Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Hour of the Wolf Movie Review

Human Jason Clarke finds relations strained with simian neighbors (l to r) Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, and Karin Konoval in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.
Human Jason Clarke finds relations strained with simian neighbors (l to r) Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, and Karin Konoval in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.

This is a trivial question, but it’s been bugging me, so let me get it out, okay? Why is the sequel to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES called DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES? I mean, “dawn” suggests a beginning, right? And you can’t actually rise until you begin, right? So shouldn’t the titles of these films be reversed? Then again, that first film wasn’t really focused on the planet of the apes beginning, but on the events that eventually led to that beginning. And this newest film isn’t so much about the planet’s rise as one glimpse into how humanity loses its foothold to the newly born society of intelligent simians. But then, I guess EVENTS IMMEDIATELY PRECEDING AND HAVING A DIRECT IMPACT UPON THE DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and ONE CHAPTER THAT WILL EVENTUALLY LEAD TO THE RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES wouldn’t quite pop on movie posters, would it? Never mind.
Hm? What did I think of the film? Oh, I loved it. No, let me clarify that: I LOVED IT. But it’s not really as simple as that, so listen in to my review for the HOUR OF THE WOLF radio show to get my take on this thoroughly entertaining summer blockbuster. Click on the player to hear the segment, or right-click the title to download.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – Hour of the Wolf Movie Review


ROBOCOP: Spotlight Podcast 5:7.1

Joel Kinnaman strives to be a cyborg with soul in ROBOCOP.
Joel Kinnaman strives to be a cyborg with soul in ROBOCOP.

And so, shouldering our backpacks and steeling ourselves against the urge to look back, we leave the doldrums of the start-of-2014 release schedule. Farewell, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES! Farewell, I, FRANKENSTEIN! Farewell, (ugh) VAMPIRE ACADEMY! May our paths never cross again. (A fruitless wish in the case of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY — the next installment is due in the summer.)
ROBOCOP — the remake of Paul Verhoeven’s politically acerbic, wildly satiric, and operatically violent science fiction action film — is much better. How much better, though, is open for debate. While celebrating  Brazilian director José Padilha’s success in updating the tale of a noble cop killed in the line of duty who’s transformed into an indomitable crime-fighting cyborg and literal corporate tool, the Cinefantastique team of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons differ on how well this new version addresses its social issues and political commentary. Bottom line: The guys are happier debating the degree of goodness of a truly good film than hashing over how much a misfire sucks rubber donkey lungs.
Click on the player to hear the show.


'Dark Kight Rises' in EW

DKR_ew_CVREntertainment Weekly features Christian Bale as The Batman from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES on its latest cover.
Regarding his role as the iconic character in the final film of the Christopher Nolan trilogy, the actor told the magazine:

“I can tell you the truth because I’m done with it; I felt immense pressure. And I think it’s a good pressure, because you owe it to the films — and the people’s expectations — to make great work.”

Slightly Spoilerific nuggets from the feature article includes the known-for- some-time fact that eight years have elapsed for Bruce Wayne since THE DARK KNIGHT. It confirms that the suspected plot element that the self-sacrificing deception  that the Batman and James Gordon (Gary Oldman) used to sheild the public from the truth of the murderous actions of respected D.A. Harvey Dent will come back to haunt them, as Bane (Tom Hardy) comes to spread anarchy in Gotham City.
Also, the Bat Cave will return to the screen, presumably fitted with high tech gear.  
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES  in standard and IMAX theaters on July 20th from Warner Brothers Pictures.
The website above also features two more new photos from the film.

Kung Fu Panda 2: Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast 2:20.1

Even Awesomer in Battle: The Furious Five Plus One (l to r: David Cross, Angelina Jolie, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu) brace for combat in KUNG FU PANDA 2.
Even Awesomer in Battle: The Furious Five Plus One (l to r: David Cross, Angelina Jolie, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu) brace for combat in KUNG FU PANDA 2.

Ready for another visit from the most awesome martial arts master ever? Well, ready or not, Po, the legendary Dragon Warrior (and roly-poly panda) is back in this follow up to the well-received KUNG FU PANDA. And this time Po (voice of Jack Black) and his compatriots, the Furious Five — Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) — are facing a challenge that threatens the whole of China: Lord Chen, a power-mad peacock with abandonment issues and a well-stocked armory of newly-invented cannons to back up his claim to the throne. Can Po overcome this threat by confronting the secret of his past that binds him inextricably to Lord Shen? And will audiences find KUNG FU PANDA 2 an exciting and innovative blend of Hong Kong action with energetic CG animation, or is this just another sequel that’s satisfied to serve up more of the same? Join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they debate the issue.


Red Riding Hood: Horror Film Review

Red-Riding-Hood-PosterRED RIDING HOOD, based on the classic fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, is a werewolf movie in the style of a paranormal romance. Instead of building an atmosphere of horror, such stories are about women involved with supernatural beings (vampires, werewolves, demons) and the ensuing romantic difficulties. These women are often either the ultimate in “bad girls” or are dating ultimate bad boys with supernatural powers that need to be marshaled and contained. As a subgenre of romance, paranormal romances have been building in popularity for the past decade and have become a staple at many bookstores.
One of the most popular paranormal romances is Stephanie Mayer’s series of TWILIGHT books, and RED RIDING HOOD’s director is none other than Catherine Hardwicke, the woman who directed the first TWILIGHT film.  RED RIDING HOOD benefits from her ability to create beautiful visuals on a limited budget. Both the cinematography by Mandy Walker and the production design by Thomas Sanders are strong.
In the script by David Johnson(ORPHAN), Valerie is the young girl who receives a red cloak from her grandmother (Julie Christie). In the opening scene (set in a European mountain village that is never actually specified — it could be Austria or the Carpathians), Valerie traps a young rabbit with her friend Peter and is encouraged to slit the rabbit’s throat, with the spilling of blood indicating her transition into adulthood and her growing bond with Peter.
Some years later, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) wants to marry the handsome woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but her mother (Virginia Madsen), knowing how little woodcutters make (being married to one) is determined that she marry the brooding blacksmith Henry (Max Irons) instead. Rather than Team Edward and Team Jacob, these two men vie for Valerie’s love and attention. Henry realizes that Valerie prefers Peter, but Henry is game to show her that he is worthy.
Complicating matters, the village has been terrorized by a werewolf for many years, so every full moon, one of the village’s animals is tied to a stake and left for a sacrifice. However, this particular full moon, the werewolf bypasses the planned sacrifice and kills Valerie’s sister instead. Consequently, the village priest, Father Auguste (Lucas Haas) summons famed werewolf-hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) to put an end to the horrors.
The villagers decide to tackle the problem themselves and send a posse after the werewolf. In the process, Henry’s father is killed and the Reeve (Michael Hogan, Saul of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) beheads the wolf he thinks is responsible. Father Solomon arrives in the village with two daughters, a warrior band of Moors, and a large iron elephant which is later employed as a torture device. Solomon has dedicated his life to eradicating werewolves, since one decimated his family. To aid him in his quest, he wields a silver sword and has replaced with natural fingernails with silver ones.
Goldman does an impressive job limning a larger-than-life fanatic, chomping on the scenery without quite going over the top, though at times it is a near miss, especially when he hisses while torturing someone about how “he sings with the love of Satan,” which borders on camp. Seyfried, from BIG LOVE and VERONICA MARS, imbues her character with some strong qualities as well. She’s no damsel in distress; her Valerie is smart, strong, and independent-minded, blue-eyed and stout-hearted.
The weakest element proves to be the werewolf itself, an underwhelming piece of CGI with black fur and brown eyes. The werewolf confronts Valerie and actually talks to her in a voice only she can understand. She realizes that the werewolf is one of the villagers, someone she knows, and so she dedicates herself to trying to solve which villager the werewolf could be. Is it Peter? Hans? Could it be Father Auguste luring Father Solomon for an ultimate showdown? Could it be one of her village girl friends? Could it be a member of her own family, such as her grandmother or her father (Billy Burke). However, once word spreads that she has communicated with the wolf, Valerie herself is suspected of witchcraft.

Amanda Seyfried
Amanda Seyfried

Though the images are beautiful, much of the dialogue is sappy, and far too modern for the time period, giving the film a Renaissance Faire 90210 feel. Though it tries hard to be anything but scary, the film doesn’t really satisfy, though in some ways it comes closer than Universal’s recent retread of THE WOLF MAN.  RED RIDING HOOD doesn’t have the delirious sexual undertones or inventiveness of Neil Jordan’s THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, and the beautiful Seyfried, looking great in Renaissance-era lingerie, is stranded between being a symbol of purity and one of sexuality. Though it is reminiscent of the TWILIGHT franchise, RED RIDING HOOD cannot quite recreate the successful formula.
RED RIDING HOOD (March 11, 2011). Director: Catherine Hardwicke. Writer: David Johnson.

  • Amanda Seyfried…Valerie
  • Gary Oldman…Solomon
  • Billy Burke…Cesaire
  • Shiloh Fernandez…Peter
  • Max Irons…Henry
  • Virginia Madsen…Suzette
  • Lukas Haas…Father Auguste
  • Julie Christie…Grandmother

The Book of Eli (2010)

Book of Eli-Movie (2010)

“In the time before…”

Back in January of 2010, a movie hit theaters and began with those rather clichéd words.  And it feels to us as if we’re talking about an ancient allegory, too.  We missed THE BOOK OF ELI when it initially hit theaters, but we’re catching up with it now.  Well, at least we’re getting to it before it journeys all the way to DVD.
The tale is a post-apocalyptic one in which our intrepid hero (Denzel Washington) feels called upon by a higher power (you know Who) to make a years-long journey to get a very important book (you know what) to a specific destination for a very important purpose.  You see, in this squalid future, there is perhaps only one of these books left (not too many other books either), and it must be protected and preserved at all costs.  So then it follows, of course, that there is a bad guy (Oldman) who wants to get his hands on the book for his own nefarious purposes.
As for the cause of mankind’s state in the film, who really knows?  We just screwed up big time, blew everything to hell, and really damaged our ozone layer, radiating ourselves and scorching the Earth in the process.  Yep, things they be a mess…in more than one aspect.
This reviewer can remember the good ol’ days when he was a young’un and rode bikes about 8 miles into town with his best bud one summer day to catch the a nifty little sleeper called THE ROAD WARIOR (1982).  Didn’t know much about it, other than the fact that it was a low-budget Aussie film with some no-name, hungry actors, and it promised some hip action for those with the thirst.  Well, it turned out to be an extra fun surprise, not to mention a star-making little jaunt for some actor named Mel Gibson and a director named George Miller.
Twenty-nine years and countless post-apocalyptic films later, it would be nice to be able to say the same for THE BOOK OF ELI; but alas, such just ain’t the case.  With a couple of A-list actors in the leads, there be no hungry no-namers to jump onto the scene.  With a budget of at least $80-million, the low-budget, devil-may-care spirit is out, too.  And with the post-apocalyptic genre having been beat to death with both good and bad whips, this somewhat plodding effort doesn’t bring much to viewers that’s different or entertaining.  However, with a ‘B’ or ‘C’ cast and some shakier production values on the technical side, it might make for good (translated schlocky & entertaining) midnight TV fodder on the likes of CREATURE FEATURES – another neat little blast from the past where just those kinds of movies ended up, to the joy of puberty-stricken teens all around.
Now, this is not to say that THE BOOK OF ELI boasts no positives.  When you’ve got a charismatic lead with the talent and gravitas of Denzel Washington, you bring instant strength to just about any film.  And Washington delivers here as well.  In fact, he’s the main reason for watching a stale piece like ELI.  It sure isn’t for Gary Oldman, who hams it up pretty good, even in the quiet moments.  And it isn’t for screenwriter Gary Whitta’s script, which does nothing to enlarge the genre or give us interesting – or at least fun – characters to hiss or cheer.  Mr. Whitta comes from the world of video gaming and video game journalism.  It shows in THE BOOK OF ELI, which feels rather like a game concept transposed to the big screen.
In addition to the positive contributions from Washington, there are a couple of other factors at work: one is the technical flair brought to bear by cinematographer Don Burgess.  It may not be ground-breaking, but the gritty, monochromatic imagery is an effective and appropriate approach to the film.  Another is the stylish direction of the Hughes brothers (except for some silly slow-mo’s).  They have a sense for tone and action, but they lack the ability to guide a writer who needs guidance and tell a compelling story.  In the end, it’s too bad that the pieces don’t come together to form a cohesive whole.  One senses missed opportunity and potential.
But back to Denzel Washington for a moment.  He brings a laudable reverence to his character’s spiritual beliefs without being preachy (more on that in a minute); it’s just too bad the rest of the film is too muddy in its development and too dopey to match such heart-felt care.  Through it all, fortunately, it remains clear that Washington cares, and admittedly, that alone is kind of refreshing.
As pointed out, there is a religious element to THE BOOK OF ELI, but it exists primarily as an element of the story, not to proselytize.  Regardless of the fact that a few have labeled the film as preachy (e.g., Kim Newman from Empire Magazine), it is not.  The titular book and the main character’s faith in the words contained therein are the MacGuffin used for the story’s progression, but the journey hardly equates to preachiness.  If such is what a viewer feels, I would submit that it comes from his or her own baggage, not from anything intrinsic to the film.
After all, in one of the movie’s more lunkheaded but predictable machismo moments, our heroine (Mila Kunis) passes on a logical life-choice and the message contained in the book, in order to go back to what she just spent most of the movie trying to get away from (presumably to go get her mother?) .  And Oldman’s character is interested in the book as a means to manipulate and control the masses – not for any truth in it that he believes should be adhered to.
In the end, there is a nice little twist – if you accept that divine intervention is involved; however, we’re left thinking that, although elements are intriguing or entertaining on one level or another, this post-apocalyptic world wasn’t mapped out thoroughly enough before committing it to celluloid.  As for this reviewer, give him book worm Henry Bemis in the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “Time Enough at Last,” based on Lynn Venable’s short story of the same name.; now there be some slick, ironic and entertaining end-of-civilization storytelling.  And there’s certainly the other post-apocalyptic tale released not too long before THE BOOK OF ELI.  You know the one I mean?  It involves a bleak, thoughtful trek down THE ROAD.

THE BOOK OF ELI (Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros. 2010; 118 min.) Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes.  Screenplay by Gary Whitta.  Produced by Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, Joel Silver, and David Valdes.  Executive produced by Susan Downey, Erik Olsen, Steve Richards, and Richard D. Zanuck.  Cinematography by Don Burgess.  Production Design by Gae S. Buckley.  Art Direction by Christopher Burian-Mohr.  Costumes by Sharen Davis.  Special Effects Supervision by Yves De Bono.  Visual Effects Supervision by Jon  Farhat, Justin Jones, Allan Magled, Chris Wells, and Edson Williams.  Music Composed by Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross, and Claudia Sarne.  Edited By Cindy Mollo.  Cast: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits.  MPAA Rating: R – for some brutal violence and strong language.