News type that even includes a speech by President Obama.   Then the silliness continues with the ape colony and a hunting sequence in which the son of Caesar is taught n important lesson, almost being killed by a bear.  “Think Before You Act!”

The next 15 minutes have the apes communicate in a mixed grunt sign language with the apes slowly graduating into the English language, with no real reason given.  The human race is supposedly extinct until humans suddenly appear who suddenly need power within the next 2 weeks to survive.

As if the plot does not get sillier but the human are able to re-generate power from the  dam, never mind the fact that relays are broken down and wires worn out.

The film takes a whole two thirds of its running time before any action starts.  Director Reeves takes his movie too seriously.  The film take turns with ape vs.ape, human vs. human and ape vs. human in repeated boring sequences before one can say enough is enough.

Actor Andy Serkis has been praised for his great acting in motion capture, but it this really acting or ape imitation?  Jason Clarke and Keri Russell deliver unmemorable lead performances.  The usually good Gary Oldman cannot do much with his cliched role as Dreyfus, a human leader.

The sight of apes swinging in the Muir Woods hanging from branches in 3D is impressive enough to draw audiences to pay money to watch this film.  The special effects and spectacle are the film’s the saving points.

The scariest thing about DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is that the sequel is already in the making with the same director Reeves at the helm.  The storyline has run out, DAWN had ended just the same way it began with the humans and apes at a stand-off.  This film might be proof that human beings are not the smartest race.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sHMCRaS3ao&feature=kp 

DOC OF THE DEAD (USA 2013) ***

Directed by Alexandre Philippe


Everything you always wanted to know about zombies but never knew what to ask!  DOC OF THE DEAD is the definitive documentary about zombies from its origin (the first movie was WHITE ZOMBIE) to its roots in black slavery to its re-invention through George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD movies.

There are lots of interviews taken from venues from Comicon and zombie conventions that include zombie celebrities like Romero himself, Sid Haig, director Alex Cox, Simon Clegg (director of  SHAUN OF THE DEAD) and other notables.  The film also records various zombie walks around the world and talks to organization selling zombie survival kits.  This is not that far-fetched an idea after diseases like mad-cow and mad-human disease have become widespread.  Philippe’s film is quite exhaustive in dealing with its topic.  One cannot complain.  But the film is truly dedicated to zombie fans all round the world.  If you are not one of them, you would find the entire exercise very strange though still fascinating.  I could do with a lot more footage of zombie films though.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZHLS2PwMKs

LIFE ITSELF (USA 2014) ***

Directed by Steve James


Steve James (HOOP DREAMS, STEVIE) directs the documentary of America’s most definitive main stream film critic Roger Ebert that recounts the inspiring and entertaining life of world-renowned film critic and social commentator.

The film begins with Ebert’s rise to fame, his winning of the Pulitzer Prize, then settling a great deal of its middle section to the relationship with Gene Siskel with their hit show Siskel and Ebert at the Movies. The film ends on a more sombre note with his fight with cancer.  Running close to 2 hours, director James has lots to reveal about the man.  But the problem is that as an interviewee says on the film, Ebert is a nice man but not that nice.  So, to be an entertaining doc, James also shows the proud, egoistical and stubborn side of the man.  But eventually, Ebert is humbled by his cancer (though I do not wish this on anybody), forced only to be jovial at a very unpleasant situation.

Also deserving mention is the much unknown family life of Ebert.  He married a black woman, Chaz and had children.  They were a loving couple.  Chaz remained true to Ebert right to the very end - something that is beautiful in real life and also beautiful to be seen on screen.

As Ebert put it very well at the film’s start, what his life and indeed everyone else’s is too.  A big movie in which we are the film’s players.  Steve James has made an exhaustive documentary of Roger Ebert.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4SgwBRq-fU


Best Pics of the Week:

Comedy: 22 Jump Street

Action: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Foreign: Like Father Like Son

Horror: Under the Skin

Doc: Whitey: United States V. James J. Bulger

Romance: They Came Together

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