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.
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.