Audacious, violent and disquieting, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a summer sequel that’s better than it has any right to be. This movie about how the apes rose up against the humans who would trap them, cage them and use them in medical experiments is a stunning job of back-engineering the familiar “Planet of the Apes” story and another leap forward in performance capture animation.
While the reliable Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman wring some laughs from a creaky but durable setup, playing polar-opposite buddies who find themselves by stepping outside themselves, the script takes R-rated gross-out humor to such forced extremes that its later bid for sentimental sweetness feels disingenuous and unearned.
The idea’s old as the hills — wisdom won by literally walking in someone else’s shoes — and often the gross-out humor in “The Change Up” seems designed specifically for adolescents. But for the love of Peter Pan, stifle your inner censor and give this half-smart, deliciously transgressive mess of a movie a chance.
It’s a setup for an epic showdown. What we get instead is drained of daring, much the way Favreau reduced Iron Man to formula in sappy sequel. The mash-up of cowboys and aliens doesn’t do either camp any favors. How are we supposed to work up a rooting interest when both sides are shooting blanks?
“Cowboys & Aliens” is exactly what it sounds like: a cowboy movie and an alien movie thrown together, a genre mash-up that’s more fun than good, but pretty good nonetheless. Which means, by extension, that it’s lots of fun.
But as a Steve Carell comedy, it works. He plays the victim well, the guy romantically in over his head ever better. Surrounding him with people this funny — Ryan Gosling, who knew? — pays off in big, crude laughs of the kind he hasn’t delivered since he was a “40 Year Old Virgin.” Whatever the other cast members saw in this script, Carell stepping into “Crazy” shows him to be crazy like a fox.
The Smurfs may be blue, but their movie is decidedly green, recycling discarded bits from other celluloid Happy Meals like Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield, and Hop into something half animated, half live action, and all careful studio calculation.
Captain America: The First Avenger Directed by: Joe Johnston Written by: Christopher Markus / Stephen McFeely Starring: Chris Evans / Hugo Weaving / Stanley Tucci
The Consensus: With a 71% from Rotten Tomatoes, and a 67 from Meta Critic, Captain America is barely in the critical lead over it’s romantic opponent. This is the last Marvel film that leads up to Joss Whedon’s highly anticipated The Avengers in 2012, and the “first avenger” enlisted. Chris Evans stars, and it looks like a fun serial like the ones your pop used to watch in the good ol’ days.
Ever feel as if this is a Marvel Cinematic Universe and we’re just living in it? If you’ve sought out comic-book-action thrills at the multiplex over the past few years, then you know what I’m talking about. And you also already know that Captain America: The First Avenger, for all its nostalgia-hued fun, is essentially just a set-up.
With its mix of World War II nostalgia, Bam-Pow comic book sensibilities, underdog determination and red-white-and-blue battle scenes, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is the best Marvel superhero flick since the first “Iron Man.”
Friends With Benefits Directed by: Will Gluck Written by: Will Gluck / Keith Merryman / David A. Newman / Harley Peyton Starring: Mila Kunis / Justin Timberlake / Patricia Clarkson
The Consensus: Similarly, Friends With Benefits has a 70% from Rotten Tomatoes and a 62 from Meta Critic. It’s unfortunate that it’s being released after previous films that share a similar story (No Strings Attached, etc.). While the chemistry looks better in this film, and the cast is superior, this will probably hurt at the box office this weekend.
Like true love, or even the pace of casual hookups, Friends With Benefits does not follow a smooth course. But the fault does not lie with its likable stars. It’s an uneven comedy that takes full advantage of the charm and palpable chemistry between Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis.
The jokes don’t all work and the topical references can be irritably hipper-than-thou, but at least director and cowriter Will Gluck (Easy A) aims high: this is patterned on the Tracy and Hepburn comedies, albeit with a lot more skin.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II Directed by: David Yates Written by: Steve Kloves Starring: Daniel Radcliffe / Emma Watson / Rupert Grint
The Consensus: The last Harry Potter film has been racking up the positive reviews this week. It currently has a very fresh 96% score at Rotten Tomatoes, and a 90 at Meta Critic. I’ve been a fan ever since watching Chamber of Secrets in an airplane and eagerly devouring the first four books in short order. I got my wand at Hot Topic, my Gryffindor tie just arrived from Amazon, and I’m ready for the midnight premiere. (Yes, my wife and I are brewing butterbeer that night) I’ve never been in costume at a movie before, but I’ve grown attached to the Harry Potter characters/cast, and it seems a fitting way to join them one last time.
Negative Take: N/A (from top critics) at this point.
It ends well. After eight films in 10 years and a cumulative global box-office take of more than $6.3 billion, the most successful franchise in the history of movies comes to an obligatory — and quite satisfying — conclusion in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Fully justifying the decision, once thought purely mercenary, of splitting J.K. Rowling‘s final book into two parts, this is an exciting and, to put it mildly, massively eventful finale that will grip and greatly please anyone who has been at all a fan of the series up to now. If ever there was a sure thing commercially, this stout farewell is it.
Winnie the Pooh Directed by: Stephen J. Anderson / Don Hall Written by: Stephen J. Anderson / Don Hall / Clio Chiang / Don Dougherty / Brian Kesinger / Nicole Mitchell / Jeremy Spears Starring: Jim Cummings / Craig Ferguson / John Cleese
The Consensus: I’ve been a fan of the older Winnie the Pooh films, which the latest iteration seems to take visual inspiration from, watching them on well-worn VHS tapes time and time again. I’ve seen moments of the attempted revivals of the classic characters, including the hideous CGI television series. This version looks to be a fun, nostalgic romp with old friends in the 100 Acred Woods. Rotten Tomatoes agrees with a 77% score, and a similar score of 72 from Meta Critic. With the Harry Potter behemoth breathing down it’s neck, I hope Winnie the Pooh does well at the box office.
Negative Take: N/A (from top critics) at this point.
So definitive are the soft, simple, pastel evocations of the English countryside in E.H. Shepard’s original Pooh illustrations that revisionist versions would be unthinkable. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall (director and a writer, respectively, on Meet the Robinsons) do nothing to rock the boat, delivering rich, beautifully rendered visual backdrops for the mild antics of the familiar characters.
Horrible Bosses Directed by: Seth Gordon Written by: Michael Markowitz / John Francis Daley / Jonathan M. Goldstein Starring: Jason Bateman / Charlie Day / Jason Sudeikis
The Consensus: At 74% from Rotten Tomatoes and a 58 from Meta Critic, Horrible Bosses is the freshest mainstream movie we’ve had in a while. With Seth Gordon (The King of Kong) at the helm, and a wealth of talented, funny actors, it looks like it could be a really fun film. But after seeing the trailer repeatedly and noticing the plethora of writers on board, once has to wonder.
Warner Bros. and New Line’s attempt to find out exactly where the bottom is for R-rated comedy these days results in Horrible Bosses, which probably isn’t horrible enough to excite younger viewers and will certainly not attract anyone else. Well, check that: The movie has a glittery cast that makes you wonder about the dynamics between actors and their representation, but that’s subject for somebody else’s head-shaking think piece. For a reviewer, the lameness of the gags and dialogue and the film’s frequent deep dives for the bottom at the expense of real comedy speak to desperation in Hollywood to figure out the audience for contemporary naughty comedy.
Although the premise is far-fetched and the plot at times ridiculous, there’s enough comedic firepower in Seth Gordon’s film to carry you over the rough patches. With a cast that includes Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey and Colin Farrell, all of whom can be really funny, the laughs aren’t a surprise. What may be, to the uninitiated, is that Charlie Day, so great in TV’s “It’s Always Funny in Philadelphia,” is the funniest of the bunch.
Look, a great movie this is not. A pleasant summer entertainment it is. I think it can play for all ages in a family audience, it’s clever to have the animals advising humans on their behavioral strategies, and besides, I’m getting a teensy bit exhausted by cute little animated animals. The creatures in this zoo all have the excellent taste to be in 2D.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon Directed by: Michael Bay Written by: Ehren Kruger Starring: Shia LeBeouf / Rosie Huntington-Whiteley / Tyrese Gibson
The Consensus: [Read Daniel’s Review here] Transformers: Dark of the Moon was released on Wednesday, so that’s why this post is early this week. It received a rotten 37% from Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 42 from Metacritic. I thought Transformers was decent, and Revenge of the Fallen was horrible, so I’m going to wait on the DVD for this one.
Shot by shot, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, like all of Bay’s work, has a meticulous commercial sheen that’s distinctive and beautiful, but he never lingers on any one of them for long, and they rarely make sense in sequence. The climactic showdown in Chicago, for example, sets up simple enough goals for the opposing sides, but it’s never clear where the Autobots, the Decepticons and the U.S. military are in relation to one another, or how near or far they are to achieving their respective goals. It’s just open-ended chaos, a noisy fusillade of expensive effects that pop off like the grand finale of a July 4 celebration. And for Bay, that seems entirely by design.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is too much in every direction — too much action, too much plot, too much noise, too much destruction — which is exactly what makes it the Wagnerian fulfillment of the American summer-movie tradition. It’s a great and terrible film, in identical proportions and in all possible meanings of those words. It’s got battling giant robots and hidden secrets of the American and Soviet space programs and feeble domestic comedy and random scenery-chewing shtick from an A-list supporting cast and an extreme close-up of a hot chick’s bikini-clad bottom as she climbs the stairs. In 3-D! It’s so massively and excessively vulgar that it doesn’t just flirt with self-parody, but chews it up and spits it out, and I’m not even sure that’s unintentional..
Larry Crowne Directed by: Tom Hanks Written by: Tom Hanks / Nia Vardalos Starring: Tom Hanks / Julia Roberts / Bryan Cranston
The Consensus: Joning Dark of the Moon, the Tom Hanks directed/starred Larry Crowne has a 36% from Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 41 from Metacritic. Judging from the trailer for the film, it looks like a light, fun, star-driven film with a heart-felt message. In food terms, it’s like ordering the Snack Wrap instead of the Big Mac.
For a movie called Larry Crowne, it sure is tough to get a solid read on the character of Larry Crowne. Directed, co-written by, and starring Tom Hanks in that title role, the film seems to want to be some kind of post-recessional pick-me-up, an “It Gets Better” video for the struggling, aging-out American middle-class. And with its eager-to-please congeniality, it almost works, but with a pacing that is at once comfortably assured and frustratingly slack, like holding exactly to the speed limit on a stretch of open road, Larry Crowne never quite comes to life.
Monte Carlo Directed by: Thomas Bezucha Written by: Thomas Bezucha / April Blair / Maria Maggenti / Kelly Bowes Starring: Selena Gomez / Leighton Meester / Katie Cassidy
The Consensus: While still ‘rotten’, if you go by the numbers, Monte Carlo is the new movie to watch this weekend, with a 45% from Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 42 from Meta Critic.
The ingredients should have been there for a diverting bit of light escapism, but “Monte Carlo” gets it all wrong. It’s unpleasant where it should be pleasant, convoluted where it should be streamlined, anxiety provoking where it should be easy, and long, long, long – at least 20 minutes longer than it has a right to be.
Disguises, deceptions — you could call the narrative of “Monte Carlo” Shakespearean, but I prefer to consider Shakespeare’s romantic comedies as “Selena Gomez-esque.”
Director and co-writer Thomas Bezucha lacks visual panache, and in fact leaves most of the panache in general to composer Michael Giacchino’s swank and charming ditties and montage accompaniments. Still, the characters and the film grow on you.
Cars 2 Directed by: John Lasseter / Brad Lewis Written by: Ben Queen / John Lassater / Brad Lewis / Dan Fogelman Starring: Owen Wilson / Larry the Cable Guy / Michael Caine / Emily Mortimer
The Consensus: At the start of this ‘critical’ race, Cars 2 and Bad Teacher are pretty much neck and neck. Cars 2 has a rotten 52% from Rotten Tomatoes and a 60 from Meta Critic, which is the lowest rating for a Pixar film (Cars has a score 74%) I’ll be seeing it in theaters, but I’m not expecting more than a fun popcorn film with talking cars.
“Cars 2” is such a mess, it makes the original look like it ought to rank among Pixar’s masterpieces by comparison.
What has set the studio’s films apart from all the other animated fare is story: It’s paramount. Innovative tales like “WALL-E” and “Up” get you choked up just thinking about them, they’re that good. “Cars 2” tries to encompass many kinds of stories at once, none of which is terribly clever or compelling.
By Pixar’s own standards, “Cars,” the scenic animated amble on the backroads of the Roadrunner’s desert southwest, was the company’s worst film. Laugh-starved, lacking much in the line of action, it was a triumph of toy sales and product tie-in (NASCAR) over motion picture.
“Cars 2″ over-compensates for those “Get off the fast track” mid-life crisis musings, but does so in an often funny and action-packed “James Bond goes Racing” comedy. They turn more of the story over to the comic relief, the dopey tow truck Tow Mater, and get a sillier, more kid-friendly movie out of it. Yes, “Cars 2″ is better than “Cars.”
Bad Teacher Directed by: Jake Kasdan Written by: Gene Stupnitsky / Lee Eisenberg Starring: Cameron Diaz / Jason Segel / Justin Timberlake
The Consensus: One-upping Cars 2 with 53% rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a (lower) score of 48 from Meta Critic, Bad Teacher looks like fun, but in that all-the-jokes-are-in-the-preview kind of way. It is nice to see Segel (I Love You, Man) and Timberlake (The Social Network) getting more roles.
Kasden and writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg construct the film as a series of set pieces, some funnier than others. [. . .] But in the end it just doesn’t quite add up. Maybe it’s the too-easy ending that feels like a cop-out. Maybe it’s the cardboard cut-out nature of the characters. Probably it’s a combination of those and other elements that leads to Diaz’s bad teacher not being as bad as she might have been and “Bad Teacher” not as good as it could have been.
Super 8 Directed by: J.J. Abrams Written by: J.J. Abrams Starring: Elle Fanning, Amanda Michalka, Kyle Chandler
The Consensus: The Tomatometer is soaring with an 87% rating for J.J. Abram’s Super 8, followed by a 67 / 100 score from Meta Critic. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this one since the first teaser trailer hit the web. It looks like a mixture of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Iron Giant.
I find myself wondering if the pitch meeting was little more than Abrams promising Steven Spielberg that the famed director’s oeuvre would be all but gilded and bronzed right there on the screen. But that can be forgiven…if there’s a story.
And there’s not. Well, there’s not a complete story. There’s a lot of mayhem that feels injected into a coming-of-age yarn that itself needed some tinkering, and then there’s a climax that is meant to bring it all together, but ultimately whiffs worse than Begbie’s scratch in“Trainspotting.”
The effects, while spectacular, also happen to be germane to the plot, and they have an intimate, tactile quality, rather than seeming too glossy or removed from reality. (And they’re NOT in 3-D. Yes, it is indeed possible.)
So all you’re left with is … story. And strong performances. And well-developed characters. And a believable emotional arc. And genuine thrills.
And that’s apropos, given that it’s a love letter to the man who skillfully wove together all those elements in inventing the modern blockbuster.
The movie may be a bit too high on the junk food meter, and excessively frantic in action sequences towards the narrative finish line when chasing down assorted runaway plot threads, but who cares. John Schultz’s Judy Moody And The NOT Bummer Summer generally delights as it excels in its Juno-in-training wild tween talk lingo. And with generous heaps of sublimely cartoonish kid satire, even at its most hyper-actively hokey interludes.
The Hangover Part II Directed by: Todd Phillips Written by: Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong, Todd Phillips Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifanakis
The Consensus:Rotten Tomatoes has dubbed The Hangover Part II (which actually came out today) ‘rotten’ with a 30% rating, and Meta Critic’s score is 47. If you’re a fan of Hangover, but want something more fresh, try Bridesmaids instead.
The Hangover, if not exactly revolutionary, was a perfectly good raunch-com that showcased the different skills of its actors. Its sequel is more of the same, only less so. Why pay to see it when you could just re-watch the first one?
With brilliant support from a scene-stealing Ken Cheong reprising his role as Mr Chow – now very much in his element – and a few exotic touches added to the mix (a flashback scene to the night before with the cast reimagined as kids is inspired) The Hangover Part II is a riot.
Kung Fu Panda 2 Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Written by: Jonathan Aibel, Gleb Berger Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan
The Consensus: The Rotten Tomatoes rating for Kung Fu Panda 2 is a favorable 74%, with a 74 score from Meta Critic. (One point more than the previous film in the series). I really enjoyed Kung Fu Panda and am looking forward to checking the sequel out at some point.
But the freshness and novelty that made the original film such a kick back in 2008 has been, well, kicked to bits. And the storyline of this sequel feels overstuffed with plotlines and characters, none of which gets its due individually.
The Tree of Life (Limited) Directed by: Terrence Malick Written by: Terrence Malick Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken
The Consensus: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life won the Palm d’Or at Cannes last week, and has a high 84% rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 87 from Meta Critic. It’s limited, so don’t expect to see it this weekend.
In The Tree of Life,Malick prioritizes self-conscious artistry over any coherent concept of family, society or the origins of life. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s clean light is pretty but inexpressive; it plays into Malick’s vain idea of cinema as a kinetic picture-puzzle.