Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-2014

Director-Matt Reeves

Starring-Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman

Scott’s Review #232

70300076

Reviewed March 29, 2015

Grade: C+

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a summer blockbuster hit that knocks it out of the park from a visual perspective- it is magnificent to look at with creative sets and realistic images, but the story is mediocre and predictable. I think the filmmaker’s true intent was to focus on the look of this film, which is a splendid feature. The film is a slightly better than average big screen adventure with more style than substance.

Set in San Francisco- or what was once San Francisco- the film is set in futuristic times and the apes have forged a new civilization after the deadly virus has eliminated 90% of the human population. The apes are highly intelligent and manage a happy, unified existence. Then, one day, a human is encountered and, scared, shoots one of the apes. This leads to a peaceful resolution between Caesar- leader of the apes- and the humans, to each stay in their respective territories. However, the humans need access to a dam in the Apes area in order to provide electricity for themselves. Mutual distrust leads to tension, but the civilized apes and humans reach a truce. Naturally, there is further conflict as sinister humans and apes vow revenge on each other. This leads to a waging war while the peaceful apes and humans strive to work things out. A further angle of the story is the hunger for power within the ranks of the Apes which is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. The human protagonists of the film- Malcolm and Ellie- played by Jason Clarke and Keri Russell- are a wholesome, decent couple.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a far cry from the original 1968 masterpiece, Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston. To compare the two is unfair since, sadly, this one has nothing to do with the original. It is simply the same franchise tag. However, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is weaker than its predecessor- 2010’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In that one, we have a charismatic star- James Franco- and an interesting story- the apes are experimented on and their intelligence is a strong angle. With the sequel, the story if rather one note and has a machismo, us against them angle, that is not unique.

The main drawback to this film is the story limitations. All of the characters are portrayed as a) the good and sympathetic humans, b) the evil and destructive humans, c) the good and heroic apes, or finally, d) the evil, bad ape. Everyone is clearly defined for the audience and there is no ambiguity or complexities within the characters. This is a bit limiting. The evil ape Koba is purely bad and the drunken, gun-happy, humans are also purely bad.

This is not to say that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not enjoyable- it is. It is a fun, entertaining flick. For what it is, it is fine and there is a somewhat message in the film, that there is a way to find peace and love between different species and types of people. Hopefully the audience gets that message.

The film is a summer blockbuster action/sci-fi flick that many will enjoy, however it is clearly plot driven extravaganza that could have been superior had it contained more layers to the story and more shape to some of the characters. It is worth seeing as a visual cinema treat, but scarcely more than that.

Annie-2014

Annie-2014

Director-Will Gluck

Starring-Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx

Scott’s Review #231

220px-Annie2014Poster

Reviewed March 25, 2015

Grade: D-

The latest remake of the film version of Annie- the last film production having taken place in 1982- though at least one variation in television exists- and all based on the Broadway hit of the same name- is a saccharin-laden mess of a film. Annie stars Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, and Cameron Diaz as Annie, William Sparks (changed from Daddy Warbucks), and Miss Hannigan, respectively, and features Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavalle in supporting roles.

Let me begin with the one redeeming quality of the film- though admittedly a bit of a stretch, I found the musical numbers okay- not great, but certainly far from the worst parts of the film. The numbers are remixed into hip hop type songs with a trendy approach- presumably to add a modern element. While not great, some songs are catchy and not dreadful, especially “It’s A Hard Knock Life” over the closing credits. Whether the actors actually sing their own songs is another question, which I might not want to know the answer to.

The rest of Annie is terrible. The casting is poor. Wallis, very believable in Beasts of the Southern Wild, portrays Annie as a precocious, social climbing child and I sensed awkwardness to the part- regardless it did not work for me. I did not buy her in the role and how she was awarded a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical Comedy speaks volumes for the limited choices that year. Jamie Foxx completely phones in his performance as Cell-phone technical mogul, running for mayor, William Sparks. Why the film felt the need to change the character from Daddy Warbucks is a mystery. He is unbelievable as a germaphobe, aggressive yet sensitive, powerful man who amazingly develops a soft spot for Annie. Cameron Diaz completely overacts and turns Miss Hannigan into an obnoxious, hysterical shrew, who towards the end of the movie somehow “turns good”, with no real motivation for doing so. Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavalle give uninteresting, very one-note performances in their respective roles of Sparks’s assistant and love interest, and his right hand man.

The film chose to change so many aspects of the original stage version of Annie, that it is barely recognizable. It takes place in present times rather than Depression era 1930’s, Annie is no longer an orphan, but is in foster care. Miss Hannigan’s first name is changed to Colleen instead of Agatha and is now a former pop performer whose career subsequently died. Hannigan’s brother Rooster and his girlfriend Lily are not featured in this film version. The story has zero interest and zero believability.

But the worst part of the film is the over sentimental, corniness to it. It is so overwrought with contrived scenes that it is tough to take seriously. At a Mayoral function, Annie (an untrained singer) suddenly leaps onstage and belts out a perfectly sung, choreographed number suddenly melting the hearts of the wealthy powerhouses in attendance. The film is pure fantasy with no realism to speak of. Take for example the fact that Miss Hannigan fosters an apartment full of children whom she hates, to collect $150 a week, but her apartment is pretty damned spacious and beautiful for Manhattan standards.

The film contains one inconsistency after another and is a horrendous modern take of a long loved treasure, the 2014 version of Annie should be seen once, snarled at, and put back on the shelf and forgotten for good.

Theatre of Blood-1973

Theatre of Blood-1973

Director-Douglas Hickox

Starring-Vincent Price, Diana Rigg

Scott’s Review #230

220px-Theatreofbloodposter

Reviewed March 23, 2015

Grade: B

Theatre of Blood stars Vincent Price, a long-time fixture in the classic/campy horror scene, as a demented Shakespearean theatre actor who enacts revenge on the critics who fail to recognize him with a coveted award that he cherishes. Price, as always frighteningly good, delivers a campy, but not ridiculous, turn as the crazed actor. Price’s appearance alone- tall, wiry, with sinister facial expressions, poises him perfectly to believability in any dastardly role he portrayed in his heyday and the performance he gives as Edward Lionheart is no exception.

Not solely a campy, melodramatic horror film, Theatre of Blood rises above that categorization with humorous tributes to Shakespeare and a very unique chronicle of the Shakespearean works, used to systematically off the critics one by one in reference to the Shakespearean story- quite frankly in a comical and witty way. Price eerily dresses in many different elaborate costumes to commit the murders- a wine tasting expert, a television host, among other interesting characters and oftentimes taunts his victims before permanently dispensing of them.

The film is quite British in tone and humor and done in a tongue in cheek manner so that the murders are not to be taken at all too seriously. The critics themselves- seven or eight of them- are deliciously fun. One is a loud boisterous fat man who always has his beloved poodles at his side. What happens to him and the dogs is better left unsaid. Another is an uptight, sophisticated woman (played by Price’s real life wife Coral Browne). Several of the critics are created as comic villains so their demises are not all too devastating for the audience as they are rather unlikeable characters to begin with. In fact, I found myself rooting for Lionheart and looking forward to the next murder!

One criticism involves Diana Rigg, who plays Price’s daughter Edwina, accomplice to his dirty deeds. Well known for her starring role in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and for the 1960’s Avengers series, Rigg has little of substance to do in Theatre of Blood. Perhaps by 1973 her film career was on the downturn and she was not winning the coveted roles any longer. I would have loved to see her sink her teeth into a meatier role. Clearly a side-kick, Edwina could have done much more.

The film belongs to Price and the unique storytelling of Shakespearean works made only possible by this great actor. Not overly serious and played for some laughs, Theatre of Blood is successful in its telling of an interesting British horror story. Theatre of Blood is a nice late night treat for fans of the British horror genre especially.

Neighbors-2014

Neighbors-2014

Director-Nicholas Stoller

Starring-Zac Efron, Seth Rogan

Scott’s Review #229

70297085

Reviewed March 15, 2015

Grade: F

By far one of the worst movies I have seen in some time, Neighbors is a silly, redundant, nonsensical, and plain old bad film. Whoever thought this film was a good idea and green-lit it must have their head examined. Successful comedies- even raunchy, slapstick comedy, contain perfect comic timing and likeable characters that the audience roots for, and at least a shred of creativity and originality- Neighbors has none of these qualities. Bridesmaids is an example of a modern raunchy comedy that works and is hysterical- sadly, Neighbors is a far cry from Bridesmaids.

Neighbors stars Seth Rogan, a familiar face in the slapstick comedy genre, along with Rose Byrne as Mac and Kelly Radner, a married couple in their thirties with a newborn baby named Stella. Former party animals in their own college days, the two live in a college town and attempt to peacefully bring up their daughter in a great neighborhood. One day, Delta Psi Beta, a fraternity known to be one of the rowdiest of frats, moves into the house next door to the Radner’s and immediately begins causing chaos with their never ending, rambunctious parties. The frat is led by Teddy, played by Zac Efron. Initially striking up a mutual respect, the Radner’s relationship with Teddy is ruined due to a misunderstanding involving the police being called one night. The remainder of the film focuses on Mac and Kelly’s attempts at getting the fraternity to move out of their house by sabotaging parties and pitting various frat brothers against each other, causing hijinks to ensue and a war to develop between parents and college kids.

If Neighbors is an attempt to harken back to the days of delicious college comedies such as Animal House or American Pie, the film fails on every level- it is simply not funny. It contains a plot that is so unoriginal and the jokes featured to death in similar films (bathroom humor, frat jokes, drug jokes, male and female anatomy jokes) and by this point if you have seen one Seth Rogan film you have seen them all- he is a one trick pony and has become what Adam Sandler became- tired and dull. Rose Byrne’s annoying character had me believing the actress was using a poor Australian accent only to realize that the actress is in fact Australian. This is not a testament to Ms. Byrne’s acting ability by the way.

The protagonists are quite irritating and not likeable at all. What is the rooting value? Mac and Kelly are irresponsible parents. They presumably leave Stella at home in order to visit the frat house and wind up getting drunk and high, stay out late, wake up early the next day when Kelly attempts to feed Stella using tainted breast milk, which leads us to an unfunny scene between Mac and Kelly focusing on Kelly’s vein popping breasts, which makes no sense anyway. Other suspensions of disbelief and logic pop up left and right- Why would the police reveal to the fraternity the names of who had called to complain about them and after catching the Radner’s in a lie, tell them never to call the police again? How unrealistic. Mac and Kelly live in a college town, the risk of a fraternity or sorority being close by never occurred to them? They acted surprised that college students existed at all. The wonderful Lisa Kudrow is cast in a ridiculous role as the college Dean, but is completely wasted in a hysterical, bubble-headed, dumb role.

If I had to give a positive to Neighbors, it would be that Zac Efron does a halfway decent job portraying his character Teddy and Efron does possess a good deal of acting talent (think-The Paperboy), but I am being quite generous and looking for a bright side to a train wreck. The film is poor.

The Killing of Sister George-1968

The Killing of Sister George-1968

Director-Robert Aldrich

Starring-Beryl Reid, Susannah York

Scott’s Review #228

220px-Original_movie_poster_for_the_film_The_Killing_of_Sister_George

Reviewed March 13, 2015

Grade: A-

The Killing of Sister George is a British film drama, adapted from a 1964 stage production that was a risky subject matter to tackle for the times- lesbianism- in the late 1960’s. Directed by Robert Aldrich, well known for directing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, The Killing of Sister George is a similarly dark tale of loneliness, desperation, and an actress falling from former grace and success to despair, confusion, and anguish. It also has some witty, crackling, comedic moments to avoid being a true downer.

Sister George is a successful, well regarded actress on a popular soap opera named Applehurst. Her character is the wholesome presence in a town fraught with manipulation and drama. She is the moral focal point of the show. In real life, however, George (interestingly called by her character’s name), is troubled. She is bitter, angry, an alcoholic, and frequently berates and even abuses her partner, Childie, played by Susannah York. A third central character in the film is TV Producer Mercy Croft, who is powerful and confused about her sexuality. When the soap opera powers-that-be decide to kill off the beloved Sister George, the real George’s life begins to spiral out of control.

As interesting a film as it is and certainly featuring the competent talents of Beryl Reid in the title role, I cannot help but ponder and fantasize how wonderful the casting of Bette Davis- reportedly considered for the role and inexplicably not cast- would have been. Davis, famous for playing grizzled, mean, unsympathetic characters, would have knocked this role out of the park and it is sad that she did not have the chance.

At its core, the film is a sad character study of one woman’s pain and anguish at being discarded. Presumably unable to be hired anywhere else, her soap opera character is her life. She loves Childie, but is not completely fulfilled by her either, and that relationship is threatened by the vibrant and polished Mercy. This is an interesting triangle as George does not always treat Childie well, but loves her all the same. Childie is a simple character, childlike and needing a strong mate to counter-balance the way she is- someone to take care of her. Without a job or prospects, this would be difficult for George. Does Childie love George or simply want a meal ticket?

The film is understandably rated X for content, presumably for a very explicit sex scene between Mercy and Childie and when a drunken George molests two nuns in the back seat of a London taxi cab. These scenes are both cutting edge and admirable in their risk taking.

The scene set at the real-life London lesbian club (the Gateway Club) and featuring mostly real-life lesbians is great in that it provides a real life glimpse into the gay/lesbian world and lifestyle during the time period.

A brave, ground breaking, risk taking film and bravura direction from Aldrich, The Killing of Sister George is a forgotten gem that needs to be rediscovered by film fans everywhere and is an early journey into gay and lesbian cinema.

Peau d’Ane (Donkey Skin)-1970

Peau d’Ane (Donkey Skin)-1970

Director-Jacques Demy

Starring-Catherine Deneuve

Scott’s Review #227

70032096

Reviewed March 11, 2015

Grade: B

Peau d’Ane (English-Donkey Skin) is a 1971 French musical film that is a fairy tale for adults- seemingly happy, but very dark beneath the surface. To say this film is bizarre would be an understatement. For all intents and purposes the film is a strange re-telling of the classic story of Cinderella, the film set in a peculiar medieval world and centering on a dying Queen, her husband The King, and the heroine of the story, the beautiful Princess.

The Queen is dying. Her last wish is for The King to marry the most beautiful woman in the land. Coincidentally, that is their daughter The Princess! Eager to produce an heir to the throne, he is determined to marry and reproduce with his daughter. The Princess, wanting none of it, turns herself into an ugly creature, by way of wearing the skin of a donkey and moves to a neighboring kingdom to exist in a life of exclusion and revulsion, farming pigs and being berated by those around her. A handsome Prince decides to pursue the woman who has baked him a delicious cake, but knows not who she is. Ironically enough it is the Princess.

I found the film to be quite interesting, albeit in a warped way. Unusual and tough to analyze, one must watch with an open mind. Certainly, Donkey Skin delves headfirst into the icky world of incest and makes no apologies for its controversial nature all the while interspersing the film with cheery tunes with singing roses and hatching chicks. The donkey skin that the Princess wears is obviously fake and unbelievably laughable and how nobody is aware that there is a beautiful Princess underneath is silly. And yet the film somehow works. I was transported into a magical world where nothing is normal and one surprise after another ensues.

A couple of oddities worth mentioning- some of the music from the film is contemporary, upbeat music. Also, strangely, the final scene involves a helicopter, which is completely implausible given the time period. I get the sense that this film is going for absurd and unique and succeeds on both counts.

Visually the film is gorgeous- bright and cheerful with loads of colors. The film has awe-inspiring art direction as the set pieces within the castle are odd, interesting, and colorful. I especially enjoyed the Prince’s bedroom set.

As eccentric and seemingly dark the film is, often times a character will burst into a cheerful song as evidenced by the Princess singing a happy tune while making a meal, all the while dressed in her donkey skin, almost like a scene out of Mary Poppins or My Fair Lady or any other wholesome musical.

To be sure a unique film, Donkey Skin is eccentric, lively, and interestingly perverse with a French flair. A fantasy for adults and a journey into the weird.

101 Dalmatians-1961

101 Dalmatians-1961

Directors-Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi

Scott’s Review #226

205524

Reviewed March 8, 2015

Grade: A-

101 Dalmatians is a darling Walt Disney film that encompasses wholesomeness, love, and devotion. Set in London, which adds a level of sophistication to the film, it tells the story of lonely songwriter named Roger Radcliffe, who lives in a flat with his faithful and devoted Dalmatian, Pongo. Their’s is a happy existence, but something is missing. Pongo, voiced by Rod Taylor (of The Birds fame), is determined to find a mate for both himself and for Roger and sets about to do just that by watching lady’s and their dogs walk the streets in front of their home. He is successful in finding the perfect match for both (Anita for Roger, Perdita for him) and the four of them look forward to years of happiness together until a sinister friend of Anita’s, Cruella De Vil, enters the story. Cruella sees profit in the Dalmatians and attempts to steal and destroy them.

Cruella De Vil is a delicious villain, and certainly one of the most entertaining in animated film history, but more than that, she is comically devious. Her maniacal laugh and witty language make her a perfect foil for a wholesome couple and wonderful, cute little pups. Certainly, the audience does not root for her, but there is something wicked and fun about her over-the-top character.

The film, made in 1961, has wonderful artistic direction that animation today does not have- the scenes look like beautiful drawings and there is a Mad Men quality to the design. The “look” is very different from current animation in that it is sleek and constructed skillfully and not loud, fast, and bombastic.

I love how the film is from the point of view of the Dalmatians Pongo and Perdita and not from the perspective of the human beings simply telling the story about their dogs- this adds to the level of empathy felt for the animals since they are the central characters and we see their attempts at rescuing all of the stolen dogs. Also wonderful is how all of the dogs of London (and various other species of animals) band together in rescue. They work as a team to save and protect their own that are being mistreated and sent to their slaughter.

An enjoyable scene involves the climactic car chase between Cruella’s gaudy, luxury car and a furniture van. As the pups are using the van as a means to escape, a cat and mouse game ensues providing comedy and dramatic flair. As the vehicles wiz along dirt and back roads towards London, the scene is among the most suspenseful of the film. In addition to this riveting scene are others involving the dogs tiptoeing past their captives as we cross our fingers they will not be heard and subsequently caught, and an adorable scene showcasing the dogs cleverness at covering their spots with soot in order to escape.

A heartwarming, inspirational film for the entire family to enjoy many times over, 101 Dalmatians will leave you smiling and humming. It is a truthful, wonderful film about love for animals.

Nightcrawler-2014

Nightcrawler-2014

Director-Dan Gilroy

Starring-Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo

Scott’s Review #225

70295182

Reviewed March 1, 2015

Grade: B+

Nightcrawler is best described as an intense crime-thriller set in Los Angeles featuring a wonderful performance by Jake Gyllenhaal as an unstable thief named Lou, who cons and manipulates his way to success videotaping accident scenes and selling them to news stations. The film is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, who could possibly become a household name in the future. Nightcrawler was deservedly awarded the Best Screenplay and the Best First Feature Independent Spirit award honors.

The film is set mainly at night as Lou courses the city in search of accidents, crimes, and violence- the bloodier the better. Later, he is told by Nina Romina, successfully played by Rene Russo that violent crimes in affluent neighborhoods are the best, as they garner the highest ratings. Lou sells his video footage of the crimes to the highest bidder and Nina becomes his main customer. Lou is eventually assisted by Rick Carey, a desperate accomplice in need of money, played by Riz Ahmed. The interesting thing for me about Nightcrawler is its moody setting and dim lighting. It reminds me of the 2004 film Collateral, starring Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise, also set in Los Angeles. Mostly set at night time and heavily set on the actual streets of L.A., I found this mood excellent and a compelling aspect of the film. It makes Nightcrawler look great.

Gyllenhaal deserves heaps of praise for his role of Lou and is largely responsible for the success of the film- he was co-producer. From an acting standpoint he is excellent and reminiscent of the frightening performance that Robert DeNiro gave in Taxi Driver. With an angular face and eyes that seemingly never blink, the character is intense and driven on every level- he is a sociopath. When he quietly threatens Nina and Rick on separate occasions one can tell he means business. Why Lou has become a thief desperate for money is never explained- does he have a family? Is he a convict? He seems highly educated, but is he? How did he land in this predicament and resorts to the life that he does? As Lou becomes more manipulative and resorts to adjusting crime scenes to make them all the more shocking, he seems to teeter over the edge of sanity. In one scene he sneaks into a victim’s home and videotapes photos of the victims from their refrigerator to promote an empathetic angle and therefore making more money from them. This is a brilliant performance by Gyllenhaal.

Another fascinating performance I admired is that of Rene Russo- absent from films for what seems like years, Nightcrawler is a nice return for her. Her character also has little backstory. We know that she is a driven news woman who has trouble maintaining success at individual news stations and moves around a lot. Nina is a cut-throat news director eager for violent stories and determined to keep her existing job. She also becomes begrudgingly fascinated and enamored with Lou. Does she like bad boys or does she admire his talent?

The third major character is Riz Ahmed’s Rick. Rick comes across as a sweet, yet gullible guy strapped for cash. Like Lou, we do not know why he is broke, but it is hinted at that he may do or have done some male prostitution- he is desperate. As the film goes along the character develops a tough skin and inquisitiveness takes over- he is attracted to this new lifestyle and excitement, but will not be bullied by Lou.

On a social level, the film presents an interesting, albeit disturbing take on the relationship between the media and the viewers. What will news channels do for a good story? How bloodthirsty are news audiences? How often is a positive news story presented? It makes the audience reflect and ponder.

Nightcrawler is a dark thriller, independently made, which deservedly garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay and a slew of Independent Spirit awards. Intense, rich, visually appealing, it is one of the success stories of 2014 cinema.