Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Serious Monkey Business

Apes make audiences go bananas in the powerfully
well-told Dawn of The Planet of The Apes


ARTH VADER (AV): Picking up ten years where the last film (Rise of The Planet of The Apes) leaves off, this movie does indeed borrow from iconic imagery from classic Ape films but quickly makes this universe it’s own. The Apes in past franchise installments, we learned that the Apes took over the Earth, but we never got to know why. Now we have those answers and it’s terrifying because of the possibility of how close to reality the prospect of this story really is. Read on to learn my theory that will blow your mind. Pontificator, what were your thoughts on the new Ape flick? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Picking up ten years after the first film, this film flows seamlessly in continuing the story of the world on the verge of man being replaced by apes as the dominant species. While being a departure from the story of the original films of the 1970’s, there are a number of nods to that series for fans of the original series to enjoy. 


AV: The amazing Andy “Golum!” Serkis reprises his role as the infamous Cesar, wise and terrible ruler of the Ape nation. The performance of Serkis is worth the prices of admission alone. Gary “Commish Gordon” Oldman is a disappointment as the mostly stale leader of the human colony in San Francisco. He simply doesn’t deliver the passion we all know he’s capable of. But he doesn’t matter as the cinematography is breathtaking. What’s more the film making masterwork of Matt “Let Me In” Reeves is truly breathtaking, P-man. The opening and closing cinematic sequences are so cool my heart skipped a beat. Seriously. And my favorite sequence, during the first Ape attack, involving the blood-lustful Koba riding a bradley fighting vehicle, whose turret is spinning wildly to of control, is some of the most amazing film -making I have seen in a long time. The camera pans the battlefield along with the turret. Like I said old friend, breathtaking. 

TP: Agreed Vader. Andy Serkis leads the cast with a brilliant performance as Caesar. He has become a master at captivating our attention and conveying character information using only his eyes. Jason Clarke does well in his role as the “sympathetic human,” Malcolm, trying to find his way in a world torn us under by plague and warfare. Gary Oldman is always a great actor to watch and drives home the role of that human (Dreyfus) willing to do whatever he has to in order for humanity to remain dominant. Of course there is an ape antagonist matching this role (Koba), and he is brilliantly played by Toby Kebbell. Dare I say, he was just as interesting and engaging as Serkis…  a testament to his tremendous talent. 


AV: Oh my stars and garters, this movie is the CGI event of 2014. Yep, you read it hear first folks. It would not surprise me if this film doesn’t win some awards for it’s visual effects. Every one of the thousands of Apes are individually rendered, no visible duplicates. The Redwoods are rendered and the scenes of the post-famine San Francisco are beyond description. And then, then there are the Apes. My God in heaven, this is a CGI spectacle. You know I always state old friend, I’m only impressed with visual effects that give me something I haven’t seen before–and this film delivers, in spades! It’s stunning how larger-than-life the Apes are throughout. As the viewers, we accept them as living, breathing beings. That is the earmark of greatness. 

TP: Let me sum up the special effects of this film in one word; awesome. The best CGI is the CGI you never knew was there. Watching this film, it never occurred to me that there was CGI in some of the more obvious places where it would have to be used. That’s how great the film was, and how awesome the CGI was. It looked like every animal in the film was real, and I don’t think a single one was. Kudos to the set designer’s also as the settings for this movie only added to it’s realism…as if the 3D weren’t enough. This film was a shining example of using special effects to further the story, and hit a home run with the experience.

AV: I can say with every certainty, this is the first Apes film, in the entire genre, that is told from the perspective of the Apes. The iconic opening to this film pits the Apes hunting using only eye movements and sign language. The opening sequence is over 10 minutes long and involves the Apes hunting and immersing us in their world. The world of the Apes, driven by Ceasar’s philosophy of strength in numbers and family loyalty are mirrored at times on the human side but we are quite bit more deficient in those thoughts as a species. What is a grand–and very human, if not intelligent revelation Cesar makes is the disappointed realization of how alike Apes are to humans.

TP: There was a lot going on in this film, and while much of it could be described as cliché, the presentation was so powerful that I never felt cheated. Of course we were presented with the parallels between the human and the apes to contrast and compare and ultimately come to the conclusion that they are much more similar than they are different. Caesar is the wise ape, careful in his decisions, a parallel to Malcolm. We also have the antagonists, Koba for the apes and Carver for the humans, both having a deep disdain for the other species and willing to do things to further their personal beliefs. Ironically, it was the “humanizing” of the apes that made this film as great as it was. On another note, the many nods to the original films was just a great touch for the real hardcore fans of the film franchise. I won’t go into any of them here, but if you are a fan like I am, you know exactly what they were.

ARTH VADER’S SPECIAL APES THEORY: So here it is the brilliance of these films. Unlike the largely disastrous Tim “Batman” Burton Planet Of The Apes, starring Marky “I think we’ve found a  Transformer!” Mark Wahlberg, this (soon-to-be) trilogy, fits quite nicely into the continuity of the Apes movies of the late 1960’s through the 1970’s. In my theory (yes Ponty, it’s MINE!) Charlton “You blew it up!” Heston and his two astro-cronies are still out in space somewhere. In the original Planet Of The Apes, three astronauts land on a planet ruled by Apes–which we later discover is Earth, but we are told HOW the Apes took control. At the end of this present series, Chuck Heston & his space-buds can  still land, thousands of years from now. Mind: Blown. 

TP: Interesting theory O’ Dark One, but methinks the “how” of the original apes ascension was covered in “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” where it is said the ape revolution is led by a talking ape named Aldo that revolted against his human masters. Of course, that could just be the faulty recollection, and your theory could be the actual truth as events and “recorded” events often differ depending on who is in charge at the time of the recollection.


AV: As I understand things, the writing of the third installment of this series is well underway. My only hang-up with this series so far is that the two films are mislabeled. The first flick should have been Dawn and the one should have been Rise. That said, whatever the sequel offers us, it is highly anticipated and if it follows suite in style, tone, cadence, and depth of story, we'll have another stellar winner on our hands.

TP: I am very excited about what will be offered next. With a human army on the march, and Caesar preparing his apes for war, I get goosebumps just thinking about where they will go next to finally present us with an Earth solely in the domain of the apes.

ARTH VADER rates Dawn of The Planet of The Apes: There’s so much to love, even if you are NOT familiar with other Apes flicks. The story, the quality of the movies making and the over-the-top awesome visual effects are the stuff of great entertainment. The screenplay alone is reason-enough to see this flick but if you were wondering why or how the Apes came to power, this movie is a must. For that I say this film swings 10 Busted Blocks from the branches.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: With a great story, brilliant acting by the lead apes, and awesome special effects, this film was truly a gem on the silver screen. It was the type of film that had me thinking profoundly when it was done, easily dominating eight (8) busted blocks, by Caesar’s command.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes: 9 /10 Busted Blocks

Monday, July 21, 2014

Putting the 'Stink' in Extinction

Michael Bay spares no expense keeping the Autobots on their heels with new friends and old adversaries in the noticeably terrible Transformers: Age Of Extinction


ARTH VADER (AV): The Transformers are changing before our eyes. They are morphing,altering their DNA, becoming newer, bigger and badder. It’s downright Darwinian, Ponty. Moving the established Transformers cinematic universe (TCU) forward. Director Michael Bay introduces a whole new strain of enemies (and some ancient allies) to offer 2 hours and 45 minutes of some of the most beautiful eye-gasming, hi-tech, empty-headed disaster porn this side of Day After Tomorrow (ply or minus one hunky, frosty Dennis Quaid). The action is intense and it shows so many flags and lens flares, you would think J.J. Abrams got together with Betsy Ross. And indeed, in this fourth installment of the TCU, we are bombarded with hi-tech (and other!) eye candy.  

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Ah yes…another Transformers film has graced the silver screen, be still my beating heart Vader. Picking up where the last film left off, the continuity seems to be intact for the previous films (for the most part) if you can overlook Optimus Prime’s new arm and new ability to suddenly fly, I’m just not sure I even care anymore.  


AV: So after three blockbuster TCU movies, actor-turned-whack-a-do-head case, Shiaf LaBouff is done. So is Megan “Hey, my eyes are up here” Fox, letting us in on a whole new cast of dim-witted robo-sidekicks. Heading up this new list of TCU humans is Mark “Good Vibrations” Wahlberg as the new leading guy with immortal words “I think we’ve found a transformer” (I think so, too, btw). Wonderfully perplexing actor extraordinaire Kelsey Grammar is the evil G-Man who hates transformers as Stan "I am the 1%" Tucci uses his tech and skills (and some help from some not-so-nice off-worlders) make Optimus Prime's life a poo-storm. 

TP: There was a LOT of talent in this cast. Leading off with Mark Wahlberg with support by Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer, it was hard for me to fathom why this film didn’t absolutely blow me away. Add the voice talents of John Goodman and Ken Wantanabe and all you really have to do is provide great material for a hit. Granted, this was not the type of film that was ever going to win Oscar’s for acting, but it certainly could have been better with a better script and more focused directing.


AV: If I was in the turd-shinning business, I would be rich beyond my wildest dreams working on the visual effects for this movie, old friend. Say what you will about this film's attempt at a plot but this movie looks incredible! The ships, the fights, the Dinobots, a second Transformer invasion of Chicago–not to mention the incredible interiors on the adversaries giant spaceship simply take your breath away.

TP: Special effects is the bread and butter of this film and for the most part they blew me away…as expected. What I didn’t expect was to see any hint or sign of shoddy CGI work anywhere on the screen…after all, this is the fourth Transformers film and if they can’t figure it out now, something is wrong. Well, something is wrong. I was flabbergasted that in the scene where Yeager (Wahlberg) is being chased down the side of a high rise building in China by Savoy (Titus Welliver) it looked as fake on the pullback shot as the first few years of film CGI. Really…?


AV: Okay so if it's not evident by now, I was not a fan of this movie. It did not have a plot, a story that mattered, waaay too many flags and lens flares for my liking and I have learned not to expect much from these films and got exactly that…not much. How many Autobots are there? Every film says there only a few but we have dozens in each film. According to this film, the Transformers were 'seeded' to Earth by a race of cybernetic-enhanced beings. Where did they come from? Are there others? Were they defeated? Why the hell can Optimus Prime Fly all of a sudden? And why couldn't he just do so in the past? So Megatron is now Galvatron? Ugh! This stuff is so frustrating–I can suspend disbelief only so far. This movie goes way beyond that line. 

TP: Let me sum this film up in one word: cliché. There was so much that was unoriginal in this film that it became predictable to the point of being boring and all the explosions and destruction just added to the agony when the film reached this level. Some examples are the scene where Tessa (Nicola Peltz) can’t figure out which direction to run to avoid the danger of the Optimus Prime/ Galvatron/ Lockdown fight…and runs in every direction instead of directly to her father (who is obviously in no danger as he sits and gives her the ridiculous instruction to run everywhere else). There was no doubt in my mind she was going to be taken at that point. The scene where they are all doing their best tightrope impression to escape the alien ship…as if nobody could predict the cables were gonna break. The scene where they are just about to get Joyce (Tucci) and the seed aboard their ship, and they form a human chain to do it (instead of Bumblebee just jumping down, grabbing both, and jumping back in the craft) when (oh surprise!) a lucky shot shakes them all off the ship and into further peril. There were so many moments like this in the film that it was impossible to be thrilled, knowing exactly what was going to happen in the next scene…sigh. 


AV: I am sure there is another in the works already. Don't know how excited I am for it, though. I mean honestly, if this film was the 'Age of Extinction' –who died? No one became extinct. I know, don' t be so literal. I get it, P–Man, I really do. It's a misnomer, not a title. TV Commercial director-turned-Hollywood blockbuster madman, Michael Bay has such a love for the military, scantily clad skirts on near-underage fillies and American flags, he will be busy, I'm sure, getting hard to work on T5: Age of (yawn) .. oh who cares at this point. Pontificator? 

TP: So I hear that this film was the first in the next trilogy of Transformer’s films (groan) with Transformers: 5 set to debut in 2016. Truthfully, when I saw Galvitron (Megatron) escape, I knew I was in for another film…but another two? I didn’t think it was possible to have action-film overload, but here it is…me, overloaded and dreading more films like this one. 


ARTH VADER rates Transformers: Age Of Extinction: At two hours and 45 minutes runtime, there is very little positive I can say about his film. It's long, cumbersome, horribly cliché and full of itself in so many way its too hard to suggest otherwise. At an expensive of more than $220 million, you could hire a few writers. Shame on you Mr. Bay and shame on Hollywood. Nearly 3-hours and $220 million and we are none the worse for wear. (Sigh) So Transformers: Age Of Extinction morphs two (2) busted blocks into energon cubes with just enough power to make me want to know, begrudgingly, where the Dinobots ran off too. Scratch that, I don't want to know. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Transformers:Age of Extinction: Although this film was loaded with action and big budget effects, that was the only entertainment value it held for me. A film full of cliché’s just isn’t fun for me. With such a talented cast, I don’t think the idea should be to make the film even more mindless than usual and thus, only transform six (6) busted blocks. 

Transformers: Age Of Extinction: 4 / 10 Busted Blocks 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cruise To The Edge Of Greatness

An alien invasion is no match for the dynamic duo of Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow


ARTH VADER (AV): Derived from the wildly popular Manga graphic novel “All you need is kill” heralding from Japan, Edge of Tomorrow shares a gritty and intriguing story of a soldier rushed to the front-line of an intergalactic war between humanity and a horrifying alien invader who seem to know every move even before we make it. I firmly believe “All You Need is Kill” is likely a poor translation of the Japanese mother IP (Intellectual Property), the story is compelling, pitting the Major William Cage (Cruise) against a ticking clock that resets every time he is killed. Pontificator, this movie has infinite storytelling potential and I am not sure this one wasn’t one of my favorites of the year. What did you think? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Based on the novel “All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, this film is a loose adaption of the book, keeping the general premise, but changing many details. Although there are changes, the film is still very entertaining even though very different from the novel Vader.


AV: Cruise and Blunt are phenomenal to be sure, but one of my favorite characters in this film is Maj. Sergeant Farell played by Bill Paxton. Playing one of the most predictably atypical archetypes of the over-the-top American drill Sgt. who will bust heads, bust balls and bust a move on any enlisted man who steps out of line. Directed by Doug “Bourne Identity” Liman, this movie has a distinctive look and photographic essence that is unique to this film. Liman’s choice not to start each new ‘day’’ systematically makes for a surprisingly fresh visual approach that kept me guessing if this day is new for us or new for the character. And need I say, Brandon “Braveheart” Gleeson plays the stalwart General Brigham and is a totally solid character that adds nothing but depth and character color.

TP: Tom Cruise is still a box office draw and is able to deliver in the capacity of “action hero” with his own brand of wit and those coveted “Cruise” moments. Emily Blunt is great at playing a hardcore role and really sells her character, even better than Cruise. It was also fun to see Bill Paxton, adding to his trend of recent exposure. The film moved at a quick pace, never staying too long in one place and stayed interesting even as it revisited the same situations.


AV: Edge of Tomorrow is a visual spectacular, worthy of 3D and certainly worth a look. If you like big-budget films, lots of action and some grounded and clever writing, then this film has them all. The onscreen presence of the mimics (the aliens) is terrifying and awe-inspiring. The combat suits are classically cool and action sequences where the human counterattack is the main plot point, are visually spectacular and add to the nail-biting intensity. What’s more, the visual effects are a tool to the storytelling and not the primary focal point. Thoughts, Ponty? 

TP: A science-fiction film with great actors and an excellent story that doesn’t deliver equally great special effects is a travesty to sci-fi fans everywhere Vader. Fortunately this movie wasn’t one of those films. The special effects were solid and delivered interesting aliens peppered between all the mayhem and explosions. There were a lot of opportunities to go wrong here, but everything stayed on track, right down to the costuming and robotic harnesses.


AV: Here’s what I loved, Pontificator. I loved watching an American big budget movie go way out on a limb to tell a very unexpected and quite frankly, very non-american story. I loved watching the untold depths of rich content in the international graphic novel arena deliver surprisingly good content to American audiences. I also loved that this movie does NOT show a traditional Hollywood ‘Happy Ending’ unless you chose to interpret it that way. What I hated was; poor marketing, a misunderstood film premise and a bad choice of movie title. Honestly, this movie could be anything; Star Wars: Episode VIII Edge of Tomorrow. Star Trek III: Edge of Tomorrow, Ian Fleming’s James Bond in Edge of Tomorrow. See? The title isn’t a title, it’s nondescript. I am convinced audiences didn’t know what the heck an “Edge of Tomorrow” was. 

TP: Right off the bat I was reminded that I’d seen all this before, although not quite in the same way. I’m talking about “Groundhog Day” and “Source Code.” The idea of living a day over and over again isn’t a new one so I was intrigued on how they were going to make this an interesting film. It was an easy recipe though, throw in some aliens bent on destroying humanity, Tom Cruise, and a lot of death and explosions… and voila!  The various paths the story takes from reliving one day are certainly more diverse than of the films I mentioned previously, which say a lot since the goal of the film never changed. Also the number of times the day was repeated was brilliantly handled as it was so many more times than any of the other films, without ever having us on the hook of actually having to go through the entire experience in detail. In short—this film was brilliantly handled.


AV: There is no sequel to this story. Though a caveat to this could be to continue to port over original graphic novels and foreign fiction from around the world. Though given the mediocre reception this film received, that may be a tall order. 

TP: I have heard that the novel will be getting a sequel, but seeing that it is so different than the film, part two might not make it to the big screen… especially when they wrapped the ending up so neatly.


ARTH VADER rates Edge Of Tomorrow: Going out on a limb here but intelligent action movies tend NOT to fair well in American cinema. This is one such case. If you like your sci-fi with action, comic relief, a strong female and male lead, tons of effects and ‘splosions, then you need look no further than Edge of Tomorrow. That’s why I am giving this movie seven (7) solid busted blocks. And when I wake up tomorrow, I plan to give it the same, all over again.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Edge of Tomorrow: Although skeptical at first, I was quickly converted to the side of “fan.” This film takes an old and already done idea (reliving a day) and breathes new life into it with its unique approach and brilliant formula for success. This film easily and repeatedly destroys eight (8) busted blocks. 

Edge Of Tomorrow: 7.5 / 10 Busted Blocks